Drop. Push. Go.

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One of my favorites from last summer.

 

It looked so easy when she did it.

The List

I’ve been working on my 60 Before 60 List this summer. Considering 60 is a LOT of things, and considering I front loaded that list with way more travel items than I can humanly manage without a TARDIS, I need to be working on it.

While at school in Santa Barbara in June (going to Cali was rough, but it was all in the name of education), I knocked off the “go sailing” item. That was #1. A few weeks later, our youngest and I went on a #motherdaughtertrip to Charlevoix, Michigan, a lovely little town snug between a giant lake and a large lake. It was glorious, and it was good. I completely forgot all responsibility, which is not normally a thing for me, so I suspect my brain needed a break.

On July 6th, we tackled another thing on my list. We rented a stand up paddleboard. Our daughter has done this once before. She also has ten years of gymnastics behind her. A girl who can do back flips on 4 inches of wood four feet in the air can balance on a paddle board, even in the wake of a number of pleasure cruisers going by.

She looked like Moana out there, hand raised over her eyes toward the open water, paddle at the ready. She was awesome.

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What’ SUP?

I, on the other hand, am still recovering from a back injury, which leaves me with a still-weak right leg and, shall we say, not the mountain goat sense of balance I once had. I mourn that reality. It’s one of the things I’ve loved about my body—the ability to climb up boulders and straddle a teetering log like a gecko.

I learned it early, as the youngest of seven and growing to only 5’2”. I’m not strong, and my endurance level is like my old AMC Hornet that desperately needed a gas filter, but I’m fast and sure-footed. Except not anymore.

My daughter said it was easy, so we pulled up to the half a foot of sand a few feet away from the “No Tresspassing” sign and traded her SUP for my kayak.

It went well. My legs shook, and I am grateful for no vidoegraphic evidence of my ungraceful stance, but I paddled. Back and forth, a few times in that small channel between the giant lake and the big lake. I could do this.

Until I couldn’t.

Making one last pass to the end, I went farther than I had before and tried to steer the board back toward the channel. Away from the steel (iron?) pier that marked the end of the channel and also the coast guard station. I tried. Really tried. That board had no intention of turning.

I hit the pier. Hard. My daughter heard it from twenty feet away. I leaned forward to grasp the bar on the pier, and the board slid out from under me. There I was, legs flailing, dangling from the pier and about to become a contestant in a very wet clothing contest. So glad at that moment I had decided to ditch the leggings and just go in the long tunic.

I let go, splashed into the surprisingly warm water, and grabbed the board to swim it back to the rocks on shore. This, of course, is when she started taking pictures.

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On the Rocks

It was while I sat on the rocks trying to figure out how to get back on the board that another woman came alone, going the same direction. Either she realized that she also could not avoid the pier or, clearly experienced, she intentionally chose to use it as her bouncing off point to redirect her down the narrow side stream. Whichever, as she approached the pier, she dropped to her knees, struck the pier, and pushed off with her right hand in the direction she wanted to go.

“Wham!” She yelled it as she slapped that metal surface. It sounded like a cry of triumph. I knew she knew what she was doing. It felt like maybe she even did it to show me how it was done. Not in a “look at me and how great I am at this thing you totally failed at” sort of way. It felt more like “I’ve done what you just did and I want to help you get past it.” Don’t we love women like that?

I watched as she took a quick hop back to her feet, one smooth motion. She knew that was my next question, and she looked at me as she did it. I think she nodded in encouragement. As she went on her way down the stream, I got back on that board.

Obstacles Can Sink You

There are so many obstacles in the way of our dreams and goals. So many iron piers loom ahead, and we desperately try to steer away from them. We think that hitting them will be the end. We believe that we will never survive that roadblock.

Maybe we should take a lesson from that anonymous paddleboarder. Maybe, avoiding the obstacles isn’t the goal. If we can’t avoid it, maybe we ought to be thinking about using it.

She dropped to her knees.

She knew the impact would send her flying off the board if she tried to take it standing up. Dropping down, lowering her center of gravity, working with the impact instead of against it—those things kept her on the board.

It’s not a bad idea to drop to our knees, too, when we see the obstacles coming. The impact could be destabilizing. But it won’t be if we’re on our knees, in prayer to our Daddy who holds us in the palm of his hand, so that we will not be shaken. Dropping to my knees could have kept me on the board. Dropping to our knees before God will keep us facing our goals and dreams and making certain that they are still aligned with his purpose for us. It will keep us centered, balanced, and sure.

