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leadership

A wise, and lonely, leader once told me, “Leadership is lonely, so choose your friends wisely.” I believed him without hesitation because I saw the aching loneliness whenever he was in a crowd, the uncomfortable posture of one who longs for depth and fears it for the work it will bring.

I’ve been reading Paul’s letters from prison thinking often of how long stretches of time alone might have been the fuel he needed to write those letters—and yet, in prison? Alone? In those days, there is no more lonely place I can think of.

Leadership is lonely. It doesn’t look like it, of course, because every leader is surrounded by others, called on by others, even known, in some respect, by others. It seems like all the aching loneliness of being unknown would dissipate if only you stood with the leaders of the pack.

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One of the most helpful verses I’ve ever memorized is John 3:30, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

Those six words have meant more to me in the swirling storms of suffering and rejoicing, lack and plenty, contentment and desire, than any six words I know. They are the mantra of my life and they are prophetic in a way, speaking future truth into what is not fully realized. They comfort me when I feel the aching loneliness of being both unknown and very known, a nobody and a leader, a friend and a stranger.

Leadership is lonely because decreasing is lonely. The larger the Lord of your life becomes to others, the less they see you, and isn’t that what we all want? Just a bit? To be seen, known, and truly loved? To be unshackled from the collective prison of our minds and hearts, to be free to roam among other commoners, to find our place at the fire or the table, to fit in?

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This morning I read an article about a couple who were removed from leadership at a school in New England. They were serving Jesus faithfully, wouldn’t sign a paper demanding more from them than their faithfulness to His word, and they were given the boot, stripped of their leadership.

And yet, not.

Because the crowning achievement of every kingdom leader is to be the least, the last, and the lowest. To fulfill their mission in the prison of lonely leadership or unrecognized leadership—a prophet who has no respect.

If you seek leadership, know that what you’re asking for is a life of service and loneliness. It may not look like the glamorous service you suspect lies there. It may be the simple act of looking others in the face, hearing their stories while knowing yours is ever decreasing. It may be a life of quiet prayer. It may be behind a pulpit, which may be one of the loneliest places of all.

But, good and faithful—and lonely—servant, find your joy not in being known, but in making Him known.

The Promise of Place

December 29, 2013 — 5 Comments

Grey Texas days are my favorite. Because they are so rare, or because I love grey more than blue, I don’t know. Back home trees enclose me and so I feel safe. Here there are no towering pines or old maples, so I take the clouds instead and find a haven in them.

Being away for a month was good for me. I did not miss Texas, but I missed place.

The truth is I feel misplaced these days. Misplaced by God, misplaced by men, misplaced, mostly, by myself. I have never felt comfortable in my own skin, but these past months I have felt a foreigner even to myself.

Who is this person? I ask as I roll over awake in the morning, when I hug a friend, when I try to explain myself, excuse myself, examine myself. I feel a stranger to her and estranged from her. As though I’ve forgotten how to take my own pulse, as though I am unsure I have a pulse.

That sounds hyperbole and I know it, but I feel it all the same. The creeping darkness of discouragement snatches away courage, not its opposite, affirmation, as it might seem.

It is a dark day outside and there are dark days all around us. Have you felt it? I am not prone to pessimism except when I am.

I am reading Hebrews this morning, about Abraham and the promise, and I remember the promises God gave him: land, east and west and north and south; descendants as many as the stars; a son, a babe, just one. Just one.

God put Abraham in his place and gave him place and then gave him a place in history. We know him because of his son, and his son’s son, and his son’s son’s son and so on. Because God took a man on a mountainside, an old man, and gave him place.

I wonder sometimes if Abraham knew the gift of place on that day. If he knew he was destined for good things, a forefather of faith and many mentions in the canon. Or if he only stood there and just believed what God told him.

Romans says that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness (Rom. 4.22). The truth is my righteous anything has felt like a failure this year, but faith? Faith, not in the promise itself, but the giver of the promise? The promise of place, not for place’s sake, but for the promise-giver? Faith I can muster up, if I try.

He said He’s prepared good works for us (Eph. 2.10) and I have to believe that. When good anything feels very far off and very impossible today. He has prepared a place for us (John 14.2) and whether that is here, in this home, or in a new heaven and new earth, God said it.

