Monday, March 31, 2014

1 year.

Last year, on this exact day, our family rolled into the state of Montana pulling a small U-Haul behind my Volvo wagon.

The four of us plus our blind, elderly wiener dog, set up camp in a hotel until our moving truck arrived two weeks later. There was a large deer mount above the fireplace, and biscuits and gravy were part of the daily breakfast offerings. It was the first time I've ever stayed anywhere with the pool indoors. Snow was still on the ground.

A couple weeks ago, a friend gave me this necklace. The word "home" is etched into the state. Moving has caused me to reflect a lot on what "home" really means. I even wrote about it here, not long ago, after our first trip back to California.

Funny that this anniversary is falling immediately after my trip this past weekend to Hope Spoken. I'm not exaggerating when I say that being among so many Godly and inspiring women felt a bit heavenly. More than a couple people mentioned on social media that being at the conference was like a slice of heaven. They guessed it was a glimpse of what it might be like.

On the plane home from Texas last night, I reflected on the fact that being surrounded by God's family - His redeemed ones - may feel more like home to me than any city on this planet does. It's strange, experiencing true fellowship. I have this theory that the Holy Spirit in me recognizes Himself in others, there is an unquestionable connection, and it feels different from any other type of relationship. It's palpable. Supernatural. Eternal.

If I never see any of those women again, I somehow know that one day when we are all in the presence of God, we'll pick right back up where we left off. We'll all sit together, chatting, eating some amazing lunch, laughing, and worshipping the Lamb who sits on the throne, just like we did all weekend long. But instead of sitting on conference chairs in an aging Doubletree hotel in an industrial part of Dallas, we'll be lounging in paradise in the physical presence of Jesus.

This first year living in Montana has flown by so quickly. I can't even believe it. But to think of eternity...forever with His redeemed's difficult to comprehend. I'm sure we won't be ticking off the years being home one by one. More like millennium by millennium.

Forever with God's people. I'm so thankful we have a chance at this.

California or Montana or anywhere else, better is one day in God's house than thousands elsewhere (Psalm 84:10).

I have many, many more things to share from Hope Spoken and the amazing ways I witnessed God at work last weekend, so stay tuned. And if you are a Facebook user, you can now follow my new Unfolding Blog Facebook page by clicking the button up above for updates. Much love.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On leaving, without kids

Two days ago, I had a mother bear moment.

Now, this is Montana so the likelihood of actually seeing a bear is pretty high. But that's not what I meant.

I mean I was the mother bear and these crazy intense bear-like instincts kicked in because I thought my kids were in danger. Here's how it went down. The grocery store is blocks from our house. I needed like 5 quick things. The kids did not want to go with me. My oldest is almost 12, and said, "Can't we just stay home?" I said, "Um. Okay. Let's try that," knowing she doesn't have a phone, we don't have a land line, and this was a smallish risk. However she does have an iPod Touch, so she can text me.

I sped to the grocery store, and probably ten minutes into my shopping, I received this text, verbatim:

"Mommy com home!"

Exclamation point. Hm. Pushing down all the reasons why panic seemed appropriate, I replied, "Why?" And after the longest ten seconds of my life seeing no reply back, I abandoned my cart next to the asparagus and my fast walk quickly became a jog to my car.

First of all, my nearly 12 year old never calls me Mommy anymore, so I thought something sounded wrong. Second of all, under normal circumstances, she can spell the word, "come" so I wondered if she was in a rush as she texted. Was the house burning down? Was someone badly hurt? Why wasn't she replying??

My heart raced. My brain flooded with emotion and adrenaline, so much so that I was aware I couldn't process what was happening very clearly. I watched my speedometer steadily rise on the straightaway between the store and our neighborhood and barely halted the car long enough to fling the door open and sprint in the house.

I heard my own strained voice yell for my daughter, and her response was flat and teen-like: "What do you mean? I didn't text you." Then suddenly, my little guy was standing near me, looking sheepish and small. I started, "Did you take her iPod and text me? Is there an emergency?!" My intensity was starting to mingle with the variety of mommy anger that goes something like, "If you're not really in danger or badly injured, I'm gonna kill you!"

He quietly replied, "I just really missed you."

Now let's skip over the fact that I'd been gone ten minutes. The fact that I'd broken a handful of traffic laws to get home to save some lives. The fact that my kids are old enough to stay home alone for twenty minutes. And let's instead settle on just one simple fact that outweighs all the others by a mile: I am a mommy, and because of that, I mean the world to someone. Two little someones, actually. And we're talking about the literal world.

I am nearly their entire world.

