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.

————————-

“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

Abundant Living: Eat, Drink, & Be Merry

nazIMG_3542 copy

Happy Easter and Merry Spring! The trees are blooming and patio weather is upon us. The gloom of Lent is passed, and on Easter, we celebrated the risen Christ…a God who is truly pleased when we find deep joy in the gifts He has given us. Yesterday was a HAPPY day, but it doesn’t end there.

Several months ago, I heard a sermon at Christ Church Santa Fe  based on Ecclesiastes 5:18-20.

“This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them…this is a gift of God…”                      (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 NIV)

This encouraging scripture reassures us that it is a good thing to find joy in the gifts that God gives us. I find one of God’s absolute greatest gifts to be community…the people in my life. And with them – I love to eat, drink, and be merry.

Forming deep relationships and close community, however, requires intentionality and vulnerability. But the rewards of being merry together are well worth the effort put into our relationships.

As I have made it no secret, my friends and my amazing husband are a gift and a deep joy to me. Renowned scholar, author, and speaker Brené Brown, in her TED Talk on The Power of Vulnerability states that connection with other people is the reason we are here. She says that connection gives purpose and meaning to our lives. I agree. In addition to loving God with all our hearts, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-39). It’s pretty hard to fulfill that commandment without connecting regularly with the people around us. In addition, Brown says that the kind of people who have a true sense of worthiness and a strong sense of love and belonging [in community] are those who believe they are worthy of love and belonging. I totally agree.

The verse that inspired this blog, Ephesians 3:17-19 says, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses all knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” When we know this deep love of Christ, our sense of worthiness is brought to a whole new level.

Brown says that people who have a true sense of worthiness are ‘whole-hearted’. She says that what these whole-hearted people have in common is a sense of courage. She points out that courage and bravery are not the same. Courage comes from a Latin word and the original definition was ‘to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart’. Brown says that these whole-hearted folks

“have the courage to be imperfect with each other. They have connection as a result of authenticity. They are willing to let go of who they should be in order to be who they [are]. The other thing they have in common: they fully embrace vulnerability. Being vulnerable is the willingness to say ‘I love you’ first…the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees…the willingness to invest in relationships that may or may not work out.”

This kind of whole-heartedness, based on courage and vulnerability, is an essential building block for the best of friendships and the tightest of communities.

There are plenty of great examples of holy vulnerability in the Bible. In her article, On Why Being Vulnerable is a Beautiful Thing, based on John 12, Caroline Coleman names a few examples: Mary, as she pours valuable perfume on Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair. David, with his “desperate honest vulnerable cries for help” in the Psalms. And, of course, Jesus as he cries out to His Abba Father on the cross.  According to Coleman, Jesus encourages all of us towards a life in which we make ourselves vulnerable to God and to others.

“He’s saying that true fulfillment doesn’t come the way we think it does – through our striving, achieving, conquering and acquiring. True joy and fulfillment comes through sacrificing ourselves for others. It comes through being vulnerable even to those who reject us. It comes through pouring out ourselves for others, and trusting God to fill us back up.” Coleman continues, “We can embrace others in love, not needing anything from them, because our hearts are overflowing – our cups runneth over – with the love of God, a love that we find only when everything else in the world fails us. This is abundant living.”

So, as Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 states, let’s embrace the abundant living that God encourages. I find this sweet way of life to be best amongst my community of friends and family. And when I remember that I am always worthy because of the wide and deep love that Christ has for me, I find it a little easier to be vulnerable…to connect with others in a way I can show them my love…to find that whole-hearted courage that brings authenticity to relationships.

Ecclesiastes Chapter 5, Verse 20 says, “God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.” So this Spring, find a patio or a table where you can soak up the gift of community with friends and family. With gladness of heart, pour yourselves into each other.

Eat, drink, and be merry.

Get REAL

IMG_7885

I’m the first to admit that most of my writing is simply commentary on other people’s brilliance – sermons, articles, devotionals or other blogs. This piece below was inspired in early August by the Girlfriends in God devotional on August 1 entitled ‘The Velveteen Woman’ by Sharon Jaynes, the Jesus Calling devotional for August 1, and the classic book, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. Jaynes shared in her devotional about how The Velveteen Rabbit helps us understand the importance of being real, and I’d like to expand on that topic a bit. This post also hits on two of my favorite subjects…love and vulnerability.

I’m starting out with a long excerpt from The Velveteen Rabbit. So, sit back, figuratively, in the chair from your childhood nursery or maybe the rocking chair in which you read to your own children and soak in these wise and classic words. You might pick up on a few things you didn’t when you were six years old.

——————-

The classic children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams reads:

“There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy’s stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming…

For at least two hours the Boy loved him…For a long time he lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much about him. He was naturally shy, and being only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him. The mechanical toys were very superior, and looked down upon every one else; they were full of modern ideas, and pretended they were real…The Rabbit could not claim to be a model of anything, for he didn’t know that real rabbits existed…Between them all, the poor little Rabbit was made to feel himself very insignificant and commonplace, and the only person who was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath…He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else.

‘What is REAL?’ asked the Rabbit one day…’ Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?’

‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’…’but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

When we are at our best, according to the ways of the world, we feel really splendid don’t we? Like the Rabbit on his first day in that Christmas stocking. But when we rely on the ‘charming effects’ of superficial means to happiness, it doesn’t take long to get snubbed and realize our efforts are not REAL. As the Rabbit becomes disenchanted with the superior ways of the mechanical toys, he begins to question, ‘What is REAL?’ The wise old Skin Horse shares with the Rabbit that REAL isn’t how you are made. It’s not how you look or who likes you; you are REAL because you are loved.

