March 30, 2012

Known

First, some very important matters.

I think you'll be comforted to know that I have a fairly limited wardrobe.

(Why that would comfort you is beyond me, but I don't make the rules, I just follow them.)

My weekly wardrobe rotates between approximately 3 outfits. Blue fleece sweater with jeans. Black fleece sweater with jeans. Other blue fleece sweater with jeans. And if I'm feeling particularly crazy I'll mix it up. Grey shirt and fleece sweater with jeans. And if I'm feeling even crazier, I'll throw on a pair of earrings.

On a routine basis I will stare into my closet full of clothes and cry aloud (much to Matt's great delight), I don't have anything to wear! 

And then I'll pick out a fleece sweater and jeans and all is well again.

On a related note, I dreamed last night that I was in an awful car accident because of snowy weather conditions. In real life right now our heater is set to 70. It's like I can't escape the nightmares. My thoughts are dark towards all of you that walk in warmth.

Micah fell down a flight of stairs two days ago. It was terrifying since I saw the whole thing happen. And being one second too late is still too late. He's got a bruise the side of Indiana on his forehead to show for it. Poor baby.

I met a friend for coffee last night and it was wonderful to catch up. It feels so good to be known, doesn't it? One of the most comforting things about the Lord to me is how known I am by him. I don't have to explain myself or figure myself out or wade through difficult explanations.

"You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it all together."
Psalm 139:2-4

Sometimes I simply say, Lord, I'm hurt/frustrated/angry/afraid and I'm not even sure why. I think I know but I don't know how to put it into words. Thank you that you know exactly what I mean and understand it more than I do. 

Isn't that great that we can do that with the Lord? I read the most amazing thing in my study yesterday.

1st Thessalonians 5:17 says, "Pray without ceasing."

Okay, how's that for a light burden? Reason 5,472 to feel like I'm not getting it right.

No, no, no. First, I have to continually remind myself that my purpose in life is not to get it "right." It's to walk with the Lord, to know him. 2nd Corinthians 3:18 tells me that as I gaze upon him (fixate on him) then I am transformed into his likeness. Not when I check things off my Spiritual To-Do List.

Have you ever been around a contagious person? They have the flu...next day you wake up with fire in your limbs and hatred in your heart.

Or, you're around someone who is happy, winsome, funny, and you find yourself smiling more often, perhaps even making a joke, feeling a little less sad.

As we spend time with the Lord and fill our minds and heart with his Word, we began to catch it. So this idea of praying continually is not meant to be a burden. In fact, listen to what my study says.

This word ("continually") was used in the Greek world to refer to the lingering persistency of a hacking cough. "Just as a person with a hacking cough is not always audibly coughing though the tendency to cough is always there, so the Christian who prays without ceasing is not always praying audibly and yet prayer is always the attitude of his heart and life."

Now this I can relate with. Hacking cough. Prayer. Yes.

Oh, the comforts of knowing Christ. Being known. Continual communion. Peace. Forgiveness. New life. New hope. Purpose.

May you find new life in Him.

March 28, 2012

Peace and Love

You know what I'm continually learning?

(Besides that when that thing, that whatever-it-is-that-seizes-me, that produces in me that insidious need to find a pair of scissors and start "trimming" my bangs, Micah's hair, Asher's hair, that I need to just walk away. Walk. Away. It's so simple, but I'm just now learning.)

(Asher, consequently, now looks like the newest recruit to the United States Army.)

But besides that, you know what else I'm learning?

That just because it's what God wants and has for me doesn't mean it's going to be easy or always feel right.

Know what I mean? I think sometimes I subconsciously think that when it's what God wants, then it's going to be easy-peezy, and everything at all times will be wonderful and amazing. My feelings are going to confirm it because then I'll have that feeling of peace and well-being.

I'm not sure exactly where that comes from because I don't find it in Scripture.

I do read that Jesus gives us a peace that the world doesn't give, and that we'll have his peace that transcends understanding. But do you know what those verses are saying? That, in spite of, and because of our circumstances we'll have peace that's un-understandable, and it'll make sense why it's not peace that the world could give, because the world's peace is circumstantial.

The peace he gives will be so remarkable because our circumstances would otherwise naturally warrant fear, anxiety, distrust, unbelief. But, in Christ, we can still have rest in our hearts. Peace.

When I consider that the early Christians and writers of the books of the New Testament faced terrifying circumstances as a part of life because of their belief in Christ, it further leads me to believe that belief in Christ does not mean absence of unpleasantries, if you will. Or discomfort, as many of us 21st-century American believers like to avoid like the rabid plague. It means in-the-middle-of, in-spite-of peace.

