Unfinished Projects

120313_2Thessalonians3_13a.jpgI started a project two weeks ago. I am hand writing First Thessalonians on a big canvas. It’s therapeutic. I like seeing the script lying around my kitchen, the open bible next to it. I got to thinking about repetition and oral histories, how monks would write out the same scriptures again and again taking years over the ornate typography. How the words would seep into their being by the sheer act of writing. Well I don’t have years or fancy handwriting, but…

I thought I would be done in three days, but it lingers.

I have three small children so everything I do lingers.

But for once I don’t feel the need to make excuses to myself, for myself, about things I’m doing simply for me. I’m not sure when that happened. Up until recently I was feeling guilty about the unfinished projects lying around, especially when they were for someone else. Yet with this scripture project, which is awesome in so many ways, I have let go of the guilt.

At the moment I am writing it on craft paper I have stuck to the canvas, then, when I know it fits, I will start actually writing it on canvas.

So really, I haven’t even started the actually project yet, I’m just testing it out. And still, I don’t feel guilt about an unfinished not-quite project.

The letter opens with “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So this work I am doing is produced by my faith certainly, and is a labor of love, and I am enduring in it instead of wallowing in the guilt of it’s speed, and every time I look at it I am hopeful for the day it is done and hanging on my wall.

I guess the words are seeping into my soul.

 

Ruth 1

RuthI always come back to Ruth.

It used to be that I would go through “a dry spell,” “a valley,” I’d get the spiritual humdrums and just stop. everything. Then eventually something of the spirit would speak it’s way back into my heart, and I’d find myself walking the road from Moab to Bethlehem once more. From a seemingly godless land of plenty, to that holy city that had not yet seen it’s full glory come to pass.

In the days when the judges ruled,[a] there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

Talk about obedient wife. Naomi knows where they are, she knows that this is the land of plenty, despite the famine. She knows that this is the place of God, that this is where they are supposed to be. Elimelek knows it too. But he allows his daily circumstances to dictate his everything. And so, they pack up everything and leave God behind, to find food and shelter in a land free from God. To get a good picture of where they were going, just think about who the original Moab was. The product of the drunken incestuous night that Lot was tricked into by his daughters. We are leaving the promised land and moving to Reno baby. and Naomi knows this. Everything that we learn about her, everything we know about Jewish homes back then, they were so acutely aware of who God was and where He was, and still Elimilek said go, and off she went.

What do I think happened there? Did Naomi lay down her case for staying in front of her husband? Did she throw her hands up in the air, lament this husband of hers and swear he would be the death of her? Did she call out to God and say even now in this I know thy will be done, I will follow this man you have sent me, and trust that you will lead us through as you have before?

There are so many words I could put into her mouth. So many scenarios I could concoct out of thin air. And as much as I like to speculate on this relationship that set so much in motion, I think there is so much beauty  in the simple statement; So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.

Together they went.

To live.

For a while.

Now the together I’m on board with. “Doing life” together, I get, though I abhor that expression. But “For a while,” I stumble there. So often I make decisions or start down paths thinking that it’s forever, thinking that once I’m locked and loaded there’s no way out. I start to worry that I’ve set in motion the wrong thing. That God can’t redeem me from the wrong path chosen.

Lies people.

Some things in my life are going to be permanent, some in fact are going to be ever lasting, but most of the things in my life are going to be for a while. And Naomi knew that. She knew a great God with a great plan, who had seen them through many things. And she knew that this time in Moab would be for a while. Now had she known it would kill all her menfolk, I’d like to think she would have had some misgivings, but she didn’t kick up a fuss about leaving her hometown, her friends, her family, her extended family, her life. Because “for a while” you can do anything.

My kids are little. They are all under 6 and life is crazy. Even when we don’t have plans and are at a normal baseline, we are exhausted and life is just crazy.

But I can do anything for a while. And the things I’ve laid aside for these wonderful years with my kids, they are only aside for a while.

The dreams that come and go with my seasons, might only be dreams for a while, there’s still time for that while to become the rest of my days.

This time with my kids is only for a while and I will cherish it and rail against it, adore them and tear my hear out until it is done.

Together they went for a while.

I need Lin Manuel Miranda to set that to music.

