The wrong way to do right

This week God used grass seed to get my attention. 

See, one of the genius things about Jesus was His ability to teach profound spiritual truth through ordinary examples. Mustard seeds, fig trees, fields, sparrows, weeds, soil … all of these agricultural things (and so much more) were used to illustrate the deeper spiritual realities at work in our world.

He still does this today.

We’ve lived here at the Ark for 18 months now, and we’re still waiting and dreaming and praying about how God wants to use this piece of land. It’s His, and we want to steward it well. A few weeks ago, a friend came over with his tractor and cleared a lower area that was overgrown with brambles. With the weeds out of the way, we were able to see the contour of the land and get a bit more vision for what it could be, and with the help of my Dad’s expertise, were able to envision a wide-open, 1/4 acre or so, smooth field, with the help of some professional excavation.

He finished excavating Tuesday afternoon, and we figured we’d just wait it out through the winter, then plant grass-seed come spring.

But Wednesday afternoon, a wise suggestion came our way that it would probably be better to seed it now, helping offset any erosion during the winter. But, it would need to be done in the next day or two, to allow 60 days before the first frost. I felt a little panic and indecision — Jeff was busy with work. We would all be gone that weekend, so it meant I sprint and do it that day, or wait until spring. I prayed, asking God for wisdom, waiting, and sensed God nudging, plant now. So, Heidi and I hopped in the car, ran to the feed store for fertilizer, a generous friend brought us seed, and at 4:30pm that day, though I only had an hour free before heading in for Bible study, I started seeding the field.

I soon grew overwhelmed at the task. Raking, fertilizing, and seeding a quarter-acre field by hand was no small task. I came in covered in mud and exhausted, but I figured that, since Jeff was home that night, he and the kids could finish up the job.

Therein was my fatal flaw.

Even though God had given me the green light to seed the field, I mentally made my expectation that Jeff would do the work as well. In fact, I expected he would do most of the work. When he arrived home and let me know he had other (legitimate) plans, I silently made my disappointment known.

The next day, the pity party slowly began to take shape. Silently I seethed. Since NO ONE had done ANY WORK the night before, I was left to DO IT ALL BY MYSELF during my only free hours that morning. The miserable 40-degree rains poured down as I pulled on rain gear, boots and gloves. The rain had turned the whole field to ankle-deep mud, and as I tried to navigate the wheelbarrow down the steep hill, I fell hard. My entire backside was covered in mud and frustrated tears filled my eyes, as if me falling was my family’s fault because they weren’t helping me. Then, I pulled the car up near the field (all the seed was in the back of the car to stay dry), and heard a thump. What now?? Someone had left a hand-rototiller lying on the gravel and the long, sharp metal spikes were now sticking out of my brand-new, $300 front tire.

NO!!!!!!!!

I was so mad. I called Jeff and frustrated words flew from my mouth. He calmly, lovingly, and graciously drove home and took the car to have the tire fixed, and the kids quietly came out, dressed in Carhartts and boots, ready to help me as well. We three set to work, and in several hours, seeded the field. The kids’ attitudes were awesome: cheerful and helpful.

They were a quiet, Christlike example to me.

Later, Jeff handed me the three spikes that Les Schwab had removed from my tire. They had fixed it for FREE, of course, and the three spikes reminded me of a certain three spikes, driven into the feet and hands of my Savior, so that I might be FREE.

Grace.

Amazing Grace.

Then, two hours after planting the grass seed, a tornado hit.

I’m not even kidding. In my entire life I have never seen such a thing. Jeff called and said to stay inside, and sure enough — it hit. House-shaking thunder, bright lightning flashing, and rain that looked like a fire-hose against our windows. We stood at the windows and watched as all our work washed off the field.

I curled up with a quilt and talked to my Father about all this.

“But I thought I was obeying you, God. You said the plant the seed.”

“Yes, Daughter, but just because you do the right thing doesn’t mean you can do it in the wrong way.”

Ah. Yes. There is a wrong way to do right.

I remembered back to a recent situation where I got in an argument with another believer, about a certain issue, on Facebook. I was floored to realize how the situation exactly paralleled the grass-seed debacle. I was so frustrated with this person because—in my limited perspective—they weren’t helping with the work of planting the seed, figuratively speaking. But my attitude was wrong. It wasn’t loving, wasn’t gracious, wasn’t kind. I had prayed about the issue, and felt clearly that this was “right” but His words echoed back in my heart …

“Yes, Daughter, but just because you do the right thing doesn’t mean you can do it in the wrong way.”

There is a wrong way to do right.

And so, once again, I stand humbled. It seems to happen a lot these days. But I’m grateful. God has been so good to me, to stick spikes in my tire to remind of His grace. It’s His kindness that leads to repentance. God disciplines His legitimate children because He loves them, and that includes me. Praise be to God! So, good friend, however He might be chastening you today, don’t despise it — it’s kindness. Don’t be like me and wallow in self-pity, throw yourself in the depths of His grace, and ask Him for the grace to go His way. To not only do right, but to do right the right way.

His way.

{Here’s to a great week … thanks for reading.}

PS Speaking of grace, after all the grass seed washed away, we watched an amazing documentary called Back to Eden, and God gave us a whole new direction for our plot of land. He is so good! He turns our mishaps into miracles. Redemption!

The fellowship of the broken-hearted

What is wrong with me??

I leaned against the kitchen cabinet, trying to keep the sobs silent. The kids played, oblivious. Jeff worked outside. I just couldn’t stop crying. I tried to text a friend, but a few words in I quit.

Too much. Don’t even know where to begin.

Another deflating disappointment, another super confusing complication that leaves me bewildered, wondering where God is leading all this tangle of seemingly dead-end roads.

I came upstairs, figured I’d put the clean sheets on the bed. Do the next thing. 

And there, beside my bed, was my answer. To what was wrong with me.

Except maybe it’s not wrong. 

There, beside my bed, I saw the display. My pregnancy book. My miscarriage book. The Pro-Life book. There’s a book on how to provide marriage counseling to those in need. To the left is a book on preparing your daughter for sexual and emotional purity. There’s a photo of my grandma, who passed away this past year. Underneath them all is a phone-book sized biblical parenting book that accompanies a video study. You can’t see the Intercessory Prayer book but it’s there too.

Each book represents an aspect of my life that tears at my heart, that weighs on me, that causes me to cry out in prayer, that, at times, keeps me awake at night. Each aspect represents a part of this past year, something we’ve walked through, or are walking through.

You’re probably familiar with these aspects too, and more.

None of them are cerebral studies. I’m not gathering data for a business presentation. 

Each represents, in some way, a broken heart. 

Friday night, Jeff and I watched Joan of Arc. I had seen it before, but I was struck afresh by this brave & broken-hearted girl who united France and died a martyr, because she cared.

To care is to cry. To break.

A month ago I spoke to a gathering of pastor’s wives. Before the conference, I was in the midst of yet another emotional episode, and I lay with my face to the floor and asked God how this was going to work, speaking to these women, when I was such a wreck inside. I heard, in my heart:

“The fellowship of the broken-hearted.”

Yes. Of course. Each one of these women, because they shepherd others, they lead, they love, and they lay down their lives … every single one of them lives with a broken heart. To care is to cry. To break.

My friend Christine always says, “Breakthrough comes through a broken heart.” 

Certainly much of my own sorrow probably comes from selfishness, but in this particular situation I can honestly say it came from caring. Jesus was a man acquainted with sorrows, and it only makes sense that as we come to know Him more, as we walk His way, we will care more. We will ache more. We will hurt more. There will be victories. There will be hallelujahs. There will be mountain tops and glorious days. But if Jesus wept over Jerusalem, won’t we weep over our nation? If Jesus wept when Lazarus died, knowing He would raise Him, won’t we weep over the sick and disease-ridden, the ones who die too soon, the victims of violence, both born and unborn?

Maybe tears aren’t a symptom something’s wrong.

Maybe they mean something’s right because we care about what’s wrong. 

