On Lent and Fasting – Goodbye Apathy and Keeping up Appearances

Today’s post is going to meander a bit. I hope you’ll bear with me as I work some things out in my Thinking Spot.

I’ve always loved history. Historical fiction is my favorite genre of book; history classes were always my favorite; movies based on actual events get me every time.  My usual wheelhouse is anything related to World War II. I’m inspired by the acts of heroism displayed by the people resisting Hitler’s march across Europe and mission to annihilate every human being who didn’t fall in line or match up with his requirements for belonging to The Reich.  I could read books about the resistance or the war effort or the people back home all day, every day.

But I’ve always hated learning about the American Civil War. The numbers of dead in the battles are staggering. The political machinations of the ones in charge were mind-boggling.  The issue of slavery too uncomfortable and disturbing to want to dwell on.  Lately I’ve been pondering my lack of interest in anything Civil War in contrast to my voracious appetite for anything WWII related.

Then, interrupt those ponderings with the season of Lent.  This year,our church has been reading (again) the wonderful book by Alicia Britt Chole, called 40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast. This book has a reading for every day, encouraging us to move beyond putting aside chocolate or red meat or caffeine during the season of Lent.  She hypothesizes that we don’t live fruitful, awake, alive lives of faith because we don’t allow ourselves to ponder the deep, uncomfortable questions that exist within our faith. Each day she suggests a “heart-fast” to try and weed out clutter from our faith walk. This week included apathy and keeping up appearances. Then she had to throw in revisionism… Ouch.

This week’s readings included a day about “appearances” and focused on one of the stranger stories in scripture of when Jesus curses a fig tree. Her conclusions about this incident are that Jesus “finds utter fruitlessness frustrating.” The fig tree in question was completely withered when it should have been at least showing signs of some fruit growing. He wasn’t concerned that the tree wasn’t dripping with ripe, luscious figs, but rather, that it wasn’t bearing fruit at all.

Her admonition to us from this story is to take to heart the warning that Jesus gives to the Pharisees about their hypocrisy – “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied against you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.'” (Matthew 15:7-9)  At the end of the chapter, she says: “Our reality does not frustrate Jesus. Our hypocrisy does.” (p. 88)

After I finished reading that day, I flipped over to Facebook and read some posts in a group I’m in that encourages bridge-building as the path to racial reconciliation in our country. It’s a group that challenges me to think outside my cultural context and to see how my context may be filtering what I understand about our country’s history and about the Gospel. I read these words from a person of color who is involved in ministry in her local church (part of a longer post):

When they plead their cause, I’m there.
I care.
I give.
I sacrifice.
I cry.
I listen.

But every time I share an incident of personal discrimination or racism, when I ask to have a conversation or have support – silence, pushback, rebuke.

I’ve been told the church can’t single out one group, but it feels like every other group has been championed. There is room for all these ministries and concerns, but not for me.

It’s worse than invisibility.

I feel less than.

When I read these words, the line about our hypocrisy frustrating Jesus more than our reality from my Lent reading slammed back into my heart. Why do I hate learning about the Civil War? Why do I turn away? It’s a shameful, difficult history that IS my country’s reality. And I think I’ve been more interested in keeping up the appearance that MY country is somehow better because we’ve been the hero in so many other situations. But the problem with all of that is that it’s hypocrisy – I live in a country that declared “all men to be created equal,” while concurrently only giving rights to a few, and holding millions of their fellow human beings in slavery. Reveling in the heroic deeds of some while ignoring the heinous acts of others is hypocrisy.

Like this person who shared her hurt above said, we in the church have been happy to sacrifice for so many things, but when faced with the scars of our racial sin, we clam up and point to our own righteousness instead of listening with broken hearts.

I’m done with that. (or if I’m being honest, I WANT to be done with that.) I’m giving up on appearances and apathy. How will I do this? I start with opening my eyes and leaning in to the harder parts of our nation’s history. I’m also opening up my heart to be examined and cleaned out of ways and thoughts that do not align with what I say I believe. I’ll ask questions and try to look past the posturing emotions that so often appear on social media. I’ll stop being defensive.

If ever I’ve made someone feel invisible for by my unwillingness to listen and validate your story, I apologize and beg forgiveness. Your story matters and I want to hear it. You are not invisible to me.

