The Cost of Important Things

He keeps coming to my table.

He lands himself on the edge of a chair, leery of perching too close. He’s all feathered and fluffed and I know he’s just visited the feeder. I know he’s not here because he’s hungry. Just curious.

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I’m curious about him. In fact, he could be a her but I’m not adept enough at this bird-watching to know. But he seems like a he, all jaunty and proper but a little bit edgy. I wonder where his home is. I wonder if he knows that I keep my windows dirty just for him and his posse – really, I do.

I want to put a plate of seeds out for him, right there on my patio table the family gifted me several birthdays ago. I want to offer a place to him. I want to give him an all-you-can-eat buffet, while others grovel over falling sunflower seeds and cajole for top spot on the feeder. I want to make a special place for him.

He’ll poop on my table, you know.

If I put that plate out he’ll extend his uninvited-self further into my area, my bubble, my very own outdoor-living space I share with my family. He’ll poop all over it.

Already, he’s pooping on my chairs.

The choices are 1) shoo him away from the table and the chairs and back to his area – the feeder. 2) Let him remain perched on the chairs, curious and bold. 3) Invite him right onto the surface where my people eat their meals, and let him poop all over.

He’ll bring friends and it will be a raucous eating-and-pooping-fest, all over my table.

Is it worth it?

It’s always a matter of deciding, of remembering again, what I love most and what’s most important.

My statement of faith on homosexuality

There are bad guys and boogeymen and monsters under beds. There are criminals looking for victims, and those who rush to do evil. There are haters. There are souls hell-bent on destruction.

And then there are really nice people with whom I don’t agree about some very important issues.

Timid me, the one who wants peace and quiet and everyone-just-get-along, gets called out. Silence is seen as assent. Not speaking truth is tantamount with believing the lie, and I feel compelled to make a statement here because this is our space, the table where I welcome the handful of you that come.

This table may be the dividing line for me. This may cause me to lose that imaginary contest for likes we engage in, the hope of friendship enduring and the fellowship of long tables beautifully arrayed.

Whether you think people are born homosexual or choose it for themselves, homosexual acts are a sin.

This may be the dividing line because so many nice and friendly and intelligent people see it otherwise.

Also, so many mean and repugnant people are loud about this truth – as if being right was all the permission a person needed to be rude.

Homosexual acts are a sin, just as lying and adultery and bowing down before the gods of our own making is sin.

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The problem with calling this a sin is that real people are attached, real people who’s lives have to be wrecked in order for them to acknowledge that truth.

I see nice people, friendly people who do good things. I see people who may be first responders in life’s crises and I know that bludgeoning them with truth will leave bloody, pulpy messes. I realize that, and the nice-me wants to smile and find common ground because I’m shaky.

Jesus is love I want to remind myself.

Jesus is gentle and lowly.

Jesus rebuked the religious people for their exclusivity and abundance of rules. Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

I expect the world to take their own version of what’s true. I expect those who don’t claim Christ to pick and choose from the smorgasbord and have their ala carte truths.

But my brothers and sisters, co-heirs with Christ, adopted by grace, redeemed from the snare – where is the solid ground for us? If there are some things in the word of God that we are not to take as truth – how do we decide?

Do we throw out the part about by grace you are saved? 

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her?

I am a simple person and I trust that God has left His word to the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. If it’s not inspired and infallible, what’s the point? What has been the point all these thousands of years?

Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.

I did not come to bring peace but a sword. ~ Matthew 10:34

*****

I’m running full-bore and free through the church foyer when the glass door confronts me, hard and unyielding. I’m embarrassed and surprised, but at the same instant I remember that I knew it was there. I’ve always known, and it hurts, nonetheless.

*****

It might feel to me like the dividing line is between love and judgement, and I always want to side with love. I want to be your friend and have you be mine and love you for all the things that make you unique.

But that’s not the line. The line is truth – has God indeed said…?

