Mary, Did You Know?

Choosing to believe when you don’t understand…

Mark Lowry’s famous song has prompted plenty of pushback from theologians who recognize that both Gabriel’s message (Luke 1:26-38) and Mary’s own song (Luke 1:46-55) indicate she knew plenty about who her boy would become. She knew that he would be “great…the son of the Most High,” and that he would rule over David’s descendants in an eternal kingdom (v 31-33). She knew that he would be God’s son (v 35) and that his name would mean “God saves” (v31). And she knew (whether the angel told her, or the Holy Spirit prompted her) that this Jesus would lift up the humble, scatter the proud, fill the hungry, and send away the rich (v 51-53).

But the more I studied about Mary this month, the more I realized she didn’t know. I can’t imagine she knew what Simeon meant when he said, “a sword would pierce [her] soul, too” (Luke 2:35). I bet she didn’t know that while she escaped to Egypt with her husband and newborn son, many other mothers would be weeping over the death of their baby boys (Matt 2:13-18). I don’t think she knew her son would be ready to debate the teachers of the law by the age of 12 (Luke 2:41-50). When she told Jesus to “turn the water into wine,” (John 2), I don’t think she realized the ramifications his public ministry would have. And I will also speculate that she was counting on a Messiah that would save from Roman oppression, not one who would die a horrific death on a cross. I speculate on all these points, imagining her conversation with Luke many years after Jesus’ ascension.

Mary didn’t know what God was doing throughout much of Jesus’ earthly life. I think that’s why she’s described as “pondering” things in her heart (Luke 2:19, 51). As Luke interviews her, she’s not just remembering the little boy she raised – she’s thinking about the theological significance of how she saw the “Messiah-story” play out in Jesus’ life, through his ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection. She didn’t always understand why her life – her son’s life – turned out differently than she planned. But even when she doesn’t know what God is doing, God is faithfully executing his plans. And even when we don’t understand our circumstances or storms, God is keeping his promises.

Promises God actually makes. Not promises we think God SHOULD make.

I’ve been hearing about God keeping promises all my life – from my parents, in Sunday school, in sermons, and reading the Bible for myself. But recently I’ve struggled to believe that when I didn’t understand what God was doing. Like this past summer, when our 3-year-old granddaughter lost her battle with leukemia. 

Back in March, I shared during a worship service about our experience. I think on a very subconscious level, I thought if I proclaimed my testimony, then God would honor my obedience with her healing. Even the story of Job ends with God restoring his health, his fortune, and family. I shared confidently that “we can’t control what tomorrow will bring. But we can choose to trust God’s presence in the middle of the pain, in the middle of the doubt, in the middle of the suffering.” So, I chose a posture of surrender toward God’s plans, before I knew the outcome. 

But secretly, I thought God was going to heal her. 

Then in July we heard words no parent or grandparent wants to hear – “there’s nothing else we can do.” Even then, I was still holding onto a thread of hope, believing every day God would show up and FIX this. Believing God would restore Isla’s health like he did for Job. Just two days before her death, I finally realized I was going to have to do my own letting go. Of control. Of fear. Of assumptions. Of expectations. I was going to have to choose to follow God, even when I didn’t understand what God was doing, before I knew the outcome, just like Mary. 

See, God’s blessing doesn’t exempt us from suffering, and God’s favor isn’t something we earn with good behavior. God never promises we won’t go through storms. What God actually promises is to be with us in the middle of them.  And we have to choose to stay in the boat no matter the weather, believing God’s promises regardless of the storm. 

God’s promises are not limited by time and space, by class or race, or gender.
Even when we don’t understand, God is keeping his promises.
I’m choosing to believe that.

