Mud, Hope and a Way Forward

The summer rains are serious in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A light sprinkle quickly turns into a downpour. Streets that were caked and cracked become little rivers of brown water and finding your footing is a challenge. The slick clay is everywhere. It’s sticky. The clay clings to shoes and skin as if to never let go, hanging on for dear life like a loved one fearful of separation.

Bringing new people to meet your family is a personal and tricky vulnerability. Will they like it here? Will they love them as much as I do? Will they be willing to fight for their futures? Or will they count down the seconds before they can board the plane and escape back to the comforts of home?

On this July weekend, I am thankful for the people sent people to love my Ethiopian family. They are embracing the culture, eating excitedly with their hands, dealing with the slick clay that invades their feet in every way and dares us to slip into the mud puddles. They are embracing the young ones I love and taking time to teach them with patience, creativity and diligence.

Often, it’s easy to see that Selamta is great. Our model of forever families is working. Our kids have advantages and opportunities they never could have imagined before coming to us. But their lives before Selamta were so much like the lives of millions of children in Ethiopia…limited resources, trauma and loss, neglect and abuse. But somehow, they persevere. They come through their past to find hope in a bright future filled with possibility.

Visiting two other orphanages this week, I wonder if that hope can still be found in the desperation we witnessed. We visited two instituations in Addis for children over 7 years old…one for boys and one for girls. I’ve been to the girls’ orphanage before and knew what to expect.

The buildings are circa 1940’s. It’s like stepping into the movie Annie, only set in Ethiopia. The floor boards are deteriorated. The walls are worn and stark. Three buildings separate age groups…8-12, 13 – 15 and 16+. The oldest girls sleep 10 to a room but have their own beds. The littlest girls bunk in a labyrinth of rooms where bunkbeds can fit and they sometimes co-sleep. But the 13-15 year old girls are a large group. None of them look their age. Almost 70 children sleep in a two room dorm with bunk beds stacked side by side. They sleep 2 or 3 to a twin sized mattress. Possessions are minimal. They own what they have on their backs or can tuck into their pillow or under their blankets.

Outside, the grounds are simple. There is a volley ball net and a bit of playground equipment but it’s meager accommodations for 325 young girls. Their toilet and shower facilities are separate from their dorms. Grass, stone pathways or paved walkways are not available. Access to running water is restricted and meals are often nothing more than injera and shiro. But within the starkness of this place, there is still hope. Next week they will celebrate the achievements of students who are beating the odds; girls who with high academic performance despite their circumstances. We were honored to provide small treats and sweets for their celebration party. To think that a few bags of candy and biscuit cookies could bring so much gratitude should give us pause and seriously rethink how we approach celebration in our own culture.

But the thing that left us all quietly contemplating where we were, who we just met and why God gave us this opportunity was to look at our wrists and see the dingy, woven bracelets our new friends insisted we wear to remember them after we’d left. A beautiful little girl with thin features, a black Apple t-shirt, huge smile and hope in her eyes, placed a pink, blue and green woven bracelet on my wrist. It was all she had. Her name is Mekdes.

As gut-checking as the girls’ orphanage seemed, it was paradise compared to the boys’ facility. On another side of town, we pulled up to a dingy wall outside a bustling community. Walking through the gate, boys in ragged clothes stood around…doing nothing. A kind staff member greeted us and took us through the camp. I call it a camp because it was not a home. It was cold, lonely and desolate…think POW camp, not boy scout camp.

While this place had more buildings for dorms than the girls and served fewer children (about 200) the living conditions could barely sustain life. The oldest boys’ dorms lacked running water. Raw sewage could not be washed away. Hand washing was not possible and broken glass lay all around the buildings as gaping holes in what were windows hung as a reminder of the brokenness all around us.

