Friday, April 4, 2014

Shadows


This one ends with a twist...

Much to my parent's dismay growing up, and now much to Eric's dismay as my permanent roommate, I am an excellent procrastinator. I am motivated by last-minute deadlines, have NEVER done something well in advance, and am typically running just a little late at all times. Growing up, my older sister would come home from school, promptly head up to her room, sit at her desk, do her homework to completion, and then spend the rest of the evening doing whatever she wanted. I would walk by her room, trying to distract her from her studious ways while NOT doing my homework. I'd have an extra snack, watch just one more show, and then around 9:30pm I'd begrudgingly get started on whatever assignements I had. It was not uncommon for me to set my alarm for 5:45am so I could get up and study for the test I'd not studied for the night before because I was "too busy" doing absolutely nothing. Unfortunately I never had enough incentive to change this particular behavior because I never really suffered the consequences of it. I made great grades, participated in sports and clubs, and graduated near the top of my class. I got into every school I applied to and even received a couple different scholarships.

The same was true in graduate school. I'd receive my box of materials for an online course I was taking, which I had 6 months to complete. The box would sit unopened in our room for 5.5 months and then I'd work myself to the bone for the last two weeks as I finally saw the deadline approaching. It drove Eric totally berserk. I, of course, would get totally defensive when he'd call me on it with the same old "Get off my back, I'm getting it done eventually and I get an A every time so back off, chump," response. Procrastination and Defensiveness are two of my favorite bad habits in case you were curious. It honestly never occured to me that my proscrination might negatively impact the people around me. I just didn't quite realize that leaving things to the last minute might make for sleepless nights and frantic behavior and cause Grouchy McGroucherson to take over my body as I raced to the post office trying to get my term paper postmarked by the 5pm deadline, "verbally encouraging" old women and children to get the heck out of my way because didn't they know I had to get this paper turned in?!? Oh man. Clueless. I was clueless. Still am, in so many ways, to how my insistence on doing things my way might affect the people I so dearly love.

I am marginally better when it comes to making sure Harper is prepared for her school day, but not much. I was emptying out her preschool folder the other day, trying to decide whether the picture of the horse and buggy she scribbled on with only brown crayon was, in fact, a priceless piece of art from my daughter's first year of preschool that I should store in some magical wooden box of nostalgia, or if I should just pitch it because it's a worksheet she clearly didn't want to do in the first place. I noticed that all of her pictures were scribbled on with what seemed like very little effort. Now I know that all kids develop differently and she's only four and let kids be kids.  Trust me when I say I am not one to "push" my kids too hard.  Eric taught both of our children how to walk while I would have just let them crawl until they were 17 because I didn't want to make them feel bad if they couldn't do it right away. Not really, but really.

Regardless, I said to my thumb-sucking little sweetie, "Harper, I think you may need to work a little harder at staying in the lines when you color." She put her hands on her hips, marched over to the craft cabinet, got out paper and crayons and proceeded to draw a giraffe, a monkey, and a picture of a hippo using the potty. Seriously, I pointed to one  part of the drawing and asked her what it was, only to learn that it was the hippo's panties down around her ankles. Duh. She continued to get defensive (NO IDEA where she gets that from) and tell me that her teachers don't mind if she goes out of the lines sometimes.  I challenged her a little more and told her she needed to be okay with the fact that we all need to work on things to get better at them. Round and round we went, she sulking, me trying to say hard things without her realizing I was saying hard things.

 A few minutes later she went and hid in the fort of cushions her daddy had made her in the family room. I pulled her out by her skinny little ankles and made her look me in my eyes and tell me what was bothering her. She finally found the clarity she and I were both after and told me she didn't like that I'd said she was a bad colorer. The lightbulb went off and my heart broke all in that one moment. I had said one thing and she heard something else entirely. This is like Counseling 101, people. We filter what other people say to us through our insecurities and end up hearing something false. I told her to work on coloring in the lines. She heard she was a bad colorer. I said something about a behavior SHE DOES and she heard me say something about WHO SHE IS. I did my best to restore order to her little world, hung the picture of "hippo with her panties down" on the fridge, and we went on about our day.

Casting shadows. Someone told me recently that that's what happens when we insist on our own way of living, or when we turn into our ourselves to figure out who we are and whether we measure up. We cast shadows. When I procrastinate myself into a tizzy and don't take into account the people around me, I cast a shadow.  When I, or my daughter for that matter, turn inward to try and figure out if I am worthy enough or smart enough or a good enough "colorer" I cast a shadow.  Let me explain. Have you ever tried to read outside with your back to the sun? Your positioning causes you to cast your own shadow out in front of you, darkening the words you are trying to read. Turned away from the light you cannot very well see what's in front of you. Or at least you cannot see it clearly. And so it is when we turn away from the LIGHT that is Jesus and try to do life our way.

In Ephesians 5:8 it says "[That] you were once darkness, but now you are light to The Lord. Live as children of the light." As a believer I have been moved, via the mercy of God, from darkness into light. And in the light, in the presence of Jesus, I can rightly see myself and those around me. I squint at times, my eyes adjusting to the radical truth that comes with the light. And other times I forget. Other times, and most often unknowingly, I turn my back to the light and measure myself against the standards of a world that is very, very dark. I turn my back on the Light that calls me to deny myself and to consider the needs of others, and I serve myself as master.  And when I do this I cast a shadow.  In the shadow I become overly sensitive or overy critical or overly anxious, tripping and fumbling over my circumstances and relationships.  In the shadow I see only what is right in front of me - my needs, my wants, my ways. In the shadow I hear voices that are not from God - voices that tell me that I am not enough, and that what I bring to the world is insufficient.  But in the Light, in that warm, wonderful, pervasive light,  I can see Him as He is, and thereby see myself as I am - fully known and fully loved.

