Turning ashes into beauty at Crestline Elementary School

Monday morning, I saw a status on my Facebook feed that said something about a tragedy at Crestline Elementary in Vancouver.  I didn’t have time to look up what had happened, but it nagged at me all morning…Crestline Elementary…Crestline Elementary.  Why do I feel like it sounds familiar?

Later that day, I realized why.  My dear friend’s children attend school there.  We were just with them at Christmas and she was raving about how much they loved the school and how her children were flourishing there.

I felt as if I’d been kicked in the stomach.

Heidi has written a blog post about what they have lost and how you can help.  She has a way with words that I can only hope for, so I’ll send you to her blog for all of the details.  There are so many things that they need — and there are ways you can help that don’t cost money — or at the very least, the only cost will be a postage stamp.

What We Have Lost

The words that hit me as I was reading her entry for the 100th time were these:

I pray that God will take our ashes and turn them to beauty.  I pray that he will use this terrible event and bring about his goodness.  I pray the kingdom of God will be present and evident as rebuilding, renewal and redemption begin.  And I pray that these children are safe, loved and have a place they feel at home.

I found myself humming the tune to a song whose lyrics come from Psalm 30:  Mourning into Dancing by Ron Kenoly.  I pray that the children and families of Crestline Elementary will be be dancing with joy on the other side of this tragedy.  And, with parents like Heidi and the amazing administration, teachers and staff at the school, I have no doubt that they will.

Love God. Love People.

As you can see with my other posts this past week, I’ve been rather pre-occupied with personal things.  However, my brain has been working overtime on some other issues as well and I just can’t keep them in any longer.

It’s January and January always brings intense debates about abortion.  This post is not intended to address the political aspects of the debate and honestly, I’m not even interested in talking about or debating my views on the subject.  What I am interested in is talking about the Christian perspective.

That being said, buckle your seat belts because unless you know me really well, this may turn out to be different than what you might be expecting.

I was listening to a well-known and influential pastor* a few weeks ago and somehow he started talking about abortion and how it is murder and that in the eyes of God, if you have had an abortion you are no better than the guy who shot up the elementary in Newtown, CT.  I had to stop what I was doing and replay it to make sure that was really what I was hearing.  It was.  In the end, it bothered me so much that I stopped listening and went on to delete my subscription to this particular pastor’s sermons.  To be fair though, it wasn’t because of this one instance…there have been many things leading up to this action on my part.

As the weeks went on, it bothered me more and more.  I started getting emails from other well-known and influential pastors whom I follow who were also writing about the subject.  I ended up reading a blog post, written by a woman who attended one of the aforementioned pastor’s churches.  Essentially, she said that if we were bothered by his words, we need to ask ourselves why and address that.  So, I did that (asked myself why) and this is me addressing it.

Several years ago, I read Phillip Yancey’s book, “What’s so Amazing about Grace?”  I was rocked by the opening chapter in which Yancey tells a story of a prostitute whom he invited to church.  Her response was, “Church! Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.” (pg 11).  Instead of church being a welcoming and forgiving place, this woman (who had done such unspeakable things that I cannot even write about them)  would not even consider darkening the doorway.  Let’s be clear…I know that as Christians, we are not to gloss over sin and condemning it is not categorically a bad thing.  And, I also am aware of the simplicity of Yancey’s arguments from a theological standpoint.  But, unless and until we (as believing Christians) recognize and accept that not one of us is worthy in the eyes of God, we have no right to call someone else out as a murderer (for more on this, see Matthew 7).  If I, as a self-proclaimed Christian, who believes in the healing blood of Jesus was offended enough to turn the voice of that pastor off, then what about the person who has no concept of what Jesus dying on the cross means for their life?  The consequences of those words could be eternal, in my opinion.

So, that is the “why”.  It bothers me, not because people have strong opinions about abortion — or even what those opinions are, but because they allow it to become a potential stumbling block for others.  Hear me on this:  I do not think it’s bad to have an opinion on the subject.  Nor do I think we should remain silent on the issue.  My point is this:  our words are powerful.  We must be careful in how we present the gospel to somebody who doesn’t understand it.  Instead of focusing on the sin, focus on He who died for the sin and the hope that each and every one of us has because of that tremendous sacrifice.  Not one of us has led a sinless life — and as far as I can tell, God abhors all sin, so we all are in need of grace.  Grace, for as simple as the definition is (undeserving favor), is extremely complex.  Not only do people not understand it, they have a hard time accepting it because we live in a culture that values earning everything we have.  And, I think it’s harder to extend grace for the same reasons.  But, we should extend grace because it has been extended to us….every single day for reasons that we may not even think we need it.

