hasta la vista, funeral suits

The last few weeks I’ve been talking to women who are serious about ditching their “funeral suits.”

Oh, they looked like they were just drinking coffee and catching up, and I’ve had a blast meeting with them at homes and cafes. But what they’ve really been doing is digging into what God has to say about becoming new women with new clothes. Through intentional Bible study using my book as a guide, they’ve been exchanging old habits and hang-ups (those “funeral suits” I mentioned) for life-giving ways of relating to God and other people. They’ve laughed over a few crazy metaphors I wrote, but they’ve also internalized the truth behind them. To you amazing people, I want to say this:

You’re the real deal. You aren’t just playing dress-up. You’re putting on love and stepping out with courage into messy situations and hard things, and I’m cheering for you because what you’re learning about God and His Word will help you change your world. Read More

It’s Not About the Bread: A 10-minute Devo to Calm Your End-of-School-Year Stress

Yesterday, my daughter and I hunted like mad for her cellphone, so convinced she left it at school (grrrrrrr) that we overlooked it three times in an obscure backpack pocket (oops). 

This morning, she left her breakfast behind while scrambling to get to an early rehearsal, so right now I’m sitting in the school parking lot getting the side-eye from the crossing guard and sending her texts on the off-chance I can smuggle this chicken biscuit to her. ‘Cause what’s the point of finding her phone if I can’t send her some hovering, helicopter-mom messages? Waiting and nope, that didn’t work. Guess she’ll be that kid with the growling stomach in second period.

This last month of school is pretty much about shuttling from place to place, trying to keep up with our stuff and hold on to our sanity. McLeod arrives from the airport and barely empties his suitcase before he’s off to another business trip. Meanwhile, I’m playing popular mom game Who’s Got What Activity Where and with What Equipment. Kind of like Clue—Colonel Mustard in the library with the monkey wrench (but thankfully, without the murder). 

We are juggling way too many instrument cases, sports bags, lunch boxes, and a Walmart-aisles’ worth of poster board for group projects. We’ve been pretty organized this school year, but with extras on the calendar right now, this May-time-tired family keeps forgetting to pack important stuff.

That’s probably why a particular passage in the New Testament caught my attention. In Matthew 16, Jesus and His disciples have once again piled into the Minivan of the Sea (a.k.a. a Galilean fishing boat) and crossed the massive Sea of Galilee. I say “once again” because the middle third of Matthew’s book reads like a travelogue as they cross the giant lake back and forth with Jesus while He preaches and heals. And inevitably, something gets left behind:

Somebody forgot to pack the food. 

None of the disciples seem too happy, and I can completely relate. It’s the FOOD, for crying out loud. I can relate to something else, too: they’re about to get all wrapped up in who’s at fault and the implications of this failure. Meanwhile, Jesus is busy unpacking some kingdom truths that have nothing to do with how good or bad they are at packing or whether they’re going to have their next meal.

Jesus constantly takes advantage of teachable moments, but where I would have jumped in to teach the disorganized packers about using a checklist or having emergency cash, He sees an opportunity to drop a different truth into their situation:

“Watch out,” Jesus said to them, “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” So they began to discuss this among themselves, saying, “It is because we brought no bread.” When Jesus learned of this, He said, “You who have such little faith! Why are you arguing among yourselves about having no bread?” (Matthew 16:6-8 NET)

And if that’s where Jesus’ words ended and I were one of those with Him, I’d be pretty confused.

It would be as if you show up to your kids’ soccer game,  remember too late it’s your day to bring snacks, and Jesus says, “Be careful about the juice boxes of the hypocrites.”

Or you finally grab a table at Starbucks to do some work, find out you didn’t charge your computer battery, and Jesus says, “Beware the laptops of the legalists.”

I’d probably be thinking, “Uh, was that some kind of weird, passive-aggressive way of reminding me I messed up?” or maybe, with a bit more attitude, “We’re arguing about bread (or juice boxes or laptops) because that’s going to screw up our whole plan. Don’t you care?”

But Jesus doesn’t end there with the disciples. He calls them to think about what they’ve been learning about ministry and about Him:

“Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you took up? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand and how many baskets you took up? How could you not understand that I was not speaking to you about bread? But beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!” Then they understood that he had not told them to be on guard against the yeast in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:9-12)

Jesus calls them to think about bigger issues than who left what bread where—issues like the invasive, crippling legalism being peddled by religious big-wigs. He’s making an object lesson here about missing the forest for the trees (or the banquet of life for the bread left behind) because frankly, that’s what the Pharisees and Sadducees have done. They’ve gotten themselves and everybody else so wrapped up in how perfectly they can keep God’s law (and also a whole bunch of human-issued laws that seemed like good ideas at the time) that nobody can see how God’s law points to a Savior who will do what no human can possibly do: put humans into right standing with God through grace.

Jesus also calls them to think about Who He is and to trust Him. Oh yes, He does care about bread and about them. He cares that they get weary and hungry and frustrated, but He’s been teaching them that for three years. Now it’s time for them to start understanding those truths:

  • That He’s not oblivious to things like weariness and hunger. From the moment Jesus entered the realm of humans, this One who is fully God also fully embraced His humanity. He doesn’t take shortcuts to skip out on quintessential human experiences. In fact, before He even began His public ministry, He obediently and willingly underwent the excruciating weariness and hunger of a 40-day fast in the wilderness to face off with the devil who tempts and torments all humanity (see Matthew 4).
  • That things like weariness and hunger can also point to higher truth. Jesus met those temptations in the wilderness by reaching for the higher truth of God’s Word. When He was famished and the devil tempted Him to prove Himself by turning rocks to bread, He instead reached for the rock solid truth that being human means you don’t “live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). And when the temptations were over and He’d stood firm, angels came to take care of Him (4:11). He’d later teach on a mountain, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (5:6), but that was never just a nice little saying for Jesus. He knew firsthand what it meant.
  • That He’s calling them to a new, anxiety-free perspective about daily bread and daily life. Though He has spiritual maturity as an end goal for His followers, Jesus is also blessedly practical and knows human days aren’t only about being spiritually filled. Bellies need filling, too. What He offers is perspective and an end to worry. On that same mountain, He taught that God cares about little birds enough to feed them and cares about humans even more so (Matt 6:25-34). He taught that His followers can trust that they have a Father who knows how to give good gifts to His children (7:7-11). He taught them to ask for their daily bread (6:11).
  • That when anxiety seems warranted because there IS no daily bread, it’s an opportunity for His power and provision. When daily bread looked like it might not be coming and miracles were needed, He had power enough for that, too, feeding 5000 in one place and 4000 in another from a few loaves and fish His disciples rounded up (Matt. 14,15). He even made sure there were baskets of food left over for His disciples who otherwise would be famished and run-ragged from the intense life of apprenticeship to the Master.

What He is asking them to understand is not a what but a Who: not the bread left on the dock but the Bread of Life who has come into the world to save them and has the resources to take care of daily living so they can focus on kingdom purposes (see John 6:35). And He’s also preparing them to understand the cross that’s to come. There, He will obediently and willingly undergo the most quintessential of human experiences—suffering and death—that He may be raised in triumph over sin and death for the sake of all humanity.

The takeaway for me, then, in the midst of all this shuttling from place to place, trying to keep up with all our stuff is that those same truths are mine to unpack and keep with me always. As I mull over them, what I’m left with is profound gratefulness for a God who put on flesh and stepped into human experience in order to provide for me what Ephesians 1:19-20 refers to as the hope of His calling, the wealth of His glorious inheritance, and the incomparable greatness of His power. That gives me a whole lot of perspective and a whole lot of peace.

i am pauline

Ever want to share an experience, but when you try, it’s like you’re back in grade-school writing a theme called something like “Why It’s Important to Help Others”?

For weeks, I’ve been trying to synthesize my thoughts following a three-day outreach project I did with Caroline, my daughter. It would have been simple to post a dozen pictures of the team sorting food and clothes, delivering meals, making crafts, praying with people. I could have come up with a few quick captions. But my fear is that sometimes pictures AREN’T worth a thousand words or at least not exactly the right words. Read More

finding your eden: why creativity matters

Boys and girls come out to play! The moon is shining as bright as day!

Leave your supper and leave your sleep, and join your playfellows in the street!

When my kids were little, we had one of those CDs of Mother Goose songs that was played every day during every car ride. You’d drop the kids off at nursery school and feel the need to detox, maybe with some 80’s hair metal. Years later, I no longer go around thinking about Mary’s little lamb or Aunt Rhody’s unfortunate goose, but somehow that one song above has smoon over deserttuck with me. It has worked its way into my brain as the siren call to leave behind the drab, duty-bound adult world and enter into play and creativity. I catch myself humming it when I feel the drumbeat of a fresh writing idea, not necessarily this kind of writing but the other kind that dares me to be a raucous, wild child for awhile, to fly off to Neverland in my mind.  It’s the call to make art in bold splashes. To make music in a riot of sound. To let prose or poem spill from one journal page to the next. Without critic. Without editor. Read More

my kids told me not to write about toilets, but i did it anyway

On Monday, I wrote a Facebook post about the after-Easter-weekend slump. I wanted to remind people that after a high-energy time, it’s normal for creativity and motivation to be low, and that’s OK. The fact that today I’m writing about toilets, much to the chagrin of my brainstorming partners (a.k.a. my kids), pretty well proves I’m right there in the slump with everyone else. I do find it both appropriate and funny, though, that immediately after I posted on Facebook, I met with the plumber about replacing some old, small, and frequently problematic toilets at our house: appropriate because it does feel like creativity has been flushed away, so toilet-shopping is the perfect thing to do, and funny because toilet-shopping inevitably reminds me of our final weeks in Taiwan several years ago. Read More

forgive and forget – what does it really mean?

As we head into Easter, I’ve invited my friend Cayli Pankratz to share her thoughts on forgiveness. I got to know Cayli when she and her husband Stephen began leading a home-based Bible-study group through our church. I’ve always been impressed that she encourages those of us in the group to ask tough questions like “Is ‘forgive and forget’ actually biblical or just something Christians say?” and then helps us dig into God’s Word for the answers. A full-time mom, pastor’s wife, and lover of chocolate, coffee, and the outdoors, Cayli has a Masters of Arts in Theological Studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has been a Bible teacher in various ways for the past 9 years. I think you’ll be encouraged by what she has to say!   

“I know I need to just forgive and forget, but…”

“I know that God says we should forgive and forget, but…”

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve sat with someone who was wronged significantly, was experiencing deep pain, and was saying words just like those through their tears. Read More

when you get weary: patience for the harvest

When I was six, my dad took a sabbatical from the college where he taught to focus intensely on his doctoral dissertation. One of his first orders of business? He planted a garden. He laughingly told me years later that he was concerned my little brother and I would think, “Our dad doesn’t have a real job,” since he was now researching and writing from home at a time when most dads headed out each day to some mysterious place called “Work.” So he planted a massive fruit and vegetable garden in our yard and had the whole family out there learning to plant, cultivate, and harvest. It was a year of wonders—and lots of mud tracked into the house (sorry, Mom)—but mostly, wonders! Read More