A Call to Action

It usually seems appropriate to start a blog post with some kind of witty anecdote or deep, meaningful quotation. But no amount of wit or mask of implied depth would be an appropriate introduction to the topic of slavery.

It has been fairly easy up until the past few months to a year to believe the false assumption that slavery in the United States died with the thirteenth amendment. I mean, we all learn about the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and the abolition of slavery.

If you're like me, whenever you heard the word "slavery" you immediately conjured up mental images of ships full of African natives, reminiscent of scenes from Amistad. And yes, those scenes did happen. There were hundreds of thousands of innocent people ripped away from their homes and families and sold to the highest bidders, only to find themselves in a strange land with strange people, strange language and strange customs. Not to mention the horrible ways they were treated, being beaten, raped, and even killed for not pleasing their masters.

But slavery runs so much deeper than merely being an issue of black and white. And despite the best efforts of our forefathers, slavery is still very much alive today, in America and around the world.

I knew this, of course, in a vague, distant sort of way. The sort of way that doesn't really touch me if I don't look at it.

How many people have suffered because I turned away?

God sent me an eye-opener this week in the form of a film called Trade of Innocents. The university I attended for my freshman and sophomore years hosted an event on Monday night in which they held an exclusive screening of the film as well as a question & answer time with the screenwriter/director Christopher Bessette afterward. Not to mention the fact that they had tables set up in the lobby for their social justice department and several organizations that fight human trafficking here in Tennessee, including End Slavery Tennessee and Abolition International. I scooped up several pamphlets, information sheets, and even purchased a bracelet from To Be Free, an extension of Abolition International that sets up and supports after-care for women and girls who have been rescued from sex slavery.

And this was all before I saw the film.

I found my movie buddy and we sat down on the bleachers in the campus church's gym. After some brief introductions of students who worked on marketing the film, the movie started.

Aesthetically the film was beautifully made. The scenery is lush, the music is lovely, the actors are phenomenal.

But beyond that, it tells the heart-wrenching story of girls - some as young as five - who are stolen from their homes and off the streets of Cambodia and sold as sex slaves to "sex tourists." I cried for probably half of the movie.

At the end of the credits, the director of the university's social justice department introduced Christopher Bessette, the film's screenwriter and executive director. He answered questions as to his motives behind the film, why he did certain things creatively, and resources for more information on human trafficking today.

One of the things that struck me most was his description of the moment he knew he had to make this film. He said he had gone to Cambodia and visited a former-brothel-now-safe-house and stood in what used to be called "The Virgin Room," looking down through a barred window at children playing in the street below. He thought, "Sometime, not too long ago, a little girl might have stood at this very window, looking down at children playing, and thinking to herself, 'Why can't I be down there too?'" And he said he got chills and breathed the prayer, "Oh, God, help me tell her story."

That is what he did with this film.

And the only way we can hope to abolish human trafficking - slavery of any kind - whether it is sex trafficking, labor trafficking, or something else, is by telling the victims' stories. There are so many people in the world right now who are like I was a year ago - untouched by this issue because they fear to get a good enough glimpse at it.

But we can't afford to turn away any longer.

According to End Slavery Tennessee:

*Every minute, two children are trafficked (worldwide).

*There are currently around 27 million slaves in the world. Of those, half are minors and 80% are female.

*The average age of entry into prostitution in the United States is between 12 and 14 years old.

*One-third of runaways will be sexually exploited within 48 hours of leaving home; 90% will end up in commercial sex trade.

These children are in our neighborhoods, on our doorstep, in our back yards. You don't have to go to Cambodia to find human trafficking. It's happening right here, right now. When will we stop looking away and finally do something?

God lit the fire under me this week, and the wheels have been turning as I've been trying to discover how I can best use the gifts and talents God has given me to help put a stop to this horrific monster we call slavery and human trafficking. I have some ideas.

What about you? What will you do? Will you look into the eyes of the Innocents and reach out your hand to help?

Or will you turn away?

Now


O to grace how great a debtor 
daily I'm constrained to be! 
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, 
bind my wandering heart to thee. 
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, 
prone to leave the God I love; 
here's my heart, O take and seal it, 
seal it for thy courts above. 

("Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," Robert Robinson)

The giving of one's testimony - or the story of how Christ saved a person - is an important part of most Christian circles. It is common to give one's testimony in a church service, or to share it with a group of friends in some kind of bible study setting. Usually it refers to the story of how a person came to know Christ - commonly, the events leading up to that particular incident which, in much of Christendom, is the end-all/be-all event of one's life.

However, I have come to realize in recent years that a testimony is not - and SHOULD not be - limited to a single life event, but rather is something that should be lived out daily.

When I was baptized in the Nazarene church, I had to publicly answer a series of questions regarding my faith in Christ, including this one:
     "Do you acknowledge Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, and do you realize that He saves you now?"
"...saves you now" it says.

Now.

As in, in this very moment. In every moment, Jesus saves you, is saving you, continually. I of course responded with "I do." But I did not fully understand at that time what it meant that Jesus "saves me now."

When we talk about Jesus saving us, we tend to refer to a particular frozen moment in time - a moment that seems wistfully and distantly removed from where we are now. There always seems to be a zeal and a spark connected to that moment of saving grace that somehow never made it to this present moment. I used to hear people's testimonies of how Jesus saved them from lives of alcohol, drug, or sex addiction, how they had been in prison, on the streets, at rock bottom, and Jesus swept in and rescued them, removing the need for anything but Him.

I secretly used to wish that I could have a rock bottom.

I know. You're probably thinking, "Are you insane? Really?"

But I did. Because those people always seemed to have so much energy and abounding love and gratitude when it came to Christ. And I, having grown up knowing Christ from the time I was a child, had the monotony of one who knew all the right answers but for whom they held no depth of meaning.

There is a phrase in Chris Daughtry's song "Home" that goes "Be careful what you wish for, 'cause you just might get it all, you just might get it all, and then some you don't want."

It started back in 2003. I was just about to start my first year back at college when my parents announced they would be getting divorced. This struck me hard. Divorce went against everything my parents had said they believed, and so it was difficult to reconcile the whys with belief. I became, for a time, a go-between messenger, hearing "you tell your father blah blah blah" and "next time you talk to you mother tell her blah blah blah." It was emotionally exhausting, and eventually I had to remove myself from that situation.

During the same time, my husband was going through some stuff that made our marriage more of a hostile
desert environment than a blossoming oasis. The gravity of this combined with the emotional stress of my parents' divorce wore me down, and I ended up on a trial of anti-depressants for a while.

One evening, after getting off the phone with one of my parents, I was in tears. My husband began arguing with me, saying that their divorce wasn't even my concern, and I shouldn't have to bear the weight of it. His parents had at that point been married for 42 years. I yelled at him that he had no idea what it was to go through his parents separation and divorce. And he yelled at me that I shouldn't even be upset about it.

This was the beginning of the emotional rift.

At that time, there was a certain young man who had been a decent acquaintance. When I disclosed to him that my parents were getting divorced and how it was shaking me emotionally, he immediately offered comfort, saying he understood exactly what it was like as his parents had also divorced while he was in college. He offered me a shoulder to lean on at a time when I most needed my husband, who had offered me nothing but bitterness and anger.

I toed the door open ever so slightly.

Over the next two or so years, I entertained lively fantasies in my head of this man, while simultaneously sowing bitterness toward my husband, who continued to battle his own demons. Instead of trying to support one another and grow closer, our lives seemed to be pulling us apart.

I recognized for a long time that I was suffering from depression and I realized that I had allowed my heart to grow so distant from my husband that I was ready to leave him if this other man were to give me any indication that there was a reason to leave.

I also knew that this was not what God wanted for my life. I still loved my husband, deep down. But that love was buried beneath layers and layers of hurt and anger. I knew that in the emotional state I was in, I would not be able to dig myself out of that. But I wanted to be free of it.

I felt so tiny, so small, buried inside myself. There was this huge swirling mess of tangled emotions, depression, lust, heartache, fear. And somewhere deep inside was that little spark that was still me. And that little spark knew that the only way out of this mess was by giving it all over to Jesus.

And so I prayed.

Anytime my thoughts or emotions felt bigger than me.
Anytime I really wanted to give into those fantasies.
Anytime I wanted to yell and scream at my husband.
Anytime I thought about taking the whole bottle of pills.

I prayed.

And little by little, the darkness grew less.
Little by little, my burdens got lighter.

I slowly, steadily made progress, learning to forgive, learning to heal. Learning to stop blaming other people for the mess I had become.

