Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Gen X Saved Halloween!

I know I had my say on Halloween a few years back, but I just felt the urge to chime in again today. Central Iowa Trick-or-Treats on "Beggar's Night," which precedes Halloween by one day, so this morning my newsfeed was a scroll of adorable kids dressed like dragons and ninjas and Jedi.  Some of the boys had cool costumes, too! *wink* Seeing all these joyfully smiling faces (despite a miserably windy, 38 degree evening), I was just a little overwhelmed by the way we took Halloween back for this generation.

Do you remember when we were kids, and they were bringing X-ray machines to McDonald's so kids could get their candy checked? Do you remember how our parents were so afraid of neighborhood terrorism that they went through every single piece of our candy to make sure the wrapper was intact (and stole half our peanut butter cups while they were at it)? Do remember when home-baked goodies and apples quit showing up in our loot?

The mailbox-smashing, and the fire-setting, and the fear of the occult, coupled with some bizarre claims about razor-blades and pins - which I've since read were never substantiated - cloaked Halloween in a mantle of fear.

But last night, the porch lights were lit. The kids were bundled. We collectively went out into the neighborhood and we took candy from strangers.

All you good people did that. You who taught your kid a joke and reminded them to say "thank you." You who bundled up and braved the cold to keep them from crossing the street in front of cars. You who lit your porch light and laughed at terrible jokes. You who trusted your neighbors enough to put an entire bin of candy on your porch with a sign that said, "Please take 2." You, delightful soul, who gave out peanut butter cups.

My kids don't even realize Trick-or-Treat was once on the media-frenzied, fear-driven, safety-first chopping block. They don't even realize that the reason malls and churches started offering Trunk-or-Treat type events is because parents were once so afraid that their neighbors were trying to poison the children.

Well done, Generation X. There's not a whole lot we get credit for. But I think we can claim this victory. We took Halloween back. May we continue to be careful what we decide we need to be afraid of.

Then your face will brighten with innocence. You will be strong and free of fear. Job 11:15

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Good grief?

I don't want to rehash details or re-traumatize anyone about the events of this week, but this is a convergence of bad news that I just cannot quite comprehend. And it is such an odd combination of broad, distant trauma and very immediate trauma.

Monday: Vegas. I won't say more. You already know.

Then on Monday night I witnessed a motorcycle/bus accident that, although things turned out OK for the motorcyclist, left me with mental images I won't recount to you, but which cannot be erased for me. I've always feared being the first car behind a motorcycle accident.

Tuesday, school was called off for a local suburb due to texted threats, spreading rumors and fear around the entire city.

Now today, an elementary school in my community has an unplanned day off due to a suicide on the playground that apparently happened overnight.

And I just grieve. I just. Grieve.

These calamities are poised to happen across our country on a daily basis. Every day, I live in a world of angry men with automatic weapons, un-helmeted motorcyclists, mean-spirited hackers, and (how can we be surprised?) despondent young people.

In a sense, today is really no different than any other day. These events didn't fall from the sky this week. And yet they've converged in a way that makes this grief so heavy I carry it like ankle weights, making every move a little harder and a little more draining.

And I am asking God, "what are you showing me?" This is the world I live in every day and I know it, but it didn't make me sad like this last week. Today it does. Instead of stuffing it, or wallowing in it, I'm trying to ask God right now, "why do I have to feel so much all at once?"

I'm starting to see a crack of light in the darkness; a calling being born from this burden of grief. I'm hopeful that this sorrow will reveal something I couldn't have discovered from just knowing these issues were out there; something I had to feel my way to understanding.

I'm hopeful that if that is true for me, it might be true for others this week. What is God showing us? How will we respond?

Lord, hear my prayer! Listen to my plea! Don’t turn away from me in my time of distress. Bend down to listen, and answer me quickly when I call to you. Psalm 102:1-2

Saturday, July 29, 2017

I'm glad my kids are learning how to fight.

