Growing Young

I know Rich Mullins was not your typical kind of hero. From what I understand, he was a  very flawed and broken man. Nevertheless, the music and the words that God gave him have impacted me in a bigger way than I had realized until seeing  a movie about his life. He taught me two very important things about following Jesus.

His message resonated so quickly and deeply that I didn’t even know it was him that God was using to teach me. While this is about the influence of a musician, it’s mostly about the faithfulness of God to walk so near to me.

Lesson 1: Honesty

“These days I need more than just a line about Jesus.
I need to see his love, these days.”

I grew up going to a Southern Baptist church. What I learned as a kid was that the best Christians looked good and shiny on the outside. They had two parents, and plenty of money, they dressed up for church and they never said bad words. I saw nowhere to express my confusion and pain over life (not to mention I was poor with divorced parents and started swearing in elementary school)…

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Purposely Provocative

Generally, my desire is to encourage, bolster or soothe people. This is not because I just want people to like me, but because my own troubles stem from an internal chaos of which I long to be free.

Being provoked to passionate feeling is not the opposite of what I’m looking for. In fact, if the provocation is well done and hits in a place I really care about, it will lead me to a greater sense of focus. It banishes chaos equally as well as comfort, although since my ability to change the world seems quite limited, the action that wants to flow out of the focused passion is often frustrated at the door of reality.

These thoughts started with some movies I’ve seen recently which purposely inspired strong feelings about what is wrong with the world. There are many people who prefer soothing because they dislike feeling helpless more than they can’t stand that others really are powerless to truly horrible situations. Slavery, war, violence, addiction. Most of us feel (when we are faced with the real facts on these issues) that there is really nothing we can do to help…

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The Big Idea

Studying to teach is a beautiful and frustrating process for me. If I spend too much time on details, I am immediately lost. What happens instead, is I spend a few weeks just thinking about the book I’m supposed to teach. Clearly, I have read through it and I will often gather bits of big picture information to chew on.

I ponder.

At some point, in the  pondering (and attempting to study), I Get It. This usually happens much closer to the time I’m to teach than is really comfortable, but that also somehow suites me. I take the stress and I plunge head first into papers and my teaching outline. What I want to give my students is the Big Idea- the perspective they will not have time to discover for themselves in the two days they will get to study the book I’ve been studying for 4 weeks. But it takes me most of that four weeks to see the big idea clearly enough to teach it to them.

Something else happens while I’m studying to teach a particular book- God allows me to somehow experience or feel this Big Idea in a personal way in my own life. You can imagine because of this factor I was a bit nervous before I started studying to teach the book of Job!

Now I am currently working on the prophetic book of Hosea

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Being Here

What I’ve really be thinking about this week is God’s love. I’m stuck on this topic because not only is it taking this long for me to grasp it, but I’m starting to think it may be the only truly necessary topic.

Yesterday at the end of a lecture on the book of Ecclesiastes, Angela wanted us to spend time sharing what we had learned about God’s character this year. She connected this thought to the question that, since life is meaningless without God (vanity, vanity!) how does knowing him give life meaning?

What I’ve been learning about God in the last few years has to do, first of all, with the message of the Bible as a whole. Big picture- God’s desire is to dwell with man. Time and again, we make a mess of things and time and again He steps in to set things right. But this “dwelling” isn’t just about cohabitation- it’s not just about the Most Holy Place or about Jesus coming to earth, or even, ultimately about our final hope of living in His heavenly mansion. The Being Together that God wants is a kind of active presence that I’m just barely able to wrap my mind around.

You know how some people are always someplace else, even when they are with you? Their eyes are looking, not at you as you talk with them, but far away and they merely nod their head in rhythm with the tune of your words. Then there are others who are so present that you actually feel heard. Their eyes pierce into you and they respond to what you’re saying with insightful questions, laughter, tears. They are with you and completely present…

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Let’s Fight

When I was young I had a pretty bad temper. “Seeing red” was a figure of speech that I understood completely.

Back then, we also did our family fighting with really loud voices. When it went on between others and myself, it was cathartic, when it was other members of my family with each other, it tipped over into stressful. I remember one time going into my room, slamming the door and plugging my ears so tightly that I hurt myself, all because of an argument in which I was not involved.

It was for that reason that I began looking for “fixes,” or, more appropriately termed, “diffusers.” Jokes are my favorite- ones that make me the fool usually work out the best because there’s no possibility for things to be taken wrong. Every once in a while I found actual wisdom that calmed things. Not so much like Solomon, but more like the time I encouraged my sister to not stay stubbornly in the car at McDonalds because she’d be hungry later when her anger had cooled.

As an adult there is really never any yelling. I still sometimes get the urge to slam doors, but if I notice the urge in time, I can diffuse it by calling myself out as passive aggressive…

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Reading in the Dark

I‘m not gonna lie, it’s been a rough week.

Sometimes I get really stuck in the dark and I cannot see the way ahead. There are a lot of lies that whisper to me when the lights go out. It makes my head much like a haunted house and a heavy rock of grief, stress and fear sits on my chest and it actually feels harder to breath.

This morning during corporate worship I was desperate to get away from myself and see God. I picked up my Bible and opened to Isaiah because I remembered some good stuff in there where God says who he is in a very direct way.

Isaiah 43 has been an important chapter to me for the past ten years. Before doing the School of Biblical Studies, I had a hard time reading the Bible at all. Except for Isaiah 43. My struggle was that I couldn’t see how any of the words were really for me… people talked about “claiming the promises of God,” but I couldn’t see how any of those promises were for me…

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The Great Exchange

One topic that has come up for me a lot over the years is homosexuality. Same-sex attraction is the reason that my ex-husband decided to divorce me. He certainly has his own story and I don’t attempt to tell that here (I am not outing him to the world, he has already done this). That is parenthetical to what I really wanted to say, but important for you to know about my perspective.

You may or may not be surprised if you knew how many Christians struggle with same sex attraction. I know several. Before you get upset with my using the word ‘struggle,’ recognize that I’m not making a judgment- all of the people I know would admit that for them it is a place of great difficulty. I myself glimpsed into that struggle by marrying a man who was not attracted to women.

Was I fully aware of my own foolishness? No. Talking to a friend last night about this issue, she expressed thoughts I carried years ago when I got engaged….

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What God Says

I am inexorably attracted to people who know how much they are loved by God and they allow this knowledge to change them.

This Spring I will have been a Christian for twenty years. In that time I have met all kinds of believers; the bitter but tenacious, the happy naive, the fearfully upright, and the broken beggars who walk around amazed to be so beloved by the creator of the Universe.

“If we know how great is the love of Jesus for us we will never be afraid to go to Him in all our poverty, all our weakness, all our spiritual wretchedness and infirmity. Indeed, when we understand the true nature of His love for us, we will prefer to come to him poor and helpless. We can be glad of our helplessness when we really believe that His power is made perfect in our infirmity.” ~Thomas Merton

Honestly, I still spend much of my time with my forehead wrinkled up, carrying this weight of worry around with me. Every once in a while I look up and realize how truly ludicrous is this posture…

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When You’re Gone

My strongest urge right now is to clam up. This rarely leads to anything good, and so I’m writing.

Today is my daughter Sarah’s sixth birthday. How does one celebrate (commemorate?) the birthday of a dead person? When people have children, they usually spend a decent amount of time planning birthday parties. What you do, you do for the kid. I assume you do what you think your kid will enjoy most. Birthday cake with trucks, cake shaped like a doll, colorful streamers, games, friends. If they are really young, you invite whoever will come and everyone sits and watches this dexterously inept human smear frosting from ear to ear, and from nose to toes.

But does a person who has stopped living continue to age? And what do you do on their birthday every year?

I have been asking those questions on this day for the last six years…

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Theology Soup

I started going to church when I was a baby. Which sounds funny because clearly I didn’t think to myself at a few months old, “huh, I wanna check out these Jesus followers.” My mom became a Christian just before I was born and started going to a Southern Baptist church. Before you get a picture in your head of holy rollers, this church was planted in Northwest Washington where even self-titled Charismatics are probably not going to get too demonstrative. (This is a stereotype which several of my friends from home break, I’ll grant you.)

We didn’t holy roll. When it was time to worship, we just followed orders. Hymns, praise choruses, stand, stand, sit. No one said, “Amen,” no one raised their hands.

When I became a Christian for real at age 16, I wanted to be at church every moment. Still Southern Baptist. I devoured my Bible and tattooed it with question marks which I would frequently harass my pastor with through email. I did all the 12 week Bible studies you can think of, Experiencing God, The Mind of Christ, A Heart Like His.

Then, because I felt this call to be a missionary, I found myself at Moody Bible Institute. I was like a toddler on the loose, making friends, staying up late, listening to guys debate theology and kind of in awe of their adult sounding opinions…

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