I want it to be always beautiful but sometimes truth smacks us hard, like clean and clear glass.

It’s also logical – that as male and female we are both in His image yet created for specifics, and when Paul says in Romans 1 that they left the natural use for what is against nature, it speaks of shame and penalty.

I want love and rejoicing and sometimes truth is at odds with the table I want to set for all. How do I love everyone? How do I live a welcoming life? How do I stand for truth and sit at a table with those opposed to the truth?

That’s how I feel about it, but you may argue with Scripture and authority and culture and the times we live in. I want to welcome everyone, but Truth must be seated with Love. The two will simultaneously occupy the fellowship hall and I’ll figure out seating arrangements as we go, I guess.

But please, if you don’t feel welcomed here, let it be the dividing line of a truth you don’t buy and not for a lack of love.

“Let the righteous strike me; 

It shall be a kindness.

And let him rebuke me;

It shall be as excellent oil;

Let my head not refuse it.”

Psalm 141:5

*****

Because I feel strongly that questions are good and that the truth can handle them, I’m sharing some links for further consideration on both sides of the issue. There are thousands more. I’m no expert and my goal in this post is not to teach, just simply to be open with you and state my position.

This issue will separate Christians, my friends, and that thought kills me. Let’s not be so dogmatic that we forget the real people being wounded on both sides, nor so soft that we compromise the integrity of God’s word.

Asking Good Questions {with 3 resources for the question-less}

I am still stuck on the questions of the weekend.

I spent two days at the Faith and Culture Writers Conference in Portland and as usual, I am slow to process all that came in.

It was good – that’s my short answer. But there’s a lot more happening than surface-y encouragement and tips for writing. There were some really good questions asked, and I left most of them unanswered.

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I think the key for an introvert in these environments is to introduce yourself to someone in each session you’re in. That way you can delve into one life deep enough to distract you from the flurry of lives happening around you. That person can be your focal point.

Walk up, extend your hand, ask questions.

If you’re good at this (and I am not, so I speak hypothetically – the way I imagine it would be) you’ll be the first to ask questions, and you’ll ask the ones that lead to the most interesting answers – because people are interesting below the exterior and each life is a world of its own.

That’s the exhausting thing about conferences or large gatherings of any kind. Many worlds collide, and two days is just not enough.

Sometimes I’m on the answering-end of the questions and my tongue gets all fat and twisted and I kick myself internally for not being the first to fire a question. It’s like social ping-pong and you want to play as close to the net as you can. I am too often tangled up  – awkwardly balancing the divide between your side and mine or retreating too far to the back of the table.

Some of the questions I was asked should have been answered immediately. I should know what I write about, what I’m passionate about, what my words are for. But for whatever frozen-up reason, what do you write about? became equivalent to WHO ARE YOU, REALLY?  (in all caps like that) and there aren’t one-word answers suitable.

When it comes right down to it, answering certain questions can feel like crawling inside a box.

You know how it feels when someone asks you a deep and probing question without realizing it. They’re expecting a short answer, the standing-in-line-at-the-checkout-being-polite version, and you’re trying to formulate a good twitter-sized response. The conversation usually moves on before you’ve had time to do more than grunt and shrug.

The short and easy answer feels like that box, the one with a label you’ll feel stuck with. The long answer feels like sharing too much of your journal to an uninterested reader.

Grunts and shrugs somehow suffice.

O LORD, You have searched me and known me.

It’s comfortably uncomfortable, being asked questions you want to answer but can’t.

Asking good questions is the catalyst for hearts to open up and burdens to unclench themselves from our shoulders. A good question implies that I’m ready to listen to your answer, when it comes. It means that the one asking understands that life is happening beneath the surface, that a whole world is formed in your mind, that you have an answer that is worth hearing, even if you take too long to answer.

A good question provokes thought.

The best questions don’t always have to be answered – they do their work in silence. So in the silence of being back home, I’m letting them burrow deep.