Father, help me to know my place. That the very safest place for me is at the foot of the cross, as a temple of the Holy Spirit, as your daughter, as a discipler and learner, a friend. Most of all, help me to see Christ in His place, high and lifted up, seated on the throne, parenting a world, and following the direction of His Father, wholly unconcerned with His place even while He prepares a place for us.

Fallen

November 1, 2013 — 1 Comment

I had a conversation a few months ago around my kitchen table. We were two kids washed up and battered around by a legalistic ministry in our teens. Both of us had stories, neither of us trying to outdo one another, but just sharing, “You too? I thought I was the only one.”

Of course we didn’t think we were the only one, but isn’t that one of the enemy’s favorite ploys? To isolate and make us feel as though what we have experienced or will experience is singular to us?

The point of our conversation was to talk about leadership, charisma, the difference between preaching and shepherding, and I hope I was some encouragement to my brother.

This morning I read of the resignation of a man who was in leadership of a similar ministry. He admitted his failures, took responsibility, stepped down, and yet the consequences are still rife for him—and us, the Church. Even if I did not prescribe to his particular brand of faith or practice, the ache of a fallen brother sits deep in my stomach this morning. I did not celebrate him or his ministry, nor do I cast a judgmental finger in his direction. His sin was taking his eyes off Christ—for one moment or one month, it matters not. My sin is a constant same.

There will be three responses to his sin:

1. Some will call attention to it and cackle something like, “See? This man who espoused these doctrines with which I disagreed fell, therefore everything he espoused is wrong.” The bible has something to say about this: “[Love] does not rejoice with wrongdoing (either the doctrine or the sin), but rejoices with the truth.”

The truth is this man confessed and repented. We rejoice at that. His sin is not related to his doctrine except that anything can become an ultimate thing—and something did in his case. Something other than Christ.

2. Some who should say something will not say anything. There is this strange phenomenon within the Church. When someone falls on the other side of the fence, we write blogs, we tweet, we caution, we make a fuss—we are the pharisees who thank God we are not like those people. But when someone nearer to us theologically or ideologically falls or fails, we keep our mouth tightly shut. I think that closed-mouth tendency is good in some ways. Love covers a multitude of sins and all that. But what love does not do is ignore the level ground before the cross. Love acknowledges that none of us are exempt from taking our eyes off Christ. Love says, “He failed, yes. But for the grace of God, here go I…”

3. The third response, and I think the one we ought to do first and foremost, is to pray. If we are in a local church we have a pastor or more than one, and our minds ought to first go to them. Men who are in leadership are not exempt from failing, struggling, or fearing. I have written about this before, but more than opinions on how to handle this particular fallout, we ought to pray for our pastors and leaders. They are mere men. Real men, if you will. Made from flesh and blood and all the same things we are. You can cognitively believe any doctrine you want, but at the end of the day you are still a man or woman with a propensity toward sinfulness.

Pray for your leaders. In times like this when they watch a brother fall, they are praying more deeply and fervently that they would not fall, that they would stand accountable for us with clean hands and a pure heart.

Pray the same for them.

lion

It is a strange thing to be grateful for sight, but all this week I grovel low and weep at the sight of sight. It comes in waves and it comes slowly at seemingly inopportune moments, but it comes just the same, warning me of paths ahead.

In this past weekend’s sermon my pastor spoke on the difference between worldly sorrow that produces death and godly sorrow that produces a life without regret (II Cor. 7:10) and I couldn’t write fast enough. Pencil to paper, ear to the word, I watched the sorrow I feel take form. Godly sorrow has sight. It sees.

Drunk on accountability partners and unspoken prayer requests, it has kept me from naming my sins, giving them phrase and confession. I “struggle” with sin or “war against” that which would devour me, but name the sin? Name more than the grotesque shape shrouding the war that wages within? No, not that.

But sight is a beautiful thing. And, my pastor said, beating the enemy to the truth about who I am delivers me from the power of his accusation. And fear not, that accusation will come. We will see our sin or our sin will see to us. Our enemy is a lion roaming for his kill and is no respecter of person, plight, platform, or performance.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

There’s a song I’ve been listening to much in recent weeks. Her whole album is a treasure, but this song in particular pushes the specific confession I am going for here. It is not enough to know the struggle, but naming it, giving it verbiage and placement puts the enemy in his place. I seek not to train this lion, I seek to kill him. The first way I do that is to starve him of the pleasure of deception, his favorite dessert.