My kids got into a heated conversation on the ride home from camp last night. Our little denominational church camp has a culminating week each July that eclipses the rest of the summer, in terms of attendance, excitement, and testing the capacity of the septic system. They call it "Camp on the Rock."
I have not attended it, but I've experienced it vicariously for enough years to have a pretty good idea how it goes. The kids learn dances to contemporary praise songs that even the boys join in and love; they hear teaching twice-a-day; they spend some recreation time every day doing the normal camp-stuff like throwing rotten food at each other in a giant food fight and chasing each other around in the dark with glow-bracelets; and on Thursday night, they witness a reenactment of the crucifixion that puts them face-to-face with the reality of what Jesus did for us.
Both girls had a super week and were inspired at how God was on the move for them and others, but they had really different perspectives. One was grappling with the theology of the messages and feeling uncomfortable that there wasn't enough Grace offered to balance all the messages about Sin-and-Sacrifice. The other strongly disagreed and was convinced that she and other young people really needed direct instruction about how to live faithfully as Jesus' disciples, which was the point of the Sin-talk, she felt. Not to condemn them, but to encourage them to live out their faith.
It got a little heated and uncomfortable at times - exhausted teenagers after all and both very confident and articulate about matters of faith. But it was so beautiful, to me. Because both of them were so passionate about what they had experienced. Both were deeply affected by what they believed God was telling them and how that will apply in their daily lives in the coming year. That alone was such a gift to witness. I saw them owning their faith and their experience - and motivated to make their beliefs real and applicable. I saw the Holy Spirit at work in them and through each of them, impacting the other.
Aside from that - and this was hard - they also had to practice holding each other's perpsectives in contrast to their own, accepting the difference, and loving each other. That, my friends, was very hard. That's hard for adults, let alone exhausted teens.
When our faith is so central to our identity and we feel the weight of eternity hanging on what we understand and believe about God, who Jesus is, and what we are supposed to (or not supposed to) do about it, it is so hard to give someone else space to make their own journey. It is so hard to accept that where God is calling me may not match right up with where and how God is calling you - even when we just spent a week dancing to the same music and hearing the same Word.
But that is, I believe, a big part of how the church is supposed to work. Not as a chorus in unison, but as a chord of harmony. Because both my kids, ultimately, were singing a song about Love. God's love that sanctifies and transforms. And how we who've experience it can best let it shine for others. And we just don't all have to shine the same way.
I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. John 17:21

Sunday, July 23, 2017

I misplaced my cell phone...

One of my friends posted a meme a while back that said, "I still have a landline, or, as I like to call it, a cell-phone finder." I laughed, of course, because who doesn't spend a few extra minutes a week, hunting for their device? But, I thought with pride, one thing I don't do is call my cell phone. Keys and phones. I keep track of those. Better than I keep track of my kids, some days.

I have just a handful of places I generally set my phone down, so, unless I'm distracted, a quick glance around the ground floor of the house is all I usually need. Failing that, if I stop and recall what distractions I recently encountered, I'll find the trail of bread crumbs that leads to my phone.

So, I was tight on time and heading out the door a couple weeks ago when I realized with irritation, that my phone was not in my purse where I expected it to be. No problem, I thought, and told the kids to wait in the car while I ran back in to get it.

Taking my usual tour of the ground floor of the house, I got more frustrated with each empty spot. My phone was in none of my usual places, so I stopped to recall what had distracted me, realized it had been an all-hands-on-deck, set-your-phone-down-and-help kind of distraction, (briefly felt the sweet relief of justification,) and headed to the site to find my phone.

I was baffled, confused, disappointed...maybe even a little hurt. Still no phone. I had been so sure that was it.

I felt the time ticking away, knew I was making us late, and realized I was going to have to break code and call my own phone. Humiliation was welling up in me, but I was relieved to hear its muffled ring. My search was over! Here I come, little phone!

But I couldn't quite figure out where the ring was coming from, so I started to wander frantically between rooms. It would ring clearly and I would set out in pursuit, only for the next ring to be too muffled to identify.

I silently cursed my family for their disorderliness and clutter, as I began tearing into couch cushions, crawling on the floor to reach beneath furniture, and upending baskets of clean laundry. Surely someone had bumped, moved, or buried my phone in their own rash attempt to get out the door on time.

The metronome in my head ticked louder and faster as I carried the wireless home phone in my hand, calling myself over and over again. Why did the ring seem to be moving? Why was it loud when I turned my head to listen, then soft again when I set out after it?

Suddenly it hit me (it had to be a miracle, this could have gone on all day) I remembered where I had set my phone when the big distraction came. I stopped hunting and reached behind me to pull the phone out of my own back pocket.

I felt so incredibly stupid for blaming my family that I blushed hot and red, alone in my own living room, and my next instinct was "NEVER tell ANYONE." Then I knew I was going to have to confess about the day I lost my phone in my own back pocket and couldn't follow the ring.

I was wrong to judge you for using your land line to help you find your cell phone. I apologize. I lose things, too.

You don't even listen— all you hear is senseless sound after senseless sound. Isaiah 28:10

Monday, June 12, 2017

Missed Opportunities

It's close to quitting time, but I've been wanting to share about this. See if I can be concise. Ha!