Several years ago, I started praying that God would break my heart for the things that break His.  (Side note:  be careful if you decide to pray this.  God will answer it and you will be heartbroken all the time).  And, my heart is broken now.  Not only for those who may have heard that message and who now want nothing to do with seeking Jesus but for those who are now second guessing Jesus — and also for the grace that I can’t seem to muster for the person who said it.  I can’t help but think that when we get into these kinds of debates and start using hateful language (even if it’s only inside our own heads) that we are getting it all wrong.  And, I have this vision of God shaking his head and saying “That’s not what I meant….”.

Finally, as I’ve been writing this, I’m increasingly aware that this isn’t just about abortion.  It’s about all of the ways that we judge others and all of the litmus tests that we place on people who call themselves Christians (or don’t).  I heard a woman recently talk about how her church family has hurt her more than anyone with regard to a personal issue.  I think it’s because we expect more from our church family.  We expect more from people who claim to follow Christ.  And, when you expect more, you hurt more when those people let you down.  But the real truth is that everyone is going to let you down because not one of us is perfect.  Only Jesus is perfect.  So, it makes sense to me that we should focus on the plank in our own eye and the Great Commandment that Jesus gave us:

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 22:34-40

Love God.  Love People.  Not just love people, but love them as yourself.  Have you ever thought about the high pedestal we tend to put ourselves on?  We are to love people THAT much. Such a simple and yet incredibly difficult commandment.    People are difficult to love when they make decisions that are contrary to your beliefs that you are so committed to!  So, when you can’t love people, it’s time to focus on loving God and remember that He loves us despite how difficult we are.  Miraculous things will begin to happen — you begin to love people, not because they are lovable but because if you truly love God, you love the people He loves.  Even when you don’t want to.

*Pastor’s name is not included because I don’t want this post or discussion to be about him or for this post to be searchable based on his name because I don’t really think that is the point.

Life according to Jake

It’s been hard having a 13 year old these past few days.  In the past, I’ve been able to avoid talking about national tragedies by avoiding turning on the television.  I remember being so grateful that he was only 2 on 9/11 because I had no idea what I would have said to him.

Then, Friday happened and I had no idea what to say to him.  But, I had to say something.  I quickly realized that you don’t have to have an answer about “why?”, but the most important thing to do is listen and encourage them to talk about their feelings.  And, as we talked, I found that my sweet son was being as comforting to me as I was trying to be to him.

I was trying to explain to him about how I react to things —  I told him about a character in The Secret Life of Bees that I relate to.  May Boatright is a complicated personality. Highly sensitive to the pain of others, she carries the weight of the world in her soul.  She built a wailing wall in her backyard and goes there when she is upset.  And then I told him that I often joke that I need a wailing wall of my own in the backyard.

He looked at me and said, “Mom, you don’t need to build a wailing wall.  You have one right here”, and he patted his chest.  “God knows what’s in your heart”.

Tears filled my eyes as I looked at this child, who has no idea how wise he is, even though sometimes he still puts his pants on backwards.  I thanked him and told him that this was a conversation I will never forget.

I’ve said it before….I take no credit for how awesome he is.  But, I do like to share the insights he has.  Usually they are funny and light-hearted.  Today, I hope his wise words can bring someone else comfort as well.

Feel free to use this post as your own wailing wall.  My son and I would be privileged to join you in prayer for everyone affected by the Newtown shooting.  And, that means everyone.

wailing wall

My God is bigger than that

The emotions are riding high in light of what has happened in Newtown, CT. We all have a lot of opinions about a lot of different things. It seems the only thing that we aren’t divided on is our devastation over the loss of innocent lives.

I’m not here to rant about gun control or mental health…although I do have strong opinions about those things. Among all of the things that people are debating right now, in light of the tragedy, this is the thing that has me the most riled up:

This is one of the most offensive things I have ever seen. And to be clear, I am a Christian.

The argument that the absence an official school prayer time would indirectly (or directly) correlate with a slaughter in an elementary school is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. And, again…I am a Christian.

