Monday, December 19, 2011

Thoughts for My Em (On Being a Girl)

When I was in third grade I became an entrepreneur for a short time. My elementary school bookstore sold NFL pencils that the boys went crazy over. For some reason I was in possession of one of these pencils when some little boy said he'd give me a dollar for it. Cha-ching. I was no dummy. I knew I could march on down to that bookstore and buy ten pencils for that price. I took my dollar and matched it, buying a whole box of these coveted NFL pencils. Now, I can only assume since many of the boys in my class were already using these writing utensils, they knew that they could purchase them for a dime just down the hall. Being the shrewd businesswoman that I was though, by the end of the day my once full box of pencils was filled with over eleven dollars. Boys were literally throwing money at me. And yes, I see the grooming that very well could have happened in that moment had my life taken a different direction. My mom, who must have had visions of this, was horrified when I brought home my dirty money and toyed with the idea of calling these little boys' mothers. Thank goodness she spared me the humiliation and just explained that I probably shouldn't do that again. Whatever, lesson learned, boys are d.u.m.b.

Fast forward to my early years of high school. Every summer my four best friends and I would go to summer camp. At the end of one of our first weeks we all realized that all of our bank funds had been depleted. But, we really wanted to go on an ice cream cruise that night or at least have a pizza delivered to our cabin. One of us had the brilliant idea that we should just ask people to give us money. Maybe we could at least get the pizza. How we underestimated the power of charming smiles and the phrase, "God loves a cheerful giver." Yep. This was what we learned from our week at Christian camp. How to use God and charming smiles to manipulate boys. Putty in our hands. We made enough money for all of us to go on that ice cream cruise and get our pizza. Lesson learned. We possessed a ridiculous power to get boys to do what we wanted with very little effort.

I don't think I ever consciously processed this power that I held, but I do know that sometime during my high school years I did make a decision that I wasn't going to use people this way. I wasn't going to objectify myself to get something I wanted, whether that was possessions, relationships, or just my own way (I'm sure Matt would say I'm still a work in progress with that last one). I think it must have only been through the Holy Spirit's leading in my life. In some ways it cost me. I missed out on a slew of boyfriends, which at times felt like the worst thing in the world. Though in hindsight, I certainly didn't miss much. 

So here's what I want you to know, my Emma. You'll probably discover somewhere along the way that you can very easily manipulate the opposite sex to do what you want them to do. Resist the temptation, my dear. It's so not worth it. You see, you were created in the image of God, and the way of following Him looks different than what you'll hear from t.v., music, and even your friends. Even though Jesus was God, he set aside all his power to come to earth, serve the lowest of the low, and die a criminal's death at the hands of the powerful. He did this to defeat the powers of this world. He defeated the power of sin, so that we wouldn't have to be held captive by it. So we could know God. He defeated the power of death by his resurrection and ushered in a new way of life for those that follow him. He turned the world upside down. He didn't use people to achieve his end. I promise, using and manipulating people will only cause pain. Even when it comes to dumb boys. There will be times when you really like a boy, and there are certain ways you can act or things you can do to get him. To feel wanted. To feel loved. You are amazing and loved just as you are though my sweet, and any boy that fails to see that is not worth your heart. 

There will be times when men will try to have power over you because you are a woman. Sadly, I can almost guarantee it. There will be times when men will look at you as an object instead of a person stamped with the image of God. There will be times, I'm afraid, when you will feel small. Take heart in that this is not how God created things to be, and while He's in charge of our world, he has yet to set all things right. Someday he will though.

There's something I want you to know, my love. If you are a child of God, you do have power. You have the Holy Spirit living inside of you, equipping you to live in a way that only He can do. Through His Spirit, you have the power to change the world. People may try to quiet your voice. I pray that you have the courage not to let them. But more importantly than how anyone else responds to you, I pray that God gives you the strength to find your voice and use it to love God and love others. Don't be taken in by the enticement of power. Just know that character is so important, and while it may not get you to the top, it will make it so you can peacefully lay your head down at night. Oh, and for the record, a woman of character does not mean a woman that keeps quiet. Yes, there are times to hold your tongue, but you are the type that has a voice. Use it my love. Use it. Surround yourself with all kinds of people, but make sure you have people close to you that will build you up in becoming the kind, strong, intelligent, and beautiful woman I know you are. I will always root for you. I will always have your back, and I will always understand those days when you feel like it's just not worth it to live like this. 

You're so completely wonderful, my sweet, and I can't wait to see all that your future holds. You're incredible.  And in case you're wondering, this is what I think about as you nap. :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Whaaat-Did I Really Just Post a Recipe?

I love sharing conversations with friends over coffee. Except I hate coffee. It's disgusting. I don't understand how people drink the stuff. I've tried so many times to acquire a taste, but it ain't happening. Since I don't want to miss out on the social aspect of coffee drinking, I've found ways to cope. If there's no hot chocolate or other sweet drink available, I do what I can to make sure the coffee tastes nothing like the black bitterness that it really is. When I saw my friend Heather had posted this recipe for peppermint mocha coffee creamer I had to try it. The great thing about Heather is that you can be sure that everything she makes is el natural. She has gone to great lengths to reform her kitchen as her family faces many, many food allergies. She's pretty much amazing. Plus, this recipe also doubles as straight-up hot chocolate, so you don't even need to taint it with coffee nastiness. Tonight I made these for friends, celebrating the many conversations shared over a drink and cultivated my kitchen in this third week of Advent with JOY at the anticipation of our Savior's birth. I even got Matt to join in on the fun. He totally sat in the kitchen and provided Christmas jams to keep my spirits up. Thanks, babe! Domesticity is tiring, you know.

Peppermint Mocha Creamer

{also makes an awesome hot cocoa recipe!}
2 cups of 1/2 and 1/2 (or 1 cup cream with 1 cup whole milk)
*can be substituted for an non-cow’s milk such as unsweetened almond milk, rice milk, soy milk, or coconut milk
3 tablespoons of cocoa
1/4 teaspon peppermint extract
1/4 cup of maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Let milk gradually come to a simmer from a medium heat in saucepan. Take care with almond milk, if it heats up too high or for too long the flavor changes.
Add the cocoa, peppermint extract, maple syrup, and vanilla extract. Whisk until well incorporated, about 2-3 minutes.
Funnel into storage jar and refrigerate. Lasts 2-3 weeks, keep refrigerated.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Occupy Mojave

My last post was about cultivating the space I've been given, and how I've been trying my hand at all these domestic activities that I normally shy away from. These thoughts sprang from a pretty dry spell. A few weeks ago I turned off my brain. For real. I flipped a switch and was done. I got annoyed at some things and closed my books, my Bible, my brain and my heart. It was my thirty second rebellious streak. I get them every so often. My drug of choice was Hobby Lobby. Ya'll the place is dangerous. I spent $400 as my way of sticking my middle finger to the world. Except it wasn't sticking it to the world. It was sticking it to no one but me. Funny how that usually works. So $375 worth of stuff went back to the store. Eh. Sometimes I can be quietly dramatic, which I've come to believe is the worst kind of drama. It eats at you and makes the world me-centric. It's not a healthy place to camp out.

