The THING(s)

Wow.  It has been five and a half MONTHS since I have been here.  I couldn’t even remember my password as blog owner!  Hi there.

I need to write because I am LOSING MY MIND.

Matt and I have been squeezed through a wheat-sifter.  Our marriage, specifically.  It has been excruciating and we are a bloody mess emotionally.  I describe our current state as “we’re cleaning out all of the yuck in our wounds so that they can heal well.”  Delicious, no?

As it turns out, we are both overachievers at selfishness.  We are in counseling, we are in shred-apart-this-crap-and-find-the-valuable-hidden-parts mode, and we have decided to deal with some serious cracks in our relational foundation.  It is horrible.  I don’t want to describe how horrible… I’m going to let your imagination do that work for me.

But we are on a journey here.  There are things, amazing things, looming beyond us.  There is a something for the Olson Five to do, and we have to get these foundational cracks repaired (even if we have to dig up the entire structure and rebuild it, which it kind of seems like we are doing, but we’re so covered with sludge and the air is so thick with demolition dust that we don’t really see what we’re doing… we’re just DOING IT).  And we don’t know what the amazing things are that we headed toward, but we are committed to realistically dealing with our crap and moving in that direction.

We’re never going to get there.

It isn’t just a half-glass-empty doubt that punches me in the face in my weak moments.  We really are NEVER GOING TO GET THERE.  We’ll never have it together.  I thought we would by now.  I thought we’d be 10+ years into this marriage thing and have our issues all ironed out so that we can be available for everyone else’s issues.  Yeah, that’s not ever going to be true.  Our issues are immense.  We still CAN be available to others with their issues, but only because we know the deep and painful brokenness of ourselves.  We get you.  We hear what you’re saying.  We are piles of shards and we may never feel put together.  We should probably just snuggle in, razor edges and all, and let Jesus start building a beautiful picture out of our shared mosaic, because pulling back until we are smooth and soft is NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN.  We can’t get there.  We’re a broken mess, and we are painfully aware of it.  And we are healing and being restored, but we’ll never be all set.  We’ll always be a mess.  And there’s a beauty in that, although I have difficulty finding it most days.

So this thing… or things… or whatever God has for us.  It has cost us our blinders, our masks, and our pretty patina that we paint on over our crumbles and cracks.  It has cost us our self-satisfaction and our arrogance.  It has been crazy expensive already, because it is ripping out solid chunks of us that we preferred to keep, thank you very much!

We don’t know what it is.  But allow me to walk you through the insanity that is my dream world these days.

“God knows our hearts for vulnerable children… if He is preparing us for THIS thing, then we’ll need this many beds donated, we’ll need to rearrange these rooms… no these ones… you know, it might work best if we left the master bedroom and switched to the guest roo… WHAT???  This can’t cost us our ROOM!  That’s our room!  I need a break.  <generous mental break>  Okay, so we have OPTIONS for room rearrangements… We aren’t in a position yet to go after any specifics because we have plans this summer that require just the 5 of us, okay… so we have some time.  And then what?”  I can tell you what vehicle switches we’d have to beg a car dealership for, I can tell you what laundry changes will need to take place, I can detail for you exactly how much more cooking I will have to do.  Oh, you should know this – I do not like cooking.  I don’t HATE it… but it seems so pointless.  We eat, then we eat again.  I have trouble finding the glamour in working on something that disappears.  It’s part of my “everything I do needs to COUNT and be BIG!” personal issues.  Meals?  Ehh.  So THAT attitude would need to shift, among every other detail of my life!

I get stuck in places like, “Could I keep my job?  We’d need the money, but if the thing God wants us to do is THIS, then He’d need my time devoted to that…” and anytime the room rearrangements in my head circle back toward booting Matt and me from our own bedroom.

I don’t like not knowing where we are going, but I promise you:  I canNOT handle knowing where we are going.  I really cannot.  I’m going mad just imagining things… can you even fathom how insufferable I’d be if I actually had to make the plans and carry them out?

So we’re in this “we need to heal because we let ourselves get damaged/damage one another and that needs to STOP” phase of life.  And we’re approaching this “if we could be honest with ourselves and open with God about what we’re willing to do in His Kingdom, He might ask this or this or THIS!!!” phase of life that is totally exhilarating and murderously dangerous at the same time.  I think God’s goal is to kill our overinflated senses of self so that whenever we get to the THING(s), He just has to remind us to leave that corpse dead instead of kill it then.  But we experience it this way:  He is killing US.  My arrogance IS me.  It’s part of me!  I can’t be me without it!  Augh!!!  I’m dying.  It hurts and I whine at God incessantly.  For unknown reasons, He still calls me His child and is pleased with me despite my brattiness.  And Matt too.  Our self-importance is the worst kind of zombie; you think it’s finally dead and can’t hurt us anymore, and then it’s BACK!  And creepier than ever!

