Better

2019.jpg

I love resolutions.

I love the thought of the fresh, blank slate that January 1 brings.

I love the idea of bettering yourself for the purpose of nothing other than self betterment.

But this year I find myself not being able to put into workds what I want to do in the new year. Lose weight? Sure. Read more? Yes. And all those other cliche things that people always promise to themselves each January 1. They are all great things and things I have promised to myself time and time again but this year it just feels empty and stale. Finally, as I was meditating this morning, I came up with a word I want to embody in 2019:

BETTER.

I just want to be better. Webster’s defines better as: of a more excellent or effective type or quality. I like that. I can DO that. Each day is a new chance to be better. Instead of saying, “I want to lose 50 pounds” I can say “I want to be better about my eating today.”. Instead of saying, “I want to read 50 books this year!” I can say, “I want to be better about reading this month.” It gives a fluidity and ambiguous quality to my goals but it feels right and it feels good.

*A better wife

*A better mom

*A better friend

*A better steward of my time

*A better keeper of my body

*A better nurse

*A better follower of Jesus

The list goes on and on. It gives me the chance to start anew every day and not just January 1. I never need to feel like I failed because tomorrow if always a new chance to be better.

Go Be Dust

dew.jpg

Dust.

Vapor.

Morning dew.

These are all ways that our lives are described in the Bible. Fleeting, small, here today and gone later that same day. Insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe. Yikes! Really? That might not make you feel too good about yourself if you think of it on a very basic level. What even is the point if I am but a fleeting vapor? I choose to look at it differently. I say we use this fact to live the lives we long to live.

Think back 200 years, do you know what any regular normal person was doing with their day-to-day life? I bet not. And the same will honestly be said for us 200 years from now. No one is going to know (or care!) that I am sitting here on a Saturday having just dropped my daughter off at dance and am now writing a blog. No one. And to me, that is all the more reason to do it! I feel like a lot of people live in fear. They are too scared to make a leap. They are complacent and comfortable in the lives they are leading but deep down there is a dream they wish they could go after. Well, my friends, I say go after it!

*Make that move

*Buy that farm

*Get that degree

*Start that non-profit

*Adopt that baby

*Get that dog

*Take that trip

*Etc, etc, etc.

Now I’m not saying there are no consequences to actions. Not at all. I’m speaking to that fear of failure that lives deep within us. In the grand scheme of the universe and of humaity we are but the tiniest blip. Barely on the radar. No reason at all to not just boldly live the life set out for us. So go out there and be dust.

 

 

God With Us in the Fire

fiery-furnice

I think sometimes people outside of Christianity are under the false impression that life is always great for Christians. Once we are ‘saved’ we can breathe a sigh of relief because we are on Easy Street now. I’m not sure why they may think that. Heck, even some Christians are under that false assumption. The Bible certainly doesn’t say that (but I guess they probably aren’t reading too much of that) and if you observe life at all you would see it is definitely not the case. I think if a Christian thinks this for whatever reason then they are going to be sorely disappointed (and even angry) when they find that, yeah, bad stuff still happens.

I love the folktale of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego from the book of Daniel in the Old Testament. It is a perfect example of bad things still happening even when we think we are doing what is right. Ok, things definitely could have gone worse for these guys but they certainly did not go how they were maybe hoping. Let’s go to the clip…

So here is this King Neuchadnezzar, king of Babylon/Jerusalem, and he thinks pretty dang highly of himself for having beseiged the place he now (forcefully) rules. He has some weird dreams, Daniel almost gets eaten by lions (another great example of where things could have definitely gone worse,but were not super great either) but I want to focus on a little story right in the middle of all this and 3 guys just trying to do what they felt was right.

Nebuchadnezzar had this weird dream and because of that he decided to go ahead and build a giant gold statue that he wanted all of his people to bow down to and worship. Most everyone was like, “Yeah, ok, cool. We will do that.” But word got back around to him that 3 Jews whom worked for the king were NOT having it. So, of course, he called them in.

The King asked if it was true an they were like, “Yup!”. So he gave them one more chance to change their ways and bow to his god. They refused. One of the first things God ever told people back in Exodus was to have no other gods before the true God. The guys put more stock in that than the angry rantings of this king they worked for.  So Nebuchadnezzar decided to light up a hugh firey furnace and throw them in.

Now would have been a PERFECT time for God to step in, save the day, destroy the King, and serve cookies and punch in the Narthex. The guys did what they were supposed to! They stood up to The Man.  But… not the case. The three WERE thrown into this huge fire. The king quickly realized that not only were they NOT burning up but that there was a fourth person in there with them who ‘looks like a god (Daniel 3:25). He called them out and they had not been touched, they did not even smell like smoke. Nebuchadnezzar loved this, started worshipping God, told all his people to as well, and promoted the boys to hight positions. What a day!