Sometimes I just like camping though, you know? Wallowing, and wondering, and complaining is just a whole lot easier than stepping out. It's like the whole occupy whatever movement. At first I got it, I saw what they were saying, but there has to come a time when you make your point and just get back to the daily business at hand. Take a step. Even if it's small. Be oh so faithful with the now. Keep having the difficult conversations. Keep being challenged.

Keep. Cultivating.

I remember spewing out paper after paper during college about being a lifelong learner. I'm not sure how much of it I actually believed as I was writing it, but somewhere along the way it stuck. I don't want to settle for ignorance in the midst of abundance. There's hard work to be done that starts in our minds, as God transforms our hearts and then expresses it in our actions.

Ah, thankful that there's still life in the desert.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


What am I doing right now? Crafting.
What will I be doing later? Baking.
What have I been up to lately? Decorating. Well, this one I have to use very, very loosely. It's been more of a process of returning things but I'll get to that. On another day. Maybe.

Here's the thing. I want to cultivate the space I've been given to bless my family and friends. One of my former students recently inspired me with this thought through her grad school application essay. She talked about the symbiotic relationship between an environment and it's inhabitants. Built spaces with intentional designs are usually found in thriving environments. What is one thing you can do if you want to revitalize a neighborhood? Build a playground. Plant flowers. Watch how people grow as their space is cultivated. Some of the most healthy places are those filled with art, music, and beauty. You know, the gravy of life.

So here's the thing, I will never be Suzy Homemaker. Not me, don't want to, won't do it. However, I am committed to serving my family and anyone that enters into our space. Yup. Serving them. As my husband is committed to serving us as well. It will probably take a lifetime to flush out exactly what this means, but I know we are both committed to learning to put the other person first and willing to extend grace to each other as we figure it out. I truly want to be purposeful about this for everyone that walks through our door.

So how does this happen?

Who knows, but it's a nice thought.


I'm still in the process of thinking it through. Here's what I have so far though. The best relationships are fostered through time, commitment, and hard work, but there also must be lots of room for laughter and playfulness. So it is with the space I have to cultivate these relationships. I want to work hard to make it an environment that encourages growth. I want to be intentional. I want to work hard with what I've been given. I have to keep it simple though. I'm easily overwhelmed in these areas. And when I get overwhelmed I shut down. I mean, like serious hairballs in the shower shutdown. Got the visual? Great. So I'm just going to continue to give it a go. We'll see. I'm sure there will be lots of failures, but it's all in the journey, baby.

So here goes...

I want our home to be a place where people feel welcome. Whenever. As I've said before, I miss the days of running down the hall to share a bit of time together. I want our place to be warm, welcoming. And dangit, I want to finish it. One. Project. At. A. Time. Moving into a new place, decorating it, moving out a year later and then moving back in almost another year later is annoying. And great. We were able to get so many upgrades, but mustering up the motivation to start over with a completely different color palette while trying not to spend a lot of money and figuring out a style that we can both agree on has been tough. So, I've avoided it and used it as an excuse not to open our house to people. So lame. Done with that. In the next couple months I will finish my downstairs though. At least fill in the picture frames with blonde haired children that resemble us instead of the muy bonita chicas that currently hang on our walls. Photo shoot on Thursday. Check.

I want the things that leave our home to come from our hearts. I want to give in meaningful ways. If I give a gift, I want it to make the receiver feel loved. And I want my children to be generous. We very clearly saw our lack of success in this area a few nights ago when Matt offered to let one of Em's friends borrow a movie. She threw a royal fit. I mean, with fist pumping and screeching. It was pretty bad, but obviously the concept of a cheerful giver doesn't come naturally to a three-year-old. It doesn't come naturally to me, but this is a huge area that God has been pressing on my heart. It's our job as parents to instill this in our children. I also want to be intentional about what I support with my money. I'm debating staying away from the mall for a while. My problem is that I'm generally content with what I have. Until I enter the mall and see all the things I don't have. What can I say, I love pretty things! This in itself isn't bad, but it's when I start feeling dissatisfied and want more that it becomes an issue. And I don't want to give to big corporations that exploit others so I can save a few bucks to look pretty. Intentional living folks- being accountable for what we know!

I realize I digressed quite a bit, but well, it's late and I've been crafting all day. Love this new excuse. Looking forward to diving into what it means to cultivate my environment in order to build up those around us.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

One Thing I Know

As I pack up her clothes for the passing of another season,
In a flurry to clean up the mess of another day,
I pause for another moment
Thinking of all the hours she spent in those silly dresses,
How much she loved wearing them while I cringed
At her lack of style.
But next season they'll be too small
And will stay in the attic for another time,
For another little girl.
And I'll remember this very minute
Because one thing I know,
The minutes that seem to pass so slowly 
Will quickly turn into years
Making me miss the simplicity of my 3-year old's tutus.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I Don't Want to Just Sanitize

Here's what I learned today as I sat at the doctor's office: My kids are screwed.

They are destined to think that they have cancer, a heart defect, liver disease, or any other health problem that can be identified on the Internet at the first sign of a a hang nail.

What prompted me to realize this was when Emma said to me today, "Mommy, the doctor's is a dangerous place."
"Why do you say that, Em?"
"Because there's GERMS."

No disagreement there. My girl knows.

She just happens to have a mommy that's part of the safety police. And not in a healthy, I'm just being a mom sort of way. It's more like a giiirl, you've got issues sort of way. I get nervous on playgrounds. I get even more nervous if Matt is there because that boy would let them jump off the top of the monkey bars assuming they'd just bounce.

Which I can almost respect.

Because I want my kids to be brave. I want them to be risk-takers that aren't held back by fear. I want them to walk boldly through life. I want them to be the kind of kids that stand up for the outsider, even if that means getting beat up or more likely, losing cooler friends. I hope they love deeply and give freely, without placing expectations on others. I want them to be peacemakers who actively pursue peace instead of passively sitting by avoiding conflict. I want them to live valiantly and joyfully instead of disengaging because of anxiety passed down to them from me.