 

Lift

Five MinWhen I think of lifting up, I think of so many artificial things. I think of an elevator rising, especially the kid with wrought iron doors and a man specifically employed to operate it. I think of the kind of shoes they used to make for short people who wanted height. I think of the shoes they used to make for Spice Girl fans. Chuckies on steroids. And yes, I had a pair. I think of the energy drinks my husband drinks. An afternoon pick me up. A boost to that long car ride.

And when I am done exhausting my list of artificial lifts, I sink bank into my thoughts, find that comfy spot, and find the lift in my soul. Words and silences that come from deep within. Words that speak of a never ending love, of an in-exhaustible love, of an unoppressive love, of a love that never dies, never fades, never changes with my state of mind.

I find my lift in a cup of coffee and protein bar in the morning certainly, but more so in what lies behind it, what it represents. It means five or six minutes, alone sometimes, but more often than not by the side of a child munching on toast, five or six minutes of stillness. In which I am not multi tasking, but focusing on the prayer at hand, the book at hand, the scripture at hand, the five minute Friday prompt at hand. The coffee and protein bar are outward symptoms of what is actually going on.

And now in the distance, my coffee long gone, my empty wrapper on the table, I hear the distant voice of Lamb Chop singing:

…This is the song that doesn’t end, yes it goes on and on my friends, some people started singing it not knowing what it was and we’ll continue singing it forever now because…

And the parenting doesn’t end. The coffee pot doesn’t end. The laundry certainly doesn’t end. But neither do the giggles, the love, the buttery toast faces, the welcoming husband. And that lift in my soul, that lift that is the basis of my life, that seeps into everything I do, everything I am, well that never ends either, and we’ll continue singing it forever now because His is the love that never ends…

All The Books

TeachingI received some wonderful encouragement from a friend when I started writing again. I was lamenting the fact that Elyse Fitzpatrick had already written all the books I want to write, and she said “no one has written all of the books.  There is always room for more…and your words are greatly valued and appreciated, unique to your story and like no one else’s.” I want this on a T-shirt. #allthebooks.

I feel deeply connected to God when I write, always have. From my baby Christian days writing poetry feverishly, through my first blog, through 365 days of poetry. So whether or not the books have already been written, Imma gonna write more.

I listened to Jamie Ivey’s 100th podcast this week and I get the feeling she is probably currently writing the book I want to write, and I can’t wait to read it. To see how it complements my own story, to see how God weaves his way through our different lives. To get inspired to keep writing, scribbling away, making sense of all these words and thoughts I have.

Then I discovered a new podcast by the lovely Christy Nockels, and in her first episode she talks to Annie F. Downs. Annie is my soul mate. She doesn’t know it, but she is. I passed by her at If:Gathering, just inches away, I regret not talking to her, because she’s so wonderfully everyday. I may go back to Texas next year, just to stalk Annie. Like Beth Moore is your fancy get up, but Annie is your workaday writer. She just gets it. So I’m listening to Annie and getting so encouraged and so lifted up, and they start talking about how everyone always seems to write about the same things at the same time and how that’s okay. She says that when people are coming up with the same things, it’s because God is breathing a theme into his church. God is telling thematic stories through his varied people. So we end up with all kinds of books about appreciating the little things, and not sweating the small stuff, and saying the best yeses. And I am sitting at work listening, pounding on my desk, saying a silent Hallelujah in my best southern voice. All ready to go home and start work on the book that’s been permeating in my mind for the last week.

Then the bubble bursts as dear, sweet, Annie says that in late 16, early 17, we’ll be seeing a slew of books about friendship, because that’s what the Lord is doing right now.

And I just about bust open, because that’s where my heart has been this week. In my friendships, and my people, and how different they have all been, and how they have affected me, and how I’ve wanted to give up, and where God has injected life. And I am torn apart in a split second because Angie Smith is going to get there first, Jamie Ivey has it down, Ann Voskamp is calling the shots, and there is of course no room for my voice among the angels God has set among us.

And my friends, THIS IS A LIE.

Because no one has my voice. No one has my stories. And no one else is going to write this. And when they write their story, and I write my story, and we all write each other’s stories, we breathe life into this God sent message. And the more voices yelling this into the world, the more chance the world will listen.

So, now what? I will still bum out that my book will be slow to write, and one of many, because bumming out is a spiritual gift of mine #blessed. But I’m going to write my stories anyway. I’m going to tell of my God, and tell of my friendships, and tell of my family, and my kids, and my soul, and how He saved me. And if no one wants to read it, I’m going to print it and give it to my friends, so they can hold my heart in their hands and know they are loved, and know that they have improved my life and my soul.

