Parking Limited

After we bought our car overseas, I noticed that cars seemed to multiply like rabbits in our neighborhood. Every day, at least every week, a new shiny car found a home in a parking spot near me. Each new car made parking a bit more competitive.

Parking spots close to our apartment took it to a new level. The stakes were high with kids, shopping bags, strollers, and a third floor address to herd them all towards. A close spot made everything easier.

I’d actually get resentful to the new cars and their owners who made life harder for me. Where did they live? Would they compete for my favorite spots? What right did they have to get a car after me?

Ha. Well…every right! Just because I bought one first, how does it exclude others from pursuing the same goal?

Driving home late began to mean that I didn’t even have a slot in the complex and had to park on the street. Not fun. Why would so many people want to get cars when it was becoming so inconvenient?

The same reason we got a car! It made some parts of life easier and more peaceful.

At some point I began to see how my annoyance revealed my arrogance. Just because I bought a car first, I deserved to have a parking space. Anyone who came after me was now a threat to my comfort and ease. In my mind they even had less right to the life I lived for no other reason than timing.

Kinda ugly. Even as I write it, it strikes me how easy it is to drift down that lane.

Eh…its just a parking space and it doesn’t really matter, right?

I’m not so sure. I feel like this same mentality gets played out in much bigger issues daily. It hinges on the tendency we have to believe that resources are limited. The pie is only so big and welcoming another threatens our livelihood.

Yet, if God is really God, He is able to provide for us and for others. If His plan really was to multiply and fill the earth, why are we afraid when that happens?

Probably because we’re human and our world is filled with oppression and injustice for which we all suffer–some much more than others. There doesn’t seem to be enough and that proves we need to compete, right?

I think that’s what the enemy wants us to think–it goes along with his mission to steal, kill, and destroy and we play into it by taking the bait.

But there’s hope because the fullest meaning of humanity is that we are made in the image of God. We don’t have to live in human competition fighting for limited scraps.

It’s fitting that Jesus described Himself as a spring–a constant stream of clean flowing water that fulfills us eternally.

And He describes Himself as the bread of life–sustenance for all who come to Him.

Throughout the Bible is clear condemnation of injustice, oppression, and selfish power. There is also clear guidance for how to live a generous life that takes care of the poor and the immigrant.

It is part of God’s plan everywhere that His people know that everything they have is from God so everything they have is to be stewarded with a view to sustaining all those created in His image.

So we can hope and expect that life can be different. I can be different. Our world could be very, very different.

On Inheritance

I bet I’m not the only one who’s ever thought man, I wish some free money came my way. Lately, this crops up in my heart because I want to do something to my house like Joanna Gaines does to everyone’s house in Waco. Maybe I should move to Waco. Or stop watching Fixer Upper. 

In line with this thinking that I want to purge from my brain, I’ve been filing away thoughts on inheritance over the past few months. One of which comes from a book I received at Christmas.

C.S. Lewis wrote about his early experience as a Christian in his Reflections on the Psalms. Get this, for the whole first year after bowing his knee to God, C.S. Lewis didn’t know anything about the inheritance the Bible says awaited him in heaven. He didn’t become a Christ follower because he expected an awesome return on his life investment.

And, he doesn’t think that was a bad thing for his first year as a Christian.

It got me thinking again about inheritance.

What would it look like to serve someone based on a promised inheritance v. based on it being the right thing to do. Seems like C.S. Lewis bowed his knee in a much truer devotion than I usually do. He did not expect his life to get easier. Even called himself the most reluctant of converts. He expected no inheritance.

Then, there’s the prodigal brothers. The prodigal sons. I read the story a few more times. Both brothers received their inheritance in the beginning of the story. One brother took his. He owned it. He took it away and, then, he wasted it. He got to thinking as he was eating slop, my life would be better as a slave in my dad’s house. I can’t be a brother, but slavery is better than this. So, he goes back home prepared to serve as a slave.Actual Factual Slop. Yuck.

His older brother received his inheritance but stayed at home but not happily. He complains to his dad about how he never got to have a fattened calf with his friends. Wah, wah.

But, why not? Wasn’t the calf technically his? Hadn’t the father given his inheritance to him too?

The older brother didn’t ever seem to clue in that he owned the calf himself. He never took his inheritance. He never enjoyed being at home with his dad, it seems. He inherited but he didn’t own his inheritance. He could’ve invested it, stewarded it, spent it. Point is, he could’ve enjoyed it.

Neither brother lived out inheritance in a good way. One took it and wasted it. One didn’t take it and resented the lowly position he made for himself.

