Warring with Words

I was once in the Army ROTC.

If you think I’m an unlikely candidate for soldier, you are absolutely right. It was all because of a wild dare by my college roommate. The next thing I knew, I was in Kentucky going through ROTC’s Leadership Training Course. I was a Private Benjamin of sorts, complete with fingernails painted a stylish taupe, a neutral lip-gloss, and hair slicked back into a neat bun.

ROTC training was hard core! It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but totally worth it, even though I decided not to become an officer in the military. Over those six weeks, I learned so much about myself. I learned persistence, diligence, and how I was stronger than I ever thought. The lessons have proved invaluable in ministry life, especially.

I’m calling on all of those skills and experiences now. This morning, I realized: I’m at war. Sounds so dramatic, doesn’t it? But I’m serious. I am warring with words.

Six chapters are written in an eight chapter workbook of sorts, which is meant to help women process through miscarriage. The emotions I’m carrying now are heavier than any ruck sack I toted back then. This work weighs on me, reminding me of the importance of finishing well.

I often feel inadequate for the task, just like I often did during my summer days in Kentucky. At the ROTC training camp, we once were given a mission to rappel down a three story wall. I recall it vividly, because I looked up at the top and thought, “there is no way!”

As if my thoughts set the direction for my body, the first two times down I was unsuccessful. When I reached the bottom the second time, I remember locking eyes with the Drill Sergeant. He wasn’t mad, but I sure was. I barked in his direction, “Going again, Sir.” Before he could protest, I bounded back up three flights of stairs.

On that third descent, my feet found a surer footing as anger at failure kicked in. The adrenaline surge pushed me to complete the wall. I still remember the feeling.

These days, I’m not rappelling walls, but I often feel overwhelmed by the writing task before me. With scripture and words, I’m taking new territory in the deep woods, where the enemies of wholeness in Christ might try to hide. And right now, it feels like war.

I’m not alone on this mission. There is another foot soldier of sorts who reenters his own pain (he and his wife have experienced multiple miscarriages) to edit my words, shaping them for clarity and context. Several comrades manage the little troops while I try desperately to finish the day’s work. And, I have you.

It occurred to me today, when I realized how much is at stake here, that I might let you in on the fact that I’m warring with words to finish this book. The mission feels really hard, people. Figuratively, I’m bounding up the stairs for my third try down this “wall” of Chapter 7.

That’s why the posts here are few. Thanks for being patient with me.

Soon, I hope there will be something that many of you can hold in your hands and use to move forward; something you can offer to friends who are in need of healing from loss.

In the meanwhile, would you pray with me and for me? Specifically, please pray for words of real hope for those who are hurting, perseverance to finish, God’s strength in my weakness, and a way forward to publish this work. Thanks, friends!

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Maybe You Need New I’s

I have a favorite quote from a Mary Engelbreit calendar I used years ago. I’ve always adored her whimsical artistry. One page said, “What we need is not a new landscape, but new eyes.” I’ve kept that page for years, and pull it out sometimes to revisit the thought.

I revisit it because I couldn’t agree more. The problem is, for many of us, there is uncertainty about how to find those new eyes. What helps us to see things differently? Faith? Change? Renewal? Certainly all of those play into our sense of fresh vision, but how do we tap into a new perspective, or a better lens in life?

All of us eventually face a time where we need fresh eyes. I’m there now, so I’ve been pondering what it looks like to see things in a new way. Today, I had a radical thought: maybe I need to reinvent in some areas.

That’s when I realized the I’s that could really help me move forward: Inspiration and Ideas.

Sometimes we need new I’s.

So, I’m wondering – what inspires you? Are you surrounding yourself with inspiration often enough? Do you spend time in places, with people, and doing things that bring inspiration?

Here is something that inspires me: The Black Book of Colors. My thoughtful husband picked this out as a Christmas gift for me this past year. This remarkable little book is entirely black, with raised lines that make images to help a sighted person experience colors without their eyes. The descriptive words on each page bring color to life. It helps me think differently, and for me, that is the starting point for inspiration.

Another place we need to dwell is in the fresh I of ideas. Ideas are a lifeblood for me, the more of them the better. A new idea can carry me for days. Ideas come (at least for me) from quiet time, where my mind can stop churning on the daily and engage in an empty page of possibilities.