I came back downstairs, did the next thing. Made dinner. While we washed dishes after, Shane & Shane came on Spotify and I heard Job’s words:

Though You slay me, yet I will praise You

Though You take from me, I will bless Your name

Though you ruin me, still I will worship

… Jeff gently pulled me into his arms–he’s part of the Fellowship too. Each word brought out the broken places and the tears flowed freely, safely, onto his shoulder. At the end of the song, I wiped my mascara-smeared eyes on his black t-shirt and SMILED. The true, genuine, hope-filled smile of knowing my Redeemer lives. And just then, another song came on, and as only Providence would have it, Housefires sang out a scripture equally true:

All Your promises are yes and amen!

Yes! Even in the broken-heartedness, His promises are ALWAYS yes and amen. This is not the end.

So, this post isn’t meant to glorify my fragile emotional state, I’m not proud of it. 😉 But I just thought it might encourage Christ-followers who ache over the state of our world, for marriages, for kids, for loved ones and lives lost, who walk through personal sorrow as well. You know it. You are part of it, the Fellowship of the Broken-hearted. And He’s near.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

-Psalm 34:18

{Keep fighting, praying, caring. Have a great week dear friends. Thanks for reading.}

 

Considering causes: Seasons, Cultural Regions, and your Unique Position

So, I confess: Sometimes, it seems like every day in America there is another injustice, another controversial issue people are debating about, I start to feel this tinge of panic, feeling like I should know more about this, should have something intelligent to say about this, should have the definitive gospel-view on this, and should have already been actively involved in this thing.

It can start to feel like you must be championing every cause at all times.  But while God is omnipresent, we are not. So what do we do? Sadly, we can fall prey to compassion-fatigue and just quit caring about anything at all. We can stick our head in the sand and hope it will all ago away. Or, we can fear falling behind and feel like we have to keep up with them all. But I suggest there is a better way:

Let’s consider three critical aspects of our causes and callings:

SEASONS

For the better part of 3 years we had previously-homeless and drug-addicted people living with us, trying to help them get on their feet. During that season, I was deeply impacted by the passage of Isaiah 58 that describes true fasting (the kind that pleases God):

“Is [fasting] not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house?”

During this season, I championed the value of helping the poor intimately, not just donating to programs, etc. but actually bringing them into your home. 

That was great. I’m so grateful for the experience, and we may very well do it again, but right now God has made it very clear that is not what we’re supposed to do with our home. We’re pursuing other ways to house those in need, but for this season, it’s not inside our home.

Similarly, for several years, we gave half of our income away. I was passionate about the importance of giving to others just as much as you use for yourself. Again, it was great. It profoundly impacted our finances and our view of stewardship. Two years ago, God made it clear that that season (of giving half) was over. Now it’s more in the 35% range and we give in other creative ways.

My point: There are seasons for specific calls and causes, and we are wise to depend on God’s Spirit to lead us, by His Word, through those seasons, without assuming they are forever or that everyone else should do exactly the same thing.

CULTURAL REGIONS

A few weeks ago, I spoke at a pastor’s wives retreat. All of us were from the NW, except one, who flew in from North Carolina. Wow, what an eye-opening experience. Right out of the chute she started peppering us with questions,

“So, do y’all have such a hard time getting people to break free from their traditions? Like, do people only care about how their daddy did and their grand-daddy did it, and are they super resistant to anything new?”

Blink blink.

We stared at her, in complete incomprehension.

I spent one afternoon hearing her whole story. I am not exaggerating when I say it was like hearing stories from another century, or another planet. It was so far removed from anything I have ever experienced, I was floored. I won’t go into all of it here, but let’s just say that the issues in the Bible-belt south are worlds apart from the issues in ultra-progressive, hipsterville Portland, Oregon. It was like two people from different planets comparing notes.

What this made me realize was how important it is that we critique and encourage and address the issues in our specific cultural context. In other words, while it’s all from the Bible, the sermons her husband needs to preach are totally different from the sermons my husband needs to preach. Same gospel, same Scriptures, way way way different culture, and therefore different applications.

That’s why, while there are things like online church, podcasts, FB, and other online communities, there’s no substitute for the local church community. In-person community is often the cure for the cultural disconnect, focusing on face-to-face conversations instead of only Facebook posts. 

YOUR UNIQUE POSITION

Right now I’m neck-deep in some rich biographies, from the book Seven Women. So far I have been floored by the beautiful stories of Joan of Arc, Susannah Wesley, Hannah More, Saint Maria of Paris, Corrie Ten Boom and Rosa Parks. What’s struck me is how vastly different each of their lives, callings, causes, and contributions.