 When I was a child I would often wake up in the middle of the night for no reason. I'd look around my room and stuggle to make sense of the looming objects around me. I knew better than to believe there was a monster crouched by my door so I'd stare down the dark figure until my eyes adjusted.  I was furious that this blurry distortion was causing me fear because I knew better.  I knew it wasn't real. The me that was familiar with my room in the light of day knew that it held only dressers and dolls.  So I'd hold my ground, heart pounding and teeth clenched, until  the monster would reveal its true identity as my oversize winter coat hanging on the doorknob.  What I knew in the light overpowered what I feared in the darkness.

I recently stumbled across a Mumford & Sons song that I somehow missed an album or two ago.  I've played it on a loop for days now.  When the chorus comes I clench my fists like that little girl in her room at night, hell-bent on seeing in darkness what I know to be true in the Light....."Hold onto what you belive IN THE LIGHT, when darkness has robbed you of all your sight....." I added the link below :)

Take a listen if you have a minute (which we all do by the way). And as you do you can also have a good laugh at my expense. You see after my daughter spent a good 20 minutes convincing me I'd broken her precious little heart into pieces with my "color in the lines" comment, she dropped this bomb on me. "Um, mom, you know all that stuff I said early when you told me to work on my coloring?" Yes, dear, of course I do. "Well, um, I was faking all that." I tried to not overreact as I wondered how it was possible for this little slip of a 4-year old to be so manipulative. I quickly asked her why in the WORLD she would do that. Clearly aware that I was not thrilled with her little confession she quickly offered this explanation, "Mom, it's okay, my teachers told me today that on the first day of April it's funny to play jokes on people. It's called April Fools. Funny, right?" Oh. My. Word. A pint-sized con artist is what she is. We laughed hard for a minute or two and I then explained that April Fools jokes probably shouldn't involve feelings or pretending to be hurt. Ever. She agreed. Then she told me I had a bug on my toe. "April Fools, Mommy!" Yes, dear, that's more like it.

Jesus you are the LIGHT by which we make sense of all things. Help us to hold onto what we believe in the Light of Your presencece when we stumble into the shadows that we cast ourselves. And then, Lord, call us out of the shadows. In your mercy, call us out of the shadows. Amen.

http://youtu.be/9VI8-6aXsFA


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Love Couch


My couch is better than your couch.  I'm sorry, but it's true.  We are the owners of the best. couch. ever. When we were first married we had no clue what we were doing in regards to much of anything.  We thought it was normal for newlyweds to go out and buy a new couch, so that's exactly what we did. We drove ourselves down to a major furniture retailer, picked out this mammoth couch, chose the fabric, and 36 monthly payments later, she was ours. Yes, that's correct. We paid our couch off. Over three years. I told you we had no clue what we were doing.  But as foolish as that was, there's no buyer's remorse here I can assure you. We had enough sense to buy something fairly simple, with clean lines and neutral fabric so it's not gone out of style or anything. But what makes this couch partiuclarly remarkable is its size.  I am nearly 6 feet tall and if I sit myself all the way up against the back cushions my feet do not touch the floor. You can put a set of twin size sheets on it and it will rival any bed in our house.  We have another couch, also ginormous but not quite as spectacular, that sits adjacent to the good couch.  In the Winter my husband and I pile up some pillows and blankets on said couches, put on the fire, and start up Netflix with no real intention of finding our way to our actual bed that night.  It is that good. When high school girls come over for bible study a couch meant for maybe four people suddenly seats eight quite comfortably, but I suppose that two freshmen girl booties might add up to one average adult booty. When I have had a particularly long day I really just want two things : an unbearably hot shower and to be swallowed up in my couch.  When the kids won't eat what I fixed them, the plumbing backs up again (seriously, this has happened two months in a row and I'm pretty sure my plumber scolded me the last time he came as if I was deliberately putting mounds of hair and red thread into my pipes), the natural lighting in my car reveals a rogue facial hair, the grocery bill sky rockets because God forbid I needed to buy toiletries, or I find really old cheese stuck inside a toy train, I run, and I mean RUN, for that couch.

Have you ever heard the word couch used as a verb? So let's say a guy asks a girl out on a date.  She is not at all interested but doesn't want to crush the poor guy, so rather than saying, "I would rather coupon for 30 hours a week than go out with you," she COUCHES her response a bit more delicately and simply says, "You know, I just don't think that's going to work out." By the way, am I the only one who is completely unnerved by the whole couponing labyrinth? I mean seriously, as soon as someone starts telling me about notebooks and triple coupons and manufacturer sales and rebates I become completely stupid. It's just too much. Where were we? Oh right, the couch. To couch. It means to sort of "pad" your words in a way, so that your listener hears what you want them to hear.  It sounds deceptive but I don't think it was originally meant to be so. Even still, everytime I hear that phrase I just picture whatever is being described suddenly taking place on my big couch. Literal Louise over here. So yes, in the example above, I imagined the poor guy and the disinterested girl having that lovely interchange whilst sitting on my couch. Insert husband's token response, "Krisitn, you are so ridiculous." Yes, dear, and you love me for it!