I was reflecting tonight on instances in my life where, if I had used my feelings as my guide, I would have actually missed out on exactly what God wanted for me. Like, for example, my favorite gift ever.

Matt and I had been dating for only a couple of months when suddenly I was sure that I did not want this relationship. I liked him, but I was terrified I was making a huge mistake. In perfect hindsight I clearly see that I was just ascared because I couldn't control all the what-ifs and I was still pretty soured from a previous relationship gone bad and Matt couldn't promise me that we would be missionaries in Argentina for the rest of our lives. (True story.) But at the time I was sure I was making the right decision to call the troops back.

I remember so clearly sitting with him in his car on that one spot by the golf course, looking out over Durango, and telling him, I just don't think this is what I want. I need a break. Being the confident man that he is, he said, Ok, well let me know what you decide.

(That seemed rather callous to me, so I was a tad consoled when I later found out that he was actually super depressed and aimlessly walked around Wal-mart, which, if you know my husband, is like fiery ants upon oozing sores upon feral cats.)

(And, if he had reacted desperately, that would've sealed the deal, effective immediately. No sir, no desperadoes wanted here.)

We took our break, but since we had already planned a trip for me to meet his family in Texas at the end of that week, I decided I would not be a total jerk and still go, even though I really didn't want to because I was just sure that he wasn't right for me.

Somewhere, sometime, somehow over the course of that week in Texas, meeting his mom (whom I now love with all my heart and soul and mind), being introduced to his friends and Texas life, I fell head over heels in love with him. Seriously, it was just that fast and amazing.

In Texas that fateful trip


We were married 6 months later, and we've never looked back. 5 years and 2 kids later, I continue to see that I couldn't have married a better man.

I'm so glad I didn't ultimately let my feelings and desire for the world's peace (perfect circumstances, perfect people, perfect answers) rob me of the best husband ever.

Don't let your feelings deceive you and keep you from what the Lord wants to do in your life. You may miss out on your most favorite gift ever.

March 23, 2012

Being Terrified

I went to college at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. One of the most beautiful places on earth. Just the memories of my college years make me feel warm and fuzzy. I had full scholarships and so with the exception of two summers, I didn't have to work. My roommates were my best friends and we eeked out every last bit of fun to be had.

FLC is a secular campus and, I think it's safe to say, pretty hostile to Christianity. Awesome. Seriously, I mean that. It was the best place I could be. If we grow up around people who think the same way we do and that's all we ever know, how do we learn to engage others of different beliefs, right?

I was very involved in our campus Christian club and we were extensively discipled and grown up in the Christian faith. We were taught a lot of  Apologetics, which, simply put, is giving a sound, reasonable explanation for the Christian faith. (Of which there are many.)

Paul says in the last part of 1st Peter 3:15, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."

My friends, there are so many sound, reasonable arguments for the existence of God and the validity of the Bible, it's amazing. It blows my mind.

Anyhoo.

My senior year I was in a Sociology class and I asked the teacher if I could share my faith with the class at the end of the semester. I had shared my faith before in other classes but this was the first time I had asked for a specific time in the class to do it.

She said yes (I loved this teacher, it still makes me smile to think of her) and decided that she would leave the whole last class open for everyone to share whatever they wanted to share about themselves. The days leading up to this class were exciting. I remember asking Austin and Laura and Nate and Erin to please be praying during the specific time of the class. I also asked a friend along to be with me during it.

Once the actual day came I was literally sick to my stomach with fear. I felt nauseous. I was about to tell a class of 25 students that we are sinful, there is only one way to God and that's through Jesus Christ, and that we are without excuse as Romans 1 tells us because even Creation bears Him witness. That's all soda pops and butterflies when you're sitting in your Sunday School class but when you're sitting in a classroom with people of wildly different beliefs (of which I'd heard throughout the semester), it's rather terrifying.

Because let's face it, none of us likes to be disliked. We all want others' approval to some extent. I'd had a great time in that class and enjoyed my fellow classmates and teacher, and I didn't want to end it with them thinking I was a fundamentalist crazy.

In 2nd Corinthians 12, Paul says that he would boast in his weakness because God's grace is sufficient for him and that His power is made perfect in weakness.

I was so weak in myself. I had no confidence in me pulling it off. I think I said something to the Lord along the lines of, You're going to have to do this, I'm terrified.

Class started. The time came. I opened my mouth in faith and spoke words of Truth that I believe are the surest all of creation has ever known.

Friends, it was a defining faith moment in my life and one I think about regularly. The presence of the Holy Spirit was so pervasive that once I began speaking, it was as if He took over and spoke Himself to people that He loves more deeply than they could ever fathom.