There’s not much in common among them except courage.

Well, the other thing they have in common is that they responded heroically to the evils of their culture, in their day, presented to them. They functioned within their unique station in life.

  • Imagine if Joan of Arc spent her whole life lamenting the fact that she was single and didn’t get to marry and have kids? Imagine if she arrogantly insisted that all women—if they really loved God—enroll in the military and fight in battles. But instead, she listened to God’s unique call on her life and refused to let fear keep me from living out her destiny, even though it eventually cost her her life.
  • Imagine if Susannah Wesley spent her whole life lamenting that she was a SAHM, complained about her 19 children and bemoaned their lack of birth control. (Interestingly, John & Charles were 15th & 18th born! Imagine if she had quit earlier!) She had a basically absent husband who handled finances poorly and wasn’t exactly a hero. She homeschooled them all, and because Christian curriculum was hard to find, she wrote her own textbooks! She accepted the place God gave her, and chose to embrace it with enthusiasm and courage.
  • Imagine if Rosa Parks had spent her whole life lamenting that she was a black woman, having to sacrifice her education to care for her aging grandmother, then having to sacrifice her job to care for her aging mother. She could have complained endlessly about the unfairness of life, but she used her unique position as a strength and became one of the most influential people in America.

The point: Each of these women embraced their unique position in life and made a difference right where they were.

For example, while there are a lot of great causes, I have always been drawn to protecting the unborn. The unborn are most certainly the “voiceless” in our society, the most vulnerable, whose very lives hang in the balance, who are being protected less and less by those in power. Sadly, this has become touted as a “conservative” cause, while things like healthcare reform and education are touted as “liberal” causes. This is so sad, because every cause contributes in different ways! I sense Pro-life is to be the focus of my prayers, attention, and efforts, not because it’s a conservative issue, but because of:

  • The SEASON I am in (children at home, having experienced two heart-breaking miscarriages, and very mindful of the plight of young moms in need), because of
  • The CULTURAL REGION in which I live (this infographic demonstrates how Oregon (below also) stands on the abortion issue; we are the only state where there are no requirements, no questions asked, abortion at-will. This is definitely a critical issue in Oregon), and because of
  • My UNIQUE POSITION. When I was a kid, my mom worked at our local Crisis Pregnancy Center, and I have vivid memories of spending my afternoons there, curled up with my homeschool books, looking at pamphlets and posters of pregnant women, while my mom counseled moms and worked for this cause. From an early age I see God putting this issue in front of my face, and it’s surfaced many times. I recognize that there are a lot of things I cannot do, but this is something I can pray about, contribute to, and help in various ways. I do this not because I am a conservative, but because I am a Christian and God’s brought this specific cause to my attention.

However, my attention to my cause does not invalidate the importance of yours.

Your specific calling is valid, important … and yours

Recently Jeff and I hosted in our home a friend who works in another part of the country, ministering to a specific minority people group. Later, he asked Jeff and me if we would consider contributing financially to his ministry. We prayed about it, and sensed no, that although it was a great cause, it wasn’t the specific one God was calling us to at this time. We shared that with him, and I’m so grateful for his gracious response—Yes, he said, there are so many great causes. That demonstrates a maturity, that our cause isn’t the only thing worth fighting for. Also, it’s worth noting my face-to-face interaction with him helped me understand his cultural context, so much better than a FB post or even an email. I know it’s not always possible, but in person is so powerful. 

When we keep our eyes on God and not trying to please people, be a hero, or have a “take” on the latest issue at hand, when we take our cues from Him and His Word, we’re less likely to be tossed to and fro by every new injustice that fills our feed each day. Again, this is not to devalue any one of them, but simply to say that we cannot fight every battle, and we must wisely consider, our season, our cultural region, and the unique position God has given us. I’m no Joan of Arc, but I can honestly say I want to be a Susannah Wesley.

You may indeed be a Joan, and I will cheer you on in the battle. 

So grateful for the varied men and women of old, who carefully considered their place in this world, and courageously gave their all to make it a better place. Let’s honor them by doing the same.

Thanks for reading.