And neither one realized the true benefit and riches they had as sons. They had their father’s love. The one who wasted his inheritance didn’t lose his sonship. Neither did the one who labored reluctantly. Relationship and love was free for the taking all the time.

Oh, how things could be different if we really understood it’s not about the inheritance as much as being part of the family and all that brings with it when the family we are talking about is God’s family.

The Final Semester

My best friend and I shared a hotel sized dorm for 3 years and had known each other for 4, but the time came to part ways. Nothing changed about our friendship or desire to be friends.

We didn’t have a falling out. We were graduating.

The stink of it was, I was her Resident Advisor so I had to ask her to sign the check out line through my tears. It was awful! We would never again be roommates but we knew each other like sisters.

All spring, I had these weird feelings. I knew graduation was coming. I was also engaged to be married. My life was changing and would change radically in the months to come even though I didn’t leave my college town after graduation. That spring, graduation was always out there. It loomed and my emotions rode this weird roller coaster that I can name now as transition.

Looking back at myself, I know how unprepared I was for this change. All the boxes of life were checked. Grades. Check. Apartment. Check. Job. Check. Health Insurance Rider. Check.img_5704-1

I was even one of those annoying senior girls that was actually engaged! The dream, right?!

But, emotionally, I did not expect to feel such turmoil.

So, you seniors in college, you are in a pivotal semester.

You are waiting to hear from potential employers. Wondering about a current co-ed relationship. Trying to figure out where to live. Needing to pass classes. Planning celebrations. Its a lot to take!

So, how can you leave college more ready for the next phase of life?

Reconcile relationships. 18-22 are volatile years of change. One big step to graduation should involve thinking back on your time in school. Are there any friendships that went south? Any lingering, nagging feelings of resentment towards old roommates, boyfriends or girlfriends, organizations, leaders, or professors that are creeping up in your soul? Pay attention! When classes end in May, it will be much harder practically to reconcile these relationships.

Forgiveness, hopefully, is a choice you’re making. Reconciliation is the next step. Think through your time in college. Is there anyone you need to talk to? Consider talking to anyone you’ve hurt or who has hurt you and expressing forgiveness or a desire to forgive. It may not fix things the way you might want, but it goes a long way.

I had to do that my senior year and it was one of the harder conversations of my life to ask for forgiveness. As an adult, I’ve had to have many more of those conversations. Get started now and enter adulthood on a track of freedom from your past.

Affirm. Many people, most likely, came into your life during college and provided the encouragement, teaching, friendship, and support you needed to finish. Let them know. Think through these people and contact them personally or write a note. Not only will it grow your gratitude, it will also remind you that you were not alone in a season where loneliness can creep in.

Farewell. Say your farewells. Don’t avoid them. It doesn’t have to be a huge graduation shindig. In fact, that may be a really difficult way to say a meaningful farewell. Farewells happen best for me when they are personal and specific to my relationships. Did you always work out on Fridays with a friend? Mark a last workout, get a treat afterwards,  and tell them you’ll miss them and that tradition.

Why say farewells? Graduation marks that a change is taking place in your friendships. You are entering the work world in different cities. You will make new friends. Trying to hold onto all of your friendships the same way is impossible. They need to change and saying farewell to the college student phase of your friendship is a good idea. Some college friendships will continue, but they will be different. They will take more effort and not all of them will last.

And, friends aren’t the only farewells to say. What about professors? Favorite study haunts on campus? A place where you had an epiphany about yourself, your life, or your future? One of my favorite things to do when we are moving away from a place is to walk around and remember my favorite places and what happened there.

Think Destination.This is the practical of moving. How and when are you going to pack? Where is that nasty couch going to go when you move out? Where will you stay in the in between? What will your job be and when do you start? What will your budget be? Where will you go to church or find friends?

It could be as simple as answering some of these questions. Zoom out and also consider, what do you want your adult life to be like in your new location? How will you get there? What can you do now to smooth the path?

Are you looking for a church? Ask friends about churches in the new town, go to one the first Sunday, visit a few, and make a decision.

Then, serve in some capacity. You will meet far more people and probably have a better attitude if you are in the game rather than bench-warming.

~~

So, I must give credit where credit is due. These four points aren’t my own. They come from David Pollock who helped many, many adults and children make international moves with this model of transition called RAFT. I’ve used it many times myself for moves.

It became so internalized for me that I also went to it when my dad received a death sentence from the neurosurgeon in 2015. You can read more of that here.