How many times have we been in situations similar to this? Maybe not the threat of an actual fire (or maybe so, there are literal fires raging in this country right now that are downright terrifying) but something else scary or hard. How often do we pray for God to make things easy or to tke away the hard stuff? And, you know, sometimes that happens. But a lot of times it does not. We were never ever given a guarantee that life would be easy and free from pain, but we always have the guarnatee that God will be right there with us in the fire. I can’t understand the mysteries of this universe, my human brain cannot even try to compreheand divine things, but it gives me comfort to know that God is there with me through it all.

(*Art Credit: Chris Cook, 2013)

Little Drummer Boy in Us All

ldb.jpg

One of my very favorite Christmas songs is ‘Little Drummer Boy’. I don’t think it gets the respect it deserves. It is often dismissed as a kid song or a silly song (not going to lie, the pa-rum-pa-rum-pum is pretty fun to sing!).  But to me, it is one of the best songs about what God wants from us and what we are to give back. It may be simple, but it gets the message across better than a lot of others. Maybe it has always held a special place in my heart as well being a drummer and coming from a family of drummers. It feels like a song just for us.

“Come, they told me. Our newborn king to see. Our finest gifts we bring. To lay before the king. So to honor him, when we come.”

We are being told to come a see Jesus. Come meet him. Others get confused and think God needs fancy, extravagant things from us to show honor. Not so.

 

“Little baby, I am a poor boy too. I have no gift to bring, to lay before a king. Shall I play for you?”

We need to realize our talents are from God and God wants nothing more than for us to give it back in some way.

 

“Mary nodded, the ox and lamb kept time. I played my drum for him. I played my best for him. Then he smiled at me; me and my drum.”

God wants us to use our God given gifts to make this world a brighter, better, happier place. So while the little drummer boy felt like all he could do was play a drum, it made God happy and the people around as well.

What is that little nudging in your soul? That thing you love? Are you afraid to share it with the world? Afraid it’s silly or not enough? We are given those nudging and passions for a reason. I’d encourage you to play your drum for God in any way you can.

Vespers: A Call Back Home

vespers

I think I first remember hearing the word ‘vespers’ when I was a young, dumb, high school, youth group kid at church camp down at Camp Windermere in southern Missouri. It was a time when I was pushing my boundaries and testing my limits even within the walls of a youth group. It was the summer my best friend and I decided to try and give our youth pastor a heart attack by us both ‘dating’ the same guy we had just met. We walked around, arm in arm, the 3 of us all week.  Even in this short sighted, impulsive time in my life I recognized something sacred and beautiful about vespers. At that point, I didn’t even know that vespers was just 1 prayer in a group of prayers that Christians all over the world pray together daily. I just knew it was a beautiful, reflective time of quiet and togetherness with God. It’s amazing to me now, looking back, how God could reach right through the universe a grab ahold of a grungy, angsty, rebellious teen’s heart like mine. Even though it’s taken me 20-some years to realize it.

My spiritual journey has been a weird one. I have been though a lot: from fundamental Southern Baptist to year long stents of not stepping foot in a church building. Yet I never lost sight of Jesus. I’m at a point now where the ancient liturgy of the early church calls to me more than anything. These were the people closest to the time of Jesus, some of them may have even actually knew him in physically person. There is something magical and mysterious about taking bread and wine just like Jesus himself did with his disciples the night before he died. There is something beautiful and powerful about pausing several times throughout the day a reciting prayers that others are lifting up as well. It is comforting and awesome to read the same passages of scripture that countless others are reading as well. Unity in umbers, yet tucked away in my own prayer spot.

Reflecting back on my 36 years on Earth, a majority of them have been spent in or around a church. I’m finally realizing that when we focus on the things that bring us closer to the way Jesus lived and taught, we are on the right path. It is as simple as prayers and scripture and serving. We tend to try and complicate it, but everything else is just filler. As I prayed vespers tonight, I thought of that 15 year old girl who was just out to have a good time. The one who was just at camp because it looked good to her parents. And how God planted a small seed even then of the journey to come.

 

On Baseball and Boyhood

download

1st baseman, Eric Hosmer, got traded from the Kansas City Royals to the San Diego Padres. To some this may just be a blurb they see run across the bottom of the screen while they watch Sports Center, to many it may not be something that even matters to them at all. To me, it is a painful reminder of the passage of time and my children growing up.

