Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Power of our Stories

A new year. A new group of students. A new batch of stories.

It never fails to amaze me when they start to share some of their stories. These kids have tragic stories and triumphant stories and lots of stories in between.

I'm sure a lot of us have what I like to call a 'normal' story. There's a bit of hardship, there's a tad of rebellion, there's no major upheaval, we learn from our mistakes, grow into wiser versions of ourselves, and carry on.

But there's a lot of stories that don't go like this. They go dark and twisty and lonely. And those stories get me every time.

I always thought I wanted a grand, life altering, 180 story. Because mine is so ordinarily ordinary. I wanted a powerful conversion story, like Paul, so when I testified about God's transforming grace it would be a big story (like God's grace has a measuring stick or something--I know--silly) and move people down to their souls. And in my small thinking, I thought that these big stories would inspire more souls, would catapult more people straight to Jesus.

I always thought I wanted a story that had a lot of ups and downs and hardships because those inspirational people who conquer mountains wield power with their words and their lives seem so much more substantial than my chaotic schoolteacher-wife-mom-of-three life.

But after teaching for a lot of years, I've realized I don't need the hard story. And in fact, it's okay to have a different story. The hard story is hard for a reason. It's filled with tragedy and loneliness and struggle and consequences. And that story isn't the one I have. Instead, I have a lot of young people who are walking out that hard story as they walk lonely down the hallways. And I've figured my job is to walk that lonely hallway with them to be sure that grace and love has a role a story that might be devoid of good gifts.

So there's girls like me: Girls who've gone to church since we could talk and who've loved Jesus and asked for salvation over and over just to make sure. Girls who followed rules because we were afraid not to. Girls who stayed out of trouble because we watched others get into trouble and decided trouble's price tag was too steep. Girls who labor over saying the right thing or the wrong thing, who struggle over motives and image and perception because we don't want to convey the contrary or we're afraid to convey the contrary. Girls who didn't party like the other kids because we didn't see the point and having fun was actually about laughing purely. Girls who were called 'goody two shoes' and were left out of a lot because we wouldn't have done it anyway.  But we have stories too. Ordinary, normal, simple stories.

But there's a steadfast beauty in those stories. Sure, they might not move people to faith or elicit great emotion or change the whole world. They might not inspire others to greatness. But there's a quiet, enduring power in the story of faithfulness, of obedience. And the quiet stories wield their own kind of greatness, their own kind of beauty, their own kind of power. And in the kaleidoscope of all our stories, the tapestry needs the quiet, steadfast ones, too.

Our words, our stories have all sorts of power. Hold all sorts of meaning. And God can perform all kinds of miracles out of our stories. I love that. That regardless of how our story came to be, they all hold the same measure of grace and mercy, because God's love cannot be measured and His grace is not doled out in proportion to the circumstance. It's just poured out in endless and abundant waves. We have access to all His love and all His grace all the time in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in.  

In God's eyes, all stories are grace stories. All stories are love stories. And all stories hold equal weight in the hand of God because we are held in the hand of God. And since God is the author of our stories, He must love all of them because He loves all of us. Or maybe it's because He loves us so much that He loves our stories.

Over these years I've been working with young people and listening to their stories and walking with some of them through their stories I've come to realize that our stories hold the power of redemption, of love, of grace, of healing, of grace, of transformation, of humanity. No story is too small in the hand of God. No story is too ordinary. No story is too quiet.

It's not how deep in the mire our story takes us or how broken our story makes us that determines the worth of our story. It's not the magnitude of tragedy or the mountaintop of redemption that dictates the power of our story.

It's Who our story take us to. It's Who brings us from the depths and Who heals our brokenness and Who offers us grace and Who redeems us with love that determines the worth of our stories.

For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things made to praise Him (Rom 11:36).
Our stories, who we are and who we become, come from Him because we belong to Him.
Our stories are written through Him and because of Him.
And our stories bring us back to Him.
So that we can praise Him.

Grace Always Rises,

Dear Friends, 
I'm linked up today with some lovely ladies: Holley Gerth at Coffee for your Heartand Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory. Drop by and be encouraged. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Truth About Being Extraordinary

Sometimes I think I want to be extraordinary.

You know what I mean. I want to be something perhaps more glamorous, more noteworthy, more everything than what I find myself: A 39 year old mom of three, wife, teacher, Jesus follower. Like that right there somehow doesn't encapsulate every marvelous, wonderful, extraordinary nuance about my life?And yet on those days, it just seems somehow uninspiring and lackluster and oh-so-ordinary. I hate to admit it, but there are moments when the endless days of dirty dishes and dirty floors and dirty children just seem to span farther than I can fathom with no clean in sight and I sigh from all this ordinary.

But on these days I am gracefully prodded to recognize that I just might be in a place where my thinking needs to be challenged. Where my paradigm needs to be slightly shifted closer to the cross because what's extraordinary has nothing to do with me. Or what I do. Or who I am. And it has everything to do with Jesus and the cross.

And that's liberating. That makes my heart beat like a hummingbird's wings because there's no pressure to be more, there's no requirement to be better, there's no more worth to be earned. And when I sigh from all this freedom, it's a sigh of something more than ordinary.

The cross is extraordinary. 
The work Jesus did on the cross is extraordinary. 
The message of the Gospel is extraordinary. 
The grace He died to give us is extraordinary. 
The unfathomable, unconditional love He holds for us is extraordinary. 

This kind of extraordinary has no match, no rival, no comparison.

The message of the Gospel is the main thing and we just have to remember to keep the main thing the main thing. When there's soccer practice and dinner and mountains of laundry and the toilets are becoming a science experiment and it's hard to simply keep our heads above water, we just need to shift our paradigm back to the Cross. And this is perhaps a great grace, that we can, that we have the opportunity to, shift back to the main thing over and over. And over again.

So a frazzled, clumsy mama becomes something more than ordinary because of the cross, because of Jesus. And what's more, God chooses to use us ordinary, broken, frail creations as the vehicle with which to spread His extraordinary message of hope. He chooses the ordinary, the lowly, the humble to reveal the extraordinary. All the time. And extraordinary in the eyes of Jesus bears no resemblance to extraordinary in the eyes of the world. 

And in a world that fails to embrace an extraordinary Gospel, it perhaps no surprise that the Gospel flips everything upside down: the last shall be first, the weak shall be made strong, the broken shall be mended, the meek shall inherit, the sorrowful shall be comforted, the homeless baby born in a manger shall be King and then die to save us.

But this is perhaps also a great grace: that we are lowly and humble and broken and ordinary and yet He chooses us. He uses us. He wants us. He. Loves. Us. 
How extraordinary.