This process doesn’t eliminate the hard things of moving, but it will help you move through them a little more smoothly. It’s a RAFT to get you across some bumpy waters of life change from graduation, moving, marrying, or saying the ultimate farewell.

I hope it helps anchor your soul and give some direction in a very tumultuous semester.

The Table

Each takes their plate and begins their trek down the long buffet loading up their plate, unable to fit all that’s available. Smiles, talking, laughter abound as one by one they finish. Walking away more because they can’t fit any more on the plate than because they are finished.img_4712

Each takes a place next to another on a bench that seems to always have room for more. No one saves a place for anyone else, no one jockies for position closest to the Provider of All. Content and at peace, there is no need for all know they are loved deeply, abundantly.

The family meal is diverse beyond imagination because everyone is adopted. Everyone came from a different table. Some use chopsticks, some use forks, some use bread, some use their hands, and some use only their right hand. All languages are spoken yet everyone seems to understand each other.

Love abounds and the conversation around the table celebrates the days events. Successes are shared without one upmanship. Failures are shared without smug looks. All is met with compassion, affection, and correction. No one is ashamed or embarrassed.

Before adoption, all came from other tables, more uncomfortable tables. Food at their former houses was sometimes locked up or there wasn’t any at all. Crusts dropped on the floor from the table and that was all there was. All devised a strategy to get a seat.

It was always better to be a certain color or have a certain ability in the former families.  Attention from the stewards in charge meant more provisions so it was sought at all cost, even the cost of another. Highlights of the day were shared at the expense of others. Praise for one was at the cost of praise for another. There was terrible fighting which never got resolved.

Even in the best families, there was lack of something. There was more order, more smiles, more peace which made it almost harder to recognize how much better the Provider’s offer of adoption was for them. Where things were smooth in their families compared to others, it seemed unnecessary to make a change and receive adoption.

For others, adoption was unbelievably good news. How could it be so easy? Just say yes? What was the catch? There must be a catch so they waited and prepared, trying to learn all the ways of the Provider’s family. They stood at the windows dressed up and ready but feeling too bad or unworthy to walk through the front door. They operated under what they had learned on the street–earn it, steal it, buy it.

There’s no free lunch.

Until a knock came from inside the front door, oddly. Usually, knocking came from the outside, but this one came from the inside, and someone was calling their name. Could it be that the door would open for them?

And then it did! The choice came to walk through…or not.

Most heard about the Invitation from the Father’s kids who couldn’t seem to stop talking about their new family. It could be really annoying to some. They talked about what their adoption was like, what it was like to learn a new family, to get used to new siblings with all their quirks and hurts, to blend into the Ultimate Blended Family.

It wasn’t perfect, yet, they said, but it would be one day. They were all excited about that day and it made a difference in today. There was always enough for today.

They shared how at some points, it was only the love of the Father that kept them from running away. The table wasn’t always like it was supposed to be yet.

Sometimes there was sibling rivalry. Sometimes siblings did jockey for a seat right next to the Provider only to have Him firmly correct them. There is a seat for anyone who accepts the invitation, He would almost roar. The correction was always right and fair and true. Instead of slinking off in shame, it was possible to receive it and know there was absolutely no love lost from the Father.

And no ridicule from the siblings…on a good day. Ridicule was met by just rebuke from the Father, another roar. Frightening like thunder, yet it also lit up the sky in a revealing sort of way. Noise and light, illumination, then order again.

Ones who had been at the table longer than others sometimes forgot about their first days in the family and had to be reminded. The reminders somehow freed them from a darkening that would slowly take place. It was easy to get used to the new family and forget how much better it was than the old. To forget the adoption. When reminded, they remembered and their lips loosened up and smiled again.

They began looking around again, and inviting again.

They remembered how wonderful it was to be part of the Family.

 

 

 

 

Steward of Suffering

When my father got sick, I wrote about it in real-time. A few of those blog posts were widely shared and read due to the circumstances of his sickness and death.

Did I exploit his situation? I knew he did not think so. He was more than happy for many more to hear about his life in Christ, even while his body was dying. But, the thought lingered.

Recently, I listened to a podcast by Michael Hyatt titled Keys to Writing a Killer Blogpost. I highly recommend it. At one point, Hyatt mentions the concept of stewarding our lives. Stewarding our stories. Stewarding our suffering. It resonated with me.

Hyatt’s podcast fleshed out in words what I hoped for and still hope for through my writing. In some way, I wanted to steward my dad’s suffering. Beyond that, I want to grow in stewarding my own.

So, what is a steward?

A steward is by definition in Merriam-Webster’s: one employed in a large household or estate to manage domestic concerns (as the supervision of servants, collection of rents, and keeping of accounts). Or, one appointed to supervise the provision and distribution of food and drink in an institution.

A steward is a manager. At best, they are fair and look after those affairs given to them in honesty. At worst, they are insubordinate, embezzling and neglecting their responsibilities causing people to suffer so they can gain. I imagine a mediocre steward fails to recognize the importance of their job.

Hmm.

I’ve failed miserably at stewarding other hard things in my life to the hurt of some very dear to me. Lately, I sense that every day I am faced with the invitation to be a steward. Sometimes its my own situation I must steward. At times, it is someone else’s.

When life gives you lemons, squeeze the heck out of them. It feels good and channels the emotion. It’s a lot of work. It stings the eyes. It bites the wounds we already have. The juice is so sour. At some point, sometimes just in heaven, He provides the sugar.

 

What does it take to be a good manager of what God entrusts to me? It starts with turning away from some common lies about our master.

God doesn’t care about my suffering…

Sometimes I feel like I am working at a distance from God. I’m in a cubicle, one of many. I’m an ill prepared employee blaming my boss. He’s not around to know how hard it is and He didn’t send me to that training. I grow resentful.

I see the opposite of a distant and uncaring God in the Bible when Jesus weeps at Lazarus’ death. When the Israelites’ cries came before God in heaven while they were in Egypt. He was merciful to them in the desert, knowing their weakness and giving them time to heal. He saw Haggar. Saul persecuted the early church. Jesus asked him at his conversion, why are you persecuting Me? Not, why are you persecuting them but why are you persecuting Me.

God is not unfeeling. He does care. Because He is omnipresent, He is never absent.

My suffering is mine to bear alone, not burden others with…

No one wants to be needy. Problem is, we are all needy. To not be needy is to be God, completely self-sufficient, which makes Him the best provider for our needs. Our suffering is close to God’s heart and we must bring it there first.

But, we must also bring it to others in the family. Paul writes that when one member suffers, we all suffer with them. We comfort with the comfort we receive from God, and are called to give and receive comfort.

Sadly, not all will suffer with you. I have not always suffered with others. Those failures still grieve me. They also teach me in many painfully good ways what it is to stand alongside others better in their suffering now. I can never take back the salt I poured on wounds, but Jesus paid for that too and He can heal that in my friend’s life as well.

As I learn to share my suffering with God and others, I learn to carry others as well. I expect it to make churches and communities warmer places as we carry suffering, because we all suffer.

I should share my hard times when I’m over them…

Sharing struggles against temptations, failures, and doubts in real-time is challenging. It feels like what’s better is to share how I used to struggle. And, some hard times do need to resolve a little with limited counsel to steward them well before crowds.

What happens when I share my temptations, failures, and sin in real-time is that it often takes the power of secrecy and darkness away. Just like many of my hardest moments mentally seem to be in the dark of literal night, so struggles and failures against sin rage when they fester out of the light of the One readily available and able to fight them.

Bring them into the light with a trusted and mature person well versed in the Word and life, and it is like turning on a light in the middle of the night. Things are clearer, brighter, and usually a bit more hopeful. I thank God for the many women and men, too, who have turned on the light in the dark room of my soul.

On the Job Training

There is no way a blog post could exhaust this topic. I know I haven’t grown fully into my job description as a wise manager. I envision a painting (by an old master of course) of a steward depicting this aspect of my life in Christ more fully. I picture a person sitting at a table with provisions, a line of people in front of them, but also a kind master behind them whispering in the steward’s ear instructions regarding what is to be dispensed.

Listening to the master while facing the people strikes me as a good position to steward well. Maturity in Christ comes through on the job training.

How have you stewarded suffering well? Where do you stumble as a steward?

 

Fancy Pants

We sat and waited,my brother and I, all dressed for the Christmas Eve service at our Bible believing evangelical church. Somber colors were the tradition for men. Black suits, white shirts, maybe a Christmas tie or a daring green sweater would be seen in the narthex, a fancy word for the place where children wait for their parents to leave church.

My brother and I loitered around the living room, waiting for our parents to come down the long hallway ready to go to the service. Would he wear them, we wondered? Would this be an off-year? We never knew until we heard his footsteps and he turned the corner.

He liked to present himself holding his hands out to the sides, squatting a little with a goofy smile. A “ta-da” befitted his presentation though I’m not sure he ever said it. He just acted it. And we knew he was wearing the pants.