I have a picture of my oldest son from when he was about a year old standing at the TV watching a Royals game. That was the start of a love affair with the game of baseball and the Kansas City Royals. He was 8 years old when Eric Hosmer started playing for them. Countless visits to Kauffman Stadium and a closet full of Hosmer shirts later, he took his love of the game to the field himself. He even wore #35 as a homage to his hero. There was not a day that he was not in the yard tossing, catching, pitching, hitting. Sometimes for hours. His face glowed when he entered the dugout with his own team and a sense of joy exuded from him as he took the field time and time again. The Royals winning the World Series is one of the highlights of his life. Games at the K with his grandpa were a common occurrence.

An elbow fracture turned weekends away at tournaments into half  a season sitting out with an injury. Although the fracture healed, his joy and love for the game was damaged irreparably. A fear of re-injury mentally took him out of the game.  Pair that with several players from the World Series team getting traded as their contacts came up and you have the end of an era for him as well as the Royals. Fast forwards to where we are now: Hosmer getting traded was the nail in the coffin. He decided not to even go out for his high school team this year: the love is just not there anymore.

I’m ok with it in a lot of ways. We all grow and change over time and our interests grow and change as well. I just wish, as a mom, I would have been more aware of my surroundings and enjoyed his love for baseball more than I did. I kind of just assumed it would always be there. The crack of a bat will alway stir memories and emotions deep within me as I remember that my little boy is nearly a man now and the baseball pants have been washed and put up for the last time.

Book Review: “The Jesus Life”

I am seriously one of those people who will finish a good book and be like, “That was the best book EVER!” and really mean it. So I feel like sometimes when I say that, it seems a little insincere. But truly, you need to stop what you are doing right now and go get a copy of “The Jesus Life: 8 Ways to Recover Authentic Christianity” by Stephen W. Smith. Seriously…go. I’ll wait…

jl

I have been a Christian my entire life. I grew up in the church and knowing Jesus. Of course my faith has evolved over the years and it is a constant work in progress, but any good Christian should say the same. The minute you think you have ‘arrived’ or know everything is the minute you need to reevaluate things. Heck, that goes for anything in life! So how is it in my years of being a follower of Jesus I never have once stopped to consider what this book presents?

Ask any person who has any inkling about Christianity what it is all about and they will more than likely tell you that it is about following the teachings of Jesus.  Love God, love others, take care of the marginalized and all those good things. And, YES, those are all very important and are the bedrock of our faith but what if there was more?

Stephen W. Smith is asking us to take a look at the life of Jesus and attempt to not only follow his teaching but to actually live our lives the way He lived His. He suggests a close reading of the gospel of Luke along with the reading of his book and I would highly recommend that as well. All these little phrases and stories that I had read a hundred times and had skipped over to get to the actual teachings were right there on the page jumping out at me. Things like, “He went off by himself to pray”, or “They went to the temple like the always had”. These little glimpses into how He actually lived can give us valuable insight and something to model our behavior after.

The 8 areas of Jesus’ life that Smith explores are:

  • The Way of Dailiness
  • The Way of Hiddenness
  • The Way of Family
  • The Way of Companionship
  • The Way of the Table
  • The Way of Doing Good
  • The Way of Ritual
  • The Way of Suffering

Each areas is explored and backed up with scripture. Man, I think I may have nearly underlined every word in the chapters on ritual and suffering. So much good stuff in this book. It has made me stop, pause, and think about how I am living out my life and why I do the things I do. Who am I concerned with impressing? It also caused me to fall in love with communion again. What an amazing ritual passed down from Jesus Himself! Every time we do it, we can remember that Jesus himself asked us to do this. How cool is that?!

If you are sick of the cookie cutter Christianity that is out there any more with it’s questionable morals and ideals, I think you will really love this book. It gets right back to the basics and makes you look at life differently: The Jesus Life.

God WITH Us

epiphany-lights-jesus-bulbs-still

I can remember being a kid, maybe upper elementary, and learning the names of Jesus from the Bible at church. I vividly remember a poster in my Sunday School room that had them all listed out.

I can also remember straight up jamming out to ‘Emmanuel’ by Amy Grant when I was in youth group. Even thought that song was OLD at that point, it was still a fun one! If you don’t know it, did you even church in the 90s, bro?

Emmanuel, Emmanuel
Wonderful, counselor
Lord of life, lord of all
He’s the prince of peace, mighty god, holy one
Emmanuel, Emmanuel

-Amy Grant, “Emmanuel”

The name Emmanuel has always stuck out to me. God with us.

GOD with us. God WITH us. God with US.

Every single word of that short phrase is amazing! God, the one who put galaxies into motion and created the complexities of atoms, is with us.

It’s not past tense. It is not that he came and did His thing and then retreated up to Heaven to just watch it all unfold.

It’s not future tense. It is not that He will be with us at some point in the future but not right now.

NO. Present tense. All the time. Right this very second. He is with us.  NOW.