There was a soccer pitch but no balls and boys playing, another reminder that they didn’t matter. The kitchen fires, fueled by chopped wood, boiled dinner…wot or stew with beans. The window through which they served the daily gruel, gave view of an open space lacking tables and chairs. Boys stood to eat or sat on the floor. When a cup or dish was done being used by one child, he passed it through another window, it was rinsed in a dirty basin (lacking soap) and used for the next boy in line.

You could see fungal skin infections just walking around. Preventable, communicable disease was shared without medical intervention or resources. They had a clinic room but no supplies other than a scale.

The other side of the compound housed the younger boys. Beds stacked, side by side, the large rooms were tidy and beds made but it all lacked life and light. They did have water running in their squatty potties to flush away waste and shower heads could be seen in the distance…outside, open to the air, no stalls, just a roof over where the boys can clean their bodies.

If forced to live there, I would lie about my age as to not have to leave the younger side of camp for the Lord of the Flies desperation of the older boys side. Caregivers only work with boys under 14 years. No one to talk to and no one to ask about your day.  No one to give advice when life is hard (harder) and no one to instill hope. Is this really survival of the fittest? Is this really how we think the next generation will do better?

It’s easy to want to blame the facilities and be angry about what we saw. Our righteous anger puts the responsibility on someone else’s shoulders. Blame is easy to dole out when you’re not taking action yourself. The situation is complicated but the responsibility is ours. Like it or not, if we’re to take the whole “love your neighbor as yourself” thing seriously, the failure of others is irrelevant to the responsibility put before us. When we neglect to invest in the next generation, we are doomed to failure. Those children will grow, become the next adults and raise more children. What do we want our world to look like??

This is why Selamta matters. The boys and girls living in those facilities ARE OUR KIDS. Selamta children came out of that desperation. We have the capacity to care for them differently. We have a model of care, of love, of family that provides for those discarded and gives them hope for the future. Their hope is not just a dream but much more concrete. Selamta works beyond the minimum to provide excellent education and developmental resources that wrap around the whole person…mind, body and spirit. Our kids are the next leaders…of their families, communities and nation. They are breaking the cycle of poverty and desperation.

Human dignity and hope aren’t rights for the entitled…they are possible for all children. Help us grow Selamta. It’s time. There are too many children still on the streets and in desperate situations I can’t fully wrap my brain around. But I know there’s a better way. I see it lived out everyday at Selamta Family Project. Join us!

I will not live in fear

Just got back from running errands, which included picking up my prescription of Cipro. If you’ve ever traveled to a developing country, you know the significance of this trusty insurance policy. Cipro is an antibiotic that will clean you out when you’ve been “cleaned out”, if you know what I mean. I hope having the little bottle will prevent me from needing what’s inside the little bottle. But I’m not afraid of getting sick. Sometimes that happens.

As we get ready for this trip to Ethiopia, TOMORROW, I can’t help but think back to my first trip there. I had no context for anything I was about to see. I read a lot about the country before I left so, of course, I was prepared! The smells, the sounds, the stick scaffolding around new buildings…none of it made sense to me. I was a foreigner in a foreign place. 

I remember walking into the Selamta Family Project Children’s Center for the first time…so many new faces…so many hugs and kisses. So overwhelming but at the same time, so beautiful and natural and human. There was no weird vibe, no over-sexualized physical tension…just people, warmly welcoming visitors and showing extraordinary hospitality from their hearts, not their wallets. It felt like home. 

There are so many stories from that trip in 2008…way more than you want to read in a single blog. But the one that literally changed my life started on the airplane. There was this gorgeous family…white woman, black man and adorable little guy with wild hair and amazing skin. They were such an attractive family that they just stood out. We even saw them a few times at our hotel in passing.

One night, two teenage girls traveling with us were solicited by an older man back to his room. They were freaked out, said no thanks and he became very insulting and abusive. The girls found our trip leader, who happened to be one of their moms, and she promptly went to the front desk and demanded the man be booted from the hotel. The hotel didn’t seem too concerned but said he would be gone in the morning.

