Friday, January 25, 2013

Afraid of Being Equal

At Newberg Friends we've joined with other NWYM churches for "peace month." Our weekly worship services have focused on internal conflict, conflict in families, conflict between groups, and this Sunday we'll cover International/Global conflict. A reoccurring theme throughout this study centers on the struggle to accept God's compassion for those we don't like. Sometimes the person we don't like happens to be ourselves and sometimes it's an entire people group. As someone who has struggled mightily with my own sin and shortcomings, I feel like an expert when it comes to internal conflict. As a daughter, wife, and mother, I'm a first hand witness to and instigator of conflict in families. Now that we've expanded our frame of reference to groups and the globe, my personal understanding of conflict resolution has greatly diminished.

A smart woman might stick to the stuff she knows. Writing about topics that I have real experience with might be the wise choice, but today I'm venturing into the realm of international conflict. I sat in my pew last Sunday and scribbled furiously on my worship sheet. So many ideas, so many thoughts about why nations hate nations and millions of people all over the world are experiencing devastating poverty. Now I'm clouding the issue. Why bring poverty into the mix when we're supposed to be focusing on conflict and peace? Because I was sitting on a pew...a cushy one, in a warm room with beautiful lighting, and a decent sound system.

In my mind I don't see an end to international conflict - to poverty - until those with the power, prestige, money, and resources decide they are willing to relinquish control. Poverty is probably one of the worlds most polarizing issues. It pits us against them. Poverty is a symptom of a world that thrives on a "me first" mentality. It divides us into the haves and the have nots; it destroys the concept of we. Often overlooked or swept under the international carpet, I believe poverty is the result of a worldwide epidemic of fear. For a lasting peaceful resolution to take place, me must choose to live and give freely instead of being gripped by the fear that we'll actually experience a radical redistribution of power. It means my pew might not be as cushy. It means that I might only have two pairs of shoes instead of a dozen. It means that my house which currently sleeps four, might sleep eight. Honestly I have no idea what it means, but I believe it won't look anything like my life does right now. And that scares me. We are a nation, and a globe full of people (at least those who live above the poverty line) that are afraid of being equal. The American way is to work hard, amass wealth, and distribute that wealth as we see fit. The problem is that we work, save, and distribute with our own scales - not God's. Those who are comfy are reticent to relinquish. Christians proclaim (myself included) protection and provision in Christ, but we often act and live out of fear. Who among us doesn't resonate with the seagulls from "Finding Nemo" squawking, "Mine, Mine, Mine?"

In my simple thinking, our global conflicts all stem from one central issue: The desire for power. In our collective brokenness we hunger and thirst not for enough but for more. From our love of the all-you-can-eat buffet, to drilling rights, to those suffering at the hands of evil dictatorships, our lust and desire to control, to gain and maintain power has created a global atmosphere of fear. No matter what we learned in Kindergarten, the truth is we don't really want to share. If I give you some, I fear I might not have enough left for me. I matter more than you. If I collect, gather, maintain, or horde, I win. If I only have two outfits to wear to church, you might start looking at me funny. "Doesn't that woman have anything else to wear, why does she wear that same sweater every Sunday?" I can't live with that kind of embarrassment. I don't want to be vulnerable to attack. If I give up all my weapons of mass destruction, I'll be vulnerable to attack. We live in a world based all too often on fear, not love.

I'll go so far as to say that most of our global decisions are fear-based. We're scared to death of one another. We have lost (or perhaps never had) a world in which we trusted in other people groups or nations. Scripture seems to support this theory pretty well. So desperate for the blessing, we kill, trample, and persecute others who might grasp a little or too much of what we want for ourselves. Those without the power and prestige are the impoverished. Poverty and oppression run rampant in our world not because we don't have enough, but because we refuse to share. We are afraid of being equal. As I go all the way back to Genesis 1, I see that God said the world was good and the humans He made were very good...created to be in God's image, created to love without reservation, hesitation, or fear. We were and still are created to be a vessel for the Holy Spirit. Christ has given us the ability to bring hope, to help redeem, to encourage, and to serve. But how often does our brokenness, our knowledge of good and evil, lead us to apathy, denial, and selfish abundance?

Christians love to give. Some more than others. I'm still in the "giving is nice as long as I can still maintain my comfortable life-style phase." It makes me ill. This false sense of generosity has made me buy into the belief that I'm following Christ. The more I learn, listen, and look, the more the lie is revealed. Last Sunday a wise woman said, "one way to resolve conflict is to be a servant." I heartily agree. But the problem with that statement is that for the most part, we want to solve poverty at arms length. It's hard to truly serve others when we're afraid to get our hands dirty, lest we become impoverished ourselves. Once in awhile I let the scales fall from my eyes and I'm caught in this place of freedom and desperation. I cry, "Jesus, yes, show me how you want me to live! Strip away my fear, Give me the motivation and the tools to actually obey your Word. Free me from the false sense of discipleship that I so easily proclaim."  The next minute I'm asking my husband if we should buy second laptop and a $5000 sectional sofa. The truth is I have more (clean water, food, square-footage to live, clothes, $$ for health care, etc.) than the majority of people on this planet. I am both blessed and besieged by this fact.