So, I’m reinventing, and it’s a work in progress. God repeatedly makes things new. I’m following His leadership, listening to His Spirit on this. Time for inspiration and ideas. It’s time to embrace new I’s.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” -Isaiah 43:18-19

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Serve One Another

Pulling out of my neighborhood a few days ago, I  ran through my mental checklist. I had conquered the morning routine and had exactly 33 minutes for a quick work out before heading to the Little Sprouts program I’d eagerly signed up for with my youngest, but was now regretting. Not enough time this morning! Just as I sighed and turned the corner, I saw them.

My fourth grade neighbor was racing toward school, and his mom trailed at least six paces behind. Recently diagnosed with breast cancer, she worked hard to keep up with him, but a drainage pump banged against her leg and she fell further behind. Realizing he’d missed the bus, I knew what I had to do.

I pulled over and flagged down the young neighbor. “Need a ride?,” I called. He hesitated and looked back toward his mom, who wildly gestured for him to take the help. With just a moment left before the first bell, he clamored into my mini van, and I peeled out for the school.

Moments later, after pulling through the loop for drop-off, I smiled the feeling of satisfaction that comes from helping another…and not falling too far off of my own schedule. Two minutes was all it took to do good. I could still work out! Sweet.

I chattered away with my three-year-old, who was quite excited by our brief guest-rider, as we headed for the gym. As we were nearing our destination, we came to a red light. That’s when I saw it: the neighbor kid’s lunch box.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! This cannot be happening! Not now! I have exactly 31 minutes to work out!

With a deep sigh, I pulled into a neighborhood to u-turn, and prayed aloud for God to reorient my heart, too.

Help me to remember that people are always the most important, God…that serving others is my highest call.

The truth is, serving one another is rarely, if ever, convenient. Picking up on the opportunities to help a neighbor or even a stranger requires that I let other things go.

Less time for me. Less chance for down time. Less opportunity for the ever elusive workout. Less pages read in the books on my nightstand. LESS.

Ironically, the very neighbor-mom whom I found myself serving on this day had shared with me just a week earlier this verse: “He must become greater; I must become less.”       -John 3:30 To her, it was a funny way to make my sad eyes smile as we discussed her cancer and treatment. To me, those words are a formidable challenge.

God is growing me here. Often, there is still too much of me in the mix. I protect my time like a mother cub looks after her baby, and I am reticent to give over a piece of my scheduled morning to help someone in need. So, God gives me the gift of a camouflaged lunchbox to help me see what is hiding in my heart. And He gives me the opportunity to make a choice.

Ten minutes later, the front desk woman looks at me incredulously as I try to explain how I have the lunchbox of a certain grade schooler who is not my child – whose name I can recall, but whose teacher has escaped me. “You can find him…,” I nervously exhorted and questioned, all at once, as my voice trailed off. She nodded in my direction.

They found him. I know, because later that day, he bounded off the bus, empty lunchbox in hand and offered a shy smile.

“Hey, thanks for the ride this morning. I really appreciated it.” No problem, I told him.

No, no problem. It turns out less of me is always something to feel good about.

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Marking Time

I haven’t been sweating enough lately.

I’ve kept my regular routine at the gym, but due to a back injury (which is healing, thankfully!) I’ve been relegated to the squishy track that circles the place where people really exercise. I’m walking fast, but I’m only walking. No offense to those of you who walk to work out! For me, more aggressive exercise is a stress reliever and helps keep me feeling great. In short, I am missing the sweat.

I feel a twinge of guilt as I go to shower. Some people are really sweating at the gym, and I am taking up space in a locker room shower. Some days I feel slightly ridiculous. I remind myself that it will change soon – I will lift weights again, and rejoin the center of the gym where the more aggressive workouts happen. But not today. Today, I am marking time.

I am marking time because, if I don’t keep coming to the gym, it will slide off my calendar like hot butter slides off a dinner roll. I have to mark time to keep the time. So I show up, and I walk.

Last time I was rapidly circling the track, it occurred to me that sometimes I mark time spiritually.

I think this is somewhat universal. I’m talking about the mornings I show up to read the Bible, but don’t wait expectantly for God’s voice or invite the Word to read me. The Sundays I drag myself out of bed and meander into church, remembering I should be there, but forgetting that it is lifegiving. Nights when I drive to small group or a ministry event because I “have to” without the joy of “wanting to.”

You’ve been there too, haven’t you?

I think most of us wind up in this space from time to time, but we shouldn’t reside in this rhythm of faith. When we become aware of marking time spiritually, we need to reorient our heart, soul, and mind toward Christ, and seek renewal.

