Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Chutes and Ladders

I will dominate you in Mario Kart.  Seriously, I’m awesome and amazing.  I don’t even need blue shells.  I am THAT agile and fast.  I used to love when my college roommates’ boyfriends would come over.  They would play Mario Kart with me.  I grew up with brothers.  I dominate them, too… mostly.  Ok, my middle brother rocks… but only because he rides a unicycle in real life, and I feel like that gives him a visual/spatial advantage when it comes to maneuvering weird vehicles… whatever. 

During the time of my life where I was at my Mario-racing peak, I came across another game that I equally dominate.  In fact, you probably dominate it, too.  I would actually argue that it is the most widely played game in America, dominated by (almost) everyone.  Now, I know what you are thinking.  No, it is not Phase 10.  Btw, I dominate that as well… my middle brother can’t touch me.  Gets stuck on 7, two sets of four, every time… every time… bwahaha.  

And the most widely played game in America is… the Comparison Game of Life.  I like to think of it as a form of Chutes and Ladders. 

You’ve all played it.  In fact, you might be playing it right now, with me.  Let me explain the rules.  It goes a little something like this… Imagine you have a ladder.  All of us are born at the bottom of this ladder.  We are equals.  We are all the same – human beings, knit together by God and birthed out of a womb.  Gross, yet miraculous, I know.  Now, here’s the deal.  Very quickly, as we grow up, an interesting thing begins to happen.  We begin to place ourselves (and others) on different rungs of this imaginary ladder.  The Comparison Game of Life!  Who is the best, and who is lacking.  Who is great, who is good, and who is… eh. 

Any alien from another planet could catch onto this game by merely turning on that big, flat screen in your living room called a television.  Dancing with the Stars, Real Housewives of Some Random County, Cribs, Honey Boo Boo, What Not To Wear, Jeopardy, and yes, even The Bachelor… not hatin’ on The Bachelor… just sayin’…  What do all of these shows have in common?  There is a winner and there are losers OR there is a ‘right’ way to live and a ‘lesser’ way.   You either have the “X Factor” or you don’t. 

Like I said, this idea starts young.  For instance, you’re in kindergarten and write the alphabet.  You write the alphabet prettier, or manly-er, than everyone else writes the alphabet; therefore, your teacher puts YOUR alphabet on the board for all to see.  In your 6-year-old mind, you are now on THIS rung of the ladder [yeah, I'm gonna need you to picture it], whereas everyone else is down below.  Or, you’re a fifth grader, in gym class, preparing to play some basketball.  The captains pick their teams, and you and another girl are last to be picked.  Suddenly you hear the captain call HER name, sending you by default to the other team.  In your mind, you are now on THIS rung of the ladder, whereas everyone else is up there.

And this game continues… in every area of life.  How tall or short are you?  How skinny or not skinny are you?  How good at sports are you?  How good at math are you?  What kind of clothes do you wear?  What kind of phone do you have?  Do you have a phone?  Do you have a facebook?  How clear is your skin?  How big is your house? …  And your goal, everyday, is to figure out where you are on that ladder.  How do you measure up?  How much better are you than some people and how much worse are you than others? 

And don’t be deceived.  This game never ends.  The rungs merely change, or don’t.  As adults the rungs are often more about salaries, job positions, how cute your kids are, how smart your teenagers are, and how much you have in your 401k.  By the way, if you don’t know what a 401k is, that probably means you don’t have one.  You and I will be working side-by-side well into our eighties, while our retired friends do things like garden and play Pinochle… that is pronounced ‘pee-knuckle’... not that it matters, because, again, you won’t be playing it.  So… all the while, everyday, all of these things outside of ourselves are telling us who we are… how important we are… how good we are… and whether or not we actually matter.

Long, long ago in a land far away, there was this big group of people called the Hebrews.  For a long while, these Hebrews were slaves in a country called Egypt.  You had this guy named Moses, a bush that wouldn’t burn, a song entitled “Pharaoh, Pharaoh, Oh baby, let my people go”, a sea that defied gravity… you with me here?  [To get all the details, you can read Exodus in that big, honkin’ book called the Bible.]  Long story short, all of these people are named Israel, and Israel has this habit of forgetting the Lord God and worshipping all these other little fake gods, gods that they make with their own hands like cows made out of gold, weird creatures made out of wood or hunks of metal, etc.  And they give all of their attention and focus to these things instead of the Lord God.  The Lord allows them to do what they want.  God doesn’t force them to do anything; however, as a consequence of not paying attention to God, these mean people called the Midianites start attacking and killing them.  After awhile, the Israelites come back to God and they’re like, “Oh God, we are so sorry.  We messed up.  We didn’t listen to you.  Please save us from these big, mean people.”

