Monday, December 8, 2014

Of Laughter and Life - My Auntie Evelyn

My Auntie Evelyn died last week. On Sunday we remembered her in a memorial service. Auntie Evelyn was my mom's older sister by 14 years and the oldest of six siblings. 

Mom and Auntie Evelyn were close in love, even though they weren't close in age. Until I was eleven years old I lived with my parents and older sister in Madras, a tiny dot of a town in central Oregon. Auntie Evelyn lived in Portland. In the big city in a house in a neighborhood lined with even more houses. She worked in a hospital. My sister and I thought she was fancy. And rich.
Auntie Evelyn with my
son Caleb in 1991

My dad was a truck driver and gone for weeks at a time so it was just my mom and sister and me. But many weekends Auntie Evelyn would make the two hour drive over Mount Hood to visit. 

To say those were good days is a small use of the word "good". Mom and Evelyn shared a special sister-friendship. They laughed a lot! It is from them I came by the embarrassing trait of laughing when someone hurts themselves. I don't especially appreciate this gift, but if you were to trip and scrape your knee while hiking with me, it is likely you would hear a bit of nervous laughter. 

Fortunately, I learned other useful things. Like never make more than one trip into the house with your groceries. Simply load all of the bags into your arms at once and hobble your way up the steps to the kitchen, because why waste time when there are other things to be done. 

But mostly I learned about laughter. I remember long summer days spent floating on air mattresses in the lake with mom and Auntie Evelyn. There were always snacks. They would take a bunch of grapes in a plastic bag and float them in the lake to keep them cool. And there was always, always chocolate. Somewhere. Hidden in a purse or under the seat in the car or tucked away in the back of the refrigerator. Chocolate was an absolute.

We were always doing something silly and crazy with Auntie Evelyn. I remember how amazed I was at her water skiing skills. I mean she could ski on ONE ski and take off from the dock and glide all the way back into shore without ever getting wet. This was a fantastical feat to my young eyes. 

Living in rural Madras we were horse people but, of course, because she was from THE CITY, Auntie Evelyn was decidedly not horse people. She would ride my little Shetland pony and was never able to stop when she wanted. She would yell, “STOP! STOP!” repeatedly and to no avail but to the roaring laughter of my sister and me. I'm sure we were her favorite nieces. . .  

There was so much laughter and when the weekend came to a close my sister and I would hide her keys so she couldn't leave us. She was that kind of auntie. I hope she knew it. 

As I grew older I came to see that my fun and funny Auntie Evelyn wasn't perfect and life didn't always treat her kindly. As a younger person I didn't understand why she sometimes left the house quickly for a good brisk walk. Tears in her eyes and sob in her throat. But now I do. Now I know because I've taken that quick brisk walk myself on occasion when life is painful and a solitary walk is sometimes the best place to let the hurt spill out. 

I hadn't seen Auntie Evelyn much recently. In 1999 my little family moved to Boise, and I saw her only on our visits to Washington. I'm grateful to have seen her one last time in July and get from her a good hard hug. 

Her memorial service showed me the purpose of such events, because today my memories of her are brighter and stronger than they were yesterday.

I'm so grateful she was my Auntie Evelyn. Perhaps more than any other person, she showed me that laughter can always triumph tears. 

I will hear her laugh again someday and my heart is glad. 

When Life is Hard

Last week was hard. One of my hardest. My sweet Auntie Evelyn died after being hit by an SUV while crossing a grocery store parking lot. She lingered three painful months. My dad was admitted to the hospital with complications from a six way heart bypass he had this summer. And I experienced a hard battle with the depression that continues to nip at my heels. Still, I continue to be amazed at the joy waiting for us in the midst of sorrow and tragedy.  I wonder if the scary times in life are there to open wide the door to love.

Saturday night I was able to attend the Mountain West Conference Championship football game with my husband and children, and we wildly cheered our Broncos on to victory. We happily rushed the field with other fans from this crazy Bronco Nation. Earlier in the week a sweet friend who is fighting her own hard battle, dropped off a bag full of goodies for me of lotions, food and tea, which she followed up with a loving email.