So, how do you seek renewal when you realize you’re spiritually marking time? I’ve got a few ideas on this. Because this kind of placeholder faith has a pull all it’s own, it often requires an intentional approach for change to happen.

One way to break out of this pattern is by trying something different. If you find yourself showing up for time with God, but not really meeting God, you might try one of these ideas:

1.) Join in wordless worship. I first experienced this quite by accident in January, and found it is powerful. After losing my voice completely, I was forced to stand shoulder to shoulder with others who forcefully sang their hearts out in worship. I joined with my spirit, but did not add to the sound. Once I got past the awkwardness of a different way of worship, my wordless worship helped me to meet God in a new way. I focused on the imagery and words of the song, and allowed them to take up residence in my heart.

2.) Adopt a meaningful breath prayer. Breath prayers are simple phrases that can be prayed repeatedly over the course of our day. One of the most popular breath prayers is the phrase, “Lord, have mercy on me.” Each of us has phrases that speak to us on the deepest level. The phrase might be scripture, but it doesn’t have to be. Perhaps it is a line from a favorite song or hymn. Let a phrase that speaks to you become your breath prayer, and when you feel difficult emotions rising, breathe deeply and whisper your prayer. Initially, this may take concentration! You might try jotting down the phrase on an index card and putting it in a visible place. Over time, this phrase will start coming to you, rather than you coming to it. That’s the beauty of this discipline!

3.) Ask God to reveal Himself to you. This is perhaps the most powerful way to break the pattern of marking time. Start your morning with a simple invitation: Lord, right now You feel distant. I want to come closer to You. Please show Yourself to me today. Put up your spiritual radar, and consciously look for God. You will be amazed at the varied and unexpected places you might find Him.

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Heavy

Sometimes Lent, and life, are heavy. I wonder why Solomon did not write about this. He could have just added to his time and season poetry, There is a season for light weights and a season for terribly heavy things. That feels natural to me.  And I think it is true.

For me, Lent is proving to be a heavy season. And I think that’s exactly right.

There is nothing light about Jesus humbling himself to a cross. When I think about what it means to “take up a cross,” the imagery that comes to mind is that we might stumble along under a dense log’s weight, rather than skip with driftwood resting atop our shoulders.

Don’t get me wrong here. I understand grace! I understand that the work is done. I am understanding it more now than ever before.

But maybe that is why I also understand the need to feel the heaviness of the cross. Grace that runs so deep means a staggering debt was paid.

So, this year for Lent, I’ve given some things up, and I picked something up. I picked up a manuscript that I’ve known I was to write for two years now. But I haven’t. Because, well…

It’s heavy.

In fact, at times it feels I might be carrying a load of cinder blocks over my shoulder this Lenten season. This writing requires reentry into some of the harder places of life. And then, there is the hope of exiting the other side.

There is the audacious hope of bringing others with me through the tunnel of grief. That is part of my call, my mantle. That is why I’m writing for these 46 days.

Lent can be heavy, and yet our hearts can still find light. If you are carrying something heavy right now, be encouraged. Press in to Jesus! Carrying the cross also means this: there is resurrection power at work in you. Let us never forget what awaits us on the other side of heaviness.

Eph 1:18-20 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms…

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The Carnation Challenge

The year was 1982, or maybe 1983, and at Johnson Elementary School, every Valentine’s day brought a carnation exchange. This was the brainchild of an enterprising PTA parent. The proceeds, which benefited the PTA, came from the sale of single carnations, which were delivered to children all throughout the day for a small sum. In the week leading up to Valentine’s Day, kids lined up to purchase carnations for their classmates. The clever designer of this exchange also built in an up-charge for color, where a white carnation cost the least, followed by yellow, then pink, then red. (Anyone else remember this?)

For another small fee, the recipient of a carnation could then come up to the carnation table at lunch and discover the sender of their carnation. As you might guess, as much money came from those paying to learn who their secret admirer might be as from the original sale of the flower. And there was only one way to ensure anonymity…pay a fee when you purchase the carnation to keep your sender status a secret.

Gaggles of girls giggled as they anonymously sent carnations to boys, and boys bullishly fired off carnations to their true love(s). Then there also was the “arranged friend swap” where good friends would simply pre-discuss the exchange of the carnation – color and all – to ensure delivery to one another. Because carnations equaled popularity. The more you got, the cooler you were. And if you got a red one, well…that was immediate rock star status.