The next day was heavy for many of us. We learned more about the children and women who came to call Selamta their home. Their experiences broke each of us. Our new friends…beautiful, smart, joyful…had been through so much trauma and loss. Many of them were just young children and women in their 20’s and they confronted the evils of extreme poverty, abuse – physical, sexual, emotional – neglect and abandonment, AIDS/HIV and death. We went back to our hotel with plans for dinner. We were going to an Indian restaurant. I was hungry, drained, emotionally exhausted and I just wanted to eat.

When we met in the lobby, our teenagers spotted the perv in the lobby’s bar. The mom who fought with the front desk was about to wage war. She can cha-cha with the best of them and made it clear to the front desk, the hotel staff, every guest within earshot and the surrounding blocks that, “this is a bad man” and it was time for him to go. 

Did I mention that I was tired and hungry? I just wanted to go eat. Sure the guy was gross but whatever…the girls were fine. Let’s move on.

Just then, the mom from the plane with the crazy cute son came up to me and my friend. She asked what was going on with the guy in the lobby. We told her what happened to our girls and she started to cry. See, the same man had tried to take her son from the hotel TWICE. He grabbed his arm and asked him to come with him. He told him he could get him a passport. The family was in town to adopt another child. They just wanted to get their kid and get out. They never reported the issue to the hotel staff because they feared he was a part of the hotel. They just wanted to get their kid and get out.

In that moment, I almost threw up. My friend was at the front desk fighting for what she knew was right. She didn’t even know about this part yet but she was willing to throw down for her child. And here’s what sucks…I wasn’t. I just wanted to go to dinner. 

Shame, regret, humiliation…you name it, it rose up in me. Long story short…the guy was taken away by authorities, his visa was revoked and he was sent back to his home country. And we didn’t go to dinner that night. We went back to our rooms. We didn’t even say much. It was time for bed.

The next morning, with the events of last night still very fresh and brutal, I got in the shower. As I thought through everything that happened and questioned WHY I didn’t have that resolve to do what was right, these words kept repeating in my head, “I will not live in fear. I will only live in faith. I will not live in fear. I will only live in faith.”

I had no clue what that was about. I went into my friend’s room, who happens to be a Christian, and told her about it. She looked at me and said, “That’s God.”

I didn’t go to church. I believed in God but I didn’t really know much about him. I believed Jesus was the son of God but I didn’t really get how it all worked. 

On the flight home, my other friend gave me my first scripture verse, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a strong mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

That changed everything. Life as I knew it would never be the same again. My world has been flipped inside out and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

I see many people trapped in the hell that is fear. Not gonna lie…I battle it all the time. But when it creeps in, when it tells me I can’t or I don’t matter, I pull out that verse and I tell the enemy to back off. God made each of us in his own image. You might be reading this not knowing that yet. But I am here to tell you that you matter. Bad things still happen in our world. There’s plenty to be afraid of but when you know the power of love and you have felt it and seen it overcome and offered and received forgiveness…a little fear has nothing on that. 

I’ve held onto this story for a long time. Today, a blogger I follow named Sarah Bessey published a post that inspired me to finally share this story.

Friends, we have been trapped in fear too long. What IF we stood up unafraid and loved each other? What IF we would rather be the light than be right? It would change the world.

Let It Go – you’re singing aren’t you???

Have you ever had a time when God put something on your heart but you put it on a shelf thinking, “No…that can’t be what he wants me to do.” There’s been this theme repeating for me and that’s exactly what I did. For over a month, I haven’t blogged because…well, I guess I don’t really know why. Stubbornness? Busyness? End of the school year craziness? 

Probably all of the above. 

But anyway, first there was Easter. Jesus’ death and resurrection, bringing us new life, that coupled with springtime and the natural rhythm of renewal just made me think about how so often in our lives something has to die so that what’s next can be born or renewed. But when God put this theme on my heart in April it just seemed too obvious, almost cliche to write about then. And now that I say it, it sounds pretty arrogant of me to think God’s timing isn’t right. There I go again being painfully human and trying to grasp control. Idiot.