This post is based on a sermon written and presented with Mark Ashton at Christ Community Church, Dec 20, 2020. Some of our inspiration for the Wise Women series came from the following resources:
ECS Ministry Resource Center, #SermonStarters series on Instagram
Garbe, Theresa. “Christ-Bearers.” https://www.cbeinternational.org/resource/article/priscilla-papers-academic-journal/christ-bearers
Frady, Julie R. “Behaving Like Mary: Reexamining Mary’s Encounter with Gabriel.”  https://www.cbeinternational.org/resource/article/mutuality-blog-magazine/behaving-mary-reexamining-marys-encounter-gabriel
McEachern, Katie. “Mary the Brave: Neither Meek nor Superhuman.https://www.cbeinternational.org/resource/article/mutuality-blog-magazine/mary-brave-neither-meek-nor-superhuman Mowczko, Marg. “Christmas Cardology 2: Mary’s Scandal and Favor.”  https://margmowczko.com/christmas-cardology-2-scandal-and-favour/

Giving Thanks at the Table

a communion meditation shared at Christ Community Church on Oct 25, 2020

I’ve missed hosting meals during the pandemic, and I’m really looking forward to the Thanksgiving holiday. I love planning the menu, decorating the mantle, and setting the table in advance of my guests’ arrival. I invite the people I love the most, make the foods they love the most, and set a place for everyone who was invited.

Certainly, every Thanksgiving dinner celebration is different. There are regional differences in the menu, long standing traditions about table settings, and family preferences of watching football or running the Turkey trot. Whether your family is a Turkey and dressing family, a ham and sweet potatoes family, or even a popcorn and toast, Charlie Brown family, we want our focus to be on the people around the table and our gratitude for the host, and not on the food we share.

The same might be said of communion where traditions vary across the country. Depending on your denomination, you might remember passing silver trays of individual cups or walking to the front of a sanctuary to dip bread into a common cup. When we moved here from TN, our small group gave us this chalice and plate, a reminder of the ones we used there. In our COVID reality, we use individually wrapped cups and sit 6 feet apart. Those at home might use saltine crackers or cheese-its.

But no matter the tradition, we want our focus to be not on the food we share, but on the people around the table and our gratitude for the host. Our host is Jesus. Our union at this table is because of Jesus, the bread of Life, and not because of the type of bread we might choose.

Our communion celebration is based on a past event, when Jesus invited his disciples to eat a final Passover meal with him. A meal he invited even Judas to share. When we picture the people around our Thanksgiving table, we think of those who are dearest to us. But where Jesus is the host, we look around the table and see people who are different than us. People who may dress differently, speak differently, vote differently. When Jesus is the host, the people around the table matter to us, too.

All are invited. All are welcome.

Our communion celebration is also centered on gratitude. Each time the story is told in scripture, Jesus doesn’t offer the bread and the wine until “after he had given thanks.” You may have heard the word Eucharist used to describe communion which comes from the Greek for “giving thanks.” When we take communion together, we first give thanks to the one who is our host. To the one whose death and deliverance we remember.

Who are the people around your table? If you think of your Thanksgiving meal, maybe, like me, you’ll sadly think of empty chairs. Just 4 years ago, I had thanksgiving with my parents. Two years ago, our granddaughter Isla sat next to me. Those chairs will be empty this year, and while we still celebrate, our hearts will be as broken as the bread.

What we celebrate today is only a shadow of the beautiful gathering awaiting us when Jesus returns, when all his followers will feast at the wedding supper of the lamb. The God who invites us to that feast will look around at the empty seats with a broken heart. But today, the invitation stands. And all are welcome.

God is faithful – do you believe this?


What is your normal response when God seems late?
There are many Biblical reminders that even when God doesn’t make sense, God is faithful. Even when we have doubts, God is present.

The first reminder is in John 11, where Martha shares an extended discourse with Jesus about her brother’s death. Martha believes in Jesus’ power. She trusts in Jesus’ ability to affect change. She is not an outsider to the life of faith. And even before Jesus speaks, we see that Martha knows several things.

  1. She knows Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death.
  2. She knows that God will give Jesus whatever he asks.
  3. She knows that Lazarus will rise again at the last resurrection.

