Maybe this is a good place to start

  Every time I see another person say “suck it up” or “stop whining and move on,” I feel more bereft than before—because those statements show that people don’t get it. This isn’t about politics, and suggesting that my sadness isn’t valid is belittling. Honestly, this response only underscores the reasons I’m upset in the ...

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Every time I see another person say “suck it up” or “stop whining and move on,” I feel more bereft than before—because those statements show that people don’t get it. This isn’t about politics, and suggesting that my sadness isn’t valid is belittling. Honestly, this response only underscores the reasons I’m upset in the first place.

Since hearing someone else’s story always changes my understanding, I’m sharing mine with you. I’m sure there are plenty of people who are whining and pouting and just like to be mad. But there are lots and lots of other people who, I think, feel much like I do. Our rights may not be compromised, but we see that those of others might be, and we feel the pain on their behalf.

If anything unusual happened during these past few months, it is that people went public with their thoughts and opinions and our social media environment helps remove social filters. Which should be good. We want honesty and authenticity, right? Except that in so many cases the thoughts and opinions exposed were ugly. Downright hateful and mean and insulting.

(I know this goes both ways, although among my friends, I’ve seen next to nothing of the sort coming from the liberals and tons of bashing from the conservatives—but many of the conservatives I know tell me that all the liberals are hateful and violent. And that’s exactly my point. When we make broad generalizations, we’re insulting actual, specific individuals. Most of us are not extremists, and general statements like that are, quite simply, not fair. And I’m genuinely sorry I didn’t realize that sooner.)

Am I happy with the outcome? No. I accept that Donald Trump will be my President, and I will try to give him a chance. But my political disappointment is no more extreme than that of a conservative when Obama was elected. About half the time, simply because of the way democracy works, we will all be disappointed. No big deal.

Am I grieving? Yes. But the reason is not because “my” candidate lost the election.

It is not because Donald Trump was elected. It’s because grief is sometimes the appropriate response when something is lost. It’s right to feel sad when you see wrongs and injustices.

These past few months, we all witnessed new levels of hatred and division, name-calling and bullying. As I watched the results pour in on Tuesday night, I started to cry because I realized that the conclusion of the election will not conclude the problem.

We’ve seen too much to go back. We’ve seen who we are—as a country, as different political groups, as a Church. Maybe Trump didn’t cause the ugliness in individual people but he inherently, by his own words, gave permission to people to speak out. They felt comfortable letting others see parts of themselves they would have once kept hidden. And now millions more feel acute rejection—because even if, as a Trump supporter, you’re not hateful or bigoted, Trump’s victory seems to many to be an endorsement of those traits.

When people are hurting, we—as Christians—should feel empathy and sorrow. It’s not sadness about Democrats “not getting our way.” It’s about having compassion for the millions of hurting people who need to know that even though Trump won, we believe they have value. We see them.

Here’s just a little bit of what else we’ve seen.

  • Many people—who are anything other than straight, white, middle class Christians—are feeling justifiable fear. Countless individuals are being taunted, facing hatred, and experiencing violent backlash simply because of their ancestry or a stereotype.
  • Millions of women are victims of sexual abuse, and many men simply cannot understand what mainstream acceptance of sexism and abuse does to a woman’s soul.
  • Not all Christians believe the same things—or if we do, we choose to live out our ideologies very differently.
  • Many Christians (and to be fair, probably many other religions, too) feel threatened by those who believe differently.
  • Nobody likes to be stereotyped; we want to be evaluated on our individual merits and behaviors, not someone’s opinion about a group we belong to.
  • Our actions have a real impact on others’ perceptions of who we are—especially as Christians, who are called to show God to the world. People (within and outside of the Church) are questioning if Christianity is all they thought it was, and if our God is worth following if His followers act this way.
  • Minorities and differences are not as accepted as we thought.
  • Thousands (probably millions) have spent their lifetimes feeling ignored, so when Trump made them feel seen, they responded to him. At the same time, countless others feel unseen now because of the number of votes for a platform seemingly opposed to their beliefs or lifestyles.
  • Because so many voted “against” rather than “for”—we know that negative emotions like dislike and distrust are extremely powerful motivators.

These issues aren’t about politics but basic human decency—the lack of it and the necessity for more of it. Now that we know, it’s not as simple as just “dropping it” and moving on.

This could be a really good thing. It could. When something is hidden, it can’t be addressed. Hidden things hold a dark kind of power over us.

But now we can change.

So, as a liberal, am I packing my bags and leaving the country? No. I won’t deny that in the midst of my emotions, I didn’t wish I could. But I don’t usually run from a problem, even if I could. So instead I’m spending time with trusted friends who make me feel safe to be me. I’m talking to God and trying to come to terms with our new reality. I’m praying for insight and direction and inspiration.

And I’m hoping—fervently, passionately hoping—that this will be the start of something amazing. That this will not be an era of hate, but that people will pull together to find the good. That we will work together to help people who aren’t just like us feel they belong. That we will learn to look beyond our own experience and be aware of someone else’s.

Recently, we’ve focused on our differences, but if we look harder, I believe we can find more to bring us together. And if we believe what our faith teaches us, we all have work to do.

  • As Christians, we have to forgive—not because it’s our gut response or because we’re feeling magnanimous but because we were first forgiven by Christ.
  • We have to love others—because we were loved first with an extravagant love whose depths we cannot begin to fathom.
  • We must stop judging because God is the righteous judge. We must stop casting stones because we are not without our own sin.
  • We need to accept others, because Jesus turned no one away. God’s love is freely offered to everyone.

But it’s not all hard stuff.

  • We get to hope because God alone brings hope into impossible situations.
  • We get to remember that these trials in our world are nothing for a God who is not limited by place or time or circumstance. No need is beyond his capacity for repair or his ability to procure.

