My friend Trillia Newbell’s new book United has hit the shelves this week. Trillia is a wise and kind woman whose words regarding race and unity are much needed in the church—especially from a woman. After reading her book, I watched The Loving Story on Netflix, which I’ve highly recommended several times this week. I am also partway through Letters to A Birmingham Jail, edited by Brian Loritts, with contributions by Piper, Chandler, and more.

This week I have been so struck by the importance of ongoing conversations regarding the Civil Rights movement and how they affect current movements in our culture and world. As I read and watch these stories, and learn to how parse this ongoing history (because that’s what it is and will be for a long, long time), I am having to consider freshly what our response to things like gender roles, same sex attraction, homosexual unions, abortion, and even Church and non-profit polity needs to be. These words will be recorded someday in biographies and documentaries. Whether we like it or not, our words matter and they do hold weight.

One thing I was deeply struck by while watching The Loving Story was the original content, first person narratives, film of actual an actual couple being persecuted for their marriage to one another, young and eager lawyers making history in 1968 regarding interracial marriage. In 2014, more than ever before in history, we are content factories.

Some day, and not very far in the future, our children and their children WILL use our words for better or worse. That makes me want to be very sober-minded and slow to speak, slow to give opinions, especially ones that have not been tried or put through the fire.

There are a number of polarizing situations at play in the world, just today I can think of three huge ones concerning religious liberties, homosexual unions, and abortion—oh, friends, let’s be careful, very, very careful of how we respond. Not in fear of what will someday be used against us, but in wisdom for the sake of future generations.

These are not simply ideals and ideas—they are people, real people.

Thanksgiving-02

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The popular euphemism for “can’t we all just be friends” is to give folks “a seat at the table.” I’ve used it. It’s helpful. It reminds me that people are people and everyone around the table is coming with different presuppositions, stories, layers, and theologies. It evens the playing field.

More and more, though, what is communicated is that everyone gets a seat at the table and the table is a pulpit for everyone to preach their message. It’s the church of all peoples and thoughts and ideas—and it’s a veritable mess.

Paul warned the Corinthians that hanging with those intentionally sinning was corrupting the purity of the gospel. Here’s what’s interesting though: he used the words of one of their own to deliver the warning. The Greek poet Menander first used the words, “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Paul contextualized the line for gospel purposes.

What often happens with all these seats at the table is we end up attempting to fit the gospel to sinners, instead of fitting sinners to the gospel.

Bad company does corrupt good morals, and one of those morals is that the gospel cannot be so contextualized that everyone at the table agrees.

If that is difficult for us to swallow in an age where everyone wants meritorious rightness, we’re in good company, the disciples once grumbled to themselves, “This is a difficult thing, who can believe it?”

And Jesus, sweet Jesus, gives that wide berth and narrow path: It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.

Sit with sinners, eat with everybody, welcome all to the table—but remember Jesus is the only one who offers words of spirit and life.

The Remembering Room

March 19, 2014 — 1 Comment

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It is morning and early. Saturday morning is the only morning we can’t hear the traffic from 170, which can sound like a river, rushing and wild if I let myself think so, and no horns sound or brakes screech. The world is sleeping in.

In Texas they build homes with north facing windows, which is the exact opposite of the North (where we build homes with south facing windows), but which is a very sensible thing to do here. The only window in our home that gets any sunlight at all is the laundry room and so I have found my morning coffee tastes best in here, so long as I can keep lint dust from getting in it.

I sit on top of the dryer, my feet spread across to the washer. The sunlight falls on my fingers and I wish we didn’t need appliances and that this could be a sitting room, or a quiet room. At the very least it is a sunlit room, and for that I am grateful. Even if I am surrounded by detergent bottles, tool boxes, and ironing boards, and it smells a little like Downy Fresh and less like line-dried clothes.

A laundry room is a catch-all and I think that must be written in the bylaws of laundry-room-dom. We have a garage and I suppose that is a better place for hedge- clippers and drills and toolboxes. We have a pantry where, if we moved things around a bit, we could stock the plastic cups and spoons, and paper plates that we only use when there are too many people over, which is rarely, and so they go mostly unused. There are two baskets of laundry in here, both filled with towels because towels are an orphan thing in a home where nothing belongs to everybody.

