Radical Simplicity and a Beautiful, Messy Life

17 (Mostly Christian) Books I Plan to Read in 2017

Books shape us.  They inspire us to think and feel and pray and love in whole new ways.  They remind us of what we know, draw us into new knowledge, and inspire us to act on what we've learned. I love books.

So, I've made a list of 17 Books I plan to read in 2017.  Books that I feel will lead and inspire and challenge me in the right direction.  Here are 17 books I plan to read in this new year:

1) The Sacred Year by Michael Yankoski
Burnt out and discouraged, a motivational Christian speaker sets out on a journey to spend a year engaging in sacred practices, both ancient and modern, including simplicity, creativity, solitude, protesting, and many more.  I can't wait to read about the sacred in the ordinary and meeting God in a myriad of sacred practices.

2) Choose and Choose Again: The Brave Act of Returning to Gods Love by J. Kevin Butcher
A collection of stories, mostly from Hope Community Church of Detroit, of people finding God's healing love in their places of deepest despair.  It sounds like an encouraging read that can help me move my understanding of Gods love from my head into my heart. 

3) The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows by James Bryan Smith
What we believe about God shapes how we live and feel.  This book invites us to examine the narrative we have surrounding God and compare it to scripture to keep what is true and discard what is not.

4) Attributes of God, Volume 2: Deeper into the Father's Heart by A.W. Tozer
I read the first volume this year and it was honestly life changing.  Each book identifies 10 characteristics of God and explores them in detail.  Like I did with the fist volume, I plan to take this book slowly, reading a chapter and then letting it sink in for a few days before moving on.  I believe that the greatest work of our lives is to come to understand God more clearly as He is, and then to respond accordingly.  This book will help us to do that. 

5) The Lord and His Prayer by N.T, Wright
I am part of a support group that uses the Lord's Prayer to end nearly every meeting, and the words have become tired and worn by familiarity and habit.  I hope this tiny book will help to reawaken this prayer of Christ and restore the depth and meaning lost to familiarity and repetition. 

6) The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms by Timothy Keller
The psalms were my lifeline to God in 2016.  When the rest of scripture felt dry and empty, the psalms spoke to me deeply and intimately about a God who meets us in our pain.  I'll be using this devotional through the psalms for my daily devotions in 2017.  And Tim Keller wrote it, so I know it will be good. 

7) Divine Rebels: American Christian Activists for Social Justice by Deena Guzder
Divine Rebels chronicles the extraordinary efforts of American Christian activists who agitate for a world free of racism, patriarchy, bigotry, retribution, ecocide, torture, poverty, and militarism. And the forward is by Shane Claiborne, so I fully expect this book to challenge, convict, and inspire me.

8) Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz Weber
A book about what happens when ordinary people share bread and wine, struggle with scripture together, and tell each other the truth about their real lives. Plus it's written by a tattooed, foul mouthed preacher, which is a win in my mind!

9) Living Faith: How Faith Inspires Social Justice by Curtiss Paul De Young
Christian ethicist Curtiss DeYoung profiles three of the most dynamic and influential religious activists of the 20th century: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Malcolm X, and Aung San Suu Kyi - each from a different generation, a different faith community, and a different continent.

10) Exclusion And Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation 
by Miroslav Volf
Addressing the sin of exclusion, this book calls us out of our comfortable circles, to embrace the "other" in the same way that God has embraced us. This book has shaped the hearts and ministries of some people I really respect, so I feel like it would be a great book to add to my must-read list.  

11) Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain by Matt Bays
I need this reminder, that our God is big enough to not just comfort us in our pain, but to redeem it. Just the title of this book gives me hope.  I can't wait to dig in and read it. 

12) Twenty - Piece Shuffle: Why the Poor and Rich Need Eachother by Greg Paul
When I first read Greg Paul's previous book, God in the Alley, I read it in about 2 days and highlighted half of it because it was so beautiful and insightful and honest.  Greg Paul is the founder and director of a community and church in downtown Toronto where those in poverty and those with economic resources meet together and become family. 

13) Rid Of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault
by Justin S. Holcomb and 
Lindsey A. Holcomb
I bought this book sometime ago, but haven't been able to read past the first few pages.  It doesn't mince words or avoid the pain, which causes me to slam it shut and scroll through facebook instead. But it's time to read it.  Because I'm confronting pain these days instead of avoiding it.  Because, as Robert Frost famously wrote, "The best way out is always through".

14) Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us by Christine Pohl
I read Christine's Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition a few years ago and it literally changed our lives by inspiring us to create a room in our house to welcome in whoever God sends our way (and God proceeded to send the right people our way, at the right time, and blessed us immensely through the process) so I believe that God will use Living into Community in my life in a powerful way as well.  It focuses on 4 key practices that cultivate community: gratitude, promise-keeping, truthfulness, and hospitality and the theological dimensions of these practices.

15) The Cost of Discipleship by Deitrich Bonhoeffer
A classic book on the difference between cheap grace and costly grace.  It's been many years since I've read this book and it's time to read it again.

16) Rising Strong by Brene Brown
I may be the last person on earth who hasn't read any Brene Brown yet, but everytime I come across a quote or video of hers, I find myself nodding yes and being encouraged.  Rising Strong is about leaning into discomfort and regaining our footing in the midst of struggle.

17) Belonging and Becoming: Creating a Thriving Family Culture by Mark Scandrette and Lisa Scandrette
I knew when I saw the title of this book that I was going to need to read it.  I desire to raise my kids in a home where they know they are embraced, where they feel that they belong, and where they are free to develop fully and authentically into the person God has made them to be.  

I am excited for the ways that these books will shape and mold and grow me this year.  What books do you plan to read in 2017?  Have you read any of the ones I've listed?  Which ones would you recommend? Let me know in the comments below!

Don't miss a post! Follow me on facebook, twitter, or sign up for my RSS feed. And thank you so much for reading my words, I'm honoured.

To The Christian Who Isn't Feeling it This Christmas

The lights and sparkles and gingerbread lattes aren't doing it for me this year.

Guys, I'm in a dark place this Christmas. I know I'm not the only one. This season seems to swell those broken and empty places inside of us.

But isn't Christmas a celebration of a God who meets us in our dark places?

I keep trying to prepare my heart for Christmas, to stir up some sort of peace and joy. But they didn't scrub up the stable for the King. No. Our Lord was born into a dark and filthy barn, in a dark and desperate time, into a world that didn't have room for him and welcomed him with a mass infanticide. Let's not sanitize it with nostalgia and the tame comforts of a familiar story. Our Lord was born into a shit-filled stable, and things pretty much went down hill from there.

Friend who is suffering right now, Christmas isn't all about joy. It's about a God who stepped into our suffering and chose to suffer for us.

Isn't that the remarkable thing about our faith? That we don't have a God who sits safely on a throne and takes pleasure in his distance from us, but a God who stepped into our pain and mess and isolation, and suffered so that He can be forever with us, both in the grief of this world and the joy of the next.

The babe that was born in that stable two-thousand years ago grew up to tell us that we are blessed when we mourn. That when we are broken-hearted we are truly blessed because we will be comforted by the all mighty God. And then He carried our sin to the cross and went to prepare a room for us. We had no room for Him in this Kingdom, but He is making a room for us in His.

Our Christmas celebration is not about seeking to possess some sense of joy or peace or comfort, but to be possessed by the spirit of God. God did not send us some warm and fuzzy feeling in the name of Christ, but the very Christ himself.

Friend who is suffering, whatever you are feeling in these final days before Christmas, there is space for that in Christ. His love is big enough in length, in height, in depth and breadth to contain all of your pain and all of mine with room left over.

Our pain is so often the sacred space in which we meet the Holy God. It is where we hurt the most that we will later build alters and remember the Lord's presence among us. Allow yourself that sacred space this Christmas. God is not calling us to some empty and strained expression of joy, but to rest in the safety of His enduring grace.

Friend, I invite you this Christmas to lay down all your expectations of merry and bright and just rest in the knowledge of God's abiding Love. And I pray that for a moment, your weary heart and mine, will rejoice at the fierce and present love, the incredible mystery, the unending grace, of a God King Baby who was born into a filthy stable for us. 

If not merry, I wish you a sacred Christ's Mass.  May you be acutely aware of Christ's presence in your pain. 

If this post touched your heart, will you share it? And thank you so much for reading my words, I am honoured.

The Only Way to Love our Kids Unconditionally (Or anyone, for that matter)

Growing up, there were pretty much only 3 things my brothers and I were not allowed to to be: Gay, fat, or liberal.   I am 2 out of 3. 

In fact, my parents would make fun of fat people.  They would mockingly say "It's not working" as they passed a large woman jogging down the street, or make jokes about how spandex should not be sold in larger sizes. Fat, of all things, was the most shameful thing a woman could be.  Besides, perhaps, gay or liberal. 

Getting dressed to see my parents now is painful.  Even though they rarely mention my weight anymore, I know exactly what they think of women who look like me.   I've watched them dismiss and demean smart and passionate women because of their body size.   So I try on every outfit in my closet and suck in my stomach and cry because I already know that I am not accepted.  All those words they carelessly flung at strangers landed and stuck to me. 