There is a sweetness in the painful times of life. That circling of the wagons by those who love us and hurt along with us. When life is humming along happily and the bumps are small and easily maneuvered, I don’t need to be taken care of so much. I can do more of it on my own. But when the bumps become mountains and the road barely navigable, I need the people who love me to drag me out of the pit, pull me over the mountain, and be my road map. No matter how many times I forget I can’t do it all, I keep falling back into that mindset. It's the hard times that keep bringing me back into community. Back into the fold of love my family and friends always have for me.

I’m grateful God has put in my life men and women and even little boys and girls, who love me so well and remind me I am not alone. Because life was not made to be lived in insolation but together and messily.

I wonder which of our friends and family are hurting and needing extra love and attention. I hope I learn to pay better attention. To check in regularly and care enough to put a little more of myself into ensuring they know they are loved and valuable and hold a big space in my heart.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly

It is ridiculous for a person like me to write about the racial divide in our country. Part of me says be quiet white woman who lives in white Boise, Idaho and has no point of reference for what is happening in Ferguson. But there exists that other part of me who woke up this morning and read the news and read comment after comment on Twitter from people who are living the fear and pain of this racial divide that is real in our country.

What spilled onto my prayer journal afterwards were these words:

How can I be a helper of change in this? There is so much history and blame. I am so removed from it and yet it hurts. I pray humility in us all. We will never care enough about the pain of others until we let humility live in us, because it is only in humility that we get outside ourselves and let go of our self focus long enough to see the pain of another. And especially to see the pain of another who looks different than us.

That is all I have. Just a very real desire to see each person as God sees them. Could we all do that? Could we all just look at each other and see each person as loved, as worth dying for. Because that person you’re spewing hate towards - Jesus died for him. Jesus died for her.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

When Christmas is About Other People

Winter came early to Boise, and we have taken great advantage of the eight inches of snow blanketing our world! Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and yesterday, sledding with seven children from the weekly small group Bible study we have in our home. Success is seven children sledding and no injuries! I had to scramble to outfit the kids in outdoor gear, sending the kids outside in oversized snow pants, boots and gloves belonging to various members of our family. 

I’ve spent the last week at Target and Costco, trying to find gloves, hats, boots, coats, and snow pants so these kids can be warm as they walk to school. Some of them walk almost a mile to school each day (one way) and in the last week Boise has broken three long held low temperature records. So in case you were wondering. It’s cold!

Our little church here in Boise is home to about thirty Congolese refugees and is growing almost weekly as more friends arrive from Africa. We love the diversity our friends bring and were thrilled when this summer they started their own weekly Kinyarwanda language church service.

For the last several years our church has raised money to share Christmas with families in our community who need a little help. We call this endeavor Christmas Star, and it is a lot of fun. We provide grocery store and department store gift cards as well as gifts of toys and clothing and have a lot of fun wrapping and delivering it all.

This year we have more friends than ever to share with and we’d love your help!

If you would like to donate to the Christmas Star, please write a check payable to Oasis SDA Church and write on the check “Christmas Star”. You can mail the check to me at Shawna Benedict, P.O. Box 9741, Boise, Idaho 83707 or to the church directly at 501 North Curtis Road, Boise, Idaho 83706. All donations are tax deductible.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Things that Make Me Want to Scream

A scene from one of my favorite movies reminds me of myself. In the film French Kiss, Meg Ryan is trying to get the concierge at a posh hotel in Paris to assist her. He is playing straight into the French snob stereotype by ignoring her and treating her like American riffraff. In frustration she leans over the silver bell sitting on the counter and repeatedly hits it while she grits out, “Makes me want to scream!” Not surprisingly, the concierge quickly becomes more attentive.

Sometimes I feel exactly this screamingly frustrated with myself.

In January 2014 I set a reading goal for myself of 48 books. Four books a month. It seemed attainable and, indeed, it looks like I’ll reach my goal. I read a lot of books about spiritual growth. A lot of God books. Yet I noticed something in this year of reading. So often it feels like I’m reading and highlighting and agreeing or not agreeing with an author not so much because I want to grow in my spiritual life, not so much because I want to know God more fully, but because I want to prove someone else wrong. I want to be able to say (or at least think behind your back), “See! I’m doing it right and you’re not. So there!” It was when I realized this yucky fact about myself that the French Kiss scene popped into my head. I wanted to scream in frustration at myself and my sad need to be right.

