Healing balm

I just finished reading The Hunger Games at school with a few sophomore students. Two times, Katniss faces injury and needs medical help, once for herself and once for her partner, Peeta. In both instances, help arrives just in time. Both times, she’s provided with a goopy balm that brings both relief and healing. Both times she knew she needed help. She knew the situation was beyond her and both times she had no choice but to wait for someone to show mercy.

It’s been a whirlwind week and weekend. Graduation, parties, wedding stuff, end of the school year busyness and daily life kept us all on our toes and living moment to moment. We made it. We celebrated milestones and enjoyed it all. But honestly, most of the time, I was one step away from a wreck. Trying to hold it together emotionally and stay on top of home life and work and all the extras felt overwhelming. At each moment when I didn’t think I’d make it to the next without a meltdown, help arrived. Not in the form a beeping, parachuted tin of balm like Katniss received, but  in the form of people. Calming words, reassuring hugs, and surprise guests eased my burdens. My kids and friends and family stepped up and stepped in and provided an amazing graduation party for our daughter. My sisters and sisters-in-law threw a spectacular shower for my other daughter. My sweet mom did my laundry and dishes and held things down on the homefront. They were all a healing balm to my weary soul and I’m beyond grateful. I could not have walked through the last week without them.

And then, in the middle of it, we got the late-night call every parent dreads.  Our son and his girlfriend were in a car accident. Thankfully, mercifully, both my son and his lovely friend were miraculously unharmed but somewhere on CR 38 is a concussed deer who got the better of the 2005 Honda. In the dark, rainy night, Brad and I drove N & C back home and in the midst of relief, I worried. Although they were safe and sound, I could tell they were both shaken and my son was beating himself up over the accident. I tried to speak reassuring words. I tried to bring comfort, but it was still fresh and scary. Then, when we arrived home and walked in the door shortly before midnight, all his siblings were waiting to give hugs and listen to the stories. They provided relief that I could not. As a parent, it was an absolute joy to see and hear them surround their brother and friend with love and support and laughter. They were healing balm to an injured spirit and it was beautiful.

IMG_7078Paul says to the Roman people “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other.”  The entire weekend was a beautiful picture of community. At every turn, friends and family were sharing our joy, lightening our load and comforting us in our pains, insecurities, and shortcomings. We experienced servanthood and mercy and generosity and grace upon grace upon grace. Thank you, you beautiful souls, who lived life with us this weekend. Thank you for your selfless giving of time and talent and resources. Thank you for setting up and taking down and serving food and cleaning up and filling in the gaps and taking photos and making runs to the grocery store and planting flowers and giving hugs and speaking wisdom and for bringing joy. Thank you, my own dear children, for being there for one another and for providing a healing balm to one another in a fallen world. I love you all and thank God for you.

And to those reading, let this be an encouragement to show up for people. Be community for others. Share their burdens. Lighten their loads. Be generous with your gifts. Be a healing balm to a weary soul today.

Hand-me-downs and leftovers

I’m all about hand-me-downs and leftovers. The youngest of three girls, I grew up in my sister’s clothes and, in general, loved it. Even today, I still benefit from my generous (and incredibly stylish) sister. And leftovers? They’re my friend. Chicken chili or lasagna the next day? Even better than the first time!

But hand-me-downs or leftovers in a relationship? No, thank you. No one wants to feel like they’re getting leftover time, money, affection or attention. No child wants to feel like they come second to work or church or siblings. No friend wants someone who only calls when it’s a crisis or they need something. No spouse wants to feel the leftover energy or affection or love from their significant other. Hand-me-downs and leftovers leave us feeling like we don’t deserve any better. We don’t just feel loved less, we feel unloved, un-cared for and ultimately rejected.

To recap…

hand-me-downs from your stylish sister that save you money–good; hand-me-downs of affection–bad.

leftover food–good; leftover time, energy or love–bad.

Apply that to a spiritual relationship and it magnifies the feelings of worthlessness. If you think you get God’s leftovers or His crumbs, then you constantly feel like the kid with dirty shoes who can come in but needs to wipe their feet and stand in the corner. No warm welcome or seat at the grown-up table for you. No sir. Be quiet and wait until someone more important offers you what’s left. Be happy with hand-me-downs and leftovers from God’s children who are well-behaved, more faithful and frankly, just better than you.