So, I'm dealing with it instead of putting it off until tomorrow, which becomes next week, which becomes next month, which stays at never actually dealing. This is not just for my own sake but for the two little ones who are constantly watching. I am an active participant in the work that God is doing in my life, and yet I can rest in the knowledge that His perfect love drives out all fear. So day after day, I place it at the altar,  in faith that one day I won't need to anymore.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Static Rule of a Lack of Rhythm

Recently I was reminded of how much I love art. I was looking through a friend's facebook pictures and recognized a glass sculpture by Chihuly, which brought back a flood of memories that seem so far removed from my current life. I used to sit for hours painting and go to museums for fun on the weekends. I loved watching slide after slide of great works of art in Art History that all had a story behind them. They all had some type of form, some type of rhythm. I miss that season of life. It seems so far removed, especially as I look around my half-hearted attempt at decorating my house. It's like I've lost the creative rhythm.

There's many rhythms within our family that need cultivation.

We've probably lost some valuable rhythms in our house because of my fear of routine. I hate the word. Always have, always will. It's just not a part of my make-up. I get bored easily, like spontaneity, and refuse to make lists. While Matt values structure a whole lot more than I do, he's pretty laid back in this area as well, so when it came time to have children, this was an area that we were on the same page about. We would keep a schedule with our kids when possible, but we wouldn't be bound by it. While this has generally worked for our family, I can't help but think we're failing to establish really important rhythms in our lives and the lives of our children.

Part of this could be due to poor word association.

Routine = stale, lifeless

I see it in the denomination that I grew up with, and in my own life as a follower of Jesus. I didn't grow up in a liturgical church that followed the traditional church calendar or recited creeds in worship. In my own life, I was so repelled by empty acts and words that I refused to do certain things just to do them. That's poor logic though. I think about my relationship with Matt, and how every night we say "I love you" before going to bed and usually when we hang up the phone with each other. It may not be a heart swelling statement each time but that doesn't make it meaningless. In fact, it's probably in the regularity of it that the meaning is found. I notice when we don't say it. It's a natural part of our rhythm as a couple. A steady beat.

Rhythm = dynamic, progressive

We've been working through what this means for our family, and what areas we need to work on cultivating rhythm in our lives and the lives of our children. I know it will probably be a struggle for me as it feels so contrary to my nature, but as awkward as it may feel, we need to press into what we're learning. God has orchestrated His world with a rhythm of which our family is a

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Third World Symphony

Several weeks ago, I saw this video and haven't been the same since. As I was watching it, I was screaming at the computer, "THAT'S ME! THAT'S ME!! THAT'S WHAT I WANT TO DO! AAAAHHHHHHH!"

To which my husband replied, "So do it."

Seriously? Just like that? 
Just. Do. It.

What does that even mean? I had to go through a process of figuring out what it was about that video that resonated so much with me. It's funny, I always get a kick out of people that talk about the clarity that their thirties brought. A good friend of mine often talks this way, and I always laugh at her about it. I think I'm starting to understand though. My twenties were about this crazy search of figuring out God's purpose for my life. What do you want me to do, God? If you just tell me, I'll do it. 

Recently, I realized that I've been asking the wrong question.

I've been learning so much about the importance of framework. Without a good framework, you might come to some valuable conclusions, but you will probably miss the big, beautiful picture.

I'd been framing the question all wrong, which brought me through this years long wilderness of searching after who knows what. The question I needed an answer to was not, "What is God's purpose for my life?" The better framed question was, "What is God doing in the world, and how can I be a part of it?" 

If I had gotten an answer to my twentysomething year old self's question, I would have missed out on the toil of the search. Through searching, I've seen the heart of Christ and his kingdom purpose. I've been exposed to the things that break His heart. I've seen the things in me that break his heart. I've come to really believe that Jesus is Lord over the whole earth in a now but not quite yet way; he uses us to reconcile a world to him and there is a time coming where he will be all in all. I've discovered that He is working in our world and invites us to partner with him in his work.

His ambassadors.

If that doesn't give a follower of Jesus a sense of purpose I don't know what does. 

The part I can play is starting to make sense. I see how He's developing, affirming, and fueling my passions. I see kingdom living in day to day, real ways. I see that He has given me a voice, albeit a small one, but it's one I need to use, even when it terrifies me to open my mouth. I want to be a part of the work that God is doing beyond my own comfort zone because there's no way I can know about things that happen in our world and sit idly back.

I want to see the Third World. I want to touch the faces of poverty. I want to have a symbiotic relationship with those that may not have material blessings but experience blessings that I can hardly comprehend. I want them to show me my own poverty in the masses of stuff that I own. I want to be a part of telling their stories, to give them a voice. I want our stories to collide through Jesus in a way that brings His story together in a rich, beautiful symphony. 

I know, it sounds completely naive and idealistic. But I believe that God is truly working in our world and wants us to be a part of it.

So, I'm going to just do it.

In the beginning of the new year, I'm going to take a trip somewhere in the third world to feed hungry children, tutor those living in extreme poverty, or love kids that live on the streets.

Because it's real.
Because I know about it.
Because I believe that hope and change are more than abstract concepts.
I believe they're found through a Person, who was resurrected from the dead to bring new life.

For right now.
For the life to come.

I know this is just a small thing. It'll be a week of my life, and then I will be able to come back to the comforts of my own home. But it's a small piece that I think will be part of a larger picture. We'll see where it leads. 

Anyone want to join me?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Not All Communal Living Involves Pot

I'm thirty years old and I miss college life. This very well could make me a a washed up loser who needs to move on with life, but I don't think so. I just have such a longing for the relational aspect of college life that you don't get again until you're eighty years old and living in a nursing home.

And I have a lot of time before I get to that point.

I loved being able to walk down to a friend's room in the middle of the day and chat. Sometimes those conversations were about nothing while other times we'd work through major life issues without even planning to. Meals could be hours long as groups of people would congregate to be silly together or other times devise plans to change the world. There were days when you could only stay for a minute, but at least you had that moment to make a connection with others, to know that you were not truly alone, even if you had to spend the next eight hours huddled in a cubicle studying.

At curfew during my senior year, I could be sure to find a bunch of girls gathered in the hallway, eating pretzels and nutella, recapping their days. Matt's experience was similar, except it involved a lot more boyish stuff like slugging each other with ping pong balls and pooping on each other. Evidently stuff like this bonds boys together like eating pretzels and nutella does for girls. No matter. The point is, we had people to count on and share life with.