Beth Moore writes, “Humility is the truest sign of intimacy with God.” I realized I was in desperate need of humility, so I began to daily and repeatedly ask God to fill me with humility. I don’t want to read and study simply to know a lot. I want to be gentle in my knowledge and when I share, I want it to be done only ever in kindness and not out of pride or an attitude of, "I know better because I read those 48 books this year. . that you didn’t!"

The know it all life is a path I walked for too long. I love to read but coupled with my insecurity over not having a college degree, means I have (had) a pretty annoying desire to prove how smart I am.

In his book, The Truest Thing About You, Dave Lomas writes, “Slowly, achingly slowly, I was learning to understand that I am deeply loved by God, and because of Jesus, God is well pleased with me. . . Every other identity I create for myself is an illusion.”

And so I began to let go of the fake me. I loosened the grip I had on my identity of being the “well-read” one, and began to see myself as deeply loved by God. First. Before anything else. Before anything I do (or read) - good or bad - I am deeply loved by God. There is no need for me to be right or well-read or know more than you. God just loves me. Period. The end.

Lomas writes, “There is a fundamental difference between who we are and what we do” but, “We believe that we are what we do.” That has been me most of my life, but no more. I am living into and believing God loves me before I become worth loving. But hear me when I say, “THIS ISN”T EASY.” Letting go of the try hard life is - well - hard. Living more than forty years earning the right to be loved doesn’t fall away overnight. It’s a bumper car journey at best. But it is still best.

I’m so grateful for books and a love of reading. I never want that to change. I just want my purpose, my end goal to be different. I want to read and learn and grow and share and be always becoming the truest me. The Shawna God sees.

"Knowing who God says we are and following Jesus into this new way of being human will change everything about our lives." Jonathan Martin Prototype.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Thoughts on Life from a Three Year Old

Sometimes I think I should write a blog dedicated to the hilarious and profound sayings of my three year old friend, Simbi. It would be a big hit.

I just returned from two weeks away so maybe she’s been saving her words for me, but she was especially memorable last week.

Here are a few gems:

After waking from a nap she sat up and said, “I’m done sleeping.” In case I wasn’t sure. I mean perhaps I looked confused.

We talked about her Uncle Chris having a birthday last week and she said, “I want to go to his house and find his cake.” Pretty sure she was afraid someone was eating cake without her.

When I told her my son Caleb would be flying home from Portland where he lives she responded with, “I will be so happy to him.”

While she was singing, “The Books of the Bible,” (which not surprisingly is a song intended to teach children the names of all sixty-six books of the Bible), I mistakenly joined her. She stopped abruptly and shared these not so gentle words with me, “I don’t need help.” Well then.

I thought once my children were grown, travel would become easier, that I wouldn't miss home so much but that was an illusion. Now I just have more people to miss, and I am grateful.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sleepless in Lisbon

my love in travel and life
I have sleep issues. Unlike my husband, I cannot fall asleep one nano second after climbing into bed, while a siren blares on the street outside and dogs bark outside our window. No. I must be in the perfect “sleep” position, pillows in strategic locations, my mind at rest and filled with peaceful thoughts. If I start planning the next day’s schedule, bye-bye sleep.

Now throw in a different continent, different time zone, strange bed (same pillow because I’m not stupid and that thing goes everywhere with me), an outrageously loud elevator banging and clanging right outside our door and an amazing Airbnb apartment with floor to ceiling windows on two sides and a city that never sleeps, where apparently the lights literally never go out. Where is the darkness? It is night and night is dark! This is me in Lisbon, Portugal. Sleepless for two nights. On night two I found sleep at 4:30 AM. This does not make me an appreciative traveler. It makes me cranky. It makes me think Lisbon (a beautiful city) is stupid. It makes me think the people here (who are polite and helpful) are mean and rude for speaking Portuguese. Why can’t they speak words I know?! The only Portuguese I’ve learned are “good day” and “thank you,” and everything else comes out of my mouth in French, which makes me feel stupid because it’s not even good French! The other day I said, “merci” to a woman followed immediately by “sorry” and that didn’t feel awkward at all. . . 

