Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"You don't deserve God's love, but God loves you anyway."

I posted a Facebook status this week stating how I wrestle with some of the Christianese we speak. "You don't deserve God's love, but God loves you anyway." The comments on my page were varied, passionate, and showed me once more how we come to know God, experience life with Christ, and share it differently. I love that "being a Christian" isn't a formula. To me, the diversity in the answers and the common threads confirm how God is both so steadfast and multi-dimensional. 

When we try to unpack what it means to "deserve love" we come at it from all different directions. Some of us believe we don't deserve God's love - that we are sinners, in awe of God's forgiveness and sacrifice. Others see themselves as God's beloved child - and like a baby, there is no need to earn or do anything to be loved, we simply deserve God's love because we are his creation. Popular Christian music these days doesn't make it the question of "deserving or not" any easier.

From Don't Deserve You by Plumb:

I don't deserve your love
But you give it to me anyway
Can't get enough
You're everything I need
And when I walk away
You take off running and come right after me
It's what you do
And I don't deserve you

From Gold by Britt Nicole:
This is for all the girls, boys all over the world
Whatever you've been told, you're worth more than gold
So hold your head up high, it's your time to shine
From the inside out it shows, you're worth more than gold
(Gold gold, oh yeah yeah Gold, gold)
You're worth more than gold
(Gold gold oh yeah yeah Gold, gold)

So don't let anybody tell you that you're not loved

And don't let anybody tell you that you're not enough
Yeah there are days when we all feel like we're messed up
But the truth is that we're all diamonds in the rough
So don't be ashamed to wear your crown
You're a king you're a queen inside and out

Here in this tension I sit, a sinner, a child. I am both desperate for a love I can't fathom and freed by a love that has always been.

Over the past couple of years God has been moving me toward grace for myself and others. I'm learning to live out of love vs. fear, failure, and shame. I'm so very grateful for the ways I've come to see the entire story of God as a story of redemption, forgiveness, and freedom. This is a story in which I find such peace even though so much of it I don't understand. It boggles my mind that you and I get to be a part of that story! When I operate out of the knowledge and belief that I am deserving of God's love because He made me, wants relationship with me, and is "for me," I throw off the sin that so easily entangles because I can see it doesn't fit with who I am at the core...Who I was since the moment God knit me together.

I work with children and women everyday who I believe need to know that they don't have to strive for God's love, they simply have to accept it and soak in it. My best pastoral advice seems to be: Marinate your life in the fact that you are God's beloved...that all people are God's chosen ones. It takes courage and trust to be ok being embraced, guided, held, carried, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. But it's here, in that place of faith, we find rest for our weariness, hope for our struggles, and a well of unfailing love. It takes surrender to not only believe we sin and need a Savior, but it takes surrender to believe we are loved.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Treasures in Heaven and Earth

Last weekend I went to a conference where the speaker asked us to think about what we might do if we were willing to "paddle out" a little further into the waves. To live with less fear and more trust. I wrote down I'd write more/share more. It was a surfing analogy that mirrors the theme of MOPS this year, "Be you bravely." As a mentor mom for MOPS, I've been feeling the obligation not only to speak into that theme, but to live it. This fall I've been reading "Daring Greatly" and "The Cure" for the weekly women's Bible study I help lead. Both of these incredible books cover the subjects of vulnerability, being known, and the disconnection we feel and fear when we allow shame to rule our responses, actions, and thoughts. The message to be courageous, open, honest, and ME is coming from about every direction I turn these days. 

I know blog posts don't always have to be quite so self-focused, but in the name of paddling out, bravery, vulnerability, and kicking shame to the curb, here goes. 

My eldest daughter is a senior in high school, my baby is an 8th grader. Transitions are looming. I'm a couple years into my 40's and not even close to figuring out how to do the simple things in life well with any consistency. Simple know, like how much/when/what to: eat, exercise, be wifely, motherly, neighborly, friendly. The basics. I'm feeling about as tender as a turtle without it's shell. Three months ago I might of typed this paragraph with shame dripping from my fingers. Luckily, I'm learning that courage and honesty don't require "having it all together." 

A couple of weeks ago I took my senior on a second round of college tours. This time it was two schools in Michigan and one in North Carolina. We begun our visit to Calvin in Grand Rapids with their chapel program. My daughter is an enthusiastic worshipper. She likes big music, dynamic speakers, and lots of energy. So when we checked the schedule and saw that the day's chapel program was going to be Lectio Divina, I was bummed...for her and for me. Lectio is a great spiritual contemplative practice in which you read a small portion of scripture over and over again with pauses in between the readings for reflection and response. Often a few words or a phrase from the chosen verses will rise to the surface and take on a deeper meaning. But we were in the mood to sing and sway, not listen in silence to the Spirit. Borrrring. So I leaned over and knowingly whispered to my daughter, "You're probably not going here, huh?" 