We do know this, right? Then let’s act like we believe it. Let’s build genuine relationships with all types of people and not be afraid of that which is different. Let’s attempt to understand where those we disagree with are coming from. Let’s not get bogged down by despair but let’s do find more, better ways to extend kindness and generosity with sincerity and grace. Let’s show God’s love in more genuine ways. Let’s acknowledge that the Church will never be perfect because it’s made up of imperfect individuals—but that doesn’t mean we can’t be better.

It’s not all on us as a country or community, though. We each have our own personal work to do—getting to know God better, seeking Him sooner and more often. Turning from selfishness and ignorance toward the light of His understanding. Putting our trust in God, who never fails us. (He may do things we don’t like, but He doesn’t fail us.)

So even though I am mourning and hurting, and even though I’ve been insulted and am disappointed in others, and even though I’m overwhelmed with despair, I will keep trying to do what’s right. Because I know that someone else’s misbehavior doesn’t justify my own. Lashing out to hurt someone else doesn’t heal the wound they inflicted on me.

I have to believe that mankind is better than the examples I’ve seen lately. I have to trust that every insult directed at (pick one) liberals/Democrats/Christians/women isn’t a personal attack. I have to give people the benefit of the doubt, even when I don’t want to, even when it would be easier to skip church or cancel lunch with a friend or unfriend someone on Facebook. I have to be all right with knowing that lots of people don’t understand me and never will.

And it’s okay. Because in the end, I don’t have control over anyone else. I can only be responsible for myself, and I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I don’t want to be bitter. I don’t want to hold grudges and be bogged down by despair. I want to be better. I want to let other people know they matter. And I want to be able to look God in the face and hear “well done, my good and faithful servant.”

I want His best. I want Him. I want to be quick to embrace and slow to take offense. I want to live true to my faith and convictions. I want to see that in you and I want to develop that in myself. And that, my friends, is something that goes way beyond politics and elections, and it provides a solid start on a place in which we can agree. I hope you’ll join me there.

Jumping into the deep waters of your faith

Several years ago, my husband and I went snorkeling in Belize. The boat took a group of us way out into the sparkling, glittering turquoise water. No land to be seen in any direction. Nothing but a couple of buoys. And lots (and lots and lots) of water. Well, I’m not much of a swimmer. ...

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Several years ago, my husband and I went snorkeling in Belize. The boat took a group of us way out into the sparkling, glittering turquoise water. No land to be seen in any direction. Nothing but a couple of buoys. And lots (and lots and lots) of water.

Well, I’m not much of a swimmer. But I had a life jacket and had convinced myself I could do this.

Until it was time to get out of the boat. Everyone else jumped in. My husband was swimming around, minus a life jacket, diving down to look at coral and coming back up, having a blast. And I was still stuck on the side of the boat. I couldn’t do it. It was too hard, and I was paralyzed.

Our guide got back into the boat with me and talked to me. He sat beside me on the edge. He held my hand. And eventually we jumped—together.

As my friend Peggy taught last weekend at a women’s conference, Ezekiel is led into progressively deeper waters in chapter 47. I, too, started in the shallow waters of faith. There were moments of fear, but the water rose slowly and I acclimated. Lately, as I’m maturing in my faith, as I seek to go deeper and become more discerning, I have realized I’m swimming in deep, endless waters—and I confess, I am afraid.

But when God takes us into those waters, we don’t go alone. He grabs our hands and jumps along with us.

God is showing me that the reason I feel tired and scared and unsettled is because I’m not trusting Him to hold onto me. To lie back and float, to give in, to yield. Instead, I’m frantically treading water. Gasping for breath. Using every ounce of power in my muscles simply to stay afloat. I’ve let my imagination take over—what horrendous creatures lurk below the surface? What if the floatation device fails?

But that day in Belize, I learned a lesson. Sure, it’s hard to take that initial leap.To relax and move on the surface of the water, letting the floatation device do its job. And it’s frightening to put your face into the water. It’s challenging to convince your brain that you will still be able to breathe. To trust the plastic mask to protect your eyes so that you can open them without them stinging or burning.

Because once we’ve leapt and taken a deep breath and let go of our trepidation, we get to open our eyes to look into the depths. Witness the mysteries. Occasionally, we may be startled by the sights, but for the most part, when we gaze into the deep, we see unfathomable beauty. Discover new things. Observe the nuances and intricate shapes and breathtaking forms of life and impossibly vivid colors.

We experience wonder.

We are humbled by the enormity of all that we see, the things we didn’t know even existed. And we enter into a place of awe of the God who creates such beauty.

And that is when it happens. We stop struggling to remain afloat by our own power. We stop kicking. We start to trust that when we breathe in, the air will come—full of life, free of danger. We let God cradle us, and we allow ourselves to float on the gentle waves of His love.

When you don’t realize you’re bound by fear

I am no longer a slave to fear I am a child of God. This past weekend, I was at a women’s gathering and we were worshipping to this song. I love the song but don’t think of myself as someone who is fearful. I wasn’t relating to the fear part, so I closed my eyes ...

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I am no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God.

This past weekend, I was at a women’s gathering and we were worshipping to this song. I love the song but don’t think of myself as someone who is fearful. I wasn’t relating to the fear part, so I closed my eyes and asked God what He had for me. And as soon as I asked, I felt the reply.

All resistance is rooted in fear.

Oh my. He’s right. Lately I’ve been aware of keeping God at arm’s length. Of resisting the teachings I hear. Of evaluating everything and having trouble soaking it in.  I never would have believed that it had anything to do with fear, but I can see now that it does.

Fear that I’m not enough. Fear that He’ll disappoint me. Fear that I’ll look stupid for believing. Fear that I misheard Him. Fear that I’m a hypocrite. Fear that He doesn’t really want me. Fear that I don’t belong. Fear that my sins will come to light. Fear that I’ll open my heart and then be hurt deeply. Fear that I can’t sustain this kind of intensity. Fear that I won’t like how God answers. 

Fear that I’m wrong about Him. 

It’s all fear.

But as the song reminds me, I am no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.

And because I am His child, these fears no longer have the power to keep me away, to hold God at a distance.

