How one American suburbanite is trying to foster a healthy local economy

This is my neighborhood. We are people trying to get away from the city just enough to escape the rules and regulations, but not so much that we have drive too far to get to Target. We’re American consumers, blue-collar workers, homemakers, nurses, police officers, small business owners, veterans and retirees.

Listening to Wendell Berry this evening got me thinking about the culture I live in. The culture I’ve built. The economy I’m part of.

I buy clothes with tags that say they were made in Taiwan, Indonesia and China. I buy milk, ground beef and chicken thighs at Sam’s club. My neighbors, like me, probably give little thought to where our food and cloths come from. But we’re also a people trying to take the dirt on our little 1-2 acre plots of desert and produce something good from it.

My neighbor has a wonderful garden, milks dairy goats, makes cheese and all kinds of wonderful dishes from her small homesteadish place.

We, like most of our neighbors, have chickens, and very rarely have to buy eggs from the grocery store. We also have goats and make soap from the goat milk we’ve stored over the years.

In Berry’s essay, “Total Economy,” he writes how I, and those in my neighborhood have given proxy to corporations to provide ALL of our food, clothing and shelter, even our entertainment, education and care for our children, sick and elderly. And he’s right.

But I am seeking to live in a repentant posture from this proxy.

Why? Because I believe I was made by God to, “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28) and be my brothers keeper (Genesis 4:9), and love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:39), in a way that reflects God’s goodness.

I don’t believe I was made to let corporations do all of the subduing for me, do all the caring for my children, the sick in my community and the elderly in my life, so that I can do all the consuming.

I believe God made me to do the good, small and local work of all those efforts.

I can’t, of course, produce everything I need to live in this time and place on my little one acre lot. I can’t do all the caring for my children, or tend to the needs of al the elderly and infirm in my life. But I can do what I can do.

My next effort to push up through the concrete proxy I’ve given to corporations is to learn to plant something my family and I can eat, visit my neighbors, and humbly give thanks for those who make my clothes, package my chicken and care for my children and elderly neighbors.

Conspiracy and 5 Christian Responses When Suspicions Rise

young troubled woman using laptop at home
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

When you shake a cup, what comes out reveals what’s been in there all along. The global corona virus pandemic has brought out the suspicion, anger and conspiracy theories in many.

I’ve been thinking about why so many of us are given to believing or promoting conspiracy theories. Folks who do so seem to be self-proclaimed prophets with their memes and YouTube videos. Their practice is name-calling, blame-shifting, complaining and crying “corruption” at every news story or government decision. Their gospel seems to be, “Repent of being dumb sheep who listen to science and news. Turn and become suspicious! Watch this enlightened person on YouTube or take this alternative supplement or treatment, or follow the politician I approve of.”  They peddle their own sources and accuse those who don’t agree with them of being gullible or worse.

Many of these folks call themselves Christians. And I’m not say they aren’t. My question is, how should the Christian approach news, disease, government and disaster? With suspicion? Anger? Blame-shifting? Slander? Pride? Arguing? These kinds of responses are not fruits of the Spirit. They aren’t Christ-like. They aren’t spiritual gifts. Those given to these practices should turn from them for the sake of love, for the gospel and for Christ’s name sake.

I have to begin by confessing my personality type would rather ignore all bad news and hide myself away in a convent somewhere, where I wouldn’t have to deal with people’s problems. My tendency to be passive and avoid conflict isn’t a fruit of the Spirit either. I am not here to say that evil should be ignored, or that justice should not be called for. I am not saying wisdom should not be sought or that conflict should be avoided. What I am saying is that scripture, Jesus and the saints who have suffered much worse than we, point us to a godly way of responding to news, government, disease and disaster. And it’s not passivity, nor is it to spread suspicion or promote a conspiracy theory.  Ed Stetzer is right, spreading conspiracy theories is hurting our witness and is foolish. So when suspicions arise, when bad news comes, when you find yourself angry about what the government is doing, what should the Christian do?