Note: Mothers should not judge a college by one chapel service in the first 15 minutes of a school visit. It's one of her top three schools. Application going out this week. Yep, still learning the simple stuff. 

As I sat there at Calvin - I put on my pastor hat (not literally, I don't really have a hat that I wear when I'm pastoring) and decided to enter into the process of Lectio Divina, even though I really wasn't "in the mood." You know what? Lectio is pretty cool. The rest of this post comes from the message given to me by the Spirit that day. Sometimes the most courageous thing we can do is say, "yes."

The phrase that popped up fresh for me in that time of reading/reflection was "break in.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Matthew 6:19-21 RSV

Words often define a person - the negative ones: loser, no good, selfish, unworthy, etc. These definitions speak to us through our shame (sometimes from others, often from ourselves). There are also the words of affirmation we receive - "you are awesome, what a hard-worker, so smart, beautiful, caring." And we tend to let the way we feel, or our state of mind, be determined by those positive and negative definitions swirling around in our brain. In turn those definitions often affect our behavior.

As a words of affirmation person - it's those positive words, the phrases and praises that come my way (usually from others, but sometimes from myself on a very good day) that I treasure. Well, honestly, I "treasure" the negative words too. I hold all of them tight, the good and the bad. I store them up. They become my earthly treasure even more than the items I'm able to buy with $$, which might have been Jesus' original intent for this passage. I understand my house or my possessions don't have eternal value. My minivan doesn't define me. But my thoughts, all of those words, these are mine. Try as I do to hold them tight, these "treasures" of words don't hold up very well. A wrong choice, a negative thought, a thank you note, a careless remark and the treasure, either positive or negative fades. Oh those nasty moths, that wretched rust that eats away at my heart and leaves destruction in it's path. I spend energy trying to lock in these words. To make them stick. I believe I need a clear picture of who I am, of how I should define myself. I let everyone but God do this work for me.

But in verse 6:20 Jesus asks us to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, a place where no thief can break in and steal. What would this look like? What if I let God break in instead of thieves? What if the words by which I defined myself were only the ones given to me by my Creator? What if I agreed to let the Holy Spirit clear my mind of all but heavenly treasure, forgiveness, peace, joy, love, gratitude... and I chose to let it stay there? A mind filled with and guarded by the Spirit. What if knowing Jesus and how Jesus loves me was my treasure - my definition? For there where my treasure might be, my heart would be also. No longer rusted and moth-ridden, but full, clear in purpose and function. Abounding in love, filled with Truth. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

It Is Good

Life is good. The phrase kept clanging around my head today. At first it seemed like an appropriate little status update. A bit of cheer in the middle of a May downpour. But I'm growing into a wary Facebooker. I've been burned before by sharing a blurb of how I'm feeling. Leadership roles have a way of making you think before you push "post" or the "like" button. Surely not without fault, but my words and clicks now go through a rigorous filtering process: How will this be perceived? Does this represent who I am, what I am truly about, or do I just want attention? Could this post/comment/"like" hurt someone's feelings? Is this sensitive, compassionate, thoughtful of others? Is this the kind of material I'd want to see/read as I scroll through Facebook/Instagram? Have I thought about this too much? Yes...well then, forget it.

So I held back. Kept my simple "Life is good" to myself and continued on with my day. It's a ridiculous statement considering there are people I know and love for whom life is a struggle. A monsoon. Life is scary, defeating, depressing, stressful. There are days, too numerous to count, where I myself have felt life defined by nothing much more than a weight of responsibilities and a space and time to disappoint others. How can life be good in the midst of that kind of pain? Life is good? Ha!

and yet -

I choose to believe: Life is good because it was and is and will forever be created by the Creator. And God IS good all the time.

God's goodness takes the hurt, in ways beautifully mysterious yet sometimes too slow by my timer, and chooses to create beauty. Life is good because all of that yuck isn't just wasted. It can be redeemed by Jesus Christ the Redeemer. Life is good because, when we least expect it, the Holy Spirit surprises us with joy, washes over us with the refreshment of freedom, and brings Light in the middle of a dark night.

May the God of all life, all love, all goodness, bring hope to you no matter the rain.

Friday, January 31, 2014

My First Seven

If I can hold out until midnight - I've done it! Thirty-one days eating only 7 foods. Kind of.

