Monday, December 31, 2018

A Year in Review (or 2018, Phew, or Pew?)

I cannot remember a year like 2018.   Never before has so much piled into our lives when we had the bandwidth to process it.

Sure, we've had tough years.  For example, in 2009 we had a couple of kids get arrested and found out we had a pregnant teenage daughter.  But at that time we had a whole houseful of teenagers who were involved in sports and school and work and we just had to keep moving.  There wasn't time for us to think or talk about it all much, we just kept going.   There were other years like that as well -- lots of drama but no time to discuss or process it.

But this past year we only had a few people living here.  Our youngest graduated from High School and wasn't involved in any activities or sports his last semester.   We were down to a small number of people at home and yet some of the hardest things we have ever faced.   If you've kept up with our lives you know they include:

1)  Bart's foot saga that really took up the whole year.

2)  My mother's transition from assisted living to the nursing home, complete with some pesky physical issues that resulted it what appeared to be full-blown dementia.  Thankfully, she is now back to her normal self but it was a journey.

3)  My brother's disappearance in Oakland.  That was a scary week, but he was found and is doing well.

4)  Issues at the church that I will not go into.

5)  Our youngest sons unthinkable choice and all its repercussions.

6)  Three very difficult deaths in the last couple months at church.

And we had nothing but time.  Time to talk about it.  Time to think about it.  Time to worry, grieve, think, ponder and occasionally freak out.

So it is with no regrets that I say goodbye to 2018.   I know this much:  God is faithful in the middle of the mess, no matter how messy it gets.

And it is with great joy that I say hello to 2019.   If you haven't heard, we have a new son-in-law, a new 5 year old grandson that came with the son-in-law, and a baby on the way due in August.  I'm heading to Minnesota for Sadie's bridal shower and to speak at Refresh in Seattle March.  In April Bart and I are heading there for a the long-awaited wedding.  We have two sons who we hope will propose this year, possibly leading to more weddings!   I get to go to Florida in April to speak at a conference.... and that's just the first 4 months of the year!

Life is looking up.  And I'm glad.   Thanks to all who prayed for us during this tough year.   We are pretty sure 2019 will be better!

Just Show Up without Excuses

This morning I got a FB message from a leader in our community who has worked tirelessly as a volunteer to change the lives of the poor in Lynchburg.   We are working on a date to officially launch our partnership between his organization and PHFS and he was letting me know that the mayor is going to be at the launch and that we are waiting on a date for that.   He also told me about a bill going to congress to end involuntary homelessness in the U.S.  I commented that he was a mover and a shaker.

He responded, “God is.  I just show up without excuses…. and speak into things that don’t exist.  I am just doing what I have been asked to do …. being obedient.

Our quick conversation got me thinking …. what would 2019 look like if every Christian did that?  What if we all just showed up without excuses and were obedient?

I was planing to share this song with you today as we head into 2019 and can’t think of a better introduction to it than the conversation with I just shared.

That's my challenge to you today.  In 2019 show up.... without excuses.   Speak into things that don't exist.  Be obedient.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Grace is Awesome (if I'm the Recipient)

Yesterday I ended up in Charlottesville, VA.   Wasn’t planning to go there.  Of course, with my life, there’s always a story.  

Dominyk was returning home after 7 months of trying to make it on his own.   If you know the story, Dominyk was warned that if he chose to leave without our blessing, it would be really hard for us to let him back home.  But when he was facing homelessness during a cold Minnesota winter and his Plan A was to live in a car and Plan B to move into an ice house, we decided it was time to let him move back home.  It kinda goes back to our parenting philosophy of erring on the side of grace.  So we helped him get a bus ticket to Lynchburg (He paid for most of it).    

So why did I end up in Charlottesville?  He fell asleep and didn’t get off the bus in Lynchburg!  So I had already driven an hour to Lynchburg from the Brookneal townhouse by 7 a.m.  I sat and waited for the bus to unload, nothing.  I tried another part of the bus station, a very congested thin alley, and nothing — except for a large cinder post that I managed to smash into.  Sigh.  My poor Equinox has a trauma history with all things Dominyk.  But I digress.    

So I called the Charlottesville Greyhound station and asked that when the bus arrived there if someone could go in and make sure he was awake and tell him I would come there to get him.  

I drove another hour and fifteen minutes, picked him up and then 2.5 to get back to Danville.   The whole trip our conversation made me realize a truth about human nature:  When we are the recipients of grace it’s awesome — but we still may not think others are worthy of it.  (Which seems completely odd, because the whole point of grace is that we are not worthy of it.)  He spent half of the trip ranting about Wilson’s bad choices and how Wilson can’t use his trauma history as an excuse for his behavior.    In attempting to instruct him, I turned it around (gently even) to ask if the same harsh judgments applied to him.  I smiled as he went on to do what most of us do — he went on to explain that grace, mercy and kindness was a really good thing when it applied to him.  But to Wilson?  Not so much.  We talked through it and Dominyk realized that maybe he needed to be a little more gracious and confessed that sometimes he just likes to rant about stuff for a really long time.  (Self-awareness moment!)  

Remember the parable of the merciless servant found in Matthew 18?  There’s this dude that gets forgiven of a huge debt — he is shown so much grace and mercy.  And yet as soon as he is forgiven he heads out and finds a guy who owes him a fraction of what the debt that was just forgiven.  He demands that he pay him — Choking him, and sending him off to prison. 

 It’s not hard to see Jesus’ point in this parable.  All of us have been forgiven of so much and yet we don’t want to offer that grace to others.   As we begin the near, I’m challenging myself to look at others through the eyes of mercy and grace.   Let’s assume the best in those around them, give them the grace and mercy we want to receive from them, and I guarantee things will go better… because it really is true that grace wins every time.  

Thursday, December 27, 2018

In the Center of the Mess

I alluded to this yesterday in my post, but it struck me this week that Jesus came into a mess.   I mean a really big mess.

His mom is a virgin — try explaining that — and her pregnancy a public disgrace.   Joseph is sticking with her, but I’m sure they were the brunt of lots of gossip, whispering, and possibly even jokes.   It was a nasty situation.

And then it was time for a census by the government.   If you think you hate tax time and the way government interferes in your life, picture having to walk or ride 97 miles on a donkey in order to register yourself with the government.   Talk about annoying!    I’ve seen pregnant women who are almost at full term and they have plenty to complain about but none of them have had to ride 97 miles on a donkey.  Just sayin.

So they get to Bethlehem and are in the middle of crowds of people, all of them probably crabby.   And they try to find a place to stay and there’s no rooms left.   Priceline didn’t exist back then so they had to take their chances.   The innkeeper feels sorry for them and offers them his stable.

I bet Mary was saying, “Seriously?   A smelly stable?  Animals?  A manger?”

So my question is this?  Why do we have expectations that Christmas be perfect?  The first Christmas certainly wasn’t.  Nothing was perfect about it…. except for the baby.

The baby was perfect and He still is.    And if I’ve learned anything this year, I’ve learned that Jesus lives in the messiest of situations.

Let’s embrace him — and embrace the messy.   Because that’s where Jesus shows up most.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Still Came

It didn't feel much like Christmas this year.   We have had one emotionally exhausting thing after another hit us this year.   First, as you know, was the saga of Bart's foot, which is about over -- but his foot will never be the same.  He will probably always walk with a slight limp and will never be able to walk long distances without pain. His foot is deformed, looks pretty bad, actually, and won't fit into a regular shoe.  This is a huge loss for someone who walked for pleasure and who does many things that require standing on his feet.

Then came September when our our youngest son did something unthinkable -- a stupid mistake by a dumb kid but the ripples of his choice were unbelievable.  Relationships were destroyed, trust was violated, rumors were started, people were panicking, and it just kept getting worse.   It's still not over as he is in jail waiting for trial.

Then we had some deaths at church and one of our favorite people whose husband died suddenly over a year ago went to be with Jesus last night.  Bart has never said this to me before, but one night a couple years ago after we had dinner with them he said, "I hope I don't have to bury either of these people."  They were our friends and it turns out he will bury both of them.

Our church organist found another job and he and his family are moving to Oklahoma.   We will miss them in so many ways.

Every day it seems like more stuff heads our way.  Loss upon loss upon loss.  Not easy stuff either.   Some of the toughest we've ever dealt with.

We only have two children with us (plus a couple grandkids and a fiancé) so we there were only 7 of us at the dinner table this Christmas compared to years when we have had 27.

We have been depressed and emotionally exhausted for months.  We have our good times, but for the most part the norm is low key anxiety and sadness as we await a hearing and news of changes to our family.   We just keep going, one step at a time.

Last night as we were sitting in our beautiful church building the music was still powerful.  The story was still profound and seeing my grandchildren, eyes brightly shining as we sang Silent Night holding candles, brought tears to my eyes.   But in the midst of all this, I suddenly realized that Christmas had still come.

And it also struck me that Jesus came into a situation that was far from ideal.  His parents didn't plan to for him to be born in a barn with smelly animals around them...... they had been told he was the Messiah after all.  But even though they were in a smelly stable, Christmas still came.... Jesus, still came.

Christmas still comes.... no matter what.... and the story remains beautiful, powerful, life-changing.

And it always will.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

What does it mean to prepare room for someone or something?    Here are some very practical examples.

You buy groceries and you have to find room for it in the fridge.  What do you have to do if your fridge is full?  You gotta get rid of some stuff.

You buy a few new shirts and the shirt drawer of your dresser is way too full.   What do you have to do?   You gotta get rid of some stuff.

A drawer of your desk is overflowing with papers but you need to put a book in there.  What do you have to do?  You gotta get rid of some stuff.

The song Joy to the World suggests to us that the Lord is come….. that it’s time for earth to receive her King…. and what needs to happen?

Your heart has to prepare room for him.  You gotta get rid of some stuff.

So if your heart is full of anything that would not want to share space with Jesus, it’s time to get rid of some stuff.    What about anger?  Resentment?  Impatience?  Unforgiveness towards someone?  Greed?   Discontent?  Pride?   The list goes on and on.

I encourage you this Christmas season to check out your heart.   It’s time to make room for Jesus.   It’s time to get rid of some stuff.

Let’s make this commitment together this week to take a look and see what needs to go.  And then we can sing, “O come to my heart Lord, Jesus, there is room my heart for thee."

Thursday, December 13, 2018

You Know What Happens When You Assume?

I wonder how much hurt in life could be avoided if everyone followed simple rules.   Rules like, "If your brother offends you.... go to HIM."

Or "Is it good?  Is it Kind?  Is it Necessary?   if not, don't say it.  Or, better put in the Four Way Test of Rotary that we should use to evaluate what we say:

  1. Is it the truth?
  2. Is it fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

or how about the rule about not assuming..... or about erring on the side of grace, believing the best in others, and giving people the benefit of the doubt?

This is a rough season for me.   There are four situations in particular where I cannot defend myself.  I cannot explain.   I cannot say a word publicly    And I wonder what assumptions are being made about me.  I hear rumors of what people are saying about me but I can't explain any of it.

And in all of those situations, there is really a lot more to the story.  Further more,  I don't have choices.  People are assuming that I am making decisions, that I am choosing to do certain things, and yet, I'm not.  The choice is not with me.

As you know I'm not overly sensitive, but I am frustrated enough tonight to remind all of us not to talk about people if we haven't talked to them.   To remind us that when we assume, we should clarify directly with the source before passing those assumptions on.   And finally to remind each of us that Grace Wins Every Time.

I don't care all that much about what people think -- I had to give that up a long time ago.   We have had to move beyond that as our children have made choices over the years.  But others aren't as resilient or as strong, and we need to protect others from the pain by following these rules.   

My way of dealing with all of this through the past few months has been is to check my own motives, make sure I am extending forgiveness and grace, and ask the Holy Spirit to correct me where I need to be corrected.  And I've been reminded to make sure that as I'm making assumptions about others that I don't repeat them as truth.

Maybe the purpose of all this (if there is one) is for me to check myself and remind myself to treat others the way I want to be treated.

I don't know if this was  helpful to anyone -- but I didn't write it for you.  I wrote it for me. Is that OK?