March 3, 2017

Tulips and Tundra

    It's always the tulips that start the party.  They begin appearing on magazine covers around the middle of February, usually coinciding with a big Nebraska blizzard. For some reason, I receive an assortment of magazines I do not pay for.  Mostly they are chock full of bizarrely dressed models whose average age is certainly 12; their bodies noticeably void of curves from last week's food choices.  These magazines are not for me, and someone needs to stop killing trees and sending them to my mailbox.  Last year's desserts and I are working on things, and we do not need your models to tell us how far we have yet to come.
    But "Better Homes & Gardens" has recently been delivered, and I spent a good amount of time yesterday tearing out pages and dreaming about what kinds of plants I will tear out or transplant, and what I will hunt the nurseries for this year.  I always have a moment in February and March, when the magazines start blooming, that I think, "Dang it! I forgot to carry out my autumn strategic bulbery!"  (that's the planting of bulbs in the fall. i make up words because it's fun. you're welcome. also you don't need to capitalize words when they are in parenthesis. i made that up too.) The strategic bulbery never happens because usually because in the fall I'm so ready for the frost, I do not care anymore.  But when the magazines come in February, I begin dreaming of what I will do this year - tending to my mind gardens, which in a few months will be my actual gardens.
     The hunger is fierce.  The longing palpable.  As I walk through the pasture, ice and mud still reign supreme, but just underneath....just beginning to push up through the tough sandy soil are tiny, brave little hints of spring.  These courageous little optimists are my squad.  Their very presence like a fix for an addict. Because deep inside of me, there is an anticipation and a readiness for some new growth. Some new green.
    I don't remember a year when I was so ready for Spring, and it is surely because there are some parallels on the inside of my heart.  My faith community is in a season of healing and waiting and anticipation.  I am so excited for the future.  So I have jumped at the chance of tilling up some things; of calling some people together to plan our plots for the season that is coming.  And unfortunately that has resulted spiritually, in what would in the physical world, look like stumbling around smacking my head against the wall.  Repeatedly.  The desire for a spiritual spring has made me drunk. Twitter-paited.
    As frustration has mounted with the process, my prayers have been increasingly full of questions and statements of trust. "God what am I supposed to do with this stirring? What exactly do you want?" and singing, "I am hidden, in the safety of your love. I trust your heart and your intentions, I trust you completely, I'm listening intently. You'll guide me through these many shadows."(lyric credit to United Pursuit, "Hidden" i'm pretty sure it's illegal to put lyrics in writing without permission so sorry United Pursuit. i like your song and i capitalized your band name even in parenthesis. cut me a break.)  I've been making phone calls. Talking to people. Listening to people. Getting unexpected feedback that throws me for a loop. So yesterday, I got down on my knees and put my forehead on the floor and just cleared the stage of my mind from the Ringling Circus Acts that had been dominating it for awhile. And I was just quiet for about five minutes.
     I didn't hear much. 
     So I took my dogs for a walk.  And breathed in some fresh air. And slowly, the Spirit of the Living God began to show me things in nature, like he often does.  Earlier in the day, I had read, without intention and without gleaning much, about the parable of the sower.  (Read the three different accounts in Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8.) The sower casts seeds on four different types of soil - the path where it gets snatched up, the rocks where it grows for a minute and then gets scorched by the sun, among the thorns where it gets choked out by the worries and pleasures of life, and then in the good soil where it produces a crop, which vastly multiplies in quantity from the original seed.  The seed is the word of God.  The soils are the places where the word flourishes, or doesn't: in human hearts.
   Upon further examination of the recorded parables, I have thought carefully about growing conditions.  I live in an agricultural community, and I know by looking out my window that regardless of the condition of the soil, I cannot walk across the road in February and harvest corn from the field.  In the cold months, the land is healing and it is waiting. In a few months, it will be an ideal place for seeds to be cast and for corn or beans to grow, but the time has not yet come. Even after the cows are hauled away, even after the tractors come and disc up all of last year's left over stalks, even after they plant...I will still have to wait to see mature plants producing a mature harvest.  It takes an entire season. 
     I began to visualize the kind of gardening I had been doing.  I confess my short-comings regularly, at least the ones I know about.  My Savior Jesus intercedes for me and we begin again.  But sometimes it's not my shortcomings that cause me to smack my head against the wall; sometimes it's my passion. In John 13 when Jesus washes his disciples feet, my homeboy spirit animal Peter says to his Lord, "No! You shall never wash my feet!"  He is anxious to prove to his Lord his faithfulness, his submission to his reign, and his position as his servant.  He wants to be different, better and more extremely devoted than his fellow disciples.  He wants to win the "Survivor: Disciple Edition" episode that is playing out in his mind; to take his love for his God a step further.  Peter wants to be the best and fastest runner the race God has asked him to run.  Oh Peter, please come have coffee with me.  
     But Jesus never asked us to outrun him. Jesus replied to Peter, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." Jesus makes it clear, gently and lovingly, that it's only by allowing Christ to set the pace that we will truly be able to do his work.
     And so.  That gardening I'd been attempting - was a little too rushed.  A little too frantic.  A little too ramming my battering horns into problems and then turning in another direction and ramming again.  Picture me out in my flower beds, kneeling down in snow, hacking away at the frozen ground and digging up bulbs and wondering, "Where the heck are those tulips?" 
     On the very next page, in John 13, Jesus predicts his betrayal and his death.  Again, Peter is ready to show Jesus how loyal he is; this time a little hurt that he is about to be left behind. In verse 37, he asks Jesus "Lord, why can't I come with you? I will lay down my life for you." Then Jesus answered, "Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!" 
    And in the margin of my bible, just a few weeks ago in my very own handwriting, it says this:  "Peter's zeal is admirable, but Jesus knows how far he has yet to come.  Sometimes when we are ready to jump for God, he rebukes us in order to further prepare us."  
    A little later in John 15, Jesus says - I am the vine, and my father is the gardener.  Oh God, forgive me, for once again, trying to be you. I'm really not qualified for the job. You know just what to plant, what to prune and what to grow.  You know the seasons and times that things will grow and bloom. Remind me that I'm the soil, and not the master gardener.
     Sometimes God answers our prayers with a resounding, YES!  and sometimes with a definitive NO.  As God has taught me in this season, he is doing it with seeds and soil in his Word, and with dreams of gardens filled with beautiful flowers.  But this time, he is saying gently, accompanied with a beautiful bouquet- "Wait, beloved.  Just wait.  You have not been buried, you have only been planted. And Spring is coming."
Come, Lord Jesus. Come. 