I didn't leave one thing out. And once I finished there was complete silence. For probably a good 30 seconds, which is a long time when you're waiting for that first stone to be cast.

But the most amazing thing about it was there were no stones. In fact, I could see on their faces this openness and genuine questioning and they even did have some questions for me. It was something that only the Lord could have done. And I hope I see some of those students in Eternity one day.

So, on this Faith-Filled Friday, I remind myself of God's power in our weakness. I remind myself that when I am "strong" in myself, I am missing out on dimensions of God's power in my life that I can only see in my weakness. And I remind you of what my friend, Nate, said this morning:

In Acts 10:42-43 Peter preaches a simple gospel. When sharing your faith, don't be so worried about what you say as that you say it. It's not our intelligence that saves people, it's the power of Christ.

Be weak in yourself but strong in Christ.

March 22, 2012

Something You Need to Know

Ok. So I thought if we are going to get to know one another like this, there are some things you need to know. Full disclosure.

(Be kind.)

I have a mouse in my garage as we speak. I opened the garage door, it ran in, I screamed, Micah screamed a sympathy-scream, and now my life foundations are crumbly. If you call and I fail to answer, call 911. I'm most likely passed out on the garage floor.

I cannot use pens that are missing their cap. I simply cannot. Their incompleteness harms my fragile sense of wholeness.

I killed a spider the size of my pinky nail yesterday using approximately 22 wadded up paper towels and I still had a near-nervous breakdown.

I am a Recovering Baby-Wiser. (Don't hate.)

Cuddling in bed is punishable by death. I can cuddle you but please for the love don't cuddle me. This has caused what's commonly referred to as Marital Strife.

I know all parents think their child is truly the smartest, cutest child to ever exist. But I don't think I'm wrong and I don't think I'm biased. Right?

Stubbed toes are always funny. They're never not funny. (Unless of course it involves my toes and then it also involves Christian Cursing.)

I have to be even. I have to. If I'm rinsing something off and I get one hand wet, I have to get the other one wet too.

I also have to always put my left sock and shoe on first, and if for some ridiculous reason I accidentally put the right one on first, I have to take it off and start over. (I'm heart-attack serious.)

Lastly.

The way to my heart is Hilarity and Sweets. If you're not funny, take heart. Anyone can follow a recipe, yes?

In the spirit of Mutual Disclosure, what are some things I should know about you?

March 21, 2012

A Do-Over

Do you ever have those days where you crawl into bed at the end of it and think, I'll take A Do-Over for $500, please? 

I had one of those today. (And yesterday.)

All the things I did wrong run through my head like one of Micah's Veggie Tales songs that I can't get out of my head, for the love of everything good and right in this world

I spent too much time on the computer. 

I didn't stop what I was doing and look Micah in the eye when he was talking to me. 

I sighed loudly and frustratedly when Asher cried for me again.

I said Dang it! when I dropped that thing for the five majillionth time, and Micah heard me and repeated it.

I shoved Cyrus off of me when he was just trying to snuggle.

(That's our cat, FYI. I'm not a total jerk.)

I got irritated at Matt for no good reason other than I was tired. 

I turned the radio up as loud as we could handle it just because I didn't want to answer the same question one more time. (Mommy, hom? No, baby, we're going shopping. Mommy - Nana, Papa? No, baby, they're working. Mommy, hom?)

(Just go ahead and repeat the above conversation 4,792 times and you're 1/5,000th of the way to reality.)

I was snappy and irritable all day. We were headed to town and as I was driving I was talking to the Lord. I was telling him my frustrations and why I was frustrated. As he so kindly does, he showed me where I needed to ask for forgiveness, and at that moment I needed to start with my son. So I angled the mirror and I said, Hey baby, Mama's been impatient and rude today and I'm sorry. That's not right and I'm sorry for being like that. Do you forgive me? 

He gave me his big smile and sideways glance and I knew all was forgiven. 

He also wasted no time in confirming yet again that we were in fact not going home and yes, Nana and Papa were working, and yes, Daddy was also working, and no we were not going home. Lather, rinse, repeat.

*sigh*

These days happen. They just do. Maybe not for everybody, but they do for me. But I'm believing a lie if I think that's just the way it is and oh well. I need to make it right where I've been wrong. If I've been rude to Micah, I need to ask his forgiveness. Naturally I may be impatient and irritable, but God's Word tells me I've been made new. So tomorrow morning, by faith, we do it again. And somehow, little by little, God transforms this sinful but redeemed girl into his likeness, from glory to glory, in his Spirit. Amen. 

March 19, 2012

Do Justice

If God is truly all-loving, is it safe to say then that he must also be all-just?

