The Aftermath

“I’d like to think that the last thing that went through his head, other than that bullet, was to wonder how the hell Andy Dufresne ever got the best of him.”

-Red, The Shawshank Redemption

As I watched news reporters grapple for words last night upon the realization that Donald Trump was elected president, the above quote came to mind. What so many people refused to entertain for months has now become reality and they are left disillusioned. My social media feeds confirm that half of America is wondering, “How the hell did this happen?”

I was unsurprised at Trump’s victory, having read some very insightful political commentary the past few months. The political climate was perfect for a demagogue, but I won’t write about that. [You should totally read about it, though, if you are left wondering “why?”] Politics aren’t my specialty and they aren’t my hill to die on. This election has revealed a bigger, more insidious truth that is my specialty, our spiritual condition.

The reporters I saw last night couldn’t keep their opinions from bursting out of their mouth like biscuits from a freshly opened tube. “I thought we’d be making history tonight [by electing our first female president],” one lamented. We, as a nation, were so ready to pat ourselves on the back for being so progressive that we were blind to angst the other half of the nation felt, the same angst that reveals the condition of all of our hearts.

The Bible (and history) tell us that fear, hatred, and greed are at our core. Comfort, safety, and wealth insulate the ugly things inside from coming out, but get us uncomfortable and watch out! We curse at other drivers and swerve around trying to get ahead in traffic. We snap at our kids when they’re too disobedient or needy for our liking. We carefully craft facades to prove we are smarter, better looking, and more cultured than our peers. We want others to have a better quality of life, but only if it doesn’t affect our own. And therein our hearts are exposed.

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
and desperately wicked.
Who really knows how bad it is?
 But I, the Lord, search all hearts
and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
according to what their actions deserve.” Jeremiah 7:9-10

This election and its angry aftermath prove yet again that we can’t simply grow past our sinful nature. We can’t educate it away. We can’t will it away. We’ve been trusting in humanity and our government to save us and look where it got us.

The only one who can change our dark course is Jesus. God reaches into the corners of our hearts and changes us from the inside out. He is our only hope for real, lasting change.

My prayer for us individually and as a nation is Paul’s prayer:

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.

Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come.

Ephesians 1:18‭-‬21

May you see that power at work in your life as you avail yourself to Jesus’s glorious light in the depths of your soul. May we be transformed by the Holy Spirit into people who are marked by faith, hope, and love.

Election Day

A couple weeks back, with the presidential campaign season in full swing, I happened to be reading the book of Daniel. I’ve read it several times before, but I noticed Daniel’s praise of the Lord in chapter 2.

19 That night the secret was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven. 20 He said,

“Praise the name of God forever and ever,
    for he has all wisdom and power.
21 He controls the course of world events;
    he removes kings and sets up other kings.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the scholars.
22 He reveals deep and mysterious things
    and knows what lies hidden in darkness,
    though he is surrounded by light.
23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors,
    for you have given me wisdom and strength.
You have told me what we asked of you
    and revealed to us what the king demanded.”

Daniel 2:19-23

To put it in context, Daniel 2 recounts the story of King Nebuchadnezzar having a disturbing dream that was keeping him up nights. The king wanted to know what his dream meant; however, he also wanted someone to tell him what his dream was before he’d listen. That would prove the interpretation to be trustworthy. Even after threatening his magicians, sorcerers, enchanters, and astrologers, no one knew, let alone understood, the king’s dream. Enter Daniel, a Jewish exile living in Babylon. Daniel was known for being a man devoted to the Lord and he was given a vision of the dream and its interpretation.

Before we hear the interpretation, we hear Daniel’s praise. Ultimately, the dream’s interpretation didn’t matter as much as the character of the Lord. He’s wise and powerful and in control. That truth sets the stage for the dream’s interpretation just as it sets the stage for the election results which will be revealed in the coming days.

