Be the Hydrangea

I have a confession to make: I’m in love with hydrangeas.  (I don’t care who knows it.)  My obsession started when my parents moved from their beloved CT home to distant Alabama.  My Mama, who passed her sweet sentimental genes on to me, had carted and cultivated a blue hydrangea, that had been transplanted from my great-grandmother’s plant, to various homes she’d lived in.  Though they moved in summer and the hydrangea was in full bloom (not the best time to move it), my mom couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her plant behind.  So she recruited one of our moving helpers, (bless his heart), to dig up that whole giant hydrangea plant, and pack it in all its uprooted strangeness into my mini-van.  I promptly taxied it to my own home like I was a flower ambulance driver, and dug it a new home with all my heart.

The spring after they moved, I watched that hydrangea’s signature green leaves burst forth in full health.  There would be life yet for this organic bridge of generations.

Or not.  The plant was alive, but its poor shocked system wasn’t ready to re-bloom just yet.  Not the first year.  Or the second.

I waited patiently.  One winter (remember that key detail), I went outside for the mail or one of the other two reasons you go outside in the frigid New England cold.  And there, blowing down the road like a frosty tumbleweed, was a dried up hydrangea blossom.

Call it the innocuous catalyst to a winter-crazed mind, but I latched onto that plant in a symbolic way.  Suddenly I had to know all about hydrangeas because how often does one casually breeze by your mailbox in the dead of winter?

Did you know hydrangea literally means “water vessel”?  (That’s one fact I found out in my hydrangea frenzy.)

Water vessel.  Water carrier.

These robust flowers are so named for their appetite and ability to draw up water and the bowl shape of their flowers. (*)

I believe we’re meant to be like these hydrangeas. (That’s right. Be the flower.)

Once Jesus sat at a well with a Samaritan woman who had gone all kinds of wrong in her life.  And even as she went to draw physical water for herself from the well that day, Jesus promised her “living water” which only He could offer.  He said “Everyone who drinks this [physical] water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

Later, in John 7 Jesus says, ““Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.”

This world has only satisfied me to a point.  After awhile, even the greatest physical experiences leave me missing something.  Whether friendships, food or family; vacation or vocation.  It’s temporary.  It doesn’t last, and I keep returning to the well each day, seeking a pure joy and hope, but never filling myself completely.

Yet when I realize my physical world isn’t everything and I thirst for something greater, I’m finding that God DOES offer that living water that somehow floods my soul, offers me lasting purpose and hope, and, yes, satisfies me when I allow myself to be transformed by it.

But when we begin to thirst for that kind of water, we’ll find its not meant to be contained.  No, I believe we become carriers of that water, like the hydrangea, overflowing with hope to others.

You are meant to carry water and spill it over in every place that you touch.  We are meant to be spreaders of Hope and Life to our families, our co-workers, those that seem to have nothing and those that seem to have everything.  When we thirst for living water we’ll find its an endless well and we’re not meant to hold it in but to let it flow, and this is the mystery of His Spirit.

I don’t know where you’re planted and drawing up water- I don’t know specifically where you’re meant to overflow with Hope.  But I do know, you were created for this.  You were made for the only Water that satisfies and you were made to overflow.

This world is struggling in more ways than we can count right now.  If ever there was a (political, social, racial, economic, resource-scarce, confused, unjust) time to seek God’s heart and let it spill over in compassionate action, now is that time.  And we are the water carriers.

P.S.  My hydrangea finally did blossom, and just this year my mom took a cutting of it to her new home, so the legacy lives on!


Stay tuned!! In the coming weeks I plan to highlight a few practical, tangible ways you can make a difference with issues such as human trafficking, poverty, and more!  If you’re currently involved with an organization or know of a group that is meeting physical needs and empowering the powerless, please pass along what you know!  I’d even be happy to have you guest post about your experiences. Thanks for joining and for all the ways you share hope.

 

*Hydrangea Meaning

Gray Christian Culture (Gray Faith Study, Ch 2)

You’ve heard of the show “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?”  I feel like this video could be called, “Are You Better Than a Pharisee?”  Of course I’m less interested in how we measure up morally, and more tuned into whether we are humble enough to apply Jesus’ words to the Pharisees to our own lives and Christian culture.  I pray we’re all drawn closer to His heart as we lay our ways before Him.  So check out the video and FREE study guide questions below, and please comment with your own thoughts on where our Christian culture is doing well or needs some God-tweaking.

STUDY GUIDE, CHAPTER 2: GRAY CHRISTIAN CULTURE

Experiment #2:
Sometimes we struggle to be constructively critical of our faith backgrounds and the Christian culture around us. To question might feel like we’re letting our parents, churches, or even God down. But Jesus Himself challenged the status quo of the faith culture of His time, and sometimes our own faith culture drifts away from God’s heart as well. Even when it comes to following Christian leaders, Paul doesn’t ask us to blindly copy- he says to first “consider the outcome of their way of life” (Hebrews 13:7). Translation: reflect before following.