Next, my son finished reading the Harry Potter series and the phoenix who bursts into flames and comes back to life nudged me closer to exploring this topic of death and rebirth in our lives. Maybe it’s more about letting go of something so what’s next has room to enter. 

Then there were a series of other changes in our lives and in the lives of those around us where letting go was vital in the process so the new or next could be ushered in.

Why do we so often want to hold on to what is dying? We can feel the death, the fading away of what was once vibrant and healthy. But we cling, afraid that we can’t handle what comes next or not trusting that there is a next.

God created a natural world that show us the cycle of life very clearly each day. Flowers burst open in splendor and glory then wilt and die in order to scatter seed for the next sprouting of life.

Storms, sometimes violent and damaging, pop up almost every afternoon in Florida but they blow through and beautiful rainbows replace the stark gray once the sun peeks through. 

It’s as if God is telling us, “I was there all along. I didn’t leave you. But I can’t give you THIS without the rain. You can’t truly FEEL the joy if there is no pain. The beauty is in the contrast. There would be no new flowers and fragrant smells if the original blossom didn’t return to the earth.”

What if we learned to let go sooner? What if rather than gripping so tightly, we opened our hands to receive what was next? What makes us afraid to do that?

I have no answers today. 

But God is showing me that it’s necessary. He has plans for us. He tells us that over and over in scripture. 

So maybe tonight as I get ready for sleep, I’ll lay with my palms up, open, letting go and ready to receive. And I’ll picture in my mind the double rainbow he gave me on the long ride home from Tampa tonight. He was there…all day long.

What’s so good about it?

One of my favorite little people is having a hard time coming to terms with how Jesus’ suffering and dying on a cross could possibly be “good”. And when you look at the cruelty and pain, betrayal and brutality, blood-lust and mob mentality, I think she has a point. On the surface, it’s horrific. It shines a light on just how quickly we can go from putting someone on a pedestal to knocking them off of it in less than a week.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been known to do this. When someone doesn’t come through the way I think they should or when someone hurts me or I’m jealous or I’m…selfish. When I’m threatened, when I’m exposed, when I’m…wrong. I’ve been known to throw the gloves off and come out swinging. But what I often find at the end of that mess is a pool of my own destruction – hurt feelings, regrets and remorse. The slaying is never worth it. Even if I was “right”, it’s a hollow victory.

But here’s where Jesus turns everything on its head. In the most despicable display of humanity, when God’s chosen people turn on him, our God brings peace, healing and restoration. The resurrection can’t happen without the crucifixion. But don’t we want it more sanitized than that?

It’s easier to accept the story the way we share it with pre-schoolers. Let’s take our felt board cut-outs and tell the story in simple pictures. Here’s Jesus breaking bread with his friends. Here’s the mean Judas. Oh, Jesus has been arrested. Now he must carry his cross. Then he died and rose again. Yea! He’s alive!!!

We acknowledge his death enough to get to the good part…in three days he rose again. But I think we need to sit in the death for awhile. I think to really appreciate the miracle of everlasting life and the washing away of sin, we have to sit in what makes me nauseous. To consider for one minute that Jesus took MY punishment, it should give me pause. It should make me cry out. I should be humbled to sit at the feet of Jesus.

Before I knew Jesus, like really knew him, not just, yeah, okay Jesus, he’s the son of God. That’s fine. When I was living my life just for me, and believe me, it was only for me, He was still there, waiting for me to turn to him. I know this now because God gives us the gift of reflection. When you’re in the middle of something difficult it’s really hard to see beyond it. Heck, sometimes it’s hard to see anything at all because you’re blinded by the world you’ve created.

And I have to imagine this has been true since the beginning of time. What should have taken the Jews 11 days to get from Egypt to the promised land, instead took them 40 years. God didn’t hold them back. They got lost in their own mess. He set them free but they held themselves hostage to their past instead of trusting in their future. Have you done this? I have!

In 2002 when our marriage was broken and everything was spiraling out of control, God showed me a little family on the backside of Parson’s Beach. There was a little girl in a white sun hat. I knew when I saw her that that’s what we were supposed to be, not the train wreck we had created. But at the time, I didn’t know God. I knew he was out there but I didn’t know that he knew me. I didn’t know that he loved me. I didn’t know that he longed for me to know Him.

And it wasn’t until coming to Christ in 2009 that I could even say that God showed me that sweet family. But even without me acknowledging it was God, he was there. He was at work in my life. He was putting in motion what was to come, even in my ignorance. It took longer than it probably should have but he was by my side when I couldn’t see him.

I can relate to the fickle mob yelling “Crucify!” That’s really bad to admit, right? But it’s true. I’ve been so lost in my own stuff that I couldn’t see the truth in front of me and certainly couldn’t give credit to the author of that truth.

I think about the Old Testament prophets that told of our coming king. Isaiah, Zechariah, Jeremiah, the Psalmists…all of them told us what was coming, who was coming. But it didn’t make sense in the moment. It’s not until we have the precious gift of hindsight that we can more clearly connect the dots. But God knows that about us. And he loves us anyway. And that’s what makes Friday so good.

God knows we’re a mess. He knows we need him, even when we don’t yet know him. He’s still there. He’s in the room. He’s on the beach. He’s on the cross. But He doesn’t stay there. He endures the pain of ridicule, beating, torture, extreme torture and finally, death. And He did it for me. And you. He did it so we could be free. Free from the mess we make around us. Free from the weight of that mess. He did it so we could know him intimately, personally. And that’s better than good.

Go ahead and sit in it. Take the next few days to really consider a love so great. And then whoop it up on Sunday. Party like it’s 1999…we know how that went down too. The lights stayed on. The computers didn’t crash. And we’re still here. And so is our God.

Permission for Time Out

You’ve had those weeks right? Where you’re going so fast and you’ve committed yourself to so many things that you can’t breathe anymore? The Yeses that sounded like fun and worthy challenges are piling up and it feels like you’re disappointing everyone, accomplishing nothing?

No? Just me. Okay.

I’ve never not had a job. I’ve worked (and earned a paycheck) since I was 12 years old. Not sure it was legal then but we’ll call it a paid internship I guess. Nevertheless, coming out of college, I started my first career two weeks after graduation. I worked for SuperTarget in Minneapolis for five years. I worked as a Store Manager for Starbucks in Maine for the next seven years. I went to work for a church (by the grace of God, not because I knew what I was doing) for the last four years. And now I’m a stay at home mom.

Stay at home mom. Sit in that for a minute with me. I never really got how it worked. And I still don’t get it because I’m really bad at it. Being a stay at home mom means that my priority is my family. Being a stay at home mom means that I need to give my children and husband the attention I’ve always given my work. Being a stay at home mom means that my work environment is all around me. My “sanctuary” and workplace have collided.

Over the last 6 months, I’ve come to realize just how much stock I put in my job title. I was my work. Sure, I was still a wife, mom, friend, etc. but primarily, I was my job title. And I was good at it. I got fulfillment and satisfaction from it. There was reward both monetarily and emotionally. I was serving, providing and leading in ways I could quantify and understood.

I was totally one of those misguided fools who thought it would be nice to not have to worry about work and just be home. But when the opportunity came along, it terrified me. We had just uprooted our family from everything we knew and loved. We had been in Maine for 11 years and established deep roots with friends and family. It was our home.

But God called us to a new place. We relocated to south-central Florida and my family needed (needs) me to help us stabilize. Our kids were totally starting over in a new school with new friends and new activities. We moved into a one-bedroom apartment then four months later into a three bedroom, three bathroom house. As if the southern culture shock for this northerner wasn’t enough, it’s very bizarre to go from 800 square feet where you settled quite nicely to quadruple that space and feel upside down. I know that sounds totally spoiled and you may have just stopped reading, but it’s my truth. I’m still wigged out by what to do with this place that so I often do nothing with it. Not a good steward and not an awesome mom.