Yet Jesus still needs to remind her of his power over death, of his existence as both resurrection and life. I imagine Jesus leaning in toward Martha, just to make sure she understands what he’s saying, as he asks Do you believe this?

Martha needed to be reminded that even when God didn’t make sense, God was faithful; that even when God seemed late, God was present.

Another reminder is from Psalm 78. Far more than random personal prayers collected into a unified book, the Psalms were intentional, fixed forms that were used in worshipping communities and transmitted from generation to generation. In fact, the same Psalm notes “we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the lord, the wonders God has done.” With Psalm 78, the Psalmist records dozens of events in the history of Israel where God intervened and met their needs. So as the Israelites gathered to worship, even during the Babylonian captivity, they sang these Psalms to encourage each other. Verse by verse, the Israelites are reminded of God’s faithfulness, and I imagine God leaning toward his people after each reminder to ask Do you believe this?

God divided the sea and led them through – he split the rock and gave them water…But they speak out against God and ask “Can God really spread a table in the wilderness?”

So the Psalmist replies God rained down manna for them to eat, he gave them all the food they could eat. “Do you believe this?

The Israelites needed to be reminded that even when God didn’t make sense, God was faithful; that even when God seemed late, God was present.

Of course, sometimes I need to be reminded too, and no more frequently than this past year. When a child dies, and God fails to “show up on time for a miracle,” I need to be reminded of God’s faithful presence. I take comfort in knowing that even the disciples who followed Jesus the most closely struggled with this. Remember in Mark 6, when they see Jesus feed a crowd of 5000+ and then TWO CHAPTERS LATER (!) they ask “But where in this remote place can we get enough bread to feed 4000 people???”  The disciples needed a reminder that even when God didn’t make sense, God was faithful; that even when God seems late, God was present.

Finally, the disciples need another reminder in Acts 1. They’ve seen Jesus crucified and raised, and he’s about to ascend to heaven. So the disciples ask “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They were still assuming Jesus would be a political savior who would set up an earthly kingdom. But Jesus reminds them “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”

You see, to those disciples, Jesus was late at getting his kingdom established. But Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Jesus’ kingdom is a spiritual one. So our responsibility as Christians is to help bring about God’s kingdom on earth…

  1. By living into the power of the Holy Spirit and being God’s witnesses in our neighborhoods, in our region, and in our nation.
  2. By breaking down barriers and showing hospitality to strangers because all are welcome at God’s table.
  3. By treating all people as equal in rights and dignity because all are created in God’s image.
  4. By being willing to listen to those with whom we disagree, because dialogue builds community while silence breeds separation.

In this difficult election season, where friends have lashed out against friends, where fear has overtaken faith, and where walls are being erected in place of bridges, we need to cling to each other in solidarity and call out for justice in the face of oppression. We need to continue doing kingdom work whether or not the political system is broken, whether or not our neighborhoods are broken, whether or not our hearts are broken.

We need to be reminded that even when God doesn’t make sense, God is faithful.
We need to be reminded that even when God seems late, God is present.
Do you believe this?

This was originally shared as a communion meditation at Grandview Christian Church, fall 2016

Home is where the heart is…

Home should be where the heart is
Never were words so true
My heart’s far, far away
Home is too.

There’s a map of the United States in my kitchen, with pins marking cities where dear friends and family live. When you make college memories in both Michigan and Arkansas, and move across the country twice in a decade, you leave a trail of memories marked by time and place. Bits and pieces of my heart are left behind in the lives of others.  Imprints from others exist on my own life and heart. I’m a different person than I was when I left home at 18, or even when I left for seminary at 49. For this, I am truly thankful. As Thomas Wolfe said, “you can’t go home again” and even if I could, neither home nor I would be the same.