Valentine’s Day was a popular kid’s dream at Johnson Elementary; a day of carnation affirmation, as the “in” kids went from class to class, looking surprised as flowers piled up on their desks, carrying fistfuls of declarations of like and love through the halls of school.

As you could probably guess, this wasn’t such a good day for the misfits and the kids who weren’t winning the love, or even the like, of others. These were the kids who’d come off the bus empty-handed.

But one kid’s plan would change all that.

That kid was my brother, and what he was about to do would turn Johnson Elementary upside down for just one day.

Unbeknownst to anyone else, my brother went to his piggy bank and took out enough change to send carnations – multiple carnations – to the kids on the fringe. He thought about which classmates would sit all day, longing for the next delivery to be theirs, and leave disappointed and feeling dejected. And he did something about it.

He bought them carnations. Not just any old white carnations – nope, he sprung for red. And he ante’d up the extra, so these kids would never know who their admirer might be. (I think he was in the second grade that year, and I’m pretty sure, as I think about it, this sort of selfless love and concern for others is one example of why Jesus tells us to become like little children.)

As carnation after carnation was delivered that day, everyone thought it must be a mistake, but the PTA lady reassured the kids, one after another, that they were indeed the recipients. At lunch, they lined up to pay the small sum to discover who sent these carnations…but much to their dismay (and their sheer delight), it was a SECRET.

I’m gonna guess this was a banner day for most of these kids. There is something about carrying around unexpected red carnations that delights the soul.

I still remember my brother’s excitement on the evening of the carnation delivery. At dinner, he unfolded the details of that day like a napkin, trusting only my mom, dad and me with what he’d done, and recounted the looks on the faces of those kids who never thought they’d get a carnation. My brother glowed as much as the kids he described. We listened to his story, in awe of his ability to think this up all on his own.

My brother’s Valentine kindness made an indelible mark on me. In recent years I’ve turned the carnation exchange over repeatedly in my mind. I relish my insider-status (even if it was after the fact), relive the details, remember those kids, and still smile when I consider what my brother did that year.

So, here’s the carnation challenge:

I wonder, if you think about it for a moment, who God might have put in your circle this year that you might impact with an unexpected “carnation”? Would you do something for someone who would otherwise feel like they were on the outside looking in this Valentine’s Day? Here are a few candidates to consider:

* A widow or widower who will spend their first Valentine’s Day alone
* A friend who is going through the pain of divorce this year
* A single neighbor
* Someone who simply needs a friend right now

It doesn’t have to be anything big. A card, a note, a carnation…all of these could be the love of Christ to someone who feels alone this February 14th.

Here’s the thing about God: He calls us to action. He calls us to be His hands and feet. Taking that charge to heart blesses us as much, if not more, than the recipients of our action. Join me in the carnation challenge this year…and send me your stories. I’d love to highlight a few in the week to come.

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Secrets and Calling

I get the privilege of ministering to people whom I meet for just a weekend, but many of you stay in my heart for the long haul. Over the course of any given ministry event, there is always one brave soul who catches my sleeve and pulls me in to whisper a secret.

It’s always the same secret.

I think I might be called to…do what you’re doing. To speak. To write. To teach. But I don’t know how to start.

I want to tell you two things, dear friends. No – three.

1.) You are incredibly brave. Finding the voice to speak what God has put on your heart takes courage. You have sufficient courage to speak what you are feeling in your soul. Once, someone I admire called that “completely audacious.” I agree with her, and I’m always privileged to meet another sojourner who could be audacious, just like me; audacious enough to believe that they are called.

2.) Listen to your heart. You ARE called. If you follow Christ, you are called to tell His story. Some of us tell it by speaking, others by serving. Some tell it by writing words on a page, others by rounding up two and three year olds on any given Sunday at 9am and lovingly caring for them each week. The part you play matters less than playing a part. When you get that straight in your heart, all the rest becomes secondary..but there is something that warms the heart about finding the thing that God has truly purposed you to do. I affirm your call; you are important to God’s story.

3.) Start right where you are. Listen, I know this sounds simple – maybe too simple. But it’s true! When you plug in to your community and use your gifts there, you have opportunities to learn, grow in your call, and get better at your part of the story. Often, when we are faithful right where we are, opportunities open up for us to do more.

So, here is some encouragement for you, friends. Thank you for using your gifts – whatever shape and size they might be – for Kingdom purposes. That is the highest calling of all. May God bless you in the work of your hands.

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