Yeah. That’s how I’ve felt lately. I’m not gonna lie (and believe me, I wish I could), September was a crappy month. Many times I wished someone would wake me up when it was over– just like the Green Day song. Saying goodbye to kids (real, grown-up goodbyes), grieving both old and new losses, coming to terms with past hurts, dealing with physical illness, and enduring depressing thoughts left me cold, sad and tired. To be brutally honest, the cumulative effect of all this gunk, is thinking, feeling and believing that all I get or deserve from God is hand-me-downs and leftovers. Why should I get anything else?

But here’s just one of the many problems with thinking and living this way: if you live thinking you’re impoverished, you believe you have nothing to offer. You either believe what you could offer isn’t good enough or you believe that you don’t have enough resources. And then, perhaps, you get some weird self-pitying pride mixed in there and the whole thing turns into an ugly mess of self-accusations and self-defamation and a faulty, dangerous view of God and self. Brutal.

So how do I (we, if you can identify with anything I’ve written) interrupt the cycle? One way to start is by remembering and believing Truth.

If we believe we’re children of God, then here’s the Truth:

We’re not given hand-me-down rags; we’re dressed in the King’s own robes. 

We’re not invited to a rickety table of leftovers; we’re invited to a feast.

Because of God’s love and Jesus sacrificial gift of his own life, we’re invited to share in His bounty and sit at his table.

“Is anyone thirsty?
    Come and drink—
    even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
    it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

“Come to me with your ears wide open.
    Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
    I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David…”

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near. ~Isaiah 55 1-6

I know when you’re struggling it’s difficult to see Truth, let alone believe it, but I pray these words bring hope and encouragement to your mind and heart today, friend.

Firm Footing

May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing. ~David

In the dim light and sleepy-ness of the before-dawn day, we hugged and said goodbye, not sure when he’d return. I remember his baseball cap slightly askew and his antsy departure. Gone six months now, he’s embracing his adventure and loving life. I’m proud of him.

The old, slightly run-down, Dairy Queen served as a strange backdrop as we said goodbye. Because of work and flight schedules, we couldn’t take her to the airport so instead, we stood on the asphalt and embraced and cried (well, I cried). Now she’s 3500 miles away, speaking a different language, experiencing a new family and finishing her degree. I’m proud of her.

We packed his car and in the dark, rainy night, said goodbye. He wanted to go alone; it’s his journey. He’s not there yet– to his final destination. Traveling the familiar highway through Nebraska, he’s over halfway to his home for the next eight months. I’m proud of him.

Although the setting was different, we said goodbye to each child the same way: huddled as a family, heads leaning in, petitioning the same God. We pray for safety. We pray for direction. We pray for blessing both for them and those they meet. But mostly, we pray the same prayer that David prayed: May your gracious Spirit, God, lead them forward on a firm footing.

I took two leaves out of the dining room table after a weekend of company, and realized (yet again) that we won’t need that big table for many many months, serving as a tangible reminder of my changing family. And as the leaves fall from the trees and we experience the drift from summer to fall, I try to embrace this changing season of life.

And the prayer remains the same: May your gracious Spirit, Lord, lead us forward on a firm footing.

At Mercy’s Door

A beggar poor at Mercy’s door, lies such a wretch as I;
Thou knowest my need is great indeed, Lord, hear me when I cry.”
~John Newton

Throughout my life of faith, grace (or rather Grace), has meant everything to me. The knowledge, belief ,and experience that Grace is real, has been my bedrock. Grace: being given something I didn’t ask for and don’t deserve that’s more than I could imagine. I’ve been given saving Grace, sustaining Grace, guiding Grace, and forgiving Grace. It’s all a gift.

Lately, another reality of God ignites my soul: Mercy.
Grace is all about Love…free, unconditional, pure, saving love.
Mercy possesses a different quality. Mercy suggests being spared from something. There’s an element of judgement in Mercy that makes it even more wonderful. I deserve “A” but am shown Mercy and get “B” instead. Beautiful.

The words above by John Newton (who also composed “Amazing Grace”) grip my heart each time I hear them.
I show up, beggar poor–nothing to offer, nothing to give–at Mercy’s door. He opens the door and instead of sending me away empty-handed or throwing me some scraps and then slamming the door in my face, He invites me in. Essentially, because of sin, we’re all strangers to Him. And yet, even as a stranger, because of His Mercy, He opens the doors wide open. He asks me to live there, in this place of Mercy.
But here’s the thing, if I leave Mercy’s door, I leave beggar-poor again. I can’t go there, fill up, and expect to distribute the wealth I’ve been given as if I were Father Christmas. No, I come a beggar, and if I leave, I leave a beggar. So often, we, as Christians, talk about being “filled” in such a superficial way. It’s as if you can tank up on God like you would gas and run for a while until you’re empty and then go back for more filling. He’s not a cosmic gas station. I come to God with nothing and I leave Him with nothing.