Imagine with me for a moment. Imagine a 65-year old man. He's old. He's pruny. He's probably got a wife and kids and grand-kids. And he's staying overnight in a hotel. Nothing out of the ordinary so far.

But he's got a little girl with him and that's a little strange. It's not his grand-daughter and they're definitely not hanging out at the pool.

No, in fact, she's the 9 year old little girl he picked up around the corner. And brought back to the hotel with him. And paid for to spend the night with him.

Continue to imagine with me. He's caught (thank the Lord) and the investigator in charge of the case leads the questioning. After awhile Mr. Investigator comes to some conclusions. You know, Pruny 65-Year Old Man who was caught prostituting a 9-year old girl, I think I was wrong. I see that you're really just a guy who's got some issues, but who doesn't? I think you're trying. I'm gonna let you go and you try and do better. Next time, at least make sure she's not 9.

(Who of us would not want to hunt that man down and so help us not make him regret the day he woke up and breathed air?)

Love without justice is not loving at all. If I do not discipline my son, in the name of love, I have not been loving at all. I have done him much harm.

Micah 6:8 says, He has told you O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Do justice. Do justice. While loving kindness and walking humbly with our God, we are to actually act with justice, to do something, on behalf of others. The Lord has required, not requested, that of us.

Perhaps even on behalf of the 27 million slaves that exist today. Or on behalf of the more than 120 million orphans in the world.

You know that story that I had you use your imagination for? Except for Mr. Investigator, it's true. It happened this week. In Cambodia. My friend of many years was part of the sting that caught that man.

They were doing justice. Not in the way the world often does it - getting even, raining down revenge. But in a way that reflects the heart of God, they were acting rightly and justly (i.e. doing something) on behalf of the oppressed.

If you're anything like me, this overwhelms you. You're thinking, It's too much! What could I possibly do that would make one minuscule amount of difference in the face of such large-scale problems? I have two small kids, I'm barely managing to do good here!

One thing I'm learning is that I can do something. I can't do everything and I can't even do big things, but I can do something. I can collect our cereal boxes and send them to Haiti so the women there can use them to make jewelry and make a living for themselves. I can give financially to others who are on the front lines. I can pray and pray hard that God would raise up rescuers. Something is always better than nothing.

Laura, my dear friend, and also wife to the friend that was part of the sting, talks here about something specific and tangible that we can do to do something.

Do justice.

Love kindness.

Walk humbly with your God.

"O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart;
you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more."
Psalm 10:17-18

March 18, 2012

To Be Known is Not Always to Be Loved

Generally speaking, I am not a people-pleaser. For example, if somebody were to tell me they thought I was stupid, I'd probably think to myself something along the lines of, Well, I don't really like your teeth, so I'm not sure what to tell you.

They would be so far off from right that, in my mind, Credibility and them aren't even on the same planet. Humble, I know. I try, I do.

As most people do, I love to be known. And not just known, but loved for what's known about me. I was talking to my sister-in-law last week and she was describing somebody to me and she said, "She's like you, she asks a lot of questions." And she was saying it in a positive way, to point out something she really likes about this other person that is similar to something about me.

You would have thought that she had just told me I was prettier than Miss Universe for how happy it made me. Why? Because she was pointing out something she knew and liked about me.

But I'm even content to not be known, as long as who I am isn't misperceived and misconstrued.

Somebody can think something negative about me, but if I know it's not true, it hardly ruffles my feathers. Only enough for me to take the time (in my head) to list the things I don't like about their teeth. Or their ears. Or the way they laugh. (So annoying, FYI).

It's when somebody points out something they "know" about me that is actually not all that rightly perceived. It's something that's only true part of the time or actually true a lot less of the time than it used to be or it's true in a way that they don't see. Make sense?

Recently I had an experience in which that happened. Somebody "knew" something about me but portrayed it in such a way that it actually (in my mind) cloudily portrayed who I really was. Since it was something that was "true" in some sense, I couldn't so easily let it roll off my back. So, since it wasn't rolling off my back, I knit it a sweater and wore it around for a few days.

Thankfully, the Lord loves me a whole lot and cares a lot about these burdens I wear and sent someone to speak words of truth and grace and love to me. Essentially she said, You can choose to let these offenses go and humble yourself and draw closer to the Lord, or you can refuse and hold on to them and completely miss out on what he has for you during this season. Which are always good things. Just not through the route I would choose, which is usually sunshine and rainbows and stops at Sonic.

Jesus was/is God but he laid aside all of the privileges of being God in order to be a servant unto death, lavishly loving us, completely forgiving us, covering every last vestige of shame and sin with his grace, and clothing us with his goodness and righteousness.

So I think I can manage (by his grace) to lay aside the measly desire to be known and liked and understood and let him produce his good purpose in me.