My sister visited me in March and gifted me this really cool red purse. It has a closure mechanism that's more like a mouse trap than a snap, so I get comments and compliments on it, every time I'm out and about. It is a fun connection to my sister because I get to tell everyone who comments that it was a gift from her. The purse itself also has a good story, because of the unusual way she acquired it during her time in Ecuador. But to be concise, I'll have to leave that out.

Within the first week of having the purse, I was at the Goodwill looking for a blender for a church craft project when a charming, laughing voice came out of no where, "Where did you GET THAT purse?!"

Before I could even determine the direction from which the voice had come, or that the exclamation was, indeed, about the purse, a very joyful, very extroverted woman was in my personal space, tugging the purse off my arm, marveling excitedly about the beautiful color and unusual design.

She was so excited, and I was so overwhelmed. I didn't release the purse to her, of course, because who hands their purse over to a stranger at a store? Even if the stranger is incredibly sweet and joyful and complimentary. But I did try my best to answer her questions:

Where did it come from? A suitcase in Ecuador.
How did I get it? My sister gave it to me.
What brand it is? Fenfeiya.
What is that? I have no idea.
Where do they sell it? I have no idea.
Where have I seen one before? No where. Never.

It was all happening so fast. She was so excited that a purse like mine existed in the world, and I was so...overwhelmed. I offered that she could take a picture of the label and see if she could find out more from there, already knowing that was going to be a dead end.

It is the purse, what more can I say? There is only one in the world. And it is mine. No one else can have one, as far as I know. My sister is a one-of-kind. There's only one her, and she's mine; and therefore so is this purse. The only other answer would be to give her my purse, and I just would not do that; I'd only had it a week.

Fortunately, I was able to get away with my purse. She was really gracious after the picture, grateful I'd suggested it, probably believed she would order the same purse from Amazon that evening, and finally moved on to do her shopping. I finished looking at the housewares and was tempted to take a nap on one of the couches before heading back out to the car. Before I left, I passed her holding up a jacket to herself. It was the same color as the purse. She smiled and asked if she should get the jacket. I said yes, she looks great in that color.

Once I got to the car, I was still processing this interaction. I had fought my inclination to give this woman the purse the whole time in the store. I had already enjoyed it. People kept thinking it was some expensive designer purse (maybe it is, how would I know?) which really isn't my style to carry. Believe it or not, I don't actually like getting this much attention for my accessories. But it's the purse and she's my sister. And I couldn't give it up.
Yes, we featured "the purse" in a Snap

Then it occurred to me: she had a phone. I could have offered to pass it on to her later, when I was ready to switch to another purse. Surely I won't keep this purse forever. Nothing said I had to give her the purse today. But I missed it. It was an opportunity to share and I was so caught up in protecting what was mine that it didn't occur to me until it was too late that there might be another answer. For a few weeks, I said a prayer for the excited lady at the Goodwill every time anyone complimented the purse.

Then after worship last weekend there was a taco dinner and my husband was serious about eating tacos, so we stayed. A young gal sat across from us and I overheard her tell her parents how the message had really hit home for her. The pastor had talked about reaching out to others with God's love and not being afraid to offer a friendly invitation to church when the opportunity arises, even if it seems like they'd never come. She lamented that she had actually had a co-worker ask to come to church with her tonight. And she had told them no, she didn't want them to come; picking them up would have been inconvenient or something like that. She said she knew the message wasn't a coincidence and she wished she hadn't missed the opportunity to share her faith with someone else.

I waited for her to finish, so I could apologize for eve's dropping and then tell her how I'd missed opportunities to share the Love, too. And how I hoped to recognize them when they were happening next time...but they were about to close the taco line, so instead I reminded myself not to forget to tell her and went back for a second taco.

The lack of tortillas bred conversation in the taco line and I told myself I had to be mistaken, when from somewhere down the line, a familiar accent, full of joy and enthusiasm began assuring us that they were bringing more tortillas for us. I turned and recognized the woman who loved the purse. It was her. How in the world?

I sheepishly asked if she was the woman I'd met at Goodwill who liked my purse and she rejoiced and started to hug me and said she thought it was me, but was afraid to say anything.

Then I got her number. When I'm done with it, she'll get the purse.

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.
Colossians 4:5-6

:6 Greek and seasoned with salt.4:6 Greek and seasoned with salt.so that you will have the right response for everyonColossians 4:5-6

Monday, May 22, 2017

Give the woman a seat!

I recently heard a church story that I've found myself repeatedly mulling over and thought I'd share with you. I guess it's a story about outsiders and insiders, and welcome and invitation, and resurrection. It's a story that showed me a blind spot.