So… I took a lengthy break from blogging and then popped in to tell you all of this, and that’s literally all I have to say.  I’m a jerk.  But I think we’re all well-acquainted with THAT factoid!  If you want to pray for us, pray that the horrible parts of both Matt and I will just DIE and that we’ll leave them dead and stop trying to resurrect our own ridiculousness.  And you could pray for our marriage.  It sucks, but in the same way as climbing Mount Everest sucks.  “Why are we doing this?  What were we thinking?  This is the worst thing ever!  We’ll never survive!” and then”Whoa.  Look at all of THAT.  Worth it!”  And you could pray for whatever the THING(s) is/are that God intends for us/is preparing us to do.  Because it’s likely going to be so big and epic that we’ll die again.  And I have a pre-recorded whining session for what to say when that happens.  And it will be a place of brokenness and beauty, which is exactly how life is meant to be.  I think we’ll feel fully alive then more than we ever have… but only because we know the deep frailty of ourselves.  We’re in the process of learning that lesson now.

Hi!  I’ve missed you!  I’ve gone crazy without you, dear reader!  Sorry I left and sorry that I don’t know when I’ll be back.


Asking Important Questions

Zach thinks internally for extended periods of time.  He ponders deeply and teases out all of the options and works through all of that information inside his mind.  He doesn’t often share his thoughts directly, but he asks a LOT of questions.  If you are willing to put in the time and effort to read between the lines, you can catch glimpses of what he’s thinking about.

This morning he asked two very important questions.

1.  Mom, is it a rule that we HAVE to go to church?

We were getting ready to leave for church and everyone was in various stages of getting dressed or eating breakfast or finding shoes.  Important questions from my kids are rarely timed to those few moments that I am available to think clearly and share from my heart. 🙂  I could have said, “Yep, in this house, it’s the rule!” or some other version of the My House/My Rules parenting practice.  But he wasn’t asking if I expect him to go to church.  Zach wanted to know if God expected him to go to church.  And that’s an entirely different question!

I have learned to pause when I’m having an important conversation and think before I speak.  (I have NOT yet learned to pause when I’m angry and think before I speak… I’m still working on that life skill).  But I took that moment to think, and then I answered my inquisitive son.

“No, honey.  It’s not a rule.  You don’t HAVE to go to church.”

Cue the ominous music!  Just kidding.

I followed up with, “We don’t go to church because we HAVE to.  We don’t HAVE to!  God doesn’t make us go to church – He wants us there because our hearts want to be with Him.  We go to church because He loves us and we love Him and we are in His family, so we want to spend time together with Him and His other kids, just like in any family.”

Zach proceeded to announce that he didn’t want to go to church today.  He explained that he didn’t want to go, that he would rather stay home, and that he just didn’t feel like going to church.

Again, I could have pulled rank and said, “Tough tooties, Buddy, you’re going to church!”  You know, the whole My House/My Rules bit.

But Matt and I work hard to let our kids have a voice and we value their real thoughts and feelings.  If I shut down Zach’s real thoughts and feelings when he shares them, I can kiss his willingness to talk to me goodbye!  It’s already a rarity to hear from him; I want him to experience my delight in his willingness to share himself.

I thanked him for telling me how he felt and just barely managed to avoid saying, “You’re still going, but good job sharing!  Now get in the car!”  Something made me pause and wait, and I think that something was actually a Someone.  I needed to listen to my son, and God was nudging my heart to wait it out.

Zach said that he knew we go to church to learn about God, but that he wanted to stay home and read his Bible.  That way, he would still get the results but not have to go.  He has carefully thought this through, hasn’t he?

I agreed with him that we DO go to church to learn about God.  But a big part of learning about God is being with Him in community with the rest of His family.  So we need to go be with God at church, but we also need to be with the other people there, because they love Him too.  And we need to take care of each other – how will we love them if we don’t get to see them?  And how will they love us and take care of us if they don’t get to see us?

Zach nodded and didn’t have anything further to say.  He went and got his shoes on and seemed ready to leave whenever we all managed to get ourselves out to the van.

