How to Not Drown in Your Crappies

fall-1Samuel is napping while I fluff up our home with festive touches of fall and consider the season of Thanksgiving that’s approaching. I don’t know about you but I often fight gratitude with reasons. With cold hard facts and cruel reality. I have my reasons for being bitter and resentful and unhappy.. Don’t we all? Life can be a real beat down. But I’m learning that truly being grateful for my life isn’t just giving thanks that my “happies” outnumber my “crappies” – it’s often a fight for the right priorities. What things, of all the list of happies and crappies really matters? Long term. Big picture. Eternal perspective. That shift in focusing on priorities helps me so much when I’m struggling to be grateful. It also helps when I remember that I’m not supposed to endure crappies all by myself.

Listen to me – You will drown in your crappies if you’re trying to go it alone.

Here’s what you do to avoid drowning:

1. Get to know God. Study Jesus. – This sounds so “woo woo wacko” if you’re not someone who thinks about or cares much about who God is or isn’t. It also may sound like 2 steps but they’re one in the same. This is a crucial step. Why? Well, if for no other reason than you were made in His image. He put you together so if you have beef with Him or questions about stuff that’s true of you/been done to you/you’ve done to others – start the conversation by pursuing Him. *Spoiler alert – He’s already and always pursuing you. So, you’re about 15…20… FOREVER years behind. It’s OK though, totally worth jumping in and getting to it. I recommend picking up a Bible and reading the book of John – it’s in the New Testament, 4th book down if you’re looking at the Table of Contents.

The more you learn about God, the more you understand about yourself. I do this by reading the Bible on a regular basis, praying, and talking to other people about just about anything from God to parenting to careers to hobbies etc. Which leads me to my second tip to avoid drowning in your own crappies

2. Let yourself be known by other people. – Full disclosre: I’m bad at this. All of my closest friends (spouse included) will tell you I’m bad at this. I have a tendency to hide behind all of my happies, sweep the crappies under the rug until they explode and then it’s like a shitstorm. Pardon my french but it’s a quite accurate metaphor is it not? When you let other people know when you’re hurt, angry, lonely, scared, or confused you may be amazed to discover they still love you any way. EVEN ALL OF YOUR CRAPPIES. Use caution with who you let into your shitstorm though because it ain’t a pretty place and you need the real troopers who will wade in and pull you out without feeling the need to pinch their nose.

fall-2So if you’re like me and you’re so super excited about Fall and PSL and OMG CRUNCHY LEAVES but you’re kind of feeling a little (or a lot) like you’re drowning in crappies, it may behoove you to dive into the aforementioned steps and see what happens. Maybe by the time Thanksgiving rolls around you will be able to lift your glass at the obligatory “thankful toast” and experience in your heart – real and abiding gratitude for the life you’re living right now.
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Uncomfortable

imageHave you ever been in a place in your life when you think, “Maybe one day I’ll look back on this and see God’s fingerprints all over it and it will be grand and I will encourage people and it will be so lovely and I will summarize all of God’s faithfulness over a cup of coffee and isn’t that nice ?” But as you wade through that season of life you’re just thinking, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

That’s me right now!

So much of me longs to gird my loins, put on the armor of God and storm into this season with gusto and enough faith to drown out all of the anxieties and doubts. Oh but friend, I am tired. I am longing for respite. I feel stretched, weary and weak. I want to withdraw, to quietly pack up the armor of God, to pull out of every battle raging internally and around me and just wait for Jesus to clean it all up. (Try not to be too bedazzled by the tenacity of my faith.) If there’s anything you may learn from my spiritual journey it’s that trusting an invisible God does not come very easily to me. I guess the beauty is, it doesn’t have to.

My head knows the truths about God and His promises, but in times of adversity or confusion my heart swallows the truths with an obligatory gulp – and it often takes a while for it to be digested. Maybe you can relate?

Becoming more like Christ often means surrendering parts of your human nature that are familiar and easy – and crippling. I am a sucker for creature comforts, for happily ever afters, for “ignorance is bliss” and for the American dream. Every time any one of those things is gently rendered from my tight fists, I am left with open, empty hands. Which is (not surprisingly) exactly what enables me to connect with God and with others. How can I receive and enjoy the Good News that Jesus is who He says He is, when I am preoccupied with what other people think about me or how my life adds up compared to someone else’s (aka: things that don’t matter. ever.)?

My small piece of the world feels very unsteady and uncertain and I am uncomfortable in it. Yet it is my reality. Yet God has placed people in my life who remind me of His steadiness and certainty and the comfort of His Presence – even as all of those things seem tucked into a pretty sermon rather than winding through my story.

In addition to the uncertainties that plague my small corner of the world lately, my head has been spinning the last few weeks with questions about race, racism, and reconciliation. It all feels so big to me. Like too much. My pride bristles at ideas and perspectives that challenge my own, yet my spirit within me is restless for unity and peace and the mission of God. I have entered into conversations that require me to listen and reflect. I have walked into territory that is new and scary and humbling. This season of my life is uncomfortable, guys. Have I mentioned that? The issue of racism in America is uncomfortable. The searchings of my heart have led me to dialogues that have challenged and moved me to uncomfortable, refining places.

The firmness of my faith is being tested as I walk out, unwillingly, onto the waters of this season. moms flowersAgain I find myself looking at a future that doesn’t look like what I thought it would. Again I surrender to God and again I find it all difficult to do. Oh! To present to you the face of a woman who is so confident in her God and in her future. But honesty is too precious and saving face costs all of us too much.

Instead I am resolved to take a deep breath, one conversation at a time, one step at a time and wake up tomorrow knowing that the same God who sent His own Son to die a brutal death on my behalf, and live a resurrected life also sends me into my corner of the world with purposes He will fulfill through a life lived honestly, imperfectly and uncomfortably.

Life is hard. God is faithful.  Amen? Amen.

The Dark, Cold Waters of Depravity

On the day I should be humble, Lord

Stricken with grief and despair

I find myself looking up at You and

mocking you with my stare.

“If you are the son of God,” I yell

“then get off that cross. Do SOMEthing.

Save yourself. Call the angels. How foolish

that you do nothing!”

I watch you speak to the criminals as your lungs start to collapse,

offering a seat in Paradise? Please. You’re nothing but a man.

Eventually you die and as the sky and ground split in two,

I shrug off the scream of creation, my eyes are fixed only on you.

You are dead, Jesus. That’s what I see.

I feel nothing but disappointed.

What a joke I played on my heart, to think you were somehow anointed.

Now here I am, generations removed from the actual moment that you died

and I am so so angry Lord. I want to do nothing but scream and cry.

At You.

It alarms me because I have always been for you, with you, trusting every move you have made.

Now I find myself retreating from the wings that gave me shade.

Do you see what’s happening around here, God? Do you hear the bombs and screams?

As girls are ripped from their innocence and the heads of children fill the streets?

I’m back at the foot of the Cross and I am yelling at you again to move, to ACT

my voice catches in my throat because it’s actually desperation I feel. Not anger.

I am so tired of holding out nothing but hope. It seems so not enough for that mourning mother.

What of that child who watched themselves become an orphan? WHAT ARE YOU DOING FOR THEM?

For years I have recited the rhetoric. I have looked at the cross with deep sorrow yet JOY.

But this year, God I am struggling SO HARD to believe this isn’t just a big ploy.

I have broken down for the broken down and feel entirely spent.

I know you offer eternal life, but does it matter when this life, for so many, is hell?

Yet, before your eyes close in death on the cross, before you surrender your life,

You look down into my hateful heart and am compelled, for me, to die.

You know that I will doubt you, that I will try and flee from your presence.

You have gone with me every place I am, You will continue into the next one.

God I weep at my unbelief, at the doubt I have nurtured, coddled and kept

But just as you saw me, clear as day on that cross, you saw billions and billions… and wept.

So even though sometimes it’s hard to swallow the truth lodged in my imperfect, wayward spirit,

I will proclaim to the nations, to neighbors, to friends, to anyone who will hear it:

God saw and He moved and He entered into our hate. He suffocated under our darkness.

Today, RIGHT NOW, the Enemy tears through flesh and nations to convince us that our God is absent.

Oh friend, skeptic, critic, and saint – do not be deceived any longer.

The glimpses of terror we have seen in our time, are a fraction of what laid on Christ’s shoulders.

We will not ever fully know the dark, cold waters of our depravity, as Christ has known them.

The Enemy likes to make us think those waters will drown us in despair and pain,

But Jesus’ death gives every soul the chance to come up for air, and remain.

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Sandy Bottoms

IMG_4615I look out and I see who you are, God. Vast and powerful and unchanging and unyielding.

I am fearful for the future. What if I lose my job again? What if I miss a window to serve and love because I’m so scared of being misunderstood? What if I do it wrong? What if I settle for mediocre?

I have excuses where you have promises.

I cup my fears and worries in my hand, desperately trying to convince myself that I can control it all. You pour your grace into my thirsty spirit and before I know it, my cup is running over with grace upon grace.

You do not leave room for fear of man. 

While the world hands me lukewarm, unfinished warm-fuzzy sentiments about love, You consume me with unrelenting, holy and pure love. Love for me. Just me. Not me plus a dozen unwritten obligations and standards I have to meet. Just. Me.

Jesus sits with me on the sand as the pounding surf harmonizes with distant thunder.

“Oh you of little faith, Rachel. I will not ever go away. I am not watching you for mistakes, I’m walking with you through them. I am not waiting to rescue you from your folly, I’m waiting for you to realize you have already been rescued. I am not ashamed of your fear, I am here to turn it into faith. Don’t you see? 2015 will be new to you but I have already seen to the end of time. You will experience new heights of joy, depths of sorrow and lengths of wilderness. I will love you the same through all of it. I did not come and die for you to wait to live. It is for freedom that I have set you free! You are free to be you! You will mess up this year, Rachel. Let’s just stop trying to beat around the bush about it. And yet I have chosen to use you for my purposes and my kingdom and you don’t get to tell me not to. I am God. Do you get that? Sitting on this damp, cold beach with tears running down your face and joy lighting up your heart, I think you get it. But I’m going to have to remind you tomorrow and the next day and the next week,month and year. That’s ok. My faithfulness outruns your forgetfulness every time. Trust me. Trust me. Trust me.”

It’s getting darker and colder so I will gather myself up out of the sand, walk into our warm small condo and I will remember. I will remember the kind of God who pounds the surf against the shore and, without missing a beat, sits down in the sand next to His child and watches the ocean with her.

Your 2015 is new to you too, reader. A new year is a gift though for many it feels like a burden. I want you to remember that your year matters to the God who has created eternity. This year, sit down at your kitchen table, your bedside, your cubicle, or your car and make time for the God who has all the time in the world to teach you, challenge you, love you, and value you.

We all need more sandy bottom moments with Jesus. IMG_4619

I need them to remind myself that I am known by God in all my mess. I need them to remember my life is no small matter if it is lived out for and with the God of my salvation.

I need them to remember I know a God who is never too busy to sit with me in the sand.

 

For the Broken Bells

hanging_jingle_bellsI love this time of year! All the feel-good jingles and the festive sleigh bell jangles. Christmas is magical in so many ways! As each year has passed, Christmas is still beautiful and fun but the world around me has sort of lost it’s soft innocence I had enjoyed as a little girl. Back in the day where my biggest concern was getting to the JCPenney gift catalog before my sister did so I could mark all the stuff I wanted before her, I didn’t know about things like loss or grief or pain or sorrow.

There are days where I miss that innocence. Where I wish I could close my eyes and see the world with all of the naiveté of a 6-year-old. Where people didn’t hurt people so badly or where hard decisions weren’t weighing on my mind or relationships weren’t shattering and depression wasn’t suffocating and grief wasn’t so ruthless and final.

This world and every (every) person in it are messed up on so many levels and for all of the Christmas caroling and jingle belling that swirls around us, we just can’t fix it. So I sit in my car and listen to the lyrics of “O Holy Night” and beg the Lord to return, to break visible chains of bondage because sometimes it’s hard to care about the invisible ones. To stop oppression in it’s tracks and display his power by silencing all the violence. I praise Him for thrilling our souls with a hope that stays and for entering a world that was pining in it’s own desperate, depraved chaos. I ask Him for wisdom for His church because while the world certainly needs His law of love and gospel of peace, His church needs it too.

I could probably name a dozen reasons off the top of my head why I should feel bitter, angry, and confused right now. Some of the reasons are personal, some national, and others global. I have my list of “How do you explain this” circumstances that I have wielded in anger as I marched up to the throne of grace, demanding explanations.

I know that believing is hard, friends. I know that if you’re hurting right now then you probably don’t feel like decking the halls and it’s probably hard to dream of a White Christmas when you aren’t sleeping at night. The palpable, frenzied happy feelings that pulse through the air and radio this time of year may be cutting you like a knife and nobody seems to really get it.

I just want to tell you — somebody gets it. In fact, He’s the reason all of this celebrating is happening. Buried beneath the white noise of holly, jolly, ho-ho-ho, 50% off, buy-more-save-more is a baby boy sleeping in a cow trough, his mother exhausted and in pain on the cold barn floor and his father with deep lines of fatigue and wonder tracing his face.

I know it seems so ridiculous that a baby would save the world. Even more ridiculous to believe that God would become a man. Christmas is absurd, really. But God has never done things the way we expect Him to, or even demand Him to. He is not in the business of catering to finite, individual understandings of who He ought to be and how He ought to act.

He is in the glory business. The kind of glory which displays a radiant hope that pierces through thickening hate. Glory that takes deep pain and massages it gently into restored wholeness. Glory that sees lost causes as second chances. Glory that points to a God we just can’t summarize.

Christmas is about a God who saw you hurting and scared and tired and angry and said, “I am coming to heal that. Forever. Once for all.”

The sin that plagues you internally and externally is waging war so ferociously because it has already lost. It is frantic to distract you from Christmas, desperate to keep you from Easter.

In case you thought that Christmas runs only as deep as the warm-fuzzy feelings, I wanted to tell you how wrong you are. It finds the lonely, isolated, angry, heartbroken, and torn and says, “Ahhh yes. This is where I belong. I love you. You matter to me. Will you hear me? Will you believe that I came for you?”

I’m praying that you hear it, this year. The real sound of Christmas ringing through the cold, dark winter of your pain — a thrill of hope, a new and glorious morn.

My Song of the Sea

IMG_7559My women’s small group is currently going through the book of Exodus. Last week we talked about Exodus 15 – The Israelites sang their “Song of the Sea” after watching God destroy the Egyptian army in the waters of the Red Sea. It’s a beautiful, poignant picture of a people who are so ready to worship and revere their God. As a takeaway idea, I suggested we try and write our own “Song of the Sea” to declare God’s goodness and faithfulness to us during our own lives. Since I’m a leader of the group I figured maybe I should follow through on my own idea (which happens probably about 30% of the time), and I’m really glad I did! This was a great exercise in worship and reflection.

Rachel’s Song of the Sea

Lord, Your ways are unsearchable to me. Your grace is unavoidable.
You stand on my behalf in the presence of the Father.
You have claimed me for Yourself and I am irreversibly Yours.

Your hands have formed galaxies even as Your mind imagined the human race.
You are altogether good and trustworthy in Your design. You do not make mistakes or have second thoughts.

With You, there is no plan B.
In You there is no condemnation for all who worship You.

You patiently deliberate with me in my doubt.
In truth You respond to my anger and uncertainty.
In love You rebuke my arrogance and conceit.

When I hated Your plan for me, You heard and knew and felt that pain.
And You comforted me.
You lifted my chin and turned my eyes to a tomorrow that I can only dimly comprehend.

Great is Your faithfulness!

When I shake my fist in Your face, You put me in my place.
You destroy my wobbly attempts at being someone I’m not, simply by reminding me that I am Yours.

You free me to risk and to try because everyday I wake up in Your mercies.
Where can I go from You?

I chase after the wind as You chase my wayward heart.
You sing over me even as I reach for other gods.

I don’t understand You, God. You don’t fit into my boxes.

At times I’m silent before You, seething and lonely and scared.
At times You are silent before me, present and listening and leading.

Your Spirit is an anchor in the fickle seas of my flesh.
I am caught and pulled and tempted and fail.
You are steadfast, available, and ready to redeem.

The Enemy sits in my comfort zone, I have made him a friend as I seek and search for how to be god.
He prompts me and urges me towards forbidden fruit, towards the empty, glittery promises of lust, pride, greed, and hate.

When I do not trust You, I am trusting him instead.
Forgive me, Lord. Teach me to trust Truth.

You overturn his lies in righteous anger. You pull me from the depths of the pit and place me on high ground.
You are my high ground.

Your Kingdom is marked by truth and righteousness.
You opened Paradise to the ungrateful beggar.

Your mystery dwells in the hearts of everyone who calls upon Your name.
You are deep in the DNA of Your people.

No one can know what You know and still love like You love.
No one saves like You.

You are both my hiding place and my courage.
You are my Savior and my Maker.

Great is Your faithfulness!

Putting gifts in their place.

Christmas Morning, 2013. <3

Christmas Morning, 2013. ❤

“And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” – Luke 12:15 (italics mine)

I came across this verse on the same week I began my Christmas shopping. Not exactly the angle that most advertisers are taking on the holiday season, but it’s one that’s been ringing in my ears as I browse through shelves of toys and dig around the Target dollar spot (because bargains make my world go ’round, y’all).

The ads and commercials and billboards are pulling out all the stops, per the usual: BUY MORE, SAVE MORE!  or SPEND MORE, WORRY LESS! <– What?! Can we just stop and think about that slogan for a minute?

Meanwhile, Jesus’ words bounce around my brain, calmly stating the obvious, per the usual: “Your stuff is not your life, Rachel.”

That includes the stuff I give to other people. You know, like, Christmas present stuff.

I’m spending Thanksgiving with my family this year and since I won’t be able to see my nieces around Christmas, I’m passing along their presents to my sister and bro-in-law for safekeeping. Who knows if the presents will make it back to their home unopened or not, but if I become known as the aunt who brings Christmas early, well. I’m OK with that. 😉

Every time I get to see my family I am completely undone in anticipation. I can’t wait to scoop up my nieces and nephews and blow bubbles on their bellies and sing Frozen with them to give their long-suffering parents a break. I’m excited to pester my brother about his beard and listen to my sisters talk about their writing endeavors and eat everything my mom makes (because her work is ALL MAGICAL) and share a cup of coffee with my dad. The list of all the things I’m most excited about have absolutely nothing to do with stuff. For the record, my mom’s cooking doesn’t count as “stuff”  because again, IT IS MAGIC.

I know that Jesus is not anti-stuff or anti-gift-giving because as He was walking the earth He appreciated when people gave Him gifts (Mark 14:6) and He encourages those who follow Him to give freely to one another out of love. I also know I worship a God who is generous and delights to give to His children (James 1:17).

So, when Jesus tells me my life is not about my stuff, He isn’t telling me to never buy gifts for my loved ones, He’s warning me of the slippery mindset that tells me I have to prove something through those gifts. 

If I’m not careful, I start to use gifts as a means to make up for all the insecurities I carry around about how not-perfect I am.

“I don’t call home enough during the year so I better buy mom and dad something awesome for Christmas.” “I hardly ever see my nieces and nephews so buying them incredible gifts is the only chance I have to be known as a cool aunt.”

I get tangled up inside about how inadequate and not good enough my gifts are, how they fall short of really communicating how I feel. When really, I’m focusing on all the wrong things.

The truth is, you won’t find great conversations or heartfelt apologies wrapped up and sitting under the Christmas tree this year. No one is going to bottle your children’s laughter and slip it into your stocking or present you with a DVD of all the uneventful Wednesday afternoons you spent cleaning or working or emailing. Yet that’s what your life consists of — unpredictable moments of happiness, seasons of deep pain, and ordinary days made possible by the grace of an extraordinary God. 

By all means, buy some fun gifts for your loved ones, wrap them up in neat little packages and place them under the tree. But let’s leave them to be the happy icing on the cake of the really good “stuff” in our lives. Let’s bring all of our insecurities and not-good-enoughness to the table and simply enjoy the company of people who are (praise be to God) just as insecure and not-good-enough.

If we can’t find time to just love and be loved this Holiday season, we’ve completely missed the point of Christmas:

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.