They were hard to miss. Brilliant red, black, green, and yellow plaid pants. A little tight after 20 years of ownership and life. A little short, a side effect of the little too tight. They did not break at the ankle as well-fitting traditional pants should. Tight rolling was the phenomena of the early 90’s. These pants were bell bottoms.

The pants were social suicide we knew we’d never live down.

We usually protested a little but we knew it was a lost cause. We rolled eyes. Groaned. Some years he changed in response to our complaints, but most he stuck with the pants, loyal to a fault. One year he wore a white sweater he probably got the same year as the pants.

Pendleton! Mom reminds us when we laugh about this story that lives on in legend at the family dinner table. They were nice, Pendleton wool pants! As though our roasting was unbefitting the dignity of Pendleton wool with its long history quality and tradition. She was personally invested in the pants and may have even bought them as a gift in their early married days when they were in style.

The joke’s on us now. Pendleton is back in the cool column now. I eagerly expect to see a hipster with a weird beard and funky glasses at church wearing my dad’s pants this year along with a vintage white sweater. Different is cool. Tacky is a sign of courage and independence.

My dad was a man before his time. A hipster before hipster was hip. We didn’t appreciate his genius.

And it was genius. His slightly snotty teenagers needed a little bit of his devil-may-care attitude. I was too much concerned with others. I missed out on the levity of not caring what other people thought. Of trying to climb the social ladder that never ended. Only as an adult and a parent do I see what a gift his red pants were to us.

My dad when the pants were first in style.

My teenage self found that the world kept spinning. We were no more and no less socially advantaged by our dad’s pants when school started back up in January. I lived, and I laugh more and care a little less because of those pants.

The pants made fewer appearances as the years went on. Sadly, we don’t know where they are now. My dad is with the Lord, probably reunited with his red pants, and my kids are approaching those teenage years when people loom large.

I may just have to find my own pair of Christmas pants to continue the tradition of bringing the world into perspective.

The Sting of Death

Time is a gift. I know that today more than ever. My father’s tumor spreads as I write, moving us closer and closer to the end of his earthly, physical days. There are few treatments and they only promise an extension of days. Apart from miraculous healing, we know the end is coming. It always was, death comes for us all, but knowing a time frame brings life into focus.

This is the time under heaven and each moment swells with importance. A time to weep over the missing and laugh over memories past and the foibles of the present. To uproot from life as we knew it. A time to embrace what matters and avoid what doesn’t. A time to search out disconnected family members and reconcile those we can’t find. Times of silence together and times we speak.

Sacred time is what I call it. Not everyone experiences these moments. There are things worse than death. Things that make death a jagged sword that rips out flesh after it pierces the heart.

It’s inescapable. Death does pierce the heart with grief. It keeps me up at night, it makes my heart pound. I physically hurt. But, death doesn’t have to sting the way it can.  It doesn’t have to drag a pound of my soul on the way out.

The red trees are called poison wood trees. The red trees are called poison wood trees.

Some things are worse than death. I’d take a brain tumor over my parents divorcing any day. I’d take this over parents with a contentious marriage fraught with selfishness. Unreconciled relationships and unforgiveness are sins that infuse death with a harsh sting. Before that, unforgiveness kills the soul and binds the heart tight and small. Those that encounter such hearts sustain injury to the deepest places in their soul. We’ve all met them and we’ve all been them, too.

I see my parents holding nothing against each other, though I’m sure they could find something. They spent the fall looking deeply into their relationship in a small group. It was painful at times, but I see that it washed their relationship from resentments. They feel closer than ever.

My parents and I sure have our moments we’ve needed to forgive, too, but this time together assures me we hold nothing against each other. And, lest you think we don’t have opportunities, you are wrong.

The freedom this brings to my soul is unspeakable. The freedom this brings to my father is beautiful. Though I see his sadness, I see that death has lost its sting. He says it himself. He woke my mother up one night to tell her. He is forgiven, and he has forgiven. He experiences freedom from fear and crushing regret and flaming anger.

I want this for myself. I want this for others too. The sting of death is sin (I Corinthians 15:56-57). Victory is through Jesus Christ.

Be reconciled, my friends. To God first, then to parents, spouses, children, friends, and co-workers. Even the person on the road that cuts you off in a blatantly offensive way. The politicians that get under your skin. The doctor that does the paperwork too slow.

Sow the seeds of forgiveness and uproot the weeds of resentment and bitterness. Let it not be on our shoulders, the crushing burden we do not have to carry. I long for the freedom that comes through receiving forgiveness and extending forgiveness.

Day after day, as long as it is still called today, don’t be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13).