It seems to me that it has been too long since I have shared anything with anyone. Everything I own belongs to me and I can discard of it quickly, no questions asked, which is good, because I have made a habit of discarding things quickly, without question. Sometimes it is towels or shoes, but sometimes it is the people I have grown tired of or ideas that seem less than ideal. I look back like Gretel at her pathway of breadcrumbs and wonder how many things I’ve left behind and if it was only so I could find my way back in the end?

Frederick Buechner, who is one of my favorite writers, said,

The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. But again and again we avoid the long thoughts….We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. And why not, after all? We get confused. We need such escape as we can find. But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need—not all the time, surely, but from time to time—to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember—the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.

This frightens me more than anything else, this looking back over the day, the week, the year. It frightens me because I know I have been an abysmal failure in so many ways, hurdling people and ideas, theology and homes. I have flitted through life, not easily, but escapedly, if I can coin a word. I have been like Gretel in my pathway leaving, but not in finding my way home ever again.

I tell myself that it is because I don’t know where home is, and that is true. If home is where I spent 19 years of my life, then that place doesn’t feel at all like home. If it is where I grew the most, there is nothing left for me there. If it is where I spent sleepless, weeping nights, I am afraid to return for all the sleeplessness and tears it might bring back. And if home is here, in Texas, where there are no east or west or south facing windows, then I will resign myself to sitting on the dryer in the laundry-room and I will try to be happy about it, all the while knowing that it isn’t home at all.

Buechner said that the name of the room is Remember and I can make a home there, with the memories. Because that is all we have sometimes, the clinging, hoping, inkling of a memory.

My memories are made of scents and sunlit rooms, inflections in voices and paper cuts. In those small things I can find a home, if even for a short while, just to visit, to call out to the echoing walls of my head, “Hey, I’m home!”

To eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on rye bread from the deli, just like Mom used to make it and to do a science project on the picnic table with Dad and to steal my older brother’s flannel shirt to sleep in. I will be at home in that place, for those moments.

But Remember is just a room, a catch-all for the things we have no space for in the rest of life. It is strewn with sunlight, if we let it, even in its less than glory moments, but it is just a room.

I think sometimes we want to live in that room, covered over by the clutter of what was done to us and what we’ve done, sitting amongst the dirty laundry others are so keen on airing. But after a while we have to leave, there is a whole house to be lived in, even if it seems windowless at times, there is a flow, and organization, and life, and coffee, and breakfast, and floors to be swept and laughter to be had, all in the home we name Today.

Penned originally for Antler. Published on December 20, 2012

I’m a church girl, capital C and lowercase c, cosmic Church and local church. I love the Church and I love my church. This is why I’ve stayed silent on most controversies within the church and Church. More of us need to really read I Corinthians 13 when Paul said Love doesn’t delight in wrongdoing, and fewer of us need to skim over the cliche oft cross-stitched words.

The other night my weary and hardworking pastor sat down with me at church. After talking about what God is doing in Europe through the church planting network he leads, we chatted for a few minutes about the work still ahead. There are so many who need to hear (and see) Christ. Nothing excites me more than endeavoring toward that. I’m a Church girl.

And then I asked him: Matt, talk to me for a few minutes about the most recent Driscoll dust up; as my pastor, I want to take your lead on this, happy and joyfully, knowing you take pastoring us seriously.

Nearly the first words out of his mouth were scripture:

I Corinthians 4:3-5
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.

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

This past weekend Driscoll issued an apology to those who call him pastor, friend, and family. It was not an “open letter” as many are asserting that it is. It was family business, not public business. But sure enough, I scrolled through twitter this morning and the finger-pointing had already begun. People are out for blood and nothing Driscoll does or says at this point will be enough. Follow every possible route this could go, and someone, somewhere, will still be out for blood.

I did not read his apology, because he does not owe me one, nor will I comment on it. First, because I trust Driscoll has elders around him who will stand before the Lord for their actions; second, because Driscoll himself will stand before the Lord for his actions.

What I will comment on is the lack of ecclesiological understanding within the Church today—which is ironic if you give it a few minutes of thought.

Everyone wants to BE the church and not GO to church these days. Everyone wants to LEAVE the church that doesn’t make them FEEL like they’re the church. Everyone wants to SAMPLE the church in various ways and means and SHRUG OFF the church when it presses in too uncomfortably. And everyone wants theorize and strategize and commentate on the Church and no one wants to sit and understand some pretty rudimentary things about the Church.

Namely that there are three things more of us should understand and practice:

Understanding and practicing biblical eldership.