But I think I'll still stop at Sonic on the way.

March 15, 2012

That Girl

I am not That Girl. I am just not. Sometimes I like to pretend I am, but after 5 minutes I remember that I'm still not.

When Matt and I started dating, I started going to his church and fell completely in love with his pastor and his wife, Glen and Ivy Walker. They became like family to us. Every week we would go to their house for dinner and talk and talk and talk and talk. Glen is almost 80 (although you'd never know it) and Ivy is about 20 years his junior and absolutely beautiful, inside and out. I say that to say these people have been around the block. They've got that whole wisdom thing down. I used to think up questions just to ask Glen because I wanted to soak in as much of his wisdom as I could.

Ivy and I started meeting every week for breakfast. She is one of those people that you can say anything to and never feel ashamed or embarrassed. She did discipleship much like Jesus often did. As we did life together she used every opportunity, common and not common, to point it back to Jesus and his Word. One of my most favoritest things about Ivy is that she's a firecracker. She's not your stereotypical image of a pastor's wife. She's fiery and independent and sure of herself and confident and funny and madly in love with her husband. For someone like me who also does not fit The Mold, it was incredibly refreshing and encouraging.

I remember something she said one time over breakfast that has always stuck with me. She said, I'm old enough now to know who I am and who I'm not. And I'm not... And she went on to say who she wasn't, which tied back to that whole not fitting into The Mold thing.

Well. I'm 28 years old and I've decided that I'm also old enough to know who I am and who I'm not.

For years now I have felt like I need to be That Girl. But she's so not me and her strengths make my weaknesses look bad. She's just got that whole vibe about her. You know. Kind, quiet, never angry or passionate. Steady Betty. She's got a stack of cards for everyone for every occasion. She's detail-oriented and organized. When she's out with her husband, she lets him do all the talking and smiles encouragingly. She likes to cook dinner and have people over to eat it.

Seriously, having people over for dinner stresses me out. And I don't think I've ever openly confessed that. Instead I've always told myself, You have to like this. This is what That Girl does. She has people over for dinner and she likes it.

In reality, I worry all day if I'm doing it "right." Do I have to have a dessert? Do I make a casserole or is that too mom-of-two-non-organic-1950s? Is it tacky to put a dish in our take-out leftovers container? Do paper towels count as napkins? Why does everyone else's napkins match their placemats? And why don't I have placemats? I hate placemats.

Seriously, these sorts of things go through my mind. And I don't dread it because I'm shy or afraid of people. On the contrary, people are my favorite thing. I'm social to the core. Even my Bone Marrow is social. I think they throw parties with my White Blood Cells. 18 and over only. Sorry, Pancreas. 18 next month? Have to wait your turn, move it along.

I'm a question-asker. If I'm asking you questions, it's because I genuinely care about your parents who live in Atlanta but only for a few years now and it's not where you grew up and your dad's house just got shot at while he was away on a business trip (What does your dad do?). Even though I've only known you for 10 minutes. And if I remember all the details the next time I see you, even though the last time I saw you was 3 months ago, it's because you fascinate me. Every person does.

I love spending time with people. I love meeting new people. I love how different people are. I just do it in my way. And I think I'm old enough now to say, That's ok. I don't have to love cooking dinner. I don't have to have matching placemats. I don't have to pretend I'm quiet and reserved.

So. I'll keep having people over for dinner. And I'll keep using take-out containers for a dish. And I'll keep making casseroles. And I'll keep not having placemats that don't match my napkins.

Because I love people more than I don't love cooking dinner.

But I think I'm going to give myself some freedom to accept the person God made me and stop trying to be That Girl. And just learn to be This Girl.

March 09, 2012

Road Trip

Our family has recently experienced our first real road trip. And only half, since we're still on vacation. As we've been a flying family until now, I feel compelled to share my newfound knowledge.

1. Everything at 1 in the morning is annoying. Including, but not limited to, the treble on the radio set to 4. Annoying enough to cause irrational anger towards your spouse.

2. Sonic is amazing. At all times.

3. You will hear "Mom. Mommy. Mommy. Mom? Mom? Mommy? Mommy? Mommy? Mom?" approximately 4,578,349 times. Every mile and a half.

4. Current country music is ridiculous.

5. Gas stations are creepy. And all truck drivers are murderers.

(Or at least they are at 2 in the morning when your Right Mind is sleeping.)

Sadly, that's the extent of it. Be learned, friends, be learned.

March 06, 2012

Church or Not Church?

I've had a thought bouncing around in my head for a couple of years now, but only recently has it coagulated into something coherent.

Consider yourself forewarned: I am presently standing on a soapbox.

