Level One

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I look just like this in class. Exactly this.

The class is called Strictly Strength. The title and description intimidated me right off. I am not strong, strictly or otherwise.I imagined kettle bells and giant weights and me, collapsed on the floor, begging for the water bottle I inevitably forgot to bring.  Being sick a couple years back took all the muscle I had away, and strength has been a bit elusive since that point.

So while the sound of it was terrifying, the promise was worth the risk. I jumped in as the class newbie.

Level Up?

Surprise—there are levels to being strong. For just about any move the instructor taught us, she explained that there was a level one and a level two—or even three. There are options! There are large weights, and there are small ones. There are heavier bars and lighter bars. (And now I know I have to get there earlier if I want a lighter bar.) There are moves that test your further than other, easier possibilities. I did not have to walk in the room and lift a kettle bell above my head on the first day. Thank you, sweet eight-pound baby Jesus. That would have been ugly.

The most important thing I learned right away though—

There is no shame in staying at Level One.

Oh, I want to be at Level Two. I want to do the harder twists, the longer planks, the tighter crunches. But the part of me that is tired of injury remembers that is why I am doing this—to avoid hurting those parts of me that have gotten bruised, pulled, and pained by doing too much.

So I keep it slow. And steady.

Other people can do the full planks. I stick to the hands and knees ones. Someone else may be able to do double leg lifts. I will happily do them one at a time. Maybe one day I will do those harder things, but right now, I’m at Level One. And that’s an OK place to be.

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Church Has Levels, Too

Some of us show up to church at Level One. We don’t know the songs. We aren’t comfortable singing in public, anyway. We get part of what the pastor’s talking about, but some of the things are fuzzy, and we’re not sure how they apply to our situation. We don’t want to volunteer, because we’ve been burned out, and we’ve been called out by the person who felt we just couldn’t get it right. We don’t understand the unspoken cadence of the service that informs everyone else to stand up, sit down, or dip the bread in that cup rather than drink the juice.

Everyone else seems to be at Level Three, at least.

We want to be. We want to pretend we know the lingo, act like we’ve got our life together. But then we remember why we’re there—because we want to stop the hurt that happens when we are fake. We hate the bruises, pains, and sprains in our hearts over trying to be what we’re not.

Maybe church is a place where it’s OK to be at Level One. At least, we hope so. We long for grace for those who aren’t quite ready for the heavier lifting. We pray there is kindness for the ones who need the lighter weights, and we wish for others who can bear more to offer us their shoulders and their lighter burdens. We hope that, if anyone notices we can’t do what the seasoned attenders can do, they will not point that out but treat us as if there were no differences at all.

There is no shame in staying at Level One.

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Searching for Sunday

Church should always welcome the Level One folks. Partly, because Jesus told us to. Partly, because we were all Level One at some point. Party, because they have something to teach us.

If you’re trying church for the first time, or if you’re back for the first time since something there hurt you immeasurably, don’t push it. Don’t expect to be lifting the 25-pounders your second day. Don’t think you have to know all the moves in order to fit in. Embrace awkward. Know that you don’t know and that it’s OK. Know that sometimes you can’t manage whatever task it seems everyone else is taking on, and that’s OK, too.

Level Two will come.

It doesn’t really matter how long it takes. I makes not one bit of difference how long you have to keep doing one leg lifts. You’ll get there. You’ll grow stronger. Maybe one day you’ll see that person who doesn’t seem to know the steps and you’ll say to yourself, “Oh—I remember that. I’m stronger than I thought. I think I can be a shoulder for her.” That day, you’ll be the grace someone else needs to poke her head in the door and say, “Maybe I’ll try this. It’s scary, but maybe it’s just what I need.”

Lady Liberty and ***Hole Places

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Last year, I did something I’d been hoping to do for a while. I drove to the airport to welcome “home” a new immigrant. The international terminal was more crowded, and more diverse, than Epcot Center in summer. In fact, one of my first thoughts was how many people from how many places looked so joyful to be here. For a visit or forever or coming home after a long trip—whatever—they all looked happy.

I’m pretty sure none looked happier than the couple I was with. We were welcoming a husband whose wife had been here for three years. Three years of waiting. Waiting for the face she loved and lost to an ocean of violence. Waiting for the touch to accompany the voice she heard not often enough. Waiting for the wheels of the refugee system to move to allow her husband the same privilege she had been granted. A new life in a new country, away from the terror of their daily existence. I’ve since researched their home country, and daily terror barely seems to cover it.