From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From the life of worldly passions
Deliver me, Oh God

From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me, Oh God

I shall not want, I shall not want,
When I taste your goodness, I shall not want

From the fear of serving others
From the fear of death or trial
From the fear of humility
Deliver me, Oh God

If it is true that His goodness is better than life, and I would stake my life on its truth, then His goodness satisfies my wants. It satisfies the needs I feel, even the most acute demanding ones, the ones that set me on a slippery path of sin.

In the newness of the gospel, and there in the everyday of the gospel, the painful, agonizing sight of my sin is His first goodness to me.

fight

Challenge to Christian bloggers: read a blog you don’t usually read, find good content, share it. Reach across the table & find the commonness of the gospel.

That’s my status on Facebook right now and I mean it.

Last week there was yet another dustup in the blogosphere. You know how it goes. Blogger writes XYZ, Twitter erupts with 140 character-easily misunderstood opinions and all manner of logical fallacies, and 67 Bloggers all respond—many of them entirely missing the point of original blog or demonizing original blogger or making good points of their own which will undoubtedly be rebutted by another 67 bloggers.

Somebody hand me a paper bag and get me off this ride.

One of the ways I try to do damage control in the Christian blogosphere is to stare people in the face and tell them to slow down, breathe, be circumspect, trust Jesus is Who He says He is and that He is building His Church—with or without a troupe of bloggers all juggling their balls in amateur hands.

But one of the most helpful things, I think, a blogger can do is to simply read more than one polarizing post of one blogger. There’s something about even reading the “About Me” section of a blog that humanizes a person, takes the monster out of him, or at least shows the monster to be only a suit bought at half-price after October 31st. Underneath they’re real people with real lives who cook dinner with their spouses and stub their toes and probably really do love Jesus—even if He’s revealed Himself to them in different ways than He has to us.

The beauty of the gospel is that it is for all men, Jews, Greeks, Slaves, Free, Men, Women, but it does not eliminate differences, demanding a dehumanizing clone-like Christianity. No. Instead it reaches inside all the differences and finds the beautiful sameness: broken people in need of a Holy God, and then sends us out to reach all kinds.

So if you’re a blogger or a content creator of some sort, can I encourage you to do something radical this week? Go read that publication you shudder to think of. You know which one it is for you. Go read it and read it with the express purpose of finding the beautiful gospel woven through its threads and then share it with your followers. I think we’d be surprised at what might happen.

 

I’m loathe to take a camp, step off the fence, call my cards, or slap a label on myself, but all it takes is one quick glance through Sayable, a brief perusal of the publications for which I write, and the local church I call home for others to safely land me in with the neo-reformed. I won’t reject the title, but in normal fashion, I will not lay claim to it. However, there’s been something rotten in the state of Denmark recently and all fingers are pointing back at, well, I’ll say “us” for the sake of this post.

If you have no idea what rotten piecemeal is being bandied about, I have no interest in educating you. Others have done so much more thoroughly than I, with much more anger than I, with many more bones in the game than I. I weigh in today because May was supposed to be my sabbatical month and instead I have been peppered with more questions than ever on why I haven’t written on the SGM civil suit.

Here are the main reasons:

1. I am not affiliated in any way with SGM. Though I may be affiliated with those who are affiliated with them, we can play that game all day in every which way. Kevin Bacon anybody? These days everyone knows everyone somehow. It is a small world after all.

2. I am not a lawyer, but I think I am a fairly intelligent person, and even I had a bit of trouble getting my mind around the legal jargon of all the documents. And I’ve been in my share of courtrooms, with my share of lawyers spouting legal jargon—two can play that game. All I’m saying is, someone wants to win and so it’s hard to trust a system where winning is the goal. Last shall be first and all that.

3. I’m one of those fools who trusts the men who keep watch over my soul. Maybe that play isn’t for everybody, but I figure the Bible spent a lot of time talking about it, so nuff said.