I do have this little idea, though, of doing a year-long project with my kids sometime in the future called OPERATION LOVE COUCH. Allow me to explain. As we read through the Bible and try and teach our kids about Jesus there are stories that feel, well, kid-friendly, if you will. Noah and the flood. Abraham and Sarah. Jesus calms the storm. Jesus feeds five thousand. Even the cross. The kids are easily engaged and God clearly emerges as the hero. It's awesome.  And then there are other stories that we read and halfway into it I hear the words coming out of my mouth and start muttering to myself, "now what, now what, now what?" For example, we are trucking along in the story of Moses and Pharoah and sure, it starts getting a little intense. Locusts. Hail. Boils for Pete's sake. And still, we are hanging in there, you know, trying to let God's Word just do its thing. And then, before I realize what's happening, I'm telling my wide-eyed four-year old that  God ordered the firstborn son of every family in Egypt be killed. I read it with a light, melodic tone hoping she might not notice that what just happened. Don't misunderstand me. I knew it was coming. I know it's true. I'm not resisting that, nor am I trying to water it down.  This final plague opens the door for the Passover as Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, is foreshadowed so incredibly. I get it. And still, there are parts throughout Scripture where God does things that don't appear, on a surface level, to be the sort of thing that a loving God would do. The reality is that the God of the Old Testament, the one who flooded the earth and all the was in it, the one who allowed Job to be robbed of EVERYTHING he held dear, is the SAME as the God of the New Testament, the incarnate God who walked the earth and did things that were unspeakably loving. I don't have to work hard to see God as love when He rescues the woman caught in adultery and restores her dignity. I don't have to strain to see God as loving when He brings Peter back into the fold after he denied him. But there are other parts of Scripture where it is not so easy. And yet the reality is, it is ALL COUCHED IN LOVE.  Every move the Creator makes is motivated by, propelled by, and completed by Love. So that would be the goal of OPERATION LOVE COUCH.  We would read through the Bible, the boring and the breathtaking parts, and we would look for how God is love in all of it.  Could be great. Could be awful.  I'll keep you posted.

That would be a real game-changer, though, wouldn't it? To live with quiet confidence that everything God does is couched in love.  When He walks beside me, it's because He loves me. When He seems far, it's because He loves me. When he says yes to me, it's because He loves me. And when He says no, when He withholds a seemingly good things, it is because He loves.  He loves me when he gives and when he takes away. When my children are wildly delightful and when they are willfully disobedient, He loves me. When there is joy overflowing, it is because he loves me, and when the grief is too acute to bear, yes, yes it is because He loves me.  Going to bed tonight with that hope in mind. With the hope that God would give me eyes to see life this way.  To see ALL that He does and ALL that He is as love.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Riptide


We are water people. Ocean, lakes, rivers, pools, you name it, we're in. My husband did not begin our marriage as a "beach person."  He does not love extreme heat, sand in his crevices, or sharks. Go figure.  But twelves years in, and a couple dozen beach trips later he's assimilated quite nicely into my beach-loving family.  But if it were up to him, he'd choose river over ocean any day.  Our kids are total water babies.  It' s kind of like the great equalizer when it comes to athletic ability.  The verdict is out as to whether Harper will be an athlete or not, as she currently acts a bit like Bambi on ice, wobbly and uncoordinated.  Except she's not on ice.  She's on carpet. Flat carpet.  But in the water it doesn't matter that she's not grown into her long, lanky legs. She can can just swim and swim freely.  The point being that water tends to be a WIN for our family any way you look at it.

Eric and I took an anniversary trip this past Summer.  We had not taken a big trip, just the two of us, since our honeymoon, and had promised that we'd take one on our 10-year anniversary.  Well, ten years rolled around, Baker was an infant, money was tight, and when I casually brought up the idea of this promised 10-year anniverasry trip Eric genuinely looked like he might cry.  We barely had the energy to chew food with our mouths closed, much less to pull together a Caribbean getaway.  So we broke the mold and went big on our 11-year anniversary.  And it was awesome.  We went all-inclusive at this incredible resort in Mexico.  We wanted ammenities so nice that you would feel no need to leave the resort if you didn't want to.  Hiking, water sports, and wild excursions were nowhere to be found on our agenda.  Basically we wanted to remain sedentary and uncomfortably full with shellfish for seven whole days.  We succeeded. And I bet we spent 95% of our time there next to water.  All of the other guests would head in around 5:30 or 6 to shower for dinner and Eric and I would stay by the water.  The sun would set and we'd be floating in an infinity pool all by ourselves.  We'd peak over the edge of whatever book we were reading to share some unhurried conversation, and then just continue to float.  We had nowhere else to be and no one else to be with.  It was incredibly sweet. Something about the water though.  In the water we forgot ourselves.  In the water we stopped striving.  Stopped working. Time passed in spite of us as we let the water move us from one place to the next.

I caught myself developing a not so great prayer habit in the past year or so.  I've been taught since I was a young believer  that God wants us to be honest with Him, to share our desires with Him, to wrestle with Him, even.  And I agree whole-heartedly.  He is a good Father who lets us come to Him exactly as we are.  No need to censor.  But in the name of "being honest with God" I found my entire vantage point shifting.  I was settling comfortably into a place of self-importance where I grossly overestimated my bearing on the course of my life.  I brought my unmet desires to God like a stack of bargaining chips as I wagered the following deal: "God I have been really faithful to you and have given up a lot of things so the least you could do is come through on the following...." I'd then list off my requests, my entitlement masquerading as confidence.  I knew surrender was the better option but believed it to be a lose-lose.  I'd surrender to God, thus losing my so-called "leverage," and I'd still not get what I wanted.  Real pretty, I know.

