Heart Health

Heart Health

Valentines Day has come and gone. I got my chocolates and a sincere and loving card from my husband. These two items confirm what I know…He loves me deeply, and he knows that I love chocolate deeply. I can only hope that my card to him expressed my love adequately…and also that he will give me some of his chocolate.

My words might adequately express my love, but my actions certainly don’t always express my love. I am often curt and, frankly, just plain exhausted. Sometimes, my exhaustion turns both my heart and emotions to a hard shell…much like that on the chocolate candies. So, quite often, I need to stop, assess the condition of my heart, and simply soften up. I need to ask myself, “How am I nurturing my heart health?”

In a recent sermon at Christ Community Church, our pastor, Tom Nelson, reminded us that we must regularly check the condition of our hearts. The American Heart Association has deemed February to be American Heart Month. According to the American Heart Association, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease. As we all know, regular exercise and a good diet are the first steps towards a healthy heart. Tom drew a similar conclusion as he encouraged us to take notice of the spiritual condition of our hearts.

Just like with physical health, our emotional and spiritual health are also dependent on regular exercise and a good diet. Our pastor reminded me that we must discipline ourselves to actively seek a good diet and exercise of spiritual disciplines…such as prayer, meditation and study of scripture.

Pastor Tom also noted two specific heart killers – a worried spirit and a hurried spirit. Those two traits have the potential to put me in critical condition, daily. So, I ask you…When were you hurried today? What worried you today?

Tom shared that worry keeps us from moving forward in a life with vitality and joy. A life characterized by worry is not the good life God intends for us.  I am certainly not implying that there isn’t an appropriate place for deep concern or lament in our lives. But for a healthy heart, we must genuinely hand over our fears and anxiety to God and seek His supernatural peace that transcends all understanding.  It sounds crazy, but it’s real.

And for a healthy heart, my goodness, we must absolutely slow down and take time to be still. That’s my kind of exercise! It’s difficult to love the people around us when we can’t slow down enough to feel their needs.  And it’s hard to truly be in anyone’s presence if we are always in a hurry.

Join me as I assess the condition of my heart. Can I truly love the people around me if my heart is not well?

I think most people would choose to live for love. It feels good to love others. I know most people have an insatiable desire to be fully loved. I do. But all of the affection, all of the praise, all of the security in the world is not enough. The love of this world doesn’t quite fulfill and doesn’t give us the ability to love back. We must seek God for that complete fulfillment. His love is perfect and limitless.

My healthy heart goal is to live for love…

“It’s to choose to root yourself in the unconditional affection of your heavenly Father rather than seeking fulfillment from the fickle love of mankind. It’s to choose to serve and give rather than looking to receive from a world that has so little to offer. To live for love is to seek first God and his ways and thereby receive the fullness of life only he can give…It is impossible to live for love as Jesus commands unless we first receive daily the perfect, powerful love of our heavenly Father.” -Craig Denison, First 15

How’s your heart health?

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“…You’ve got your reasons
But I hold your peace
You’ve been on lockdown
And I hold the key…

…I’ll be your lighthouse
When you’re lost at sea
And I will illuminate
Everything

No need to be frightened 
By intimacy
No, just throw off your fear
And come running to Me

‘Cause I loved you before you knew it was love…” 

-CLICK HERE to hear “Out of Hiding” by Steffany Gretzinger, Bethel Music 

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Add to the Beauty

Purple Mountains Majesty
I don’t know about you, but I love patriotic songs. I often puff up with pride and even tear up a bit when I hear a good rendition of “God Bless America” – whether at a 4th of July celebration or the seventh inning stretch of a baseball game. (And in case you haven’t noticed…its baseball season over here in KC! GO ROYALS!!!)

“…From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam…”

And then there’s the purple mountains majesty, the amber waves of grain and the shining seas in “America the Beautiful.”  Perhaps these songs particularly catch my heart because we have called the mountains in Colorado and New Mexico, the sea in California, and now the plains of Kansas our home over the past four years. Put a military figure – those very heroes who “more than self their country loved” – behind the microphone, and I really have to hold myself together.  But beyond the lyrics describing the aesthetic beauty of our country, there are a couple of lines that get lost in the middle of “America the Beautiful.” I believe they are the true crux of the song.

“America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea.”

I believe that the very best of our country isn’t found in the beauty of the mountains or on the most stunning beaches of our coast. The writer of “America the Beautiful” recognized that the good of our country is crowned by brotherhood. Relationships. Community.

In each of the seven states I’ve lived in, there are plenty of people who believe they live in the best place in the world. They would never move away. You certainly can’t easily convince a Bostonian to move to California or a Kansan to move to Texas. When it comes down to it, most of these people love where they live – not because of geography – but because of their people. Geography doesn’t hurt, but it’s really all about community.

So how do we ‘crown thy good with brotherhood?’ What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? How can we truly embrace and serve our communities? These are the questions I’m asking myself as we approach the holiday season.

Our best patriotic songs are more than just pride reserved for national holidays and ballgames. These songs call us to do our part to add to the beauty. We are called to crown our beautiful country (and our world) with love and compassion in our immediate circles and greater communities. What does that look like? To crown our good with brotherhood is a call to be fruitful and productive with the talents and gifts God has given us. It’s a call to look for ways to serve those around us – near and far, daily and long term.

As we appreciate the bounty of fall and approach Thanksgiving this year, will you take a challenge with me? Not just to be thankful – but to actively add to the beauty. Start small. You might just make a big impact.

Sarah Grove’s words in her song, “Add to the Beauty” recently struck me:

“Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces
Calling out our best
And I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story
I want to shine with the light
That’s burning up inside”

True, America is beautiful. May God give us the grace to add to the beauty.

A Loss of Innocence

Fourteen years ago, I became an adult. I graduated from college. I got married. I got a job. These milestones alone don’t make an adult. But it was in that year, 2001, that I took responsibility for myself outside of my parents’ nest. They would no longer be depositing money in a meal plan, holding me to a curfew, or tucking me in on holidays at home. My husband and I were the newest extension of my parents’ nuclear family.

Fourteen years ago, my childhood innocence was lost. But not because I became an adult. Many of us lost a bit of childlike trust in the world on September 11, 2001. Loss of innocence, a fairly common theme in fiction, is not just a coming of age. A loss of innocence, according to Wikipedia, is an experience or period that widens one’s awareness of evil, pain or suffering in the world around them. My generation had not witnessed The Great Depression, the horrors of WWII or The Vietnam War like our grandparents and parents. But the kind of nightmare that rocked our country to the core on September 11th took the innocence of many young adults with it.

Less than three months into my newly minted adulthood and marriage, the terrorists tried to break us. They devastated our country with four doomed flights that stole thousands of precious lives – mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and best friends. Again – a kind of devastation my generation had not yet seen in our country.

My 9/11 experience was not particularly unique. The news of the strike on World Trade Center Tower 1 flashed across my television screen in our Dallas apartment. As the nightmare unraveled, I was able to reach my husband, Ryan, who had safely landed in Chicago for a business trip. He had no idea of the gravity of the situation when I reached out to him to make sure he was safe. For several days, he was stuck in Chicago. I later found out he had been working in the Sears Tower. I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time. My parents were home in Georgia. I witnessed a tragedy unfold – one greater than any of us could have imagined- as an adult by myself. I wasn’t in New York, like so many people I know. I didn’t lose a loved one. I can’t even imagine the pain. But the world changed that day. And so did I.

The world changed because I realized we could no longer trust it. Our insulated, powerful, country built on the tenants of freedom was crippled. But our great nation was not paralyzed.

That terrible night, President Bush addressed our nation:

“Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts… Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror… These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve…This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.” –George W. Bush

Not everyone agrees with the wartime decisions President Bush made after 9/11. But the President’s powerful words of consolation and resolve on this dark night gave me great comfort as a young adult who suddenly felt very vulnerable. His charge to unite a great people gave our country strength in our fight against such evil. And, for me now, his words on 9/11 serve as reminder of that horrible day and the painful rebuilding process that would follow. Many noble lives of our brave military men and women were lost as they fought for our safety and freedom in the years to come.

Fourteen years later, we have not forgotten. A simple click on today’s news media or Facebook brings to life many vivid memories and horrific experiences. And with those stories and graphic pictures as a reminder, we Americans continue to share a resolve for a strong and peaceful nation and world.

For the first time, this year, my own children are aware of what happened on 9/11, and they are asking questions. In a day and age when terrorists are motivated by a desire to repress basic rights and bully innocent victims, I pray that we can take a moment to examine how we might do the opposite in our own personal spheres of influence.

My hope and prayer is that the generation of young parents today who lost a sense of innocence on September 11, 2001 will raise a generation of children who seek to love and show grace, even – maybe especially – to people who hold different beliefs and practices. As a basic starting place – prejudice, discrimination and bullying are simply unacceptable.

Fourteen years ago, my childhood innocence was lost. But our great country has found resolve. As President Bush urged us, let us continue “to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”  You in your corner, and me in mine.

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“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” -Philippians 4:8-9

***This year on the 4th of July, we had the honor of saluting the US flag shown in the picture above. It had flown over Syria just two weeks before as our military heroes fight ISIS to defend our freedom and safety.***

Happy ReNew Year

Happy New Year

I’m not really a big fan of New Year’s resolutions – perhaps because I have a fear of failure. I can’t stand the thought of letting myself (or anyone else) down. I almost feel like I have a better chance of success if I don’t put extra pressure on myself. So, instead of making resolutions, I tend to look at the New Year as a clean slate…an opportunity to renew myself. January feels like a natural time for renewal. The beginning of the year is quieter, and for this reason, January is becoming one of my favorite times of the year. (And not just because the temps are in the 70’s in San Diego this week. ☺)

This January, I am focusing on a couple of areas. The first being to finally find my regular exercise routine here in California…and not drinking beer in the month of January. Small steps, folks. You may notice I have not cut out wine or Makers Mark, and I certainly can’t make any commitments into February. Both of these New Years efforts might be a result of my five-year-old telling me I look like I have a baby in my tummy. (kind of like Jennifer Garner’s baby bump.)

My second area of focus is with my family. I am with them almost all of the time. But my goal isn’t particularly lofty… really my goal is to just to show up. Not just physically, but also emotionally and playfully. I want to play more with my kids. To be less distracted by mundane daily chores and social media and communication. I don’t think I’m alone in this boat.

I saw this amazing Spanish Ikea commercial last week (on social media, of course). It really impacted me. Given the choice between getting anything they could imagine from Santa or spending time with their parents, the children in the interview chose the quality time. The video is touching – take a look. It made me think about opportunities to renew my self in 2015.

Last week, at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church, Senior Pastor Mike McClenahan shared some valuable thoughts on renewal that poked at my heart. I think that there are great take-aways here whether or not you are a Christian. The pastor encouraged us to think like Jesus, to act like Jesus, and to be like Jesus. Okay, that’s a lot of pressure for a girl who never wore a WWJD bracelet.

Regardless of your faith, it’s hard to deny that Jesus was a pretty stand-up guy. We’re talking about a man who encouraged people to love above all. Not to judge. To treat others as you would want to be treated. To honor our parents. To forgive. To serve. To take care of the poor. To welcome children and to be like them. He was man who spent time with untouchable people, prostitutes, and the greediest of tax collectors. Jesus was cool.

Romans 12 encourages us to “not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” So, I think renewal is a good place to start, no matter what month it is, no matter how many times I have to renew myself. Have you ever seen the bumper sticker that says, “I love your Christ. I just don’t love your Christians.”? Without daily renewal, I have no hope. WWJD is a heck of a lot of pressure. But, if I can just focus on the basics of being like Jesus – loving and serving others – then just showing up (and playing) is enough for me this year. In what areas of your life would you like to see renewal in 2015?

This past Sunday, Pastor Mike McClenahan reminded me that not only was Jesus born on Christmas as our God on this earth. But he grew into a man who taught us what love really looks like…what it really means to show up. I love the idea of a fresh start on January 1, but renewal is just as available to us on the other 364 days of the year. And this year, I’m going to remind myself that renewal is an option every day. Sounds much better than focusing on failure to me.  Talk about taking off the pressure.  Daily renewal is going to help me show up. To love. To forgive. To serve. And to simply play with my children and maybe even be more like them.

Pretty sure I’ll need renewal in August as much as January. Happy ReNew Year!

“Too much to make sense of it all
I know that Your love breaks my fall…
… Oh, to be like You…
..Forever The Hope in my heart.”
Scandal of Grace by Hillsong United.

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?!

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

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)

Most Favorite of Least Favorite Things

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I did one of my most favorite of least favorite things yesterday. I dug up cactuses. I guess the proper plural term would be cacti. At least that’s how my boys like to refer to them. We did a bit of spring cleaning in the yard. But really, it’s an ongoing process of clearing out and attempting to landscape after years of neglect.