Travel is like life on steroids. Your eyes see things in HD. Noises are different and louder. People are closer and there are more of them (okay that’s actually true in Europe). It’s harder to hide feelings when you’re exhausted and fears have a way of jumping to the surface.

Don’t get me wrong. I love travel and new cities and seeing how other people on the planet live. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared at a toilet in a strange country wondering, "How in the world do I flush this thing?" That’s why we travel, right? To experience different plumbing? Okay, maybe not.

Finally, though on night three in Lisbon, I slept EIGHT hours. Eight hours of sleep is heavenly. Eight hours of sleep makes me happy. It makes my husband happy and not scared to spend the day with me. Eight hours of sleep helps me appreciate the view from our ninth floor apartment.

a room with a (fabulous) view
Sometimes I let ridiculous things steal my joy. I let small things distract me from the world around me. I forget that once this day is gone, I don’t get these experiences back. This happens at home too. It’s not just a travel thing. I wonder how awesome each day could be if I didn’t get sidetracked by what I think isn’t fun or good.

On sleepless night one in Lisbon as I lay in bed I was frustrated and then mad and then afraid and then very, very lonely because insomnia, wherever you experience it, is a lonely business. I prayed and repeated my “insomnia mantra” which is a Bible verse I have tweaked for myself. It goes like this, “The Lord is my refuge in sleep.” (Shawna’s revised version). I said this over and over and still was filled with anxiety.

The next night I didn’t find sleep until 4:30 a.m. but fear didn’t fill me. I lay sleepless, but not afraid. I let peace find me. I didn’t get mad at myself or beat myself up about my inability to sleep. I’m pretty hard on myself. I don’t often give myself a break for messing up, and I don’t forgive myself easily. 
books in any language captivate me

Last week Kevin and I attended the Storyline Conference in Chicago (three days of awesomeness), where I heard Glennon Doyle Melton speak. She was amazing. I think we should be best friends. I immediately downloaded her book Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life on my Kindle. I read her book in two days and here is my big takeaway. Accept grace. Forgive ME. Accept grace for ME. Forgive ME. I’m not good at this. I want to be. I think God wants me to forgive myself easily, to accept grace for myself as a natural thing. I know that’s what he does. He forgives every time I ask. Every time I mess up, there he is saying, “Shawna you are forgiven. I love you as much now as I did on that day when you were filled with such a deep depression you didn’t want to wake up anymore. I love you as much today as I did on the days you spoke hurtful words to your children.”

I am not all the way there yet but I will be, because God is bigger than my mess. His grace is bigger than my unforgiveness. I’m living into a day where I truly believe God thinks I’m just as amazing on my bad days as he does on my good days. I hope you’ll join me on this journey. I hear the ending is awesome.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

When Everything is Not Okay

There is a scene of my life that plays back vividly in my mind. Twelve years ago my dear friend Carline and her sweet family moved from the house next door to ours in sunny Boise to rain-drenched Seattle. It was a hard day. We had become everyday friends, beating a path between my backyard and hers. We had removed a shrub from the hedge separating our backyards so our families would have quick access to each other. It was to her back door I ran at 6:30 in the morning when my husband was stuck in Boston the week of September 11, 2001. It was in her kitchen I learned the real love of cooking. We shared afternoon coffee together each day on my patio. It was the first time in my life I had let a friend into my heart that closely. It was good, and I am so grateful. 

And then she was gone, and it was a hard goodbye. We hugged and cried and she got into her car with her family and they waved goodbye. As we stood in our driveway watching them go, my sweet husband pulled me quickly into the backyard so we couldn’t see them disappear. It was his way of protecting me, of pretending this wasn’t happening, that everything was just fine. But everything wasn’t just fine, and we were pretending.

Today, I try not to run away from sorrow. I’ve learned to keep my heart open during the hard times. I think it’s okay to sit a while in our sadness when pain shows up. I mean, look at all those lamenting Psalms in the Bible. Those were written by men sitting - nay wallowing - in their grief and giving God a complete rendering of their fear and sadness and anger.

I decided a few years ago I would not automatically try to avoid pain and grief, but would allow myself to lean into it for a time. It feels healthier to do so. Whatever is happening to cause me pain is there whether I embrace it or not, and things happen in life that deserve our pain and sorrow. When my children move away, that deserves my sadness. It’s how we know the love is big. When my friend is diagnosed with cancer (again), that deserves my pain and sorrow and anger and questions. It is only as I work my way through those darker emotions that I can get to a place of peace.

