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The Gift of Presence

men silhouette in the fogI had a rough week. This week we moved our belongings into a storage unit, ourselves and two dogs into my son’s house (an investment that needs a lot of work he is just beginning to tackle), and we finalized the sale of our house.

The problem was that my husband woke up at one in the morning on moving day with an optical migraine. Actually, it was a stomach bug, which we found out a couple days later when I got it, but it presented as a migraine with vomiting and blinding pain. We were a little behind in the packing, but we had plenty of time to do it before the movers came. Except, of course, that he was asleep or being sick, and I was alone. (It was also my birthday, which just allowed me to feel whinier and sorrier for myself than I should have.)

The week didn’t improve much after that day. We were behind in everything, because my husband continued to feel terrible, and then I got sick, too. Being a diabetic, I don’t handle stomach bugs well, and I ended up in the hospital for a few hours for some IV fluids. We were both exhausted.

My church jumped in to help. We have a contractor in our body, and he helped us with a last-minute repair we needed to finish before closing. And the church also paid for a maid service to do the final cleaning, since neither my husband nor I had the energy to do that ourselves.

Now, here’s where this blog needs to tread lightly, because I’m about to complain. Sort of. I was ecstatic about the help offered to us last week. I was. We had a need, and they jumped in and solved the problem. However, I had another need, and that one went unmet. Not because of any deficiency in my church, but because this is the culture we live in.

You see, the day we moved, I wasn’t ready. My husband wasn’t around to help me make the final decisions of what to store and what to take to my son’s house. I felt utterly alone. And the entire time, I kept hoping God would send someone to make it better. I needed the physical presence of a human body to tell me, in an audible voice, that it was all going to be okay.

That body never arrived. For the entire week, when I went back to the house to pack or went to the storage unit, I did it alone. The big reason for this was that I never asked. I asked for help, and some people did offer to come and help, only the maid service was paid for and took care of the physical help I needed. Nobody offered to come and be emotional support, and I didn’t know how to ask for that, especially while we were healing from a crazy contagious stomach bug. I probably should have accepted the offers for help and simply used the time to sit and talk and refresh at a nearby coffee shop. But I never quite got the courage to say I’m alone and I just sold my house and my husband is sick and I’m not sure I did the right thing and I need a body to show up and help me not go crazy this week.

Many years ago, I lost a baby. It was a different time, when more women stayed home and community had different meaning. At one point, a friend simply sat on the bed with me and talked for hours, and another one brought a bucket and cleaners and cleaned my house. I had no idea how vital both of them were to my healing. And in my head, I think I wanted to experience something similar last week. But I don’t have that kind of support system now. It’s a different world, and I haven’t been careful about creating a net in this world.

I was feeling guilty about this desire for emotional support, because people did help me. The cleaning service was a life saver. But that deeper need, the need not to feel alone… Yeah. And I can say this without feeling too bad, because I know that, had the tables been turned, I wouldn’t have shown up, either. We were sick with something that turned out to be super contagious. My son and son-in-law moved us on their own time, and the only time they had was a Sunday morning, when I should have been in church, so my community was in worship and had no idea I was a wreck at home.  My friends have jobs or small children. Not like everyone can simply drop everything and show up to hold my hand because I’m feeling a little stress about a move–something that was my crazy idea to start with.

I was feeling guilty about my desire until I started to think about the book of Acts. Several times Paul thanks a church for sending someone to strengthen him. The financial gifts from the churches were delivered by human bodies who then offered comfort and friendship. Physical human companionship is valuable, even here in the digital age when we can handle almost every task without ever having a face-to-face human encounter.

This isn’t meant to be a complaint about the people in my life. Instead, it was an eye opener for me. I work from home writing and teaching my son. I have a very relaxed schedule. If someone is in need, I have very few excuses not to show up. And now I realize just how vital simple presence can be. So, I need to be more open to the promptings of the Spirit to get in the car and physically show up when someone might need comfort and friendship. Not everyone has a schedule that lets them do that. And being the backward person that I am, I’m not completely thrilled to write this, because I easily convince myself I can’t help, that I would be a burden, that I have nothing to offer. It is much more comfortable to make excuses and stay home than it is to show up.