The point of this post is not to rail on my parents.  Because friends, we are all guilty of this. Every one of us.  Maybe not of body shaming, but of failing to love people that we see as different from us. Of making off-hand remarks that fall short of the standard of love.  Our kids see it.  And the scariest tragedy in all of it is that our kids may one day identify as one of the people we have loved so poorly. 

Friends, The only way to love our kids unconditionally is to love every person we meet as if they were our child.  Regardless of their faith or politics, sexuality, lifestyle or health, regardless of their appearance, their income, their choices, their experiences.  Because the person standing before us is always someone's child, and our kids may one day hear the words we've spoken and feel them directed at themselves.   Our kids may see them selves as the people we've judged, shamed or condemned.

The only way we can love our kids unconditionally is to love everyone we meet. Period. 

And this doesn't just apply to our kids, does it?  We've all sat through conversations in which someone made quick and unfair judgements about someone they didn't realize we identified with. We've all felt unloved or unaccepted by a person who thought they were speaking of someone who wasn't at the table.  The only answer is to invite everyone to the table and love them as well as we possibly can. 

When we speak without love or compassion towards anyone, we send out a declaration that we find people like that downright unlovable.  And friends, our kids are listening.

The only way to love anyone unconditionally is to immerse our words and thoughts in an acute awareness of the deep and intrinsic value of everyone God has made.  Friends, this is hard.  

We will fail.  We will fall short of this. I personally will fall short of this today, tomorrow, and then next. We cannot love perfectly because we are a messy, broken, imperfect people. We are still growing up, still raising the broken little boy or girl inside of us who still sometimes thinks they need to step on someone else to lift themselves up, grow indignant in order to prove his or her place in this world. We so easily forget the profundity of the grace we've received and fail to show love to those around us.  None of us loves perfectly.  

The Good news?  We have a God who has modeled for us a perfect love.  A love that is not based on who we are, but in whom we've been made.  A god who does not draw lines in the sand to divide us, but who beckons us to put down all our striving to be more than and better than, who beckons us to come to Him and be accepted.  A God who loves wholly and perfectly from his very being. 

We will not love our kids unconditionally.  Because only God can love like that. But we can try.  And we can call ourselves out and correct ourselves.  We can apologize and start afresh a hundred times a day if need be.  We can sit our kids down and say "what mommy said about so-and-so was wrong.  They are loved by god, exactly as they are.  Loved like you.  Loved like me."  We can accept God's love for ourselves and stop trying to earn it and live and love from that truth.

Friends, the only way to love our kids well is to let them watch us love others well. And when we fail, to let them see us try again.  To love everyone we meet as if they were made in the very image of God, because they are.  That, I believe, is how our children will know that we will keep on loving them, no matter what.  

The only way to love our kids unconditionally is to love everyone we meet as if they were our own child.   May God help us love like that today. 

Thanks for visiting my blog! You can follow me on facebook, twitter, or sign up for my RSS feed.

The Church Needs the Poor more than the Poor Need the Church

Once, when I was asked to speak at a local church about poverty and homelessness, I asked one of the greeters before the service began where the bathroom was located. A local man, talkative and uncomfortably open about his struggles with mental health was lingering in the foyer. He began to point me towards the bathroom.

"No no no" snapped the greeter. "I will show you."  She took my arm and ushered me towards the bathrooms. "I wish he'd just go away." she said.

This church was happy to welcome me in to talk about God's call to serve the broken, hurting, poor and lonely. But when faced with someone who identified as all those things, they just wished he'd go away. Perhaps this is an extreme example, but it exposes our hearts, doesn't it?

How often do we want to give lip service to the importance of charity, but keep our hands clean from the work involved? How tempting is it to esteem the value of reaching out to those on the margins, while avoiding the messiness and the difficulty of stepping outside of our comfort zone?  Like the rich young ruler, we want to follow God, but we don't want it to actually discomfort us.  I'm guilty of this.  Are you?

But when the church is hesitant to step boldly into the areas of great need in our cities, it is not just the poor who are robbed, but us. When Christ told us that he would be uniquely present in those on the margins, that by giving food to the hungry or a cup of water to the thirsty we would be giving it to Him, he was not only making ongoing provision for the poor through His church, but he was enrolling His people in the messy, sacred, refining work of caring for those on the margins. And friends, we need that. The Church desperately needs the poor in our midst.

The church needs the poor because we need to practice grace in order to believe in it. Because the self made man is a lie, and the only reason you and I are not on the street begging for our dinner is because God saw it fit to use us elsewhere. When we care for those living in poverty we quickly see that poverty is not a mere financial lack or some sort of moral failing, but primarily a lack of relationship and community. If it were not for the people who spoke love and encouragement and value into our lives we would have nothing. And when we become aware of our own undeservedness we come to a place where we can begin to live out grace.

