Lonely In a Room Full of People

Loneliness

A month or two ago, after our move to California, I would have told you that I was not quite ready to make new friends. But that sentiment has changed. I’ll admit it…I’m lonely now. I’m in a new place and missing having best friends nearby.

I used to think loneliness was a weakness. Or that you could only be lonely if you don’t have any friends or people around you. But I have lots of friends across the country. And a loving husband in my home. I have little people around me almost all of the time. My little pink shadow, Hannah, pretty much never leaves my side. We recently had 4 sets of visitors in 5 weeks. I haven’t exactly been alone. As a matter of fact, I LOVE to be alone. I CRAVE time alone. But I am restless. There is an ache in my heart.

Wikipedia will tell you that loneliness is “a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation or lack of companionship.” Among the steps to deal with loneliness, WikiHow suggests getting a pet or joining an online community. I get it. There are plenty of people who suffer from loneliness due to being isolated. I could benefit at this point by getting out there and putting a bit more effort into developing new friendships.

I have thought about this topic a good bit over the last month or so as these feelings of loneliness have snuck up on me. As the topic of loneliness keeps presenting itself over and over in different contexts – blogs, books, articles, sermons – I’m realizing that perhaps loneliness is more ‘normal’ than I realized. Even The Huffington Post defines loneliness as a basic human condition – “To be alive is to be lonely” says the venerable HuffPost. Well, that’s crappy…no one ever told me that…Except they kind of did.

When I was in high school, my Young Life leaders told us about a ‘God-shaped-hole’ in our hearts. One that nothing could fill, except for God. They said that trying to fill that hole in my heart – with even the best things of this world alone – would leave me feeling empty. Twenty years later, I still struggle with how that reality affects my life day in and day out.

Success doesn’t cure loneliness. Attention doesn’t cure loneliness. Being in a room full of people doesn’t cure loneliness. Close friends and family really don’t even cure loneliness. I have found that on the days when I have posted a picture on Facebook or shared a new post on my blog – the days I keep looking at my screen to see who has liked or commented…those are the days my loneliness is emphasized. Not necessarily because I miss my friends. But because I’m looking in the wrong places to fill the hole in my heart.  Lately, in this new place, I keep thinking – if I can just get in a visit (or a phone date) with a good friend or family member…if I can just post a picture to share my life with friends and family…if I could just steal a couple of hours alone with my husband…if I can just find my routine. But every time these are the only ways I try to fill my heart, I come up not.quite.full. So based on my own personal experience, to be alive and not seeking my God first, is to be lonely. Maybe The HuffPost is on to something.

Perhaps loneliness isn’t a weakness. Perhaps it’s not a curse on the human condition. Because so often, it’s this loneliness that drives us back to God. In her book, Playdates with God, Laura J. Boggess describes this desperate, empty feeling as “groping for God.”  Boggess quotes Saint Augustine from AD 397 as writing that our “heart is restless until it rests in You.” AD 397!  Clearly, loneliness is not a new cultural phenomenon, and I’m not alone in my restlessness.

Blogger, Sara Hagerty wrote,

“He made me to crave being known and yet He allows me to feel the all-too-frequent disconnect between what I think I need, from another, and how they respond. He carved this hole. And only He will fill it. Holy lonely.”

This Holy Lonely she writes of drives us back to God. Loneliness is a gift for those of us who struggle to balance the joys of this world with our fulfillment in God. Loneliness re-orients us to the One and Only. He then points us to the many, many blessings in this life.

When Jesus was teaching his closest buddies in Matthew 6, he told them to FIRST seek the Kingdom of God…then everything else will follow. The companionship of true friends and close family is most definitely a blessing that I hope to never take for granted. I can’t imagine navigating my life without them. And I look forward to developing close friendships here in our new community. But I’m just still learning…over and over again…that the best friends and family in the world don’t quite cure the restlessness for me.

As a matter of fact, maybe even being alone more could be the key to healing my aching heart. My friend, Doug Swagerty, recently preached a sermon on loneliness at Christ Church Santa Fe. He encouraged the congregation to trade loneliness for solitude. He shared the wise words of Paul Tillich:

“Language…has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”

When I am able to find a bit of solitude to allow God to fill my ‘Holy lonely’, when I seek first the Kingdom of God, everything else does come a little bit more naturally.  And I feel more of a peace as to where God has me today and where He will take me. In this kind of glorious solitude, I can be alive and not lonely.  Very much alive, actually.  So there you go, HuffPost. When was the last time you enjoyed a bit of glorious solitude?

In the long run, I will see that loneliness is not a weakness. As a matter of fact, I believe that loneliness will have strengthened me. The ache in my heart reminds me just how much the people who surround me each day bring me happiness and joy.  And that same ache reminds me even more that my ultimate contentment rests elsewhere. You can be lonely in a room full of people. But the more mysterious and unique truth is that you can find complete peace in a bit of solitude.