December 12, 2016

Monday Morning

     I come on a Monday morning - weary and tired, but knowing I will be filled and nourished when I leave.  There are lists flowing out of my mind and filling it to the edges with tasks to complete - I picture a great spool of paper constantly flowing and with every turn it whispers - do more, do more, do more. The items on each list are time sensitive, and nagging at me like an overbearing boss.

     I sit at my desk and gaze out the window to the North, where winter winds whip up the pasture grass like an amber ocean. It is cold, and the cold makes everything harder. The animals need more food and better shelter for their shivering. The boys need more layers to protect their extremities. And my soul is cold and tired too.

     So instead of coming to my devotion and my bible and my prayer journal to check off, check off, check off - I just sit. I am still, and I ask Jesus, the gentle gardener of my life, to help me grow. I start with thank yous...for coffee, for heat, for a quiet day to put things in order, for a boy who turned 6. I surrender his little life and every expectation I have. I rest knowing that every day of his life is written in God's book. I ask for help. Help me heal and flourish. Help me get better at the things that matter. Help me quiet the things that don't. Help me manage my time and invest in my priorities. Help me turn off the nagging voice in my head that I am never enough - will never do enough - will never accomplish enough. Shhhhhh. That's enough noise now.  

And then I breathe in and out slowly and read the words on the page - Hebrews 7 - [Jesus] is always able to save those who come to God through him, since He always lives to intercede for them.

              Always Able to save. Always lives to intercede. Breathe it in. Breathe it out.

     My eyes closed, I enter the throne room. The holiness of God cannot even be fathomed. I do not have the life experience like Isaiah the prophet to understand how perfect He is, so I have to take Isaiah's word for it. Angels fly around the throne of God. His robe fills the room. The angels faces are covered - not even they, who have lived in heaven their whole existence, can look upon his face. They cover their faces. They cover their feet. With the other wings they fly around Him. They cannot help from singing without stopping - "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord almighty! The Whole earth is full of his glory!" (1)

     If I'm honest, my awareness of my sin is shelved most of the time. I was raised a pretty good kid. I am, by worldly standards, a pretty good wife and mom. I've lived my life making sure everyone thinks I'm a decent person. Follow most laws, don't hurt people, try to help when and where I can. But like the prophet Isaiah, when I think about entering the presence and the perfection of a Holy God, I realize that my bar for goodness is set far, far too low.  

     I can feel the lies in my mouth, like cavernous teeth. I can see the useless striving of my heart to please men, each act strung like a bead on a necklace that is wrapped around and around my neck - choking the life out of me. I can feel shame draped heavy across my shoulders from the places I've failed. The gossip and slander and haughtiness I've kneaded and rolled out all week is filth under my nails. The selfishness I breathe in and out every single day is caught in my lungs, throat and nostrils...turning them black. I can't even breathe the same air this Holy God. I feel caught and exposed - suddenly aware of how desperately in need I am to be clean and whole. Horrified that I have no power to change by myself.