Insert Gideon.  When we first see this guy named Gideon, he is threshing wheat – meaning he is separating the wheat from the chaff.  Easiest process of threshing wheat is to do it… outside... because that’s where the wheat grows and the wind just blows the chaff away and all that farm stuff.  Blah blah blah.  When we first see Gideon, however, he is threshing wheat inside a wine press – a little room where they would smash grapes, perhaps with their feet.  (Doesn’t that sound fun AND yummy?!  I know, right!)   So… Gideon is hiding, from the Midianites, in a wine press.  Gideon is a scared-y cat.  Gideon is the opposite of ‘brave warrior’.  On the warrior ladder of life, Gideon is down here, hiding, in a wine press. 
The Lord God comes to Gideon and God says, “Gideon, you’re gonna deliver Israel from the Midianites.  You’re gonna fight a battle against them, and you’re gonna win.”  Really?  Um, God, I don’t know if you saw the ladder, but Gideon is on the bottom rung, you know, the one next to dirt.

We go on to read more about Gideon in Judges 6.  For one, it says that Gideon’s family is the least in Manasseh, where they live; AND, Gideon is the youngest in his whole house.  So, not only is he at the bottom of the warrior ladder, but his family is the most insignificant in the whole town, they live in a shack, and he’s the most inexperienced, immature person around.  In the Comparison Game of Life, Gideon is not doing well; though, he sounds like a great candidate for The Real World! Alas, apparently God doesn’t bother God’s self with ladders…

Now, we can all put our heads together and assume that who won?  Gideon!  Yes, thank you… why else would I include this random story?  I mean, it’s great to hear stories about overcoming the odds, right?  Who doesn’t root for the underdog?!  Who doesn't cry at Rudy?  Except… what happens when the underdog is the person you see in the mirror?  The guy, or gal, at the bottom of the totem pole?  What do you do if the underdog is YOU?

When I was little, around 6 maybe, I used to hide in different parts of my house – in one random closet mostly.  Now, this was not “Hide n Go Seek”, cuz no one else knew I was hiding.  This was my own little made-up game that I now entitle “Do I matter?”  It worked like this – I would hide, and then I would wait.  I would wait and see how long it took for someone to come looking for me.  At the root of this game, though I didn’t realize it when I was six, was the monumental question, “Am I easily forgotten?  Am I all alone in this world, or is there someone who loves me that will come looking for me?” 

The Comparison Game of Life, that ladder you’ve been picturing, makes us feel alone and inadequate.  It makes us feel scared, and it makes us hide – maybe not in some random closet or in a little room filled with wine, but it makes us hide parts of who we truly are, because what if you're not accepted?  What if you fail?  What if you stop worrying about what other people think of you, start being who you truly are, and no one comes looking for you?  No one picks you?  What then?

But then we read this story, it’s about this man and this woman and they have this ladder, too, but they mess up.  They screw up really bad.  In fact, they do the one thing they are not supposed to do.  They’re given a job, and they suck at it.  Yup, bottom rung… so what do they do?  They’re scared.  They’re not good enough.  So they hide, wanting it all to just go away, feeling totally inadequate... ashamed... and naked. 

But they’re not forgotten, cuz they’re not alone.  Someone comes looking for them.  God comes looking for them.  And for the rest of God’s Holy Word, the Lord says, “I will always come looking for you.  You can’t do anything wrong enough for me to stop looking for you.”  All through that holy book, God says, “You are good.”  You know, there’s really no ‘good enough’ about it, cuz you know what?  Being ‘good enough’ implies that being ‘good’ isn’t enough, and from the beginning of creation God says it is. 

So… may you not get caught up in the opinions of the world.  May you work to destroy the power this ladder has in your own life.  And may you believe God when God says, “You are good.”  Because you are. 

And long live Duck Dynasty.  Amen.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ode to an Aussie

I love my dog. I love him. I thought long and hard about a more complex and philosophical way to start this blog, but I finally quit trying because the truth is, I LOVE my dog. I used to be petrified by dogs. I crossed paths with this really mean wiener dog once when I was three… plus, there was this massive, black dog that used to follow me home from the school bus every day. Terrifying. I would inhale and exhale short, sporadic breaths, walk slowly, and hope beyond hope that he didn’t smell my fear.