One of the things I love to do when studying the Bible is to keep an on-going list of God’s attributes as I’m studying a passage. Doing this helps me understand God’s overall character. Understanding God’s character helps me identify when His character is being portrayed falsely. Here is a partial list of the attributes that I’ve listed in my Bible:

Creator
Good
Powerful
Wise
Loving
Omnipotent
Omnipresent
Graceful
Sovereign
Joyful
Forgiving
Truthful
Eternal
Unchanging
Glorious
Faithful
Holy

For the purposes of this post, I want to focus on “omnipresent”.

First, let’s define it:

om·ni·pres·ent

/ˌämnəˈpreznt/

Adjective
  1. (of God) Present everywhere at the same time.
  2. Widely or constantly encountered; common or widespread: “the omnipresent threat of natural disasters”.

As it relates to God, it means this is the attribute of God by which He fills the universe in all its parts and is present everywhere at once. Not a part, but the whole of God is present in every place.

Now, let’s support it with Scripture:

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
(Psalm 139:8 ESV)

“Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.
(Jeremiah 23:23-24 ESV)

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!
(1 Kings 8:27 ESV)

…that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,
(Acts 17:27 ESV)

He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.
(Ephesians 4:10 ESV)

This is a small list, but the conclusion is that, in the simplest terms, there is no place to go where God is not already there.

And, then there is the Christmas story…

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).
(Matthew 1:23 ESV)

Christians believe that this is fulfillment of the prophesy laid out in Isaiah:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
(Isaiah 7:14 ESV)

The point is this: If you believe God is omnipresent, then you believe God is everywhere. Not everywhere except public schools. He’s not the big bad wolf who is stopped by brick.

I realize that this opens up questions. Questions like, “if God is everywhere, why did this happen”. It’s another blog post (or several) all-together, but I feel like I need to at least address it. I only wish I had a compelling answer. The only thing I can say for sure is that in His mercy and grace and love, God gives us free will. We are not puppets in a grand performance. And, there is unspeakable evil in our broken world. Hence, our desperate need for a Savior. The hope that I personally have is summed up in Revelation 22:20 and is the prayer that I always pray when I am distraught:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

(Revelation 22:20 ESV)

Back to the t-shirt above. When I see that, I automatically think that whoever believes that doesn’t know the true character of God. To say that God is not in schools is to believe that he is NOT omnipresent.

I’m not trying to be judgmental, although I realize I probably sound that way –and maybe I actually am. But, I’m really trying to point out that when people know you are a Christian, they are watching and listening to what you do and say. And, when you say that God is being controlled by humans, it diminishes your witness.

Finally, there are a lot of people who are sincerely asking the question that the t-shirt asks. Christian, is that the answer you really think that God would give to somebody who is hurting?

Romans 10:9 and my love/hate relationship with Christianity

… because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 ESV)

I have a love/hate relationship with Christianity. It goes something like this:

I love Jesus.

I hate that people say that one must to do something other than love Jesus in order to call themselves a Christian.

I love Jesus.

I hate that we categorize people as believers and non-believers, whom we must somehow save (or not). We forget that we don’t do the saving. God does. When we convince ourselves that we somehow have something to do with it, we are making ourselves God and that’s idolotry.

I love Jesus.

I hate that people act like they know for an absolute fact who gets into Heaven and who doesn’t. It’s as if they don’t believe that God has the power to accomplish something bigger than our minds can comprehend. Here’s an extreme example: Jeffery Dahmer in heaven? Not a chance, we say. And yet, he proclaimed himself to be a born-again Christian. We believe that Jesus performed countless miracles and was raised from the dead and yet we don’t believe that God can redeem the heart of a sinful man? At the core, that is unbelief in the gospel.

I love Jesus.

I hate that a Jesus-loving black man stood in my kitchen last week and told me that he’s been told before that because his skin is black, he is a child of Satan. There is no scripture that gives us a complete physical description of Jesus (except in Isaiah 53:2, it does say that he was rather average), but I am 99.99% sure that he doesn’t look like this:

20120429-134732.jpg

I love Jesus.

I hate that we use New Testament scripture as proof text as to why we are saved…and, we use Old Testament scripture as proof text as to why others aren’t. The Jesus we believe in, that we rejoice in his sacrifice and proclaim “He is Risen!” on Easter morning? He did that to fulfill those laws. Does it mean that we are to just go on sinning? No. But that is a whole study of Romans which could take months. My point is that we should be focusing on redemption and grace. Because, if we really are concerned about people, we aren’t going to do anything but drive them away by making them feel bad about themselves in Jesus’ name.

I love Jesus.

I hate that my faith gets questioned by people who think that Christians are of a certain political party. I have a whole diatribe on that, but I’ll just say that I can be a Democrat liberal and love Jesus at the same time. It makes perfect sense to me, but that’s another post for another day.

I love Jesus.

I hate that people suggest that science is in opposition to creation. If you believe that God created the universe, why is it so far fetched to believe that He used science to do it? We often refer to God as the Great Physician…why isn’t he also the Great Scientist?

I love Jesus.

I hate that we categorize sin. Sin is sin. It’s all in opposition to God and separates us from Him. Just because I can justify my act of anger toward somebody (clearly they acted a fool) doesn’t make it any less a sin than if I murdered somebody. Sound extreme? Read Matthew 5:21-22 and you’ll see what I mean. The point is not that if we get angry, we will go to hell. The point is that one sin is not bigger than the other. Still don’t buy it? Read James 2:10. Here, I’ll make it easy (but you should still look it up and not assume…)

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. (James 2:10 ESV)

Nobody’s sin is bigger than anybody else’s. And when we start pointing out other people’s sin (which is SO easy to do), we raise the bar infinitely higher for ourselves. What these passages are telling us, in my opinion, is that we can’t do it on our own. That’s why we need a Savior. So, to get back to my original point, we spend too much time pointing out the sins of others instead of telling and SHOWING them the good news of Christ.

There’s a quote that many attribute to St. Francis of Assisi. It says “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words”. There’s no proof that he actually said that, but I digress. It serves as arsenal for people who either want to call Christians out for the rubber not meeting the road or for those who don’t really want the burden of saying the word “Jesus” out loud in mixed company. I can call out both groups because I have landed in each one at various times in my life. I’m not proud of it, just being real. Anyway, I have heard many bible teachers that I respect greatly disagree with the sentiment, saying that we always need to use words…to do anything less would be lukewarm. I think that if all we do is use words, it can be pointless and counter-productive. I can’t just walk up to my agnostic co-worker and read scripture to him and ask if he wants to recite the sinner’s prayer now. Even *if* he didn’t tell me I was crazy and walk away, I would then have to Google a generic sinner’s prayer because I wouldn’t know anything about his life or his story in a way that would make that prayer at all meaningful. You see, I believe that you have to show the gospel in order to share the gospel. Showing it doesn’t absolve us from sharing it, but how do we build relationships otherwise? I don’t take parenting advice from people who I think are terrible parents. Why would I ask somebody about Jesus if I didn’t think they walked the walk?

So, instead, I do my best to follow what Jesus said in Matthew when asked “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36)

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40 ESV)

Love God. Love People. No other rules or conditions. And, essentially, I think what verse 40 is saying is that the whole of the Law and Prophets (Old Testament) is dependent on these two commandments.  Think about it, if we all loved God and loved people, what purpose would a commandment not to murder even have?  There would be no murder.

If you are like me, the commandment to love our neighbors is overwhelming.  Because Jesus doesn’t tell us to love the people that we like.  Or love the people we agree with.  We are to love all people.  How on earth do we do that!?  Well, that’s why the first commandment is to love God.  I have found that when you love God, it is easier to love people. Not easy. Easier. And honestly, I find that it’s easier to love people who are not Christians because I don’t expect as much. And, then I realize that I’m putting conditions on them (the Christians) which is exactly what I’m irritated about in the first place.

This really started out as a pithy list I had going in my mind about why I hate religion. The truth is that I don’t really hate religion, there are a lot of good things about religion; but I think it can sometimes distract us from what our mission as Christians really is. And it’s not pithy. It’s complicated. And, it’s important.  But, sometimes I just can’t shake this thought from my mind:

Seriously.

I should note that I have many Christian friends who might read this and wonder if I am judging them. If I’m honest, perhaps I am. But, the way it plays out in my mind is how I am raising the bar for myself. So, it’s a self-reflection in that regard. On the other hand, I have many non-Christian friends who might read this and wonder if the only reason I’m friends with them is to convert them. No. In fact, you are the reasons why these thoughts begin to bounce around in my head. Why I examine my own interpretation of my faith and the scriptures. Why I am constantly trying to learn more, and in that process realize that there is so much I don’t know. Why I feel so strongly about loving the people whom God has seen fit to put in my life. Why I am content to let God be bigger than I can ever imagine. And in the process of knowing me, I pray that you might get a glimpse of the Jesus that I love. And, if you ever want to know about my faith, ask me. I’m an open book.

The Gospel and Maple Bacon Breakfast Cupcakes

Let me start by saying that I am not a cook.  I can cook and I do manage to make some decent meals, thanks to cookbooks and other people’s recipes.  For the past several years, we have had groups of people meeting at our house regularly, so I’m always on the lookout for new things to serve.  I break a cardinal rule though and serve things that I’ve never actually made (or even tried) before I feed them to others.  Fortunately, this has never really been a problem.

The weekly meal started in Olympia as a group of people who all went to church together gathered weekly to share life with one another outside of Sunday worship. In the beginning, many of us didn’t even know each other at all — we just happened to live geographically close to one another.  Food has a way of bringing people together.  Think about it….put a group of strangers in a room together.  The extroverts will be able to do okay, but it can still be awkward.  If you are an introverted kind of person, it can be downright painful.  Put that same group of strangers in a room together and add food or beverages and it instantly  becomes a party.

When we began hosting these weekly gatherings, I used the meal as a way to protect myself…to give myself something to do and focus on because I am terrible at small talk.  As we all began to get to know one another more intimately, I began to really enjoy serving others, feeding them food they really enjoyed in a welcoming atmosphere.  This wasn’t a church “small group” per se, as we regularly invited friends and neighbors who didn’t necessarily go to our church — or to church at all.  And when we had new people join us, the meal was a much better ice breaker than any kind of cheesy ice-breaker game or question (although those do have value in certain situations).

You see, I believe that meals are a way to remind us of our daily need for God both on physical and spiritual level.  Jesus calls us to remember him and his sacrifice through a meal that Christians call communion.  Not only that, one of the first things Jesus does after being resurrected from the dead is to break bread with the disciples that he meets on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:30).  The next morning, when he appeared to the rest of the disciples, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” (Luke 24-41b).   After he ate (they gave him broiled fish….), he went on to speak the most important truths of the Bible to them (read Luke 24:44-49 and you’ll see what I mean).  When we eat together, we commune around these truths.  The word itself is both a noun and a verb.  The noun refers to a group of people living together and sharing possessions and responsibilities — a synonym being community.  The verb refers to sharing one’s intimate thoughts or feelings with someone — a synonym being to communicate or converse.  So the meal, to me, is a time that we nourish our bodies with food, but we also use that time to share our thoughts and feelings with other people, which leads to building a community.  And, in our fast food nation, I think this is somewhat lost on people.

In addition to eating, I think it’s important essential to celebrate God’s goodness and grace.  I desire to extravagantly bless others as a way to display God’s glory.  When I serve people, I want to serve them in the best way that I possibly can.  This might be by preparing an extravagant meal, opening the best bottle of wine or just knowing somebody’s favorite thing and serving that.  When you consider Jesus’ first miracle (John 2:1-11), it is significant that when Jesus turned the water into wine, it was the best wine.  When the disciples gave Jesus a piece of broiled fish back in Luke 24, it was probably the most extravagant thing they had.

Which brings me to the Maple Bacon Breakfast cupcakes.  We have brunch with a group of people on a monthly-ish basis.  Bacon is always a staple and it’s usually a topic of conversation — that is, how much everyone loves it.  So, when I saw Maple Bacon Breakfast Cupcakes on Pinterest recently, I knew that was my next brunch item.  I pinned it to my recipe board and when I went to make my shopping list, was dismayed to realize it was only a picture and there was no recipe.  So, I searched for a recipe that sounded do-able.  This morning, I got up early (not my favorite) and realized that we did not have any butter and had to change my plan.  I decided to use pancake batter for the “cupcake” portion, but was not sure it would rise, so it actually turned into a science project (also not my favorite).

Did I mention I’m not a cook?

For a second, I almost scrapped the entire project.  But, I was honestly driven out of my desire to provide something for this group that they would love.  To be extravagant.   To bless them.  So, I winged it.  And, they turned out fantastic.  Here’s the recipe:

Start by cooking up some bacon.  I wanted to use applewood smoked bacon, but we couldn’t find it.  I would definitely use thick sliced, premium bacon.  I think I did about 12 pieces.

2 cups pancake batter (it doesn’t matter what…I used some that I had bought in Mexico last month and never used.  I actually put it in a carry on bag to bring home and it wasn’t until the TSA Agent started looking at the seals that I thought maybe it was a bad idea….”Hi Dad?  I know I’m 41 years old, but I got arrested for having pancake batter in my carry-on.  And, I’m in Mexico.  I think they think it’s cocaine.  … Hello?…”)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

Sift the dry ingredients together.  I think sifting is important when using the batter, because it made them light and fluffy.

Then add the following to the dry ingredients:

1 cup milk

2 eggs

Bacon grease from the bacon you just fried.  This was an afterthought and I have no idea how much I used…maybe 2 tablespoons?

2 tablespoons maple syrup.  This was also an afterthought as I wanted the cupcake portion to have a sweet and savory quality.  I think it was the perfect amount, but I would make sure to use pure maple syrup for best results.  Grade B might even be better, but it’s hard to find sometimes.

Minced bacon.  I don’t know how much I used — maybe 1/2 cup?  It doesn’t matter.  It’s bacon.  More is better.

Mix all of these ingredients together enough to blend them but not too much.  Pour into cupcake papers and bake.  I experimented with the time….I have a convection oven that converts for me automatically. I put the first batch in at 350 for 18 minutes.  This converted to 325 for 16 minutes.  I watched them closely and ended up taking them out at about 13 minutes. I think all ovens are different, so  just keep an eye on them and use a toothpick to determine if they are done.

I ended up making 2 batches, which made 24 standard size cupcakes and an additional 12 mini cupcakes.

Maple Frosting – this is not my own recipe…I just found it online

1 stick of butter

2 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons maple syrup (again, I used Grade A, but Grade B might be better as it’s a little darker and has a richer flavor).

I topped them with a piece of bacon and voila!

 Peace to you.  And, be extravagant!

Beautiful Morning

I have a bunch of things going through my head this morning.  The day started out on a bad note.  I woke up tired and my 12 year old was acting, well…like a 12 year old.  It boiled down to the fact that he didn’t know where his homework was and was blaming me for moving it.  I kept telling him that I was sure he had already put it in his binder, but he was more intent on arguing with me (which, according to NPR is normal and a sign that he has a bright future).  I told him that I hadn’t touched it and that when he found it in his backpack, he could apologize to me.  Well, he found it — but no apology yet.  He will later, I’m sure.  Didn’t you hate it when you realized your parents were right — when you were CERTAIN they were wrong?  I didn’t rub it in — just let him live in the tension.  I did tell him that admitting when you’re wrong is a sign of being grown up. 

Then, I spilled my breakfast shake on the front of my white shirt, 5 minutes after I should have been walking out the door.  I quickly changed (thank goodness for casual Friday) and ran out the door only to be stopped in my tracks by one of the most glorious sunrises I have ever seen. 

It was if God painted the sky just for me with a note that said:

Dear Stephanie,

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Love, the Creator of the Universe

And apparently, I’m not the only one moved by that sunrise.  My Facebook feed blew up with pictures of this spectacular display from friends all over the Mid-Atlantic. 

So, all of the other things going on in my head this morning no longer seem like much of a big deal. 

This song is perfect for a day like today…or any day.  Enjoy – it’s one of my favorites – and Good Morning.

Hope

This morning, there is a family grieving the loss of their infant baby girl. Anna Joy was born with a major heart defect. Just like our son (although not the same defect). She immediately had to endure a surgery that could potentially save her life — until the next surgery. Just like our son. As I have read their blog over the past couple of weeks, I have been overwhelmed by the memories. I know what it’s like to see your baby hooked up to every contraption imagineable. I know what it’s like to watch helplessly as they are wheeled away to surgery. I know what it’s like to be in the hospital during the holidays. I know what it’s like to watch the doctors scratch their heads and declare that there is little more they can do for your baby. I know what it’s like to cry out to God, “Please don’t make me bury an infant”. What I don’t know is what it’s like to come home from the hospital without my baby. It’s times like this that I am overwhelmed with “survivor’s guilt”. I’ve experienced it other times as well as dear friends of mine have lost their children…and each time I wonder why. Why was their child taken and not mine? I remember finding very little comfort in well-meaning Christians telling me that God’s ways are perfect. In fact, it makes me mad. “NO!”, I want to scream. This is not perfect. Death is not perfect. The God I believe in is grieving along with me. This was not how it was meant to be. Creation, as God intended, has been broken.