When the Fever Passes

JacobWhen M’s fever was at 104 she laid her head on my chest and fell asleep. She rested in my arms and snuggled up close. She placed a hand on my chest, as the other arm hung down.

We stayed like that for a long time.

But when her fever dipped to 100.4 she struggled, she complained, she whinnied like a horse, she couldn’t sit still, couldn’t settle. My chest was no longer of comfort to her. My heartbeat no longer soothed. She wasn’t as sick as she had been but she was behaving as if she was more so.

When I was really struggling with my faith I hardly struggled at all. Apathy caught hold and in a fever of nothingness, life just went on. I laid my head down, I closed my eyes. I found comfort in the rhythm and routine of religion, but beyond that I really didn’t care.

When my eyes were opened however, I ran around like a crazy woman. I used all the words I had to all the people who would listen. I made sense or I didn’t make sense and I just didn’t care. Laying my head down was no longer an option, I knew too much to stay still. Closing my eyes again didn’t work, they wouldn’t stay shut, I knew what lay beyond the lids.

Now with my eyes wide open I see the beauty in rest, in the comfort of rhythm and routine. But the old words and ways no longer bind me, they  provide me with solace and a place to retreat to when rest is needed. Where once Sunday morning was a way to check a box and blindly stay on track, it is now a source of living water. I also still use all the words to all the people, and I’m sure I still sound like a crazy woman. But I wrestle with my faith, with my God, with the Word, and I wrap my mind around things that will unravel and re-wind tomorrow. And I find my hope in oft spoken words, and a man-God that walked this earth once and loves me still.

Genesis 32 tells the story of Jacob wrestling with God, and it is in verse 25 that I most often find myself. “So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.” Jacob was left alone, but was not alone, and he wrestled with his God till daybreak, not knowing with whom he was wrestling.

I may feel apart sometimes, I may fall apart sometimes, but I will wrestle till daybreak.

My Problems My Own. My Problems I Own.

TySo. It turns out that identifying a problem is not even half the battle. Identifying a problem is actually more akin to using the word “problem”. Take for example “I have a problem with beanie babies.” The whole point of this statement is the beanie baby, the addiction itself, but we/I get stuck at the word problem and think we’re/I’m good. As if just saying it is enough.

Now, don’t get me wrong, admitting a problem is the first step, and it’s a big step. But for me, myself and I, I think I quite like to set up camp at “I have a problem,” let myself hang out there for a while, and feel somewhat proud of myself for identifying this. Let myself really sink my teeth into the fact that I have a problem, instead of sinking my teeth into the problem.

And I don’t just identify it once. That first time I identify a problem is an adrenaline rush, so of course I want to do it again. And once I identify it a second time, I’m well on my way to sage, mage and all round problems guru.

“Oh yes, I know I have a problem with social media, but I recognize it for what it is. #problemsguru #identified #selfimpressed.”

So by the time this problem has reared it’s ugly head a couple more times, I have deluded myself into thinking I have a handle on it, when the opposite is quite true. See I’ve identified this before, and the first time I did it lost some of it’s power over me. I’ve said it out loud and it lost a little more of it’s power. But then I said the same thing again.

“I have a problem with Beanie Babies.” Power down.

“I have a problem with Princess Diana Beanie Babies.” Power down

“I have a problem with Princess Diana Beanie Babies.” Power stasis.

“I have a problem with Princess Diana Beanie Babies.” Power up

Diana

There are a lot of things that get easier with repetition. I’m a huge fan of “if you say something long enough you’ll believe it.” But some things you have to repeat with more than just words on a loop. Some things you need to tackle head on every day, not just admitting you have a problem, but praying through, praying over, talking through with people who can actually help and not just people you are comfortable with. Sometimes the very people you can talk to, are the people you have the biggest problem with, and so repeating the same thing to them is not going to help anymore.

The thing is. The Princess Diana Beanie Baby isn’t the problem, and the more I say it is, the more I believe it is. As if the Beanie Baby is something outside of my control, external to me, and not something I’ve swallowed whole. No matter how many times I grab hold of that Princess Diana Beanie Baby, the common thread is not the beanie baby, it’s me.

It’s me.

I’m the problem. Not the addiction. The addiction has no life without me.