No more resistance. No more fear. Only God. The Father. The One who can always be trusted to love His daughter. No matter what.

My prayer for the church (for you, for me)

Lord, I am tired of all the ugliness I see in the world. I’m frustrated by the way some people use your Word as a weapon. I’m ashamed by the way we treat each other. I’m horrified by the hatred and violence. I’m disappointed by the lack of authenticity and by the differences that once ...

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Lord, I am tired of all the ugliness I see in the world. I’m frustrated by the way some people use your Word as a weapon. I’m ashamed by the way we treat each other. I’m horrified by the hatred and violence. I’m disappointed by the lack of authenticity and by the differences that once made us interesting and unusual but now simply drive us apart.

It makes me wonder what in the world I am supposed to do. Where—and if—I belong.

I want to believe in You, and I do—but I see people professing to have faith in You who do not offer the kind of grace that You do. Who condemn rather than embrace. Who don’t seem to represent what I think Christianity is supposed to stand for.

So I have to ask: do I have it wrong? Who or what is the problem, and how do we fix it? I want to be part of the solution, because I want to be part of Your Church. I need the relationship with others. I need the teaching. I need help living this life of faith, but sometimes it’s hard to want to be a part of it because it doesn’t look like I think it should. Am I partially to blame for any of it?

Because I am far from perfect. I try to overcome it, but my gut instinct is often judgmental and unkind. I am no better than anyone else.

I mourn, overwhelmed by sadness that You are being misrepresented. Worried that we, as a church, have gotten so much wrong. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying the church is the cause of all of our problems, or even that it’s necessarily the cause of any of them. The online world is suffused with people expressing the damage done to them by the Church. Whether it was the Church as a whole or a single individual, whether the actions were done with good intentions or were purposely cruel—whatever the situation is—the pain is real and it remains.

Through it all, I’m having a hard time relating to the religion I’m supposed to identify with.

I say that with love, fully aware that I’m in no position to judge, fully prepared to offer grace. The whole point of grace is that we can’t earn it, yet it’s given freely anyway. I’ve received it, and I want others to experience that, too.

As the Church, we’ve done some things right, and we’ve gotten other things wrong. So, dear Lord, I ask You to help us. Help the Church get it right. Help us welcome people and show them who You are by the way we treat each other. Help us dig deeper into Your word and fight fiercely to grow our relationships with You so that we will be changed, and through that, so that others will know that the gospel message is true and that Jesus is real. Help us to teach Your truth, as You reveal it, and not to promote personal agendas. If change is needed, work inside each of our hearts individually, and let the enormity of our love for You prompt us to do better.

Because here’s the reality: The Holy Spirit is what changes us. Not someone else telling us we are sinners. Not someone pointing out scriptures we may or may not be violating. Fear and anger and judgment are not strong motivators—well, they might cause us to run away from something, but when it comes to running towards something, we need to feel love. No one held up a sign when I joined the church saying “You’re welcome here—after you make some changes.”

And oh how grateful I am for that.

We don’t always have the right answers. But we have a God who does.

So help us, God, to lean on You. To seek Your direction before we act. To receive Your mercy so that we know how to offer it. To love You without limit, freely, and in so doing, to shine that glorious light of Your love into the darkness.

And never, ever let us take for granted the depths of the love You hold for us. Your Love is what inspires us. It’s what teaches us, comforts us, and sustains us. It’s the basis for all that we are and all that we have been given, and I pray that You will show us how to make it universal. For everyone. In all situations. In every possible way. Your love for us is at the very core of who we are. It defines us. Or it should. So let it also be the spring from which everything we do bursts forth.

Let the Church accurately represent You. Let us be known for our love. Let us reflect who You are. And, please, let us all—every last one of us—be changed in the process. By You. For You. With You.

Amen.

When I found grace (it really is amazing)

Suzie Eller is hosting a #livefreeThursday linkup on her blog today, and the prompt is grace. She’s right that this is a conversation that we need to have right now—when do we show grace? Do we offer the same grace we’ve been given? What part of that (if any) does offering our opinions or correction have ...

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Suzie Eller is hosting a #livefreeThursday linkup on her blog today, and the prompt is grace. She’s right that this is a conversation that we need to have right now—when do we show grace? Do we offer the same grace we’ve been given? What part of that (if any) does offering our opinions or correction have of grace? Do we get to pick and choose who receives grace?

I don’t have answers, except to say that I want to err on the side of grace rather than judgment. On inclusion rather than exclusion.

Because here’s what I know: I don’t deserve God’s grace, and He gave it to me anyway.

Today I want to re-share a post from 2013. I wrote this while attending Elizabeth Berg’s Writers Workshop in Positano, Italy, in October 2012 (and it also happened to win the Writer’s Digest writing competition in inspirational writing). It’s from a time I was shown the depths of God’s grace, from a time when I was lost and truly felt like I had been found again. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever written, probably because God made Himself so present in my grief and anger and enabled me to find Him again—in spite of the fact that I knew I didn’t deserve Him. I hope you enjoy.


Amazing grace

Lost, I wander down Positano’s serpentine winding roads, pulling in my toes and elbows as maniacal men on motorbikes speed past, honking their horns and weaving between two cars passing in opposite directions on a road barely wide enough for one. I am drawn to the crates of limone, peaches and braided onions taking their afternoon siesta, lazily awaiting transformation into culinary delights. A girl, whose long bronze legs aren’t obscured at all by her tiny miniskirt, kisses the cheeks of the brothers who run the fish shop, then climbs on her moped, leaving as quickly as she came. Now, though, she holds a white plastic bag sagging low with dense, moist meat.