It is a huge relief to know I can be real in life and real in my relationship with God. He already knows how I feel, and pretending everything is okay only creates a barrier between my God and me. And in the hard times, especially, I want permission to be myself and sink into God’s embrace. He can handle whatever emotions are churning inside me. He’s there wanting to walk me through the pain.

Today, Carline and I continue to find joy in our friendship, albeit a friendship that now crosses half of the United States. I learned something new even in our out of sight friendship. I learned how to stay connected to someone who is no longer a part of my every day life. That was another first for me. But that’s another story.

“With my voice I cry out to the LORD;
     with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.
I pour out my complaint before him;
     I tell my trouble before him.”
Psalm 142:1

"Part of spiritual maturity is ceasing to think 
that everything that is hard is bad." 
Beth Moore

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

When Does Compassion End?

When do we decide to withhold compassion? Where is the line I wonder and what is the tipping point? How do we go about deciding who deserves our compassion and for how long?

Last week I read Gregory Boyle’s book Tattoos on the Heart, the Power of Boundless Compassion. This is perhaps the most beautiful book I’ve ever read. Gregory Boyle shows us how to love and just never stop. Here are a few quotes:

“The strategy of Jesus is not centered in taking the right stand on issues, but rather in standing in the right place - with the outcast and those relegated to the margins.”

“Compassion is always, at its most authentic, about a shift from the cramped world of self-preoccupation into a more expansive place of fellowship, of true kinship.”

“Meeting the world with a loving heart will determine what we find there.”

“Sooner or later, we all discover that kindness is the only strength there is.”

This week as I’ve watched the sadness and loss and tragedy unfold in Ferguson, Missouri, I have been asking myself to feel compassion - to deep inside myself care - for everyone involved. All sides. I have not lived their lives. I cannot say what I would do in their shoes - not Michael Brown’s shoes, not the police officer’s shoes. Not their mothers’ shoes. Not the protestors' shoes. I have lived my life and have my own experiences, and it is this life and these experiences that influence each decision I make every day. Each action I take is a reflection of my past and who I have decided I will be today.

I hope I grow into a place that loves more and judges never. I hope I grow into a place that sees the world and all its brokenness and instead of blaming, shares the blame and sees the sadness and doesn’t look away.

Gregory Boyle writes, “Close both eyes; see with the other one. Then, we are no longer saddled by the burden of our persistent judgments, our ceaseless withholding, our constant exclusion. Our sphere has widened, and we find ourselves, quite unexpectedly, in a new, expansive location, in a place of endless acceptance and infinite love. We’ve wandered into God’s own ‘jurisdiction.’"

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Holding on and Letting Go

Ten years ago I was watching my 15 and 10 year old children race towards adulthood and life away from me. And I was terrified. I thought about my son and my daughter living their lives outside of my protection, and my imagination would run wild with fear. I thought of my own life without their constant presence, and it was impossible for me to see how that life could ever be good and full of joy. I had made them my security blanket, and I was holding on with both hands. 

Parenting requires such sameness and yet such fluidity. You must be always constant and yet ever able to change and grow along with your children. 

Growing into relationship with your adult children means remaining who you are and yet daily becoming a more grown up version of yourself. I recognized that if I wanted to maintain the close bond we shared, I was going to have to grow up right along with them. 

When Caleb turned 13 I remember going into his bedroom and saying, "Caleb, your dad and I have never been parents of a teenager before. We're going to mess it up. We're going to forget you’re not a little boy, and  we’re going to hold on too tightly sometimes. But we love you so much and we're doing our best. Please be patient with us."  

Be okay with being wrong as a parent. Be quick to apologize, because, honestly, we know when we've messed it up and hurt our children. Our children don't think we're perfect anyway, and it is only by being honest with them and humble enough to admit our mistakes that we keep their respect.

Be okay with your children choosing a path different from your own. I began to realize if I wanted my children to enjoy spending time with me, I must let them be who they are. And not only that but love who they are. I don't need to enjoy everything they enjoy, but I need to be okay with our differences. 

In our insecurities we often think if others don't like what we like, then our way of living is not the right way. It's why so often we become friends only with those who mirror us, because being with people who believe everything we believe, makes us feel we're doing it right. If our children grow up to have different likes or dislikes or lifestyles or beliefs, it can make us feel the life we have chosen is wrong. We need to get to a place where we are secure in who we are, so we can let our children be who they are. 

Authentic love and joy is found in knowing who we are. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Illusion of Finishing

On Fridays I (sometimes) link up with Lisa-Jo Baker for a writing flash mob. I write for five minutes on the topic Lisa-Jo has chosen. Today's writing prompt is finish.

Yesterday I had lunch with two dear friends. We have watched our children grow from first graders to college students. As women are apt to do, we talked about everything under the sun - summer travels, clothes, exercise, church, our work and, of course, our children. After a good, long talk I commented that being the parent of adult children is so much more complicated than parenting babies and grade schoolers. 

When we are young parents, we think we have it is so hard. Juggling school schedules and sporting events, and field trips and birthday parties, dentist appointments and keeping our growing children in shoes that fit. All of this requires so much energy we fall into bed each night exhausted thinking it will surely be easier when they’re older. And honestly it is easier in that it requires less physical energy. But yesterday we laughed at the naiveté of our younger selves. How could we have known being the parent of a twenty year old requires so much more brain power? It makes those younger years seem simple.

Perhaps there is no such thing as “finishing.” We are never finished parenting. We are never finished loving. We are never finished laughing so loudly we embarrass our children (some of us). We are never finished crying. We are never finished finding the beauty around us. We are never finished being brave or making hard decisions.

Finishing is an illusion. For every day is new. Every day is a gift. Every day is an opportunity to grow a little further into that person we were born to be. And I really never want to finish parenting.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Courage to Bloom

On Fridays I (sometimes) link up with Lisa-Jo Baker for a writing flash mob. I write for five minutes on the topic Lisa-Jo has chosen. Today's writing prompt is bloom.

Sometimes the biggest obstacle to blooming is - well me. To bloom, to grow, to create - this is not always easy. Writing requires me to be very brave. To be vulnerable. To share thoughts and emotions and fears and dreams. Some days this is easy - okay that's not true - writing for me is never truly easy but some days it is easier than others to be vulnerable and translate what is inside of me into the written word.

"It takes courage to not only accept our limitations but embrace our potential. To deny our creative nature is to choose a life where we are less and thus responsible for less." Erwin McManus, The Artisan Soul

Somehow I have convinced myself I should write only when the writing comes easily. And so I will remember the brave me I have the potential to be. Words are powerful and in a world where cruel words are becoming ever more acceptable, kindness matters even more.

"You are powerfully gifted by God. He prepared in advance for your contribution to this world." Beth Moore, Children of the Day.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Messy Kind of Community

"We all want community, but the best community happens when we pick a cause or pick some people to help. Christian community happens only in a community with people who actively follow Jesus. And if you get some friends to pursue a common struggle, you will find a level of community that you could never find by just looking for friends. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, 'He who loves community, destroys community; he who loves the brethren, builds community.' His point is that when people focus on finding Christian friends to huddle together with, they generally destroy the utopia they’ve built up in their minds, but those who simply love people always create genuine, deep community." (Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth, by Hugh Halter)

In January of 2013 a small band of Jesus followers huddled together in our living room to discuss a kind of triage. A single mom from our church was being evicted from her apartment. Knowing what was about to happen to her and her three children, we could not do nothing, and from that impromptu meeting was born a community.

A few days later we helped our new friend move from her apartment into a homeless shelter. And when I say helped I mean we showed up en masse at her apartment and started packing. And it was chaos. We couldn’t communicate with our friend because at that time, her English was nearly nonexistent, and our only translator was a nine-year-old boy. Packing and moving is not fun, but packing for someone else is just weird. “Do you want to keep this receipt? This broken toy? This half used box of tissue?” Oh that’s right I can’t ask you because I’m American and I speak only one language. I remember saying that evening, “Ministry is messy.” And it is. You want a ministry that isn’t messy, then volunteer to shelve books at the public library or model for a local charity fashion show. . . but personal ministry is always, always messy because we’re all human and we bring our brokenness into everything.

