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.”

a letter to my kids on the eve of the inauguration

pexels-photo-129112Dear kids,

As you know, tomorrow is a big day for our country.  Donald Trump will be sworn into office as the next President of the United States of America.  Occupying that same big, white house and following in the footsteps of such predecessors as Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson, all eyes will be on President Trump over the coming four years.

That’s the thing about leadership, kids- it’s a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.  People watch their leaders closely.  People listen.  People mimic.  Leaders set social mores and solidify cultural norms within their sphere of influence.  It just so happens that the presidential sphere of influence is deep and wide.

But, guys, listen.  As a new president steps into the oval office this week, and as we stand witness to the inevitable change he has promised over the coming weeks and years, I need you to know something.  I need you to know that even the most powerful human in the world would have no bearing on your own moral code.  And I need you to hear me when I say that our family will never be swayed or defined by behavior and attitudes deemed “normalized” by our society.

Kids, here’s the deal.  This is how it’s going to go down tomorrow:

You’re going to wake up, and you’re going to get dressed and go to school.  It’s going to be business as usual.  You’re going to work hard and obey the rules and show kindness to your classmates.  And then, you’re going to come home.  And when you do, we will have a new president.  And you know what?  The American flag will still be flying, and our God will still be in control.  Truth will still be truth.  Our hope will continue to be firmly rooted in Christ.  And our family’s rules, expectations, and norms will be completely unchanged.

Because, in our home, we will not live in fear of any leader or policy or perceived threat, for we know our Keeper, and we know that He alone is sovereign.

In our home, we will not place our faith in promises of economic change and prosperity, for our God is the manna-provider, and we believe in radical generosity no matter what.

In our home, we will throw open our doors to those on the fringes of society, knowing that those are the very people to whom Jesus gravitated.  When the world’s eyes are closed to the outsider, our eyes will lock in and say, “I see you.”

In our home, we will be slow to speak and quick to listen.  We will speak the truth in love and will use our words for good and not evil.

In our home, we absolutely will not support the normalization of anything that goes against scripture, no matter how counter-cultural this may be.  We will live by the norms set by Christ Jesus Himself, chiefly love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

In our home, we will respect others.  This means that we will respect our elected officials and those who voted for them.  Likewise, we will respect those who stand in adamant opposition and who are mourning the transfer of power.  We will look around and see our peers, colleagues, family, and president through the lens of the gospel, recognizing that we are all broken sinners in desperate need of grace and mercy.  And that not one of us can be saved by our own merit or goodness.

Listen, kids.  Learning to lead well is so very important.  Still, our lives do not rise and fall based on the power of any earthly ruler or authority.  And no role model, no matter how charming, competent, or smart, is worthy of our complete allegiance.

So, in summary, I guess my message is this: Don’t be like Donald Trump.  Or Abraham Lincoln.  Or Rosa Parks or Malala Yousafzai or Steph Curry or Beyonce.  (Though, let’s just be real.  If you’ve got pipes like Bey… I claim lifetime first row seats at your concerts.)  Don’t strive to be like Moses or Peter or Paul.  And if you have your mom and dad on some pedestal, I hereby give you permission to knock us down.  Because, you know what?  Every one of us is deeply flawed, and we’ll all ultimately lead you astray.

Carson.  Mary Grace.  Elizabeth.  Hang with me; this is important.

In our home, we will always, always point you back to Jesus.  You’ll see plenty of leaders and influencers come and go.  So, go ahead and take note of the good.  Of the ways in which they lead with excellence and model what is right.  Meanwhile, don’t forget to learn from the bad.  From their mistakes and missteps.

But, at the end of the day, remember- any good you see in this world is found in its fullness and completion in Jesus.  And kids, no person is ever, ever too broken for His mercy.

There’s only One who keeps His promises every. single. time.  One who loves perfectly, no matter the sacrifice or inconvenience.  One whose kingdom will never, ever fade and who will be worshipped by every nation and tribe, color and dialect.

And I have one clue for you: it is certainly NOT our president.

So, let’s land there tomorrow, kids.  And every single day that follows.

Love,

Mom

West Africa. {a few reflections and an onslaught of pictures.}

I don’t have the words yet.

Oh, I have pictures.  Lots of them.  But the words and the thoughts are coming at their own pace.  Slowly.  Almost as slowly as the jet lag has dissipated.

It feels trite and not even close to sufficient to say that my time in West Africa was amazing, though it certainly was.  Any and every trip I’ve been on overseas has rocked me, this trip probably more than others.

But why so amazing?  Well, I could spout off funny anecdotes and memories.  Like the time I was bitten by a monkey.  Or wound up OH SO VERY LOST in the African bush.  Or was gifted chickens by a generous village chief.

I could sing praises of my awesome team- of a surgeon and nurses and physicians and administrators- who came together with a united rallying cry: “My gifts are yours.  My talents are yours.  Have thine own way, Lord.”

I could go on and on about the missionaries on ground in West Africa.  Sweet goodness, could I speak of sacrificial love and the holy  and good work they’re doing in a difficult land.

But most of all, as the words trickle in and my heart continues to process through big feelings and hard questions, the overarching and unmistakable theme of it all is that our God is so much greater than we can even fathom.  As I stood on the ground of what truly felt to be the “ends of the earth”, I couldn’t shake these verses:

“The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him…

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lordand all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations…

They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!” (Psalm 22: 26-28, 31) 

He is doing it, y’all.  Turning hearts toward His greatness.  In big cities and remote villages.  In the darkest places and at the very ends of the earth.  His faithfulness never falters, and His righteousness is sure.  As the local church and lone believers cry out, “He has done it!,” the poor are being fed and the sick are being healed and hearts are being turned to Him.

And, you guys.  It’s a sight to behold.

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Nine.

Carson buddy,

These years- they just keep flying right on by, don’t they?  NINE.  Nine years ago, you tumbled onto the scene and into this world at about five in the morning.  And nearly every single morning since then, you’ve been awake and bright eyed at that same way-too-early 5am hour.  Ready to take on the world.

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So, what does the world of nine year old Carson look like?   Well, it looks a whole lot like Minecraft, Pokemon, those ridiculous “Stampylonghead” YouTube videos (OHMYGOSH, Carson.  You know how I feel about these.), and books.  Oh the books.  You devour words and pages like a madman, and it’s a legit challenge to keep up with you.

img_2018-1In many ways, you’ve always been a pretty risk-averse kid.  However, all of that flies out the window when it comes to climbing.  You scale trees and buildings and walls like it’s no thing.  This past summer, you went straight-up missing at a friend’s cookout.  We couldn’t find you anywhere.  Until we looked up.  Way up.  More than thirty feet up in a tree where you were just chilling, happy as a little lark. Dude, you’re shaving years off of my life.  Maybe you can keep your feet on the ground just for one little day?  K, thanks.

img_1982You’re a deep thinker and a big feeler.  You’re an introvert through and through, and you thrive on stability, routine, and being home.  I just have NO IDEA who you get this from.  Ahem.

You prefer having a few close friends and you hold those friends close.  Caden and Noble are your best buds once again this year, and I pray they will be for many years.  Because, Carson, here’s the thing.  You keep begging for a baby brother.  And, I hate to break this to you on your big day, but that JUST ISN’T HAPPENING, YO.  (Love ya, mean it.  Oh, and happy birthday.)

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Man, Carson. You’re such a cool kid, and it’s an absolute joy to watch you grow up.  I pray that God keeps your heart soft and kind in a world that’s often anything but.  I love you and am crazy proud of the big kid you’re becoming.

Happy 9th birthday, buddy.

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