I’m not saying that God’s ways are not perfect. As Christians, we believe that He works out all things for good (Romans 8:28). But, sometimes we cannot see the good, especially when we are in the midst of heartbreak. I once heard an analogy about a quilt. We see our lives as the front of the quilt, with just the patterns showing. But if we look under the backing, we would see all of the threads and knots that were needed to make the finished product. Still, not much consolation to a grieving parent.

And, then I remember Christmas. The day that we celebrate the birth of God’s son, who was to be the Savior of the world. Jesus was sent to right the wrongs and restore all things to perfection – to the way God intended them to be. To abolish death (2 Timothy 1:10) To give us eternal life so that we would never again have to grieve death (John 3:16).

Does any of this make it easier to grieve the death of a child? Absolutely not. But, it gives us hope. A reminder that there is light in darkness (John 1:15).

Please lift this family up in thought and prayer. Because as a friend put it, in comparison to this, we don’t actually have any problems. Light a candle tonight and say to the darkness, “we beg to differ” (Mary Jo Leddy).

And then listen to this song, written by a friend of ours, about the love, peace and joy that Jesus brings.

Wish you a merry Christmas – Aaron Spiro

Conspire with me

Let me start out by saying that I am a gift giver.  I love giving presents that bring people joy.  It’s my “love language” as they say.  But, every year about this time, I start to go on a rant about consumerism.  This year is  a little bit different though.

I used to be 100% opposed to Black Friday.  I despised all that it stood for and wondered at the irony of how quickly we shift from being thankful to being, well…greedy.  I’ve been doing more thinking about it recently and while I haven’t necessarily changed my position, my outlook has shifted.  I still don’t like it.  Especially when I hear stories of people using pepper spray to ensure that they get the product they want.  Or grandfathers being slammed to the ground by police, traumatizing grandchildren.  In fact, the violence this year is reported as being the worst ever.  You begin to wonder if the gifts that people are fighting over will even be remembered by this time next year.  Chances are, they won’t.

On the other hand, it is prudent to steward your money wisely.  If you can save 50% on something that you are going to buy anyway, why not take advantage of the sales?  My laptop computer died on the Monday before Thanksgiving.  I need a new one because I use my computer to work from home.  We were able to get a deal and spent 1/3 of what our alloted budget was for it.  We happened to do it online, but if we wanted to stand in line for it, that would be our business.

I also support spending money locally.  I love the idea of Small Business Saturday.  When I lived in Olympia, I used to go to Duck the Malls every year.  I found wonderful gifts which supported local artisans.  (It’s coming up next weekend, so if you are in the area, check it out!)

Another thing I have started to consider is the tradition that some people enjoy.  My sister-in-law goes out with her sisters every year.  They love it.  They get to spend time together and enjoy eachothers company while saving money on gifts they will likely buy anyway.

My issue with Black Friday and Cyber Monday and the all of the consumerism that surrounds the holidays really boils down to a heart issue.  If you are buying things and spending money on a gift just because it’s on sale, it doesn’t make sense to me.  I promise you that people who love you would much rather have your time.  A couple of years ago, I gave my step-mom a hand made gift certificate for a date to afternoon tea at the Phoenician Resort in Phoenix, where she lives. Yes, in the end, I still spent money — and I knew that it would be months before we would actually do it (it was May by the time I got to Phoenix).  But, that afternoon we spent together will forever be in our memories — a bigger treasure than any material thing I could have purchased for that same price.
And, then there is the reality that despite our current economic situation, we are still the richest country in the world.  In the midst of cries of “we are the 99%”, we still have managed to spend around $54 billion between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 

To the rest of the world, we are the 1%.

These folks say it better than I ever could.  I’ve been trying to live by the Advent Conspiracy values for many years now.  I still give gifts.  I just approach it differently now. 

 

Loving the unlovable

There’s a character in The Secret Life of Bees that I relate to.  May Boatright is a complicated personality. Highly sensitive to the pain of others, she carries the weight of the world in her soul.  She built a wailing wall in her backyard and goes there when she is upset.  I often joke that I need a wailing wall of my own.

