When You’re Just Living An Ordinary Life

 

I spend my life picking up socks.

That’s not strictly true, of course.  There’s dirty silverware and cups, desiccated vegetables and hardened play dough. There’s Duplo blocks and train sets and dinosaurs and dolls.  There’s throw blankets and throw pillows (which get…don’t you know…thrown.)  Did I mention socks?

It’s pretty mundane, this life of ours.  Swim lessons, play dates, and laundry.  Grocery shopping and the play ground and library, and lots of books and puzzles and singing things on television.  And if you know me at all, you might know that I’m kind of a move-on-to-the-next-thing kind of a gal.

I want to know the point of it all, because honestly?  It all starts to feel a bit pointless after a while.

The mess, the toys, the socks just keep coming.  Do you know what I mean?  My people need food, and the dishes need washing, and the toilet needs scrubbing again…and again…and again.

It’s an endless cycle of doing what’s needed, but it’s not exactly earth shaking.  I find my confidence shaken, my certainty that I’m really contributing anything of value in this life…well, shaken.  There are nuclear physicists and trauma surgeons and even my own Superman climbs mountains and carries people off of them.  I can find their place in the strata of usefulness, but when it comes to quantifying the usefulness of a sock-picker-upper?

I’m not so impressed.

It’s only when I look in the Gospels and see Jesus affirming the ordinary that my pulse begins to settle.  He meets people in the sweat and grime of their hustling lives, pinpoints their exact area of need, and then?  Then, when they repent and want to go change the world, He sends them home.  Live the difference.  Tell your people what God did for you.

Yes, occasionally, God takes someone from the dust and orbits them into national ministry.  But for every one of those glittering stars that the whole world knows, there are tens of thousands of faithful, ordinary, sock-picker-uppers.  Simple people who just tell it to their kids, live it out in the PTA meetings, in the break room, in the grocery store checkout line.  (Seriously, is that NOT a test of your Christian character?)

If you and I are loving our people the best that we can, even if it’s by picking up socks, that’s sanctified work.  Really.

Maybe we don’t need more epic and best-ever.

Maybe the truly rare stuff in life is just mundane, everyday faithfulness, made starkly beautiful with great love.

And when you really want to change the world, God is faithful to open up opportunities right in the middle of your ordinary.

I have a friend who’s homeschooling her 3 girls, runs the local 4-H program, mentors single moms, just completed her foster parent certification…and is gathering supplies for relief efforts of refugees in Syria.

Another friend read a good book on parenting and asked some moms at church if they wanted to read it through and send a quick note of encouragement to another mom each week for 4 weeks.  Sounds simple, right?  Friends, by the time she was done, she had 40 people signed up. 

Even simpler, one of the most life-changing people I’ve ever known is my BFF’s mom.  She had plenty on her plate, but she always made the effort to encourage her daughter’s and my friendship.  I loved going over to their house.  She always had a smile, a hug, and time to let 2 girls take over her kitchen to make a tea party.  She let us stay up as late as we wanted, sleep in till noon, and let the chores slide so that we’d have more time together.  It doesn’t really get any simpler than that, does it?  Her example shines bright in my life decades later.  I want that kind of a home.

I want to share that kind of lifegiving love with as many people as I can.  That, to me, is Jesus.

You don’t have to go brave the jungles of South America to shine the light of the Gospel (unless that’s where God calls you!)  Shine bright right here at home.

Love the ones you’re given – your own family, your coworkers, your neighbors, your church, your kid’s friend.  It’s love that makes all the difference, isn’t it, friends?

You really can’t minimize the impact of a faithful woman who loves Jesus and people with all of her heart.

Even if all she ever does is pick up socks.

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When God Does What You’d Never Expect

Imagine you’re a good Jewish girl, just going about your day.

It’s another hot one, the Palestinian sun searing through your roughly woven tunic and trickling sweat down your itching back.  Just another day, like any other in the 400 years of silence since YWH last spoke to His people.