Isn't it the little things, like the first bud in spring, the first sweltering day in summer, the first blazing leaf in autumn, the first frost, that usher extraordinary straight in? Isn't it the way the ants swarm in unity or the ladybugs appear in hordes or the clouds build into thunderheads on a hot summer afternoon that reveal extraordinary?

Isn't it the little things that often mean the most? The ordinary, mundane acts that speak the loudest? That create extraordinary moments?

The crooked grin that's missing teeth, the grubby hand that grabs yours, the indecipherable picture that comes home from school that depicts your family and you're even included, the warm little body that curls up next to yours out of the blue. It's then the sum of all the mundane, ordinary acts we do every day for the love of our family, for the love of our Savior, that create an extraordinary life.

And it's an extraordinary life because the Gospel is extraordinary.

When I long for a different view when I get out of bed in the morning or walk downstairs into pandemonium or come home late to homework and half-starving children, I have to remember what is extraordinary in the eyes of the Father is far, far different than what's extraordinary in the eyes of the world. And my audience of One says that cleaning toilets is extraordinary when it's done for the glory of God. Just like feeding the kids or folding the laundry or being a glorified taxi driver for soccer practice four nights a week. It's all extraordinary. Because when The Father sees us, He's seeing us through the extraordinary work Jesus did on the cross.

We're looking for extraordinary, but perhaps we've been looking in all the wrong places. I think we'd all be better off if we looked at the same place, the right place, the only place. Together. I think we'd be able to hold each other up, to grab on tight and tilt our eyes towards the Cross and together we'd have courage and together we'd be sisters and together we'd be humbled by what we see in His gaze, in His eyes, when He looks upon His daughters. Because we'd see in His eyes how extraordinary He thinks we are and maybe we'd shine a little brighter and speak a little kinder and breathe a little deeper and love a little harder when we stop striving and start living in the extraordinary moment of right now. 

And when the Gospel, the extraordinary message of Jesus, begins to live within us, to take root and sprout from us, we become living messengers of His grace and His love. And then our every moment is a living testament of His goodness and His grace and how can we possibly go wrong when our every breath is a living reminder of His extraordinary love?

Sometimes, most times, I just need to take a deep breath, and remember that Jesus already did the hardest part, the most extraordinary part. I can stop striving and lunging and exerting myself after an empty pursuit and just follow Him.

Just. Follow. Jesus.
Just. Love. Jesus.

And that's extraordinary.
Because He's extraordinary.

Grace Always Rises,

Dear Friends, 
I'm linked up today with some lovely ladies: Holley Gerth at Coffee for your Heartand Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory. Drop by and be encouraged. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

What Happens When I Think Small...

I confess I think small.
Because I feel small.
And though God has not given me a spirit of fear but rather one of power and love, I don't feel that so I don't live that.
So I live small.

So there are days when I accidentally-on-purpose-maybe put God in a box.

And where God is Greater I somehow make Him smaller in my head and fix Him in this somewhat ridiculous box that I made for myself, by myself, because in my small-mindedness I can't fathom something more than the nice, safe, comfortable limits of my box. The walls and the corners of what I see must be all there is.

This must make the enemy overjoyed.
Which makes me sad.

Here's how it happens because there's a method to this madness: Something happens--traumatic in my small little world, but because it's my small world, it's traumatic nonetheless--and because I respond to it according to "Jamie's" way I think that Jesus responds to that the same way. That my hang ups are His hang ups. That my limits are His limits. That my abilities and capabilities are His abilities and capabilities.

I know. I know.

What am I thinking?! But perhaps you're thinking that maybe you do this too. (Or at least I'm hoping one other sweet sister is thinking this so I'm not all alone out on this crazy limb.) I fall into this crazy habit of forgetting how BIG He is when I am living in the nitty-gritty smallness, the humdrum routine of everyday that sometimes makes me start thinking small, believing small.

I think we've grown complacent, accustomed to the tangible nature of our culture. Where things of the spirit are deemed taboo or we're deemed a little bit nuts because we believe in the Holy Spirit and if we believe in the Holy Spirit then there are other less holy spirits. And this spirit realm is a little eerie so people stick with what they know, what they can see, what they can touch, what they can prove. And maybe herein lies the problem.

Faith cannot be proven. Its very nature is based on that which is unseen. God asks us to step off a ledge believing in His perfect love and that His perfect love will not only catch us, but keep us and cast out every fear.

Faith cannot be touched. Sure, perhaps the result of faith can be. But the act of faith is an intrinsically personal one. I can't make you believe. I can't make me believe. I just have to shut my eyes tight and take that really scary step off that really tall cliff and believe that He is right there.

Faith cannot really be understood. It wasn't hugely popular when Noah started building a giant boat in the middle of a field where there wasn't a lick of water. There was no logic in Abraham's obedience when God asked him to sacrifice his only and long-awaited son, Isaac. It didn't really make sense when David, just a boy, obeyed the prompting of the Lord and slayed a giant with a sling shot and a small pebble. Or when Joshua marched around the city of Jericho for seven days. Or when Moses led his people through the Red Sea and into the Promised Land. Or when Esther was given the task of finding favor with her king to save her people. There was little explanation when Mary conceived a child by the Holy Spirit who would be the Savior of the world, the Savior of me.

What God asks of His people rarely makes sense in the moment. In fact, often, it might seem like what He's asking is just a bubble off plumb. But the marvelous awaits just on the other side of that chasm He asks us to jump over.

But there's a flip side.

I think because I sometimes, maybe, put God in a box I get in His way. Not that God couldn't push me out His way, because He's God. But if I'm not praying big, believing big, loving big, why would He go big?

When did we become afraid or forgetful of a Big God? And His really Big stuff?

When did I forget that I love a God who raised people from the dead? Who healed illness and brokenness and cast demons out of the suffering? And this same God loves me.

When did I forget that I believe in a God who has already won the war and is just dying to help us have victory in the battles and skirmishes between here and eternity?

When did I stop looking for the miraculous? Asking if He might do the miraculous? Believing that He wants to do the unbelievable? When did I stop believing that He might answer my really crazy prayer in a way that I can see? That maybe my faith the size of a mustard seed would be just what He was waiting for to move mountains.

When did I forget that faith has to be more than a word that I say, a platitude that I utter, an idea that I agree to, but it must be the concrete that I build my actions on, the impetus to steer my investments of time and energy, the runway that all the other Kingdom stuff can take off from. And the only cure for unbelief, for small complacent faith, is more of Jesus.

