Sunday, October 18, 2015


I have friends I love who suffered a great loss this week, so this is for them, but since losing a family member is something we all hold in common at some point in our lives, it’s for all of us. We’re in this together. Everyone handles loss differently, but these are the things I wish someone had told me:

While there is a part of you that rejoices—he is in the best possible place and so it’s well with your soul—it will take some time for your heart to grab hold of that truth and find it comforting—that’s okay. It’s also okay to bounce between confusion, sadness, anger; to cry your eyes out for days; to feel numb and then miss him so much you feel like you’ve been turned inside out. This isn’t about you putting on a brave face (even if you could) or showing how strong your faith is. You are grieving a great trauma and loss, and the people who love you understand that.

At the same time, if you find yourself smiling, that’s okay, too. It might feel wrong at first. You might ask yourself, “How could I…?” laugh at a joke, enjoy your children, suddenly find your taste buds again and dive into the casserole someone just dropped off. You can, because God has given us the ability to live through loss in a transformational way. The first time you lose someone this close, it feels like your heart couldn’t possibly recover, and in a way that’s true. You won’t ever be the same. From here on out, you go on with a new heart. One that’s cracked and scarred but, eventually and paradoxically, better able to love for it. When good moments come (and they will), let yourself enjoy life and love the people around you, without guilt. It’s what you were created to do, and it would make him so happy.

Surround yourself with whatever and whoever encourages you, feel whatever you are feeling, deeply and fully, trust the people who love you to roll with it, and shrug off everyone who doesn’t. That’s your emotions—your mind is a little bit different…

Now is one of the times when those whispers that sound like they are coming from you, but aren’t, can be very loud. Most specifically, the one that says, “If God really loved you, if He was pleased with you, He wouldn’t make you go through this. You must have done something wrong.” Reject that voice trying to tear you down and cling to the One who does really love you enough to die for you, Who is walking with you each step of the way, even when you can’t feel it. You are God’s children, and so He has said nothing, nothing, can steal you from him. Not weariness or fear for the future, not an inability to make sense of this, not sadness. Nothing. You’re His, you’re loved no matter what, and nothing you feel or do is a surprise to Him.

Finally, remember that the best thing about days like this is that not every day will be like this. There will be good days and there will great days again. Through them all, the bad, the good, the great, God never changes—that’s why He’s our greatest comfort and our deliverer. He’s with you still, as am I.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Jesus Nerd

My skateboarding husband and I were watching a movie about his recently adopted sport. At one point, the interviewer asked the interviewees to tell him about a skateboarding legend named Rodney Mullen. This is a guy who revolutionized the world of skateboarding. He ushered in the age of modern street skating by doing things with the board that no one had ever seen or even imagined. He didn’t change or improve on how other skaters used a board. He looked at what the board could do, created something radically new, and made the impossible possible.
The guys being interviewed gave each other sheepish looks and one of them shook his head. “Man,” he said, “how do we talk about him without sounding like total nerds.” Then they went on to discuss him in awed tones, like he was Jesus Christ or something. They sounded like total, star-struck, bromance nerds.

It was great, and I completely understand, because I feel the same way when somebody actually asks me about Jesus Christ. “Man, how do I talk about Him without sounding like a total nerd?” Because you can try to play it cool when it comes to talking about someone who is so fascinating, and so outrageous, who changed the world and saved your life—but if you can actually manage to stay cool, you don’t really get it.

Jesus didn’t see humanity in terms of anything we’d done or said in the past. He saw what we could be and then made being our best selves possible—not by giving our past a pass, but by redeeming it, by loving us enough to die for us, by calling us friends, by making us children of God.  Jesus, by dying on the cross, made the impossible possible.

