God’s love

5-13-God-Provides

God’s Most Favorite Child: Thoughts on Grace, Provision, and God’s Economy

For as long as I can remember my mother has possessed an uncanny ability to snag the very front parking spot in whatever parking lot she happens to be in. Not like, near the front. The very first available spot. The one that’s practically inside of the store and is also under the only shade tree in the lot. “I am God’s most favorite child!” she would spout in triumph, gliding into that parking spot like it was a front-row seat at the Super bowl.

I love my mother for this. For the way she taught me to see the fingerprints of God in something as ordinary as a parking spot.

Of course, she wasn’t trying to make some deep theological statement here. I don’t think she believed we could measure God’s favor by the way he doled out parking spots. There was no assumption that God gave the choice spots a few of his favorites while the less favorite were relegated to the back of the lot and the really awful people had to park across the street. She simply saw a good thing and let it point her, and all of us, straight to God.

Over the past few months as we’ve moved steadily towards the end of our time in Korea and the beginning of a new chapter in South Carolina, I have struggled with anxiety. I have struggled to believe that everything would work out. That I could trust God to provide a job with sufficient income, a place to live, vehicles to drive, new friends and community.

Even as the pieces began to fall into place I continued to Children-of-Israel the situation. Remember the Israelites in the desert? God delivered those dummies out of slavery by parting a sea and they were like, “Did you bring us here to starve?!” and then he sent them MANNA FROM HEAVEN and they were like, “Ugh. Did you bring us here to die of boredom from eating the same food over and over?”

I like to make fun of them because I see myself in them so much. My whining skills are top-notch. (My husband says he shudders to think that our children will inherit that from me). So even as God has opened doors and provided for us over and over again, I’ve continued to come up with new insurmountable obstacles to complain about. And God, in spite of my grumbling and in spite of my disbelief, has continued to provide.

I want to share the story of how God is providing for us. I want to give credit where credit is due. But in the past few years I’ve become more concerned with right theology when it comes to things like God’s blessings. I think “blessed” is one of the most overused and misunderstood words in the Christian vocabulary (but more on that another time). In particular, I am very uncomfortable with the idea that good things in my life are a sign of favor or blessing. I believe that all good things in the world come from God, but if I say that the good things in my life are from God’s favor or blessings, what does that mean for people who aren’t experiencing good things?

I know there are several of you who are in a similar situation to mine right now – preparing for a big move or a big life change and experiencing a lot of anxiety about it. I would never want to imply that things are falling into place for us because God is blessing us, but if they aren’t falling into place for you it’s because God is choosing not to bless you. I don’t believe that’s true.

I want to share how God is providing for us. If you are in a season where you aren’t seeing things work out and you feel anxious, I hope you can be encouraged by this story rather than discouraged. A parent doesn’t always give a child everything they want in the moment that they want it, but that doesn’t mean the parent doesn’t love that child or is no longer present with that child. So with that in mind, here’s our story.

The first major provision came in cars. We sold both of our old beaters before moving to Korea and have no vehicles. Jonathan’s grandmother recently decided to give up driving and offered to sell us her car inexpensively. And then my dad told us that he was planning to get rid of his big vehicle (a Tahoe) but that the trade-in value is minimal even though it’s not that old, because it has high mileage. He offered to donate it to us which means a tax break for him and a free car for us. Grace.

Next we were stressed about finding a place to live. We’re in a unique situation trying to “view” places and apply to rent them from another country. Imagine being a landlord and getting an email saying, “We live in South Korea and we don’t have jobs in America so we can’t prove our income, and our current landlord only speaks Korean so he can’t give you a reference, but we’re really great, I promise!” Not surprisingly, we weren’t getting lots of positive responses.

And then something amazing happened. I have an old family friend living in Columbia – our families were friends when I was a kid and I was friends with her little sister, but we haven’t seen them in 15 years or more. But I got in touch with her to ask about Columbia stuff and she volunteered to go look at places for us. At first I felt bad asking that of someone I didn’t know that well, but she was so kind and enthusiastic about it that we quickly gave in and accepted some amazing help. Guys. Lorien is the bomb.com. Like the actual bomb.com. She arranged viewings, talked to landlords, went to places, took pictures, made videos, found new listings for us, etc.

