Monday, December 12, 2011

Finding peace...

I just read a great Brian Post entry this morning. Brian is a social worker who has a website that promotes love based parenting. He basically said, don't look for peace later... find it NOW by accepting your children as who they are and loving them as they are. This will bring peace. When we have expectations for the way things "should be" as opposed to an acceptance of the way they are, we live in a state of stress. (I personally think this is the secret of being content in every situation). He said, find hope in knowing that love always has the potential to heal. I like that, it simplifies things for me. My job is not to "fix" my children, but to accept and love them where they are and let love nurture and heal them into all they were created to be.

When I was a kid I was terrified of roller coasters. Despite my fear, I made myself get on this really scary one that had 2 or 3 loops. I remember holding onto the bar so tight that my knuckles turned white. My whole body was so tense that it ached and I felt nauseous. Then it dawned on me that no matter how tightly I gripped the bar, I couldn't save myself if the darn thing flew off the track. I decided to get off, but it was too late, it had already started to roll. I had a choice to make, I could either waste a lot of energy on trying to control a situation that was out of my hands or I could just surrender and accept my fate. I chose to relax and let go... Que sera sera, whatever will be, will be. I leaned back and closed my eyes and let go. To my surprise, I had the ride of my life. It was awesome! I learned a valuable lesson that day.

I've often gone back to that moment again and again when I realize I'm white knuckling it through life. Trying to control the outcome of things is an exhausting and painful way to live. It sucks all the joy out of life. I've found that accepting where I am, letting go, and trusting that I'm in greater hands than my own is the path to peace.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A divine encounter at a little chinese take-out restaurant, of all places!

On Friday night, Keith had to work late and the girls and I went into town to pick up some chinese take-out. It was a little late for us to be eating. The restaurant was pretty empty except for a little old man with white hair sitting at a table. The girls and I went in to pick up our food and I decided to add some wonton soup to our order. As I waited, I asked the worker behind the counter if he had heard from Yuki. 

Yuki was a teenager when I met her. She came over from China without her parents to earn some money to send home. She lived with a bunch of relatives in a tiny town home. We became friends one day when Ellie and I went in there for lunch. (This was before we brought Emma home). Anyway, she noticed Ellie was Chinese and came up and asked me why I decided to adopt from China. She sat down at the table and I told her my story. She asked me if I was a christian and if I could tell her more about Jesus and the bible. We met at McDonald's a few times, and then she invited me to her home. When I walked into her little town house I noticed there was no furniture. There were only boxes to sit on. I said, "Oh, did you just move in?" She said, "No, we've lived here a while." She showed me around. Several relatives all lived there together. They slept on mattresses on the floor. As we got to know each other, she offered to help me and Ellie learn chinese and asked if we would help her with her english. I had been listening to some cd's a friend loaned me and tried to impress her with the Chinese phrases I had learned. She laughed so hard. 

Later that summer,  she came over and I gave her swim lessons. After we swam, she cooked us some chinese dumplings. Then we looked at the photo album of us in China getting Ellie.  She seemed really sad. I said, "Are you okay Yuki?" She said that she was homesick and asked if she could lie down for a little while.  That night, when I took her home, she said she was going to get married. I said, "Wow, you're so young!" I asked her where she met the guy. She said she met him through a matchmaker. She told me that my daughter, even though Chinese, would grow up American and marry an American. She said she wanted to marry a Chinese man because she was more comfortable with her culture. She said in a small town it was hard to meet Chinese men, so she went to a matchmaker. She had only met the man she was going to marry twice. He lived in Minnesota. I asked her if she loved him. She said that American's marry for love and that it doesn't seem to last. She said, she told the matchmaker traits she was looking for in a guy and the matchmaker matched her with someone who was looking for a girl with the traits she had to offer. It all seemed so matter of fact.  Sometimes Yuki seemed so young and other times she seemed like an old soul.

Anyway, when I asked the young man behind the counter about Yuki, he had trouble answering me because of the language barrier. However, the little white haired man said, "Did you say Yuki?" I said, "Yes!" He said, "I'm her guardian." He told me that he and his wife had taken the whole clan into their home. He was the owner of the town home they lived in and they became friends. He used to be a green barrette in the service when he was a young man and traveled quite a bit. He said he could speak their language. He and his wife have a tri-level home with a kitchen on each floor and live on several acres of land. He showed me pictures on his iphone of his home and his land. He said that he loves to garden. He showed me pictures of all his flowers and prize winning vegetables. He showed me a stacked stone wall he built by hand. Then he showed me pictures of his wife who is now in hospice. He was so kind and gentle, he just made me want to open up to him. I told him that I was going through some difficult things right now too. He put his hand on my arm and looked me in the eye and said, "I talk to God all the time, but there are 2 short little prayers that I constantly ask Him.  I ask God to help me love people as He loves them, and I ask God to let me see myself as He sees me." Then he gave me a sweet hug. (Gulp)

That night, I had a heavy heart as I drove to pick up chinese take-out.  I never expected such a divine encounter. I don't think God was surprised by it however.  One time I read, "Life is a series of divine appointments, not accidents. Each interaction we have is a divine appointment set in advance by God. How are you going to conduct these divine meetings today?"

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On the cross, Jesus saved us by taking into His own body that which would have caused us to perish.

If you've never seen The Green Mile, it's a movie worth renting. In the movie, John Coffy has a gift... he can take people's illness out of them and draw it into himself, healing them and making them whole, radiant, and beautiful. In this 2 minute clip, John takes this woman's cancer into his own body. She was helpless to do anything herself and needed only to be still and trust him in his work. This is a beautiful picture of what Christ did for us on the cross.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Do we see our Father through the lens of fear or love?

We were created in God's image; designed to reflect our Creator. Yet many "christians" today look nothing like Christ. Why is that? The problem isn't with our Creator, but with our perception of Him. Do we see God as a harsh, punitive, strict, judge with a watchful eye just waiting for us to break a rule so He can throw you into hell? Do we live our lives in fear of Him, trying to appease Him.  "I'll be good, I promise, I'll go to church every Sunday, read my bible, say my prayers, share my faith, give my tithe, just please don't throw me into hell!" Can we really love that which we fear? Can love and fear co-exist? Is it scary just to read these words? "How dare you wrestle out loud with understanding God's true nature! Just agree that God is Love, and then do what you're told so He won't destroy you!"

Through the ages man has misunderstood God. We've given Him the personality of all the other gods of religion. The ones that require child sacrifice. We have even distorted the gospel by making God the destroyer in the story and Jesus the rescuer who takes our punishment for us. We see Jesus as the hero that steps in and saves us from and angry God who needs appeasing. We've made God the bad guy and Jesus the good guy. 

Even though it doesn't make sense to us, we're afraid to question it. What are we so afraid of? Is God so easily offended? Does He get scared and defensive when we ask questions and wrestle with scripture, or does it honor Him that we want to really know Him.  To question something we've always believed can be scary, like pulling a card out of a house of cards. The whole tower may crumble. But what if we find a card that doesn't belong there? Maybe it came from the wrong deck. Should we leave it and ignore it, or yank it out quickly and toss it aside? Maybe neither. Maybe we just slip the card out and examine it; hold it in tension for a while. It takes a lot of guts to examine something we've always believed, we might find out we're wrong. What if discovering one card that doesn't belong, leads to the discovery that several cards don't belong? Gosh, what if we find out the whole house of cards was built on a faulty foundation? What would the ripple affects of that be?  

God gives us His spirit to teach us and guide us into all truth. Unless we already know it all, we have some things to learn.  If God's spirit wants to bring to light something that we've misunderstood, how would He go about doing that? Would it be a gentle whisper? Maybe a gnawing sense that something just doesn't quite fit. How would we respond? Would we cling to the safe, comfortable place that is familiar, or risk letting go and trusting God to make Himself known. Growth isn't always just about learning new things, sometimes its about being willing to let go of what we think we know?

Not only are we afraid to question God, but we're afraid not to fear Him because we think fear is necessary to keep our sin in check. If we don't fear God's wrath, what will keep us from sinning? Isn't that how a lot of us parent our kids? We parent that way because we perceive that our Father parents us that way, therefore it must be right. We live in a fear based world, but fear is only the beginning of wisdom. God says, perfect love drives out fear. When we understand love, we don't need fear. Love motivates us to do what fear never could and is so much more powerful than fear. We live in a quick fix society; we like shortcuts and immediate gratification. We choose the fear route because it gets quick results. Unfortunately, fear and threats can only keep behavior in check temporarily. It's like treating cancer with a band-aide instead of chemotherapy. We're only dealing with the surface and covering up the problem instead getting to the root of it where true healing can occur. It's deceiving because it appears to be working at first, but it never lasts because it never deals with the heart of the matter, the real issue that is driving the behavior. Instead, the real issue gets shoved down and buried alive. When something is buried alive, it will continue to claw it's way to the surface again and again. Only love can heal and transform the heart because it provides a safe place for us to bring the truth into the light where it can be healed. Once the heart begins to heal, the behavior will follow. 

The bible says God is Love. He is described in 1 Cor 13:4, Love is patient, kind, does not envy or boast. It's not proud, rude, self-seeking, or easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs, doesn't delight in evil,  but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. Love never fails.  As we take the time to get to know the true God, we'll discover that His love for us is unconditional and we are safe in His presence. Only then will we trust Him enough to bring our mess to Him so He can walk us out of it and heal us. His desire was never to control us through fear and condemnation, but that we would know Him, so we would trust Him and follow Him as He leads us into a full life. Isn't that what we want with our own children. We don't want them to fear us, but to trust us, so we can protect them and guide them. 

For far too long, I've feared God. I lived with the exhausting task of trying to stay on His good side and keep Him from being disappointed with me. Though I acknowledged that He loved me with my head, my heart kept it's distance because I didn't trust I was safe with Him unless I met His expectations. How I viewed the cross had a lot to do with my fear of Him.  I've personally struggled with reconciling how a loving God could sacrifice his own Son. The cross, if I dared to be honest, always felt like a story about an angry God who demanded a sacrifice. It went something like this: God demanded payment for sin. The payment He demanded was death. We each owed a debt and He was going to collect. His son stepped in and said, "I'll pay the price Father".  The Father allowed His son to pay the price, but because the Father was too holy to look upon sin, He turned His back on His son as he took on our sin. 

But what if it happened more like this... God doesn't punish us for sinning, sin itself is it's own punishment and will lead to our death unless someone intervenes on our behalf and rescues us from it. Sin demands the sacrifice, not God. Knowing sin would destroy us, God and Jesus together took the penalty (that sin dished out) for us. When Jesus hung on the cross bearing our sin for us, God was in Him, reconciling Himself to us. And when Jesus cried out, "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?", God didn't really forsake him, Jesus was speaking from His humanity (his flesh), not from His spirit (the spirit of truth). He was speaking from His human perception of what was true. The bible says that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. Maybe as Jesus took on our sin, he saw through the lens that we look through when we sin. When we live our of our flesh (our sinful nature), our perception of reality is skewed. We may feel alienated, but that is not reality. The truth is, God is always with us; He will never leave us. Sin just takes away our ability to feel His presence and see what is true. God isn't too holy to be with us in our sin, as though sin could destroy Him. God is the only One who can withstand sin, and destroy sin and death.

God is not the destroyer in the story, but the rescuer. The real destroyer is sin. God doesn't destroy us if we sin, God destroys sin and rescues us.  God's wrath isn't God against us, but God against sin (against that which destroys the object of His love, us). God is always for us. I love the way "The Shack" illustrates this... In the story, a little boy is playing where he's not supposed to and accidentally disturbs a bee's nest. The bees begin to attack him. The mom, who is severely allergic to bee's, sees her son in danger and doesn't even give it a second thought before she dives into the bees to rescue her son. The son sees the fierce look on his mother's face and wrongly assumes that she's angry with him. He screams, "Mommy, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" He misunderstands her wrath because of his own guilt. He ends up fearing the very one who's willing to give her life to save him.

We are created to reflect the image of our Maker, if we perceive Him as the angry, strict, punitive judge with a watchful eye, waiting for us to mess up so He can strike us with His rod, we will reflect that image toward ourselves and others. If we see Him as He really is, the merciful, compassionate, gracious, loving Father who, like a shepherd, uses His rod not to strike the sheep, but to steer them away from what hurts them and toward the green pastures, and clear water... all that is good for them, we will reflect that toward the world. Since we mirror our perception of our Father, it's important to see Him as He really is... Do we see Him as a God who wants to control us through fear and is only concerned about our behavior, or as a Father who loves His children unconditionally and will stop at nothing to rescue them. A Father who is safe and relentlessly invites His children to come to Him so He can heal them with His love?

Steve Jobs 15 minute incredibly inspiring commencement speech!

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A letter to my precious little sister...

I just listened to the sermon you sent me. It was really good! Thanks for sharing! I don't know that I think it's so much about us figuring out what "to do" to let our light shine as much as it is about really getting to know God more intimately and then it just kind of flows out... Kind of like all my close friends feel like they "know" my family because of how close we are and how much a part of my life you are. It's hard to have a conversation without bringing you guys up. And when I say family, of coarse I mean husband, kids, sisters, parents. I used to think it was up to me to help people know God. Oh the pressure! I no longer think it's all up to me. I believe God is always speaking to each of us in whatever way we can individually hear him best, because he wants a relationship with us... He wants to be known! That's the whole reason he created us, to share a loving relationship with him. I think I've always wanted to know him more deeply (he sets that in all the hearts of men), but religion taught me to be afraid of him. It's hard to love someone you're afraid of. About 7 years ago I began to discover I had misunderstood God's heart. I began to realize how deeply I'm loved no matter what. His love is not conditional upon my behavior. The most freeing thing was to realize that he's never ashamed or disappointed by what I do or don't do, but only wants to steer me toward what will lead me to the fullest life and away from anything that will hurt me. As I continue to discover how safe he is, it enables me trust him enough to bring everything to him without fear, so he can heal all the hurt and broken pieces in me. As I learn how much he loves me, in spite of all my flaws, it frees me to love other people the same way. I begin to see their beauty through their brokenness. The same way my father sees me. It leaves no place for judging people, only loving and therefore healing them into wholeness (who they were created to be). When we work from the outside in, we may change behavior temporarily, but we never transform and heal the heart. It never gets to the root, it's just a band aid. Knowing how deeply we're loved (no matter what) is the only thing that transforms us! I think when we love like he loves, people are drawn to him because that is really all we want anyway... to be truly loved.
I Love You,

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Our Creator created us in His image... thus we too are creative

I was talking to one of my sisters the other day and we were wondering where in the world our kids got their artistic abilities??? They are musicians, poets, artists, singers... Sometimes I just sit in awe of the way God creates each of his children so differently. Whether he gifted us with humor, knowledge, certain skills, or artistic abilities, we were created in His image. After all, our Father is "The Creator", I guess it makes sense that His children would be creative too! 

When I watch my children use the gifts they've been given, it brings me incredible joy. As they mature and I begin to see different talents emerge, I can't help but celebrate their individuality and the unique way each one expresses themselves. They each seem to be specifically gifted for certain tasks. 

How boring it would be if we were all alike. Variety really is the spice of life. Keith and I were watching a stomp band on youtube with our girls last night. One person began stomping out a beat, then another came on the scene and added another beat, then another, and another... soon they all had an incredible rhythm going. It was amazing! Thank goodness we don't all stomp out the same beat. 

Lately, I've been taking online courses to learn sign language. One of the things that draws me to this particular language is the fact that it's a visual, gestural language that communicates concepts without using any words. It's like painting pictures with your hands and face. And because it's not a word for word translation, it allows you freedom to communicate at a deeper level... things words can't express. When you express yourself in other ways besides just talking, whether it be through drawing, dancing, singing, decorating a room, playing an instrument, writing, signing, poetry... it seems to come from a different place; somewhere deep inside.

I love the way God invites us to share in His creativity through gifting us with certain talents. Not only does it add joy and fullness to our lives, but if we pay attention, I think we'll find ourselves connecting with our Creator as He expresses His beauty in and through us!

Here are some of my nephew's drawings. He drew each of them in less than an hour after years of not picking up a pencil and without ever having any formal training! He inspires me!

Oops! Can't seem to flip this one over!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Our job is to love as we've been loved, not judge...

"Don't ever judge a man's conscience because you never know at what point along his journey you've encountered him." I heard that quote this morning and it got me pondering...

What you might see: The drunk on the corner begging for money so he can get his next fix.
What you might not have seen: He lost his wife and children in a car accident earlier this year, lost all hope and attempted to drown his sorrows in alcohol.

What you might see: The pregnant teenager who recently dropped out of school.
What you might not have seen: From the age of ten, her mother's boyfriends wouldn't keep their hands off of her. When she told her mother, instead of protecting her, her mother accused her of trying to steal her boyfriends.

What you might see: The guy yelling at his wife and kids.
What you might not have seen: Two months ago he was beating them up, repeating a cycle of abuse that happened to him in his own childhood. Now for the first time in his life, through therapy, he's learning to break the cycle.

What you might see: The chain smoker who can barely last a few minutes without a cigarette.
What you might not have seen: He used to be a heroin addict.

What you might see: A 300 pound woman who's having trouble fitting into the seat at the movie theater.
What you might not have seen: A year and a half ago she weighed 430 pounds.

The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. A man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Sam. 16:7) We have limited vision and therefore do not make good judges. We have no idea where someone started or how far they've come. We don't know what kinds of sorrows they've had to bear or what it feels like to be in their shoes. Everyone is on a journey, and we're all at different places. We don't know what direction someone is moving in, and even if we did, sometimes a person's journey home begins in the opposite direction; like the prodigal son who had to come to the end of himself before he'd had enough and was ready to turn around. 

Unlike the pharisees (the religious leaders of Jesus' day), Jesus was never offended by people's sin. Jesus saw people as harassed and helpless. He saw them in bondage, enslaved, needing to be rescued and set free. He was moved with compassion and invited them to come to Him so he could heal them. Jesus looked at them and loved them. When we catch a glimpse of someone in the middle of their story, do we come to a conclusion about their worth, or do we see them through Jesus' eyes?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Being Rescued From the Darkness... Not Just A One Time Thing!

I still remember a dream I had about 23 years ago. It was so vivid... I don't think I could ever forget it.  One warm spring afternoon while my son was napping, I stepped out on my deck, sat down in a lawn chair and dosed off. In my dream, I was walking through a forrest. After walking for a while, I came upon a clearing with a little cabin right in the center. As I walked out of the dense forest into the clearing, I noticed the intensity of the light. The light didn't feel warm and inviting to me, but painful. I hurried toward the cabin wanting some reprieve from the bright light. Once inside I felt the comfort of the darkness again. As I entered one of the rooms, the light began to seep through the blinds and burn my eyes. I ran to the next room and then the next, trying to escape the light, but it seemed to be everywhere. When I woke up, my eyes were soaked with tears. The sun was burning my eyes. I ran inside. 
Later I opened my bible and for the first time read this scripture... John 3:19... "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." Well that was a pretty clear message for me at that time in my life. God used that dream and that verse to shine light on some pretty painful things I had hidden. They were destroying me, and God in His grace wanted to set me free. 
He still continues to shine His light into some dark areas of my life. When His light exposes some truths in me, though it still feels uncomfortable and painful to see me as I really am, and a part of me wants to run back into the darkness and hide, I'm learning to embrace the light because it's the only real safe place. God doesn't use His light to expose things in me to embarrass or condemn me, there's no condemnation in Christ Jesus, but He shines His light on all the broken pieces of my life that sin has shattered so He can help me put them back together. He doesn't force me out of the darkness, but draws me out of the woods into his healing presence. He even provides a cabin to cover my shame and blinds to give me truth in doses that I can handle, so as not to overwhelm me with sorrow. His kindness leads me to repentance. He comes looking for me in my brokeness, not to shame or punish me, but to heal me and set me free. When He finds me, He takes me gently by the hand and walks me out of the woods... He loves me too much to leave me in the darkness.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

a portion of a letter to my sister...

... Sometimes I imagine God leading me by holding a lantern right in front of me and I only get to see a glimpse of the direction he wants me to go... He only lights one step at a time because He wants me to walk that close to Him. He never gives me the full picture. (probably because I'd run the other way). I just move in the direction He's nudging me and keep pushing on doors. Eventually one opens and then the lantern lights the next step. 

The "old" way God led His people was through the law, but He never intended for that way to last. Now we're not asked to follow the law, He wants us to follow Him. He doesn't speak to us through priests and prophets... Now He speaks directly to his sheep. He wants an intimate relationship with his children. He doesn't want us to embrace the law, but to embrace Him. Until we lay down the law, the veil remains and keeps us from the intimacy we were created to have with our Father. 

This kind of talk would have sounded so crazy to me when my hope was in following rules, programs, and formulas. Now I see it's all about relationship. Religion only keeps a distance between me and my "dad". He lives in me and leads me from inside, if I listen. Here I go pondering again. But you are a safe place for my heart to ponder!
Gotta run and cook dinner. Pondering doesn't put food on the table, ha!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

You Can't Enjoy A Gift Unless You Open It...

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than the ones you did.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the tradewinds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover."

Mark Twain

When I read this quote it caught the eye of the dreamer in me. I think we can stay too close to the safe harbor sometimes because we are afraid to go after our dreams. We can be paralyzed by all the "what ifs?" or the "I just don't see hows". The times that I have had the courage and faith to follow the glimmering lights of hope through some very dark and unknown places, have led me to open up some of the most incredible gifts in my life. 

What are some dreams that call out to you from deep inside? We are all so unique, it will probably be different for each of us, and different dreams in different seasons of our lives. There are no dreams too big or too small. Don't let fear hold you back, you may miss out on something beautiful. I'm not advocating being irresponsible or reckless for sure, but I think sometimes we let our fears or limited sight keep us from reaching for something we were created for. Where do those deep desires come from??? Who placed them there???

It's interesting to take a look at what you have bookmarked on your computer. It reveals a lot about what you tend to be drawn to. For me, my longest list of favorites is under "spiritual", my second longest list is under "adoption", my third is "decorating" and my forth is "signing". I also have a passion for reading and writing, but haven't googled too much about those. I do however keep a running list of books in the back of my day timer and you'll never find me without a book, a pen, and a notebook for journaling. The two blogs I've started are about my greatest passions: my family and pondering the deeper, spiritual things in life. 

At different times I feel myself being drawn toward certain things and it's almost like there is a magnet in me that makes it hard to resist. Sometimes they keep me awake at night. I'm learning to listen to my heart's desires and ask God, is this something you have for me??? God says we were created to do "good works." I'd hate to miss out on some of the tasks I was uniquely created for. I don't want to look back in twenty years at all these unwrapped gifts and wonder what my life would have been like if I had opened them.

For quite some time, signing has been a growing desire in me. To me it is the most beautiful language I've ever been exposed to. I recently contacted a deaf school in the area and asked if I could volunteer there in the fall when the girls start school, just so I could be around it and absorb it. Who knows where it will lead? That's not something I need to figure out. I just step in the light that shines before me and see where it leads. I find when I follow these promptings in me, it usually leads to a two way blessing... not only does it bring a deep satisfaction and fullness to my life, but it often benefits another.

Consider what speaks to you, calls out to you, draws you, keeps you awake at night... It may be a gift that God has for you to open. It's up to you to open it. He doesn't force gifts on His children. He doesn't punish you for not opening them. He just offers them to you and invites you to share in some of the beautiful things He's doing.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Are you earning or expressing?

Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out many demons and perform many miracles?" Then I will tell them plainly, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers."

It may sound harsh, but I think Jesus was trying to wake them up and set them free from their religious treadmills. The religious leaders of His day were all about trying to earn their way to heaven. They thought they needed to prove that they were worthy of heaven by their good deeds. Jesus wanted them to see, it's not about what you "do", but who you "know". We can do a lot of religious acts and not even know God. In fact, often all the religious activity can be a distraction from really knowing Him. 

We were created for a relationship with our Father, not for religion. Religion puts the cart before the horse and encourages us to perform acts of righteousness to prove that we are good enough to go to heaven. Jesus says, He is the vine and we are the branches and if we remain in Him, we will bear much fruit.  Fruit is a natural extension of remaining in Him. A tree doesn't need to try to bear fruit. It happens organically because it's what it was created for. We were created for good works. He is the tree of life, the source of all life, and as we stay connected to Him, His life will flow in and through us.

Legalism says, you must, you should, you ought... The pharisees were obsessed with doing all the right things. They worked so hard on their outward appearance to prove themselves before God and man. They missed the point completely. Today we can fall into the same trap by trying to prove that we are good christians by our church attendance, faithful quiet times, knowledge of scripture, and acts of righteousness... But God says, the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Jesus was pointing out to the pharisees that all their acts of righteousness didn't derive from love that flowed out of a relationship with Him, but instead from performance.

Authentic christianity causes us to bear fruit without trying. Jesus will do in and through us what religion can never do. As we get to know the true God, we begin to experience His love. As we experience His love, it reorients us. It changes our perspective. It changes the way we see and relate to the world around us. When we see the face of God through Jesus, a veil is lifted and we experience the world around us in a different way. As we are transformed on the inside, we can't help but be transformed on the outside. Real fruit isn't manufactured, it grows out of a healthy relationship with the Father. The Lord isn't concerned with the outward appearance of man, but the heart. He cares about our motive. If our actions don't come from love, they're not sincere. 

God is not impressed with our busyness, but invites us to be still and get to know Him. He wants us to walk with Him, talk with Him, and listen to him. That's the point. He wants a relationship with us. As we get to know Him, His heart is transplanted into ours. The things He loves become the things we love. The things that cause Him pain, cause us pain. We begin to see the world through His eyes and as we do, our hands become His hands, our feet become His feet, our mouth becomes His mouth to the broken and hurting world around us.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The third Narnia movie really got me pondering...

I watched Chronicles of Narnia, the Voyage of the Dawn Treader this morning with the girls. I loved what Prince Caspian said... "I've spent too long wanting what was taken from me and not what I was given." We've all lost things/people dear to us in this life, but if we never take our eye off of them, we'll miss what is in front of us. Since everything in this life is temporary: our possessions, our youth, our health... we need to be grateful for what we've been given at the time, grieve the loss when it's gone, and then continue to live and enjoy the new seasons we enter into. It's much easier said than done though.

That line in Narnia reminded me of a passage in The Message bible (Mathew chapter 6). It says... "What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so that you can respond to God's giving... Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow (or what happened yesterday~my 2 cents). God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes." 

In the movie, Lucy longs to be beautiful like her older sister. She's so preoccupied with comparing herself with her sister and trying to capture the kind of beauty her sister has, that she misses her own unique beauty. Meanwhile, a little girl is looking at Lucy saying, "I want to look just like you when I grow up." We miss what has been given to us when we long for what someone else has.

As a parent, I'm delighted when my children enjoy the gifts that I give them. It makes me sad when they look at what someone else has and become ungrateful for what they've been given. Their ingratitude saddens me not because it offends me, but because it hurts them. It keeps them from recognizing and therefore enjoying what they've been given. 

I'm beginning to realize something about Father. He's not offended by our sin. He's not mad or disappointed in us. He only hates sin because it hurts the objects of His love... us. God is Love and love is not self seeking, He is "others" oriented. When we see Him in our fallen image, we see Him as a self-centered God who is easily angered and offended by our sin. That couldn't be further from the truth.

We don't serve a proud God. He made Himself nothing and put Himself beneath us to rescue us from our self destruction. He stooped down to our level and spoke our language so we could know Him. He came into our world in the flesh to show us who He really is. He demonstrated what it looks like to live in His kingdom while we're here on earth awaiting His kingdom to be fully restored. He held nothing back from us... He gave His very life to rescue us and bring us back to Him. Christianity is not about appeasing a God who is offended by our sin, but about a relationship with a loving Father who wants to rescue His children from self destruction.

Anything God warns us about or asks of us is only for our own good. He adores us. If we could see ourselves as He sees us... as we truly are, we'd see our worth and wouldn't be so preoccupied with trying to get it. In the movie there is a green mist, temptation, that creeps toward each character and speaks to a desire within them. It lies to them and promises to deliver what they want if they will compromise. What each person desires is what they perceive will give them worth:  beauty, wealth, power...  When they believe the lie, they miss the truth that they already have unsurpassable worth and that nothing this world offers could give them anymore worth than they already have. They exchange the truth for a lie and bring destruction upon themselves. Our God rescues us from sin, he doesn't punish us for it. Sin itself is it's own punishment. The natural law that comes with freedom of choice is, we reap what we sow. Natural consequences come from the choices we make. God wants us to avoid sin to avoid reaping the destruction it brings. He wants us to sow good because it brings good into our lives.

When Jesus left our world, He didn't leave us alone to battle the green mist (the evil). He deposited His Spirit in each of us, the Spirit of Truth, the Counselor. His voice always speaks truth to our inner being. He offers us a way out of temptation. Jesus says He is the shepherd and his sheep hear His voice. We can hear His voice of truth in us, but will we listen? Will we trust our Shepherd to protect us from what hurts us and lead us to the green pastures and still waters that restore our soul (Psalm 23)?

One last quote from Narnia that caught my attention was, "To defeat the darkness out there, you must first defeat the darkness inside yourself." We think the way to defeat the darkness inside ourselves is to scold and shame ourselves and keep trying harder. But that never works, it just keeps us focused on the sin. The only thing that dispels darkness is light. We don't need to confront the darkness in us and try to change it, but instead, embrace the light in Him and let Him untwist what is twisted in us. When we grasp that He accepts us as we are, His love begins to transform us, heal us, make us whole.  Sin is bondage. There is no freedom in it. God wants to set us free from it, not condemn us for it. There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. As we learn to trust Father's love, we aren't afraid to bring our struggles to Him so He can shine light on them and expose the truth to us. At the root of every sin are lies that we've accepted. As He shines his light on those lies and replaces them with truth, the knots begin to untangle one by one all the way to the root of each sin, and little by little we are set free.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

These aren't my words, I copied and pasted... but I find truth in them.

I like the following quotes from Spiderman 3, especially the last words from Aunt May:
Peter Parker: Flint Marko. The man who killed Uncle Ben, he was killed last night.
Aunt May: Oh, my. What happened?
Peter Parker: Spider-Man killed him.
Aunt May: Spider-Man? I don’t understand, Spider-Man doesn’t kill people. What happened?
Peter Parker: I, uh… He… he was… I thought that – That you’d feel… He deserved it, didn’t he?
Aunt May: I don’t think it’s for us to say whether a person deserves to live or die.
Peter Parker: But, Aunt May, he killed Uncle Ben.
Aunt May: Uncle Ben meant the world to us. But he wouldn’t want us living one second with revenge in our hearts. It’s like a poison. It can – It can take you over. Before you know it, turn us into something ugly.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Love is the antidote...

I've seen a lot of cheering in the news lately over the death of Bin Ladin. While my flesh understands the feeling that a sense of justice has been served for the 9/11 attacks, my spirit can't rejoice over another man's death. I'm not saying we don't have a right to protect ourselves, I just believe that the best way isn't through violence. I know we see wars in the Old Testament... an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, but when Jesus came with the new covenant, he said he had fulfilled the old covenant (the law). In the New Testament, Jesus says over and over, "You've heard it said..., but I tell you..." The old covenant, the law, was to be temporary. Jesus introduced grace to us in the New Testament. He knew the law could only temporarily conform external behavior, but would never reach the heart where real transformation occurs. Only love can do that. Grace shows us the depth of ones love.

I received a sweet email from my mother today on Mothers Day. In it she said, "Grace is unearned favor and that is what each of my daughters are to me." Let that definition of grace marinate for a while... grace = unearned favor. The gift that Jesus gave us could not be earned and certainly wasn't deserved. Instead of getting what our sins deserve, which is death, we were offered forgiveness. He calls us to follow in his steps.

My flesh wants to rejoice when my enemy falls. Jesus tells me not to. My flesh wants to take revenge when I'm wounded. God says, "It's mine to avenge." My flesh wants to pay back evil for evil. Jesus says, pay back evil with good. My flesh wants to make another person my enemy. Jesus says, our battle is never against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. My flesh wants to curse my enemies. Jesus tells us to pray for, to love, and to bless our enemies. His ways are not our ways. Our justice looks like payback. God's justice looks like mercy.

"Us" verses "them" mentality is not kingdom of God mentality (how God views things), it's kingdom of the world mentality (how the world views things). Although we don't realize it, kingdom of the world mentality is really seeing the world through a distorted lens. Through that self centered way of looking at things, each side views the other as the enemy. Each presupposes "we're" the good guys and "they're" the bad guys. From each person's or group's perspective, the other one is the evil one. In Greg Boyd's book, Myth of a Christian Nation, he asks the question... "At what point did we become a christian nation? Was it when we massacred the Native Americans and took their land, or was it when we brought the Africans over and enslaved them?" When I read that, it woke me up to how biased we all are in our own favor. It's scary how ill equipped we are to see things clearly. Perhaps that's why we are not to judge. We never do it fairly. Our sight is too limited, and we always serve our own self interest. After we label "us" as the good guys and "them" as the bad guys, we then decide how justice will be served. We basically play God.

Think of two siblings... "Ouch, you hurt me, I'll get you back!"And back and forth they go, with each hit becoming more violent. Nothing is ever solved with violence. We instinctively hope, if we just hit harder, we'll win. But part of us knows that won't be the end, so we sleep with one eye open wondering when the other will try to get us back.  I saw this on someone's facebook...  "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." It's true, we think power over someone (forcing, controlling) is greater than power under someone (serving, loving). Jesus didn't fight with the weapons of this world. His way looked foolish and weak. Could love really be more powerful??? Turning the other cheek just sounds crazy! Martin Luther King and Gandhi took the route of non-violence and look at the impact they made. Gandhi actually said, "I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Another time he said, "If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the bible, all of India would be Christian today."

Jesus didn't come to bring another religion, but to bring a revolution... to teach us a new way to live. What if we, christians, actually believed what we profess? What if we had the faith and the courage to follow who we claimed to follow and put into practice His words? What if we actually loved, prayed for, and blessed those who cursed us? It took us 10 years to kill Bin Ladin. What if we spent that decade demonstrating a Jesus kind of love for our enemies instead of incurring an insurmountable debt and wasting countless lives? Love is the only hope we have for overcoming evil. It's the only antidote.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Truth That I'm Loved Sets Me Free!

A friend of mine noticed her daughter was feeling a little jealous of my daughter for having other friends, so she had a little talk with her. I thought she did a beautiful job. She said, How many fingers do I have? Her daughter said, 10. She said, right. I have a finite number of fingers. But love is infinite. Finite is when you only have a certain amount and then that's it, there is no more. Infinite is limitless... it doesn't end... there's always more.  She said, when I was pregnant with your little sister I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to love another as much as I loved you. But when I had her, I discovered that loving her didn't take one ounce of of my love away from you. Love is like that. You don't have to divide it, there is always more.

I thought that was brilliant! She hit the nail on the head. Her daughter was feeling insecure because she was afraid that if my daughter had other friends, it would take away some of the love she had for her. According to wikipedia, jealousy is a secondary emotion and typically refers to the negative thoughts and feelings of insecurity, fear, and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something that the person values, particularly in reference to a human connection. Jealousy and envy are similar, however, jealousy is about something one has and is afraid of losing, while envy is about something one does not have and either wants to acquire it, or prevent another from getting it.

I've been on both sides of jealousy and envy and both ends are painful. It helps me to remember when I'm the one being hurt by jealousy, that I have no right to throw stones since I've been guilty of the same sin. It helps me forgive and overlook the offense when I remember the painful place they're in. It evokes a sense of compassion in me for them instead of a sense of anger back toward them. I'm able to not pick up what they're putting down because I realize it's not about me, it's their broken way of dealing with their pain.

When I'm on the other end, the one feeling jealous or envious, it can cause me to cling tightly to what I have for fear that it will be taken away. It can make me obsess over what I don't have. It can lead me to comparing myself with others and leave me feeling ungrateful, unsatisfied, and unhappy. The root of it is selfishness. (On a side note, God refers to himself as a jealous God (Ex 20:5). Since we know that He cannot sin, we must assume there is such thing as godly jealousy. Even Paul mentions he had a godly jealousy for the Corinthians. This kind of jealousy is selfless and arises out of a deep compassion and welfare for another. That's not what I'm talking about here.)

Have you ever been standing there with a friend and one or two people come by and compliment your friend on their hair, or outfit, or house, or kids.  Then they turn to you and say something like, "Her kids are so sweet, doesn't she have the greatest kids?" and you smile and agree, but inside you're thinking, "What about mine"? You suddenly feel insecure. It's crazy because a minute before that you were perfectly satisfied with all those things, the only thing that changed was your perception of yourself, because you compared yourself. Ever wonder why Jesus had to tell us to rejoice with those who rejoice? He knew it wouldn't come natural for us. Why is it more natural to feel jealousy and envy, and self pity when another is blessed, rather than joy for them? Could it be that we are more self-centered than others-centered?

Surely I'm not the only one who struggles with these disgusting thoughts. The bible says that all sin is common to man. Even Jesus' disciples fought over who was the greatest. They each wanted to have the most worth in their Father/s eyes. Jesus' answer was, "The least is the greatest." He was letting them know that His kingdom was completely opposite of the kingdoms of the world. And what about Peter?" When Jesus told him he was going to suffer? He said, "Lord, what about this man?" He was comparing himself to John. The Lord said, "What is it to you?" Really, why do we make it our business what's going on with another? What is it to us? If it's something good we say, "What about me"? If it's something bad we say, "What about them"?

In our broken human condition, whenever we perceive a threat (like we're about to lose something/someone we value), we become like territorial animals. We become possessive and controlling and even desire ill will for the one that hurt our feelings. In our fallen state, our instinct is to protect ourselves, even at the cost of hurting another. We begin this primal behavior as children. I try to teach my kids to just do their best and not to compare themselves with anyone else. I tell them that we've all been given different gifts and talents and encourage them to do whatever they do with all their heart. 

Comparing ourselves is really fruitless anyway. If we "win a competition", we frantically try to hold on to the title. It's crazy because our record won't last forever, it will eventually be broken. We will always find someone out there better than us in every area eventually. So why do we even play the game when we are doomed to lose? We do it to get a sense of worth, to feel secure. If we compare ourselves with another and deduce we're better than them, we feel superior, proud, and look down on them because they're not like us. If we compare and conclude we're less than them, we feel inferior, unworthy and try to acquire worth either by taking their worth from them (usually through gossip or slander) or by trying to prove our worth through some form of idolatry... beauty, wealth, education, fame, what we wear, what we drive, where we live, who we know, how spiritual we are... Basically, we try to get our worth from whatever the culture around us values. We think in terms of "if only". If only I had this, then I'd be happy. The sad part is... it's all an illusion, a lie. These things were never meant to fill us.

Having things isn't necessarily bad or wrong. In fact God gives us things specifically for our enjoyment. 1 Tim 6 says that God lavishly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. But in the same breath He warns us not to put our hope in things as uncertain as wealth, but to put our hope in God. The problem arises when we cling to these things and try to get life from them, instead of enjoying them and sharing them when they come our way and holding them loosely because they are uncertain and temporary. God tells us not to put our hope in them because He knows they are not a safe source of life and worth. They don't make good gods. They continually let us down. When we're trying to get our life from the created instead of from our Creator, it keeps us in a perpetual state of hunger and insecurity.  

If someone were to ask us, most of us would deny that we have replaced our relationship with God, with an idol. We don't set out to do this. We're lulled into it very subtly...  Open the morning paper and into your lap will fall a dozen advertisements telling you that you need this grill or that boat to make you happy. Turn on the television and you're bombarded with commercials telling you that you're not cool unless you drink a certain beer or drive a certain car. Open up a magazine and you'll be told that you're worthless unless you have flawless skin like this model or hip clothes like that model. Drive along the road and billboards will tell you that you're "fugly" (fat and ugly) because you don't have a certain body type. Our culture leaves no room for uniqueness. It constantly defines our worth... if we let it. We must intentionally filter out these lies, or we'll find ourselves bowing down to them.

1Cor. 4:16 says, "Outwardly we're wasting away, but inwardly we're being renewed day by day for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal." When we put our hope in the things that will inevitably fade, we are setting ourselves up for a fall. Our flesh places so much value on what is seen... the tangible, the temporary, and yet the unseen is what is truly valuable. Our hope is misplaced. We waste our entire lives chasing the things that are passing away. We cling to these things and wonder why we feel like we're dying inside. Idols are dead. There is no life in them. When we feed on them, they give us an illusion of fullness, a temporary fix, but ultimately leave us feeling unsatisfied with a continual lust for more. 

Remember the two trees in the middle of the garden of Eden? We have to choose which tree to eat from; which tree will be our center. Only when we eat from the tree of life, will we experience true life. Satan tries to deceive us into thinking that life is found in the forbidden tree. The forbidden tree keeps us trapped in the cycle of trying to get life/worth through constantly assessing ourselves and others. We keep trying to get what we already have because a veil is over our eyes and we don't believe we have it. The tree of Life offers freedom because we can see the truth. We are aware that we already have life and worth and are free from trying to get it. The enemy places veils over our eyes to keep us in the darkness, unaware of reality. It's like in the movie, The Matrix, we have a choice, we can either take the blue pill and stay asleep to what's real and continue living under the delusion, or we can take the red pill and wake up to reality (real life) and escape the matrix of lies and be freed from it's bondage. Jesus came to set the captives free.

We were created to get Life from Him alone. There is no life outside of Him. Everything outside of him is slowly dying. He never forces us, but continually offers us Life to the full. When we find ourselves unsatisfied with a continual thirst, we need to notice if we've stopped drinking from the fountain of life and are drinking from a mirage in the dessert again. If we have stopped getting our life from Him and started trying to acquire it in other ways, we don't need to shame ourselves, just simply turn back to Him who is our true source for life.  We are only sustained and satisfied when we remain in Him. He's like the outlet and we're the plug. We only experience true life when we're plugged into Him. In Him we are satisfied because we are truly loved, valued, and secure... everything our souls hunger for is met in Him. When our hunger is satisfied, the things of this world no longer look appealing. When we know that we are unconditionally loved by our Father and valued just as we are by the one who knows us best, we no longer feel the need to seek validation from others to prove our worth. The key to wholeness, fullness, and freedom isn't to try to acquire worth through some sort of idol, but to wake up to the fact that we already have worth. As we grasp the truth that we are deeply loved and cherished just as we are, that truth sets us free. When we live out of a fullness as opposed to an emptiness, everything we do becomes an expression of that love instead of a desperate attempt to get it.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Why do we grab the counterfeit, when we could receive the real?

Chuck E. Cheese keeps sending me these online coupons. I have a love/hate relationship with that place. It's a dreamland for children, and a nightmare for adults.  It's got overpriced greasy pizza, flashing lights, noisy games, loud music, and a big rat that walks around causing the big kids to squeal with excitement and little kids to scream in terror. If we take the kids there for a play date, we get a coupon and go when it's slow... like on a weekday at lunchtime. When we ask the kids what they want to do for their Birthday's, it's a no-brainer, Chuck E. Cheese's of coarse, duh! Having 3 grown boys has taught us a lot about starting traditions. If you start a tradition of big birthday parties, your children will expect them every year, and be satisfied with nothing less. So we told our girls that the way we do birthdays in our family is, you get to choose what you want to do and invite one friend. We'll bring the gifts, the cake, and the coupons. Unfortunately, 90% of the time they choose Chuck E. Cheese's. The only reason that place is an option at all is because the kids absolutely love it, and because they offer coupons and wine (Smart marketing! They knew that they needed to offer the adults something to take off the edge!)  The kids have always been perfectly content with the birthday parties we've offered, however, as they get older, they're beginning to notice how other families celebrate their children's birthdays. Some kids get the Chuck E. Cheese Deluxe Birthday Party and get to invite all their classmates. At these parties, everyone gets party hats, noise makers, a special Chuck E. Cheese cake, and Chuck E. himself comes out to celebrate with them! Oh, and recently Chuck E. Cheese's got a ticket booth! The birthday kid goes into a glass booth that blows tickets all around them.  The goal is for them to catch as many tickets as they can before their time runs out. For an adult, it would be equivalent to being put in a money booth. The kid gets to keep all the tickets he catches and then turns them in for  grand prizes. These prizes that the children just can't live without, end up being tossed aside and never touched again once they get home.
The last time we were there, I was watching the birthday boy in the ticket booth all in a frenzy grabbing tickets. As I stared at him, I saw a reflection of all human nature. We greedily grab at things that we want or think we need. Those things never bring the lasting satisfaction they promise, so we continue to grab because we're still empty. We live under the delusion that we know what's best for us, what will make us happy. The problem is, we tend to grab at all the wrong things. Those things that promise fulfillment, but never deliver. We grab for what we crave and then indulge ourselves. We experience a temporary high, then later, have to pay the price for the thing we couldn't resist in that moment. The lows are never worth the highs. Then we tell ourselves, "I'll never do that again. It's not worth the price I had to pay," ... until another temptation comes along and we justify why this time, it's okay to grab. 
In Mathew chapter 6, God tells us we don't need to worry, he'll provide everything we need. I love the Message bible's version of this passage. It says, "What I'm trying to do here is get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving..." I love that! We can choose either to live our lives at an exhausting pace, in a frenzy, grabbing for ourselves what God has not yet given us, or we can choose to relax and look to God for provision, noticing what He places before us, and responding to that giving. One path is exhausting and comes with it's all too fleeting highs followed by the deep and lasting lows, while the other path invites us to rest and leads to lasting joy, peace, and contentment. If we are too preoccupied with grabbing for ourselves, we may miss out on all the beautiful things he's trying to give us. If our fists are closed around the counterfeit, our palms aren't open to receive the real. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Are you playing in tune?

If we look closely, we'll find that life is full of parables of God's kingdom. Twice a week, Ellie has violin lessons. As I sit and watch, I notice that the goal is to make beautiful music. That's done as each one does their part and plays in tune as they follow the master. When someone is out of tune or is doing their own thing, the master gently corrects them for her goal is to help each student play to their fullest potential. She also has advanced students who walk around among the students in class showing them how to hold their bows correctly, helping them tune their instruments, showing them how to sit properly with their backs straight and feet on the floor, or helping them keep time with the music. They have all been taught these things, but sometimes they get lazy, forget, or become distracted. Often the students will ask each other for help. They whisper, "What page are we on? Can I barrow your pencil to write in that note?" They are all working toward the same goal. They are all trying to make beautiful music together. They're not in competition with each other, but all on the same side. Each one taking the responsibility to follow the best they can, but also helping each other play in tune with the song.

A few weeks ago, our small informal group met for it's weekly gathering. We were discussing the broad and narrow road in Mathew 7. "Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter it, but small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it." Wow, I just noticed when I typed that scripture, it doesn't say "many will enter". It says "many enter"... as in now! What if this scripture isn't talking about ultimate destination? What if it's talking about how easy it is to live a destructive life now and miss out on the full life God intended for us. How easy it is for us to live our lives leaning on our own understanding instead of trusting that our creator who loves us wants to lead us into a full life if we will just follow him. Maybe it's warning us that few people live their lives looking to him for guidance and being led into a full life. Instead they trust in their own ways and end up destroying their lives. It's our choice. John 10:10 says, "The thief comes to kill, steal, and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full." The context of that whole passage is about sheep listening to the shepherd's voice and following him as he leads them into a full life. The enemy wants to destroy them, but the shepherd came so he could lead them into a full life. We weren't created to live independent of our father or each other. We make a mess of our lives when we do. When we live intentionally following our shepherd, he will lead us to the green pastures and cool waters that restore our soul (Psalm 23). He's playing the most beautiful song and invites us to be a part of it.  How easy it is to do our own thing and play out of tune. Sometimes we think we could write a better song. We don't trust the master. It takes intention to follow the master and stay in tune. When we are in tune, it just feels right. We are in sync with the master, each other, and the beautiful song. It's like, Ahhh, now this is how it was meant to be played, this is how life was meant to be lived. It's exhilarating, fulfilling, it's what we were created for. 

Another thought that came to me was that this is Ellie's first year in violin. A first year student plays nothing like the master. In fact, sometimes it's hard to tell what song she's even playing. It would be unfair to expect her to perform like a master violinist at this stage. She still has so much to learn, but she's moving in that direction. At this point she makes lots of mistakes. Those mistakes can be her greatest teachers. She needs the freedom to make those mistakes; that's part of the learning and growing process. Too often we try to prevent our kids from falling and making mistakes. We think we're helping them, protecting them. We forget that it's a process... a journey... their journey. It takes time to get there. We need to remember, they're in good hands.

Just a little side note... I notice that I begin a lot of thoughts with "what if?", and "maybe". I'm much less dogmatic than I used to be. I used to think I knew everything. That doesn't leave much room for growth. Growth means you learn something you didn't know. Often that means letting go of what we think we know. To do that, we must be willing to hold things loosely, with humility. I think we're afraid to do that because we fear we may be led astray or be blown about by every wind of teaching. We can avoid that by holding things up to the scriptures (Acts 17) and placing them in context with the whole of the bible and viewing everything through the lens of Jesus being the perfect reflection of God who is LOVE.  It frees me to wrestle with scripture and be honest with my limited understanding. 1 Cor. 13 says, Now we see but a poor reflection, eventually we will see fully. Phil 3 says, And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you, only let us live up to what we've already attained. These scriptures give the perfectionist in me so much peace. God doesn't expect me to know everything. He continually invites me into knowing him deeper. I seek truth because it helps me know him more deeply and leads me into greater peace, joy, and freedom. It carries me into a fuller life. I don't have to know all truth, I can rest in the fact that He does. He's the master musician, I just follow his lead and become part of his beautiful song. 

Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.

On our quick trip to the beach recently, we met three adoptive families! Two of them adopted from China and one adopted domestically. I can't stop thinking about the conversation I had with the woman who adopted domestically. This woman and her husband adopted their great nieces. The birth father was put in prison about 4 years ago and this couple fought a 3 year battle and finally won custody of the younger niece who is now 5. Then eight months ago the mother died of a drug overdose and they got custody of the older sibling who just turned 10. The older sibling is angry and dealing with a great deal of grief. The adoptive mother is wondering why this child is not grateful to be in a safe and loving home. I just sat there and wanted to cry. I don't know all the circumstances in this situation. From what the woman told me, it sounded like the children weren't safe and their needs weren't being met. But even if this is the case and the children are now in a safe, loving environment... does the child not have a right to grieve? While she has gained some things, she has still lost so much... 
This may surprise you since I have two adopted children whom I adore and can't imagine my life without, but to me adoption is not the ideal situation. What would be ideal would be if fathers never went to prison and mothers didn't die of drug overdoses. What would be ideal is if China didn't have a one child policy and there was no poverty in the world and mothers had the choice to keep their children. Unfortunately we live in a broken world. The ideal situation is not always possible. So while adoption is better than the alternative, a child growing up without a family, we must remember that's only half of their story. The other half is very tragic. We can't pretend the other half doesn't exist. The other half is a wound that needs healing. Healing doesn't occur by ignoring a wound and pretending it isn't there. We need to acknowledge their losses and grieve with them as well as cherish all that we've found together. When we take in a child, we need to take every part of them, wounds and all.

Why did you adopt when you already had 3 children?