I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help

She used that problem to redirect.

She didn’t let it redirect her—she used it to change course in the way she wanted to go. I had allowed it to redirect me right into the water. I saw that pier only as a huge obstacle, a scary problem, a thing I did not want to run into or deal with.

She saw it as a chance to point her board where she wanted it to go. When she yelled “Wham!” she shoved off the pier into a hard left turn, allowing the impact to turn her course.

Do we do that with roadblocks in our path? Can we use them as course correctors, things that make us look more clearly at the place we want to go? Do we push off of our problems, rather than let them envelop and sink us? Take in their force and use it to send us further and faster?

I learned more than how to stand up on a paddleboard that morning. The dunking was worth the education.

How fast can I get back to my feet after hitting the pier? It doesn’t matter. If we need some time to sit on the rocks and refocus, that’s time well spent. But I want to learn from paddleboard wonder woman.

Drop to knees. Push off. Pop up, Go.

When Following Your Passion Feels Like Failure

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I couldn’t explain the tug on my heart to work with refugees and immigrants. I just knew it was there, under the surface, staying strong through the years of raising kids and going to seminary.

But though I downloaded World Relief volunteer applications three times, I never filled them out.

I had those kids, after all. Three busy, zany little girls. Add part-time associate pastoring and a writing career, and – who had time?

The Passion and the Fear (Not a Novel)

Plus, there were the fears. Introvert fears. Some of you understand. I can speak in front of 500 people and barely sweat, but make me do a one-on-one with a stranger? Terror level 5. I am Mrs. Awkward when it comes to thinking of something – anything – to say in conversation. Especially conversation with a stranger who doesn’t know English.

So I left the passion on low burner for years. 

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Until the photo that jarred so many people – the one of the little boy drowned trying to escape unimaginable horror – jarred me, too.

His parents were scared of bombs and gunmen at the door. Then the worst thing that can possibly happen had happened to them – they lost their dearly loved child. Suddenly, my fears seemed pretty feeble, even to my well-rationalized mind.

When I downloaded and filled out that application to volunteer with World Relief though, I found out that finally following my passion wasn’t the straight line I thought it would be.

Sometimes you don’t find your passion on the first try.

I agreed to be a friendship partner for a woman who had been in the US five months. She knew little English, and she rarely left her house except for working the night shift. I went to be her friend, to chat and to help her acclimate to her new normal.

But every week, the same reluctance dragged me down on the drive over. I didn’t love it. Every minute was hard. I was glad when she had to cancel. I tried to teach ESL to another woman. The same thing happened. I was absolutely committed to doing what they needed, but why did I not feel joy over finally following that passion?

Why was I failing at this thing I knew I was called to?

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It’s OK to get it wrong.

What I was doing wrong wasn’t the volunteering or the organization. It was trying to fit into molds that weren’t “me.” I assumed that if I got out there and did it, God would provide me with the love of the job. He’d work his magic and all my awkwardness would disappear. As it happens, God wasn’t really interested in “making” me do something I’m bad at.

I tell my kids there are only a couple decisions that are final: getting pregnant and jumping out of a plane. The rest you can mostly back out of, and it doesn’t make you a terrible person.

It’s so easy to think, “I’ve failed, so I’m done. I was wrong about my calling – the end.”

We convince ourselves that one failure means we won’t ever get it right. And I failed twice. What I found out was that one, or two, failures don’t mean I wasn’t called. It meant I was learning. When I stopped blaming myself for not being good enough or loving enough to make those partnerships work, I could recognize they just weren’t good fits for me.

Something else would be.

It’s OK – it’s imperative for your heart and soul – to try again.

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I found my passion with World Relief completely by accident. I had also signed up as a driver who could bring people to appointments, welcome them at the airport, or, in this case, transport students to and from homework club. The volunteer coordinator told me I could stay at the club and help out or I could go somewhere else until it was time to bring the kids home – my choice. Planning to go and get other work done, I unintentionally ended up staying.

I never left. That first day, I remembered how much I had loved teaching high school and how deeply I connected with teens. These teens were funny, silly, and ambitious, much like most American teens I’ve met. I got hooked on homework club, and it’s where I know now God had planned for me all along.

