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.

Thursday, February 19

The Other Side of Lent

I liked her, but secretly.  My professor in seminary was a small Korean woman who spoke into our first-semester lives a host of things, most of which we weren't certain we agreed with.  Each week, as she taught us multicultural ministry, her lectures came out with chopped-up ideas and uncomfortable questions.  I couldn't always track with her but when I did she left me gasping over the profound new way she viewed truth and God and love.  She used phrases like "both/and" and "we are spiritual beings who have a human experience." But I was among students who preferred saying "either/or" and disdained that cultic "spiritual" talk.

Because we were 24.  And evangelical.  And seminary students.  And we lived in the Western World. And we knew so many things, you see.

She made me uncomfortable in my faith but I was drawn to her uniqueness.  So, I kept my mouth shut while the other students fumed and shook their heads.  I kept listening.  Over the years, she encouraged me in different classes and finally nominated me for a "Graduate Who's Who" edition and essentially said, "Don't be silent anymore. You are somebody."

But everyone didn't have the same experience.  Some students took their pent-up anger to the dean of the school to say, "She's wrong" and "She shouldn't be teaching."  He disagreed.  And the wisdom of age and experience trumped the passionate jump of youth whose depth of insight was not deep enough to make a splash in the world.

Sometimes we think we're more than we are. 

Yes, I'm taking up laughter for Lent.  But it's not that haughty, gloss-over the hard stuff, look-at-me-like-we're-in-middle-school kind of laughter.  There's another side, a self-reproaching awareness, a step into the humble.  The other side of Lent is that I am giving up taking myself so seriously. 

Here's what I know: I don't part the waters for any one.  I don't hold back any powers of destruction, see the complete picture of truth, or establish a foundation in any place.  Nothing is truly built on my life.  I like to think that in tandem with the rest of the Church I have a role to play, but I don't make her body move, establish her beauty, or push her blood through her veins.

I have as much opportunity to follow Wisdom as anyone else and equal chances to draw the short stick when I attempt to take hold of her.  In my attempts to be kind, I am not always right.  In my attempts to be right, I cheat kindness.  Nothing sets me apart except the expectations of those around me.  And in this season I'm saying to myself, "You don't save anyone.  Let the expectations be directed to God."

Reading through Job again I suddenly see how self-important Job is and all my prior impressions are now shattered.  Where was the righteous man who was so innocently acted upon?  The sermons and stories and New Testament scriptures over the course of my life painted him so saintly.  "Well, sometimes tragic things happen to the best of us."  But in this read-through all I see is his pride and all I sense is his entitlement.  Perhaps I'm learning to read it through my own heart.

When we take ourselves so seriously ("I deserved something different") we jump into anger and offense.  We demand responses.  We view ourselves as examples of truth.  We can't take a joke or make fun of ourselves.  We dare not be wrong.  Thus, you see, where the need for laughter comes in.

A friend of mine said last week, "Sometimes things falling apart seems like a dreaded unraveling to be avoided at all reasonable cost. Then it happens, usually in more than one way, and the grip I had on my ravelry is laughable. Levity and relief enter, an unexpected benefit. Suddenly I realize: the universe of possibly is now open to me."

This Lenten season, if any new truth is going to open up to me -- and please, God, may it be so -- I need to make room for it lest the ego fill the whole space that was meant for wonder and worship and worth. 

We give up so that we might take up.  They happen together else we fill the void with ourselves.

Sunday, February 15

Lent is for Laughing

Then I [wisdom] was constantly at his side.  I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, 
rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.  
-- Proverbs 8:30-31

I had a great aunt whose faith was the vehicle through which she served the world.  She spent 40 years in ministry, cared for a disabled daughter and loved the same man for 60 years.  Her life's work took her to people on reservations and in prisons, to senior citizens, migrants and gamblers.  When she passed away four autumns ago it was in order to begin a long deserved rest.

When my aunt's health initially started to decline she told her husband that, should she pass on before him, she knew the woman he should marry.  She named for him a woman they'd known some 57 years prior.  A few months after my aunt's memorial, he found the woman she named, widowed now herself, and after many long distance phone calls and a visit, they were married in the spring.

My uncle's resolve demonstrates that there is a way to find joy during times of sorrow and it just might be to let sorrow do its work of leading us to joy.  James says, 'Count it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance and may endurance have its perfect result that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.'  Count it all can be defined as consider it all.  I've written before about how this is a thinking word... a cognitive assent to think through, process, what the trial just might be doing to bring us to wholeness.  The joy here is not necessarily a feeling, but a hopeful knowing.

In this season of life, I walk around with this mixture of joy and sorrow.  Joy for what God led us to spend the last 15 months doing with people that were inspiring and generous and loyal.  And yet sorrow for the pain of the piercing arrows I've endured, and even caused, in the days since we saw fit to let that chapter close.  Some days I mourn and some days I dance.  And feeling truly 'tossed by the wind' I know finding wisdom going forward will require that I abandon this double-mindedness.

Which brings me to Lent.