The only way I can share His love –the only way to be “filled”– is by staying at His Mercy Door. When we stay in His presence, we become a channel or instrument of His grace, love, forgiveness and mercy and not a distributor of it. Jesus put it this way in the book of John:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” 

Driving to work

Each morning, I climb into whatever vehicle sits vacant in the driveway. The radio off, I travel the thirty miles to work, praying as I go.  I pray for family and friends and school and lots of specifics; but today, the Creator of the Universe, brought you to mind. I may know you or not. I might be well aware of your struggle and pain or completely oblivious. Either way, I prayed for you because He wanted me to.

I prayed:

peace for the restless,

order for those in chaos,

faith for the doubting,

trust for the hurting,

security and safety for the fearful,

love for the unloved,

healing for the sick in heart, mind or body,

provision for the lacking,

forgiveness for the unforgiving,

wisdom for the perplexed,

discernment and guidance for the uncertain.

I prayed for God’s great exchanges to take place in your lives:

beauty for ashes,

grace for shame,

freedom for slavery,

peace for despair.

May you know His presence and power today, dear one.

Long day

24 hours.

1,440 minutes.

86,400 seconds.

There’s no such thing as a long day.

And yet…

It’s been a long day.

Do you have long days?

What makes a long day long?

Long because of a weary heart. Long because sometimes the burden’s we carry can’t be shared. Long because people can be jerks. Long because the dark sometimes seems bigger and more powerful than the light. Long because we desperately miss someone we’ve lost. Long because change is hard. Long because of anger or sadness or illness. Long because we have a crappy attitude. Long because we’re not sure that what we do all day is enough, or worse, that it even matters. Long because we see someone we love headed straight toward a head-on collision. Long because we’re holding bedside vigil in a hospice room. Long because chaos defines the headlines.

Long.

Just long.

What do you do with long days? What do you when there’s really nothing you can do? I cook. I eat chocolate. I pray. I pray more. I stew. I pray again. I write.

And, I listen to music. This is the first song I heard when I got home today:

And the phrase that soothed my rumpled spirit?

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.

“…love’s purest joys restored.”

Connections

A Noiseless Patient Spider

BY Walt Whitman

A noiseless patient spider,

I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,

Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,

It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,

Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,

Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,

Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,

Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,

Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

 

Every day, walking the halls at school, wandering the aisles of the grocery store, sitting in the chairs at church, endlessly perusing social media–whatever the activity–people are desperate for connections. People universally search for meaning, significance and a place to belong. The need for community encompasses young, old, and middle-aged. Loneliness–or the fear of it– does not discriminate based on race, religion or socioeconomic class.

Love, encourage, and speak kindly to whoever is placed in your path today. It may be inconvenient. It may require a sacrifice of time and energy on your part. It may even feel uncomfortable. But, if you claim to be a Christ-follower, this is not a suggestion or a theoretical idea, but a command.


Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.  But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. ~1 John 4:7

So encourage each other and build each other up…~1 Thessalonians 5:11

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.  Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. ~Ephesians 5:1

Open your eyes today. Someone in your sphere needs to connect with you. There are tiny filaments being launched in your direction. Get out of your own youniverse, and respond.

Celebrating a Legacy

My dad left a lot when he passed away. He left a house, a car, clothes and his beloved books.   He left co-workers and friends who loved him. He left children and grand children who adored him. He left a loving wife who deeply misses him. He left a legacy of life-long learning. He left a legacy of faith. He left a legacy of curiosity and adventure. But I believe one of the best things my dad left, was a legacy of blessing.

My dad was known for his bright, easy smile and quick wit. People liked him and liked to be around him. But beyond the winning smile, keen intellect and great personality, people were drawn to dad because he loved them. I saw my dad love and bless each person he met–literally every person no matter how minor or brief their encounter. His life exuded encouragement and mercy and grace and blessing. I remember one time he and my mom were traveling to Iowa and stopped at a Hardee’s for ice cream. While in the line, dad struck up a conversation with a younger guy. Within minutes, the man told mom and dad of his rough past and new-found faith and his desire to change. There, amid the rushed customers, mom and dad prayed with him, gave him words of encouragement and blessed him. This is one example among many; his life was a life of giving. He took time to listen and bless.