Then we grew up and bought a house. Come to find out the house had Chinese drywall in it, and we lived with Matt's parents for eight months but that's a different story. Kind of. Because while sharing space with your in-laws doesn't sound like the ideal situation, I know that I now have a much greater appreciation for them that I don't think I would have had, had I not lived with them. My brother and sister-in-law lived with my parents for a time as well, and I think the same could be said of their relationship. They lived with them while I was in college and I would come home every summer and break to share a house with them and my oldest niece and nephew. I know that I have a special bond with those kids that I'm sure was developed by living together.

I think I would trade in my house for an apartment. Seriously, I would. Or maybe a condo because I'm pretty sure Matt would never go for throwin' money away for rent. He's all about a good investment, which is precisely why I want to live in an apartment. In a complex with several other families. It's just so hard to truly invest in people when you're scattered all over town. It's so hard to cultivate relationships when half of your time is spent in the car. When I'm sucking as a mom, I want to be able to walk down the hallway to a friend and say, "I'm sucking as a mom. Help bring me back."

Like everyone else we know, we're busy people. When we have an evening without anything going on, we usually just hang out at home. It takes a lot of time and energy to bring people into our space. And let's be honest, unless you do it regularly, it's not always comfortable. It's hard to let your hair down with people you see sporadically. But if we were actually nearby people, then it wouldn't be so difficult. You could just do it.

Matt and I both have all these ideas floating around in our heads that need other minds to cultivate, but how does an idea ever come to fruition when it's being watered irregularly? If I'm not being encouraged with something constantly, I have a tendency to just push it to the back of my mind. I want my family to flourish within an active community of people that are constantly encouraging each other and taking time to work through the difficult parts of life together. Wouldn't that be so much easier if we were actually within close proximity to each other?

Am I just crazy?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thy Kingdom Come

In high school I was a tract girl, not to be confused with a track girl, which I only wish I was (I have the scars on my knees from a bad hurdling accident to prove it). I handed out tracts. I personally shared tracts with people. In school. At the mall (until getting kicked out). In the streets of NYC.

Mmmmm- those were interesting days.

Honestly, I loved God with my whole heart and I wanted other people to know the love that I had experienced through Him.

But my framework for sharing with people was skewed. Then, as I've talked about before, I went to college and my faith blew up in my face. God put the pieces back together in a way that I think I'll spend the rest of my life figuring out. I love it. God is continually rocking my world.

Back to tract girl.

When tract girl shared her faith, it would look something like this,"Can I ask you a question? If you were to die tonight, do you think you would go to heaven?"

Answer not really important.

"Can I share with you how I would answer that question?" And onto the tract we would go.


Salvation was about heaven and a personal relationship with God. Believe these four points right now and that was it. Now, as weird as all of that may have been, I hope that God used even that to prick someone's heart in a way that did send them on a path of knowing him. That's the thing about God, even through all of our craziness, he still is on the move in our world.

It's taken years to process this though. The more I dig into the Word of God and the more I read and talk with people, the more I see how the framework we use of "will you go to heaven when you die" is just not getting it. I touched on it in a post this summer, but I'm still in the process of learning and seeing a fuller picture of what the kingdom of God is all about. Particularly, just how important the resurrection is and what it means for us both presently and in the future.

If we base the whole framework of salvation as simply will you or will you not go to heaven when you die than we're missing so much of the richness of God that extends to ALL. OF. CREATION.

I just finished reading N.T. Wright's, Surprised by Hope, and it's one of those books that rattled me and reminded me just how big the work is that God is doing in the world.

Wright says, "...the work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us."

This idea is nothing new to me, yet at the same time, if I'm not continually processing it, my mind tends to default back to salvation is about what God does for me. End of story. It muddles all kinds of things up.

About a month ago I wrote a post about Emma's confusion over heaven, and now I realize my own confusion about heaven. So much of what I learned about it growing up was wrong. It's not as if we die and our "soul" is separate and will live forever in this nonmaterial place called heaven. We talk about dying and going to heaven like that's the end of the story. Heaven forever, baby. I remember that phrase from "using your hand to share the gospel," and if you have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm completely fine with keeping it that way. N.T. Wright says, "The ultimate destination is not 'going to heaven when you die' but being bodily raised into the transformed, glorious likeness of Jesus Christ. (the not merely our own happy future...but the glory of God as we come fully to reflect his image.)" Resurrection is vital to our lives beyond just the knowledge that Christ was raised.

Maybe I just haven't been listening very well (quite possible) but it seems as if we don't spend enough time on the resurrection. Yes, we talk about Jesus rising from the dead. He conquered death. I've heard it said (and have said myself) that everything hinges on Easter. I get that. The risen Lord. He took our sin, and didn't stay dead.

I just never understood all the implications of this. I know, Jesus's human body was transformed. He was the same, yet different. He didn't die and have a soul raised. HE raised. And because of that, we will too. While this is nothing new, I guess for years I've just failed to make the connection between resurrection and everything else that God is doing in the world since then.

Resurrection is so much more than just a point of theology. It's the inauguration of God's kingdom on earth. The new creation has begun. As Wright puts it, Jesus was vindicated about "all that he said about the coming kingdom through his own work, through his death and resurrection has come true."

The resurrection ushers in the beginning of the new creation. 

So what in the world does that mean?

Growing up in church you hear the terms new heaven and new earth. The problem is our culture has been so inundated with all this Left Behind hoopla that leaves us trying to decipher truth from fiction. But Jesus returning isn't some weird, science-fiction, it's about God's commitment to setting the world right, to reign as sovereign king. To reaffirm that what he did in the beginning was not this massive mistake, but it was good as he said it was. His plan of rescue worked (is working). And, it brings ultimate justice for those who have faced injustice, suffering, and despair in the hands of those who continue to distort the image of God in the world.

He's redeeming what he called good from the beginning and, "liberating what has come to be enslaved."

My goodness, it's about the entire creation, not just lil old me.

"The New Testament, true to its Old Testament roots, regularly insists that the major, central, framing question is that of God's purpose of rescue and re-creation for the whole world, the entire cosmos. The destiny of the individual human being must be understood within that context. How God is going to redeem and renew his creation through human beings and how he is going to rescue those humans themselves as part of the process but not as the point of it all."

God's kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. God is rescuing all of creation from it's current state of decay. And yes, rescuing, in my understanding, is both present and future. We get to be a part of the work that God's doing in the world as instruments of redemption. What we do in this life matters.

But it's God that's going to set it all right in the end. This world's a mess that's not getting any better.

Yes, God ultimately is the one that will set establish his kingdom completely as only He can do. However, if new creation has already begun through the starting point of the resurrection, than it will continue beyond to the future as well. As Paul says, "Our labor in the Lord is not in vain." A point that needs to be expanded upon, I know, but for another post.