Based on the book Seven by Jen Hatmaker, my 7 foods adventure has been a challenge. They say it takes 30 days to break a habit and it's day 31- but believe me - I'm still craving all the things I let go of for the month. Let me me back up a bit and give a little backstory. Seven was a book given to me last year. I loved it. Really loved it. Seven celebrates the ideas of simplicity, reduction, awareness, intentionality, creating space, and valuing relationships. The author tackled these topics with action steps which she described this way, "7 will be an exercise in simplicity with one goal: to create space for God's kingdom to break through." I love action. Thinking and critiquing are important life skills, but give me action any day! So as soon as I finished the book I did…nothing. A bit paralyzed at where to start on my own 7 adventure, instead I entered the fall, fell into the holidays, and found myself in a pit of yuckiness by the time it was New Years Eve. I had let two really important healthy habits go - work outs and eating right.

Since the Thanksgiving vacation to Oahu hadn't spurned any healthy habits, (One might think a week in paradise sporting little more than a bathing suit with our closest friends would have gotten me off my rear. One would be wrong.) I was holding on to a glimmer of hope that arrival of 2014 would be the real start of a change. Some action. So by the grace of God and the fact that none of my pants wanted to button anymore - I made a decision. Really this is the hardest part for me. Making a choice. Once made and accountability put in place…I can do the thing.

So let me explain "the thing." In the book Seven, Mrs. Hatmaker chose only 7 foods to eat for the month. She was strict and her 7 makes my 7 look like a joke. But action has to start somewhere and I'm not apologizing for what I chose to do on my own 7 adventure. We both came to some similar conclusions - focusing on only eating 7 things for a month makes you think about: what you consume (and what you don't), it has you thanking God and crying out to Him, you end the month hungry. Hungry for more of what God has in store…and possibly wanting a homemade chocolate chip cookie.

Here's what I ate for the month:
Oatmeal (no toppings)
Shakeology - protein/vitamin-rich chocolate powder you mix with milk
Chicken (prepared/marinated anyway except breaded or deep-fried)
Non-Fat Plain Greek Yogurt
Veggies (Yes, ANY veggie, so here you see my "7"gets a bit wonky.) I did not eat potatoes - although until this month I would have considered them a veggie.

I did not suffer. It was a healthy, delicious, taste sensational month. I seasoned my chicken, veggies, and rice as desired. It was flavorful and provided enough variety that I wasn't dreading the next meal. With just these simple foods I could usually find food to eat at any restaurant. I still drank coffee. Coffee is a drink not a food. However, I stuck to coffee, tea, milk, and water only. Juices were a no-no.  My diet was almost gluten-free - I'm so much less bloated! Sorry if that's TMI…but seriously, I feel BETTER. Maybe that GF hubbub is right after all. My added sugar intake is waaaay down. I ate a healthy breakfast almost every morning instead of relying on a latte to get me through the day. I ate salads, took carrots and cucumbers to work as snacks, and sautéed up veggies for almost every dinner. Seriously…this is mind-bending stuff.

I had two accountability partners, my friend who gave me Seven and the woman who recommended it to her. Both women work with me - so I saw them weekly and it helped to know that they were cheering me on. Initially I kept the 7 adventure a secret from my family. My choice was just that - MY choice and something I really wanted to be between me and God. Perhaps you have a gentler, less-judgemental family than mine. But for me, one of my goals was to see how long I could go without having to give them the whole scoop. The answer: 15 days. But I made it through a wedding reception with two cakes on day 1, and they didn't notice - so I win. I also win because I did not let the "law" become more important than relationship. On day 25 I took a friend out to dinner for her birthday. The restaurant did not serve chicken or rice. I had a moment of panic and then just confessed the situation to my friend. The veggies were deep fried. The food was delicious. I ate. We laughed, and I valued the experience more than my rules.

This adventure has jumpstarted my body, mind, and spirit. Food is such a central piece of American life. It's been said we live to eat instead of eating to live. I think that somewhere there is a balance. God created taste-buds! But this month has given me greater perspective on how I want to treat food. I've come to appreciate what it feels like to reduce gluten in my diet and eat more veggies. I want to eliminate eating strictly for comfort. God provides. It's an abundance beyond my needs. The 7 adventure has opened my eyes to the ways I usually take this abundance for granted. I end this month with gratitude and ready for the second 7.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Merry Christmas Card

After only 90+ minutes…which was only an hour longer than I wanted to spend - the Christmas card is ordered and on it's way.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

When Typhoons Get Personal

A week or so ago we received our latest letter (dated August 29) from Avie, the 16-year-old my daughter Brynn sponsors through Compassion. Here's a snippet of what she said:

"A blessed day! Mama Michelle, thank you for the letter you sent. And thank you also for the stickers you have given I will use to decorate in my notebook. (She loves Hello Kitty - and Brynn bought her an entire book full of stickers which we include page by page with each letter.) I really miss you too and Brynn. Yes! Mama Michelle I will tell to my Grandmother that you continually praying for her. I know that she will love to hear that from you. Thank you that you always pray fro my mother and siblings also for the unity of my family."

