Category: gospel

Christian Community

photo by Jennifer Upton
photo by Jennifer Upton

I like things organized and categorized. It’s not “a place for everything and everything in it’s place” cause Doug and I seem to live in chaos. But when it comes to my understanding of how things work, I like there to be a box. You are my friend because you say nice things about me and make me feel good. You are not a friend because you don’t say nice things. You gave birth to me so you are my mom. You’re my sister because we share DNA/grew up together/were together on all the major holidays. I like well-defined relationships. I like knowing where I stand, how I’ll be received and how to guard myself against attack.

But relationships outside my immediate family have been sporadic and undefinable. I went through a season recently where I heard about this thing called Christian Community and longed desperately for it, but it seemed out of my reach. I wanted people who would walk alongside me and daily breathe in and out the gospel with me, teaching me and letting me teach them. I wanted someone who would mentor me. I wanted someone who I could daily share my struggles with about loving my kids well and serving my husband. I wanted someone I could mentor and pour into and watch her thrive and grow. There were bursts and seasons where one of these things would happen. But overall, none of these endeavors went beyond a year. I lived and breathed bitterness. I did what I was told to do to foster these kinds of relationships, and nothing happened. I blamed the church for not taking me seriously, or taking a big enough interest in me. For losing me in the crowd, even though I’d paid my dues.There is a lot of arrogance and wounded pride wrapped up in this package.

So God beat me down. In the most gentle way imaginable He deconstructed my boxes. My first experience with this happened on the trip I took to Africa two years ago. It was my experience with this girl leading up to and on the trip that challenged my view of this “boxiness.” She is younger than me. She is not married. She is kid-less. But she taught me (and continues to teach me) about the never-stopping, never giving up, always and forever love that God has for me. She, more than any other person I know, believes that she is created by God for beauty. Somehow she gets things about God’s character that are hard for me to believe, so in His mercy He brought her into my life to teach me. And I was floored. I continue to be humbled. She teaches me.

But it was in a conversation with some other women that God taught me about His design for relationships. They asked me if I was mentoring anyone, and I said no. They said her name. I immediately shook my head, thinking, “do you know how much she taught me? Do you know where she found me and where she led me to? This place of freedom and beauty where I get to dance knowing my Jesus loves me, simply because He created me? And you’re telling me this beautiful, witty, funny, smart, life-breathing person is learning something from me?” I didn’t believe it. I still have trouble wrapping my head around it. We haven’t had the relationship talk. But I do know this: in our time together, she has gleaned something from me. There is no box for this. It’s just the gospel working itself out in a friendship.

And I’ve realized that church isn’t something to define. It’s not a box or a category or something that has a clear cut beginning and end. Last night we had friends over for supper and because we all love Jesus, we talked about Jesus. This was church. Our conversation ebbed and flowed. I drank a little too much. A soon-to-be dad showed off his swaddling skills and wrapped a glass in a napkin. A few people received head massages. Kyler might have run around the house nearly naked. But it was church. There was an undercurring theme of “how do we live out the gospel and love people and love our church, in the midst of our bitterness and frustration?” The conversation was beneficial, fruitful and beautiful.

And I’ve seen this truth demonstrated as snapshots over the last few years–that really great conversation outside my kid’s school… That skype call with my sister as she pours out her heart about moving to Sudan… Singing songs with other believers on Sunday morning in Austin, or in a living room in Africa with no power and an acoustic guitar and my off-key voice lending something unique and memorable to the experience… A great conversation over coffee with a friend I see once a year where she exhorts me… THIS is church. There are no boxes or labels. It’s just loving the people God has brought into my life and pointing one another to Jesus. It’s hard. I’d much rather have that well-defined group that meets Wednesday nights, and studies Scripture and then finds a way to serve some orphans in Austin and internationally. Some way to track my growth. Some way to say, “see look, I’m doing the Christian thing.” But that just has not been my norm. Instead, I have snippets. I have conversations. So I’ve learned to embrace the places between the boxes and live there. It’s undefinable. But it is real. It is authentic.

And it’s transcendental. Because there is no box that can adequately contain these relationships, no box that encompasses what CHURCH is, there is much freedom. We are able so far as our culture, era, time of day, season of life, proximity, and cultural persecution to experience church in a variety of ways. I’m not sure there’s a right way or a wrong way to do church–barring anything Paul teaches against in 1 Corinthians (getting drunk on the Lord’s supper, sleeping with your father’s wife, being so loud and boisterous you distract from God, etc.). The point of gathering with other believers is to exhort and encourage one another in righteousness. It is our job to point one another to Jesus when once again our flesh fails. Church is important; Christian Community is a requirement for the believer. But it isn’t always identifiable or quantifiable. And it won’t look the same for every single believer.