I began this post in my home office earlier in the week. Today I am finishing it while sitting tucked in a cozy quilt-covered bed at a retreat center on the Oregon coast. Last night, after our evening prayers and some thought-filled fun fellowship with other retreat attendees, I begun reading Chris Seay's fantastic book, A Place at the Table. 40 Days of Solidarity with the Poor. I am one of the lucky ones... I'm a wife, mother, and pastor, and my schedule allows for time to sabbath away from the heaviness of everyday life. My "to do" list for this Sabbath by the Sea included concluding this blog post and beginning A Place at the Table. Yes, I come to retreats with "to do" lists...but that's another topic. I'm sharing these details as a way to remind myself of the abundance that I have and the responsiblity I've been given to find tangible ways of releasing fear into the hands of Love.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Of Hope and Courage and another 13.1

Greatly lacking in my life these past few months is the discipline of exercise. And by lacking, I mean totally void. Nothing. Not any. Quitting the gym didn't help. I reasoned I'd spend less time in a building and more time outside running once I dropped Zumba. Hmmm, such noble intentions.

I've heard several people say that the way to get back into running is to sign up for a race. I've thought about that...but that means I'd have to run a race. At this moment, that seems a near impossible feat. A little less than a year and a half ago I ran my first, my only, 1/2 marathon. It was awesome. So awesome that I vowed to do it again. It's now 2013 and I've only been running about a dozen times since that glorious October 2011 morning. I admit there are some valid reasons for this departure from training. Although a yo-yo exercise regimen causes me distress and guilt. Shame isn't a great long-term motivator. Instead, it's time (once again) to let go of fear, laziness, and excuses. It's time to let go of the pseudo-security I feel curled up in my bed. Lately I've sensed the Spirit leading me out of my cozy cocoon and onto the cold open road. So cold. Uggh. I know God will meet me there as He did back in 2011.

When God wants my attention, He weaves the most inspiring tapestry. This morning God used my dear friend Denise to bring Psalm 91 back to my mind. Psalm 91 first came to my attention in May 2011 when Alan and I were in Honduras visiting the home of a Compassion child. Her family's kitchen is pictured below. Living in poverty, this joyful family believed and trusted in the meaning of Psalm 91 in ways I honestly cannot.

On the wall of their home, Psalm 91 speaks of dwelling in the shelter of the Most High. It proclaims that God is my, "refuge and my fortress." It promises that if you make the Most High your dwelling "then no harm will befall you." It describes God's protection and presence. Today Psalm 91 is a powerful reminder to me that my physical body, my idols of comfort, must not rule my actions. Psalm 91 reminds me to trust. It fills me with hope, it reignites my desire to believe and to run.

Just registered.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Introductions feel like the world's shortest autobiographical obituaries. How do I explain who I am in a minute? What matters to me? I'm sure there is no perfect way to share who you are in sixty seconds. This week I noticed these spur of the moment, open-eneded, descriptions provided an unsettling snapshot of my priorities and perhaps my insecurities.

During some recent experiences with verbal introductions, here's what happened:

  • I shared what I'm paid to do.
  • I often made light of the time spent "just at home" or "being a mom." 
  • I listed my children's ages, grade level, and sometimes their names.
  • I rattled off what keeps me busy.
  • I didn't use the term "wife" as a way to describe myself.

I've been pondering the snippets of information I chose to use. I'm perplexed and a little agitated with what I excluded when giving a brief synopsis of myself this week. Starting from the bottom bullet point, I'm using this post to mull over what I noticed.

Why didn't I call myself "Alan's wife?" I labeled myself "mom." Doesn't Alan deserve a shout out? At the very least he definitely played a major part in making that "mom" thing happen. Sure it's cliche, but Alan is my best friend, and the cool thing is, I get to have a slumber party with him every night for the rest of my life. Am I so subconsciously worried about being viewed as old-fashioned or submissive that I neglected to mention I'm married?

I gave people a list of my responsibilities instead of a list of what I love. Luckily, in my life these two often overlap. But it bugs me that I hear myself sharing in such a way that it sounds like a list of chores rather than blessings. It seems that my identity or worth is still too tightly bound to my "to do" list and accomplishments rather than soaking in the Sabbath. I didn't give much (if any) information on how I worship, rest, and renew.

My kids are the delight of my life, yet when given a chance to "introduce" them, I didn't share what I like most about my children or what makes them unique. Our culture often focuses on gender, ages and grade level. There's much more to my daughters than how long they've been alive and how far along they are in the education system. I'd like to start describing Brynn and Jolee for who they are, not for what they've accomplished.

I believe that being at home is the most important thing I can do for my family. I admit, it's not always easy or enjoyable. My office at NFC is often a little sanctuary away from the chaos and frustrations of home. "Just" being home is some of the most challenging work I've ever done/will do. I also try hard not to sacrifice time with my family for the work I do as a pastor. It seems silly to spend time "serving God" while ignoring the first and foremost gift God has given me, my husband and my girls.