My God does not fit in a box. In fact, I'm pretty sure He loves to break them right open.
Chip Brogden wrote "If God will do whatever He wishes, regardless of whether we pray or not, then we do not need to pray at all, and the Lord's instructions on praying for the Kingdom and the Will are superfluous. But the truth is that God waits for a Remnant to rise up and pray in agreement with His Purpose before He does anything--He will do nothing apart from the Church. Apart from HIM, we CAN do nothing; apart from US, He WILL do nothing."
The God of the Bible is the same God we serve today. I believe He wants revival. I believe He wants all to come to know Him and none to perish. I believe He wants to make Himself known and use His people to perform miracles for His glory. I believe that He wants to break out of the box that perhaps we have made for Him because it's more comfortable for us because we can see it and touch it and know it. I think He's grieved by our unbelief--by our inability to ask with confidence and belief and agreement for sickness to be healed, for husbands to come to Jesus, for children to turn back to God, for cities to be moved, and for all the other hard stuff that lies between here and forever.

In the face of an enemy who will stop at nothing to break, annihilate, and destroy, we must believe in a God who is bigger or we'll flounder under all this weight. When 9 year old girls are being sold and raped, when 8 year olds are hooked on drugs, when high schoolers are shooting each other, when women are selling their bodies and thus their souls, when men sit in complacency when they should stand for truth, when folks half a world away don't have food to eat or beds to sleep in, when folks are doing unspeakable things to the innocent, and the list of ugly and broken things can go on for days.

And I tell you, my heart is grieved. Broken. Shattered. By the havoc and the hurt that is being wrought. But I have to cling tightly to the Truth and the One who knows every face, every heart, every violation. And He is greater than all of that. He is bigger than all of that. And when I pray, when we pray, the prayers of His people shift the earth a bit, leave ripples with all those prayers we are heaving, by all those prayers that are breaking us right throw one stone in a pond and it makes a ripple, but what if you threw a handful? A bucketful? A truck load? How big is that ripple now? And that ripple goes on rippling through eternity and eternity is changed. And what if those prayers, the hard ones where there are no words just our tears and the loud ones and the quiet one and the grateful ones, were a tsunami, not of destruction, but of God's redemptive love, of His majestic power, of His transforming grace? Rippling the fabric, the very threads of eternity, moving them, changing them, grabbing them, weaving them again, weaving them differently.

When all seems so dark, so hopeless, our prayers light a thousand beacons shouting hope, our prayers set off a wave of ripples that shift the clouds and rend the veil so His light can break through.

I believe we can do all things through Him. I believe that He chooses us to be His hands and feet in a dangerous, lonely, broken world. To be the stuff that others can see and touch and hear and know so taking that leap to the other side of belief is less scary.

But I'm not sure I'm living my life like this. With boldness and reckless abandon to the love and transforming power of Jesus Christ. I'm not sure that I'm being transformed by the message of God's grace and then doing something about it, not because I have to, but because I'm compelled to.

So here's to letting the God of everything transform how I think, how I believe, how I pray, how I live.
Here's to asking God to lovingly and gracefully casting aside my small-mindedness and giving me His eyes to see the limitless and endless possibilities of His Kingdom.

Here's to latching the safety bar tightly across my lap, riding that car to the top of that mountain, and just as it tips over that precipice, throwing my hands straight up and riding it through to the end.

Believing that my Great God will use my small faith to help His Kingdom come.

Grace always Rises,

Hey there, I'm linked up today with some lovely ladies: Holley Gerth at Coffee for your Heartand Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What to take from pain

The last 5 weeks have been rough.
Painful. At times debilitating. Frustrating. Expensive.
It's often hard to see the forest for the trees.
It's often hard to see the beauty in the ashes.
It's often hard to remember that brokenness is a season, an opportunity, a blessing.

But until that holy shift in perspective comes, it just feels like a gloomy day; a day where the sun is hiding and the light has gone away.

I am a sort-of runner. I say sort of because if there was a different "thing" I could do that would reap the same benefits for the same cost (ie. free), then I would probably do that instead. I don't love running per say. I'm more of a team sport kind of person. But I have discovered running is good for my mental health as well as my physical health...mostly.

I am a sort-of soccer player. I say sort of because I really love soccer, but I'm not terribly talented at it. I can hold my own on the turf, and I'm smart so I make up for my lack of skill with an overabundance of firing synapses. I play on a team where the average age is probably 40 so none of us are gonna be world class players--ever. But we have fun and it's good exercise and I like the folks I play with.

Combine the two, plus a 38 year old body, and sometimes that body doesn't cooperate like it did a decade ago. Thus my last 5 weeks.

It was my own fault. I knew my lower back wasn't right. There was pain for quite a few weeks and that pain wasn't really going away and every time I played, I aggravated an already aggravated issue. I let the issue compound itself and build into and upon itself until one game, my back told me, in no uncertain manner, that I was done. DONE.

I had crazy pain. Pain that I might just equate to labor pain. It was horrible. And awful. And excruciating. And constant.

I was sad. To put it mildly.

And as I sought treatment for that issue, I realized that while I was relatively fit, parts of my body had been sorely neglected and were now sending that message in quite an unfriendly manner. The realigning of my lower back sent my hip flexors into a revolt against the rest of my lower body. For those anatomy buffs, the hip flexor (aka the psoas) I've learned connects to the interior of some of those lower back vertebrae so when you start moving those, then the hip flexors resist, which pulls on the hips which irritates the IT band which then irritates some other muscles. It's super awesome. So these last weeks have played out like some crazy dramedy (you know-- drama plus comedy) which should've been cancelled before it began. I say dramedy because pain is drama. There's no getting around that. But to an outsider who's watching me slowly get in and out of my car, it's probably pretty funny.

I have come to have a great appreciation for how God has designed us. And I have also come to realize that fixing one issue often peels back the veil on several other issues. Or deeper issues.

So it goes with our souls. We might find ourselves dealing with fear and then we find ourselves dealing with anxiety and avoidance and denial and faith because of the fear. It's never just about the one thing. God sees us holistically so He also deals with us holistically. He peels back the layers of our hidden selves to see what we deem unseemly.

He plucks those unseemly bits like so many weeds and He doesn't mess around. When we surrender, He goes for the gusto and yanks the whole root out so that that weed is good and gone. But what's left is a raw and gaping hole where all that weed used to be. In His goodness, He doesn't leave us to our own devices because we'd go right back and fill that hole up with the first thing we could find that might sort-of fit. Instead, God offers us the very essence of Himself, His goodness, His grace, His love and as His grace flows down, those holes are filled with the stuff of holiness and grace. God straight up sanctifies those holes and what grows from the beauty He plants are vines laden with abundant fruit.

When I ignore my brokenness, my pain, my fear and try to bury it, the issue only gets worse and again, it becomes a mess derived of my own creation. Pretending something isn't there is a sort of perverted creating because it doesn't go away and the act of ignoring gives permission for that "thing" to then become.