It was a hard lesson to learn. And I’m not excited that I learned it. But if I’m going to love the people God put in my life, that means sometimes I have to sacrifice what’s comfortable and simply show up and let the Spirit use me in whatever ways He wants. Because nobody in the body of Christ should ever feel completely alone.

 

Refrigerator Prayers

sorrow bwI have friends who are preparing for ministry overseas, and recently they distributed prayer cards. If you’ve been in the evangelical world for any length of time, you know what I’m talking about–those cards that look like photo Christmas cards with a photo of the family and then the family’s specific prayer needs. I put them on my fridge so I’ll remember them.

Because this family is in preparation mode with another year or two here in the States, the card was filled with prayers that might apply to anyone. Prayers for family unity, marital unity, spiritual growth, financial needs to be met, and transitions to go well. Now, lest I sound like I’m putting down these prayer cards or the specific prayers, I’m not. However, as I read the card, I wondered what it might be like to have a prayer card for everyone in my church.

The idea behind the refrigerator card (my term, by the way) is that a family that’s out of sight is out of mind, and we need to see them to remember to pray for them. Makes sense. But a lot of my church family I see on Sunday and no other times. I have to admit I fall into the out of sight, out of mind mentality a lot. Sure, my body rallies around one another in times of need, but sometimes, in times of regular life, we’re absent from each other’s lives. I don’t like it, but that’s the culture we live in.

I wish I was better at regular, organized prayer. I get that Satan hates us praying, and it is one of the most intense battlefields out there, but I am a child of the King, and I should be able to overcome. Too often, though, I get lazy and don’t include regular prayer in my life.

But what if I did? And what if I had a prayer card in front of me for every family in my church? What if I knew my church family had a prayer card for me? What if once a year I could let someone know what struggles are forefront in my life, and I could know that maybe once a week or once a month or even just once a year everyone in my body would lift those prayers to God on my behalf?

My friends’ prayer card is on my fridge. I need to find a better place for it, a place devoted to prayer, a place devoted to God. I need to arm myself and fight for my Bible reading and prayer life. My friends will soon head into a new world with new difficulties, and they need to count on my prayers to get them through. Right now, I’m not reliable.

And in lieu of a booklet of prayer cards for the rest of my church family (Wouldn’t that be awesome?), I need to find a way to keep each of them in prayer. Not just during the times of struggle, but during the mundane times. Why do I limit my prayers to big items and not pray for my friends’ children’s salvation, their marriages, their personal walks with God? And how can I remind myself and push myself and be the prayer warrior my church family–and my biological family needs?

We just had a wedding at our house, and in a few weeks my oldest will be purchasing a house, so two of my crew will be leaving. Only three of us will be left here. My life is going to slow down. I will have even fewer excuses than before for the lazy state of my life with God. As we transition, I hope and pray that I will put new safeguards into place and once again reorganize my life around my main priority, the God who loves and rescued me. The armor has slipped, and it’s time to cinch it up, get serious, and head back into battle. I’m not sure what that looks like since I fail more than I get it right, but I have to try again. Every failure must be followed with another try. I’m so glad God covers us with grace so we can always, always, always start again.

Are Politicians Made in God’s Image?

Politicians in God's ImageDear Christian friends:

I’m watching the world discuss politics. We all know this is a strange election cycle. It has been filled with drama, with surprising votes, with anger and hostility. Unfortunately, too much of that hostility has come from us. Christian friends. People who claim to believe men are made in the image of God. People who think it’s cool to walk up to strangers and tell them God loves them. People who are told to pray for their leaders and love their enemies.

And yet, I see mockery every day. Sure, we have to consider the character of the next president. Sure, we can discuss their worthiness, their philosophies, their political prowess. God doesn’t mind us choosing our leaders wisely.

However, I am ashamed of us. We mock. I have seen post after post mocking these men and women. Trump is a human made in God’s image. So is Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Sanders. Mrs. Trump. But it feels like open season on them. Let any of them say or do one stupid or embarrassing thing, and suddenly we’re not discussing their worthiness to lead. We’re mocking them as though they are not made in the image of God.

Don’t get me wrong. There are people I just listed whom I want to mock. People who rub me so far the wrong way that it’s scary, and I don’t want to love and pray for them. So I’m not talking to you from some position of success. I have to be careful, too. I have to remind myself that even the worst of us are made in God’s image, and we should weep for their hearts and pray for their lives and hope God calls them and covers their sins with the blood of his son.

Because isn’t that the hope? Can you honestly say you’d like to see all our leaders cling to Jesus and reside forever in his glory? My answer is no. I can be spiteful. I want to see the bad ones pay for being the bad ones. God is not impressed with my attitude. I know it. This is definitely a work in progress.

I was born sinful. As far from Jesus as it was possible to be. All of us were. And His blood was shed–a huge, monumental sacrifice–for me. And for all the other wrecks of humanity he chose to save. I don’t think he’s finished pulling wrecks of humanity to his bosom, covering them with the blood of his son and loving them with an amazing, everlasting love.

So if he does that, do I want to have to admit I mocked those people he loves? Do I want to say no, I never prayed for them. I never showed them respect as his creation. Instead, I joked about their mistakes, laughed at their sins, made people who cared for them feel ridiculous, and otherwise did my best to spread dislike for these people. Not just for their politics, but for them as humans.

Honestly, I don’t want to say all those things to God. I want to know that, if those running for office this year cling to God, I can feel like I’m part of that. I can know I prayed for that. I can rejoice with them and not need to apologize to them for dismissing their humanity. (Right now I’m making a huge judgment call and thinking most of them don’t give an outward appearance that they love God with all their hearts, souls, and minds. And if they suddenly seem to do that, I hope I have an open enough mind to rejoice with them and not hold past discretions against them.)

I don’t normally post mocking things on social media. But I think them sometimes. I say them to family sometimes. I don’t honor all those around me as image bearers of God. I don’t weep for their souls and want them to have the best God can give, namely the blood of Jesus washing them clean. I need to change my attitude. Sometimes I mock out of fear, because it scares me to think of some of these people as leaders. Sometimes I do it because my peers do it. But mostly, it just shows that I haven’t yet learned to value humans as God does.

And that needs to change. Maybe this is the right time to do that. Maybe we can remember that the Trumps and the Sanders and the Clintons and all the other people running for public office have souls. Spirits. Hearts. They can be hurt. They have human emotions and weaknesses. And maybe I should have compassion, even if they don’t seem worthy. God had compassion on me when I wasn’t worthy. I doubt my compassion will ever change these people. But it will change me. And I will be closer to God, and perhaps he will answer me when I cry for the souls of our leaders, our leader wannabes, and others we mock in the news.

I’m with you, Christian friends. I know this has been a strange ride. But let’s let God use it to change us. And when God changes us, love is always the outcome. Always.

 

The Pizza Sign Man

There is a man in my city I pass very often.  I don’t know him–not his name, his family, nothing whatsoever.  All I see is a single action of his, but it’s enough to make me admire him.  I call him the pizza sign man.

For the past several years, this man has stood in all kinds of weather, from snowstorms to heat waves, and held a pizza sign at the edge of a busy road near a pizza place.  If I drive past his corner in the middle of the day, he’s there.  Day in, day out, always on his corner holding his sign.

I doubt many people grow up with the desire to hold a pizza sign.  It’s not a glamorous job.  It’s not terribly challenging, can’t possibly pay well, and to spend hours in one’s head with nobody to talk to surely gets difficult at times, but the pizza sign man continues on.