*****

Resources for good questions:

  • StoryCorps – lists of great questions for all kinds of situations
  • How to Lead Transformational Conversations – podcast with Michael Hyatt and Michele Cushatt. This one is great for business, church, and family settings. Michael talks a lot about leading by listening and being open to input from others.
  • Tabletopics Family: Questions to start great conversations. This one sits on our kitchen counter.

Washing Skyscraper Windows

The End

The End.

The cleaning and cooking and tax-filing and mowing all have temporary ends. The humans we’re raising, the ministry we’re living, the wrangling of our Selves and the struggle to walk worthy – those are circles we run without end.

But all creating, all painting, singing, baking, building, lesson-preparing, teaching, giving – maybe all those things have the potential to loom large, to call you to an End that is scary and unpredictable. If you’re not careful, your outcomes end up being in the hands and opinions of others.

I am forever learning and looping and losing good lessons, but this is the current education I’m getting: doing what I love requires discipline.

I’m not just talking about the need to ignore distractions or make the time. Those are necessary disciplines, of course. But the discipline I’m needing currently (always) in the things that I love is a discipline that disregards the end, which is counter-productive to my accomplishment-loving-self.

But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. ~ 2 Thessalonians 3:13

I love the heavy privilege of raising kids. I’m learning a disinterest for having children that are End Products of years of training, and choosing instead to be brave in the moment and surrender to the long process. Yes, we are responsible for equipping them. Yes, we need to have goals and a plan. But no, we don’t produce trophies for the admiration of passersby. We’re not training monkeys for parlor tricks.

This really hit home when my 15 year old asked for a mohawk and my husband said yes. The quietly funny mild-child. With a mohawk. That I cut.

In the process of raising kids, there are are issues of principle and issues of opinion. Too often, opinions matter to me. So every time I trim up that mohawk I mow down my need for approval. And I may even secretly like it.

*****

When we think about how many terrifying things people are called on to do every day as they fight fires, defend their rights, perform brain surgery, give birth, drive on the freeway, and wash skyscraper windows, it seems frivolous, self-indulgent, and self-important to talk about writing as an act that requires courage. What could be safer than sitting at your desk, lightly tapping a few keys, pushing your chair back, and pausing to see what marvelous tidbit of art your brain has brought forth to amuse you?

And yet most people who have tried to write have experienced not only the need for bravery but a failure of nerve as the real or imagined consequences, faults and humiliations, exposures and inadequacies dance before their eyes and across the empty screen or page. The fear of writing badly, of revealing something you would rather keep hidden, of losing the good opinion of the world, of violating your own high standards, or of discovering something about yourself that you would just as soon not know – those are just a few of the phantoms scary enough to make the writer wonder if there might be a job available washing skyscraper windows.” – Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer

Similarly: as parenting is hard, cleaning my house is easy. As dealing with the day-in-and-out character issues and abrasions of personality clashes and constant questions I don’t want to answer is hard, escaping to busywork is easy. Forcing outward appearances is easy.

Trading the things that are subject to heartache and scrutiny for the things that have a completion, a pleasing outcome, is way too easy.

There aren’t always tidy bows to tie on our creative work – and being human is creative work. Parenting, being a spouse, a boss or an employee, a patient, a passenger, a recipient or a benefactor, all require creativity and we are imaged after a great, creative God. So yes, I really do mean that being human requires creativity.

But you can get away with a gray and creative-less substitute for living. You can find a way out.

Washing skyscraper windows may not be safe, but most people are going to overlook any lapse in your performance and simply commend your obvious bravery, not knowing all the things you’re running from.

You have something to do creatively today. Can you put aside the need for end results and just dive in wholeheartedly? This might look like saying yes to that craft project the kids are asking for, or writing that note, cooking that meal, making that call, giving that gift the Lord has prompted you about.

Maybe you’ll cut a mohawk or write a poem.

Do it, and share your brave work with us.