Over the past six years, Lent has proven to be the most formative time of year for me.  The practices I've participated in have shaped, stretched and frustrated me.  We've given up things like meat and income. I've taken up things like writing, prayer and presence. This year I wanted to resolutely set out to take up joy and gratitude but I wanted to make that more tangible and more effective for all of us in our home.

So, here it is. This year, I'm taking up laughing for Lent.  And it's a family project.  I heard it said, in a recent interview with April Smith, who lost her two young sons in an EF4 tornado back in May, that to live in sorrow would negate their life.  And in that moment it occurred to me that no matter what the untold stories are of our last year, I needed to move firmly into the joy that comes from the bone-deep gratitude I feel as a result of it. I need to match what I know with what I feel. I think that's Paul's idea of 'making joy complete' -- to be one in spirit and in mind.

Every day I'll practice the abandon that might take the form of play or sport or celebration.  I'll read truly witty authors, the kind that make me laugh out loud.  I'll watch a movie once a week that's funny -- and not in the dark humor or frat party kind of way.  My kids and I will practice levity and irony and watch Jimmy Fallon clips and go to family friendly improv.  Even the people I spend time with need to be okay with calling out the absurdities of life and poking fun at our own faults. This Lent I am committed to laugh and laughter really only works when we do it together.

We tend to look at Lent as this somber time when we whip our own backs and kill our own spirits.  But I believe that God loves it when we love life.  My friend, Margaret Feinberg says, "Joy begins in God and all that exists was born in joy." (By the way, read her newest book. It will form the way you view joy). The book of Proverbs describes a women in this way: "Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.  She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue."   When we're laughing at life we find a way to understand others and the events of our lives.  When we're seeing the joy we're moving into wisdom.  When gratitude is our lens then we can know the strength brought by abandon.  Sorrow can be shackling, but laughter breaks the chains.

At my core, gratitude has already won. Now, for the next 40 days, my body will practice what my soul already knows.  And on this next Resurrection Day I'll celebrate the delight of life. "Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight." -- Psalm 43:4

(**I know what I'm going to read, but I'm completely lost on funny movies.  If you know some good ones, leave me a comment.  Thanks!)

Thursday, February 5

Finishing Sentences for Jesus

There's one person on the planet who holds the title of My Best Friend.  We spent our last year of high school finding one another and knitting ourselves together with honesty and bravery.  We wrote so many words to one another in college, paid for untold long distance minutes, visited, wished, valued.  Her one beautiful life took her to Japan, then California, and then New Zealand and she never came back.  

I haven't seen her in thirteen years.  But when I sign up for accounts on websites and the secret question is, "What is the name of your best friend?" I type in her name.  When I read the story of David and Jonathan I think of her because I still believe we are one in spirit and I love her as myself.  When I was pregnant with my sons, each of them, I toyed with making her name my back-up name in case the baby I birthed was a daughter.  Her impact on my life reaches from my adult beginnings and will persist unto my end. 

This was a relationship wherein we could finish one another's sentences, where it wasn't tricky to have to determine how she would respond, how she'd feel, or wonder what pool of unhealth I might disturb if I was boldly me.  While we had to work through some disappointments and misunderstandings, hers was never a thorny embrace.  

I've been thinking about the disciples lately.  Having found the one their culture was longing for, the fulfillment of all the stories, the hope of all the ages, they must have felt seen and known to be invited into his life. But then they had to learn to relate to him as a person. What must it have been like to see how painfully slow Jesus was at putting on his sandals, how he entered a home and ignored them so he could give the host his attention, how he leaned a little too hard on those he dined with and made his plans for the day that left so much wasted time.  Did it ever bother them when he just disappeared to pray or whistled while they walked all those miles or laughed too loud at John's fishing stories?  Was life with Jesus ever not quite what they were expecting?   

It must have been.  Because so many times Jesus puts them on the spot with questions, "Who do people say that I am?  Now, how about you?" "Why are you talking about having no bread?  Don't you understand?"  or "Where is your faith?"  And over and over again they seemed to be stumped.  How they must have wracked their brain to think of the answer he was searching for. Perhaps they hoped, like my perfectionist brain does, to score the exact right answer.  Being able to finish Jesus' sentences always must have felt like a test. 

Did any of them ever get it?  Aside from the time that Peter said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God," was there ever a gold star for their responses?  What knit them together if they couldn't predict his desires?  If they can't answer the Pharisees when they ask, "Why does your best friend eat with tax collectors and sinners?"  or "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?"  We never hear fantastic answers from these guys.  They cannot speak the mind of Christ.  Maybe they were smart enough to know they shouldn't try while Jesus was still with them.

This gives me great comfort because I'm weary of trying to finish sentences for Jesus.  To the question of, "What does God want?" or "What now?" I can only answer, "I don't know. Ask him yourself." If you know him, talk daily to him on your own.  I cannot give you your answer from Jesus.  Get it from him. Watch his lips.  Carefully notice his cues.  Follow his eyes.  Experience how tricky it can be and then show some grace for each other.

Some days I think I can know the mind of Christ.  And other days I have to submit to the mystery.  Is our Christ fickle?  No.  Does my self-importance get in the way?  Most certainly.  Can I finish Jesus' sentences?  Only for me, but not for you. Only to declare him as Lord. That may be the only time we get it right.