And learning to stop hiding.

Because when you grow up Christian, and your life falls apart, it's hard to let other people see you as you are. I had been trying so hard to put on a brave face, to make everything seem okay when it really wasn't okay.

I found that I still had friends who cared about me, people who took the time to pray with and for me. And they didn't think I was a horrible, terrible person for all the things that had been going on in my head and my heart. They thought I was human.

I was finally making headway, coming out of that dark place in my life. My husband was making progress as well, coming out of his dark place.

And then, in 2008, we discovered that I was pregnant.

We were ecstatic! Joyous! Thrilled!

Now that we were together again in spirit, we would finally have a living testament to our oneness in the form of a beautiful baby.

Everything was going well.

Until my water broke at 5 months.

I remember the car ride to the hospital, my lungs heaving, trying to find air, as my entire body was wracked with uncontrollable chills from the adrenaline rush that told me I was losing my baby. I watched the midnight city lights rush past my window in a blur of color, not paying attention to anything but what my body was telling me as my husband slammed on the gas, veering around slow-moving traffic to get me to the hospital as quickly as possible.

As the nurses attached monitors to my body and probed my womb with ultrasound scanners, they told me that I had no amniotic fluid left. My baby was okay for now, but without the amniotic fluid, her lungs would not develop properly.

After a while, I was alone, in a dark room surrounded by the beeping of heart rate monitors for the baby and blood pressure and contraction monitors for me. My bed was slightly inclined at the foot to try to counteract any evil plot gravity may have had for pulling my baby from my body.

The uncontrollable shaking had still not stopped. My jaw quivered as I gasped out the only prayer I could think of: "God, I just want my baby to be safe, whether that's in my arms or in yours."

The shaking stopped and for the first time in hours, I felt a warm peace creep through my body. And I was somehow able to sleep.

Days went by and not much changed. I clung to the hope that my life would continue thus for the next few months, boring and dull as it was to be trapped in a hospital bed. I hoped that my sweet baby girl would stay safely tucked away in my womb until her lungs were developed enough that she could breathe on her own - or at least with the help of a machine.

But she had other plans.

After two weeks in the hospital, it became obvious that our sweet Genna's birth was imminent. With nothing to keep her in my womb (the amniotic sac having been compromised when my water broke), Genna's little feet began pushing through my cervix. It would only be a matter of hours before I would have to birth her.

I never went into labor, never had contractions with her. She just gradually made her way out until I was forced to push her fully into the world.

Upon the last push, there was no loud baby cry, no joyous intake of breath at her baby cuteness. Rather, there was a quiet and focused determination as my doctor snipped the cord and the neonatologists rushed her across the room to try to get her hooked up to an oxygen machine.

And as she came out of my body, I shuddered a gut-wrenching sob that forced all the air out of my lungs. I knew she was going to die.

My doctor came over and just stood next to me, holding my hand as I cried up to the ceiling.

It was only a few moments before my husband came over to me and told me that the neonatologists had done all they could do for our sweet little girl. And so they wrapped her up in a receiving blanket - which was so huge around her tiny, one-pound-three-point-nine-ounce body - and we held her.

She was so tiny that her eyes were still fused shut - she never got to see me. But I know with certainty that she knew who I was. At one point, as I cradled her miniscule body close to mine, I reached down and touched her spindly, fork-prong-sized fingers with my seemingly gigantic pinky finger. And with those tiny, spindly fingers, she gripped my pinky with all the strength she could muster.

It was the only hug I ever got from my first child.

And I will never forget it.

In the months that followed, I spoke all the right answers, but I did not feel them. I grew cynical and distant. I stopped answering phone calls - partly because I kept getting calls from a healthy pregnancy program through my insurance company, who kept leaving me messages asking about my due date and cheerily stating they hoped all was well.

I hated them. I hated a lot of things. And, okay, probably a lot of people. But I buried it. I tried not to show it.

It was desperately difficult to go to church, where my husband was youth pastoring a youth group in which there were two pregnant teenagers, both of whom had uncomplicated pregnancies.

I asked God why. Why had I done everything right, and my baby died? Why were these girls "living in sin" and yet their babies were fine? It wasn't fair. None of it was fair at all.