I called him back over because I wanted to summarize for him.  “Zach, you are right.  We can read the Bible to learn about God.  And I LOVE that you read your Bible and learn all the time!  That is definitely something that we can do by ourselves and it is important to do.  But that’s just one of the important things that we can do at church.  If we are in God’s family, He is with us wherever we are.  But we also need to go be together with other people who love Him and learn together.”  My sweet son smiled his standard “Got it, Mom, let’s move on!” smile and said, “Okay, Mom.”  And that was that.

I am so grateful for his question!  I love having a glimpse into his thought process.  I also know that many, many people who love God ask that same question:  Do I really need to be IN church?  Because I can get the same thing on my own as I get at a church.  These conversations need to happen in the safety and openness of our home throughout our kids’ lives so that a) they know it is important to ask those hard questions, and b) we can gauge their hearts and determine what we need to say in that moment to answer their questions.  “You’re going to church!” is not an answer.  That’s a rule.  I’ve fought a long time to escape the slavery of the rules that have been associated with Christianity!  I do NOT want to pass that along to my children!  So no, we don’t HAVE to.  But we love to go to church.  We love to be with Him wherever we are, and we love to be with Him in a pile of other broken people who love Him too.  And seriously, if you are looking for a pile of broken people, the Church is the FIRST place to look!  We are all a mess!  But Jesus knows that.  And we know it too.  And we are trusting Him to take our broken shards of disaster and restore us into the breathtaking beauty of a mosaic in His Master Artist hands.  Each piece of glass needs to be there or the picture isn’t complete.  Your sharp edges belong right next to mine… and Zach’s sharp edges belong there with us too.

Zach’s second important question happened in the car on the way to church.  The twins get an allowance every week (Nathaniel will start getting one when he begins kindergarten, just like they did) and they divvy it into “for God,” “for savings,” and “for spending” piles.  The “for God” pile has been accumulating for about a month because we keep forgetting to have them bring it with them to church!  We finally remembered this morning, and the twins had a handful of quarters and a few dollar bills that they have been saving.  And then Zach said the following:

2.  Mom, how do we give this money to God?  Like, does someone at our church go up in a spaceship to take it to Him?  How do we know if He gets the money when we give it at church?

Seriously, people!  I need a break between these brilliant questions!  He was just firing off big ones today!

I laughed and agreed that it would be SUPER COOL if we got to take it in a spaceship up to God, wouldn’t it?  Then I explained that when we give money to a church, we are trusting them to use it for things that God would want.  Rissa said, “Yeah, if they took it home and spent it on toys or something, we couldn’t trust them!”  And Zach said, “Yeah, the managers at the church would have to be responsible because that’s God’s money!”  I told them that I’m sure that those bad things happen at some places and that is NOT okay.  I also explained that we would not give money somewhere that wasn’t using it for things that God cares about.

Then we talked about the things that God cares about.  Loving people, telling people that God wants to know them and for them to know Him, taking care of people who need things that we can give them.  We are trusting the people at our church to do good things with God’s money.

On the way home, I had the chance to thank Zach for asking such an important question!  We ALL need to ask that question, and I’m so proud of him for wanting to make sure that the money he was giving to God was actually going to a good place.

Matt reminded the kids that all of everything belongs to God – God doesn’t need our money to come up to Him in a spaceship because He already has everything everywhere!  And God doesn’t need our money down here either!  It all already belongs to Him.  But when we remember that it is His and we make sure that the first part of our money goes to God and the things He cares about, it helps us live our lives in a way that is focused on caring about important things.  Mommy and Daddy do that too – we give God the first part of our money to help us remember that it is already His!

The kids and I heard a song on the radio this week that we had never heard before.  They often ask me what a song means or what the musicians are singing about.  I had to stop and listen because I didn’t know since I hadn’t heard this one before.  Here are the first few lyrics:

I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now
Thought, how’d we ever get so far down
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, I created you”

This morning as we talked on the way home, I reminded the Tinies that we heard that song – that God DID do something!  He sent Jesus to be our connection to God so that we can be restored to His family, even though our sins separate us.  And He made us and put His heart into ours so that we can love and care like He does!  He doesn’t need our money for Him – He needs us to share ourselves (including our money) to meet the needs that others have!  So instead of asking why doesn’t God fix that, we can go help and know that this is something that God cares about.  And for whatever reason, God chooses to people as His hands and feet.  More lyrics:

I’m so tired of talking
About how we are God’s hands and feet
But it’s easier to say than to be
Live like angels of apathy who tell ourselves
It’s alright, “somebody else will do something”
Well, I don’t know about you
But I’m sick and tired of life with no desire
I don’t want a flame, I want a fire
I wanna be the one who stands up and says,
“I’m gonna do something”
But we’re never gonna change the world
By standing still

The kids said, “Yeah!  God did do something!  He made US!”