That is the beauty of the gospel.

seeing

Is writing like acting where it’s just something you love to do and it doesn’t really matter if you ever win that infamous award? Is it worth doing because of how it makes you feel, the experiences along the way and the characters you get to play? And whether people loved or hated your performance, you got to do what you loved, so in the end you lived your dream.

In college I took a Shakespeare through performance class and instead of reading several of Shakespeare’s plays, we spent the semester studying one. Our final grade depended on three papers and a performance of As You Like It. In front of a live audience. Twice. It was probably my favorite class in college. I won’t lie. I was terrible for about the first three months. I was shy. Insecure. Uncertain. But this isn’t a lie either: I rocked it. On the nights that mattered, the places where I needed to get over myself and embrace the role, I did. I have it on video tape in case you question my honesty. This was one of the best experiences; even if I didn’t win an award. And even though I had tons of fun, I would probably be mauled by critics of all kinds if I ever tried acting again. But at the end of the day, I would rather embrace something fully, than wait for approval from critics. I don’t want to be moderate in my expectations and settle for mediocrity. The high that came after those nights has not been matched. We worked hard and the pay-off was huge. We preformed in front of friends and family. None of us are famous now–we all graduated with a liberal arts degree and a major in English. Yet, I argue that it was still worth doing.

For much of life, I bought into the lie that something was only worth doing if you either excelled at it (savant-like abilities) or if you would get some sort of widespread recognition. But most of us will sit in our corner of the world, plugging away day in and day out–either loving what we do or hating it. I’m tired of believing that God only created a few exceptional people. Rather, what if He wove me into the lives of those around me in such a way that I get to be a part of making life more beautiful for all of us? Even if it’s only with my husband, kids and my BFF. I may not have the scope of influence that others’ do, but I do have my little corner, my niche. I can write because it fills me up and I learn and grow as a person while I’m doing it. Or I can squander it because I’m constantly comparing it to what someone else has done. I also fall into the trap of craving recognition for my efforts. If I’m not noticed, then it must not be worthwhile.

One of my friends recently published her first book. (Check it out, it’s awesome: The One). Between her and Doug I’ve been reminded that while there is nothing new under the sun, my perspective lends something new. It’s like standing at a different point on the earth. We all see something slightly different. Together, our vision enhances one another’s. Butterflies can see more colors than any other creature on earth because their eyes are made up of lots of little eyes. Craziness. A small bug, with amazing eyesight. I feel like that’s what we get to do. With all of our individual lives, we are seeing and portraying a kaleidoscope of who God is.

I think I finally want to embrace this to the fullest: to worry less about my power and influence, and find the joy in being who God created me to be, using the gifts He gave me in Him and for His glory. When my desires and expectations aren’t on the table, there’s a freedom that comes. When it’s not about me, I get to enjoy whatever I am doing in the moment because I have the only audience that matters. But when I’m performing for people, I can’t relax and I can’t stop because it will never be enough. So in one sense, other people don’t matter. I write the words that God puts on my heart, hoping that they glorify Him. And I get to watch as my words touch you, and hopefully change you, but even if they don’t, I enjoyed writing as I communed with my God. And my heart is more full of love for Him, and more full of love for others as I watch closely to see how He is bringing about change in your life, letting me see something different from what my own two eyes can see.

Said another way

As a believer, it is better to see oneself as a small part of the whole than to see self as set apart in calling. It is more fruitful to be one of many than to determine to be unique in prominence before others. Bitterness and disappointment awaits the believer who majors on their own destiny instead of focusing on steadfastness in small things and rejoicing in the destiny of the whole. It is better to live before the eyes of Jesus, where our uniqueness is seen and then just blend in with the whole in the eyes of the brethren. Beautiful is the body of Christ. (Misty Edwards, http://ow.ly/eqILk)

adoption…what happened?

Her cries reach me in the middle of the night. The tears that are supposed to move me to compassion and break my heart. The tears she cried in the dark, that for seven years were answered infrequently, are supposed to cause me to sprint to her room, to hold her, reassure her and comfort–meeting that deepest place inside her. Instead, I sit on the couch, holding her sister, frustrated because I can’t put the sleeping one back in her room until she quiets down. Tired, exhausted, worn. Upset that for the third night in a row my sleep is haphazard at best. So I ignore her. I turn off compassion and embrace my frustration. The first thing I tell her when she finally settles down is that I was waiting for her to be quiet, so I could bring her sister back into the room. My heart is hard. Angry. Unresponsive. Unmoved. It is like stone. I expected the months of longing and waiting to irrevocably mark my interactions with her. I expected to be a better me at the end of this process. I expected the internal longings of my heart, coupled with the external process to wreck me, break me and for this whole process to put me back together, somehow, differently.