#WCW – International Women’s Day Edition

Well, I haven’t written in almost a month! Things got busy around here. I was going to skip today too because my head is just spinning a bit from other things going on, but then I saw that today is International Women’s Day! I have to highlight someone on this day!

So, today I’ll tell you about my daughter, who is rapidly becoming a woman in her own right. She turned 14 last month and today she had quite the milestone of getting her braces off! Ugh, now she’s even more beautiful.

Parenting is such a funny experience. It all happens right in front of your nose so you don’t really see what’s happening. Then you look at a picture from a baby album, or remember how old you are, or write on the invitation to the birthday party the age of your kid and the reality smacks you upside the head. She is growing up! She is not a baby anymore! All the things they said when she was a toddler are true! “It goes so fast.” “The days are long but the years are short.” “This too shall pass.”

22431_301334152450_5771074_nYep, we conquered teething and sleeping through the night, potty training and not eating poisonous things from under the sink. She does NOT still use her binky (phew!)

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I no longer worry about her having separation anxiety or whether she’ll learn to tie her shoes. She’s spent the night away from me too many times to count. She eats her vegetables and makes her bed. We’ve moved on from Dora the Explorer to Harry Potter. The milestones just keep piling up.

She’s an amazing daughter and I’m so excited to watch her turn into a lovely young woman. Next year she heads to high school and while I simply cannot imagine time going any faster than it already does, I know that it, too, will ZOOM. So, I’ll share some hopes I have for your future while I have this moment. (Your baby brother is currently very happily banging on an empty coffee can. This could go on for MINUTES!)

I hope you always believe the TRUTH about yourself – that you are talented, intelligent, creative, beautiful, full of potential, worthy of love, and loved immensely by your family and by God.

I hope you continue to surround yourself with friends who support you and who you support. Girlfriends are life – treasure them! Bring them over for dinner – we love your friends and we love a home full of girls’ laughter.

I hope you take time to pursue your dreams and passions. Go to school. Travel (just always call me when you get there, ok??) Try something crazy. Enjoy the adventure of your life. We’ll always leave the light on for you.

I hope you know you are more than your GPA, your transcript, your list of activities and accomplishments, your eventual college acceptance. Your achievements will be so important, but they’re not everything.

I hope you’ll remember you come from a line of strong women. We support you and cheer you on. Your grandmothers and great grandma are women who have not always walked easy roads, but who have gained resilience from walking those roads with dignity. Their legacy is an amazing one and I’m so glad you get to know them. I hope you keep up your own relationship with them as you grow older.

I love you my sweet girl. You and your sisters and brother fill me with such hope for our future. Happy International Women’s Day!

 

The women who’ve helped me love Jesus more, a #WCW post inspired by the IF: Gathering

I didn’t have time last week to get out a #WCW post.  (See all the others here) I had planned initially to spend last week’s #WCW on the IF: Gathering team. The IF:Gathering is an event/movement that has really influenced my spiritual journey for the past couple of years. I admire the whole team and I think I will at some point write more about them and how their obedience to God has shifted much in my own life.

But for today – I’m shifting the focus a bit. You see, at this year’s gathering, discipleship was a huge focus. And by discipleship, I refer mainly to this process  – show people how to love Jesus more so they’ll love Jesus more and teach others to love Jesus more and on and on. We were encouraged at the end of the weekend to use a tile and write some names on it. On the back side of the tile we were supposed to write the names of people who had helped us love Jesus more. On the front side we were supposed to write down names of people we wanted to mentor/disciple/teach to love Jesus more.

So, I wrote down a few names, and today I’d like to tell you about them. All of these women probably deserve their own #WCW post; and that will probably happen too one of these days. For now – the small highlights of a long journey of faith.

My mom – Brenda Burns

My mom has been showing me how to love Jesus since the beginning. There are numerous stories to share of her faithfulness, but one conversation sticks out to me. I was in a frustrating season of not knowing what I wanted to do when I grew up (even though I was kinda already grown up, having been married for about 6 years and having two small children…) I asked her – do you ever feel like you’re there? Like you’re doing that thing you’re supposed to be doing for forever? And she surprised me by saying, “No!” But she didn’t stop there – she explained how she’d learned what a gift God has given us as women and mothers to continually be able to change our goals due to the very practical and logistical realities that we have in our lives as moms of young children. Her saying that and me remembering all the twists and turns her life had taken showed me what it means to trust God with it all.  She also showed us that loving Jesus is FUN – I have so many fond memories of being silly while singing songs about Jesus, or giggling at the funny pronunciations of hard to say Bible names or scripture verses. She made it clear that loving Jesus wasn’t restricted to formal sitting in the pew times, but that it infected every part of her life.