The Olson Tinies rock my world every single day.  I have no doubt that God will rock the whole world with them and people like them – by placing His heart into their hearts!  And isn’t that what God does with all of us as He transforms us?  He takes our hardened hearts of stone and gives us a live, beating heart that looks like His.  I love Zach’s two important questions.  I love our family that God made.  And we are altogether incapable of standing still. 🙂

What Makes Us so Afraid of THOSE people?

I’ve spent quite a bit of time writing some thoughts and comments regarding a recent newsworthy item.  After all of the work and thinking and praying, I’d like to compile them here so that they are in one place.  It’s going to be a lengthy read!  As always, I consider it an act of love toward me anytime you read what I write, and this is no exception.  Thank you for once again caring about me as you tackle this monster post.

The nugget-sized version of what happened: an announcement was released from World Vision, an excellent non-profit that cares for the poorest children in our world.  While they are not taking a position on same-sex marriage, they will now employ Christians from the LGBT community who are in a legal same-sex marriage.  That is to say, brothers and sisters in Christ are welcome to work at World Vision.

I view this as an excellent decision.  World Vision recognized that God desires relationship with all of us.  People who pursue God and acknowledge Him as Lord and walk with Him, being transformed more into His likeness day by day (Christians) are welcomed as employees at World Vision.  Sexuality/marriage is not a tenet of the Christian faith; it is not part of the core beliefs that Christians share.  People can be equally committed to knowing God and interpreting the Bible as accurately as possible, and still come to opposing views regarding marriage and sexuality.  Since it is not central to the Gospel, World Vision decided it didn’t need to be central to their employment policies.

Note:  I have not nor will I state my own views on how to interpret the Bible on this topic.  There are plenty of people shouting their versions, and I don’t need to add to that.  I trust God to parent each one of His children.  He calls all of us to be in relationship with Him and become His children, and we come as broken messes, full of self-worship and sin and destruction and death.  We are so burdened by our sin and we cannot stand up under it.  It destroys us and we need a Savior.  As we accept God’s grace to us, undeserved given our disgusting and unholy state as fallen people, He guides us.  He dwells with us, cares for us, transforms us, and grows us more and more into who He always intended for us to be.  I don’t need to say “this is this and that is that!” about you… I never need my kids to “help” me parent their siblings.  God doesn’t need me to stomp around focusing on naming sin or not naming it.  And so I won’t.  I welcome and appreciate your thoughtful comments on this post, but it would be best for you to show kindness by not stomping around announcing your interpretations either.  Let’s all trust God to call us to Himself and His truth within our hearts and be respectful.  I wrestle with this and you must as well… but let’s not go to that already overly-discussed point in this discussion.

The evangelical bigwigs apparently did not share my view, and several well known Christians began lobbying for the immediate rescinding of support for World Vision and the children they provide for.  For whatever reason, it is trendy right now for people who really do love Jesus to turn around and  treat the LGBT community as lepers; a pox upon the good societies of the world who must be contained, removed, and “fixed.”  These same people proclaimed immense sorrow at all of the children who would no longer receive provisions and care because of those “evil homosexuals.”

That is ridiculous.  If I pull my funding for a sponsored child, I pulled the funding for that child.  If that child dies or suffers unspeakably because I refuse to care for them via the organization I no longer am willing to support and now they are no longer able to fund the programs that care for these dear children, I did that.  Just me.  I cannot point fingers elsewhere and say, “Well, I don’t agree with you and your decision to fraternize with THOSE people, so those kids are going to die now.  So, either lose my support or stop fraternizing with THOSE people to get me to stick around.”  Except that’s exactly what many people did.  More than 2000 children lost support IN LESS THAN 48 HOURS.  And people claimed that the gospel itself is in peril.  I very much appreciate this quote from Rachel Held Evans, who meticulously documented these events on her blog:

I have to ask: Since when? Since when has the reality that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again ever been threatened by two men committing their lives to one another? Since when have the historic Christian creeds, recognized for centuries as the theological articulation of Orthodoxy, included a word about the issue of gay marriage? Since when have my gay and lesbian friends—many of whom are committed Christians—ever kept me from loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and loving my neighbor as myself? Since when has a single interpretation of the biblical passages in question here been deemed the only one faithful Christians can have? “