We signed a lease on a condo by the end of the week. Initially we really wanted a house for the charm factor, but God provided a beautiful condo that’s going to be awesome. It’s the most spacious and nicest place we’ve ever rented with a kitchen that makes me swoon. It’s comfortably within our budget and it is less than a mile from Lorien’s house which also helps put us at ease about our concern for friends and community. Grace.

While I still don’t have a full-time job lined up, I have been wishfully thinking that I’d like to work part-time and do freelancing/work-remotely things part-time so I have a more flexible schedule. As of right now I have two long-term freelance writing contracts and one more in the works. All three of these contracts have come through friends or other old connections that have randomly resurfaced. Grace.

When I look back at each of these graces, I can see God’s hand and his provision, and I realized that my mother was right. She is God’s most favorite child. And so am I. And so are you. And so is my frustrating coworker. And so is my most disrespectful student. And so is your Mother-in-Law.

God’s economy is not finite. Lavishing love on me doesn’t mean he has any less to give to you. It is the one economy in which all of our being of equal worth doesn’t diminish our value. And that is a divine, unearned, and irresistible grace.

I hope this can be an encouragement to you, wherever you are in your life, especially if you are like me and can always find something to stress out about. Take a breath and look for the places where God has stepped in, even when it didn’t look the way you wanted it to. Often you can find him in unexpected places if you only choose to look.

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field of barley and sunset

Getting Pumped for Judgment Day: From Fundamentalist Fear to Extraordinary Grace

If I had to choose a least favorite hymn, it would probably be “It Is Well With My Soul.”

As a child, I would sometimes sing this song at school or at a summer camp at the Baptist church. My understanding of this song was that lots and lots of bad things will probably happen to you, but you should still be glad as long as your soul is OK. Since this song reads like a list of awful things (sorrows like sea billows, Satan buffeting, etc.) I also interpreted that last verse “the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend” as a bad thing. After all, the songwriter said, “Even so, it is well with my soul.”

Although I understand the theology of this song better now, I’ve never been able to shake to connotations of my childhood. Whenever I hear it, I am gripped with a sense of sorrow and of fear.

When I was a child I believed in Christ’s return the way I believed in the rising sun. I took for granted that it would happen. I expected it at every moment. Whenever  the sun burst through the clouds after an afternoon storm I would turn my face to the sky, heart racing, wondering, “Is this it? Is He coming now, riding on those clouds, shining like the sun?” and I would be filled with fear.

***

In elementary school chapel I sat with my classmates in my scratchy plaid jumper and white oxford shirt and listened to our principal explaining judgment day. On that day, she said, all of our worst sins, even the ones we thought no one knew about, would be displayed in front of the whole world. For people who weren’t believers, this would be a horrible day, but for Christians, this would be a great day because after the whole world had watched that movie reel of our very worst moments, Jesus would step forward and erase the tape.

These words were meant to encourage belief, but they filled me with terror. I chewed my fingernails down to the quick while I imagined everyone I knew watching a video of my sins. I wasn’t comforted by Jesus erasing the tape. I was too busy panicking about everyone knowing I peeked at my spelling book for just a minute during the last test. And even at that young age, my fear worried me. Did this mean I wasn’t really a Christian? If this was meant to be a great day for Christians, then why was I so afraid of it? Shame pounded in my temples as I sent up fervent prayers to combat those of generations of saints, “Please, Jesus, won’t you tarry just a little longer?” I pleaded.

***

When I was in jr. high and high school I encountered a new theology of judgment. Judgment, I heard, was for the wicked, not for those favored of the Lord. When Christ returned in all of his glory, he would separate the righteous from the unrighteous like grain from chaff or sheep from goats. We need only worry that we were counted among the righteous.

On the surface this was comforting since Christ was my salvation. But over time, righteousness became equated with our good works. It was Christ’s righteousness that counted, but the only evidence of that was my actions. There were a dozen interwoven reasons why I was a perfectionist, but on a spiritual level, it was because I feared judgment – first and foremost from my church community and eventually from Christ himself.

I was a model child. I had perfect grades. I helped around the house. I babysat my sisters. I didn’t listen to secular music and I didn’t watch PG-13 movies. I never smoked, I never drank, I never even held hands with a boy. I didn’t even have a curfew to break because I was never out late enough to warrant one. I served in the youth group. At sixteen I was in charge of a whole cabin of girls at church camp who were only a few years younger than me. I played violin for the worship band. I ran the school’s mission team doing local and international outreaches. I can’t remember a single time that outright disobeyed my parents.