Jesus says that we, His sheep, will know His voice and follow- but I think that means sometimes silencing the sounds of the other sheep in our heads. Make space this week to sit and talk with God alone, away from distractions. Ask Him to help you hear His voice, to give you discernment, and be able to distinguish His will outside of what any culture says. Allow yourself to ask whether you’ve been sometimes following people instead of God.

Chapter 2 Study Questions:

1. Do you believe the Christian culture around you has any negatives or unhealthy ideas? Why or why not?

3. We’ve had our negative moments, but Christian culture often sparks very positive movements. What should “Christian Culture” be doing/influencing and how can we help?

4. “Someone who exposes themselves to a wide variety of ideas might actually be in a healthier place than someone who views outside ideas as dangerous.” Agree or disagree? Explain.

5. What is our “Jesus Stuff” (bumper stickers, billboards, shirts, etc) saying to the world? Discuss how you have experienced/used Christian paraphernalia in a positive or negative way.

6. How does dividing the Bible into “good guys” and “bad guys” keep us from examining our own lives well? Have you, like me, ever realized that you were guilty of overlooking a problem in your own life because you didn’t immediately associate yourself with one of the Bible’s “bad guys?”

7. Discuss what it looks like to “keep ourselves from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27), while also being the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Can we protect the purity of ourselves and our families while still exposing ourselves to the world that God wants us to love?

8. What words or phrases from your Christian circle might be confusing to someone from outside your group? How do we help bridge the gap in translation?

Bible passages for further study:
James 1:27 (Don’t be Polluted by World); Matthew 5:14 (Light of the World); Romans 12:1-2 (Don’t conform to the world); 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 (Test Everything); 1 John 4:1-3 (Test every Spirit); 1 corinthians 5:9-13 (Living among sin); Matthew 11:19 (Jesus was friends with sinners)


Thanks for joining!!  Tune in next time for Chapter 3: Gray Church.  To buy the “Gray Faith” book in paperback or for kindle, you can purchase online at Amazon!

Dear Useless Junk

Dear Useless Junk,

Perhaps at first you thought those white plastic bags you’re in were part of a stretchy and misguided redecorating spree.  I don’t know how to say this nicely, but the reality is you simply can’t stay anymore.  I can’t spend another minute knowing that you’re filling my basement, falling out of drawers, and sprawling on my carpet waiting to be stepped on.  As long as I’m being honest, you could have made a better attempt at not being everywhere all at once and always sticking your pointiest parts upward. Intentionally.

Anyway, I’d like to address a few of you personally:

McDonald’s toys…I’d like to say its been fun.  But it hasn’t.  Either you play the same obnoxious sound strictly forever and ever, or you have one arm that moves thereby qualifying you as an “action figure”.  I’m not amused and you won’t be missed. Oh, did I hurt your feelings? Good.

Black bathroom curtain?  You were sweet and certainly made my awkward attempt at cohesive décor slightly successful. But you also blacked out the sun in a rather depressing way- especially once our vanity lights stopped working.  You also refused to hide the dust that you collected, and if you haven’t heard I’m not big on washing curtains.  No offense.  You’ll be happier elsewhere.

To the artwork that my children have created- you manipulative, guilt-trippy things.  I simply can’t keep all of you.  You’re adorable memories and I hate to squash you, but I fear one day my children will literally be squashed by the sheer volume of you.  So I had to choose between you or them.

To the books and papers I’ve held onto since highschool or college… it turns out I really can live without the complete works of Shakespeare and those random books I bought on sale at the college bookstore.  Don’t judge me.  It’s not that I’m done learning- but if I haven’t picked you up in a decade except to move you from house to house…well, you see my intellectual dilemma here.

To the three-tiered pink metal basket…you were incredibly useful for holding things, and I appreciate that about you.  But I realized that you were more of a holding cell for things that I was just too lazy to put in the right spot than an organizational wizard.  And I hate to be blunt, but you’re not all that attractive as a decorative piece.  So…happy hanging elsewhere, friend!

Sheets.  I’m not entirely sure how we ended up with all of you mismatched beauties.  I also don’t know how we manage to rip so many fitted sheets leaving the flat sheets widowed.  And at the risk of sounding callous, you really do work best a set.  And at my current rate of sheet rotation every…well, why don’t we keep that our little secret… we really don’t need that many of you.  It’s just life.

Clothes- where to start- I thought I liked you.  But some of you lied to me.  Some of you were all flattery in the store only to come home and awkwardly highlight fat I didn’t even know I had.  Others of you were so super cute and sexy that I forgot I’m a mom who still has to wear shorts under her skirts to avoid a three year old revealing my nethers to the world.  Others of you…well, let’s face it…we knew all along it wasn’t going to work and it just took two years of sticking you in a drawer for me to admit it.

Random blue shelf- I know math has never been your strong suit.  But it’s a simple equation- if Johnny has a bunch of things in a blue shelf and then Johnny gives all the things away- then Johnny doesn’t need a blue shelf. Except I’m Johnny, and it’s not math theory…so…see ya.  If you feel I’m being biased, just talk to pink basket.

To all of you, it’s incredibly selfish, but I must say that I’m breathing easier with you out.  I’m feeling a bit lighter.  I’m also occasionally having panic attacks at what would have happened if I never got rid of you…I’m also having periodic panic episodes over the fact that even AFTER getting rid of you I’m still finding bagfuls more to ditch.  Oooh…hold on…there’s another one. *breathe-breathe-breathe*.