“Be still, and know that I am God…”  ~Psalm 46:10
“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”  ~Isaiah 54:10

The Butterflies Have Left The Building

Newly Engaged

I wake up some days, almost in disbelief, that I have been married for more than 13 years. Not only am I not a kid anymore, but I have a slew of kids of my own. Does anyone else feel this way? And these kids…they have to be fed THREE times a day, EVERY day!  Sounds simple, but sometimes the simplest things in life can seem overwhelming. And too often, I fail to seek the potential for daily delight from the greatest blessings in my life.

I’m sharing this piece for my friends who might find themselves in the same place as me. This is also for my friends who are newly married. Really, this post is for anyone who loves someone – family, friends, or romantically. Because love isn’t as easy as it looks. This is for my friends who love Jesus. And this post is for my friends who just love to love. This post is for me…or I wouldn’t have written it in the first place.

The butterflies have left the building.

Recently, my husband traveled for work all week. I missed him a ton. I imagined how painful life would be without him. I was lonely. This past week, he was back. But instead of making lots of personal eye contact and giving him spontaneous kisses and hugs here and there, I unloaded the dishwasher. I changed the sheets. I often let the busyness and exhaustion of our days pull me down. And I sat there and wondered where the butterflies went.

Ryan and I started dating when I was 18…no doubt my first and only true love. I remember when I could barely concentrate on speakers or in church if he brushed his fingers on my arm or hand. In those days, any time he touched me, my entire body felt like it was on fire. If he liked a certain food or song, I certainly was going to do the same. And I quickly decided I didn’t need Alanis Morissette if he didn’t like her music! Maybe not the most independent stage of my life, but I was newly in love, and the butterflies were irrefutable.

Now, almost 18 years later, I still love when he puts his arm around me and holds my hand. But sometimes I forget to crave it. We have grown to naturally appreciate many of the same foods and songs. But truthfully, the butterflies are long gone. I can even concentrate on a speaker when he puts his arm around me:-) Ryan is my best friend and an amazing husband and father. But just this past week, I wondered where the butterflies went and if he felt the same way. I wondered if I was in trouble if I couldn’t feel butterflies after only 13 years? After all, I hope to be in this thing for another fifty years or so! But with no butterflies?! I couldn’t help but wonder if I was a dud of a wife.

And then, on Sunday, I heard a brilliant sermon on sloth. SLOTH of all things! Had I known this was the sermon topic, I might have suggested a morning at the beach or Sea World instead. After all, a mother of four young children and an incredibly hard-working man who is endlessly devoted to his family didn’t need this sermon. We are lucky to put our feet up to watch an episode of Breaking Bad before 10pm. (And he’s lucky to stay awake through the whole episode!)

Many of my thoughts from here on out are based on the words I heard in that sermon. They are not my own original thoughts. But, friends, I have to share them with you. Sloth, the young new assistant pastor, Jonathan Kerhoulas, at Redeemer Pres in Encinitas told us, is best expressed – NOT by a lazy attitude, but by zeal over petty matters! How about insisting on loading the freaking dishwasher or other household chores to the point that I don’t look up to make eye contact, give a gentle kiss, or receive a hug from the most important person in the world to me. How about being short with him because I insist on being right. Sloth is a pre-occupation with things that don’t matter. And one of the worst ways that sloth can rear its ugly head is when we become lazy to the demands of love.

In any relationship, we are called to never act out of selfish ambition. But instead we should put the interest of others before our own. These are the demands of love. Not getting household chores finished. Not being right. Not responding only to the butterflies. We must not allow ourselves to be zealous over petty matters. This past Sunday, I was reminded of the fact that we cannot afford to be lazy to the demands of love, even when (maybe especially when) the butterflies are gone.

“If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,’ then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from ‘being in love’ — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit…this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.” -C.S. Lewis

I am still ‘in love’ with my husband. But I believe the distinction here that C.S. Lewis is referring to is the butterflies. The flutters in my heart and stomach gave me the guts to commit to him for the rest of my life. But this ‘quieter love’ – ‘strengthened by habit’ – gives me the assurance that we will desire each other for that long.

Yet sloth can so easily sneak up on us, right?!  Jonathan told us that sloth is the sin that says, ‘whatever’ or ‘who cares’. For me, sloth tempts me to give up on the passion when the butterflies have migrated. Sloth sabotages the beauty of life and the ‘quiet love’ that fuels healthy, passionate marriages. When given in to the temptation of sloth, our wise young pastor said, we may feel completely full – yet we are still starving.

I am reminded that I must not give into the slothful spirit of ‘whatever’ just because the busyness of life seems to fill me up. 1 Thesalonians, Chapter 5 tells us to “rejoice always” and “do not quench the spirit”. The Greek word used here is actually the same as the word meaning ‘to not put out a spark or a flame’. Paul was writing about the Holy Spirit. But his words also make me think about how the spark in our relationships shouldn’t have to be diminished when the butterflies are gone.

But true love, life long love, does take a bit of effort. We must continue to remind ourselves to serve one another, to not be zealous over petty matters, and to rejoice regularly in our quiet love. And then, only, then can the spark continue to fan the flame.

What drives you to meet the demands of love? To make that extra effort on the days when the butterflies are long gone? I was reminded by this fascinating sermon (the one I didn’t need?!) that the best way for me to understand how to show love is to look to the only person in history who met the demands of love perfectly. When I look to Jesus, when I let His love shine on me, the demands of love don’t seem so daunting.  And the butterflies don’t seem so necessary either.