If you can’t leave, read a book

Some amount of worry about your children is natural. We have been entrusted with these souls and the bodies that carry them, which seem doomed to destruction by couch-jumping, bug-eating, naive parking lot strolling, or curious navigating to see how flooded the creek really is.

My son just finished reading his driver’s manual, and the words of N.D. Wilson ring in my ears:

You can now sit in huge chunks of hurtling metal, taking the lives of every one of your passengers and every passenger in every other passing chunk of metal and every passing pedestrian and every passing bicyclist into your irresponsible hands. You can now make mistakes that kill people (and you).”

It’s like putting your fine china on the back of a wild horse, or treasure in earthen vessels. It seems like a crazy way to do things.

Our children are oblivious and we are hyper-aware. We want to protect the outside and fill the inside and filter out the parts of this world that seep in through cracks we don’t notice, don’t see until it’s too late.

They just want to run barefoot in the streets and eat junk food and watch whatever’s on next. Therefore, it seems like our job to worry.

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I realize, often, that we need to go backwards. We need to go back to the things we were purposeful about before the pace of life hijacked all the boxes on our super-sized calendars. Back to circle time. Back to tucking-in at bedtime. Back to family game night and hot breakfasts and prayer before frenetic and frenzied days. No one is too big for any of that.

Things change faster than we can wrap our minds around and our kids are growing into a very different world, just like we did. What’s dangerous today – new, scary and untested – will be commonplace and normal in ten years. We won’t even remember a time without cell phones in every pocket and legal drugs on every corner, without f-bombs on primetime and metal detectors at every entrance.

So yes, we have some things to worry over. And yes, we have the opportunity – as we raise adults and not children – to slowly remove the bumpers. Let them throw some gutter balls, let them thicken their skins and soften their hearts and prepare for harsh realities.

Fortunately, all the world has to offer by way of enticements is pale and pasty compared to the bright future of eternity, but sometimes it feels like we are pushing broccoli on kids in a candy store. It’s good. Really.

We can only anticipate and daydream and envision a life never-ending and never thwarted by evil. We can envision it, and we should have imaginations shaped for it by the books we read, the people we know, the places we visit.

Still, we live right now, on this side of the torn curtain, wanting to live without separation but bound to this dark side by what we call life. Life, and we want to make good on it. Life, and we try to live it safely and without scarring. Life, that we hold on to and grip with all the feeble firmness of a child who won’t drop the butcher knife.

For kids raised in our little neck of the woods, life is smaller and slower and more innocent. It’s a little bit Mayberry but we have internet. Eternity might feel like the drive to the grocery store or a trip to a decent shopping mall, but we’re telling them otherwise. We’re teaching them about an eternity wrapped in flesh and torn and divided up for the whole world to taste, a beautiful small-town-eternity that comes to them every time they feel too small or too awkwardly large.

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This is what we tell the kids: leave.

And if you can’t leave, read a book.

Pack your bags. Gather what really belongs to you and go see that world in 3D-first-person-real-as-the-dog-in-the-yard. And don’t just see it but touch it and feel its hurt and beauty. Get that bigger picture of yourself as smaller than you could ever understand in this tiny town. Get a bigger vision of you as large as the kingdom, smaller than God, bigger than anything else in creation.

Not every child will go, I suppose. And I haven’t quite worked out how they’ll go but still be here for Sunday dinners and Christmas sleep-overs and birthday celebrations – maybe they’ll go and then return to settle, bringing their bigger picture back to a small life down the street. Maybe they’ll go and find the enchantments we never wanted them to be charmed by. It’s even possible that they’ll find something worth writing home about, and they’ll tell us to leave, too.

The other option, or the Thing We Do in the Meantime, is to read a book. Have a conversation with someone from another time and space. Think through someone else’s thoughts and wrestle with someone else’s words.  We stretch our small town imaginations over a wider world by reading great books together and alone and instead of watching the world on a screen. (These are hopeful words and not always true to life, just so you know.)