Whew, where was I? Right. I wish you well in your new non-here homes.

Sincerely,

Declutterer-in-Chief

 

 

Gray Faith Study- Ch 1: Gray Beginnings

The Gray Faith Online Study is finally here!! I’ve been waiting for this and I’m so excited to share these free resources with you.  Please feel free to share this material with someone, use it to lead your own study offline, or share/comment on the blog to add your voice to the conversation!  This chapter is all about digging into YOUR stories and backgrounds, and I’d love to hear whatever you feel comfortable sharing.  Check out the video to learn a bit more about the heart of the study and chapter 1.

Happy “Gray Faith-ing”!

Experiment #1:

Write a summary of your own life story- be as brief or detailed as you want.  Consider how your childhood laid the foundation for your current identity and beliefs.  Allow yourself to dwell on the emotions that arise and give yourself permission to question things that you may have been afraid to question.  There’s no right or wrong in this space; you are simply an explorer, searching through your past to find pieces of who you are today.  As you write, ask God to begin to show you where your faith might be a bit plastic or built on certain assumptions of the Christianity or faith you grew up with.  If you feel comfortable, share your story with a friend or your small group.  

 

Chapter 1 Study Questions:

1. What’s your story?  Who are the people and circumstances that most shaped your life and faith?

2. In the first section of chapter one, I talk about how “good Christianity” lied to me.  Have you experienced your own assumptions of “good Christianity”?  If so, what has made you question those assumptions?

3.Read the parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15:11-32.  Which brother do you relate to and why?

4. Whose crazy story have you watched that inspires you to step out in faith yourself?

5: What is your God-given passion beyond your means to produce or create on your own?  Whether it’s something you’re still dreaming about or you’re in the middle of living it out, I challenge you to share that dream with someone and let them pray and journey with you.

6.What does it look like to accept brokenness, doubts, and mistakes as part of our journey of faith?  Do you believe that as Christians we’ll always have room to grow?

7. Are there any beliefs that you hold in your head that you’ve struggled to experience with your heart?  What’s one small step you could take to embrace that belief physically, instead of just mentally?  

 

Bible passages for further study:

Luke 15:11-32 (The Parable of the Prodigal Son); Deuteronomy 6:1-3 (Passing Faith to our Kids); Proverbs 22:6 (Raising Children); Galations 3 (Faith vs. the Law); Matthew 9:13 (Jesus came for sinners); Luke 18:18-35 (Heart vs. Rules)

(All study material in this blog comes directly from the “Gray Faith” book.  If you’d like to purchase a copy or ebook, click HERE!)

Perfect (Friend Post Friday #4)

I’ve been friends with this month’s “Friend Post” blogger for over ten years!  (That can’t be right, I’m not that old.  And yet…hm…)  From the time I met her, I’ve watched Audrey Beatty pour her heart and passion into helping others in community.  She’s very active in “Epoch Arts“, a theater/ arts community for youth that fosters hope, positive change, and creativity. (Please check out their page to find out more about summer classes, their giant yearly tag sale, and ways you can get involved!!)  Having been involved since Epoch’s early years, she’s proud to have helped with everything from acting and grant writing to working on their garden!  I’ve also experienced Audrey’s deep heart for social justice while working alongside her with Love146, which seeks to end child trafficking and slavery.  Her beautiful heart continues to shine through now as a wife and mother as well.  But beyond all her volunteering and all around enthusiasm to make a difference in the world, Audrey has always been one of the greatest people to have an all-in conversation with.  She’s open-minded and genuine, not afraid to talk about things other shy away from, and always leaves me with a perspective I desperately need.  I believe you’ll agree with me after reading this timely post…so here’s Audrey:


“Perfect”

by Audrey Beatty 

43 You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

I have a confession to make.  

I am not perfect.  

Phew, it feels good to get that off of my chest!  But truly, it’s something that’s hard for me to accept or admit.  I try to keep a perfect home.  Be the perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect woman, perfect person.  I obsess.  I fret. I fall short.  Every.  Damn. Day.

But in the fall of 2016, I decided it was time to be the perfect citizen and activist too.  I, like many others, have all of the answers and obviously people in positions of influence need to hear from me.  Time for me to rise up and take my rightful place among the change makers in the world and make my mark!  So I started to attend meetings.  I started to join groups.  I started to take copious notes and do my homework.

I started to realize I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about.

If you are hankering for a nice big slice of humble pie, I would strongly recommend becoming involved with local government.  And I don’t mean showing up at a town council meeting with an agenda or something you’ve already determined you’re fighting for or against.  I mean just sitting attentively in a town committee meeting, prepared to learn about and engage with the process of running a community.  It’s often dry, bogged down in systems and traditions passed down through generations, and, frankly, soul-crushing.

But what began to unfold in my mind as my eyes glazed over and I started praying no one would try to engage me in any serious kind of conversation, therefore discovering I was really a total noob and out of my element, was the strangest and most crystal clear revelation.