Since they day Ryan and I were married, we became ‘one’. But it’s our individual personalities that pull us towards each other. Oswald Chambers wrote that “our individuality is to be rendered incandescent by a personal relationship with God.” Incandescent is defined as red-hot, aflame, passionate, ardent, and fervent. Gosh, who needs butterflies?!

Routine Miracles

Telluride in the Fall

Are the leaves changing color where you live? I must admit…I miss getting to experience those first exciting hints of fall like we did in Colorado and New Mexico. Friends are posting pictures of the Aspen Trees on the mountain in Santa Fe. And Colorado is showing off with amazing fall colors in contrast to snow-capped peaks. Newsflash – the palm trees don’t turn brilliant colors and shed their leaves in the winter. While it’s nice to throw on a tank top and flip flops to walk the boys down to school, I do miss the natural transition to jeans and boots. I have a feeling though, that come February, I will not miss fitting four kids into snow boots and winter gloves.

I have long thought that the vibrant colors of fall are a creative gift from God. I bet He came up with that idea so we wouldn’t complain so much when the time comes to rake the leaves out of the yard.

And along those same lines of God’s creativity, I think the clear reason that newborn babies are so scrumptious and have that amazingly unique smell is so new parents have the super human ability to wake up every three hours through the night for weeks on end. Douglas Quenqua wrote about a study published in the journal, Frontiers in Psychology, confirming that ‘new baby smell’ acts as a kind of sensory rush for mothers. According to the study, researchers asked 30 women — 15 who had recently given birth, and 15 who had never given birth — to identify mystery scents while their brain activity was monitored. When given the smell of newborns, the women all showed activity in the same dopamine pathways that light up after ingesting stimulant drugs and enjoying good food. God is a genius! It’s as if He has it all figured out. It’s a miracle in the first place that babies are formed in the womb and bless our families the way they do. But it’s a routine miracle that these little miraculous lives enchant their parents day after day, night after night – even in the midst of serious deep sleep deprivation.

Routine miracles are events that happen regularly – every day…every year…often enough to see a pattern – yet you are still absolutely blown away each time. I won’t see very many changing leaves in SoCal this fall. But every time I see the sun set over the ocean (apparently it happens EVERY DAY here), I am in complete and utter respect for the beauty of life.  And for our magnificent Creator.

“If God creates such exquisiteness, how much more magnificent is the Creator? Even the most spectacular displays in the cosmos only hint at the splendor of God; the deepest insights into nature are shallow observations compared to the depth of the nature of God.” – Margaret Feinberg, Wonderstruck

Routine miracles are truly a gift. I hope that each time I witness one of these routine miracles in my life, I can be reminded of Jeremiah 31:3. The Message translation reads:

 “I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love!”

In the midst of my mundane routine (like sorting up to 84 socks per week!), God gifts me with little reminders of His everlasting love for me. And no matter how much I screw up, how much I loose my patience with my kids, how much I fail to show my best friend how much I love him — the leaves still turn, the sun still sets, my growing babies still enchant me. And I am reminded that “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).  And He loves me yesterday, today, and forever.

My Jesus Calling devotional on October 8th reminded me that every day I must look beyond the mundane, chaotic, and often sad circumstances of life and discover God gazing lovingly back at me. What are the routine miracles in your life this week? It is my prayer that we all recognize and appreciate the routine miracles and feel the deep love that God has to offer through those events. So grab a pumpkin latte (or maybe a pumpkin ale if its warm) and soak up the gifts of fall.

*photo cred to Mariah A-g of Telluride Ski Resort on Facebook

Love is a Funny Thing

Love Written in the Sand

I’ve never had a move I was ready for. Maybe when I went off to college. But who knows if you are really ever ‘ready’ to leave the nest.  After all, I was leaving behind every person who had loved and nurtured me since birth. I know I was excited to go. But I was certainly nervous when my parents drove away as I stood on the sidewalk in front of that SMU freshman dorm. With all of my moves, I’ve been a little excited about what is to come, but scared too.

I spent my first 18 years in Columbus, GA. And I planned to spend the rest of life there post-college. Since the day I left home in 1997, I have lived in five states.  Six if you count our summer in NYC. I have yet to have a move that wasn’t a blessing. Every city in which we have landed has been wonderful in its own unique ways.  And every city has people who think they live in the best place in the world. And they all do.

God gives us gifts in unexpected forms. Often, we don’t ask for them. I didn’t exactly ask God for any of our moves. As a matter of fact, I prayed to not have to move the last two times. But hindsight is 20/20, and I am thankful for each opportunity I have had to explore new places, gain new perspectives, put down roots in new communities, and love new people. The cities, the local cuisine, the churches, the mountains, the beaches – they all wooed me and gave me new appreciations. But, it’s the people who stole my heart along the way. And lots of them still have a piece of it.

And my closest loves – they’ve been by my side the whole time. My dearest husband, my best friend…each and every new place is home because he is by my side. Our four littles light up our world wherever we are (and simultaneously make me crazy no matter where we are). Our immediate families, even from thousands of miles away, have stood right by us, supporting us with unconditional love.

And my God, my ever-consistent and loving God. He pursues me in all places. For all time. Ryan and I have landed in some pretty amazing places – New England, Colorado, Santa Fe, Southern California. These locales have made us happy. But, as I heard in a sermon a couple of weeks ago, our story is not one of happiness. Our story is one of God’s faithfulness. Of God’s relentless love. The sermon encouraged us to define who we are, not by our circumstances, but by His love.  And one of the many ways I feel God’s love is when it shines through people.

The love of all of the friends we have made in each city over the last 13+ years fuels me. Each time we are about to move, I think that I have plenty of friends and don’t have the capacity to love any more friends like the ones I have – I just want to put a cap on it and enjoy my peeps. But it’s no different than having the capacity to love one more child when you think you can’t possibly love another like the last. And God has put some really amazing people in my life. He might just even decide to do it again here in SoCal. I’m getting open to that idea. I might take the cap off.

Because you know what…love is a funny thing. If you’ve read my blog much, you may know that music inspires and energizes me. For the first time ever yesterday, I heard Jason Mraz’s song, Love Someone. It’s just awesome.

Love is a funny thing
Whenever I give it, it comes back to me
And it’s wonderful to be
Giving with my whole heart
As my heart receives
Your love…
…When you love someone
Your heartbeat beats so loud
When you love someone
Your feet can’t feel the ground
Shining stars all seem
To congregate around your face
When you love someone
It comes back to you

Love is a funny thing. Not only does my heart beat louder when I love someone, but it feels so good when it comes back. The investment is worth the return.

My dear friend, Toni, shared an observation in her blog, beWARM, that caught my attention:

“When we have the joy of experiencing of deep connecting to others – and ultimately to God – we begin to wonder why life can’t be more of that.”

God’s deep desire to connect with me brings me a baseline of joy and love to work from. I guess God is just blessing me with opportunity to connect with lots of ‘others’ through our moves. But of course, you don’t have to move to connect deeply with people. There are opportunities to ‘love someone’ at every turn. Take a moment to let Jason Mraz inpire you and give some love away today. Maybe to your spouse or best friend. Maybe to a friend you haven’t connected with in a while.  Just love someone.  You may find that it comes back.  And you probably will wish that life could be more of that.

 

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Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God… -1 John 4:7

…On Beginnings and Endings

photo-26

Well…when you ask for God to reveal His plan…you better be ready for an answer! In Don’t Take the Boat to Tarshish, I expressed anxiety over what God had in plan for our family. And in Leaning In, I shared more fears about the unknown. I reminded myself that fear is not from God. Instead, he asks us to put our hope in Him…leaning in and seeking His strength.  Easier said than done.

Our family of six, (formerly known as the ‘CO McMonagles’ and most recently known as the ‘NM McMonagles’) is becoming the ‘CA McMonagles’. We are moving to San Diego. I’ll be honest; I’m very sad to leave our life and dearest friends and family here in Santa Fe. I do believe, though, that San Diego is not going to be rough. I started praying for a miracle last fall…a miracle to keep us here in Santa Fe. My friend, Lois, tells me that miracles don’t always look like you think they will. Throughout the last year, I have slowly stopped digging my heels into Santa Fe and honestly started asking God to make me open to His plan. That’s a miracle in itself. So God gave me hope in the meantime. Hope is one of those fuzzy/hard-to-define words. But hope is worth grabbing and holding onto. Hope lends sanity to the everyday.

“…in a big, loud world – we hold on to Hope. Hope for the impossible, hope for the unlikely, hope for the unexpected, hope for the improbable — because hope is nothing else but the spine of faith…for Hope in [God] is the anchor of our soul.” –Ann Voskamp

An anchor to our souls…how awesome is this little nugget of truth from the Book of Hebrews?! It is in great hope that I am trusting that God has heard my prayers and is showing us miracles, no matter how unexpected the form. I have real hope that God has our family in his hands as we launch off on this great new adventure.  Saying goodbye to our friends in Santa Fe is going to be difficult. But a new start doesn’t demand closure.

“Everyone now wishes for ‘closure’. This word is unfortunate; it is not faithful to the open-ended rhythm of experience.” John O’Donohue, An Abundance of Blessings

For a girl who thought she would live in Georgia her whole life, it’s kind of surreal to think that I’m moving on to my fifth state since I left my childhood home. I’ve learned that with a move, real closure isn’t necessary. I have taken a part of each city and my dear friends in each place with me. Life truly is an open-ended experience.  Rather than an ending in Santa Fe, I’m focusing on a new beginning for the CA McMonagles. In his meditations on endings and beginnings, O’Donohue continues,

“A beginning is ultimately an invitation to open toward the gifts and growth that are stored up for us.”

Lois also recently shared with me a beautiful song that I might have listened to three hundred times in the last few weeks – Hillsong United’s, Oceans. It’s worth a listen and pretty fitting for our move to the Golden Coast.