Minutes later, I slow, stop, then sit on a sun-warmed, salmon-colored bench, transfixed by a woman across the piazza. In between bodies of darting boys, scrambling for the orange ball — a kick here, a header there, triumphant shouts, men in white shirts smoking on benches as they watch — she sits, massive bosoms spread as wide as her legs. These aren’t boobs, mind you; there’s nothing sexual about them. Lounging against her stomach, they’ve nurtured babies and gotten in the way of her kneading bread. Sighing, she takes up residence in her doorway, watching everything and yet nothing. Her knee-high pantyhose fight the urge to roll down her calves into her orthotic shoes. The elastic waist of her black polyester slacks cuts into her flesh beneath the embroidered pink flowers burgeoning across her chest. Forearm resting on her knees, still spread widely, her weariness echoes my own. She’s maybe 65, with coal black hair, the places where her face would be wrinkled made smooth by years of eating good food, made with oils and butters and fats. Nothing self-conscious in her manner, she is stolidly unaware that anyone would notice her. She is heavily present, loudly quiet, taking up all the space in her little corner of the world.

I want that, I think. To be solid again. Real. For months, measuring now more than a year, I’ve been lost. Oh, I can find my location on a map, but since my mom quit fighting the cancer that consumed not just her body but also my understanding of who I am, I’ve wandered, free of her anchor, devoid of direction. I wander quickly, mind you — racing from cheering on my daughter in backstroke to perching on aluminum bleachers as my son dribbles down the basketball court. I careen into the driveway, leaving the car running long enough to revise a client’s ad and answer three more e-mails, then head to the grocery for Pizza Rolls for dinner. I fill up squares on my calendar as quickly as the lifeblood drains from my soul. I replay over and over a conversation we had right after my mom’s diagnosis. “It is not tragic,” she insisted, “for a 70-year-old woman to die of cancer.”

“You are so wrong,” I muttered, as daughters have since time began.

The orange ball bounces my way and I jump out of its path. I turn away, beckoned by the sound of the sea drifting over the wall that surrounds the plaza. Roosters crow, birds call, and motorboats circle the deep blue, teal at the edges, that gently fades to the clear blue of sky, anchoring the majestic cliffs adorned with sorbet-colored buildings, clinging, climbing up the hills. The light here surrounds you, seeming to come from all sides. The life here surrounds you, seeming to come from all sides. Like the embrace of a mother. The softness of bosoms that nurtured babies and got in the way of kneading bread. A mother nothing like my own, yet completely mine.

positano composite1How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me

Hidden from view by the twists and turns of the stone stairway, cooler here in the shadows, I stop to peer through a rusted red gate, topped with a starburst of metal points, and I notice the jewel-colored tile cemented into the wall next to it. Number 11, it reads, crossed out with ochre paint, the numero 13 roughly stenciled below. A thing of beauty now marked and ugly. Redefined. What happened?

A very good question, my God whispers into my soul. Why have you changed, baby girl?

I picture my mom’s face, her bald-baby-bird head tilted up but no longer in need of sustenance, lips crusty, the whites of her eyes yellowing as the plastic bag beside her ceases to fill. My sister and father and two family friends sit in the kitchen, methodically lifting bites of meatloaf and buttering the rolls left behind by Mom’s friends, glancing occasionally into the next room, where she lies. My sister’s fork stops moving. “I think she stopped breathing.”

It’s just like my mom to do it this way. Two days earlier, as I sat beside her, she awoke, her brain poisoned by her body’s toxins, eyes crazed: “What are we gonna say?”

“What do you mean, Mom? About what?”

Dad rushed in, and looking from him to me to him to me, she insisted, “We can’t say ‘surrounded by family and friends.’ Promise me. Promise me!”

Her biggest fear was underlined by the standard obituary boilerplate: that we would have to watch her go. That that moment would be tattooed onto our psyches, indelibly scarring even the deepest layers. That her last act on earth would harm us rather than help.

My sister’s face traced by silky tears, she clutches Mom’s hands. “You did it, Mom. You did it well! I’m so proud of you. You did it!”

All I can do is gulp in sobs of air. I feel the nudge of my God, offering comfort. As he whispers, Oh, my sweet child, I shrug away his embrace, turning instead toward the relentless, stinging pain of the needles tattooing the image of her still form in pure, vivid color deep inside my mind.

positano composite 3I once was lost…

Another day in Positano, I walk down hundreds of stone steps toward the beach, peeking in doorways, looking behind the public façades for what is hidden. Green gates reveal empty crates jumbled in the corner, broken bottles, smelly trash. Water settles in the grout between misshapen stone blocks and I step around the puddles, pausing to give my aching knees a rest, letting the breeze dry my sweat. A man exits a courtyard (“Ciao, ciao-grazie”), and I consider sliding through the gate before it latches, stepping through the rooms to finger the softness of the worn towels and aprons fluttering on the balconies. Instead, I turn and let my eyes rove over his white shirt unbuttoned halfway down, sleeves rolled up, torso long and lean and trim and lovely, before he folds himself into a miniature military-looking truck and lurches down the crowded street, clutch popping and brakes squealing in protest.

I round another bend — they’re all bends here, no straight or level paths — and a shockwave of beauty presses me back to the wall. The tableau before me is spread with orange tiled terraces with curvy iron tables. Fuchsia bougainvillea climb and preen on this stage, gaudy showgirls begging for attention. The peach and pink and salmon and butter and gold and cream buildings with striped awnings beckon from their perches, while, inside, tourists sip bellinis. Lemons ripen in the sun and olives fall from their gnarled trees onto stretched, waiting nets. Relaxing my shoulders, I turn my face toward the sky, stretch my tight neck from side to side. Envisioning myself open, stretched open waiting to receive, I am able to breathe again.