So it was out of that messy evening a community of ministry was born. Three of us took the lead. We are three working moms - a doctor, a social worker and a business owner/former paralegal. And let me just say, that with our determination and professional backgrounds, we can get it done! We don’t always know what we're doing but we know how to find answers. We have fumbled and overreached, but we have learned to be humble and to recognize when to lean in and when to pull back. Eventually we termed ourselves the Surprise Squad, because in spite if our best efforts at planning and organization we were continually surprised at what came our way.

We have done a lot of good together and probably some harm. We’ve walked together through sadness and fear and joy and success and frustration, always believing God is good and he put us on this path. And we have been so very blessed. Blessed because we get to be part of restoring hope and a future to our refugee friends. And blessed because of closer friendship with each other. This community born out of need, has made us into a community that is more than ourselves. More than our own enjoyment. The bond is stronger, more purposeful, holier. And I am grateful.

"You need a fight so that people will see God as He truly is. The best witness isn’t telling people concepts about God. The best witness of the gospel happens when people see an entire community sticking up for people who are nameless, voiceless, or powerless. Every Jesus follower should be an activist an abolitionist, or at least an advocate.” (Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth, by Hugh Halter)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Love - It's Not Just a Word

Last week Kevin and I went to lunch downtown, something we do often being empty nesters, working from home and living just minutes from downtown. On this occasion, however, a woman was stopping people on the sidewalk and asking for donations for something. I don't know what. She made her pitch to the man waiting beside us at the crosswalk and by eavesdropping I could only tell that she was asking for donations. When he declined she said, "God bless you."  She then moved on to Kevin and me. We gave a passing, "No thank you" and walked on, receiving a "God bless" from her as well. I can't say exactly why but I cringed a little. Her words seemed so automatic. I feel a bit the same way when I hear, "You're in my prayers" uttered by some. 

I don't know that I can explain this well, but sometimes we Christians operate too much on autopilot. We have our bits well-rehearsed and we play them well. 

I take notes on nearly everything in my life, so if I hear or read something meaningful or thought provoking, it's likely to end up saved in the Notes app on my iPhone. Today I read this note, saved months ago, "Don't tell them Jesus loves them until you're ready to love them too." This song by Steve Camp resonates with me. 

I spend a lot of time with people who have little by way of material goods. People who have lived with one meal a day for most of their lives. People who are immeasurably grateful for where they are today and at the same time sorrowful for loved ones left behind. 

Don't tell them Jesus loves them until you're ready to love them too. Because love is an action. We can see it. We can eat it. We can wear it. We can sleep on it. It is food and clothes and beds and homes. It is a ride to the grocery store or a trip to the doctor, and it is helping children with their homework. It is laughter and it is tears and it is more beautiful and joy giving than I can ever describe. And if you're missing out on this, I am very sorry. 

People say to Kevin and me all the time how lucky these people we help are to have us in their lives. That is fine and a natural way to think, but it is backwards. We have been invited into these beautiful redemptive stories, and I feel so incredibly spoiled that God let us in on this.

You want someone to know they are loved? Then do something. Take action. Be helpful. Make a difference. Jesus didn't just say, "I love you." He did stuff.

"If you want to know what a person believes, watch what they do." Brennan Manning

And in defense of the woman asking for donations, she was doing something. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Oh the Things I Could Be

On Fridays I (sometimes) link up with Lisa-Jo Baker for a writing flash mob. I write for five minutes on the topic Lisa-Jo has chosen. Today's writing prompt is willing. 

I wonder if all of life can be summed up in the word “willing.” Every choice I make, every action occurs because I am either willing or not. Am I willing to wake early to study and exercise? Am I willing to keep the house in order (sometimes)? Am I willing to return emails and turn in expense reports so my desk doesn’t look like a train wreck? Am I willing to make hard relationship decisions, even those that bring pain? Am I willing to forgive harsh words spoken in my direction? Am I willing to let go of my selfishness?

Few things worth celebrating in life happen unless I am willing to give of myself. I listened recently to Shauna Niequist speak about being willing to let God heal us. Her words resonated deeply with me. When I am hurt, when I am scared, when I am in the pit of depression, I must get to a place of willingness before anything else can follow. A willingness to lean into that pain, that hurt, that fear and dig down to its root. Am I willing to walk with God into a place of healing? Honestly, sometimes I am not and I sit in my pain.