Tomorrow I leave for four sleeps as I head to Hope Spoken in Texas. And as much as I want and, more importantly need, time off from my family for fellowship and friendship and ministry, it is always so hard to leave my babies. They're already 8 and 11, and still I know I will ache to be away from them. And they will ache too. We did extra big hugs and I sprinkled extra kisses on their faces at bedtime. I said, "You can call me whenever you want!" And I left paper X's and O's on their bathroom mirror, one set for each night I'm away.

We will miss each other and God willing, our reunion on Sunday at the airport will be full of joy-filled squeals.

This all boils down to two main points.

First of all, no matter what ministry opportunities God brings into my life, motherhood is my first and greatest mission field.

And secondly. My daughter may be getting that cell phone sooner than I planned.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

When you get a chance to share your story

What's funny is that without my seeking them, God has been giving me pep-talks before Hope Spoken. It's like each time I open my Bible, He's got a word in there, something of which I need to be reminded for the upcoming conference. They are pretty killer pointers. (Thanks for that, God.) So I thought I'd share them with you for when you get a chance to share your story one day.

I say 'when', and not 'if' because there is a 99% chance that someday, someone will be placed into your life who needs to hear it. It may not be a room full of people at once. It may be your child. Or your boss. Or it may be an entire stadium full of thousands of people. I don't know. But God does, and He wastes exactly nothing of your pain, your life experiences. Do you know that? He wastes nothing. In God's amazingly awesome economy, every loss, every tear, every single bit of brokenness lines up on the conveyor belt of Redemption. And the output is a huge heap of testimonies. Beautiful, precious accounts of God's mighty hand at work in your life.

Lately, I feel my heart might explode due to how strongly I've come to believe in this truth:

Our stories contain precious testimonies of the Lord, and one day, we will be called to the witness stand of life and be asked to speak them.   

Well, I've had a few opportunities in the past, and I'm getting one next week at Hope Spoken. I'm completely humbled to have this opportunity to share my story, and the closer it gets, the more my heart absolutely burns with desire to tell about what God has done in my life. But let's be honest. It's always intimidating to be vulnerable, to speak to a group, and to be around hundreds of ladies dressed to the nines.

Thus, the pep-talks. As I've been reading through I Corinthians, here are a few reminders God has given me:

1. Even Paul was afraid and trembling before he spoke. He decided to ditch trying to deliver a "good" speech, He set aside everything but Jesus, and relied wholly on the Holy Spirit.

When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan.For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. (I Cor 2:1-5)
2. God is the one doing the teaching. (I can't reveal ANY spiritual thing to anyone on my own!)

10 But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. 11 No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. 12 And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. (I Cor. 2:10-12)

3. Focusing on popularity is worldly. Focusing on servanthood is godly. (Even the early Christians were worried about numbers of followers!)

When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you acting just like people of the world? After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building. (I Cor. 3:4-9)

4. No matter how many people with whom I share my story, I always, always speak to an audience of One.

As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide.So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due. (I Cor. 4:3-5)

5. All I have to give is Jesus, and every bit of my story is a gift from Him.

What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift? (I Cor. 4:7)
So basically. I just have to remember all those things every second of the weekend and I'll be good.

(Right. Super easy. J/K. I mean. WHY did He pick me for this job again?)

But seriously. God's pep-talks are awesome. HE is shouldering the burden of life-change in people's lives. HE is equipping me in every aspect of my calling. And HE is the only one with the right to evaluate me. Doesn't that free me up to flat out enjoy the conference? Phew.

Thank you, Lord.

P.S. If you're coming to the conference next weekend, puhleeeze let me know then come hunt me down. Promise? K. 


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Grace on a Thursday: I sort of want robots

Motherhood is so weird. I've never come close to experiencing anything else like it.

Being an employee means your job is to manage something for a fixed amount of time.

Being a zoo keeper or a botanist means your job is to nurture something for a fixed amount of time.

But being a mother means your job is to BOTH manage and nurture something for a fixed amount of time. If you can think of something else in life that requires both of those things simultaneously, please tell me.

I don't think it exists; motherhood is unique. I have a set number of years to manage a wily, unreasonable, rebellious, and doggedly independent human at the same time as trying to nurture him or her into an incredible, educated, humble, loving, and powerful force to be reckoned with in the world.