I ended up stepping down from my position at work, which was the Children's Department Lead at a bookstore. It was too difficult coming into work and reading stories to groups of happy toddlers, helping mothers with tiny, healthy babies find books on parenting, and seeing young families laugh and play together. I just couldn't do it anymore.

All the while, I wondered why. Why, God? I had just finally started to feel healthy and whole inside again. And then you take my baby away? I just couldn't grasp it.

I stoically did not let myself grieve until that September - a whole four months after my sweet Genna left us. I went to a women's retreat with my church, and there, while perusing some books in their bookshop, I saw a couple books about grieving the loss of a child. One of the books specifically dealt with stillbirth, miscarriage, and neonatal loss.

I bought the books and devoured them. It was a little difficult to read through all the tears. But it was cathartic. I finally allowed myself to face my grief head-on.

And I began to realize that God didn't just let my baby die, and God didn't steal my baby away from me. God was grieving right along with me. Every step of the way.

I have never gotten over the loss of my first baby. I don't think it's possible for any parent to "get over" losing a child. Ever. But gradually, the days and weeks get easier to bear. My husband and I have had two healthy living children since then (though we have also experienced three miscarriages besides the loss of our sweet Genna).

And I thank God daily for my beautiful daughter and son, that I can hug them and hold them and cuddle with them. That I can take them to the park and the library. That we can read and sing and play together. That they can breathe with no difficulties. That they are not chronically ill and have no health issues whatsoever.
My life has gotten infinitely better. Sure, my husband and I argue from time to time. (Sometimes several times a day.) But it's not the kind of argument that threatens a marriage. We end up laughing. We have learned to communicate. To forgive. To love fully.

Does that mean that we are without troubles? Without temptations?

Certainly not.

I will freely admit, there are still days when faded memories of a certain young man come drifting into my mind, or when I may feel a bit of attraction for someone rise to the surface, or when I feel depression setting in. But now I am better equipped to swat them away with the swift hand of Christ's purity. Am I always successful? No.

But Jesus saves me now.

Now.

In this moment.

False Comforts

I was going to try to write a whole post on various cliches we Christians like to throw about in times of trouble, things we like to say to offer comfort and hope to people when we can't figure out what really needs to be said, if anything.

But I'm going to just focus on one. It usually goes something like this:

"Wow, that's amazing that (so-and-so) survived (such-and-such)! God must really have a special plan for that person!"

I'm sure you've come across this at some point in your life (whether you were the one speaking it or receiving it.) But today, I want to just break this down for you, piece by piece. Let's look at what this is actually saying.

First, I'll give you the context behind this post. Somebody on facebook had posted something about a little girl who had survived the Sandy Hook shooting by playing dead. As I was scrolling down through the comments, the following two struck me:

"That child has purpose, a calling on her life."

"How sad is that, but God had a plan for that little girl!"

At first, these seem like deep, powerful statements that pay tribute to God's saving grace. But if we look at them more closely, really analyze what they are saying, we can see that they are actually saying that mankind has no free will and that God plays our lives like a giant chess game.

So, let us talk about what these are ACTUALLY saying. 

To say that a lone survivor of this horrible tragedy "has purpose," a "calling on her life," and that "God had a plan" for her, is inadvertently saying that those who did not survive did not have a calling on their lives, or that they were somehow not part of God's plan. This kind of statement basically tells the families of the other survivors, "Your family member wasn't important enough to God for Him to save."

This is a TERRIBLE thing to say. Mainly because it is absolutely not true.

God's "plans" for humans have never included death. In the beginning, when the world was perfect, the way God intended it, He walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. He was present, here, with his creation. That's how it was supposed to always be. And before the Fall (before sin entered the world), THERE WAS NO DEATH. Why would there be no death? Well, if we were all perfect, then there was no reason to die. Death came about as a result of human decision to defy God. In essence, we brought death upon ourselves. (Well, Adam and Eve did. I mean, I certainly wasn't around six or seven or however many thousand years ago. Maybe you were. But anyway. I digress.) That first act of human decision had two very distinct results: 

     1. We could no longer live forever. I mean, we were messed up.
     2. We now had the ability to always choose between right and wrong and understand our decisions.

This whole "free will" thing that Christians talk about all the time--it doesn't just affect the person making the decision. It affects other people as well. Possibly many people. There's that whole domino-effect idea, where one decision will turn into another and another and another. Or, you know, six degrees of Kevin Bacon, if you will. But with fewer movies and more real-life events.