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Just because I didn’t say anything about it, though, doesn’t mean I didn’t feel complicit in the alleged ongoing silence by “us.” I was a bit confused as to why men and women I respected within the Church at large weren’t weighing in on the suit at all, save from a post by Tim Challies. It is good to be slow to speak, yes, but not speak at all? It didn’t seem right. I knew I didn’t have anything to add to the civil suit conversation, but surely something could be said to acknowledge the situation period?

(Adding my voice to the cacophony of the Christian blogosphere wouldn’t assuage those out for an admission of guilt, though, if you’re wondering why I didn’t say anything. I’m under no illusions—I might be affiliated with those affiliated with SGM, but I’m no Kevin Bacon, if you get my drift.)

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In the light of more recent occurrences, though, and now that some of “us” have issued a public statement, I thought a few things might be said. Take them for what they’re worth to you. Remember comments aren’t open on Sayable ever so I’m not shutting you down and there’s no need to respond. They’re just my simple thoughts for those who might need them.

If you are a pastor:

Please protect your sheep. I meant what I said above about trusting those who keep watch over my soul. I mean that because the Bible says it and I trust the words of God. However, you, by nature of your position and your God-given authority, help illuminate those words for your sheep. You can use or abuse your authority and position, and you can, unknowingly, be the voice of the accuser to people—even in your silence. Always protect your sheep. If one of your talented, seemingly godly, charismatic sheep turns out to be a wolf, go after him. If one of your sheep leaves the fold, go find her. Pastor your people, don’t just preach at them.

If you were abused:

This case feels like the nail in the coffin, trust me, I know. Even if it wasn’t the same as your experience, you can easily relive your experience every time someone dismisses the concerns of the victims, every time someone seems complicit with their silence. Your heart means well here. The grace of God for you takes a horrific experience and gives you the tools to minister to these issues in a way those higher-up might never be able to do. That is not your blight or your stain, that is the precious work of grace to take the broken and make beautiful. Now is your time to speak in and with grace.

If you were an abuser:

You did wrong and you know this. You ought to make recompense for what is considered a crime in the eyes of God and the judicial system. But this does not mean forgiveness is withheld from you, or should be withheld until you “pay for what you did.” Forgiveness doesn’t work that way. I pray you know the fullness of the gospel covers your crimes, but does not blot them from history. Repent, accept the judicial punishment, and if you are His Child, look forward to a lifetime of His grace and an eternity in His presence.

If you want to leave the church because of this:

Part of me wants to say, please do, and trust me, there’s no snark in that statement. I’m fully convinced that no matter how far you run, you cannot outrun the wild, ferocious, loving heart of our God. If leaving the Church for a while helps you clear yourself of the clutter of its underbelly, please do. You have the freedom to leave abusive situations, Christ sets us free to do that, and you should. But I will also say this, as a child who has seen her fair share of the underbelly, if you’re His? You’re grafted in. You’re knit so tightly into His body and flesh, his scars and blood-bought redemption that you can’t leave the Church because you are part of it. And it’s beautiful. Really beautiful when you see it like that.

If you are neo-reformed (or whatever it is called these days), but embarrassed by the silence or complicit responses:

Can I implore you to press in close to your leaders, your elders, your editors, and your pastors. Sometimes they know things about a situation that you don’t know, isn’t public knowledge, isn’t on some legal document, and isn’t widely known. Sometimes they’re withholding comment because it could actually make it worse for the most helpless of the situation. You don’t know. There’s a lot of speculation, regardless of who you are and who you know and who you know who knows someone else. You aren’t Kevin Bacon, you just saw one of his movies once or twice. Reserve judgement.

If you know someone who knows someone (who was abused, who went to an SGM church, or anyone at all):

One of the things I love about the Bible is there are all these portions where it’s just one man or one woman and God (or the enemy). There are no eye-witnesses, it’s just Moses and the burning bush, Daniel and the lions, David and the bears, Jesus and the enemy. We get this birds-eye view into the situation, but really, when it happened it was just them there.

