When I’m Dry and Thirsty

“Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.  But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed.  In the end it will be burned.” Hebrews 6:7-8

As I read these words this morning, I stopped and closed my eyes.  The image in my head was of dry, red clay-like soil. The rain was pelting the hard ground, splat, splat, splat. The water, quickly accumulating, was running off of the hard ground.  This hard, dense dirt, desperately in need of soaking in the sweet rain, seemed to reject it instead, clearly refusing to accept the life-giving water that would cause things to grow there.
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Try as I did to envision sweet, freshly tilled, dark, rich soil soaking in the rain, I couldn’t.  In that moment I sensed fear.  Fear of what, I don’t know.  Just fear mixed with anxiety and stress and a sense that I was protecting myself from something, like the dry dirt refusing to accept the rain. Arms wrapped tightly around my chest, afraid to come out or let anyone in, I sat in my chair wondering what had sent me into this hardness and hiding.

Henri Nouwen, in his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, says that we are like the son, stripped of everything, hoping to just come home and be a hired servant.  But that’s not what the father in the parable of The Prodigal Son did.  He returned him to his position as a son, despite whatever he had done.  I imagine the son, arms tightly wrapped around his chest, groveling, hoping for just a morsel of acceptance.  Did he open his arms and embrace his father when his father embraced him? Or did he, like me, refuse to drink in the life-giving water of forgiveness and love and choose instead to protect himself?

I got in the shower and felt the warm water rain down on me.  Slowly, I breathed in deep and exhaled long, willing my arms to stretch out wide and drink in the moment. Hard, dry ground beginning to crack, allowing the rain to penetrate its hard shell and bring hope to the seeds buried beneath the surface.

I am forgiven. I am loved. I am His beloved. I can trust. I don’t have to fear. I can take each day, each struggle, each insecure moment and allow them to become part of the whole ME that is the recycled work of God in my life.  Not perfect.  Human. 

You see, sometimes I just get caught up in the demands of life.  A million thoughts flash through my brain all day, every day.  Why didn’t I just…? I should have said… Do my kids know how much I love them? Did that employee really understand me?  I retreat. I give up. I am certain I just can’t do it.  Life then becomes a chore. The dry ground becomes a hardened shell and that life-giving water of the Spirit goes sliding right off of me as I hold tightly to those things that take up so much space in my mind.

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I want to be the rich earth, dark and full of life-giving nutrients where real life can grow.  In the end, I have to accept I will make mistakes, but those mistakes, rather than becoming trash to be thrown away, can be recycled into something beautiful, something different and useful.  That is IF I let the sweet rain fall to the ground, drink it in and trust that in its time, something beautiful, fruitful, useful will peak out from beneath the soil and show life and beauty. Amen.

 

Ugh! I can’t find the words! On Easter and Christianese

It’s Easter.  Resurrection Sunday. It is an important day in the life of Christians.  Easter Sunday is the day we celebrate that Jesus, the God-man who came to save us, rose from the grave.

Am I the only one that struggles with all of the Christian-ese we use? As I sat in church today, I was distracted by my thoughts about all of the people who come to church on Easter Sunday.  It’s the one day where churchgoers and non-churchgoers unite in a great big ball of pastel dresses and little boys fidgeting in their shirts and ties.  And all I can think about are the words we use to describe our faith:  Born again, Saved, Christ-Follower, Saved by Grace, Fellowship of Believers, Asking Jesus into our Heart.

I’m frustrated!  I’m frustrated because I can’t find adequate words to describe the deep sense of personal hope I have because of my faith in God… in Christ who came to earth, lived in a human body for 33 years only to be killed for his threat to the Jewish establishment.  And I’m frustrated because I wonder how many people were sitting in the “worship center,” listening to all the “praise and worship,” observing the “offering basket” and being asked to pray the “sinners prayer” to “accept Jesus into their hearts.”  Do they  miss the point?  Do they get it? Are these words just going in one ear and out the other because they are so strange?