Then something happened that turned the tide.  In late October we lost our friend, Jay.  His is the story I have yet to write.  Well, that's not entirely true.  It is the story I've been writing since this Lenten journey began.  And when the time is right, and with his wife's permission, I'll share it.  In the weeks after he passed I wouldn't say it was answers I was looking for.  I knew those were not for me to know.  It was more refuge that I was after.  And, yes, I experienced the comfort of The Lord in very real ways.  But there was also a reckoning.   I'd close my eyes and Jesus would be there.  But not in the way I expected.  I wanted so badly for him to turn and look at me, to tell me it was all going to be okay.  To make it hurt less.  But he wouldn't.  His gaze was set elsewhere, his countenance unflinching.  Who was this man? And where was he going?  What was so important to him that he couldn't break character for just a second to give me what I needed? I looked ahead to try and make out where he was heading.  It remained blurry for a long, long time.  And then one day a shape started to appear.  Rugged and familiar.  The cross. Of course, the cross. Always, the cross. I looked at it, then back at Him.  I mistook it for a crossroads, one where I decided whether or not I would surrender to Him.  But it was more than that.  And then He spoke.  Finally, He spoke,  His voice tender, yet unmistakably firm.  "You do not decide, dear one.  Surrender or not, I am moving forward with great force.  There will be tremendous suffering.  It will wreck you, body and soul.  And then.... AND THEN....I will triumph over it.  And oh, the JOY.  The unspeakable JOY.  Trust me or not. Join me or not. I AM and I WILL." I was so small before Him.  So unaffecting.  And it was as it should be.  Maybe for the first time, or the first time I was aware of at least, it was as it should be.  Me, small yet beloved.  Him, powerful yet good.

I've been caught in a riptide once in my life and it was an awful feeling.  I swam furiously towards the shore, only to be pulled further out to sea.  I've learned since then that the best way to handle being caught in a riptide is to lie on your back, parallel to the shore, and to let the current push you towards dry land. Striving makes it worse.  It always does, doesn't it?  It creates an illusion of control as we swim upstream, leaving us exhausted, sputtering and choking on our own ideas of what's best for us.  I talk about "whether I will surrender" to the Lord as if I have any bearing on His will for my life and the lives of those around me.    And then I look up to see Him on the riverbank.  Compassionate. Resolute. Asking me to turn ever so slightly to let the water do the work.

Lord. Jesus. Mighty River. Take us where you will. Amen.






Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Name


Much thought has given to naming things in our house.  We carefully selected the names of our three dogs.  Fisher was named in honor of Eric's deep and abiding love for fly-fishing, Cota was named after Ed Cota, a Carolina pointguard from back in the day, and Lily was chosen because that dog was kind of hideous so we were trying to soften up the rough edges with a really girly name.  It didn't work. The first dog died after he got out one day and ate a piece of wire that perforated his bowels. So sad. But to his credit, he first drug home two thirds of a Digornio pizza and a loaf of bread he found in someone's trash can and ate it on our couch. We found the evidence of his little afternoon antics when we came home that evening and trust me, the humor of that was not lost on me.  But that's neither here nor there. When we moved into our current home the "naming" continued. Eric wanted to be sure we were on the same page as to what we called each room so that when we shouted across the house, "honey, have you seen the diaper creme and my debit card?" that we would know what the other one meant when they responded, "I think I saw them behind the stained couch in the family room." And of course, much thought was given to the naming of our children.  Harper's middle name, for example, is Maryl, which is a hybrid of our mother's names - Martha and Cheryl.  It was either that or Chertha.  I think we made the right choice.  And Baker's full name is Charles Baker, named after his daddy, Charles Eric, and after Pastor Lewis Baker, who performed our wedding and was a pivotal figure in the life of Eric's family. Other contenders for Harper were Parker and Sutton, and if it had been up to me, Baker would have been named Maclean, or "Mac" for short. Now, of course, I cannot  imagine them being named anything else.  They are Harper and Baker. End of story.

I'm finding the older I get the worse I am at remembering names.  This is not good.  Particularly as a Young Life leader.  It's my job to remember kid's names.  To call them by their names.  To not just say, "Hey there, freshmen girl with the ombre' hair," but to actually be able to say, "Hey, Sarah, how are you?"  Literally every time I go to the high school lately I have to pull aside one or two girls who I know well and we huddle up and I say, "Okay, don't look now, but across my left shoulder is a girl in a red shirt next to a guy in an itchy-looking poncho. What's her name? I think it's either Casey or Cassie." They then inform me her name is neither Casey or Cassie, but Sam. Okay, cool. Sam. Got it. Good to know. I could have asked the girl myself but there's a window of time in which it's okay to ask someone their name again and once that window closes you just look like a total jerk asking again.  I sometimes use this little trick - I'll ask a girl how they spell their name so I can put it in my phone.  This works great when their name is Caitlin or something because there's lots of ways to spell that name these days.  It doesn't work so well when their name is, well, Sam. Then you just look like a jerk. A jerk named Kristin. Not quite sure how I'm going to rememdy this little memory issue but I've got to think of something. Because names matter. They really do.

