Opportunity (has) Cost

Two roads in a yellow wood
But only one pair of legs.
Each decision a yes
But in the same breath, no.

A wishbone snaps.
One side victory, the other, splintered.
Each side broken, in different ways.

When we choose
do we hold the duality in our minds?
In each destiny there dwells a shadow side,
A legacy not engaged.

This is the balance of life, the yin and the yang.
And that is how it should be,
For we are made of flesh and not of feathers.

How do we lay ourselves before the throne of God,
Our lives, our collection of yesses and nos.

What story do these declinations tell?
Is it one of faith?
Or of fear?

How do I listen Lord, standing in a yellow wood?
Which path is mine to take?

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The art of radical listening

Where does one hear The Lord?
How does one learn to listen for His voice?

Is it found on the lips of the street corner evangelist,
in the Sunday morning pulpit,
or the rustling pages of scripture?

What about a baby’s cry,
a train whistle,
or the solitary song of a cricket?

Does it float down with the autumn leaves
or crackle in the logs on a fire?

How do I listen for the Almighty?
Is it a matter of preparing my ears, my eyes,
Or my heart?

and if I quiet myself, will I recognize Who I hear?

You are Enough

I feel it so deeply. The need to achieve. The pull to perform, to receive the inevitable accolades, compliments, comments “I don’t know how you do it all…”

But here is the truth.

I can’t do it all.

My life is a permanent tug of war. One length of rope, being mercilessly yanked in different directions. And, just like in the playground game, one side is always winning. Which means, at the same time, one side is always losing. If I feel like I am doing well at work, it is at the expense of my family. When I am spending the time I desire to spend with my children, there is no time to spend in the Word. And almost daily, I feel as if every side is losing. Emails go unanswered. Prayers truncated. Frozen chicken nuggets for dinner. These are the realities of my life. These are the rhythms of my days.

I hate it. It’s not how I imagine things should be. And oh how I hate that word. Should. In 6 letters, the summation of all our unrealistic expectations, the thoughts that keep us up at night. The voice that whispers to us that we have failed. That we are insufficient. That we aren’t doing it right.

I could write a long, whiny, self indulgent essay all about the things I think I should be doing better and how I am habitually horrified when a call from work goes unreturned or I lose patience with my toddler. I will spare you. Trust me it happens. And it is humiliating, humbling. So utterly not me.

Not me to the point that I am questioning my life. Am I doing the right thing? Am I built to be a working mother? Should I be attempting to engage in vocational ministry at this stage in my life, or is this hubris, my selfish insistence I can do it all? In the process of this questioning, I have gone to so many others for council. My supervisor. My senior pastor. Spiritual directors. Other spiritual directors… And from them all, the message has been the same.

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

This is a chapter of your life where things will not get done in the way that you want them to get done, and that is okay. God has called you to this place, to this ministry, to this station in life. You. Are. Enough.

From all these people I respect, I have received the same answer. When you are raising young ones, that is your primary calling. It is ok to feel that this task takes all your free time. BECAUSE IT DOES. This is the time when you need help, not when you are free to help others. This is the time in life where you get through the day and fall into bed exhausted. The time for reading trade paperbacks, not national book award winners. The time when your quiet time looks much more like a whisper of Lord help me than an in depth study of the scriptures. And I say this not as an excuse, but as a benediction. Be where you are, be who you are, and know that that is sufficient. Do what gives you life, and allows you to nourish the lives of the others in your care. Realize that God’s presence and love is a constant, not dependent on what you do or achieve. Lean into that. Rest in it.

Friend, receive this message today. If you are like me, it is a hard one to hear. It involves an element of sacrifice, and humility. But it is true.

You are enough.

Take a deep breath and sit with those words, let them settle into your bones. Allow the truth of that to seep into your soul. You are enough. God has called YOU into the situation in life you find yourself in, and, if you rest in that truth, you realize that your gifts, your availability, your constraints, are all part of God’s good plan.

Ecclesiastes 3:10-13
I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.

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suffering

When is the last time you really suffered?  Have you ever?

photo 2As pathetic as this sounds, I suffered mightily trying to train for a 5K today.  At about 2.5 miles, I was done.  Walking.   My lungs were burning.  My calves were lead.  I was sucking air like a fish on a dock.  And to be perfectly honest, I was probably flapping and flailing in a similar manner as well.   It wasn’t fun. And yet, it’s something I chose to do. In fact, running (let’s be real here, JOGGING) is something I would even call a hobby.  Suffering, it is not.

achkaTwo weeks ago I got a Facebook message from my Haitian friend Achka.  He was telling me that he was completely out of money.  That he and his family had not eaten for three days.  Stop.  Think on that.  Three days.  When is the last time you skipped a single meal because you didn’t have any money for food, much less went days without eating.  This is suffering.  And yet, not voluntary.  I wired him money for food, and although giving the money may have made my family’s finances a it tighter, the reward was well worth the cost.  Once again, we didn’t suffer because of it.

The cross, that was suffering.  Physical agony.  Emotional anguish.  Torture beforehand.  Staring into the abyss.  And God chose it.  It was voluntary.  At any moment, Jesus could have miracle-d himself off of the cross and immediately been healed.  Comfortable.  Smug.  But, he didn’t.  For your sake.  For mine.  For the sake of grace and the redemption of mankind.

When is the last time you suffered, or even were uncomfortable for the sake of someone else?  How is this part of our Christian journey?  Are we called to suffer?  Are we called to sacrifice our comfort, for the sake of the Gospel?  To what level?  What do we, as Americans, do with this thought?