Understanding and practicing biblical discipline within the local church.

Understanding and practicing the One Anothers of the New Testament.

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

Less and less am I interested in what self-proclaimed journalists, bloggers, social media experts, and “church survivors” are saying about the Church because I don’t see them actually practicing church.

I am not saying they’re not. What I’m saying is I don’t see them practicing it. They might be practicing it, but I can’t see it with my own two eyes.

Beneath the layers of apologies and acts of repentance, beneath the acts of submission to authority or acts of subordination, beneath the unjust actions and the loving ones—there are real people living real lives in front of real people who see them with their own two eyes. As it was designed to be.

If you do not have a biblical understanding and practice of the three things I mentioned above, you absolutely do not have any authority to speak on things in other churches.

And if you do have an understanding and practice of them: trust God is on His throne, building His Kingdom, and the gates of hell won’t prevail against it. He has won this and there are far better, greater, and more worthwhile things for your energy and biblical understanding of ecclesiology to be spent on. Namely, teaching those who don’t know—which are many and gaining in number.

Go and be the church if you will. Be it to your neighbors and friends and pastors and the people you sit beside week after week after week. Do it well, do it heartily, as unto the Lord, not as unto the twittersphere or blogosphere or whatever platform you have toppling beneath you.

Moth and rust destroy those things, and if you think they won’t you are more a fool than you realize. Step down before you’re standing in front of millions and it topples in front of them all.

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I anticipate plenty of pushback on this namely in these areas:

1. My use of the word biblical, which many progressives seem to think is manipulative and heavy-handed, and which, to me, simply means: the Bible says it and if we’re children of God, we ought to abide by it.

2. A perceived victim-shaming for all those who’ve experience pain related to the church. I hope you’ll understand if I’m saying anything here, I’m saying your greatest place of healing could come within good, healthy, biblical church order as God designed it.

3. An accusation that I’m protecting my pastor, leaders, church network, etc. To which I say, first, they don’t need my protection. I am a lowly blogger. Moth and rust will destroy my words, and sooner rather than later. And second, to me covenant means mutual trust. I am in covenant with my church which means I trust them and they trust me. If you expect me to break that trust, then you do not understand two things: covenant and being in covenant in a place you trust. Call it protection or naivety if you wish. They will stand accountable for my soul someday and I don’t envy that place at all.

Kristin is a friend from my church who speaks and does comedy improv for a living. Her dry humor is always a surprise and a delight, and I promise you, she really does practice what she preaches here. Enjoy!

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I own an eight-year-old light blue Toyota Highlander. It’s a reliable car, even if it isn’t a lime green Cube. (My dream car. Don’t judge.)

A few years ago I began leading a home group for high school girls through my church. It was my first time volunteering in a way that required a commitment to investing in the lives of others.

At the beginning of each semester I gave an open ended offer to pick up or drop off anyone needing a ride to or from home group or church. If I’m honest, I offered more out of a strange leader-ish obligation than I did a desire to drive teens around.

Many of the girls already had driver’s licenses and owned cooler cars than mine (though none were cooler than a lime green Cube), but during the first year, as our group grew from six to eight to 12 and finally settled around 20ish young ladies, a week rarely went by that I didn’t pick up or drop someone off.

I have three rules in my car: no country music, please don’t bury yourself in your phone, and if it’s on the floor you may put your feet on it or kick it out of the way. (Keeping my car clean is an uphill battle. Cars are a bit like human hearts. They get messy fast if you don’t consistently purge them of junk. And that’s probably both the deepest and cheesiest thing I’ve ever written.)

I had various expectations and assumptions about how student ministry might go, but I definitely didn’t expect my car to be so instrumental in ministering to teens.

Away from the presence of peers, there was no need to try and say the right thing or impress anyone. There was only the time between point A and point B and silence to fill. Questions were asked, doubts expressed, sins confessed, hurts shared, joys celebrated, and my very ordinary car became an unlikely sanctuary for teenagers needing a moment of vulnerability.

My car is where God reminded me that He’s mighty to save—and curious, narcissistic, goofy, selfish, insecure, shy, rebellious, awkward teenagers are part of His remnant.

After several weeks of driving one young lady home, listening to her struggles and answering her questions as best I could, I got to see the burden of the world lift from her shoulders as she realized Jesus wasn’t just a man in a story, but her personal Savior.

