on messy discipleship, unmet expectations, and baptism

I tried something new this summer.  A family-wide, sync’ed up Bible reading plan through the book of Romans.  It all started off grand.  The kids had their darling new Kids Read Truth books, I had my iPhone app, and we all had some pretty solid intentions.  We’d read Scripture.  We’d talk about it around the dinner table.  We’d strum harps and sing Kumbaya.

And we’d fail epically.  Or, at least so it would seem.

I mean, we read it.  Most of us at least, though all at different paces and with varying degrees of whining.  I’m pretty sure we rehashed Scripture around the dinner table a grand total of thrice.  And the harp sadly never made its debut.

As we approached mid-summer, I began to feel frustration creep in.  Once again, my lofty expectations did not align with our summertime reality.  Once again, parenting looked a lot more like a hodgepodge of messy moments than shining examples of family discipleship.  And, once again, doing A + B wasn’t exactly equaling happy, compliant, Bible-loving children.  No, A + B was simply driving me to an 8pm bedtime, overwhelmed and defeated.  Romans and all of our well-written, beautifully-designed Bible reading plans could SHOVE IT thankyouverymuch.

Then there was that day several months ago.  It was just another day when Carson approached me at bedtime in a completely nonchalant way.  “Hey mom, I’m ready to get baptized.”

Pause for a second.  For a solid year now, we’ve been having conversations with Carson about his faith in Jesus.  And, for a solid year now, he had remained fairly adamant that he didn’t want to get baptized.  He didn’t want to stand up in front of people, and he didn’t want people looking at him.  It felt awkward and it felt scary and he just wasn’t ready.

So we backed off.  We’d stand by him, encourage him, pray for him… but this was something that he and his logical, analytical little brain needed to hash out.  Just between him and God.

So, I pressed a bit.  “Dude, that’s awesome!” I said.  “But, I’m just curious.  How’d you get to this point?  How’d you come to this decision?”

“Romans,” he responded, shrugging his shoulders.  “I just read Romans.”

Funny how that works.  We, as parents, spin our wheels, workworkworking to see our kids to follow Jesus.  We use all the latest tools and read the best, most gospel-centered parenting books, desperate to be all that our kids need us to be as parents.  And yet, at the end of the day, we’re reminded that what our kids really need from us is a signpost pointing back to Jesus.  Back to Scripture.  We quickly learn that we can spin those wheels all the livelong day, but the power to change their hearts lies in the Spirit alone. 

 

So, Carson.  Thanks for this reminder.  This reminder that I can buy all the right books and say all of the right (or wrong) things, but I’m still not in control of you guys.  And, you know what?  That’s actually a really beautiful and freeing (and sometimes really really terrifying) thing.  For BOTH of us.

Buddy, we are so very pumped for your decision to get baptized last weekend.  This felt scary and risky to you, and you did it.  Scared.  Which stands in pretty close resemblance to what this crazy adventure of following Jesus is all about.  But here’s the really awesome thing: we can do hard things scared because we know His presence goes with us, before us, and behind us.  We can do hard things scared because we have His very word to guide us along the sometimes rocky way.

You know this.  Dude, you saw this with your own eyeballs and experienced this with your own life this summer, but let me just remind you once again that His Word is truth.  This world may lead you astray.  Heck, I MAY EVEN LEAD YOU ASTRAY SOMETIMES.  (I know it’s exceedingly hard to believe, but I’m not perfect.)  Scripture though?  It can be trusted.  HE can be trusted.

We’ve got your back, buddy.  Our big, messy church is chock-full of people who love you and who have got your back.  And that God of the Bible who you met in Romans this summer?  He’s totally got your back.  So get after it.  We love you so much.

eight.

Mary Grace,

Eight years ago, I was pacing the hallways of the hospital, begging and pleading with you to make your grand debut.  To just go ahead and come OUT already.  In hindsight, maybe you were just giving the world a few extra moments of prep time before you entered the scene.

You, my girl, are one tiny, wild-haired ball of passion and fun.  You have a fervor about you that gets stuff done.  (And, sometimes, wears me flat out.)  You have lots of words and lots of energy and lots and lots and lots of opinions.  And good gracious, do you fill our home with laughter.  You have this uncanny ability to diffuse any rocky situation with humor.  It’s a blessing.  AND it’s also a curse for me and your dad when we’re trying to discipline your way-too-witty-for-the-situation self.

You so have us pegged. 