“You call me out upon the waters. The great unknown where feet may fail. And there I find you in the mystery…For I am Yours and You are mine. Your grace abounds in deepest waters. Your sovereign hand will be my guide…”

Uncertainty is, no doubt, unsettling. Answered prayers and miracles rarely look like what we would have expected. But it’s in the deepest waters, deep in the mystery, where grace abounds. Are there places in your life where you can ask God to make you more open to His plan?  Some areas of life where allowing more hope will give you more peace in your days? I encourage you to seek the mystery in the deep.  Because the grace is so sweet.

So here’s to new beginnings…especially when they don’t have to dictate an ending. Santa Fe will always be a part of our lives. Watch out – the McMonagles, in all our chaos, are about to take SoCal by storm. There is part of me that thinks my Toyota Sienna mini-van is going to instantly turn into a jeep without a top the minute we cross the California state line. And speaking of songs…I’m trusting Katy Perry and Snoop Dog that like the California Gurls in their song, I’ll instantly become fine, fresh, fierce, tone, tan, fit, and ready – and basically just lay under palm trees sipping gin and juice all day. Who’s gonna watch the kids?!  I’m in.

 

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” –Hebrews 6:19

Leaning In

uncertainty-ahead
Living with Uncertainty…And Seeking God’s Plan, Part 2 of 2

In Don’t Take the Boat to Tarshish, I considered how and why Jonah fled from God…and how we can personally relate.  Jonah was directed by God to go to a new place, and that kind of calling can be daunting to me.  Jonah set a pretty good example of ‘what not to do’ in seeking God’s plan during times of uncertainty.  In an interesting twist of mercy, after hearing Jonah’s prayers and cries of distress, God made the whale ‘vomit’ Jonah onto dry land.  You know you’ve had a bad day when the best thing that happens to you is that a fish vomited you up.

Uncertainty can hang like a clouded haze over the future.  Anxiety and fears can overwhelm me.  But allowing anxiety about the future to take root in our hearts robs us of the joy in the now.  I write these words, not to tell you that I have conquered anxiety and doubt, but as a reminder to myself.  Fear is not from God.  Instead, God promises to be with us and grant us peace.  He asks us to put our hope in Him – to lean in just a bit more.  And in the midst of hope, He can provide strength to our feeble hearts. “Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” –Psalm 31:24

As I continue to wonder about God’s plan for our family, I am thankful for our good health and the love of amazingly supportive family and friends.  These blessings, I will never take for granted.  But the uncertainty and possibility of moving away from our lives here in Santa Fe does bring me sadness.  I am tempted to be a Jonah and seek my own desires above God’s leading.  But then, I am reminded of another well-known figure in the Bible.  Joshua provided a better example for us to follow.  God told Joshua, “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

“God originally spoke these words to Joshua (Moses’ successor as leader of the Israelites) while presenting him with a new opportunity.  Joshua’s assignment was to lead more than two million people into a strange new land, claiming it as their promised territory…What if Joshua had allowed the unknown to keep him from saying yes to God?  What if he gave insecurity and doubt permission to keep him firmly within his comfort zone?  Joshua would have missed out on the blessings.  He would have missed his calling in life.  He would have missed the adventure with God.” – Leah DiPascal

Gosh, Joshua was called to lead more than two million people to an unknown land. If we leave Santa Fe, we’ll only be leading 4 young (and extremely flexible) young children to a new place within our own country. Just like Joshua, we can’t allow fear of the unknown to keep us from saying yes to God.  God’s command to Joshua to be strong and courageous doesn’t end there either. God’s commands are not empty.  God goes on to assure Joshua that the LORD our God is with us wherever we go. And from Psalm 31:24 quoted above, we are reminded this same God provides strength in our hearts as we face uncertainty and are placed in new circumstances.  Another promise I am grateful for.

Where in your life do you need to rely on God more?  Would your heart feel stronger if you put your hope in God and leaned in a bit more?  Mine would.  More than 100 times in the scriptures, God commands us to not be afraid.  I think He’s made His point.  But will we take Him up on the offer?  I need to take a bit of my own advice from Taking Up Too Much Space and remember that there is much to be learned when we step out of our comfort zone like Joshua did.  Perhaps, God is calling our family to learn that lesson again.  If not, He’s got my attention…and I’m leaning in.

Don’t Take the Boat to Tarshish

Jonah boat to Tarshish by Ruth Coleman

Living with Uncertainty…And Seeking God’s Plan: Part 1 of 2.

Back in November, our Executive Pastor, Doug, at Christ Church Santa Fe preached on the Book and saga of Jonah. The familiar story, though it sounds much like crazy fiction, draws parallels to our lives in ways I hadn’t considered before. In a nutshell, Jonah disobeys and tries to flee from God and gets swallowed by a whale who miraculously spits him back onto dry land three days later. Sure, sounds just like something that can happen to us, right? Especially here in dry, land-locked Santa Fe. I guess I’m actually focusing on the temptation to flee from God…maybe not in such an obvious way as Jonah, but we have our ways. We, despite our knowledge of a God who loves us immensely and only wants the best for us, think we can make better plans for ourselves than He does. We (okay I) fret over what the future will bring. And just like Jonah, I try to manipulate a way to bring my own plans to fruition.