A few years ago, I started praying that God would break my heart for the things that break His.  It’s one of those “be careful what you ask for” prayers because sometimes the pain of the world and the people around me are crushing.  I’m not meaning to sound dramatic and I’m certainly not going to drown myself in a river over the things that weigh on my mind and heart, but sometimes it is exhausting.

For several weeks, I have been exhausted by the Casey Anthony trial and discussion surrounding it.  Let me first be very clear — my personal feeling is that she probably had something to do with her daughter’s death.  But, our justice system is one that puts the burden of proof on the prosecution — everyone is innocent until proven guilty.  It is my personal belief that the jury took their job and the instructions given to them about reasonable doubt very seriously.  And, I suspect this case will haunt them forever.  I was obviously not in the courtroom and did not watch the trial on television, but I do know that there was never a cause of death determined.  I don’t know how a person can be convicted of murder when there is no cause of death.  All of the evidence was circumstantial and as unfair as that may seem at times like this, a person simply cannot be convicted of a crime based on circumstantial evidence.  How incredibly ironic it was that this verdict came down just hours after we gathered together in communities across this country to celebrate the Declaration of Independence and the freedoms that we enjoy as a result of that historical document.  How often do we hear of innocent people being held prisoner in other countries because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  We often regard those countries as barbaric and backwards. Our judicial system is not perfect and I believe that sometimes criminals go free on technicalities or by lack of evidence.  We are right be enraged at the injustice of it all, but at the same time, innocent people often spend years — decades — even lifetimes — in prison. Where is the outrage when it’s discovered that somebody has been wrongly convicted of a crime? What about when we discover, after it’s too late, that somebody was put to death for a crime they did not commit?  Where are the mobs of chanting people then? And then I wonder why Caylee Anthony’s story gripped the nation and stories like Christian Choate’s don’t spark a greater public outrage (I’m not saying that there isn’t outrage…just that it didn’t make the news cycle in the same kind of way).  Believe me, my soul aches for what Caylee endured at the hands of somebody she trusted.  But, that’s not the only thing that makes my heart heavy.

In the days and weeks that have followed the shocking verdict, I think that the most disturbing things I have heard is professing Christians saying things like “I hope she burns in hell”.  Often they are the same kinds people who attend evangelical churches and wear WWJD bracelets.  Really,  I do not think  that Jesus would say, “I hope she burns in hell”. In fact, I am 100% certain that He would not say that.   The reality is, if you are a Christian, you believe that Jesus came to save us from a destiny just like that.  It is the very basis for why we worship Jesus.  On Sundays, we lift up our hands and praise Him for the work that he did on the cross.  A work that, in a very uncomfortable way, looks a lot like the picture of Casey Anthony leaving the jail in the dark of the night.  Guilty.  And yet set free.  Now, I realize there are fundamental differences — not the least of which is that nobody has paid the price for the crime that was committed.  It can be argued that many have paid a price.  But, for the crime itself, nobody has been held accountable.  And, I think that is what outrages people the most. 

But my point is this:

As Christians, we are called to love God and love others as much as we love ourselves (Mark 12:28-31).  And, if only we could live up to those two seemingly simple commandments, we would not have situations like babies being found dead in a swamp. But at the same time, wishing somebody eternal damnation in hell is just something that my heart cannot even fathom.  Because I think that if you really believe in hell — and you really take the words of Jesus seriously as He calls His followers to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20), then you would be on your knees praying for Casey Anthony’s soul.  Because if you look back at that verse in Mark — Jesus doesn’t command us to just love the loveable neighbors. He just simply said we are to love our neighbors.  And by neighbors, He meant everybody.

I don’t even know how to end this post because it’s so complicated.  I don’t even know why I feel so compelled to post this in the first place.  I know how I feel, but I don’t have any answers — especially for people who don’t believe what I believe about Jesus and God and Heaven and hell. What I can tell you is that I believe that God’s heart breaks for what happened to Caylee.  But, I also believe that He grieves for the way that people who claim to be His followers behave in the aftermath of such a tragedy.  We must think before we speak…because I think that our words reflect the state of our hearts (Luke 6:45).  And, we cannot testify to a God of forgiveness and love if our words are hateful…about anyone.