Laura Belcher – College IV staff

Laura was my InterVarsity staff worker while I was in college. We had some very fun and sweet times together. One particular time stands out.  In the spring of my last year, it was time for us as the IV student leadership team to meet together and pray about the next year’s team.  This process was very very tough on me. Most of the people involved in the application process were my closest friends and while no one was maligned or disparaged in any way, we did have difficult conversations about their weaknesses and strengths. After that very intense day, I just could not go back to my dorm room. So, even though Laura had had a long day herself hosting 6 college students in her home all day, she drove me to blockbuster (yes.) and we rented a Disney movie. Because sometimes what you need is a fun movie and yummy popcorn to know that Jesus loves you! Thank you Laura for being there for me!

Danine Klinner

Danine showed up in my life shortly after my husband and I moved to Germany. Danine showed me the real meaning of hospitality and real friendship. She let me in to her life and showed up for me and Tom in such a deep way. She was there for me when I had my first baby and again when I had my second baby. She was the big sister I never had growing up and sometimes a surrogate mom while I was on the other side of the world from my own.  She’s the one who told me everything would be fine when I was first-time mothering and freaking out about everything Becca did (or didn’t do).  She showed me that loving Jesus meant giving generously without ever asking for anything in return. It meant showing up, even if you didn’t have anything but your presence to offer. It meant never leaving someone to go it alone even if they pretended everything was ok. Danine, your love for Jesus has had so many ripples in my family. Thank you.

These women (and many others too) have had a dramatic impact on my life and the way I follow Jesus and I’m so, so thankful.

 

#WCW Week 4 – the one, the only, Debs

I just noticed something the other week that’s kinda funny. My two best high school friends have birthdays just one month apart. And my college buddies’ birthdays are all clustered in a few months pretty close together too.  Today you get to meet another third of the JMHS Triumverate – Deborah.  It will be fun to introduce you all to my college buddies close together as well when their birthdays are all coming 🙂

So, Debs. Katherine (from Week 2) brought us together at youth group sometime during our freshman year. The three of us stuck close throughout all of high school, stayed in touch during college and were in all of each others’ weddings.  As more and more time passes since those teenage years, I marvel at how we’ve been able to remain close all this time. I do not take it for granted.

But let me tell you about Deborah. As I was pondering what to say, the line from Dirty Dancing popped into my head – “Nobody puts baby in a corner.” That’s how I feel about Deborah; you think you’ve got her figured out and fitting into whatever stereotypical box you have for her and then she pops out and surprises you with something else.  When I met her, I mainly understood she was in the drama crowd and enjoyed singing and musical theater. I thought I knew what kind of person that was. But then, we would play capture the flag or something at youth group and this hyper-competitive, funny-trash-talking side came out and it totally flipped things on me. I was like, wait! who are you? She was an athlete – swimming on the swim team all four years of high school, while simultaneously performing in most of the HS dramas and taking on performances with other theater companies in the community. She was equally at home leading with me at Fellowship of Christian Athletes as she was in full ball gown wowing us all with her powerful soprano.  She also never took herself too seriously. (Great story – we totally pranked our youth group at camp one year. She came out in her Madrigal gown and I had dressed in black formals as a piano accompanist. It was skit night and all we said was that we wanted to perform a song.  We were the song leaders at youth group, so I’m sure they just thought we were going to sing a new youth group song or something. But, when we came out like that, you could almost see the cringing. I started up on the piano with some fancy sounding arpeggio and then Deborah started singing in her best operatic voice. Except we performed the extremely silly DC Talk chorus of “Jesus Freak.” It was great. A huge sigh of relief went out from the crowd as they realized it was ok to giggle at us. I wish there were video. Kinda. Actually, it’s great that was before the age of smartphones.)

She never brought a normal lunch to school – there were no peanut butter or ham sandwiches. Sure, she brought leftovers – but it was always something like tikka masala or baba ganoush (before any of us knew what it was). While the rest of us were daydreaming about sleeping in on a weekend, she was furiously perusing the weekend section of the Washington Post looking for a fun show to attend. She’s never been satisfied with just going with the flow and following the script.

So I guess it wasn’t too surprising to me or Katherine when she came back from a “short-term” missions trip telling us she had fallen in love with a Nigerian man while in India and they were going to get married and live in South Africa. I remember her telling us this and kinda expecting maybe shock and dismay, but getting delight and “of course you are” from us.

And guys – she is doing the real stuff over there!! She and her husband are running an amazing ministry there called Living Springs Faith Ministries, where they are dedicated to the transformation of the townships in and around Cape Town, South Africa.  Their community development efforts are exciting, and challenging, and rewarding. Deborah and Gabriel are the real deal. They have two beautiful children, one of whom has some special needs that have made living far away from their extended family very, very difficult. But, in true Deborah form, she has tackled this challenge like every other thing in her life – with tenacity, grace, and incredible outside the box thinking.

Because of her challenges with her own son, she’s been able to advocate for missionary families and try to communicate with people ‘back home’ on the special accommodations that some families need to live out their purposes.  She’s also never lost sight of the things that are important to her. While parenting two small children halfway across the globe from her family and working to get a non-profit up and running, she completed a master’s degree. Wow!

Debs – you are a treasure. Your willingness to go wherever you’re called and serve your family however they need you in that moment without ever losing sight of who God has said you are is an inspiration. Hugs from the other side of the world and thank you for letting me tell my circle about you.

Thoughts on Ezra and God’s provision

 

I’m reading the book of Ezra right now. This description of him reminded me of the ladies of IF:Gathering and his story I think has many applications for what is happening now with the IF movement. I hope to keep this fairly short, but I believe it’s a word some of you might need. Especially Jennie Allen, Amy Brown, and the whole Austin Staff team.

Ezra was part of the remnant of Jews still in exile in Babylon. At some point during the reign of Artaxerxes (after a group had already returned to build the temple and after the events recorded in the book of Esther), Ezra is called by God to go back to Jerusalem to serve in the temple. It appears that he asks the king for permission to go and for the resources he and the volunteers who go with him will need for the journey and for their service in the temple. (See Ezra 7: 6)

The king responds incredibly generously, providing the equivalent of millions of dollars of resources.  The group going with Ezra ends up numbering almost 2,000. (See Ezra 7:12-23, 8:1-20).  It occurred to me while reading this that it’s possible Ezra had no idea just how BIG this call was going to end up being. I imagine that he was grateful for the incredible generosity of the King, but also somewhat daunted by the complications of such overwhelming generosity.

I know Jennie has talked about God’s call on her life to ‘disciple a generation’ and how ridiculous and big and undoable that seems. It seems that Ezra had a similar call. In verse 25 of chapter 7, we see that Ezra’s call is to teach the law of God to “any who do not know them.” Hmm, that sounds familiar!

In chapter 7, verse 10,  he is described this way: “Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” All of these words are just reminding me so much of the mission and descriptions of the goals of the IF:Gathering. He was a devoted student of scripture.  But here’s the main word I feel like some of you need to hear. Over and over and over again in this book, Ezra says of himself and his group that the gracious hand of God is on them. Because of his assurance that God’s hand is on him, he says he took courage, gathered his people, and went on his way walking towards the call God gave him. And in the end, those 2,000 plus people, plus the TONS of treasure made the dangerous 900-mile journey with ZERO losses. Our speaker said it this way – God’s work done God’s way never lacks God’s supply.  (I wanted to stand up and shout Amen! but it’s a pretty calm Bible study…)

Anyhow, I could not stop thinking about all the pieces of the IF:Gathering in Austin and all the IF: Locals. Here’s my prayer for all of you this weekend: Lord God, may your gracious hand of favor rest on each person leading this weekend. May your favor show up in incredibly overwhelming ways so that we see that it is not by our own strengths that your work is done but by your vast well of grace. May we lead with courage, armed with the knowledge of your word and that you go before us and that you are with us. May we arrive to our destinations with everything accounted for. We believe you are able to provide the resources, the leadership, the wisdom, and the courage we need. You have given us everything we need and we believe you for your protection over our families and our hearts as we step into your calling. AMEN.