And yet, I was wracked with guilt for all the ways I failed. When I was sarcastic, when I used a disrespectful tone with my parents, when I was impatient with my sisters, when I lied because I was afraid of getting in trouble, when I got in a car accident, when I said mean things to make people laugh, when I tried to make myself feel smarter by making others feel dumb.

With a theology of judgment where God was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and my actions would determine which character I ended up with, how could I possibly think about judgment without fear? How could I ever be good enough to feel secure in my righteousness?

***

When we say The Apostle’s Creed we affirm that, “He will come to judge the living and the dead.” For most of my life I didn’t know how to rejoice in this judgment. I didn’t understand how this could be part of the good news.

But then grace broke in. And grace came in the words of Augustine.

See, Augustine had a different idea about this. He said what if judgment isn’t about God separating the righteous people from the wicked people? After all, who of us is 100% righteous or 100% wicked? Aren’t we all a mixture of both? What if our lives are like two plants that grow up side by side – one good and the other bad – and as they grow, they intertwine so much that you couldn’t separate the bad one without damaging the good one?

When asked about their biggest regrets, many people will say something like, “I don’t regret anything because even my mistakes were things that helped me to grow.” Our lives are full of both glory and suffering and sometimes the two are so closely linked that we can’t separate them even in our own minds. Sometimes our worst mistakes or experiences ultimately lead us to some of our best moments.

Augustine says, What if God lets the good and the bad grow up together for a time and judgment is when he separates them, once and for all, at the end?

We cannot perfect our lives. We cannot expunge all the evil that exists in the world. But maybe THAT’S what judgment day is for. Maybe it is about God extracting the bad, the evil, the sin, and the brokenness that is woven into our lives, and throwing it to the fire, leaving our lives perfect and whole. Wouldn’t this be the best thing that could ever happen to us? Wouldn’t this kind of judgment be the cause of great rejoicing?

Maybe judgment isn’t about shame. Maybe it isn’t God projecting a film of all our failings on a jumbotron. And maybe judgment isn’t about God choosing to bless some and judge others. Maybe judgment has nothing to do with our works of righteousness.

Maybe judgment is our deliverance. Maybe judgment is when we can finally stop wrestling with sin, when we can stop experiencing brokenness, when we can finally be pure. Maybe judgment is the greatest grace of all.

***

This essay is a little excerpt from the book I’ve been working on writing. I hope it’s something you could connect with!

My home is in heaven

“This World is Not My Home” and Other T-shirts I Can’t Wear Anymore

In Jr. High I had a lime green t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “This world is not my home.” It was a billboard advertising my holy longing for heaven. My pastors would say things like, “When we suffer, we find hope in knowing that this world is not our home, our true home is in heaven and one day we will join God there and everything will be perfect.” And all God’s people said, “Amen.”

I wore my t-shirt proudly, secretly hoping that carrying the words on my body would make them true. Because, try as I might, I could never seem to muster up enough hatred for the world to really feel like I was a stranger wandering in a foreign land. I knew I was supposed to pray for Christ’s swift return, but secretly I sometimes prayed that he would wait just long enough for me to go to Jessie’s pool party, or to learn to drive, or to go to college, or to fall in love. I felt an urgency to see and experience everything I could before God took it all away.

Even as a child, I saw this desperation as a moral failing. It was undeniable proof that no matter how hard I tried to convince myself otherwise, I loved the world too much and loved God too little. “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life,” the pastor said and I shuddered in fear.* I worried that my hunger for life meant I wasn’t really saved. I asked Jesus into my heart again and again, hoping it would stick eventually.

As the church I grew up in grew and expanded, the focus shifted from evangelistic, fundamentalist values to more seeker-friendly messages of what God can do for you (another problem for another time), but those early impressions had taken root in my heart.

My church and school weren’t alone in these beliefs. In fact, there is a whole sector of Christian merchandise that capitalizes on the concept that this world is just a temporary annoyance that we endure without investing in until we can shake the dust from our feet and move on to the place we truly belong. (The song, “This world is not my home, I’m just passin’ through,” anyone?)

t-shirt

not my homeLike all good Christian kids, I memorized John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life,” but the Christianity I grew up in only seemed to care about the second part of that, the part where we needed to believe in Jesus. How could they miss what this most foundational of evangelical Scriptures spells out?