Since when indeed!  I am sorry to report that not even 2 full days later, World Vision issued an apology and reverted back to their former stance because they were so financially pressured that they could not place those children’s lives at risk.  Despite God’s tug at them to expand their work to include all Christians who claim Jesus and demonstrate faith, they had to rescind it because otherwise, children would die.  I encountered many friends who were saddened at this and then a few who felt it was a victory.  After reading a comment about how Christians made themselves heard and it paid off (although it was only a few very vocal Christians who made their threats heard, not all Christians by any means), I wrote this on Facebook today:

“Forcing World Vision to revert to the previous policy is NOT A VICTORY. It is a case of evangelicalism bullying and making threats until it gets its way. I don’t trust evangelicalism for rescue from the sin that would otherwise consume my life and soul… I trust Jesus. World Vision was planning to acknowledge Christians in same-sex marriages as legitimate employees… our brothers and sisters with whom we agree on matters of orthodoxy, but may or may not agree on matters of living out our daily faith. None of the ministries I work for/with check whether my anger or my arrogance or my other sins that I struggle with DAILY are endangering their mission statement.
World Vision was faced with the impossible choice of 1) catering to bullies who threatened to pull funding to children in poverty (an area the Bible is crystal clear about) if they didn’t recant on allowing certain Christians in their doors… but all of the rest of us with our issues are still okay, right? Whew! OR 2) continuing to refuse their brothers and sisters in Christ. These were BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST. We have no right to claim whether their faith is real based on fruit in their life, etc. We do not have the eyes of God and we are not responsible for making His decisions! Although if we were, I think this is what that would look like, and I think it is terrifying.
This painted a “hot-topic issue” as a tenet of the Gospel, and it is NOT. I was heartbroken that a few angry loudmouths portrayed the body of Christ as a bunch of bullies who want our way. We are called to lay down our way and follow Jesus, and caring for children in poverty is certainly a way to do that. Heartbroken.

May I add that caring for the LGBT community is also an excellent way to lay down our way and follow Jesus.  He stood with those who were oppressed and marginalized, and so many American Christians and churches have oppressed, dehumanized, and demonized the LGBT community, as if the very existence of these dear ones that God loves so much that He gave His LIFE for them is a direct attack on our personhood and morals and rules.  Who else do we think we would be better off without?  And since when is that a choice we should even consider?  God is Creator and He is the Potter.  We are just clay to be made with His hands for the glory of His name.  When God calls someone to Himself, He takes responsibility for molding them into who He made them to be.

For whatever reason, the mere mention of the LGBT community makes many Christians scramble for the book of Leviticus and start bashing people with their Bibles.  “You’re bad!  You’re sin!  You’re wrong!  It says so right here!”  Forgive my confusion, but when I read God’s Word, I thought it portrayed ALL of humanity as lost and broken, full of sin.  Why this singling out?  Isn’t that just to make ourselves feel better about our own areas of weakness?  “At least I’m not like YOU!”  But when we are confronted with the weight of our own sin – for me, it’s my anger and my arrogant pride that convinces me that I am better and more worthy than so-and-so because I do these things right… when we really consider the desolation of our hearts when left to our own devices and self-pursuits, we don’t have room to look at anyone else.  If I come to God saying, “I’m better than THOSE people,” I’m lying to myself.  But when I am honest, I come to God with my pain, my brokenness, my life mess, saying, “Here are the shreds and shards.  I can’t even imagine what You can do with me… but I’m Yours and thank You so much for having me.”  And that’s enough.

I think we Christians are also concerned about defending Scripture and our beliefs.  We panic when we feel the Bible is questioned, and we start defending it to the death.  The Bible is truth!  It has no need of my defense.  I need to know it well so as to govern my life by God’s principles as He leads me on the path of His way, but I do not need to defend it.  God uses His Word to penetrate the hearts of men and women and to show us Himself.  Why would I feel defensive?  Truthfully, I don’t get defensive about the Bible because I worry that God is being misrepresented… I get defensive about the Bible when I am being misrepresented!  When we panic and bash people with tidbits and verses to PROVE our faith and shut them up, we are not revealing the Lord God.  We are revealing our fears that stem from any number of trigger areas.  I think the biggest fear is that we aren’t any better… we are just as broken and we know it.   Jesus came to save all of us and all people are qualified to choose Him.  It breaks my heart that anyone would be singled out as “not good enough” to serve Him.  Who among us is not completely undone by our brokenness and in need of a Savior?