While the death and resurrection of Jesus ushered in God's kingdom, we can't forget about his life and teachings, which are the bulk of the gospels.

"When we reintegrate what should never have been separated-the kingdom-inaugurating public work of Jesus and his redemptive death and resurrection- we find that the gospel tells a different story. It isn't just a story of some splendid and exciting social work with an unhappy conclusion. Nor is it a story of an atoning death with an extended introduction. It is something much bigger than the sum of those two diminished perspectives. It is the story of God's kingdom being launched on earth as it is in heaven, generating a new state of affairs in which the power of evil has been decisively defeated, the new creation has been decisively launched, and Jesus's followers have been equipped to put that victory and that inaugurated new world into practice. Atonement, redemption, and salvation are what happens on the way because engaging in this work demands that people themselves be rescued from the powers that enslave the world in order that they can in turn be rescuers. To put it another way, if you want to inaugurate God's kingdom, you must follow the way of the cross, and if you want to benefit from Jesus's saving death, you must become part of his kingdom project."

Yes, please.

I long for purpose. I ache for it, and I believe wholeheartedly that God allows me to be a part of His purpose in our world. I am a new creation.

This only just scratches the surface, but I have to process in chunks. All I know is that the more I learn about who God is, the more I want so desperately to be a part of what He's doing because it's SO GOOD. So much better than I could ever have imagined. So much better than four points that send me to a nonmaterial place of eternal bliss. So much better for this life and for the life to come.

"Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Things that Keep Me Up at Night

Sometimes I wish I could go back to a faith that fit into a small box of rules and formulas. I wish I could organize my life with manuals and checklists, and I could measure my life in how many star stickers I was rewarded at the end of the day. I think I can understand a faith like that. It's comfortable and safe, and while I find those words repelling, I probably live there more often than I care to admit.

Sometimes I just want easy.

I don't want to know of children halfway across the world that live in garbage dumps, or women that sell themselves to put food in their family's mouths. I don't want to deal with messy relationships, or explain myself to people that will never understand where I'm coming from.

It would be so much easier to crank up some Jimmy Buffet and pretend that life was all blue waters and fru-fru drinks.

My reality is more like a Mumford & Sons song than Jimmy Buffet though.

In my struggle with faith I do see Him. I have known Him to rescue me from a dull, lifeless faith. I have known the relentless tugs of the Holy Spirit on my heart. I know He has called me for a purpose, and He'll continue to reveal it as I seek after Him. I know, I know He meets us in all our ugliness and doubt. I know, I know that He is present even in places where there is so much pain and sorrow and injustice. I know His grace is sufficient for me and that His power is made perfect in my weakness. 

I know He'll never let me settle for easy.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Saying Goodbye

Matt's grandfather passed away a few weeks ago. This is the eulogy that Matt gave at his funeral. I think he would have been proud of his oldest grandson. I know I was...

Growing up there were certain things that we could always count on when it came to Grandpa. Every Christmas we would all get a card and a $5 gift certificate to McDonalds.  For our birthdays, we knew we would be getting a bag of tootsie pops in a Publix bag.  Although it was small, we always looked forward to his gifts. This tradition continued even as we married and added spouses and our own children to the mix. Each spouse and great grandkid could expect to get their McDonald's gift certificates from grandpa each holiday and birthday. He was consistent in other ways as well. When I was in high school I could always expect to see grandpa in the southwest corner of all my soccer games.  I can still picture it now, he’d be standing with the same group of men each game cheering me on.  After the game, win or lose, the first person to be waiting for me on the other side was grandpa.  First would be a big sweaty hug, then we’d analyze the game.  Even when I was in college, playing at Cedarville, he made sure to make the trip each year to see me play even as his health began to decline.  One such instance involved a game in 40 degree weather with pelting rain.  He didn’t care.  While everyone else was in there cars or gone, grandpa put on his windbreaker and stood out and watched me.  His consistent support of his grandkids in everything they did was something that we all took for granted at times but was a cornerstone for our family.

He loved his grandchildren immensely. At family gatherings he wouldn't talk a lot, but he would sit back and observe his family with love. He never had a harsh word for us, even when I'm sure it was overwhelming to have so many kids running around. The one thing he did always have for us was a big hug for each of us. So big in fact that it wasn't unusual for him to pick you right up off the ground.  And those hugs weren’t reserved just for family members, they were extended to girlfriends/boyfriends, friends from college, or anyone that came within a 5 foot proximity of him at church.  He had a way of making people who weren’t part of the family ‘yet’ feel special.  When I told my buddies from college that grandpa had passed, the main thing they remembered was his big hugs.  Those hugs that took your breath away… literally.

Over the last year & a half or so, our family has spent Friday nights at Outback with my parents and grandpa.  I'm so thankful for this time that I got to see grandpa each week, along with my children. We would talk about sports and he would always listen to the events of my week, good or bad.  He would then relate a lot of what I was going through back to when he was working in the same field.  He would give me advice on how to handle situations but would mainly listen.  I always knew he was on my side whether I was in the wrong or right.  One of my greatest privileges of being his grandson was probably something small to everyone looking from the outside.  As grandpa’s health declined, he would have difficulty walking from place to place.  I decided to start lending him my shoulder each week after dinner to get him from the table to the car.  Although this was a small gesture, I believe we bonded from that short walk each week, many times me bearing a significant amount of weight as we weaved through the maze of tables to get to the front door.  It allowed me to feel like I was able to honor him by helping him in a small way, to provide him with support just as he has supported me all these years.  He would then always tell me how much he appreciated it and we’d hug before leaving the restaurant. 

As with his grandchildren, I know his great-grandchildren brought him so much joy, as well.  I remember when I introduced both my children to him;  He teared up the first time he got to hold them. Emma and Jackson always loved being able to see Big Papa, whom she affectionately named for obvious reasons, each week.  When Emma would see big papa, her eyes would light up and she would run up to give him a hug..  Many times, she would have in depth conversations with Big Papa, most of which made no sense, but he didn’t care he just enjoyed each moment with her.  He had a way of making my children feel special.  I think this was because when he got the opportunity, he always paid attention to them.  