It’s so tempting to think, in those detours that look so much like absolute failures, we just aren’t in the right place. We were wrong about our passion. We didn’t really understand God’s voice. What I discovered was that sometimes, the failures prepare us for the place we will succeed.

I was learning, in those awkward one-on-one experiences with adult refugees, how to understand their cultures and how to act in a way that respected where they were from. By the time I got to the high school, I could start on easy footing with the kids, unworried that I would culturally misstep because I’d practiced for this, unknowingly. I understood some of their home dynamic because I’d seen it from the inside. My gifts and experience match their needs.

I don’t drive to the high school reluctantly. I go with joy. I found my passion. It just required a few detours first.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog

Falling off the Promises

I gave my life to Jesus when I was 16, and I’m a quick study. Within a couple years, I was teaching backyard Bible clubs and could exegete the wordless book right alongside the kids who’d grown up singing “The B-I-B-L-E.” (Which was also big in backyard Bible clubs.)

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I used to think they probably gave these out in heaven.

As a shiny new believer in an uber-liberal university, I grabbed all the support I could and was soon fluent in quiet time, servant leadership, and telling people about Jesus, whether they liked it or not.

By the time I was a young married six years later, I tuned in to Focus on the Family every day, volunteered at a pregnancy clinic, and suspected that anyone who voted democrat probably would not be standing next to me in heaven singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

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The perfect family, right?

At 32, with three kids and a perfect life, I had read all the books. I knew exactly what to do to make sure it all stayed that way, blessed by God.

Until I didn’t.

Until I looked into the face of a raging child, screaming obscenities at me, cuts on her arms and traces of drugs in her eyes. My child. I cried out to that God for whom I had planned this perfect witness of a life. Begging for those black and white answers that had promised so much but suddenly seemed far less clear.

He didn’t answer. Crickets from Jesus. You know, the Jesus who said trusting and obeying were the way to be happy all the day?

“Happy” doesn’t quite describe the feeling of walking up to a stranger’s door to ask if your daughter spent the night there. It doesn’t encompass the terror of wondering if she spent it anywhere safe. It never applies to watching her once-sparkling eyes turn away from yours and seeing the fresh razor marks she tries to pull her sleeves over.

I had stood on the promises, and they dropped me. Hard.

I was a Christian, a pastor, and alone, with a bleeding, devastated heart where faith still resided by the smallest of glimmers. What kind of pastor has a suicidal heroin addict for a daughter? It’s a great way to avoid eye contact in meetings.

It was also, possibly, the best thing that ever happened to my false-floor faith.

I went at this teenage rebellion thing all wrong. In my twenties, I followed without (much) question. In my forties, I started to question the whole Happy Meal.

Who does that?

I used to think conforming made me a good Christian.

I used to think following all the rules would get me all the right results.

Now I’m not sure I even knew the rules.

Now I’m pretty sure there aren’t as many as I thought.

My sureness that I knew how to do this Christian life thing got hit by a 7.8 quake. When things shake to that magnitude, something is bound to shake loose. Questions bubble up like lava from deep underground. Questions like, what is certain and what’s rubble in this mountain I’ve created? If it all comes down, what will be left to stand on?

If you stripped the gospel down to Jesus, to all he’d said and done, what was surely still there? And what had we added because we needed to be sure we were on the right track to make the grade? To be quite certain we were in control of God?

Asking questions like these can turn you into a spiritual misfit. It can get you side eyes in the Christian blogosphere.

So can starting to ask questions like, “Who is really my neighbor?” Not my theoretical, nice biblical neighbor. My real, complicated, dirty neighbor whom maybe I’ve never chosen to see.

Like suicidal heroin addicts.

Looking into the faces of kids who hurt and who drown that hurt in any self-destructive behavior they could find made me question all the people I had been certain were “other.”

Why not love the unloveable? Why not forgive the unforgivable? Why not admit there is no difference between me and the junkie in the ditch or the immigrant running the border? No matter how many rules I follow?

Many of those unloveable kids wandered in and out of my house over those years. Kids I would have ignored before. Kids I would have feared. Kids I would have judged. But in my house, at my table, with names and pasts and brown eyes that echoed all the hurt they’d ever been dealt and all the bad choices they’d made? They were no longer sinners who needed to get their acts together. They were lost kids. They were my kids.

I was the sinner who needed to get it together.

I used to think I had it together. Now I think together doesn’t exist. But grace does.

I used to think God was safe and His promises guaranteed.