So on nights like this, I find myself hurt and befuddled. Frustrated by both myself and the situation. I feel angry and cheated. This is not how it’s supposed to be. My heart was supposed to break easily at her tears. I would hold her tightly in my arms and declare my unyielding love for her. But by the end of most days, I’m relieved when I’ve made it through the day and we’re level. Thankful we’re not dipping into the negative, even if we’re far from the positive.

My friend sent me a text, double-checking herself, “Isn’t that evil? What is wrong with me?”

I find myself asking the same question. Why can’t I get it together long enough to be the wife God wants me to be to Doug? Why can’t I love my kids (ALL of them) selflessly, and choose to disregard the lack of sleep and interrupted “me-time,” and just meet their needs? Why can’t I be the friend I want to have? The sister? The daughter?

My heart is sick and dying and broken. And honestly, I can’t figure it out. Once, I thought did…Maybe I still do. Just set aside, sitting on a shelf. Waiting patiently for me until I get desperate enough to turn and ask for help. This truth laces through my body yet again: Wholeness, wellness comes from submission to my Savior. In this place of brokenness, He is the only one with the power to change my heart of stone into a heart of flesh. That’s it. Again and again and again, He walks this road with me. Patiently teaching me that through Him and in Him is abundant love/life. Apart from Him, I have a deep disease–a self-love that only chooses the path of least resistance–and that does not include a hurting little girl from Africa. Trapped in my own wants/needs/desires I will sacrifice her on the alter EVERY SINGLE TIME.

A tender-heart, dies, always, continually. It weeps with those who weeps. It rejoices with those who rejoice. And Jesus alone can transform my heart, so that I put my old self on the alter, let myself die yet again, a little more, with the death Jesus died. To be raised up to new, deeper life–embracing yet again the sorrow and suffering of others. Daily, breathing, in and out the gospel. Letting it mark me. Change me.

Or I can set it on the shelf, and be this hard shell that does not love, does not weep and clings too tightly to mine. Ultimately sacrificing the best things, the beloved things, for temporary pleasure. What is wrong with me?


Lord, please save me from myself. Apart from you, I will choose this body of death. Every. Single. Time. Teach me, in the moment, to choose love. 

breathe

I’m writing this while I feel like I can breathe. I’m walking around singing lyrics from the Black Eyed Peas, I’ve got a feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night, that tonight’s gonna be a good night, that tonight’s gonna be a good good night. Tonight’s the night, let’s live it up. The kids are (relatively) happily watching TV. I’m optimistic about the style I’m trying out on Gloria’s hair. I feel like I’ve arrived. OK, maybe not. I feel like I have some respite. A break. A momentary feeling that this is normal, good and I can breathe and relax into my new family. I don’t know if it was the awesome time with friends and wine last night, the fact that all the kids slept in this morning, or that Gloria seems to be getting the “listen and obey” concept.

This past week I felt like I was standing in the middle of this darkened tunnel. And I heard voices from far away telling me that there’s LIGHT. Voices from other adoptive moms and families. Voices encouraging me to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. To keep plodding on. And eventually that plodding and placement would turn into progress and normal. Today I feel like I can sense the light. Today I feel like I can breathe. I remember a moment after each kid came to our family, when I breathed again and felt like we had arrived. I felt like myself. I felt like our family had made the transition.

With Matthew it happened around the four month mark. With Kyler it was about six months. In 11 days we will have been this new family for three months. I don’t know if that moment is today, or if it’s just a moment of rest. But I want to mark it. To acknowledge and shout that I LOVE MY FAMILY. I love Gloria. I love her when she stands there as responsive as a wall after I’ve asked her to do something she doesn’t want to do. I love her when she wails because Kyler poked her. I love her even when she’s acting like a three year old rather than a ten year old. There’s a great book I want to get her called “No Matter What.” In it, a baby fox describes all the ways he can act out and after each scenario the mama fox says she’ll become whatever he needs and always says, “I’ll love you no matter what.”

Its hard to say those words. It’s even harder to say them and act them out when honestly, sometimes I feel like she doesn’t even like me. But as we continue to walk this out and form and grow, I’m praying that the gospel is enough. Because if it’s not, than this is an epic fail. There is nothing pretty here now. We’re all raw, hurting and being stretched to our breaking points. And I’m ashamed to admit, that my breaking point is closer to Gloria, Matthew and Kyler’s than I ever would have guessed. I might hide my sin a little better, but I can’t condemn them when my heart is as nasty as theirs. How do I teach them to die to themselves, when the minute Doug gets home from work all I want to do is crawl into my bed and veg out, rather than continuing to pour love and affection out as Christ commands/asks/teaches/instructs me to?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: