a good night

Merry Christmas, dear friends.

It's been the most wonderful night. Just this afternoon, I was sitting on my friend Katie's couch, reminiscing about good old-fashioned candelight Christmas Eve services, and how much I miss them. Growing up, it was always one of my favorite services of the year, mostly because of all the singing, and when you add in all the New England charm of snow-covered slate walkways and an evergreen-bedecked church built over 150 years ago - well, it's hard for anything to win out over that sort of childhood memory/ritual, and the "Cosmic Christmas" service that I went to last night with some friends at a large church nearby left me feeling like I still needed to go somewhere to worship... but I didn't know where to go, and I had plans to go out for dinner with my good friend Kim...

But enter God's perfect plan. Kim and I had not done our research well, and almost everywhere we went in search of dinner was closed, or just closing as we got there. We ended up at a McDonald's drive-thru, just 3/4 of an hour before they closed. We drove around and looked at Christmas lights while we ate (another Christmas tradition from my childhood that I love) - and then we went to church. Kim's parents go to a UCC church a couple towns over, and we joined them for their Christmas Eve service.

It was perfect. Bells chiming. Snow-covered trees. Evergreens hung everywhere. Candles in the windows. A beautiful stained-glass window as a focal-point of the room, called the Bethlehem window - depicting the town with the star shedding light upon it - and the cross on the altar under it in just the right place to connect the imagery. The table with "In Remembrance of Me" inscribed upon it. The advent wreath with peace, hope, love, and joy already lit. The carols, the choir, the organ, a real piano. And liturgy!!! Calls and responses. The Lord's prayer. An actual offertory. A benediction. And the candlelit singing of Silent Night. None of this fire-code nonsense and glow-stick substitute baloney. REAL candles, with actual flames. And an amusing safety demonstration by the pastor...

And it was all real. You could tell. The pastor meant what he said. At least most of the choir loved being there. And there were people there who loved each other. Could I have done without the running commentary from the lady behind me? Well, yes, but it was funny, and I almost busted up laughing when someone back there went horribly off-key. And it kept me grounded in the reality that the church really is made up of people... and it's so much grace that God loves us all.

It was a perfect evening. And NOW it is Christmas. It didn't feel like it earlier today. But now it is. (Thank You...)

So, Merry Christmas, to all of you. May peace and harmony reign where you are tonight, in your hearts, and in your minds, and in your souls. May you experience the reality this day of Emmanuel, God with us. And may you find joy with every new dawn - for each one brings new mercies.

Merry Christmas, dear friends... and to all, mmmm..... a good night. :)

whatever the morning version of "the gloaming" is...

i'm sure there's a word for it, but i don't know what it is. in the evening, when the world looks like this, it's called "the gloaming." it's not evening - at least not here. but this is my favorite time of day - i think it always has been. it's my favorite time of year to be awake at this time of the day, too. there's just something about this early hour, just before the sun comes up, especially when there's snow on the ground, when everything is tinted the deepest shades of blue... anything could happen when the world looks like this. star-crossed lovers could reunite. fairy godmothers could exist. it's magical, this moment just before daylight. more so than ever on a day like today, when there's a light snow falling, and the world all around is hushed. anything could happen... and it's not even Wednesday... ;)

dinner with Jesus

I've been on a journey these past 21 days, and I'm still not sure how much I can say. For the most part it hasn't felt very holy, but I've been practicing a spiritual discipline at what I believe was God's request, and I believe that not only has God been honored by my obedience in it, but that He's done more than I may ever know... not the least of which is that He's changed my heart a little bit more - turned me, a little bit more than ever, toward Himself.

Today was the 21st day, and I turned off the ringer on my phone and closed the computer, and spent the day in intercession, meditation, and reflection. I read an entire book from cover to cover, and as I read story after story about God's faithfulness today, I found myself melting into one big happy puddle of contentedness and confidence in God's goodness. I am no closer to having any answers to the questions I have been asking God for 21 days - but I am closer to Him, and because of that alone, I believe it's all been worth it.

To celebrate my love for Christ, and His for me, I had dinner with Jesus tonight. Have you ever noticed how incredibly good food is? How just the right combination of meat and spices with just the right veggies and some feta can totally be the perfect end to a perfect day? Have you thought about how carefully God designed the world - so that peas growing on vines and carrots growing in the dirt not only look pretty but taste great when you put them together? Have you thought about how in the world someone ever figured out how to make rice vinegar? Or who thought to put lavender into a spice blend that's amazing on chicken? Who in the world figured out how to make chocolate? (God bless them...)

But as amazing as all the food on my table was tonight, and as much as I appreciated it, what made it perfect was knowing that King of the Universe was here, having dinner with me. His company made it a perfect day today. The God who made and named every star spent the day with me... and with every other person on this planet. I love that. I love that He who has the affairs of whole nations to attend to loves me so much that He took time to attend to some of mine today. I feel ridiculously loved and cherished. As rich as any queen. And so deeply and incredibly blessed.

I have been worried and anxious about so many things this year... but it is time to let it all go. My God - my King - loves me, and is watching out for me... and my lack of understanding of what He is doing or why or how does not alter the truth that He is caring for me, that He has my best interests at heart, and that He is to be trusted. This is a God I can follow anywhere, and while troubles may (and will ) come, I can rest confidently in the truth of His love for me, and the knowledge that nothing - no, nothing - is too much for Him.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." - Psalm 91:1-2


i had coffee with an amazing woman of God last night - a girl i've been privileged to "mentor" for the past few months. (i wonder if she has any idea how often she mentors me?)

among the many topics we covered was freedom. it's a glorious word, isn't it? Heather, awhile ago, asked us what we thought of when we heard the word freedom, and my mental image is running through a field of little white flowers. There was a night last winter when I was incredibly depressed, and completely broke down on a couple of good friends - one of them had a vision as he was praying for me that night, and that was the scene he described. it's (obviously) stuck with me...

freedom's an incredible thing, but sometimes it comes in stages. that's cool, in some ways, because it means that if you are trying to break free from something, there is hope that if you have not yet, you will someday. but there are times when freedom seems so elusive... when you're longing so much to just be free without all the work it takes to get there sometimes... and whether it's getting out of debt, or a sin you just can't seem to shake, or realigning the things you believe with the Truth... freedom often comes with a price, and sometimes it is steep.

but there is one kind of freedom for which the price has already been paid in full, and it is simply yours for the asking. "...it is by grace you have been saved." (Ephesians 2:5)

snow fly

"Like the coolness of snow at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the spirit of his masters." - Proverbs 25:13

I love the snow. I always have. Growing up on the ocean coast of New England, we didn't see much of it. A good snowstorm happened maybe once every 4-5 years. We got a good bit of icy rain (and the accompanying school closings) but it just wasn't the same. We longed for a good two feet of snow. (I am not sure if we ever actually got it.) So you can imagine how thrilled I was the first year I lived in Michigan, and we had so much snow that you had to jump down two feet from the sidewalk into the road - and you were walking next to 4 foot high banks of it on occasion.

It is snowing today, and the quiet hush that comes with it does wonders for my soul. As the noise of the world outside is slightly cushioned by the snowfall, so the noise in my soul quiets just a bit as I sit with a cup of coffee, curled up under a blanket, and simply watch the snow fly. I love this moment. It's as though the world, like one enormous snow globe, has been turned upside down and shaken; and now it is still, and upright again, and nothing moves but the snow. And it is beautiful. May it be so with my soul... no matter what shakes it.

I looked up snow in the Bible today, just to see what God had to say about it. I found all the things you might expect to find about our sin being made whiter than snow by the blood of Christ... (black + red = white) - but I also found this proverb, and I like it. At first what captured my imagination was simply the picture of snow falling (preferably at the end of harvest) and the beauty of it, the welcome nature of the changing of the seasons, the promise of the coming holidays - but then it started to sink in. "Like the coolness of snow at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the spirit of his masters."

A trustworthy messenger - someone who can be trusted to deliver the message he's been told to deliver - refreshes the spirit of his masters. What do you think of when you hear the word refreshment? It's something that quenches thirst or quells hunger, it satisfies, it makes you glad... it makes you feel the way I feel when after a long and crazy day, I get to sit down with a cup of coffee and watch it snow. And snow always comes with a purpose, whether we know what it is or not... browsing through all those verses, I read that "as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:10-11)

So I want to be like this snow. I want to be someone whom God finds refreshing. I want to know that I've been sent with purpose (whether I know what it is or not), and I want to be trust-worthy. I want to be someone who, when the world has been turned upside down and shaken, continues to fall softly with purpose into exactly the place that's been marked out for me...

an attitude of gratitude

I'm sure about a zillion preachers have used that phrase at one point or another. "You must cultivate an attitude of gratitude, my friends." It's a catchy little rhyme, isn't it? I heard it close to 14 years ago, I think, and I have never forgotten it. And now likely neither will you. :)

Gratitude is a wonderful thing, tho... when you are busy being thankful for the blessings you do have, the things that you don't have are no longer the center of your attention, which means that you are no longer the center of your own attention either. Gratitude gets us out of ourselves, and directs our attention to the Giver of all good things.

It's Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S. and across the nation, people are stopping to think about the things for which they are thankful. At our Torch feast last weekend, we were challenged to come up with something memorable, something non-cliche.... none of this "I'm thankful for my friends and family stuff." Of course we are. But what else?

Well, I'm thankful for the "as is" section at IKEA. I found a great cabinet door for $3.00 last week that is now our welcome sign for Sacred Space. And I have an art project on my wall that is, at its base, two small tabletops (I think) from there - I believe they were $.30-$.50 apiece last year. And I have a great bookshelf that was supposed to be a tableleg... So there's my "memorable" bit of gratitude trivia. I know it seems like a silly thing to be thankful for. But the artist in me loves having a place to go for inspiration. :)

There are so many things I really am thankful for, on a much deeper and more meaningful level, tho. For my church community. For my pastor and his wife, who believe in God's call on my life even more strongly than I do, and who encourage me to live into it in every way they can. For the fierce women of God who have become my closest friends and confidantes. For blogging friends who have spoken so much encouragement and truth into my life over the past two years. For one friendship in particular that has taught me more about the unconditional nature of love than any other. And for an amazing, kind, compassionate, awesome, incredible, inspiring, sweet and loving God whose grace and mercy know no bounds.

I love You, God, and I am so grateful for You. Thank You for saving me, and for loving me so much.

i am amused...

and pretty excited, actually. :) I love WorshipHouse Media. (Thanks for the coaster at the Arts Conference!)

Daily Freebie Promo - "They'll Never Know" from Worship House Media on Vimeo.

how far...

Cathy has an excellent post up this week. I am so glad I know this lovely lady; she has a co-worker who is good friends with one of my good friends, and we met at a conference this summer. I lurk at her site fairly frequently, and am often inspired by her creativity and deeply thoughtful insights.

The post is about grief, and allowing ourselves time and space to grieve properly. It reminded me of saying Kaddish. It's hard to believe that wasn't even a year ago...

It's been quite a year.

I had occasion last week to look back on my first post of the year. Instead of making resolutions I knew I would break, I chose three things I wanted to see God do in my life over the course of this year - essentially: to refine my character, to help me recognize His voice more clearly, and to teach me to trust Him.

He's most definitely said "yes"... and there's still a whole month of the year left. :)

I am oddly reminded of something a good friend of mine said once (wow, also this year - were there like five years in the space of one this year?!): "It's like, I think, "wow, life hurts. Better get a helmet." and God responds by putting His hand on my shoulder, looking me in the eyes and saying, "No, no helmet. Trust Me." And then hits me in the head with a bat..."

Lol. Yep, it's been quite a year. But it's been so, so good. In a lot of ways, I've done a lot of mourning this year... but I am also learning to dance. And that is a good thing. Sooner or later I really will shed all this sackcloth. But I think I'm okay with still wearing it. At least for awhile. Because there's a promise that those who mourn may hope in:

Isaiah 61:1-4

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

Thank You, Jesus, for what You've done and are doing in me this year. I know that though You've purpose in all of it for me, it is also part of a bigger story, and that my story will show forth Your glory in ways I can hardly imagine from my limited perspective here. Thank You for the privilege of becoming a Repairer of Broken Walls. I am honored to have a role to play in Your Kingdom.

you have been counted worthy...

I was in line at the store the other day, and there was an older gentleman in front of me. He had only a handful of things - I forget what most of them were, but he was buying a large bottle of rum and a bucket of fried chicken from the deli. He was a weathered sort of man - deep lines of worry and unhappiness etched on his face - the sort of guy who would be completely believable as an old New England sailor if you put him in a yellow slicker and Wellingtons, and gave him a pipe and a rainhat and a wooden leg. I looked at him, and I looked at his dinner, and I thought, wow. How sad. What is it that has brought you here? I imagined him going home to an empty house, watching tv, and reading the paper, and having chicken and rum for dinner. Amazing how quickly we judge and concoct potential storylines, isn't it?

The lady at the checkout was extremely nice. She chattered at him as she rang up his groceries, and joked about remembering to take a break now because the chicken smelled so good. He kind of half-smiled at her as he left, and she wished him a good evening. Then she turned to me, and said, "He always seems so sad. So I try to make him laugh when he comes. If I can make him smile, that's something. He really needs to."

I love it that someone in a large grocery store has paid attention to the people coming through her line - that she remembers him, and tho she doesn't know his story, she cares enough to risk seeming a little foolish simply in hopes of getting to smile... which granted, is a small thing - but it's also amazing how a smile can completely change your day. I want to be that kind of person - the kind of person who notices the people around her, and starts to know and care about their stories. I do that with those that are closest to me, and with a number of blogospherical friends - but there are so very many people in the course of a day with whom I do not even make eye contact... That can change. I can be more loving than that.

And sure, it's risky. There are times when we will love ridiculously much, and it will be unappreciated, unseen, or unrequited even. There are times when we will be (or feel) betrayed and the pain of it will be suffocating, and we will need to remember how to breathe again. Love, however, does not look at that risk and retreat. It looks at that risk, and maybe it takes a deep breath and has to summon up some chutspa, but it loves anyway. It remains patient, it stays kind. It refuses to be envious, it chooses the road of humility, and it does not draw attention to itself in a boastful manner. It will not respond to mistreatment (either real or perceived) rudely. It does not seek its own gain. It doesn't go getting torqued off by just anything, and it forgets whatever wrongs have been done to it. It never delights in evil, and always rejoices with the truth. It protects. It trusts. It keeps hoping in the face of complete and utter hopelessness. It does not give up. And it never fails. It is always love.

Have you ever thought about that in relation to Jesus? It just struck me this morning (probably again, tho it feels like new revelation) that this is exactly the attitude Jesus had, even as He was nailed to a cross. He forgave all the wrong as it was being done. He stayed love. And love did not fail. In fact, He succeeded. Love literally "saved the day" - He saved us. He rescued us. He rescued me.

So even in those times when it is hard to love - when other roads would be "understandable" - I will choose love. I will risk it, to be like Him. And tho I may never be dragged before the Sanhedrin and beaten for my faith as the disciples were (Acts 5:41), I am sure there are other ways in which I will suffer for this choice. But I will count it all joy, to be counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name of Jesus - to be known as one who walked His way.

I can't do it by myself, Jesus. If I try to, I will screw it up. But You can make this true of me. You can so sanctify my heart and my soul that choosing love is just my natural response to anything, no matter what it is. Make it so, Lord, please. And may Your love shining through me reach this broken and desperately hurting world. Amen.

it's all about You

"Jesus is equal to every occasion." - Smith Wigglesworth

I'm reading a really interesting book right now - a collection of Smith Wigglesworth's sermons and writings on healing. It's completely flooring me, some of the stories he has to tell. I find my faith stirred to pray more confidently and more boldly as I read...

And at the same time, I find myself so humbled. I realized yesterday that my gaze is not as fixed on Christ as it could/should be. Even when I am praying for people, I am often looking at them and at their situations as I pray, and not at Jesus. Even when I am in a worship service, I am often distracted by what is going on around me and not by Jesus.

But I want to be. I want to be so incredibly distracted by Him that everything else just pales by comparison. I want to be so enamored with Christ that I am what the poet in Song of Songs calls "faint with love." I want to abide in Him so intimately that it becomes difficult to tell where I leave off and He begins - I want to decrease exponentially, so that He may increase... I want to fix my eyes on Christ, because He is equal to every occasion - and there is nothing - no problem, no heartache, no confusion, no betrayal, no misunderstanding, no illness - nothing! - greater than He is. And when we rest in that - when we remember that ours is the God who breathed life into existence, who by a word spoke light into being, who holds all things together - that ours is the God who rose from the dead, and is still in the business of resurrecting people - then there is nothing that comes our way that will overwhelm us. It can try if it wants to. But it will fail miserably. Because our God is bigger than everything in all of creation added together. Is anything too great for Him? No. No, it isn't...

Jesus, we look to You. Be all that we can see. May Your Bride be enthralled by Your beauty, and may all else fade in the light of Your Presence - You are God with us. With us. You are not a God who is far away, but You are here. Now. And there is not one thing that is too big for You. So whatever it is, for each one of us - that thing that seems too big but isn't - we entrust You with that. Your Word says that all things work together for the good of those who love You. I believe that. And I believe that somehow, it will all be for Your glory in the end. Help us to remember today that tho we are individual people with individual stories, unique, and genuinely special to You - it is not about us. It has never been about us. It has always been all about You. Your Name. Your Glory. Your Renown. Be glorified in us, Jesus. Be glorified in every occasion. Amen.


so a few of us have been talking... (that's where it always starts, isn't it?) and this word, "intentionality," keeps popping up.

Webster's illuminating definition of intentionality is to do something with intention. (lol) So I looked up intention, too. To do something intentionally is to resolve to do it; it involves purpose, meaning, and significance. You do it because it matters. Which means you probably care. Getting intentional, then, is actually going and doing something because you care...

I saw a picture of that last Sunday when I attended the morning worship service at a very nice little Presbyterian church in the next town over. I'd driven by it several times a week for a few months, and had been meaning to go - so last Sunday, in spite of the fact that it was actually snowing (kind of) and I was going to be 10 minutes late, I went.

They're strategic, let me tell you.

At the end of the driveway, there are all sorts of signs (some of which are pretty punny) welcoming you to their church and inviting you to pull in. There's a lot of trees, so it's hard to see what you're pulling into exactly. It wasn't the parking lot I expected! It was a gravel driveway that led up to what looked like a really big house. But there were signs, so I knew I was in the right place. I parked on the side of the driveway by a large pond, and walked up the drive to the house. The sign said the office was thru the doors I was approaching and the sanctuary was down the hill and around the corner. There were floor to ceiling windows on that side of the house, so I thought I'd try to sneak in through the office. Surely there was a hallway or an elevator or something.

Oh, no. The offices were on an open balcony wrapped around 3/4 of the sanctuary. There were no stairs. I could see the pastor's head over the railing from the door. So I went back out. No way to sneak around the back. There was only one way in - down the hill, past the really big window. The pastor would definitely see me approaching...

So I told the introvert in me to shut up and tromped down the hill past the windows and in through the doors of the entry. I found a bulletin with the order of service easily, and an usher who had (wonders!) spotted me coming, came around and opened the door. All thoughts of slipping in unnoticed died quickly. They were seated in the round, pretty much. So I went to slip into the closest empty chair, but caught the usher's hesitation. I turned and looked at him. He was a really nice older gentleman. "Do you see somewhere you'd like to sit?" he asked. "well, it doesn't really matter," I said, as I'd realized I'd already goofed and was supposed to let him do his job and find me somewhere to go. "Come this way," he said.

And we walked all around the back of the room (past the big windows again) and to the far side of the sanctuary. Every single person in the room knew I was there by the time I found a seat as far as possible from the exit. There was absolutely no way I was going to leave without talking to someone. I was also about 5 yards from the table with coffee and cookies on it.

Nice. These people were good, I will grant them that.

And you know, for all that I just joked about it - they really were. And it was as genuine as it was intentional. They were honestly glad to see me. They hoped I would come back. They didn't pressure me to stay longer. They asked questions about where I lived and how I'd found the church - but didn't pry.

Their worship space was really interesting too. The design of your worship space can say a lot about what you value - it doesn't always, because sometimes we're not lucky enough to get to design it from the ground up, and sometimes we're stuck with ridiculously high platforms and whatnot - but these people just built their space, and they'd obviously put a lot of thought into it. It was well-done. It was nice. Obviously pricey, but tasteful. There were all the elements of a traditional church - altar, podium for the pastor/lectionary readers, the flags, hm... not sure if there was a cross or not (I ended up unfortunately behind a pole and couldn't see much) - grand piano just off to the side, the aforementioned poles/pillars that reminded me of older buildings... but the whole room was carpeted, and there were two gigantic and likely functional fireplaces. The chairs were set up in the round, and could be easily cleared or rearranged. And those windows overlooked the pond. It was beautiful.

But it was small.

It's a brand new building, and while there were seats, they don't have any room to grow.

During the announcements/concerns portion of the service, this guy talked about how they'd called hundreds of people in the area to invite them to Thanksgiving/Christmas services and tell them about their church. (They've been a couple towns over in an office park for awhile, so they're reaching out to their new neighbors.) He read a letter written by one of the women they'd talked to, and she'd been really blessed by the conversation and the fact that someone cared about her. When he finished reading, the man was quiet for a minute, and then said, in a broken sort of voice with the hint of tears in it, "We reached someone." And everyone, after a second, clapped a little.

It made me want to cry. I mean, yes, we should always rejoice when we are able to reach someone with the gospel - but that it should be so novel, so... unexpected... such an answer to prayer... People, this is the CHURCH! It's what she does....

I hope they reach a lot more people. And I hope their contractor is able to add on to their building, or that they're planning on adding another service... And I hope I never forget it, the way he said, "We reached someone." I want to be broken and humbled and deeply glad for every soul to whom I am privileged to be the hands and feet of Christ, but I never want to feel that as a rarity.

Teach me, sweet Jesus, how to reach out to this lost and broken world, with all the intentionality that You do. Amen.

i'll never know...

Dearest Lord Jesus,

All I can say in response to Who You are and what You've done is... thank You.
I will never truly know nor understand how much it truly cost You to save me. Thank You for being the Bridge that led me to life.


finding vision - part 2

"Hope is hearing the music of the future. Faith is to dance to it." - Reuben Alves

I think the orchestra might be on holiday...

So... I'm obviously in a bloggy mood today. :) And I've been thinking a lot about hope. It's been kind a recurring theme this year, actually. Learning to hope, recognizing that it's something I have struggled with for awhile, trying now to figure out what to hope in...

Our pastor says to hope in God, and not in what we think He's said. He isn't advocating not believing God's promises in His Word - rather he's refering to those things we feel God has told us about specific situations. And I get that - to a degree. Rachel's post on hope this week spoke into that, actually...

But that leaves me with a question.

What do you with it when you feel like God has promised you something? What do you do with it, when you look at a mountain, and you see your future on it? Do you say, "thanks for the promise, God?" and go on with your life as if nothing has happened? Or do you say, "NO! I am going to believe this no matter what." And how do you know for sure that God spoke?

Our series at Torch right now is about relationships. We're being encouraged to believe for godly mates. Which is great... but okay, seriously, statistically - we can't possibly all get married because there are more women than men in the world. I just want to point that out...

One of the things that stuck with me from that prayer meeting last night was a call issued to the church at large to step it up in the area of adoption - to be the hands and feet of Christ to the "unwanted" - to become parents to an otherwise parent-less generation. I have always wanted to adopt. I have always wanted to be a mom. And I have always wanted a large family.

Praying last night, and remembering all of this, I found myself crying out to the Lord about it all. I know that I can be a "mom" whether I'm married or not. Amy Carmichael was Amma to hundreds of children in India, and she never married. In fact, she turned down a perfectly good proposal from a man she truly loved to stay in India and continue her work there.

Is it weakness to say that I don't want that?

Is it weakness to say, "God, I will go wherever You want me to go, and I will do whatever You want me to do, but please, will you either take away my desire to be married altogether and make me okay with the thought of a life lived alone, with You alone as my husband, or could we just get on with this?" I am 33 years old. I do not want to be having babies when I am 40.

And how do you adopt a million kids and yet travel all over the world? Which is an equally strong desire of my heart right now... And on what pretext do you do that - travel all over the world, I mean? What is my calling? What is God's vision for my life? All I know are pieces of it. Teaching. Singing. Mentoring. Writing. Travel. A passion for His bride and for the unity of the church. Concern for my generation, and the way we seem to be, in general, so lost... even those of us who aren't eternally lost are still wandering about (many of us) wondering what we're supposed to do with our lives and looking for meaning...

It seems to me that it would be so much easier to determine a vision for my life if I knew this one piece... but maybe that's just an excuse. I don't know.

Just thinking. And trying not to be too depressed about it. Failing rather miserably at the moment. :( But knowing that for all that it's completely cliche, it really will be alright. God knows His plan. And it's a good one. Far better than anything I could have ever come up with on my own. And the thing is, I love my life right now. I know that I am serving God well as a single woman, and I am glad for the freedom I have. I just wish... I don't know. I wish I knew for sure whether it's something I should hope for, getting married someday - or if throwing in the towel and giving up on that dream altogether is something I can somehow manage to do without a trace of bitterness, regret, or hard-heartedness. If He'd just say - I think I could be okay with it. Really... But right now, I'm really not. Right now I am really tired of waiting for "someday."

Rant over. Now seeking chocolate...

this delicate dance between grace and love

Over the past week I've had a lot of tough conversations, and read a few things that have profoundly disturbed me, and it's gotten me thinking about this delicate dance between grace and love.

"...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:23-24) This is the truth and the gospel - we have all completely screwed up on any number of levels, and worse: we, without Christ, are "by nature objects of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3) - but there is grace and redemption and forgiveness and reconciliation because of Christ's death and resurrection, and this is good news!!

But sometimes I fear that in the name of love we do not speak the truth as clearly as we ought. That in the name of compassion we adopt this "I'm okay and you're okay" philosophy that looks and sounds so nice and kind, but is actually full of hell, because it's a lie. We are not okay, and we have never been okay - it is why Christ came and died for us. There was a price paid for our freedom! And to deny that we have needed that ransom is to deny love...

Hebrews 4:15-16 tells us that "we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

He gets it, this God of ours, that temptation to sin comes at us in a zillion different ways, because not only does He see it, but He's been there, on the receiving end. He didn't give in to it, but He knows what it feels like be in those situations, and He knows how to help us in our time of need. We can come to Him in confidence, knowing that we will find mercy and grace. Romans 8:26: "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." His heart is filled with compassion for us, and He receives us as we are.

But He does not leave us that way.

The Bible tells us, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2) This is a process that takes cooperation between the Spirit at work in us (sanctifying us and making us more like Jesus) and we ourselves (choosing to allow Him to do it). It is not always easy, this becoming holy - it requires us to die to ourselves, and we do not always want to do that - and sometimes we want to but we don't want to but we do want to...

I love the way Peterson paraphrases this in the Message: "It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different." (Romans 7:21-25)

And that's the thing - He acted to set things right. Because there were things that needed to be set right. And there are things that still do...

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. - 1 John 4:7-9

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. - 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

God is love - and love rejoices in the truth.

I did a word search on Bible Gateway, looking for that verse about speaking the truth in love, and it turned up a number of verses that taken together make it very clear that there is a deep correlation between truth and love. Not surprising, as the Word tells us both that God is love and that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life... (John 14:6)

Love will always tell you the truth. Paul tells us that "...speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." (Ephesians 4:15)

I want that. I want Truth-speakers in my life who will tell me when I am getting it wrong, so that in all things I will grow up into Christ. And I want to be a Truth-speaker - not because of some self-righteous "I'm right and you're wrong" mentality - but because I love people and because I want to spend eternity with everyone.

The goal is godliness... the heart is love... and love does not lie to you and tell you that something wrong is okay when it isn't. It does not tell you, as you are walking into sin, that it's fine that you're doing it, because that's just where you are right now, and that everything's going to work out, and not to worry about it. It does not tell you that just because your situation is atrocious, that just because something horrible has happened to you, that you are justified in responding to it in an ungodly manner. Love turns and looks straight at that which would destroy it and continues to be love. ("Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing.")

God is love. He is also the source of life. And love values life - always.

About a week ago we started talking about "the abortion issue" at Torch, as we began praying for the upcoming election, and for God's kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. It has been a week of hard conversations and fervent prayer, and I have debated saying anything at all... but I cannot be silent. More than 50 million babies have been robbed of their destinies in this nation alone, and it is time for the bloodshed to stop. It is time for the Church to repent of her indifference and to do something about it. Our God can move mountains. He can heal our land.

He can also heal people.

There is grace. There is always, always, always grace. But "what shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (Romans 6:1-2)

I had the incredible privilege of watching /participating in (via the Internet) a prayer meeting in San Diego, CA last night, led by Lou Engle. At one point in the night, we prayed a prayer together that many involved with Bound4Life have been praying already for months:

"Jesus, I plead Your Blood over my sins and the sins of my nation. God, end abortion, and send revival to America."

It is a simple prayer, and it is heartfelt. And I am so humbled to be allowed into God's throne room, to repent on behalf of my nation, and to plead for the mercy He so freely gives.

waiting for the light to change...

I had an interesting experience this evening ...er...morning... on my way home from Stephie's. Those of you who know me well know that I have a tendency to not really pay attention to where I'm going when I'm driving, particularly if I'm thinking about something. I had rather a lot I was thinking about - all at the same time - lost track of where I was, and turned a bit too soon. I noticed as soon as I was halfway around the corner that it was the wrong road, and thought shoot. what have I done? I was now headed in completely the opposite direction of home, and I rather wanted to get there.

And God said, "Hap, sometimes life is like this. You think you're headed one way, and then the road will take an unexpected turn. You're still going where you're going - you are just getting there a different way."

I wanted to turn around and go back the way I'd come; I was pretty sure the way I'd meant to go home was quicker, as it led, you know... home. As opposed to the opposite direction. But God said, "No. I have something for you on this road."

So I kept driving. Looking at the clock. Wondering what on earth I was doing, driving the "wrong" way at 12:30am and wondering if this really was God, or if I was being an idiot. Finally I came to the intersection towards the end of this road where I could turn onto the road that would take me home. And the light was red.

Now the interesting thing about this particular intersection is that there's train tracks that run through it, so you have to stop on this side of the train tracks before you get to the actual intersection. So here I am, sitting at a red light behind empty train tracks, looking yards ahead to the intersection I need to turn left through, and watching the occasional car go through it... and the light I am facing stays red.

For a really, really, really long time.

I started to get a little impatient. I started to get a little annoyed. And the guy behind me started to honk at me. At which point I said, out loud (because, of course, talking to the people in other cars that annoy you is ever so helpful), "The light is red! It's not like I can do anything about it! Seriously...." And I gave up. And sat there, while people around me got antsy.

And then the light turned green.

And it seemed to me, right then, to be the perfect metaphor for my life. In so many areas, I feel like I was headed one way, and ended up taking a "wrong" turn somewhere (a turn that may not have been as wrong as I'd thought) - but now I am sitting at a ridiculously long red light, wondering what in the world I am doing here anyway, and waiting for the light to change - yet somehow still certain that in spite of the oddness of this moment, it is, for some reason, exactly where I should be just now...

I don't know what to make of that.

But here I sit. Waiting for the light to change.

And I imagine that as I wait here, the Light will change me.

finding vision - part I

Yep. It's another multi-part post. :)

I'm in this... I don't know what you'd call it... book club? class? ... THING. That'll work... It's a core group of people from Torch who are getting together once a month to talk through concepts found in some of the books we're reading. Last month's book was Visioneering, by Andy Stanley - and it was excellent. To help us think about what we're reading, our pastor gives us what he calls an application guide (and I call homework) and one of the questions he asked last month was really good.

The last question on the guide was, "What's your life vision?" to which I answered, "I DON'T KNOW" and that I'd get back to him on that - it occured to me today that I should probably get around to it - so, since I still don't know, I was re-reading the rest of what I'd written, and thought I'd share this bit.

So here's the question:
What are the top seven values that shape how you (will) live?

1. TRUTH - 2 Timothy 2:15 - "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." I want how I live to honor Him, and to teach (by both word (what I teach - written and spoken) and deed (how I live)) His truth.

2. HUMILITY - Micah 6:8 - "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." I want to live the balance between justice and mercy well, which something you must have humility to do.

3. JUSTICE/RIGHTEOUSNESS - Isaiah 56:1 - "This is what the Lord says, "Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed." I want to be known as someone who will always do the right thing, and who knows instinctively what that is, even in complicated, messy situations.

4. FREEDOM - Isaiah 58:6 - "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?" I want to be a yoke-breaker, through fasting and intercession, both private (prayer-closet) and public (praying over people).

5. *SABBATH* - Isaiah 56:2 and 58:13 - I want to learn what this means. I'm not in a place yet where I would die for this - but i think it's God who keeps bringing it up, and it seems to tie in with how I am supposed to structure my life in order to achieve what He wants to do through me. I don't get it yet, but I want to... so this is a "should" - but I want it to be a "would" - and not to impress anybody but because I think it's what God wants for me... Isaiah 56:2 - "Blessed is the man who does this, the man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil. Isaiah 58:13 - "If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight, and the Lord's holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words...."

6. YIELDEDNESS - John 3: 8 - "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." Wherever. Whenever. Whatever. I want to be when and where He wants me, doing whatever He wants me to do at any given moment.

7. HOSPITALITY - 1 Peter 4:8-10 - "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms."
Romans 12:10-13 - "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality."

I want to live hospitably - as a person of invitation - regardless of my personal circumstances. No matter how in need I am, there will always be something to share. "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you..." (Acts 3:6) etc. Hospitality involves so much more than just having people over for dinner, tho I want that to be a part of my life as well - it's inviting people into your life AS IS.

That last one is tricky sometimes. In spite of all I've written/thought on the subject over the past couple of years, I still find myself trying to clean up both my house and my act...

So what about you? This isn't a meme (unless you want it to be). :) But what do you value? I'd love to know.

prayer and fasting and faith on the earth - part one

I've been kicking a few thoughts around in my head, and working on this post for ages, and I have finally realized that it's going to take me awhile to sort it all out in my head... so, rather than not post anything for weeks, I thought maybe I'd give you a glimpse into what I'm thinking about. :) This only about half a thought so far, so please keep that in mind, but feedback, discussion, etc. is still more than welcome.

About a month and a half ago, Jon wrote an incredible post that raised a lot of interesting questions for a few of us, about the "greater things" that Jesus talked about, and what that really means. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." (John 14:12-14)

I've already written a fairly lengthy post on this verse and others like it, and a month and a half later, I am still mulling all this over. I still find myself incredibly challenged to seriously consider if I really believe that it's true - and if I do, then why do I not act on it?

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine was really not feeling well, and my heart totally went out to him. "Can I pray for you?" "Absolutely." So I went and got Stephie, and eventually we prayed.

It turned out to be quite the experience. I'm not really sure what it was like on his end, or Stephie's for that matter. But there were two dimensions of it for me that just left me wondering.

First, my hand on his shoulder got really tingly. Like seriously, pins and needles - but there was no "real" explanation for why that would happen - we were all sitting down and he was sitting on the floor, so it's not like my arm was falling asleep because I had it raised or anything. I don't really know how to describe it. And I found myself wondering - is this the power of God, flowing through me into my friend to heal him? I'm not sure... but he said later that he felt a lot better when we were done praying for him... which means that God was doing something...

Second, I ran smack into something we talked about on Jon's blog last month. Jon said, "i don't think it is simply a lack of faith that keeps these things from happening. i think it is because we have never practiced or tried, which is because of our lack of faith, which is because of a lack of practical examples." and then he raised a question:

have you ever tried to heal someone? and i'm not talking about "praying for healing." although that is the age old tradition within the church, i don't ever see jesus or the apostles doing that. they don't sit around, talking to the air saying things like, "dear god, if it be your will, please take away her cancer. may it be so, lord. may it be so. for your glory. amen."

no. they walk up, look the person in the eye and say, "be healed." they command it to be so with confident assertion.

That really tripped me up, I have to tell you. Because he's right. That's how they did it.

So this is what I said then:

I'm not willing to jump into the boat that says we can't do this. I've yet to walk up to someone and tell them to be well. I don't know if I can - and to be honest, I AM concerned about what it could do to someone's faith if I said it, they believed it would happen, and then it didn't. So there's the fear that prevents me from stepping out. I'm not a fan of the people who whack you on the head and tell you to be healed and wait for you to fall over - tho I do believe that in spite of the hype and in spite of the people who lie and twist it all for their own glory, honest people who are truly seeking God will still meet Him (have still met Him - I was one of them) in meetings like that.

But what if we could do it the way Peter and John did. Can you imagine that guy at the temple gate? His friends (or family) drop him off in his usual spot for another day of begging. Wow, that'll do a lot for your self-esteem... So Peter had to ask him to meet his gaze. What did that man see in Peter's eyes? What did John see as he watched? I don't know, but I think it was love. Compassion. A truly heart-felt desire to, on behalf of Christ, give this man a shred of dignity he had never known. I can almost see Peter grin as he reached down and took the man by the hand, the twinkle in his eyes as he tells him to get up. This man has never walked a day in his life. And AS he gets up (putting his own faith in line with Peter's?) his ankles become strong, and all the muscles in his legs he's never used are suddenly in working order, to the point where he can jump and leap in a way he'd only ever dreamed of for his whole life.

Imagine it, if we could bring that kind of joy to someone - the contagion it would be - how quickly the gospel would spread...

I don't know if I'm able to get past my lack of willingness to act on what I say I believe - but I hope I will. Because I think part of the point of miracles and whatnot (lol - "miracles and whatnot" - Happy speak for "signs and wonders") is to AID us in our faith - to help us believe. Jesus himself said something to the effect of, "oh for heaven's sake, if you don't believe what I SAY, then at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves" - that's paraphrased, but I think it's the jist and you can look it up in John - somewhere between 14-16, I think. :) He performed miracles as a testimony to who He was - and I think that's still the point. That, and just love...

(It's John 14:11, by the way.)

So that story in Acts 3 that I referenced in those comments has completely captured my imagination... and there is this very small - but very vocal - part of me that is starting to wonder if it is possible to say what Peter said, "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you..."

"What I have... "

...What do I have? And is it really mine to give away?...

I didn't say it.

...but I wanted to.

I wonder what would happen?

reflections on an incident with blackberry pie

i am not the world's greatest cook. i have been known to burn vegetables. you know, the kind you put in water and boil on the stove? yes, those. i've burned them. my rice generally turns out sticky, i tend to overcook my fish, my omelets fall apart. but i like to bake, and i'm halfway decent at turning out brownies and cookies and i make a really good apple pie. (or so i believe.)

our minichurch (new word for small group) meets on Tuesday evenings and we generally eat. i decided, in a fit of insanity, to make a blackberry pie for dessert. i'd never made one before, but i found a sugar-free recipe online that looked simple, got some advice from Sara (who is a brilliant cook) about adding extra fruit, and figured i was good to go.

allow me to share with you some things i have learned:

1) frozen berries tend to get a little juicy when they thaw
2) when a recipe calls for 1/2 cup of apple juice as a substitute for sugar, and tells you that all you need is 2 tsp. of corn starch to thicken it up, you should be suspicious
3) as a result of the first two lessons, when you pull the pie out of the oven, and it seems odd to you that there's berry juice boiling through some of the slits in the pie crust, there might be a reason for that
4) if you are foolish enough to not recognize the wisdom in lesson three, and cover your pie with only a sheet of tinfoil, you really ought not to stack the pie on top of your Bible and journal and carry it tilted slightly sideways on your way out the door

i am not kidding about lesson 4.

i would like, at this point, to mention that I looked fabulous. i felt fabulous too. from about the time i left my kitchen till about the time my friend chased me out the front door to tell me i was dripping.

dripping was an understatement.

there was a veritable lake of blackberry juice in my purse (purchased, of course, on my last missions trip to Germany). (the juice lake missed only my wallet and my cell phone - what were the odds? (thank you, Jesus!)) sweater, jeans, my favorite jacket - khaki suede... oh, and did you know we have white carpet? the front porch and the sidewalk all the way to the driveway are covered in variously sized and shaped purple splotches. and my bible and journal are decorated as well...

i stood there - dripping - in the middle of the sidewalk, holding the pie, looking at the disaster, and all i could say was, "i don't even know what to do right now..." seriously, what do you do in a moment like that?

you stand there, dripping, and wondering what to do.

and then your friend comes and helps you for a minute, and holds the pie so you can at least put down everything else. and you get some paper towels, and you start to clean up the mess, one bit at a time. you get new tinfoil and more paper towels and a carrying case and you wrap the pie more securely and contain it for the next stage of its journey. and you change your clothes, and dash out the door late, and looking slightly less fabulous, only to discover that the Boy Scouts have parked you in. so you dash back in and choose politeness and patience when internally you want to scream. and you get to minichurch eventually. and everyone is kind about the fact that they find your story hilarious, and they express sympathy while laughing. and then you go to cut the pie and find out that no, actually, it was a bigger lake than you thought. so your friend takes the pie to the sink and drains the rest of it. and the boys all tell you the pie is really good in spite of being so soggy. and you think, well. next week i will make an apple pie to make up for this...

and then you just kind of grin, because while you have been a complete moron on several counts today, life is just like that some days, and in so many ways the whole thing with the pie really is the way life goes. so you live and you learn...

and next time you ask someone who knows how to cook what corn starch is actually for anyway.

a spin down memory lane

Heather over at A Deconstructed Christian posted an unusual video this week - someone covered a song and attempted to "Christianize" it, and it was... sigh. Well, anyway. Rabbit trail, and here we are, taking a spin down memory lane.

I have a very special friend whom I will simply call Little Sister (because that sums it up well). About 6-7 years ago, we were hanging out at her house one day, listening to music, and we made up a dance routine to this song. (This isn't the official video, but I found this one amusing.) :) It was fun, and one of the things I loved most about hanging out with Little Sister back then was how young I felt sometimes. We choreographed for the greater part of the afternoon and then her dad came home.

"Dad! We made up this dance, do you want to see it?!"

(I believe he grinned.) "Of course, sweetie! I'd love to!"

I stepped off to the side, intending to sit this one out. Little Sister knew the moves. She didn't need me.
"You HAVE to!!! It won't be any fun without you! I might forget something. I need you! Please?!"
"Yeah, Hap! Come on, let's see it." He was thoroughly enjoying this. And I was mortified. (I suspect he knew it.)

But she would have been so disappointed... So we danced.

It was really good for my humility. Lol. No, honestly. It really was. :)

And I am happy to say we are probably somewhat gifted choreographers, as they seem to have used some of the same moves we did.... lol. :)

waiting for the rest of the story to unfold

So one of the many things I have been doing of late, particularly on the weekends, instead of blogging, is working my way through the entire series of Christy on DVD. I found it a few weeks ago for a good price, and I remembered loving it when it first came out years ago. It was a good purchase, and a good use of time, I think - I've been so inspired by the stories of these episodes, based on the book by Catherine Marshall. (and for those of you who have not seen the series yet and want to - this sentence is your official spoiler alert.) :)

I watched the last episode today, and I have to say I am really annoyed right now. They ended the series without telling you who she ends up with! How can they DO that?!?! It's so unfair. You know she should marry the preacher - she should - but you want her to marry the atheist doctor, in spite of the fact that he's still married to someone else - who is dying, incidentally. The ethics of the situation are terrible, but you still find yourself hoping that it will all work out somehow... but the series ends with Christy holding the preacher's ring and looking back and forth between the two men, and her voiceover saying something about how the choice she was about to make would change her life, and the lives of those she loved, forever. No kidding.... but what did you DO, Christy?!?!


What is it in us that needs to know the ending of the story? And why are we so impatient with the not knowing? As you've probably guessed, that question is about far more than a mere television series. I can go look at end of the book to find out who she married in the long run. But what about life? What about all the zillions of questions we have about how it will all turn out?

I don't have any answers to those questions. I do have a Book, and it says that it all ends well... for those who are in Christ. So I am confident of that. But what about all the chapters between now and then? I want to know what happens, dang it!

Sorry. This is a bit of a rant. Brought on by a long day of dusty cleaning and mental to-do lists, and an antsy restlessness that sets in periodically. I think I'll go take a walk. Hopefully it'll clear my head. If nothing else, it will quiet my soul, to wander with Him for awhile.

encountering Judas

It was the last thing I expected when I curled up in bed with a cup of tea and a good book, for my monthly "morning with Jesus." I call them Geneva days (because my first few were at a camp by that name), and I love them. They are mornings I set aside (actually written in on the calendar) to meet with the Lord with no agenda of my own. Sometimes that's hard - there are things I want to talk about, and oftentimes I find myself discussing those with Him anyway - but I do my best to let Him set the agenda for the day. Last Saturday I pulled out Having A Mary Heart in A Martha World, and finally (9 months later) finished it - it seemed like the thing to do that morning, and Joanna Weaver's discussion of one of the Mary stories hit me in a way I hadn't expected.

Mary, shortly before Jesus was crucified, came to him with one of the most valuable things she had - an alabaster jar of pure nard - and poured it over his feet, which she then wiped with her hair. It was an act of pure devotion and worship - and it drove Judas crazy. That perfume was worth more than a year's wages, and it seemed like such a waste to him, to "throw away" something so valuable in such a ridiculous fashion. He claimed it could have been sold and the money used to feed the poor. I won't question his motivation. But he had an agenda, and a world-view so contrary to Mary's - that he couldn't even begin to understand what would possess her to do such a thing.

You know, if you'd asked me before which character in the story I most identified with, I might have said Mary. Extravagant worship of that sort is something I want to offer the Lord. But as Weaver drew the contrasts between the heart attitudes of Judas and Mary, I began to notice something a little disturbing - I have, at times, as much potential to go his way as I do hers.


God, forbid that I should ever get so caught up in my own ideas about how things are supposed to go that I miss Your plan entirely. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Amen.

the three things meme

Cathy tagged me in a meme a few days ago (summer must be over if we all have time for this sort of thing again...lol) and I am finally getting to it. It's been a week of beautiful end-of-the-summer weather and I've been out walking or on a lake most evenings, and ...well, I don't know what happened to the rest of the week, but there's a floor that needs mopping, so here I am, meme-ing. :)

3 Joys:
long walks with a good friend
Reeses' Peanut Butter cups
hiking in the Michigan woods in the fall

3 Fears:

3 Goals:
to someday get a Masters degree in something
to fast three entire days on nothing but water
to write at least one new song before the end of the year

3 Current Obsessions:
getting rid of those boxes of junk mail that have been kicking around for 2 years now
going to IKEA for some odds and ends
saving for a Macbook Pro

3 Random/Surprising Facts:
i have a thing about bare feet (please keep them off me)
i very rarely hit what i'm aiming at when i throw something
there's about a 50/50 chance that if i go up or down a flight of stairs for something specific, i will forget for what

hm. whom to tag....

tell you what. if you want it, it's yours. :) but i think Chris, Sara, and Tara should go for it. if anyone else wants it, tho, just link back in the comments section so we can read it. :)

an unexpected gift

I was given a gift last night that I suspect I may treasure always. It isn't the kind of gift you can put on a shelf, or in your pocket. It was simply something that happened.

A couple of years ago I wrote a song for someone. It's actually a worship song, but it was inspired by his story, and it was one of those songs that sort of wrote itself, and has served as a kind of a standing stone to remind him (and our community in general) of what God has done. We've been singing it off and on for awhile, and a lot of people in our community now don't even know the story, and some of them don't even know I wrote it, which is actually kind of fun, because it means the song has taken on a life of its own - but up until now, I'm the only one who has ever led it. And up until last night, (and I know this will sound strange, but it's true) I had no idea if it even really meant anything to my friend. He never said. And I never asked.

But last night, someone else was leading worship, and my song was part of the set, and I had the immense privilege of standing in the back of the room and hearing an entire roomful of people sing my song. It was one of the most humbling and exhilarating moments I have ever experienced. But it gets even better. About halfway through the song, I looked over, and my friend that I wrote it for was standing in the back by the doors, and he had the biggest grin on his face. It was one of those smiles that you can't really give words to - but it expressed joy, and intimacy with the Father - and just knowing his story, I knew he was remembering. It was one sweet moment.

greater things are yet to come

I'm quite sure I'll have more to say when I have more time to write, but in the meantime, I would really like to direct all of you to a post that was mentioned in the comments section of my last post. Jon over at something else has written on a very similar topic, and it's sparked a great conversation. Honestly, I've probably written two posts worth of stuff over there. :)

We introduced a song at Torch last week that is so applicable to this whole conversation, too. I hope you like it as much as I do. Here's the acoustic version from Chris Tomlin:

...but... do we *believe* it?

I've been thinking a lot about what Jesus said in John 14-17; I spent a couple of days just reading and re-reading those chapters, and really searching my heart to know if I really believe all that He says. I'm embarrassed to admit that there are times when I really don't seem to, and so I find myself crying out with the man in Mark 9:24, "Lord, I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief." It isn't that I don't believe it - mentally, I do - it's in God's Word, it's true, therefore... but to put my faith behind it, and act on it? That's where I stumble over my own lack of faith.

Consider these verses:

John 14: 12-14 - I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

John 15: 7-16 - (v. 7, 8,16:) If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples....You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

John 16: 22-27 -(v. 23, 24, 26,27:) In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.... In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.

Eugene Peterson paraphrases some of it this way in The Message:

From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I'll do it. That's how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I'll do. (John 14:7-8) This is what I want you to do: Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I've revealed to you. Ask in my name, according to my will, and he'll most certainly give it to you. Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks!....I won't continue making requests of the Father on your behalf. I won't need to. Because you've gone out on a limb, committed yourselves to love and trust in me, believing I came directly from the Father, the Father loves you directly. (John 16:23-24, 26-27)

So if I'm understanding all of this correctly, the idea here is that because Jesus chose us to be his disciples, to be the people who model and teach the way of life that He lived, we're to do the things He did. (I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.) Have you read about those things?! Lame people walking, sick people healed, blind people given sight, the deaf hearing, dead men rising... Oh. my. That's incredible.... but... do we believe it? Do we believe that when we pray, God hears us, and His answer will be yes?

I know, there's immediately a zillion complicated questions - what about "unanswered" prayer? what about when God says no? what about when people you've prayed for to be well do not get well? what about...

Those are all valid questions. Questions I've asked myself. Questions I have used to justify my unbelief... But what if I did believe it? What if I were actually walking close enough with God that I knew His heart in specific situations? What if I prayed, not just things I want or think would be good ideas, but what if I prayed, as Peterson phrases it, things that along the lines of who (God is) and what (He is) doing, things that in keeping with the things (He's) revealed to (me)? It seems to me that (because He said it, and because it just makes sense) if we pray for the things that God wants, His answer will be yes...

And no, the "yes" won't always come right away. There are times when, as author Joanna Weaver puts it, "God's love tarries." When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick (John 11:1-44), He could have just said the word, and his friend would have been well - He'd done that before for someone else. But He didn't. He waited two days, and then He went to His friends. Their sorrow touched Him deeply; tarrying was not something He did lightly. But oh, the miracle we would all have missed if He hadn't! And who am I to say that because God's "yes" is not yet apparent to me that I have either failed in my praying or that He is not going to say "yes"? (If I am praying in His will - I'm not talking about times when I'm not - and those do exist, because I'm human, and I get it wrong a lot.)

I think this is all kicking around in my head so much because over the past couple of weeks I have been praying for something I really want for someone I love. And I believe with all my heart that it's something God would really like to say "yes" to. It's in keeping with who He is, and what He does. It would bring Him so much glory. It would be an absolute, honest-to-goodness miracle. And as I've been praying for this one thing, God has led me to pray for any number of other related things - and I've seen them happen. And I have been amazed at the accuracy of my prayers for things I was "guessing" at, and the speed with which God has said "yes" to them... and then I read these verses, and felt challenged to question myself: "Do I really believe that God will say yes to what I'm asking him for?" I've gone into it trying to be realistic about the fact that God might continue to say "not yet." Trying not to get my hopes up, trying not to set myself up for disappointment. Trying not to expect too much... but is anything too much for God?

No. No, it isn't.

And the truth is, I felt led to this season of prayer. I felt led to ask for this one thing. I read the parable of the persistent widow awhile ago, and felt the Lord inviting me to take Him up on it, to come and pound down His door for this. "How badly do you want this, Hap? Show me."

I believe He has already said yes, and I have reason to believe it. It is "not yet" at the moment, but I don't know... I don't understand how it all works, but I believe that for whatever reason God has given me the privilege of participating in this part of His plan, and that somehow what I pray, and the persistence with which I pray, is moving something on a level where I cannot yet see it. "You don't have because you don't ask." (James 4:2) So I am asking, and trying to put my faith behind my prayers. I will believe that He is able to do more than all I ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21). And I will wait on the Lord (Psalm 27:14) for the day He says yes. And praying that it will be soon.

Amen. (which means, "let it be so.")


So a friend of mine paid me a rather interesting compliment last night. We were texting back and forth about something and he said, "You've gotta be one of the most loyal people I know."

Loyal? Wow... What do you say to that?

I'll admit it, at first it felt a little like the friendship version of "she's got a great personality..." Lol. Loyal... I mean, really, am I a cocker spaniel?! But as I thought more about it, I thought, no, actually, this really is something for which we should want to be known...

What does it mean to be loyal?

Webster defines it as being "unswerving in allegiance," faithful to someone or something to whom fidelity is owed. So a loyal person is someone you can trust, depend on - someone who will be there no matter what.

That's the kind of person I want to be - and a trait for which I'm glad to be known, by at least one person anyway. :) But as I've been thinking about it today, it occured to me that as much as it means to know that my friend thinks this of me, it would mean so much more to know that God believed it to be true of me.

So, Lord, my prayer this day is that You would find me to be loyal to You always. Make me that kind of a girl, God. Amen.

responsible song writing 101

As a worship leader, I pay pretty close attention to what the words of our songs are actually saying. Songs are interesting things. With the possible exception of annoying restaurant birthday songs, they generally have the potential to be extremely meaningful - or to drive us crazy. Ever turned off the radio just because that song came on again? Or turned it up because "oh, i love this song!!"

It is no different on Sundays - or Monday nights. And part of my job (which is really difficult) is helping our community to create a song culture that reflects good theology, is incredibly singable, culturally relevant, and... well - a lot of things, really, but right there - "culturally relevant..." Put two people in a room and you already have two cultures. Try it with ninety and see how far you get finding a song that they'll all love. :)

So we do our best.

One of the issues that came up early on in my worship leading career was the fact that I'm a woman. (um, surprise?) No, actually, it wasn't the women-in-ministry debate - it was simply that I'm naturally a first soprano, but guys can't sing in those keys. So over time I've become an alto, and I sing everything way lower than is comfy at times, but it's helped our guys to connect a little better, so losing my upper register was worth it. But I think it's because I'm so in the habit of thinking about how to help the guys in our group encounter the Lord through music (tricky as many of them claim to be joyful noise-makers), this video really caught my attention. What do you think about this?

the end of the masquerade

One of my favorite movies - possible the favorite movie - is Ever After. If you have not seen it, I would highly recommend it. A "real life" Cinderella story, complete with masked ball... does it get better than that? Oh, yes, it does. There are gypsies and a swordfight. (And those of you who love this movie as much as I do are reliving the best scene right now.) The rest of you need to go rent it. Yes, it's a chick flick. And their French is terrible. But it's a good story. And did I mention there's a swordfight? (Cinderella wins.)

So there's a scene towards the end of the movie where Cinderella goes to the Masque - the ball the King is throwing to celebrate the engagement of his son to ... no one knows whom. The prince and Cinderella have fallen in love, but she can't marry him under false pretenses, so Cinderella goes to tell him the truth about who she is - and the conversation goes horribly wrong. He isn't listening to her, and she's betrayed by her family in front of the entire court before she has the opportunity to explain the real masquerade that their relationship has been up to this point. He is understandably upset, and allows his pride to overshadow his love for the girl... they do patch it up and live happily ever after eventually, but it takes them awhile to get there, and it's pretty awful in betweentimes...

I've been thinking about that whole masquerade thing all week. A friend of mine, when I told him about that dream I had last week, basically said, "Hap, don't read more into it than is there, but look at the message - you're afraid of the consequences of being seen for who you really are. Your whole life you've played so many roles based on the expectations (or perceived expectations) that have been placed upon you. Over the past year, you've done a lot to step out of that masquerade and to just be yourself - but since you've been burned in the past for it, of course you're starting to fear that it will happen again." (He said it all a lot better than that, and I am kicking myself for not writing it down earlier.) He had a point. And, I suspect, a direct line to heaven on that one. There's a lot of truth to that, and I run up against it in the oddest places sometimes.

Tomorrow my friend Stephie is preaching on fasting, and she's interviewing me and another friend of ours about our experiences fasting. I'm glad she asked because it is a discipline that I really love (I know that sounds funny, considering prior things I've written about that, but God has so changed my heart about it), and the opportunity to make the discipline of fasting personal to someone (as in, "Oh, well, this person I know has managed to fast, and this is how it went, so maybe I can too...") is exciting - but there's also this weird zone attached to it that I am really wrestling with...

The two passages I come back to over and over again on fasting are Isaiah 58 and Matthew 6: 16-18. I've written a couple of times about Isaiah 58 and how significant that passage has been to me. But I'm suddenly finding that actually standing up in front of people and talking about it is really hard! Fasting is such a personal and private thing, and the things for which I have been fasting and praying this year are so intensely personal - and I'm just not sure how to talk about it and still be vague enough to guard my privacy yet truthful enough to communicate that there are actual situations in which this discipline has proven effective - how to talk about how sweet it is to throw yourself in the gap for someone you love who needs God to intervene on their behalf and to let your hunger drive you to a deeper hunger for the Lord and for His kingdom to come... without actually explaining the situations themselves. How to talk about Isaiah 58 when God continues to use it to change everything... And I'm being vague....

It is simply that in learning to say Kaddish this year, I have discovered that part of God's purpose in calling to me to fast the way I do is to "loose the chains of injustice" over my life... and that "not turning away from my own flesh and blood" (Isaiah 58:7) isn't just about the past but about the future too - and that "the glory of the Lord" being "my rear guard" means that God's got my back and that He can redeem my past to help others become free - but that in order to do that, He needs me to tell the truth - the whole truth - about me. My story. Everything. Probably not all at once...lol. But bit by bit. And while blogging has done so much over the past two years to help me start doing that... the call is to people I can see as well as those of you who are kind enough to read these ramblings...

So I guess it's time to break character...? Tomorrow will be interesting anyway. (insert wry grin here) I wonder what I'll actually say...

...and am hoping for a happy ending. Pun so absolutely intended.