So, my dad’s love for others wasn’t just philanthropic or born out of a general love for humanity. His love  and passion to bless people came out of his love and passion for his Savior, Jesus and out of a deep gratitude. His love and blessing were intentional. Dad struggled with depression. Dad struggled with his past. Dad struggled with self-image and worth. Dad struggled with an addictive personality. Dad struggled with pride. He would readily, easily and quickly share with you that Jesus was his only hope and without Him, he was nothing. The introverted scholar, who could easily have holed up in his man-cave forever, chose to leave the safety and quiet and comfort to bless and love others because of the Love he’d been shown. He loved others well because of the great Love he’d been given.

I’m confident that his legacy of blessing reaches far beyond what we know because of this Love.

Would you do something for me today, in honor of his birthday?

Would you love people wholly and intentionally today?

When an interaction devolves into gossip, will you be the one to bring the grace and love and turn the conversation around?
Will you be the one to show kindness and grace to the person who bugs you (and perhaps everyone else) the most?
Will you greet each person you meet with kindness and openness, expecting the best instead of the worst?
Will you step out of your comfort zone, putting your own fears, busyness and agenda aside, to bring encouragement to someone else?
Will you pray with someone who needs it today?
Will you put your needs on the back-burner and live self-sacrificially today?
Will you refrain from the snarky comment at someone else’s expense?
Will you show restraint and grace when you don’t agree with someone else’s political or religious beliefs?
If you work in a school, will you look for the kid who tries to hide and try to make a connection?
If you’re a student, will you bless your classmates with kindness, respect and actual attention–yes, even the weird kid who picks his nose–in fact–especially the weird kid who picks his nose?
Will you be the one at the water cooler who brings words of life instead of criticism?

Will you plant seeds of kindness instead of selfishness?
Will you make today about blessing instead of cursing? Loving instead of ignoring? Boldly sharing grace instead of standing in judgement?

Will you intentionally share a legacy of blessing today?

Imagine the beauty in this day if we choose to live like this!

Unexpected Joy

Please welcome my dear sister-in-faith, Tiffany, to my little corner of cyberspace. Tiffany lives in Uganda with her husband Jander.  Today, her beautiful, tragic story of her visit to a Juvenile home both convicted me and gave me hope. Hope that true joy not only exists, but can thrive even in the midst of great pain.

Joining the Celebration

by: Tiffany Talen
Life for me has been a million miles from easy. I was born into an extremely poor family in Northern Uganda which has suffered for decades from periods of war and famine. I was just a few years old when that man with the smile dressed up so nicely came and convinced my desperate mother that he would provide for me a future that only existed in her dreams, dreams which had nearly faded completely away. I cried when we drove away.It was only a few hours later that the man with the smile lost his smile. It was only a few days later that he dropped me off to another man who beat me and forced me to sit in the blistering sun on the dangerous streets of Kampala with my hands together, open, as if I was catching drops of invisible water.At night I longed for my mom. In the morning I longed to escape. At noontime I just wanted food. In the afternoon I dreamed of water, real water falling into my hands and all over my body. In the evening I longed to die. But they provided me with just enough to keep me alive to collect coins for another day.

A few months later a big truck came by with bold letters written on the side. A man in a uniform stepped out, picked me up, opened the back door, and placed me inside. My eyes adjusted to the darkness as the truck slowly pulled away. There were other kids like me, wearing rags, eyes wide with fear, sitting silently inside.

Hours later we were all unloaded and the big truck with the bold letters drove away. There were old white buildings around me and many other kids staring at us in disgust.

The next few days, which turned into weeks, which turned into months consisted of waking up every morning on a dirty floor usually embarrassed by the pool of urine around me. One nice lady would try to clean me up and find something clean for me to wear, but she had many other kids to care for and often didn’t have enough time for me. Eventually we would get some food but sometimes there wasn’t enough. The days were boring, but I was thankful I didn’t have to sit on the streets. Even though some of the big kids were mean to me, I was also thankful that I didn’t get beat as much as I used to.

I would fall asleep at night on a dirty mat trying to picture my mom but her face was hard to find sometimes. I would try to keep myself awake as long as possible because I was scared of the dreams that would come of the men who lost their smiles. As I tried to stay awake, I’d pray that tomorrow would be one of the days that the people in the grey van would come.

—————————————————————

Actually I’ve never experienced any of this, but I met a few dozen kids last week who’s story could fall closely into this outline. Nikita and I piled into that grey van and went to visit the children living at a juvenile detention center (a government run children’s prison) where some friends of mine run a ministry called Sixty Feet.

When we arrived, children crowed around the van wanting to hug each of us as we stepped out.

