ReThinking Lent – Day 29: Water

Today is my 20th wedding anniversary.  20 years.  It’s so hard to believe.  One the one hand, it seems to have gone by so quickly.  On the other, I’ve been with this man for nearly half of my life.  I’ve lived with him longer than I lived with either one of my parents combined.

It was March 12, 1993 and I had just finished up my internship in San Francisco.  Lloyd flew down and we were going to drive back to Washington state together the next day.  He got off the plane with nothing but a bouquet of flowers in his hand and a toothbrush in his pocket and said, “Let’s go get married”.  So, we did.

If you’ve known us for any length of time, you know that we have a reputation for being impetuous.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called a family member or friend and said, “We’re moving!”  In fact, it’s become kind of a joke that if you write our address down, you’d best do it in pencil.  The other day, we were watching one of those DIY shows and somebody was talking about their “dream home”.  I told Lloyd that I don’t understand that concept (not that it’s bad).  I have just never had dreams about houses.  They are just buildings to me.

But the truth is, I never had dreams of  getting married and having kids either.  Oh, there were a couple of times that I tried writing my name with that guy’s last name attached, but it never sounded right and certainly never felt the way I thought it should have.  You see, I had this crazy notion that love was forever.  And, I just hadn’t ever really seen that happen in the lives of the people around me.  Except for my grandparents.  I remember the way my grandfather looked at my grandmother. I remember how he used to pat her butt and she would slap it away saying “Franklin!”, as she looked at me and my cousin and we pretended to be grossed out.  I wanted THAT.  I wanted a man that looked at me and treated me the way that my grandfather looked at and treated my grandmother.  Now that I am an adult, I know that my grandparents marriage wasn’t perfect — far from it, actually.  But, I think I’m in awe of it even more now.  They stuck it out through rough times.  Despite their shortcomings and missteps, they loved each other with an everlasting love.  And everyone around them knew it.

When I met Lloyd, I knew instantly that this was the person I wanted to spend my life with.  I can’t explain it.  It’s one of those cases of “when you know, you know”.   After our first “date” (which wasn’t really a date, but we were together at the same time and place and got there in the same car), I came home and told my roommate that I’d found the man I was going to marry.  She told me she thought that was fabulous but could I please call my boyfriend who had been calling every 10 minutes for the past 2 hours and let him know, too.

And yet, despite my certainty, we did not begin dating right away.  It was several months before we became a couple.  So, as it turns out, we were not all that impetuous after-all.  😉

Now, you might be asking yourself what this has to do with water.  Well, it wasn’t actually even supposed to be my Lenten post.  But, I looked up the meaning of impetuous this morning and this is what had to say:

im·pet·u·ous / imˈpechoōəs/

• adj. acting or done quickly and without thought or care: her friend was headstrong and impetuous.

•  moving forcefully or rapidly: an impetuous but controlled flow of water.

Looking back, I don’t think we approached our marriage without thought or care.  Yes, it was done quickly, but it was something we had talked about for a long time (well, as long as you can talk about it when you’ve known each other just over a year).  Our families might say that it was done without care.  And, I admit that their hurt feelings were justified.  But, despite the fact that we were too young and too poor to get married, this was a guy that looked at me the way my grandfather looked and my grandmother.  And, I didn’t want to waste a moment not being with him.

As we’ve moved rapidly and sometimes forcefully through the last 20 years, our vows have been tested as we have faced the kind of trials that even the strongest marriages can’t endure.  And every year, as we celebrate this day, I think that there is no way that I could love this man any more than I do today. But, I do.  And, I believe that it’s because God has been our controlling force — not in a way that has left us without choices, but in a way that has kept us on our path — the path He has for us.


For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

(Jeremiah 29:11 ESV)

ReThinking Lent – Day 27: Happy

I struggled with yesterday’s word, happy.  My husband’s beloved uncle passed away after a long illness.  It just wasn’t a happy day.   Yes, we can all say that we are relieved that he is no longer suffering — and it’s true…we are — it’s still sad that he is gone.   Jerry was known for his smile and infectious laugh.  As I watched his siblings, children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews post their remembrances and pictures on Facebook yesterday, it was definitely a common theme.

Last night, as we had dinner together, we talked about Uncle Jerry to our son.  He had met him before but did not know him very well.  My husband told him about the person that he knew and loved dearly.  And, as I sat listening to stories that I’ve heard before, it hit me that without Uncle Jerry’s presence in Lloyd’s life, it’s unlikely that any of us would have been sitting around that table last night.