This fear, as I aged, morphed into a simple hatred and loathing. They shed, they bark, they salivate, they jump, they have teeth, they must be constrained on a rope of sorts… that should tell you something… dogs were an invaluable breed to me, as in, they had absolutely NO value. However, whether you’ve never heard or are still unconvinced, I must testify that the God who created us – the One in whom we live, and move, and have our being – not only creates but also transforms… our hearts… if we are open to the switch. And on October 30th in the year 2007, a little ball of red merle fur was birthed into the world in order to fill up a little part of life’s cup that I never knew was empty. My dog rocks. He’s awesome. Some say we have a spiritual connection… like, literally, people say that. Moreover, I now love all dogs – red and yellow, black and white, they are all precious in my sight.

I saw this guy on television a few weeks ago who loves dogs, perhaps more than I do. I would like to tell you a bit about this man, but first I need you to ask yourself if you are under the age of 18. If so, then I’m gonna need you to skip to the next paragraph. Thanks. So about this man... I don’t know much about him, but the few things I do know are that A. he loves dogs, and B. he kidnaps, rapes, and decapitates women for pleasure. I saw him on Dateline. He kidnapped this one girl with a dog, did his disgusting thing to her, took tender care of her dog, and then eventually freed her dog because, as he says, “I could never hurt a living animal.” … … I’m so confused. What?!?! “I could never hurt a living animal.” Umm… you decapitate women for pleasure!!

I mean, I get it. People don’t bark, shed, or salivate [mostly]… but they DO lie, cheat, betray, steal, plot revenge, exploit, abuse, and wage war against one another. Compared to dogs, people definitely give others more reason to hate them. No doubt, there are indeed days when I would much rather hole-up in my little apartment and seek companionship from my unconditionally-loving dog than step out into the world and become vulnerable to some judgmental and sin-filled human. [Sidenote: If you would like, you can replace “dog” with “cat”. They make my lungs, eyes, and throat die… and my heart will never be transformed to love them… but somebody has to.]

I remember that time [er, I remember reading about that time] when God created everything. He put this guy in the middle of this garden, and he told the man to name all of the animals - which begs the question, on what day did God create the alphabet? After this man had completed his very lengthy homework assignment, God realized that no animal created was a suitable companion for the man. So… God made another kind of man, a kind of man even better than the first man [just kidding… not really] called “woman” – because even with all of those unconditionally-loving, awesome animals, God still realized that man would “be alone” and that’s not good [Genesis 2:18].

Here’s my point. I love my dog. I mean, I love him. I truly believe that God gave him to me at the point in my life where I needed him the most. I also believe that it is possible to have a “spiritual connection” with him. [which I DO, btw] However, at the end of the day, I must always admit that my dog… is just a dog. He’s a dog… and God created us to have “spiritual connections” with people… because even though we lie and cheat and steal and wage war, God knows we are still the best possible companions we could ever have.

Now maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “Of course he’s just a dog. And, of course you’re not supposed to place dogs [ok, or cats] in the place of humans. Weirdo!” Judge me if you wish, but I truly believe there are people in this world [ahem, Dateline guy?] that treat animals better than they do the human beings placed in front of them. We are called, and created, to love each other. We are made to treat other human beings with respect and grace and forgiveness, perhaps the same kind you’ve been so generously lavishing upon your labradoodle when he chews up your shoe.

It’s a big deal that God, in the first two chapters of his first book, made such a point to ensure that we were not to be alone. Indeed, it was the first time in two chapters that God called something “NOT good”. We have a God that seeks to take care of us, to provide us with the tools that will aid us best… and, other than food and shelter, the first thing God gave us to wade through the waters of life was each other. 

May we not hole ourselves up in our solitude. May we not allow ourselves to become old spinster “cat ladies” or “dog men”. May you let people in, and may you propel yourself out into the world, as difficult and uncomfortable as it may be. And, perhaps, you will find filled a little part of life’s cup that you never knew was empty.

Did I mention, I love my dog...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fire Ants

I have this sudden fascination with fire ants; perhaps because they are attacking small children at my place of work. Sweet, unsuspecting children – minding their own business, just swinging on a swing, sliding down the slide and suddenly… ANT ATTACK! Horror movie quality… ok, really not at all. But they DO bite… and it CAN hurt… especially on little people bodies. Obviously we want to squash this horror movie asap; hence, I shall now lesson you in the art of fire ant homicide.