I was struck by a thought today.  I have often heard Romans 1 used as an example of the Bible’s stance against homosexuality, specifically verse 25:  “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”  And I realized that it is those of us, the people of God, the Christians, who exchange the truth of God for a lie.  We add to the Gospel, pretending there are more rules and more requirements and only we fit the bill for being accepted and loved by God.  The LGBT community experiences HATRED from the Church.  Hatred.  Not from God.  From His people.  That is the sin, that is the lie that we have exchanged the truth to get.  I can’t look beyond that because WE are destroying lives.  Resorting to bullying and threats to get our way?  I don’t teach my kids that whining and threats and manipulation are acceptable ways to get what they want… why would adult Christians who actually know that God is sovereign over all things and Ruler and King still think we can get away with those childish behaviors to get our way?

As you read through Romans 1, Paul writes about “they” and “them.”  People like to stop at the end of chapter 1 with their pronouncements of God’s wrath on others… because if you move on to Romans 2, Paul starts writing much more personally with “you” and “you all” and “we.”  Ouch.  Check out Romans 2:1-4:  “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.  So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?   Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”

Yep, there it is.  God is God and we are NOT.  It shows contempt for God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience with me when I pretend I am any different than the “theys” and “thems.”  He knows I am not.  He knows where I was when He rescued me.  And I know where I was when He rescued me.  I know what He is working on in my heart right now.  And He doesn’t yell and stomp and say, “You’re bad!  You’re sin!  You’re wrong!  It says so right here!” as He beats me up with my Bible.  He points to truth and who He is and He reaches for me in relationship and calls me to walk WITH Him, out of darkness into His glorious light.

Once we Christians are reminded that ALL have sinned, we take a step back and move to discussing the difference between sinning and staying in sin.  Again, I think this has more to do with our fears… we WANT there to be a big difference between the sins we commit and the sins you intentionally commit in your obvious hatred of God and His ways.  But that’s a big assumption… to imply that your sin is intentional and indicates hatred of God, isn’t it?  There ARE people who actively defy God and turn their back on Him and refuse to listen to His voice calling to them.  There ARE people who choose their way and just don’t care what pain and heartache they inflict on others or God… they want what they want.  But who are we to say that others aren’t JUST as burdened and crushed by the consequences of our sin nature?  Aren’t we all struggling under the brokenness of our world, our families, our hearts, ourselves?

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He was regularly confronting those who told everyone else how they had to live God’s way.  They were Pharisees, experts of the law and the Scriptures, and they had added so many rules to the Law that God had given that it was crushing people to try to adhere to all of those extra rules.  It was done out of a desire for safety:  “God says this, but if I take it further and require THIS from myself, I won’t ever break God’s Law because I won’t even break my version of God’s Law!”  Jesus was very harsh with those who considered themselves experts on how to love God and serve Him best.  I used to be one of those people, and God dealt with me on that issue as well.  In contrast, Jesus showed compassion and mercy for those who came to Him in their brokenness and were honest enough to recognize their need for His help.  As God’s people, we Christians are failing in devastating ways because we are not offering the world and one another that compassion and grace; we are harsh about the rules.

I’ll leave you with this thought:  When I pray about this, which I do regularly because I am horrified at how the Church at large, and especially the American church, has treated the LGBT community and how I myself have been complicit in that, I often try to probe God for hints at how to best interpret His Scriptures.  “Just tell me what You mean!  I’ll go with You, just point me!”  Because I want to be right.  Like a wise Father, He doesn’t play that game with me.  He doesn’t hand me easy answers so I can be right.  He lets me wrestle with His Word, fight with it, engage with it.  It becomes alive and I come to it again and again looking for answers to my questions and discovering that I’m asking the wrong ones.  I think a better question would be “What would you have me do?”  And when I ask that, I hear the same thing every time.

It is from Acts 10 where Peter is repugnant to share the good news of Jesus with anyone who is not Jewish.  Peter reasoned, non-Jews (Gentiles) don’t follow the same rules!  They don’t know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob!  They are beneath us – we are God’s chosen people!  So God spoke to Peter in a dream.  God showed Peter a giant sheet coming down from heaven full of animals that were considered unclean by Jewish law.  And a voice said, “Get up, Peter.  Kill and eat.”  Peter refused, stating that he had never eaten anything impure or unclean!  And God said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”  That happened 3 times, and then Peter woke up.