“For God so LOVED THE WORLD,” it says. God SO loved, not just individual people, you and me, but the world itself and everything in it.

But we didn’t treat the world like something God loved, much less like something we should love too. We treated the world like a place we feared, a place we wanted to separate ourselves from, or a place we wanted to escape from, bringing as many people along with us as possible.

A few weeks ago I listened to this sermon by Australian professor Ben Myers during our house church meeting. It’s part of a guest sermon series he preached on the Apostle’s Creed, specifically the phrase, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.”  Myers points out that to treat the world as a place we need to escape from, a place where we are just biding our time as we wait to be delivered, is denying God as a good creator. He points to the Scriptures’ depiction of the end of time when there will be bodily resurrection and where Christ will bring his kingdom to earth and reign. “Salvation will never be an escape from this world, but God’s loving restoration of a good creation.”

St. Francis of Assissi (patron saint of hippies and vegetarians) understood this so well that he wrote about the natural world as if it were part of his family – Brother Sun and Sister Moon. He doesn’t say this in a pantheistic, God-is-in-everything way, but in a way that acknowledges himself as a part of this wildly beautiful and good creation that he is at home in for as long as he is on Earth. His mission isn’t to escape the world. It’s to bring redemption and healing and reconciliation, working to restore creation to the perfectly good thing it was created to be.

This really struck me because I’ve lived most of my life believing that I wasn’t really meant to love this world as much as I do. I’ve never longed for heaven as a relief from this world, even in moments of suffering. The world is far from perfect and it certainly isn’t divine. There are broken bits that make my heart ache. But I still believe that it can be redeemed. I believe this world can be restored. And I want to be part of that work.

Jesus didn’t just come into the world and head straight to the cross. He came and he lived. He healed the sick, he raised the dead, he showed compassion, he taught another way. If his purpose was only to rescue us from a world that is beyond hope, why waste his time with these acts of redemption?

I believe we have a responsibility to work for justice and restoration in the world precisely because this world IS our home and because the Creator has given it value. God said he is making all things new, NOT all new things.**

__________________

* John 12:25

** I didn’t come up with that pithy phrase – my friend Laura actually reminded me of it, but I can’t remember where it came from.

Earned Grace – or That Time I Asked My Mom for a Spanking

There’s a story my parents used to tell about me as a child. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I remember where we lived at the time so I had to have been between 7 and 9. The story goes like this – one day, out of the blue, I came to my mom and told her I thought I needed a spanking. She asked why I thought that. Had I done something wrong? (She didn’t know of anything I’d done).

I told her I kept “thinking bad thoughts” and that I thought if I had a spanking they would go away. She was (understandably) a little baffled. But in our family, we were spanked for disobedience or bad attitudes. If I felt something was wrong in my heart, maybe a spanking would help me correct it. She’d never had something like this happen before and, not knowing what else to do, she reluctantly gave me a little spanking. After a few halfhearted licks with the paddle, she asked, “Do you feel better now?” And I told her, “I think I need a few more.”

My parents used to share this story (with my permission) in the Growing Kids God’s Way classes they taught at our church and school when I was in jr. high and high school. I didn’t attend the classes so I’m not sure what the context was for sharing it, but I can safely bet it was part of some discussion on spanking and discipline. At the time we all thought it was a kind of funny story that illustrated how kids know when they are out of control and how they crave discipline to help them gain control again. Also, I sort of liked this story because it made me feel like the best kid ever. What kid asks to be punished for something nobody knows they did? A perfect kid, that’s who! (That’s what I like to believe anyway).

As an adult I have a very different reaction to this story. As a child, I certainly didn’t understand everything I was feeling or what my motivations were. And even as a teenager, I was either not mature enough, or not distanced enough from that event to recognize those feelings. But now, when I remember that story, I cringe. Because I don’t just remember the story or what happened. I remember what it felt like. Now I understand that this was an early manifestation of something I’ve struggled with all of my life – the inability to accept grace without suffering or punishment.

I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but this is what was happening in my mind and heart that day. For some reason, curse words had starting popping into my head. I was a child, so they weren’t really connected to particular situations – I wasn’t thinking them in moments of frustration or anger. I was simply thinking them. A stream of curse words running through my head while I was playing. I knew this was wrong and I felt guilty, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it stop. I apologized to God over and over, but I couldn’t seem to stop doing it.