What stood out to me when I read Daniel 2 was verse 21, “He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.” No matter how crazy this election seems, no matter how unpalatable the candidates might be to you, it is not out of the Lord’s hands. God is worthy to be praised because the events unfolding before us don’t change the fact that he is wise and powerful and in control. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream illustrates that, as we go on to see.

The dream chronicled future events: kingdoms rising and falling, both strong and weak. Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom would fall and another, inferior one would rise up to take its place. The second kingdom would also be replaced by a third and the third by a fourth. Daniel’s interpretation ends with:

44 “During the reigns of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed or conquered. It will crush all these kingdoms into nothingness, and it will stand forever. 45 That is the meaning of the rock cut from the mountain, though not by human hands, that crushed to pieces the statue of iron, bronze, clay, silver, and gold. The great God was showing the king what will happen in the future. The dream is true, and its meaning is certain.” Daniel 2:44-45

God’s kingdom is bigger than any of the earthly kingdoms in the dream. His kingdom is bigger than any kingdom in history. Even as we speculate how the world would end if thus-and-such candidate wins (which it probably won’t), we must realize that there’s only one eternal kingdom–Jesus’s. The presidential candidates are fighting for power in a world as if this world is all there is. Let’s not get swept away in that; this country is not all we have to hope for and in. Instead, may we fix our eyes on Jesus’s eternal rule and point others to that hope. And in the times when election results and court rulings make us feel like we are exiles living far from home, may we have the faith to continue to praise the Lord and the courage to conduct our lives as he calls us. Lastly, whether we like/agree with/voted for them or not,may we pray heartily for all of our leaders, because their authority comes from the Lord and they need his wisdom and grace, even when they don’t know they do.

Flourishing Fridays: Lament

I love to organize stuff. I regularly take time to go through closets, bookshelves, drawers, and any other nook where stuff collects just to make sure everything is usable and accessible. I know it seems crazy to enjoy organization, but having kids has multiplied the amount of stuff we have, but not our space. It’s a necessity. What I’ve noticed in purging unused stuff is that organizing always starts out as a bigger mess than you had before. You have to pull out all the toys from the toy box or books from the shelf or junk from the drawer in order to sort them. Before you can be organized, everything gets messy.

If you’ve ever read through the Psalms, you’ve no doubt noticed how many of them seem to be a litany of complaints and worries. These songs are called laments. When I was in seminary studying the Psalms, my professor gave us an assignment to write our own lament following its general pattern. That exercise turned out to be especially meaningful. So, I’ve used that idea in training up leaders since then.

When I planned the Flourishing Friday study for MOPS, I didn’t initially include this section. However, as we discussed and studied, I realized that this exercise was important to really flourish. Too many of us have miscellaneous emotional, relational, and/or spiritual junk that we hold on to for way too long. In order to move forward, we have to let go. This exercise doesn’t take the place of a good counselor or other more in-depth help we might need for bigger stuff; I highly recommend processing with someone professionally trained for that when you’re struggling with deeper issues. This is more for starting or continuing a dialogue with God about tender areas in your life.

Even if you don’t fancy yourself a poet, laments follow a regular pattern and they don’t rhyme, so anyone can write one. Using Psalm 142 as a model, here are the steps to writing your own lament:

First, choose what to write about. What is troubling you most right now? What do you tend to worry about? Where do you feel like your prayers are unheard and unanswered? I get that you might think, “Yeah, but I’m not actually like David. People aren’t trying to kill me. This isn’t really life and death.” Nevertheless, your troubles are your troubles. Jesus wants to hear about them. The point isn’t to only pray when it is life and death, but to seek God in big and little things. Take a few minutes to think about the answers to the above questions before you start.

A well-written song by David, when he was in the cave; a prayer.

1 To the Lord I cry out;
to the Lord I plead for mercy.
2 I pour out my lament before him;
I tell him about my troubles.

A Cry for Help: Laments start with a cry for help. No flowery language necessary, just something to the effect of “God, I need help! I can’t handle this!” We start our lament by writing out a couple lines about how you need God’s help.