Ryan and I are currently trying to determine if God has a big transition in store for our family. While pursuing the next exciting step for Ryan’s career, it’s looking more and more like a job change might need to involve a move. It’s hard enough to come to terms with that realization, but now we need to figure out where God might like to plop us down next. How does one figure out God’s plan? For me, I usually know what I want. And I also realize that God knows what’s best. But in my not-so-infinite-wisdom, it’s pretty hard to tell the difference.

In the story of Jonah and the whale, God told Jonah to go to Ninevah. Jonah took a boat to Tarshish instead. In his sermon, Doug presented several opinions on why Jonah did not follow God’s directive to go to Ninevah. I guess Jonah thought he could do better than what God had for him (sound familiar?). Tarshish was not on the way to Ninevah. It was the opposite direction…not exactly a subtle move on Jonah’s part. Was he scared of what life would bring him in Ninevah? Did he have such devotion to his people that he didn’t want to be associated with the Ninevites? Did he have idols that got in his way? All understandable reasons to me, but that last question is the main stumbling block I drew parallel to.

Jonah 2:8 says, “those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.”  That verse stopped me in my tracks. Yes, I know how much idols hurt me. And I know how much more my Jesus fills my heart. Yet, why do I allow idols to cloud my judgment? Do I seriously think they are better than the hope of steadfast love of Christ? When we rely on idols in place of God, we are basically fleeing from God…just like Jonah did.

Way too often, I take God’s own blessings and make them into idols. The blessings in themselves are not bad at all. But they will never fulfill me the way his deep and steadfast love does. We are blessed to live in a home in Santa Fe where I can look out the back door up into the mountains- I don’t want to leave it. He has put amazing women in my life who have blessed me with their friendship – I don’t want to move away from them. I love the easy and convenient pace of life in The Land of Enchantment. I really love the fact that Ryan has been in control his own schedule for the last two years. I am grateful for all of these many blessings. But I can’t let myself love them more, depend on them more, or find my peace in them more than God the Father who wants me to put my trust in Him and offers me unconditional, steadfast love…wherever we live.

I like to be in control. I don’t like uncertainty. I have learned, however, over the past year that uncertainty can be a blessing that makes me depend on God more. I am reminded that the God of our family is our One and Only Sustainer. These many blessings mentioned above – no matter how sweet – are futile if I allow them to become idols. No idol is worth having fled from His Steadfast Love. God’s many blessings in Santa Fe are amazing. But we have to keep a willing spirit if God leads us in another direction. He will provide because He is always with us. I have to have hope in that truth.

In his sermon, Doug said that when God calls us to something in life, there will always be a boat to Tarshish available to take us in the other direction. I don’t want get on that boat. So, every day, Ryan and I have to pray for God to lead our family. Only God can give us the grace to follow His perfect lead in the midst of uncertainty.

Jonah shared a pretty good lesson with us. It’s not worth ‘three days in the belly of a whale’ to fight against God’s perfect plan. Even when I think I know better. I just have to be reminded every.single.day. As far as how to figure out God’s plan…we’ll just have to pray for direction and hope it’s obvious. I’m open to any suggestions on figuring out God’s plan! In the meantime, I’ll rest in knowing that our steadfast God will continue to pursue us anywhere for all time. The challenge is to avoid the boat to Tarshish.

*Art, Jonah boat to Tarshish, by Ruth Coleman

Hoarding Joy

It was no Sandcliffs fireworks show, but at least we had something!!!

This may not come as a surprise to those who know me well. But when I was a kid, I used to time it perfectly so that I saved my Halloween candy until Christmas. My Christmas candy until Valentines. And my Valentines candy until Easter. I guess I just scavenged through the mid-part of the year to get my sugar high.  My brother, on the other hand, would fully enjoy his candy (then break into my candy stash and steal mine!). I have to wonder…would I have enjoyed the candy more if I had just eaten it when I really wanted it, instead of denying myself the pleasure just to make it last longer?

Talking with our friends, we recently realized an adult scenario of that situation. If we get a nice bottle of wine, we tend to store it away while we enjoy the much less expensive bottle…saving that nicer bottle for a ‘special occasion’. What we end up with is a collection of nicer wine we are afraid to drink because we are just saving it for the right occasion. But maybe the everyday is the right occasion!?

This past weekend, we savored time with sweet family friends enjoying a summer’s night eating and spending time together on the back patio. The kids played with sparklers. We drank nice champagne. We noted that there was no particular special occasion (other than being together, which made it special).  And we wondered if a nice bottle of champagne should be saved for that impending ‘special occasion’ or celebration. I think the conclusion I came to is that the everyday is the special occasion.  And my five year old made me realize what a shame it would be to save the sparklers for only a couple of patriotic holidays per year. Hanging out on the back patio on warm summer nights with dear friends are the memories we will most likely hold closest as life moves on. More so than New Years Eve or rare celebrations, those nights are the champagne worthy nights.