I love the Bible. (Please don't hear self-righteousness or condemnation, just a simple statement of truth.) I eat it up. I have literally felt like I could eat the actual pages because they are so rich and meaty and delightful to my soul. One of the things I love about it is how alive it is. Verses that I've read dozens of times will suddenly leap off the page at me as if I've never read them.

A couple-ish years ago I read through the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) consecutively because God had put this hunger in me to know Jesus through the recounting of his life here on earth. I'd read these books lots of times but this time it was like I was getting to know him for the first time.

After that it was through most of the New Testament again. I love Acts. I love the recounting of history, I love the glimpse into their lives, I love their faith, I love to see how doctrine plays out in a tangible way. I've been to several of the places (Athens, Mars Hill, Thessaloniki, Berea) so when I read of their time there, I have vivid visual images playing through my mind. I can feel the heat and humidity. I can see the columns and the market places and the cobblestones. I can smell the salt water and see it splayed out as the backdrop of that strongtower in Thessaloniki. I can taste the lamb and the gyros (don't burst my bubble and tell me they didn't have gyros back then, just go with me here).

All that to say that God's Word is so alive to me (and to everyone actually). So, between reading about Jesus' life here and the radical lives of the early Christians, this is the thing that has coagulated in my brain, somewhere between my cerebrum and my larynx.

I'm afraid that we've become so busy doing church and having church that we've forgotten to be the church.

It seems as if the majority of our effort goes into making Sunday morning a flawless production so that people come back the next Sunday. And yeah, yeah we put the blurbs in there about following Jesus and making him a part of your life every day (as if Jesus is not the great I Am and all of creation was not created by his word, he just wants to be a part of our life), but what we often see and hear are warm fuzzinesses that tide us over until the next warm fuzzinesses.

Much of our money goes into a building that's mostly used for our Sunday morning hour (and make sure you don't go over that hour, people don't like that). Worship is just like such and such. Announcements are just as so and so (and don't have too many, people don't like that either). Everything is down to a current-best-church-growth-strategies science. I can't help but remember that time when Paul spoke so long (all night) that a young man fell asleep and fell out the window and died! And then Paul prayed for him and he came back to life!

If all we offer is an uplifting, hour-long experience Sunday after Sunday, are we leaving room for the Holy Spirit to raise dead people to life?


(That, by the way, is my pastor from Durango, CO. I feel over-the-galaxy privileged that I was able to know him and his wife. Read here for more of their incredible story.)

I'm afraid that so little of our "church" experience plays out in real life. What happened amongst believers in Acts was not just for "that time" (and if I hear that one more time, I'm gonna accidentally kick somebody in the cajones.) One of my most favorite things is to read stories of historical and present-day Christians who are changing the world by the power of the Holy Spirit because they actually believe what the New Testament says about believers, that we have this same power in us that raised Jesus from the dead!

We were not saved to be good, moral people. We were saved by God's mercy to bring glory to His Name, and to complete the good works that he prepared in advance for us to do.

I've been confronted everywhere I look lately with two main things: modern-day slavery and the overwhelming number of orphans in our world. I can't get away from them, which tells me to heed that and ask the Lord about it. Not too long ago I was feeding Asher at night (much of my reflection has happened during this time incidentally) and I was talking to the Lord about modern-day slavery in particular. And I was telling the Lord how I really do feel like Matt and I are doing the best that we can to be obedient to his word and will, and we are trying to do specifically what that means for our lives. And so quietly I heard the question in my heart, "Are you really?" And it wasn't condemnation I heard, it was, at the heart of it, simply this:

I limit what I know so that I'm accountable to act for less.

I hesitate to even write this post because you know what that means? I'm accountable for more to more. So I pray. And I ask the Lord to show us. And I learn that it's not big, once-in-a-lifetime events he's looking for. He's looking for daily obedience to love like he loves, and to serve him with his heart for people. And all of that comes from him, not me.

March 04, 2012

Self-Esteem Recovery

I hate when something ruins my self-perception and subsequently my self-esteem. Some context.

Ok, in my head, I am the most amazing hip-hop dancer ever. Like amazing amazing. Mary Mary comes on the radio and I'm all over it. TobyMac? Yes sir, I've got me some moves.

This is what it plays out like in my head.

Song plays. Get a little rhythm going. Start small, nothing big. Implement shoulder move. End with wrist flick. Get the hips and feet involved. Lots of coordination and twists happening. Uh-oh, here it comes. Wiggle, wiggle, shake, shake. Wiggle, wiggle, shake, shake. Coy look? Done. Here she comes. Sara in the dance circle. Go, Sara! Go, Sara!

(I'm so sad I'm not joking right now.)

So, all these years I've been completely confident in my mental dance abilities, just waiting for the chance to blossom like a beautiful Lecrae pear tree.

Travel back with me to two months ago. Friend's bachelorette party. Her sister has a great idea to do an Oula class. No idea what Oula is, but it's dancing, what's not to love, yes? I meet up with my old and soon-to-be friends with nary a doubt in my mind that I've so got this. Well, it turns out Oula...


(Think Justin Timberlake, Justin Bieber, and Britney Spears together, reunited, in one place.)

Get out the shearers, folks. This pear tree's about to explode.

So. First song plays and I'm having a hard time keeping up and catching the rhythm, but that's ok, I'm just warming up. I've just come from a 4 hour drive, I need a little refresher course. By the third song there is no doubt in my mind I am the biggest goober gooberhead to ever walk the face of the earth. Who the heck hi-jacked my imagination and convinced me that I know how to dance hip-hop or anything else for that matter?

Every time I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror that took up an entire wall I was horrified. I literally thought to myself, I just thought I was so much cooler than this!

I've been duped! All these years of driving in my car and thinking that they just don't know. They just don't know the moves I can do!

(Again, I'm so sad I'm not joking.)

Thus, I'm reconciling with Reality. My self-esteem is healing, slowly but surely. My dream of dancing back-up for Justin Bieber (not even lying) is just a dream after all.

March 02, 2012

Let's Talk Money

Many of you have asked me how Matt and I plan to make it now that I'm not working.

(Actually nobody has asked me that but I like to pretend I'm more popular than I am, so....there's that.)

In light of your inquiries, I thought I'd write this post to shed a little light into the McNutt World of Finances.

Firstly, let me clarify very deeply that we are not financial experts. So far from it in fact that Financial Experts may well reside on the North Pole and we're in the Bahamas. But still. A few things.

At the top of our priorities is cutting our monthly expenses every single place we can. We have no debt except our mortgage. Our cars are paid off. Our school loans are paid off. We pay off our credit card every single month. If we know that we can't pay it off at the end of the month, we don't charge it. Simple as mud pie on a cloudy day.

A couple years ago when our cell phone contract ended, instead of renewing we went with a prepaid plan that literally cut our cell phone bill in half. We get about the same number of minutes and texts but at half the price. Granted, our phones are from 1996 and mine drives me crazy on a near-daily basis, but the reality is that neither of us can justify paying the money to upgrade to smarter, nicer phones that we quite simply can live without.

When we bought our house two years ago we did not even factor in my income to what we could afford. On the chance that I would one day want to stay home with our kids, we decided we better make that part of the plan from the beginning. So our approval was based on Matt's income alone. For which I am obviously very thankful, because even though I could not imagine giving up my flight benefits then, that's obviously changed.

I mentioned before that we (i.e. I) love to go out to eat. But, and this is a big but, we almost never go out to eat at a restaurant unless I have a coupon. Instead we'll go to take-away (not fast food) places where we don't have to factor in drinks and appetizers and tips, etc. On the infrequent occasion we do go to a restaurant, then our coupons most often determine where we're going. I literally have a stack of them in my purse as we speak.

Neither Matt or I are big spenders. I love to shop but I don't often actually buy anything. I'm more of a looker, if you will. Matt's really good at scouring the internet for the cheapest price of an item. And I'm really good at supporting him because I'd rather put hot pokers in my eyes than do it myself.

Tedious work + me = sure and instant death.

Another area we save a lot of money is our clothing. Most of mine and the kids' clothes are second hand. Literally. I shop thrift stores, consignment stores, garage sales. This past summer I got Micah's entire 18-24 month wardrobe, including top of the line shoes, from a garage sale for $40. I've found if I keep my eyes open and do a little extra work, I save a ton of money.

Oftentimes, in my mind, I feel like I live simultaneously in this world (the American world) and the Third World. Many of you know I have a degree in International Studies, and I chose it for the sole purpose of doing mission work for the rest of my life. The very first time Matt and I ever hung out we talked about how that's what we both wanted to do. I'm not sure what that's going to look like, but we both absolutely believe it's in our future somehow. I've traveled to 19 different countries, many of them multiple times, and I've lived in several of them for extended periods of times. And I don't say any of that boastfully whatsoever. I say it to say why I live simultaneously in both places in my head. I love culture. I love every single people group I've had the privilege of interacting with. I think the most gracious, giving, kind, friendly people I've ever known have been those in the poorest places I've ever been. I've experienced the greatest friendship in the most "inconvenient" of circumstances with the added bonus of the camaraderie of flying cockroaches.

(Unrelated side note: for those of you who have known me for approximately 17 seconds, you know that I have a teeny tiny obsessive all-consuming fear of anything of an Insect Nature. So if I've experienced good times even in the midst of flying cockroaches, then you know the people were pretty amazing.)

(Another unrelated side note: the only real panic attack I've ever almost experienced was in the middle of the Amazon jungle and had to do with the bugs I was sure were going to jump up and eat me alive as I used the restroom in the Great Outdoors.)

So. With all that said, I often weigh what I'd like with how it compares to what's needed by so many people elsewhere.

This relates to what we give as well. Matt and I are huge believers in giving, per la Biblia. And I'm not talking just the 10% mandate (that's a conversation for another day), I'm talking the example we find all throughout the New Testament of giving liberally to meet one another's needs, and also the explicit mandates given throughout the entire Bible to care for the poor. For example.

"For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance should supply your need, that there may be fairness" (2nd Cor. 8:14, emphasis mine).

I could write an entire mini-book on this, but succinctly put, our giving should promote equality and fairness with one another, which includes our brothers and sisters who wonder where their next meal will come from. So you can understand why I get a teensy bit irked (read: a lot irked) when our giving builds one more fancy church complete with coffee shop when 20,000 people will die of hunger today.

That being said, I bought a latte this week. So, there's that too. Again, by God's grace, we're all in process, but if Matt and I can be more intentional about our giving so the true burdens of others are lifted, then yes again and again.

Whenever I wonder if I can "afford" to give, I literally tell myself that if I can afford to buy one latte this month, go out to eat one time, buy one unneeded item, then I absolutely can afford to give. I'd rather cut those things than reduce our giving to real needs.

So, that, in a nutshell, my friends, is the Financial Plan of the McNutts. Hope all of you who submitted your questions concerning this (see: none of you) feel that I sufficiently answered your inquiries.

March 01, 2012

I Am Not the Good News

I think sometimes we get so focused on where we need to "get it right" that we forget to stop and thank the Lord for the growth and change that he has produced in our lives.

One of the things about me that has bothered me for a long time is how often I forget the compassion that I had. For example. I'll hear something on the radio or read something online that rips my heart out, something like child sex trafficking, and I'll get enraged (rightfully so) and often cry and then pray earnestly and passionately for what I've just heard. But by dinner that night I've completely forgotten about it. And if it does come to mind during dinner, heaven forbid, I quickly put it out of my mind. I've already had my moment, I've already prayed, I felt more spiritual after, but let's not revisit it again. It's too much.

Make sense?

Something that I've been praying for for a long time now is that Matt and I would love the things that God loves and hate the things that he hates. I also pray that God would produce in us a love for him that supersedes everything else that shows itself in humble obedience and a heart like his. Well, I'm no Bible scholar, but I know God's compassion doesn't run out by dinnertime.

I've become so frustrated before because I don't want my compassion to be fake or just conjured up in a moment of emotionalism, you know? But here's a mystery of prayer - we pray and we pray and we pray and we don't often see immediate change or answers, but we keep praying anyways. And it's amazing to look back and see how God changed our hearts, matured our faith, grew us up and we didn't even know it (I didn't even see it coming, man!).

A couple weekends ago we had a women's conference at our church with Carol Kent. (Amazing.) After the last session we had a time of prayer, and I was one of the people stationed at the front if anyone wanted somebody to pray with. I saw a girl praying who I knew and I went to pray with her. But before I could utter anything more than "Lord" I started to cry. The Lord completely broke my heart for her. I had ran (not literally) to her in my spiritual undies superman costume, ready to impart a spiritual energy drink and instead I literally could not get more than one word out. And simultaneously while I hugged her and cried with her, I desperately thought, Lord, please, don't let this just be a "moment." I want this to be real. I want to really be like You.

This week I was driving down a busy street and she came to mind again. And guess what? I still cared. I still had compassion for her. It wasn't about me this time, and about feeling like I'd done a job well. And I don't mean to imply that we gauge our spiritual growth by how we feel. Heavens, no. But I knew that I knew that deep inside I was different. Something was different. The Lord is changing me. Day after day, week after week, year after year.

Now when I hear about sex trafficking, I don't quickly put it out of my mind (most of the time). I think, Lord, what can we do? And not in the fatalist sense, but in the literal sense. I pray for those cruelly hurt, for their rescue. I ache deeply for them. I let myself be scarred by their stories.

So yes, I have a lot to "get right." But you know what? I can't do it. I have to get off my ridiculous hamster wheel of good-willed, good-intentioned "faith" and confess to the Lord again and again that I can't do it. Only he can change my heart and produce his spirit in me. But I'm willing. Lord, I am so willing. And just like I heard yesterday on the radio, I am not the good news, Jesus is.