3 Even when my strength leaves me,
you watch my footsteps.
In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
4 Look to the right and see!
No one cares about me.
I have nowhere to run;
no one is concerned about my life.

A Description of the Crisis: Laments go on to describe more in-depth the challenge or pain. As David describes in this lament, people are out to get him and he feels like no one cares. After you write out a general cry for help, now you get more specific. Write a few lines that describe the situation you were/are facing. Use vivid images that take others into your troubles (e.g. bulls surrounding you, being in a miry pit). What does it feel like to be in this situation? Again, if poetry isn’t your thing, you can be more concrete, but try and paint as clear a picture as you can about your troubles. This is the messy part of writing a lament.

5 I cry out to you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my shelter,
my security in the land of the living.”

An Affirmation of Trust: Now that we’ve started looking at the mess, we’re going to work on cleaning things up. Laments take a turn and begin to be more constructive here. In spite of the troubles you listed above, what do you know about God? Who is he? What have you seen him do in other situations? Write 1-2 lines that affirm who God is in the midst of this crisis.

6 Listen to my cry for help,
for I am in serious trouble!
Rescue me from those who chase me,
for they are stronger than I am.

Petitions for Rescue: After affirming who God is, laments ask for help in light of those qualities. Sometimes, we feel selfish asking for help. It feels wrong, but the Bible is full of examples of people asking for God’s intervention on their own behalf. God cares for you. Write a few lines asking God to intervene in the situation whether for help or healing or something else you need to flourish in this season.

7 Free me from prison,
that I may give thanks to your name.
Because of me the godly will assemble,
for you will vindicate me.

A Vow of Praise: The last part of a lament is focused on the future. It says, “Look, I know that you’re going to work in this area and when you do, I’m going to have yet another story to tell of your goodness.” Lastly, write the testimony you will have because of God’s intervention. What is the comfort you will bring to others because of God? You don’t necessarily know the specifics (unless this is a past event), but even focusing on the fact that you’ll have a story to praise God for is part of a vow of praise. If you are reflecting on a past event, think through what you’ve learned through it about God. Write those lessons out here.

An Introduction: You probably skipped over the first line of the Psalm, since it’s not even a verse in English translations, but it totally was in the Hebrew bible! The introduction tells you about the circumstances surrounding the song and can be enlightening. The last step of this lament is to write 1-2 lines describing what this psalm is about. It makes it easier to find it later, when you may be looking to share or remember what you’ve seen the Lord do (you do end with a vow of praise, after all).

May you find that the Lord is bigger than your troubles and stronger than your fears as you pour out your heart to him in lament.

The Path

I’ve started training for a 5k that I’m running in early next year, which means spending more time outside. Last week, I walked around a lovely, but not particularly pedestrian-friendly, town. I only noticed the lack of paths because I was pushing a stroller containing a drowsy baby looking up at me. The block would start off with a sidewalk, even a wheelchair ramp on the corner, but said sidewalk would quickly devolve into a snarl of exposed roots and rocky soil. Though watching JJ bounce along in her stroller is comedy gold, it was much easier on both of us to travel on the side of the street. P.S. Streets seem much safer when you’re also traveling in a car.

When we finally rounded the corner onto a main street, I was positive there’d be a sidewalk–and there was: a wide, continuous sidewalk. It was glorious! My arms were thankful. My feet were thankful. My baby was thankful. We were just a caravan of gratitude, until…

When I looked ahead, I noticed a section of sidewalk heavily shaded by massive, old trees. I saw that the sidewalk disappeared once again. I looked at the street, chagrined to realized that cars were parked next to this section of not-sidewalk. Hugging the curb to avoid cars wasn’t going to be an option. I sighed and forged ahead, thinking my Frogger training would come in handy for dodging the speeding vehicles.

When I arrived at the shady place, I laughed as I realized that the sidewalk did continue after all. It only appeared to be a dead end from a distance. Not only was it a continuous path, but it was also a beautiful path, a shady respite from the sun.

