Friday, March 20, 2015

On earth as it is in heaven

It was Palm Sunday. Ten years ago today. I slowly, breathlessly dragged my aching, worn out body down the increasingly long hospital hallway that seemed to stretch out for miles. And it was desolate. I was making my way to the lab for some follow up blood work from my ER visit 24 hours before. As the seconds passed like hours, I pressed my shoulder to the wall for support with each step. I'm a determined, independent chick, so I hadn't thought to ask for help back at the registration desk, or from my family for that matter. I sent them on to church (who misses Palm Sunday?!) and drove myself to the hospital. But I started to rethink my independence about halfway to the lab when I realized that all these 1st floor hallways are empty on a Sunday morning. If I were to stop and slither down the wall for a rest like I really wanted to do, who knows how long it would be before someone made their way down here to find me. And so I kept my shoulder pressed to the wall and willed each step to take me closer to the needle and vile that would hopefully give me some answers.
It had been six days since the fever started. Not just any fever. Nearly 104 degree fever with violent shakes and chills. And then it would disappear and I'd be left feeling like I'd been hit by a truck...and then run a marathon, only for the fever to return a day or so later. Every bone hurt. I had no breath. No energy. I crawled around the house most days trying to care for my three children, terribly fearful for the one that was growing in me. For 4 months this little one was wrapped in peace and safety in my womb and this illness kept me praying for my little pregnant belly.
The lab tech said I looked horrible and asked if I needed help back to my car. I guess that ticked me off a little because I declined and took on the challenge. At home, I sat in my recliner with my Bible study book and began reading. It was Isaiah 45. At verse 7 I was ready to rip a page out. But instead I just put a big question mark and wrote, "I don't like this."
I am the Lord; there is no other.
I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster; 
I, the Lord, do all these things.
Nope. Don't like that one bit. You create disaster? No thanks. Whatever this was that was making me so sick it sure felt like a disaster. And when the fever spiked again late that night, I called the after hours line and was told my blood work was "concerning" and I needed to return to the ER immediately. I let my husband take me this time.
It took about 4 hours of ice packs and cool IV fluids, more blood work and lots and lots of questions for the doctor to get a spark of an idea that triggered a question that is seared in my memory. "When you were in Honduras, did you get bitten by any mosquitoes?" I knew immediately that I was lying there, pregnant, in the middle of the United States of America, with malaria. A disaster? Maybe. I still don't like it. And I still don't believe God directed a malaria-infested mosquito to bite me. God knows we struggle with those whys. And so he reminds us who He is...and who we are...just a couple lines later in verse 9. 
Doom to the one 
who argues with the potter,
as if he were just another clay pot!
Does the clay say to the potter,
"What are you making?"
or "Your work has no handles"?

God has taken this lump of clay, with impurities and flaws and clots and all the things that weren't meant to be there in the first place - everything that would spell disaster - and molded a story that has worked for good. Romans 8:28 has proven true: 

God works all things together 
for the good of those who love Him 
who are called according to His purpose.

My happy, healthy baby boy, Jacob, will be 10 in August. And this Sunday I preach at a church in St. Louis telling this gospel-infused story yet again. It has occurred to me that even if my baby would have died, I'd still be telling this story and fighting for mommas on the other side of the ocean who don't have the same opportunity to protect their children that I had to protect mine. God's wholeness and redemption is available to us all. Whatever disaster we have experienced, however it has turned out, Jesus walked this earth turning disaster into healing and restoration. And Jesus reigns as Lord so that we can glimpse His Kingdom right here. There is no malaria in the kingdom of heaven. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Ten years. Ten dollars. One precious life.
The statistics are heart-wrenching. But they're changing! 
Just $10 helps a momma protect her child. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The God Who Sees

Sometimes you find yourself crammed into a 4-wheel drive with 6 amazing people, traveling for unending hours on a wide path called a road, forging flooded rivers, dodging cavernous potholes, sliding in muddy ruts, heading to the most remote of places in the middle of an African country, singing bad Bryan Adams remixes and eating dark chocolate covered pretzels from Target. Sometimes. Okay, maybe one time. But you hope that it could happen again. Because God speaks loudly when we get out of ourselves and we're uncomfortable like that. 
God's speaking this to me: How much does my view of God, my understanding of the gospel, get muddied in with my culture and comfortable reasoning? (The answer: a lot.) Am I willing to take off some masks; not just my own, but the ones I've put on God and others? Am I willing to not make assumptions about others' needs or sins or motives or authenticity? 
And am I willing to just see people? I'm seeing this team - the good, the bad and the ugly - as we have experienced some extreme contrasts of culture (i.e. Are you supposed to pee on the rocks or between the rocks in the potty hut? How do you react when your accommodations are quite honestly hard and utilitarian at best?). I'm seeing us wrestle with the contrasts and questions of accepting our own culture just as we accept the African culture. I'm seeing discomfort and submission, humor and heartache. And I'm seeing our little representations of God shining on this journey in Mozambique. We each bear the image of God, the Imago Dei, created in His image to bear His love and grace to the ends of the earth - or just to the end of the road. 
And when we finally reach the end of the road, there are more faces of these representations of God. They are beautiful, significant creations of the God Who Sees. I see them. I travel all this way and I make eye contact with a precious little boy missing his front tooth. I go to the end of the road and there really is a United Methodist cross and flame and I see a woman pastor singing and dancing unashamed for her God. I go to a remote spot in the wide dirt path and stir a pot of chima with a young woman with beautiful eyes. And I see her. And she sees me. And we see God. We are both reminded that God sees us. 
We are created in the image of the God Who Sees and we are to imitate that God and see others. The God who said, "You are precious in my eyes and honored and I love you" (Isaiah 43:4). We have His eyes. Everywhere we go. To the ends of earth, the ends of the road, the end of the street, and across the room. In this contrast of cultures God reminds me to also see the person behind the counter at the gas station, taking my order, driving like a maniac, begging for change at the Cardinals game, begging for my attention at the dinner table. We are each created in the image of God, the God Who Sees. Who do you see?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Waiting for an Epiphany

e·piph·a·ny (noun): a sudden intuitive leap of understanding, especially through an ordinary but striking occurrence.

Ah, yes! That’s what I need! Can you beg for an epiphany? Do you study for it? How exactly can you increase your chances of an ah-ha moment? Because I need one. Really stinkin’ bad.

I have spent too much time the last several months avoiding the mirror. Calling myself names I’d never let anybody call another human being. Ever. I’m just so not where I want to be. Not where I think I am. Until I put on my yet again too tight jeans. Or have to see myself on camera or in a picture and realize that I do not look like I do in my mind’s eye. And I sure don’t look like any of my high school friends – even the ones who’ve had four kids, too. I don’t know what’s happened. Except that some things are within my control. And some are not.

And all the books and all the best friends tell me that you are not what you weigh. Or what your pant size is. You are so much more. You are valued and you are gifted. You are beautiful just the way you are.


I hear the words. They just don’t mean much. I know they should, and I see them take on powerful meaning in other’s lives. But not mine yet. I know the vanity in my concern for my appearance. I know the dangers that I risk for my daughter’s own self-image with my unspoken self-loathing. I fear the lies that I have let take up space in my brain. I even know how shallow this is. But how can something so shallow run so deep? I have a feeling God has something really important to teach me here since the year that I am the most uncomfortable in my body than I have ever been is the very year that I am on platforms in front of more people than I have ever been! I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

I need an epiphany.
I need a transformation. A renewing of my mind.

Do you? Are you fighting for an ah-ha moment that will clear the fog? Are you waiting to be who you think you ought to be? Or think the way you think you ought to think? (Yes, that’s a lot of thinking.)

Because we can’t manufacture an epiphany. We can’t force a transformation. So what are we to do?

Paul says it simply this way: Press on. Point your face toward Jesus and the wholeness, life and power over defeat that only He holds. Jesus is the goal. Not the transformation. (Hang out in Philippians 3 for a little bit.)

Whether it’s avoiding the foods that you know send you in a tailspin or reading your bible for the 50th day in a row waiting, waiting, waiting for something to click. Whether it’s showing up at the gym or making that hard phone call that will move you toward that reconciliation. Whether it’s boring or uncomfortable, effortless or strenuous, clear or clear as mud….Press on. And lo and behold, one day when we’re scanning the clearance end caps at Target, all of the sudden we’ll realize we’ve been transformed. Our eyes will open, the fog will clear and we’ll see that God has done His work in us!

Like the wise men consulting their notes day after day after day. Pressing on one step after another.  Day 54. Day 176. Is the Lord this way? Are we on the right track? Read those scriptures of old again. Day 297. Day 542. We’re tired, Lord. Every path leads to a dead end and we turn around. Press on. Seek Him. Day 684. He’s gotta be right here! Why is He not right here? We’ve been here a dozen times. Day 702. Really? Really? Come on! Wait. There’s the star again! Day 729. Emmanuel. We want to see You. We worship You and offer You our all. But we want to see You. Day 730. “They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).

See, we can’t force a transformation. But we sure can prepare for it! And it’s by focusing not on earthly things – the weight, the finances, the conflicts, the success, the strategizing. It’s trusting in and moving toward and focusing on Jesus. And “he will transform our humble bodies so that they are like his glorious body, by the power that also makes him able to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:21). By pressing on and not going with the flow, by not conforming to the patterns of this world, then we will be transformed – because our minds will be renewed (Romans 12:2)!

Pressing on. Preparing for an epiphany.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Glory Hallelujah

The strum of the guitar filled this crowded little room. We had squeezed the chairs into this makeshift office that was under construction to listen to this young guy play and sing and see if he would be a good fit as a worship leader for this new church we were starting. I don’t remember what he sang, I only remember a little about the conversation, but what I do remember was an overwhelming sense that this Mark guy was the one God had chosen for this new congregation.

In the middle of the night in a dark community building in Sneedville, Tennessee, I held my head in my hands softly weeping as music poured through my earphones. “I’m coming back to the heart of worship / It’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus.” This mission trip to this rural area provided an opportunity for me to pause and reflect on the ways God had been moving me over the last year or so. Our little church was growing, people’s lives were changed and I could see my own relationship with God transforming. And here, humbled before God in this quiet, private space, I realized for the first time that worship isn’t an adjective that describes a church service.

“I just have to tell you that I really feel like I have been learning how to worship,” I told Mark one Sunday after I returned home. “Really,” he said. “When did you feel like you started learning that?”

“Oh, several months ago; around the beginning of the year, I guess.”

“Well, that’s interesting. That’s about the time I felt like I was really learning how to lead in worship.”

That’s the beauty of the Body of Christ. As we use the gifts He has given, we build up one another in such a way that we all fix our eyes more firmly on our God. And when we see Him more clearly, we can’t help but worship.

See, worship is not somewhere we go. It is something we do. And we will worship whatever object grabs our attention. We humans are so fickle in our worship. Webster’s defines it as “extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem.” And incidentally, “worship” is currently in the top 20% of lookups on We want to know what worship really is and what deserves our “extravagant respect.” I think in those early days of beginning to worship, I followed Mark’s gaze. I wanted to see what he saw. And when I focused my heart’s eyes on God I sang those words with a new conviction and reverence that I hadn’t grasped before.

Richard Foster says “singing is meant to move us into praise….If singing can occur in a concentrated manner it serves to focus us. We become centered. Our fragmented minds and spirits flow into a unified whole. We become poised toward God.” Music is powerful. It is meant to move us. I want to be moved toward the “Object of esteem” that is worthy of my full devotion. It takes intentionality to mean what I sing, though, right? Worship is not at 11:15 a.m. on a Sunday. An opportunity to worship is at 11:15. I want to take advantage of every opportunity. Certainly the more I pay attention to the words and their meaning, the deeper I am drawn into the Throne Room and I am moved

So it’s no surprise that it is Mark’s new music that is pointing me again to this God that I love. Words that become prayers. Somehow others’ words can be used to set my heart straight and can even express what my soul so desires to say to God. And sometimes the words are beyond what I feel or experience and so as I sing my prayer becomes “God, help me to believe this! Give me the desire to love You like this!” It has long been practiced to recite the prayers of others as a means of solidifying your own faith. And that’s how this new music moves me. My prayer with all of our brothers and sisters through time /[who sang] of the blood of the same sacrifice is that we worship in spirit and truth. That the songs we sing don’t rest in our enjoyment, but are offered to God as worship. This is our song / we lift it to You / singing Glory Hallelujah!