I’m not the first to recognize that sometimes friends are more like family, and sometimes family shapes us as much in their absence as they did with their presence. Who we are is due, in part, to those who invested in us years ago. But “who we are” is also shaped by those who preceded our generation without any intentional investment at all. Their existence shaped us indirectly by the choices they made, the places they lived, and the people they loved. I’ve sometimes been surprised at how easily I found my way “home” in new cities, new churches, new communities. It may be because I’ve offered my heart in new relationships wherever I’ve lived. I’ve always discovered new people and places to treasure – and “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:21). My map of memories is marked with heart-shaped pins in recognition and celebration of that.

There’s a place called home I can almost see
With a red front door and a roaring fire and a Christmas tree
Yes a place called home…full of love and family
And I’m there at the door watching you come home to me…

My mom died earlier this month after a long illness and the painful effects of separation during COVID while in an assisted living facility in Arizona. I doubt that she thought of that room, however sunny and spacious it was, as “home.” Each time she had to downsize some (3 times in 3 years) it broke her heart to let go of more possessions. She was longing for home – the home she’d curated for years. In her mind, home always included husband and kids (and later, grandkids). Home was family. Home was a kitchen filled with good smells and large quantities of baked goods. Home was being surrounded by family photos, dad’s puzzles, and furnishings she loved. On second thought, maybe she felt a little “at home,” since she did have some favorite furnishings and nearly all the family photos.

Except for a brief, outdoor visit on Mother’s Day, even my brother and sister in law in Phoenix weren’t allowed to visit very often. They would stop by and chat through the window screen. We would call or FaceTime from out of state, but towards the end Mom struggled to hold onto her phone, or understand what to click (or not). Sometimes when we talked, her mental clarity was fading, and she spoke of “going home from work” and “making cookies yesterday.” She thought she was back home in Indiana. I’m sure in these last few months, she was missing family. And in her mind, family was a jumble of those still living, and those who’d passed on. She was longing for home – a different one.

This world is not my home, I’m just a’ passing through.
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

The last year has been a painful season of loss for our family. With our granddaughter’s diagnosis in July 2019, we entered a world of hospitals, chemo, questions, and fear. A few months later, my dad passed unexpectedly after a short illness, weary of life and day to day caregiving. Isla and my mom entered hospice care, miles apart but within days of each other. And after Isla died August 11th, we said our goodbyes to mom only weeks later. The older I get, the more loss I experience, the less I feel “at home” here on earth. The more I long for home.

When I think of home, I think of a place where there’s love overflowing
It would sure be nice to be back home where there’s love and affection…

We all long for home, even if “home” means something different to you than it does to me. If your parents provided you with “love overflowing” but it seems lacking today, you think longingly of that earlier time. If you were in a relationship that ended painfully, looking back on happier times may be easier than imagining what’s next or what’s new. But to be fair, all of life is a mix of blessings and curses, highlights and dark days. We may look back nostalgically to our memory of home, but we know there were good days and bad then, just like in our current reality. When we were in them, they weren’t necessarily the “good old days.” Our longings are elusive. We’re not really sure what we need. But God knows. God is the only one who can satisfy. You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you… Because your love is better than life… (Ps.63:1–4)

“Sometimes I feel lost,” said the boy.
“Me too,” said the mole, “but we love you, and love brings you home.
I think everyone is just trying to get home.”
“Home isn’t always a place, is it?” *

When all seems lost, when death wins, when chaos reigns, we long for home.
But longing for home will prove insufficient. Home is not a place, but a person.

Only Jesus is a steady rock on which to lean. A home for our longing hearts.
Always, only, Jesus

*from The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse (Mackesy, 2019)

A Time for Everything: the Life Cycle of Cosmos and Butterflies

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die… (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Nothing about the death of a child makes sense.

In our limited, logical understanding of life and death, of time and mortality, we expect death to come for the elderly. And as we ourselves grow older, it is always and only those “even older” than us that we identify of as “elderly.” There is a paradox often mentioned that as we age, time seems to pass with even greater voracity and speed. What seems like only a moment ago was my high school graduation. What happened yesterday is often forgotten.

