Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Reckless Love

This is one of my favorite songs as of late:



According to dictionary.com (the new Webster?), "reckless" means:

utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution; careless 

Reckless, is usually considered a bad thing.  Think, "You kids are being so reckless!  Make better choices!  Eat your vegetables!  Wear a helmet!"

Why then, use this word to describe God?  A creator so precise in his actions that he knew exactly where to place the earth:  were it a few million miles closer or further from the sun, the planet could not sustain life.    How could that God, ever be described as reckless?  Certainly he is not akin to a some careless hooligan.

I think the key portion of the definition is "utterly unconcerned about the consequences."  No, God isn't romping about the heavens all willy-nilly.  I think, that in this case, reckless love, refers to God knowing the consequences of his actions, and being unconcerned about them.  In fact, utterly unconcerned about them.

He does not love cautiously, only to those who will accept it or give it back.  He just loves. He loves every human. If you think about it, there's nothing in it for him. He has everything he could ever want.  He doesn't need to even give humans a second glance. Yet he still chooses to love us.  He pursues us relentlessly.  Unconcerned with what the response will be.  Unconcerned with the results.  Unconcerned that  the very people that he pours out his life for, often reject him, condemn him, or ignore him.

Jesus bore the weight of each person's sins, knowing that they would keep right on sinning.  He left his heavenly oasis, knowing he'd be rejected on the planet he had a hand in creating.  He died a torturous death, just to offer the free gift of salvation, knowing that none deserved it, and many would not receive it.  None of this concerned him.  Without caution, without care, he just went on giving and loving the very people that would spit on him, and curse him, and rip the flesh from his bones.

I don't know how to love like that.  If I'm honest, most of the love I give is very calculated.  If I really think about it, many things I do in the name of loving others, serving, or giving are actually about me.  I rub my husband's back knowing that  he will be happier with me.  I initiate time spent with my friends, desperately attempting position myself as a priority in their lives.  I give a thoughtful gift hoping that at some point in the future I might get one back.  I make investments in others hoping there will be a return.

And if not a return of love personally directed towards me, I at least expect there to be some results.  I want to be able to pat myself on the back for accomplishing something good in the world.  I want an impressive story to be able to tell.  I want something to boost my resume.  I want that student to come back and tell me that I've made a difference in their life.  I want that look of gratitude that makes me feel like maybe I'm a good person after-all.

In my short life I have seen glimpses of truly selfless love.  First, I think of my husband with his students.  (Yes, he gets paid to work with them, but he could easily get paid doing something less taxing).  Philip works in a self-contained special education room.  Most of his students are non-verbal, or almost non-verbal.  The chance of him getting a thank-you or a you-changed-my-life speech from one of them are slim to none. Every day he uses his best energies and strategies to teach them things they've often forgotten by the next time he sees them.  He gives them skills that might allow them independence, knowing that many of them will never move out of their parents' homes.  He builds relationship with each one knowing that it in some cases it will never be reciprocated.  That's reckless love.

I think of my dear friend, who reached out to me when I was at my darkest.  She had nothing to gain by loving me.  She dipped into her precious time and resources.  She gave me very one-sided phone calls and text messages.  She encouraged me.  She was courageously vulnerable with me, so that I would know I was not alone in my grief.  She gave me notes and gifts.  She prayed for me.  She gave to me during a time when I literally had nothing to give back to her.  I like to think she was unconcerned about that.

I think of my (now) sister-in-law, who gave everything to care for my brother when he was in the throes of a battle with cancer.  They were just dating at the time.  It wasn't like she had already made the, "in-sickness-and-in-health," promise.  She didn't owe it to him.  She had no guarantee that they would even stay together long enough for him to return the favor.  In fact, she didn't even know if he would make it through this.  Still, she gave up her job.  She set her dreams and ambitions aside for awhile.  She spent countless, weary hours tending to his every need.  I know it wasn't easy.  Even if she would have gained nothing from this, I know she still would have done it.  That is love without caution.

I think of motherhood.  As moms, much of the time you are giving so much to someone who can't, won't, or doesn't give back to you.  Not to mention, you never know what the result of your careful parenting will be.  Let's be honest; there have to have been serial killers who had great moms.  For all I know, Mrs. Hitler was a wonderful woman who loved her kids well (actually, I was fascinated to learn more about her story).  There's no guarantee that you are going to raise a loving, life-changing, or even somewhat civilized human.  I'm not saying that what we do as mother's makes no difference.  I'm not saying we shouldn't do it with intentionality, or that we won't reap a reward for our labor.  I'm simply stating the fact that sometimes a mother might do her absolute best and never see her investment come to fruition.  You can't control people.  You can only love them. And, that, as it turns out is pretty reckless.

