Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Week At a Time - A Mother and Daughter's summer challenge: Week One - The VASE!

Hi All! My daughter Rebekah and I are doing a challenge for the summer. We are taking regular tasks (or maybe something we've always meant to do but struggle starting or finishing it) and have agreed to consistently do it together for just one week and journal our way through it. We've named it "A Week At a Time", and we'd love to have you follow our journey!  If it inspires you, share it! If it inspires you to start one of your own we'd love to hear about it in the comments below. 

WEEK 1: Hand-washing the dishes - The Vase



Day Five

Rebekah: I went back to washing.  Drying was too slow… We had to do it much later today.  I had friends over most of the time, so it wasn’t until the evening that my Mom and I got to the dishes.  Maybe we should’ve done them in the morning, but I was still sleeping.  It is summer, after all.  Haha, my Mom’s a much more patient person than I am.  Or maybe just less demanding…

Michelle:

Well, I guess if you do the dishes at almost midnight it’s still technically THAT day, although they do need a little more soaking than usual! Truth is, it was a long day and as much as I think Beks and I share the same space, this exercise has highlighted that sometimes we have different rhythms and that’s ok.  I’m just glad we share space. And… doing them late when the house was quiet tonight was kind of nice.  We talked about some things that have come up over the day that would have, again, gone unacknowledged otherwise…I was really tired at 11:30, but the few minutes we grabbed together was definitely worth that wait….Thanks God.

…Seriously heading to bed now and just noticed the vase…that we STILL forgot to wash. Who does that!? Oh well, tomorrow."


Day Six


Rebekah: Well, we still haven’t washed the vase we meant to wash on the very first day of doing this challenge.  It’s currently sitting in sudsy water left to soak for tomorrow.  I won’t be surprised if we forget it all together.  I’ve noticed that doing the dishes isn’t that much of an inconvenience.  You just get up and do them and they’re done within a few minutes.  Plus, they’re done.  Like, completely done.  You don’t have to come back to unload them from the dishwasher because there isn’t one.  

Michelle: So today I wanted to just swipe things into the dishwasher. Sometimes I want space on the counter It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something for the day, and there's an enormous sense of satisfaction in that... I imagined myself sitting in the family room, with a cup of coffee with the quiet hum of the dishwasher in the background, and the fresh scent of whatever cleaner would have been swiped over the counter, ahhh, Sigh!  But God, you are reminding me that some of life is messy, and when I try to swipe it away with a fresh scent of cleaner and shut the dirty parts behind a closed door, I might just miss the journey all together.


Day seven


The Vase...ignored...again
Rebekah: We washed the vase!  Yay!  There were only a few cups and plates today too, so cleaning went by very quickly.  An easy way to wrap up this challenge.  I’m glad we did it.  Surprisingly, for me, it wasn’t the conversation, the one-on-one time with my mom, or even the practice of responsibility that made this challenge notable.  It was simply the dishes.  For my entire 18 years of life, I’ve despised the dishes.  I’d rather vacuum, wash the windows, and clean the bathroom than do the dishes once.  Doing this taught me not to hate the dishes.  And, on a much larger note, taught me to give everything a chance.  Even though I might hate it, there’s always some good in it.  


Suds the...the kinesthetic motivator
Michelle
(For the Record, I think Beks might be getting a little tired of my spiritual analogies! Ha!... but she's been very gracious about it!) OK,  THE.VASE.  It was kind of a big deal that we remembered that vase. I think we both looked past it because we were lazy…well at least I did. I said to myself six times this week that we would do it tomorrow. I suppose if I would have said to Beks at the beginning of the week, “We can wash that vase in seven days.” we both would have been less inclined to accommodate the ridiculous idea. Oh well, it’s done.  The vessel is clean and ready to hold stems of beauty once again. Maybe that’s the best wrap up to this challenge – that procrastination is not helpful in transformation... taking the mess as it comes and intending to do something about it, will allow us to cooperate with God as he washes us. We soak in Him, and as we do, He makes us capable of holding new beauty. A beauty that's full of the deep fragrance of God.


I think I’m might miss this challenge. I know I’m going to miss the side-by-side times with Beks.  Thanks God…We’ve had a good time.



Thanks for following this crazy challenge...

Next Challenge: A practice in gratitude, Taking a walk everyday, cleaning out a messy space, Reading Bible stories...  STAY TUNED!

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Week At a Time: A mother and daughter's summer challenge together - Week One: Just Keep Swimming


Hi All! My daughter Rebekah and I are doing a challenge for the summer. We are taking regular tasks (or maybe something we've always meant to do but struggle starting or finishing it) and have agreed to consistently do it together for just one week and journal our way through it. We've named it "A Week At a Time", and we'd love to have you follow our journey!  If it inspires you, share it! If it inspires you to start one of your own we'd love to hear about it in the comments below. 

WEEK 1: Hand-washing the dishes


(Here are the 3rd and 4th day journal entries.  The previous post has day one and two....annnd NEXT time I'm talking Rebekah into taking a real pic! haha!)



Day Three


Rebekah:  Again… getting kinda old.  Although, as tough as it is to start, it’s easy once I get into it.  I’ve noticed that the productivity helps me a lot.  I can think while I do the dishes, and then after I’m done, I have an idea for something creative that I enjoy doing.  Like, a topic to write about, a guitar progression, a character for a drawing.  Little things like that tend to inspire me a bit. 


Michelle: OK, So…Day Three has come and gone and doing the dishes at 11:30 was much better that 3pm I don’t know why I am so hooked around that.  Probably because I feel much better about my surrounding when the dishes are clean.  There’s just something that settles me when I look at the kitchen and the counter and sink are clear and clean.  When they aren’t I’m unsettled, and if I’m honest it feels personal.  I feel worse about myself when the kitchen isn’t clean…hmm. If I slow myself down and think about what my internal thoughts are I hear phrases like, “What if so-n-so saw this? What would they think?” or “Get it together, Michelle! This is a mess!” Even worse and more defeating, “Why try? If I clean it up…it will just be a disaster again in a few hours.”  So many defeatist thoughts that thwart positive movement! And I’m wondering how often my negative energy and mindset impact my family, in this case, Rebekah?  Oh Jesus, how do I companion with you in this?  How do I find the unforced rhythms of grace that cultivate strength, joy and vision?...haha! All of this just from doing the dishes! How often do silent narratives drive us and we don't even know it?



Day Four



Rebekah:  Today I dried the dishes.  Normally I wash and hand them to my Mom—who’s significantly faster at drying dishes—and we finish quickly.  I need to practice my drying skills.  Either that, or I’m a really slow washer and she’s a fast dryer.  Either way, I’m lacking speed somewhere.  Drying was a bit more hassle because you put the dishes away and dry at the same time.  I dunno though, because my Mom could dry and put away faster than I was putting wet and sudsy dishes in front of her.…I think there's a secret conspiracy that involves my mother becoming The Flash.  


Michelle: I went to work early today and did not make it home until 5.  Dishes were done when I came home and we were both in get-it-done mode. Beks dried today and man was I stacking the dishes her direction.  I noticed in our hurry we had less conversation but also realize that sometimes the job just needs to get done.  Half of me was bothered by not giving it time the other half was just weary from the day and glad to finish up.  At the end of the day, however, I felt the loss of not enjoying that time with Beks.  Yep, there's the tension...finding balance between the hurried demands of daily tasks, and holding them loose enough to let God and myself be present and attentive in them.  So far, there seems to be three themes emerging:

First, intention means changing our routine.

Second, repetition grows the muscle for intention.

Third, slowing down gives space for relationship that would not be there otherwise….

...”Just keep swimming, Just Keep Swimming…”

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Week At a Time - A mother and daughter's summer challenge together - Hand washing the dishes! Day 1-2

A week at a Time

Hi All! My daughter Rebekah and I are doing a challenge for the summer. We are taking regular tasks (or maybe something we've always meant to do but struggle starting or finishing it) and have agreed to consistently do it together for just one week and journal our way through it. We've named it "A Week At a Time", and we'd love to have you follow our journey!  If it inspires you, share it! If it inspires you to start one of your own we'd love to hear about it in the comments below. 

(Here are the first two days journal entries.  The rest will be in the form of a separate post.)

WEEK ONE: Hand-Washing the Dishes together.

This one started because I forgot to buy dishwasher soap and we were stuck having to do the dishes by hand. (Gasp! say it isn't so!) Later we decided to make it a Week Challenge this summer, asking the question: What happens when we go back to hand washing the dishes together.


P.S. I'm very sorry for the strange fonts, Blog Spot blogger is defaulting to weird settings and fonts no matter what setting it's given.  Hopefully tomorrow will be better! This would be one of the reasons a new webpage is coming soon!



Day One

Rebekah: Doing the dishes by hand is relaxing.  I actually prefer it over putting them in the dishwasher… I noticed that I feel much more productive, granted my Mom and I also cleaned up the house a lot too after the dishes.  It felt like I actually deserved to sit down and watch a show rather than just sitting there and wondering if I’ll ever get off the couch.  My Mom was very… encouraging before we started.  As if she was trying to paint it into a better picture than it actually was.  I told her that since I came up with the idea, I’d have no problem doing it - a small advantage of being a prideful person, I guess.



Michelle: In some ways, I felt like I needed to create momentum for the task.  I noticed myself trying to outwardly manage any potential negative response or resistance to our plan, by acting energetic and positive; which apparently was a little annoying -  haha!  It seems people know when they are being manipulated – go figure! When Rebekah said she didn't need to be coerced into doing the dishes with me, I had to release more control and trust her cooperation. Normally the dishes get done fairly soon in the morning, but if Beks and I were going to do this together, it meant I needed to wait for her to get up and do them with me.  It meant I had to cooperate too.

Day Two:

Rebekah: Maybe I’ll end up eating my own words for this challenge thing.  I did the dishes with my Mom without complaint, and maybe it was because I was a bit more tired today, but I didn’t really want to do them.  I think it’ll be the whole, “getting them started” part that will be the hardest, because once we got into the groove, I wasn’t even thinking about it.  I think people like the idea of something, and we'll may actually do it ...once, but after that, we just kinda stop doing it.  Like when we work out and give it our all the first day; maybe the next day we work out too, but the day after that we may stop.  One day of working out doesn’t do anything.  In a similar way, one day of doing something one aims to do won’t actually accomplish much.  It’s the repetition that matters… I’ll have to keep that in mind during the next days.  Dori’s words in Finding Nemo are my current inspiration: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”

Michelle: I struggled leaving the dishes in the sink until she was available to do them! It’s the morning of Day Three as I write this, and the dishes are just sitting there waiting to be washed and put away - This part is hard!  I want to swipe it off my to-do list and move on. (We will get to that in Day Three’s post, I'm sure!). When we finally did get to the dishes yesterday it was 3pm! We were both in get-it-done mode and I had to remind myself there was a bigger purpose to this exercise. I had to inwardly give myself a quick pause to notice the opportunity that was before me: I was given a few moments of side-by-side productive time with my daughter - a daughter  who is willing to do this challenge with me!  The only requirement at that moment was to wash and dry dishes together and let the conversation happen. When I am in get it done mode, I am less present with those around me.  Setting that aside allowed for great conversation that would not have happened otherwise.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

High Above it All - Remembering God in the face of storms, elections, wars, and more


 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33

Ahh…a nice warm cup of tea, my favorite corner on the couch, our old Jack-Russell waiting to curl up beside my husband or me, the morning news….  That’s our routine before we each must face the work day.   I love that part of the morning, something about it seems to suggest that though the day ahead might be looming, these still moments offer a kind respite before it all begins.  However, the respite is slowly being crowded out as the news continues to bring stories of such deep un-rest residing close to home and throughout our world.  I've learned to keep the T.V. off while soaking in the deeper truths of scripture instead! Yet in spite of, or perhaps because of, spending time with God in His written word,  I find I cannot ignore these news topics either.

In the news:

Follow-ups on Hurricane Matthew in the Southern U.S., as well as updates on the Pacific Northwest “Typhoon” were all the rage a few weeks ago. Actually, Its hard to put the two events in the same sentence since one has been significantly more devastating than the other.  Buildings crumbled under the winds and rain, hundreds of lives lost in Haiti, death-tolls rose from flood waters, and there’s a general sense that we’ve been here before, only under different aliases like Katrina and Sandy. And depending on where one lived, their little brother, Matt, was as much of a bully as they were.  Hmmm...Bullies.  Bullies are all over the news as we watch the color of our skin determine who we love and who we hate.

Of course, also in the news is the presidential race coverage.  Two women still running for president (let’s not forget Jill Stein), and two men (Good ol’ Gary Johnson is hanging in there too), while the two leads, Hillary and Donald, bring their own “hurricane” of sorts, and the general public watches the trajectory of a nation, like a weather tracker watches a storm off the coast.  Distrust mounts, parties find their corners and tighten their gloves; and we the people, are left wondering which is the lesser of two evils.


Still worse is the rising conflict in the Middle East where sorrow lingers on the face of a shell-shocked child, and hovers in the streets like a requiem looking for a cadence.  These are the stories making their way into my home by 7 am, and probably into yours as well. 

We look for answers but answers aren't that easy.  Sometimes we hear the stories and wonder if there’s any hope for a better tomorrow.  What type of future will our children have based on the current world climate – a climate where “typhoons” with water may be the least of their worries?  It’s easy to think that the right government will bring peace - That if we can just get someone good in there, it will all be ok. But the truth is, no one person is that powerful or that good - They were never intended to be.  I am reminded of the words of Gideon in Judges when upon his victory in battle, the people wanted to make him king.  He responded by saying, No.  if I am your king you will look to me rather than to God as your leader.  I wonder how similar we are, looking for a man or a government to rescue us and return us to some form of power where we may once again “thrive”.   Isn’t that what the Jewish people were looking for in Jesus too?  They ushered him in with palm branches, only to shout “crucify him!” a week later when their “coming king” did not perform as expected.  Hate becomes the means to power; and power (in one form or the other) becomes an end in itself.

We are a disappointed and angry nation, and from our passions come, “Crucify him”, “Crucify her".  In our fear we build walls in hopes that we may sandbag ourselves from what we disdain.  Maybe it goes beyond a nation. Maybe we are disappointed and angry world.  Powers posture and hold their stance.  Winds from all directions converge into a perfect storm.  And we wonder what will happen as the waters of war, politics, and disasters rise.

There is but one place where hope is found
The band For All Seasons, says it this way:


"Waters roar and mountains fall
you remain high above it all.  You are high above it all!
Kingdoms rage and nations shake
but you remain high above it all; 
you are high above it all, Almighty God!"


And so like David in Psalm 77, we pause to remember the One who laid the foundations of the earth, and made the sea with a breath.  Where a barren life birthed a nation, while provision was found in a thicket.  Where waters obeyed, and enslaved people were freed.  We recall the One who made the walls fall at the sound of His trumpeted name.  Light shined in the darkness even when the darkness could not comprehend it. This is our God!  - Strong and powerful, High above it all!

And let us not forget that He is also the one who comes near to the broken-hearted, visits the lonely and rejected, and keeps our tears for safe-keeping.  He binds wounds, and forgives sins. He calls the sinner out of the sycamore to share a meal, He gave the prostitute a new name. He loved when love didn’t make sense; and hung on a tree to shatter the power of hate, vengeance, and death…sin.  And he will not forget us – you, me, the country and this world.  We are remembered by Him.  We are forgiven by Him. We are loved by Him.  I need this reminder, don't you? In the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Then peeled the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead nor doth he sleep!”* (Words penned by him during a deep grief of his own.)

These current happenings are held in the care of The One who is both powerful and good.  Yet, like so many who have gone before us, we wonder if He is indeed good.  We ask why in his goodness and power have things not changed.  We have questions without answers.  …That’s for the next blog post. For now, we will remember Isaiah 57 - 



A Message from the high and tower God,
    Who lives in Eternity,
    Whose name is Holy:
“I live in the high and holy places,
     But also with the low-spirited, the spirit-crushed,
And what I do is put new spirit in them,

      Get them up and on their feet again. - Isaiah 57:15



*I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1863

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Saddling Up - Setting fear aside to follow God!

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deut 31:8

A few week ago I enjoyed a weekend get-away with my family and a few friends at Kennedy Meadows Resort and Pack Station.  Kennedy (as we've come to call it) is nestled near the Sierra Nevada Summit in California.  It's one of the last honest cowboy places around, and certainly not "fancy"!  But it's run by real cowboys, and comes complete with a saloon, pack station, a general store, and rustic cabins for overnight stays.  My husband's parents have spent over fifty summers there and know the horses and trails like the back of their hands.  They are great trail guides and generously offer such trips to us when we come, so of course we planned a ride with our friends for the weekend!  

Our friends were new to riding horseback and anxiety was a little high as we waited for a guided trail ride.  I was quick to remind them that the horses know this trail better than we do, so we can trust them!  Trust...hmmm... so here's a teeny confession: Sometimes trust doesn't always come easy for me and when I ride (novice that I am!), I try too hard to control the horse’s movements, tenaciously holding the reigns thinking I know the route better than the creatures who spend countless days taming it (Think James 4:13-15).  And,...well...Usually that’s how I end up in the brush, off the trail, scratched up and trying to turn around (I think that’s called repentance!)  

OK, back to the story.  We spent an hour or so that day meandering through meadows, making our way through the rustic woods and across a river that moved through the meadows like a quiet blessing.  It's funny, while the river seemed quiet, it felt much different as we tried to cross it.  The water's voice grew louder as we made our way into it. The horses hooves slipped and "clopped" on the rocks immersed just beneath the surface. Some of the riders were unsure how to let the horse cross, and there was a little hollering, whinnying, and splashing - anxious chaos! Yet we made our way through those deceptively still waters! 


When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. – Isa 43:2

On the other side came an unexpected respite as the deer lazily greeted us, exchanging soft glances our way while we lingered through gigantic redwood trees that stood as cathedrals among the aspen and wild flowers. It was lovely! 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways submit to him,
    And he will make your paths straight.  Prov 3:5-6

When our ride ended and we returned to the pack station, I asked our friend Ana, who was visiting from Europe, if she enjoyed it.  Here is what she said: “At first, I felt a lot of fear inside.  I was worried about what might happen, but then I said in my mind to the horse, ‘I know that you are used to this, you know what you are doing, and where you are going; so I will trust you. I will not let fear control me.  If I hold on to fear it will only make things worse. This is good. I am safe. So Let’s go!’  Then I enjoyed the ride very much.”

I couldn’t help but notice how Ana’s story mirrors the journey of following Christ.  It begins with trust - trusting in something, or someone, beyond ourselves to journey us into something new.  But trust can be hard, especially when it means going in a direction that feels unfamiliar or scary, and it requires our surrender! We sense the invitation but fear-feeding thoughts rise to the surface of our mind, don’t they?  We become riddled with what-if’s.  What if I can’t control this? (Hint: We already can’t! ;-)) What if something bad happens and I can’t fix it?  What if I find myself alone with no idea where to go? What if I’m humiliated and lose respect from others? What if this decision causes loss or pain to those I love? What if ….? 

Fear can keep me from ever putting my foot in the stirrup and getting on the horse at all!  Sometimes I’d rather keep my feet on the ground, safe and secure in my comfy place, called predictability.  If our friends did that we would not have gotten on those horses that day; and we would have missed the journey and beauty of the ride.  If Ana stayed focused on her fear, even when she was on the horse, her ride would have been miserable and the only enjoyable part would have been when it was over!   Horses aside, I’ve done that in life, haven’t you? I've opted out of  something when it felt too hard or scary; or in lack of surrender, I’ve gritted my teeth through the journey counting the minutes instead of the blessings – holding tight to the reigns, trying to steer in directions not meant for me.  

Surrendering to the ride is much better.  That’s when we can rest in the calm splendor of God and encounter beautiful rivers of life-giving mercy and grace.  I remember the sound of the horses’ hooves on the rocks as we crossed the river with our friends that day; and I wonder if it isn't similar to how we might can recall the voice of God leading us through the waters of our own story.  He reminds us that, though we may be anxious, He is good and will be good to us.  


Like Ana at the start of her ride, we can say with confidence to God,  "I know that this is not new to you.  You know what you are doing and where you are going.  So I will trust you and I will not let fear control me, fear will only make things worse! This is good, I am safe, so let’s go!”

Friday, September 16, 2016

Singleness and the Church - Opening the doors to robust community

Hello!  
Its been a while and it seems a little crazy to return to Saturdays by posting a blog on Singleness and the Church, but for many this is perhaps the longest "Saturday" of all.  It deserves a shout-out as we, the Body, are invited to consider each other's stories and learn more fully how to live in community together.  It has been a challenge to me as I worked on this. I'd love to hear your thoughts too! - M


It was a warm fall morning as I sat in a crowded café having coffee with a friend. Tears formed a familiar road map along her cheeks. She was cautious not to share them with the passer-byers that crowded the long brick patio. A couple’s small group meeting in the corner only added to her pain. Kim, who attended church since childhood, was now a thirty-something single adult, well established in her career, and searching for a place to belong inside the community she’d known for years. Maybe it’s because I am married to a pastor, maybe it’s because I like coffee houses, regardless, I’ve had many opportunities to witness stories like hers.  Often, as they unfold over shared sips and a biscotti, I sit quietly with more questions than answers.    

I remember learning about community for the first time as a new Christian. I was 15 years old and the radio-show Focus on the Family was emerging onto the scene. Though not yet married, I enjoyed how it discussed the ideals of what a Christian family might be like in practical ways. This show, and others like it, had a growing influence on the American church. Today, over 30 years later, congregations everywhere have adopted an emphasis on family within their church programming.
  
Churches offer support groups for struggling marriages and hold all-church family movie or “fall festival” nights. In February there may be a couple’s Valentines dinner. We encourage the whole family to participate in things like Vacation Bible School and have developed marriage small group Bible studies. We have a special morning for moms of preschoolers and Sunday school classes for all seasons of marriage or parenting.  Some even plan family camp-outs. Sermons are peppered with application points or examples that fit well inside family life. I’ve watched husbands and wives reunite, as they become part of such a church culture. All of this has been remarkably beneficial and, personally, as a wife and mother, I am glad for it.  Yet many, like my friend Kim, struggle to find their place within it.  It seems in the church’s concerted effort to support the family; it has inadvertently marginalized those who are single. 
Real Stories

            Several months ago, after our Sunday morning service, I listened to a conversation between two women.  Sandy shared that she and her husband, and a few mutual friends, enjoyed a movie together the night before. The second woman, Margaret, who was recently widowed, hadn’t been invited.  Sandy saw her friend’s disappointment, but her well-meaning efforts to console did not help as she responded by saying, “Oh don’t worry, it was just couples anyway.”  Apparently by those qualifications, Margaret would have been included four weeks earlier when her husband was still living, but now when she may need those outings the most, she wasn’t. I don’t fault her friends; they were simply acting within the context of the culture. But what does that suggest about the culture?

The struggling single mom or dad faces similar realities. Often their friends don’t know what to do when divorce has restructured their family. Once included in the Friday night dinners or Sunday lunches, suddenly single parents find themselves out of the loop or inadvertently not invited. After all, most tables are set for six or eight, not seven. Family outings with those friends begin to dwindle too, and slowly over time, they don’t happen at all. Without intention, the single parent along with his or her children drift quietly to the side lines at a time when being included could provide much needed support and healing. 

Some, like my friend Kim, long to be married but Mr. or Mrs. Right hasn’t come along. For others, marriage isn’t in their immediate sights and may never be. But in all cases there is a common desire to be a part of a community and be regularly included in it. One specific story stands out, but it is by no means the exception, my friend Julie was asked by several of her friends, who happened to be married, to help plan a party. Thrilled to be included, Julie obliged.  She spent hours with them designing the invitations, creating the centerpieces, and planning the food, only to find out as the day approached, that because she was single, she was not invited to the event. On another occasion, Julie’s well-meaning friends said to her, “We need to find you a spouse so you can come to our small group Bible study.” This was a study that was not specific around marriage. It’s clear her friends like her, but they don’t know how to include her.

It seems increasingly difficult for the family oriented culture of the church to embrace and enfold those who are single. Yet in 2014, the percentage of the world’s single adult population exceeded the married population for the first time. As a result, this is a demographic that cannot be overlooked. Their hurt, pain, triumphs and joys do not happen outside of the community, they happen in it. Their stories, just as remarkable and complex as those of married couples. Their contribution, profoundly needed in the church and in our own lives. Yet it seems, with the exception of a singles group (which rarely gains traction in most churches and usually accommodates a rather narrow age span), the ways a single adult can connect are slim at best.  Many of these individuals are asking the question, “Where do I belong?”  Often our response has been suggestions for how to serve rather than a welcome to the dinner table. How, with such good intentions, did the we - the Body, become so exclusive?
A Few of the Factors

With every cultural dynamic there are factors that contribute to it. Some in regards to this particular dynamic seem fairly subtle. First, there seems to be a stigma around the “odd number.” We use familiar phrases like: “Don’t be the odd man out” or “I felt like the third wheel.”  On the other hand, even numbers are everywhere - at dinner tables, on amusement park rides, they’re even on dinner menus as a meal option! I wonder what would happen if we set the visiting tables on church patios with odd numbers instead of even. At least a few. I wonder how inviting that extra chair may be for someone.
 
Another factor can be explained as I share one of my own experiences. After I married and began having children, my routine changed and I was less apt to run into friends who were not in the same stage of life I was.  My friend, Elaine, came to me during that time telling me how our lack of connection felt like a divorce to her. I had become so caught up in this new stage of life and connecting with new friends who shared similar things like diaper rash stories, or tantrum strategies, I had no idea the abandonment my single friends experienced. And frankly, at the time, I also had no idea how to do it differently.  I think the newly divorced or widowed adult feels something similar as their friends socially connect with those who share their married status and inadvertently neglect to remain connected with their non-married friends.  It seems like a classic case of “Out of sight out of mind”. I imagine, in this situation, a married couple that does not have children can feel equally set aside.

Perhaps even more systemic than either of the previous two examples is the subtle, yet common assumption that adult life officially begins at marriage. Somehow there is an unspoken belief, especially in the church, that one has not yet fully “arrived” until they are married with children. It is all too natural, then, to begin valuing one particular stage of life over another. Once values are set, appropriate energies are streamlined in that direction – primarily around the nuclear family. With such prioritization on family, singleness can often be perceived as a plane taxiing on the runway; making laps on the ground with no movement yet in the sky. It is presumed they are in a holding pattern, waiting for life to “take-off” and find flight. Yet nowhere does scripture say that real life begins at marriage. Purpose is breathed into us as we find ourselves before the Father, loved and complete, fully equipped by him to do good no matter our age, job, financial or marital status. (Eph 2:8-10)

Finding Center

How do we find center in a hyper-focused family culture? A good place to begin is to re-examine what we’ve made center. While the institution is important, we as individuals, have perhaps created an idol within it, and our programs serve that idol. Focusing on the nuclear family unit is by all means noble, and many such programs are good and helpful. However, family was never intended to be the focal point of our Christ-following or the church’s, and our well-intentioned commitment to it (both individually and institutionally) could be the very thing that prevents us from welcoming the way Jesus would. There is, in fact, a larger family unit to consider, the family of God, where we are all brothers and sisters and children of the Good and Perfect Father. If we can disrupt our programing and crack open the doors a bit to enfold the one standing on the outside, we will catch a glimpse of what Dallas Willard was quoted as saying in Richard Foster’s book The Celebration of Discipline, “God’s aim from the beginning of time [has been] to establish an all-inclusive community of loving persons with God at the center as its prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.” With this vision of the Kingdom, the distinction between the married and single life begins to fade into something more beautiful and robust.



 The banquet table of God is set one-by-one and not two-by-two (that was the Ark!) In the house of God each of us hold a place at the table.  We are fellow citizens and family members, none less or more distinguished than the other (see Mathew 20:1-16, Ephesians 2:19-22). Each one can find themselves included if they so choose to enter and participate by way of His grace. This is where we sit in the presence of our enemies, it is where our cup over flows and we feast on the love of God, side-by-side, rich or poor, married or single.  And it is God himself who sits at the head as the “Most Glorious” One. As we orient His direction, even when it means releasing our ideals of a nuclear family, He will establish his community among us.  A community that is much larger and more diverse than before. We can trust that in focusing on HIM “Seeking first His kingdom and righteousness” … that “all these things will be added as well.” (Matt 6:11)

 How do we, the Body, find a way to form a community of discipleship that represents this balance? In our current culture it may mean becoming more open to inter-seasonal life stages. After all, isn’t this the way the Early Church did it? It seems that age and stage had little impact on the communities of Christ-following that were emerging early on. It’s only been in the last few decades that we’ve seen that shift, and the rich inter-generational influence has been lost in it. This isn’t to say that gatherings based on age or stage of life are not an important part of the process. We need both. However, it’s often it’s often in the swing where we find a balance. Maybe we need a swing in that direction for a while to allow us to break out of our routines and find the balance. We have been trying this in our church for a while and it has not been without it’s struggles.  However, in the mess, a beauty is emerging as more and more of us dislodge from long-held patterns of relating that once closed the circle of our community. A family of 5 no longer hesitated to call their single friend and together they drove to pick out a Christmas tree, then shared in setting up and decorating them. Another young family invited a couple without children on a weekend get-away and they shared in the responsibilities and recreation together. Sunday after church a couple helped a recently widowed woman find a new car and negotiate the details with the dealership.  My friends who are single are also learning to reach out, knowing they are part of us and their presence is a blessing. Can you feel your heart expand as you consider these stories? Is there a story into which God is inviting you?

Churches are made up of people, and while an institution can create basic structures to assist in culture, it cannot change the culture. Change begins on the individual level. As long as I remained neatly tucked inside my comfort zone within my well-established relationships, this dynamic was difficult for me to recognize.  It wasn’t until I broke out of that comfort zone and could hear the stories of others that I began to understand the pain of exclusion and the joy of inclusion. Like many of you, I still need work in this area. I can be rather hesitant to disrupt my routine to welcome someone new into it. I initially anticipate loss rather than gain. Yet it has also been my experience that as I’ve opened my tight places of circled community to include others, the gains have far outweighed any anticipated losses.



In the end, it is up to us (single or married) to align the way we think about singleness with God’s heart and perspective. His Spirit graciously empowers us toward change as we renew our minds in Him (Rom 12:1-2). When we become more open to including others, His resources of grace will dynamically change for the better how we live and love. Churches will look different because they will be made up of people who have become different. We will be more loving and find ourselves as “family” through the welcoming ways of Christ.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Diamond In the Rough - What I learned about EBay, Barbies, and becoming God's beloved

"While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

I have a confession. I used to be an EBay vendor.  Yep, It’s true. I love garage sales, and old dusty treasures that most people would rather discard. To me, they are “diamonds in the rough” and I find it crazy satisfying when others see value in those nostalgic-somethings too.  I guess that’s why selling things on EBay was such a good fit for me back in the day.   I sold everything from old Champion Juicers, to toy tractors, and old hats.  It was fun to find discarded treasures and give them another chance at life.  It was usually a bit of a gamble too, because no matter what I originally paid, the real value was always determined by the highest bid at the end of the auction.
I remember the day I picked up two boxes of Barbie dolls at a garage sale.  My husband must have thought I was crazy when I spent just about all we had left in the budget on them.  (Thankfully payday was only two days away!)  I had no idea what was in the boxes, but I handed the man $25.00, piled them in my car and drove away with a new treasure.

That night, I took my first look at that investment as I unpacked the boxes. What a mess! A Ken doll with chewed up legs and a missing arm, a Barbie head with no body, dolls I didn’t recognize, old clothes and accessories that seemed faded and worthless!  It didn't help that my husband sat three feet away from me while I scrubbed layers of dirt off these old things for who knows how long. He had to be wondering why he married such a crazy person!  I remember wishing I'd waited until the next day when he was at work.  That way I could hide the grime of some of it!  But Barbies hold intrinsic value sometimes, and maybe there was value hiding underneath some of this dirt and grime. 
The pressure was getting to me as I scrubbed, Which is why when I found a pair of small red shoes requiring no cleaning, I took a picture, went to the computer and listed them on the spot.  Only in my hurry I accidentally added an extra zero to the starting bid.  immediately I realized what I did and went to change the amount from $20.00 to $2.00.  However, to my surprise they were already purchased!  I was shocked!  (Apparently, if the bottom image says "Made in Japan" , its a big deal!)  Who knew that a tiny pair of red plastic shoes would sell for more than the real pair I had sitting in my closet! So, I listed a few more things.  The Barbie without a body…she sold for $52! And that chewed-up Ken doll?  Someone purchased him for $73!  There were clothes that sold by the outfit for over $150, cars and Francie dolls for even more! (turns out the unknown dolls were Francie and Midge... and also a big deal!) In the end, my little investment of twenty-five “junkie” dollars turned into over $2,500! 
Now you might be wondering why I shared this story on a Saturday’s Blog. After all, the story's interesting but why put it into a spiritual formation blog? Here’s why:  To many, those Barbies looked like old, dirty, discarded junk.  I certainly had no idea what they were worth until I knew what someone was willing to pay for them.  The people who bought them understood their real value. And that’s MY story!  It’s YOUR story too! ...For God SO LOVED the world that He gave his one and only son...He became the highest bidder.

Like the dusty treasures I used to find for EBay, we are like diamonds in the rough. Each of us hold intrinsic beauty and value that come from being HIS. But, much like what I found in those boxes, we may look at our life and see all the mess and blemishes and devalue our worth. sometimes the pressure gets to us as we try and scrub out blemishes by acting the part of someone who has it all together; we want to hide like I wanted to hide the dirty boxes from my husband. But there is something more profound than our mess. Even when our circumstances and broken ways of living shroud us in muck, God finds crazy joy in redeeming our story.

In your messiest condition, someone saw you and wanted you.   HE is the one who sits with you in the mess and lovingly tends to your dusty story; redeeming it for something beautiful! You were made in his image. Your value was determined on the cross. Your potential has resurrection power! 

 Scripture says it this way,

…”He rewrites the text of my life when I open the book of my heart to His eyes…He makes my life complete when I place all the pieces before him…He stood me up on a wide-open field, and I stood there saved, surprised to be love.”  (Ps 18: 25,21,20 – in that order)


What are the messy parts of your story?
Ask God to show you how to open up your heart to His eyes
Let him love you in the mess, tend to the shame, and lead you into something/someone new.

After all, we love because He first loved us! (1 John 4:19)