Check your eye for logs. I’ve found that the things I’m most upset about, whether in my personal relationships, or in relation to the public or government about social issues or moral issues, usually are the result of my own idols, my own faulty way of seeing the world and my own attempts to self-preserve. When Jesus taught us how to deal with people we see error in, he told us to first examine ourselves. When the corona-virus pandemic began to impact your own personal way of doing life, your bank account, your health, etc., was your response anger, blame-shifting, suspicion? Did you turn to YouTube? Did you use God’s word to scratch your itch? Ask yourself why? Why are you angry? Is it because you feel your freedom has been taken away? Do you fear being out of control? When the news is bad, or the government makes a decision that imposes on your way of life, don’t examine the news, or the government first. Examine yourself. Take scripture, look at Jesus, look at other Christians who’ve suffered well throughout history and hold it up to your own life first.

Humble yourself. The book of 1 Peter is addressed to suffering Christians. The Christians Peter wrote to suffered at the hands of a corrupt government because they were Christians. If what’s driving you to conspiracy theories, anger, or withdrawal is your belief that the government or some evil power is corrupt and out to destroy your way of life, look to the folks in 1 Peter. That was their reality. “Even if,” is one of the phrases Peter uses to encourage married women in that tumultuous time to submit themselves to their husbands, even in that culture, even if their husband’s didn’t believe the gospel of Christ. “Even if,” should be our mantra. Even if our government is corrupt (Newsflash- it is. Has there ever been a government without corruption? Are there humans in power? Then there’s corruption in power), even if there is a secret society of power trying to poison us or oppress us, 1 Peter tells us, to submit to those in authority the way his sons and daughters do. We humble ourselves. We are sons and daughters of God. We are heirs with Christ. Nothing we suffer here compares to what God has for us in Christ. So if the government is corrupt and we suffer, let us suffer as little Christs (Christ-ians), not as those promoting suspicion, anger, rebellion, pride or slander. We will not be under corruption forever. The One who rules the powers we cannot even see will, at the proper time, lift us up.

Complain to God. When I find myself getting angry, accusing, becoming cynical or suspicious of those who’ve offended or hurt me I often hear this, “Sheila, your problem isn’t with him. Your problem is with me! Come to me. Bring your complaints to me.” I don’t think we do this enough. At least I don’t. It’s no sign of moral courage to lash out with complaints, gossip, anger or suspicion when we’ve been offended, hurt or feel threatened by another. In fact, we don’t usually even take our complaints directly to the people we’re offended by. Usually we take it to someone else, or social media. It’s my conviction that when I do this, it’s because I’ve lost sight of who can make a difference in this situation. The Bible describes a good and merciful God who is completely sovereign. If our circumstances are such that we suffer, there is freedom and comfort in taking our complaints to the one who rules over our circumstances. He may change our circumstances. He may not. But He will not leave us unchanged. He promises to use every circumstance for our good and his glory. He promises to redeem it all. So we should cry, “How long!” and “Where are you?” and “Don’t you see this evil happening?” and “What are you going to do?” We should take all our complaints to the God of the Bible and throw them his way.  There is no conspiracy where God is. He rules. And we will suffer. But if we cast our complaints on him and seek refuge in Him, we can rest.

Seek Wisdom.The thing with conspiracy theories and those who promote suspicion is there’s a claim to wisdom that the general population isn’t privy to. It’s a secret wisdom, that comes from the person claiming the masses are duped. But wisdom in the Bible is never a secret. The personification of wisdom in Proverbs cries out in the streets. She’s on the news. She’s heard. She speaks and points others to the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom is not suspicious, it’s, “…open to reason…” As we seek out what to do in this pandemic, submitting ourselves to earthly authorities, examining our own hearts, running to God with our concerns, we should let the spirit of wisdom guide us. And it will look like this, “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”  (James 3:17-18)

Fight the Good Fight.  1 Timothy 6 there is a description of a person teaching false teachings when comes to the gospel. It says, “...he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions...” Although I’m sure that when I am given to suspicion, and when folks turn to conspiracy theories we may not be conscious of it, but we are spreading, perpetuating false teaching. If we find in ourselves a “craving for controversy,” it may be that we need to repent of being false teachers and turn to do the good works God created us to do. There is so much good to do. Even right now, with social distancing and in financial hardship, even more right now. The end of that passage in 1 Timothy 6 tells the man or woman of God what to do. “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.” (1 Timothy 6:11) There is a fight the Christian should fight. It is not over 5G, or the origin of the corona virus, or vaccines, or government structure even. Our fight should be to live by faith and in so doing we should be making disciples of Christ, not disciples of our personal beliefs about any controversial thing.