My car is where I learned teenagers are ready for harder theological truths. They need these deeper truths. Desperately. Our culture constantly pumps them full of lies; lies that can’t be fought with books about self-esteem and posters about chasing your dreams. They can be fought only with the transformative power of the Holy Spirit and the freeing power of the gospel.

Lastly, my car is where I realized how much I needed God. I’ve never prayed more desperately for the Holy Spirit to give me wisdom, discernment, and grace than when messy sin got brought to light in my messy car.

Last year my high school students graduated and I defected to middle school ministry, where I currently lead a pack of wonderfully precocious 6th grade girls.

Eleven year olds, however, are much, much (insert infinity much’s) different than 11th graders, and the car conversations have taken on a new dynamic. Sometimes we talk about favorite foods. Sometimes it’s listening to theories about why they think we’ll all ride unicorns in heaven. Sometimes they rebelliously sing country songs or try sneaking my radio to a country music station, which means I have to exercise godly discipline and make them walk the rest of the way home. (We live in the suburbs. It’s safe.)

Someone once told me youth ministry is all about sowing seeds. It often feels like conversations about “little things” aren’t doing anything. But, tending to and caring about the little things (which are often the “big things” to a young girl) yields conversations about deeper truths.

Seeing God bring fruit out of a something as simple as offering a ride home has encouraged my own soul. In moments where I’m tempted to believe that nothing I do makes a difference, I remember that I serve a God who uses ordinary people with ordinary cars to achieve His extraordinary will.

I pray God continues using my car in youth ministry. I also selfishly pray that someday these conversations will take place in a lime green Cube, but I’ve accepted that I may have to wait until heaven to drive my dream car.

Only then I won’t need one because we’ll all be riding unicorns.

Kristin is a writer, speaker, and comic from Dallas. Her first book, “The Smart Girl’s Guide to God, Guys and the Galaxy,” a humorous advice book for teen girls, hits stores in April. She enjoys deep conversations, Chipotle, and deep conversations about Chipotle. You can find her on Twitter @Kristinweb

I listened to Rich Mullins for the whole of seventeen hours on a road trip recently. I drove across the America he loved and wrote about, the America he was driving across when he went home to His God and Friend.

He was a pastor poet and I wept when he died. I was sixteen and knew nothing of death or how it would visit my own home just a few years later. Life seemed invincible for my best friend and me, but that autumn night we wept on the floor of my bedroom while the local radio station played Go Out Like Elijah. We tried to make sense of fiery chariots and Jeep Cherokees, but death doesn’t make sense, and I don’t think it is meant to.

I have had many teachers in my life and I remember them all by name or lesson, but of them all, Rich Mullins has been the constant. He taught me that theology is found in winter wheat and pheasants show us God is on His throne. Rich taught me Jesus is unimpressed with our houses or treasures and faith without works is like a screen door on a submarine.

I forget to preach the gospel to myself often enough—especially in times like the past few weeks when my soul has felt the battering and bruising of life and all its circumstances. But Rich preaches it to me still.

His book An Arrow Pointing to Heaven was as aptly named as any I know. That guy pointed and still points to heaven more than almost anyone I’ve encountered. Sometimes I ask the Lord for a fraction of his mantle, that modern barefooted prophet.

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Congregant Caricatures

March 6, 2014 — 3 Comments

The thing about caricatures is you always know who it is just by looking at it:

caricature

And yet, you know you can’t trust the likeness.

Right?

A caricaturist zeros in on several points on a person’s face. Maybe it’s a slightly larger nose, or a bit of a crooked smile, or maybe something as pedestrian as deeply blue eyes or a natural blush. The caricaturist’s aim is to exaggerate and minimize what sets the face apart. His aim is not to make ugly, but often times a caricature looks ugly. If you’ve ever had one done you know the righteous indignation that accompanies first sight,

“I don’t really look like that!” you say, and of course you don’t.

But you kind of do. Not really. But sort of. Enough that you’re recognizable, not enough that anyone who knows your face well would say it’s an exact likeness.

Within culture at large, and Church culture especially, caricaturists abound. In some ways, they’re the comedians of the inner circle; the Jon Acuff and Jen Hatmakers. They zone in on the ridiculous and ludicrous parts of the Christian life and family and help us all laugh at ourselves. They satire, and they’re good at it, and we laugh at them because they’re helping us laugh at ourselves.