Oregonians: Now is a critical time to sign the petition to end taxpayer-funded abortions. You can do this so easily, online, right here: https://www.stopthefunding.org/sign-the-petition/ You can also order petition sheets there to gather signatures from friends, neighbors, church family, etc. There are many other ways to get involved, to support expecting mothers, adopt, fund, or serve in pregnancy care centers. How can you help? Thanks so much! 

PS Internationally, we focus our attention on water projects and aid to women and children through World Vision and discipleship work and aid through Next Generation Ministries. We have relational connections with both and love their work!

Let nothing detain you…

You just never know what the week ahead will hold. A week ago I wrote that He holds a map we cannot see. I didn’t know, then, just how much of that map was still very much unknown to us. The very next day we heard the tragic news that Jeff’s dear dad had suddenly and tragically died.

We were shocked, of course, and this past week was a whirlwind, as you can imagine. Please keep my dear husband in your prayers as he attends to details of all kinds. He is a rock, he’s my hero, and I know his strength comes from Christ.

In just over 14 months, we have lost my last grandparent, then Jeff’s last grandparent, then my dear uncle Tom, two unborn babies, my sweet friend’s son, and now, Jeff’s dad. I shared last week about the emotional side of things, but this week, what has struck me more than anything else is this simple truth:

Time is short. Let nothing detain you.

After church today I visited my parents, and I sat and read aloud the scriptures to my mom. She can’t turn the pages, and it’s hard for her to hold a Bible, so reading it aloud is our best bet. I asked where she wanted to read, and she suggested Luke. Not knowing what the chapter held, I felt impressed to turn to Luke 9. Interestingly enough, it was all about Jesus giving the disciples authority over demons and disease–and sending them out to preach the gospel and to heal.

Duly noted.

As we finished the chapter, I was once again struck by Jesus’ call for several folks to follow Him. He gets an array of responses that seem reasonable:

“Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”

“I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”

The version of Jesus that’s touted in our culture–the super cushy, soft, ever-tolerant Jesus–would have have nodded his head gently and said,

“Of course, dear one, take your time. I know it’s hard to say goodbye. I’ll always be here whenever you’re ready.”

But that is not what Jesus says. At all.

Jesus makes his message clear:

“No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Ouch. See, as I read this chapter, I read the start and I close my eyes and say, “Yes, God! I am your disciple. I follow you. Can you give me that power and authority over demons and disease, so that I can help people?”

And then I finish the chapter and have to ask:

Am I His disciple?

Do I follow Him? 

It’s worth mentioning that the “excuses” that those folks had given, were totally legit. They weren’t sinful. At all. And Jesus probably mentions these so that it’s crystal clear that it is’t just sinful things keep us from His call.

Good things. Distractions. Diversions. 

So. Many. Things. 

Saturday night, I was headed up to speak at an event in Vancouver. On my way, I had just enough time to make a stop, at a place I’m never near, especially without kids, and I really really (really) wanted to swing in and check out a certain item. (Ok, it was IKEA, I confess!) I took the exit, headed toward the blue and yellow, pulled into the parking lot … and sat there. My heart started doing that thing where it goes flip flop, and I felt no peace. I knew that technically I had time to run in real quick, check out my items, and be at the event on time.

But it was a gamble. I’d be rushed. I might not have quite as much time to pray beforehand. But I wanted to do it! Just then the worship song that was playing rang out these words, “I want to know you more, more than anything.” 

So I prayed, out loud, “Father, you know I really want to go in there, but I also want to know you more … more than anything. So lead me in whatever way will let me know you more.”

I turned back on the car, backed out of the space, and left.

Happy. Free. 

The event was wonderful. I drove home with a happy heart, knowing it was a teeny tiny picture of something so much bigger.

So many things threaten to detain us. Friends, I get it. There are SO MANY other things I feel like doing, more than giving, more than Scripture-study, more than prayer, more than caring and serving and loving and putting others first. There are so many other things that seem more attractive than the call to come and die, but Jesus makes the way clear and calls us on, 

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

Friends, let nothing detain you. We don’t know what this day, this week, this month, this year will hold.

Today is the day to follow Jesus fullyDon’t look back. 

{There, with you. Have a great week. Thanks for reading.}