I Fell and I Couldn’t Get Up

About ten years ago I fell and I couldn’t get up.

Unlike like our friend from the video Monday who eventually managed, I was helpless on my own. Upside down.

I was “turtled” (see video below). Exposed. Vulnerable.  Not a pretty sight, and certainly not in line with the “always pulled-together on top of things” image management that I strove for.

I thrashed against the pain and injustice.  I frantically flailed my legs and arms.  I cried a lot in frustration and anger.  I was getting nowhere.

But I had a team of “push-overs” and “under-duckers”.

They believed for me when I couldn’t.

They prayed me in when I was all prayed out.

They kept showing up when I was down.

They reminded me of who I was when I forgot.

They painted pictures of a meaningful future when I could only see the ugly lines that were “not good enough”.

They under-ducked me back onto my feet.

Is there someone who needs that from you today?

5 Questions To Ask Your Family This Christmas

So you’ve done the running around and the shopping and cleaning and baking and now we’re getting close to the time when family will be arriving at your house, or you’ll be traveling to theirs.

Our daughter Maggie arrived this morning at 3:30 a.m. to spend a few days before she heads to Texas to be with her in-laws, and Katy arrives Saturday.

Sometimes we’re so stressed and busy during the holidays that we don’t really reflect on what we want to have happen while we’re together – you know, how to be truly present to each other. Then before we know it Christmas is over, family is gone and we’re left thinking “woulda-coulda-shoulda”.

So I got to thinking about questions I want to make sure to ask when we’re around the dinner table, or at the coffee shop.IMG_6639

They’re questions for kids to ask parents and parents to ask kids (grown kids or little kids).  Maybe they’ll be helpful to you too.

1.  What do you think about…?  One of our highest values is taking the posture of a learner.  We want to be enriched by hearing different perspectives even when we might not completely agree.

2.  Remember that great time when…?  Family memories are such a gift and the re-telling of stories bonds us together with laughter and tears.

3.  What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing these days?  I have to be careful that I don’t make assumptions here.  This may open the door for conversation in areas I’m not aware of, and that’s a good thing.

4.  How can I pray for you?  This may tie directly into #3.  Or not.

5. Do I tell you enough that I love you?

Maybe one question NOT to ask is “When are you going to…?” (get pregnant, get married, get a job, graduate, lose weight… :) )

What questions would you add that you’d like to ask?

I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up!

Have you ever felt like you’ve fallen and you can’t get up?  Maybe recently?  At the mall?  At work? In a family drama?  Flailing on the sidewalk trying to get back on your feet?

Who are you missing seeing that’s a “man down”?

Ok, John and I are not into slapstick, and we don’t want to see anyone suffer (note the wave at the end of this video), but we laughed so hard at this I just had to share it.

Let’s keep our eyes open for fallen brothers and sisters out there today and lend a hand!

 

Partying Like Jesus

Chances are you’ve already been to a holiday party and you may have others looming.  The office party.  The family party.  The cookie exchange. The neighborhood open house.

Me too.

I was out at a party the other night and I had a great time – gorgeous decorations, unbelievable food, fun people, and twinkle lights (how can you not be jolly when there are lots of twinkle lights??!!)IMG_3214But I reflected later that night, looking for times in my day when I sensed the pleasure of Jesus and other times when…welllllll…not so much… (You know, the Examen that I’ve written about before).  I was a bit dismayed.  The party had been a time when I had acted like a self-centered toddler, putting my fingers in my ears so I could ignore the whispers of the Holy Spirit.

And you know what the Holy Spirit kept trying to whisper to me that I didn’t want to hear?  “Go love the people on the edges. Go find the lost.  Include the excluded.  Make everyone an insider.”

Out of the corner of my eye I could see people who were uncomfortable, with no one to talk to…those checking their phones, escaping to the bathroom, hovering on the edges alone. Awkward.  But I was having FUN for Pete’s sake!  With delightful people I know!  So I turned away instead of turning towards.  And in doing so I missed the opportunity to party like Jesus – the one who was always seeking out the misfits instead of the cool kids.

As much of an extrovert as I am, there are times when I’m the uncomfortable one…the one looking for a friendly face…a lifeline…anyone I might recognize.  But I think often in those moments, God’s word to me is the same – “Find someone looking more lost and lonely than you and try to put them at ease. stick out your hand and say, “I don’t think we’ve met yet.  I could use a friend here…you too?”

So, just a thought as we head into the weekend.  Maybe consider praying before you go to your next party and ask for the gift of noticing the not-noticed, and choosing to party like Jesus.  