I realized how often such is the case in my life. I look ahead, sure I’m seeing closed doors and dead ends only to find that Jesus has made a way where there was none. I could feel the Holy Spirit urging me to keep putting one foot in front of the other in my life, trusting that he would lead me on the path I need to take.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take.
Proverbs 3:5-6

May you put one foot in front of the other today, leaning not on your understanding of what lies ahead, but on your understanding of Jesus’s faithful love in guiding your life.

Flourishing Fridays: Creation

From time to time, my husband arrives home and I’ll ask him, “So, is it really hot out there today?” and he’ll respond, “I don’t know. I was in an air conditioned office all day.” This happens surprisingly often. It’s kind of sad that between the two of us we don’t spend enough time outside to know the weather!

I know this isn’t that uncommon, especially where we live, home of the sixty hour workweek (if you’re lucky). Now that the days are getting shorter, many people leave for work while it’s still dark, stay in an office all day, and get home after the sun has set. We are literally insulated from the world around us.

I’d venture to say everyone understands how incredible nature is. That’s why places like the Grand Canyon are packed with tourists year round, all snapping their own inadequate pictures to try and take home that sense of majesty. We know we’re missing out by staying in. The sad part of this, other than being vitamin D deficient, is that the Bible says we’re missing out on something even greater.

1The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
    The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
    night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
    their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
    and their words to all the world.

God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.
It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding.
    It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race.
The sun rises at one end of the heavens
    and follows its course to the other end.
    Nothing can hide from its heat.

Psalm 19:1-6

By remaining insulated from the natural world, we miss out on the chance to see God’s fingerprints all around us. Creation points us to its (our) creator and teaches us about who he is (see Romans 1:20). With that in mind, this week’s flourishing Friday is going to take us outside.

1) Start by setting aside time, a good hour or so, where you can be outdoors. It doesn’t have to be Yosemite [though you should totally go sometime, if you’ve never been]; going for a walk or sitting in a park will work. You can also grab your kids to come along with you. Sometimes seeing the world through their eyes shows us something we would have missed.

2) At the beginning of your time, read Psalm 19:1-6. Take a moment to pray that you would see the glory of the Lord in his creation before you set out.

3) As you walk (or sit), pay attention to the world around you. What do you see? Feel? Smell? Hear? Really take note of creation with your senses [though it goes without saying you should be cautious about putting stuff you find in your mouth 😉 ]. Also, look around. There’s stuff above you, under your feet, on both sides. Take it in!

4) When something in particular stands out to you, stop and pay special attention to it. Why is it standing out to you? If you can, try to experience it with more than one sense. For instance, if you were struck by what you saw, try touching it or smelling it. If you were struck by a scent, find its source and lean in to study it.

5) As you look closely, pray and ask the Holy Spirit why you were drawn to that particular thing. Ask what it reveals about the Lord, our Creator. How does that characteristic of God matter in your life in this season? Take your time with this step and prayerfully listen.

6) As you end your time, pray in response to what you’ve experienced. Read Psalm 148 and join in worshiping the Lord with all of creation.

Note: sometimes we set aside time and nothing happens. No great epiphany. No life-changing revelation. Don’t force it. Just enjoy the time you set aside and continue praying as you go on with your day for eyes to see the glory of the Lord. Check out this post for my experience with this.

May you have eyes to see our Creator and a heart that responds in worship for our Lord and King Jesus.

Flourishing Fridays: Creating

I was in the grocery store recently and noticed that among the gossip rags dishing about celebrity affairs and women’s magazines promising an easy way to lose ten pounds was an adult coloring book simply titled Cats with Hats. It was exactly what one would expect, black-and-white drawings of cats wearing different hats: sailor hats, derbies, sun hats, etc. I bring this up for two reasons. 1) It’s completely awesome. 2) It reveals just how popular the current fad of adult coloring books has become.

Looking through my social media feeds, I often see coloring pages that my friends proudly display. Other friends show off paintings they’ve done at wine and painting classes. I see beautiful homemade meals, fun costumes, seasonal decorations all over social media. People love to create so much that Pinterest was born so we (well, someone more ambitious than me) could organize all of the neat ideas we (they) come across.

Even when we don’t fancy ourselves particularly creative, the act of making things engages us in a different way than simply talking about it. I read recently that coloring activates the same part of your brain as praying or meditation (yes, even if it’s cats with hats).  It’s with this in mind, that I planned the second flourishing Friday exercise: creating.

So much of scripture is incredibly image-rich. God spoke to us through metaphors and parables, so that we could see and touch and taste what he meant vividly. We can lose something by not soaking in those images and allowing our minds to wander through them. Those pictures help us understand what God is trying to say. As with the previous exercise, creating helps us to slow down and engage scripture so that we might have ears to hear what God is saying through his word in a fresh way.

Here are the steps:

  • Grab art supplies & blank paper. With my Bible study, I put out as many art supplies as I could scrounge up: crayons, markers, scissors, glue, magazines, rubber stamps, stickers, construction paper, scrapbook supplies, and blank sheets of paper. The variety allowed us to choose whatever seemed to work with the passage and even play with different media. For you to personally try it, just grab what you have on hand. It doesn’t even have to make sense, just use what you have.
  • Read Jeremiah 17:5-8 out loud [yes, out loud]:

This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
who rely on human strength
and turn their hearts away from the Lord.
They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,
with no hope for the future.
They will live in the barren wilderness,
in an uninhabited salty land.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.

  • Write out verses 5 & 6 on one page [like reading out loud, writing something in long hand forces you to process it differently]. Use your chosen art supplies to illustrate these verses/key words.
  • Write out verses 7 & 8 on a second page. Use your chosen art supplies to illustrate these verses/key words.
  • Once you’ve completed your art, prayerfully compare the two. What images dominate each picture? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see what God is trying to communicate through the images Jeremiah used.
  • As you slowed down to process this passage, what did the Holy Spirit highlight for you?
  • What did you learn about the state of your own soul as you reflected on this passage?

I know, I know. Maybe this totally isn’t your cup of tea; however, sometimes doing things outside of our routine causes us to see things as we never have before. Plus, this is the kind of activity that you could do with kids, since it is so hard to find a quiet moment with little ones around. Challenge yourself this week to try it. Maybe it’ll be a waste of 25 cents worth of art supplies and paper. It could also help you see what God has to show you through his word in a way you haven’t seen him before. That alone is worth the risk.

May you flourish today, like a tree planted by flowing water, bearing fruit in every season.

A Day.

It was quite a day yesterday.

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Photo by Nathan Haniger

One of my neighbors posted this picture of the fire marching steadily over the mountains where we live last night. Thankfully, the glow and smoke from the fire was visible from where we are, but it’s not too close and seems to be moving away from us right now.

Amazingly enough, when I look at the above picture, I don’t notice the flames so much. All I see are stars, hundreds of stars (an exceedingly rare sight in the Bay Area), stars so bright that the violence of the flames couldn’t overpower them. It’s breathtaking.

It reminded me of our MOPS theme this year, We Are Starry Eyed. The picture the theme evokes is being rooted firmly on the ground, in the messiness of life, but with our eyes looking up, focused on the stars. I love the idea of being full of hope and seeing the light in the darkness. To quote my toddler, “I want that.”

But this picture made me realize that I don’t want to just see light in the darkness, I want to be a light in the darkness. We are called to see the Light, but then Jesus asks us to be the light. I want to be so full of Jesus’ love that I am a beacon of hope, a city on a hill, giving glory to our Father in my every day life.

That’s my prayer at the end of this very strange and difficult day: to shine, even in the valley of the shadow of death. I pray for you, too, on your strange and difficult days, that you’d overflow with Jesus’s light into the darkness.