I think of countless other small ways of loving without conditions.  Giving money anonymously:  without thank-yous or accolades.  Reaching out to people you feel rejected by.  Showing kindness to the naughtiest kid in class, the one that will never give you anything but further grief in return.  Having a conversation with that person who will talk your ear off and not so much as ask how you're doing in return.  Praying for healing or life change even if it never comes.  Sitting with someone in suffering.

Dear Jesus,

The distance between your goodness and my goodness is great.  In fact, I'm not sure that I've actually ever done something completely void of selfish intent.  Will you take my heart?  Will you make it more like yours?  May I reap the benefits of your love.  May I soak it in.  May I look at it in wonder.  May it pour out of me.  Like water permeating a sponge, flowing from every orifice.  Teach me to love the way that you love.  Love through me.  Help me to be unconcerned about  the consequences of my investments of time, energy, and talent.  Rather, I want to love unconditionally to the point of recklessness.  I want to throw kindness around like it's confetti--even if that means that some of it just winds up lying on the floor.  Lord, you are good.  More of you, and less of me.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Following God Like a GPS


As a language-minded person, I can't help but love metaphors.  I am also a person who happens to be terrible at directions--like I have managed to get lost in a town with an area that is less than three square miles.  While I have joined the 21st Century by owning a (30 dollars from Walmart) smart phone, I don't have a data plan.  Which means I can't access most of my apps, including the Global Positioning System (GPS), unless I'm connected to WiFi.  So I am not accustomed to the ease of having a GPS with me 24/7.

I often rely on printed directions from Google Maps or Mapquest (along with frantic phone calls to my husband) to get me from point A to point B.  So, when I decided to make a two-hour drive to an area I was unfamiliar with, I borrowed my mom's GPS.  The soothing sound of a woman's voice giving me gentle reminders where and when to turn, and letting me know I was on the right track put my mind at ease.

As I was following the twists and turns of the freeway, taking in the picturesque hills of sage brush, and singing along to my Taylor Swift album, I started thinking about my GPS as a metaphor for God.  I think we often view following God like following those printed off (or written down, if you're more old-fashioned) directions.  When, really walking in step with Christ functions a lot more like navigating with a GPS.

When using turn-by-turn directions, you know every step of the journey before you embark on it.  While--as a planner--I feel like I would love it if life worked this way, it just doesn't.  Honestly, though, that might be for the best.  Looking at all the steps together, I sometimes get so overwhelmed!  I start to question how this will all work, and wonder if I can actually do it.  I think if I really knew all the details of how my life was going to go, and what God was going to ask me to do along the way, I might feel the same.  Like a GPS, I've found that God often tells us where and when to turn in the nick of time.  We don't necessarily know the next step miles--or years--in advance.  Rather, he gives us a direction right when we need to use it.

Following a set of turn-by-turn directions evokes a lot of fear and anxiety in me.  Here's the thing:  it is so easy to make a mistake with those as your guide!  You are busy trying to make sure you're going the speed limit, and staying between the lines, and eating your road-trip snacks.  Meanwhile, you need to keep an eye on that sheet of paper with barely readable font that has all the answers scrawled onto it.  Sometimes I get confused because the directions want me to do something like make a "slight right," whatever that means, and I have nothing to encourage me that I'm going the right correct way.  In fact, I've gotten myself completely off course before and not even known it until I was obviously miles away from my destination.  The GPS, however, reminds me multiple times that my turn is coming up.  It gives me a visual, and a glowing arrow to help show me where to go.  And once I've made my turn correctly it gives me an affirming DING.  It is much harder to miss a turn when following a GPS.  I think God's the same way.  I don't think he tells us what he wants from us one time, and if we're not listening well, then, too bad.  I think he gives us lots of hints, nudges, and reminders along the way.  I think he reassures us when we're on the right track.