Ninjas are front and center in your life these days.  A few months ago, I learned that you were coordinating an elaborate “ninja training” program on the school playground for any willing participant, and the love affair hasn’t run dry yet.

At eight years of age, you also love animals, art, soccer, basketball, Pokemon, and running shorts.  You dislike mornings and having your hair brushed.  The before-school struggle is JUST SO REAL OHMYGOSH.

Your best friends are Avery, Lucia, Elizabeth, and Carson.  Your favorite subjects are math and art.  Your favorite food is frozen pizza.  The cheaper, the better.  And when you grow up, you want to be a ninja.  However, if those ninja aspirations don’t pan out, you’re quite clear that you’d settle for a job as the president.

Let me just tell you something, Mary Grace.  As you grow older, you may have people tell you that you’re too much.  Your personality too big.  Your opinions too strong.  Don’t listen to them.  As long as you’re walking in truth and following the One who created you, don’t apologize for who you are.  Don’t apologize for that personality and that voice of yours.  For all of that passion that oozes out of you.  Use it.  Use it all and use it up.  But do so in His strength and for His purposes.  For HIS glory, not yours.

 

Happy 8th birthday, Mary Grace.

Get it, girl.

Xoxo,

Mom

Oh, and P.S. This video?  I attempted to interview you for your birthday.  To capture the essence of Mary Grace, age 8.  All I have to say is YEP.  It’s ’bout right.  Also, I need a nap.

blogging like it’s 2007

Well, HEY.

It’s been nearly four months since I’ve last blogged.  That’s BY FAR the longest span of silence on here since 2007.  2007 when a newly announced pregnancy was, for the basic mom of America, synonymous with a newly announced blog.  2007 when I was Great With (my firstborn) Child.  2007 when I thought I had life a whole lot more figured out than I actually did.

Funny how that happens.

A lot has changed over the years.  Laid-back blogging has given way to platforms and sponsorships and dollar signs.  Writing for the sake of writing and blogging for the sake of documenting… I don’t know.  Is that even a thing anymore?

I didn’t intend to take a step back from this space over the past few months.  But summer happened.  That epic summer of 2017 that will forever go down in history as That Time Mom Lost Her Voice For Weeks On End.  No, I didn’t go completely mute, much to my children’s dismay.  But I did walk around with a voice just raspy enough to prompt people to question my physical well-being.  All summer long.  “No,” I’d reply.  “No, no.  I’m not sick.  This is just my summer voice.”

My summer voice: a direct result of answering the constant “mom mom mom mom mom” interrogations that echoed through my house for ALL OF THE WAKING HOURS THIS SUMMER.

So, yes.  There was summer.  And, I don’t know, just life.  Work.  Laundry.  The crushing demands of The Daily Homework Folder.  Maintaining our ever-present library fines.  Seminary classes.  (Huh?  Yes.  Seminary classes.  WHAT EVEN IS MY LIFE RIGHT NOW.  I don’t wanna talk about it.)

And then.  THEN there’s this phrase that I find myself repeating on loop for one special child in my life (I feel my voice once again being siphoned away into nothingness just typing this):

“Oh, Unnamed-Child-O’Mine.  Oh, precious little spit-fire.  Hear me and hear me well.  Everything that enters your brain does NOT have to exit your mouth.  Think. Before. You. Speak.”

These words, y’all.  I’ve been mulling over them for a while now.  Four months, I guess.

Not everything that enters my brain has to be typed into words.

Not everything that my heart feels has to be processed publicly.

And not everything that my hands accomplish has to be photographed, filtered, and posted.

Sure, these past few months have been busy.  Like, head-spinning, can’t-keep-up busy.  Because, life.  I’m not unique in this.  But these past few months have also taught me that God is a far better keeper of my feelings and thoughts and prayers than my keyboard.  And that I’d rather have intimacy with Him any day over a few virtual high-fives.

There is just so much good that comes in the quiet of the unblogged, unposted, un”liked” and unseen.  This is a theme that I’ve heard swelling up around me for the past year or so.   (Shout out to Sara Hagerty who hit on this so beautifully in her recent book which I just loved so much.)  A call to embrace the quiet.  An anthem for the beauty of the small.   A reminder to be faithful to the real life here and now that God has handed us.

But I’ve also found that writers gonna write.  And I’ve noticed this unfortunate trend: the longer I go without writing on here, the wordier I get on Instagram.  Bless all of your Instagram-using, picture-loving hearts.  Some people have a lot of words they have to speak in a day.  I have a lot of words that come out of my fingers.  I JUST CANNOT HELP IT. Jesus, take the wheel and shorten my captions.

