Blogging Blitz

[It’s been far too long since I’ve posted, though I’ve been writing consistently. I’ve had papers to complete, weddings, appointments, and life happening faster than I expected and time has slipped by. My goal this week is to post every day. First up is my 5-minute message on Philippians 2:12 &13 that I delivered in my preaching class this week.]

One of the most important questions we ask in every area of our life is “How do people change?” Even more importantly, I find myself asking, “How do I change?” This question motivates everything from sermons to self-help books and concerns everything from diets to discipleship. As we look forward to preaching messages, I’m sure each of us hopes for messages that inspire and inform, but I think we all most would like messages that transform our hearers. Read More

My Favorite Pithy Sayings, part 1

Today, as I was doing one particular workout video for the 100th time (give or take), I realized that at the very end of a tough workout the trainer says, “Remember, it’s all about progress not perfection.” I actually look forward to the trainer saying it, not just because I am done with the workout at that point, but also because it encourages me every time I hear it. I know this as a recovery saying, but it’s really a powerful truth for everyone.

I often beat myself up for the things I don’t do perfectly because I feel like I should have it down now, whatever “it” is: eating, school, ministry, marriage, take your pick. Logically, I realize that notion is silly. I won’t be perfect in every (any!) area of my life. I won’t have an endless string of good days where I behave exactly like I should. Prideful me thinks I should have everything together and figured out. When I don’t, I am ashamed and sullen.

My homeroom teacher in high school wrote in my yearbook, “Go easy on the world.” I know now that going easy on the world starts with going easy on myself. I was on a prayer retreat last year and during a time of personal confession I was confessing my weakness. I apologized for things I’d done, things that I was sure I would do again. I could practically hear the Holy Spirit screaming, “You’re human! I made you human!” God wasn’t angry with me, just adamant that he loved me, even in all my humanity.

My flaws and weaknesses bring me back to the cross. They bring me back to a God whose love is bigger and more powerful than my sin. They bring me back to the transformative beauty of the Gospel message. I’ve come back to these verses over and over again the past few years because I can’t get over them:

Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him. (Romans 5:6-8, The Message)

God, thank you that you loved me first. Thank you that you know me and love me. Thank you even for my weaknesses and struggles because as I limp along, I can feel your presence strengthening and steadying me. I ask that you would help me to further understand your grace on a deep level, so that it becomes a part of the way I relate to people, including myself.

Webster

My cat died last Thursday. He was old and showing his age the last few months of his life. I had a million opportunities to say good bye and I took advantage of them. Webster was always quite the character and even though I knew he was not going to live forever, it still is a sad time.

Webster was unimpressed with our Bubs jack-o'-lantern I feel peaceful about losing him, but there are pockets of  unexpected sadness I encounter. All the places where my life had adapted to having him around suddenly feel vacant. I felt sad the first time I made a meal and he wasn’t running laps around my feet, begging for a taste of whatever I was having. I felt sad when Matt and I came home late on Saturday night and Webster wasn’t on the other side of the door, meowing his greeting and scratching at the door with excitement.

I felt sad as I composed emails, sent texts, and made phone calls to the many people who knew Webster. I know it sounds silly, but Web was kind of a big deal (just like Ron Burgundy). I adopted him after his former owner, Ellen, passed away six years ago. Ellen organized events for women in the church at her house, so many people knew her quirky cat. For many of them, Webster’s passing meant the last piece of Ellen was gone, too.

I felt sad just now when my husband took me to the place where Webster is buried. I couldn’t bring myself to be there when Matt buried him, so this is the first time I’ve visited. On the walk back to our cottage, Matt mentioned that as he began to put the dirt on Web’s lifeless body, he realized that our cat wouldn’t react. He said, “It just felt…wrong.”

It is wrong. Death was never supposed to be part of life, but was introduced with sin. I don’t have the energy for theology, though. For now I just want to remember how special my kitty was and how fortunate I am to have had him.

Gas Tanks

My friend John used to say that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who know exactly how far their car can go past “E,” and those who will never know. I am firmly in the latter camp. In fact, I pretty much break into a cold sweat at the thought of dipping below 1/4 of a tank of gas. What can I say, I’m a planner. Of course, others might say that I’m a control freak. But, you say to-mah-to, I say, “You’re pronouncing that wrong.”

I went on a road trip with my friend Danielle this past fall and she is firmly in the former group. You know, one of those people who don’t really pay attention to how much gas is in the tank until the light comes on.

One morning during our trip we decided to make the trip from Las Cruces, NM to Carlsbad Caverns–about 200 miles away. We got up extra early that morning and headed out, deciding to stop in El Paso for coffee and breakfast. Amazingly enough, as we drove through El Paso we didn’t see one Starbucks (seriously!?!) along the way so we kept on driving. If you’ve ever traveled East of El Paso on highway 62/180, you know that there is nothing between El Paso and Carlsbad. Well, there is desert and space, but nothing that would serve us breakfast.

Just when I was trying to quiet the grumblies in my tummy, Danielle informs me that the gas light had turned on. Trying to mask my panic, noticing the sign that says we have another 40 miles to the caverns, I asked, “When did that happen?” She simply says, “Oh, about 10 miles ago.” Read More

Elena’s Notes

originally written 11/04/09

Did anyone else sob their was through P.S. I Love You? I admit that I freely cry at movies, but that movie brought me to a place of tears I have rarely expierenced from a film. A young woman is left a widow just before her 30th birthday. A few weeks later, letters began showing up from her deceased husband to help her grieve and move on. Oh, and to say, “P.S. I love you.”

I just read a true story about a little girl name Elena who was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of 6. She was given about 135 days to live, but ended up living almost twice that. Before she passed, this little girl wrote hundreds of love notes and hid them around her house for her parents to find after her death. Her parents say it’s like many little hugs.

When I read this story, I was beyond touched. Little kids don’t always understand what death means. Elena not only understood, but planned and prepared for her loved ones after she died! She wanted them to know how much she loved them in hundreds of unexpected ways. Her parents still continue to find notes. Just when they think every note has been found, they find a new cache. More hugs and more love.

There is something so touching about both of these examples for me. Even as I wrote the synopses, tears flooded my eyes. When I first heard Elena’s story a few weeks back, I saw a parallel in my relationship to God. I thought of Jesus’ promise to never to forsake us as orphans (John 14:18-19). Though Jesus is no longer walking the earth, the Holy Spirit still reminds us in many personal ways that God loves us and we are his precious children.

As I was praying yesterday, I simply asked God to be present in my life that day. Imediately, a string of moments that brought a smile to my face flashed before my eyes: my wedding day, a scene on The Office, a song that makes me dance every time. When I first learned about prayer, I was taught that you’re supposed to remain incredibly focused and not let your mind wander at all because it is the devil trying to keep you from hearing God. In that thinking, my string of thoughts that made me smile out of the blue were not of God.

But every single moment that I thought of was exactly what God wanted me to hear that morning. It was as if he wanted me to know that he was with me, watching me, smiling with me as my life unfolded. When I asked God to be present, he showed me that he always has been. Those moments of joy were his love letters to me.

And I will never stop finding them!

Adventures in My Inner Life

Originally written 10/13/2009, though it applies very much to my mindset today.

This morning, as I was praying with our chatty God, I had the most interesting conversation. I was lamenting once again not having a job and still feeling like I am wandering in the wilderness with no hope for things to change. I was feeling primed for a pity party (say that three times fast), when God decided he would interject.

Me: “God, I just don’t want the disappointment again. I don’t want to feel like I’m waiting only to be let down.”

Chatty God (CG, for short): “When have I let you down?”

Me: “I don’t know how to put this delicately, but what about this whole season of wandering in the desert? I know you’re not through with me yet, but you have to admit it’s disappointing from my perspective.” [I just had to put this out there, just in case it had slipped past him]

CG: “From your perspective, bah! What would be disappointing–no, a real tragedy from my perspective–would be for you to crash again because you hadn’t built up your inner life.”

Me: “Touche.” [Of course, I’m much more stubborn than that and wouldn’t let it go.] “God, the rub for me is that I’ll never be done. I’ll never be 100% healthy. I’ll never be perfect, at least not in this life. Why are you taking so much time now? I see other leaders who are super unhealthy and they get to serve you; why not me?”

CG: “They will crash. Is that what you really want for your life…again?”

Me: “Obviously not, but maybe I won’t crash if I started back up again.”

CG: “Maybe you will, maybe you won’t, but do you really want to argue with someone who’s omniscient?”

Me: “Again, touche.” [I had to chuckle at God’s quippiness this morning]

CG: “You’ve got to stop comparing yourself to other people. You are not them and they certainly aren’t me. Your path is the one that I have called you to walk. You can fight and be angry all you want. You can even walk a different path. None of that will change the fact that this is where I want you to be. All of the anger and fear won’t change my mind, they will only change how you experience this path. Do you want peace, or do you want to be in control? You really have to make that choice every day. So what do you choose today?”

Me: “God, I am so humbled right now. I literally feel a deep sadness thinking about how much I’ve forfeited while trying to change this path. I’ve missed so much. God, knowing that doesn’t make this path any easier and it doesn’t make my pain any less real. I know you haven’t forgotten me. I know you are taking me on this path for my own benefit. The stronger a base you build, the greater you can use me in the future. The pain is still real and the future is still unclear. God, the bottom line is that I’m scared. I look around me and wonder when it will be my turn to serve you. When will I move hearts and break down walls? God, I’m so very scared. I feel so alone and helpless. I feel powerless, but I don’t have peace.”

CG: “Stop striving.”

I did have my pity party this morning. Though I wanted to feel sorry for myself and my situation, God made me feel sorry for all the things I’d missed while scanning the horizon, looking for a bright and beautiful future. I’ve taken for granted all the extra time I’ve had to sit down and sip coffee with CG in the morning. I’ve taken for granted the way that he’s provided financially. I’ve taken for granted that there are opportunities all around me to love others and serve God, though they rarely have a marquee and paycheck attached.

Mostly I felt sorry that I didn’t appreciate that God was (and is) willing to take all the time in the world to make me more like his Son. God loves me enough to spend oodles of time shaping my heart and feeding my soul. There is nothing more humbling than the realization that the God of the universe is also “God with me.”

It hit me like a ton of bricks that he’s not done yet. It’s not a punishment. This is a God who wants to woo me. He will go to whatever lengths to reach the depth of my soul and leave no portion untouched by his grace. If even for this moment [since I’m sure I’ll change my mind later], I ask him to come and make me swoon. I ask him to take the time he needs to reach me, that I might fully delight in him with all of my being.

Frozen Pipes

Originally Written 12/8/09

This morning when I woke up, I noticed the strangest phenomenon, at least for San Jose, CA. My pipes were frozen. I’ve lived in the Bay Area my entire life and even when it has been extremely cold, the pipes haven’t frozen solid. It took me a while to figure it out, but I traced the source back to a small section of pipe that was left exposed several weeks (maybe even months) back due to construction. To say the least, I wasn’t happy with the situation.

I remember when the pipes were initially exposed because the person digging broke those pipes and allowed rocks into our plumbing system which led to three days of essentially no water and makeshift attempts at fixing the system. When all was said and done almost everything worked, but there are a few areas that still don’t work quite the same, as evidenced by the frozen pipes this morning. To say the least, I’m still not happy with the situation.

This morning as I grumbly prayed about it, I thought about how all the variables out of my control can lead to a grumbly Frances in general. I’ve been praying for months and nothing has happened. I’ve prayed to be more patient, more gracious in the meantime and it only happens for the briefest shining moments. I just haven’t been able to figure out what God is trying to teach me.

I thought back to what I wrote about the marshy road after the storm and how building up one’s inner life takes time. Here I am again in a situation where someone else didn’t finish the work they started–literally–and it has left my life upended. I guess I left one of the most important parts out of what I wrote previously.

When it comes to our inner life, unfinished work doesn’t simply effect our own lives. If you’ve been in leadership, or even a member of any organization, you’ve no doubt felt the effects of someone else’s incompetence or immaturity. Some clear signs you may have experienced:

  • you’re asked to make up others’ work to cover up their procrastination, laziness, and/or disorganization;
  • you walk on eggshells around particular people who are the emotional equivalent of a landmine;
  • increasingly large parts of your day are devoted to putting out fires started by others;
  • there is always an emergency;
  • you find yourself fulfilling promises that someone else made;
  • you experience “phantom stress,” (as my friend Jesse calls it) where you have a general sense of malaise, but cannot easily pinpoint the source;
  • you are merely valued for what you do, not who you are (especially a danger in church).

It is so frustrating to feel the effects of another person’s emotional immaturity! Perhaps you’re the one making promises, exploding, and starting fires. I’ve certainly had my share of those moments as well. One of the most difficult parts of life together is that our messy inner life doesn’t tend to stay contained to our own lives.

Getting married has taught me more about this topic than any other arena. It became clear very quickly that my messy inner life could spill over to my husband and vice versa. But we are called to love and submit to one another because of the model of Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:21-33).

Paul makes no mistake in this parallel. The way I am called to behave with my husband is exactly how the Church is called to behave with one another. We are called to: Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Col. 3:13-14). Unity is the highest form that love can take.

But…before Paul instructs us to bear with one another, he instructs us to live as the redeemed beings that we are:

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:5-12).

As far as I can see it, I have two responsibilities as a leader. First, I am responsible for allowing God into every part of my life, so that I might be transformed into his likeness. I am supposed to allow God to “take off” my destructive characteristics and put on new ones. I used to think this process was only about me, but I can now see the relational reasoning behind it.

I also realize the irony of this statement, since the people who need help the most are the least likely to be able to empathize with how they effect others. When we refuse to get better, to allow God to take his time with our souls, we are undermining the unity of the church, not to mention our leadership and relationships with others. Further, we’re modeling a toxic lifestyle that repels people who are already far from God. All I can say about is that God never intended for us to live like that, for our sake and the sake of others.

My second responsibility is to bear with others as we all endeavor to change and grow. Believe me, I am not advocating becoming a doormat or giving others a carte blanche as long as they’re “working on it.” But people need to be forgiven and need to experience grace not only from God, but from those around them. We all need to know that we are redeemable. Even if you are one of the leaders who has refused to allow God into the deep, dark parts of your soul, you are redeemable.

I recently read a quote in The Ragamuffin Gospel, “Honesty before God requires the most fundamental risk of faith we can take: the risk that God is good, that God does love us unconditionally. It is in taking this risk that we rediscover our dignity. To bring the truth of ourselves, just as we are, to God, just as God is, is the most dignified thing we can do in this life” (Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2005, 143-144).

From my own experience, I take it a step further. We need honesty before others. I stood before my church and told the truth about my messy life. I owned my struggles, my doubts, and my tears. I don’t say this because I see myself as a paragon of awesomeness(!). I say it because I know what happened as a result of my honesty. Others felt the freedom to be honest in return. I was prayed for, loved, forgiven, and accepted, with all my messiness. I was offered grace by my brothers and sisters in Christ, just as I am. When it comes right down to it, isn’t that exactly what we all want?

I am humbled by God’s grace as he continues to bear with me and forgive me time and time again. I am also humbled by those in the church who bear with me and love me enough to forgive my selfishness. I am awestruck that God never intends for us to simply live as the people we were before encountering his grace.

It is amazing what God can do when we let him in. God’s work not only transforms us as individuals, but our relationship with God and with other people. It is through this deep inner work that we might become the salt and light that Christ calls us to be. We cannot force it from the outside in. There is no faking it until you make it. Who we are on the inside bears fruit on the outside.

The prophet Haggai said, “The Lord who rules over all says, ‘Ask the priests about the law. If someone carries holy meat in a fold of his garment and that fold touches bread, a boiled dish, wine, olive oil, or any other food, will that item become holy?’ The priests answered, ‘It will not.’ Then Haggai asked, ‘If a person who is ritually unclean because of touching a dead body comes in contact with one of these items, will it become unclean?’ The priests answered, ‘It will be unclean.’” (Haggai 2:11-13)

When I read this passage, I thought of Christ. He was the game-changing moment when it comes to cleanliness. Consecrated food wouldn’t make things around it holy, but Christ did. He had the ability to make things around him clean when nothing else would. His holiness spread to others. It was contagious. Perhaps as we are changed through encounters with Christ, we will have his ability to bring health to others.

And if we won’t allow Christ to clean us, what are we really bringing to those around us?

The Muddy Road

Originally Written 10/16/09

I’ve grown used to the nearly incessant sound of tractors and other construction vehicles at my house. You see, my neighbors have been working on a building project for what seems like an eternity. They intended to build a house on an empty lot, but have had an endless stretch of diversions and other projects that needed to come first.

The hum I’m hearing today is a tractor working on the road. The project building up the road, straightening it out, and making sure it had the correct drainage and slope took a long time. Everything had to be just right. Though we all had enjoyed a straight, smooth road for a few months, it was never completely finished and the right conditions revealed that. In less than a day, our beautiful, straight, perfect road was ruined. All it took was one storm. Sure, this was a monsoon by California’s standards, but it was only one storm.

By the time the sky cleared and people ventured out of their houses again (we Californians are a lot like cats when it comes to rain–we don’t like getting wet), it was apparent there was a big problem. I could hear the sound of sloshing tires and whirring engines from my cottage, so I peeked out to see a car caught in the muddy road. For days now, I have seen several vehicles of all shapes and sizes trapped in the muddy mess. I, myself, was caught in that mess and had to call my father-in-law to come and help me out. The road is now in the perfect condition…for a demolition derby, but not so much fun to drive on.

I could take all the effort to leave the road as is and compensate for its swampy state. Perhaps I could buy a 4×4 or invest in snow tires. Maybe I could even just simply stop driving. But the problem isn’t my car, my tires, or even my errands. The problem is the road. That is the problem that needs work.

In order to make the road usable again, a few repairs are necessary; however, to make it usable for the long haul and the storms to come, major work has to be done.

Thinking about my life and the work that is being done in my inner life reminds me of the road. While I’m frequently tempted to cut corners and rush to the finish line, I can see what can (and will) happen if the necessary work doesn’t happen now, before the storms come. Jesus promised that storms would come in the parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders (Luke 6). Both had storms, but the difference was the foundation. One had dug down deep and placed the foundation on the rock (Luke 6:48). Perhaps the other was too lazy, to naive, or too afraid of the work it would take to build on the rock and placed his house on the sand instead. One could weather the storm. The other was calling his insurance agent the next morning.

God knows that other storms will come in my life. If I only allow for shoddy, stopgap repairs in my soul, I’m going to have repairs done frequently and eventually will need to stop and wait for everything to be built again from the ground up. And that waiting would be even more agonizing because it will last longer and be all the more painful. If I allow the time necessary for God to heal my many hurts, I will be able to weather many storms.

Waiting can be torture. In my best moments, I’m hopeful for the future. In my worst, I despair and argue with God (a lot) about whether things will ever change. I honestly have to say my best moments make up only a tiny fraction of my time. Most of the time I’m wishing I could drive on the road again, so I’m unwilling to allow all the time necessary in order for construction to be complete.

Maybe all leaders need to build their houses on the sand the first time around. Maybe we need to weather a storm and a horrible crash in order to learn that the work God intends for our soul is necessary and worth it. It certainly was an essential reminder for me that even as a church leader I am still a sinner in need of God’s grace.

The difference is where we build our house the next time. Am I going to take the extra time to allow God to reinforce the lessons he is teaching me or am I going to smooth things over and hope for the best?

Well, when you put it that way…

Hello world!

So I’m finally starting a blog. I know, I’m jumping on the bandwagon years after everyone else has started (and abandoned) theirs. I have spent quite a bit of time writing the past couple of years and should have been sharing all along, but school and life got in the way. So here we go!