The last time that we got to see grandpa was last Friday night at Chili’s.  Two things happened at dinner that night that I will never forget.  The first was Jackson was being very wiggly last Friday and did not want to sit still.  Dad finally took him and sat next to grandpa with him.  I was sitting across from him at the end of the table as we normally do, and I remember watching as grandpa started playing patticake with Jax.  I was thankful, number one, that grandpa got Jax to sit still so everyone could eat, but also, I remember thinking that I was glad that grandpa was able to have some time with Jax.  The second thing that happened that night was there was a balloon man that came around.  Whenever Emma sees a balloon man, she pleads with us to get one.  Usually dad will end up getting her one, but last Friday, grandpa pulled out a few bucks and got Emma a pink balloon rabbit.  I am so glad now, that I didn’t make him put back his money.  I am so thankful that he got to buy this little balloon for my daughter last week.  I am so thankful that I got to watch him look at her with a sparkle in his eye as she played with the balloon that he bought for her.

Grandpa, I think the greatest thing that you left us with was family.  You followed Proverbs 22:6 and raised up your children in the way they should go and now that they’re old… ok older, they have not departed from it.  You left you’re 15 grandkids and two grandkids still hear on this earth with 4 parents who are great examples to us of how to live for Christ.  You left a big legacy for us all, not many can say that their entire family is committed to loving and serving Jesus.

I like to think that right now, you’re reconciled with grandma, and Johnny and Dani are at your side and you are truly, truly happy.  We’re gonna miss you big papa, but so glad to know that all your burdens, pains, and sorrows are taken away.

We love you.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Depraved Poor?

The other day I was perusing blogs and I came across this one that caused me to sit and stare at my computer completely dumbfounded. The author was apparently a prominent voice within some evangelical circles. He wrote in regards to a recent study by the American Sociological Association that says that less educated, low income Americans are leaving the church at double the rate of those with more education and higher incomes. 

The author began by saying: 

"It is past time to admit a very hard truth: America’s poverty problem is also a depravity problem. It is simply a fact that people who work hard, finish their education, get married, and stay married are rarely — very rarely — poor.  There is no other proven formula for lifting Americans out of poverty.  None.  Food stamps don’t do it.  Medicaid doesn’t do it.  Soup kitchens don’t do it.  Good intentions don’t do it.  Hundreds of billions of dollars of transfer payments have not budged the poverty rate."

Wow, well that's nice for those of us lucky enough to be born into a home where the opportunities to accomplish these things are readily available. It's really too bad for all those other poor folk that face very real, complex, and depraved institutional, social, and economic roadblocks that keep them within the cycle of poverty. But, I'm sure hearing from someone in a higher class that they just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps- and accept Jesus- is the way to end the cycle. I'm also having a hard time seeing the connection between depravity and something such as not finishing one's education. Am I missing something? As far as I know, depravity isn't confined to socioeconomic class. 

The author goes on to say that the Cross is the only answer to poverty. 

However, can you really say that the Cross is the only answer to poverty when you initially say hard work, finishing school, and staying married is the answer? 

Is the gospel of Jesus the answer? Surely it is. But, the answer to the problem of poverty is found in kingdom values, not middle class values and social stability. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted and set the prisoners free. The Cross frees us of our poverty. The gospel shows us a better way to live, though this has absolutely nothing to do with income, education, or possessions. The gospel provides a voice to the voiceless, covers the shame of the disgraced, and brings hope to the dejected. It says you are created in the image of God, you have worth. It says, even in your depravity, Christ died for you. It says hope is not in things but in a risen King. The gospel allows us to put our faith in a God that's able to paint a beautiful portrait of redemption through pain, sacrifice and despair.

When you view poverty through the eyes of the impoverished, using their own definition, it's no wonder they are leaving the American church in droves. Those that are poor define poverty less in terms of material possessions but as the lack of opportunity and voice and feelings of shame and worthlessness.  If this is true poverty, than maybe when looking for solutions to how to alleviate it, we're asking all the wrong questions. Is the ultimate goal to bring someone to middle class status where we have a whole new set of issues, including pride, apathy, entitlement, materialism, and consumerism? 

Those living in poverty aren't finding a home within churches built primarily on middle-class values. There are certainly many, many wonderful churches engaged in serving those in poverty. I wonder though, are we actually giving the marginalized a voice within the church? Do we choose leaders more often based on spiritual gifting or on education and status? What happens to those that feel like they have no voice? Quite often they disengage. Are these people running away from Jesus or are they running from Pharisaical churches? How many of our middle-class churches have become a place of comfort instead of a place of mission?

One of the more troubling assertions in the article, is the author's reflection about his time "in the trenches." He talks about how he spent several years working in mentoring programs, providing financially for people in need, and generally giving of himself. Through all this, he claims he was taken advantage of until the point where he realized that everything he had done was meaningless. 


To say that we don't serve, we don't give of ourselves because "it doesn't work" sounds like quite the depravity problem to me. 

We serve the poor, the unloved, and the marginalized because Jesus told us to and showed us how. We meet the physical needs of people because Jesus said in Matthew 25 that in taking care of these people, we are taking care of Him. I believe wholeheartedly as followers of Jesus we must work to alleviate poverty and work for all kinds of social justice. There is no doubt that when we look at the life of Jesus we see that we are called to do this. In Luke 4:18, Jesus quotes from Isaiah saying,
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Then, he goes onto say that today this Scripture is fulfilled through Him. 

He is the answer.

Jesus brought freedom as no one else could. When he rode into Jerusalem days before his crucifixion, people were laying palms before him. They wanted a messiah that would free them from the oppressive Roman rule. But the Kingdom of God was not of this world, and it provided so much more than just freedom from tyrannical governments. The freedom that God gives goes so far beyond physical needs, yet we still serve people's physical needs as Jesus did during his ministry. The cure for poverty isn't in more money, but we give more money. The cure for poverty isn't in providing better education but we provide better education. The cure for poverty isn't in working at soup kitchens but we still work in soup kitchens. We do all these things and love Jesus through loving people. 

We work to promote kingdom values, and we speak to the needs of the whole person. 

We bring hope in despair, voice to the voiceless, and restore dignity to the marginalized. We don't shove middle-class values down their throats; we serve, we love, and we show the person of Jesus, who is the answer to the poverty of every heart, regardless of class or status.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

When the Best's Not Best

Several months ago I was at a party having a conversation with a couple moms with kids who were the same age as Emma, who was barely two at the time. One mom asked me where Emma was going to school. I paused for a moment, not quite sure I understood what she was asking. I awkwardly reminded her that Emma was only two. She didn't go to school. She and the other mom told me how their kids had been in school since they were eighteen months. Then they enlightened me about the best schools in the area and how you have to start them early if you want them to get into a good preschool.

They were preparing them to get into the best schools.

At two.

I get tired just thinking about what the next sixteen years of those kids' lives will be like.