I did not get to spend as much time with Jerry as I would have liked.  But, here’s what I know:  He loved Jesus and he loved his family.  And, he was happy.

Tom Thomas, left; Jerry McCarthy, right.

Tom Thomas, left; Jerry McCarthy, right.
© Lloyd D. Brown 2007

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
(Psalm 84:5 ESV)

Annual cardiology appointment

Yesterday we had Jake’s annual cardiology appointment. It’s turned into a tradition to go on President’s Day since we all have the day off. I generally am in charge of doctor appointments but I don’t like to go to the cardiologist alone.

As usual, Dr. Hougen impresses the heck out of me. He is truly a wonderful doctor. He is unpretentious and has a wonderful bedside manner. He and Jake talk baseball every year and make predictions about the upcoming season.

Since Jake was 2, we’ve gotten the “see you in a year” speech. This year, things were different.

The EEG and the echocardiogram were “normal” for Jake. As with most Tetralogy of Fallot patients, he has leakage in his pulmonary valve. We’ve always been told that its possible he will have to have it replaced someday–and someday may be coming in the next several years. While there was nothing alarming in the echo, Dr. Hougen explained that he needs a cardiac MRI to really get the best look at the valve and the right ventricle. He said that they have really figured out that its really important to be pay attention to that right ventricle.

So, there’s nothing to be concerned about and certainly nothing is imminent. But it’s a reminder that even though Jake lives a normal healthy life, he has some big issues that he will always have to deal with.

It’s important to note that although Jake’s valve is leaky and there is a possibility of future surgeries, it doesn’t mean that his repair surgery wasn’t good. Quite the contrary actually. Dr. Hougen remarks every year that his repair was excellent.

I will say that I am very grateful that there is a generation of adults ahead of Jake who are living with Tetralogy of Fallot. They are paving the way for kids like Jake to live long, healthy lives.

I’ll update after the MRI.

ReThinking Lent – Day 7: Wonder

Every day, I wonder. I wonder what the guy in the car next to me on the GW Parkway was doing this morning as he was snapping his fingers in front of his heater vents (is this some sort of “clapper” method of turning your car heater on)? I wonder why on earth people decided to build their house in that particular spot. I wonder why people spit in public. I wonder why some people smell like mothballs. I wonder what babies think when we stick our faces within inches of theirs and speak a strange language in a high pitched voice. I wonder why my dog barks to be let out at 6am on weekends but not on weekdays. I wonder if the Broncos would have beat the 49’ers in the Superbowl. And, I wonder why Opening Day of baseball season isn’t a national holiday.

These are everyday wonders — curiosities, if you will. There are bigger wonders, too. I put these on my “questions I have for God when I get to Heaven” list. This list is comprised mostly of the “Why are things not fair” and the “I don’t understand” variety. Why was *my* child born with a heart defect? And, why did *their* child die having the same surgery that saved my child’s life? Why do we have to suffer so as we get old? Why do teenagers talk back? And of course the “What on earth does (insert scripture verse here) actually mean? And just today, I found out that somebody we knew passed away last week. It made me wonder if I was always as kind to him as I should have been. The truth is that when I actually do have the opportunity to ask God these questions, the answers likely won’t matter anymore.

And, then there is the wonder of God’s creation.

I remember being in 9th grade and having these mind-blowing discussions with a friend of mine about the universe and how it never ends. We would go round and round about how it *has* to end. Nothing goes on forever. But, it does! And, I can’t wrap my mind around it. Just like I can’t wrap my mind around God. Regardless of whether you believe that God created the world in 6 days or over a period of millions of years (file this question in the second category above)….He created it! And, it’s amazing.

When my son was born and we discovered he had a heart defect, the NICU doctor said to me that he was always the MOST amazed when a baby was born completely healthy. He explained that my baby’s heart was beating before I even knew I was pregnant. And, it already had the defect. We don’t know why — it just didn’t form correctly for one reason or another. But, it is an example of how things must go EXACTLY right — perfectly, really — in order for a baby to be born with no defect.

Another thing that brings me great wonder is the changing of the seasons….particularly spring. We see life begin to burst forth where things seemed so dead. The birds instinctively know that its time to fly north. The earth has made another trip around the sun…just as it was designed to do…and the cycle of life begins again. It takes my breath away when I think about it.

It is he who made the earth by his power,
who established the world by his wisdom,
and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.
When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens,
and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.
He makes lightning for the rain,
and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses.