Back in 2010 Brynn and I went to the Philippines  - we met Avie and her grandmother. We spent just one full day with this sweet girl. My heart was ripped open by my experiences with Avie and with the 100's of other children we had the chance to interact with during the 10-day trip. These just aren't faceless masses, Twitter updates, or CNN news videos. They are people I love. Today I'm praying they are safe, dry, and have food. I trust God and the work of the local churches and the Compassion projects to bring healing and hope to Avie and her family and the thousands of other children enrolled in Compassion. But oh how I wish I could hug my sweet Avie today.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

See God: Reflections on Summer Sunday School

Originally published as my pastoral quarterly report (boy that sounds official) in our church newsletter - this article says a lot about what God's been teaching me this summer. I still have much to learn and put into practice.
- Michelle

Although my area of responsibility includes families and women’s ministries here at NFC, summertime is predominately about kids. Programs such as 3M (Monthly Marriage Maintenance) and Women’s Bible Fellowship take a break and I enjoy a summer focused mainly on the younger members of our congregation. Sometimes this is a great thing—but a few Sundays ago I found myself staring blankly into the eyes of a third grader.

I fancy myself a pretty good Sunday school teacher, but this particular morning my plans were being tested in every way, and I felt sorely lacking in “child-management skills.” As I tried to get the group of 11 kindergarten through 5th graders to pay attention to the Bible lesson, it was clear this was not going to “work” the way I had imagined. The wiggly kids were set on “extra wiggle.” The child who “doesn’t like Sunday school” let it be known to the entire class and me in a loud voice as I instructed them all to turn to 2 Chronicles. He then proceeded to put himself in a trash can, much to the class’s delight. The tired one sprawled out on the carpet, put his Bible over his face and proclaimed “it’s dark in here.” Another ripped some pages in the borrowed Bible while flipping back and forth trying to find the New Testament. The girls and boys chatted and giggled while I plunged deeper into the lesson, determined to get through the curriculum I’d prepared. A volunteer helped by taking two of the most disruptive children in the hall, leaving only 9 kids for me and a second volunteer to reign in.

Somehow I made it through that lesson, and we regrouped outside. The game I created on the spot went surprisingly well. We made a circle and threw the red ball to a friend while saying a characteristic of love. We threw the white ball after naming a quality of God. They paid attention and rattled off some great things about who God is and what love means. The game came to an end; snack was about to be served. I glanced at my watch. If open worship didn’t go too long we might have only about 5-10 minutes left of class. I took a deep breath. I knew there was no way the majority of the class would go back in and do the worksheet…even if it could be cut, folded, and stapled into a little book about God and his totally awesome love.

And then—the question I’ve never been asked by a child: “What is it like to teach Sunday school to kids?” I paused the most pregnant of pauses—and looked into her wondering hope-filled eyes. For a moment I couldn’t think of anything to say. I finally stumbled over something about it being fun, except when it’s difficult. Snack was ending and it was time to get the crew back inside. Her excellent question got lost in the shuffle, but my heart was cracked open by its convicting Holy Spirit power. How could I not think of anything meaningful or loving to say? Me—the children’s pastor who tries endlessly to get others to join this important ministry with children—so lost in my own plans for the morning that I forgot it’s about God, it’s about being there for these kids and listening to them.

Why doesn’t he like Sunday school/church? Why are they so tired? What is so funny? What stories do they have to tell? How might the new toy I set out at the beginning of class be used to capture their attention during the lesson? Why didn’t I just do class outside from the beginning? Why would a child want to know what it’s like to be a Sunday school teacher? What did she need to hear to feel affirmed? What moment did I miss by being so caught up in my “ministry plan”?

If I had that moment again I’d tell her: “Teaching Sunday school is one of the most humbling, joyful, frustrating, entertaining, silly, and important things I am honored to do.” I’d let her know I love her being in class and how she brings me so much joy with her thoughtfulness. I love her questions and I appreciate her kindness. I see the Holy Spirit at work in her life and in the words that come from her mouth. I’d also share with her that I see God in the trash can, rolling around on the floor. I see God in the children desperate to get back to the building toy so they can be creative and successful. I see God in giggles and whispers, in the words of children and in their questions. I see God when I take time to pay attention.