Rather than deal with the uncomfortableness of my unknown, I jumped right back into what I know and love. Work. Paid work? No. But work in a context I understand. By the time it was all said and done, I have volunteered myself for six different organizations taking on leadership roles and major projects in each of them. That doesn’t include the mommy groups I joined and extra-curricular activities for our kids because that’s what stay at home moms do, right??

And, by the time last weekend rolled around, I was crumbling under the weight of my Yeses. I was stressed, not doing the work God gave me and failing miserably in most areas of responsibility.

I really do have the best husband in the world. Sorry girls, but this guy rocks. And he gets me. He gets me better than I ever give him credit. His genius is that he lets me go but he doesn’t let me burn up in the fiery mess I make. As the flames start to lap around me, he grabs the hose, rescue ladder or helicopter basket and pulls me out. He’s brutally honest when I ask what he thinks and listens patiently when I’m ready to spill it.

He looked at me on Monday night during the Final Four and said it was okay to stop. I think I needed that permission to take a time out. He reminded me that’s it’s okay to say no.

This stay at home mom gig might not be an option forever. He reminded me that I’ve been given a chance to be the one who’s NOT stressed. I can be the safe place for my family. I can work out with my girlfriends, read a book, cook food and decorate our house. I don’t HAVE to save the world this week. I can’t really do that anyway.

Why am I afraid of the peace? Why do I not trust that I am enough, just as I am, without the busyness, the titles, the responsibility to others and accolades? I think there are times when the enemy twists what is a gift in me from God and turns it into something more of a distraction and sinful ambition.

So…TIME OUT. I’m taking a time out. I’m not running away. I’m not cutting all ties. I’m not neglecting my commitments. But I am taking a time out. I’m reassessing what God’s really called me to in this time of my life. I’m taking this week to decorate my house. I’m swimming with my kids. I’m not on my computer – except for right now.

I am working out. I am spending time with God. I am intentionally focusing my attention on my family. I even bought hanging baskets for my patio yesterday.

Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:28-31

Developing a deeper dependency on Jesus is a beautiful thing. There are so many times when I still cling to the idea that I have to go it alone but God is so good and so patient with us…with me. Matthew 11:28 says, “Then Jesus said, “Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” This isn’t permission to quit, but it is permission to pause, regroup, and focus in on what God is calling us to at this time in our lives.

Conditional Unconditional Love

Before really knowing Jesus and even before becoming a parent, I didn’t really understand unconditional love. So often, the love I experienced in life up to that point seemed quite conditional…even if I was the one adding the conditions. I thought love was earned or retained based on performance. I thought wit, smarts and abilities scored additional points. I made sport out of gathering up love in all it’s damaging forms. Even love in marriage had it’s breaking point, right? If not, then why did we almost divorce like most of our friends and family? There’s a point at which the love just runs out.

Then I met our son. I had never felt anything like that before. I didn’t know that kind of attachment existed. It was more than beautiful, it was painful, but in a good way. It was the kind of love that would endure even if he poked my eyes out with a stick. No action or inaction mattered. All that existed was love between us and nothing could break that bond.

It took another four years before I began to understand that it was not only possible to give that kind of love to someone who grew inside me but that the God of the universe loved me in the same way. His love for each of us is totally unconditional. There’s nothing we can do to earn it or be worthy of it. We just have to accept it as it is…a free gift waiting for each of us to take hold.

Just take a minute and think about what it means to receive unconditional love.
No strings attached. No if-then. Just love. Just honest, warm, forgiving love. You can’t screw up too much. You can never be too small, too fat, too stinky, too mouthy or too shy. You’re never not enough but just totally lovable as you are, right now and everyday going forward.

That is the kind of love God promises us. John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Seriously, sit in that for a minute. God so loved the WORLD. The world is a big place by our human standards. There are 7 billion human beings roaming the planet right now. We all look different. We all have unique characteristics, thoughts, passions and interests. But God created each of us and knows each of us intimately – For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. Psalm 139:13

We are not an accident. Not a one of us. And he has plans for each of us. He even tells us so – “For I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 That is a pretty sweet promise. He knows you. He knows me. He wants me around. He even calls us Beloved.

With a promise of this kind of love, so intense, so personal so absolute, we should be filled to overflowing. Jesus says in the book of John, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 But as much as he loves us and commands us to love, we don’t. We screw it up. We add our own conditions to the love we dole out.

Consider for a moment that Jesus may not have looked just like you. The details of Jesus’ physical appearance are pretty slim in the Bible except for Isaiah 53:2, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” We don’t even know for sure the shade of his skin color. His beauty was never external. So why do we constantly look to the external in others when deciding on love. Those who look like us, think like us, read the same books, follow the same blogs, eat at the same restaurants, listen to the same music…they’re easy to love.

But then there are others who just make it hard right? (FYI…these are NOT my actual feelings but I’ve unfortunately heard them said in my lifetime)

I will love the girl who’s pregnant that wants to give her baby up for adoption but to hell with the girl who just had an abortion.

I will love the cute little blond boy at my kid’s bus stop but that black family should stay in the car. They’ll probably get a full ride to college on a sports scholarship anyway.

That hispanic family has very nice children but we won’t have them over for dinner because they don’t speak very good English and it would be hard. Besides, they’re in America, they need to speak OUR language.

I know that people need a hand up sometimes but look at that welfare family buying filet minion with MY tax dollars. Oh, and of course, there’s beer and cigarettes in their cart too. They’ve got plenty of money for THAT.

I see this mom at the store all the time. Poor thing looks exhausted with all those kids but they each look so different from each other. I wonder if they even know their daddies?

I’m happy to donate money and food to our church food pantry but I always cross the street when the homeless guy is on the corner. He freaks me out.

I work with a gay guy who is actually very nice. It just such a bummer that he’s gay.

Look at the conditions we put on love. By the grace of God, he doesn’t to that to us. But what if he did? Wouldn’t it be funny if Jesus said, “Oh, you’re going to read my Father’s words? Well, you better read them in HIS language.” What is that exactly? Would it be Hebrew? Or Greek? Or Aramaic? News flash people…the King James Version is not how it originally went down.

We want to sanitize every situation to fit our taste and our preferences. It’s easy to keep God in a box like a pet that we take out on Sunday morning and the occasional Bible study. But then we can tuck him back in, every so precious, and go about our day being judgmental and un-Christlike. As followers of Jesus, wouldn’t it be better if we left the judgement to God and followed the commandments of Christ?

And before we go there, let’s just take the phrase “well, I’m only human” off the table. No cop outs allowed. We’re talking about building God’s Kingdom here. If our God is real, then let’s live like that’s true. And if our God is real, we’ve got some forgiveness to seek, mercy to give and humility to learn.

We have the power of the Holy Spirit working through us when we choose to acknowledge Him. But so often tapping into the power of the Holy Spirit means that we need to live differently. We need to love differently. I’m NOT talking about acting as if we’re God’s line-backers. He was in this game long before we came along and He isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Eternity is pretty long time. But our time on earth is a blip on the radar. So why not do all we can to follow Jesus’ instructions while on earth? He made it so simple for us but we make it so hard…Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

Let’s get in the game. What if our love for each other changed the world? I think it’s the only thing that ever has. I’ll pray for you and you pray for me, okay??

Repent…what?? Weirdo!

There are some words that have so much power and beauty. But often those words are taken from the God-ordained place they were born and used as weapons or confused into something other than their true purpose.

Repent is one of those words. John the Baptist and Jesus himself tell us to repent and believe. I have to imagine that those words coming out of the mouth of Jesus were balanced perfectly in truth and grace. Spoken in love with eyes that couldn’t just see into your soul but that created your soul, not to control but rather to set us free. Free to choose how we live. Free to choose a relationship with him or not. Free to fail and try again.