We are being tested. This pandemic has shaken our earthen vessels. And out of us has come stuff we need to clean out of our cup. May God test us, purify us and make us useful for his kingdom, overflowing with joy, even in the midst of sorrow.

Where the beauty of God is found: Meditation on Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! -Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 ESV

Last summer, after a week long vacation with my family on the Mogollon Rim in eastern Arizona, I found myself pouting as we drove away from the beauty of Pine, Fir, Spruce, hidden lakes, quiet, sites of elk, bear and deer in the wild, and a visiting hummingbird on our cabin porch every morning. I knew we were heading back to the hot desert valley and “real” life where the everyday issues that arise from marriage, raising children, work, housekeeping, bills, friends, neighbors, family, church, etc. were going to have to be faced. My husband drove and I wallowed in pity as I stared out the car window watching the high elevation scenery give way to desert. Hot tears broke through and I found myself giving in to all my faithless thoughts. I squeaked out a prayer, “Help me Lord. I don’t want to go back.”

As I sat there crying and praying, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, “Sheila, you’re looking for beauty in nature and quiet, but I want you to find beauty in laying down your life for others. Relationships with others is where I’m at.

1 John 3:26 says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Yes all creation is pointing us to the majesty and power and beauty of God (Psalm 19:1-2), but only in the beauty of laying down our lives for others, being the ones who help our friends up when they fall, do we find the greatest image of the majesty, power and beauty of God: Jesus! Jesus laid down his life for us (John 10:11). He is the Friend of friends. He didn’t avoid people or the messes of relationships to reach some nirvana or peaceful place alone with God. He laid down his life daily in the hard things of relationships and ultimately at the cross giving us an example. And in his resurrection, giving us the power to follow his example.

Sometimes one feels better than two because it’s less messy. But the truth is we were not made to do life alone. In the pain of relationships we have the power of Christ in us, and his love compels us (2 Corinthians 5:14) to lift each other up and walk with each other through hard things. This is the evidence in the church and in the Christian’s life that we belong to Jesus. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).

Father, help me to surrender my life to you. Give me eyes to see your beauty and experience your peace not in isolating myself, but in following Jesus- laying down my life for others.

How should I order my life? Help for the drifter

woman sitting on brown wooden dock and holding mop
Photo by on

I struggle with what takes priority in my life. Maybe you don’t, but maybe you’re like me and it’s hard to decide what to do first, which direction you should be going, etc. I think about these things a lot.

When I pray, I ask God all the time, “Lead me?! Show me the way I’m supposed to go?” And I know for many that seems rediculous. They know. They have a family, or a job, or a mission in life that clearly guides them and they know what they’re supposed to be doing. But for folks like me, who see the value and perspective of so many different parts of our lives, we can either feel like letting the wind take us wherever it will, or hiding our heads in the sand listening to podcasts. (Can I get an amen from my fellow Enneagram 9’s?) Neither a good option.

If you’re a focused Christian you may want to be slapping me upside the head about now saying, “Pull yourself together girl! You’re a Christian! Your priorities should be clear!” And you’re right, they probably should be, but bear with me.

Many years ago, when my sails had caught the wind of the Titus 2 movement in the circle of Christianity where I was drifting, struggling with the very question I’m writing about now, I posted a diagram I believed better described the way the Holy Spirit was teaching me to order my life. It was in response to a list a popular blogger had posted instructing the Christian wife to order her life like this:

1. God
2. Husband
3. Children
4. Others

She cited Bible passages, but something just didn’t smell right about her advice. It set uneasy with me. I thought maybe it was just me- I was having a hard time accepting a Biblical model for how I should order my life. But as I searched the scriptures, and looked at Jesus, I couldn’t find this order anywhere. Not that God shouldn’t come first, or that if you put your kids before your spouse you’re not going to have trouble, or if you put others before God or your family you’re not going to have trouble… all that is true. But a list just feels like once you cross off the first thing on the list you can move on to the next. And you can’t move on from God. You can’t cross God off your list and move on.