I guess this is what I’m saying.  I don’t care if blogging is SO 2008.  I’ve decided that I kinda like it here.  I like that my kids scroll through these pages to peruse old family pictures.  I like that I scroll through these pages to see God’s faithfulness in written form.  I like you people (heeey mom. heeey PawPaw. heeey weirdo spam commenters.) and the real life AND online conversations that have flowed from blog posts.

The truth is, I am just a teensy bit less crazy when I write.  I know this.  Matt knows this.  He knows it so well that he has urged me on more than several recent occasions that I should “probably get back to writing”- that “it’s, you know, a good way to process things.”  Hey, Matt.  I CAN TAKE A HINT.

And so, in a season that feels like all of the crazy, I think I’m back.  Maybe to keep writing words.  Or maybe just to overpost kid pics.  But I’m back to blog like it’s 2008.  Because nobody’s got time for the crazy.

 

on the fear and the gift of being found out

It was just another morning.  Just another meeting.  A gathering of professionals, conference room brimming with degrees and smarts.  The best of the best.  I settled into my seat and looked around.

“Well, shoot,” I thought.  “I FOR REAL don’t belong here.”

And from there, it spiraled.  Fast.

“What if someone sees me?  Sees me for who I really am?  Sees that I clearly don’t belong within their ranks?  What if I’m found out?

I wanted to jet.  Stat.  I wanted to peace out before the secret was out.  Before anyone else had the chance to point out the imposter in the room.

Shortly thereafter, it happened again.  I had posted something online.  A Facebook status, maybe.  An innocuous quip that prompted someone to throw out the “w” word.

“Wise.”  She called me wise.  The hairs on the back of my neck bristled.  “Delete!” I thought.

I wanted to pull the plug on putting my words out there.  Because if I quit writing, people wouldn’t mistake me for something I wasn’t.  I didn’t want to be found out.

Wise?  Ha.

Or I could tell you about the church meeting I sat in.  With a whole slew of Jesus-loving, Bible-knowing people.  People I love and respect.  Church leader sorta people.  And, yet, all I could think was, “Out.  I gotta get outta here.  Don’t they know that I haven’t been to seminary?  That I’m not nearly as articulate as they are?  I’m a nurse and a mom… a far cry from a fancy ‘Professional Christian.’  I. Do. Not. Belong.”

Same song, different verse.  All with a common trailing thread and same toxic theme:

Self-centeredness.

Hear me when I say- this is not about humblebrags.  This is not a veiled plea for a pat on the back and a hearty “No, no, Catherine.  You belong!  You’re great!”  No, this is a confession of how my heart can turn in on itself.  It’s an acknowledgement of sin.  It’s my head nodding “me too” to any of you who may live in the fear of being seen.

I know enough about myself to know this full-well: when I’d rather quit while I’m ahead than finish the work God has set before me… when I allow myself to become preoccupied with the feeling of not belonging… when I’d rather peace out that be found out… my eyes are focused squarely on me.  I’m hinging everything on my feelings, while tossing truth to the side.

Feelings lie.  But the truth?

Well, I’ll let King David do the job for me.  Hang on, friends.  This is good.

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it. 

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

 If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,’
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.”

(Psalm 139:1-12)

In short?  You’re already found out, my friend.  So am I.  We can flee and we can cover up and we can believe lies about ourselves all the livelong day, but we’re not about to escape the reach of our omnipresent and omniscient God.

So, dear mama who is knee deep in child-raising…  The mom who cringes when she hears,  “You’re doing a great job, mama!  Keep it up!”  Because SHE knows the truth.  She’s well-acquainted with her messy house and often-messier attitude.  “Little do they know,” she thinks.

Dear businesswoman who’s kicking tail and putting in the hours at her job…  Who’s climbing the ranks and earning the accolades but has a nagging sense of dread.  Dread that someone, someday, will view her for who she truly is.  An imposter.  A wanna-be.

Dear ministry leader who is running hard after good things…  You who tirelessly train, lead, teach, and disciple.  You who, in the quiet of the night and in the still of the day, still find yourself questioning, “Do I have what it takes?  Are my Bible smarts up to par?  Is my prayer life robust enough?  Am I ‘good enough’ to be leading these people?  What if someone sees me for who I really am?”