Reading is the cheaper cousin of traveling, but oh! the places you’ll go.

You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step, step with care and great tact. And remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.”
Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

 

 

 

 

 

How to see more of God

Every situation has the possibility for as many interpretations as there are people to experience it.

Four gospel writers tell the same events but from different angles. 200 people attend our church on Sunday and some leave mad, some leave inspired, some leave lethargic and apathetic. We watch a movie and get different reactions, read a book and remember different highlights, and recall family vacations with completely different memories.

And then of course there is that blasted dress. I have yet to see an explanation that satisfies me, but this one might be close. It’s just too weird, and I’m somewhere between being tired of seeing it and curious enough to keep wanting an answer. How can what I see be so different from what you see? One of us is crazy.

Shelby's perspective

I’m driving to the airport yesterday morning and my daughter asks for my phone from the backseat. Seeing beauty in a sunrise isn’t something we had to teach her – she was born that way. I might only see a dirty van window in this picture if I don’t look carefully. Or maybe its looking too care-fully that ruins it.

It’s our perspective. We are a world full of individuals who see and hear and think and feel differently. Not wrongly, necessarily. Just differently.

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Sometimes I’m in a group setting and I realize that everything I’m hearing or seeing is coming through my filter in a different way than everyone else. I see how it affects me, but do I realize how you are affected?

I think about how the woman with 4 small children is filtering what she hears; how the recently-divorced man interprets the situation; how the old man with cancer or the young woman with her boyfriend hears what’s happening.

Do I think from my perspective, only?

One Sunday during worship I pictured our congregation from above, all in corporate worship, and then from the ground level I saw us all as individuals. Such individuals and so many testimonies, mostly unknown to me. Every single individual in that building has a story and it colors how they see everything, how they worship, how they think about God and His faithfulness and His character.

What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” – A.W. Tozer

We can worship together as one yet remain so disparate in thought and perspective, never really knowing one another and maybe, missing pieces of who God actually is because of our narrowed vision. Maybe our knowledge of the Most Holy is limited in part because our relationships with people are cut short.

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Shelby's perspective 2

One of the marks of immaturity and a sure way to stop a relationship from growing is the inability to see things from anyone else’s point of view.

Perspective ought to be trained into us like table manners. We ought to have the mind of Christ that sees others first, others most. Our brooding and mooding and self-centered coddling of our own fragile feelings ought to be trained right out of us, and perspective should be in its place. It’s a gift we should look for and cultivate and I think it must always lead to empathy and compassion.

Who will train us?

*****

It’s easy for me to put my foot down with my children and refuse to budge, but even when I’m right and my answer will not change, I still need to have perspective and remember those tantrums I used to throw on my own bed.

Oh I remember. Fists pounding and legs flailing and having the worst.life.ever.  I remember how the things I desired and the yeses I required made life hard for me. And for my mom.

But I was a child and me-first was natural.

Remembering this can help my perspective. So can taking into account that, though my kids may have a great life, they still have things that cause them stress and disappoint them and I shouldn’t take that lightly.

I still think that I think about myself more than anyone else. More than I think about anyone else, but also more than anyone else thinks about me. Know what I mean? I spend the majority of my waking hours thinking about things that will affect me and how they will affect me and how I can reorder life so those things will affect me for the better.

I am supposed to be the most unselfish species on the planet. If I am a typical mom and most other mothers think about themselves as much as I think about myself, we’ve all been terribly misled. We might be doomed.

But maybe it’s just me.

*****

Having someone else’s perspective does not necessarily mean I change my mind. It doesn’t mean a compromise of principles or truth or basic standards of justice. It only means that I can choose to see through someone else’s eyes, though imperfectly, and try to gain an understanding of them. I can put off my selfish me-only perspective and see for a minute that everyone in the situation may be affected differently.

As many-faceted as He is, I think I’ll see God more clearly by paying attention to how others see Him and remembering how He sees us.

 

 

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