Procrastination in doing, in surrendering, in addressing an injury does not speed healing. It negates healing. Denial of an injury does not promote healing. It prevents healing.
It doesn't really matter what the injury is or where the injury is.
And if 'injury' is too literal for you, replace it with 'brokenness.' That works, too.

I've learned some important lessons these last 5 weeks:

Embracing the pain and breathing through the pain help immensely with perspective. It's a season. If I'd addressed it earlier, the season might have been much shorter, but there are consequences for procrastination and denial. Thus the importance of breathing.

Rest is good. Rest promotes healing. Inside and out. Body and soul. While forced rest isn't always what we might order, I have found it's often what He orders when we've ignored the signs and symptoms for too long.

Jesus is faithful. Even when I don't understand all the ways my body freaks out, I can hold fast to the knowledge that He knows exactly what's not right since He knit me together. The Creator knows which offers me some peace when I don't know.

Broken things take time to un-break. I can't say that I'm back to fighting form yet. I'm better than I was a week ago and for that I'm grateful. But since I didn't break in a day but over a span of months, it's unrealistic to think that I can be put back together in a week or two. Healing takes time. (I know, you're probably saying "Duh, I know that" but this mama apparently forgets these simple truths sometimes!).

Little victories lead to big victories. I have to celebrate the small triumphs so I can keep my head, keep my peace, keep my wits. And the accumulation of small victories leads to those bigger victories that become stones of remembrance in a season where it's not just about the pain, which I'd like to forget, but about how Jesus met me right there in the middle of it.

Grace always Rises,

Hey there, I'm linked up today with some lovely ladies: Holley Gerth at Coffee for your Heartand Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

When Grace Flows Down

 It was a hard Saturday.
There was an issue with the Eldest.
More specifically, with her room. 
Or rather all the stuff in her room that manages, in a very short time period, to unearth itself from where her parents have shown her to put it and to migrate to some other location that's not GPS accessible.
Her room is rough.

She couldn't find her soccer jersey.
Or her shorts.
And all the places where those items should be kept did not contain those items.
And all the other possible and impossible locations did not contain those items either.

I am a master at finding lost things.  (ALL mamas are master lost-thing finders. Amen?!)
And I was worried. And that worry quickly translated to frustration because in the process of looking for her uniform, I found a plethora of other things in unapproved locations.
(Read: Her room was a hot mess.)

So I let her know I was frustrated in a very loud and frustrated way. 
Perhaps not one of my finer mama moments, but there was no doubt as to my message and we have had versions 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 of this conversation in the last several weeks so I felt my message needed to be communicated in a way she really couldn't misunderstand.

She was to stay in her room and clean it. Every inch, every drawer, every surface.
I removed my frustrated self from her room and up to my room so I could breathe.

She cried. 

And while I was practicing my breathing, I had a grace epiphany.
And I'm finding these grace epiphanies happen not because my children need grace, 
though they do, but because I desperately need grace, and when I need it most is when I'm having a not-so-fine-need-to-practice-my-breathing mama moment.
And this was definitely one of those moments.

I needed to have a moment with the Eldest and make this a different kind of lesson where perhaps there could be a different, more graceful, message that maybe would settle in her deep.
And one which would settle deep in my heart.

The Eldest came upstairs, cheeks splotchy, eyes puffy.
"Mama, I'm sorry for my room."
Her voice hitched on the last word and her eyes welled up again.

I held her and breathed Holy Spirit words that weren't my words because when they left my mouth,
I realized they were meant for me, too.

"Sweet girl, I love you. I am frustrated with what you did. With how you've been keeping your room. I am not frustrated with who you are. I love who you are and I know sometimes my frustration is not always nice and it might seem like I'm frustrated with who you are."
I laid my hand on her heart, really maybe it was my own heart, too.
"I love who you are. I'm frustrated with what you do. I always love you. Does that make sense?"

She nodded her head, sighed, and spent a great majority of the day purging her room.
And doing it with a joyful heart.

And I even helped.

And those words settled in, are still settling in, somewhere deep in me, too. 
I admit that I sometimes show great impatience with the Eldest.
And I start to see her through the lens of my frustration and my impatience.
I lose sight of who she is and 
that who she is cannot be the sum of what she does.
 I lose sight of what she needs because of who she is.

We are not what we do.
Oh sure, sometimes who we are dictates our choices and our words.
Sometimes what we do can determine what we become. 
But who we are, our identity, our core, our value, our worth, 
is not determined by the things we do.

God's love for me is not based on what I've done, what I'll do.
It's because of what He did.
It's because He calls me His Beloved.
He calls the Eldest His Beloved.
He calls you His Beloved.

As in He's in love with us.
And He wants us to BE LOVED.
That doesn't change.

If His love for me was based on my behavior, I'd be sunk. I'd be lost and sad and hopeless.

I'm a child of the King and sadly, I don't always act like one.
The Eldest is a child of the King and I don't always parent her like one.
Many days I parent her according to what she does. Or doesn't do.
And instead of consistently parenting her in a way that reflects who she is and what she needs,
I'm reactive and not responsive. 
And it doesn't' mean I'm not disciplining her actions, but it means that my discipline must also nurture her soul because what's discipline without care, without thought, without nurture?
It's just rules and regulations. Legalism without grace.
She is so much more than what she does.
We all are.

When that Holy Spirit breath moved out of me, I saw my own actions, my own doings, my own rebellions, and how far off the mark I so often am. And how grateful I am God grants me grace after grace and doesn't give me what I deserve.

How often my actions or my words are the very opposite of who I am, of who He says I am.
And God still doesn't treat me according to what I might deserve.
He disciplines. Which means I might have consequences.
But He keeps covering me with grace.
He keeps loving me.
He keeps me.

Parenting children is all about grace.
How often I seem to forget that. Forget grace.
How different my Saturday might have been if I'd not been moved by a moment. 
Our day was transformed because it was moved by grace and not anger, grace instead of frustration.
My heart was moved because I gave up my parenting agenda in lieu of a much greater one.

 Because He offers me grace, I could offer her grace
And all that Holy Spirit grace carried me right up in rolling rivers of it.

Grace Always Rises,

Hey there, I'm linked up today with some lovely ladies: Holley Gerth at Coffee for your Heartand Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

How to Love Big

So I went to pick up the girls from preschool and their teacher, Miss C, pulled me aside. Again. I always panic a little when this happens. These girls of mine are prone to doing crazy stuff that gets them in trouble that results in me being pulled aside and which creates an "issue" that I then have to address after I've worked all day with teenagers who seem to have lots of "issues." So I'm sure you agree when I say it's not my favorite when I pick up my kids and find I have to deal with more "issues."

I have to remind myself to breathe so my head doesn't straight up spin off my body.

But this time was different.