So, a decision you make today, as inconsequential as it may seem, may affect some person you have never met--and may never meet--two years from now.

The whole point of that discussion is this: To say that God's plan was to save one person would mean that His plan was also that 26 other people would die. And not only that, but that His plan was for Adam Lanza to go into that school with guns and open fire on innocent little children. 

Let me make this clear: God did not want Adam Lanza to shoot anyone. Ever. God does not want bad things to happen. Ever. He does not sit at some judge's bench in the sky with a giant gavel commanding one person to die because someone else needs to learn a lesson, or deciding that some person has had a full enough life and so it's "their time to go."

God is the father standing next to the closed coffin, weeping with his fists clenched on the cold, hard wood, weeping because he doesn't understand why this happened to his child, why this happened to anyone's child. Weeping because he doesn't understand how someone can make the decision to take guns into a school and kill children, for God's sake.

God is the mother standing outside the school watching her blood-covered daughter run to her and thinking, "My God, she's alive! My baby is alive!" And then feeling a pain in her heart that will never quite leave her, because she has friends standing there with her who will never see their babies again.

God is the pastor, the friend, the counselor, trying to bring comfort and peace to those grieving their losses, holding them and weeping with them quietly, because there is nothing to say, nothing that can ever really answer the questions. 

But God is NOT the person on a message board, or in the church, or at work, saying that there must be a purpose for that lone survivor's life. 

Because the thing is, there is a purpose for every life.

Those twenty children, the six adults, and yes, even Adam Lanza--all of them had a purpose for their lives, whether that purpose had yet been realized or not. All of them were precious in God's eyes. Every single one of them. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM.

So please don't go around talking about God's plan for this one and His purpose for that one, unless you are going to also talk about the beautiful, purposeful, important lives that were sadly cut short. Not by God's will. But by the decision of a human being. 

If you can't think before you speak, then just stay silent. It's okay to not have answers. And it's okay to not know what to say. I promise. 



Jumping In


Today, our good friend Nate Pruitt preached the sermon at our church. He read from John 21, about Peter jumping from the boat and swimming to Jesus, because he was so excited to be with his Lord that the boat wasn't fast enough for him to get there.

               Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize
               that it was Jesus.
               He called out to them,“Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
              “No,” they answered.
               He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find
               some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the
               large number of fish.
               Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as
               Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment
               around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other
               disciples followed in the boat, towing the net
               full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.
                                                                           (John 21:4-8)


I want to jump in the water, wholeheartedly and excitedly, with no concern for who's watching, and swim to my Lord.

But first, I need to become small and weak enough that I can't hold myself back when the Spirit moves me.

See, there was this moment during the sermon when, on hearing about Peter's enthusiasm for returning to Jesus' side, my body wanted to leap up and run into the next room and kneel down and pray. I could feel the excitement in me swell, that wholehearted, unabashed desire to be next to Jesus.

But apparently, I'm a little too strong for my own good.

Because instead of leaping up and running to His side, I sat in my chair.

Yep. I just sat there.

I could feel my blood pulsing through my veins with that adrenaline rush. But I contained myself. I gave no indication of what I was feeling. I controlled my body, rationalized away the impulse.

Somehow, I don't think this is the kind of "self-control" that Paul talks about as being good (Galatians 5:22-23).

Why do we do this to ourselves? I say we, because I'm fairly certain I'm not the only one. I think that it's part of our fallen nature, the self-preservation that we feel. Because we all at some point struggle with what other people think.

I struggled with it immensely growing up. I was always worrying about what other people would think of me - my friends, peers, teachers, leaders - even my own family. I remember having many a stunted worship experience because I was afraid to raise my hands or clap or shout for joy because I was afraid of what my family would think.

Family!

And these are people who should share the journey with us, be joyful when we are joyful, grieve when we grieve.

Like the other members of my church.

Like the disciples with Peter.

Peter didn't care what they thought when he jumped in the water. They weren't like, "Dude. We're like a hundred yards from shore. You could totally just stay dry and wait a minute. We'll be there in like two seconds."

Nope. They just brought the boat in, following Peter.

But by the time they got the boat anchored and got their dry selves off the boat and onto shore, Peter had already been with Jesus.

Even though it was probably only an extra minute or two, Peter had that extra time with Jesus. Just being with Him. Even if Peter spent it catching his breath, he was breathing with Jesus.

I want to be so excited about Jesus that I will go to any lengths - even if I have to look ridiculous doing it - just so I can breathe with Jesus for a few moments before the rest of the crowd catches up.

God, please make me weak enough to run after You before I think about what I'm doing.

Holy, Holy, Holy

I was in the car yesterday on my way home from grocery shopping by myself. This is a rare occurrence, people. The only reason I was by myself was because earlier in the day, I had been at Publix and Megan lost one of her shoes, which I only realized as we were getting in the car to go pick up my husband. So I quickly asked a manager if she could keep an eye out for it and I'd be back later to pick it up. So, after calling later to make sure they had it, I returned to Publix to get said shoe, and to finish grocery shopping, since part of the reason we'd left was because Caleb was super sleepy.

Anyway.

On my way home, Phillips, Craig and Dean's "Revelation Song" came on the radio. Now, I typically actually criticize a lot of Christian music, because I feel that a lot of it - at least "mainstream" stuff that's heard on the radio - has become dry, redundant, and predictable. But there is something about this song that just gets me. Until yesterday, I couldn't explain what it was, though I'd tried.

At first, I thought maybe it was something about the chord progression, the instrumentation, the harmonies - all of which are amazing.

But no.

Yesterday, I realized it is because of the lyrics.

Worthy is the / Lamb who was slain
Holy, Holy is He
Sing a new song / to Him who sits on 
Heaven's mercy seat (x2)

Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty
Who was and is and is to come
With all creation I sing praise to the King of Kings
You are my everything,
And I will adore You.

What struck me as I listened and sang along yesterday (and progressively couldn't sing for crying in utter awe) was that these lyrics are timeless. They are both ancient and future. And they are made for the King of Kings and for Him alone.

In Isaiah 6, the prophet describes a heavenly encounter in which he gets the chance to see God, the Almighty. He says:

I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy , holy is the Lord Almighty; 
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.


And then, later - much much later - John describes the exact same scene in Revelation 4:


Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:
“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.”

It struck me that I was singing the same song that people and heavenly beings have been singing for thousands of years - since before the beginning of time. It filled me with utter joy and awe to be privileged enough - even if for a few moments - to join with the heavenly host in worshiping God Almighty in the same song. And I felt for a tiny bit like I was really a part of the whole hosts of saints throughout history, singing my awe and worship and honor to Jesus.

And I really think that this song will never cease to have that effect on me.


Pieces


I don't really know who I am anymore. My life now is so different than it was three, four, five years ago, I almost don't recognize myself. It's like I've been broken, or lost. And I have been both of those things. And it's taking a long, long time to find myself again.

When I'm lucky enough to get a shower, it's usually so rushed that I barely get my clothes on (usually frumpy pj's or their equivalent), let alone getting my hair brushed. Which means that it ends up a knotted mass stuffed into a ponytail of sorts. Usually it stays that way for several days before I even get a chance to do my hair, and by then I have to dig out the ponytail holder from my matted mass of hair, slowly and painstakingly pulling single strands of hair from the dreaded knots as I go.

My house is a mess. I feel like I am constantly at war with it, trying to keep the floor clean. And forget about dishes! Any attempt at having the cupboards full is quickly foiled by the cries of my fussy children who are either having a meltdown or ready for a nap.

With the little bit of brain I find at the end of the day, the only functions it's good for are checking facebook and reading short, meaningless clips of writing. I used to read voraciously. I would devour books by Lewis and Tolkein. I wanted to study everything having anything to do with the Middle Ages and Renaissance. I even wanted to dress like a medieval fairy. For every day things.

I was fanciful, whimsical. Positive. I saw the good in people more than the bad. I enjoyed sitting by brooks and listening to the water fall over the stones. And I made time to do it.

Now, I am harried, forgetful, probably inconsiderate at times, but that's due mostly to being forgetful. I can't remember if I already told you a story. I'm often frustrated, negative. Sometimes so worn out I look around at the mess and just don't care, because I know it will just look like this again tomorrow if I clean it now.