The church needs the poor because the truest response to gratitude is giving. If we truly believe that everything we have is given to us by the hand of God, not because of who we are but because of who He is, we cannot help but share it.

The church needs the poor because they meet us in a place of common need, not of things, but of love, and hope, and grace. In a world where we are so often defined by what we have and what we have accomplished, where we can hide our deepest needs behind comfort and acceptance and success, the poor expose our heart needs, our loneliness, our fear, our longing. We need these walls torn down, so that we can come face to face with our own poverty and experience God.

The Church needs the poor because Christ is uniquely present in those on the margins. When we give food to the hungry or water to the thirsty, it is as if we have given it to Christ himself. We sing the words "come Lord Jesus, come" but Christ has given us the opportunity to welcome Him among us in a beautiful mysterious way, in the form of those on the margins.

The Church needs the poor because they protect us from materialism. We sometimes love our stuff more than we love God. Materialism is a powerful distraction for our hearts that love to be distracted. But when a beloved friend needs a warm coat, our grip on our stuff is loosened. Loving the poor, personally and actively, begins to set us free from the pull of material items.  The shiny new things in the store lose a lot of their appeal when you've come to love someone who doesn't know where their next meal will come from.

The Church needs the poor because it is a picture of the God who came for us. Just as Christ stepped down from heaven to bring light into our dark world and hearts, we get to step out of our comfortable church pews to shine God's light into the darkest parts of our cities, to interrupt pain with love, and despair with hope.

The church needs the poor more than the poor need the Church. Not because serving the poor makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, not that the poor are a pawn to help us pat ourselves on the back, but because without the poor in our midst we risk losing sight of our own desperate need.  God has given the poor to the church, not to burden us, but to bless us.

 The church needs to be actively engaged in reaching out to the least of these in our community, or, dare I say, we aren't the church.  Let's be the church today.

Thanks for visiting my blog! You can follow me on facebook, twitter, or sign up for my RSS feed.

A People of Offensive Grace

In the weeks before Christmas a couple years ago, my husband and I noticed that someone was breaking in and stealing from our van. "Breaking in" may be an overstatement, as former country folk we simply weren't in the habit of locking our vehicle.

It started with an old coffee cup full of change. We figure there was about 40 bucks in there. Then it was CD's and gift cards. Then we got smart and started locking our van.

But if after a particularly hectic night we would forget to lock up, the next morning we would find the van doors wide open once again, and stuff missing. The thief seemed to be checking regularly to see if we remembered to lock up.

So on Christmas Eve we decided to leave the van unlocked and tape a twenty dollar bill to the dashboard with a note that said 'Merry Christmas'. Of course, that wouldn't be theft, because it was a gift. And it gave us great joy to do it. Most of our friends thought this was a great idea, could see that we were choosing to make the best of the situation, to reach out in a simple act of love.  But a few people were outraged. Why would we give a thief an opportunity to steal? Why would we give someone 20 bucks they clearly didn't earn?

It didn't affect them one way or another but they were angry that somebody was about to get something for nothing.

Friends, Grace is offensive.

We see this in scripture, don't we? In the parable of the workers Jesus tells of a man who hires people at different points throughout the day and then pays them all the same day's wage at the end. The people who worked all day received the wage they had agreed upon when the day began, but as they watched others receive the same wage, others who didn't work as long or as hard, others who weren't dripping with the same amount of sweat, whose feet weren't as aching and tired, receive the same wage as them, they grew indignant.

Grace is offensive. Watching somebody receive something they did not earn upsets our sensibilities, our sense of justice, unless we are thoroughly aware of our own undeservedness.

My good deeds and your good deeds leave us standing before God himself in dirty rags, paupers unable to save ourselves. And in His goodness he lavishes forgiveness and acceptance upon us, not because of who we are, but because of who He is. He does this for the thief, for the drug addict, for the adulterer, for the skipper-of-morning devotions, for the cheater-on-their-taxes, for the envious, and for the murderer, all the same. He doesn't ask us to clean ourselves up and come, but to come so that He alone can make us clean.

Friends, have we become so accustomed to this that we have lost sight of how scandalous it is? How other-worldly? How offensive to our sensibilities it is that God would lavish as much love and forgiveness on Saul, who was committed to persecuting the Lord's church, as he would on Peter, the friend who walked alongside Christ during his ministry, and wept the night He died?

Cheap grace says give people something for trying. God's grace says give people something they don't at all deserve.