Perhaps the biggest pitfall of having the directions printed, is if you make one wrong turn, you're kind of screwed.  You're left to your own devices to attempt to navigate your way back onto the path.  The GPS is far more forgiving.  If I misunderstand the directions or don't make a lane change fast enough, the little woman who lives in the GPS extends me grace and finds me another route.  Sure, I might not take the intended path.  The one I inadvertently choose might even be a little longer or more difficult than the original plan.  Either way, my destination remains the same.  I continue moving in the overall same direction.  I think that's how it is following God.  We aren't going to do it perfectly, but we don't need to panic when things go awry.  In life, I often feel like I am following that sheet of directions, like if I make one mistake, if I take one turn outside of God's will, I am out of luck.  I will have to figure things out on my own, and there's a chance I'll never make it back to the right path.  Meanwhile, God just says a calm, casual, "Rerouting."

How do you view following God?  Do you want him to map out your entire future for you right now?  Do you feel anxious that you might miss a direction from him?  Do you experience a lot of fear when you think about making a mistake?  Does this sound all too familiar?  I am, often, right there with you!  Perhaps we need to stop viewing following God like following a sheet of directions.  We need to think about his path for us as less fixed.  We need to trust that he is going to help get us where we need to go; that he is going to make it known to us when he really needs us a to make a change.  And perhaps most of all, we need to believe that it's okay for us to get it wrong sometimes.  Let's trust that many paths can get us to the same destination.  If we're surrendered to him, he'll keep us moving in the same overall direction.  Let's treat following God more like following a GPS.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

His Grace is Enough



 Sometimes, when I walk into a Christian gathering, I feel like a fraud.  This is amplified when I find myself in some sort of leadership role.  Things I've thought, said, or done that are less-than-Christ-like flash through my mind.  I think of that harsh thing I said to my husband.  The frustration I felt towards my son.  The amount of time I wasted on social media.  All of these short-comings haunt my thoughts.  I start to feel like I'm not good enough.  I wonder, what am I doing here?  How did I fool these poor suckers into thinking I belong here?

All I need is to hear a word, or a song, or a prayer about the cross.  Then I remember the truth:  not one of a us is good enough.  But Jesus is good enough.  His work on the cross is enough.  Yes, my sins are many.  But his grace is sufficient for me.

Because of this, we are invited to come as we are.  I can approach God freely.  I can do the small tasks he gives me in confidence.  Knowing, that I don't stand on my own righteousness, but on his. We all belong, here. There is a place for every loser, every hot mess, every wretch at the foot of the cross.  His grace is enough.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

My Body Is a Tool, Not a Decoration


I didn't think that it would bother me so much for my body to change after giving birth.  Just a few short weeks postpartum people were commenting on how quickly I lost weight and how little I was.  Even now you probably wouldn't look at me and think, "There's a girl who definitely just had a baby," or, "She could stand to lose a few pounds."  I, however, am up-close and personal with my new body.  I can see and feel my squishy, round tummy.  I have experienced my now wider hips rejecting my pre-pregnancy pants.

I guess that being thin and having a flat stomach somehow became a part of my identity.  That's not to say that I felt perfectly secure about being skinny.  I knew that I would never have some of the--ahem--assets that other women had.  I would never be a curvy girl.  At times that bothered me.  Though I felt I had those short comings, at least I knew I had the zero fat thing going for me.  I can't say that anymore.

In the past I almost always reached for the smallest clothing size that a store carried--and sometimes even that was too small.  Being a size four or six or small or medium rather than a one or two and extra small might sound like a dream to some women, but to me it feels foreign.  Wearing my skin-tight pre-baby clothes and seeing a little pooch around my midsection, I hardly recognize myself.  I honestly feel embarrassed.

I've basically had to buy a whole new wardrobe.  I'm someone who loves clothes.  I so enjoy creatively putting together outfits--coming up with new combinations of texture, color, and print.  What used to be a glorious adventure has become a chore that I dread.  Instead of delighting in the ensembles I crafted, I find myself scrounging for something that I can wear that I won't feel stupid in.

I'm trying to remind myself:  my body is a tool, not a decoration.  This body allows me to do extraordinary things.  It has allowed me to kick soccer balls, run miles, win wrestling matches.  My body has embraced the broken, walked alongside people, and brought meals and gifts to bless others.  Most recently, my body did the incredible feat of bringing life into the world.  Instead of being amazed and praising my body, I have chastised it.  When I should have said, "Great job!  You have created and sustained the most perfect little human,"  I have asked, "Why can't you look like you once did?"

Something in me, as a woman craves beauty.  I desire to be lovely.  I think that's okay.  But who says that the new slightly chestier (thanks breastfeeding), wider hipped, squishy-tummied, still not very curvy, me can't be beautiful?  Who decided that a round belly is lovely when a woman is going to give birth and hideous after she has already done so?