There are many ways to kill a fire ant. Some say pouring club soda on their mound will suffice, others mention garlic, gasoline, urine [picture that], a mixture of peanut butter and boric acid, or death by drowning in boiling water. Another method, though much disputed, suggests sprinkling rice over the mound. This theory proposes that, after being ingested by the fire ants, the rice will expand inside of their bellies, causing them to explode. Boom! Similar to the rice/bird scenario mentioned often at weddings. And let us not discard the old-fashioned, colonial-times way of simply step on them with your boot. All of these methods, though I realize how incredibly scientific they seem to be [wink wink], not only waste groceries but are also the most unsuccessful at long-term prevention. Why, might you ask? Because, in all of these ‘solutions’, you risk the very likely chance of missing the queen. Yes, the queen. The queen is as essential to the livelihood and preservation of ‘fire ant’ world as she is in the game of Chess. You can survive with only your pawn and your rook… but not for long. If you have tried all of your options and yet one single queen survives, she will find a man, er, drone ant and produce several thousand offspring in less than thirty days. Busy bees, er, ants.

Now, I COULD take this time for some gender analysis – brag about how queen ants get to live six or seven years while male/drone ants live approximately four days. I could then mention that female spiders, after having their babies, get to kill and eat their male counterparts; moreover, it is the male in “seahorse world” that gets to have the babies and take care of them while the female seahorse gets to go out with her friends and party all night long. Alas, though that is fun to discuss, I would rather like to write a comparative study on fire ant prevention versus sin prevention in the life of a Jesus-follower. Are ya with me?

If you’re not a perfect person, then sin is a part of your life. If you don’t like the word “sin” [because perhaps you grew up in a very fundamentalist, legalistic household or simply despise all terms “Christian”] then we can easily replace the word “sin” with “mistakes, foibles, screw-ups, faults, shortcomings, and bad habits”. All of those will do just fine. Oftentimes, although this shouldn’t be the case, we i.e. the world like to categorize our sins [mistakes, foibles, screw-ups] into minor and major. Minor examples would be gossip, white lies, and the occasional bout with road rage. Major examples would be serial killing, rape, corporate embezzlement of millions, etc. And the space between ‘major’ and ‘minor’ is a wide and long spectrum of greed, materialism, hypocrisy, alcoholism, cutting and self-mutilation, adultery, abuse… and the list goes on and on. Longer than Santa’s.

And there are people, followers of Jesus and not, who are trying their hardest to eliminate that… junk… from their lives; but here’s the deal… it’s not working. I mean maybe its working for awhile… you might squash this fire ant here or that temptation over there… small victories. But in the end, it always comes back. You’ve seen it a hundred times – on Entertainment Tonight. People losing their lives, mixed up in drugs or sex or hoarding addictions… my gosh, it’s all true. They wake up, they realize it, they try to untwist the mess that they’ve twisted, and it works… for a month, a year, several years… but soon enough, off the wagon once again. It happens to us, too. You and me, the celebrities of our own lives, twisting our actions into things they shouldn’t be. We wake up, we realize it, we try to untwist the mess that we’ve twisted, and it works… for a month, for a year… have you been there? Years ago, I assumed I was healed of a "minor" flaw... and then the frost disappeared and the trees blossomed, and there it was. Infiltrating my life, biting and stinging, all over again.

I didn’t get rid of the queen. The root. The core. The nucleus. The heart of the matter. I stomped on the ants I could see and thought that would cure the chaos. Jesus puts it like this, “And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” Huh… are you picturing this and laughing awkwardly? Gouge?! Bleh, really?! I mean sick, gross, and wrong. What janitor wants to see that in the trashcan? Now, I don’t think Jesus meant this literally. I think Jesus had the fantastic gift of exaggeration in order to wake people up to the truth in their lives. I think Jesus knew [because his Father told him] that no fallible human being can rid themselves of any particular sin until they reach deep within and figure out the issue engraved harshly within their souls. Maybe the core is physical pain, childhood abuse, fear of abandonment, unhealthy body image, the simple dislike of yourself as person… What’s the real deal here… for you? Because I promise you, seriously, you have my word. You will never rid yourself of that burden until you honestly deal with the baggage inside.

How many of us, in so many ways, have been trying to step on thousands upon thousands of fire ants, when the truth is we simply needed to go after the queen?

I urge you to put aside the club soda and the peanut butter. Forget the rice. Find a friend, a counselor, a minister, an Oprah… someone that you truly trust beyond words, and share your heart. God wants His people to be free. God wants us to live in a world where we don’t get stung and bitten by the fire ants in all of our front yards. God wants us, God wants YOU, to enter this life and the one to come with joy and peace. 