Cheap grace says forgive a wrongdoer, maybe, if he's sorry. But God's grace says lavish as much love on the wrongdoer as on the victim.

Friends, I suspect we are all guilty of this. Of longing for people to receive only what they deserve, or growing indignant over what somebody else has received. But can I say this thing in love? It is a sure sign that you and I have forgotten the incredible mercy and grace that we have received and currently are receiving. The very fact that our breath is sustained while there is sin in our hearts is the outrageous grace of God in our lives.

For the record, the thief didn't take that 20 dollars that night.  Maybe he or she didn't come by, or maybe they thought it was a trap.  But it started a family tradition in our house.  A tradition that points us ever back to God's amazing grace.

We are a people of grace. Scandalous, unfathomable, offensive grace. Endlessly receiving what we do not, and cannot, deserve. May our lives reflect that today.

Don't miss a post! Follow me on facebook, twitter, or sign up for my RSS feed. And thank you so much for reading my words, I'm honoured.

Relationship As Privilege

We talk a lot these days about privilege. About white privilege, or male privilege, or straight privilege. The idea is that certain things beyond our control sometimes gives us an unfair head start in life. Or an unfair disadvantage. I think it's a vital discussion to have. Not to shame people for being born into relative safety and comfort, but to be aware of the ways in which things outside our control can contribute to our successes and difficulties. So that we can begin to close that gap.

As a straight white woman in a middle class family, I was born into privilege. That doesn't mean everything was always peachy-keen and that nothing shitty ever happened. Just that I started with some advantages. For example, as far as I know, nobody has ever judged me for the colour of my skin.

There is another way that I've been privileged: Relational privilege.

A few winters ago there was a propane shortage. The huge tanks that heat our house ran empty for the first time ever and when I called the propane company they told me they were out of propane as well and it would be at least two days before they could deliver more. And you know what? Within 20 minutes of sharing about this on social media we had multiple offers from friends and family willing to take our family of 8 in for the weekend. This is relational privilege.

I have a hundred examples. People who surrounded us with gifts and support as we welcomed each of our children into this world, , friends who delivered casseroles and encouragement during seasons of difficulty, a church family that prays for and nurtures us, friends who helped us move and paint, loved ones to fill the house on Christmas day, in-laws that pour life and love into our children, people to share a good cry with at the end of an especially hard week. No matter what life has thrown our way, we have never ever been truly alone in whatever we are going through.

And friends, this isn't the case for everyone. Not everyone has somebody to help them move. Or somebody to ask how they are doing. Or somebody to remember how they take their coffee. There are countless people moving through your city and mine right now who don't have a network of support and love. Whose birthdays go unnoticed.

In my years of serving those living in poverty I have had the privilege, on a few occasions, of baking grown men their first ever birthday cake. We've helped people move from one apartment to another, only to discover that their plan before we showed up was to leave behind everything they couldn't carry. We've visited people in hospital after surgery, people who expected to have nobody at all visit them.  Take this in for a minute: there are people in your community who go in for surgery without anyone knowing, without anyone checking in on them or bringing them a basket of fruit.

Relationships are vital. One of my favourite activist/blogger/street ministry leader/writer/pastor dudes likes to say that the opposite of homelessness is community. Community and healthy relationships go a long way to insulate us from what life throws our way. Surrounded by love, we are still shaken by the broken and difficult world, but those relationships help us climb back to our feet after the quake.  Those relationships protect us from from the tragedies outside of us and our own interior hurts.  Relationships matter.

If some tragedy occurred tomorrow, or I made some bad decisions, and somehow lost everything I have, my house, my van, my stuff, my credit cards, the 7 bucks in my savings account, everything, I wouldn't have to sleep in the snow tonight. Whether the loss was my fault or somebody else's or a series of freak accidents, me and my husband and my kids wouldn't have to find an abandoned building to sleep behind. Not because we've done anything right. But because of relationships. Because we were born into families and churches and communities that noticed us.

But if I lost those relationships?  My next bad day could be devastating.  This is true for every one of us.  Let us not take this for granted.

So friends, can we reach out this very day? To somebody who is travelling through this dark and difficult world alone? And offer them the hand of friendship? Because that hand of friendship is sometimes exactly what we need in order to keep putting one foot in front of another.

 And because everyone deserves to have somebody remember their birthday.

Thanks for visiting my blog!  You can follow me on facebook, twitter, or sign up for my RSS feed.

Perfect Is A Lie and You Are Enough.

I know we know this.  Or we would say we know this, wouldn't we?