Dear anyone anywhere who has ever feared being found out, I have a few questions for you.  A few points that have been helpful in my own journey and with my own VERY REAL ISSUES.

1. Am I placing more value on who God says I am or who others perceive me to be?

2. Am I placing more emphasis on who God says I am or who God says HE IS?

3. Am I more interested in presenting a perfected version of myself to the world or an already-perfect picture of my Savior?

4. Is my quest for belonging and identity misplaced?  Am I looking for my identity in an earthly job, role, or organization?

5. Do I spend more time lamenting my own weaknesses or praising God for the strengths and abilities of others?

6. If my fears come true, and I am seen for who I really am- if I am found out– what then?

Listen. If your biggest fear is being found out, then let me just fill you in on a little secret.

It’s already come to fruition.

You don’t need to fear being found out; you’re already perfectly known by the One whose opinion holds all worth.  He looks at you with eyes of love and with a spirit of mercy, grace, and kindness.   He sees you and says, “You’re right, my daughter.  You don’t measure up.  Not in the least.  You’re not enough. But in me and with me and through me and because of me, you are whole.  You’re not enough, but I totally am.”

And that, my friends, is where freedom is found.  Rather than wringing our angsty little hands and crying, “Heaven forbid I’m found out,” we can pray, “God of of the Heavens, find me, see me, search me, and know me.”

And he will.  And he does.  And, still, he loves.

So, if my life is laid bare for all the world to see, I pray that people would look long and hard.  But I pray that they would gaze right past me.  That they would see Christ and his strength in my weaknesses. I pray that any strength or gifting I may have would herald the Giver of everything good.  And that they would see his grace and mercy completely overtaking any and every sin in my life.

Maybe I have nothing to fear after all.  Maybe this whole “being found out” thing- maybe it’s a gift after all.

on the magic of summer (or: let’s all just chill out a little, mkay?)

So, we’re going to Disney World.  Not in the immediate future, mind you- no, we’re talking months down the road.  But apparently planning a Disney trip is a LEGIT THING these days, people.  When I was a kid, I’m certain we just rolled up to the theme parks without one iota of planning, aside from which color fanny pack best coordinated with our poofy bangs and neon hair scrunchies.

I could post photographic evidence of where I landed with these decisions, but I have a sense of self-dignity.  And 80’s bangs + fanny packs transcend all of that.

Anyway, Disney trip.  I’m planning.  For an October trip.  And while I may sound like I’m complaining, I’m really not because THIS IS WHAT I WAS MADE FOR.  I can research and plan and spreadsheet like it’s going out of style.  Some people may call me a control freak…. and, okay, so maybe they’re right.

But in all of my dutiful planning, I have stumbled across a recurrent theme that I would like to discuss for a tiny bit.  It’s this thing that Disney People like to call “extra magic.”  Allow me to explain.  Apparently, spending All Of The Dollars on a trip to the HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH isn’t quiiite sufficient.  And so, these adorable parents plan extra daily gifts and surprises and treats for their children to unwrap.  At Disney World.  Magic upon magic upon magic.

Americans, y’all.  We crack me up.

So, I was thinking about this and getting a good chuckle over the whole notion when it occurred to me: CRAP.  This is exactly what we’ve done to summer break!  Our kids are handed a glorious three month vacay, and we 21st century parents start spinning our darling little wheels trying to finagle the most perfect, magical summer ever.

We pump up expectations and raise the bar sky high.  We keep trying to generate magic upon magic.  But you know what I have discovered over time?  You know what happens when you combine sky high expectations with long, hot, endless summer days?

Exhaustion.

Unmet expectations.

Whining.  Oh my gosh, the whining.

So it goes in the Allison house at least.  But maybe we’re just an anomaly.

But in the event that we’re not….  in the event that you, too, feel overwhelmed with the prospect of manufacturing and orchestrating the most magical, memory-filled, entertaining summer ever… if you happen to be the type that stresses over devising Magical Summer Bucket Lists… allow me to save you some stress and Pinteresting.  Go ahead and draw nigh my friends.  This is important.  Y’all ready?

SUMMER IS ALREADY MAGICAL.

You know what summer has going for it?

Everything.

No school.  Fireflies.  Pool days.  Water balloons.  Popsicles.  Netflix marathons.  Marsh-like backyards from hours of running through sprinklers.  Neighborhood kid Nerf gun wars.