Now I think real life with Jesus is nowhere near safe. It’s abundant. And beautiful.

And all I want.

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Closer to the real us.

This blog is part of an amazing link up on Sarah Bessey’s blog. Sarah Bessey? As in, one of my favorite authors and an all around amazing woman? Yes, that one. Whose new book Out of Sorts is at the top of my reading pile. Find more stories here. 

Five Favorite Quotes–What Are Yours?

Five favorite quotes. That’s the challenge for this Friday Five link up at my friend’s blog, Mrs. Disciple. For a certified   Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 11.46.27 AMbook fanatic (and travel junkie), this is like asking for my favorite five square feet in the entire planet. I could come up with five favorite quotes in the first chapter of my favorite book. So I’ll make life easier. Here are the rules:

First, the Bible is not an option. That would not be playing fairly. I mean, nothing else can compete, so let’s not even put them on the same playing field.

Second, these have to be quotes that have changed me or altered my ministry in some way.

And third, because me, length is not a consideration. 🙂

Here are my picks for today.

“Frodo: I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” (Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, JRR Tolkien)

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 9.21.51 PMI first heard this line in the movie theater, a couple months after 9/11. I hadn’t yet read the books, become a fanatic, and written my own book on Tolkien’s characters. But it hit me intensely there in the dark. To quote myself (does that make me one of my favorite quotable people? I dearly hope not. Pride issues!) “The pain was still raw, the fear still thick, the sense of shock that our familiar world was obliterated still overwhelming. So I heard the words that have become my favorite quote for the first time, and they sank deep. It summed up how we all felt then. The collective wish that such times had never, ever come in our lives.”

I’ve had other such times (read the guest blog that quote comes from), and the words have stuck. We don’t have the job description to choose our own times. Thank God. But we always have the choice about what to do with what we have.

“Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.” C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters

I read this for the first time in college. It was a rough time. Eighteen years old, and I was trying to be a college freshman while dealing with my mother’s death and my father’s alcoholism. Fun times. And a shiny brand new believer who had no real idea what I had done when I made that decision to go to the altar. So here comes C.S. Lewis, tempting my intellectualism and my budding faith to come together. Telling me forthrightly that real discipleship means obeying despite feelings, appearances, and desires. Just like the Tolkien quote, it forced a decision.

Take chances; make mistakes; get messy! — Ms. Frizzle, The Magic School Bus

OK, not a book, a TV show. But this perfectionist had to learn to embrace her inner Miss Fizzle if she would ever be able to speak into where other people really were. Life is messy. It’s full of mistakes. And every day I tried to pretend it was not so meant chances I missed to fully connect. My kids taught me to listen to this crazy woman, and I am glad I did.

And another Tolkien, because, well, I have to.

“FRODO: I can’t do this, Sam.
SAM: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened.
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.
FRODO: What are we holding on to, Sam?
SAM: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”

This is from the movie, not the books, but it takes parts of dialog from the books and puts them together. It reminds me to choose well what’s worth fighting for. It also reminds me that, no matter the darkness, no matter how much bad has happened, the sun wins. God’s new day wins. His kingdom of mercy and justice wins. It’s worth the fight, on the days I feel so weary in well doing. I tear up every time I watch.

And finally, a favorite from something I’ve read this year.

“Two thousand years later, John’s call remains a wilderness call, a cry from the margins. Because we religious types are really good at building walls and retreating to temples. We’re good at making mountains out of our ideologies, obstructions out of our theologies, and hills out of our screwed-up notions of who’s in and who’s out, who’s worthy and who’s unworthy. We’re good at getting in the way. Perhaps we’re afraid that if we move, God might use people and methods we don’t approve of, that rules will be broken and theologies questioned. Perhaps we’re afraid that if we get out of the way, this grace thing might get out of hand.

Well, guess what? It already has.

Grace got out of hand the moment the God of the universe hung on a Roman cross and with outstretched hands looked out upon those who had hung him there and declared, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ Grace has been out of hand for more than two thousand years now. We best get used to it.” Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

This is what I was. It’s what I don’t ever want to be again. A gatekeeper at heart. Her words speak to my soul to keep me from ever going back to that place. Why was I so afraid to let grace get out of hand? Let it. I want to see it wash over every person possible. And God is more than able to deal with what comes after.

What are your favorite quotes? I’d love to hear. And if you want to read more, see the link up here.

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