As I think of this love, I’m not reminded of the love from family or from friends either. You are REAL because you are loved immensely by the Creator of the universe. He REALLY loves you. Again, I am reminded of the verse that the title of my blog is based on – When you can “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18), it’s much easier to get REAL, with yourself and with others. It is absolutely freeing.

The Skin Horse is keen to know how one can become REAL. But he really doesn’t tell the Rabbit what REAL is. REAL is being free to be your unique, individual self because you are made in the perfect image of our God. REAL is being vulnerable to God and to others…even if you risk pain or being a wee bit uncomfortable. REAL is being willing to share yourself, fully, without reservation. REAL is telling people how much you love them. REAL is showing grace to your neighbor or even your best friend who needs it too.

And as the truthful Skin Horse points out, even when you are REAL, you can get hurt. The world is broken. Even the people we are closest to can hurt us (and sadly, we hurt them too). But because our Reality is rooted in a loving, forgiving, and merciful Savior, He brings us peace beyond understanding that blunts the pain of this world. God has loved and planned for each of us since the beginning of time; He loves us despite the fact that we are shabby. And He protects us when we are REAL. Because of Jesus’ sacrificial love for us, when we are REAL, we cannot be ugly in God’s eyes. In fact, God thinks the REAL you is beautiful. And as the Skin Horse reminds us, Real lasts for always.

In addition, our friendships are most certainly all the more rewarding when we are REAL, when we let a bit of vulnerability in. There’s just no comparison. In her book, Carry On, Warrior, one of my favorite writers, Glennon Melton writes –

“I started thinking about all the time and effort I’d spent building protective layers between my broken heart and the broken world…I considered the ways I’d distanced myself from other people…I pulled on my secrets and shame like armor and carried my invulnerability like a weapon. There were so many layers of my armor and her armor between us that we couldn’t touch each other…Suddenly this all seemed completely ridiculous…I was lonely and a bit bored. Life without touching other people is boring as hell. It hit me that maybe the battles of life are best fought without armor and without weapons. That maybe life gets real, good, and interesting when we remove all the layers of protection we’ve built around our hearts and walk out onto the battlefield of life naked.”

I think both Glennon and the Skin Horse are on to something about living life REAL. When we get REAL, we reap incredible blessing from God, from friends, and from ourselves. The effect is really quite charming.

Just this very morning, our pastor, Martin, at Christ Church Santa Fe said, “If its not real, its not worth it.” He reminded us that Jesus is very REAL.  His tender grip on our hearts is REAL. Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That’s REAL. From the August 1 devotional of Jesus Calling – “Let this divine assurance trickle though your mind and into your heart and soul.”  And let’s be REAL together.

Deep and Wide

I’ve thought a lot about what I would want my first real entry on my blog to be. I want to share with you some of what has been on my heart and mind over the past year. And, hopefully, I’ll get some new inspiration too. I wrote these words in mid-February. I think that this piece is part of what inspired me to create my blog because it reminded me of how much I am loved by God and why I like the notion of being ‘Rooted’. The Ephesians verses (Ephesians 3:17-19) that inspired my blog title influenced this writing as well. As a matter of fact, now that I review them, I have realized that verse made its way into several pieces this past year that I will share with you…a fitting start as I introduce you to Rooted. You are welcome here at Rooted no matter what your faith. And if God isn’t your thing…I hope you will still stick with me. I believe He loves everybody.

————————–

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16.  If I’m being honest, I would have to tell you that I’ve never really been crazy about this verse. I feel like it might be blasphemy just to think that. Seems like it’s a flagship verse in the Bible, and I hope you will not take offense if this verse is special to you. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think my silly issue with the verse is that I felt at times like it was overused. When I was a teenager, struggling with my priorities and how much I was ready to commit to God, I heard this verse over and over again. I may be risking getting struck by lightening here, but that familiar verse in the book of John began to feel trite to me. I need to be clear that I’m sure these specific Holy Words no doubt speak directly to many people…just not me. I do not doubt the power of the Word. Especially not the Word that became flesh. Perhaps for me, eternal life just wasn’t the sell.

You see, I’m kind of short sighted. I tend to be more influenced by the now (like today), not the thought of eternity. And in the now, I’m driven by love, by being loved. So that’s why when our pastor, Martin, at Christ Church Santa Fe, read this verse in a sermon from Ecclesiastes that focused on being in love with God, I heard it in a different light.

Martin noted, emphatically, that it is impossible to find Truth without being in love with God. He reminded us that just knowing mechanisms of theology, like justification by faith, does not bring us salvation. Our salvation does not come through our wisdom, certainly not through our efforts at righteousness. Instead, said Martin, we have to radically commit to loving God before leaning into these works (that are not bad in themselves). I was beautifully reminded that our God, the Creator of the Universe, is a person who shows up, whether we do or not. He loves us first. And when we show up, the love that abounds in our hearts is immeasurable…in the now and for eternity.

I write a lot about the people I love, but on the week I wrote these words, which happened to coincide with Valentines Day, I enjoyed focusing on being loved by my God. I just prefer the verse that inspired this blog. Through Ephesians 3:17-19, I am drawn by the wide and long and high and deep love of Christ. But that just didn’t fit on the back of youth retreat t-shirts as easily as John 3:16.

And it’s only in this Perfect Love that we can, in turn, love – with our whole hearts – our neighbors, our spouses, our best friends. I really like this quote by Caroline Coleman in her A Chapter a Day Blog on 1 Corinthians 13: “Because here’s the good news. LOVED is patient, LOVED is kind. LOVED is not rude…” That’s the goal anyways.

You know what 1 Corinthians says shortly there after? Love never ends. And here we are back at eternity. Jesus is Love. Maybe I need to give John 3:16 another chance. I just need to focus on the first half of the verse.

—————

“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses all knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” -Ephesians 3:17-19