And I’m totally star-struck, in love, obsessed with Him. I’m a Jesus nerd.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

One Note

There are two versions of the same song on this album I own. The first version is slow and soulful, the other one has a techno beat. I like the techno version, it’s different, interesting. But the soulful one has something the other doesn’t—one note.
I was listening to this album the other day while I was driving around, my phone was on shuffle and the two versions just happened to play in succession. At one point, I turned to the person riding with me and said, “That note, right there, is why this version is my favorite.”
My passenger raised an eyebrow, the artist I was listening to isn’t for everyone, but I think she got it. A major note, it bursts from a minor key and gives me goose bumps. The sound resonates and reminds me of how God’s love can feel—shocking and sweet at the same time. That one note is what makes this song true.
You know that note?
An authentically winsome smile on a teenager.
The pure sunrise trill of a tiny-boned sparrow after a long night.
The exhausted victor’s tears of a mother at her first child-glimpse.
The right words, both kind and real, that begin to mend a broken heart.
Jesus, to the woman at the well.
There are a million ways to emotionally manipulate people, to draw tears, incite anger, make a heart beat faster. But it’s just that—manipulation, if it isn’t true. Courageous honesty is what we have to search for, find and deliver as writers, artists, people.
Only authentic strokes, notes, words and actions will redeem the lies and pain and darkness—turn them to truth, joy and light. Jesus loved us too much to give us anything less. Truth is what people unknowingly long for, and we’re called to follow Jesus’ example and bring it. Living and working in the medium of authenticity isn’t easy, but God gives us no other options.
"Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long..."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Knowing Jesus

“It’s good you’re thinking about these things, Lis,” she said, drowsily. Looking back on it, I know she was longing for a few moments of sleep between a long day and everyone coming home.
It was hot. A humid breeze oozed through the screen. The air conditioner had clattered to an eternal stop about two years earlier, along with the television, the car. There was no money to fix any of them. So we’d climbed into her bed with our books, but I wanted to talk about the problem of evil in the world. How could a good God…? I turned my pillow to the cool side, and pushed the tangled sheet aside. She wanted to sleep, but that didn’t make what she told me any less true. “I can’t answer all your questions, angel, but when God doesn’t make sense, you should look at Jesus.”
Mom loved God, and when she talked about Him, she spoke in Jesus. But the Jesus I’ve been reading about on the Internet, lately? The one that won’t like me if I don’t agree with the politics? If I don’t buy into the doctrine. If I don’t protest the latest cause…if I do? If I’m not the right color, or the right gender, or the right income level? If I quote too much scripture…if I don’t? If I laugh too much, drink too much, eat too much, or not? If I work too much, or not enough? If I have too many piercings or tattoos, or if I look like the church lady? If I’m too educated or woefully uninformed? If I talk too much about…Jesus, or too little?
Somewhere along the line, things got turned upside down. We don’t remake Jesus in our image, He isn’t someone we enlist in our cause—He transforms us. Remember? Remember your first love?
It can start with the mother of all infatuations. You want to be around Him all the time. You want to know everything about him. He’s all you think about. He’s all you want to talk about. You drive people crazy talking about Him. You drive them off.
As you get to know Him, you’re struck speechless and humbled, because you start to see the miraculous everywhere. The smallest thing will give you goose bumps, from a child’s laugh to a raindrop glimmering for thirty seconds in one ray of sun on a cloudy day.
You see people you didn’t see before, people you used to pretend to ignore, people who used to scare you. You’re surprised by the pain in your heart. It takes your breath away. You want to share the hope that’s inside you. You’d do anything to change that look in their eyes—lost, hopeless, hurt or anxious, bitter and defensive from too many hits, too much disappointment.
But you wait, because you’ve started to discern the difference between how He works and your own, desperate, do-gooder instincts, the ones that start with those good intentions but pave that road to…you know. So, as hard as it is, you wait.
Then, one day, it happens. It can take place within moments of meeting, sitting on a city sidewalk, with the sound of sirens coming closer. Or on a sofa, after years of meeting needs, conversation and relationship. You see that tiniest glimmer of hope in their eyes, could it be? Like you’ve thrown them a lifeline at the last possible moment, but they barely trust it. At that point, there is no alternative, so they risk everything and place their hands in yours. And those hands feel so good. It doesn’t matter if they’re rough or smooth, filthy rich or just filthy. You pray with them, but it’s also like you’re watching this from across the room, because it’s really Jesus touching them, healing them, reaching so deep inside they wince and turning their shame to joy.
Afterwards, they smile, and mostly it just looks free. But sometimes, it’s winsome, chagrined, or a little wondering. They’ll say different things that show their new eyes and heart are already working, "I’ve been so awful," or "I’ve drunk a lot today," or "What do I do now?" But always some variation of this: "That prayer we just prayed. That’s what I’ve needed." Sometimes, often, there are tears in their eyes and you tell them it’s going to be okay. They say, "How do you know? How do you know it will be okay?"
Because Jesus always finishes what He starts.
There’s no formula, though, only God’s Improv, every moment of every day. So, coming to know Jesus can happen like I just described, or like this: You face a little girl on a pillow, when you’re so exhausted from housework and children and a job and no money that you can’t keep your eyes open for one more minute. But you smile, reach out a cool finger and brush her hair out of her eyes. Then, before your lids close and the world fades, you point her toward Him and a hope that never, ever, disappoints.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Mercy's Morning Cafe