I duck into a church, where street sounds are hushed and air stifles and Italian women genuflect, loudly kissing their fingertips and offering the gesture up to God. I automatically look up, to the tops of the beams and jewel-colored glass, knowing that the builders of these churches hid tiny details up high, where they could be seen only by the eyes of God. I see nothing, but I know He does. I can’t hide from Him forever. Closing my eyes, suddenly filled, I drop my chin and pray. Lord, I cry. That’s all — one word — Lord. In a rush of emotions lacking coherence, I quietly offer it up to Him, what little I have to give.

positano composite 2 …but now am found

The shops here beckon through tiny doorways. As white linen shirts flutter from hangers, silken scarves dance across baskets of fragrant lemon soaps. Shop owners greet me, so obviously a tourist, in my own language. Around me, couples discuss purchases in French, German, English and Italian. Behind glass cases, cheeses lie down with salamis. Mouthwatering smells of spicy paninis and buttery pastries filled with chocolate or peach further crowd the narrow pathways. Trinkets hang from placards as foreigners grab up postcards and wine stoppers with shaky “Positano” lettered around the pastel scenes. At the top of a hill, I find colorful tiles and bowls and olive oil containers, painted by hand with lemons and vines and intricate patterns. The women in the back stop chattering in their expressive, fluid ways long enough to nod hello, then go back to their tales of men and children and love and loss, voices swelling and expanding to fill the space.

Mom would love these tiles, I think. She was always the first person I bought for, her gifts the easiest and most obvious choices. She knew me the same way. I ask a shopkeeper, “Quanta costa?” What’s the cost? Will this loss simply change me or completely define me? Help me, Lord, to find value again — not just outside but within.

So very tired of navigating alone, I buy a ticket for the orange bus that will take me back. I hope. The driver doesn’t understand my question, but on impulse I climb on anyway, believing the bus to be pointed in the right direction. As we climb up and up, curving around cliffs with stunning buildings stretching toward the heavens, I feel lighter. We pick up speed as we near my stop and fly right on by. My stomach lurches, dropping down the sheer mountain faces into the sea. No, I decide. This is an adventure. I can do this. I take a deep breath to slow my rapid heartbeat and sit back. Minutes later we reach the turnaround which positions the bus the right way to follow the one-way (down) road, and within moments, the bus stops just feet from the entrance to my hotel.

Va bene. “See, it’s all good,” I hear Positano remind me. You just have to be willing to take chances now and again. Let the vibrant colors thrill you. Stop trying to make out words; listen instead for nuances. Kiss noisily, grasp shoulders and stand close to those you love. Savor delicate flavors, letting them thrill your tongue. Hurry all you want; get where you need to go. But once you’re there, once you finally arrive, linger. Open yourself, even to the pain. Because although the streets are busy and crowded, they run in both directions. And when you open to let out the pain, good things come rushing in. The outside world hushes and you find yourself behind that façade, in that secret place where not everyone can go, head nestled on that ample bosom, a beloved child once more.

Was blind, but now I see.

It’s time to fight for kindness. Will you join me?

I’m sure you’ve seen posts on Facebook saying things like, “I can’t take it any more. I’m outta here.” Or “This negativity is getting to me. I’m taking a break.” And I’m sure you’ve witnessed the drama… the thinly veiled bashing of other people, whether or not actual names are used. The posts that purposely ...

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I’m sure you’ve seen posts on Facebook saying things like, “I can’t take it any more. I’m outta here.” Or “This negativity is getting to me. I’m taking a break.”

And I’m sure you’ve witnessed the drama… the thinly veiled bashing of other people, whether or not actual names are used. The posts that purposely stir people up. The click-bait headlines.  Closed-minded arguments, sweeping generalizations, broad stereotyping. The petty and just downright mean things people say online.

And during this election cycle… well, things have gotten ugly. I feel strongly, too, and I want people to see what I see, to know the “truth” as I believe it to be. I feel a very strong a sense of danger and foreboding, and I want to make sure people understand what is at stake. At the same time, I love to have open dialogue, to learn what makes you believe the way you do and to hear what’s behind my beliefs, too. But that rarely seems to happen. It might start out okay, but then it rapidly disintegrates.

There’s a verse in the Bible that I try to apply to all of my interactions:

“Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you. Matthew 7:6, NLT

No, I’m not calling people pigs. (Although sometimes that might be true.) The way I interpret this verse is this: Use wisdom. Think before you share something because this might not be the right time or the right place for this. Don’t waste your good words on someone who will trample them. Before you throw them out there, evaluate the environment.

Like many of you, I want to share things with people. I get it. I really do. Which is why being on Facebook the past few weeks has been hard on me emotionally. My spirit grieves. I mourn the ugliness and hatred. I have trouble picking myself up when these things pull me down.

When I say these things, I’m not pointing my finger at anyone. I’m as guilty as anyone else of giving in and telling about my crappy day, or complaining about poor service, or of getting snippy with someone who is perpetuating information without first fact-checking or seeing if there is even a vein of truth to it. I want to correct people’s perceptions, and sometimes even when people are accurate in their understanding, I just plain disagree and want to change their minds.

But there’s a time and a place for that. And based on what I’ve seen over the past years, but especially these past few months, I don’t believe Facebook is the place for it.

Because it’s not well-received. We sit behind our keyboards and screens and type things we would never speak face-to-face. We can have good, helpful, respectful conversations. It really is possible. But in my experience, those work best when we’re sitting at a table with cups of coffee in front of us, when we can see the expressions of our companion, when we can ask questions with nuances unavailable through emojis.

What grieves me the most is when I see a distinct lack of love and compassion from people who call themselves Christians. Each person’s faith, or lack thereof, is their own. I can’t judge it, and I try really hard not to. We each have to come to terms with the God we believe in. I’m proud to be a follower of Jesus. But I’m not proud that so many non-Christians look at the things being said and done in the name of Jesus, and they wonder what kind of God we have. They can’t accept someone who exhibits certain behaviors, and they see no appeal whatsoever to a life of following a God who supports this.

But one thing I know is that much of what I see doesn’t look or sound anything like the God I adore. I don’t know if I can say this without sounding like I’m judging and criticizing—but I’m truly heartbroken by what some of these behaviors tell the world about my God. Because the God I worship is one who loves. He always loves. Love comes first, before any change of heart, before any depths of understanding are reached. When people see love, they’re supposed to understand that we belong to God.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:35

This, however, doesn’t seem to be the case as often as I’d like. So I’ve struggled. Do I need to leave Facebook for a while, too?

