The Experience of Grace

Last night, I stood before 40 teenagers on the stage of my cowboy church and talked about smoking weed.

It’s nerve-wracking to holler about sex, weed and mean hashtags from someone else’s pulpit, but when you do, teenagers perk up. It’s like they’re saying, “if you’ve got some tools, we’re listening, but hurry up.”

Weed wasn’t the point. Knowing who you are as a son or daughter of God and what that knowledge does to your behavior, was the point. Driving home I laughed to myself and asked Jesus for the millionth time, “Lord, who am I to say a word?”

Who I am is a chosen, forgiven, beloved daughter of the Most High King – a princess short on theology but experienced in grace.

I chose to meander in Jesus’ general direction when I was 15, but to follow and obey him were out of the question because the list of what I couldn’t do was far too long. But nobody told me all the things I COULD do if I followed him. Nobody told me that following Jesus is like standing in a waterfall of grace.

Back in the day.

Back in the day.

So instead, I spent two decades indulging myself, wondering why my life felt like eating a sleeve of Saltine crackers. I did exactly whatever I wanted, which should have been awesome and sometimes was, but by the end, all I wanted was a tall drink of water.

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” John 7:37

I think the Bible says we have to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling because nobody can really explain how good it is. It’s like describing raspberry jam or how the Carribbean Sea feels to someone who’s never tried either.

Emmanuel, Cardinal Suhard says, “To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”

I don’t want to sell the teenagers of Wood County Cowboy Church on faith as much as I want them to jump in and swim around in it for themselves. So I told them this:

God has thoughts and plans that are absolutely specific to you, but if you’re diverting yourself with stuff that distracts you from God, your engines are idle and it will take longer. In my case it took decades.

The good news is, I figured a few things out and on Wednesday, I’m leaving for Haiti with 30 long-term Mercy Ships crew members. We’re going to do some support work for a Haitian pastor who is building a community from the ground up just outside Port Au Prince – the poorest capital city in the Western Hemisphere.

These are the Christians I didn’t know when I was 15. They are bizarre and funny and when we pray, we swim in that sea of faith together and all our ships rise at once. It’s a unique experience, one that I want for my little loves at church.

*As ever friends, the views expressed herein are my own, not that of my employer.

How To Do Your Real Work.

L.N.Tolstoy_Prokudin-GorskyDid you know Tolstoy had 13 kids when he wrote War and Peace? I’m sure Sophia, his wife, did the heavy lifting, but surely they were loud and underfoot and demanded food several times a day. That’s a fairly hostile environment in which to produce some of the world’s greatest literature.

I discovered that convicting little gem recently in The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and have quoted it several times to friends and loved ones who, like me, are dithering, stalling, procrastinating, rationalizing and otherwise avoiding doing the work God put us here to do, which in my case is write.

What’s your work? What’s the thing you would do forever for no money? Are you doing it? Even a little?

If you’re not sure, or this sounds vaguely familiar, please read Pressfield’s slender little volume and let it roundhouse kick you in the melon until you accept that writing the song, plotting the novel, painting the canvas, playing the music, is easier than making excuses for why you can’t do it.

Start today. Anywhere. Because thirty minutes a day is better than no minutes a day, but beware, this is war.

The writer is an infantryman. He knows that progress is measured in yards of dirt extracted from the enemy one day, one hour, one minute at a time and paid for in blood. The artist wears combat boots. He looks in the mirror and sees GI Joe. Remember, the Muse favors working stiffs. She hates prima donnas. -Steven Pressfield. The War of Art.

My God that’s terrible news.

The dream is freeThat means, rather than point to my demanding job and bizarre travel schedule that keeps me from writing, I need really only to think of Tolstoy or his wife Sophia, who incidentally, along with the 13 kids, was the scribe for War and Peace and rewrote the manuscript seven times. It is over 1000 pages.

Novelist Ann Patchett, whose ability regularly renders me speechless, put it this way in her new memoir This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage:

Why is it that we understand playing the cello will require work, but we attribute writing to the magic of inspiration?…Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it put it away, write another story.

You can read Pressfield’s book in a day or two, which is good, because reading about writing is not writing, it’s preparing to write. Not a bad thing, unless we never write.

So what do you need to write? Sing? Paint? Draw? Invent? Draft? Design?

Why not start today? Then again tomorrow and the next day….

When Mother’s Day Hurts

I kind of dread Mother’s Day. In fact, a few years ago, I was at Cowboy Church for Mother’s Day Sunday feeling pretty normal, until they asked the moms to stand so they could hand them a flower. I started crying so hard I made my own nose bleed and was in the bathroom for an hour.

See, right now Sam and I should have a seven year-old and we don’t.

It’s a long, horrible story that legions of women share, but don’t often talk about. We just cry about it on the way home from church. I’m 41 now, and I decided a while ago to either get ok with not having babies or go insane, so I got ok with it – 364 days a year. On this day though, I kind of have to gut it out.

It helps that I have a wonderful mom of my own to celebrate and two step kids. Even though Tyler, Emily and I converged when they were 17 and 19 and I was 32, Emily sends me a Mother’s Day card every year. She knows the story. She stands in the gap. She’s kind of amazing.

0289

Emily Left. Tyler Right. Best. Wedding. Ever.

So my loves, all you non-moms or trying-to-be-moms, it’s ok to be a little tender on Mother’s Day, but here’s something to remember whether or not your life ever includes the things you think you can’t live without:

For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome. Jeremiah 29:11

That scripture finally dropped from my head to my heart at Mercy Ships last fall. So this morning when the Pastor asked the moms to stand up, I stood, not just because of Emily’s card but because of Africa Mercy crew members KJ and Mary too.

KJ running a tight ship.

KJ running a tight ship.

Mary doing the same.

Mary doing the same.

Last fall, the three of us were sitting on the grass outside our classroom. We’d been asked to pray for each other and wait to hear from the Lord on each others’ behalf. If you have a hard time swallowing that, you’re not alone. Right away, Mary said the idea of expecting God to speak was hard for her, but she opened up her heart anyway and we prayed.

Then KJ, whom I didn’t know very well at the time, said this to me: “I don’t know what this means, but I feel the Lord saying, ‘You are a mother to many.’”

KJ had no idea what a direct hit that was, but guess who did? Mary. She and I had talked about mothers and babies and loss earlier that day.

See how cool God is? On the face of it, he was just speaking to me, when in fact, he was speaking to Mary too about something completely different, but just as important – Faith. It’s startling and delightful when He does it like that, and this is the God we serve.

So this morning I stood in church and counted all the “children” God has put in my life, people who are groping their way toward the light just like I am. Sometimes when I speak at churches or events, people will approach me afterward and tell me their story or just thank me for telling mine. Most often, they are women young enough to be my daughters. So I count them as such and think, my God, who am I that you let me do this?

But I’ve already decided, I want to spend the rest of my life seeing people for who they are becoming, not who they currently are; encouraging them with the truth that they are beloved and precious in the eyes of God.

And that to me feels pretty motherly.