I’m drinking one of the best cups of coffee I’ve had in weeks, produced by a portable espresso machine with a woman named Mercy at the helm, who spontaneously sets up shop in different locations around my hometown. Thank God for Google Maps. 

The coffee’s great, and getting better—Mercy’s perfecting her art—but it’s the conversation that really bubbles and steams. I’m surrounded by men and women coming and going, a web of loosely associated friends and acquaintances radiating this morning from Mercy’s center. The conversations swirl around me, from high school basketball to the value of a college education, to goat farming to the difference between a Certified Nurse-Midwife and a Certified Professional Midwife. Someone mentions a book by Naomi Wolf that we’re passing around, which morphs into the idea that it makes no earthly sense to want to be a writer…unless, that is, you’re compelled. A woman (the goat farmer) gets a text from a friend, “What are your views on eschatology?” One side of her mouth tips up. “Interesting challenge,” she says, “answering that in a text.”

I wave goodbye after about twenty minutes to head home to my teenaged sons. They should be rolling out of bed about now, getting their breakfasts and cracking open their books. I have some other stops first, and I’m completely trusting them to follow the routine we’ve established in the decade and a half we’ve lived and homeschooled together. I know they’ll do what they need to do, and I’m pretty sure they’ll do it for the rest of their lives. Although, I also know, God gives no guarantees except Himself, and I’m okay with that, too.

Only later do I think, “I had a pretty conventional upbringing. How did I end up here, living a life most would consider outside the box, associated with others willing to do the same?” It’s a world of parachurch ministries and spiritual entrepreneurs, homeschoolers and home churchers. The kind of people who don’t say Why, but rather, Why not? Then I realize: my parents primed me for this. They were fiercely loyal to God, devoted to following Jesus and to serving others, but they weren't really churchy. 

With Bible-believing parents who raised me, literally, outside the church box, I guess it’s not so strange I find comfort in a diverse group of Christians. But I have other worlds I move through each day, some more conventional, some less. My other worlds include those of my husband...federal government employee, anthropologist, member of Boise's sort of underground longboarding scene. There is also the crazy-fabulous, alone-together community of writers I belong to, and there is the Baptist Church (yes, Baptist) my family recently joined... I could go on.

Inside or outside the box doesn't really describe my experience. This life is like a huge Venn Diagram and I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. With all the worlds we're expected to move in and out of, we can start to feel fractured and a little schizophrenic.  I think the key to remaining whole is to remember this: The intersection of our worlds doesn't happen through us, but through Christ. He draws diverse and many-faceted people together at His center, and invites us in to enjoy each other's company. Oh taste and see that the Lord is good...

We discover God’s mercy in surprising places. Drink it in where you find it, pour it out where you can...and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Free Indeed

"Others run after things, and your heavenly Father knows what you need. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself..." ~ Jesus, Mathew 6:32-34

"So if I set you free, you will be free indeed." ~ Jesus, John 8:36

All weekend, the people with the microphones assured the conference audience that God wanted us to reach our potential. Based on the examples they gave, "reach our potential" was obvious code for "become your own success story." Of course, we were encouraged that our success would only happen in Him, by faith.   