I was talking to a friend of mine today and she was telling me that her mom was curious about why I adopted 2 little girls when my 3 sons were nearly grown. I know people adopt for a variety of reasons, one being they can't have children. That obviously wasn't our reason.  One reason honestly, was that I felt so full and blessed in my relationship with my husband and kids that I couldn't imagine not sharing it. Love is like that. It desires to share itself. When I was younger, I thought that all families were happy families like the one I grew up in. There was always plenty of food, plenty of fun, plenty of love, and it was a safe place. As I grew older, I became aware of just how rare this kind of family was. I learned that there are so many that grow up in broken homes, abusive homes, some even have no place to call home at all. When our youngest son was 2 we started fostering children. God was opening our eyes to all the children in the world who needed a family to love them. And there I was with extra food on my table, extra room in my home, and extra love in my heart. I feel like when God puts something on your heart... burdens it with a desire... it takes more effort not to do it then it does to do it. When God speaks to my heart it's like that commercial with the kid on that cartoon The Family Guy... He's standing there looking at his mother saying, "mommy... mommy... mommy... mommy... mum... mum... mum... mummy... mummy... mummy... Lois... Lois... Lois... mummy... mom..." And the mother is staring straight ahead like she's gonna lose her ever lovin' mind if he doesn't stop calling her. That's kind of what it's like. Well, maybe not quite like that, but ya know... the calling just doesn't stop. In fact the desire just grows stronger and the conviction deeper and you know it's one of the things you were created for. Anyway, I thought I'd just share that in case you were curious too!

"Come here, let me help you up."

This morning as I was driving Emma to school, she said, "Mom where is God?" I said, "He's right here with us." She said, "Is He in the car?" I said, "Yes! and He'll be with you in school all day. He'll never leave your side. If you have the itchies (a sensory thing she gets when she's agitated about something), God is right there to rub your back and love on you. And he's always whispering things in your ear like, "'Emma, I just love you', 'Emma, you are my sweet girl, 'Emma, I'll never leave you'. " She said, "The other day when Lily L. fell on the 'concreak', He whispered to me to help her up and love on her. I said, "What did you do?" She said, "I helped her up and hugged her and brought her to Miss Kim." Wow, my little girl is learning to listen to her Father's voice. God says, "My sheep will hear my voice." Then a thought came to me... When did His voice change? When I used to fall, I felt God say, "Come here, let me help you up."  When did He start saying things to me like, "You fell again? Shame on you, and you call yourself a christian?"
Out back we had a tree with a vine growing up it. Every year I noticed the vine getting bigger. One day I noticed it was actually killing the tree. That tree with the vine choking the life out of it is actually a good metaphor for what I think too often happens to us when religion starts to wrap itself around our relationship with God. What begins as a loving, life-giving relationship with our Father (christianity), can sometimes get the life choked out of it by the deadly vine of religion. It's crazy, we go from being set free from the bondage of sin, straight back into slavery with the bondage of religion. Why do we trade our freedom for slavery again? Religion changes our relationship with God into a bunch of rules taught by men to try to control behavior through manipulation and guilt. The problem with getting people to conform on the outside is that it never really reaches the heart where true transformation occurs. People can learn right behavior without ever changing their hearts. In fact, it does more harm than good because it tempts us to be good actors by putting on display our good behavior, hiding our bad behavior, and judging everyone else's behavior. Jesus came to set the captives free. His intention wasn't to free us just to enslave us again, but to transform us through a loving relationship with Him. He never came to bring another religion, but to reveal the true nature of the Father that religion distorted. When the vine of religion gets wrapped around the true gospel, it disfigures God and the relationship he intended to share with us. Our Creator is not an angry god that needs appeasing. He's a loving Father who came in the flesh so He could be known by His creation, us, His children. His intention? To live along side us every day sharing his love with us, and manifesting that love through us. It's so humbling to realize, God Almighty created us just to have a relationship with us! (Acts 17:24-28) That relationship begins here on earth and carries on throughout eternity. He invites us to dance with him. The dance is better if we let him lead. He promises not only to lead us into "life", but "life to the full" if we let Him. For a long time I thought that I needed to do something to get God's approval. As though a father doesn't adore his children simply because they are his. I looked for ways to please Him. Ya know, "What do you require of me, God?" "What would You have me do for You?" Over time I realized, He isn't asking me to do something for Him, but inviting me in on what He's doing. His will is simply for me to join Him in loving whomever He places before me any given day. (John 13:34).
One day while grocery shopping, I got the opportunity to love the woman behind the counter at the deli. While I waited for my turn, I noticed the exchange between her and the other customers. The woman behind the counter was short and rude to the customers, and they in turn would grab their meat, reflecting her rudeness back to her. Or maybe it was visa-versa... who knows which came first, the chicken or the egg? Anyway, the typical payback game was in full swing... round and round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows. As I stood there waiting my turn, God gave me a glimpse of this woman through His eyes and suddenly I felt compassion for her. When it was my turn I said, "Do you have to stand on your feet all day back there? You must be exhausted!" She looked at me and her look softened. She said, "I have a terrible migraine." I said, "I'm so sorry." Then I noticed when she called the next customer, she said, "Can I help you honey?" It woke me up to how God's love can have a ripple effect. God was inviting me in on loving his daughter, acknowledging her worth, and showing her that she is cared for. He was loving her through me and in turn He could love the other customers through her. It may be simple tasks like that where He invites us to minister with Him to a broken world. It's like a dance, when I let Him lead, it's beautiful. When I try to lead, ugh! Unfortunately, just the other day I was leading and it was not pretty. I was getting a prescription filled and the woman behind the counter said, "Next." I heard her voice, but didn't see her for a minute because I thought there was only one cashier checking people out. Then she said again in a very loud, strong, authoritative tone, "I SAID NEXT!" It made me jump. I felt like a little kid in trouble. I noticed it also alarmed people around me. They were shaking their heads in disapproval and whispering. It fueled my indignation toward her. I stepped up to the counter and gave her the raised eyebrow like, "How dare you talk to me like that!" Although the words never left my lips, it was written all over my face. To be honest, it actually felt good for a moment, like I was putting her in her place with the rest of the crowd. You know how it feels to play the payback game. At first it feels kind of good like, "Ha-ya, take that!" That's how sin is, it always feels good for a moment (there's a reason it's tempting), but it's never worth the pain it causes. You've heard the saying, you may have won the battle, but you've lost the war. That's what happened in that moment. No one ever wins the payback game. That was not a shining moment for me. As I walked away, I realized I missed an opportunity to give this woman grace and perhaps missed out on allowing others to witness the transforming power of grace. What if I responded in love and listened for the spirit's voice, and instead of paying back evil for evil, I payed back evil with good. What if I apologized and said, "Oh, my bad, I didn't even realize you opened up another register." and overlooked the offense. Was God giving me the opportunity to change the coarse of this woman's day by letting Him love her through me? Or maybe he wanted me to help others see that there is another way... a way that breaks the cycle of the payback game. See what I mean, not so pretty when I take the lead.
After all these years, I still remember an incident that happened in forth grade... I was in a crowded hallway and everyone was pushing and shoving to get through. I remember a girl behind me ramming her books into my back. I turned and made a mean face and said, "Cut it out!" She looked at me sincerely and said, "I'm sorry, I was pushed into you. Are you ok?" I remember blushing with embarrassment over my quick anger. I think that seemingly insignificant encounter stuck with me all these years because there was a powerful lesson in it for me. When someone responds to our rudeness or anger with kindness, instead of reflecting it back to us, we don't get to justify our anger. Instead we get a clear look in the mirror at exactly how ugly our behavior is.
Now as I sit here and reflect on all this, I can still hear the voice that says, "Shame on you, will you ever get it right?" But I've learned that that's not the voice of my Father. My Father is not the accuser. So I tune in to the voice that says, "Come here, let me help you up."