In My Image

Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.

John 18:28

Oftentimes, we lose the spirit of God in our efforts to follow God.  I think if the Pharisees had stepped back and looked at their behavior, they would have realized how ridiculous it seems to refuse to enter the Roman palace when calling upon the governor to kill a man.  Yet how many times do our actions belie our stated intentions?

They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.

John 18:40

barabbus

How often do we try to make God into our image?  Bad things happen when we do.

It was the religious elite that was the driving force behind Jesus’ trial.  They were the ones who could not accept Jesus as he was, who refused to hear the Gospel message.  Why?  Because it didn’t conform to what they were looking for in the Messiah.  They had read the prophecies, and had deduced that the coming King would be a political one.  One that delivered the Jews from Roman rule, one that brought glory and honor and power to the nation of Israel.

The kingdom Jesus came speaking about was not an earthly one, there was no glamour or prestige incorporated in serving this kingdom.  Jesus didn’t speak of politics, or hand out gold stars to those who broke their backs trying to keep the law.  Instead, he forgave adulterers.  His disciples ignored laws on hand washing.  Jesus healed on the Sabbath, with no respect for propriety.  He did not come to enforce the social mores of the day, but instead set forth a whole new series of ideals.  For the Pharisees, who had spent their entire lives adhering to the version of righteousness taught to them, this was a hard pill to swallow.  And to be perfectly honest, as a rule follower myself, I can understand the sentiment.  I don’t think that the Pharisees were evil.  They had spent their entire lives trying to live up to an impossible standard, to fulfill a law designed to be impossible to adhere to.  And now, to be told that their set of values should be turned on its head.  Mercy over justice.  Love over the letter of the law.  To a person raised in the midst of hard truth and hard consequences, this must have seemed preposterous.

It was much easier to call for the release of Barabbas, a person fighting the same battle you are rooting for.  Barabbas had taken part in an uprising, he was trying to overthrow the Roman government.  He was trying to fulfill the role of the Messiah the Jews were looking for.  An earthly king, not a king of heaven.

What do you expect from God?  A comfortable life?  Healthy children?  A job that brings you fulfillment?  These are all good things.  Godly things even.  Yet none of these are promised to us in scripture.  I find myself happy to be a Christ follower as long as my life is unfolding according to my plans.  But when these plans veer off course, I’m angry.  Resentful.  In those moments, I wonder if I as well am calling for Barabbas over Jesus- my plans and dreams over the plan God has for my life…

the Garden

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Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.
John 18:2

A lot of times I get the feeling that I am an expert on Jesus.  After all, I have been a lifelong Christian.  I have read the Gospels.  I can spout couplets from the Sermon on the Mount, and I have heard the teachings of Jesus discussed in countless sermons, books, Sunday school lessons, small group conversations.

But all I know of Jesus is what is printed in the Bible.  The disciples knew the real man.  Spent countless hours with him.  Judas knew to find Jesus in the garden, because Jesus was there so often.  It was their ‘place.’

photo (8)Where is your place with God?  

Do you have a ‘holy chair’, a regular meeting place where you go to be in God’s presence?  While that piece of furniture or corner of your house may not be holy in itself, the moments created there are.  I think that there is a great value to ritual.  Research has shown that our recall ability is improved when we are in a similar context as we were when the memory was made.  But  I would make the argument that we can condition our minds to focus as well.  Returning to the same spot, brewing the same mug of hot tea, murmuring the same prayer, all these can serve as markers for our minds, prompts to put us in a mental space to encounter the Holy.

Who do you meet with on a regular basis?

If you know me, this is a drum that I beat often.  Perhaps it is because I work at a church, and so Sunday mornings are often work days for me, but I really feel that my small groups are where I grow in my faith the most.  Sitting with a group of trusted people and wrestling with the Word together.  Talking through the real life struggles of being a wife and a mother and a worker and a Christian.  Admitting when we don’t know things, and working together to find God’s truth.  I think Jesus met regularly with his disciples because this is how we grow.  So who do you meet with?

John 18

photo 5I think I have written on here before, but in 2014, my goal is to read through the Book of John.  Thoroughly.  Just one time through.  Just one book.  Most passages I have read several times. Some I have read over and over.  And then, about a month ago, I slammed into a brick wall.  Just stopped reading.

Why?

Well, let’s call a spade a spade. I am a mom of two, one still a baby. I am a youth minister in the middle of a school year in full swing.  My days are full, and in those moments of solitude I carve out, the siren song of my pillow often sings more seductively than I would like to admit.

But there is something else.  In the back of my mind I knew I was there.  The crucifixion.  The ugliest point of our human condition.  The pain, the violence. The howling of the crowds, the apathy of the masses, the evil of our spiritual elite.  Blood and thorns and darkness.  I didn’t want to go there.  I didn’t want to wade into the midst of it, to see my face in the crowds.  And yet, here I am.

Have you read it?  Not read it in the sense of letting the words pass through your eyes… but really read it?  Immersed yourself in the story?  The prayer in the garden, spring wind whispering through olive trees.  The rattling of armor.  The kiss, the chaos, the trial.  In my mind, there are just a few central characters in this story, and yet in the reading, dozens more surface.  There are so many lessons to be taught, side notes about humanity- our weaknesses and our proclivities.  And through the midst of it all, the thin golden thread of grace.

I am going to be digesting the story a bit in the next few blog posts, but before I do, I challenge you to read it yourself, and see what God brings forth in your mind as you do.