But then we strive for something that doesn't exist.  We feel the sting and the angst of not measuring up. We compare our insides to somebody else's outsides, our sweat-stained life to their Sunday best, and we feel like we are failing at something or everything.

Oh friend, will you believe me?  Perfect is a lie, and you are enough.

We spend our lives trying to excel at meaningless things, trying to live up to a lie that we need perfect homes or perfect families or perfect hearts.  And we push other people away because we think that everything we have to offer of ourselves isn't enough.

Friend, you are enough.

I have a hard time not scoffing at this.  The voices remain in my head from my hard-nosed, short-on-grace, legalistic beginnings in the church.  My internal theologian starts arguing "But man is depraved!  We deserve nothing but sin and death!  You don't need self esteem, you need god-esteem!" 

And it's true.  We are depraved.  Innately sinful.  Broken in a million ways, and desperately in need of God's grace.  You know what else?  We are loved, exactly where we are.  Powerfully, fully, fiercely loved.  And we are enough. 

You are enough. Not by virtue of how well you perform, or how well you can scrub yourself up to look good and holy, but based on who has made you.  You are enough because the God who made you out of dust has filled you with life and breath and purpose.  You are enough because, no matter who or what comes against you, the maker of the universe is adamantly for you.

You are enough.  You aren't perfect and you don't have your shit together, and you are going to fall down and fall short. This. Very. Day. But you are enough.

Friend, what if all the ways you think you are failing are actually a beacon of hope to those around you today?  What if your messy imperfect life is a warm and needed message for someone that it's okay to not be okay and that sometimes life is hard?

What if that pile of laundry or messy garage says "it's okay to not be on top of your to-do list. You are not what you accomplish"? What if opening your door to your mess and chaos says "you matter more than my housework"?  What if takeout or leftovers or food from a box says "I have a lot going on, but sitting around a table with you matters to me"?  What if your past and your hurts and your sin-struggle says "you are not alone"?

What if all the ways we think we are failing are actually beautiful reminders that perfect is a bold-faced lie and we are all struggling through this messy life?

Friend, You are enough, just as you are, in this moment.  You are of deep intrinsic value, deserving of love and acceptance.

You are needed.  You bring value to this world just by being you.

You are precious.  Bought with a price by the maker of the universe.

You are enough.  Not because of what you've done, but because of who has made you. 

Friends, can I challenge us both today?  Let us not be afraid to define ourselves as a people powerfully and perfectly loved by God.  Not by our faults and our failures and our struggles, but by the faultless, relentless, freeing love of God.

Because any other identity is a lie.

If you needed this message today, will you share it with someone else who may need it too? 
You can also follow me on facebooktwitter, or sign up for my RSS feed.

For The Person Who Fears That They've Blown God's Plan for Them

Years ago, when I was new to my current church, our pastor did something I hadn't seen him do before or since. He asked people to stand and share prayer requests or praise reports during the Sunday morning Service.

A man I had not seen before, seated alone in the seat directly in front of me, stood to speak. He had a cane and an earring and an awkwardness about him. He shared that he's been clean from crack cocaine for days, or weeks, I can't exactly remember.

I was blown away by the intimacy of the moment, his bravery, his strength. I wanted to reach forward, put my hand on his shoulder, and thank him for coming. I wanted to encourage him, reach out, make contact.

But I didn't. I was afraid. I went home without reaching out to that man.

I prayed all that afternoon that God would bring him back next week, that I would have another opportunity. But he didn't return the next week, or the week after that. That missed opportunity sat on my heart for years to come.

Five years later I met a man named Nick. We made quick friends, laughed together a lot. He was ill, and when he was in his final days I brought muffins and casseroles to his wife. Her and I clung to one another and cried the night he died.

It wasn't until after the small memorial service, after she received his ashes back in an urn and invited me in to see it, that I understood. Holding a photo of Nick five years earlier, before he'd lost a bunch of weight, with his earring and his cane, Nick was the man in front of me in church that day.

God had given me the opportunity I had prayed for. In fact, in those five years God had moved us from our little country home on a dead end road to a century-old home across the street and down the road from Nick's house.  He had led me to a job where I would meet and serve and get to know Nick.  And He molded me into the person who wouldn't miss the opportunity this time to step into Nick's life, to step into the pain.

Friend, If you think you've blown God's plan for you, you've probably overestimated yourself, and underestimated our incredible God. 

God is in our missed opportunities, in our broken responses and our failed attempts. He isn't thrown for a loop when we mess up or fall down or disobey. His power is made perfect in our weakness, and the moments where we lose faith and mess up and forget who we are and what we were made to be, the moments when we must fall humbly at His feet and pray for another chance, those are the moments that God is using to write his story of redemption on our hearts. 