Ready or not life is coming at me - in an ever faster and in a hurry world. Every day life requires my response. Some are simple. Some are complex. Am I willing to make hard choices? Am I willing to walk with Jesus in gentleness, patience, peace, goodness, love, joy, kindness, faithfulness and self-control.

Sometimes it is hard. Some days I am more willing than other days to be who I am in Christ.

God, please help me be willing.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Radical Kind of Love

Last weekend Kevin and I had the joy of attending church first with our sweet girl in Spokane and also with our Caleb in Portland. It gets even better.

When in Portland, we love attending A Jesus Church, located smack downtown and attended by a multitude of twenty-something hipsters. They let us attend in spite of our age and lack of “hipsterness.” Imagine my excitement when I discovered the speaker that evening would be David Lomas, author of The Truest Thing About You, a fantastic new book I had finished reading just that day on the plane.

Lomas writes, “Amid all the true things about you, there is one thing that is the truest.”

You see, who I am doesn’t change based on my ideas or actions or the words I speak. Who I am has always been fixed. I am God’s child, beloved, made in his image, made to walk with him – in love – through the mess of this world. This is who I am always. It is the truest thing about me. And I am perfectly happy believing this about myself, but do I also believe this about my “enemies”?

Because I am not made to only walk in love with my God. I am not made to only walk in love with those who agree with me, with those who look like me. I am made to walk in love with all people. Even when I don’t want to. Even when we are unbearable to each other. Even with those who choose hate over love. Mostly, I don’t feel like walking in love with those who think hate is acceptable.

You've noticed, I'm sure, that there is a surplus of hate in this world. Well, that hate, that darkness has been right in my face this week. There has been no avoiding it, no pretending it isn't there and directed at those I love. When the darkness is that close, it's easy to let anger creep in. It's easy for me to let kindness and love drift away.

I so desperately need Jesus to teach me how to return hate with love, forgiveness, gentleness, kindness, patience, peace and that oh so difficult one for me, self-control.

Author Oz Guinness says, “We are never freer than when we become most ourselves, most human, most just, most excellent, and the like. Yet, if this is the case, freedom has a requirement: To be ourselves, we need to know who we are.”

I want to make my way through life in a way that shouts, “Do you know you are loved? Do you know you are valuable? Do you know you have a place in this world?” I don't know any other way to dilute hate except to flood it with love.

“Define yourself radically as beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is an illusion.” Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child

Thursday, January 2, 2014

I Will Remember

I have decided life is a continuous ebb and flow of hellos and goodbyes. In November we delighted in welcoming home our son after five months of military service. December brought a full house as we welcomed home our daughter from her first semester at college.

I have loved the increased chaos and messiness and negotiations over what’s for dinner and who gets control of the remote. But then just as I settled into having my children home, they left again. Rebecca off to Costa Rica for three weeks of study and Caleb off to begin a graduate program in Portland. A few weeks ago I asked Caleb to start being really unpleasant so I would miss him less when he leaves (he didn’t comply). I didn’t ask this of my daughter because I fear the shock of unpleasantness coming from my sweet girl would be too great.

So it is in the midst of these hellos and goodbyes that I have chosen as my 2014 word, “remember.” I joked last week that I was going to choose a more restful word this year, since my 2013 word “brave” nearly did me in. I’m tired, people. The word remember started floating around my mind a couple of weeks ago and it’s what I need for 2014.

I want to remember that through all the scary changes and fears we live with daily, God is here. His love is constant. He never stops caring for me, and when I hurt, he hurts. I want to remember that in 2013 when I walked with loved ones through homeless shelters and death and birth and new homes, and leaving home for the first time, and an empty nest that God walked with us. Always.

I want to remember we are all important to God. We are all beloved. We all matter. I want to remember this and see every person through God’s eyes - equally lovable.

And in all of this, I want to remember Rebecca’s hand in mine as we watch TV, the amazing sound of Caleb’s laughter, and how it feels to be wrapped in my husband’s safe embrace. Because life continues to bring more joy than pain, and that is something I want always to remember.