But often when I’ve heard “repent” it’s felt like a calling out (not in a good way). But more like, “You’re bad and you do bad things. Period. Bad. You.” And when the command for repentance isn’t wrapped in love, that’s all it is, a scolding. Guilt keeps us in bondage to our sin. The enemy uses guilt to become fear and turns fear into depression crippling us. But here’s the deal friends, Jesus already took on the burden of our sin. We REALLY don’t have to carry it around! For REAL, no fooling, He’s serious! We just have to be HONEST with ourselves and with God.

Matthew 22:28-32 says “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

In this passage, God wasn’t calling out the common sinners of the day, the ones whose sins were public and obvious. He was calling out the Jews. He was calling out those who knew the scriptures, who were supposed to know God. Those who were supposed to believe God’s word didn’t get it. Their own pride and rule-following got in the way of their relationship with God.

Repent and believe. What repentance really means is to name your sin, own it and then give it over to God. You’re not fooling him. He knows your heart. He’s in the room and patiently, PATIENTLY, waiting for us to turn to him.

In the parable, the first son was rebellious and, I’m sure, frustrating to the father. I just saw my daughter’s face in the first son’s, “I will not.” Her response is often more of a straight up, “No!” But it just occurred to me that she learned that response or behavior from me. As a toddler, in an effort to keep her “safe” it’s practically all I said…”No, don’t touch that! No, get that out of your mouth! No, you can’t color on the wall!” In an effort to keep her safe, I shut down her freedom and now she’s trying to reclaim it anyway she can. Seriously Lord, you have me start babbling on about repentance and you reveal a place I need to turn over to you? Isn’t that just like God???

But here’s the super cool thing about our Father. He doesn’t tell us no. I’m sure in church or by other Christians you’ve been told that God says no to all sorts of things. But in reality, he gives us the freedom to choose. It doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for our choices. Of course there are. Every move we make has a ripple effect in our world and on the people around us.

Absolutely, God has given us some pretty good guidelines to keep us from falling off the edge. But when those guidelines are used like weapons and we feel trapped by it, our human response is to rail against it. How many times have I said, “I don’t care” or “so what?” Often those words are cleverly accompanied by a snarky ‘tude best suited for a tween (which I have not been for some time now and which will likely snap me like a twig when my precious, beloved little girl reaches double digits). But God’s rules as detailed in the Old Testament are more than good ideas. When not followed, they have lasting consequences in our physical world. Our God is bigger than our physical realm. He cares more about the damage to our soul than the earthly act itself.

Jesus came to wash the sin away. He did it. Done. Let’s not keep telling Jesus he’s not enough. The reality isn’t that we think Jesus isn’t enough, it’s that we have a hard time believing that we are who God says we are in Him. When we mess up, it’s okay. He knows. He watched us fall. He didn’t scream out NO in fear like I did each time my daughter did (okay, does…yeah, she’s 8) something wrong. He sees it happen. He already knows it happened. We don’t have to clue him in on something new. He’s kinda all-knowing. That makes it pretty hard to fool him. We’re only fooling ourselves.

But on our worst day, no matter what we’ve done, he’s there. He’s there to wrap his arms around us and bring us back into the fold. He’s given us the freedom to turn from him, the freedom to walk away, the freedom to be broken. And he knows the only way to wholeness is through Jesus because Jesus died blameless and perfect so that we no longer have to carry the weight of the world. Repentance is not atonement. It’s just honesty. Honesty with ourselves and God.

Repent and believe. Do you believe that our God is real? If he’s real, then he is who he says he is. And in that case, you are who he says you are. And he calls you beloved. You are His. I am too. Let’s walk in the freedom of Christ, in love. Set free we are given the space to love God and love each other. No more hiding, no more lying, no more comparing my sin to yours. Just freedom to love and be loved, each day, no matter what.