It’s the silence that breeds doubts like bacteria, infecting every thought, every ritual, every waking moment.  If He is silent, then He must…surely…be angry.  And if you grow up under the spiked caliga of Roman oppression, surely, SURELY, God is not only angry…but disgusted.  Why wouldn’t He be?  You are the lowest of the low, the scorn of all the known world.  Even other Jews view you with a lip curled in disgust.

The water you haul from the communal well every day weighs your shoulders like the impossible burden of commands, rituals, and observances you follow because that’s what good Jewish people do.

You do what’s expected.  Period.

No, it’s never enough, but maybe…even though you live in a redneck town in the backwater of nowhere…maybe, you can keep YWH from consuming you.  Or hope that He really has forgotten you.

And then, in the suffocating heat, silence shatters with an angel’s voice, and everything you thought you knew about God shatters too.

He sees past the dirt and the flies, and the ignorance, all the way to your aching heart, and He knows.  He knows how you’ll never be enough, do enough, say it right.  How you’re just a filthy, despised, oppressed WOMAN who doesn’t count…and He sends an angel to say the last thing you’d expect:

“Greetings, highly favored one!  The Lord is with you!”

A sob catches in your throat as you look around the barren hut, rank with the smell of animals and sweat.  God, here?  Me, favored?  Because, you’re not Moses, or David, or even Queen Hadassah.  The weight of hell slips off your shoulders as heaven presses close, and for the first time in your backbreaking life, you don’t have to do it all, be it all, or get it all right.  Because God…comes to you.

He chooses…YOU.

Not the richest, or the prettiest, or the smartest.  Just an ordinary girl in a stinking mud hut in the middle of nowhere, forever caught up in the great story of redemption.

God does what you don’t expect.

He comes to our weakness, our vulnerability, and as we fracture into a million pieces, wracked by the million ways we don’t measure up, He says what we’d never once expect:

Blessed are you who mourn, for you will be comforted.  (Matthew 5:3)

It really never was about getting it right, doing it all, or saying it perfect.

It was coming to the bald truth that we can’t, and God loves us still.  He covers over our inadequacies, because that’s what love does.

Redemption, bold-faced grace…it’s here, and yes, YOU can be caught up in the redemption story…even (especially) if you’re just kind of ordinary.  Even if you’re the one who can’t get it right for the life of you.  Even if you’re disgusting and humiliated, even then…He sees with a jaw-dropping kind of tenderness.

Jesus, the Messiah, came not only to make a way for us to God…but to show us the face, the nature, the very heart of God.  He chooses ordinary ones, deeply cracked with flaws.

It’s our nature to exalt the pretty, the popular, the rich.  It’s His nature to lift the poor, the needy, the ugly and forgotten ones, and set them with kings.

We discount the quiet, the small, the mundane…and yet, that is the very DNA of the Kingdom of God.

God comes to mud huts and forgotten people.  He comes to hospital rooms and dark alleyways, cramped apartments in the ghetto, and desolate canyons in the middle of nowhere.  He comes on the sweaty days, the achingly cold ones, the dreary rain-soaked afternoons, and the sun-splashed mornings.  He comes when we’re on top of the world, and even more noticeably, when we’re anything but.

He comes how you’d never expect, saying what you’d never think He’d say.  He comes in an unexplained pregnancy, in the disorienting fog of sleep deprivation, in the pain of an illness or a searing loss.  He comes when you’re living under the soles of oppression, when you’re just trying to make it through another day full of ordinary chores.  He comes hushed when your soul’s so achingly crushed that you can’t even find the words.  And somehow, He gives the words, and He gives Himself, and you make it through because even when you’re not enough, He is.  (Psalm 94:17-19).

And yes, He comes in rainbows and smiles and flowers, but He can’t be limited to just the pretty and fun stuff, because that isn’t life.  He comes to our mundane, tangled up, ordinary lives, and He shows us that even in this, we’re the favored ones.  And yes, even in this, He is here.

It feels a bit like rejoicing, because the King…He chose YOU.  To live with you, to love you, to pick you.

And all that you thought you knew begins to shatter.

Grace, peace, and only-HE-is-enough,

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The Most Important Work

Mark Chapter 2 opens with something that bothers me just a little bit.