    And yet I come. Unafraid of my ugliness in the presence of His perfection, because of the One who rushes to meet me.(2) He does not hesitate and he is not disgusted by all of the sin that clings to me. Taking my hands, his forehead touches mine and the blood of Christ - the blood of the perfect sinless lamb- brushes my spiritual skin. Flowing down from where the thorns pierced his temples, flowing out of his hands and his feet, the blood of Jesus - the Messiah - covers over every mark. Wrapped up in his arms- he is father, brother and husband. He is the rescuer and the fierce defender my heart has longed for forever. The black of sin is siphoned off of my Spirit, out of my lungs - it pours out of my mouth to be destroyed in His powerful presence. I'm made new, "washed clean, no scar, no mark"(3)

     And then this Savior, bleeding for me and cleansing me - wraps me in his righteousness. It flows off of him like a hybrid of white silk and white light and envelops my being, until I am dressed beautifully in Who He Is and who I was truly made to be - Holy, Redeemed, Transformed. Now I am dressed for a wedding. Now is the loveliest day of my life.(4) Now I am ready to meet the Holy, Holy, Holy - the Father on the throne, face to face. But only with Christ before me, behind me, and surrounding me - only with Jesus, his hands on my shoulders - saying, "this one, she is mine." He is delighted, not exhausted. Because he is ALWAYS ABLE. (5) He is delighted at the loveliness of Himself wrapped around me and at his light pouring out of me. He beams and begins the narrative- showing what used to be broken in me, and how he made it whole. He tells my life like a story, but where shame used to dwell, he shows off his glory. He tells his Father, who already knows. Together, they delight in the power and the love that changed me. His mighty hands on my shoulders, he carries every heavy thing for me(6); he shoulders every load I brought him today(7). He lives to intercede for his people! He lives to intercede for me. (5) The Son and the Father reminisce about the sin that had me in chains - and how they broke every one. They remind me: they gave me a family, a calling, and a legacy. They laugh and delight to be with me, they sing songs over me(8), they love me deeply, they fill me with their Spirit, and I'm ready to go back to my lists, refreshed and nourished and full. Look how lovely I have made her, my Jesus says to His pleased Father. And his Father replies, "Welcome home, beloved."

(1)Isaiah 6:1-7

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the whole temple.  Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  And they were calling to one another:  "Holy, Holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."  At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.  "Woe to me!" I cried.  "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord almighty." Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the alter.  With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."

(2)Isaiah 30:18

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice.  Blessed are all who wait for him!

(3) Listen - Alanna Story - "Confession"

(4) Isaiah 61 - the whole chapter...but specifically vs. 10
I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

(5)Hebrews 7:25 
He is always able to save those who come to God through him, since He always lives to intercede for them.

(6) 1 Peter 5:6-7

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

(7) Matthew 11:28-30
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in  heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

(8) Zephaniah 3:17

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.  He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.

September 29, 2016

Dear Michael Rose-Ivey...

       I am a white girl from Western Nebraska. I have been raised in the Husker Nation culture, driving seven hours for many weekend games with my family, and traveling far and wide on winter break vacations as a kid. Our parents raised us right.

     We were also raised in a town where racism is not necessarily in your face, especially for a white girl, but when I examine history, I know it's here. Our small midwest town has a large Hispanic population, and a very small African American population. Based on some of the things my grandparents have said, I'm guessing people of color never felt welcome here, at least in the twentieth century.  My great grandma lived to be 101, adored Tommy Frazier and cheered for him regularly, but called him "that colored boy." 

      The latest trend of taking a knee during the National Anthem has the country in a tizzy. Twitter feeds and media personnel firing off every which way.  Opinions, justification and the latest sound byte are setting the online American world on fire. So to you young men, who took a knee at Saturday's game, I plead, let the taking of a knee be the very public, first step in a lifetime of very important work.

  I cannot, really at all, relate to the struggle of the black community. Pretending otherwise would be dishonest and disrespectful. So I have thus far kept quiet in the conversation about racial inequality; a listener and a learner rather than a teacher or preacher. My life experience with race thus far has been my white privilege - which I understand as basically the last five generations of my white family being able to live the American dream, mostly unhindered as long as they worked hard and made good choices.  The American education system and economy rewarded their sweat.  I have been ignorant to the struggle of those different from me. Partly because of my geography, partly because I haven't asked. For my years of ignorance and indifference, I'm sorry.

Michael, I recently watched your press conference and was I was proud of you, even if I didn't agree with you completely.  Your words about your love for the US and those who serve it were truthful, humble and direct.

I also have the utmost respect and gratitude for the military community and police families who are hurt by the athletes who kneel. They are people who have made tough sacrifices.  Perhaps they have sacrificed their own blood, or lost loved ones or friends.  Perhaps they just sacrificed years of their lives instead of chasing their own dreams.  I have close friends who are wives and mothers of those who serve.  They live through restless nights and loneliness while their spouses protect the United States, overseas and in my neighborhood. I honor you and I'm grateful. The problem is, that while our military protects a great nation, they also protect a complicated one. 

Healing race relations is a necessary fight. It is a fight to protect human rights and basic dignity. A fight to protect humanity itself.  

In addition to being white, I am also a Christian who believes in evangelizing the world.  Not the kind who will shame you for being gay or a different religion. The kind of Christ-follower who has been transformed, slowly and painfully, to see the oppression around me and been instructed to do the work of setting people free.

Jesus calls me to take care of those in need, so I also see my demographics as a responsibility to speak out for others and not be quiet when I see injustice. Not out of pity. Not out of white guilt. But out of love and compassion for fellow humans. If sometimes my motives are patronizing, be patient with me and educate me. I'm a work in progress.

    I see the evidence of the unfair systems in our country.  From the justice system, to the prejudices of some of those who enforce the laws, to the subtle layers passed on to each next generation from a parent's bad experience or education.  Sometimes these layers of racism are deep under good intentions and resolution to do better, sometimes they are not so hidden.  The recent resurgence of discussions about racial tensions have been interesting - sometimes peeling back those layers and revealing prejudice.  Sometimes ignorance.  Sometimes indifference.  Sometimes providing opportunities for individuals to speak out and show compassion and build bridges for unity.  I have learned much from following writers and athletes like Benjamin Watson, and now Michael Rose-Ivey.

     I simultaneously salute the specific men and women in blue for their work to protect my family, my kids' school, and my community.  Police officers and their spouses are my friends and neighbors, my church family and fellow PTO members. So I do not point fingers or engage in malicious talk about you as a people group. However, I also zoom out to see centuries of prejudice passed down: racism-  inherited, repackaged and still as ugly as ever. I see the disadvantage for people of color-in the economy, in the courtroom, in the streets.  Perhaps not in my community, but if I look beyond the media and look at the demographics of those in gangs, in prison, and in poverty,  the proportions alone are enough to make me wake up and take notice.
    I refuse to pretend it's not happening. I refuse to criticize people of color who have simply had enough, especially those who are protesting it peacefully. I am confused by those who point out how blessed these protestors are (millionaires, scholarship recipients, etc.) and ask what do they have to be complaining about? After the press conference where I got to see Mr. Rose-Ivey explain himself, I hear him saying this:  he considers himself a blessed man who has been afforded many opportunities; and he will not waste the opportunity he's been given to protest the big, centuries-old and thickly-infected justice system.  He and his teammates are done doing nothing about it.

       To my Huskers Michael Rose-Ivy, DaiShom Neal and Mohamed Barry-I don't love that you knelt during the Anthem. I will always stand.  But what I HATE are the disgusting responses of the people who call themselves Husker fans. I beg you to ignore a few outliers while the mass majority of your fan base respects you, regardless of whether they agree with you.  
         I appreciate your activism and the fact that you give a damn.  I am proud that you refuse to waste the opportunity and the platform-specifically Tom Osborne field and the Cornhusker fan base that comes with it-that you have been given.  And while we are all really hoping that the Huskers have a great strategy to win big conference games this season, I'm hoping even more that the Nebraska football program continues to produce leaders who will change their generation for the better.

You are Huskers. You are Americans. 

        You have Husker nation behind you. People who love you and adore you and will sell out the stadium to cheer until they are hoarse for you 350 games (and counting) in a row. People who will travel across the nation to be there for you, win or lose, rain or shine.

       You are part of a smaller nation, who loves you on and off the field, for the content of your character rather than the color of your skin. We don't do it perfectly, but sometimes we do it well. This weekend, the comments of a few have left an ugly stain, but guard your hearts against them-because they are not my voice. They are not the heart of Husker Nation.  We are proud of our athletes of any race or religion when you practice good sportsmanship, when you honor your opponents, when you volunteer off the field, when you make sick kids smile (thanks Rex Burkhead), or toss the football to my boys outside the Athletic offices (thanks Kenny Bell). There are countless other Huskers who have also used the platform well. We are proud of you when you fight for what you believe in.

      So don't let your protest stop with taking a knee. Let your protest continue by investing in individuals- black and white people of your generation and the next one.  People who will see black men who are not only athletes, but who show up and display integrity and leadership, hard work and dedication to problems in their communities. Show young people of color with big obstacles in life that they can and will overcome, just as you can and will overcome the ugliness recently thrown your way. Show young white people whose parents are sending them poor messages-we disprove everything you've been told about people of color.  I don't know you young men; so if you're already doing this, thank you- and please don't ever stop.

      Investing in individuals and showing them who you are and what you're about-is not always as flashy or loud as amassing passionate Twitter followers.  You'll probably continue to be misunderstood, and you will rarely have the opportunity to eloquently explain yourself in a press-conference. Many times you won't get a bit of attention for your service, except from your own proud mama. But - this quiet, serving attitude - it's effective. 

       Be young men who not only say with their mouths and knees, we've had enough, but also move their hands and feet and take the time to show up in schools and hospitals and communities to change minds. Take the time to listen, and tell your stories and convictions to classmates or dorm neighbors who are willing to listen. Keep going, don't lose heart. What you're doing is important, life changing work.   

Don't be content with lighting Twitter on fire. A hot fire that burns for but a moment and then dies.

Light your generation on fire and let it burn slow. It's time for us to wake up and pay attention to what needs to burn away and leave us behind-refined. 

May 28, 2016

Baby Killer

       It begins every year with procrastination. Excuse after excuse why I can't mow my west tree row today, this week, this weekend...the procrastination is rooted deeply in some intimidating, old grouchy cedar soldiers and their proximity to one another. My grandfather planted them in eager straight rows, standing guard for the homestead against Nebraska wind. I thank them for their service. It's hard to get the riding mower in between them. There are lumpy soft soils, and stumps from fallen comrades and pot holes and old irrigation ditches obscured by tall brome and sixty years of pine needle fodder. All these obstacles are in the same places every year, all summer long;  a fact I remember when I yet again whack my dad's mower's death blades against them, and think, "oh $&%#!! yep there's that stump again." Add golf balls, basketballs and action figures to the mix, and there is debris flying out the side of that mower like its a Fourth of July fireworks show of death and destruction.

      What I love about mowing is the sheer mindlessness of it. Hop on that mower for an hour and my mind is free to roam as it wills. Pray for someone with this stripe - flip a U - dream about the future with this stripe - figure 8 - contemplate the past - turn about - make a checklist in my mind, etc. etc.  Mowing the west tree row is more like constant vigilance so that I don't kill someone, myself  included.

      But it's not the basketballs, or the iron mans, or even my own injuries that concern me most in that tree row- it's the babies. Every small and common prairie creature has decided that the west tree row is the ideal place to raise a family, and they are too young and stupid to know that I am coming for them, and I do not discriminate. I am like Snow White, except the opposite. She comes to sing, and hold the baby birds, and let he bunnies hop on her lap, and stroke the sweet heads of the baby deer, and I come...well to destroy your habitat and send you running from your homes while your mothers sit in the spruce trees and plead with me with little beady black eyes.  This is just not the Disney Princess I wanted to be.

      To say that I don't enjoy the death would be a vast understatement. I actually go to great lengths to avoid it, the details of which include the aforementioned procrastination and other routines I won't describe in detail because I can see the incredulous faces, and hear my brother and father's tones-of-voice saying, "Are you serious?" in the back of my mind. There is a bit of a pre-mowing routine that includes a good dog nose, and some stomping and clapping; if you ever drive by and it looks like I'm imitating a bad Western movie's portrayal of an Indian rain dance, just keep driving.

      You would think that the angry roar of the mower would be enough, but these mamas are not leaving their babies, which I Snow-White-think (animal ESP of course)  to them- "Respect. Solidarity. But seriously- there is plenty of natural habitat pasture just on the other side of the fence, and this is where you chose?!"

         The other measure I take is keeping my mowing buddy with me- my long, lean black lab/ shepherd mutt Bolt and his skilled nose. He runs each pass with me, sniffing and, when I'm lucky, scaring the animals out of harm's way before I annihilate them. It's great fun for him, which just adds to my misery knowing what an evil game I'm playing here.

          Last year I took out an entire little den of tiny bunnies that could fit in your palm. The mower I use is so powerful you'd never even know this happened, except that the mowing buddy decided (for once) to let the retrieving instinct overpower the herding instinct, and brought me a very tiny, very precious, very headless little bunny kitten.  He was very proud of himself, and confused by my shriek of dismay. By the carnage, I assure you it was a quick death, but it has haunted my dreams nonetheless. I have since learned from extensive Google research that cottontail rabbits have as many as seven litters a year. A year!!! So honestly, the bunny population is going to be fine even with me as a top predator. I try to comfort myself with these thoughts, and general assurances about ecology and survival rates. I pair this memory with another one I have stored in the same memory-file-of-horrors of being out on a walk at dusk and hearing a pack of coyotes team kill a rabbit, complete with a death shriek and howls of victory. Surely a quick decapition would be better than that. (Oh man, really putting the crazy out there today.)

     This year, there were tiny black birds with downy soft gray-black feathers that couldn't have been more than a day or so out of the nest. Their mothers flutter in and out of the trees trying to get their babes to safety, and the helpless fledglings flutter and flap, able to fly a foot or two onto very low branches or another clump of grass that is set for destruction in the next 10 minutes. Bolt could easily catch them out of the air, but he seems to know they are babies and lets them be. Probably because right before I hit another stump,  I am screaming at him at the top of my lungs, "They're babies!!! Leave them alone!!!" I'm happy to report there were no recorded deaths this week  in the west tree row.  No deaths at all.  Until yesterday.

      Luke and I were returning from the burn pile and saw some trash laying out in the middle of the pasture.  Luke is fiercely dedicated to saving the planet, which means he will clean up trash in any parking lot,  picking up the most disgusting things (with the same hand with the thumb he sucks) in order to save Mother Earth. I need to buy more hand sanitizer.  He shouted - "Litter! We have to get it!" So we detoured off the road and headed directly for the pasture trash, when suddenly, a mama pheasant exploded off her nest at the very last minute.  She flew low across the pasture as they do, stressfully shedding feathers in her wake.  And I as I watched her go, I knew what I had done. I had steered another weapon into pheasant habitat, and driven over the edge of her nest.  I'm so grateful we weren't six inches to the left, or we would have crushed them all, but luckily we only broke three out of ten.

       As I backtracked on foot to find the nest and inspect the death I had caused, a sinking realization I've been trying to avoid settled right on in.  Living out here, on the acreage I love, and trying my best to tame the wild with mowers and trimmers and herbicides for human enjoyment - i just have to accept it.  Sorry mamas.  Sorry babies.  I will keep doing my rain dances and scaring you with my dogs, but please, please, please, just steer clear of me. I am not Snow White. I am a baby killer.

April 29, 2016

Pit or Platform? Step up.

      I have to begin with a little story from a few months ago. It's Christmas break, and I am the kind of weary tired that comes from staying up way too late night after night, after days full of activity with children. The Jones's were not getting anything remotely close to adequate sleep.  My children were exhausting me and one another with truly wonderful things, and very challenging things. Sledding!  fighting.  Wrestling!  whining. Ice skating!  (On top of getting three kids bundled up, a process my mom calls the snow dance, let's add knives to the bottom of our feet - they take an additional five minutes to put on PER SKATE and then let's try not to stab one another and stay standing while attempting to move around on a slippery, cold, rock hard surface.  WON'T THAT BE FUN?) It actually was fun. A lot of fun.

    Dustin and I, after a long New Year's weekend of winter fun with the kids and staying up late with all our people, watched some Netflix.  I fell asleep in the first five minutes of the show.  When he turned it off at the end and woke me up, I popped up and was like, "Decided to turn it off in the middle, huh?" He, used to the wiles of Sleeping Becky, took me by the hand and was like, "Come on honey, our room is this way."

    I do not remember getting into bed. I am always ridiculous with sleep. It is one of my gifts.  Yet ten minutes later, my youngest starts calling out in his sleep, from what is obviously a terrifying dream.  I fly out of my bed like I'm a freaking ninja assassin. Alert for danger. Ready to pray off a spiritual attack.  Waking and comforting him, readjusting, tucking him back in to bed. Covers smoothed, drink of water, forehead stroked.  And then I went back to bed...back to my gift... 

     Sometimes the places where we seem the weakest are actually caches of secret weapons and strength.  Especially in places we are tempted to feel like victims. Sometimes middle-of-the-night mommy just gets down about the lack of sleep.  I have a bible study book from the spring of 2011 (brand new baby, 2.5 and 5 year old in the house)  that asks questions like, "What is God bringing you through right now? What is the desire of your heart you need to lay before him?"  And my answers are like: "I need sleep.  I need to rest. I am running on empty. I am dying here. I am so tir...." and then there are just coffee stains all over it. It smells like old spilled coffee and spit-up and tears.
      It is easy to feel like a victim when it comes to things that are out of our control. New moms and  multiple little-kid moms are going to have some red in the sleep ledger.  Okay a lot of red. Some nights I think, "Why me?  Why tonight? God don't you know what I have on the calendar for tomorrow? Can a girl get some HELP? Can you make them sleep God? Poppies please? Isn't it something about poppies? I can't remember because I'm so freaking tired. Why is it always me? Why doesn't Daddy ever pop up out of his dead sleep and do it? Why can't I sleep through it? WHY DO MY DESCENDANTS WANT TO STEAL ALL OF THE GOOD THINGS? Like my peace! and my boobs! and my ability to think in complete sentences!" Whether the resulting feelings of self-pity and dismay are from a believer's very real enemy Satan, or just from our own flesh is hard to say.  And honestly, there is no energy left to try and figure that all out. 

    Lack of sleep is just one area where I am tempted to feel like a victim. Other things that do it would include: puke and other sicknesses of my children, weather (specifically and irrationally - wind), car problems, a distracted husband, bad moods that seemingly come out of nowhere, and last but most certainly not least - hormones (why is this happening to me? and why am I SOOOO sad about it?). But I am hearing from God that every time I have an opportunity to play the victim, that HE is extending a hand to me and inviting me onto a platform. 

     My default setting is to slither down into a pit of self pity, but His best is inviting me to step up.  "Why me?" Says the pit. My heels backslide down well-worn ruts.  "Only you can tuck that kid in and get him back to sleep in moments," says my God, who has equipped me for every good work. He beckons to me, to ascend the stairs, to step up, to come up on a sturdy place that is equipped with an eternal well of grace.  "Only you can wake up out of a dead sleep - you, the crazy sleep lady - and defend your child who's heart is gripped with fear. Only you can do it without waking up the rest of the house, even big brother who sleeps two feet away. I've put you HERE and given you everything you need to do it. STEP UP." He says it with a smile, like a welcoming invitation to be really, really good and capable at something, because he will equip  me to be.  

      So a five year old's bad dream, you're thinking....and she thinks she has problems. What about a major hurt? What about a life threatening illness?  What about a life threatening illness inside my child? Then is it okay to slither down into the pity pit? Then can I just collapse?   I truly believe the principal stands, regardless of the circumstance.  If this is starting to sound like "God never gives you anything you can't handle," a sentiment I hate, then please read about that in my post from a few years ago, "You Can't Handle It."  Instead, I believe God's loving voice sounds like this: "Trust me in this, you can't handle this alone, but I can. Give this tough thing to me- let me work through it and I will pour so much light through you that people will come staggering toward you demanding an explanation and you can say: Jesus."

     Recently our church has suffered some major hurt, like a rock slide with a bunch of broken hearts at the bottom kind of hurt.  Our pastor of 31 years was asked to step down.  He and his wife are very hurt.  His son, another pastor at our church, is very hurt.  His family was very hurt. Our head pastor's  reputation is spotless.  He led us well. There were 1,000 conversations to have and 2,000 Why!?s   But yet again, I see the hand of Jesus reaching out and  extending an invitation.  Saying - don't tap dance around the edge of the pit...STEP UP onto my platform of grace.  Every crack in your broken heart will let my light through, if you stick close to me in this.  I will not waste a single fracture.  Every time I want to feel like a victim, God can use me well if I refuse to slither into myself.
         I am watching my friend, my pastor's son, do just this.  He is using his gifts- creativity, music, technology, encouragement - to step up and lead well. He is definitely in one of the toughest positions in all this. He will stay with the people who are hurting, and the people he is mad at. He has listened to raw hearts spewing raw materials from just about every point of view, while trying to process his own balance of family loyalty and belonging to a body of believers. My friend isn't just transitioning to a new boss, he is doing that alongside grieving for his dad. His kids' grandpa. His kids' grandma. There are plenty of people who in our church who are stuck down in pits of anger, of sadness, of resentment that this decision was made. Of all the people, my friend deserves to slide into a pit of all those tough feelings. But he is stepping up. He might not be doing it perfectly, but every day he shows up for work. He thinks of ways to lead the people in songs that will lift our collective spirit, and our individual ones. He and his wife are having tough conversations they'd rather avoid. They are facing feelings with courage instead of numbing them with Netflix. Of all people, we would say - yep, you deserve some time in the self-pity pit; just take a little vacation down in there.  But God has better plans. When we think we most deserve something, God invites us to serve Him instead. My friend is stepping up. He's singing praises. He's singing a new song, even if it's in a sad sounding minor key for right now. And it's a beautiful thing to watch.

    My Jones sister in Michigan is doing the same thing. She was diagnosed with a really crappy chronic illness that will affect her for the rest of her life. She texted me a month ago: I wouldn't change a thing that I've been through. It feels like an awakening. I have incentive to grow in faith. Wow!! She is stepping up, and God will be glorified.

        And there are greater tragedies than an honorable pastor peacefully leaving a church. Sadder things than watching your parents figure out plan B. There are really tough things, but what I see is this:  people in really tough circumstances have the greatest cavities to fill. And when we choose to fill our crushed up empty places with Jesus, His light is so full and bright that we light up the world, and that was His plan all along. No, he does not want us in pain. No, it is not his perfect will to allow hurt into our lives. But he honors our tough things by using them for good. Hallelujah!