Parts of the last year seem to have taken very long indeed. So much waiting. Such a long winter. Certainly spring will come – but how long? Yet, parts of this last year vanished like a mist with Isla. When I was at the hospital with her in July, we laughed and sang and looked forward to healing and transplant and…life. Now, only 8 weeks later, time is flipped on its head and death leaves us waiting again for spring, for resurrection.

Spring in the Midwest is its own paradox, sending out hyacinths in February only to be blanketed by snow in March. Wednesday’s sunny breeze invites hope, but Friday’s bitter wind confirms a cold reality. But spring eventually came, right? It is possible I missed it this year. But even during COVID, we still had daffodils and 70 degree days and new shoots of green grass.

In the heat of an August afternoon, we forget.

“Teach us to number our days…” (Ps 90).

When I dream of spring, a couple of images come to mind. One is a butterfly, a perpetual reminder of rebirth, transformation, and resurrection. Isla loved reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Eric Carle did his homework on that one – caterpillars really do eat and eat and eat, multiplying their weight exponentially! How fascinating to see an egg hatch into caterpillar who makes a cocoon, before the stunning metamorphosis into a butterfly! What kind of creator goes to all that trouble for the beauty of a butterfly, whose life cycle ranges only from a week to a few months?

Another image is a flower…in so many shapes and colors that it’s not one picture, but dozens. From the earliest lily of the valley to April lilacs; from June roses to the sunflowers towering overhead in August, here is another species where God simply shows off.  Their fleeting beauty and lasting fragrance are visual reminders that creativity and beauty are part of our heritage as God’s image-bearers. Isla loved flowers too, including the tiny yellow ones she gave me in May, now pressed in my bible.

That same month, just after the kids found out Isla would need the trial drug before transplant, Autumn ordered beautiful matching necklaces with an imprint of a cosmos bloom for herself and Isla. Regarding her choice, she wrote, “Not only is cosmos the flower for her birth month, October, but it represents peace, wholeness and joy in life. Cosmos is a hearty flower than can thrive in a variety of soils and conditions much like Isla.” And Isla did thrive in a variety of conditions, her young personality evolving from shy toddler to courageous preschooler during her year in the hospital. She won the hearts of doctors and nurses, therapists, and friends with her fierce determination and joyful spirit, even in the midst of leukemia treatments.

I wish Cosmos were perennial.

Hope does not disappoint… (Rom 5)

Autumn’s post continues, “It is my hope that her body will find wholeness, our family can find peace, and the years ahead will be filled with joy…” Reading her post again today reminded of the scripture that says  “…we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Rom 5:3-5).

I’ve seen suffering produce endurance, character, and hope in our family this year.
But I choke on the phrase hope does not disappoint…

Hope disappointed us this time.
Isla’s body did not find wholeness. Peace is still illusive. Joy seems unimaginable.

And then, I remember the butterfly.

For those of us who believe in the power of metamorphosis, of resurrection, we trust that her body will find wholeness in transformation, in the wonder of a life to come.

We believe that which is sown in weakness is raised in power (1 Cor 15:43).

We believe that the peace of God surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7) even when the death of this child doesn’t make any logical sense.

We believe that the God of hope will fill [us] with all joy and peace (Rom 15:13).

Maybe not today. But there’s a time for everything…

Letting Go*

Mt 14: 23-27

…he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.

And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking toward them on the sea, they were terrified…and cried out in fear.

But immediately, Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” 

This boat I’m in

Battered by waves

Filled with saltwater foam

I can’t see my feet any more

Much less the shore

The wind is against me

Terrified

Storm magnified

Grief till I’m beside

Myself.

A distant shape

Shrouded in mist

Veiled in mystery

Yourself.

Do not be afraid.

Mt 14:28-32
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”

So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened. Beginning to sink, he cried out “Lord, save me!”

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying, “You of little faith – why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.

Letting go of the side of the boat

Letting go of control

Of fear

Of assumptions

Of belief in miracles and

Walking on water

Anyway.

But the wind is strong

And my faith is small

And I fall.

Again.