Do you know how difficult these things are to execute?  Not.  Zero difficulty.  They just happen naturally.  BECAUSE SUMMER IS MAGICAL.

Parents.  Listen.  If elaborate, sparkly “Summer Bucket List” posters and plans are smack dab in your wheelhouse, then that is SO AWESOME.  Go big, and have fun.  This is your moment to shine, so get at it.  I am so proud of you.

But if that’s not you… if the thought of adding “extra magic” to your kids’ already magical summer makes you twitch, then here’s my official permission to pull back.  For goodness sake, let your kids be bored out of their minds from time to time.  Because do you know what’s birthed out of utter summer boredom?  MAGIC.  (Also, sometimes mess and whining and a variety of other shenanigans.  But I am focusing on creativity! brilliance! magic! here, mkay?)

Let’s stop raising the bar so impossibly high.  Let’s stop making life so dang exhausting for ourselves.  Let’s be content to sit our behinds in a lounge chair by the pool or in our backyards with our neighbors.  Let’s feed our kids an insane amount of cheap Red Dye #40 laden popsicles and lock their sticky bodies outside ’till the sun goes down.

Let’s give our kids the gift of free, unadulterated, unchoreographed time.  Time to sit and think and be.  To wonder and to wander.  To fight and work it out.  To be hopelessly, tearfully bored and then to push through.  Or maybe not.  Maybe they’ll stay bored.  And they’ll realize that obladi oblada LIFE JUST GOES ON.

I don’t know, y’all.  I kind of wonder if we’re raising a generation of kids who are perpetually on the hunt for “extra magic” while the real magic is right in front of their eyeballs.

I’ve seen all of the gut-wrenching, eye-opening posts drawing our attention to the whole “eighteen summers” thing- to the reality that we, as parents, are given a finite span of time before they leave the nest.  Admonishing us to make it count!  Live it up!  And I totally get it; I’m all about experiences and memories and living it up.

But I don’t know.  Maybe we all just need to chill out a little.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: go big or go home or go however your family best goes.  But if you find yourself sprawled out on your front yard doing ordinary things on the most ordinary of days, and you hear your kid proclaim this to be the “best. summer. ever.”…. well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

No extra magic required.

Dear Congo Mama

Dear Congo Mama,

I can’t get you off my mind these days.  Perhaps it’s just that Mother’s Day is peeking around the corner, taunting all of the joyful and hurting alike with the displays of greeting cards and overpriced flowers.  Or maybe it’s that remarkable, mind-blowing thing that happens in childhood.  Namely, that crazy thing called GROWING UP.  And, Congo Mama, that sweet girl of yours- that sweet girl of ours– she’s growing up so beautifully.  So smart.  So strong.  So. Brave.  It’s like I’m watching this miracle unfold before my eyes in technicolor.

Actually, it’s exactly like that.

As I write this letter, I stare at my favorite photograph of you.  You’re wearing yellow- the exact shade of yellowish-gold that always looks so stunning on Elizabeth (and, incidentally, the exact shade of yellow that I can never, ever pull off)- and you’re holding a baby.  Your firstborn.  And you look tired.  I can recognize The Look a mile away.  Probably because I am well-acquainted with that exact expression- wholly-content + mind-numbingly-tired.  Apparently life with a newborn is the same across every culture and every land.  EXHAUSTING.  I just feel this nagging urge to step through the photo, offer up a fist bump, and tell you that you’re doing a SOLID JOB at this mom thing.

Elizabeth would come years later, and you wouldn’t have the privilege of holding her, rocking her, singing sweet Swahili lullabies over her as she drifted off each night.  She would never be strapped to your back as you made your daily trek through the village for water.  She would never know your voice. She’d never hear your stories.  She’d never stand next to the fire- next to you- as you stirred and stirred and stirred the evening’s fufu.  She would never know what it’s like to grow up in a Congolese home.   In a Congolese family.

No.  Because you happened to be born where you were born and lived where you lived, your access to healthcare was woefully limited.  And your days were cut short.  This truth haunts me and motivates me nearly every day of my life.

But you know what Elizabeth does know, Congo Mama?  She knows love.  She knows the love of not one family but two.  She knows that you loved her.  That you loved your husband and you loved your children and you loved your community so well.  We talk about it.  We talk about you, Congo Mama.  Oh my word, do we talk about you.