And then I decided NO. I will not leave. I don’t believe in running away when I don’t like something. I am a fixer. I want to try something new. I want to find creative solutions. I yearn to be the catalyst for a good kind of change.

The truth is, I have very little influence in this media-saturated culture—I have more Facebook friends than some, and a fraction of what others have—certainly not enough to pull this off on my own. And I really, really want to do something. Maybe I’m weird, but I happen to like Facebook. I enjoy reconnecting with people. I like feeling as though I have some general idea of what people are experiencing on a daily basis. I have found great encouragement from people who send the perfect message at just the right time. I have been lifted up by other people’s stories of God coming through, of those who witnessed the kindness of strangers, who were able to use this as a way to build people up, not tear them down.

So I decided to do something. Maybe it won’t make a bit of difference. But maybe, just maybe, it will. If you will help me.

Starting June 1, I am going to be posting kindness challenges for the next 21 days. They’re simple things—some focused on ourselves, some on others. A few are supported by Bible verses and prayer, and some are based on other quotes and ideas. This isn’t a spiritual campaign, necessarily—other than the fact that Jesus told us to do to others what we would have them do to us (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31). But you don’t have to be a Christian to believe in respect and kindness and understanding. And to recognize that having more of those things present would surely be a good thing. I’ll be asking people to do things like spread a little happiness, share what inspires you, and lift up someone besides yourself—nothing hard, but maybe not the things that come automatically in response to what we see. I’m not calling for hypocrisy. Don’t just put on a happy front and be bitter and resentful underneath—that won’t help a thing. But I’m asking you, and I’m asking God, to try to change our hearts. To open us up to others. To realize that we’re all connected in many ways. To discover that, yes, we have differences. But we also have a lot in common. And that before we can see anything good happen, before we can turn a toxic environment into a nurturing, encouraging place to thrive, we have to take some steps towards what we want. Each one of us.

If you’re on Facebook, and if you, too, are unhappy with the atmosphere there, won’t you come along with me for this ride? I’m still naive and hopeful enough to think that we can make a difference. I know that 21 days is a short span of time. This is just the beginning. One step at a time… but if we take enough steps, pretty soon we’ll end up in a whole different place.

And everyone knows a trip is a whole lot more fun when your friends come along for the ride.

Click here to like the Facebook page and see the 21 days of kindness posts. #kindnesschallenge

Why you shouldn’t pray like I did

“Oh! I have a house to sell, too! I’ll pray for the woman who’s going to buy it, just like you did! And then it will sell!” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this. While I hope that my “praying upside down” story inspires others, this kind of conversation makes me squirm. When I ...

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“Oh! I have a house to sell, too! I’ll pray for the woman who’s going to buy it, just like you did! And then it will sell!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this. While I hope that my “praying upside down” story inspires others, this kind of conversation makes me squirm.

When I started praying that way, it didn’t feel like my idea. I believe God placed the idea into my mind. It happened during a time of prayer—I told God I was scared and didn’t know what I’d do if this went on much longer, and I got an instant thought-reply: Pray for the woman who will buy this house.

Like so often when God seems to speak, it was simple, direct, and not exactly logical. Over time, I discovered layer after layer to it. That I was to pray for her, not them. That things in her life had to line up before she’d be ready. I slowly discovered that praying this way helped me to understand that I was part of something else. That it took the focus off of my needs and made me more like Christ (although still far, far from coming close to Him). That praying this way and learning to care about her made it possible for Tim and I to be more generous when in the end we lost money in order to close the deal. After the house sold and I met Rosanne, the buyer formerly known as “that woman,” I learned that there were so many things that God did during that time.

Layer upon layer. God was faithful in the way He worked out the situation. He answered my prayers, and He answered Rosanne’s prayers, too. I love telling this story. (A side note: Having the story published in my first book answered yet another prayer.)

But here’s the problem with it all. I can’t promise God will answer you the same way He answered me.

I am sure He will answer. I am not sure when (it might be a very long time, or it might happen before I finish typing this sentence). I am not sure how He will answer (yes, no, maybe, not now). I am not sure what lessons He might want you to learn in the process, what people He wants to become part of your life, what decisions you will have to make, what sacrifices you will feel the need to offer. Although I believe God will be right there with you, I can’t even promise that you will see, hear, or feel Him.

So by all means, yes, pray for the woman who might someday buy your house. But, also, go to God with honesty. Be real. And spend some time listening. Maybe this is exactly what God wants you to pray, but maybe He has something else in mind for you. Something different—and yet better, because it is perfectly meant for you.

That’s why I get uncomfortable. It’s not wrong to see my story as a lesson and pray the way I did. But I am just afraid that people will see it as a magical answer, a formula. If I do this, then God will do that. But it really doesn’t work that way at all.

He is the reason this all worked. He is the reason I prayed the way I did.

The only credit I’ll take for everything that happened is this: I listened.

I don’t want to discourage you; instead, what I hope this post will do is encourage you to go back to God. To ask for your own, personal answer. To seek His direction. To ask Him what He wants you to do.

And then? Do it. Don’t second-guess yourself. Don’t apologize or make up excuses. Don’t wonder if you’re crazy for thinking you heard God. And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t hear from Him.

Pray, and listen.

Pray, and put one foot in front of the other.

Pray, and ask God how to please Him.

Pray, and thank Him for His goodness.

Pray, and ask God to strengthen your faith.

Pray. And wait. Trust Him, and believe Him when He responds.

And know that, whatever comes, God is in it. Know that, however large the obstacle, God can overcome it. Know that, however long you have to wait, God knows what He is doing.

Allow yourself to believe that He has something in store for you.Perfectly tailored to fit your needs. The right size, the right solution, the right timing.

And allow Him to do His thing. Whatever it looks like, however it sounds.

Because God is the one who turned my prayers upside down. And the One who made everything right. He is the One who came up with the crazy solution, and He is the one who enacted it. He gave me hope, and He provided the hope.

And He is the One who will do the exact same thing for you.

Only thing is, it may look completely different.


Tell me—What are you struggling with right now? Leave a comment and rest assured that I will pray for you.