I am at my wit's end this week trying to reconcile the fact that at times, I sincerely wish my children were robots, since that would make the managing part so much easier. Just think how much easier it would be if children were no longer unpredictable and wild? No more rock-throwing, street-running, grocery aisle-screaming, food-dumping craziness. AND at the same exact time, I whole-heartedly want my kids to grow up to be beautifully unique world-changers. Just think how wonderful it would be to raise free-thinking, truth-speaking, love-giving, light-shining citizens of Earth. And I just flat out don't know how to do both at once - how to manage the one, and nurture the other. (If you're thinking as your little kids get older, the wildness goes away, you're totally mistaken. The wildness just changes into different forms of things that make me crazy).

I simply don't know how to nurture amazingness when much of my time and energy is spent on managing the messes, the homework, the laundry, and the feeding of these tiny humans. And when I stop for stretches of time to focus on the nurturing, then the managing just doesn't happen. I get that that's okay from time to time. But personally, I can become discouraged because I can't ever do both well at once. If I'm doing one job well, the other is suffering.

As if the above wasn't daunting enough, a child's needs are always changing. When you have tiny babies, the scales are dipped more on the managing side. As they age, they start to be able to manage themselves in more and more ways, but the scales tip further on the nurturing side. As my oldest is nearing age 12, I keep reflecting that I'm almost out of time. She's almost ready to drive away to a friend's house or Starbucks every day after school. She announced yesterday, from the top of the staircase, "Mom! In ten years from now, I'll be graduating from college." Ten years. Shorter than her life lived already. God knows my deepest fear is that I've spent too much time on the managing end of the spectrum and missed opportunities to nurture her into an awesome human.

Several years ago in MOPS, we took personality tests. I don't remember how we were categorized, but I think it was by color. Let's just say I turned out to be a Yellow. Whatever it was, the leader of this activity went about summarizing each color's strengths and weaknesses. When she got to mine - and I'll never forget this - she said, "And if you're a Yellow, motherhood will be the hardest for you." I can't tell you the number of times I've wished I'd never heard that. I've had to fight off and push down that label, that weight around me which shouts, "Because of your personality, you'll have a harder time succeeding at being a good mom." The implication was that I'd have a difficult time moving from the managing job to the nurturing job. Ugh, and guess what? I didn't need a test to tell me that.

This post doesn't have a tidy moral. When it comes down to the hundred daily decisions I have to make as a mom, I am not confident I know the recipe for awesomeness. Some ingredients, yes, I know quite well. But the majority of my mothering decisions range anywhere from educated guesses to exhausted concessions. And I suppose the only reason I'm saying any of this is to let you know I'm there too, if you are, and am in desperate need of grace.

Grace is the only salve for me when I feel stuck as a mom. Grace washes me off when I feel covered in Yellow. It's favor from the Lord that I can't earn and don't deserve. He just gives it because He loves me, and He fills in my gaps. The kids are His anyway, and I am not so powerful that He will let me completely mess them up.

Best of all, Grace whispers, "You don't need to make your kids become amazing people; they already are, because I've created them to be. Nothing you will ever do can remove my fingerprints from them. And trust me; you don't really want robots."

Well, I'll tell you one thing. If I come out on the other side of motherhood alive, then I do feel I will have earned at least a house-cleaning robot. Or something.

(After more than a year of a break from this Thursday series, I wanted to pick it back up. I'm missing my reflections on grace. We will never fully grasp the depths of what grace can do in our lives. But that doesn't mean I won't press in my whole life long to try to find out.)

Much love,


Thursday, March 06, 2014

Why you may need to stop working for God

I can't get this conversation out of my head. It's from Matthew, chapter 16 and my Bible study touched on it a couple weeks ago. Here's my paraphrase.

Jesus: Who do people say I am?
Peter (still Simon at this point): Well, some people say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, some say a prophet...
Jesus: Actually, what I'm more interested in is who YOU say that I am.
Peter: You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.
Jesus: Yep, and you're blessed to know this. God in heaven is the one who has revealed this to you. And now, I'm renaming you Peter which means 'rock'. I'm going to use you to build my church and you'll have great power to release my will on this earth.

There is a specific order here that I keep pondering. Look at these four steps:

1. Jesus presses Peter for a choice.
2. Peter correctly identifies Jesus.
3. Jesus redefines who Peter is (literally renaming him).
4. Jesus gives him a mission and purpose.

Here's what I'm learning, a confirmation of something said at church a few weeks ago:

God will never tell you what to do before He tells you who you are.

If you let it sink it, it's a radical statement. It rubs against our very performance-oriented natures. Our instinct is to see our religion, our righteousness as defined by doing, effort, productivity. We are great at working for God, secretly believing we are earning something from Him. That's just what makes sense to us. We believe that the Bible is a book of rules and our biggest job is to follow them.