I watched their faces as the weekend progressed and the participants grappled with the hell of unrealized expectations. The young and inexperienced radiated fierce determination. The successful, knowing the thinness of the line between victory and failure, barely disguised their anxiety. On the faces of others, fear danced with discouragement. If all that God cares about is you being successful and yet all your dreams haven’t come true—what a huge failure you must be. What a huge failure God must be.

Who needs a God like that? Why would we worship a flawed, inept God like us? 

What does God really say He wants? They asked Jesus, and he told the people. Sometimes he hid his answers in parables that struck most ears like riddles. But not this time. This time, His answer was clear: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind."

"How do we do that?" the people asked Him.

In stories, in straight talk, in action, in grief and in joy, Jesus showed them: "Love each other, and when you love each other, you love God. When you lay down your life, give up your pride and ambition, and serve each other, you serve God."

Did you catch that? To quote God, our Creator, "Listen to Him." It sounds so simple, but it changes everything. With those words, God's freed us from ourselves. You want to reach your potential? Love God, love others, and you're there. God's highest goal for you--achieved!

Now, exhale. Relax those shoulders. Unclench that jaw. He's made you free to live and love, give and serve, work and play with no more worry for your tomorrows. Think of the possibilities

"And if He sets you free, you will be free indeed."

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

On A Cell Phone And A Prayer

I feel as though a disclaimer is in order: There are a lot of blog posts out there that can make a person feel inadequate. So let me just say, I’ve been known to yell at my kids, my husband and I lose patience with each other…frequently. I can be fearful—especially when it comes to doing good, hard things. There are currently cobwebs in almost every corner of my house and I haven’t mopped the kitchen floor for weeks. I’m not talking about a perfect life here. This is a normal life that, occasionally, God illumines in ways I feel compelled to share. That’s all.

So, flashback to a few weeks ago. I’m sitting in the midst of our women’s Bible study. The subject is prayer. We talk about Psalm 55:17: Evening, and morning, and at noon, I will pray and cry aloud; and He shall hear my voice.(KJV)

“So, when do you pray?” the study leader asks.

Morning and night, yes. But the middle of my day? “Well, no,” I blithely spout. “But God and I are talking all day. I sort of feel like it’s a running conversation.”

The women nod and smile. We continue on. But I wonder how a middle of the day prayer time could work. One of the women says she sets her smart phone alarm to remind her. I’m often not at home that time of day. I’m often with others. But I can’t shake the idea.

A week later, I set the alarm. I tell it to repeat daily—so the title of the alarm comes up as “PRAY, every day.”

The next day, the alarm shimmers at the appointed time and, guess what? That running conversation I supposedly have with God all day? Not so much. That first day the alarm rings, and most of the days after, God is the furthest thing from my frantically busy, overtaxed mind. I’m embarrassed, chagrined. But I also feel like I've been given a gift—it is so nearly impossible for us to see ourselves clearly. Here, joy! A rare moment of self-clarity.

The next day, the alarm rings while I’m at work. A colleague is sitting in my office. “What’s that?” she asks. Then, “Oh, an alarm.” I watch her running the options through her head—medication, meeting, pay a bill?

Before I slide the alarm off, I turn my phone around. I show her the one word in the middle of my screen, PRAY. Her eyes widen, then she smiles. We’d been discussing a recurring challenge that seemed to elude solution. “Why don’t we pray about it?” She takes me up on the offer. I close the office door—and we manage about thirty seconds of prayer before someone knocks. I hastily finish up and deal with the person at the door. After the knocker leaves, my colleague gets up. Before she goes, she says, “Thank you. I didn’t realize how much I needed that prayer, but I did.”

As the days go by, I have the chance to pray with others. They are mostly quick prayers, snatched from the hectic whirl of busy days. But “thank you,” I hear, over and over.

The alarm goes off and I get to pray with my sons. It rings and I pray with my friends. It rings and I pray silently for the burdened-looking strangers standing around me at the post office, the grocery store. It rings while I’m driving…and every time, even though I’m the one who set the alarm, it’s like God calling. If I’m alone, I can’t help but smile and say, “Hello.” I feel so full of joy and gratitude that He’s there.

God gives us these gifts. We think they were our ideas, when they were His all along—sometimes, we just choose to stop and listen.