     Every time I feel sorry for myself because 'she' didn't text me in my time of need, is an opportunity to reach out and encourage HER in her battle.  Every time I have road rage because someone is riding my bumper, I can flip them off, or I can be humble.  I can get out of their way, submit, defer, pray for them and give a friendly wave.  Every time my husband is absorbed in his own fight or life or interests, and i want to whine around and feel unloved and unwanted, I can step up and initiate affection, conversation or touch. Or crazy idea!: Clearly and kindly ask for his attention and compassion. He is a good man, I need only ask.

     Do not misunderstand me - there is a grief process.  There is no shame in moving through that process, and you should not feel guilt or shame because you are in a tough place and you are not "doing enough" to step up, or you are "doing it wrong."  That is never, ever the intention of my words - written or spoken.  What I always intend for my words to do is to shift the focus from self (especially MYSELF) - back to Jesus.  When we are wrapped in self, we are helpless. When we let the hurt feelings swirl around and around us, we are right where Satan wants us. Isolated. Cut off from living water. Clogged up. Powerless.  When we are wrapped in Jesus, our eyes are on Him, on His works prepared for us, on His priorities- we are connected to a source that gives us power, healing and purpose. We don't have to do it by our own strength, because He only needs our surrender - and He does the work. It still hurts, but it's not pointless or destructive. Through us - through our surrendered gifts, talents, time, pain, testimonies and empathetic love for others - He builds his kingdom.

     Jesus warned the disciples they would have troubles, that things would go badly for them, and that they would be hated.  He encouraged them to keep going. To shake the dust off their feet, move on and trust him with the judgement and the results. Because their eyes were on Him and not their troubles:  prison became a pulpit; a stoning spurred the spread of the gospel all over the region; chained-in-jail became an opportunity to interact with angels. Paul, shipwrecked and snake bitten, wrote the letters that helped me fall in love with Jesus.  The brave and resilient men who, by the power of the Holy Spirit and the name of Jesus,  'stepped up' after the resurrection guaranteed that the gospel would be alive and well, and growing today.  Their step-up helped ensure your eternity with Jesus, if you've decided that Jesus is for you.  What will our 'steps up' do in other people's eternities? People we do life with now? People we raise? mentor? feed? clothe? Their children? For how many generations?

    Are you stuck in a pit?  Reach your hands to the heavens and pray.  There is a God and a Savior that has a beautiful story to tell through you, and His hands are lovingly extended toward you at all times, waiting to deliver you. Ready to rescue you. He is a good, good God, you need only ask.

January 8, 2016

The Waiters

      The stoplight is long. I sit on a one lane busy street waiting for the crossing guard. Traffic is backed up for two blocks, like it always is this time of day.  Waiting for the light. Waiting for all the other mothers and dads and daycare providers to cluster and disperse.  They pick up their precious ones, and I pick up mine. Another waiter stands on the corner.  Her charcoal parka hood pulled up around her face, obscuring her demographics.  Slight build, somewhere between a woman and a child, long slender legs clad in dark gray leggings and black suede boots halfway to her knee.  Her boots are coated in the powder snow that fell down all day, light and dry.  Her coat covers her figure, everything about her sleek and dark. Her trendy, colorful backpack is solid and full on her back. She absent-mindedly traces circles with her toe the snow, her phone in hand, her head down, checking and rechecking some communication.  She checks the street, checks the traffic, types on the touch screen.
        An unkempt little person unhurriedly approaches.  He is clad in layers of orange coat and long sleeved t-shirt, his jeans are untidily sticking out of black rubber-soled snow boots. His coat is unzipped, his gloves stick out of the coat pockets. His blonde hair is stuck here and there on his forehead, his cheeks are pink with the cold.  He licks his fingers, eating snow out of the schoolyard.  He smiles at the girl and approaches her, adoring eyes up, hands up, fingers splayed out displaying his frozen prize. He comes up to her waist.
            I expect her to ignore him. I expect her to brush him off. Push him away. Adolescent nonchalance. Scold him for his gloves off.  Instead, he sticks his hands in the pockets of her coat.  She pulls him in close.  He tilts his head way back and grins up at her.  She brushes snow off his cheeks and pulls him in close for a hug.  She leans down; gentle and kind sister reaching down to a wild and rumpled little brother. She puts her face right next to his and says something to him I cannot hear through the car window. He beams and giggles, pulls away and goes back for more snow. Every thing in her body language tells me he is precious. Every thing in her posture tells me she would protect him to the ends of the earth. Legs splayed, he leans down and grabs two more handfuls of snow. She gets what she needs from her phone. She calls to him, he takes her hand. They walk across the street.  
      I have been contemplating this little scene of waiting all afternoon.  Two things I'm thinking: 
1 -there is love in that home. 2- Do my actions and reactions in the absent-minded moments of my day show the love I have for my people? I'll never forget this little scene as long as I live. How lovely is love when it crops up in unexpected places.  What a glowing neon sign for the world it can be when we practice it well.