Encouragement for Your Hard Race

photo-6It was a perfect day. 65 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. The blue above contrasted with the cornucopia of color, vibrant energy, and thousands of people around me on the National Mall in Washington D.C.  From the air I imagine it looked like a very busy colony of colorful ants.  I was at mile 11 on the Marine Corps Marathon route that our daughter Katy was running.

Although she’s run many half-marathons in different states, this was her first full and training for it had been difficult (What an understatement – like ANYONE training for a marathon has it easy!).

I had gotten her split time at 6 miles and she was on pace.  I peered over heads and around little kids as the runners kept streaming past me by the side of the road.  I kept craning my neck, looking so hard for the bright teal t-shirt I knew she was wearing.  I felt overcome with emotion –  hopes and dreams for, and pride in this precious daughter of mine.

I anxiously kept scanning the crowds of runners and praying for Katy, like the father of the prodigal son, willing him to come into view from afar off.photo-4

Is this a tiny bit of what our Heavenly Father feels as He watches us running our race of faith?  Is He picking us out of the crowd, fully aware of the miles when it’s going to be harder to keep putting one foot in front of another?  

Sometimes proudly pointing, like “That’s my boy!  That’s my girl!”, and other times yelling, “You’ve got this because you’ve got Me!!  You’re not alone!”

We are all runners.  We are all cheerers.

We all have hard races to run and we need each other.

As cheerers we get to be the megaphone of God for a world full of weary marathoners.

Sunday I had the opportunity to be a cheerer, as embarrassingly evidenced here: IMG_8597

I knew that miles 19-22 would be the hardest for Katy and so I got to jump on the course and run with her for that stretch.  Just like last year it was she who ran alongside me, and John who cheered, and friends who prayed and supported.

I got to be the sign-holder and the picture-taker and the screamer at the finish line on Sunday. And when Katy came up that last tough hill into sight, approaching the Iwo Jima Memorial at the finish line I had no shame.  I went crazy jumping, screaming, crying, waving.

And somehow above the voices of thousands of others, she heard, she turned, and found me.  She smiled and waved and as she passed me and ran to the finish line there was this picture – the bright turquoise runner in the middle of the frame – tiny in the grand scheme of things, but unmistakeable to her earthly parents and her Heavenly Father.

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Today, if you’re in the midst of a hard leg of your race, listen closely.  If you do, you’ll hear the sound of your Father who is crazy about you, and can’t take His eyes off you.  He’s cheering you on.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. Isaiah 43:1

And if possible, consider who you might be a cheerer for today.

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Right-sizing

It seems like spiritual formation often involves right-sizing.

There are times when we feel too small, sinful, irredeemable, insignificant, and God reminds us that we are beloved.  We matter.  His strength is perfected in our weakness.

But there are other times (many of them), when we get too full of ourselves.  We imagine ourselves the center of the universe, the masters of control and destiny.  And then, again, we need to be right-sized – to be reminded that we are a small part of God’s large story.  But this in itself is a glorious thing!

“To make us feel small in the right way is a function of art; men can only make us feel small in the wrong way.” E. M. Forster”

“Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness not one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.  They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty – and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They tell of the power of your awesome works. They tell of the power of your awesome works – and I will proclaim your great deeds.  They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.” Ps. 145:3-7

These pictures are a reminder of those words from Psalm 145.  For more, look here. 

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Image credits: Reinhard Gaemlich

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Location: Iceland | Image credits: Max Rive

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Image credits: Michael Nicholssmall-man-grand-nature-landscape-photography-204

Location: Arches National Park, Utah, USA | Image credits: Marsel Van Oosten

How often do you struggle with feeling too big or too small?  What helps you to “right-size”?

That Wedding When I was Tempted to go all Norma Rae

A few weeks ago my husband John had to restrain me from totally losing it and making a scene at a wedding.  I was FURIOUS.  Fist-clenching, face-scrunching, steam coming out my ears furious.

“Why?”, you ask.  “What could possibly provoke near violence at a wedding?”

Communion.

The bride was Catholic. The groom Protestant.  Can you see where I’m going now?

When it came time for communion, only the Catholics were allowed to be served.  Not even the groom got a tiny of taste.  It felt like grace withheld from those who were hungry for it.

I have friends and family members who have a vibrant faith who are Catholic.  I respect the Catholic expression of faith, but this??

I. Can’t. Even.

Yes!  I know the difference between Transubstantiation  and the Protestant view of the bread and wine as symbols of Christ’s body and blood.  I don’t CARE!  It’s just wrong!

Jesus was about drawing all people to Himself.  He was about invitation and making room at the table for all the broken who wanted reminders that through Him we are made whole.

As I was sitting in the back row of the church, letting the favored folks who were allowed communion scoot across me, I thought that God is a God of everyone and no one.

“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast.” Eph. 2:9

 

“Everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Luke 11:10

 

“Everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” John 13:15

I wanted to march my little Protestant self down front and hold up a sign all Norma Rae with “EVERYONE!” on it, snatch some bread and wine and hightail it out.Unknown

As I sat there I thought back to an experience I had when we visited the island of Patmos in Greece where the apostle John was exiled at the end of his life.Turkey 209

We climbed to the top of a steep hill where there was a monastery.  Inside communion was being celebrated.  Because the service had started we couldn’t go in, but when it was over the bells in the tower above us started chiming incessantly and the priests came out with the leftover bread.

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They graciously handed out all the leftovers to EVERYONE and I believe it brought Jesus great joy.  That’s the picture of communion I carry with me.

But angry self-righteousville is a dangerous place to stay.  You know…pride before a fall, and plank in your own eye and all that jazz…  

As I think back on my wedding experience I wonder, “What am I withholding that Jesus would offer?”  

Am I withholding forgiveness from someone who’s wronged me?

Am I withholding acceptance?

Am I withholding resources?

Am I withholding a place in my community?

What about you?

Years ago a friend of mine was in line to receive communion and the person in front of her, when she got to the bread, started stacking piece upon piece in her hands.  My friend thought, “But, but, but…that’s against the ‘rules’!  You’re only supposed to take ONE piece of bread!”

Maybe she realized her desperate need for grace.  One piece just did not seem like enough.  Grace upon grace.  Grace without limitation.  For everyone who realizes they are in need.

 

The Prayer I Resist Praying

I was g-chatting with daughter Katy yesterday morning.  This is how it went…

Katy: Thanks for sending your Zambia itinerary! Turns out I may be traveling at the same time for work.

Me: Oh! Fun!  Where?

Katy: Kabul.

Me: WHATTTT????!!!  As in Kabul Afghanistan?

Katy: And this is why I told you over g-chat…to preserve my ear-drums.

We’ve made a boat-load of mistakes as parents.  Big ones, little ones, and ones we laugh at in retrospect, like the time John accidentally gave Maggie Ipecac instead of cough medicine in the middle of the night and wondered why she kept throwing up.

But one that looms large in my mind was when we let our then eighteen year old daughter, Maggie, graduate early from high school and go to live with a mission organization in Kibera – a terrible slum in Nairobi.

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We went to visit her in the rainy season of mud which just added to the despair.

There was someone stoned outside where she was living.

She told us of coming upon a toddler sitting alone in the dirt, chewing on a used condom.

What kind of terrible parent lets their child go live in such a place???

Well, apparently this one.

It’s a parenting choice that I’ve been tempted to regret, but one that God has used.

Today I was reading Acts 4:23-31.  Peter and John have just been released from the religious officials who were totally ticked off because they had healed a lame beggar and preached some crazy stuff about the power of Jesus and Him being the only way.  They come back to their friends and tell them everything that has happened.

And then they pray for a hedge of protection.

NOT.

They thank God and pray for BOLDNESS!  Not the go-plan I naturally gravitate towards for our family!

Note to self:  This does not say they prayed to have an EQ lobotomy or to be offensive for Jesus, but Peter and John have me thinking…

Does the kingdom advance without boldness?  Without taking the love of Jesus into dark places, trusting that He will be our light and our shield?

Holy buckets!  What does this mean for me, for you?  Boldness may not mean taking the light of Jesus half-way around the world, but just across town or into relationships that require supernatural love, or perseverance, or hard truth.

It has me praying with open hands, saying,

“We are yours.  Help us to be bold and brave and humble in carrying the light of your love into dark places.  Do what only You can do in us and through us.”

Is it hard for you, like Peter and John, to pray for boldness for yourself or your children?  How might God ask you to take His light into a dark place today?

 

One Way to Shake up Your Devotional Life

Let’s face it, we all get into spiritual ruts when it feels like we’ve been on a diet of gluten-free for days on end.  We don’t really taste or see what we’re eating. It’s boring. We don’t pay attention to the experience of eating.

I love what Mark Batterson writes about this:

“The key to spiritual growth is developing healthy and holy routines. They are called spiritual disciplines. But once the routine becomes routine, you need to disrupt the routine via a change of pace or change of place. Why? Because sacred routines can become empty rituals if you forget why you started doing them in the first place.”

I would add that sometimes you need to change not just the pace or the place, but also the particular practice.  So today I thought I’d write about a “spirit stretch” that some of you may not be familiar with – the labyrinth.

“HOLD THE PHONE!” some of you are shouting at the computer.

I know, I know, those of you like me, who squirm a little when it comes to the gentler, candle-light-y expressions of faith, may want to put your hands over your ears and sing “Lalalala” instead of reading this post, but give it a chance.

The Labyrinth isn’t so much a discipline as a facilitator.  Kind of like a trainer is at the gym.  The Labyrinth is a meandering, but purposeful path – first towards our center, Christ, and then back out into the world.

My friend Jill Hartwell Geoffrion has written and taught much on the labyrinth. She writes:

In A.D. 324 Christians placed a labyrinth on the floor of their church in Algiers. Although Christians must have been using the labyrinth earlier, this is the first historical record we have of the Christian use of the labyrinth. Since that time labyrinths have been prayed, studied, danced, traced and drawn as Christians have sought to use this spiritual tool to draw closer to God.

Using the labyrinth involves moving one’s body and opening one’s heart to Jesus.

Anne Grizzle, who built the retreat home and the labyrinth I visited this summer, writes:

“Through the labyrinth, walkers open themselves to some of the same experiences that pilgrims on longer journeys enjoy.  Labyrinth walkers take a physical journey, but the real journey, as with any pilgrimage, happens within the soul landscape.”

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I love this picture with that shaft of sunlight!

IMG_7597There’s no “right way” to “do” the labyrinth, but for many it’s helpful to approach it in movements.

  • As I walk in towards the center with my hands open, I pray about what I need to let go of, whether that’s specific sins I need to confess, or idols I need to renounce.
  • In the center I rest in God’s presence, reassured that I am forgiven, loved and cherished.
  • As I walk the path out, I am open to how God might have me respond to what He’s revealing about Himself and myself.

    Jill again writes:

    The word “labyrinth” is not found in the Bible, but themes of a following God’s way, spiritual journeys, and enjoying God’s presence—all central to labyrinth experiences—are found throughout Scripture. Two verses that can be used while praying the labyrinth are, “You show me the path of life, In your presence there is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11) and Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” (John 14:6).

    If you want to find a labyrinth somewhere near you, check out this website, but if the labyrinth isn’t your thing, a prayerful soul ramble in the beauty of this day is great too!

    If this is new to you, how does the idea of walking the labyrinth make you feel?  Those of you who have done it, share about your experiences!IMG_7608

Dear Magpie and Other 20-something Friends

Today is our youngest daughter, Maggie’s 27th birthday.

Maggie is the shiny one who has friends all over the world; some she just hasn’t met yet.  She’s the one “car dances” and who keeps us laughing at ourselves and playing games and celebrating life with hoopla. She’s passionate about injustice, and traditions, and a good glass of wine.

For her on her birthday I want to shout “Huzzah!” and give her this sign I saw yesterday that said:

Always keep your beautiful imagination & exquisite humor.

I want to send a plane full of peanut butter M&M’s to scatter around her town so she’ll find them everywhere – nuggets of grace.

I want to go with her on fun new adventures to quirky spots like we’ve done in the past.

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And I want to remind her of what I wrote her two years ago because it still holds true – what I would say to her and to my own 27 year old self…

Dear Magpie,

Don’t let this discourage you, but the older you get the more you’ll know how much you don’t know…how little you’re sure of.  That’s ok though because it will help you to ask good questions, listen hard, and strain to hear God’s voice through His Word and others.

And as you do, you can remain certain of at least these three things.

1.  You really do matter.  The world is big and you’re so small, but even your little choices make a difference.   Don’t ever “despise the day of small things” done with great love.  Remember the theory that a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world can set in motion a chain of events that will lead to a hurricane somewhere else? Flap your wings.  You matter.

2.  Everything really will be ok.  You’ve made mistakes before and you’ll make them again, and some days you’ll be sure the sky is falling, but the longer you live the more you will remember that the One who hung the stars is still on duty, holding them in place.

You’ll experience His mercies, new every morning.  Again and again.  Ever faithful.  He really does cause all things to work together for good, even when that’s painful.  And He really can redeem anything.  Anything.

3.  You are not alone.  Even when you feel most alone.  When someone has hurt you or betrayed you or you’ve lost something.  No, no one has lived your story, but others have had chapters with similar themes of loss or fear or conflict or joy, and God has given them to you as companions, as well as Himself.  He’s the sure thing. You are beloved.

Sweetie, anyone can write these words, but you will have to live them into your bones.  I know that you will.  You will stretch and ask and risk and hope and pray.

And you will run your race “not somehow, but triumphantly“.  Surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” cheering you on.  With Daddy and me in the front row.

Happy Birthday Magpie.

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One Reason You Shouldn’t Memorize Scripture

So, the other day I posted on Longings, Set-backs, and 3 Keys to Small Victories.  It was about goals and next steps and cheerleaders, but mostly it was about perseverance.

Perseverance is an ugly word in my vocabulary because it involves another “p word” I hate – patience.  Perseverance and patience are both “growing edges” in my life.  That’s the nice way of saying I stink at both, and God has His work cut out for Him.

This is where Scripture comes in. I’ve been trying to memorize a passage on patience and perseverance.

I think I’ve mentioned Scripture Typer before.  It’s a great Scripture memory app.  Lately I’ve been using it to help me memorize James 1:1-5.  Actually “lately” might be stretching it.  I’ve been working on it lately, but also for a looooong time.  Don’t mock, you mockers.

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In case you haven’t memorized this one, here it is:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

Anyway, I’ve really been getting in the groove…my little fingers scurrying across the keys, typing THE WORDS, faster, faster, faster.

So today I’m blitzing along, trying to check “MEMORIZE SCRIPTURE” off my To-do list so I can get back to all the maddening REAL stuff I’m trying to persevere and power through.

Then Bam!  The Holy Spirit clonks me on the head.

The words have just become white noise.

I’ve gotten so caught up in the MEANS, that I’ve forgotten the END. I’m madly typing words, but not reading them into my life.  My goal has become “getting it right and improving my time” instead of “transforming into someone who looks more like Jesus.”  You know…like “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (like not lacking patience).

Note to self: Don’t memorize Scripture to memorize Scripture.

I stop and read the passage again – listening, really listening for the words the Holy Spirit wants to emphasize in my life.

The verbs jump out at me: consider, know, ask.

  • So…. James doesn’t say “you will automatically feel all the delightful feelings of joyful abandon and do a happy dance when you face trials”.  “Consider it” – choose your attitude.
  • Remember what you “know” – God’s purpose in all the frustrations of life is transformation.  This is not the end of the story.

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  • And it doesn’t say we do this alone.  It says “ask God”.

So God is doing His work in us to transform us, but we have a part too.  We choose, we work, we wait, we pray.

And we memorize Scripture, but we listen as we do.

What’s a “trial” you’re facing today that requires perseverance?   Press on!

Why I Cry in Church

I cried in church again last week.

This happens often.

It wasn’t the sermon or the prayers or the music.  It rarely is.

It was the people.

Yeah, I know the church can be a dangerous place, a wounding place, a shaming place.  And it has been that, at times, in my life.

But also, at its best, the church is a place where the broken gather to be made whole again.  A place where we pick each other up, and forgive each other, and point each other back towards Jesus.

And so, last week I cried in church.  For the church at her best.  For the people in my faith community who pick each other up and point each other back.

It was the person who has been angry and critical, and wrote a mean email, walking forward with me to receive communion.  Together we were lifted up and turned around.

It was looking across the sanctuary and seeing the high powered executive who gave it all up to head a non-profit and help pick up the down and out in our city.

It was the bitter woman whose husband left her, and the person with the brain tumor both bravely coming back to Jesus and His community. Just showing up all vulnerable and needy and having folks enfold them with hugs and prayers.

It was seeing the man out of work, again, and the one with a job, reaching to help lift him up.

It was the toddler in the Great Room after the service who toddled the wrong way – separated from her parents but lifted and turned around – returned by a “stranger” who was really family just because we’re in this together.

The lifting, the encouraging, the helping to go in the right direction – this is a picture of the church at her best.

And then later I saw this and I thought how similar it is to what moved me to tears at church.

Today I pray each of you reading this has a faith community where you can see the goodness of God – a place where He uses all of us to help lift each other, and gently turn us around, like a mama caring for her toddler.

Longings, Set-backs, and 3 Keys to Small Victories

When you wake up each morning, what is it that you long for?  After getting your teeth brushed and perhaps a lunch or two packed, and checking your to-do list, what do you want?  REALLY?

You might answer that a lot of different ways, but I’m betting on one thing.  You long to know that you’re achieving something significant.  I’m with you.

Maybe there’s a goal you’ve gone public with, or one that you’re afraid to say out loud.  It may be big and long-term (like starting your own business with kingdom values, or becoming a lawyer who will help advocate for the least and the left-behind, or raising godly kids.)  Or it may be smaller, but still valuable and significant to you (like losing weight or hitting a certain score on the GRE)

Big or small, overtly spiritual or not, our goals and longings can be used by God in eternal ways.  Our dreams are tools He can use to form our character.

Most of you remember that I had a goal last year to run a half marathon with Team World Vision in order to draw attention to the need for clean water around the world and raise money to dig a well in Zambia.  I’m so grateful that I was able to accomplish this (praise Jesus!).

But in the process I got injured and have been dealing with various forms of tendonitis ever since.  SOOOOO FRUSTRATING!!  What about all the “next things”?? The “GREATER THINGS”?

Have you ever had a set-back in a goal or something you’re longing for?  And you want to say,  “JESUS!!! Come ON!!

Well, running is just a tiny example in my life.  As hard as it was, it gave me great joy.  It helped me achieve something for a greater good (clean water).  It gave me a sense of accomplishment.  And the experience taught me a lot about spiritual formation.

So this year-long set-back has been maddening. I’ve worked hard.  I’ve been to the dr. and physical therapist a bazilliionty times.  I’ve had some false starts as impatience got the best of me, but my goal was to begin again September 1st.

September dawned beautiful, dry, and 75 degrees.  I had no excuses, but I confess,  I was scared.  I was back at square one. Have you been there?photo-167

The “what if’s” plagued me, not just about this little run, but about All Of The Things.

What if I’m just not good enough, healthy enough, strong enough, determined enough to achieve __________________?(fill in your own dream)

Well, it was ugly and painful, short and slow, but I finished and I cried with joy and texted my wonderful running partner (daughter Katy) as I stumbled home.

Confession:  I wanted to quit after ONE BLOCK.  How the heck did I go from running 13.1 miles a year ago to wanting to stop after one block?!!

My little starting-over run doesn’t matter so much but I share it because of how God used it to remind me of some stuff when it comes to our dreams and discouragement.  I’m “preaching” to myself here!  There are other goals I have right now where I’m super discouraged and it’s hard to stay motivated, so here are three things I’m trying to do:

1.  Set new goals. Sometimes you have to adjust your expectations.  Sometimes God is doing a different work in you than you want.  I hated continually adapting and down-sizing my goals as I tried to heal, but even that was formative.  Now my goal is just to run a 5 mile Turkey Trot at Thanksgiving.  That’s MY goal, but I need to keep being open to God’s refinement. What new goals might you set? Which ones might need to prayerfully be tweaked?

2.  Do the next thing.  The finish line isn’t the victory, the next thing is.  What’s the one next thing that you can do?  That’s a victory to celebrate today.  What’s that one next thing you can do?

3.  Your playlist matters.  Honestly, I think we underestimate the power of what plays in our head.  At the end of a recent run I was totally ready to throw in the towel, but then I put on my running playlist and “Can you Do This?” and “Roar” propelled me forward.  Do you have a theme song for your dream?

Beyond the music that motivates you, think of the voices that keep you putting one foot in front of another.  Who’s a partner in your dream who you can count on to encourage you?  This response from Katy will keep me going for awhile.  Find someone to cheer you on.

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What’s one longing or goal you want to pursue?  How can you apply one of the 3 things above to get on track?  Let’s encourage each other! 

 

 

When You Don’t Have the Gift of Mercy

So, something you might need to know about me: I was born with a mercy handicap.  

Actually, we say that everyone in our family seems to be deficient in the mercy department.  When it was gift receiving time we got ones like “charging the hill” and “being really loud” and “often wrong, but never uncertain.”

Yesterday there was more evidence of the deficiency in my life.

Daughter Maggie who’s in grad school at Berkley has won all kinds of honors and scholarships.  She’s been chosen for organizations with names that sound like Most Brilliant World Dominators of Tomorrow and stuff like that.  But recently there was a big scholarship that she applied for.  Big, as in she and Austin could probably retire on the amount of money they were going to give her.  And she thought maybe she had it.  But then she didn’t.

Enter Mercy Mom! (Maggie is my ICE – “In Case of Emergency” fyi).  My response to her news is in the blue. Continue reading