In fact, Jesus said some very contraversial things about marriage and family in regards to a persons relationship with God. See Matthew 10:37

The trouble I have with the list is that God encomposes everything in our lives. Nothing comes before or after him. But in him, all things find their place. So I have this diagram modeling the order of life in him in my head.

Lists are great for tasks and terrible for relationships. You can’t mark relationships off a list. So for me, when picturing how Christ orders my life, the image has to be more organic. It’s not so neat, not so linear.

So I came up with this, with Jesus’ famous last words to his disciples and the only “first” Jesus spoke defining what I’m trying to picture here. You may be sniffing out something off about now like I did with that lady’s list years ago.  I’m sure there’s something wrong with this diagram.  I’m sure there are things missing, but the flow of what reminds me of a drum beat, a sort of heart with a rhythm, with a flow with a circular reach feels more like a model I can visualize.


“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

Jerusalem was home, it was the congregation of believers, it was where the Holy Spirit’s movement in the Christian began. But it didn’t stop there. It didn’t get marked off the list, rather it grew from there.

The direction of the Holy Spirit is to start with me, with you and move outward.

“Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive..” John 7:37-39 (emphasis mine)

The disciples were instructed to move from home, outward to the region where home dwelt, so the community and from there to “the ends of the earth” which in my diagram represents the global Church and world outreach. In the the life of the Holy Spirit this is growth, this is health, this is the organic order of life. We don’t get to check anything off the list and everything is growing in the rythm of, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33).

With sin in the mix in a fallen world, this isn’t gonna be pretty always. It’s gonna get messy. But with the Holy Spirit breathing life into our every movement, he will make something beautiful out of our messes. His faithful love will transform our weakness into a window displaying his glory.


Make Us Peacemakers In a Violent Land

On Sunday morning, while I was singing with hot tears streaming down my face, moved by the conviction that I don’t trust God’s no and longing for Him to help my unbelief, some of my brothers and sisters in this faith were violently plunged into the presence of Jesus amidst the terror of bullets, blood and screams. While they worshipped the goodness of our God a man given over to the schemes of the devil filled the room with death.  My heart can hardly take it.

This shooting brought my fears to light.  I’m afraid I’ll grow numb.  I’m afraid for my white male sons who statistically are more likely to commit such an atrocity.  I’m sickened by the violent culture in my country and I’m afraid I don’t know what to do! I want things to change!  
I’ve been casting those anxieties on God all day.  As I’ve cried and groaned and listened I see how violent, divided and dark the time we live in as American Christians is.  And these dark times are in the hands of the One who suffered for us.  He has us in this time, and in this nation to be peacemakers and truth-sayers, by reconciling and resisting.  Reconciling in laying down our lives to bring the peace of God to relationships.  And resisting evil, even unto suffering.
Jesus said, “