I read an excellent article today about Finnish schools, which made me very proud to be a Finn. It turns out that Finland has made more of a contribution to the world than with saunas, Nokia, and Angry Birds. They're leaders in education and it's not because they crank out amazing standardized test scores. In fact, they don't even have standardized tests, apart from the matriculation exam taken at the end of their final year of school as a prerequisite to attend university. Yet, globally they're leading the way in math, science, and reading. They're not motivated by competition; more tax dollars do not go to schools that perform well, and students living in affluent areas do not have greater opportunities than those living in poor areas. In fact, they pride themselves in equality for all students. Schools are publicly funded and run by, get this, educators. It's not business people or politicians making decisions about education. It's educators. They trust their educators and let them do their jobs. Wow, how empowering that must be. I think of all my friends and family in education here in the States who are so disheartened because they're not allowed to just do their jobs. They're policed by bureaucrats that don't know the first thing about educating our children.

We've created a climate of competition that begins during the first couple years of our children's lives that is screwing them up. They are made to think that they're loved because of what they do, not who they are. When all you whisper to someone is achieve, achieve, achieve, you end up with a bunch of kids that don't give a flip about actual learning. In study after study, students admit to cheating because really, that's what we teach them with all our performance-based testing. Students don't even see it as a moral issue because the system (not the teachers) teaches that achievement is the most important goal, so use any means necessary to get ahead.

I don't want my kids to live like this. I don't want to parent like this. I just want my kids to be kids. I had a conversation today with a friend about how if I want to get Em in the preschool where I would like her to go next year, it might be a good idea to put her in a couple days a week this winter. It's hard to get a spot if she's not already enrolled. Seriously, it's out of control. I can't worry about it though.

I am a teacher, regardless of if I'm in a classroom ever again. I take full responsibility for my children. I will cultivate their potential in ways that speak to their entire being. I will teach them about what it means to love God and put others before themselves. We will learn together that it's better to serve others than to be served. My kids will not get lost in a system that some politician has hijacked. I pray that they grow up to be world changers, not because they have an edge over someone else, but because they follow a better way. I pray that they know the One who redeems lives, systems, and cultures. And I pray that Matt and I don't get caught up in all this nonsense in the name of wanting what's best for our kids.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Heaven, Hope, and Hollowing

Evidently three is the age when kids start to figure out that with separation comes sadness. Usually when we leave my family in NY, Emma is sad but bounces back pretty quickly. She gets caught up in the excitement of riding in a plane or the anticipation of seeing other family members. It was not so this year as we left Syracuse. Initially she was fine, but as the plane landed she started crying and couldn't be comforted. She wanted to go back to her wawa's house. She wanted to see her cousins. As we got in the car for the ride home she continued to bawl. We gave my mom a call and Em sobbed to her about how much she missed her and how she didn't have a heart anymore. She couldn't watch the sunset because she was just too sad. It was pretty heart-wrenching. While I don't think it's healthy to wallow in emotions like that I do want her to know that it's okay to mourn. Being separated from ones you love is sad.

A week ago today Matt's grandpa passed away. This is the first time Em has lost someone to death. With her family in NY, she can take comfort in the fact that she can see them again at Christmas. She has a concrete time to look forward to. Seeing someone someday in heaven is not quite so concrete for a three year old. The night that he passed Matt was putting her to bed and she started crying because she wasn't going to see Big Papa anymore. Today as I was putting her down for a nap she kept asking me if I was going to get old. I kept explaining that everyone gets old. Her response was, "But not mommies, right?" I went on to say that getting old was a part of life. Mommies get old and even she will get old someday. Then her little chin started quivering and she said, "But I don't want you to go to heaven." Oh goodness. Break my heart.

I'm not really sure what to do with that. To me, heaven is hope. To her, heaven is separation. It makes me wonder if in trying to bring comfort to our kids, we're really skewing their views. I'm not sure. I know I don't want Em just praying a prayer sometime in her young life just so she thinks she can go to heaven someday and see those that she loves again. Of course I want her to follow Jesus. But, there's a huge difference between following Jesus and wanting to see loved ones again. Are there things that we should wait to explain to our kids until they can think more abstractly so as not to confuse them? Is heaven one of those things, at least when paired with death? Just thinking out loud. What are your thoughts?

Friday, August 12, 2011

The One Where My Kids Puke All Night

The best thing about being a parent is not waking up at 2AM to the sound of your 14-month old throwing up. Nor is it the sound of his sister following suit 20 minutes later. It's not holding your child over a trash can as his little stomach heaves or holding him all night with the putrid smell of vomit penetrating your nose, all the while your spouse is doing the same for your other child.

Strangely enough though, one of the greatest things about parenthood is how it makes you and your spouse the type of people who can do these things without batting an eye.

Seriously, when the nurturing traits were handed out, I must have been skipped over because I'm not naturally a caregiver. I never went gaga over babies before I had my own. I tend to hold my breath around people that I know are sick. I remember some months back we had a friend in town that was in the car as Emma started tossing the large amount of cookies that she had just consumed. Kristin jumped right in to help clean up the massive amounts of disgustingness all over our car and our daughter. I tried to stop her several times, but she just continued like it was no big deal. Wow. I'm so not that girl. And my husband is so not that guy. In fact, Matt's the type that passes out when there's gory scenes in war movies. No joke.

But, there's something super hot about laying on the floor with your sick baby boy, knowing that your hubby is in the next room doing the same thing with your little girl. Funny how what's hot changes as you go through life with someone. I guess that's what building a family together is all about though. It's a  team effort. Both spouses have to be willing to get their hands dirty. What this means will change on a day to day basis, but there has to be confidence on both sides that the other person is willing to step up for the other and for the family.

Real life.
Real love.
Real gross but real good.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Call Me Grace

A few days ago while the kids were eating breakfast, Emma randomly told me she was sorry. It's never a good thing when your three year old apologizes and you have no idea what she's talking about. I asked her what she was sorry for, to which she replied, "For writing in marker all over your table."

Oh. Crap.

I saw the black permanent marker first. Then I looked to where she was seated and spotted the scribbles all over the side of my new, white table.

Dangit. What was going on in her head when she decided it would be a good idea to do something that she clearly knew was wrong?? What was she thinking!? We have had several conversations about only writing on paper and what a big no-no it is to write on furniture, clothing, or her little brother. And of all things, she decided to mess up my new. white. table.


I went off on a tangent asking her all these same questions and bringing up these important points. I may have raised my voice. And used broad sweeping gestures with my arms to portray to her just how big my disappointment was. Until she burst into tears and said quietly, "Mommy, please call me grace."