We get back into the boat together

Anyway.

*photo credit Sarah@thestudiobythesea

Another grief, observed*

Last week doctors told our family “There’s nothing else we can do.”
When people ask how we’re feeling, finding words is excruciating.
Metaphors and mystery are all we have.

No words.
Phrases form and
Fall flat

Shards of glass
Pierce, slash, and tear
An open wound

Slammed into curb,
Knocked into neutral
The car unaffected
(or so it seems)
I keep driving

Waves of nausea
Froth under the surface
Crash against the shore
When least expected
Unrelenting.

I can’t breathe,
Drowning in pain
Suffocation a proclamation of my
Indignation at
the [in]justice of God.

I can’t sleep
but dream in color.
Nightmare with no end
Falling with no place to land
And wake in pain.

In-between diagnosis and despair
A thin blue line forestalls my
Descent into chaos
Fear in the rearview mirror.

Panic in the pandemic
Unmasked
Unheard
Undone

Only prayer and pain in a
Quarantine of grief
Holding my heart in Your hand
Broken

*in recognition of the book by C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed.

Remembering Dad

When I was in third grade, we moved into a Cape Cod house in Nashville, Tennessee. The magnolia tree begged to be climbed, mimosa blossoms scented the yard, and a sloping driveway went all the way around back to the basement sliding door. The basement included a den along with bedrooms for my brothers and me. Upstairs was a rented apartment accessed only by an outdoor stairway; the flat roof of the garage served as its porch. The formal living and dining areas were reserved mostly for Sunday dinner guests who entered the front door

But our family entered through a breezeway between kitchen and garage. The year dad remodeled that kitchen, I fell in love with home design watching the 1930s galley become a 1970s L-shaped wonder with avocado green appliances. At one end was the door to the formal dining room. At the other end were two doors; one led to the garage, and one to my dad’s study. That door was always open.

Dark paneling and carpet sucked the sunlight out of the study, window to the front yard notwithstanding. Along one wall, bookshelves extended ceiling-ward, and along the opposite wall was my dad’s desk. There were lower bookshelves next to the desk, and stacks of Bibles and commentaries across the top. And on a plastic mat in the middle of the floor was my dad’s office chair. Curved and smooth, the well-worn arms of tiger oak radiate strength and stability just like my dad. The base was a metal post with four swivel feet and it rocked backward. But dad always leaned toward his desk, eyes straining at the text as he hand wrote sermon notes for Sunday.

Decades later, I’m in another study of dad’s, helping them pack for a final move to Phoenix. Because I’ve moved quite a bit myself, I’m incredulous at some of the items my dad kept. What in the world was he thinking? The reason behind such choices is surely subconscious; we’d be hard-pressed to describe those selections to anyone else. But what we choose to keep communicates something about what we value.

A glimpse of our past; what we treasure most.

Dad’s desk was like a paper trail of the last five decades. I found pocket calendars dating to 1994; mail from siblings as well as high school classmates; programs from musical performances he was in or directed; ancestry notes on his family; term papers from high school. Of this last category, one was titled “That Inferior Feeling” and described the uncertainty of not-quite-measuring-up to (self-imposed?) standards. I imagine my dad at that young age and I wonder whose expectations he was trying to meet. I think of myself at that young age, and my dad making note of the one “B” on my report card of mostly “As.” Compassion and empathy increase as I realize that his parenting grew out of his own experience, with parents and teachers alike. We are all products of our past, sometimes broken, doing the best we can with what we’ve received.

One entire bookshelf was filled with 9×6 inch black notebooks, each one a three-ring binder of sermon notes, carefully typed outlines from his decades of preaching. In the mid-90s (when his old typewriter died but he hadn’t yet made the move to a personal computer) you see a shift to hand-written sermon notes, still in outline form. As the years progress (and his job becomes part-time) the hand-writing becomes more wobbly and the dates of sermons less frequent. As far as I can tell, he kept every single one, noting both date and location of its delivery. They are didactic in nature, not reflective or contemplative. Still, I struggle with whether or not to keep them as is, let them all go, or translate them all into an eventual festschrift of his preaching career. The notebooks serve as a window into his belief set, a time-worn record of his lived-out theology.

I always loved dad’s study. I loved the books, and the sound of my dad’s pen, and the atlas that rivaled the size of my younger brother. I loved the swivel chair so much it now sits in my own office where I write blog posts, research papers, and yes, sermons. My path to ministry has often been a winding and surprising journey. My daughter and I both followed in his footsteps as ministers, an ironic detail he missed in his commitment to a men-only church leadership model. We are shaped by our past, but we don’t have to be permanently defined by it. I think I honor him best when I follow God’s will, just as he did, even if he couldn’t understand the path I travel.

Maybe someday Dad’s chair will belong to my daughter. Maybe she’ll look through my books and files someday, wondering why I kept and wrote what I did. She’s walked a different road than mine, finding affirmation for her call through her college years, and ministry with a Chicago church plant. She’s also published articles, and walked through lots of open doors. Sometimes I think about ministry doors that slammed shut because of my gender. But the door to dad’s study was always open.

March Madness, Social Distance, and Doubting God.*

It’s been nearly nine months since a blog post.

It could be that the job I started in July has kept me pretty busy. (It has.)
It could be that an academic presentation eclipsed my blog writing. (It did.)
It could be that after waiting so long, it seems trivial to write when the world is turning upside down. (It does, and it is.)

But here we are.

Last year, friends told us 2018-19 was one of the hardest, longest, snowiest winters ever in Omaha. This year’s weather pales in comparison to last year’s. But oh my goodness, how long the winter has seemed. Not because there was a ton of snow, but because we’ve been counting hospital stays, logging miles, and waiting for test results for our granddaughter, Isla. And now, on top of our family struggles, the world’s gone mad about COVID-19, social distancing, and self-quarantine.
Uncertain times indeed.

We’re longing for spring…aching for the promise of Easter.

While our life has had twists and turns, it’s been pretty easy overall. Except for one scary car accident where both of our kids needed stitches, parenting was a cake walk for us. We always had a comfortable home, plenty to eat, and jobs we enjoyed. You know, it’s easy to be faithful and obedient when things go well. It’s easy to be lulled into complacency when life is easy. It’s easy to fall for a“good life” prosperity gospel when everything is going your way. Our first 34 years of marriage and parenting were pretty great.

And being a grandparent is even better. As Nana and Pops, we have the unique blessing of enjoying all the fun and little of the day to day stress. It’s easy to think that our good fortune is somehow related to our good behavior. Even the Psalmist agrees, saying “the Lord’s love for those who respect him continues forever and ever, and his goodness continues to their grandchildren” (103) Obviously, according to this author, God blesses those who obey the rules.

But last July we found out that our 3 year old granddaughter had cancer – Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Nothing really prepares you for news like that. It’s been hard to put words to my feelings over these past several months (another reason for not writing, perhaps). But I found some words now.

Anger. Confusion. Denial. Frustration. Doubt. Sadness. Despair. Uncertainty.

Obviously, this diagnosis either did not align with the Psalmist’s theology, or someone in my family must not be living right for this horrible thing to happen. How in the world could this be? Why my kids? Why my grandkid? Who wants to live in a world where 3 year olds get leukemia?

Job had some questions like that for God. In his response to unhelpful friends, he cries out  (Job 29:2) –  “I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me…for the days when the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me”  

Like Job, I didn’t just feel like God was inattentive. I felt like God was absent.

Life was much simpler when our kids were little and the biggest problem we had was trying to get them to eat their broccoli at the dinner table. But as the song Here Again reminds us, we can’t go back to the beginning. And we can’t control what tomorrow will bring. But we can choose to trust God’s presence in the middle of the pain, in the middle of the doubt, in the middle of the suffering. 

We can choose to “let God’s love rise above every fear”.