Hey Congo Mama, as I stare at your picture and at your face that so resembles our sweet Elizabeth, I want you to know something.  I want you to know that I’m doing the very best I can.  I want you to know that I do not take this great privilege lightly.  I want you to know that I’m far from perfect.  That there are days I lose my cool and roll my eyes and rushrushrush through bedtime prayers and kisses, without giving a second thought to the notion that we’re not promised another breath.  Another kiss goodnight.  But I love this girl of ours with every ounce of love I know to give.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving her life.  I will always reject the notion that Elizabeth “grew in our hearts” because, sweet Congo Mama, she was yours first.

She’ll always be yours.

Ours.

Till we meet in person, Congo Mama.  With our redeemed bodies and our precious daughter and voices lifted up to the one true Giver of Life.

Happy Mother’s Day, Congo Mama.  We honor you, and we love you so much.

Catherine

SIX.

Elizabeth,

You, big girl, are SIX today.  And, gracious, has it been an epic year for you.

Let’s recap.  In the past year, you have started (and slayed) kindergarten.  Donned ballet slippers and tap shoes for the first time.  Discovered your love for horses at Hope Reins.  And, just one week ago, you were baptized.

It’s an unspeakable joy to watch you grow up, sweet girl.

You, Elizabeth, have the sweetest, kindest heart, and you have this uncanny ability to remember the names of every. single. person. you ever meet.  It’s unbelievable, really.  You are deeply empathetic, care about those around you, and make friends easily.

You love Barbies, Shopkins, and all-things-fancy.  Your favorite place to be is in the kitchen helping me… preferably, spatula of brownie batter in hand.  You study cookbooks like it’s your JOB.  And you dance and twirl and cartwheel through life.  All day.  Every day.  If it were not so dang cute, it might be problematic.  Because Target shoppers don’t always know how to respond to cartwheeling legs and arms spinning through the aisles.

You hate to be hot or hungry.  Can’t say I blame you.

Your best friend is Mary Grace.  No contest.  The two of you couldn’t be more different in personalities, and yet, the relationship the two of you have is so precious it makes me want to weep some days.  And then, other days?  Other days, I feel like weeping from the incessant “MOMMMM.  Mary Grace is touching me!!  Elizabeth is looking at me!!  I WANT MY OWN ROOM!”

Just being real here.

Your favorite color is pink.  Your favorite show is Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse (omg…).  Your favorite food is beef.  All of it.  And, when you grow up, you have your heart set on being a missionary or a vet.  (A missionary vet perhaps?)

Good gracious, Elizabeth, you are so loved.  You are so loved.  You. are. so. loved.  We are insanely proud of you, darling girl, and we hope this is the best year yet.

Happy sixth birthday!

Lord, be with this child.

 

Last weekend, our sweet Elizabeth Francine was baptized.  For the second time.  We weren’t there for the first.

I am told that Elizabeth was first baptized as an infant in the local church near her orphanage.  The denomination of churches to which we belong doesn’t do infant baptisms, and yet, I have always been jealous that I missed out on this.  I picture her sweet little frame held close as the life of baby “Francine” was dedicated to God.  I imagine fervent prayers being offered up to God by the body of believers in that remote eastern Congolese village.  “Lord, be with this child.”

Meanwhile, back in the States, an equally fervent body of believers was praying.  Praying as our adoption process stalled and halted and picked back up again.  Prayed as we learned of a little girl who needed a family.  Prayed, “Lord, be with this child.”

And He was.  And He is.  Several months ago, Elizabeth began talking seriously about following Jesus.  We prayed and talked and prayed some more.  “Baby girl,” we said.  “The decision to follow Jesus is not always easy.  It’s going to be an adventure- the greatest and sometimes hardest adventure you’ll ever go on.  But our God goes with us.”

Lord, be with this child.

So, Saturday night, Matt looked into Elizabeth’s eyes as they stood in front of our church.  “Elizabeth, do you believe Jesus has done everything necessary to save you?  And do you promise to do whatever He tells you to do, and go wherever He tells you to go?”

And as she went down into the water, the tears came.  Because the Lord has indeed been with this child of ours.  This child of theirs.  This child of HIS.

I wasn’t there for Elizabeth’s first baptism, but you better believe I was front row and center this go ’round.  And I’m not sure I’ve seen a more technicolor picture of our God’s faithfulness. Ever.

So, to that little church in eastern Congo, I say, “Thank you.  The Lord has heard your cries.”

And to her unbelievably strong and deeply resilient Congo family who, since Elizabeth’s birth, has begged the Lord for her salvation, I say, “Thank you, the Lord has heard your cries.”