So we have perceptions of how things looked or played out, but I’ll bet you could poll any thirty of us and we’d all have a different setting in mind for Moses and his burning bush. There would be similarities, of course, but it would be different. This is how it is to hear any story second hand. We can know that some things are true, but some things are simply perceptions. Because of this, it is almost always better to reserve your own words about another person’s experience. There may be truth to it (and in this case specifically, it seems like there is definitely much truth to it), but the retelling of it multiple times will never end well. Mourn with those who mourn, bring it to the authorities if need be, but keep silent about the specific matter unless you know you speak the canonized truth.

If you are a mere onlooker:

If you’re just a casual reader, a blog reader, a curious atheist, a questioning agnostic, I am sorry. This entire situation, from twenty years ago until today is unfortunate and shameful. This is not becoming to the Church and I deeply regret it happened. However, let me say this, I am firmly convinced the Church tries to keep its wedding dress too squeaky clean, and this case is a perfect example of it. The reality is we’re blemished and broken, spotted and wrinkled, and Christ is the only way we’re getting presented cleansed. He’s it. It’s not through a denomination, a pastor, a friend, a court system, or a blog post that the resolution of all things comes, it’s Him. Him alone. Be encouraged, there’s room at the table and we don’t mind if you’re messed up. Really. We’re messed up too.

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That’s all. I know this is long, and I’m breaking sabbath to share it, but I couldn’t sleep and I love to sleep.

Go in peace, brothers and sisters, pastors and sheep, abused and abusers, doubters and finders, He is faithful to complete His work. He seals it with His spirit.

I have always wanted to sell everything I own and buy the field. I have been the man who would give property, possessions, and pride to find the pearl of greatest price. A few years ago I did it. I sold everything I owned, packed what was left in my two-door Honda Civic and drove to Texas with no home, plan, or purpose. I found the pearl and nothing was worth more.

When my best friend and I were young we made for ourselves a time-capsule. We put in it special mementos, notes from boys we liked, school pictures, concert tickets—junk to anyone else. We dug a hole in her back yard and planted it deep enough to let our friendship grow. When we dug it up in our junior or senior year it was covered in dirt, crusted with mud. Inside was safe and we have continued to treasure this tradition.

I think sometimes we are caught up in the idea that our pearl will come out polished and pristine. That we will have done the work, sold our belongings, bought the field, dug down deep, and the reward is something beautiful at first sight. But dirt isn’t beautiful. And dirt-encrusted treasures are not beautiful.

The pearl we have sorted through mud and sand and tall grass and rocks for will not come out looking like it was worth any of the work at all.

There will be a time when we take the treasure home, rub it over with a soft cloth, wash it over with water, clean it up, and determine its worth. But we must not be selfish in our rush to determine the worth of what only looks like just another rock.

Today I am looking at the pile of stones before me. I asked—I asked for bread. I asked for sustenance and warm bread, and He has given me a pile of dirt-encrusted rocks. Friendships wrought with pain and surprise—not wrong, simply in process. Half-baked theological conclusions—not incorrect, simply unfinished. Relationships that never bloom—not trampled on, simply unopened. Ideas subject to time and space—not false, simply not full to fruition. To my eye this treasure has not been worth what I have given to get it.

The Lord is teaching me the process to a perfect pearl, a finely cut diamond, a shaped gold-piece, does not come without pain and it does not come without a grain of sand, a piece of rock, and a yellow vein in a dark cavern. The treasure is Christ and He wept in a garden, felt forsaken on the cross, and still has not come to take us home. We are his unfinished pearl and, in some ways, He is ours. He is already come and not yet.

Maybe none of this makes sense to you, and in some ways, I’m okay if it doesn’t. This is my unfinished treasure, covered over with mud, stuffed full of meaning for me but junk to you. We are all standing behind dark and dim glasses, waiting to see face to face our dearest Treasure, and I never want to pretend my pearls are more polished than yours until that day.

fb0d27cd424bd9669d8b27271354c3e4

Endure Patiently

January 30, 2013

I can’t even tell you how it happened that we sat there and cried hot wet tears, barely looking one another in the eyes. I take much of the blame, though my heart ached with hurt and couldn’t find healing.

Don’t let the sun go down on your anger?

Well, what about when it’s not anger you’re bedding down for the night? What about when it’s joy mixed with mourning so deep you don’t know what else to do but be silent? Be silent for fear that your muddled mess of joy and mourning will be trumped by the latter and seen as such. So I kept silent.