Peter’s dream wasn’t really about animals.  God was sending someone to bring Peter to some Gentiles who needed to know the good news that Jesus was the Messiah, the One to bring justice and the Kingdom of God.  Peter would not have been willing to tell them because he viewed those Gentiles as lesser than him.  So God addressed that.  And that is exactly what He says to me when I pray about this.

“Jaime, do not call anything impure that I have made clean.”  I cannot see people’s hearts.  I can’t see who He has made clean.  I don’t have that information and I never will because I AM NOT GOD.  I need to trust Him to be Him and to teach me how to build relationships with others, just like He does, so that I can walk with them be with them on their journey to which He calls them.  He has made me clean, and that is truly remarkable.

The Secret Truth About Trying Harder

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Little by little, day by day, we write truth on each other’s hearts!
Deut. 6: 4-9: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

I was driving all 3 kids somewhere and decided to address a concern with one of them.  Sometimes, I talk to them privately and one-on-one, but if it won’t be embarrassing and everyone could benefit from the discussion, it helps to do it with all 3 of them present.

We talked about the problem behavior and I asked, “Why did you do that?”

As usual, my child answered, “I don’t know.”

That’s an honest answer.  I can’t always explain the reasons I make a bad choice either.  Neither could the apostle Paul in Romans 7:

15 I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

I explained to my child that I think the problem is that their heart is selfish.  They want to do whatever they want to do, and that means that sometimes they disobey even though they should obey.

My sweet child said, “Well, I’ll obey now.  And I’ll stop disobeying.  I’ll try harder.”

And then it occurred to me to tell them a truth I often forget to portray.  Trying harder doesn’t work.  The selfishness in our hearts doesn’t go away when we try harder to be selfless.  It is easy and commonplace to say, “You need to try harder, do better.  You can do it!”

But I’ve been discovering that trying harder doesn’t make me better and I can’t do it.  No matter how good I try to be, Romans 7:21 rings true:  “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”  The evil is inside my heart.  That same evil of choosing self over good is inside my child’s heart too.

So I spoke truth to all 3 of my children, perhaps for the first time on this topic.  “Trying harder doesn’t work, honey.  Because your heart will still want to be selfish.  What you need to do is let God change your heart.  You can choose to listen to Him, and He will remind you when to obey.  And He can change your heart so that you actually want to obey.”

I don’t know if that made sense, and I didn’t get to pursue it further because we had arrived at our destination and gotten out of the car.  I’ll need to tell this truth again.  I think the lesson today was that *I* needed to tell the truth.  The truth that just working harder isn’t successful.  Right now, my kids are already bent toward being people-pleasers.  They want to do the right thing and make others happy.  And they don’t want to get in trouble.  So they won’t hear that truth and think, “Woohoo!  I don’t have to try at all!”  We DO have to try.  And they know that.  But we can’t expect our efforts to be enough to fight the evil that is already in our hearts, constantly suggesting that we choose ourselves.  And we can trust that the voice of God, no matter how quiet, will speak the truth.  “I’ll help you.  I’ll soften your heart.  I’ll forgive your sin.  I’ll help you turn toward Me.  I’m here.”

Obnoxiously Persistent Whispers

I drove my Bub to preschool today and then headed into the office, just as I do every Tuesday and Thursday morning.  Even though the vast majority of my work can be done anywhere I have Internet/phone access, I find it easier to focus when I am sitting in my cubicle and the laundry/dishes/crafting fun that fills my home is not creeping up on me and enticing me to go do something else.

When I arrived at my office building, no one was there yet.  Because the other clinical instructors work out in the community as well as in our clinic here in the office, Thursdays are always a toss-up on whether I’ll be the first person here.  And our receptionist is on vacation.

I still haven’t bothered to go get a key to my office… I can get into the building on my own, but not into my office space.  So I was stuck.  Time to go get a key!

I drove myself over to our department building (I work at the clinic off-campus in Research Park) and headed inside.  Then I remembered that the administrator responsible for keys was out of the office because her husband had been in the hospital.  Crap!  Well, I’ll still try since I’m already here.

Surprisingly, I found her in her office.  We’d met only once before, so I had to check if it was her or someone subbing for her.  It was her.  I asked for my key, apologized for not obtaining it 8 months ago, and thanked her.  Then I made small talk by mentioning that I didn’t expect to find her at work since my boss had mentioned that her husband was in the hospital.  Actually, this was her first day back at work!  He was released to come home just last night.  It was an emergency and she rode with him in the ambulance to a hospital over an hour away that specializes in neuro intensive care.