When Caricature goes badly is when a sly artist studies a theology or movement solely to find the weak or shallow parts. Then they pound out a blog post heard round the world for a split second and then life goes on as normal. A moment of fame while everyone points and laughs at the funny man in the picture, asks how could he be so silly and stupid and ugly, and how could he not know he’s so silly and stupid and ugly.

Ha ha.

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

Here’s the other thing about caricatures: we know the elongated nose or tiny eyes or stout neck are true about us; in fact, nobody sees our face in the mirror, under such a microscope as we do.

But when the caricature is passed around as truth for long enough, everyone starts to believe that’s our real face. That’s who we really are. But it’s not.

That’s not the person who wakes up in the morning, drinks their coffee while they read the bible, who packs lunch for her kids or drops the shampoo in the shower, who can’t find their keys where they left them, who buys coffee for the person behind them in line, who killed it at the meeting with his coworkers, who meets weekly with a guy who just needs prayer and a friend, who forgot to put gas in the car, who falls into bed every night exhausted and confident that they are doing exactly what God designed them to do and be and look like.

Who cares about a caricature when there are real people to be seen?

If you are tempted to zero in on a particular face of a movement and draw for the world a caricature they won’t forget, what you need to remember is at the end of the day we throw those caricatures in the garbage. Nobody really wants to look at them, and especially not the subject of the drawing. Why? Because it’s not true. It’s partially true, which makes it not true.

If you want people to listen to what you have to say, really listen, not just rally around you, or press like on your Facebook post, you have to sit with them and be true with them, and be truthful about them.

I asked an artist one time, a man who paints likenesses that almost breathe with life, how he made the paintings.

“Do you take a photo and paint from that?” I asked him.

“Oh, no,” he said, “I make the subject sit in front of me, hours and hours and hours. How could I paint them life-like if I did not see them living?”

If you came here looking for gossip, this is not where you’ll find it. I alluded to a few things in my recent post on Same Sex Attraction and Delaying Marriage, so consider these thoughts just a continuation of that post.

First, I want to say that I bear no ill will toward my parents in any way. Hebrews 12:10 says, “Your fathers disciplined you as it seemed best,” and whatever that verse means for you, for me it means I can trust my parents did what they thought best. They did not intend harm toward me or my siblings in the schooling or spiritual choices they made for our family. That does not mean we were not harmed, only that I know they were doing what they thought best.

Second, I want to say that God is not a wasteful God. He does not pile up the scraps of our lives and bemoan the loss. He is a careful artist and potter, shaping and shifting, knitting and building, crafting those made in His image to be more and more like Him. He is careful and attentive. He does not waste experiences or difficulties or joys or pains. Every single moment of my life has been held in His capable hands. I see that more today than I ever have before and I trust Him.

Now, let’s talk about homeschooling and sex scandals

If you were a part of the homeschooling revolution of the 80s and 90s, then you were most likely a child of someone who came of age in the 60s and 70s. These were the hypnotic, drug hazed years of rock n roll, hippies, bra-burning, Woodstock, and the Jesus Movement. These were people who knew how to sin big—and who came to Jesus big. For most of our parents, even if they were not part of those movements, they were influenced by them—for better or worse.

As any parent, and especially ones new to faith, would do, they protected their young often to the point of over-protecting. They banned rock music, R rated movies (or PG13 if you were my parents); they monitored clothing choices not only for modesty, but also for looking too much like the world; they monitored friendships—especially friendships between boys and girls (more on that in the aforementioned post).

Folks, I have stories I find laughable now, but then? In the moment? Rage inducing stories. It was tough to be a child in that atmosphere. We were ruled by the fear of what might become of us. There was little grace in our communities—in fact, it wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that the word grace ever entered my vocabulary as something other than a girl’s name.

These parents intended to protect, and they did, but drawing boundary lines close around your daughter still does not protect her from herself. Naming things as off limits to your son does not keep him from delving into the darkness in his own heart.

You can monitor modesty and measure hemlines, but you cannot moderate the temperature of your child’s heart. You can eliminate songs with beats, but you cannot temper the beating of your child’s heart for artistry. You can talk about not defrauding the hearts of boys or girls, but you cannot control the trigger in their hearts that jumps when they feel chemistry.

The problem is, for many and most of these homeschooling parents, they tried to do just that.