There’s this paralyzed man who can’t get to Jesus, so his friends make a hole in the roof and lower him down to be healed. And Jesus takes one look at him – his withered legs, his scared and hopeful eyes, the pieces of plaster and thatch in his hair and clothes from his undignified entrance – and He says the most un-obvious thing.

“Your sins are forgiven.”

Hold the phone!!! What???

What I forget – and maybe we all do? – is that our most urgent need is forgiveness, our deepest problem is never our circumstances, but rather our sinfulness.

I get lost in the whirlwind of heartbreak that clogs my newsfeed on social media, and the needs that flood my inbox. I find my list more urgent than my children, the (sometimes overwhelming) work of running a household easier by far than delving into emotional accessibility.

And I think – maybe I’m just not cut out for “holy” work.  I can do far better than disciple.  Contrastingly, there are those who can dream the day away, delve deeply into everyone’s emotions, write poetry that would make angels weep…but don’t lift a finger to handle the overflowing laundry hamper, the work deadlines, the empty refrigerator.  But isn’t Jesus-living something of both?  After His startling statement of forgiveness, Jesus heals the man’s legs, too. The former paraplegic walks out of that house with strong legs and a clean soul.

Healing a broken body is undoubtedly sanctified work, but healing a soul is even more precious. You can fix a finite body for a few decades, but the real work is eternal. Jesus never lost sight of that.  So often, I forget to blend the two – practical help with eternal significance.  We see it here in Mark 2: It’s possible to work holy and worship practically – to live a life that encompasses the temporal and the spiritual.  To take a messy interruption like the roof falling in and broken lives landing in the middle of a beautiful sermon…and turn it into opportunity.

The most important work is not necessarily curing world hunger or creating the next vaccine (although, if God gifts you to fight those battles, YES! Go do it!).  The most important work is the stuff in front of us, but not just the obvious needs.  It’s doing the glaringly obvious things, but first…peeling back the layers to the hidden needs, the soul wounds, and bringing the healing of Christ in every way we can.

Sin is always the most painful part of anyone’s narrative.

We tend to forget this.  Because we get snagged on the obvious – the crippling paralysis of ugly factors leads us to think that if we could just fix this ONE thing…that life would be bearable again.  Mark 2 is a clear reminder that temporal problems are always secondary.  Always?  Yes, always.

You can see this principle echoed throughout Scripture as we are reminded that because of Jesus, we can always rejoice.  Yes, our current situation might be utterly bleak, but the blackest of our problems is taken care of forever.  Circumstances can blind us to the reality that God’s deepest act of love is His rescue mission to each of us – and that we should never take lightly the truth of justification by grace.  When you’re staring heartbreak in the face, no matter the cause…don’t forget that all your sins, every one is forgiven by God.

This is helpful to remember, not just about our own lives, but also about others’.  When we see people within the Biblical frame of reference – eternal souls housed in a temporal body – it places into perspective the ways that they have already been helped by God, and emphasizes the importance of our call to help them on both levels.

There is a world of hurt, and broken, and messy people.  And there’s plenty we can do to help, both physically and spiritually.  The most Christ-like work is always a blend of the two: tending to souls and meeting temporal needs.

Don’t ever minimize the work you’ve been called to do. More than just speaking truth over a hurting world, or just meeting a temporary need, God calls us to do BOTH.

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Heaven For Real People

I’ve been thinking a whole lot about heaven recently.

Because, honestly, this world is a tough place.

A family friend is fighting for his life in a Boston hospital.  Other friends are facing all kinds of trials – difficult relationships, divorce, single parenthood, losing a child, depression and psychosis, debilitating health problems, kids that have been abused…the list goes on and on.  It’s tough to keep hope alive with a broken heart.

So, when you sit there in a hard plastic hospital chair holding your tears back, the hope of heaven becomes a precious thing.  This life?  It can be hell.

And because this planet is all we know, it’s easy to forget that heaven is real.  Maybe, then, it’s a gift to be cracked open and vulnerable, to ache with longing for a perfect world where “every tear will be wiped away.”  If the suffering that fractures our hearts drives us deep into the hope of eternity…then it’s not for nothing.
When your heart breaks for the brokenness in this world, in another person, in your own story…GOOD, because we haven’t arrived yet.  Not by a long shot.  In fact, Jesus points to the hope of heaven as a reality that can fuel our days here on earth.  (John 14).

