Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My Hope is Built on Nothing Less

I feel alone, apart, adrift. I thought I had an anchor but I cannot feel its tug. Does that mean it is no longer there? And so I fear, doubt, and become even more tossed to and fro by the wind and the waves. 

I cry out but Jesus does not speak the words I would choose for him. He does not speak "Peace, Be Still" to the chaos of my life, my own storm. I know he could as easily he controlled the Sea of Galilee. Why? Help!

And then he does speak. He whispers, "Peace, Be Still," not to the wind and waves but rather to the turbulence of my own heart. The roiling worries have no place despite the waves. This is my miracle, my anchor holds. 

"When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil."

Saturday, February 07, 2015

The Perfect Game

I love games. I grew up playing board games with my family and when we'd finally exhausted Monopoly and a dozen others we started trying to make our own board game. We've picked it up again a few Christmases over the past fifteen years, and we did again this past Christmas. It was hysterical and fun.

For the first time in our gaming history we came up with a functional game that had a beginning, a middle, and an end. It worked. But like a fifth grade creative writing project, it lacked depth. It wasn't something we ever really wanted to play again. This led my sister and I to think through more and more about what made a game great. This is a topic we're still working on and while we have some ideas, it isn't a perfect science either.

This train of thought led me into other questions of whether or not games have purpose and whether or not my delight in them is well-founded. After all, games are not terribly practical. Their main purpose is pleasure. I play them for the delight they bring in the challenge, the friendship, and the story.

There are more dots in the connection than I can explain, but I eventually rabbit trailed this into seeing this as yet another metaphor for life. Life is God's game with us, not in a malicious or spiteful way. But it is full of challenge, friendship, and story. I should see those things in life with the same kind of delight and perseverance, the same kind of sportsmanship in winning and losing, the same appreciation that I have for board games.

And it all comes back to my phrase for the year: "For the joy set before him..." and thus "For the joy set before me...".

May we all look to the joy set before us, right in front of us as well as stretched out ahead past difficult things.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Again with the Doctor Who... I know.

 “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make any difference?” ~The Doctor

I admit that this line almost made me cry. I have spoken with so many people who break off relationships with other people at the slightest jiggle of the shopping cart. I have known people whom I knew I would disappoint at some point and they would cut me off. And they did, because that's what they do to every person who's not perfect... and well, I'm not either.

But sometimes people cut off others for reasons that seem legitimate. I won't go into those and it's not those I care about. It's this: that Jesus loved me so much that betrayal, that being his enemy, didn't make a difference in whether or not he would die for me.

Having tasted a bit of the bitter dish of betrayal, I know that's no easy hurt to swallow.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Confetti Joy

I admit it; I was surprised by the confetti. My mouth gaped open, there was a sudden intake of breath. And then I smiled. I wasn’t expecting anything fancy for a $20 concert, even though it was one of my favorite bands. I loved it all. I loved the concert. I loved the confetti.

After my initial happiness at the fluttering colors, I began to think of how foolish it was to like bits of paper flying around in the air and how someone was just going to have to clean it up later. But then I realized how stuffy and cynical I sounded. Why can’t I just take joy in the beauty I’ve been given? Something that was meant to give me pleasure, did. And here I am complaining about it in my head.

The next day I was cycling through my thoughts about confetti and staring out my back window. It was a frivolous blizzard of yellow leaves. They were stunning in the sunshine.  And then it hit me. God also likes confetti; after all, he invented it! And we, all superior and grown up, instead of taking a child’s joy in them complain about how much work it is to rake them up.

So many things in life are like this. I spent a good bit of time convincing one of the 1st grade boys in our after-school tutoring program that participating in the activities was going to take some hard work but that it would be worth it in the end. He would learn and he would probably have some fun too. Take joy in the work.

It’s the same thing I tell people when I try to get them involved in volunteering and working with refugees and other internationals. It’s not easy. It takes a significant amount of work to become friends with a person who barely speaks your language. When cultural differences cause confusion, you can feel lost and idiotic. But it’s all worth it. The joy, the friendships, seeing God’s stories in the lives of people very different from you, seeing God work in your own life through it all, all these things are incredibly beautiful and valuable.
Sure, you may have to start with a bit of death like the trees do, a bit of choosing the hard thing over the temporary thrills of the moment, deciding to turn yellow at the edges. You may have to become open and bare and vulnerable to the elements and break free of the shell of your comfortable living. You might have to say “Hello” to a Muslim, or a Mexican, or your next-door neighbor. And then they may want something from you: your attention, your love, your service. Sacrifice your perceived safety on the altar of God’s call to the world. And then joy in what God adds to your life, the confetti colors of his creation, the overabundance of leaves and laughter.
Join me in this Isaiah path to joy.
...if you pour yourself out for the hungry
   and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.

Monday, September 29, 2014


A few months ago, a kind woman gave me a couple of hand weights to share with some of the refugee women I work with. Some had mentioned an interest in exercising. I tossed them onto the floor of my back seat in a plastic bag. And there they sat.

In a few weeks they had escaped their plastic bag and would roll and rustle every time I turned a corner. They were taunting me with my inadequacy on many levels. First, I should have gotten around to giving them away. Second, maybe I should be using them myself!

And then it hit me. How many times in life do I let people give me their expectations, the weights of their standards, the burdens of their dreams? Just because someone else wants to live until they are 120, doesn't mean I have to strive for that. Just because someone wants to run a marathon doesn't mean I have to start training. Just because someone takes a certain vitamin and calls it their miracle drug, doesn't mean I have to spend half my income on it too.  Everyone has their own obsession.

I've got my own. When the woman in class mentions her traumatic memories of finding body parts of a relative, and it triggers the memories and fears of another lady who cries for her family in ISIS controlled areas, there is little to do but listen.

I've realized I can't care about everything; I don't have it in me. Some weights belong to other people and not to me.  But even more than that, I'm not the one who is supposed to carry any of these weights. Jesus bears my burdens.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Lamentations Poem

Tides rush down un-wooed by the moon
And the soft grey wool of the sky unravels
Like myself all undone to the earth
A puddle weeping into the broken cracks

Neighbor drummer pounds the sounds
Inside my sorry head late at night
Intoxicated with too much thinking
The plants outside too drunk with drinking

Will I awaken tired and sad?
The plants will thrive and green.
Or will the tears be spent tonight
The stains be dry in the morning light
And new mercies shine again?

Lamentations 3:22-23

Monday, September 01, 2014

Preaching to Myself

I'm always going around telling people to do things they are afraid of. For example, "Talk to the lady with a headscarf. She's not scary. She could use a friend and probably someone to speak English with her." Or, "You could teach in a foreign country. It's actually really fun!" Or even sometimes things that are a little more mundane, "You can step out of your shell and talk about something deep, something that hits below the surface conversation about the weather."

And all this is pretty easy for me. I'm not the type that is easily frightened by the unfamiliar. I moved to Iraq when my country still had an active military presence there. People called me brave, but it didn't feel like bravery because it wasn't scary to me in the first place. So sometimes I'm not very compassionate towards people who are afraid of things. I see their fear and how it keeps them from doing amazing things and I just don't understand.  Get a grip, people!

That is, until I run into the wall that is my own fear. When my own insecurities and inadequacies are on the surface of something new, suddenly fear is a totally understandable and reasonable response! I mean, that wall is made of brick! How could I possible get over or go through THAT!

For me, that meant being filmed... like... on camera. I think I had to pee every fifteen minutes that morning and visibly shaking as the time drew near. The first take had me looking like a frozen deer in the headlights. I had to preach the same message to myself that I so often give to others. "It's good to do something that scares you. It's worth it to step out of your comfort zone. This will help you grow and help others hear something new."

Thankfully, I was blessed to work with people who are my friends, who have great grace for me, and know me well enough to help me relax and laugh a little. In all, it was a good experience, even a little fun. I was running on adrenaline for the rest of the afternoon but adrenaline can make you very productive, so that was awesome.

So the message I preach to my friends here, I also preach to myself, because it is true. Our lives are better when we step into something uncomfortable, when we try new things, when we step out to do the things that God calls us to do, rejecting our irrational fears and instead walking in faith in the God who made us.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Celebrity Teammates

I've really enjoyed watching the World Cup this year. I got into living overseas, four years ago, and it didn't wear off in the last two years in the US. The game between the US and Belgium was so much fun to watch, despite the outcome. The most of the press in the US has been on the fantastic goalie, Tim Howard, and rightfully so. He's amazing. His saves were fantastic. At one point the announcers said that he had not once dove in the wrong direction. All that, and he's good looking!

The aftermath of it, at least for him, is an incredible jump in celebrity status. He's trending on FB. He spoke to the president, along with the team captain Clint Dempsey. You know you've gotten into the big league if the president calls you AND films himself while doing it. I mean, wow.

The articles have been, as a whole, very positive. Even the captain of the Belgian team has respect for the play of Tim Howard. But there's something about all of this that I don't understand. Suddenly, there are also articles about how Tim Howard's a Christian and it's all shocking and wow, I bet you didn't know. What's up with that?

I'm all for supporting your team. As a Christian myself, I know that other Christians are my family. But the sudden interest in his faith seems, disingenuous. It's like we only care if he's a Christian once he's famous. Either that, or there's the idea that because he's a Christian and famous that I'll get some fame because I'm a Christian? I don't know, really. I know that's not what people were thinking when they wrote the articles, but I can't help but feel that its false boasting or something.

Maybe I'm wrong to be a little annoyed by these things. I mean, I'm glad he's going to Heaven and all; I'm happy when my family succeeds. But are we happy to know about believers who aren't succeeding on the earthly stage? Are we willing to identify ourselves with them as easily? Do we Christians just as excitedly claim them as part of our "team" as well? Or does our embarrassment over our less flashy relatives really mean we disown them and send them into exile.

I know there's a balance. Modesty is required for the unpresentable parts of the body of Christ. But somehow I don't think earthly success and celebrity is really the measure of a man.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Morning Snippets

This morning in my car I sang the Baby Shark song, Old MacDonald, If You're Happy and You Know It, and some song with Boom Chicka Chicka in it. The kids called out one song after the other asking me to sing with them. Their mother laughed at them and me, perhaps more at me for singing along.

I loved it. I'm still smiling. I'm exhausted from having to pull kids aside, make them look in my eyes, and repeat: "Keep the ball on the floor." We still managed to break one light shade. "No snacks in the main room." The little boy points at his brother all the while there are bits of chip stuck to his own shirt. After a whole pile of chips mysteriously gets spilled in one corner, the boy and I have another chat: "Do you see why I made that rule? You made a mess that has to be cleaned up." He understands and one thread of trust is built. I don't make rules for no reason.

One little boy is used to getting his own way. His habit is to slap the adult's face or spit if he is not given whatever he wants. But by today he has realized, that doesn't work with me. I told him no and instead he put his arms around my neck and put his head down on my shoulder. Trying a new tactic. He still wasn't allowed to clobber the other children. But I prefer this response.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Safety First!

With all the violence in Iraq now, more and more people comment on how they are glad I’m not there anymore, they are glad that I am safe.

Even before this, people have commented on how they are glad I survived, glad I am safe now, glad I’m in a safer place. It makes me angry. I know they mean well, but it isn’t better to have survived. It isn’t always better to be safe. Men in solitary confinement are safe.

Our modern American society and even especially the church culture has bought into the evolutionary lie that survival is the highest good. We have adopted a Hunger Games mentality where survival determines who is fittest and best. Caution is the new moral standard. Anything remotely perceived as reckless is no longer brave, but labeled as foolish. We have found a way to justify our cowardice.

But in the world of Scripture, survival has very little value in and of itself. St. Paul says that to die is gain. Living is mostly characterized by suffering. We are told to live a life that daily anticipates and accepts death, why else would we carry a cross? If safety is your greatest concern, carrying crosses is not your thing.

Survival can be good, but it isn’t an ultimate value. In fact, survival without much more becomes meaningless. Why does suicide even exist?

We are to live urgently, fully, patiently, courageously, carrying a cross with us wherever God has called us to be whether it looks safe or not. After all, our idea of safety is only an illusion. If God calls you to our glorious eternal home he can do so just as easily with a car crash in a small American town as he can with a bomb or gun in the Middle East.

We have fashioned a God of our own making. Our obsession with safety first has created an idol that causes many to cease living at all, to hide away talents and callings in the houses of our lives like agoraphobic old women afraid to step out into the sunshine. The truest death is not found in the dangerous places, but rather found in the dusty forgotten corners where piles of dead bones lay having only wasted away, never having been used or seen or spent.