At a church on Easter Sunday, a visitor arrived late and there wasn't a seat left in the sanctuary, so she was asked sit in an overflow area. She angrily cussed the ushers before heading to the overflow.

My first reaction was a gut check. Who comes to church on Easter and cusses the ushers? Who comes late to church on Easter? What could possibly be more offensive? Those poor ushers didn't sign up for that, did they?

Despite my initial shock, grace prevailed as I next concluded that this was an incredible opportunity for that church. Surely, this woman was unchurched. She probably uses raw language in her daily life; she probably gets what she wants or needs by being insistent. Yet somehow, she saw some ray of hope that led her to visit a church on Easter. How cool for that church, to have the opportunity to shine a light into this woman's life, even if it was from the overflow.

Then someone else's reaction to this story truly humbled me. Who, if anyone, needed a seat in the sanctuary on Easter? So many people who were occupying seats already knew about God's love. So many people were soaking in the Easter celebration, who already had Grace. Why didn't anyone offer that woman a seat?

Wow. Yes. Of course. Why didn't I see that?

I know how obstacles stand in the way of faith. I've been at plenty of church executive board meetings through the years, pushing for better parking lot access, for gentler sayings on the church sign...I even passionately considered switching my attendance to Denny's at one point, because of the many ways they removed the hardest obstacles and made my family feel invited on Sunday mornings.

But I'm realistic. There aren't very many churches out there running out of seats. Not even on Easter. Yet when it comes down to it, I had to examine my heart. Would I give up my seat in the sanctuary on Easter Sunday to an angry visitor? Are there ways, if I look at the hard spots in my heart, I am directing people to the overflow? How am I clinging to the comfort of my own faith expression at the expense of others who don't yet know?

“When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor." Luke 14:8

Monday, April 10, 2017

I find people exhausting...and yet compelling.

OK, so it's been a while. I don't know why today is the day that I felt called to resume blogging...but here I am.

I'd try to catch you up on all my follies from the last few years, but I think you and I both know I will come up with plenty of new ones to keep you shaking your head. I'm bunking my perfectionism and typing right into Blogger, hoping that without editing I'm still understandable. You and I both know I need more polish and less words, but oh, well.

So on to my confession:

I just got a reference to a workshop called "Connections Matter." [http://www.connectionsmatter.org] I signed up to become better informed about the role that human relationships can play in mitigating the longterm effects of trauma. It's a subject of intense interest me, in part because I'm a front-line worker in the business of transformation: helping the hurt, wounded, broken, and sinful grow into healed, whole, redeemed, and beloved Children of God. And in part, because it's a path I'm trying to walk myself!

I love that researchers like Brene Brown and organizations like Connections Matter are finding ways to validate and quantify for us how invaluable we are to one another. One of the things they keep finding, that is especially inspiring to me, is how little it takes to make an immense difference in someone else's life. I needed to hear that today. So maybe I'll repeat it for you:

It is especially inspiring to me, is how little it takes to make an immense difference in someone else's life.

You see, people overwhelm me. I'm an introvert. I thrive best in small company, or structured interactions. The narthex of our church on Sunday morning during fellowship time, where any of these hundreds of people can approach me at any moment with a complete myriad of topics, suggestions, questions, or needs -- that is without a doubt, the absolute hardest part of my job. A huge crowd and no structure. I need a nap now, just from mentally going there.

But those same people, as I am bringing their faces to mind or looking out at them from the platform during worship -- I am filled with love and prayer. I know there is need in each of them and long to see God move in life-giving ways on their behalf.  I long for them to know -- each one personally -- how beloved and valued they are. How clear the mark of their Creator is on each one of them.

When I get caught up in my feelings of responsibility to love my neighbors, I need God to call me back to humility. God is there all the time, bridging the gap between my social limitations and the deep, deep love for people that is God-in-me. I have to trust more, to rest in that more. And then I hear these amazing statistics and affirmations: just one dependable and caring adult can offset all the factors that put traumatized kids at-risk. It doesn't even have to be a relative.

Did you hear that?  Just one dependable and caring adult can offset all the factors that put traumatized kids at-risk. It doesn't even have to be a relative.

You know what that tells me? God is there. Filling the gaps. No act of love or kindness -- no heartfelt prayer for grace and hope -- comes back empty.

So we can make our communities stronger in these really simple ways: holding the door for someone at the store, listening to a young person tell their whole story without interrupting, inviting a coworker out for a cup of coffee.

I often shake my head at God, who filled me up with so much love for others, and then failed to provide me that gregarious, extroverted personality that could make that love impactful. But when I think that way, it's all about me. And you don't need more of me; you need more of the perfect love the fills my gaps.

We love each other because he loved us first.
1 John 4:19