This incredibly awkward, uncomfortable space is exactly where I’m supposed to be.  This is perfect.

Now hear me out.

This revelation may have started in a town committee meeting, but the thought wasn’t entirely fleshed out until I was attending church one Sunday.  I brought my son to his church school classroom and was settling into a pew.  I’d missed the readings entirely (shame) and don’t even remember most of the sermon (double shame), but on that Sunday in late winter the new associate minister spoke a short but simple phrase that pinned me into my seat and hasn’t let go of me yet…weeks later.  The words have become tattooed on my heart.

God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust…and we know not which we are.  

She said it a second time and left pregnant pauses between each word:

We know not… which… we… are.  

What?!

I felt my throat clamp shut and my eyes well up.  She wasn’t even looking at me, and yet in that moment I felt stripped down to my inner most being and in the spotlight.

I know not which I am.

The truth of it shook me to my core and I realized…it’s not something I consider nearly often enough.

I could be, and often am, downright wrong in my thinking.

So what does this have to do with the town meeting?  As I learned more and more about government and became increasingly involved, I made some observations.  

  1. Most people find politics scary or, at the very least, off-putting…at least when they’re not on Facebook.  And honestly?  I can’t blame them.
  2. Things are rarely as simple as I thought.  If a problem seemed to have an obvious solution, that solution likely has negative repercussions I hadn’t considered.  Either that or the reasons for the problem are far more complex than I realized.
  3. If it’s hard for me to understand why someone is so worked up about something, it’s usually because they have a history that is different than mine or their current life circumstances are different.  Not better or worse.  Just different. It is rarely because they are, at their core, a bad or even irrational person incapable of hearing reason or holding a productive conversation when treated with respect.  Furthermore, to diminish someone else’s pain and suffering, regardless of my feelings about it, is to forever erect an obstacle to understanding between us.
  4. No one is ever going to get their way all of the time.  Not even me.  And if I can’t think outside of myself and take the needs and desires of others into consideration—even others that I disagree with on a fundamental level—I am never going to have peace or happiness in this life and likely won’t accomplish much.
  5. “Just” and “unjust” are a heck of a lot more hazy than I would have liked to believe.

Initially, these thoughts made me want to throw in the towel.  I thought, “That’s it!  It is impossible to know everything about every issue and understand every angle.  How is anyone supposed to do anything about…ANYTHING!  I’m going off-grid and I’m never speaking to anyone outside of my immediate family ever again.  And maybe not even them.  WHY EVEN TRY.”

But then I realized something else.  Committing myself to learning, growing, and being flexible in my understanding of the world and people in it doesn’t mean abandoning my convictions.  In fact, it’s in line with them.  Leaving room for others and their beliefs at the table is not a threat and there is no need to feel offended if others don’t agree with me.  I do not really know who is right and who is wrong and, in the end, it isn’t up to me anyway.

We are all just and unjust, righteous and unrighteous, evil and good, perfect and imperfect.  At the same time, all of the time. And seeing that truth – it was such a necessary dose of humility for me.   Not only that, but it was liberating and strangely empowering.  When I’m able to let go of the need to be “right” or the fear of being “wrong” (it’s not easy…actually it’s a devastatingly hard, continual process for me), I start to experience life differently.  I stop seeing myself as better or worse than anyone else.  I start being more open to people and ideas without feeling insecure or defensive. I stop hating and wanting to hide from the world…and find love and compassion in the space left behind.  I find hope for the future, whatever it may bring.

And do you know what I’m going to do?  I’m going to keep at it.  I’m going to keep showing up even when I’m dead tired and used up.  I’m going to continue arguing and getting frustrated and feeling embarrassed and screwing up and learning to do better.  I’m going to get mad and butt heads and hold signs and give up and start again.  Becoming woven into the fabric of a community and choosing to be a conscious, active member, however stomach-churning or complicated, is the most beautiful and authentic form of love for my neighbor, and my enemy, that I have ever engaged in.


Were you impacted by Audrey’s story?  Please comment or share to spread the conversation a little further!  And don’t forget to check in Monday for the first week of “Gray Faith” study!

You Are Here

My most philosophical lesson this week came quite unexpectedly from my three year old.

I picked him up from preschool and we went with a friend to New Haven CT to volunteer at Love146 for a couple hours.  (BTW, they are absolutely a fantastic organization, devoted to ending slavery and sex trafficking both in the US and abroad. Check them out!!)

Anyway, I had my friend drive because I’m not a city driver.  Not remotely.  Just this weekend I botched a simple parallel parking job in my tiny town and had people on the curb awkwardly giving me directions.  I played it cool and joked that I’d love to tote those lovely people with me to help in my next driving fiasco.  I don’t think they saw the humor in that.

But please, enough of me.

As my friend drove, my son inserted himself frequently into our conversation, and gave a running commentary of things he saw out the window.  At one point while we were a long way from our destination, my little man suddenly perked up.  “We’re Here!” He shouted in rapture, apparently believing that our shortcut off the main road meant we’d arrived where we intended to go.

And I laughed at my sweet kiddo, but my friend and I both agreed that in some ridiculously simple but profound way- YES, we are here.

We were there in a moment.  No we hadn’t made it to where we planned to go, but that didn’t mean that the present was unimportant.  That didn’t mean that we were exactly in the middle of a meaningful “here”.

Lately I’ve found my heart struggling with “here”.  I find myself waiting to get through the morning routine, the bedtime routine (who am I kidding…there’s no routine)…just so I can savor a minute of peace at the end of the day.  If I’m supposed to meet someone for coffee later, then I’m counting down till the “then”;  if I’m planning out my next tattoo it feels so far away till just then… or lately I find myself waiting while God incubates something new in me- I know it’s growing there because I feel it- but the waiting part hardly seems fun.  The “then and there already” would be much better.

But then I look at my three year old.  This kid is all. in.  No matter what he is feeling or expecting, he embraces each moment with every atom of his being.

If I tell him he can have an ice pop, the kid gasps in amazement; if we’re hanging out in line at Starbucks he is full-on dancing to the store music, making use of every spare inch of floor tile.  If we’re at Walmart he’s going to embrace being a ninja turtle while we’re in the toy aisle.

If he sees a friend, even one he just met, that friend better not need a space bubble, because my son loves handing out enthusiastic hugs in the moment.   Sure he gets mad- sure he throws a fit when things don’t go his way.  But even that is a reminder of how fully immersed he is in “now”.

I get the sense that, for him, life is something that is here. now.  And the beauty of that attitude is that whether he’s up or down, he’s engaged.  He’s happy if an unexpected treat comes along; he’s not thinking about where he’s going next so any context is a social context; he’s not worried about where he’ll be in five minutes because that wide open field is calling his name right now.

Maybe that’s what God is trying to teach me.  Matthew chapter 6 says “Don’t worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will worry about itself.”  “God, give us TODAY our daily bread.” (What we need for this moment.) Or how about Proverbs 19:21 “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”  Why am I striving so hard for my way, my plans down the road, “later”- when there is rest letting go and believing God’s purpose will outlast, outdo, outweigh my own ideas.

Life is happening- now.  And I don’t want to miss it.  Even the hard parts- I’m believing there’s something now that is worth being present for.  Now is going to happen whether I like it or not…so I might as well soak it in.  Just ask my three year old…although, I wouldn’t take his advice on everything.


 

Quick Reminders!!!

  • Don’t forget to check in THIS Friday, June 23rd, for my next “Friend Post Friday”!!!!  You won’t want to miss hearing from my good friend Audrey Beatty.
  • AND the Gray Faith Study starts THIS Monday online!  Check back here for the first video and discussion guide or follow along at https://www.facebook.com/lesstobemore/  I can’t wait to get started!

 

 

 

 

How Many Shades of Gray Faith?

No, the answer isn’t 50.  At least I don’t think so.  It’s a gray area.

Understanding and finding more of God is a process, and we need to give ourselves permission to seek God where our answers seem to run out, where our expectations aren’t quite met, where we can simply be our honest selves.  We might gravitate towards black and white answers and easy spiritual growth- but in my experience, we’re missing so much of God in that safe and sterile Christianity.

I believe we find a lot more of God in the shades and tones of gray, at the end of our control, at the end of what we think it means to just be a “good Christian”, at the end of the simple answers we’ve believed in our head but missed in the depths of our soul.

If you’re looking to step out and meet God in the middle of real life and mess and questions this summer, I invite you to join me for an online “Gray Faith” book study this summer starting Monday June 26th!!

Here are just a few shades of gray you can expect to explore as we go through the 8 chapters of the book:

Gray Beginnings:  Are we believing the lie of “Good Christianity”?  What have we picked up from our spiritual beginnings? What have we grown up believing and how can we critically question those beliefs and spiritual routines in a healthy way?

Gray Christian Culture: What have we been raised in the church to believe?  How has our “Christian culture” shaped our view of God and others, and are we brave enough to step outside of that culture long enough to see the parts that honor God and the parts that may be keeping us from fully experiencing Him?  What are those outside our Christian culture really seeing and hearing from us?

Gray Church:  What does it mean to be part of a church or body of Christ?  How do we handle disagreements and denominations, loving each other and loving the world?  What does it mean to balance each other?  Does God have a one-size-fits-all plan for how church looks?

Gray Sin: What does it truly mean to love a broken world?  Does that look more like waving a protest sign or sincerely listening to people we may not agree with? What does it mean to acknowledge that we’re all broken and need grace?  How do we keep our hearts in check before a Holy God?

Gray Evangelism: What does it look like to “share our faith” with others?  Do we need an exciting before and after story to impact people?  What motivates us to share God with others?  How can we share physical love with people that goes hand-in-hand with our words?  Where have we gotten “evangelism” twisted?

Gray Expectations: What are some of the expectations and assumptions we’ve come to make about God?  Do we perpetually think He’s unhappy with us?  Are we frustrated with Him for not blessing us the way we thought He would when we followed Him?  Our expectations have the power to reveal our true beliefs of God- and wrestling through those expectations honestly helps us find God more intimately.

Gray Walk: What does it look like to grow and change over time with God?  Where are the places that God has been changing our views or opinions?  How do we continue to find God in each season; the waiting and the receiving, the loss and the joy, the beauty and the ashes?  Can our process with God lead us to crave His presence even in the ups and downs?

Gray Answers: At the end of the day, on this side of eternity, we simply won’t have all the answers.  What does it mean to humbly walk with others knowing we don’t have all the answers?  What does it look like to encourage friends without trying to fix their problems with the “right” answer?  How do we handle difficult questions like why God allows pain and suffering?  Can we trust that God is big enough to meet each us uniquely precisely in the gray?


The beautiful thing is, if you’re the extrovert kind of person who wants to get a group together and go through the study with friends, go for it!  I’ve done the study with friends and absolutely loved the raw, genuine conversations that came up.

But if you’re the kind of person who still feels a bit uncomfortable asking gray questions in front of others- if you’d rather just wrestle with God in the privacy of your own home wearing your sweats and a tiara (hey, I’m not judging!) then you can absolutely follow along on your own.

Either way, here’s what to do to JOIN THE ONLINE STUDY:

  1. Optional: Purchase a “Gray Faith” book (paperback or kindle version) here: Gray Faith Book (Note: you can still follow along with the study videos/questions without having a book.)
  2. “Like” my facebook author page, where I’ll be posting all my updates and videos!
  3. Check into facebook every Monday for a new video and FREE weekly Study Guide downloads on my blog!
  4. Comment on the weekly video to join the conversation, challenge others, and open up about your own process with God.  This is one of the most exciting parts for me- really getting to connect with YOU and hear your heart.
  5. Share with friends!  If you know someone who might be interested in joining, or if you find encouragement from the study, please pass the news along!

Thanks so much for checking in; I can’t wait to start this “Gray Faith” journey with you all.

How (Not) To Paint a Room

If you’re looking for smooth tips for the best paint job on your next room…do yourself a favor and ignore these steps.  But if you’re looking for a laugh, well…enjoy a couple from my mistakes.

Step 1: You should absolutely base your decision to start painting on the Memorial Day paint sale at your local hardware store.  Breathe in the limited time offer and breathe out all rational and practical reasoning.

Step 2:  Time your trip to the paint store for a day when you’re running so late for church that you decide it would be just as well to take the whole family out paint shopping instead.  Such sound logic.  I’m sure your subsequent irresponsible paint buying decisions will have nothing to do with your two boys swiping paint swatches like they’re 100 dollar bills, and running circles around the aisles.

Step 3: Have a basic idea of what color you want, but allow your final decision to be irrationally swayed by the name of the paint color.  I mean really, what isn’t in a name?  A rose by any other name may smell as sweet but just doesn’t sound as satisfying. (In this case, I chose Cafe Royal- which purports to be a fancy warm brown coffee, but is actually a stupid peach coffee wannabe.  Look at its smug little face…)

Step 4:  Go headstrong and buy not just one, but two, full gallons there on the spot.  No need to test anything!  That sale won’t last forever! Tell yourself sample paints are for indecisive wimps.

Step 5: Stop at an entirely different store to buy rollers and paint trays because surely its less expensive there.  (Except it isn’t.)

Step 6: Start painting your wall excitedly and without taping off anything.  You might want to have a wet paper towel or twenty on standby.

Step 7: Allow your heart to sink as the paint dries and the uninvited peach tone rears its ugly head against your green contrast wall.

Step 8: Spend up to a day or two in denial with your project unfinished, telling yourself that you will probably like it eventually.  Maybe.  Yes? Um….holy crap, nope…its the worst decision you’ve made since that time you thought it would be “fun” to swim across that lake one summer.

Step 9: Research all the ways to change your paint color and stumble upon a website suggesting you take your paint back and have it re-tinted.

Step 10: Because you’re super embarrassed, take your paint to a completely new paint store to have THEM re-tint your paint so no one has rehash your idiotic purchase from the other day.  They will tell you they don’t even sell the brand of paint you bought, and politely but definitively send you on your way.

Step 11: Visit the original paint store and explain your self-created sob story.  Watch in rapture as they take your desired color and miraculously tint your former paint into a slightly darker and gloriously less peachy version.  Only bring one of your boys with you this time.  Make a note to yourself that normal people don’t get additional tint numbers hand-written on their paint cans.

Step 12: In your excitement and because you’ve totally learned your lesson about on the spot purchases of FULL paint gallons, spontaneously snag a sample can of historical blue to try on your stair wall.  When you get home, immediately slather on an unreasonably large sample despite your unfinished first project and your recent propensity for shoddy decision making.

Step 13: Repaint your dining room and kitchen and possibly take a selfie of your sexy paint clothes in the process.  Finally admit to yourself how deeply offended you are at Cafe Royal as a color (who does she think she is??), and enjoy the new re-tinted look.  

Step 14: Since you only needed one gallon of paint for your project after all, have a lightbulb moment and take the other gallon of awful peachy paint to be retinted a whole new color…like maybe burnt orange?

Step 15: Learn the hard truth that while the paint lady can make your paint darker, she’s not a bona fide miracle worker.  No, she cannot turn your peachy tan into orange.  Would you settle for a warm gray?  Decide to buy that historical blue color after all, only to discover the sale is over.  Where is the justice?

Step 16: Return home refusing to do the math as to how much that stupid sale cost you.  Finish repainting the trim of your first project with a very thick, glossy can of old paint.  Optional: Lay out some pictures that you might want to hang  to complete your project if you can lure a friend over to help.  Make an obnoxious number of jokes about her coming to help you “find some studs”.  (Friend, if you’re reading this, I’m admitting I’ve over-done it.)

 Step 17: Enjoy your finished project but instead of moving onto painting the stairs, why don’t you just let that blue blob hang there for awhile as a stark warning against future impulse buys.  Although, there is a sale on that couch…

 

 

Dead Sparrows= Don’t be Afraid?

The Bible often mystifies me.  Levitical law is too far beyond my culture and era to fathom; Paul is obnoxiously confusing at times (You seemed pretty confident that I’m saved by faith, so what’s this line about being saved through childbearing, Buddy? Get your story straight.); and the finer details of Revelation leave me scratching my head every time.

So there’s this perplexing passage where Jesus is talking to His disciples about how they shouldn’t fear people- the worst they can do is kill your body, but they have no power to touch your soul.  Rather, shouldn’t we be concerned about God and what He thinks of us because He has true authority over us?

But He follows up with what I’ve long considered to be one of the worst pep talks ever:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31: 29 )

I don’t know about you, but here’s what I’m reading: A sparrow isn’t worth much.  But God still knows when it dies.  I can barely keep track of when I’m supposed to wash my hair, but God, apparently, keeps a running tally of each follicle, clean or otherwise.  Moral: Don’t be afraid, because you’re worth more than many cheap sparrows.  The end.

Here’s my problem, in case any of you missed the apparently non-sequitur leap from message to moral: the sparrow is dead, people.  We aren’t supposed to be afraid because of a dead sparrow? (I’ve complained enough about this passage to one friend, that she sent me this picture because dead birds remind her of me now.  I know, it’s pretty bad.)

Image: Caitlin Leffingwell

Jesus doesn’t say that when a sparrow, who is worth almost nothing, starts to fall, God swoops in to resuscitate it.  Jesus doesn’t say, if the sparrow starts to plummet, I’ll give it wings like Eagles and send it on its merry way.  Nope.  He simply says that the sparrow doesn’t go down “0utside your Father’s care.”  Oh, and have no fear.

Ahem, “God, pardon my irreverent question here, but how does watching a bird die count as ‘care’?”  

OK, I’m going to let you just hold onto that awkward irreverent question while I pause to insert a brief side story:

I was talking to my friend Susan recently about the how I’m stressed from always being high- and when I say “high”, I mean my blood sugar numbers have been elevated because of my diabetes.  (Ah, I enjoy that joke too much.)

I told her I had struggled to feel like God cared for me in the midst of my suffering; that He didn’t seem to want to help.  But I also told her I felt like I was supposed to say “yes” to whatever He wanted to do through my problem- that I needed to let Him use the circumstance for His plan.

And she basically said, “You’re still looking at the circumstance.”  Pff…um…no I was trying to learn God’s lesson for me, right?  That’s what all this is about, right?  Being made mature and God using me to help others and bladabladah?  But maybe she was right?  Maybe I was putting way too much emphasis on the circumstance itself.

If I was upset at God for not healing me, I was defining Him by my circumstance.  If I was waiting for Him to do something through my pain, I was defining Him by my circumstance.  If I was feeling that I had to somehow figure out how to use my problem for something better, I’d still be focusing on my circumstance.

So…can I define God completely outside of my circumstance?

Back to our dying bird and the deafening silence I left you in after my last question to God: What if the point of that story has a lot more to do with WHO GOD IS than with the condition of the bird?  Here I’ve been making sarcastic comments to God about how His little dead bird anecdote is hardly uplifting- when all the while that dead bird has been pointing me to a God whose character is outside my circumstances.  

In the middle of our worst moments we ask God where He is, whether He is big enough, whether He “cares”.  Why? Because our circumstances changed.

But did He?

What if God simply IS good?  (Whether our car gets totaled or we inherit a lamborghini?)

What if God simply DOES care? (Whether we’re enjoying a day at the beach or we just got diagnosed with an illness?)

What if God simply IS love? (Whether we feel Him powerfully in the moment or lie awake in the dark wishing we knew where He was?)

Maybe the story is really saying, “If I care to know this bird’s story, if I’m aware and concerned for it’s death, then I’m a God who cares that much more about you.  No matter what is happening to you.  I’ve numbered your hairs- because that’s how much I care to KNOW you…because that’s just who I am.  I can’t promise you no pain, I won’t promise you won’t die, but I promise you that as your circumstances change, I never will.  Who I am is gloriously unaffected by your circumstances.  So when your pain and heartache and loss tell you I’ve left you, can you remember that I’m not defined by those things?  Can you still trust Me because you know who I am?”

 

I’m on the upswing of a rough week, and the weather is finally bright and sunshiny…its possible that my rising belief in God’s goodness is related to that.  But now more than ever, I desperately want to KNOW God deeply, because I need Love and Care and Good that will not change no matter what I face. Because I’m pretty sure there will be worse days, and I’m going to need something solid to stand on.


What about you?  Have you ever felt like you were defining God by what was happening around you?  What have you found about God’s character in the middle of your trials?  What do you think it means that God cares for us even when our struggles remain?

 

 

 

Hello from the…Middle

Adele made it to the other side.  I’m not sure I’m there yet, but “hello from the middle” isn’t as catchy.

Everyone loves a story with a good ending.  The one where Jesus rescued the disciples from the freak storm.  The time God answered Elijah’s prayer for rain after a many year drought.  The one where God used Esther to rescue His people from mass slaughter.  The one where Jesus healed the woman who had been sick for years.

Good stories.  Pleasant morals.  Faith builders.

You know what I can’t stand?  A movie that ends without being resolved.  A book that appears more tragic than hopeful.  A story that’s stuck in the middle.

I don’t want to be trapped indefinitely on that rain-pounded, wave-hurled boat with the disciples.  I don’t want to wrestle with whether God is big enough for all this. I’m too busy panicking and trying to figure out where my contact went after that last wave. My stomach is queasy.  I like to watch lightning from my living room window with some wine.  Jesus is clearly sleeping, and if he wanted to help me he would have brought an alarm clock or something.  Why was I following Him again?

I’d prefer not to sit with Elijah as he prays for rain the second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth time.  I’m fairly certain I would have given up already if I was waiting that long on my barista to get my latte right.  My faith and reputation are on the line.  I don’t have so much as a darkening sky to assure me the cracked, parched earth beneath me will ever receive a drop of moisture.  Can’t we just skip to the part where we sing and dance in the downpour? Assuming Elijah is down with his life as a musical. 

I’d rather not be plucked up out of my home to be made the pawn of a dangerous king.  You can keep your tiara and beauty treatments, thank you very much.  I don’t want to know the tortured mental journey that preceded her decision: “And if I perish, I perish.”  Did she really come to a place of peace, or was it a kind of grim resignation?  Was she too depressed to care anymore?  I think I would have simply left the king a sticky note on the royal fridge and avoided the whole awkward potential death thing.  I don’t want her story’s middle.

And I don’t want to be in the middle of desperation from chronic illness like that woman.  I’m fed up right with her living in fear, waiting on a cure that won’t come.  I’m tired of believing in hope that doctors will help, that someone will eventually reach out and see me.  I’m tired of wondering if God cares.  I don’t want to be overwhelmed in the thick of a crowd grasping for a dirty hem after all else has let me down.  Did she wonder if it was worth it to put her heart on the line…again?

The middle sucks.

As my friend recounted her “middle” stories- she reminded me that they strip us down of what we think we know.  They threaten to uproot everything we think we stand on.  The middle makes us ask, “What kind of a God would…?”  “What’s the point in trying if…?” “What if the promise isn’t true?”  The questions themselves aren’t bad- they force us to see things differently.

But the problem with the middle is that we don’t have the “aha!” ending glasses to see through.  So we full-on react in survival mode, like a crazed bee-chased person wildly karate chopping the air, fleeing in bumbling zig zags.  At least I do.

I thrash around like my three year old sometimes does when I put his in his bedroom at night.  He’s mad that he can’t read another book, that he can’t have more water, but mostly that he can’t come out.  So he screams and throws things, crying in hysterics.

But I tell my son that even though he has to stay, I’ll come in and be with him.

At first he says no, and continues tantrumming.  (Which isn’t a word, but ought to be.) But I can always tell that he’s really wrestling with his own emotions, with what he ultimately wants, and there’s always a breaking point where he admits that he’d rather have me with him than rail against me anymore.

He accepts the promise of “with” even if it means waiting through another night to see the other side of that bedroom door.

And I guess I’m saying that’s me.  This whole time I’ve been flipping emotional furniture in my brain, acting like God has locked me up and it’s his fault and what on earth is He doing?!!  And at the same time I’m crying,

Please don’t leave me, because you’re all I have.  Please don’t go because even in my doubts I have no greater hope.  Please forgive me because I’m not quite ready to let you in to just hold me, but I desperately need to know you’re waiting for me on the other side of that door.”

I like the lessons from the end.  Or before the problem ever starts maybe?  But the promise I’m holding onto right now is that the middle of the story is what actually shapes us.  The middle of the story is where our convictions confront our deepest fears and we sink or rise.  You don’t get to walk on water on dry land.  You don’t get to pretend in the middle.

My fists are still a little clenched and I just bought a bunch of paint  so I can hide for a bit inside a project and process my disappointment.  My wrestle.  (Although the paint was on sale, if that makes the middle sound less self-indulgent.)

I don’t have the cute moral to give you right now, just the awkward picture of a thirty year old woman throwing an all-out tantrum on the floor.  It isn’t pretty.  But it’s real.  And I’m daring to believe it’s accomplishing something steadfast and hopeful inside of me that I couldn’t have found otherwise.

Photo: Joy Martin

 

I don’t know how long you’ll wait for the uplifting ending to all this, but if it comes in this lifetime I’ll be sure to blog about it.