And yet, are you bored by the whole idea of heaven?  I was.

Aimlessly floating on a cloud in some dreamy place for all of eternity doesn’t really excite me.  Honestly, the idea of a million-year nap is WAY MORE EXCITING TO ME.  Stretched out and sleeping for as long as I want?  Deal!  But really…what are we looking forward to, if it isn’t anything better than a good day here on earth?  Friends, I have great news:

Heaven is to earth what a 10 course meal is to a greasy sack full of fast food.  There’s just no comparison.

We’ll see that the junkie’s high and the gambler’s rush and the sex addict’s orgasms and the politician’s power addiction and the celebrity’s fame and the gourmand’s delight is nothing but a flitting shadow, a weak and anemic thing compared to the pleasures of heaven.  Our problem, C.S. Lewis reminds us, is not that we are too difficult to satisfy, but that “we are too easily pleased.”¹

Heaven won’t be the clichéd strumming-on-harps-endlessly bit.  I can guarantee it.  It won’t be what you think…  It will be the best thing you can imagine, times 100 million.  Your synapses will explode with colors, sensations, sounds, smells, tastes that will blow away anything this earth can offer.

This is the great hope of the Christian – whether we live for a hundred years or mere moments. 

  • When this world is filled with disappointment, we don’t have to despair.  We’re not home yet.
  • When people let us down and relationships disappoint…don’t forget, we’re still in a fallen world with sin-crushed people.  Better things are in store, because…we’re not home yet.
  • When it feels like a marathon, or a battle, or some endurance test…it is.  This life is growing things in us like grit and courage and compassion and resilience and genuine love for others.  But it’s not our final destination.  We’re just not home yet.

If we want to know what heaven will be like, we need only look at the character of God to get a good idea of what’s in store.  In Scripture, we are given a picture of a God who is wildly creative, profoundly compassionate, deeply relational, passionately just, and categorically magnificent.  He is authoritative.  He is kind.  He does not suffer pompous fools lightly.

He’s the beauty in the sunrise and the strength in a soldier’s arms.  He’s the gentleness in a mama’s lullaby, the sweet vulnerability of soft newborn cheeks, the fierce wildness of an untamed frontier. 

Hang in there, friends.  There is so much beauty and joy and utter delight ahead, just waiting for the Christ follower.  A day is coming – what a glorious day! – when we’ll see it all fully, sharply, distinctly.  We will see with the utter clarity we’ve missed all our earthly lives that Jesus is beautiful. 

That His heart was always for us, and that He is all goodness, and that there is nothing, NOTHING in all the heavens and the earth that can ever come anywhere close to Him.

Heaven is more than a final destination – it is a the climax of a fully restored relationship with God.  Heaven is beautiful, because Jesus is beautiful.  Heaven is only for the Christ follower, because Jesus is the ONLY way to know God, the only way to know lasting peace, and the only way to get to heaven.

Hospital beds, messy relationships, and all the cruelty of this life will be swept away in one moment and we’ll see the face of God as clearly as He’s seen us all along.

And until that day arrives, let’s be busy about our Master’s work – doing justly, loving mercy, walking humbly before Him. (Micah 6:8).  Because some day, when you’ve run your race well, fought the last fight, and endured to the bitter end…
 
You’ll be HOME.
Grace, peace, and better-things-in-store,

 

¹C.S. Lewis: The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses.

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When The World Is A Scary Place To Raise Kids

He was wearing next to nothing…

…and that’s with a generous measure of optimism.  We were driving home from church, and my 6 year old’s gasp made my gaze whip to the rearview mirror.  She was staring, horrified, at the rider of a motorcycle on our left rear bumper.  The rider was garbed in a head scarf, with no other clothing visible.

“Mama, why would he do that???”

It’s not the first time I’ve heard that question, and it won’t be the last.  I’m more than sure of that.  We’ve talked about a broad range of topics, and there’s plenty more to come.  I cringe when I think about this world my kids are entering.  If there were bubble-wrap suits for their souls, you can believe that they would be wearing them!