By the time he got off the plane, he was so tired, he cold barely manage the long-longed-for hug. By the time he boarded the plane many hours before, he had been so tired for so long. I cannot fathom the ability to keep standing, to keep fighting, and to keep hoping. But these people are experts at relentless hope.

How long will it be, I wonder, before he understands the American news well enough to know that not everyone will welcome him with the smiles and handshakes we did? He likely already does. Refugees are a smart lot, and he is far too used to being violently unwelcome not to have analyzed the environment. Being able to read the feeling in the room before you enter means life or death where he has come from. He is no fool, I’m sure, when it comes to knowing the current American ethos of fear and distrust of the different among us.

Yet he comes. For a new chance. For his wife. For freedom. And I am humbled to simply haul suitcases and turn a steering wheel. I am the one who knows nothing in this situation.

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Last summer, I took a whirlwind trip to NYC, and one of the things I most wanted to see was something my great great grandfather saw once, from a ship in the harbor. I climbed her base. I enjoyed the breezes over the water as I squinted all the way up at her crown on that sunny day. I tried to imagine, looking at those words, what it had been like.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I know my great great grandfather (one of those apparently welcome Scandinavians, though a peasant farmer in reality) couldn’t read those lines if he saw them. Yet he knew  their intent.

We will take what others discard. We choose the exiles. We welcome the unwelcome.

We don’t actually want your comfortable and your famous. We intentionally want what others might not. We know their worth, both as the images of God in this messed up world but also as some of the most resourceful, capable of survival, resilient people that exist on this earth. We know. Because that’s who has always come to these shores and made us who we are.

It sounds beautiful. It sounds biblical. It sounds like Jesus.

It sounds like the precise opposite of the lines that were supposedly uttered a week or two ago. paraphrased as: “We don’t want your tired and poor, and certainly not your refuse. Refuse is another word for sh**hole, anyway, isn’t it? But that storied pomp? We’ll take all that you want to send.”

What a massive change. And what a horrible, incomprehensible truth that so many of us, people whose great great grandfathers came to that statue, find nothing wrong with the statements other than, possibly, the bad language.

That is the very least of its offense.

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The offense is against those lines of poetry we pretend are so important to who we are. It’s the Statue of Liberty—and to think that liberty is something only offered to a chosen few who are guaranteed to make us greater is to deny the words etched there and the very definition of liberty we fought for.

The offense is against our Lord himself. This is no small thing.

“Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4.29)

In other words, don’t use words that abuse people. That’s pretty straightforward. And don’t tell me the words were against countries only, not the people there. You would never accept such a thing said about your country and believe it wasn’t personal. People make up countries. People live in them. It’s all to do with people.

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!” (Psalm 139.13,14,17)

Presumably, this applies to everyone. Every human. Of every color. In every country.

“So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” (Matthew 10.31) Again, pretty inclusive.

“I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.” (Matthew 25.45) Jesus somehow equates himself with those tired, poor, and huddled refuse.

Sometimes it (our tongue) praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” (James 3.9-10)

This is only offering a bare minimum of scripture that provides the cord between all humans as his image, all beloved by him, and the truth that speaking abusively of any of those images is speaking abusively about God. 

That is not an offense Christians can brush off as “a little bad language.”

I don’t know a refugee or immigrant who cannot tell stories of how beautiful their country was. They have talked to me, with tears in their eyes, of the loveliness of the mountains, the sunrises, and green everywhere. How they long to see it again, but in a state of peace, not horror.

And then they have given thanks for being here, in a cramped apartment, in menial jobs when they are perhaps educated for much more, in places that do not have green at all, working all night and learning English by day. Because they had to leave to save their lives and the lives of their children. They are the strongest people I know.

Their former homes are part of God’s creation—not sh**holes. Their people are as capable of contribution as northern European white people. Possibly more, since they already know more resourcefulness than any of us will ever know. Their names or their children’s names line our lists of Nobel Laureates already.

While we argue about making America get again and wrestle with the desire to return to a time when America was “Christian,” we would do well to remember these very, very Christian words on that statue we proclaim as Liberty. We would do even better to remember how many of our relatives saw those words for the first time from a ship, in a foreign language, and wondered at the welcome they would receive.

From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Being Brave

Resilience and tenacity are often forged in the fires of failure. God never gives up on transforming us into our braver, better, bolder selves.

What’s your goal for the new year? Not that long ago, mine was being brave. I think I’ve crossed that one off my list, but there are always new fears, so it’s good to keep it in my back pocket, so to speak. But that journey has been a very long, very good one.

My youngest shared recently that her word for 2017 was fearless. She said it helped her do many thing she would not have otherwise had the courage to do. She worried, wavered, then remembered her word and went for it. And it has ended very well.

Bravery, with God beside us, generally does.

Being bold sometimes requires giving up our need to be right and choosing instead to be kind

I’ve had the joy of reading and being on the launch team for a devotional written by a dear friend and released in December. I want you to know how good her work is, and how helpful it could be to you if “Brave” is something yo’ve longed to be.

Being Brave: A 40-Day Journey to the Life God Dreams for You

Now, you need to know, I am not generally a fan of devotionals, and women’s devotionals in particular. They always leave me wanting more “meat” and less air. My friend Kelly Johnson’s work is not of this sort. She explores many facets of brave living outlined in Scripture—even ideas we would not normally think of as brave. Her ability to tie them together and help women step farther into the life God has for them comes through strong life application and honest examples of bravery, failure, and persistence.

Choosing hope over desapir is hard adn holy work. Today, we choose hope. (1)

Being brave is being bold, resilient, authentic, vulnerable, engaged, and empowered, according to Johnson. If that’s of interest to you, check out Kelly’s book. This is a book to read yourself or gift to a woman who needs a kick start for the new year. It’s size makes it very doable as a new year’s goal—a goal well worth aiming at and working for.

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Comparison Creep

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T. S. Eliot said April is the cruelest month, but I vote for January. Where I live, January is blizzard month. Christmas, with all its cheerful songs and twinkling lights cutting the cold darkness, is over and done. January finds me peeling Christmas lights from the frozen ground, lights that stopped working a couple of weeks ago anyway, and tossing them away like the bright hopes they represented.

We’re staring down the barrel of a new year, with new demands–or old ones depressingly unfinished. Maybe we accomplished what we wanted last year, and now we’re feeling underwhelmed with the results. Or we didn’t, and we feel guilty because perhaps we never will.

Do you ever feel the sneaky pull of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) that happens this time of year? Do you wrestle with the comparison creep that keeps you from fully finding joy in January? Join me at The Glorious Table to read more of this post and find out how sharing joy keeps FOMO at bay.

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2017 Round Up

2017

It’s round up time. Well, it’s a little late for round up time, but that’s how I roll. SO here is my list of favorite things from 2017. I would love to hear some of yours in the comments.

Reading

It always feels a bit odd to write a list of my favorite books. I mean, I am a self-professed theology and lit nerd. I’m also in school. So most of my reading material is not general public interest. Nevertheless, I think this is a good list.

Favorite books of 2017 (in no particular order):

  1. Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance. Made me understand my own family of origin better. It’s also a fascinating and personal look at what’s contributing to national divides and crises.
  2. The Day the Revolution Began, N.T. Wright. A big book. But it will rock your theology in all the best ways.
  3. Of Mess and Moxie, Jen Hatmaker. All the fun Jen usually is and all the serious we need to hear. Very favorite quote:

    “God has not given us a spirit of fear, nor has he saddled us with a spirit of defeat. We live because Jesus lives, because he is real and present and moving and working and he will not have us conquered. This is not hoodoo; it is a powerful reality. Flatten your feet, because nothing in your life is too bad for resurrection. It can be worse than you think and more crushing than you imagined. And even then, we live.”

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  4.  Welcoming the Stranger, Justice, Compassion, and Truth in the Immigration Debate. Matthew Soerens and Hwang Yang. No work is so packed with the truth on this issue. The authors go through the history, struggles, and realities of this difficult human problem.
  5. Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice, Dallas Willard and Jan Johnson. The best devotional I’ve ever read. I read it twice in a row.
  6. Phenomenal, A Hesitant Adventurer’s Search for Wonder in the Natural World, Leigh Ann Henion. I enjoy travel books, and I liked her narratives of going places I would love to go. Now the Serengeti is definitely on my list. (The monarchs always have been.) Not that fond of her conclusions about life, but the travelogue is beautiful.
  7. Emboldened: A Vision for Empowering Women in Ministry, Tara Beth Leech. Buy this for your pastor or church leader. Now. Male or female. A powerful story of her own wrestling with the call to ministry and how we can work together to unleash all of God’s people into the kingdom.
  8. Teams that Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership, Ryan Hartwig and Warren Bird. OK, this was a textbook for class. And probably only a church leadership nerd will read it. But it is an excellent resource for those who want to make their teams more “team” than followers. I’m going to use it with my board in the coming year.
  9. Good Faith, Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme, David Kinnaman. I read virtually everything this man writes. This wasn’t my favorite of his, but it is full of good info on what the rest of the world thinks about Christians and how we can help change that picture.
  10. Being Church, Doing Life: Creating Gospel Communities Where Life Happens, Michael Moynagh. Hands down the best book on where the church is going, and has to go, and how to get there that I have read. I also got to meet the author in Oxford, which was the biggest thrill. Just as you would expect a British teacher to be.

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Watching

Again, I don’t even own a TV, so you know how much of it I watch. But we have broken down and gotten Netflix (solely because of the advent of the Gilmore Girls reboot), so there is that.

Favorite shows of 2017:

  1. The Crown. I am loving this completely. Also, I want her wardrobe. And the waist that can wear it.
  2. Dr. Who. Well, I would be loving this if I could get us together to watch it. We have a solemn pact between me and my younger two daughters that we will not watch this apart from one another. This was made much more difficult in 2017 as one spent 3/4 of the year in West Virginia and one in southern Illinois. I am hopeful for the remainder of Christmas break. I love the actual theology here. Surprising, for supposedly atheist writers. How can you not love speeches like this:

 “I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone, because I hate someone, or because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun. God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works because it hardly ever does. I do what I do because it’s right! Because it’s decent! And above all, it’s kind! It’s just that… Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live. Maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, you know, maybe there’s no point to any of this at all. But it’s the best I can do. So I’m going to do it. And I’m going to stand here doing it until it kills me. And you’re going to die too! Some day… And how will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall.” — The Doctor

3. Murdoch Mysteries. I know, a Canadian outlier. It takes a while, but then it’s fun and addicting. Also, I think George is the best.

4. Anne with an E. I’ve decided I’m on the side that likes this one. It’s real and honest about what her life was probably like as well as being the beginning of a loving family. However, if they mess up peoples’ lives in the next season, I won’t be so easy on them. I did not like the end of season one.

5. British house shows. Especially Hidden Houses of Wales. But all the ones I’ve watched. British house shows are better than American. Americans are all drama and going Kardashian if they don’t have double sinks or the right paint color. Brits just nod and politely say, “That’s still nice. We can work with that.” It’s refreshing. Also, they’re both creative and respectful of history. We just don’t seem to have that.

It occurs to me that all of these are British or Canadian. Make of that what you will.

Favorite Movies of 2017:

  1. Wonder Woman
  2. Hidden Figures

Seriously, I only went to about four movies this year, so . . . But these two were amazing. I bought a Wonder Woman mug. I preach with it.

What’s saving my life right now:

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  1. Volunteering with Homework Club for World Relief. Refugee teenagers are a joy. And as frustrating sometimes as any teen. Which is the truth, really. We’re all the same inside.
  2. My Christmas tree. It’s still up. The lights are all on still. I am all about Christmas and I love it all. Also, I can see my Cubs World Series ornament from here.
  3. Almond Cookie Tea. Sereneteaz. Yes, it does taste a bit like the cookies you get with Chinese takeout. And it’s wonderful!
  4. My new date book. Nothing says new year, new plans, new places to write all the things than a new datebook. I am a list nerd, too. I love my lists. I love my organization. I love the entire concept of a new date book.
  5. Scrapbooking weekends. I found a meetup group that spends entire weekends doing this. They are hard core. These ladies bring luggage racks full of stuff. I’m not (I show up with three bags), but it’s been great to catch up on all the vacation albums this year. In two weekends, I’ve finished Spain, the UK, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, and some miscellaneous Christmas. I am almost done! Which means–a new vacation!

What’s saving your life? What are you reading? Watching? I’d love to know.

 

Is Your Life Your Own?

the message of Christmas is that our life is, indeed, not our own. It never was.

The sand in the cake incident is what finally broke me.

During my in-laws’ open house, our daughter inexplicably tossed a handful of sand on her grandma’s beautiful, homemade celebration cake. It was rendered inedible, of course. We asked her the question parents ask disobedient children everywhere: “What were you thinking?”

Does anyone expect a rational answer to that question?

Jump on over to the The Glorious Table to continue my Christmas devotional there and find out how this ends. Yes–it’s still Christmas! We have until Epiphany! (Or, let’s face it, until we get those decorations down, which could be May in the case of outdoor lights around here.)

 

Merry Christmas and Thank You

“And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

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At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

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The Shepherds and Angels

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

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They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

Merry Christmas, and a blessed New Year! I cannot express my gratitude for your willingness to follow this blog and to encourage me with the words you have sent in emails, commented here, or spoken in person. You are the reason God wakes me up every morning! May the words of the Christmas story give meaning to you today and every day. Glory to God in the highest.