I’m the problem. Not the Beanie Baby. The Beanie Baby is off doing it’s own thing.

It’s me.

It’s me.

Wow, seeing that in Black and White on the screen, well, off gray and white, is a little daunting.

See I can hide behind the words and I can hide from the Beanie Babies. I can stay off Ebay, and I can stay away from collectors fairs. I can even push the trading manual to the back of my closet, and take my name of the Beanie Baby fan club volunteer list. But the problem is still there, because the problem is me.

Christine Caine is hitting me with some hard truths in her new book Unashamed. Now my Beanie Baby is not shame, but really, wherever she talks about shame just insert your own Beanie Baby and you will be shocked by what you hear:

So often in our spiritual lives, we experience the same thing. We get saved and start a good run – out of Egypt and right through the wilderness, building our heart, soul and mind muscles as we go. We build up our stamina, character, and fruit of the spirit output. We start to advance, grow, and mature in our spiritual journey. Things really seem to be flourishing in many areas of out lives.

Then we hit a wall.

That internal roadblock moment where everything seems like it should still keep moving forward, but it won’t… because we are holding back something somewhere. 

Because we are holding back. Because we are keeping something from God. Because he can have the idea of Beanie Babies, I won’t buy anymore, I won’t go to the member site, I won’t pay the subscription, but I’ll just keep the ones I already own. Look, I’ll even put them in a box in the basement. He won’t even know they are there.

So is it all doom and gloom? Am I to be a slave to the Princess Diana Beanie Baby for the rest of my natural life? No. Because the son has set me free and I am free indeed (John 8:36). No. Because I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). But it takes more than saying you have a problem, it takes renewing your mind so that when your spirit falls back on the problem, your mind can kick into gear and get you out. So that when you see it, and identify it, you can walk away from it without it touching you. How do we do that?

The apostle Paul said, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8).

That thing that I’ve identified needs to be replaced with whatever is true. That thing that keeps popping up when I see that Ty symbol, needs to be replaced with something noble. That thing that tugs at my heart when I hear the unwrapping of a McDonalds Toy, that needs to be replaced with whatever is right.

And just saying “I know I have a Beanie Baby Problem” will not cut it. You have to grab the Beanie Baby by the throat and cut the sucker’s head off.

Render Unto Caesar: Brexit

Mark 12:17

Jesus said to them, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.

Francis Chan has said some wise things, some things that have stuck with me and some that I’d rather would go away. One thing that is imprinted on my heart is the notion that we waste our time waiting for a “calling,” that we have gotten too caught up in semantics and Christian-ese and would rather wait than live as Christ taught us to live. He said that we are instructed to look after the widows and the orphans, so let’s just do that until we hear otherwise. 

There’s a lot going on right now in the political world of both my home country and my adopted country. Things that I don’t necessarily agree with, and things that I agree with but find myself lambasted for. I have a voice and I like to use it. My 8th grade report card read “Sarah loves to communicate, regardless of language and medium.” Thanks for that Mr. Sarl, 20 years later and it’s still with me, in a good way.

I didn’t vote on Brexit, but I will be voting on the coming Presidential election. And the thing is, it matters and it also doesn’t matter. Both things are of vital importance in-country and on the world stage. But whichever way it goes, it’s not the end of the world. The UK is leaving the European Union now, things will change. Safe to say that things would have continued to change had they remained. We may end up with President Trump. I think we’ll survive if we do, I may just have to shut down my twitter feed awhile and focus on the chickadees that nest outside my kitchen window.

CoinIn Mark 12 the Pharisees bring Jesus a coin and question him about paying taxes. Jesus answers simply “Whose image is on this coin?” and from this we get “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Whose image is imprinted on you, on your soul, on your heart? Because mine sure as heck isn’t Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton, it’s not the Union Jack or the flag of Europe. The image that I bear, that I was born with, that I was called to bear, is Christ’s. I was created in God’s image. In his image do I labor.

Whose image is on this coin?

Whatever is happening politically I will continue to speak out against injustice, to speak out against poverty, to speak out for love, love, love. Trump or Hillary can get eight years at the most. In a few years time, we’ll know how Brexit is going to shake out, and you know what, the world won’t fall in the meantime. It will look different for sure but it’s not going anywhere. Our only calling is to continue to love God and love others. To be the hands and feet of Jesus. He already has a voice, and his voice I will repeat in the oncoming political storm:

“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”