May you not be afraid to open the closets [yes, plural] and let the skeletons out – because dealing with THAT truth is what will truly set you free.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


I had just gotten off the plane, grabbed some Manchu Wok, and arrived in my seat. My last flight was anything but exciting… quite annoying actually. An incredibly egotistical-looking, pimp-hat-wearing guy that I’d seen drinking beers and flirting with the bartender was assigned to the seat next to me. [I KNEW that would happen, ugh.] He quickly found out I was a minister… I eased it into the dialogue quickly because I thought… ok, hoped beyond hope… that this fact would detract him from further conversation. I then began to look at the Sky Mall catalog [which, on a sidenote, is just SO hilarious to me. Who gets on a plane and decides it is suddenly the right time to purchase a $300 beer cooling system or a $500 massage table that doubles as a quaint little dinette?] Although I was obviously trying my hardest to look incredibly focused and busy with my catalog, he began to look over my shoulder and comment on everything from the dog crate disguised as an end table to one’s own personal refrigerator beer tap. Several minutes later he asked if he could buy me a drink for my generosity in letting him use my Sudoku puzzles. [Yes, I believe he was only trying to feel out my ministerial buttons.] “I’ll buy ya a beer or something if ya want.” I declined, while praying fervently that he would leave me alone to my overpriced novelty items. It was obvious that he was not at all interested in anything religious… and I didn’t push the issue. I could sense he was closed to that idea as well. Longest flight EVER.

So when I got on my next flight I felt two things: First, guilt. Would a good minister have made more effort with flight guy A? Was I supposed to try harder? But second, and most importantly, who would be next? And will they expect to talk to me, or will they leave me alone? [And is it wrong that I want to be left alone?] I sat down by the window with a seat between me and an older gentleman that laughed about stealing some of my Manchu Wok... You know that feeling you get when almost everybody is on the plane and you still have an empty seat next to you? So hopeful… And then the last guy to board the plane walked slowly towards our row and sat down between the two of us. I said a silent prayer.

He was a talker from the get-go, but for some reason it was obvious in my heart that I didn’t mind. I liked it. There was something genuine and passionate and open about him, and I was drawn to the authenticity. He plays basketball with a minister who cusses every now and then and he says it’s the nicest thing… pastors not trying to be perfect. Good, holy, but not perfect. He started into deep, I mean deep issues. Our conversation began to mirror those hardcore, theological ones from my seminary days. I felt like I was in Mark Biddle’s class all over again. “If we’re not loving people, are we really serving God?... ALL people – gay people, homeless people, women, illegal immigrants?”…“Will God really send all people that don’t claim the five letters J-E-S-U-S to hell?”…“Does God really cling to a particular name? Or is it us that cling to a particular name?”… All of these things were what HE was asking/talking about out loud. Very fast-paced. Very all over the place. He might have had a smidge of ADHD inside of him… the flight wasn’t long enough to ask.
He then went into his family, his kids, and this realization he had come to [a ‘Come to Jesus Meeting’ as he called it] while taking a shower four days before. “Something, whether you wanna call it my inner self, my ego, some universal truth or God – something showed me that I should be doing more. I’m not reaching my potential - with my family, with my business. I felt this definite calling that I need to be on a better, higher path. Seriously, if I hadn’t had that ‘Come to Jesus Meeting’ out of nowhere in the shower then I don’t think I would be so open to this conversation right now. I think people are put into our paths for a reason. Honestly, Danielle, you have inspired me to ask Jay [basketball pastor] when his church service is. I wanna find out more about this.”

We talked for an hour and a half – nonstop. He told me about his childhood, growing up in a household where God was never discussed. His wife had been burned by conservative fundamentalism and would be quite harder to reach, he said. He asked me what being a Christian really meant, why I had picked that over Islam, Buddhism, etc. I told him I was too poor for Scientology.

Max was so open, and he kept thanking me for being so open with him. He was continuously amazed at this serendipitous meeting. He continued sharing ways that he felt pulled towards some universal truth. So when he said, “I’ve never been very religious. I don’t go to church or anything. I don’t consider myself religious or spiritual,” I felt very compelled to say, “Max, for a person who says they’re not ‘religious’, you sure seem to have a ministry, a calling, and you seem to have thought a whole lot about God.” I think that threw him off. I think he was hung up on the “religion equals churchgoer” mentality.
We walked off the plane together and gave each other a quick hug. Before we departed, never to see or hear from each other again, he said something I will never forget. “Danielle, if there are pastors like you in this world, I could see myself making that step. If you’re the face of religion, of Christianity, then I think I’m about ready to go all the way.”