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Matthew 5:9-12

In a heated discussion with my husband about guns and laws and what needs to be done I yelled, “Someone is going to have to give up some of their rights!”  
People want the right to bear arms.  OK.  Well, if we do anything to change the way guns are legally “born” in this country, someone is going to cry foul and feel like their rights have been violated.  If we restrict based on mental-illness someone will cry foul about discriminating against people with a disability or violating the rights to privacy.  If we restrict based on kind or amount of weapon someone will cry foul about the second amendment.  But if we do nothing this will only be one of a string of massacres with guns in the United States.  
As I passionately voiced my opinion, concerned for my sons and for my neighbors,  I realized none of my rights would be violated if gun laws were imposed in a different or more stringent way than they are now.  I’m not a gun owner.  I’m not a gun person.  It’s not a hobby for me and I don’t feel the need to carry a weapon for protection.  I know many people who do and I know them to be kind, moral people who I trust.  I know they would feel some sense of their rights being infringed on if gun laws changed.  I know this is not a black and white issue.  But my thought is, as Christians in America, we should be the last people crying rights when it comes to guns.  
I wonder what it would be like if Americans who love and trust the Jesus who bore violence to save them laid down their guns and said, “We will be a people of peace even if we have to suffer the loss of our American right to bear arms.” But since I’m not one of the people who would have to say that I thought about Christ’s call on me to humble myself because I know who I am in Christ.  And my prayer was, “How would you have me lay down my ‘rights’ Lord?” 
The Governor of Texas in updating the public about the massacre at the church in Sutherland Springs said, “Every mom and dad… put your arm around your kid and given them a big hug and let them know you love them…”  And he went on to say we should go to our neighbors and find ways to help them.  It struck me as subtle but powerful.  As a Christian, Jesus beckons me to get off my phone, my computer… my agenda and sit with my teenage sons and listen and give them a back rub and look them in the eyes and plant the gospel in their hearts.   Jesus also beckons me to leave my comfortable four walls and go outside and be a good neighbor, on my street and in my city.  It’s messy out there.  People have messed-up lives.  But I will not be a peacemaker, as Christ compels me to be, by hiding in my home in the most violent, wealthy nation on earth.  Trying to hold onto my controllable, clean and tidy life (as if I had one) won’t keep my sons from evil.  The Governor pointed to a profound truth: hugging our children and helping our neighbors is one of the most powerful things we can do in such a violent culture.  
I am a Christian.  I live in the U.S., a nation where rights are valued and defended.  And I enjoy the benefit of those rights being defended.  But rights shouldn’t be an issue for me as a Christian.  I know I have no rights and yet have been given the right to be called a child of God and therefore have nothing to loose.  I don’t have any guns to lay down.  But I do have a life and resources.  I can plant my life in Jesus’ name in the lives of those around me with good news that brings lasting peace. I can pray for healing in my nation and a restraining of violence and evil, and trust my good God’s no. And I can be willing to suffer, even the loss of rights, for what is right.  
Oh Lord God.  You who raise up nations and bring others to nothing.  You are the source of all that is good and right.  You give authority and take it away.  You hear the cries of your children and you sometimes say no when we cry.  You speak and nature gives way.   And you’re silent and we ache and reel and wonder if you’re hearing, all the while you’re working your wonderful plans for our good and you’re glory.  Help Lord!  Help me and us weak, wimpy American Christians who don’t know how to suffer well.  Help us to lay down our phones and hug our kids.  Help us to leave our homes and help our neighbors.  Help us to resist evil and speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.  Help us to rejoice if we suffer because Jesus is living in us!  Make us shine here Lord.  Make us peacemakers in such a violent place.    

No Bootstraps To Grab

I’ve been sitting in the library for the past couple hours trying hard to answer a discussion question for my online class.  Doesn’t seem like a big deal.  It’s not.  But what is is depression.  Depression is a big deal.  It’s real.  Real as Oregon fog blocking the view of a breathtaking coast.  Maybe it’s cause I’m an Oregonian.  Probably not.  More likely it’s my genetic heritage and part of life in this broken world.  But it’s a reality that I walk into somedays.  Unwillingly.  But nevertheless it’s there.  
Depression is real.  People don’t like to talk about it.  I don’t either.  But it needs to be talked about more and more.  As a Christian, I have no holy potion that keeps me from facing it’s darkness.  But I do have a living God who has given me his precious word and shown me who he is in Christ.  This is the light I cry out for when depressions fog descends.  I can’t pull myself up by the bootstraps and feel better or muster up enough faith.  But I can call on the same God the Psalmist called on when he cried, “My heart throbs!  My strength fails me and the light of my eyes- it also has gone from me.” (Psalm 18)
As I was looking out at the nice sunny day with puffy eyes, a heavy body and burdened heart this poem came to me.  Maybe you can identify and cling to Jesus with me!
No Bootstraps To Grab
by Sheila Dougal
It’s sunny outside
A record high
In the Valley of the Sun
But in my mind
It’s foggy and dull
A familiar low
In the Valley of the Shadow
May look nice
Facebook smiles
Twitter likes
But when the fog rolls in
Circumstances grow dim
I need a light
My feet in sight
Word of God
Light to my path
Fog can’t see in
Without faith solid
But faith is a gift
Can’t muster it up
No bootstraps to grab
Abba I plead
I won’t let up
It’s messy!
Like Jacob
Won’t let go till you bless me
But sunshine and rainbow
Aren’t my request
Just give me faith
To endure Depression’s test
Something real
A promise to hold
Shine light at my heels