So, I will probably keep living in flowy shirts, and high-waisted bottoms that I feel flatter my dynamic figure.  But, instead of hiding and shaming of my ever-changing body I want to celebrate it.  I want to love and accept my imperfect self.  I want to use my body to love and serve.  Even if it means stretching it, wrinkling it, and wearing it out, ultimately I hope that my body will be used as a tool to bring more of heaven to earth.  I think that, is pretty beautiful.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Kingdom Work Is Inconvenient



Sometimes, bringing Emerson to the youth group that we serve at feels like a huge inconvenience.  I often have to leave in the middle of the message or a game to go and nurse him.  My arms or back grow weary from toting him around.  When I'd rather be chatting with students uninhibited, I often have to multitask:  making conversation with them, and caring for his needs simultaneously.  Sometimes his already sporadic sleep gets thrown off because youth starts right around his bedtime and there's no way he's dozing off when there are so many people, sights, and sounds to take in.

Last week the Lord showed me that he could use this for good.  As small group time was about to come to a close, and my group was finishing up praying, a girl asked me, "Do you pray for Emerson?"  To which I said, "Yes."  Her stare lingered on me, a begging look in her eyes.  "You want me to pray for him right now?" I asked.  She nodded enthusiastically.  "Ok, sure," I replied.  So I began to pray and recited many of the things that I pray over Emerson each night as he settles in his crib.

"Holy Spirit, please fill Emerson up.  Give him peace.  If there's anything that needs healing in his body please bring him healing.  If he's experiencing any pain please ease his pain.  Lord, help him to know that he is loved.  Help us to love him well, and fill in the gaps where we fall short.  I pray that one day he would come to know you personally, and experience your love and presence.  In Jesus' name, amen."

It's a simple thing really.  By me bringing Emerson to youth group, these young women are exposed to a godly mother--I use that term "godly" loosely because let me tell you I am oh-so aware of how imperfect I am.  However, I am open to the Lord.  I've stayed in communion with him throughout the ebb and flow of this journey.  Jesus is at work in my life.  I believe that, through his grace, his goodness reigns in me.

Who knows what situation these girls come from.  Some of them probably have darn near perfect moms.  Some, might not have moms at all.  Others still have mothers who've painted a picture of rejection, harshness, or abandonment where tenderness, unconditional love, and selflessness should have been.  These girls get to watch me parent with the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit.  While I am grumbling about being inconvenienced, God is taking my small sacrifice and doing Kingdom work.



Monday, February 20, 2017

The Dirty Diaper Gospel



As soon as I walked into church I smelled that familiar smell.  So, there I found myself behind the sanctuary in the appropriately named, "Mother's Cry Room," (I have cried in there numerous times) changing a poopy diaper.  Missing worship, something that I love.  Thinking about how unfair it was.  Thinking about the many things that I have given up for this child without much more than the occasional coy smile or open-mouth kiss in return.  When I was reminded, this is the Jesus way.

Matthew 10:39

"Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

So, Emerson, I will keep laying down my life for you on Jesus' behalf.  And, hopefully, on the other side of this, I will be more like him.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

My Nets Are Breaking



As I was reading the bible last week Jesus brought me to Luke 5.  It’s the moment when Jesus calls his first disciples to leave everything and follow him.  “Don’t worry, soon you will be fishing for people,” he tells them.  What a comforting thought.

 Jesus happens upon these grisly, seasoned fishermen after a bad night of fishing.  In fact, they have nothing to show for a full night’s work.  Their boats are at rest, their nets are being cleaned.  Climbing aboard one of the boats, Jesus asks the men to go back out to sea, just a little ways, so that he can preach to the crowds from a safe distance.  They oblige.  When he is finished, the prophet has the audacity to instruct them to try fishing again.  Simon reminds Jesus, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!”  

To toil is to work extremely hard or incessantly.  Fishing is Simon’s trade, so I’d imagine he knows the ins and outs of catching fish.  He probably used the best techniques, fished at the optimum time, and put down his nets in the place where they were most likely to—as modern fishermen would say—get a few bites.  Yet he caught nothing.  Can you empathize with Simon’s frustration?  Have you ever toiled after something and despite your best efforts found yourself with a big ole net full of nothing? 

 Most recently, I have been working incessantly at helping my six-month-old son learn how to sleep.  Let’s just say, I have a few choice words for whoever coined the phrase, “sleeping like a baby.”  For over a month my son, who once let me sleep in glorious eight hour chunks regularly, has been waking up every one, two, or three hours needing to be rocked back to sleep.  I have scoured the internet for explanations and ideas.  The best I could come up with was that he was in a “sleep regression,” (because his sleep had gone from easy-peasy newborn sleep, to more adult-like sleep—moving in and out of light and deep sleep) and he’d developed some “sleep associations,” namely being rocked by dear old mom and dad (meaning he when he moved out of a sleep cycle he woke up and didn’t know how to get himself back to sleep without our help).  

Determined to fix this, I began to try everything I could think of.  We moved him from his Pack ‘N Play in our room, to his crib in his own room.  We added a white noise machine.  We blacked out his window.  We bought him a suit that promised to have magical sleeping powers.  We implemented a bed time routine.  We moved him to an earlier bedtime.  We worked to get him to fall asleep in his crib—by any means necessary: patting, shushing, picking up and putting down, lovies, binkies, music, you name it, we tried it.  And we waited.  

I would guess that nothing about Jesus’ request made sense to Simon.  He had already worked his hardest to try and catch fish: with no results.  Why would he try it again?  For whatever reason, he was obedient anyway.  As Jesus had asked, Simon put the boat out into deep water and let down his nets for a catch.  Next, the fishermen encompass what could accurately be described as a ridiculous amount of fish in their nets.  In fact, the nets can’t even handle the amount of fish they have caught, because they start breaking!  There are so many fish that they have to call out to their partners for help!  There are so many fish that they fill not one, but two boats, to the point of almost sinking under the weight.  One night, they put out their nets, and nothing.  The next day, they put out their nets and they are so full they start to break. 

This week I started to feel hopeless, as I have at various points during Emerson's sleep journey.  We’ve had good nights and bad nights.  There have been nights when the baby was up every hour, and nights when he only woke up twice.  There have been nights when we heard him self-soothe multiple times, and nights when he wouldn’t even try.  We had been overall making progress, but it hadn’t been linear.  We were at a point where most nights he would wake up around three times and we were getting at least a four hour chunk of consecutive sleep consistently.  That felt survivable.  Then, three times this week, baby boy decided to be up basically every two hours again.  A couple of those nights when he woke up he really struggled to fall back asleep.  I was devastated.  I was sleep-deprived.  I was confused.  I wondered why God wasn’t intervening.  I knew he had the authority to do so.  And yet, I believed that he was good; I believed that he loved me.  Loving my baby through this stage was the work he had given me to do, and I would continue to do it even though it was difficult.  Even if it seemed like my efforts weren't yielding any fruit.

The passage in Luke spoke to my situation in a few ways.  As I read, I heard God telling me this:

1. You don’t have as much control as you think.  Because at the end of the day, you can do all the right things and still not catch any fish.  I needed to stop blaming myself when Emerson had a bad night.  I needed to let go of the guilt I was feeling.  You can’t make fish swim into your net; you can’t make babies sleep.

2. Listen for my voice.  Jesus told Simon where and when to drop his nets.  So I asked for help, and listened.  When I thought Jesus was giving me an idea for something to try with Emerson, I’d obey.  

3. Don’t lose hope.  You might have no results one day, and more results than you know what to do with the next.  Simon fished all night and got nothing.  The very next day he began to fish and instantly caught a bounty.  I knew that I couldn’t give up hope.  I might try my best to get my son to sleep one day, and see nothing come of it.  But the next day might be the day he gets it and finally sleeps through the night.  

It turns out that is exactly what happened.  One night, Emerson was up every two-three hours needing to be rocked to sleep.  I didn’t hear him attempt to fall back to sleep even once.  The next night, I tried again and my nets started breaking!  Emerson slept for ten hours straight!  He has only done that a handful of times.  Even back when he was consistently sleeping through the night it was typically six-eight hour stretches.  I’m not saying we’re out of the woods yet.  We may have more rough nights ahead of us yet, but I know that my son is getting it.  He is learning how to sleep on his own.  Above all, I know that God is faithful—on nights when I toil for nothing and I nights when I get a net overflowing with fish.  

Are you toiling today?  Remember that God is good, and he loves you.  These things are true whether we get zero results or abundant results.  Don’t put too much pressure on yourself because you can’t make fish swim into a net.  Listen for Jesus’ voice telling you where and when.  Then, drop your nets, yet again,  hopeful for a catch.  Because you never know which day God is going to step in and bless you.  One day, you might get nothing, and the next he might fill your nets until they're breaking. 



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