#WCW Week 3 – Those Who March

 

What I’ve seen in my social media feeds over the last week or so has encouraged me more than ever to keep up my #WCW challenge. There are many things happening in the US right now that many are angered about. Many things happening quickly that many are also pleased with. And whether you’re pleased or angry – you’ll be able to hear EVERYONE’s opinions about how terrible the other side is. Almost every contact I’ve had with social media in the past week or two has felt toxic. My anger and anxiety rise every time I scroll my feeds.

What does this have to do with #WCW?  Well, in the middle of all the crazy, toxic stuff, there are great things happening! And I want to talk about that. I have opinions about the new president and the women’s march and the political, moral, economic questions  of our day just like everyone else. I’m still trying to figure out how/when/if to use my voice in those arenas. The one thing I’m sure of is that I need more good news in my feed. (And I don’t mean cute kitten pictures or Harry Potter memes. My 13-year-old is on Instagram and I’ve got enough of that thank you very much.)

I’m not naming names this time around, I’m just going to list some of the real, brave, fun, or cool things I saw happening in my real life this week and crush on some friends 🙂 Whether or not they marched on Friday or Saturday, they’re also marching in their real lives – making a mark on their communities and families and bending the universe towards justice.

One of my friends is now involved with helping young women who have found out they’re having an unplanned pregnancy to feel supported and loved on.

Friends participated in the Women’s March and posted jubilant pictures and empowering messages to the women in their lives.

Friends took their young children to the Inauguration and posted cheerful pictures and unifying messages to their friends on social media.

A friend is restarting her life – setting up a new office for her business and getting back on track after leaving an abusive relationship.

A new mom is crushing it with her new babies – making hard decisions, loving on her family, providing for her family’s needs, sharing real life with her friends.

Moms at my kids’ school are advocating for all our kids by sharing with us legislation that affects us, giving us specific ways to speak up for our community.

A group of women is gathering monthly to pray for our kids and their school.

A friend has started gathering a group of people in her home to talk/pray through issues regarding racial reconciliation.

I love us. There is work to be done for sure. But I see us doing it and want to keep calling it out when I can.

 

#WCW Katherine the Great, Katie or Kate. But NEVER Kathy or Kay

I’m so super late writing this one out, but it’s still Wednesday! Today I’ll be bragging on my friend Katherine. I met her at freshman orientation at James Madison High School. Actually, she met me, after introducing herself to my mom, behind whom I was literally hiding, because I was a shy, scared to death 13 year old at the time.  (KJ – does this count as a meet cute? I say yes) She sought me out because my mom was reading a book she liked and was brave enough to actually say hello to strangers. After I got over my dread of everything new, Katherine quickly became my best friend in high school.

We were both pastor’s kids, loved sports, books, and history, and had a penchant for falling in love with youth group boys. It was a match made in heaven.

There are too many things to say about her for just one blog post, so here are the highlights –

She introduced me to my other high school best friend and the three of us have maintained a sweet friendship all these years.

She introduced me to my husband. (We won’t talk about the time she went with him to homecoming senior year. I’m  over it.)

When she called me to tell me she’d been hit by a car, I almost passed out from worry. I still sometimes get a little choked up when I go through a certain intersection.

She wrote letters to me in college – back when email was tedious, phone bills were extravagant and ICQ/IM was our texting service.

She is a brilliant, funny, but I have to warn you, HEARTBREAKING screenwriter. One of her films is on Amazon Prime – it’s called Touched By Grace – and you should watch it now.

She’s now a mom of 6 and is the fiercest mama bear and soccer/baseball/football mom pro out there.

She’s a loyal friend – one who can come over for chicken nuggets and mac and cheese because that’s what the kids will eat.

If you ask her to pray for something, you can count on her to actually do that; it’s not an empty gesture.

There’s a bunch more I could write, but I’ll just leave it there for now.

Love you Katherine!

(Katherine has a public Facebook page for anyone who wants to stay in the know on how she’s doing with her screenplays or just to keep up with her writing career. She’s going places so get in now 😉 Also – none of my friends know I’m doing this. I’ll let them see their post before it goes public. I just want to brag on my people and if they’ve got a public presence, I’ll share it with you!)