In our fast-paced culture it's not too often that we actually hear our own names spoken. Seriously, think about it. We text a lot, so we are definitely not HEARING our names said in that scenario.  If we see folks in person we usually offer a quick, "hey, how are you?!" We call each other girl, brother, friend, pretty lady, hot stuff, whatever.  But we rarely say each other's names.  And I have to say, I like hearing someone say my name. I particularly love when Eric says my name.  Well, unless it begins the sentence, "Kristin, why is Baker smearing a popsicle in the TV?" But other times, when he addresses me by name, tenderly, I come undone.  It lets me know he sees me. I mean, really sees me.  We spend the day tag teaming the kids, cutting crusts off of peanut butter sandwhiches, meeting folks for lunch, running to the gym, checking off our to-do lists and we do so as wife, husband, mother, father, friend, Young Life staff, or whatever the situation calls for.  But in that moment, when he says my name, I am reminded that I have an identity that transcends all of those.  It reminds me that I have value completely independent from what I am able to do.  And gosh I have GOT to be reminded of that.  To rest, for just a fleeting moment, in my identity as Kristin, redeemed and rescued, child of Abba, Father. If I'm not hunkering down in this particular sense of self-worth then all of my other roles in life are in jeopardy.  It's ironic really.  If I identify myself primarily as a mother, for example, I will inevitably handicap my ability to love my children well.  I suddenly begin to view them in relationship to my own satisfaction.  So when they disobey or embarass me in public it feels personal.  It feels like failure.  Or worse, when we find other mothers are doing things differently with their kids we begin to panic, afraid that perhaps we've been doing it wrong and our kids won't turn out to be the perfect humans we were so sure they were going to be.  And so, instead of considering that maybe there are lots of ways to do the right thing, we judge them.  We put them on the shelf with all the other things that challenge our fragile identities.  It's exhausting, really. To maintain an identity based on what you can do and how well you do it.  Whether it's in your job, your friendships, your appearance, your income, whatever, it's exhausting.  It makes every interaction, every success, every failure, feel so much more paramount than it really is.

Scripture talks a lot about "upright living." And it always makes me uneasy.  I just have so many negative connotations associated with this image - images of strict morality, rigid thinking, and dry religion.  Now, the problem lies with me. Not with the Word. I understand that.  I bring my own set of baggage to the table when I read the Bible, we all do. And I'll spend the rest of my life letting that baggage go until I can see the Word with total clarity, as it really is and not as I perceive it to be based on my experiences or feelings.  I wonder, though, if this whole notion of "upright living" has a lot to do with righting our sense of self.  Remember those old V8 commercials where the actors would seemingly walk at an angle, unable to stand upright until they drank their V8?  Their whole being was askew because it lacked the necessary nutrients found in this wonder drink.  I think this is awfully close to how I must look to God when I am defining myself by anything other than His love for me.  He sees me chasing mirages of success and happiness until I fall flat in the dust, thirsty and tired. And then He enters in. He calls me by name. He takes me by the shoulders and puts me on my feet and says, "Stand up straight, Kristin. Stand up and look me in my eyes and be confident in this: I have won you back to myself so that you will know beyond any doubt that you are worth it to me. You are my child worth saving, my beauty worth redeeming.  Be defined by nothing else."

So I hope the next time I go to the high school I remember Sam's name. I hope that the next time I see you I remember to call you by name.  I hope tomorrow morning I'll remember to say my husband and children's names with a tenderness that lets them know I am so very glad that they are mine.  I hope that when that moment comes, and come it will, when I am face to face with my false self, my forgetful self, the one that searches in vain for worth in what I am to others rather than who I am to Him, that I would listen hard to to hear his voice, calling me.  And calling me by name.







Monday, March 17, 2014

The List


I wish you could all know my friend, Liza. I have known her since she was a freshmen in high school, had the privilege of being her Young Life leader, and here we are, nearly a decade later, and she is one of the greatest treasures in my life.  Truly, Eric and I TREASURE her.  She is easy to love. Easy to be with. Easy to root for. She has been in my children's lives since they were born and cares for them so beautifully. And above and beyond all that she is our partner in the Gospel.  Liza led with us here in Surry County for a couple of years and, just recently, was affirmed to be a part of the Young Life staff here in our region (which spans from the mountains to the coast).  I feel a palpable sense of encouragement knowing that she is somewhere, not too far from here, pursuing Jesus and pursuing others.  We are indescribably proud of who you are, Liza.  And if that weren't enough, we share a deep and abiding love for....

all things entertainment!!

 Not the climax you were hoping for? Well, sorry people. It's true.  When it comes to TV, movies, Broadway, and music, we are a perfect match. Nothing like having someone else confirm that you have good taste, right? So for the past 9ish years we have been compiling a list.  A guest list, to a hypothetical dinner party that she and I are hosting.  The table seats 12, including us, which leaves 10 spots open.  Now the goal of this dinner party is not to change history or heal the world.  The goal is not even to share company with the people who have.  While I'm sure that would be a fascinating evening, discussing the invention of the printing press or how you just stumble upon pencillin, it's not what we're after.  No,no, our goal is much simpler and self-serving.  We want to have great conversation with funny people who are good at what they do (and yes, some of them are easy to look at, but I'm going to go ahead and peg those on Liza. I'm a married woman for goodness sake). Now you don't have to fit all of these critera to be invited.  But you need to meet one or two, and have potential for great chemistry with the other guests. And before I reveal this well-crafted guest list, please bear in mind that we are not saying that we agree with everything about these people in terms of their life choices and careers.  Relax. We just want them to come over for dinner. And so, in no particular order, our "Best Freakin' Dinner Party of All Time" guest list includes:

1. Jimmy Fallon
2. Meryl Streep
3. Tim Gunn
4. Adam Levine
5. Ellen Degeneres
6. Andy Cohen
7. The Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith)
8. Bob Costas
9. Bradley Cooper
10. Bear Grylls

And because we are thorough people, we have also considered who will prepare the meal (Top Chef executive judge, Tom Colicchio) and who will provide a little late evening entertainment (Mumford & Sons). Now, really, how fun does that sound?! Can't you just see it?! Maggie Smith flirting with Bradley Cooper while Bear teaches Meryl how to make a lean-to out of the centerpiece? Meanwhile, Adam Levine keeps turning his dinner chair every time Ellen says something funny, which is always, as Bob Costas and Tim Gunn admire each other's perfectly round specs. Ugh. It's so great. I would say you're all invited, but, well, you're not.  We have limited seating, even after we put both leaves in the table, but maybe you could come over for coffee and Mumford because I'm sure we'll head outside for that.

I'm curious, who would be on your list?  It's a telling question, no? Our list is a mixed bag of folks - some who've had long and impactful careers, others who have yet to prove their staying power.  And while each of them isn't necessarily doing something particularly impactful with their lives, what they are doing they do really well.  And I love bearing witness to that.  To watch someone do exactly what they were created to do.  It's what gives way to a level of magnetism that people have when they are filling their niche' so perfectly that nothing is lacking.  And I'm certainly not just talking about entertainers here. On the contrary. I'm talking about you and me.  I'm talking about guys like Ken.  The Arts Council in our town employs a man named Ken. I've seen Ken hard at work probably every week since we've lived here.  He changes the marquee sign outside of the local playhouse, making sure each letter is just so, and fills popcorn bags at the downtown cinema with careful precision.  But it's more than that.  He does these tasks with pride and with a level of kindness that leaves you a little softer, and less hurried than you were before you locked eyes with Ken.  Imagine a big 'X' marking the spot under Ken's feet as he goes about his day, signifying that he is standing right where he should in the world.  Ken, you see, is filling his niche'.

It's a very cool thing that God has created us this way - uniquely gifted and with a space to fill.  He didn't have to do it that way.  He could have executed His redemptive plan all on his own, with us just sort of standing around as stunned onlookers, wanting to take part but not knowing how.  He didn't need us at all to tell His story.  But, in his mercy, He chose to let us in.  He let's us participate.  He let's us partner with Him, come alongside Him, hear from Him, call Him friend. It really didn't have to be that way. And I wonder if it doesn't work best when we all just fill our God-given space.  Our spaces look similar in some ways as we are all called to know Him and to follow Him with everything we've got and to love others as the natural outpouring of this kind of KNOWING and FOLLOWING. This is what gives our space perameters, it's what gives it shape. It's what keeps us from bleeding into places we were never meant to go.  And in other ways our spaces will look quite different.  The point is that we fill them and fill them well - with grace, and humility and the all-important sense of humor.

So the next time you see someone doing exactly what they were made to do - whether they are singing in perfect pitch, offering sound advice to a hurting friend, or proudly taking tickets at a small town theater - be encouraged. Be encouraged that you, too, have a niche' to fill that is just yours and it IS sufficient.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Thread


I bought a couple of new scarves the other day because I really want to be a scarf person. I think they look so cute on other people, all slouchy and cozy and accessorizy. So I buy them, I put them on, and spend the rest of the day soooo aware of the fact that I'm wearing a scarf. I fiddle with it, wonder if I'm wearing it correctly, and try and ignore the fact that a semi-circle of space under my neck is overheating. Then I take it off and am left with the plain top that I started out with. Seriously, I am a connoisseur of plain, neutral clothing. I never invested in one of those chucky, oversize infinity scarves that I saw everywhere but think I they are so darn cute. Probably shouldn't buy one though, as I am incredibly hard on my things. Case in point, my iphone. It is currently only being protected by the rubbery skin portion of the otterbox. I destroyed the rest of it. Me. Single-handedly. Not my kids. Not my dog. I don't have a dog. Me.I think I'd probably get the scarf hung on something and cause it to unravel. I'd be oblivious to the fact that I'd gotten it hooked on a clothes rack at Target and would proceed to chase Baker into the bra and panty section as he's pointing at the Maidenform ad yelling "Momma! Nude!" All the while, said scarf is coming undone, creating a spider web of wooly yarn in and around the stack of Merona v-neck cardigans. I don't know, do woven things actually unravel like that or does that only happen in old Disney movies, back when Mickey traveled in a silver, Airstream camper? Those were the days, am I right?

One of the funnest parts of doing ministry in a small town is you get to talk about real stuff with a huge variety of people. I might get to talk real life with a freshmen girl, a college sophomore, a stay at home mom, and an empty nester all in the course of a week. We also get to study the Word with these folks. It's such a privilege. For real. Trying to do this with two kids in tow has been challenging for sure. When I tell folks that being a Young Life leader when you have small kids isn't impossible, I simultaneously say to myself, "but it almost is." It is almost impossible. But it's what God has called us to and so, you just do it. It's not pretty. In fact, our weeks are most often a circus act as we try to be intentional with our kids, with each other, and with our community. But God uses it. And wildly enough, He blesses it. And that's beautiful.