In the boat with Jesus—and a giveaway!

Ever since I started genuinely following Jesus, I’ve felt an almost desperate longing for more of Him. For revelations that can only come from God. For a deeply passionate and intimate faith. But I can only go so far in that direction before I falter. My heart longs for more of God, it really does. ...

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Ever since I started genuinely following Jesus, I’ve felt an almost desperate longing for more of Him. For revelations that can only come from God. For a deeply passionate and intimate faith.

But I can only go so far in that direction before I falter.

My heart longs for more of God, it really does. Even in my lesser moments. But, inevitably there comes a time when it gets hard to keep living out my faith. Really hard. (Or I get bored. Or busy. Or discouraged. Or I feel like He’s not listening—or maybe that I have nothing to say.)

At those times, I’m not sure I have what it takes to stick with it. There’s a verse in James chapter 4 that says, “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” In context, it’s talking about not knowing what will happen tomorrow, about the insignificance of our lifetimes in the span of eternity.

But every time I read it, I’m haunted by the certainty that it’s Jesus speaking to me.

I am like a mist… I’m here now, but before long—tomorrow? next week? an hour from now?—I’ll vanish. I’m a vapor. Not solid. Impermanent. Uncertain. Fickle. Not dedicated enough. Weak and weary. All too aware of my lack of discipline, my inability to stay focused on one thing for the long term. I know that I can do all things through Christ. I know that He has called me, and that when I let myself abide in that holy place with Him, my abilities (or lack thereof) fall away and His take over.

And yet, some days the responsibility that comes from wholly committing to this life weighs heavy on me. The knowledge of my weaknesses immobilizes me.

51svFT1o0FL._SX321_BO1204203200_I recently read an Advance Copy of Suzie Eller’s new book, Come with Me: Discovering the Beauty of Following Where He Leads. There are so many things I would like to share with you, but I’ll stick to the one that truly stopped me in my tracks.

Remember in Matthew 4 and Mark 1 when Jesus asked Simon Peter and his brother to leave their nets behind and follow Him? They did.

And yet, we see in Luke chapter 5 that Jesus sees two boats, left there by fisherman who were washing their nets at the end of a discouraging night. He gets in the boat belonging to Simon and asks him to put out from the shore.

Here’s what I never noticed: At some point, Simon went back to fishing.

He was weary and wasn’t catching anything. Jesus had him try one more time, and this time the results were spectacular—but what came before that is the bigger point: Jesus waited in the boat for Simon to come to him. No shame, no beating him up for disappearing again. Jesus knew just where Simon Peter would be, so He went to him.

And Jesus knew just where He would find me—returning again and again to my old ways. He knew that, just as Simon was having no luck at all, catching no fish, feeling tired and discouraged, so was I. When I hurt my arm, I got weeks of much-needed time off work. A dear friend commented one day that I was given this gift of time, so why would I fill it up with the same ol’, same ol’? Why not do things differently this time?

Indeed. Because clearly my old way of doing things wasn’t working so well. No fish in my nets—no margins. I didn’t have time for the people who matter the most. I didn’t have the energy to reach out and do things for people, to be God’s hands extended. I didn’t have the kind of prayer life I want to have.

So I’ve pondered and prayed. I’ve let my crowded mind slow to a leisurely pace, accepting the fact that I need help and cannot do it all myself. I’m evaluating the way I work, the tasks that fill my days, and who I think God made me to be.

And what I’ve discovered during these weeks of figuring out who I am when I’m not being defined by my work is that I’m not doing it alone. All along, Jesus has been sitting in my boat.

I don’t want to meet Him and follow Him temporarily. I don’t want it to be a phase I move in and out of. I want to commit. To follow Him—truly follow Him—without limits.

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Jesus is waiting in my boat for me to push out from the shore of who I’ve been and row towards who He wants me to be. I’m not having to do it alone. I’m moving forward with the One who knows where we’re going. The One who knows what I need to do. The One who sees me, understands me, and inspires me.

But the biggest miracle, as Suzie Eller pointed out at a retreat I attended, is this: when I cast out into deeper waters, even if I never have any fish—the miracle is that I am experiencing a deeper walk with God. As she wrote, “Where we go is not nearly as important as who we go with.”

So I am going, with no hesitation whatsoever. Facing forward eagerly and happily. No looking back. Because as long as I’m in the boat with Jesus, there’s no place I’d rather be.

__

I’m giving away a copy of Come with Me. To enter, leave a comment below before midnight on May 2, and share where you think God is leading you. Or what He’s asking you to say yes to. If you don’t win, you can order the book here or from your favorite retailer. It releases on May 3. #livefree #comewithme

When you don’t deserve God’s grace

One Sunday morning when our son, Bobby, was six, he left our pew and walked straight to the front of the church, up the steps onto the platform, right in the middle of our worship. Pastor Nathan was sitting in a chair off to the side, putting the finishing touches on his sermon notes. Bobby ...

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One Sunday morning when our son, Bobby, was six, he left our pew and walked straight to the front of the church, up the steps onto the platform, right in the middle of our worship. Pastor Nathan was sitting in a chair off to the side, putting the finishing touches on his sermon notes. Bobby circled around the worship leader, ignored the musicians, and climbed into the seat next to Nathan.

With a sigh, he leaned back and then scooted to the edge of the chair. The big smile and hug Nathan gave him weren’t a surprise—Nathan had taught all the children that they were always welcome to come up front. That day, as I watched through tears, I finally understood the beauty of having direct access to God. Knowing that He welcomes me, and you, with joy. No matter who’s watching.

That’s what the Bible means when it says, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:16, NLT)

It’s a perfect picture of how we are to approach God. Boldly, with the faith of a child. Not hesitating, not being hindered by all the reasons we—or someone else—might think we’re not worthy to be up there right next to the King. All that matters—the only thing—is that He loves us. He could be annoyed by the interruptions; He could shush us and say that he has more important things to do. But He doesn’t.