Now, notice this does not say, ‘God will make everything ok’ or ‘God will make sure nothing bad ever happens’. The way this world is, we know that is not going to be the case. But how comforting to know that He is right there with us through it all. On the bad days, on the good days, on the days you seriously don’t know how you will put one foot in front of the other. He is there. He is with us. God is with us.

 

 

Stop! You Are On Holy Ground!

66719

One of my absolute favorite stories in the Old Testament (and the Bible as a whole, really) is the story of Moses and the burning bush.  Here’s Moses just out doing what he do. Being a shepherd for his father in law. Never once thinking, “Wonder if I am going to encounter God today?” Then he sees it: a bush on fire yet not burning up.  Picture that in your head if you can. Seeing that would definitely clue you in that something supernatural was occurring. If the bush hadn’t done it for him, the booming voice of God telling him to stop and remove his shoes because he was on holy ground did the trick. Really? Hold ground? Right here in the middle of where I am doing just my everyday life? God proceeds to ask Moses to do something he doesn’t think he is able or qualified to do. “Me, God? You sure? What if they don’t believe me? What if they ask who sent me?” God does what He does and just reassures Moses that He has got this and that He will be there with him the entire time. And, as He always does, God keeps that promise to Moses.

What I love about this story is that Moses does not encounter God in a temple or on a retreat weekend or during prayer or Bible study. No, God is right there where Moses is. God is everywhere we walk so of course everywhere we are should be considered Holy ground. Sometimes I find myself daydreaming about doing something BIG like going on a medical mission trip or starting a church for the homeless or public speaking. This story reminds me that while, yes, God is in those huge things he is also in these small every day things as well. He has given us His promise that He will be there with us through it all.

Maybe your Holy ground is answering phones at a call center. Make those people you talk to feel valued and worthwhile. Even the ones who aren’t as nice. God is with you, it’s Holy ground.

Maybe your Holy ground is in a classroom. You are shaping the very future of the world. Show them their worth, show them love. God is with you, it’s Holy ground.

Maybe your Holy ground is making coffee at a local shop. You are helping people and bringing people joy. Make them look forward to coming in and getting their day started. God is with you, it’s Holy ground.

Maybe your Holy ground is being a stay at home parent. The monotony of the daily in and out does not go unnoticed by God. Keep doing the work and building up those kids. God is with you, it’s Holy ground.

The list could go on and on. I would encourage you to look for God in the everyday. Notice that burning bush and be in awe of what God has called you to do in your life. Where you are is where He wants you to be and where He will meet you.

Growing Up in a Gun Culture

I was driving the kids to school the other morning, listening to the Christian radio station like I always do. The morning hosts started talking about the recent, tragic shooting at a church in Texas. The hair on my neck bristled. I glanced in the rearview mirror and to my side to see how my kids were going to react. I’m not one to shelter my kids from the reality of the world, but I also am cognizant of how said reality may effect them. As I glanced around my car, not a one of them reacted. The 14 year old clear down to the 5 year old were just talking and looking out the window like the announcers were talking about the new Taylor Swift album and not a mass shooting that took the lives of dozens.

I remember the utter terror I felt when, as a high school junior, I watched the Columbine shooting unfold on television. These were kids like me being shot in one of the places where they should feel safest. It did not compute in my mind because it was not something that happened. A gun? In a school?

I remember the utter helplessness and fear I felt after 9/11. Watching those twin towers fall, not knowing if there were more attacks to come, the long line at the gas stations right here in the Mid West. It was scary. Terror is exactly what I felt so, well played terrorists! It was just not something that happened very often. It felt surreal.

My kids have grown up in a post Columbine and post 9/11 world. Terrorism and gun violence are the norm. That columbine shooting that shook 17 year old me to my core? Not even one of the top 10 deadliest mass shootings in American anymore. My kids didn’t react to the news on the radio about the church shooting because it is so commonplace anymore. Another day, another shooting. Another day, another terrorist attack. I can’t blame them for seeming unfazed, it’s all the have ever known. All the have ever seen. All the have ever heard.

If you are reading this hoping I have some sort of suggestion or answer to this problem, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Would tougher gun laws make things like this less likely to happen? Sure. Are bad guys still going to get guns no matter what? Of course. Would more access to mental health care help tame some of these tragedies? Yes. All of them? No.

As I pray and meditate over all of this tragedy, more than anything it seems like a heart issue. Somewhere along the way these people were made to feel less than or left out or any other variety of terrible things. Somewhere along the way a cry for help went unanswered or a symptom went unnoticed and untreated. That’s life, I know. It’s not all sunshine. But from being in education I also know the value of one caring adult in a child’d life. Let people know they matter and are loved. In your own small little corner of the world, make people feel welcomed and valued. It may not solve the problem, but it sure will make this world a better place.