Of course when someone asks, "So, what do you do?" I name my profession. It's the American way. I am grateful to have a job I love. Sometimes I even cringe at the thought of calling it a j. o. b.  But the deal with this last point is that I want to live a life not solely defined by paid positions. I want my advocacy with Compassion, marital status, motherhood, and a list of my own interests to be just as vital to describing who I am as my title in the church directory.

I've pushed the delete button more in this post than perhaps ever before when writing for my blog. Writing often clears my head, but I'm still not clear on this one. What might seem a somewhat shaming or self-condemning piece, is not. And yet I can't deny that what I've written has a corrective tone. This blog is about compassion, spreading hope, and letting God's light shine through me whenever possible. I pray that God will use these last 4 hours (yes, I'm ridiculous) to help me focus on truth and grace.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

One Dozen

Today marks one dozen years since the birth of my youngest daughter. Sometimes I'm guilty of whispering in her ear, "I couldn't love anything more than you." or "You're my favorite baby girl." Don't worry, I'm not pulling an Isaac and Rebekah - I say those lines to my other daughter too. And the girls often remind me that Jesus is supposed to be my #1 love.  But in the moment, I mean it, I often find myself completely overwhelmed with the love I have for my Jolee girl. She brings an incredible amount of joy and delight to our lives. Her stomping feet, counter-tapping hands, raucous laughter, puppy-crazed energy, singing, dancing, silliness that can make me irritated one moment and inspired the next.

Jolee is a combination of leader and follower, extrovert and introvert, reader and runner, focus and distraction. My adventurous homebody, whiner and go-with-the-flow kind of gal. She can't be put in a box and labeled. She is truly her own person and her personality seems to shift just a quickly as you try and pin her down. With Jolee, you never know what you're going to get (yes, much like Forrest's box of chocolates). Her dynamic personality is one of my favorite things about her. It makes it easy for her to transition from disappointment to elation. This is helpful as a parent when I hurt her feelings or disappoint. It helps her to cope, to release, to forgive. It makes her strong and yet moldable. She isn't a doormat and she won't be fooled. She loves deeply and is a faithful friend.

I want to honor Jolee for who she is today... and that's not easy to describe. I realize she's still knee-deep in the process of figuring out who she is and what she's about. Horse back riding or four-wheeling, this daughter of mine is up for the challenge except when she's too lazy. Do you remember being a 6th grader? Tough stuff. Yet, she breezes through her days with a lightness, clarity, and a love for life that blows me away. Happy Birthday Jolee. Your mama is crazy about you.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

22 Days

Dreams come and go. Sometimes they come to life. In just 22 days I get to play a part in seeing one of my dreams become reality. The problem with dreams is that they grow, change, and sometimes become overwhelming and unpredictable. It's what makes dreams exciting. It makes them uncontrollable. It helps me experience God.

Last year I chose to devote more time and energy into my advocacy with Compassion. I dreamed of helping to provide an experience for Compassion advocates, sponsors, and their families that would allow for fellowship, training, and encouragement. My original idea was to organize and develop what I would call "Camp Compassion," a weekend retreat at Twin Rocks Friends Camp. With inspiration from my years as a camp director, a heart for the poor, and a desire to put "hands and feet" to my child advocacy, I made a call to Compassion. Immediately I was affirmed and encouraged to pursue the dream. Calls to Twin Rocks provided more open doors and confirmation that what I proposed was possible. 

As the momentum was building, so was my work schedule and a reality check. Planning and preparing for a three day retreat on the Oregon coast in six months or even in the following year wasn't going to happen. 

God wasn't done. After a road trip to Colorado Springs in July for a national Advocates Gathering at the Compassion headquarters, Rick, my advocate manager, proposed a regional gathering at my church, right here, in Newberg. He would help me plan and prepare an event with people coming from across the NW region to speak, present, and train. Even though Camp Compassion was on hold, this was doable. 

Back in September we scheduled the regional Gathering for the first weekend in February. February seemed so far away. I quickly put together a schedule based on all my dreams and made some initial contacts with local advocates. 

At exactly the moment I felt God leading me to new levels of faith, trust, and contentment, an unexpected hurt consumed most of my energy and thoughts. Doubt and fear crept into my advocacy. The darkness blurred my vision. I searched for signs of Light. Glimmers appeared.

Webster's dictionary defines compassion as a, "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it." The word compassion also serves as a definition for Christ. Jesus is aware, alive, and active. Compassion glowed and is lighting my way through what continues to be a shadowy season for our family. 

In 22 days I'll see Compassion advocates, sponsors, and speakers gathered at Newberg Friends Church. We will experience the joy of worshiping together. I expect to cry and be inspired as I listen to the stories of a young woman from Peru who grew up in poverty and found hope in Jesus Christ through the ministry of Compassion.  I will laugh, wonder, and learn during training sessions. It's time to dream again.