 

Awkward Encounters of the Communion Kind

Sunday John and I preached together.  And then I served communion.  We were supposed to serve it together, but he was sick, and in addition to squirting Purell on his (and my) hands every other minute, I told him it would not be an example of God’s grace for him to infect a thousand people by doling out germy communion bread.

We love serving communion.  And communion is only possible because we have Christmas and the cross first.photo-82

Serving communion is a remarkable, visual experience, made more powerful because we know the stories of so many of the people in our faith community who approach us, starving for grace, thirsty for assurance of forgiveness.

Sunday was no different.  All generations, every manner of humanity, walked forward to the front of the sanctuary to take bread and dip it in the cup.

I looked deep into the eyes of husbands and wives we know are struggling to love each other,

and my friend who’s gay,

and the weary young mom balancing a baby on her shoulder,

and the single, tattooed, pink-haired twenty-something,

and the girl who’s sister committed suicide last week…

But the one who moved me most was a young guy who clearly felt out of place.  The one who came forward but ate the bread without dipping and then tried to take the cup, but then, confused and embarrassed, shrugged and hung his head, scuffling away, clearly feeling like he got it wrong.

I wanted to run after him and yell, “It’s ok!  It’s all ok!  There’s no ‘right’ way to receive God’s grace other than just to know you need it!”

I’ve continued to think about this young guy.  Was it his first time in church? What drew him?  What was going through his mind?  Did he sense God’s love for him?

I think of all the awkward encounters with Jesus in the Bible.  The woman caught in adultery who Jesus protected, and the one at the well who had a hard time understanding that Jesus would even talk to her, much less love her as He did. I love it that Jesus embraces awkward cuz I am so there!

In his book, Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen writes about an experience at L’Arche, a community for people with handicaps where he lived for ten years.   A woman named Janet asked Henri for a blessing.  She walked towards Nouwen and he writes,

“I was wearing a long white robe with ample sleeves covering my hands as well as my arms.  Spontaneously, Janet put her arms around me and put her head against my chest.  Without thinking, I covered her with my sleeves so she almost vanished in the folds of my robe.  ‘Janet, I want you to know you are God’s beloved daughter.'”

 

This, I think, is a picture of what God desires when we come to Him for communion – awkward and handicapped, broken and unsure.  He covers us with His righteousness, enfolding us in His hug of grace and says, “You are my beloved.”

After the worship service I ran up the aisle to find the awkward young man.  I couldn’t find him, but God can, and I pray he is hearing “You are my beloved.”

If you liked this, you might like other posts on communion too.  Like here, and here.

How to Untangle Christmas Lights Without Swearing

I’ve never heard either of my parents swear, but I have many memories of my mom, frustrated with a task, saying “I’m gonna swear.  I’m gonna swear! Close your ears kids!”                                                                                                                                                She never did, but she threatened to.  A lot.

There are some things that tempt a person to swear more than others. For me, the job of untangling Christmas lights brings out the worst in me.  I spent hours doing it this weekend, growling under my breath:

“I’m sure this must be a job people have to do in Hell.”

“If God really loved me I’d be rich enough to buy new lights every year.”

IMG_0597I was muttering, and resenting my husband who was off doing “spiritual” things, having “spiritual” conversations with colleagues, while I was relegated to “unspiritual” homey decorating chores.

As I glared and growled, and pulled and unknotted, and muttered some more I got to thinking about Mary (who had no lights to untangle btw) and how spiritual she felt during the 9 months that Jesus was being formed in her.

I doubt Mary walked around in a beautiful clean blue robe and a heavenly glow the way she’s depicted on Christmas cards.  Or all pure and white and shiny.IMG_8844How spiritual do backaches and morning sickness feel?

How holy did it seem to be dirt poor, traveling miles of countryside, sleeping in a stinky barn?

How sacred is the inconvenient?  The uncomfortable?  The thing that requires patience?

Jesus was being formed in Mary.  Her literal labor of love.

And I bet it just felt…hard.

And now, Jesus is being formed in us.  His character.  In us.  And it usually feels decidedly unspiritual.

But maybe anything is holy if we allow it to be. “Holy” just means set apart for God’s purposes.  The common made uncommon.

So the common stuff of our days…

Unreasonable bosses,

long lines,

being gossiped about,

not having enough money,

lonely nights without a date…

Maybe, if we enter in, and pay attention, those things actually have the potential to be more spiritual than hearing the most articulate exposition of scripture.  Because Jesus is being formed in us in the mess of life.

Lord, what might you want to form in me as I untangle lights?  What labor of love might I enter into this Christmas?

In what way have you recognized Jesus being formed in you through an “ordinary”, “unspiritual” experience recently?

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.IMG_2921

 

This is an edited version of a post from 2011.

Four Names to Change Your Day

As I write this it is still dark out.  I woke up like I was walking into an action movie in the middle – my mind spinning like a kick boxer doing a roundhouse (not sure how I know that!). As I drove first to Starbucks and then to my little “office” I thought how preoccupied my mind is with “to do’s” and how much I long to be preoccupied with Jesus.

This is one reason why I love being outside in the morning when it’s still dark, the stars quiet, and sure. It reminds me of the bigger story – the one that shrinks the to-do list in my pocket.  The expansive night sky helps me right-size. God keeps the world spinning while we sleep – amazing.  It reminds me of my smallness in a good way.

Unknown

Part of the process every Advent of creating space for Jesus to be formed in me is focusing on His names from Isaiah 9:6.  It’s another way of trying to “right-size”.

Which of these names do you need to be reminded of most this Advent season?

Might you make time this weekend for a walk outside in the dark to reflect on these?

Wonderful Counselor

Psalm 73:23-24  Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel…

John 14:26  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

Mighty God

Psalm 62:7-8  My salvation and my honor depend on God;

he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

Trust in him at all times, you people;

pour out your hearts to him,

for God is our refuge.

Isaiah 40:26  Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:

Who created all these?

He who brings out the starry host one by one,

and calls them each by name.

Because of his great power and mighty strength,

not one of them is missing.

Everlasting Father

Psalm 68:5  A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.

Romans 8:15  The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Prince of Peace

Isaiah 26:3  You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.

Philippians 4:6-7  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 

When Jesus is Not Who You Thought He’d Be

I grew up in a predictable world.   It was “Mayberry”, complete with sidewalk games, little league baseball, and town parades.  Everyone was nice.

My dad got the 5:40 commuter train home to our little town from Chicago every night.  Each day ended with my loving, family gathered around the dinner table joining hands to pray before eating. We went to church.  We did the “right” things and we were “blessed”.IMG_8824God was predictable.  He was safe.

In my world “good” things happened to “good” people.  Trust came easy.

It was hard for me to relate to the 99% of the world who lived with chronic pain, and hard for them to comprehend the “It’s a Wonderful Life” snow globe I lived in.

All this delightful predictability made my crash all the more dramatic.  When, in middle age I experienced betrayal, disappointment, & injustice, it felt like a nuclear bomb had gone off and I was left wandering around in the post-apocolyptic ash.  For the first time I was overwhelmed with feelings of uncertainty, shame, confusion, and anger.

God was no longer predictable.  Because the world was not what I thought it was, maybe God not who I thought HE was.

C.S. Lewis wrote of Aslan, the “God figure” of Narnia, “He’s not safe, but he’s good.”

He steps into our pain and redeems our brokenness, but it seems like it’s never the way we imagine. Or even the way we’d choose.

The problem is that we tend to equate “good” with “comfortable”.  We equate “blessed” with “fairy tale happily ever-after-right-now”.

I wanted God to swoop in like a super-hero and repair all the damage to my world when things went to hell.  If I’m honest, it’s what I expected for a long time.  It was only when I accepted that God was not going to follow my timeline or diagrams that I was open to knowing Him in a new and deeper way.  He was with me, He was good, and He was changing me, but there was no quick magic.

There have been several times of crisis in my life when I’ve literally cried out to God, “You’re not who I thought you were!”  

And maybe that’s a good thing.

When Jesus broke into our brokenness 2,000 years ago, light splitting our darkness like a laser beam, He was totally unpredictable.  He had been silent for 400 years.  He didn’t show up “army strong”, or Prince Charles regal, or bullhorn loud.

He came to a highly unlikely place, through an unlikely young woman, using an unlikely strategy to save the world from sin.

Although the prophets had given many “heads ups”, we didn’t see it.  To us, He was a surprise – nothing like we imagined.  And this is the challenge of Christmas.  

Jesus is not who we thought He’d be.

The grace of Jesus is unpredictable. It’s like a + b = kazoos.  It doesn’t feel safe because we can’t control it. What kind of plan is it to arrive small, poor, and grungy for Pete’s sake?!

It’s certainly not OUR plan.  It’s not neat and tidy or comfortable.  It doesn’t make “sense” that Jesus would come to love and die for us without us doing anything, but it makes even less sense when we think about Him being crazy in love with those “other” people…you know…the really sinful ones.  The whole thing is just so…unpredictable!