I tend to be quite the planner, but maybe sometimes, just eating the candy when I want it, lighting the sparklers, and enjoying that rare fancy glass of champagne is a perfect celebration…for everyday life. There is no need to hoard joy. Joy is all around us.

A verse that has particularly stood out to me in the past year is Romans 15:13 – “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” My God of Hope is One who yearns for me to trust in Him day in and day out…to allow Him to infuse our everyday with real peace and great joy. And sometimes, that’s easier said than done. We allow the details and stresses of this world to choke our joy.

Oswald Chambers noted that,

“Living a full and overflowing life does not rest in bodily health, in circumstances, nor even in seeing God’s work succeed, but in the perfect understanding of God, and in the same fellowship and oneness with Him that Jesus Himself enjoyed. But the first thing that will hinder this joy is the subtle irritability caused by giving too much thought to our circumstances. Jesus said, “. . . the cares of this world, . . . choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19).

I’m not suggesting that we be careless and shirk our responsibilities. Or that we mismanage that which we have been given. But joy is a gift – one to be enjoyed one day at a time…not to be hoarded for special occasions. We bring God joy, and He wants us to know the same complete joy. I think that if Jesus was with us on our back patio, He would want to light some sparklers and maybe even have a glass of champagne too.

 

“Always keep a bottle of Champagne in the fridge for special occasions. Sometimes the special occasion is that you’ve got a bottle of Champagne in the fridge!” -Hester Browne
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love…I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. —John 15:9,11

Room at the Table

IMG_8431

I recently remembered this wonderful story my mom shared with us a few years ago about our ancestors. She was lucky enough to have it passed down from her cousin, Pat, and it’s too good to not share.

My Great Great Grandmother, Ava (1884-1975), whom my mom remembers well, was the wife of Hiawatha. Hiawatha was half Cherokee Indian, which makes me a solid 1/32 American Indian.
As the story goes, when Ava was a young girl in Georgia, she loved to dance. But the church that she belonged to did not approve of girls and boys dancing together. She was a tiny little woman with lively feet, so she went down to Atlanta to visit friends and to attend dances down there. While in Atlanta, she met Watha, as he was called, and fell in love.
Ava’s family did not want them to marry because of Watha’s Indian heritage. Another very well thought of man named Theodore Wardlaw was ‘courting’ her and her family wanted her to marry him. One time while Teed, as he was called, was visiting with her family in the ‘parlor,’ Ava snuck out the side door and ran off with Watha in a wagon to get married. Her corset flew out of the back of the wagon and one of the neighbors found it on the dirt road, washed it, and returned it to her mother. The neighbor said she knew it was Ava’s because it was so little that no other woman would fit in it.
Ava’s mother was very mad at her for running away to get married and did not speak to her for about 5 years! Watha and Ava had three girls – my Great Grandmother Vera, Lollie, and Margaret. I had the honor of knowing 2 of those women.
Sadly, Watha died before my mom was born. But my Great Great Grandmother Ava married again…And guess who it was…It was Theodore Wardlaw, who her mother wanted her to marry back when she was a young girl. My mom remembers Teed and Ava. My mom tells us that Ava ate cornbread smushed in buttermilk for supper every night and had a pet raccoon on a chain in her backyard named Pretty.

So, if my Great Great Grandmother Ava hadn’t followed her heart and jumped in that wagon with Hiawatha, I probably wouldn’t be here today. Their daughter, Vera, married Ivy Lee. They had my grandmother, Virginia. And the Lee name has been passed down to daughters as a middle name in our family ever since…My mom, Sherry Lee. I was named Lauren Lee and our only daughter is Hannah Lee.

I bet it made Ava sad to have to run off the way she did. Her parents didn’t approve of Hiawatha because of his background, his ethnicity. I’m so thankful that Ava was wise enough to see past such a trivial matter, and that social and ethnicity barriers have continued to be broken by generations to follow. But unfortunately, insensitive and disgusting acts of racism, discrimination, and oppression still happen every day.  I can only pray that one day, all of God’s people will be loved, accepted, and treated equally within our communities.

Jesus told his followers that one day, “people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at the table in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:29) Wouldn’t it be nice if more people of different social backgrounds, sexualities, races, and cultures would see the benefit of sitting around proverbial (and literal) tables together more often now? Why wait? Jesus loves everybody. We should too.

Thinking about my ancestors also makes me think about the fascinating lineage of Jesus. In his article Knots in Jesus’ Family Tree, Mark Driscoll writes:

“The human ancestry of Jesus includes adultery, murder, incest, and prostitution. There are some serious knots in Jesus’ family tree! But the prevailing message is that no matter who we are, where we come from, or how bad we are, there is room for us in Jesus’ family.”

Driscoll ends his article focused on grace and an open spirit.

“By opening his book with an honest account of Jesus’ heritage, Matthew, the extortionist-turned-pastor, is telling us that there is room for all of us in God’s family, by grace. There is room for men and women, rich and poor, young and old, moral and immoral, Jew and Gentile, perverted and virgin, religious and irreligious, liars and truth tellers, murderers and their victims in the family of God, by grace. There’s room for you no matter what you’ve done or what your family history may be.”