I need this reminder. I have not been the person I wanted to be. This past year did not go according to my plans, or even the plans that I thought God had for me. I am not where I thought I'd be, and I have been brought face to face with my own insufficiency, my own weakness.  Maybe you can relate?

But that failure, those fears, those mistakes and sins and losses that seemed to have thrown everything off kilter? They were not a surprise to our Lord. 

Isn't this why we need Him in the first place?  Because all our striving to be the person we think we are meant to be is not enough.  Our weakness is the canvas on which He paints his glorious story of restoration, reconciliation, and redemption. 

Friend, if you think you've blown God's plan for you, you haven't.  Our Lord is not that easily deterred.  No matter what season of life you are in, or what challenges life has brought you, or what mistakes you have made, God is not confused as to how to proceed. We are weak and short on faith, but our Lord is sovereign and faithful.  

I believe that God has a plan for you and I, and it is so much bigger than our biggest mistakes. Because when we are exposed in our weakness, He is exalted in His strength.

There is hope for us yet, my friend. 

Don't miss a post! Follow me on facebook, twitter, or sign up for my RSS feed. And thank you so much for reading my words, I'm honoured.

In Defense of a Messy, Awkward, Slightly Heretical Prayer Life

This last year of my life has been messy.  Full of sin and sickness, despair and brokenness.
And at some point in all that mess, I remembered how to pray.

The first time I prayed, really prayed, I was 16 and bleeding from a self inflicted wound. I wanted to die, but I didn't want to want to die. I begged this God I'd seen move in other peoples lives, this God they spoke of with such warmth and familiarity at the soup kitchen I frequented, to do something. Stop the bleeding, just until I get to the hospital. And He did. The bleeding stopped until I reached the hospital emergency lot, where it started again. The maker of the universe had heard my prayer.

Or maybe my first prayer goes back further. As a little girl with almost no knowledge of God, confusing prayers with wishes but knowing for sure that I needed something outside of myself. My brother, homeless and addicted to drugs, was missing again. I sat at my bedroom window, in that dusty pink room with the teddy bear border, and watched for the first star of the night. "I wish I may, I wish I might, Have him home safe tonight." God answered that one too.

I was 20 when I prayed to meet my husband, although I didn't know that was what I was doing. I was huddled in the alcove of a closed shop, homeless and trying to stay dry from the rain, lamenting that I couldn't believe that God could love me, that anyone could love me. "Lord," I asked "Send me someone to help me believe that I am lovable."  I met my husband a week later. Married him 6 months after that.

But at some point my prayers became safe and sanitized. I learned more about what faith was supposed to look like and I became afraid to pray from a place of any real need. I asked God to bless this and that, to help me, to show me his will. But I stopped falling on my knees and crying out in desperate need to the God that knew my heart.

This past year when the bible felt dry and empty, the psalms are where I quenched my thirst.  The psalms are full of messy, awkward, slightly heretical prayers. Prayers that question God, Prayers that are full of pain and fear. Some of them turn around by the end, into praises of God's faithfulness. Some of them don't.
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
 My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long?
Psalm 6:2,3
Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
Psalm 10:1
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Psalm 13:1,2
This year I learned to stop being polite with God. He is not our mothers before a dinner party, licking his cosmic thumb to wipe the dirt from our cheek, scolding us for forgetting our manners. He knows our every thought, every emotion, every anxiety that we've tried to swallow below the surface, every bit of resentment towards others and us and Him. And He beckons us to come.  Come messy, come awkward, come with our doubts and our brokenness and our pain.
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Habakkuk 1:2,3
These prayers make me a bit uncomfortable.  All the "Why God's" and "Where are you God's".  Who am I to question the almighty? To judge His timing? Aren't these a little heretical?  A little indecent?  But these prayers are honest and true and vulnerable.  And can't the maker of the universe handle the most complex truths of my simple finite heart?

God desires all of me. The good and the bad. The love of our God is deep and perfect and freeing, He beckons us to pull back the curtain and put down our masks, to be our most authentic selves before Him.

Sometimes our most honest and authentic need before the Lord is desperate and impatient and less-than-pretty.  And the unfettered intimacy that we crave with Him lies on the other side of our Sunday Best version of ourselves. 

Like the Father who asked Jesus to help his son "if you can."
"If I can?" says Jesus. "Everything is possible to those who believe." This father didn't hide his doubt.   He doesn't back peddle or try to intellectualize his own unfaithfulness.  How could he, before the Lord? No, he confessed his doubt and pleaded for help.
“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Sometimes the most honest prayer I have is "Damnit God, why?"

or "How much longer, God?"

or "Help, Somehow, if you can."

or "I believe, help my unbelief."