a fly by the seat of my pants post on preparation

I was listening to a podcast by HopeWriters today.  They were talking about having a set aside writing day.  It’s ridiculous that I was so scandalized by the idea, but yeah, a writing day.  I would like that.  No, I would love that!  Seriously an entire day to write.  That would be better than a pedicure or manicure for me.

But then they got to talking about the reality that you need to plan and prepare for that day… it’s not going to be magically awarded to you by your fairy God mother.  Yep.  That’s the truth of anything I want to accomplish.  I have to plan and prepare.

I’m gonna do it.  I’m gonna plan a writing day.  But thinking about that got me thinking about how true the need to plan and prepare is for anything in life that you really want to do.  Do you want to be more fit?  Plan and prepare.  Do you want to have more time alone with your spouse?  Plan and prepare.  Do you want to start eating healthier?  Plan and prepare.  Do you want to further your education?  Plan and… well, you get the idea.

My first assignments this week for my first week of the online RN to BSN program at Grand Canyon University involved writing out my greatest fears in furthering my education.  When I thought about it (other than Algebra), my greatest fear is being overwhelmed.  And that fear really involves my greatest weakness: time management. I don’t really know if it’s time management.  It’s distractibility.  Or procrastination.  Or poor planning.  Or saying yes to too many requests.  Or trying to do too much in one day.  Whatever all that is called, it creates anxiety in me.  And the only thing that keeps the anxiety tame is planning and preparing.  I can’t control the unexpected in a day or week.  And I think I function pretty well in a flying by the seat of my pants mode.  But although I can function like that, and go wherever the day takes me, if I haven’t planned and prepared for I want to achieve in a day the anxiety builds and builds and builds.

For me, planning and preparing to face my fear of being overwhelmed involves lists, calendars, alarms, check off boxes, notes to self, etc.  Even still the reality of life is, lists and calendars and alarms are good things, but they won’t guarantee that what I’ve planned will happen.  This is where resting in the sovereignty of God comes in for me.

I don’t believe you should throw the baby of planning and preparing out with the bathwater of trusting in the sovereignty of God.  In fact, planning and preparing and then committing those plans and preparations to the Lord creates a humble stance of readiness to face whatever may come without being overwhelmed by the anxieties that come with unpreparedness and lack of planning.

This is true of the relationships I care about so much.  I’m 24 years in to a very trying marriage.  Ours are the trials that I’m sure many face.  In recent months my husband and I have taken a shoulder to shoulder stance with a mutual goal of being old and still married.  Granted, that shoulder to shoulder stance feels unequal at times, but the agreement of the goal were aiming for helps tremendously. Reaching that goal is requiring us to not hope that spontaneity will have us still married when our heads are covered in silver strands.  We’re realizing how intentional we both need to be on a day to day basis to plan and prepare to strengthen our bond.

Whether its the joy of writing, or facing the fears that come with going back to school as a middle-aged adult, or healing and strengthening a marriage, or raising sons to be men; God has not designed the life of faith in Christ to be like having a fairy God-Mother grant you magical wishes.  His ways are good, and practical and miraculous.  Like a seed, planted in the ground, dying to bring about new life.  Like a patient farmer planting and watering and waiting for God to make it grow.  Like a mom and wife planning and preparing to win a husband and raise men for God and get a higher degree and have a writing day.

 Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
 Without having any chief,
officer, or ruler,
 she prepares her bread in summer
and gathers her food in harvest.
-proverbs 6:6-8 

eyes on the Author- the every morning struggle to walk by faith

I don’t wake up full of vision and motivation.  Actually, what motivates me most is the idea that my french press and single-origin coffee from Guatemala are just minutes away from awaking my senses with it’s warm, toasty aroma.  And on those days when I get my stiff, puffy-eyed body out of bed and make my way to the cabinet to prep the press with my favorite coffee and find we’re out, I feel great motivation to get dressed and drive to the local store so I can hurry up and get back home before too much time has passed and get my coffee going.

Basically, coffee motivates me to get up in the morning.

Mixed in the grogginess between eyes open and that first cup of coffee I remember who I am.

I am not my own.  I am a Christian.  The weight of meaning in that word falls on me like gravity on the fledgling attempts of a young eagle to fly every morning.

I feel myself falling.  Falling. Squawking out a cry, “Help!  Help Lord!  I am yours. Let me hear your loving kindness in the morning lest I be like those who go down to the pit!”  Sometimes sooner, sometimes later, but never failing, my faithful Helper and Friend, my God, my Father, the one who made me a Christian and bought me out of slavery to the law of sin and death, he swoops down and lifts me up on his everlasting wings.

He’s teaching me to fly.  To soar on wings like eagles.  To walk and not grow weary.  To run the race set before me as a woman finding her identity in Christ, as wife to James in a difficult marriage, as a mother raising men, in a community and time full of the “treasures of Egypt“.  And when he finally lifts me up I see the wonder of who He is and what He’s done and what He’s doing in me, I can face the day.

I don’t always get a chance to reflect on the truth of what God has done in calling me his own daughter like today.  Usually the day marches on and I struggle to fix my eyes on the One who wrote this story. He’s the author of my faith, and since he is, he’s also the one who will finish the story he started in me.  He’s not an inconsistent blogger or an aspiring writer.  He’s the author of life, and the writer of faith, and the one who began this good work in me.  And he will be faithful to complete it.

Every morning the struggle is real.  And that’s no cliche.  I need to get my eyes on Jesus every morning and remember who I am, and the promise that He who began this good work in me will be faithful to complete it.  I need to remember that God gave me life in Christ and I am destined to be with him forever.  I need to remember because I’m called to die daily.  I’m called to follow Jesus in taking up my cross daily.  I’m not here for my best life now.  My life is not all about me and getting all the pleasure and comfort and ease I can squeeze out of the day and people in my world.  I’m a Christian, my best life is already and not yet.  I taste it here in every little resurrection, when I deny bitterness and embrace forgivenesss, when I deny ease and choose serving, when I feel the sorrow and the pain of my own sin and others’ sins and rejoice in the promise that the One I love, who I have never seen, He will make all things new.

If I could just get my eyes on the Author today I’ll be OK.

“…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith,” – Hebrews 12:1-2

thoughts from a Mother’s Day Sunday

Yesterday being Mother’s Day, me being a mom and a having a mom and knowing moms and women who long to be moms and/or grieve the loss of their children, it was a day full of thoughts turned prayers.

Yesterday also being the last Sunday in a series on marriage at my church, and me being married and knowing firsthand the unique kinds of trials marriage brings, it was a day of reflection turned worship.

About a week ago I read Psalm 27 and it grabbed me.  I’ve been mulling it over ever since.  One particular verse has me thinking about my one thing.

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.

What’s the one thing I am asking God for and seeking after?  One thing.  Mostly its been for my marriage.  Or my kids.  The two things yesterday hit on.  When I read Psalm 27 I hear the writer exclaiming that in the midst of fearful troubles and rejections, his one thing was a triune request: To be in God’s presence all his life, to see the beauty of God and to be able to talk with God and may requests of him.  If I’m honest at first reading I feel like that’s just out of reach.  How can I say my one thing is all about God when my kids are struggling and I’m exhausted and my marriage is so troubled?  How could the Psalmist say this when danger and fears and rejection by his own parents surrounded him?