Jesus entered our broken world with His light and goodness 2,000 years ago, and offers to enter in still today, but we have to welcome Him as is.  As God.  A surprising God who doesn’t always fit our expectations.

I read this line and it is my prayer for today: “In place of my faithless need to control, give me a watchful heart full of expectation and wonder.” Amen.

 

 

Yoga, and One Goal for Advent

Confession:  I skipped church yesterday.  I didn’t skip because I wanted to have brunch with friends, or catch an early football game.  It’s just that I had been with people constantly last week over Thanksgiving and I knew I needed some true silence and solitude. 

I wrote in my journal, “I need to breathe…have a Sabbath removed from frenzy. I need to listen for Your still small voice.  I need to fill up with You.  Speak into the silence, Lord. Come Holy Spirit.”

I’ve started to copy an acquaintance of mine who signs her emails: “Breathe deep. Lean hard. God’s love holds.”  I need that reminder

It made me think of this post…

really wish I liked Yoga more.   It’s healthy.  And it’s so in.  But I’m not crazy about it.

Here are the only things I like about Yoga:

  • the comfy pants that are like legal pajamas,
  • the fact that you do it in a group with great people, and not, for example on a stationary bike in your basement (like a crazy introvert),
  • the corpse pose (where you lay still with soft music playing)…

And one more thing…                                                                                                                  They remind you to breathe.  In fact, I think that’s the only part I consistently get right when I go.  I mess up all the poses.  And I can’t make myself pretzelize (is that a word?) like my friend Brooke.

But then they say, “Don’t forget to breathe.” and I think “Yes!  I’ve got that down!  Score!” (Can you tell I’m better at competitive sports than contemplative ones?)

Sometimes the best I can do at Yoga is to just keep breathing.  Sometimes in the Christmas season it seems that way also.  You too?

Our to-to lists are too long.  We drop balls and forget to follow through with details.  And our regular spiritual practices and rhythm of time with Jesus may suffer.  But no matter what happens in the next few weeks, most (hopefully all) of us will still be breathing when we get to the New Year.  So what if breathing became a spiritual practice?  It’s one many of you are probably familiar with.  Breath prayer.

Think for a minute…What is a name for God that is especially meaningful to you this season?  Abba Father, Gentle Shepherd, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, Light of the World, King of Kings…

As you breathe in, silently say this name.

Then… What sums up your need or desire of your heart this season?

Peace?  Healing? Guidance?

Construct a short phrase that expresses this.  As you breathe out, pray this phrase.

For a long time, I felt out of control in many areas of my life, so my breath prayer was, “Abba Father” (as I breathe in).  “Do what only You can do.” (as I breathe out).

These days it’s “Loving Shepherd, show me the way.”

Or maybe you might pray something like Mary did “Holy One, be magnified in my life.”  (Luke 2:46-55).

Or, “Prince of Peace, calm my anxious heart.”

In heavy traffic.  Breathe.

In crowded stores.  Breathe.

In tense family situations.  Breathe.

Sitting in front of your Christmas tree. Breathe.

On a walk alone.  Breathe.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.                                                                                                                Just.  Keep.  Breathing.

The Soundtrack of Your Life

If you know our family at all you know that “Great is Thy Faithfulness” is the sound track of our life together.  We have sung it at every marking moment – at our wedding, at the dedication of our kids, when we have moved, and recently at the 25th anniversary of our time serving at the church in Minneapolis. We were tempted to go a tad overboard and sing it when the Bears won the Super Bowl in ’86.  Clearly it’s a thing.

We have sung this hymn with tears of joy during good times and we have sung it through tears of desperation, declaring it as a reality when it was hard to feel the truth of the words.  But it expresses the truths of Scripture and that’s where we’ve chosen to stand.

This week we’ve been down in the suburbs of Chicago, celebrating Thanksgiving with family (a delightful, large extended family!).  Wednesday night we went to a worship service and again we sang the words we love so much – Great is Thy Faithfulness.

After we sat down, a remarkable father of 5 shared about his faith journey with his wife who was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago.  It was both authentic and God-honoring.  He shared the good – she is currently cancer-free; the bad – their house is built on the rock of faith in Jesus, but right now the windows are broken, the paint is chipping and the shutters hang from the emotional and physical toll of the past two years; and the certain – through it all they have sung the soundtrack of their life together - It is Well With My Soul.   Continue reading