Some people have trouble coming to God because they don’t feel worthy. They quote scriptures like Psalm 22:6 (“But I am a worm and not a man. I am scorned and despised by all!”). Their understanding of mankind’s (general) and their own (specific) sin, paired with an awareness of the holiness of God, cripples them, making them afraid to trust that He really wants them. Because they are convinced they don’t deserve to be there.

Somehow, I didn’t have that same struggle. I knew I couldn’t earn my way to a relationship with God, but like my son, I approached God with confidence. I took the Scriptures at face value: “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners … So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” (Romans 5:8-12)

But then.

My mom was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer and I started a three-year roller-coaster ride. I claimed to have faith, but I was as dry and parched as a desert inside. When it came time to pray, I had nothing to say. Bitterness and sorrow and pain replaced any words I might have had. After Mom died, I built the walls even higher—fortifying them, adding a moat filled with alligators, for good measure—to protect myself from being hurt again. I rolled my eyes when someone at church would stand up and testify that they had been healed. Or even that they believed in healing.

I wasn’t sure if God didn’t answer or if He gave me the wrong answer. I began to doubt whether He was able to effect change at all. I hadn’t just lost Mom. Not to sound overly dramatic, but I’d lost everything I believed in. My grief made me incapable of seeing the truth. And the fickleness of my faith filled me with shame.

I had ceased to be the child approaching God without hesitation, or even the temperamental teenager stamping her foot and refusing to look at Him—and turned into that lowly earthworm. Why would God want me back? Once I realized how much I wanted—needed—Him, I didn’t feel like I had the right to ask Him. Because I had rejected Him before.

And then one Sunday morning at church we sang a song that broke through my defenses. “Through it all, through it all… I learned to trust in Jesus, I learned to trust in God.” I felt the walls crumbling as I thought-prayed, “No I didn’t. I failed miserably. Lord, I’m so sorry.”

Immediately I felt His response. “But I got to show you grace!”

Notice, He didn’t say that He had to. Nor that He did it grudgingly. Instead, it was like our magnificent, holy God was a little child Himself, hopping from one foot to the other, giddy with excitement at the gift He was thrilled to give me.

The one I didn’t deserve.

But that didn’t matter to God. All that mattered was that He wanted me back. He allowed me to march right up to that altar and lean into Him, to scoot close to the edge of His chair. To look into His face and see the kindness in His smile.

And to take a deep breath of relief, knowing I was right where I belonged. Filled with, wrapped in, emboldened by, and surrounded by His unfathomable grace.

Jesus liked to pray upside down, too

I don’t know about you, but my favorite way to pray is upside down. I’m in good company. Jesus constantly surprised his followers—and critics—with His unexpected answers. Jesus always challenged the status quo. He looked beyond the surface and wasn’t afraid to flip things around. One Sunday morning when my son, Bobby, was six, he left ...

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I don’t know about you, but my favorite way to pray is upside down.

I’m in good company. Jesus constantly surprised his followers—and critics—with His unexpected answers. Jesus always challenged the status quo. He looked beyond the surface and wasn’t afraid to flip things around.

One Sunday morning when my son, Bobby, was six, he left our pew and walked straight to the front of the church, up the steps onto the platform, right in the middle of our worship. Pastor Nathan was sitting in a chair off to the side, putting the finishing touches on his sermon notes. Bobby circled around the worship leader, ignored the musicians, and climbed into the seat next to Nathan. With a sigh, he leaned back and then scooted to the edge of the chair. The big smile and hug Nathan gave him weren’t a surprise—Nathan had taught all the children that they were always welcome to come up front. That day, as I watched through tears, I finally understood the beauty of having direct access to God. Knowing that He welcomes me, and you, with joy. No matter who’s watching.

This must be what Jesus meant when He spoke to the adults who tried to shoo the children out of the way:

“Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Luke 18:16-17

Jesus broke with convention and offered all that He had to those who had nothing. No qualifications required. No secret handshake. All we need to approach Him is the confidence that He will not stop us.

And His upside-down answers didn’t stop there.

“Whoever is least among you is the greatest.” Luke 9:48

In God’s world, the blessings come from serving rather than being served. From loving, rather than just being loved. From being welcomed by the Master, even if no one else thinks we belong.

In the Bible, the Pharisees didn’t hide their good deeds but took pride in their public displays. Jesus chastised them.

Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. Matthew 6:1

Jesus flip-flopped public faith for private, emphasizing that what’s in a person’s heart is more important than a person’s actions, and reminding us that God’s reward system isn’t the same as this world’s.

The best way to follow Jesus is by embracing the unexpected. By opening our minds to surprising new ways to see Him.

But it’s not always easy. God is the Master of Creativity, the original Artist, and He rarely responds in the ways we expect. He may ask you to forgive, even if you are the one who is wronged. He may ask you to become the wife your husband needs, rather than turning your husband into the man you always dreamed of. He may not save your job, but He might give you the time you’ve always needed to learn more about Him, or free your schedule to finish the renovations on your kitchen. He might not deliver you from poverty but instead teach you how to budget, balance, and take care of what He’s provided. Or He may show you that even if you have very little, when you can find ways to give what you do have, you will feel wealthy.

Praying upside down can be a literal flip-flop of your prayer (like when I prayed for the unknown woman who would eventually buy my house, rather than praying that I would sell the house) or any type of prayer that is unconventional, unexpected, or unusual. The power isn’t in the asking or dependent on your ability to find a creative way to ask—it’s in the creative and surprising ways in which God answers.

In Luke 22:42, Jesus prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (KJV). Nevertheless is a powerful word you rarely hear these days. When included in prayer it means that even if nothing make sense to us yet, even if we don’t know what to expect, we want the best that God has. We’re acknowledging that, even 2,000 years later, Jesus continues to provide a fresh approach. When we pray upside down, we’re looking at our situations from a different point of view—His—and saying, “I may not always understand—nevertheless, I’m willing. Turn me upside down, if that’s what You want.”

Because if that’s His point of view—oh, what a view that must be.

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