~Jeremiah 10:12-13

ReThinking Lent – Day 3: See

I think it’s easy to find beauty in God’s creation. We need only look toward the sky when the sun rises or sets to see what an artist our God is.

In fact, it is easy to rejoice in and praise God when we see something that is physically beautiful. And as I considered the topic of “seeing” today, I realized that we need to look beyond what we find beautiful and see the world as God sees it. And that can have some troubling implications.

When we think this way, we have to consider that God sees beauty in people and things that we don’t. It also means that we have to see beyond the beautiful things of the world and see how we have destroyed them.

I believe that God is present, everywhere throughout His amazing creation. I also believe that God has created us to care for and steward that creation. And that requires us to see the things that are broken and to be intentional about bringing beauty and restoration in those places. It is a clear and tangible way that we can display the gospel of Jesus in our communities.

In this picture, its easy for our eyes to be drawn to the sky and the clouds and the magnificent bridge. But look closer and you see the graffiti that lines the canal. A clear juxtaposition of the beauty and the brokenness of our world.


Rethinking Lent

I’ve never really been an “observer” of Lent — for a lot of reasons.  First and foremost, I am not Catholic and did not grow up in this tradition.  Secondly, I have had mixed feelings about the idea of giving something up for Lent.  I’ve had people describe it to me as joining in Jesus’ suffering…which I categorically reject.  In my not-so-humble opinion, there is NOTHING we could do for one day or forty that would even begin to mirror what Jesus went through in those 40 days leading up to the crucifixion.  Then there are those that don’t really know why they give something up…they just do because that’s what they are supposed to do.  That’s what I call “religion” and I tend to categorically reject that as well.  Finally, I have this annoying habit of being judgmental about what people give up.  I’m not proud of it — I’m just being real.

And, then my 13 year old started asking questions and I had to really start thinking about my answers because they are incredibly important.  We do some of our best talking in the car and this morning, as we were driving to a doctor’s appointment, I was able to address some of his questions and correct some of the thinking that he had (which he inevitably picked up from listening to me jabber on about it over the years).  I basically told him that the reasons people give something up are many — and they are not for us to judge.  I gave him the following example:

Let’s say that somebody is going to give up Diet Coke for Lent.  The point is not that the Diet Coke withdrawl represents anything close to the suffering that Jesus endured.  The point is that whenever that person thinks about Diet Coke or longs for a Diet Coke that it is a reminder to them of what Jesus did.  And, that should send us to prayer and thanksgiving.  Instead of equating with Jesus journey in the desert, it is a way for us to continuously be in tune with Jesus’ journey in the desert.

I saw a light start to go off as he considered this.  And, it made aware of my need to repent for the ways in which I have not shown enough reverence for this time in our Christian calender.  Yes it’s true that Jesus’death and resurrection gives me the freedom not to actively participate in the “religious” rituals.  But, the cross is the reason I am a Christian and I am convicted that it deserves more than I have given it over the years.

I went on to explain that some people choose to add something to their daily lives during this time — again so that we are constantly aware of why we celebrate Easter.   And, I gave him some ideas of things that he might consider doing during this time as well.  And, I shared with him one of the ways in which I plan to observe Lent this year.  And, as you might expect, it is a bit unconventional.  But, I’m joining in with a community of like-minded people in this endeavor.

I love that this will incorporate something I’m passionate about — photography.  And, that it allows for creativity, which God gave us.  It will be fun and interesting to see how other people express themselves in these photos.  I might even add a few of my own in because I have this issue with taking Sundays off.  I get why it is a “rule” in Lenten observances, but I don’t understand it.  Jesus didn’t get a day off — why should we?  Don’t try to convince me….just bear with me on it.  I might come around.

Here is Day One:  Who am I?

I’m a Wife.  Mother.  Lover.  Friend.  Aunt.  Foster Mother.  Comforter. Confidante.  Wearer of color.  Beach lover.  Follower of Jesus (you don’t know this, but I’m at church in the bottom right photo).  These are just a few things that make up who I am.

As I look at these photos, I see so many imperfections.  And, really…what is the point of today’s photo?  It sort of strikes me as prideful at first.  And, then it occurred to me that the descriptions I gave above are how I see myself.  They don’t represent my identity in Christ (entirely).  How humbling that Jesus does not see the imperfections that I do and that He accepts me as I am.  He made me the way I am, so why am I so critical of God’s creation?

And just like that, I find myself praising God and being worshipful.  And that is the point.

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.