Now, let's get somethin' straight here. Reading this could make me sound really prideful and big on myself but PLEASE HEAR ME. The absolute truth is… I didn’t say much! I nodded in agreement far more than words were uttered. I smiled, I listened intently. I commented here and there. I threw out a few opinions concerning love, peace, healing, and reconciliation. I reminded him that HE is changing the world through those youth he trains every day. That’s… about it. And, by God's grace, that was enough. Because God had been, and continues, to work in Max for YEARS! I wasn’t in that shower, or in that conference, or in his marriage, or on that basketball court. I was just a ‘nice lady on a plane’ as he called me – and yet, I got to be there! I got to participate, and watch God click in someone’s mind. I hopefully got to lead him to the right questions [not answers necessarily, but questions] so that he could ‘work out his salvation’ with his own free will. THAT was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. THAT is why I am here, why YOU are here… why we are ALL here. To help reconcile, ever so slowly [or quickly… I mean it was only an hour long flight] someone back to the God that created him/her.

So I have prayed, and will continue to pray, for Max and Katie [Kat], Kyra, and Jace. I will pray that they, as a family, feel pulled by grace and truth and love – realizing how big and great God is.

As for my guilt concerning my coldness towards flight guy A… I have reminded myself that nobody can befriend everybody. It is our job to meet people halfway, open to sharing the Good News of life to anyone we meet; however, it’s also our job to recognize when someone is not ready for that conversation. Forcing “God talk” onto people is not our job…. being prepared, in season and out, when someone is open to it on a plane IS.
So may we all be ready… for those random conversations on a plane, a bus, a carpool… standing in line at Starbucks or watching our dog play at the park. 

May our eyes and ears be wide open to what is going on around us, and may we be attuned to the cries for help and guidance that others throw our way. May we read between the lines, and may we recognize God… on the basketball court, at the dinner table, and most especially in the shower. Because God is whispering to us all.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I work with the most generous server. Her heart is just… BIG. Full of giving. A true servant, through and through. The problem is this – my friend’s heart is so long and deep and wide that she feels compelled to help… everyone. Need $20? Need $2,000? Again, beautiful quality to possess; however, it also leaves her poor… somewhat frustrated… and ironically unable to pay her own rent. She has these people in her life [like me] who say to her, “You can’t save the world.” It’s true, right? I mean, look at all the pain and poverty and hardship in the world. You can’t fix it all. You can’t bear the weight of the world on your shoulders. So… what do you do?

Once upon a time, I had a ‘Messiah complex’. It’s this very common disorder in which you believe you can heal the masses. Yes, like Jesus. The Messiah. This disease is quite prevalent, especially amongst those in ‘helping’ professions i.e. teachers, mothers, fathers, plumbers, social workers, waitresses, ministers…

This girl I know used to work at this church. From the beginning, she wanted to meet everyone’s needs. All 250 church members’ needs. She was a helper… with a complex. After only a few months of being there, she began to feel very, hmm should we say, overwhelmed? She would make lists of people to call, people to visit, people who ‘needed’ her. Her lists grew… and grew… and grew. She had very poor boundaries. 

One day this very cool/fun/journal-making friend on the phone said something that changed her whole perspective. “You’re taking on way too much. I think Jesus himself even kinda focused on twelve!” And that’s when it clicked for me, ahem, I mean ‘this girl’. I had been trying to invest myself into the lives of 238 more people than Jesus did! Yeah… I had a complex.

There’s this fantastic story in the bible about this man who is paralyzed. [Doesn’t sound great so far but I promise it gets better.] At the same time that this man is paralyzed, there is this other man walking from town to town healing people! [His name is Jesus… if you didn’t see that coming.] Well, obviously, this man wants to get to Jesus cuz he wants to be healed! Problem is, Jesus is total paparazzi-candy. He is surrounded at all times by a gazillion [another term for ‘lots’] of hurt, bleeding, broken, disease-stricken people. This guy can’t walk, much less stand/push/wade through a crowd. So… he gives up… ha, totally kidding. What a bummer of a story that would be, right?! No, this guy who lived a few thousand years ago had something most of us would die for and/or take for granted. Four friends. Four friends and a mat. With four corners. So these four friends, maybe they take the day off work or skip out on lunch that day. They devise this plan to lower their friend through the roof, basically right on top of Jesus’ head. And Jesus heals their friend, while they each hold a corner.

Four friends. Carrying the four corners of a mat. I don’t care who you are, that’s powerful stuff. That guy, he could count his closest friends on one hand… and look where it got him! Healed. We’re not made to have a gazillion superficial relationships. Seriously, Facebook is awesome, but let’s be honest – the majority of you seven hundred and something are my acquaintances at best. Aside from the occasional fbook stalking, you don’t invest in me, and I don’t invest in you. And you know what? That’s okay. We’re not wired to invest in everyone. That would just wear us out! We are wired, even Jesus, to have a close-knit circle of friends, friends that will hold our mats when the time comes.

You can’t save the world. And, though we all struggle with the complex, I can tell you with the utmost certainty that you are not the Messiah. If this really bums you out, if this makes you feel as if your actions are useless and futile in this world then just remember that paralyzed guy. To some people, picking up a corner wouldn’t seem like a lot - menial work really – and yet, it led that guy to Jesus! How sacred, how significant, how life-giving was the mere act of holding a corner of a mat!

Nobody can help everybody, so give yourself some grace. Realize that you are not called to help everybody, but you are called to help somebody. Chances are, it’s probably somebody right in front of you. Who matters to you? Who do you invest in? Who needs you to pick up a corner? God has entrusted certain people to you for a reason. Do what you can with what you have.

May you be a person known for carrying the mats of others. Not 250. Just a few… and they will make all the difference.

And to my dearest, closest, most beloved, fabulous corner-carriers [you know who you are], I’ve got your mat. ;)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Two Words

My brothers are a lot older than me. Eleven years. Eight years. Because of this fact, learning to play by myself was a necessity in my childhood. What can I say? I talked to a lot of imaginary people. Very frequently, however, amongst the hundreds upon thousands of art supplies, movies, and Barbie clothes, I would find myself uttering two words. These two words would strike instant rage into the eyes of my mother. To my mother, these two words triggered more exasperation and displeasure than all four-letter words combined. These two words were banned in my home; and, to this day, I cannot speak these two words without feeling the cringe of my mother’s face deep within my heart. “I’m bored.”… … “How can you be bored?!” she would say. Instant rage.

These two incredibly sagacious guys [‘sagacious’ means ‘intelligent’… excuse me, I just took the GRE], one who teaches at Duke and one who is equally as cool but I don’t know where he teaches, wrote this book awhile back about the Christian life. What do Christians look like? What do our churches look like? What should they look like? You ever sat in a church pew and rehearsed every item on your grocery/work/personal/weekly to-do list? Did that hour in the pew ever seem like four… or five? These two smart guys, in their book, wrote something that made me cringe deep within my heart. They said, “[Christians] shall die, not from crucifixion, but from sheer boredom.” So I ask...

Is Christianity boring?... I thought about asking, “Is Jesus boring?” but then I thought about him and his life and the stories we have, and Jesus is without a doubt NOT boring. He’s wild and crazy and radical and funny! The problem is, maybe no one sees that. Maybe we listen to Jesus’ words and hear nothing but a 98-year-old preacher’s voice on an uneventful Sunday morning, sitting in a hard wooden pew with unbelievably thin cushions. I guess we could blame this on the ministers, the preachers, who don’t tend to project a personality onto the bible when they teach it. An absolute shame, huh?

Long ago, people died. People always died. There was this valley, in fact, filled with their bones. Dry bones, really dead bones. The Lord God came to this prophet named Ezekiel and told him to speak to the bones [way weirder than speaking to imaginary people, btw]. When he did, guess what happened? They came ALIVE! That's right. These brittle, useless, lifeless bones grew flesh. [which is gross to imagine but miraculous nonetheless] All of a sudden they were transformed – living and breathing, with purpose. They were dead, really dead, and then they were alive. God just made them alive... again.

All that is to say…


Following Jesus is meant to make you come ALIVE! MORE alive, in fact, than people who don't at all follow him - cuz God breathed into you TWICE!! Once to live and once more to LIVE! [See John 20… “And Jesus breathed on them…” See? Meaningful and yet bizarrely awkward and funny.]

We are part of something huge, this underground revolution of change and love and acceptance and justice and peace and grace; you are alive in order to set right the broken things. You are alive to remind the world of what was forgotten in that garden – that we don’t have to hide anymore, that God is all we need.

You are alive to give the world what it doesn’t know it needs the most [read that again, cuz it confused even me and I’m the one who wrote it].

Jesus is not boring, and following Jesus… wow, yeah, that’s not boring either. I hesitate saying this but if you are bored... maybe you’re doin’ it wrong. I mean, it’s not like there’s a lacking of stuff to be done here – lives to help, pain to mend, families to reconcile. Seriously, it's not like we've run out of things to do.

I want you to have a wild life, an adventurous one. A life that takes risks and jumps out of boxes and defies norms. That’s the kinda life Jesus had – and we’re called to follow him. So follow him… and may you walk in his wild and crazy footsteps. Wherever they lead you.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Underwoods

One of my favorite people died yesterday. He was tenderhearted and generous and authentic. He had this great laugh. He was a reader. He loved the Church. He loved his family. He loved God. His name was John. He was married to one of my other favorite people. She was kind and gentle and just as generous. When she talked to you she made you feel important. She was intelligent and classy, equally filled with love. She died a year ago, after being brave and courageous and joyful in the midst of countless cancer treatments. She was a beautiful woman. Her name was Liz. I usually ‘fake name’ the people I write about, but not this time. This time, I want you to know their names.

There was this woman long ago from a city called Shunem. She was a Shunammite, you could say. We don’t know her name. Someone simply wrote about her because of her kindness. Elisha, this prophet of the LORD God, would pass by her door every so often on his travels to and fro; and when he would, she would feed him… give him a place to stay for the night. That’s all. No biggie. Just some dinner and a pillow. Anybody could’ve done it… but did they? Funny how something so simple could make it into a history book so grand…
When I started as Pastoral Resident [fancy name for an amateur minister] at a church in Virginia, I had just come out of seminary and I was full of vision and passion and life. [I hope I still have most of that by the way.] I moved into an apartment of my own and realized very quickly that the nights are lonely without roommates. I got a dog and definitely imagined his voice in my head; but alas, our inside jokes and random late-night Taco Bell runs just weren’t the same. I had been in that small town a month when Liz and John called. “Just some dinner,” they said. That’s all. Nothing fancy. Salads with yummy cranberries and bleu cheese. Homemade brownies and some vanilla ice cream from the fridge. Sitting around a table, talking for hours about random world events, their grandkids, my dog, favorite books, favorite movies, and following God – always following God. I stayed in that city for two years – two years of salads with yummy cranberries. The dessert always changed. They knew I love dessert.

That’s all. Nothing fancy. I want you to know their names. John and Liz. I have added them to my history book because they were that grand.

We focus on junk that doesn’t matter. [And when I say we I’m mostly talking about followers of Jesus or ‘little Christs’ you could call us, though this statement probably applies to everyone.] This doctrine or that one. Church politics, who gets to be a deacon and what translation should the pew bibles be. How should we vote and on what should we focus our next picket line? Lots of… junk… that doesn’t truly help or support or love anybody.

This cool guy [I assume. I actually don’t know him.] named Tony Campolo [which is just a cool name] once said, “I wish Jesus would ask, ‘Virgin Birth; strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree? Check one.’ But those aren’t the questions. The questions are, ‘I was hungry, did you feed me? I was a stranger, did you make room for me?’” John and Liz got it. They were some of the best ‘little Christs’ I have ever known, and it wasn’t because we voted the same or agreed on free will versus predestination. It wasn’t because they showed up every week in their ‘Sunday best’ or took a stand for/against healthcare reform and gay rights. They were some of the best Jesus-followers I have known because I truly believe they looked like Him – loving me, and everybody else, the same way He did when he walked on the earth 2,000 years ago.

To John and Liz, you don’t know what you did for me. You were just feeding this young, amateur minister, providing her a little human companionship from most of her nights spent alone. I told you that I loved you. I told you ‘thank you’ a thousand times; and yet, I am confident that you never realized what an eternal fingerprint you left on my heart. You were my Shunammite woman. You were Jesus to me.

To those who loved John and Liz, may we cry tears of sadness that they are no longer in our presence but may we moreso cry tears of joy for having actually befriended two people who resemble that much love. There are truly angels walking among us, and now we know two of their names.

To all others, who are simply reading these words, may you recognize the Johns and the Lizs in your life. May your eyes be opened to the Shunammite women and men in your midst, for we may be entertaining angels in disguise. And may each of us take seriously the legacy, the fingerprints, we leave behind. Just some dinner. A dollar here and there. A hug. Some encouraging words. A conversation. Holy traces. Sacred moments in the mundane. 

May we resemble Him.