Sheltering…it’s my go-to response.

Cuddle those love bugs up on my lap and keep them little and blissfully ignorant.  But that’s pure selfishness (not to mention, it won’t work.)  Friends, we can monitor their friendships, curtail their electronics, sanction their reading, and even homeschool these babies of ours, but there is no sheltering them…not when the drive from church involves leering, nearly-naked people.  Not when hot button issues splash across the front pages of checkout aisles and on the airwaves.  Not when the latest fairy tale movie turns into a tug-of-war between opposing factions.  Not when even close relationships disappoint and are pock marked with imperfections.

No, sheltering isn’t practical, nor does it recognize our children as future world-changers.

They are people with a call on their lives, a mission to fulfil, and dreams that will almost certainly scare me witless.  They need to be protected from issues too weighty for their small shoulders, but only for a short season.  Faster than I am ready, we need to talk about gritty things.  They need to know that falling short is the human condition and that grace is the only thing that sluices through any amount of sediment.  They need to know that we all sin and struggle mightily.

They need to know that no heart is immune to foolishness, that no relationship is perfect, that people will disappoint and be cruel, but that Jesus is bedrock solid.

More than being sheltered, they need truth.  It’s what sets people free, and isn’t that, more than all the hovering and fretting, what they need?  If I get to the heart of the matter, I want my precious ones to be free.  I want them to soar, weightless and joyful into a world that is cold and disappointing, and I want the truth to be the wind under their wings.  And as we preach the Gospel to them, we imbed it on our own hearts.  There will be talks about the headlines in the future.  The bombings, the shootings, the stabbings, the ways children are exploited and abused.  We’ll need to talk about the horrors of Hitler and slavery and man’s sickening brutality to man throughout history.

If I send them out, sheltered from all that is negative, they have no immunity.  They need to be prepared for the dazzling and terrible things they will encounter in this world.  They need to know that evil is real, but that they don’t have to be afraid.  John 16 should be every parent’s speed dial when it comes to horrifying headlines and fear of the future.  When all is said and done, Jesus’ words in verse 33 say it best: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NIV).  When they’re little, we can lay the groundwork for those later talks.  The playground gives myriad examples of people being foolish or hurtful or selfish.  Heck, 5 minutes in our living room is plenty of opportunity to showcase all of those attributes.  Because, honestly?

The enemy isn’t out there, some wild-haired extremist or creepy guy with too many tattoos…the enemy is in your house, seducing you into believing that if you just do it right (whatever it is)…then everything will be peachy keen.

The enemy is in my superiority complex, my self-hatred, my secrets.  The enemy is in anything that tempts us to forget that Jesus is the way, the only way to ever get anything even halfway right.  Sheltering is ineffective, because although there is rampant evil in dark alleys and lurid magazines and locked behind prison walls…evil is as close as the nearest human heart: yours, mine, and even theirs.  Sheltering fails to recognize that we’re all terminal with sin, that Jesus is the only antidote for all of us – for the prim housewife and the tattooed biker, for the Hollywood star and the Hindu priest, for the homeless and the hedonist, the terrorist and the model citizen.

Speaking the truth all through the years about human tendencies, about how much we all need Jesus, about how prone we all are to forgetting all the important things and focusing on all the unimportant things…this can be even better than sheltering.  We can relate the Gospel to skinned knees and snobby kids, and it is equally relevant to nuclear warfare and genocide.  We MUST integrate what we’re seeing, (whether it’s unclothed men on motorcycles or hurtful words or coveting our neighbor’s sandbox toys) to the truth in Scripture that ultimately points back to God.  This is what it means to, “Talk about [God’s law] when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” (Deuteronomy 6:7-8 NIV).  This is the dialogue that can continue through the years as they grow and mature – and it needs to. 

Because when the world falls in on them, whether it’s in 6th grade or their 60’s, this is their shovel and their shelter: the sturdy grace of a risen Savior.  You and I won’t always be there, hovering and editing and protecting…but Jesus will never forsake those kids, just as He’ll never forsake us.

He’s all the shelter that they – and we – will ever need.

 

 

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