But a trick of the trade, one of necessity, we picked up a while ago is to study the same passage of Scripture again and again with the various groups of people you get to meet with. For example, I can discuss John 1 with my high school girls, with the leaders I'm training, and with my bible study of peers. You just adjust the discussion to fit the audience but you save yourself having to reinvent the wheel. And John 1 just happened to be where we set up camp a couple weeks ago.

"The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one. Everything was created through him. Nothing - not one thing! - came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness could not put it out." John 1:1-5 (MSG). 

Where do you even begin to unpack these verses? I think it might be better to just stare at them for a while. Stare at them until you can own the fact these words are staggering. And you can't make sense of them. Not fully, at least. I'm sorry, what? Jesus was the point from the very beginning? He was prepared to go when God said go? No wait, scratch that. He was poised, like an Olympic sprinter on their mark, just wating for the chance to go after the joy set before him? And when the pop of that proverbial gun finally sounded he BLAZED out of the darkness? Blazed?!? Totally baffling.

But right before he blazes out, we see Him as the centerpiece of creation. Everything was created through him. This has always tripped me up. What's it talking about here? Jesus is like some filter that God literally created THROUGH? This was a fun thing to talk through with folks and we ended up here: God created all things with Jesus IN MIND. He didn't create the world with a giraffe in mind. He didn't create a giraffe-centric world. He created a Jesus-centric world - one in which He is the epicenter and all things stem out from Him. Therefore ALL THINGS, whether conscious of it or not, depend on Him. Remove Jesus and it all comes undone. It unravels. I'm imagining the world as some giant pop-up book that, without Jesus would just collapse. Mountains would fold over. City skylines implode. Until there was nothing.

And then we went a step further, which is always when it gets good. What would happen if we removed Jesus from our lives? If somehow he was plucked out of us, what then? There's only one answer: we would unravel. On every level. We would come undone. When we surrender to Jesus we don't just let some nice fellow into our hearts. He is LIFE BLAZING out of darkness, remember? Unextinguishable LIFE-LIGHT. So to yes to Him is to be reoriented entirely. He becomes the thread that holds us together, that weaves its way into all facets of our being, our relationships, our dreams.

But here's where it gets great. When we say yes to Jesus we are saying yes to someone who said yes to us a long, long time ago. How long? Not sure. Can't measure it. Sometime "in the beginning," I suppose. Back when Jesus was already the plan. Back when he was ready and willing to obey His Father when he said, "Now. The is time is NOW!" Can't you just feel the mercy in that? The mercy in a God who is willing to put Himself at the center of a creation that would reject Him? The mercy of a God who is willing to put Himself at the center of us, who are much more adulterous wife than we are faitfhful friend? The mercy of a God who is our HOPE and STAY. He will stay. Stay the course. Stay the thread, tightly woven.  We feel, at times, like we are pressed in so tightly or stretched so thin, that just one snag can unravel us.  Just one more demand. Just one more hard day. Just one more frustration. Just one more needy person. Just one more bit of bad news and we are through.  And maybe that would be the case if God had created the world through us, if we were the rock against which all other things crashed.  But we are not. Thank goodness, we are not.  So let me not be so self-important as to think that I could cause my own undoing.

In the paralympics runners who are blind are allowed to have a guide runner. The guide runner does just that - they guide them across the finish line. This image is of Brazilian paralympic athlete, Terezinha Guilhermina, and her guide runner as they crossed the finish line to win gold.


Jesus, is it even possible? Is it even possible that THIS is your joy as you champion us, blind and weak as we are, to the finish line? is it possible that you don't just stay the course but that you do so with immeasurable delight in us? "The Life-Light blazed out of darkness; the darkness COULD NOT put it out." John 1:5.
Amen and Amen.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Frisbees


Just finished watching The Voice and man, do I love that show! I just started watching it a few weeks ago and I'm totally hooked. I know a lot of people who say "you know, I just don't have time to watch TV." To which I say, "you know, I just don't have time to watch TV but I watch it anyways." I mean, really, let's have our priorities in order here! Also my kids are alseep at a decent hour which is awesome. Daylight savings threw them for a big ol' loop and they've been up way, way, way too late the past few nights and mama is not having that.  So although we all woke up a little sleepy today, I knew it would all be okay because it's Tuesday. You see, on Tuesday mornings a total miracle occurs at the Leathers house - I am home alone for 2.5 hours. Seriously, just me. It is the one day they are both in school and it's a beautiful thing. I'm sure I should be getting a lot done in this precious chunk of time like meal-planning or laundry-folding or something life-sucking like that, but I don't.  I might put the 18 dirty sippee cups in the dishwasher but that's about it. On most Tuesdays I choose instead to set up camp in my house somewhere and do a whole lot of nothing. If it's cold outside, which sweet Jesus it sure has been lately, I put on the fire and sit unusually close to it. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I journal. Sometimes I pin (as in Pinterest, ha!). And while this may look like a waste to some, it is a total victory for me.

Lately, I've been pipering. Okay, that's not a word. What I mean to say is that lately I've been listening to John Piper. Piper is one of our favorite authors and lucky for us, you can listen to his sermons online. He is a total wordsmith, which is not lost on me. And his passion for the Gospel hits all the right notes. So for the past 3 Tuesdays I've been downloading his sermons and laying my head on my pillow and letting it soak in.  It's really rare that I get to play such a pleasantly passive role in my life. Even at church I'm taking notes or talking to folks or thinking about whether my child is still crying in the nursery. But on these mornings I do none of that. I don't usually even keep my eyes open. I just lay there, listen, and pray for osmosis to kick in.