I tried to just listen and affirm her that she has endured something horrible this past week.  It is hard on her husband because he was experiencing the emergency, but it is especially hard on her because she is there watching all of it and trying to hold it together!  She needed to share, so I listened.  We laughed together about how working from home isn’t the same as coming in and enjoying the ability to focus on just work, so here we were!  I gave her a hug and said I should go so that she could use her work time to actually catch up on all that piled up while she was away.

As soon as I turned and walked down the hallway, I heard one of those obnoxiously persistent whispers.  Today, it was, “Go ask if you can pray with her!”  I immediately told the whisper, “No, she is trying to focus, I already said goodbye and left, I’ll be a distraction if I head back in and interrupt again.”  And as usual, the whisper persisted.  Obnoxiously.  “Go pray with her!  It’s far less embarrassing to walk 14 feet back over to her office than it would be to leave and come back another time… you are rarely at this building!  This is the time!”  I obnoxiously persisted with my rational arguments, “That’s ridiculous.  I listened.  I cared.  I gave her a hug.  I need to get to work!”

Six seconds can feel a lot longer when you are arguing inside your own head, you know?

And then I remembered that those obnoxiously persistent whispers are not from me.  Wait, so who am I arguing with?  Jesus promises that as our Shepherd, we are His sheep.  His sheep can hear His voice, they know His voice, and they listen and obey.  Because sheep need a shepherd!  I have come to realize that when I have a strong urge to do something and I would really rather not, God is speaking to my heart.  I have ignored Him on many occasions because it wasn’t convenient to follow through and do whatever He was whispering to me.  I’m busy!  I have stuff to do!  I have 3 kids with me!  Save it for when I don’t have too much on my plate already!  I have MANY rational and legitimate excuses for not listening to inconvenient whispers.

But they persist.

I’m grateful, actually, for the persistence.  Yes, it is obnoxious, but it means that God is speaking to me and He knows that I know that it is Him.  He doesn’t give up on me, even though I’m stubborn and don’t want to do whatever He is asking of me.

I made it almost to the elevator this morning, and then I sighed and realized that God was asking me to go back and pray with that woman.  She was hurting.  I could at least ask.  If she didn’t want to pray with me, then at least I still obeyed.  I turned around and walked back to her office and noticed she was talking with someone else.  “Whew!” I thought.  “Off the hook!”  But then the someone else headed back to their office, and it was me again.

I knocked again.  I interrupted her work again.  And I said, “I’m sorry I didn’t say this before… but can I pray with you?”

She was startled, but she said, “Sure…”

So I sat down, grabbed her hand, held it, and thanked God for caring for her and her husband… that he was already back at home and recovering.  I asked God to strengthen her as she provided support for her husband, and I asked God to surround her with people who would provide support for her because she is spending all of herself just helping him through this ordeal.  I asked God to give them peace and healing and to remind them how very much He loves them.

Then I said “Amen,” smiled at her, and RAN OUT THE DOOR.

I hate being interrupted.  I don’t like when those obnoxiously persistent whispers interrupt my day.  “Go help that man over the curb… his wheelchair is stuck.”  “Ask that woman outside the library if she is hungry and wants to go with you to Arby’s.”  “Hand your baby to that person – they need a hug from Me right this minute!”  “Stomp over and tell that angry man that he does not get to yell at his wife like that in the airport – go stand up for her.”  “Go back, possibly humiliate yourself, and ask that woman who is hurting and just shared her hardships with you if she would  like to pray.”  I always internally scream, “No!  I DON’T WANT TO!”  God is fully aware that I am a stubborn brat… I’m HIS kid, after all, and He knows me very well.

He isn’t demanding, but He is pushy.  The whisper doesn’t turn into a shout… but it doesn’t go away.  Well, not until I go ahead and do the thing that I’m asked to do or say NO! and refuse and leave.  I always feel better when I obey His whispering voice and offer whatever I am supposed to do… and I always feel deeply saddened when I refuse because I missed a chance to be Jesus to someone.  And would you believe this?  No one has said no… not once.  When God prompts me and I obey, it is always well-received.  It is as if He coordinated the whole thing… they graciously say yes because they need what I’m offering and I say yes and agree to offer it.  Oh wait, He IS coordinating the whole thing.

I can be very brave… VERY brave.  But I hate to do it.  I was just trying to go to work and accomplish something… my students need me to do this very important stuff that I am doing!  I don’t have time to embarrass myself!  But I did it.  And I’m not embarrassed.  And it wasn’t even hard to do!  The only hard part was the argument with the obnoxiously persistent Whisperer who always knows better than I do.