And to our village here in the States who has come alongside our girl and our family to speak truth and love over her life, I say, “Thank you, the Lord has heard your cries.”

And to our faithful God to whom salvation belongs, I say, “Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you so much.”

When you’re just not sure if you fit where you should. Or, maybe, if you fit at all.

It starts young.

“Good little girls do this.”

“Real Christians don’t believe that.”

“If you wanna be cool, you better put on a pair of these.”

“If you’d like to belong, here’s what you need to do.”

“Color in the lines, child.  Don’t rock the boat.  Clean yourself up.  Gotta look presentable.”

 

Belonging.  We all crave it.  No one wants to be the square peg desperately wiggling to fit in a round hole.  Or the lone one outside the box when everyone is safe and cozy within.

Just recently, I turned to Matt and announced in more-than-slightly melodramatic tone, “Maybe it’s me.  I guess I’m just BROKEN.  NO REEEEALLY.  Is something wrong with me?  Clearly, something is wrong with me.”

And then, the floodgates just opened as I went on.

 

Maybe I’m just too passionate.

Too sensitive.

Too much this.  (And, often, not enough that.)

I feel like I don’t belong anywhere.

 

Perhaps you’ve been there.  Maybe you’ve felt like something is… off.  Like you just don’t belong.  Like maybe your passion is too big or your beliefs all wrong.  Maybe you glance sideways and see the huddles. The groups of people who seem so alike in all the right ways.  They’re not too much, nor are they too little.  They don’t rock the boat.  They color in the lines.  And they fit ever-so-neatly in all the right boxes.

 

Maybe it’s that you feel like you’re too liberal.  Or too conservative.

Too outspoken.  Too silent.

Too political.  Too unengaged.

Too Baptist.  Too Catholic.  Too Presbyterian, Methodist, or Pentecostal.

Too much law, not enough grace.  Not enough law… easy there on that grace.

The truth is, it’s easy to feel a bit unhinged over all of this.  Like you just don’t fit in.  Even at church.  Especially at church.

 

But what if…

What if we were never designed to be boxed in?  What if, rather than hiding out in our own comfy little boxes, our goal is to be hidden in Christ?  To know Him.  To enjoy Him.  To share Him with others.

What if we could be okay with our Creator’s work?  So what if our passions and words and days don’t look precisely like all the others, so long as our eyes are locked in on Him, just doing the next right thing.

What if, rather than this elusive idea of “fitting in,” our greatest relational objective is to see one another as God’s image-bearers?  What if our eyes were trained to look straight through boxes and walls and differences to lock in with our peers- all different and unique in their own ways?  To say “I see you, and I see you, and I see you too.”

What if our identity could be so secure as a child of the sovereign, holy, unchangeable One that we could stomp out our comparison games once and for all?  What if, rather than obsessing over our differences and questioning our belonging, we make a deliberate decision as the body of Christ to be a united front?  Because there’s work to be done.  And we have- no, I HAVE- wasted too much time on comparisons.

 

Here’s the thing, friends.  God does not view us as too much or too little, too weak or too strong.   Because we’re vessels created in His image for His glory.  Vessels fearfully and wonderfully created by the masterful Creator who makes no mistakes.  Vessels for God to use for HIS purposes in HIS strength.  We don’t need to shine ourselves up or tone ourselves down.  We simply need to come with empty hands saying, “Alright God, this is what you’ve got in me.  Have at it.”

And He WILL.  He’ll have it, alright.  But, spoiler alert: this initially looks a whole lot like our own sanctification and realignment.  We’re so eager to put our “yes on the table” and do great things for God, but often God is saying, “Whoa, hang on now.  I know you want to use your passions and your giftings, but let’s start with me.  Let’s talk about who I am.”

We say, “My passion is just too big.”  He says, “I’ll show you passion,” while pointing to the cross.

We say, “I’m too weak”, and He reminds us that His power is amplified in our weakness- that He alone is enough for us.

We say, “I’m just so tired,” and He shows us the rest found by abiding in Him.

And when we say, “I just don’t belong“… well, THE ETERNAL AND IMMORTAL GOD looks at us and calls us HIS.

 

So, fine.  Maybe I am passionate at times.  Maybe I do have a bleeding heart that can cry at the drop of a hat. Maybe I’m too much on some days and too little on others.  Maybe I champion all the “wrong” things and don’t fit in a single box around me.  And maybe you, too, can relate.

But, for the love, let’s just agree on something right here, right now.  Let’s agree to stop apologizing for who God made us to be.  Let’s stop bemoaning and belittling His creation.  Let’s drop that whole “I’m too this, not enough that, WOE IS ME” act because I annoy even myself with that mess.

Let’s pause.  And, sure, take inventory of the gifts, personalities, passions, and abilities our Creator has placed within us, leveraging every last drop of it for His fame and glory.

But, let’s keep first things first.  Christ as our primary identity, chief goal, and greatest treasure.  Because when we’re hidden in Christ rather than hidden in our own personalities and ideologies- when HE is our greatest prize and highest goal- nothing. else. matters.

One mission.  Singular focus.

Coloring in the lines and fitting in the boxes is SO LAST SEASON anyway.

A year in review. And a look ahead.

Oh hey, February.  I see you.  I know 2017 is old news and everything, but listen.  I’m not ready to move on without first addressing 2016.  Because goodNESS it was a year.  One of those game-changing, life-rocking years that will not be soon forgotten.

It’s funny, really.  Because on January first of 2016, I determined that “rest” would be my one word- my primary mission statement- of the year.

I wrote about longing to do and to be and to be used up by God.  I can just sense my passion spilling out onto the keyboard as I typed.  And still, I felt as though God was telling me to stop.  To wait.  To rest in Him.

And so I did.  I pulled back and pressed in.  I begged Him to reveal Himself to me.  And I am here to say, my friends, that those kind of prayers never, ever return void.

Over the past year, God stretched me and pushed me so far outside of my comfort zones that it’s laughable.  I’ve found myself on a stage and I’ve found myself overseas and I HAVE FOUND MYSELF INVOLVED IN FREAKING WOMEN’S MINISTRY FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.

Is it unbiblical to say that God’s surely ROTFL? Because I’m pretty sure that’s precisely what’s happening right about now.

But here’s the thing.  This crazy year- all. of. it.- flowed straight out of a deliberate season of rest.  I have found that the greatest rest often comes when I’m busy seeking His face.  I saw this and lived this close up.  And as He taught me His character anew, it’s if He slowly released me out, saying, “Alright, kid.  Now go live it.  Follow me.  Eyes straight ahead.  Keep in step with my steps.  Just keep doing the next right thing and the next thing after that and just keep stepping and stepping.”

And as I’ve stepped, followed, fallen, and stepped again over the past year, here’s what I’ve learned: Our God is loving, and He is kind.  He is quick to forgive and slow to anger.  He is righteous and good.  But our God is not safe.  He doesn’t call us to “be still and know that [He] is God” so that we can sit around and bless our little hearts within the confines of our Christian bubbles.  No, that verse that we love to quote?   It’s preceded by this:

“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling…

‘Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!'”

(Psalm 46:6-10)

I mean, just check out that imagery right there.  Mountains trembling.  Waters roaring.  The earth crumbling in.

You see, sometimes it gets messy.  Scary.  Uncomfortable.  Sometimes our footing will get slippery and our ground shaky. Sometimes God will jack up our sense of comfort.  Sometimes, he’ll ask if you’ll go, and you’ll say, “well, crap.”  Sometimes, you’ll wave your arms around wildly like an obnoxious school kid yelling “me! me! me! pick me!”, and He’ll say, “No, not you.  You wait.”

No, God’s not safe. But we’re safe with Him.  Because no matter where he sends us or where He keeps us, he has promised His presence.  He’ll always be with us- leading, teaching, giving grace for every impossible moment.

2016 taught me that God’s not afraid to get all up in our faces and in our spaces if the end game is our focus and affections ultimately directed toward Him.  If experiencing His presence is the ultimate win, then God forbid I get comfy doing this life on my own.  Lord, keep launching me into scenarios my stubbornly independent spirit simply cannot handle without you.

Man, I don’t know.  I started off 2016 with “rest” as my theme and goal, and God really jacked with my life and heart.  In the best way possible.  Because, God.

That said, I don’t even know what to think about my goal and theme of 2017:

Be interruptible.  

If assuming a posture of rest got me into THIS much trouble, maybe I’m just asking for it in 2017.

But, God, YES.  Interrupt me.  May I cling more tightly to Your holy design than my daily agenda.  May my days be rearranged at a moment’s notice.  May my priorities be realigned. May I pour out from the rest I’ve found in You.  Lord, interrupt me.

And all God’s people said… “hang on tight.”

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