Every once in a while, though, in the midst of the chaos of my life, I perceive a glimpse of God. It's like entering an abandoned house cluttered with old, dusty things, and as you take a step, your eyes are pierced by the blinding brightness of some glimmering object. Suddenly the wreck of a house takes on new meaning with the knowledge that there may be something deeper to the mess around you - somewhere in here is a story waiting to be excavated.

I know that there are stories waiting in the dark places of my chaos and clutter. I find pieces here and there, and as I find them - as God reveals them - I store them away in some file drawer in my brain. Eventually - perhaps not until the other side of life - my story will be excavated, and the Archaeologist will piece together this broken mess, carefully and painstakingly gluing together each shining, reflective piece of glass, until my story stands again, whole, complete.

I may not see how all my pieces come together. But I know that even the little things - these moments I'm living in, now, these broken, messy, chaotic moments - are part of something bigger than myself. I may not be able to make sense of them now. But one day, perhaps, I will look back on this time, and see a glimmering piece of something, reflecting a blinding Light into my eyes, and I will stop, and bend down, and pick up the piece.

And I will smile.



The Immensity of God

Lately, I've just been really feeling the fact that we have no clue as to the immensity of God. I think in the modern church, we've gotten comfortable with the idea that we understand God - I mean, He took human form in Jesus, so, everything that Jesus is/was, is all that God is, because it's what we could see. But I think that God only made part of Himself understandable, relatable, and that's the part that became Jesus.

But God is so much bigger, even bigger than Jesus.

And I think that's where the church gets stuck.

Because we tend to see Jesus as the end product of our search: if you have Jesus, you have everything you need.

But if we look closely, Jesus himself told us otherwise.

He is our conduit to the Father God: "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" (John 14:6)

God is greater than Jesus: "...If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I." (John 14:28b)

The whole point of Jesus coming was to reunite us with God. The Israelites had a terrible history of coming to God, worshiping Him wholeheartedly, and then turning away to idols. God LOVED them so much - loved all of humankind so much - that He decided the only way He could be close to us, the way He really desired, was if He sacrificed Himself. And so He placed a part of Himself into the person of Jesus and did just that - God sacrificed Himself to be with us.

Jesus said He came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17). He became the fulfillment of all the laws of cleanliness, sacrifice, and offerings that we could never live up to - all the laws that God established because He is holy and we fell from His presence - so that we could easily be reconnected with God Himself. That was why Jesus came - to tear down the walls that we humans had put up between ourselves and God - because GOD wanted to be with us.

Is Jesus important, then?

Absolutely.

Without Him, we would not be able to connect with God.

But let us not miss the point of His coming. We have turned Jesus into the only God - almost all of our focus ends up on Him.

But He came to be our connecting point to God, who Jesus Himself claims is so much greater than He is.

I think that, by boxing God into the person of Jesus - essentially limiting God's immensity to what we know of the person of Jesus - we are limiting our relationship with God, and we are missing out on a whole lot of awesomeness.

Even in the Old Testament, David and others cried out to know God, longing for Him, for His presence ("As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God." Psalm 42:1). At that time, they didn't have the law automatically fulfilled for them. There was a process to go through to be able to connect with God, and the average person couldn't do it directly, but had to go through a priest.

Jesus came so that we no longer have to jump through hoops to get to God. He came because God is, and was, and always has been, our ultimate goal.

The Importance of Story

I don't know why I've run from my calling for so long.

And perhaps "run from" is not necessarily the best choice of words. Perhaps I should say "ignored what God has been telling me about (my calling for so long)."

I've known for a long time that story is my passion. I love reading - always have, always will. Give me a good book and a comfy chair and a cold rainy day and a cozy sweater and I'm good. And I've always loved writing. I've written poetry, lyrics, children's stories, and I'm working on a couple of novels. And I have a few more ideas in my head, floating around, running into each other every once in a while to create still more ideas.

But for a long time, I've considered my desire to work with and in stories silly. "No way, God. An English degree is really rather stupid. I mean, what kind of ministry can I do with that?"

And tonight it all became clear.

I attended the Centennial Celebration of the Church of the Nazarene at Trevecca Nazarene University tonight and heard Nina Gunter, one of the general superintendents of the denomination, speak. And although she spoke a lot about trusting in God, believing in ordinary people, and expecting great things, two phrases stuck in my mind for the entire service:

              "Tell your story. Listen to other people tell their stories."