Full disclosure for a moment here

I was not simply a homeschooled kid. My family brushed shoulders with some of the upper echelon of the homeschool movement of the 90s. My parents produced an award winning book for homeschoolers and I spent most of my youth surrounded by the most deeply entrenched in the movement. We were taking over the world, one homeschool convention at a time.

Within these homeschool circles, because there was much protection, there was much trust with likeminded individuals (I remember being disciplined and rebuked often by other parents in my family’s circle), and kids were free to roam among their likeminded peers. There was a common habit of putting the older children in charge of the younger children—but all of us still just children. And all of us bit with the curiosity that forbidden fruit offers. I had my first encounter with sexuality when I was 10 years old. I cannot even remember all the times my peers were either accused of sexual curiosity, abuse, or simply “going too far.” It was epidemic—and still never talked about.

Natural curiosity lies abed in everyone. We all want to know about things. All sorts of things. How they work, if they work, who knows how to make them work, and if they’ll work for us. For many of these homeschoolers though, the questions about sex and relationships were squelched—even the good ones.

You can protect your kids from almost anything, but if you don’t teach them that their greatest threat is self and the sinfulness that lies inside them, they’ll be surprised by it every time.

Curiosity kills the cat—and sometimes the mouse too.

In the past few years more and more allegations of sexual abuse or assault within conservative movements has come to light (SGM, ATI, BJU, PHC, and far more).

Friends, we should not be surprised.

I believe that much of the sexual abuse and scandal that’s coming to light these days is directly related to the sin of legalism. It was Eve telling the serpent, “God said we could not eat or touch.” There was so much fear surrounding the other things in life (music, clothing, doctrine, even food), that to broach the subject of sex just seemed almost other-worldly.

We added to the gospel, to the truest things God ever said. We got knowledge of good and evil, but for many in the homeschooling movement, we prided ourselves on keeping the knowledge inside and the evil locked safely out. We never let ourselves realize the heart contains all the knowledge and evil it needs to have things go very, very badly indeed.

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Note: These are just my thoughts and commentary on a bit of my own experience. I believe most parents who spearheaded these movements realize their error at this point—and most of us, the product of these movements, certainly realize it.

The solution is the whole gospel—and to flee whenever you catch even a drift of another gospel. There are “other” gospels everywhere—pet theologies, dogmatic arguments, dramatic treatises on any subject offering the real truth and real life, but Christ alone is it. Christ alone.

If you find yourself heading into a belief system that places more emphasis on any outworking of the gospel, than it does on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, flee.

Half of 28 is 14

February 28, 2014 — 3 Comments

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February 28th is my dead brother’s 28th birthday. Is that what they call the Golden Birthday? He always was the golden boy. The dead often are.

I don’t believe in celebrating the birthdays of the dead, but this one in particular sticks to my ribs, to my heart, and in my soul in a different way than all the rest. It is a benchmark birthday.

Andrew was 14 when he died and it has been 14 years since he died. Life has gone on as normal for 14 years, but now we are on the other side—the side that will have experienced more of life without Andrew than with him. It is a strange thing to celebrate or commemorate, and yet I do.

A few weeks ago a friend said to me, “Sometimes I think about all the things he’s been spared from, just by going on ahead of us,” and I had to agree. A lot of living—and dying—has happened in these 14 years. I am glad he was spared, and I am also glad I was not. God does know what is best and I trust Him in that.

There are things about Andrew that are forever memorialized in my mind, his wide mouth and smiling eyes, his lanky legs and heavy steps, his long fingers and, most of all, his kindness. Andrew was kind to everyone he met, a simple, unaffected kindness. The sort you get from hardly anyone and want from almost everyone. He had time for you, for everyone. He might have taken all the time in the world to get to you, but when he did, he had time.

For many years I felt the injustice of being the one left behind—me, the one who is always in a hurry to get everywhere, him the slow almost plodding one. And yet he got there first.

The irony is never lost on me.

You Want to #EndIt?

February 27, 2014 — 20 Comments

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First, let me state I’m grateful for the voices in the End it Movement. I’m glad to see respected voices of men and women publicly denouncing human trafficking. I’m historically leery of any sort of fad or fanfare around this subject, while still maintaining a consistent gratefulness toward people who are saying something instead of nothing. So first, thank you!

Sadly though, for the vast majority of people, one day, or five days, or ten, or whatever amount of time you give to thinking about the atrocity of human trafficking, and sex slavery specifically, is not enough to End It.

You have to act. And acting on this stuff is not as hard as we make it seem—or as easy as marking a red X on your hand or buying a tshirt or retweeting a tweet. There are actual things you can do in your home and life to end slavery in our lifetime.

1. If you engage in pornography in any way, stop.

I’ve taken hits on my consistent linking of sex-slavery to pornography, but I will say this as loudly and consistently as I can: supply and demand. If you engage in pornography in any way, you are creating a demand for which there is a limited supply of girls to fulfill.

But, which is more, you are creating a demand in your own life and appetite for something which can not be sustained at the level at which you currently engage it. No man who flies over to Thailand to rape a five year old little girl began with that as his end goal. Somewhere back in the line of his life, he allowed a thirst for sexual sin to root in his life.

Stop watching pornography. Get Covenant Eyes on all your devices. Confess. Repent. Read this book. Stop.

2. If you want to see slavery ended in our lifetime, you have to invest in the places that are actually ending it.

It is very easy to jump on a bandwagon where gimmicky bracelets and tshirts and all manner of things are worn or won in an effort to state your position on the subject. But the reality is, those girls aren’t rescued by you wearing a cheap plastic bracelet.

Sorry if I’m coming down hard here, but I will say this over and over and over again: pacifying your need to engage in a movement does not do one lick of help to a nine year old child who is stuck in a cage in Kamathipura, India.

I don’t mean to be all “we need your money” but we need your money. That’s the reality of rescue and rehabilitation. There are organizations all over the world who are actually rescuing and rehabilitating who need resources from people like you.

If you have five or ten dollars a month, or $100 or $200 a month, these places have staff who are going into very dark places day after day after day to rescue women and children. Most of us wouldn’t last a few minutes in those situations, but these people faithfully go to build relationships with girls who have been trafficked, children who have been born in brothels, and men whose hearts have been darkened. Support these people.

Here are some of the best organizations I know of and what their specific focus is on the subject:

Project Red Light Rescue (rescue and rehabilitation)
International Justice Mission (legal and political action)
Unearthed Pics (raising awareness)

Sorry for going all ranty on you. But not sorry.

Image by Hazel Thompson in partnership with Project Red Light Rescue’s CAGE book (which I highly recommend).

How to Be Brought Low

February 24, 2014 — 1 Comment

They say if you ask for patience, God will give you all sorts of opportunity to exercise yours. The same goes for humility, I suppose, even if you are naturally bent to the sort of hemming and hawing that comes off as humility in most situations.

I’ve been asking for my pride to be brought low for about as long as I can remember asking for anything. I was knit together with able hands and quick mind, and I’m predisposed to think I can do everything. These served me poorly in my childhood, and serve me well now. Let that be a reminder to all you frustrated parents: a strong will takes feet farther than a weak one. Don’t despise your young, let them spread out and test their knitted strength. God made them that way.

But a stubborn will does not a humble person make and so I ask, I plead, I hem and I haw: God, take this cup from me.

But He doesn’t. Not the way I expect He will at least.

He is surprising me in recent weeks, turning over tables in the temple of my heart, places I’ve sold out and set up shop. He is bringing tears to my eyes at inopportune moments and taking precious things from my hands. With each tumble, with each fall, with each teardrop, He asking me with the tenderness of a Father and Friend: will you trust me now?

Pride is the absence of trust. This anvil beats against my can-doness, shifting the hardened metal of my heart. I am chief of conservatives, believing in bootstraps and pulling oneself up by whatever means possible. I am chief of sinners, living according to the law of the flesh because it seems easier.

Brought low, brought lower, down, deep and downer, I’m hands up and knee deep in my own slop and He gets down there with me, doesn’t pull me out but shows me something cleaner: Himself.

If that doesn’t humble me, I don’t know what will.

God, decrease me. De-crease me. Straighten me out, without wrinkle, without blemish. Present me blameless, not because I am, but because you are.

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God Saves Little Boys

February 21, 2014 — 5 Comments

My family had just moved from an affluent Bucks County five acre lot in Pennsylvania to 120 acres in the middle of seeming nowhere New York state. I was 18 and my two youngest brothers were attached to my hip. They snuck into my bed at night, or just slept on a mattress beside my bed. I read them stories all day long and every night, and they are in every one of my life’s favorite memories.

The Little Boys, we called them, one tow-headed and green-eyed, and the other just like me, brown haired and startling blue eyes. They were my right and left hands, my favorite people, and my joy.

photo 1 copy

When death snuck in one rainy April morning and then a fractured family followed shortly after, I clung to those boys—if not in body, in soul. They who were a part of my every favorite memory, were also the ones caught in the crosshairs of a court system who rarely has the child’s best interest in mind—even if they say they do.

Through all of that, one memory stands above them all. It was right after the move to New York state, the walls not yet painted and the boxes not yet unpacked. My best friend and I took those two Little Boys to the top of a hill across the street. We had no way of knowing that a year later we would bury my 14 year old brother on that same hill. The sun was setting and the sky streaked blue and orange and black.

We sat in the tall grass and those boys ran circles around us while we sat on the grass and talked about Best Friends things. When that tow-headed three year old stopped and fell into best friend’s lap, the one who looked like me stood tall, raised his hands to the sky, and with the bold confidence of a five-year old, said, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a pastor so I can worship God all the time.”

photo 2

That five year old is a grown man now, has tumbled back and forth through the angst of a broken family along with his two younger brothers for the entirety of his life. There were many times in the past 15 years where I have held onto those hilltop words, praying them to even be a fraction prophetic—if only that their salvation would be secure, that their faith in God would not break.

In December I spent some time with that young man, who is now the age I was on that hilltop. He studies graphic design at a local university and keeps a blog; he works hard at everything he does and yet knows his salvation is not worked for or earned; he is so very far ahead of where I was at his age.

And every time I think of him, I think of that hilltop and those words and all the brokenness that followed, and how God does not let one thing out of His sight, not one thing.

boys

Friends, I’m weeping as I write this, not only because I love that boy and his gentle heart and big fierce love for his family and God. But also because for a lot of years I asked for fruit that I didn’t see. All I saw was the brokenness, the courtrooms, the wooden casket lowered into the ground, the arguments, the shuffling back and forth of their young bodies and souls. It is still ongoing, even now, with the two youngest of my family. But God saves. He saves.

He plants seeds and covers over and for a long time there is just deep, earthy darkness, but then one day, a decade and a half later, there is a strong branch grown bearing good fruit.

Because God saves.

What feels dark and covered over to you today? Where are you waiting for something broken to come untrue? He is with you in those moments, and He is working in you a better prize, a more lasting one. Just you wait.

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.

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

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?

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

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.

Makerness

February 17, 2014 — 2 Comments

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I’m a first generation college graduate, and the only one of my seven siblings to have completed secondary or tertiary education. Growing up, neither of my parents had college degrees. My mother put herself through a degree in early childhood education for the past several years—the irony being is she is the last person who I think needs it. She’s now working on her graduate degree.

The reason I say that is because my hard-working parents taught me the value of using my hands from my early childhood. Laziness was not permitted in our home and using the word “bored” was as near to cursing as any of us would ever get.

From the moment we woke up until the dinner dishes were done, and the candles lit for evening read-aloud, our hands were kept busy.

My father is a gifted artist, talented writer, and has been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember, working hard, long and late hours. He has always been inventing some new gadget or brainstorming some crazy idea. We never went hungry.

My mother quilted, baked, created lesson plans, gardened, refinished furniture, and always encouraged us to work hard at the things that gave us joy. Since my parents divorce, she has built her own successful business—while putting herself through school.

I’m grateful for my college degrees. I worked hard for them, paid for them myself, supplemented with scholarships. In no way am I discouraging a college education, but I know my best education came from watching my parents work hard. Start businesses. Give homemade gifts. Make things from scratch. Look at what others had done and decide to make it themselves—only better.

Whenever people ask me how I learned to sew or write or design or crochet or cook or make flower arrangements or make a home or anything, I tell them I taught myself, which is true. But not entirely.

The whole truth is my parents taught me to value hard work.

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

Paul encourages the Thessalonians like this,

“[We urge you] to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
I Thessalonians 4:11-12

Don’t under value the work of the hands. Teach your kids to work hard when they are young, let them puzzle their way through diagrams and difficult words, give them tasks that are too difficult for them, encourage them in the work that gives them joy. But don’t let them simply value work because it gives them or you joy, teach them to value it because it gives the original Maker joy. Teach your children they are literally imaging God when they work hard, carefully, with attention to detail.

All of life is a muscle waiting to be worked. We bring glory to our Maker when we reflect His Makerness. His creativity. His near constant work.