Miss C told me that Rye shared that she "loves Miss C so so much." And she knows that Miss C loves her "so so much" and Miss C gives her hugs and kisses to show how she loves Rye "so so much." And Rye, in turn, gives Miss C hugs and kisses to show she loves Miss C "so so much." And so they really love each other "so so much."

In addition, Miss C has a new baby grandson who visits often. He's adorable. And Rye is in love with Baby Zachary. And shares this every day: "Mama, I love my Baby Zachary. I got to give him his bottle today and I gave him sweet kisses on his head." And because Rye loves Baby Zachary so abundantly, yesterday, to the astonishment of both his mother and Miss C, apparently Baby Zachary, who's 4 months old, recognized Rye, smiled so big his eyes disappeared, and tried to reciprocate and give back some of those kisses to Rye in his sweet bouncy, baby way.

And Rye just keeps giving away all this love. Freely. Extravagantly. Abundantly.
And as extravagantly as she gives it away, it runs in great rivers right back to her sweet, gentle heart and then gushes over, and if you're standing close, you can't help but be soaked straight to your core in all this loveliness.

Her love is so much bigger than her little 4 1/2 year old body. She doesn't have any baggage to get in the way of big loving. There's no fear and there's no distress. There's only freedom and joy and gladness in her loving.

I wonder when we stop giving away extravagant love?
Is it that first time it returns void...not because something was incomplete about our love,
but because the one we wanted to receive it couldn't? or wouldn't?
Is it that first time it's ignored or rejected or thrown and trampled on?
Is it the second time, the third time?
Is there a statute of limitations on giving away our love?
Is it when that relationship hits a little too close to home or gets just a bit too messy or requires just a bit too much, then we pull back, or we get burned, and you know that saying, once bitten, twice shy....
Is it when it becomes somehow unseemly or awkward to grab a sweet sister and hug her tight, or hold her hand, or wipe her tears away?
Is it because in our heads we're making excuses about time and commitments and margin and again, time?
Is it because we are afraid to show our affection? To offer our care?
Is it because we are afraid of what people might think if we shower love like a spring rainstorm?

Have we stopped to wonder what Jesus might think?

Jesus loves us extravagantly. marvelously. wonderfully. beautifully. abundantly.
I could go on, but I would have to bust out the thesaurus to find the exact-perfect words.
I don't always live like I'm loved like this.
I don't always love others like I'm loved like this.

Rye does. Almost every day.
She's the first one to notice if you're sad.
She's the first one to comfort you if you have a boo-boo,
She's the first one to ask about your bruise or band-aid or scab.
She's the first one to snuggle.
She's the first one to cry big, sad, alligator tears.
She's the first one to give a big kiss and a bigger, tighter hug.
She wakes up and finds someone to snuggle, the husband, K, the dog...someone.
She knows she's loved and she's not afraid to share it, show it, live it.
And sure, sometimes that affection turns ugly, messy, unfortunately so.
But it doesn't stop her from keeping on. Forging on. Hugging on. Loving on.
Rye loves big.

The Bible is filled with people who loved big. Who loved beyond themselves.
Despite the risks. Despite the costs. Despite the mess. 

Anything worth fighting for is going to cost us something. It's always going to cost us when people are in the mix. And people are what He's all about. So loving extravagantly, loving abundantly, loving beyond ourselves is also going to cost us something. Because loving people gets a little bit messy sometimes. I get a little bit messy sometimes. 

Yeah, it's easy to avoid entanglement--To avoid relationships so we can avoid the distress, yes, even the trouble, that relationships will ultimately bring us at one point or another. It's easy to live life numb. Boring, but easy. But that avoidance denies us the opportunity for gladness later on, denies us the opportunity to be used by Jesus, to see Jesus move, so we can come alive. So He can be made alive in us.

Here's a grace: The last time I checked, Jesus specializes in messy--David was a mess, Job was a mess, Saul was a mess, Abraham was a mess, Joseph was a mess. And that list marches on through the ticking of time. Straight down to me. And probably to you.
Jesus redeems messy people.
Jesus loves messy people.
Jesus uses messy people because they know they're a mess.

If I had to have all my ducks in a row before Jesus could love me, use me, save me...well, that would be ugly given my ducks are scattered to the far corners of several galaxies on an hourly basis. I would have no hope.

And yet, my mess is exactly what Jesus loves. Because there's lots of opportunity for Him to do what only He does: Be made perfect in all my weakness for all His glory. 

Jesus commands us to love others. Period. There's no disclaimers or stipulations on that love. He loves us. We love others. All in. All the time. And we know love is mostly a verb so yeah, we're gonna have to carve out time and space in all our busy and crazy and loud to do this Jesus-love thing.

We are called to community, to relationship, to a deep fellowship with others. You can only go deep if you, well, go deep. And I don't know about you, but the deeper I go into my own soul, the messier and stickier and more convoluted I seem to get. It's hard to invite some other poor sister-soul to take that journey with me believing that she would want to travel that crazy road, or more, that she would be safe on that crazy road with me. And yet, that's exactly what we're called to. And deep down, it's what we all crave: to know and to be known.

We're exhorted to accept this abiding invitation to live a deeper life alongside others so we're not traveling separate roads in isolation, but we're traveling them alongside others, intermingling and criss-crossing and weaving tapestries in stories and tears and laughter. We're building bridges between our crazy, criss-crossed roads so when I'm bumped or bruised or weary-worn, you just jaunt on over for a cup of coffee and walk for a bit on my road, sharing the journey with me, and I'll do the same for you. This is gladness and life is so much better this way.

But this is also hard. And scary. Very. Scary.
Because what if you don't like me?
What if how I feel about you isn't how you feel about me?
What if I pour into you all this love and you walk away? Or vice versa?
What if I share my hard with you and you shrug your shoulders and roll your eyes?
What if I risk it all, throw all my chips in, and they're the wrong color?

That's the risk with loving people with an extravagant kind of Jesus-love.
It's a fact that when we love much, it will hurt much. 
And we do it anyway.
Because there's gonna be that day, that person, that heart that feels exactly the same way about you as you do about her. There's gonna be that fullness made complete when all that loving sticks and grows and bears fruit. There's gonna be that celebration for a hard battle won, for a hard road traveled, for a hard heart broken. There's gonna be that moment when all that love floods back, rolling right through us, filling our cups right up to overflowing.

Aren't we all just waiting for someone to take that first step towards us?
We're all just kind of in a holding pattern..waiting for someone else to make the first move, to take the initiative in cultivating a relationship. Someone to indicate that she, maybe, wants to know me. Someone to make that first call. That first text. That first overture. That first invitation. So we're all just waiting. Looking around, looking up to the sky, looking down, avoiding eye contact, waiting.

And you know, next week we'll all still probably be waiting.

So what if we moved first?
What if we asked first, shared first, called first?

What if we loved first?
And we loved big.
And we didn't weigh the risks or calculate the odds. 
And we didn't love to get it back.
And we just went all in. 
And loved big because He loved us big first.

I woke up my sweet Rye this morning.
When I sat on the edge of her bed, she leaned up, grabbed me tight around my neck and pulled me into her so she could bury her nose in my neck.
When she let me go, she walked to her sister and wrapped her arms tight around K and kissed her right on her forehead. Then she went to brush her teeth.

All without a single word. Sometimes, loving big is speechless.

Maybe we should all wake up loving.
And big.

Grace always Rises,

Hey there, I'm linked up today with some lovely ladies: Holley Gerth at Coffee for your HeartMeredith Bernard, and Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

When we hear Jesus at the corner of chaos...

There are some days where I would give just about anything for 10 minutes of silence.
No chatty-Kathy's chattering.
No inquisitive minds pondering the wonders of the universe.
No diva girl drama. Times three.
Just silence. Stillness.

Alas, it's a rare day when I get to sit and be still.
I'm sure you can relate.
There's not often time or space to be still.
be at peace.
maybe listen to Jesus.

And all this noise sometimes leaves quite a wake.
And so there's this mess, these crumbs and dishes and detritus from the last meal,
 overflowing from the counter to the table.
There's this mess, these thoughts and struggles and musings, overflowing from my head to my heart. 
Which makes the mess at my table seem, somehow, even more messy.
If that's even possible...

And there's not one, but three, baskets of spilling over laundry and a floor covered in remnants of some skyscraper they were building and my heart spills over with this need,
this desire for peace.
for contentment. 
for something elusive and hard to articulate.

And my heart's still a mess.
Which isn't really a surprise to me.
Cuz this passel of kids I've got is not quiet about, well, about anything.
They've got wars to fight and snacks to forage and worlds to build and dolls to dress.
And so in this world they've created, their mess also becomes my mess.
Because, wonderfully, someone has to play peacemaker and nursemaid and fashion coordinator and general contractor. And since I took on this once-in-a-lifetime-job a while ago, that someone is me.
And this glorious mess goes on...

 Then strangely, wonderfully, I find myself in this spot of space. 
And I sit.
And just breathe.
And I hear Him.

And granted, I'm not sure what He says is really what I want to hear--
Because it's a bit uncomfortable and it means I gotta clean out that metaphorical junk drawer...all of 'em.
And unfortunately for me, housecleaning has never been my favorite or my forte.
And I'm not talking about the one I live in,
but the one He lives in.

But I hear Him.
When it's quiet. 
When I'm quiet.

And I realize something somewhat startling:
I heard Him in the noise and the mess and the chaos--
But there was no space to listen.
His voice was drowned out by all the other little voices and noises and needs.

I think my children are like this, too. They hear but there's so much internal noise and external chaos that they can't listen. Or they don't listen.

So when I want the undivided attention of one of my small people, I gently grasp her face between my palms, and steer her eyes to look into mine. 
You know how we do this: 
I get right down on my knees there so there's no doubt that it's this person I am talking to, these eyes I want to gaze into, this heart I want to speak into.
Because what I need to say is not just important-- It's really important.  I have learned that while she might hear me, she doesn't always listen and so the act of holding that sweet face and catching her eyes with mine--she has space to listen because I've stopped her chaos.

I think sometimes Jesus does that with us.
That's what I think stillness does--It's Jesus grabbing our face so carefully, so tenderly and He tilts our chin up so His eyes can meet our eyes so we listen, not just with our ears, but with our hearts.
Our offering of time and space allows Jesus the opportunity to stop our chaos.
So we get it.
So we get Him.
And in that space, in that stillness, when He has our undivided attention, we also have His.

Sometimes I think I'm missing it.
I don't really know what it is...but it's like there's this thing that is stirring in my heart--like there's more.
Something else I'm supposed to be stepping into but I don't know what it is or how to go about it and I'm a bit afraid of how to go about it and thus the mess.

And my contribution has not been time and space, 
but discontent and trying and failing to figure it out on my own.
I know. Silly me.

And in this time and space where Jesus has my undivided attention, there's this realization that there's a lot of stuff I have to let go of that stands between whatever it is that He has and where I'm at. And the letting go of all this stuff is maybe not my favorite thing--thus the need for some housecleaning--but I know...
I just know that I can't cling to both.
There's no room for His stuff, the stuff of the Kingdom, the eternal stuff,
if I'm clinging to my small and petty stuff.

Intimacy with Jesus means time and space and then it means obedience to whatever He speaks into that time and space.

Surrendering to His stuff means that I have to let it all go and go all in.
I can't keep holding my stuff and expect that Jesus can give me His stuff.
There's simply no room in my heart for both because a heart can't serve two masters.
And frankly, my chaotic stuff stands in conflict to His holy stuff.
  But if I let go, then there's this room, this space, this landing strip deep in my soul
for the holy stuff of Jesus to occupy.
 All my stuff just clutters up the landscape.

And I'll be frank, again, sometimes this sacrifice, this surrender of my stuff is really hard. The kind of hard that maybe, some days, when I'm being super honest with myself, I'd rather not ponder or do. The kind of hard that is easy to set aside and wait for another, somewhat more convenient day which never comes
and thus I perpetuate my own messiness.
Perhaps this is one of the greatest battles in the Christian walk:
The flesh versus the Holy.
What I want versus what Jesus wants.
My dirty, tattered rags for His holy, clean ones.

But, my friends, here's the grace:
While Jesus calls us to let go, to sacrifice our stuff,
 He has never asked us to do that alone, on our own.
He has promised to walk that hard road with us, to help us navigate the deep waters where His grace abounds all the more, to shelter us when our battle rages and batters, to shield us when we're weary and overwhelmed, and to lead us to still, quiet waters where He can restore us.

When it gets really hard and when my flesh wants to grab right back onto all my chaos, He's there to gently frame my face with His loving hands and redirect my gaze to Him.

And that something elusive for which my heart is yearning:
I just have to be obedient to do the next thing, to take the next step, to let go of the next thing, to keep carving out time and space for Jesus to whisper to my heart, and then listen.

Grace always Rises,

Psst: I'm linking up today with an inspirational lady, Holley Gerth, at Coffee for Your Heart.

Friday, January 23, 2015

When my words bit me in the bum...

This morning my wild child, who also shares the husband's propensity for meticulousness (we lesser beings refer to this particular propensity as anal retentiveness), was sitting on her floor, carefully arranging her leggings just so over her socks with all the precision and dexterity of a brain surgeon.

And I'm sitting at the end of her bed, watching. Waiting. Waiting some more.
It's a good morning so far:
No temper tantrums.
No wardrobe malfunctions.
No lost shoes. Or lost minds.
No spills, flips, or double-flips.

And well, that wild child peers up at me, flashes me her toothless little grin, and with a little sass says, "Mama, am I killing you?"

I laugh without really understanding what, exactly, I'm laughing at. Almost like a courtesy laugh. And then her words hit me. Like rocks shattering the glassy surface of my peaceful pond.

I pause in shock. To be sure I heard her correctly, I ask her to repeat herself. (Aren't we mamas sometimes gluttons for punishment; like the first time wasn't enough so we ask for more?)

"Mama, am I killing you right now?" And her inflection is different and she glances sideways to those nimble fingers fixing a legging.

Yep. That, quite unfortunately, is what I thought she said.
And I'm both impressed by her wit and mortified by it.

Because I'm guilty of saying those exact words in the throes of my exasperation. When such a situation doesn't warrant my own temper tantrum (Really, does any situation warrant my own temper tantrum? But that is for another day.) and the antics are somewhat mischievous and so in an attempt to cast some levity, I say, "K, you're killing me right now," in that dry, understated, sarcastic way that we've all heard before, perhaps even used before.

And when I say that to her, I don't mean anything derogatory by it. And therein lies the heart of the issue. Just because we don't mean anything by a word we say doesn't mean that there isn't some sort of transaction that takes place. Because there's always a transaction.

I'm not quite sure if I should be utterly appalled by these words being thrown back at me by my four year old, or humbled because my words have so much more power, so much more impact, than I ever thought--and I'll be honest, I'm all about my words.

And it's the words that we don't think matter, which matter far too much. It's the words tossed carelessly through the air, the words sarcastically spewed, the words that are so many darts at one single balloon that matter. the. most.

It's the words we don't think twice about until the day they echo back to us and that echo is not sweet.

But here's the flip side: Sometimes it's the words we leave unsaid, the words which we hold back from saying because we are hurt or prideful or too busy or too fearful.  It's the words that carry healing and grace and love and kindness that sometimes we never say. It's the words that could be "a honeycomb, sweet to the soul" (Prov. 16:24) that we sometimes neglect to say, but if we did, they would rock someone's world. In a good way.

When I think of all the things I've said...words that have risen from some impatient, frustrated, antagonistic place within me--yes, my own brokenness--which have latched on to little minds and little hearts, I get a little bit sad. Like I wish in those moments when the frazzled, weary, frustrated minutes are running through my fingers and my blood pressure rises for all the whirlwind of needing little bodies frantically swirling around me, I wish could just tell myself to stop and breathe. Breathe deeply.

And in the breathing and the being, I can remember that all of this whirling and swirling is just that--whirling and swirling--and I don't need to be frantically trying to catch these little girls...I just need to stop and be still and take a deep breath so I can grab hold of Jesus who's my Rock and can't be moved. And then maybe I could say something gracious instead of caustic. Because when I grab on to Grace instead of angst, my perspective shifts like tumblers in a lock that's been moved with the right Key and then offering grace becomes the byproduct of grabbing hold of the best thing.

But this grabbing on to grace thing is not something I've been good at. There's nothing like your own child reflecting an image that isn't the image you were trying for, looking for, hoping for, to make you eat a bit of humble pie.

But here's a grace, and I'll count it and I'll let it settle down into those shadowy places. The depth and breadth of my girls' unconditional love, despite my shortcomings and failings and mistakes, is nothing short of a miracle. And pure grace. Because there are days, moments, when I get exactly what I don't deserve. There are probably many more moments than I would care to remember where I am not careful or graceful, moments when I speak short and hard and brusque, and minutes later, my slate is wiped clean and they offer hugs and kisses and cuddles--grace. unmeasured.

They don't hold my shortcomings against me.
They don't hold up my failures for the world to see.
They don't throw my mistakes back in my face. At least on purpose.

They just offer grace without even knowing that's what they offer. They give away their kisses and hugs as though it's endless currency. And in the eyes of the Father, it's the only currency. And it's value is only acknowledged in the giving. The giving away dictates the value. No one gets to hoard grace and have it count for something. The only way grace works is by the giving of it and the receiving of it. 

On those occasions when the smart, crafty mind of a four year old uses my words to remind me of all this, I'm reminded of how God can work ALL things for good, even something like my careless mouth.

Her words were funny--I'm finding a lot of things four year olds say are funny--but then they weren't funny. I'm not sure that's what I want my little people to reflect. I'm not sure that's what I want them to get from me. I'm not saying that I don't appreciate a bit of humor, because I do; but in this instance, I was convicted of how much power and influence I have as a mama over my kids. How closely their little eyes are watching, how carefully their little ears are listening, how honestly their little mouths are repeating. And there's this opportunity to seize the moment to draw my kids closer to Jesus if I would just hang on, press on, carry on.

It makes me want to be more. More patient. More gracious. More careful. But not just to be more, but to be more like the Father. To be more like Him so my kids will see Him in me. So that the next time K throws my words back, maybe, just maybe, they're full of the heart of Jesus.

Tomorrow's a new day. To practice. To be thoughtful. To remember.
His mercies are new for me tomorrow.
And that's another grace to be counted.

Grace always Rises,

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What a new year needs

I may have had a sort of smallish epiphany, if epiphanies can be smallish. It was like something which had been stirring and foggy somehow became clear and still.

I'm a teacher. And I hear stories every day. Stories about girls and stories about boys. Stories about moms and stories about dads. Stories about friends and stories about drama. A lot of stories. But there's something different when I hear the story behind the kid who sits in that seat right there. Or the story which makes that kids's hoodie and earbuds and sunglasses all of a sudden make sense. Or the story that gives meaning to the sad, bloodshot, weary eyes. These are different stories altogether. 
And these are the ones which break my heart.

It started when I was part of a school workshop with 12 other staff members and 120 students. It started when I heard their stories. Or pieces of their stories. And when we talked about how we are as a whole disconnected. It started when I sat knee to knee with a boy I had never met and we had to talk to each other, maintain eye contact, and maintain our fist bump--a physical connection.

In an era of facebook and twitter and instagram and snapchat and pinterest, do we ever really have a face to face conversation with anyone anymore? Or are our conversations and meaningful interactions reduced to pinning and tweeting and liking without ever really seeing? Without ever really hearing?

And what if at the heart of all that's hard, it's this: We are disconnected. From each other. From our friends. From our kids. From our spouses. From our God. What if we have replaced the act of actually talking with virtually talking? The act of actually connecting with virtual smiley faces? And let's think about all that's missing from that. There's no eye contact, no hand holding,
 no hugging, no smiling, no connection.

We were created by a loving God to be connected to others. We were created to be in community. We were never meant to go life alone. To Adam, He gave Eve because He saw a need for a partner, for community, for connection.