I say least favorite because digging up cactus falls in the manual labor/heavy yard work category. And I really hate cactus. Just when you let your guard down, one of those spiny little suckers gets you good. I grew up in the Southeast. I suppose moms in the South regard poison ivy similarly to the way moms in the Southwest regard cactus. They hurt my children. About a week ago, my two-year-old complained for days about his knee hurting, until I finally realized he had a tiny cactus poke sticking out of it – mom of the year for not catching that one faster.  And the menacing succulents keep our kiddos from wanting to explore and play in their yard. Therefore, with the kid’s best interest in mind, I have taken on a ‘no cactus left behind’ policy…no matter how much I dislike the job of removing them. On the other hand, I say most favorite because, although it is a potentially painful process, digging up cactus is extremely rewarding. I have removed a major burden and stress, and the newly cleared area of our yard is inviting and safe.

So, as I was digging up six large trashcans full of these nasty guys, I couldn’t help but think how I could compare the cactus in our backyard to metaphorical ‘cactus’ in my heart and soul. Here’s what I knew: There are more cactus than I would have ever guessed in our yard. Some are big and clearly stand out. Some of the cacti are smaller, harder to see. And honestly, those low-lying ones hurt the worse…ask the dog…or the two-year-old. But they all hurt. And I think most of them are pretty ugly. As I mentioned, sometimes the removal process is pretty painful, but the end result of removing them is oh-so-rewarding.

Here’s what I learned when I Googled ‘cactus’ and researched a bit more on the very trusty Wikipedia site . A few facts particularly stood out:

  • Most cacti live in habitats subject to at least some drought…they can actually thrive when not being fed.
  • When a bit of rare Santa Fe precipitation does fall from the sky, these guys absorb water quickly during a rain storm and then store it away in their stems…precious nourishment that could feed the beautiful trees in our yard.
  • Cacti occur in a wide range of shapes and sizes.
  • They have a shallow root system.
  • Many cacti have short growing seasons and long dormancies. They pop up quickly and stick around until we do something about them.

Huh…more than a few similarities to the cactus in my life. So what are a few of my personal ‘cacti’?  Well, I won’t bore you with a long list. But one of the bigger cactus that really stands out like those huge prickly pairs in our yard is my lack of patience with my kids. I loose it…often. I snap at them. I raise my voice way too often. And too often, I’m sad to admit, I respond to them in a way that indicates that they are reeeally get on my nerves. When my daughter hears that impatient and frustrated tone when I say, “whaaaat!?!”, she usually responds with “I love you, Mommy.” Well, that’s enough to have me repenting on the spot.

Then, there are those low-lying cactus. The ones that aren’t easy to spot but are so very sharp. How about envy…envy that someone else has more than me. This envy doesn’t present itself openly, even to me. But the fact that I want what they have is bad enough. Or even envy that someone else has a totally different lifestyle than me. Looks fun. Looks carefree. Looks simple. Yeah, right. The grass is always greener on the other side. Or how about when I insist on my own way? Hesitant to listen to my husband’s ideas, even when they are better than mine (they most always are). Or, maybe insisting on my own way with friends because I’m not willing to step out of my routine or comfort zone to fully love or serve them.

All of the cactuses (sorry I just don’t like the word cacti) in our lives are ugly. They are sharp. They hurt others. They hurt ourselves. And they keep us from the ability to fully explore our potential. So, as I clear out another small section of the yard, I also think about how I can clear out the ugly succulents from my heart. They thrive in drought. When I don’t feed myself spiritually. When I don’t get the rest I need. When I don’t open my heart to the people around me and drink them in. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they are called succulents. The cactuses in our hearts literally suck and store away the nourishment that the rest of our souls needs. And they even have the ability to lie dormant and present themselves at the worst of times.

But the good news is: the cactuses of our souls have a shallow root system, just like the real plant. They can be removed. It may take a little sweat. The process can be quite painful; we might get poked along the way. But not nearly painful as when we leave them planted in our hearts. For me, I have to lean on my faith when I encounter my ‘pokey’ flaws. I have to remember that love is patient. Love does not envy. Love does not insist on its own way. For me, I have to lean on the power of prayer to find this supernatural kind of love.

What are your cacti? The big ones? The low-lying ones? Can you feel them poking at your soul? I can. I invite you to join me in a bit of spring cleaning of the soul. It’s one of my most favorite of least favorite things to do. Although, I have a feeling that it’s on ongoing process…just like our yard work.

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Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends… ~1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Get REAL

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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.

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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.