I wish I had better words to communicate it.  It’s all just so “Christianized” and I can’t get over how it must sound to all of those people who weren’t raised in church like me.  It’s as if we speak in code and the code is only known by the insiders.

The truth is, the words are difficult.  It’s hard to express a profound faith in something you’ve never seen.  I can’t do anything but point to an inspired history book called the Bible that has been verified by other historical accounts.  I can tell you about the belief I have that despite personal struggles I have always felt hope that can only be found in believing in something bigger than these few years we live.  But you might point me towards other religions that boast the same.

In the end, these are the words I choose: I believe in Jesus Christ.  I believe he came to earth as a baby born of a virgin, was crucified for living a sinless life, and he did it willingly so that I could be saved from an eternal death. I believe he rose from the grave and walked among the very people that put him to death, until he ascended into heaven.  It all sounds preposterous!  Yet, Christianity, as Jesus taught and modeled it is the only life-giving, life-affirming “religion” of the world.  He doesn’t ask for money or sacrifice or good works.  His love can’t be earned and it can’t be destroyed.  (It can be rejected though.)  He asks for our faith, our trust, our belief that he is God and we are not. He asks us to put our hope in him and not in all of our money, accomplishments and possessions.  He gave his life up as a substitute for us, taking all of the sin – the bad junk we are and do – so that we could be reconciled to the God who created us.

Those words don’t do it justice either.  You know, I just can’t find them. It still feels like Christianese.  It still feels like something too complicated and strange for anyone to understand.

What if we’re wrong?  What if it’s all just a myth or a hoax? What if the virgin birth, crucifixion and resurrection never took place? But what if we’re right? What if it did, and what if there is a hope of something more than this life? Would I take the risk of rejecting it and losing out on all Jesus has to offer?  And what of this life… the one we’re living right now?  What if it could be better and richer and fuller and more full of hope and acceptance and love? Well, for me it is.  And I may not have sufficient non-Christianese words to describe it, but I’m telling you my faith is real, firm and unwavering.

If you have words to describe your faith, I’d sure love to hear them.  Maybe you can’t help a girl out!

On being home…

Two weeks ago, my entire family traveled to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for my niece’s wedding.  It was the first time our entire family has been together in quite some time.  It felt so good to be together again.  I can’t imagine a better occasion to make it happen!

When I’m away from home – traveling, visiting, sight-seeing, I miss many of the comforts of my home.  I miss my comfy warm bed and my pillows.  I miss going downstairs to a hot pot of coffee first thing when I get up.  I miss having clothes in closets and drawers instead of wrinkled up in a suitcase.   One thing is for sure, it takes being away from home to really appreciate the comforts of home.

Sometimes, I can be physically home and not be “home” at all, because my true home is where the love of God and acceptance that I belong to Him is found.  Home is a place where being imperfect, and making mistakes is okay, even expected.  Home for me, is a feeling of being settled, confident that who I am is enough. Home is freedom from struggling and striving to accomplish more.

I choose to leave home sometimes. I choose to live in the striving for position or acceptance. I lose sight of my true value that can be found in Christ alone. “Leaving home, Henri Nouwen writes, “is living as though I do not yet have a home and must look far and wide to find one.”  He goes on to say that when we are home, “…we can give freely without our identity or worth being determined by someone else’s rejection or affirmation.” (The Return of the Prodigal Son)

Sometimes I struggle to find that place of being settled – of being home. I’ll spend days, or even weeks with anxiety in the pit of my stomach and agitation driving my thoughts and interactions with others.  Why do I choose to live away from my heart’s home? Why does it take me so long to recognize that I have wandered far from home?

For many years, I believed the lie that I was not enough. What I mean by that is this: I was not good enough, perfect enough, loving enough, caring enough, Christian enough, mom enough, skinny enough… well you get the picture.  It took me a long time to come to the place where I could accept that who I am, where I am right now, is enough.  It’s enough for God and it’s enough for me.  And anyone who thinks I’m not enough? Well, that’s their problem.  No, that is not license for me to be mediocre and lack the drive to do better and be a better wife, mom, employee, etc… But this over-achieving perfectionist needed to give herself a break.  Maybe you do too!