God saw such a need for community and connection, that He sent Jesus. Jesus as a baby. A weak and vulnerable and helpless baby, who needed Mary to care for Him and nurture Him and love Him. But Jesus lived a life of intimate community. He created the ultimate community. He walked hundreds of miles with His closest friends. He spent His time, all of it, connecting--purposefully--with others. Why? Because we need that. 
And Jesus showed us how.

And really, don't we all want that. To be known. To be loved despite what you might know about me. To be loved regardless of my fears and my insecurities. To know that you'll still be right here tomorrow. To hold my hand. To give me a hug. To look in my eyes and tell me it'll be okay. To sit and watch a silly movie. To go to coffee with me. To just be. And that I'll be the same for you.

And if I'm completely honest, I think it's sometimes terrifying to really be connected, to authentically connect. To really have people know me. It's daunting to take off my masks of "Okay" and "Fine" and "Capable" and "Strong" and in so doing, announce that perhaps I am none of these things. What if you don't like the real me? What if you judge the real me? What if you reject the real me? And so we keep the masks, we keep tweeting, we keep posting status updates, we keep feeding the technological disconnect which feeds a physical disconnect so we can avoid true community.

We lean away when we should be leaning in.

I know this flies in the face of what's comfortable and what's safe and what's easy. Community is never easy. Community means we take the very real reality of being deeply hurt, because people are broken and messy, embrace it, expect it, and love hard anyway. True friendships take time. And empathy. Empathy takes commitment to walk that hard road with someone. Even if it's inconvenient or uncomfortable or painful. 

Jesus did this. Every day. He stayed with his closest friends. He walked the hard road with them, metaphorically and literally. He didn't walk away when life got hard. No, he leaned in more. He loved deeper. He gave more. He met them where they were and then loved them right there. Why should we be any different? Why should we live any differently?

The littlest people in my family show me community every day. In fact, I think they live and breathe community. K and A have never known loneliness because they know each other.  It's fascinating to watch them live out one of the deepest kinds of relationships as it's different than just siblings. And it's not like they are two pieces of the same person, because they clearly have their own unique ideas about life. They have never not known each other. They go to sleep hearing the other's breath. 
They know what comforts each other and what pushes buttons. 
And what they know about each other comes from being together.

They unconditionally accept the foibles and faults and vices in each other. A will tell me frankly, but never meanly, that K will cry to get her way. K will tell me honestly and kindly that A's hand smells because she sucks her thumb. They hug and hold hands and skip together.They love generously and fight loudly and forgive selflessly. They play alone and then together. They have community built in the warp and weft of their being.  
And sometimes I envy that built in connection. 
The rest of us have to work at what comes so naturally to these two.

Perhaps many of our society's problems stem from this lack of connection, physically, emotionally, spiritually. One only has to read the latest headlines to see pain and suffering. And those stories tell a sad tale of people desperately and tragically hurting others because there's an enormous deficit in their own hearts. 

It's like the classmates we had in school who misbehaved because they wanted attention and any kind of attention would do, even the bad kind. I think as the age of technology and disconnect and discontent has grown so have the incidents of people hurting others, as though the only way to wage that war inside is to focus all the hurt and anger and loneliness upon someone else.

What if there was a cure? An antidote. A new beginning. A new start. A new way. 
A leaning in instead of leaning away.

I was brokenhearted to meet a young lady who admitted she would often cut herself, inflict physical pain, in order to release endorphins that would then mask her internal pain. A young man admitted that he masks what's going on inside with sarcasm or anger. 
And as he shared more of his story, it's apparent he has much to be angry about and much to be hurt about, but he has no one to share that with.  
The common denominator: 
lack of community, lack of true connections with other people.

I'll be honest. This is scary. There are broken, busted people walking everywhere and they've got no one and nothing. I'm somewhat convinced that kids are doing drugs or drinking alcohol or having sex or bullying others or bringing weapons to school or engaging in otherwise unhealthy behaviors because they have unspeakable pain and they've got no community, or the community they have is engaging in the same because they've got pain too and misery loves company. So they cover it up. They break others so they don't break. They hurt others to ease that terrible pressure and pain inside. 
They hurt themselves so they don't splinter into fragments.

I think we can change this culture. I think we can change this. It's a new year. 
And sure it's probably gonna bring some hard. 
But perhaps it can also hold a new season of intentional connection. 
It's not gonna be easy. But it is simple.

We make an effort to engage in face to face conversations. Even if it's hard. Even if it's uncomfortable. Even if it feels crazy. We lean in more.

We make an effort to reach out and offer empathy. We walk with someone on their hard road, not pass them by and wave as they muddle on. We step into the mud and mire with them. We love them there and hold their hands and love them through.

We make an effort to be real. I'm not good at creating community. It's not my forte. I can do empathy. I can do conversations. But it's harder for me to be real. To be authentic and vulnerable and real. But I'm realizing that I need community. And it's hard with kids and commitments and work and making dinner and folding laundry. But perhaps intentionally developing deeper relationships will make all that other stuff less stressful because I'll have a well to draw from.

This commitment will have to extend beyond just me though. Because there's kids who need to know Jesus loves them. And they might not get another opportunity. I might not get another opportunity. As I humbly work to cultivate deeper community in my own life it will become easier to reach out and offer that same grace to others.

There are young people everywhere. They're bagging your groceries. They're taking your order at McDonald's. They're ringing you up at Target. They're behind you getting gas. They're walking down the street in your neighborhood. They're hanging out at Starbucks. 
They're slouched deep in the row in front of you at church. 
And they all have a story.

They are thirsty for someone who cares about who they are and what's going on. They are hungry for someone to invest in them. They are desperate for someone to think that they matter. To care if they hurt. To ask them how they are. To walk the hard road with them. To simply care.

Remember a few years back the WWJD rage? What would Jesus do? Maybe it's not such a cliche after all. Maybe it's a good reminder when I'm trying to load my three kids in my car as the young teen helps me with my groceries to look her in they eye and take an extra 30 seconds to have a conversation with her because I'm probably gonna see her again, like next week when I come back to refill the pantry, and over time maybe our 30 seconds will grow into 2 minutes or 5 minutes and maybe she'll tell me her story and I'll encourage her and offer her love and grace and maybe Jesus will use that to plant a seed somewhere deep that will grow into a beautiful life where she loves Jesus. 

Our culture is shifting away from physical connection and I don't believe that's what Jesus would do. I don't believe that's how He made us. He made us for relational living. I think technology is awesome, don't get me wrong. But it can't replace a relationship, a community, a conversation, a hug, a smile, a hand shake, a hand held, a road walked, a story heard, a heart healed. 

Connection matters.
Community heals.
Love redeems.
Grace covers.
Jesus saves.

Grace always Rises,