There were other kids there too… about 200. Most of the big kids (around ages 10-18) were there either for committing a crime or simply because a parent or relative just didn’t want them anymore. And most of the little kids (ages 2-10) were there because they had been picked up off the streets of Kampala by the “street cleaners.” These little ones all sleep on the floor of one large room. They don’t have mosquito nets. If they’re lucky, a big girl might let them climb into bed with her.

Sixty Feet is working to help these children in a variety of ways- such as medical care, counselling, finding foster families, family resettlement, and even clothing and mattresses. There are many challenges with this work and just when it might seem like they’ve helped so many, another load of kids are dropped off.

We spent the day helping and learning. We read, coloured, skipped and played.

 I have to say, the most incredible part of the day was the time of worship which was organized by Sixty Feet volunteers. It was so amazing to see these children clapping and singing and dancing! Even most of the older children had joined in. It felt like a big celebration. But what’s there to celebrate when you’re a child or teen who lives in a prison and has literally nothing- no toys, no treats, no family?

When I looked over and saw some of the older boys sharing a drum, pounding together, singing with faces so full of joy, I thought of Paul and Silas praying and praising behind the bars of their prison cell (Acts 16). I pictured them all together- Paul, Silas, rough teens in Uganda, young children from Karamoja, all praising God through their suffering. I was incredibly moved. In the midst of what seemed like hell on earth, these kids were celebrating the love and grace that they have in Jesus which was shared with them by the Sixty Feet staff and volunteers.

These kids and teens could have stood there, stared into our faces, and told us to get lost, because to be honest, we don’t and really never will be able to fully understand what they’re going through. But instead, they chose to celebrate.

Maybe we can too. Maybe when days get tough, or feel barren or heavy, when we’re feeling imprisoned by the difficulties of live…  we can choose to join these captives in celebrating the incredible love and grace that we have in Christ. If these kids can, maybe we can too.

  
     
Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Isaiah 1:17
Thank you, Tiffany and Jander, for ministering far away from home and family and comfort all for the cause of sharing Christ’s love. May God bless and keep you make His face shine upon you as you serve.
You can read more of Tiffany and Jander’s adventures on their blog: The Talen’s Treks

Ceasefire.

Nothing wearies me more than people arguing. It’s been hard to write lately. I’ve been discouraged about what I see and read and how we all treat each other.

Over the years I’ve learned countless valuable lessons. Sometime in my late 20’s–after full formation of my frontal lobe, no doubt–I realized that 1) it was ok to disagree with people–even on really important things–and still respect them, enjoy them and experience a close relationship with them and  2) *I* don’t have to convert anyone to any thing–no matter how passionately I feel about it; I don’t have to convince anyone else to change. I guess the hard truth started to sink in: I am not always right, I don’t have all the answers, and it’s simply not my job to force change in others. Especially as a Christian, I found these truths liberating; it allowed me to be me and God to be God. He, the Creator of the human heart, will change hearts; He, not me, will convict of needed change.  If I believe what I say about Him–that He’s all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving–then it follows that He is more than able to get done on this earth what He chooses to do when He chooses to do it. Along with those valuable lessons, came the realization that I’m not the only one He uses to speak. He may use me and you to gently correct or boldly speak truth. But more often than not, I believe He wants me to simply shut up and love. And frankly, humbling myself enough to be quiet and trust is a lot harder than speaking my mind.

As much as I love social media, I guess this is what makes it so exhausting to me. Daily, I witness people trying to change each other. Daily I see people on both sides of the political aisle and the church aisle and the grocery aisle criticizing, deriding and degrading each others views and even existence. So much arrogance… So much pride… Everyone vying for top Truth spot… It’s like a cut-throat game of idealogical king of the hill. Everyone pushes and shoves to dethrone the latest, loudest, most aggressive voice.

It’s like we’re all in a ridiculous stand-off, standing in a circle, pointing our weapons at one another, aiming for the heart. Out of our own fears and insecurities, we, the walking wounded, seek to wound each other; or worse, to save each other. But we’re all in this together, people. We’re on each other’s side–all of humanity–so let’s get off each other’s backs. Let’s lay down our weapons today–the snarky comments, the compulsive need to be right, the back-biting and criticizing, the sarcastic humor meant to cut and harm.  I’m not even saying to extend an olive branch– simply declare a ceasefire.

Speak life to others.

I’ve written so much over the past year about my parents and their legacy of love, encouragement and hope, so I ask again, what will your legacy be? Even the legacy of this one day? Will it be more of the same king of the hill? Or will your words and actions be steeped in a deep trust that God is who He says He is so you don’t have to be Him? Or simply rooted in the belief that you’re not always right?

Oh, by the way, I do realize the irony in posting this.