Just yesterday at Christ Church Santa Fe, our Pastor, Martin, reminded us that Jesus was a magnet to outsiders. He broke social barriers because He wanted to give Life to all. God’s grace and God’s mercy are unending when we accept the love He lavishes on us and offer it back up to Him – and to each other…and to each other. Did I mention how important I believe it is to demonstrate acceptance and love to each other…to all of God’s people?

I’m personally thankful that God has blessed us through our colorful ancestry.  My Great Great Grandparents, Ava and Watha, were willing to break cultural and social barriers to be with each other so many years ago. They followed their hearts and reclined around the table (or apparently in the back of a wagon!) together. Let’s set more tables for all of God’s people to sit around together.  As Martin mentioned yesterday, “the Kingdom of God is here. It’s a party, and everyone is invited.”  And there’s plenty of room at the table.

 

Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)

The Face of God

One Sweet Little Face

“All of God’s grace…in one sweet little face.”

I’ve had this picture of our first-born, above, framed in our home for six years. I look at it just about every day. But yesterday I saw the photograph and the quote on the frame in a different light.

Last week, in the book Sparkly Green Earrings, I read Melanie Shankle’s account of her daughter’s birth. She wrote about one of my absolute favorite moments I have ever experienced…that moment when a newborn baby was placed on my chest for the very first time, just seconds after birth. It’s simply magical. There is no other instance in life (that I know of) when such great physical pain and such immense joy intersect so quickly. Shankle writes,

“I stared in wonder at this little pink gift, this tiny person fresh from heaven. It was as if I could still smell the angels on her, like I was looking straight into the face of God.”

The newborn days have passed. Now, we are in the full-blown toddler phase with our twins. And we are trying to figure out how to shepherd our young boys into respectful young men. I’ll be honest…the toddler thing wears me out. Especially as we double down on the ‘terrible twos’ with this interesting twin dynamic.

But even in the midst of their messiness…and in the midst of my messiness… these toddlers are a fabulous example and reminder of my relationship with God. Even now, as I look into their sweet (and dirty) little faces, I feel as if I am looking into the face of God.

Sometimes, my toddler reminds me of myself.

I remember years ago, someone told me that thinking we can take hold of a situation in life without God’s leading is about as realistic as a two-year-old trying to make pancakes on their own. Every day, I hear my daughter say, “I do it!” or, “No, mama, all by myself.” Her desire for independence is a good thing. But, when we are doing something as messy as making pancakes…it’s just a disaster. And so it is when I try to take over my own life and attempt to navigate life’s challenges and unexpected turns “all by myself”. When I’m not leaning on God, relying on Him to carry me through life, my life can get as messy as a toddler making pancakes.

Sometimes, my toddler reminds me of God.

Again, my daughter comes to mind. Our two-year-old son plays independently. He will actually ride his tricycle in the driveway or simply look at bugs alone in the yard. But my sweet girl…she pursues me relentlessly. If I’m working on the computer, she wants to be in my lap. If I’m folding laundry, she wants to be sitting right there on the counter talking my ear off. She simply wants to be near me. She wants me to be in her presence. Sometimes I get frustrated…I mean – it would be nice to go to the bathroom or take a shower alone occasionally. In the midst of a moment of frustration yesterday, I saw the light and was flattered by it. The girl just loves me. Each week in church, we say a silent prayer praising God for His mercy and His tenacious love. My child’s tenacious love for me is just a tiny taste of the love that God has for me. He simply wants to be near me. He wants me to be in His presence. I am incredibly thankful that, despite my bullheadedness, My God pursues me relentlessly too. Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life…” Psalm 23:6 (The Message)

As Melanie Shankle continued to reminisce about her experience with the pain of childbirth in contrast with the joy of her new precious baby girl, she wrote,

“I realized this whole process was such a striking picture of how Christ works in us. He takes our disappointments, rejections, and hard times, and he makes something beautiful…He blesses us beyond our imaginations, in spite of all the broken roads we’ve walked. In fact, maybe he blesses us so lavishly because of all the broken roads we’ve traveled.” In regards to her new baby, she wrote, “I looked at her and saw perfection. And love. And mercy. And grace. I had never seen the hand of God more clearly in all my life.”

In my experience with newborns, toddlers and small children, I can vouch. When I take a moment to stop and admire their sweet little faces, these precious children remind me of God’s incredible grace. Whether you have a child, a grandchild, or a little friend — I encourage you to take a good look into their face this week and find God.

Despite my desire to make pancakes on my own…And despite by my foolishness to think I could ever be better off outside of the presence of God – He shows me His mercy. His grace. And only because of the perfect life, gruesome death, and miraculous resurrection of Jesus – when God looks at me, He sees perfection. Just like a parent with their newborn.

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“We are children, perhaps, at the very moment when we know that it is as children that God loves us – not because we have deserved his love and not in spite of our undeserving; not because we try and not because we recognize the futility of our trying; but simply because he has chosen to love us. We are children because he is our father; and all of our efforts, fruitful and fruitless, to do good, to speak truth, to understand, are the efforts of children who, for all their precocity, are children still in that before we loved him, he loved us, as children, through Jesus Christ our lord.”
― Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat