Friday, January 1

When You've Never Seen Prayer Answered Like This

This fall, when my husband’s co-worker approached him, it turned out that he didn’t want to talk shop. Instead he asked, low-voiced and private, if my husband would pray for his family. The month would come up short for them, their two incomes wouldn’t be enough. With hardy assurances and thanks, these two men parted from this brief disclosure one knowing well the worry and the scarcity and the other knowing not the role he would play.

My husband wasn’t so much invited to pray as he was invited to recline and watch the show of God. Though he did pray; he did wonder how the Almighty would hear and if his own hands needed to offer the help. Yet, it was more than my husband could provide and it seemed there wasn’t anything he was to do; no risky response, no severe solution. So, he did what he could -- he listened and watched.

At the same time, he had his own private wish, to see for himself the lavishness of God. How long and wide and high and deep could the provision, protection and grace possibly be? For months the question had echoed against the walls that guarded his doubts and God wasn’t appearing particularly arresting or excessive or lush. This is the place where the story met him.  

My husband was also working on crafting a sermon about prayer, about how telling stories of prayer encourages us to pray more. Settled in at the coffee shop where he studies, he took to the restroom and inside that small dark, room he found the response of heaven.  A quiet wrapper of cash, hardly hidden in the hand towels, with a barely legible note: “Do what you want… it’s your choice.”

That day someone we’ve never met, and may never, was listening intently to God. What was it that moved them to so randomly give? An abundance? A sacrifice? A letting go?  Were they giving thanks as they withdrew the fifties and hundreds? Were they mourning a loss as they tucked them into the envelope? Were they tearful as they scrawled the cramped words on the gift? We don’t get to know. We just got to watch. God was there in that restroom; working, renewing, and releasing one need to fill another.

I joined my husband that day, a rare afternoon when our work brought us together instead of apart. I spotted and lifted the envelope to make out the scrawled writing while he told me of his discovery. Immediately, he told me of his co-worker’s request and we knew at once that the money would pass through our hands to his. It was just the amount they were missing.

My husband went to work the next day, pulled his friend aside and said, “Look at how God has provided for you.” Through the joyful tears there were assurances. No, it wasn’t ours. Yes, it was truly found. Yes, it was meant for him. The lavishness of God displayed in the lavatory.  The loving answer for both of them.

Paul tells us in Acts 17 that God isn’t served by our hands. Our contributions are slight compared to his wondrous goodness and grace. He gives us life. He gives is breath and, Acts says, he gives us all things. We are comforted in our unrest knowing he’s placed us in our homes, in our cities, in our coffee shops in order to find his abundance exactly as we grope for it. Keep groping, my friends. He will be found. He is not far from us at all.

Tuesday, June 2

The Problem of Hope

We sit together, you and me, at the finishing edge of spring.  Together we are dangling our feet over the bank that slips us into summer – that time of the year which, at least for me, symbolizes freedom. There’s a longing right now, call it Spring Fever, to move into “what’s next,” and leave “what was” behind, to jump in with both feet and land in a cool pool of revel and romp.  But we can’t rush, and so I sit and long and wonder over all the pleasures to come.

I see summer as a gift-giver.  She’s a generous bestower who has planned these next full months with warm surprises. It feels like she has saved and secretly squandered some of the better parts of the year so they can be shared now. With a little extra grace, a little extra time, and a little extra energy, summer brightly invites me to live out hope.

Hope is the expectation of a future good.  But there have been times in my life when I have equated that good with a certain thing.  I have hoped for the right job, the right counselor, the right trip, the right schedule.  I have hoped for a mentor, for friends, for my children to make sound choices, and for my husband’s occupation to satisfy.

I have hoped for a world of things and as I’ve awaited them, I’ve imagined the Giver of all good things working hard behind the scenes, like a basket weaver making a vessel big enough to hold all the final answers to my questions. But each time I received that gift basket, the one that I thought resolved all my problems, I was filled, not with satisfaction, but unrest.

It’s been my continual hope that God was working toward my best end.  And in that misplaced way of hope only lay disappointment.  What I found, when I finally received that thing I hoped for, was that it was never fully satisfying.

That job that seemed just right was a place of emptiness and duplicity. That friend that seemed to want to help walked away. That trip happened and then ended. That dream curriculum was too complicated to use. That schedule made us crazy. When I put my hope in things I found the things lacking.

Hoping in things makes me a slave to that thing and when it fails me, my hope fails with it. But hoping in Christ gives me freedom. These days, my hopes are focused on wanting him to bring about his best end. I hope for the redemption of all things, his creation, his people, his Church, which includes my children, our impact and our attitudes. 

He can work all things together for his good purposes. This inevitably elevates my own in ways I never could have hoped for. Things end and decay and show themselves to be imperfect, but God is consistency, love, justice and peace.

I don’t hope for the next 'thing' anymore.  I reach for new opportunities, but what I hope to grab onto is christlikeness.  I hope that today is brighter than yesterday because God is in it and in me. 

C.S. Lewis says that hope is a “continual looking forward to the eternal world.”  Hope is not a job, nor is it that perfect house, that baby, that achievement. It is the creation of Christ being made complete.  This is true freedom no matter what the season is.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
-- Alexander Pope

Thursday, April 30

When Teens Say 'Yes' To Adulthood

I'm contributing monthly to the efforts of my inspiring friend Lori Lane of The End in Mind and Artios Academy.  While I'm no longer a homeschooler -- I still have your backs -- I had the honor of posting this over at The End in Mind today. 

Recently, a friend of mine went through the harrowing ordeal of sitting in a hospital waiting room while her father-in-law’s condition went from bad to worse.  In the white-knuckled hours that passed those first shaky end-of-life discussions were had and hospice was called.  He would be going home and they would wait at his bedside and keep him comfortable.

A week into her family’s severe new way of life, her father-in-law surprisingly took a turn for the better, caught a new wind and kept everyone listening to his stories and his spiritual testimonies.  Meanwhile, my friend had a competing engagement; her own son turned 18 and it seemed right to all of the family to lift their heads, put a pause on their trouble and celebrate his coming of age.  This meant that her mother-in-law, the full-time caregiver, found a need to be released for an evening to put on a clean sweater, fresh lipstick and a smile so she could kiss her grandson with pride. 

I knew they were in the middle of all of this, but I did not anticipate their solution.  She sent the most stirring text a friend can send, “Can your son come sit with my father-in-law for a few hours?” 

My son is 15.  He’s never, in his recollective memory, lost a grandparent.  Since our friends and family have thus far been spared the uncertainties of failing health, he’s not even been near the infirm.  He’s never sat at a bedside, never held a feeble hand, never practiced the gift of presence with anyone.  He’s social and quirky and bold.  Sending him into a hospice room wouldn’t have been my first assignment to teach him the ways of compassion.

But my friend saw who he could be. She saw his ability to hold a conversation and to make the speaker feel valued and heard. She saw his kind-heartedness, his bravery and his extroverted nature.  She saw the best version of him and called it out, issuing him the greatest invitation and challenge of his teen life.  

My knee-jerk reaction was to want to say, “No” for him and to offer myself or my husband in return.  Part of a parent’s job is to fill in the gaps for our kids’ deficiencies -- making their forgotten apologies, instructing their thank-you notes, making snubbed friends feel loved.  But I took a moment to reframe my perspective: “He’s not deficient.  He’s capable.”  Reflecting on the wisdom my friend has dispensed in the years we’ve walked together, I acknowledged that she both knew him and what she was doing so I could trust that this request was right just as it was. 

Two things happened in that moment.  First, he was roused to examine his emerging abilities. And I was provoked to see him in the same affirmative and mature way way she did.  My son was becoming himself, someone wholeheartedly distinct and effectual outside of me.

In that moment, I chose not to say no for my son, but to give him the experience of deciding what kind of grown-up he was going to become.  He’ll soon be off on his own in the world.  Would he be taking experiences of extreme compassion and selflessness in his social toolbox? Or had I buffered him from the most acute suffering? Why should I shield him from the practice of love?

He, of his own accord, bravely said, “Yes,” giving my friend’s family the gift of time away.  The three hours he gave to a man whose days are likely few, were spent listening to stories of family and faith.  But, quietly he took note of his swollen hands, and the way his bed creaked when he coughed.  My son, the burgeoning man, encouraged and nodded and made a million mature decisions about how to move and how to speak and what kind of eye contact was just enough.  There in that room, without a television to distract him or an ipod humming in his ear my son shared the gift of a common humanity with a man who still had much to teach. 

One day, it will be a loved one in that bed and my grown son will go prepared with his tools of compassion.  I’m grateful that he won’t walk into that future scene feeling fearful and deficient, but knowing that he’s becoming the adult he practiced to be, full of the competence established by the trusting adults who went before him.


Sunday, March 29

When I'm Wrong

On Monday, the sun rose at seven a.m. On that first official day of my children's spring break I stole the early morning hours to go hiking with a friend.  This had been our habit, the way we spent our time together though the fall and winter, schedules and snows, had gotten in the way.

When the light peaked warmly through the trees we stepped out and began our catch-up as we maneuvered the hills around her home.  How was my research job?  How was her writing? We laughed and related over celebrating birthdays, her recent trip to Europe, and even discussed the open-wound challenges of our lives -- my place of ministry and her walk through cancer.

She told me the latest about her treatment and recovery and then I said that stupid thing -- that thing that assumed something I should never have assumed -- that her doctor surely gave her a vision for what her future would be like.  My friend stopped me with a profound and weighty head shake.  "No. She doesn't ever do that." And the solemnity pressed down on me all the way home.

I was wrong to infuse misguided optimism into that moment. When one is fighting a battle each day, we can't jump to an alternate reality, we have to fight for today with them.


In winter's middle the sun was setting on an endeavor we'd begun a year prior. Many dear friends had filled our home for weeks on end, dreaming together of building a church that would send a new expression of Jesus into the world. And as we neared that final push toward becoming a worshiping people we saw a breakdown beginning.

I compare it to singing in church next to someone who is tone-deaf; you continue singing knowing you're not exactly together in every way, but because the words and worship are the same it's enough.  While we couldn't quite put our finger on it, we knew we had all grown off-key and were politely allowing each other to sing anyway.

At that point we did a wrong thing.  We examined what we thought to be true and what would best fit the needs of the kingdom and calling and we decided to end our endeavor as church planters.  We hoped we could maintain the community.  We thought there would be a collective sigh of relief and gratitude.  But we misread the signs of what was happening around us.

We were wrong to assume such positive ends could come without a voiced struggle.  We spent weeks speaking apologies, listening to each person's now-expressed need, and trying to realign our perspective to a more accurate, however uncomfortable, truth. Each conversation revealed the different corners our wrongness had taken us and only that realization allowed the next right steps to surface.


There in midnight's darkness, our down comforter covering us safe, my mind scrutinized some details of our together-life and I bravely breathed out a question that I'd held back for years.  When he answered in that way that said, "I can only be honest with you," I stopped breathing and prayed in that urgent, grasping way for wisdom.

In every human interaction we have the opportunity to make things better or make things worse. I could initiate an unraveling of something long good or I could bind us together in trust. Having recently been wrong in these other ways, I knew that now was the time to listen and not assume.  Nothing was changing in that moment, I was just becoming aware that the reality I had imagined was simply not real.  I had been wrong.

In that moment I remembered a conversation wherein one friend asked "Why is anyone surprised to discover that pastors, politicians, writers and friends are flawed and mistake-laden people?" To which someone responded a deep truth, "because we'd rather trust in a person we can touch than a God we cannot."  I wonder, when I'm wrong, how much have I ceased to trust that loving God?


Years ago I watched a TED talk by Kathryn Schulz on "Being Wrong," in which she said, "The miracle of your mind isn't that you can see the world as it is. It's that you can see the world as it isn't." This is one of the reasons why we get things wrong. We see the world as we imagine it to be, knowing what it has been and what God is working to make it into. It's a beautiful facet of our minds, indeed, but we don't always get it right.

Another reason why I get things wrong is because of the way I define and live out love.  I simply say that love is thinking the best of someone.  In doing this I do two things: I assume their best intent and I imagine their best version.  In my opinion, my hiking friend's best version is a woman who is completely healed, my church's best intent was to love one another into a different version of community, my husband's best version is one that doesn't fall into temptation.  The way I choose to love looks through challenges and disappointments to something better that can come of it. It baffles me that loving in this way can be wrong, but it can.

As I've prepared Easter sermons for my clients this week I've had the chance to think about Peter. In Matthew 16 he got something so very right when he confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, only to be so very wrong ten chapters later when he said, "Though they all fall away, I will never!" After this, he denied Jesus three times and when the realization of his wrong act and angle occurred to him he wept bitterly.

I've been right there with Peter; the tears over my own mistakes, the pain my own denials can cause, the destined and tremendous change that comes along with repentance.

But Jesus had already given Peter a way of hope.  When he predicted Peter's denial in that tension filled, sorrowful, last supper He gave them all a glimpse of life after death, saying they'd all be together in Galilee.  Even though they'd desert him in all their various ways, he already intended to forgive them, to be with them in relationship and renewal. Nothing was too egregious, nothing was too big for grace.

When I'm wrong I've needed the grace given to me.  My hiking friend sent a sweet text the next day. Many from the church plant are still doing life with us. My husband still sleeps by my side because we believe that's what forgiveness looks like. Nothing is beyond grace. The only thing that gets in the way is us.

I heard Bob Goff ask at the IF:Gathering this year, "What is the next humblest version of you?"  This must be it. I've been wrong. I'll be wrong again, but it won't stop me from love.

Fallor ergo sum.