Piper is getting ready to retire as lead pastor at his church, which seems to have made him even more feisty than normal, which I totally love. He hammered home some incredible, incredible points about joy in suffering.  Not even a secondary point, but one that caught my attention, was his mentioning of churches that try to market the Gospel by creating worship services that are full of flashing lights, lame jokes, and very little truth.  Some friends, who live a very similar life to ours in a small town in eastern NC, told us of a time they visited a church.  They entered the common room where the service was being held because I think it took place in a YMCA or something (which is totally fine) and they took their seats in their folding chairs because there wasn't permanent seating (again, totally fine), and then had to take cover as the worship team launched brightly colored frisbees into the audience to try and get them hyped up (NOT fine). I also vaguely remember a church experience where the associate pastor raffled off a pair of Oakley sunglasses (back when those were the deal, which, if you still are rockin' the oakleys, by all means, rock on) in an effort to draw more people in.  And since I hope to dedicate an entire blog post to the HILARIOUS church signs that dot the highways and backroads of the south, I won't go into it just yet, but just remember when Halloween rolls around to not let Satan TRICK you into sin, but instead let Jesus TREAT you to salvation.

 Oh. Help. Us.


But here's the deal. As much as these misguided attempts to draw people to the Christian faith make me cringe, whince, and want to make apologies to the masses, I kind of get it.  I get that they're just trying to bring folks in the door and shed a little light. And good for you for that.  I just don't know if neon frisbees and cheesey slogans are really going to do it for someone who has a genuine need for something more in their lives. The intentions may be good (well, almost good), but I wonder if it doesn't set people up to fail. I wonder if, when we peddle the Gospel as a fun, prize-winning, lights flashing kind of life, are we not setting folks up for radical disappointment when they face real trials and all we've offered them is a frisbee that says "God loves you."  I sound critical, and I don't mean to. In Young Life we go to great lengths to draw folks in, to create a dynamic atmosphere where they feel alive.  And this approach may not seem that different than the ones I'm poking fun at.  But I hope, I really really hope, that we only do these things in an effort to bring them closer, inch by hard-fought inch, to Jesus.  And I hope, and I mean really, really hope, that once we get them there we are telling them about Jesus AS HE IS and not as we think they want him to be.


I know too many people who said yes to Jesus sometime ago, who tried hard at the Christian faith, and ended up in state of relative apathy.  They wanted it to work out, but it just didn't.  Perhaps they had a bad experience with a Christian friend or leader.  Perhaps they felt burned by a church or a ministry.  Or maybe they signed on for the full, abundant life they were promised and their life since then has been anything but full and abundant.  Now granted, there are countless factors that play into someone's faith journey.  There are issues of entitlement, there are prosperity gospels being handed out left and right, and the list goes on.   But I wonder if it also has a great deal to do with how the Gospel was presented in the first place.  We think we are doing right in our eager attempts to bring people into the faith.  I mean, eagerness is a good thing, right? But sometimes eagerness is really just nervous energy motivated by guilt.  And what we end selling people are a whole lot of half truths that all add to this one false notion: God loves you and therefore wants you to be happy.
The first part of that statement is true. God loves you. Yes, yes He does. As Baker would say, "dis I know, fo da bible tell me so." But please hear me say this: you should expect SO much more from the God of the universe than just someone who wants you to be happy. My hairdresser wants me to be happy. My mailman, Gary, wants me to be happy.  I don't need someone else in my life who wants me to be happy.  I don't even need someone in my life who can MAKE me happy, although God certainly could do that if he wanted to. I need someone who can make me FREE.


So what if, instead of making clumsy attempts to sell people a manufactured Jesus who is part Santa Claus and part male model, we just told them the truth.  What if we told them that it's going to be unbelievably difficult.  What if we told them that following Jesus will, in no way, safeguard them from difficulty.  What if we told them that blessings do not equal shiny new toys.  What if we told them that other Christians will probably hurt them and let them down. But what if we also told them that Jesus will use every moment of every day, every single part of our lives, to make us NEW and to make us FREE.  What if we told them that they needed to lose their life.  You know the life I'm talking about.  The life where you have to micromanage your pain and anxieties and unmet desires by whatever means necessary.  The life where you have to work tirelessly at meeting your own needs, because no one's gonna do it for you.  The life where you are defined by the opinions of others.  What if we told them that they needed to lay down this life.  But what if we also told them that when they do this they will not be laid bare for long.  What if we told them that Jesus will give them new life in its place - life that offers them a bedrock of truth to stand on that is a thousand miles wide and a thousand miles deep.  What if we told them that that God doesn't want them to be happy.  But what if we also told them that He wants infinitely more for them. He wants them to have joy that withstands great adversity.  What if we told them that because Jesus actually conquered death, that all of God's promises to them are YES in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20).  What if we told them that a risen Jesus means we not only can see God, we can KNOW Him and know Him well.  What if we told them that "we have this HOPE as an ANCHOR for the soul, firm and secure." Hebrews 6:19.
And then we get out of the way and let them count the cost. Moreover, we trust God to draw them to Himself however and whenever He wants.  What then?


More truth and less frisbees. That's what I'm hoping for tonight.  For myself and for my friends who've gotten a little lost along the way.