I didn’t get spanked often growing up. Apart from one year when I was 4 and decided to be a holy terror, I got spanked a few times a year on average. It was the standard discipline in our home for anything that fell under the category of rebellion and I have 3 siblings, so it wasn’t unusual for someone to get spanked, but I was pretty well behaved after that one bad year and didn’t act out very often. I didn’t know whether it was because the result was restored relationship with my parents or because it represented repentance in my heart or simply because of the catharsis of a good cry, but I knew that I felt better after a spanking.

So at this point, I was feeling horrible guilt and shame about all of these curse words in my head. I knew I was doing something wrong. And the only thing I could think of that might make me feel better was a spanking. See, I strongly correlated forgiveness with punishment. In my mind, forgiveness wasn’t just the thing that followed punishment. It was actually produced by punishment. In other words, I did not believe that I could have forgiveness or experience grace unless I had experienced punishment.

Punishment and consequences aren’t the same thing. Consequences are the natural and unchangeable result of a certain actions. Punishment is “suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution.” Grace doesn’t remove consequences. It removes guilt and shame. It removes the need for punishment or penance.

What I was doing was trying to use punishment to remove guilt. This is dangerous thinking. This is the child’s version of the “mortification of the flesh” that has led some to self-flagellation. This is believing we have to earn love and forgiveness—either through good actions or through suffering. And that isn’t the story of Christianity.

I want to take a moment to say that I do not blame my parents for this in any way. I firmly believe that if they had understood what was going on inside of me they wouldn’t have spanked me – and they certainly wouldn’t have told the story later. But they were still new in their faith and learning to be parents and certainly there was no textbook answer to this situation. This post isn’t about spanking. I’m not here to debate whether parents should spank their children or not, so please don’t get side-tracked by the details. This is about grace and about my inability to accept it.

The feeling I had that day has come up many times since. I was 17 when I got my driver’s license. I was a nervous driver – always afraid of making a mistake – afraid to be in control of something as powerful as that engine wrapped in steel and glass. I didn’t trust myself with it. Ironically, I got into an accident that totaled my mom’s car the very first day I drove it by myself.

The thing that stood out most to me that day and in the weeks that followed was how NOT angry my parents were. I wanted them to yell at me, to tell me they were disappointed, to punish me in some way. Instead they were just happy that I was OK.  They knew I wasn’t being careless, I was just inexperienced and I had an accident. I didn’t need correction or discipline. I needed more confidence.

But I was plagued with guilt – the kind of guilt that makes you feel sick in the pit of your stomach. No one was making me feel bad or holding it over my head, but I was filled with an overwhelming sense of shame. I had screwed up and I had a hard accepting that I was completely forgiven and unconditionally loved.

Why is it so hard to accept grace? And why is it so much easier to extend grace to others than to ourselves?

Now that I’m an adult, I understand this part of myself. I see it in my marriage. When I really mess up, my husband forgives me and moves on like it never happened. And I catch myself thinking “I’ll make his favorite dinner and do all the chores this weekend and I won’t ask him to help with anything, and I’ll iron those shirts I keep forgetting about, and I’ll wear the sexy undies even though they are really uncomfortable, and I’ll give him a lot of compliments.” Of course, these can be great ways to show love to my husband. But not when I’m doing them as self-inflicted penance.

I can’t seem to wrap my mind around a grace that is unearned or forgiveness that comes punishment-free. Believe me, I’ve spent a lot of time trying. But I had a moment of epiphany recently. Maybe I can’t wrap my mind around it because I’m not supposed to.

Maybe I am not supposed to understand unearned grace because grace didn’t come free. Grace came at the price of Love’s only son, stretched out on a tree. Maybe I’m not supposed to embrace a forgiveness that comes without suffering because Love did suffer.

Maybe my problem isn’t that I think grace and forgiveness cost something. Maybe my problem is accepting who it cost. Maybe my problem is that I can’t wrap my mind around, “It is finished.”

____________________________________________________________________

“Because the sinless savior died

My sinful soul was counted free

For God the just was satisfied

To look on Him and pardon me.”

My sister sang this song at our wedding. I wish I had a recording of her singing it to share, but I really like this arrangement too.