Are you “home” today? Does your heart live in the assurance and rest of the home only Christ can give?  If not, take a minute and ask Him to show you the way home.  I promise He will be faithful to bring you back.

 

 

When did we go from green milk to green beer?

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day.  So, to honor our family tradition, we had corned beef, cabbage and boiled red potatoes for dinner tonight.  Yes, tonight. On St. Patrick’s Eve.  (As if there was such a thing… like Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, and… oh nevermind!)

If you don’t know the history of St. Patrick’s Day, it is an Irish day of feasting to celebrate the death of the Irish Patron Saint Patrick.  As legend would have it, St. Patrick used the three leaf shamrock to illustrate the trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  I think it’s especially important to note, that St. Patrick’s Day most often falls during the Lenten season (see last week’s post on that subject) and that the abstaining from alcohol that goes along with that for many is lifted for the feast of St. Patrick.  I’ll drink to that!!!

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My children, though they don’t look it, are 3/8 Irish.  Like most of us, they have a heritage of a lot of different things, but Irish is predominant in their heritage after being African-American.  Yep… my kids are African American and Irish and a sprinkling of some other stuff.  If you didn’t know already, they are adopted.  So, to honor their Irish heritage, when they were young I used to turn the whole gallon of milk green on St. Patrick’s Day and tell them the Leprechauns came in the middle of the night and turned our milk green.  It was fun and a part of their childhood that they still remember.

My kids are 19 and 20 now (almost 20 and 21), and they are living at home, but independent in many ways.  They don’t get excited over green milk in their Cheerios anymore.  But, they do get excited about green beer.  So tonight, we served green beer with our St. Patrick’s Day Eve dinner instead of green milk.

I found myself reminiscing about the days when they were young and little things like green milk were so exciting.  Now, my 19 year old daughter wants to know if she can have a green beer when she gets home. (My answer: “If you aren’t going to get in the car and drive anywhere.” Just in case you were questioning my parenting skills 🙂

Back when they were young, I couldn’t go to the grocery store without packing them in the car and putting them in the cart and saying “no” to the million requests for cookies and candy and crackers and soda.  Now, I can go anywhere I want without having to tote them along.  I longed for the day when I could go to the store or to the bathroom without little voices calling out to me.

Today, I got to torture my daughter with some shopping.  She hates shopping, but needed some clothes.   The price she paid, was that she had to endure my need to find some clothes for myself.  So, we got what she wanted and needed, and then she had to endure about 45 minutes (translate to her – 3 hours!) in Nordstrom Rack with me.  The whole time, complaining and telling me I did not need another purse, another pair of pants, another shirt.  I loved it.  I loved chatting with my daughter and goofing around and hearing her chit chat with her friend who tagged along.  It was like sweet nectar for a mama’s heart.

My daughter went off to hang out with friends.  Meanwhile, my son and his girlfriend joined us for dinner.  She had never had corned beef and cabbage.  What?  Oh my, what rock have your parents been hiding under all these years?! Seriously though, she graciously tried it all and liked it.  And my son groaned with satisfaction as he ate his corned beef with homemade ranch dressing.  (That kid has always put ranch on everything!) More sweet nectar for this mama’s heart. It was a day of feeding my soul.

So back to the question: When did we go from green milk to green beer?  I don’t know.  Somewhere between adolescence and divorce and adulthood. Somewhere I don’t remember.  I just know, that whatever the color of the milk or the color of the beer, I love spending time with my sweet children.  These are the days I savor.  This is what family is.

 

 

Shut my mouth! My thoughts about Lent.

I took a Facebook quiz this week that was supposed to tell me what I should give up for Lent.  You know what the answer was?  Nothing.  Yep, the quiz said I don’t need to give up anything for Lent.  Since I’m not much of a participant in the whole Lent thing, I guess that was a good answer.