I had to stop in my tracks long enough to actually look at her and ask her to repeat what she said. Again, she said with a quivering lip, "Please call me grace."


I realized my daughter was asking for grace. Even though she knew what she did was wrong. Even though she didn't know the right words to say. I had to pause for a second. I mean, seriously, it's my new, white table. It only took a second though.

"You mean show you grace?" I quietly asked her.
"Yes, Mommy. Show me grace."

I hugged her and told her I would show her grace as God shows me grace. And I meant it.

How many times do I know something isn't right but do it anyway? How many times am I selfish and have an attitude that's just about what I want, regardless of how it affects someone else? Yet I am so incredibly aware of the grace of God in my life.

There's nothing quite like being humbled by your three year old.

A while later she came up to me again with a quivering lip, hugged me and said she forgave me. I was a little confused and asked what she forgave me for, to which she replied for writing on my table. Again, she had the words wrong, but I understood what she meant. I realized that although she had told me she was sorry, I hadn't actually said that I'd forgiven her. My goodness, two important lessons in a fifteen minute time span. I'd forgotten in my earlier conversation with my child how important it is to hear the words "you're forgiven" in the process of reconciliation. I know in my relationship with Matt how important it is for the other person to acknowledge that while yes, a wrong was done, there's something freeing in hearing "you're forgiven." It allows the other to know you're not holding something over the other's head and lets the relationship be restored from both party's perspective.

I hope the lines of communication always stay this open with my kids. I hope that God continues to teach me lessons through my children. I hope they'll look back on their childhood and see parents that strive to show them the love and grace of Jesus.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


When I was a teacher, my absolute favorite book to teach was The Great Gatsby. I loved exploring themes of excess and corruption, the mad grab for materialism, and the endless pursuit of this unattainable American Dream. Great discussions would ensue, and I always had several students tell me that this was their favorite book of the year as well. We all want something real to hold onto, yet we chase after all these fleeting things that don't satisfy. I don't think the problem is that we want too much though, I think we just settle for all the wrong things.  

In our culture we're used to extravagance. We even come to expect it. I think God is even a God of extravagance. I just don't believe that His extravagance manifests itself through material things. We think we're blessed because we have so much stuff, but maybe we're mistaking distractions for blessings. Instead, I think He pours out his extravagance on us through His love and grace. God shows us His extravagant love by inviting us to be a part of the work that He's doing in the world. He doesn't save us so that we can maintain a comfortable existence, living as consumers within our little Christian subculture. When we do this, we end up just rotting, and instead of being "the aroma of Christ" to the world, we just stink. We become inwardly focused and do all we can to preserve ourselves, often in the name of preserving God's reputation. 

I spent many of my college years and beyond questioning what being a follower of Jesus was all about. As a sophomore I toured with a drama team that traveled to churches on weekends during the school year and all summer. We probably went to fifty different churches that year. This was an eye-opening year for me as I saw Christianity as I had never seen (or at least noticed) before. I had so many conversations with people that spoke of a God that I honestly didn't understand. I remember listening to this man tell me about how they'll never have drums at their church because certain beats or rhythms were from Satan. 

Um, what? 

What does that even mean? Our team also received several bad reviews. You know, for things like showing up to a church wearing jeans. I alternated between wanting to scream and wanting to completely disengage. I spent the next few years trying to take down the walls that I put up that year from what I experienced in those churches. I know it sounds silly, that one year visiting some messed up churches had such an impact on me. 

I suppose I tend to internalize a lot. 

It was more than that though. I was also immersed in Christian college culture, which at times was great but other times contributed to the walls that I had built. Various circumstances left me battling cynicism and apathy, which is such a toxic cocktail. Looking back, however, I see the work of a loving God that allowed me to experience these things, allowed me to move from a place of comfort to a place of discomfort that would lead to change. I knew there had to be more to Christianity than just "getting saved" and then living life following strange rules and telling people about a safe God. 

I started grad school at Cedarville a couple years after college and had a professor that completely rocked my world. My hope that God was working in our world in a substantive way was restored. He began in Genesis and explained how Adam and Eve were commanded to cultivate and take care of the world around them. God declared what He made as good, but then gave us the opportunity to cultivate what He had already made, to make advancements and improvements. After the Fall, all of creation was affected, not just individuals. We place so much weight on individual sin, but whole systems have been marred by sin. Hence the need for social and economic justice in our world. Individual relationships were not just affected by sin but whole people groups have been dehumanized. Hence the need for racial reconciliation. God, in His incredible extravagance, lets us be involved in this process. The Kingdom of God is not just about the future but is a present reality that God invites us to be a part of as His redemptive work in His world, whether that's cultivating beauty, working to restore dignity to those that have been marginalized, or any number of things that increase His image in our world. We're either working towards something or against it.

Whoa. I certainly didn't want to work against the Kingdom of God.

This sounded a bit different from not maintaining churches that are full of nice, neat people. Our lives are not about finding which church has the best music or preaching so that we can sit comfortably in our pews week after week. Our lives aren't about having the best theological arguments. In the Kingdom of God, life looks much different than in our world. Leadership is not about power but serving. We can give up our need to be right because it's not about us. We don't need to chase wealth but give with open hands. 

I was absolutely floored with what I was learning. It started to make sense to me why it bothered me so much that Christians wouldn't drink but would tell a racist or gay joke. Why people didn't give a rip about the poor, but based their lives around acquiring wealth. However, it also magnified my cynicism for "maintenance Christianity," which I felt was all around me. I would end up in arguments with Matt about what I was learning and felt like I got blank stares when I tried to explain my thoughts to friends. I was so excited, but ended up feeling so utterly alone. I felt like I couldn't connect with friends and couldn't have a conversation with my husband that didn't end in complete frustration. I shut down in some ways and felt like I was in even worse shape than I was after that sophomore year of college. Yet at the same time, I still had hope that life could move beyond maintenance Christianity to mission.

Over the years, Matt and I reopened the dialogue and discovered that we are on the same page in more ways than we realized. Being in a place where we are now able to serve alongside each other and dialogue without worrying if it was going to explode into a heated fight is so freeing. The extravagant love of God has kept me from settling. The extravagant love of God has not allowed for me to become too comfortable, falling into the trap of American Dream Christianity. Each time we're heading in that direction, we find ourselves in places where we're forced out of those comfort zones. God has also showed us other people whose hearts He's stirring as well, who have encouraged and inspired us to keep listening and keep moving forward. We find ourselves now in the middle of the conversation, trying to discern what the next steps are. We're trying to determine how to go against our culture of hoarding all these good things for ourselves, and even for our family, and share this extravagant love of God that we've experienced.