Yet every day, if I’m honest with you, can feel like a battle. So many unanswered questions. So many unknowns. So many medications and treatments. I think of the verse in 2 Chronicles 20 where they cry – “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We don’t know what to do but our eyes are on you.”

We don’t know what type of treatment to choose,
but our eyes are on you, God.
We don’t know what the outcome of this battle will be,
but our eyes are on you, God.
We don’t know how to navigate this uncertainty,
but our eyes are on you, God.

When I think about this battle (against time, against leukemia, against doubt, against pandemic) I’m thankful for the God who goes before us and stands behind us. The song Defender begins with the line “You go before I know that you’ve even gone to win my war.”  Our eyes are on the God who is already there in the hospital, already there in the chemo in her bloodstream, already there in the room where a doctor will report her prognosis. Like Moses reminded the Israelites at the Red Sea, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Be still.

“God is our refuge and our strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…The Lord says – “Be still and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46)

The Lord Almighty is with us.

*I shared a version of this post as a worship testimony at our Mar 1st Access service at CCC (starts around 17 minutes in).

Surprise us, Lord!

Twice in the last month, I’ve been prayer circles where someone prayed “Surprise us, Lord!” It stood out, partly because I heard it twice, but also because I couldn’t remember ever praying for that, specifically.

Not that God never surprises me, as previous posts affirm. It just that I don’t remember asking for God for those surprises. Looking back, I was definitely surprised by our move to Omaha. Before then, I was surprised by a sense of deep loss during a season of transitions. But I can’t remember a time when I was any more surprised by God than I am today.

Over the last several months, as Harold and I have settled into life with our new church here in Omaha, I’ve reached out to leaders to brainstorm ways I might volunteer. We talked about how to equip people to serve, the need to mentor younger women, the possibility of teaching a class or training volunteers, ways to help guests become regular attenders, and many other passions – the possibilities are limitless! I love my work teaching and mentoring students, but also want to invest my gifts well in our local church.

Those conversations opened a door I never expected. About 7 weeks ago, our lead pastor asked me to consider applying for a position on his executive team. Harold and I prayed about it for 3 full weeks, and sought prayer and counsel from others who knew me well (across the country, and over the last 3 decades!) After another 3 weeks (and 7 interviews!) I was offered the position and will be joining the ministry staff at Christ Community Church on July 10.

Sometimes when you’re in the middle of the “every day,” you don’t see how dots connect, or how random experiences and incidental choices may set you up for the next chapter God has in mind. That has certainly been true for me. In May, I shared some Facebook reflections with the hashtag #MayMinistryMemory. In fact, if you look back at some of my posts over the last two months, the quotes, prayers, and songs I’ve shared bear testimony to the journey I’ve been on. It’s been a blessing to look back to see how God’s been moving, even when I wasn’t fully aware of the plan.

A few days after the initial phone call, I’d scheduled a day away for prayer and reflection. Early that morning I spotted a bald eagle, teaching her baby to fly. Since I was in retreat mode, I immediately started spiritualizing the experience. Could God be using this experience to speak into my situation?

Is this a sign from God that I should continue coaching and teaching my college students?

Or wait – is this a sign from God that I should lead and teach ministry staff, and mentor other women?

I’m not sure exactly how many moments passed before I laughed aloud and realized… God is the eagle parent.
You’re the one who needs to follow.

In 2016, I wrote “I am confident in my calling to equip God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ is built up (Eph 4:12) but I do not yet know what doors might open for me to do that.” Even then, God was working, and now the door has opened wide. The same day I was away on retreat, Rachel Held Evans passed away. Her ministry inspired me to lean in to hard things, to obey courageously even in the midst of fear, to “rise up” as a woman of valor. But courage and confidence are not enough, and should not be based on our own strength or ability.

So I am confident that this will be the most challenging, stretching, and yet rewarding role I’ve been asked to fill. My responsibility and my privilege is to lean on God’s strength, even in my own weakness. And I am confident God’s faithfulness will see me through.