I spent a lot of years in an upper middle class world.  I worshiped there, have friends there, and am influenced by that world, even though I no longer belong there.  And the upper middle class world is no place for a pizza sign man.  In that world, kids go to college and get good jobs and become successful, those inside the church and out.  And in most churches there, those with more clout in the world have more clout in the church.  The idea, I think, is that a Christian with power and success can reach the world and change the world for Christ in a way a pizza sign man cannot.  Big, beautiful churches are not built by congregations of pizza sign men.  Modern church life and programs take resources pizza men simply can’t muster.

During our marriage my husband has had all kinds of jobs, including a stint making and delivering pizza.  People treat pizza men differently than engineers, but God doesn’t.  When the pizza sign man stands on his corner in the pouring rain, God notices, and I suspect he smiles.

My father is a PhD in Civil Engineering who supported his family for the past decade as a security guard because he lost a job too near retirement age.  Another PhD I know works at Lowes. Doing a job well is all God asks.  Unfortunately, it’s not all the world asks.  And even more unfortunately, the church doesn’t always see the value in the pizza sign man, either.

I don’t know what people think about the pizza sign man when they drive past.  Maybe they feel pity.  Maybe they feel superior.  Maybe they admire him.  I suspect most no longer see him.  I don’t always notice him, but when I do,  I pray for him.  Jesus came for the pizza sign men as much as anyone else, and he loves them and wants to see them in his kingdom someday.  When he first started I would point him out to my children. That man is doing a wonderful thing.  He’s working hard, and he always shows up.  I hope you can be an employee like that someday.

Yes, my friends with kids on scholarship at prestigious schools might think I’m setting too low a bar, but God just grins and hopes my kids grow up to be employees like that, too.  Even more, he hopes my kids will love the pizza sign men and embrace them should they walk through the church doors, because there were times we were living the pizza life, too, and we didn’t always feel the love.

I now attend a church that meets in a ministry building where homeless people are fed every day. I hope we’re welcoming, to doctors and pizza sign men and disabled people on welfare. I hope my youngest, who attends church with us, will never think twice about the status of those he worships with, because I admit there were times in my life when I did. Shameful but true.

And hey, if we could get a pizza sign man to worship with us, maybe our church events would get discounted prices for pizza.

Love is not God

Closeup of candle flame.Okay, I admit the title of this post is sort of click bait. I expect a few people to read it angrily, all ready to defend the Bible and let me know that, indeed, Love is God.

Except the Bible never says that. It says, quite plainly in 1 John 4:8, that God is love.

I understand I’m being difficult. And we’re talking semantics. However, in simplest terms, the problem with us saying Love is God has to do with how we define love. If I am dealing with God, then I’m dealing with Love. That’s what God is Love means. However, if I’m dealing with love, I’m not always dealing with God, because love, in our culture, is defined any number of ways, and not every one of those tracks with the real nature of God. And I think this issue with definitions causes us trouble. We decide what constitutes love and then say that’s what God is. Love is not necessarily God. Continue reading

Battle, notecards, prayers for drought and rain

notecard blogI’ve mentioned that I’m learning about prayer this year, both personal prayer as well as intercessory prayer (praying for others) during weekly communion at my church.  During the week I find myself praying again for those I pray with on Sundays, and I decided I want to acknowledge that connection.

I’m not the kind of person who picks up the phone and calls people. In fact, at the moment we have no phone in our house, either landline or mobile. So calling is out. Emailing is a possibility, but I had this idea that I wanted to do this old school. I wanted to write a quick note to people God brought to my mind during the week. The kind of note that requires an ink pen and a stamp.

So, I went online and started to look for note cards, specifically note cards good for writing about prayer. I found a few. Some were expensive, although most of those were gorgeous works of art. Some were average. Some had images and some words. But nothing jumped out as the perfect prayer card. Sure, a simple piece of paper would do, but there is so much more going on here, and I want even the card to symbolize what happens when brothers and sisters pray for one another.

Okay, if you’ve read enough of my blogs or know me personally, you might have figured out I never, ever, ever do things the easy way. I had this amazing idea while searching–I would make my own cards! There are online printers who could print them inexpensively, and then my cards could perfectly express my feelings about what a prayer card should be.

If you’re laughing, that’s okay. I’m some odd mix of perfectionist/control freak/crafting freak/crazy person. And this card idea got all those different parts of my personality drooling. A new project.

First, I wanted a Bible verse, because I believe there is power in the Word of God. Turns out there are a lot of Bible verses about prayer. A whole lot. Tons. Somehow, I found myself in James five. The old classic is there, about the prayer of a righteous man availing much. However, that entire section of James is about prayer. It’s about Elijah praying for drought because Ahab was worshiping false gods. Then three years later he prayed for the rain to return, and after a big brouhaha between Elijah and the Baal worshipers that included fire from heaven, God sent rain.

James recounts this in simple terms, his point being that a normal guy can pray and expect big things to happen. Some of that passage is very commonly quoted. But one verse, one simple little verse, hit somewhere in my gut, and I knew that was what I wanted to express on my cards. The truth of this verse was the truth I’d been looking for, the one I want to share with anyone I pray with.

James 5:18 says “And he (Elijah) prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”

It’s about the meeting of heaven and earth, of the otherwordly and the wordly, of physical need and higher need. The phrase “heaven gave rain” might simply mean the sky, but I suspect it means more, because rain has a lot more meaning in scripture, too. Rain has to do with life, with growth. And usually mention of rain is tied to the fact that we can’t control it. Rain and drought are in God’s hands, so rain is a gift from above.

So, Elijah, a man like us, first prayed for drought against the wicked. We still pray for that–for justice, for fairness, for evil to be curbed. We pray against false gods, false philosophies, leaders who lead their people astray. We pray that the kingdom will expand, because that will require the old, sinful world to contract.

But then we turn around and pray for restoration, for a return to the garden where we began. In that garden we knew perfect health. We experienced unbroken relationships with people, and we walked closely with God. We labored with success. I realized this week just how many of our prayers are for restoration–health, family, relationships, jobs, physical needs, rest, salvation for loved ones… Almost every prayer takes us to the garden. It takes us to our need for rain from heaven and fruit from the earth.

Prayer note idea 2Second, I wanted something pretty. The person who opens this card needs to feel special. He or she needs to know I  am taking him/her to God’s throne. My prayer friends need to know how much I value and treasure the opportunity to do that. They need to know they are worthy of God’s blessings of beauty and comfort, whatever situation they find themselves in.

I’m leaning toward images of flowers, maybe because it’s spring, and I’m already thinking flowers and growth and warmth and life. I  want to send not only words of hope and restoration, but images of it, too. Beauty is part of the kingdom. So why not tuck a little beauty into my envelopes?

I need to pray for people all week long. I plan to listen closely and see if he wants me to pray spontaneously for those he’s put in my life, maybe those whose needs I don’t even know. Regardless, I’m soon to be armed with my little cards. Then, of course, I have to use them. Spiritual battle is real, and even my silly little cards will bring it on. But that’s okay. Elijah was an ordinary man, and he fought evil with prayers on a mountain and saw fire from heaven and then rain. I plan to battle with short Sunday prayers and note cards, and I hope to see a few fires and some rain myself.

 

 

 

Finding Celebration

finding celebrationThis year I’ve been thinking through spiritual disciplines,  which are simply ways to keep God forefront in my mind and heart in a world that doesn’t make that easy. Things like prayer, hospitality, journaling, retreats, worship, etc.

Last night I was looking through my new favorite book, which has all kinds of disciplines in it. Included in this book is a quiz to help a person decide what disciplines might best fit with what God is doing with her now–and because of that I’ve been focusing on prayer, since God is clearly teaching me more about prayer right now.

But last night I was feeling heavy and unsettled. I’m falling into old patterns. I’m trying to organize my space and time and life so I honor God, hoping to grow, trying to get some things in order as I enter a new stage in my life. Last week I finished teaching kids who aren’t mine. This year most of my kids will fly the coop. Most of the excuses I have for not pursuing God as I should are leaving me. It’s time to get serious about this.

However, I’ve been failing at some things. Not praying like I want to pray. Not studying like I want to study. Anyway, I opened my book and started at the beginning. The book has disciplines grouped, and the first grouping is worship. It’s one I’ve barely looked at. So, I looked at it.  One of the first disciplines I saw was celebration.

Ouch. Celebration. I struggle with this, both spiritually and otherwise. Years ago, I would make a big deal out of holidays, birthdays, festivals. But when my husband lost his job eight years ago and we fell back below the poverty level after years of being above it, I stopped with many of those things. Money was an issue, and we were all frustrated with life, and I didn’t have the energy for all of it. In survival mode, I didn’t leave room for celebration.

Now I belong to a church that pay attention to the church calendar, so there are seasons where we celebrate, like Easter, and seasons where we wait, like Advent and Lent, and again, it seems difficult. I struggle to decide how to implement these in my family. They’ve grown accustomed to not celebrating, so they roll their eyes when I try. We’ve become very somber and cynical, and I think it has everything to do with us not celebrating. Not celebrating God as an act of worship–praise–and not celebrating the rhythms God has put in the world, like seasons and birthdays and anniversaries.

Last week in a post I mentioned I was trying to look at goals in a new way. Instead of simply writing a goal for my life and then failing, I am trying to decide why I’m failing. And so I looked at celebration, which used to be part of my life, and tried to figure out what had changed.

First, my family is older. They simply don’t get excited about things. If need be, I can celebrate alone. And eventually, if I can restore some lost traditions and create some new, they’ll get on board. Especially birthdays–I doubt any of them will actually turn down the chance to be king for a day.

Part of it is indecision. I freeze. Should I get a gift? Make a meal? What should I do to celebrate Advent, given the internet has five million awesome ideas? How can we add new traditions to Easter to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection? How can I celebrate God on a daily basis through praise? Singing? Writing? Art?

Being the kind of person who overthinks everything, all those questions make me crazy. And at this moment, I’m not sure how to overcome this one. But I’m going to try.

Finally, I’m tired. I just had a physical, so I know I’m healthy. I’m a type one diabetic, and that can be draining. It takes constant diligence, so I get mentally tired. But the worst offender is simply my schedule. My husband works second shift, and neither he nor I have done well with a second shift life. If I’m going to be serious about living life to the full, I have to sleep better. There is no way around that. I need to watch my sugar levels so I’m not wakened at four a.m. to fix a low. I need to go to bed earlier. I love to study and read before bed, but I have to start that earlier, because I wake up early regardless of when I go to bed. Maybe I have to nap. I know I need to step up the exercise. But however I do it, I have to get more sleep so I can live with more energy and excitement about my days.

So, I have some work to do. Celebration wasn’t on my radar at all. But if I want to reach the world in any way, I can’t do it all somber and uninspired. The Bible is filled with praise. I intend to work through Psalms, especially, and remind myself that God is about joy. Because of him I have a guaranteed awesome future. And celebrating that is important. Celebrating people I love is important. Celebrating God’s creation–seasons and harvests–is important.

And maybe, if I don’t overthink this and simply call out my inner child, I can have fun with this. And then my family can have more fun with life. I want my children to follow God their entire lives. It’s an adventure with ups and downs and smiles and tears. Lately I haven’t been expressing the full scope of this journey. I feel that if I do, my children, my family, and all those around me will see more of God and want to join me in celebration, too.