One day, friends, we will be sing-songy with endless praise; when God has made us whole and we stand in Him.  But for now our prayers are sloppy and muttered and sometimes R-rated, as we carry these bodies of death through the trials of a grief stricken world.

He knows.  Our every thought, our every fear, our every weakness, doubt and hurt.  And He beckons us to Come, to approach His throne boldly.  Not when we have it figured out, not when we've strung together the right eloquent words, not when we have cleaned ourselves up to appear good and godly, but in our time of need.
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:13-16
May we speak freely today with the God who knows our hearts, who comprehends the depths of our doubt and despair, and loves us anyways.   And someday, from that place of authentic need, and honest despair, we will come to a place of deep, authentic, intimate praise.
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Psalm 40: 1-3

If you liked this post, will you take a moment to follow me on facebook, twitter, or instagram? And thank you for reading my words, I'm honoured.

Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is a lie. (And Grace is the Truth)

Nobody pulls themselves up by their bootstraps

I was a new wife and mom, still feeling the sting of the uglier turns in my own story of grace, desperate to connect with other mom's in my church. I sat at a 16 dollar breakfast buffet I couldn't afford and listened as they talked about pool cleanings and dealer warranties and other things that didn't mean much to me and my young one-income family.

The conversation turned to homelessness, and together the table of otherwise godly women spoke harshly of homeless people in our own town, of friends and neighbours who were struggling with poverty, mental health issues, broken relationships and substance abuse. Why can't they just pick themselves up by their bootstraps and act right, like so-and-so did? And why should they get free help when everyone else had to earn their way. I cringed inside, and then I cried.

I explained through tears that I've been the sin scarred addict making bad choice after bad choice. Their harsh words were directed at me.

I've learned a lot since that day at the overpriced buffet. I've learned that I must speak with grace to the graceless or else I quickly become a hypocrite. I've learned that sometimes people speak from their culture and not their hearts. I've learned not to cry at fancy restaurants, for the most part. And I've learned to forgive. But I still cringe when I hear the word "bootstraps."

Our culture values independence, self sufficiency. Any need for people, community, help is seen as weakness.

But we are a God-sufficient people. And he made us to need each other. The truth is, not one of us has fixed ourselves. None of us have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps.

The self-made man is a lie. You and I? We had people who spoke life giving words of love and encouragement into us. Or maybe we had people who picked us up when we fell down, set boundaries, challenged us, invited us in, prayed for us. We are all broken, sin-scarred people. The fact that our own struggles and hurts and choices haven't left us on the sidewalk in desperate need is the grace of God in our lives, not our own doing.

We are a people of grace. Scandalous, unfathomable grace. We have received something infinitely better than what we deserve. And we don't receive things so abundantly from the hand of God so that we can hoard them up. We receive so that we can give away. That includes grace.

We are the bootstraps. If our brothers and sisters in this world are to lift themselves up out of poverty or despair or homelessness or addiction or any difficulty by their bootstraps, then you and I need to be the bootstraps. The something sturdy to hold on to, the friend who forgives, the warm place to turn, the physical help, the emotional support, the 3 am phone call and the spare change in the bucket. Let us be the bootstraps.

Not because we have it all together. Not because we have it all figured out. But because there are people who have been, and still are, that support in our own lives. Because we had bootstraps when we needed them most.

Because ultimately there is no "us" and "them", just people experiencing poverty in different areas of their life in this broken world. We are all in need.

And because it is in a community of open need that we find Christ moving among us.

Friends, this is what we need to know about bootstraps: it is impossible to stand up holding onto the loops on the backs of your boots. But in community, together, we do the impossible everyday. When we stand together with one another we create the space where miracles happen and lives are changed. We become the bootstraps.

Let's lift one another up.

Will you take a moment to follow me on facebook, twitter, or instagram? And thank you for reading my words, I'm honoured.

8 Small Things Nearly Everybody Needs to Hear More Often.

Aqua Wood Heart

1. I love you.  You matter to me.

2. Come.  You are invited.  Let's meet for coffee.  Join me.

3. I'm here for you.  Let me help with that.  Let's do this together.

4. You are not alone.

5. This is for you.  Here, take mine. Make yourself at home.

6. You're doing a great job.  That thing you secretly fear you are screwing up? You're really doing great.

7. I 'm proud of you.  Here is what I admire about you. You inspire me.

8. There is hope.  For whatever you are struggling through right now, big or small, there is hope.

Can I dare you to say each one of these to someone who needs them today?

Will you take a moment to follow me on facebooktwitter, or instagram? And thank you for reading my words, I'm honoured.