A friend tells me a few weeks ago that I present my life as perfect and I want to tell her to read a decade’s archives of presentations. This? This place on the web? This is my sanctification in process on view for the world, and if that’s perfect, well, I suppose I’ve arrived a thousand times over.

Once I heard a story of an old man on his death-bed. He was asked if he found himself sinning less as he grew older.

“Sin less?” He asked. “I was never more aware of my sin than I was a moment ago.”

“Well, then, do you find it easier to repent?”

“No, son,” he said. “I just find the gap between me and the Lord ever closing as I turn.”

It was Annie Dillard who said, “Where, then, is the gap through which eternity streams?” and I think that gap is here, and here, and this moment, and this one. Eternity streams through these small moments, adding up to one final jubilee, one long trumpet call, when our angers and hurts and fears and sins are bedded forever, never to wake up, not ever.

Do I find myself sinning less the nearer I draw to that final day?

No. I find I know my sin more, and every moment more aware than the last. But do I find it’s easier to find God, to know His nearness, and to trust the days to him? Yes. I do.

It doesn’t make the hurt less, but this earthly Christian life is not for the avoiding of hurt, but the enduring of it.

…we rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance…
Romans 5:3

11

Pick ‘em

September 16, 2012

Whenever I’m in a situation in which pairs must be created and I’m in charge of making those pairs (accountability, confession, or prayer partners usually), I always tell the about-to-be-paired, “If you don’t want me to pick your partner/team for you, and you don’t want to be picked last, pick someone else first.” It’s my way of making sure as few people as possible feel like that awkward fourth grader who always got picked last for dodgeball teams (me).

I’m a fan of this model because nobody wants to be picked last, but nobody also really wants to pick someone else first.

The thing is, both nobodies here are sitting in a form of pride.

I don’t want to be picked last because I want you to see that I matter, I count, there’s good stuff about me and in me.

I don’t want to pick you first because I don’t want to need you, I don’t want you to see my insecurities and pitfalls and poor leadership skills.

But sooner or later, everyone gets picked. And the game goes on or partnerships are built. And some teams are winners and some are losers. And sometimes the winners find out later that winning isn’t everything, and sometimes the losers feel like crap, but they dig in hard, see where they can improve, and eventually the last really are first.

So pick someone today. Be brave. Just find someone and pick them.

Love one another with brotherly affection.
Outdo one another in showing honor. 

Romans 12:10

unathletic kid

TRADES

September 11, 2012 — 4 Comments

You listened to part of the transcripts this morning before someone who knows you better than you do told you to stop, before you’d end up in the closet, in a ball of tears.

You’ve never seen New York like this. Eerily silent and dust covered. A city of the walking wounded. You stare into the eyes of strangers for five, ten, forty seconds before either of you realized that in New York City you don’t do that. You avert your eyes, look away, avoid, but not this week. This week you stare. And you nod at the end, sighing in unison. You are both thinking the same thing after all: what just happened?

Every park is filled, every corner is filled, every mind is filled: what just happened?

Fences are filled with Missing Person signs and the homeless aren’t the only ones laying, dazed, on park benches and curbs.

You know things are going to change you, but you don’t know how much, or to what length. You don’t know, for instance, while you watch planes crash into familiar buildings, that in ten years two of your baby brothers will be soldiers and men, stationed in countries torn by war. You don’t know that in ten years every day you will pray for peace, mostly because peace means that they will come home in one piece.

You don’t know that in the weeks to come, you will open the coffee shop every morning at 5am and you will listen to your fellow countrymen wake up to the news, giving their best war-plan strategies while they hand you their dollar-sixtyfive. You don’t know these things. You don’t know that freedom really does cost something, but in your wildest dreams you never imagined it would cost this.

You stumble through a shell-shocked city, one wrapped in yellow caution tape. You try to make sense of what just happened.

You don’t know that everyone you know knows someone who knew someone and you find out years later that you knew someone too. You regret losing touch.

You love history because when you hear about what has happened, it helps make sense of what is happening. But when what is happening is happening in real time, in your life, around you, there is no sense to be made of it.

You just stare at strangers a little longer. You both nod. Maybe you reach out and touch their arm.

What should have made us afraid, for a few weeks there, made us brave.

You’re proud to be an American. You are. You pray for peace. You hate conflict. You hate that your baby brothers wield guns and wear uniforms. But you love your country. You loved it dusty and shell-shocked, and you love it bankrupt and tired. You loved it confused and bewildered, and you love it arrogant and corrupt.

But you love heaven more and you long for it. So you pray only this, but every day: even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly.

Come quickly. 

(Originally posted on the ten-year anniversary of September 11.)

hey you

August 1, 2012 — 6 Comments

picc-l4ub62z1Hey listen, you. You hiding behind your litany of projects and your mountain of responsibility. You, with your put together persona and your perfect bouts of transparency. You, who reveals little to everyone but lets the world unveil herself to you because you are perceived as trustworthy and wise. You who picks up the burdens and carries them to the next rest stop. You who goes about your duties, shirking love and fearing commitment because it means you are needed and being needed is grounds for running away.

Yeah you.

You’re the one I’m talking to.

And I’m saying this: you can’t hide.

You cannot hide.

Because you slip away, drive away, pull into a parking lot and put your head in your hands. You don’t cry because crying doesn’t help, but you sigh and you ask what’s wrong with you? Why is it so hard to be needed? Be wanted? Be loved? And how can you be those things and still feel like none of them?

You tell yourself the lies and then you tell yourself they’re lies and then you lie to yourself again and say it will be okay, that you’ll try harder next time, that you’ll say no next time, that you won’t feel the weight of the world next time.

But you do.

You stub your toe on the “too close, too long, too much” line and you back away slowly, desperate to grab your favorites parts of you back. You’re an introvert in an extrovert’s kingdom. You feel upside down because you’re called to decrease (which you like), but you’re also called to preach and make disciples and be discipled (which you don’t like). You feel inside out, like you’re walking around with your insides out and no one points and stares, they just expect it from you. They feel that they know the real you.

Here’s my heart, you say, it’s on my sleeve.

Here’s the only thing I have to say to you:

You cannot hide because I know where to find you, you’re always near me, like a second skin, like my own breath, my own heart. You’re like me.

And once, I was like you.

You cannot hide because I emptied myself for you, taking on your form, obeyed the sentence of death on my head, for you.

And you’re not beyond me. Trust me. You, with your litany of projects and mountains of responsibility: you still need me.

Falling APART

July 29, 2012 — 8 Comments

When I was in bible college I had a paperback bible, the cheap sort they give away in church seat-backs, the sort zealots cover with stickers identifying who they are apart from the words inside the book. My stickers were hiking destinations, a round REI one, a Life is Good stick figure standing on the side of a mountain.

The truth was my bible was falling apart and the stickers were holding it together. The spine was all but gone and the pages were falling out in chunks, particularly in the New Testament. One of my professors took one look at it and quipped, “A Bible that’s falling apart is a sign of a person who’s not.”

I swallowed the line that day.

I may have been in bible college but I was not a Christian. Not in the sense that I understood the Gospel was not self-help rhetoric, but a life-changing, redemptive way—the only way. This was before my brother died, before a group from the Bible college traveled 14 hours to my home for a funeral, and shared the gospel with me over broken bread and broken bodies on the eve of Easter. I had that bible with me that night, clutched it in hope there was hope out of this nightmare.

The church I found shortly after that Easter used the NASB translation and a teacher/professor/mentor there gifted me with my own leather-bound bible a few weeks before my 21st birthday.

But I never forgot what the first professor said about a bible that was falling apart.

And years later when my NASB was frayed and torn and falling apart and my life was too, I wanted to shake my fist at everything I thought to be true about faith, which was this: the harder you try, the better it will go for you.

It is ironic, then, that the person who gifted me with my current bible, a simple black leather-bound, was someone who had left the faith in a way. He’d wandered across the world and the United States for years, landing in our small college town for a few months, becoming my friend. We would talk for hours about faith and argue and he would frustrate me and I wanted to shake him so hard sometimes because it didn’t even seem like he was trying.

It took someone who was falling apart to show me a bible that is falling apart is not the sign of someone who isn’t. A bible that is falling apart might actually be a sign of someone who is trying to hold their world together.