That was it. That is when I realized - fully and for the first time - that my calling is in stories. In that moment, all my previous issues, all my wrestlings with God over the subject, ceased.

I was meant to minister through story.

And to back it up biblically (because I always have to do that for myself - I can't base something solely on "feeling" - I need to know that God confirms it), I thought about Jesus. He always was telling parables to the people, simple little illustrations that they could understand but which held within them truth-diamonds that shone the light of the Kingdom of God.

The stories Jesus told range from those about farmers and crops to wedding feasts. He created situations and characters that his listeners and followers could relate to, and then explained how each story told another story - His story, God's story.

And that is what my calling is. Not only to write stories that minister to people, but to teach others how to capture the essence of that other-ness that draws us into the story, that thing that plucks at our souls and makes us want to be more than what we are now. That thing that takes our lives from ordinary to extraordinary.

I want to help people find God in the story and find the story in God.

Perspectives; or, God - In and Out of the box

I came across an old blog (from another site) yesterday. I'd forgotten I'd written it, but it truly intrigued me and made me think again. So I decided to post it here as well. And although it's not Christmas, it's still interesting. (I wrote it less than a week before Christmas in 2007).

...

Last night I had a rough night of sleep. I woke up around 5 am after having nightmares. I was praying to try to calm my mind and spirit, and started thinking about God-stuff. I started out thinking of the Nativity, since we're so close to Christmas. Here's sort of how my thought process went. (Sorry if it seems sloppy, my mind goes all over the place.)

Everyone thinks of the birth of Christ as leading up to the Greatest Sacrifice - His death for our salvation. But I think I have to disagree with this viewpoint. There was a greater sacrifice that came first, that we think about and talk about all the time, and yet we overlook. The Baby Jesus. People sometimes use the phrase "you can't put God in a box." Well, in a way that's true. We can't (shouldn't) limit God by placing our own parameters around Him. But that's because He did it already Himself. He placed Himself in the box of human flesh. God is this infinite, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-present God, outside Time and Space and History and Future. And yet, He chose to limit Himself. For our sake. The Son part of the Trinity pretty much gave up his essential God-ness in order to place Himself in our shoes. It's sort of like an author and her characters. The author has the omnipotent, omnipresent viewpoint: The story, all of it - beginning, middle, end - happens, is happening, is always happening, in her mind. She knows, sees, the characters at every stage of development, and at any moment, she can see the character at any or all of the stages. She knows who's good, who's bad, who's right, who's wrong. She knows, sees, the outcome of each plot, each subplot. But the characters don't. They think, feel, live, from the moment, from their limited viewpoint.

Essentially, God became a character in His own story. He took Himself out of His infinite God-ness and placed Himself in a finite, frail, human body. A body that pees and poops and drools and aches and hurts and cries and feels pain. And He placed Himself into a soul that feels emotion, triumph, joy, sadness, tenderness, anger, love. And that rages with itself against itself. He became human. For us. He felt everything that humans feel. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. Think about that for a minute. People throw around the phrase, "Jesus went through all the same temptations you and I go through." But what are the implications of that? Do we really think about it, let it sink in? Or do we just brush it aside as something we've known already? If Jesus went through all the same trials we do -- How many little temptations do we face each day without even realizing they're there? How many times, when Jesus was trying to be God to a prostitute, did his humanness try to take over? How many times did He really just want to smack one of His disciples up side the head, and think, "Why, oh why must I be God right now?" How many times did He want to throw a fit growing up, or talk back to His mother, or hit one of His brothers? How often was He tempted to steal? Did He ever envy the kings and emporers of His day, knowing that while He was greater than they, He was required to suffer as a human?

I sort of just let my thoughts wander on this topic. It's amazing, really, to think about what all "humanness" meant to Jesus. God basically caged himself for 33 years. He felt time. How often did his soul ache from not being able to be fully himself? I know a little of that feeling when I can't get to my writing for a long time, because writing is such an expression of who I am, that to be unable to express myself makes me feel less myself. Does this make sense? And yes, God is "outside" of time, but He willingly placed Himself in Time, so that He could better understand us.

I was talking to my husband about all this tonight, and he brought up an interesting point. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, it wasn't just about disobedience. It was about them having something that belonged to God. What did they eat? Fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Perspective. They attained viewpoint. They saw a little more like God saw. And so, to fix the breach, God had to see a little more like we see.