And even more, we are so quick to ask Him to give us a mission and a purpose before we have ever listened to Him tell us who we are. I have prayed countless times for Him to increase my ministry or bless my mothering or use me in "divine appointments" regularly. But I don't think I've ever once prayed for Him to tell me who I am. I don't remember the last time I asked God to show me what He sees in me, to root my identity more deeply in Him and His view of me.

I guess it's because I think I know who I am already. I'm not aware of how badly I need Jesus to redefine me. The attitude reminds me of my children, how they feel quite certain they are already complete. I know in my brain that I'm not complete. Yet I am never aware of struggling with identity.

Peter doesn't ask either. Jesus just gives, because He sees his need to be redefined. He sees the lies to which we grip that mar our identities. He sees exactly how to prune our false beliefs about ourselves. I would bet a dollar that Peter felt weak, ineffective, and insubstantial, and so Jesus calls him ROCK, a name to shock awake and demolish the misconceptions Peter held inside.  

I think, too, of the woman caught in adultery (from John 8). She is literally dragged through the streets and no doubt called horrible names by the community and her accusers. Whore. Slut. Witch. Temptress. I'm sure the culture back then had a whole host of curse words to describe a woman such as she. But Jesus, this unexpected Savior, follows the same pattern as with Peter: redefinition followed by instruction.

He asks her where her accusers are (after He convicts them of their own sin and causes them to leave), and says, "Aren't any of them going to condemn you?" When she says, "No, Lord," he replies, "And neither do I. Go and sin no more."

While she is probably covered in more lewd names than actual clothing, Jesus breaks in and does not even address her bad choices until He makes it clear how He sees her. In so many words, He calls her Accepted. Forgiven. Loved. And only then does he address her behavior.

So why do we expect Jesus to call us out as soon as we make a mistake? Why do we think He is primarily concerned with our behavior modification? Perhaps because WE are primarily concerned with it. And we so miss the point.

Jesus seems to care much more about whether our identities are grounded in Him. If they're not, He goes there first, way before He gives us a mission or tells us to go to work for him.

It seems to me that fear and anxiety are excellent indicators of a shaky identity. We absolutely cannot be strong in identity and be gripped with fear and anxiety at the same time. That's why I John 4:18 says, "Perfect love casts out all fear." When we understand our incredible value to God and know His love, that kind of fear will not hang around. It can't.

Where is your identity right now? Wait, you probably don't know. I don't, really, either. But I do try to listen and be aware of the signs that I'm not grounded in Him.

If you struggle with fear and anxiety regularly, then you may need to stop trying to perform for God and start listening instead. He will not give you a job to do or a behavior to correct until He tells you who you are, and until you are settled in being redefined by your Creator. Friends, it is not the other way around; we do not have to shape up or work harder before Jesus claims us as His and sees our worth. That you grasp your own inherent worth is so much more precious to God than your labor or your efforts to prove something to Him.

Real, Christ-centered identity is found in the undoing. The stopping. The listening. No one can rename us but Jesus. And somehow, that new name He gives - the one that shocks awake the lies - washes away every other name we've ever been given.  


Tuesday, March 04, 2014

A new name, a new look!

Well, pals.

A blog redesign has been long overdue. Was anyone noticing that on my last design, it still said 2011 in the top corner? Yeah. Overdue.

It's been just over 4 years that I've inhabited this little space with my words. A great 4 years. And it was time for more than just a visual change. I wanted to redefine what exactly this blog is about. If you click on the About Me link, you can see my revised mission, my hope for this space.

While I'm reflecting on the past several years, I'd also like to say a humble, emphatic thank you. I know many of you have been reading practically the WHOLE time I've been blogging. Wow. That feels like a big honor.

I'm humbled that you continue to share your time and words with me. I'm thankful that God has used the internet for good, has knit together this amazing community of believers, has put His words in our mouths for the building up of His work, His church.

Four years ago, I had no idea...I just had no idea what this space would or could become. I had no idea how my writing voice would journey here and there, through different seasons. And I guess, in a way, I still don't. Who knows what God is up to. But I have the deepest gratitude for all that has already taken place. What an immeasurable blessing blogging has been to me, primarily because of you all. Your encouragement, love and passion for the Lord push me forward and sharpen my resolve to seek out the abundant life.

I'm also so thankful that the Lord chooses to use strugglers like I am. I can tell you one thing: any good fruit that has grown from my words on this blog has been as a result of grace alone. The only good in me is Jesus. I pray you find Him every single time you visit.

So feel free to click around. I hope you like the new look, and I hope you linger to read about what's unfolding.

{be sure to add the new URL to your reader!}

Much love,