I left my NASB back in New York when I moved here, in a trunk in a dusty attic, not forgotten, but not necessary to prove my worth anymore. I need it, though, for a class I’ll be beginning soon and so my brother dug it out and is mailing it to me this week. He texted me a photo just to make sure it’s the right one.

photo

Holy. I said. Yes, it’s the right one.

Holy is right, he said back.

Here is what I know about holiness: sometimes we bring rags before the King of Kings, rags because we have been torn and ravaged by life. And sometimes we bring rags before the King of Kings, rags because we have torn our own clothes, we have beaten our chests with candoitiveness and fortitude. We have shouted our worth and proved it by our piety. But in the end, it’s rags we all bring before Him, falling apart lives, brokenness, emptiness, nothingness, and He breaks in, shouts our worth, and covers us with the finest robes, the signet ring.

And sometimes He does it in unlikely ways, through unlikely people, through people who are falling apart and a bible that isn’t.

I’m sans vehicle this week and I can’t say I’m sad about that. It’s just routine maintenance, loose ends and loose screws, nothing to worry about. But the trusty mechanic is a 40 minute drive away (you have to trek for worthwhile things like trusty mechanics these days, especially if you’re a single girl in a strange city), and so the whole situation is a bit of a hassle.

One I’m happy for, though, to be honest.

I said to a friend yesterday morning that asking for help is hard, I’d almost rather do anything else than swallow my pride and say, “Will you help me?”

It’s not the advice asking or the wisdom seeking that’s difficult, I’ll gladly get counsel from anyone. I know enough to eat the melon and spit the seeds. It’s the actual physicality of the help, the action of help, the working hands, the rubber meeting the proverbial road. Or, in this case, the rubber literally meeting the road in the form of hitching rides all week.

It’s so hard for me.

My parents raised me to be a pioneer and not the wander in circles sort either, but the real get your hands dirty, show the world what a work ethic is, brave new worlds sort of pioneer. They raised us to be self-reliant and resourceful. This works well best when applied to seven boys, which they had; it works less well when when applied to one girl, which they also had; and it works least well when that one girl reaches age 30 and has found herself a very independent sort who needs help often, but doesn’t like to ask for it.

Relate?

The nagging dislike of the ask rears its head most often in regard to all things cars, but don’t let that fool you. If I needed help with everything else, it would rear its head with it all. Pride hath no particulars, it seeps into every corner and strangles even the most able.

It’s just that unless I have to ask for help, I wouldn’t know that the pride was there, glaring, waiting to pounce, willing to pounce, wanting to pounce.

Sometimes we need a finger pointing back at us to show us what’s already there.

My finger is my car. It always has been. And I think it probably always will be.

I am paralyzed by the unknown and everything beyond a speedometer, a clutch and a gas-tank is unknown.

Here’s the clincher, though: I want to keep it that way.

Because I’m a learner, and I’m convinced that if I put my mind to it, I could figure out enough to get me by, to not walk into the crusty mechanic’s shop with “I’m a Single Girl” written on my forehead. I’ll bet I could throw out words like carburetor and radiator and mechanicator and other -ator words and impress them a bit. Probably impress myself a bit.

But here’s what I’ve decided to do instead: be ignorant.

I shrug my shoulders, I confess that I know nothing, I turn my hands palm up, I beg rides, I ask for a liaison, I hand off my estimates, and I ask questions with my eyes. I give blank stares. I do this on purpose.

Well, sort of on purpose.

Because I need to need to ask for help. I know this. If I don’t need to need to ask for help, I will craft my self-made kingdom and walk out a self-reliant life, and I will never have a finger pointing back at me, reminding me of my need.

This isn’t about cars, you probably knew that. But it is still a bit about cars. It’s a bit about finding the places in our lives where we feel raw and exposed, where our souls are given opportunity to worry and don’t take it. It’s about being intentional about letting our needs and requests known and feeling the weight of being here on earth, where we’re not finished yet.

It’s about oil pans and mufflers, yes, but more it’s about swallowing my pride and asking for a ride. It’s about tipping the mechanic well, because he knows something about which I’ve remained ignorant and should be valued for it. It’s about shrugging my shoulders and saying, I don’t know and I don’t need to know.

He numbers the hairs on my head and cares about fallen swallows, surely He cares for me.