The Summer of Unbelief

It rained almost every day this summer –not the brief and angry afternoon storms of my childhood, but in intermittent streams all day long, like someone turning a faucet on and off. The honey-golden days of June and July were swallowed by a colorless sky and air so thick and sticky that walking to work in the mornings felt like wading through molasses. The barometric pressure swelled every day, the pressure inside my head building with it, straining for equilibrium, my nose and eye sockets and temples pulsing with pain like I’d been punched in the face. Sometimes I felt like the summer had been one long headache, though in fairness, I suppose it could have partly been from all the crying.

April and May and the beginning of June were an emerald green haze of hope. I felt energized, excited about the future, and more open to God and to life than I had in a long time. We made the decision to stay in Korea, the cherry blossoms were scattering beauty everywhere and my parents came all the way from America to visit. I joined a Bible study and Husband and I started meeting with our friends each week for “church.” I was running again, my writing was gaining momentum, and I felt like I could see God’s fingerprints everywhere I looked.

When the summer came those fingers I’d imagined sweetly leaving their mark on the world turned into fists that pounded me so relentlessly I was sure that if I looked closely I’d actually see bruises blooming purple under my skin.

Some blows were truly big and terrifying things, like cancer and ISIS and planes falling from the sky. Some were only personal tragedies – losing our cat and saying forever goodbyes to friends moving away, moments of disconnect and frustration. And some were simply annoyances—a broken computer, a busted kindle screen, a new shirt that shrunk in the wash—but piled on top of the big things they felt like a conspiracy to suck all the goodness out of life.

I have prayed more and harder over these past few months than any other time I can remember. In the middle of the night when I have lain awake, exhausted but unable to sleep, I have begged God for mercy – for the world, for my loved ones, for myself. But I always woke in the morning feeling alone and unheard.

Part of me was angry. Because even though this goes against everything I believe, some subconscious piece of me felt cheated. Like I’d been faithfully holding up my end of the bargain and God had let me down.* And another, larger part of me was simply bone-weary.

Husband says these are the moments that draw him into God, make him see his own need. I suppose that’s what the people who suffer so beautifully through great tragedies experience. They are drawn to God in their pain.

I’m not one of those people.

When it seems like the darkness is winning and God feels utterly disinterested, I lose heart. And I lose faith –not in God exactly, but certainly in God’s goodness.

See, I’ve never really questioned the existence of God. My Big Question isn’t if God exists, it’s “Is He good?” And even if He is good, how can I know that he is really involved in the world in any significant way?

I know, I know. Oh me of little faith. But the problem is that you put your faith in the one you trust. And it would seem that I am not to-my-bones and in-my-belly convinced that I can trust God’s goodness. When I see the vast power of the ocean or the way the mists roll over the mountains in the morning, or when I see ordinary, messy people made beautful, I see God’s work in the world and I believe that God is good and maybe even that he cares about me. But when the ugly bits of life break in and I beg for grace and rescue that doesn’t seem to come, I waver. Is God still good here? Now? Or (maybe worse) is He good and simply not interested?

I don’t believe God has promised us an easy life. He has simply promised to be with us. To give us Himself. But sometimes He doesn’t seem to be doing that either.

My wise friend Julie said to me “Maybe God is asking, ‘Will you still trust me now?’”

If He is, I’d like to be able to answer His question with a grumbly, big-sigh, reluctant, “Yes.” But the truth is that I don’t know. I just don’t know.

The summer is ending and I am running out of tears and out of prayers. All I am left with are the words of the father in the gospels whose name we’ll never know: **

“Help my unbelief!”

___________________________________________________________

*Which, of course, isn’t Christianity at all. It’s karma. But that’s another story for another day.
**The man in Mark 9 whose son has an evil spirit.

 

 

To Genevieve, On the Occasion of Your First Day on Earth

Dear Genevieve,

The day you were born seemed to stretch out forever, like the sky. You woke your mom up in the middle of the night, but then you took your time making your entrance. Your mom and your dad and your grandma (who came across the ocean just to meet you) and people clear across the world waited a full twenty-four hours for you to finally arrive. Your mom told me those last nine hours of labor were the hardest thing she’s ever done. But I know she would say that you were worth every minute of it and that if she had to, she would do it again if it meant holding you at the end.

Josh, Laura, and Genevieve Louise Rhoads

Daddy, Mommy, and Genevieve Louise Rhoads, born Tuesday, August 5th at 1:03 am . 8 lbs. 3 oz of perfection.

You won’t remember meeting us because you were only 14 hours old, but I will always remember your tiny, perfect body, your wide-open eyes and the impossible sweetness of your little mouth. The way your face is shaped distinctly like your dad’s and how you already have your mom’s long. tapered fingers. You lay in my arms so quietly  kicking your feet and sticking out your tongue, like you were still getting use to the feel and the taste of air.

As you grow you will hear the story of how your mom and your dad moved across the world, far away from their home, their friends, and their families because they held a precious seed of hope that would become you and they believed that this was the best way they could provide for you. Some days it was really hard for them to be so far away, and scary to be having you in a country where the language and culture still feels rough and strange. But they were brave and God gave them the strength and encouragement they needed to push through the hard days. One day, you will get to be the coolest kid in the first grade when you tell your friends you were born in South Korea. I hope when that day comes you remember your parents and everything they sacrificed to have you here.

Your mom and dad are some of our closest friends. From the day we found out you existed we have watched them preparing their hearts and their lives for you. We have hoped and prayed with them  for you. And today the waiting and the hoping is over. Now comes the part where we marvel together as your glorious life unfolds.

Jonathan and Genevieve...He looks good with a baby, doesn't he?

Jonathan and Genevieve…He looks good with a baby, doesn’t he?

The world is a miracle, darling, and you are part of that miracle. We can’t wait to know you – your favorite color, your talents, and what things make you laugh. But no matter who you become in the course of your life, you should always know that you are deeply wanted and greatly celebrated.

So Genevieve…Happy Birthday, and welcome to the world. We can’t wait to hear your story.

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Kid president actually says this way better than me. This video makes me all weepy – in the good way.

Cookies for Jesus: a Club for the Very-Worst-Christians

We sit in a lop-sided circle on a couch or a bed or a blanket on the bare floor of an apartment. We spread out our offerings – fresh bread and fruit, dumplings and chips and juice. We all admit we’ve been eating too many carbs lately, but we still polish off the plate of cookies together. Then we gather around a laptop and listen to a man talk about God.

We’ve come from different parts of the world, from families that are close and families that are broken, in relationships and single, churched and unchurched. Some of us Believe, some of us aren’t sure if we do, and some of us are just starting to wonder if we want to. We are strangers in a strange place without a lot in common, but together we are part of something beautiful.

For a long, long time Bible study has been the last thing I have been interested in. In college, Bible studies were academic – interesting and instructional, full of references to things we learned in class or in chapel, often including a breakdown of what the passage said in the original Greek. I learned a lot in college, but I also felt inadequate. It was impossible not to weigh my insights alongside someone else’s or compare the depth of my spiritual life to the girl who woke in the middle of the night and prayed for hours, burdened for the lost.

After college, there were a few Bible studies organized by churches I attended. You know, Women’s Bible studies. Just those words conjure up an image of church-ladies in floral dresses and too much perfume making vague statements like, “You’ve just got to ‘Let go and let God.’” I knew a lot of “right” answers, but I was as tired of giving them as I was of hearing them. And no one seemed prepared to deal with my doubts – “I believe in God, but I’m not sure if God is good.” “The Apostle Paul comes off like a really arrogant SOB sometimes.” Maybe you already know this, but these kind of statements aren’t warmly welcomed by many nice church-ladies.

Suffice it to say, I was surprised by myself when I agreed to join a Bible study one of the girls was starting. I was nervous. I didn’t really know any of the other girls and I wasn’t sure what to expect. We met for the first time and realized that we were coming from wildly different backgrounds, and were wrestling with different aspects of our faith. We were messy and confused and blunt and unsure. But we were open. And I got SO excited. Because I knew that this was what I was looking for.

We ask questions. We tell our stories. We laugh at and with each other. We offer suggestions and encouragement, but we also admit frequently that there are a lot of things we don’t know. And sometimes we just complain together. But mostly, we offer OURSELVES to each other. Not just our opinions or our knowledge or our advice. Ourselves. We sit in our circle and spread out our arms and say, “Whatever you are, you are welcome here. Whatever you brought to share is a gift. Whatever you have to contribute will be valued. Whatever you need to say is safe with us.” There is maybe more cursing than you’d expect at a Bible study. But there’s also more laughing. There is more joy. There is more room for grace. There is more abundant LIFE.

Strange, how the most beautiful part of my life right now might just be a group of semi-heathens who really love cookies. And maybe also Jesus.

This is Jesus. Eating cookies. (Sort of)

This is Jesus. Eating cookies. (Sort of)