As I listened yesterday to the preaching of the message that God has ransomed us from slavery to sin and idolatry, like Hosea ransomed Gomer, the mental image of the Son of God crying out, “I buy you back!  I buy you with my own life!” while I was shamefully sold-out to sin flashed through my mind. I heard 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

And then Psalm 27 started making more sense.  There’s only one thing I really need in the midst of fears and suffering: Christ.  If he didn’t buy me back to God I would never be able to run to him as a refuge.  I wouldn’t be able be in his presence daily or see his endless beauty or talk with him and seek his answer.

In the midst of parenting trials and marriage troubles, where fears and the pain of betrayal and rejection and sins threaten to destroy, the one thing I need more than anything is Christ.  And when I lift my eyes off this storm around me and believe the promise that he his with me, and dwell on the beauty of his glory, and seek his face and his counsel, everything is set right.  The storm may rage, but with the psalmist I can say:

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!

Chasing Normal?

My sister once told me she believed God appointed to me the hard things I’m walking through because he is using my life to encourage other people to trust and obey him.

I want that, but I also confess I don’t.

Part of me just wants a “normal” life with ease. No ongoing marital struggle. No conviction about things that the world around me, even my own family, think I’m being ridiculous about. But that part of me is a silent cancer in my soul and I choose to slay it with truth.

The truth is no one has a normal life. I get to hear lots of peoples’ stories as a nurse. When you start talking to people you find out the abnormal things that are in everyone’s lives. But the desire to have a normal life comes from something written in me, and in us all, that knows there is a normal. There is a life that is whole and right. There is a life that is good and desirable. There is a life full of pleasantness and pleasure. That life is Christ.

The idea that I should resist or flee the struggles I face to try and find a more “normal” life in another person, or a better income, or more convenience, or a better climate or withdrawing from people and getting back to nature, or whatever… that idea is a lie.  It’s a trick.  It’s a wild goose chase intended to keep you from facing reality.  It’s a wasting of your life.  The reality is we are all messed up people.  We all have to face the wrongs we and others do and the damage it causes in our relationships and in the world.

Without knowing Christ, the abnormal lives we all live have to be explained and managed somehow. Enter religion, atheism, humanism, or any other ism people use to try and manage the mess we all are.  But with Christ, we taste of the normal life we long for.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! – Psalm 34:8 

The Bible talks about a new man, comparing Christ- the new man- with Adam, the first man, the man we all come from.  Adam and everyone after him live abnormal lives with a longing for normal life.  Christ came into the world to offer us his life. Real life.  Christ’s life is given to those who believe him and love him.  As a Christian, I have the very life of the new man, the normal man, living in me.  And whereas before, the first man, the abnormal man, was striving to hold on to some semblance of normalcy, chasing it wherever he caught a glimpse of it, the new man I am knows I have it already.  So I can go through the trials and sufferings I face in life with an open heart and hand.  I can do like Jesus said and let my broken life be used to bring new life.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. -John 12:24-25.  

That’s a very strange thing to say to us abnormal people, holding tight to our lives, trying to self-preserve and keep our lives as normal as possible. But to the Christian, it is the new way, the normal way to live.

Jesus is God in the flesh.  The God Man humbled to dying human cells in an abnormal human family in a world full of the abnormal people damaging each other and the world around them.  He came bringing new life.  A life-giving life.  A life united with the God who made us.  And the way he did it was to die and over come death as the God-Man.  Now his life is in us who believe in him.  And his way is now our way.  We can give our lives away because we know we already have life in Christ.

C.S. Lewis said “Nothing you have not given away will ever truly be yours.”

I don’t know what Lewis was eluding to.  I haven’t read the entirety of Mere Christianity yet.  But he points to the truth that when you have life in Christ, you can deny yourself, you can loose your life, because its yours!  Jesus said:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? -Luke 9:23-25

We all want normalcy.  But we all have to deal with an abnormal life.  We’ll do so one of two ways- futile attempts at self-preservation and chasing glimpses of ease, comfort and normality.  Or Christ. The normal life I long for I’ve found in Christ.  Now I can let my difficulties and abnormal realities be opportunities to give away the life that is mine forever.