(You can take the quiz here: What Should You Give Up For Lent.)

So about Lent.  I really like the idea of it.  I love the intentionality of setting up our hearts and spirits for the coming of Easter.  I love the idea of doing something that focuses our attention on Christ’s sacrifice.  But, since I didn’t grow up in a church tradition that observes Lent, I’ve mostly seen it as a way for people to go on a diet.  You know… giving up chocolate or bread or soda or something bad for you like that.  I know that’s not the way it is for everyone, but that’s the majority of the experience I have with Lent.

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Last year, in an attempt to observe Lent, I gave up unnecessary spending for the 40 days before Easter.  I think I did alright with that, but honestly I don’t remember.  And in reality, that was a discipline I need to practice more often anyway.  (I should have practiced that all year long!)

I had no intentions of observing Lent this year.  I recognize it’s an incredibly meaningful practice for many.  But, for me, it just isn’t my “thing.”

However… last Thursday morning I had a thought.

What if I spend the next 40 days being intentional about a discipline I want to incorporate in my day to day life?  And what if I expect myself to fail, but determine in my mind to keep on practicing it so that it can become a long-term change and not just a 40 days change?

That sounds good to me!

So here’s the thing.  I have been trying lately to shut my mouth at work.  It’s easy to become critical and negative when things like red tape and short deadlines impede my workflow.  It’s also easy to be critical of others and join with all the other critics when I’m frustrated.  For many months now, I have been trying to learn this:

If you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all.

That’s easier said than done for me.  More times than I would like to admit, I fail at this simple rule.  I step back from a situation and ask myself if I would have said all the things I just said in the presence of the person I was talking about.  Most of the time, I would not.  Sigh… I have a long way to go.

Ironically, the sermon at church today was about our faith at work.  That’s long been a soap box for me, and I found myself nodding my head in agreement with the sermon based on 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12.  And then came the three bullets to the heart at the end:

  • Be quiet
  • Mind your own business
  • Work with your hands

All of this is so we can win the respect of non-believers.  Read it for yourself.  It’s all in there.

In other words:  Kari, shut your mouth, don’t contribute to gossip and derogatory discussions, and put your head down and work regardless of the madness that is going on around you.  Sigh… I have a long way to go.

So that’s my challenge.  I want to form a habit of being quiet and keep it lasting well beyond Easter.  You see, people won’t believe my faith if my behavior doesn’t model it.  So, while I think I have come a long way in my life when it comes to living out my faith at work, there’s more work to do.  And isn’t that the beauty of a life lived well? We’re always striving, always reaching, always learning to be more like Christ.  I will fail, you can count on that.  But to not try at all?  That’s true failure.

Do you observe Lent?  Let me know in the comments what you gave up for Lent and how it prepares your heart for Easter.  I really DO want to know!

Watch this for a great perspective on Lent:

An Introduction to Lent – YouTube.

 

I didn’t go to church today

That’s right.  I didn’t go to church today.  Judge me if you want 🙂

It’s not that I didn’t want to go to church.  Sunday morning services have been a staple of my life since I was born.  I love to worship my Savior in a gathering of people.  It feeds my soul.

But today I needed a different kind of soul food — the kind that smells like fresh brewed coffee, toasted pecans, banana bread in the oven and chicken stewing in a big pot on the stove.  A day that is filled with anticipation of a family dinner around the table.  The warm heart that comes with feeding others feeds my soul.

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After several very busy weeks at work and at home, today was a day to rest and refresh my spirit. You might not think that baking banana bread and stewing chicken sound like “rest.” But for me, rest often involves creating something.  Trying new recipes, creating a hearty dinner and enjoying a meal with others are things that satisfy me and they fill up my spirit as well as my stomach.

My soul needed space today.  When I fill my weekends with too much activity, I jump into Mondays with a feeling of dread.  I become overwhelmed before I even get to work.  When my soul starts the week empty, I find myself short-tempered and less able to invest in others.  When I take time to feed my soul on the weekends, I move through my work-week with a soul full of grace. Then grace is able to overflow onto the people I spend my 9 to 5 with.

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More often than not, my weekend soul food includes going to church where I’m challenged to grow in my faith and I raise my voice in song with others to worship our Savior.  Today, I celebrate the freedom I have to be at home, feeding my soul in a different way.

What feeds your soul?  Whatever it is, make time and space for it this week.  Do something you love and celebrate it.

 

 

What I Learned in February

Here are few things I learned this month:

  • Dry Shampoo is pretty cool!  I remember my mom having “dry shampoo” in her cabinet.  It consisted of perfumed powder and a rag you put over the teeth of a comb to comb it through your hair.  My mother does not remember that at all!  The lady at the beauty supply talked me into trying it and even on my fine, short hair, it makes it fresh and full of volume a day after washing.  Yay for not having to wash my hair every single day!
  • If nobody stops me, I will take charge.  Okay, for those who know me well, that’s really not something I just learned in February.  But, it sure came to light as I planned a gazillion details for my company’s awards celebration that just took place this morning.  I kept asking how I got myself into this.  Then I remembered. I volunteered myself.  I need a roll of duct tape for my mouth when we start planning for next year.
  • Talking about kids, diets and other household matters are a date night killer.  I’m trying to be more intentional these days, and remembering there are 6 other days of the week to take care of those more mundane things sure helps keep date nights more fun.  This is a work in progress.
  • There is life after football season ends. It’s a different life, but it exists nonetheless.  It’s just less fun.
  • Cooking and baking feed my soul.  I learned this while on a girls weekend with my two Ya Ya’s recently.  I was complaining about the fake food on my new diet and my friend wisely said to me, “Cooking a meal feeds your soul.”  This brought immediate tears.  I’m learning to listen to my tears, and they told me that fake food might slim down my body but it was starving my soul.

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  • Writing a very first blog post is way way way harder than writing a second or third or fourth.
  • It’s a thrilling kind of scary to put my thoughts in a blog and post it for the world to see.  The scary gets less scary when people are encouraged by what I write.  I love the affirmation and it has kept me plugging along.

What did you learn in February? Please share in the comments below!

I know all about you and I still choose to talk to you.

In December 2008, I was cleaning out a closet and came across a book my friend and mentor had recommended to me years earlier, “Journey to the Well” by Vashti McKenzie. I was recently separated from my husband and was searching for “me.”  The “me” that got lost somewhere in the midst of life’s junk was buried somewhere beneath the layers of guilt, shame and remorse. I decided to give the book a shot.

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The book is based on the story of the Woman at the Well from John 4.  Her name isn’t given, but her story is famous.  Jesus was traveling and stopped at a well while his friends went into town to buy some food.  A woman came to draw water and he asked her to draw him some water to drink.  She was immediately taken back because she was a Samaritan and he was a Jew.  Jews didn’t associate with her kind.  The conversation turned quickly to talk about living water and the Messiah who would come.  And then Jesus did something a bit interesting.  He told her to go get her husband and then he would finish telling her about the “living water” he could provide that would quench her thirst forever.

“I have no husband,” she replied.  “That’s true,” He said.  “In fact, you have had five husbands and the man you are with now is not your husband at all.” (John 4:17-18)

Ouch!

The author summed up that conversation with this: “I (Jesus) know all about you and I still choose to talk to you.”

You see, I had been dealing with the shame of two failed marriages and an impending divorce.  I could not see how I could ever be loved, accepted or worth anything in the eyes of a man, the church or my Christian community.  My sins were far too vast for me to be accepted.  I was resigning myself to be forever single and gave up all hope of ever being useful in the church or loved by a man.

Those words she wrote were comfort to me.  They still are.  Jesus knows all about me yet still chooses to talk to me.  He sees me on the inside and the outside.  He has walked with me through the valleys of life.  He knows my fears and my failures, yet, he loves me, values me and sees in me what I cannot.

The book gave me a challenge: Create a collage with pictures, sayings, and mementos of the life you want to have. Ugh! Really?  A kindergarten project?  But, I decided to give it a try.  Ever the over-achiever, I decided instead to make a scrapbook.  I documented memories and scriptures and quotes from the book.  It was then, while looking for items to add to my scrapbook, that I came across some silk butterflies in the craft store.  I knew instantly those butterflies were a metaphor for my life.  They represented who I wanted to be… free and beautiful. I had no idea how meaningful butterflies would become for me.  I didn’t know then how long my life would be cocooned in the darkness of my divorce.  I just knew that I had begun a journey to finding my worth in Christ and him alone.

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There’s so much more to the story and maybe you’ll read more about it here another time.  But, I want to encourage you today.  It does not matter where you have been or what you have done.  Jesus knows all about you and he will still choose to be your friend every day, no matter what.  He sees you.  He knows you.  He will meet you where you are and tell you that you are worth it.  There is no shame. There is no need to hide.  Bring him all of who you are and let him love you.  There’s no better feeling.

 

Without change, there would be no butterflies

Caterpillars are prickly little creatures that crawl across the earth until one day, they decide to start enclosing themselves in a tight cocoon.  They stay there, in the dark, for Lord knows how long, and then they emerge as a butterfly, transformed, beautiful and waiting to fly.  Miraculous mystery!  That process is such a metaphor for the past several years of my life.

It took a long time for me to realize that I wasn’t living as fully myself.   I survived. I even thrived.  I was successful at work and had meaningful friendships.  But somewhere deep inside I longed for more.  The tears that greeted me at night and the disappointment of living day after day in a state of real unhappiness kept me longing for something else.  I knew there was something more, but I couldn’t imagine how that could be.  I was ugly. I was damaged. I was unworthy of being loved. I was stuck.

Being like a caterpillar was my normal.  I thought that who I was, was “it.”  I found myself in a dark place – a cocoon.  Pain and uncertainty pressed me inward.  As I pulled in, I found something surprising.  In the darkness, I was changing.  I was becoming.  Something beautiful was taking shape on the inside and on the outside.  This darkness came during a lengthy, stressful divorce. I wrestled with the questions that haunted me every day:  What should I have done differently?  How will my kids be affected by this? Will anyone ever love me?  Does true partnership in marriage even exist?

Slowly, I began to see a different perspective, and what I saw was that I could be the person God created me to be, and I could be loved just as I am.  I didn’t have all the answers to my questions, but I began to believe there was something more. Something free. A place where I could be fully me.  I didn’t know how I would ever get there, but I knew it was worth whatever effort it required of me.  And so, over the next many months, as I pressed inward, I spun a cocoon of emotion, fear and hope.  I sunk deep into God.  I embraced the darkness, not knowing what, if anything, would emerge at the end of my time there.  But, when I was brave enough, I emerged, spread my wings and made myself ready to fly.  Beautiful. Free. Confidant.  I found myself transformed and ready to believe I could be me, fully alive in the world. Miraculous mystery.

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It was a painful journey to become a new me. The way was heavy with hardships and dark with despair. Much of what I thought I knew about God was challenged and changed.  But one thing I know for sure:  Without change, there would be no butterflies.  Or to put it another way, I know God causes all things to work together for our good.  Change. Recycling. Grace.  That’s the God I came to know.

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Where are you today?  Are you a caterpillar, inching along, thinking that the deep longing to fly is something you’ll never be able to realize? Have hope.  Are you a butterfly, flying freely through the field of flowers? Live free.  Are you dark in despair, arms clenched tight around your middle hoping all you can do is somehow see light at the end of this long night?  God is here.  He is with you.  He is “Immanuel, God With Us.” That is his promise.  He didn’t promise that he wouldn’t give you more than you can bear.  He promised to be with you in whatever you have to bear.   You are changing.  You are growing.  You are beautiful and you will fly.

 

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