Yesterday was one of those days when my shortcomings and sinful-nature-fruits just kept popping up...
Thursday night I tried really hard to play hostess at my apartment. The same apartment where all of my...
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
I believe in the power of authenticity and vulnerability. I believe in it as a writer. I believe in it as a wife. I believe in it as a friend. And I believe in it as a mother.
That last one can sometimes be tricky…
I want to be respected by my kids, obeyed and looked up to. I want to inspire confidence. I sometimes want to be Mom, Great and Powerful, and so maybe it’s not the best idea to let them peek behind the curtain.
What does vulnerability look like with your dependents?
Today it looked like apologizing for changing plans and acknowledging that yes, Eve was right, I said we’d go to the park and now we were not going to the park and the reason was that mommy had spent too much time on the computer.
It also looked like admitting that yes, sometimes mommy and daddy eat unhealthy food when the kids go to sleep.
Yesterday I laid in bed with the girls and we talked about Mommy’s weaknesses. I doubt I picked the topic—preschoolers are notorious critics—but I’m sure I welcomed it (or tried to), because I’m trying to be authentic. Because I’m not perfect and my kids know it and we might as well talk about it. So we did.
I told them I’m easily distracted and I forget things. I told them I’d promised to send a blog reader a book more than a month ago and I hadn’t yet. Even though I had notes to myself all over the house and even though I write it on my hand in permanent marker once a week. London chimed in and said I was definitely forgetful, reminding me of the time I forgot to send birthday cookies to her school three days in a row and how by the time I did send cookies nobody remembered whose birthday it had been and the cookies were decorated like Christmas cookies.
Right, I said. I do things like that.
Then I said sometimes it’s hard for me to play pretend with them because I get distracted and can’t remember which character I am, and they nodded and agreed that I’m terrible at pretend.
I said, “Those are some of the things I’m bad at. I will try to remember important things and not be distracted, but no matter what, that will always be hard for me.”
They nodded. “Mhmm.”
And then, because authenticity isn’t self-deprecation, I invited my kids to praise me. I said, “But what is Mommy good at?”
London said writing, though she’s never actually heard any of my stuff. She is impressed that my picture is on the computer screen with words beside it.
Eve said, “Being our mommy.” And I said, “Thank you, Eve. I agree.” And I tickled her until she giggled.
I love an about-God book as much as the next God-loving gal. I also love, love, love reading a book that isn’t so much about God and yet finding God on every other page.
Since it’s summer and you might be looking for a book to read beside an ocean, a pool or a sprinkler, I figured I’d make a list.
Here are six books you might like if you want to encounter God in an unexpected and enlightening way:
#1 Candide by Voltaire
Candide is the funniest, strangest, and most delightful 250-year-old French novella. It’s short and epic. Reading it, you can’t help but re-evaluate the the way you see the universe. You also might laugh so hard sweet tea comes out your nose.
#2 The Flavor Bible by Karen Page, Andrew Dornenburg
This is a cooking resource for the kitchen creative. It’s basically a culinary matchmaker, explaining the basic properties of ingredients and listing potential complimentary partners. Every time I pull out this book I’m reminded of God’s creativity, playfulness, and lavish love.
#3 Wonder by R.J Palacio
Here’s a book for your middle schooler. Okay, I read it and I don’t have a middle schooler. I suppose you could read it, too. :) Wonder is a great book about kindness and difference, about choosing to proactively love the difficult to love. You’ll see God in August Pullman’s face.
#4 Tinkers by Paul Harding
This is a book about dying. Just a heads up in case you were looking for something perky (The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood it is not). Man, this book is beautiful—so rich and layered and perfectly-composed I couldn’t help but read most of it aloud. It’s one of those re-orienting, soul-scraping books that’ll have you talking to God with every turn of the page.
#5 The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride
Here’s the feel good book on the list. I read this true story in New York with an agnostic friend and both of us saw God in it. It’s light-soaked.
#6 Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems
Y’all, this book is hilarious. It’s a picture book depicting what the Goldilocks story might have looked like had the bears been dinosaurs. Ha! Anyway, it’s in the moral of the story where I see God. It’s totally something He’d say.
Any thoughts from you guys? Suggest a not-about God (but God-soaked) book in the comments!
This week I’m volunteering at my church’s Champs Camp. It’s basically VBS meets sports camp with the purpose of reaching our community for Christ. We’re so serious about reaching unchurched kids we don’t even allow our kids to come (unless their parent is volunteering). Camp runs from Monday to Thursday, 9 to 2:30.
It is exhausting. At the end of the day I drive straight to McDonald’s and buy a large, icy diet coke, which I inhale. Today I bought two.
I appreciate Champs Camp. I love getting to know the kids. I love our crazy dance parties. I love beating a ten year old boy in knock out. And I love hearing stories about kids who’ve convinced their parents to come to church on Sunday for the first time in a long time.
But if I’m being honest, Champs Camp isn’t exactly my cup of tea. It’s a lot of silly and a lot of keeping track of name-tags, water bottles, who’s in the bathroom… and a lot of interacting with people. For an introvert, Champs Camp is a challenge. For a distracted, forgetful introvert, it’s like boot camp (assuming you’re not in shape for boot camp and boot camp involves cheers and crafts and lots of loud songs about Jesus). What I’m trying to say is, for me, it’s hard and occasionally unpleasant.
But I volunteer anyway. I volunteer because I serve at the pleasure of Robin Marrs.
More on that in a minute…
These days my husband and I can’t get enough West Wing. We had our first taste a few months back, and—praise be to Netflix—we’ve now consumed five seasons. I almost jumped ship following the disappointing departure of Sam Seaborne, but then that thing happened with Zoey and it seemed inappropriate to leave my friends in their time of need.
Anyway, a few seasons back all the characters started saying this phrase. You’d hear it every time a person was called upon to do or say something they didn’t want to do or say. They’d put up a fight, lose the argument, and then say, sometimes with resolve, sometimes with angst, “I serve at the pleasure of the president.”
I’ve taken to saying it in my head when Justin asks if I would maybe, please wash a load of whites.
I planned today to write a post about serving at the pleasure of the Lord, about how serving at God’s pleasure is better than serving at man’s pleasure because God is perfect and because His pleasure is your good.
Paul says, ”For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In lovehe predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”
I think that post would have been good, because it’s true and convicting, but I think this one will be better because it’s equally true and, for me, ten times as convicting.
While we do whole-heartedly and absolutely commit our lives to serving the Lord, we’re also called upon to “serve at the pleasure” of God’s people.
Back to Champs Camp…
If it were up to me, Champs Camp probably wouldn’t happen. Not because I don’t think it’s good, but because, as we’ve already pointed out, it’s not my thing. It’s Robin Marrs’s thing. She’s our children’s minister. She loves kids. She loves Jesus. She organizes with style and grace. She loves Champs Camp.
And I love her. So I volunteer for Champs Camp.
Sure part of me is thinking “Do you know how many words I could have written today?” but I tell that part to shut up. Because I serve at the pleasure of Robin Marrs.
In case it’s not clear, we’re talking about submission, about subjecting your own preferences and wishes to the preferences and wishes of someone else.
Submission is what makes church work; it’s the secret sauce in unity and cooperation and love.
Paul writes in Romans, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
If you’re anything like me, you spend a lot of time thinking about yourself—what improvements need to be made on your house, what kind of education your kids are getting, where you’ll spend your vacation or how you’ll spend your bonus check. I care a lot about what makes me happy.
And that makes a lot of sense if my life is mine.
But it’s not.
When we’re a part of a body, what’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine:
If someone at your church loses everything in a fire, your couch is her couch.
If a crying baby needs to be held in the nursery, your arms are his arms.
If the elders ask you to give more generously, your money is their money.
If a widow needs a friend, your time is her time.
And if a friend plans an event to reach a bunch of people with God’s love, your week is her week.
It’s like that song, “I belong to you, You belong to me…”
Submission says, “I serve at the pleasure of the body.”
In an hour or so I’ll head to Champs Camp. I’ll arrive at a building full of people, many of whom are perky morning people. There will be much smile-screaming. I may have to walk through a human tunnel. I will likely turn in circles as I hop on one foot with my tongue stuck out. I will probably be doused with water.
And I will love it. Not because I love screaming and water balloons and ridiculous kids’ songs (I don’t really). I’ll love it because my brothers and sisters love it and because I love my brothers and sisters and because I “belong to all the others.”
I teach the Bible to third graders. It is an honor. They see God with fresher, keener eyes.
A few weeks ago I listened to them tell me about Heaven. I loved the smiles on their faces and the excitement in their eyes. I especially loved these picture words from the oh-so-innocent, doe-eyed Ella Fox. I loved them so much I decided to print them as is, word for perfect word.
She said, all at once, without (it seemed) a single breath:
Miss Jennifer, I drew a picture of Heaven, well three pictures, but they’re one picture and they’re on the wall at my house.
In the first picture my aunt and granny are walking on a really long red carpet and there are doors all along the carpet and a name on every door and my aunt says to my granny, “Let’s get coffee.”
The second picture is of a long, long, long table with silver plates on it and big silver cups, goblets, and food piled high and everybody has a chair like a throne and the table is in a giant room with a skylight.
The third picture is of my grandfather putting up a tent outside and Skippy is running around the tent barking [she giggles] and the sun is shining and there are flowers everywhere.
I hung on every one of these words as she said them, smiling so big my face hurt later, tears dripping down my cheeks.
I think, should I draw a picture of Heaven, mine would look a lot like Ella’s.
Heaven is coffee with people we love. Heaven is your name known and printed on a door to a room prepared just for you. Heaven is a feast with fancy flatware, everything soaked in special. Heaven is sitting at one table. Heaven is silliness and sunshine and reunion.
What about for you? Fill in the blank: Heaven is _____________________.
In Joshua 17 we find Joshua assigning land to the twelve tribes of Israel, portioning out Canaan like a giant milk and honey pie, some pieces bigger than others, some with more icing, some with more crust, a few with burned edges.
In this particular chapter, Manasseh confronts Joshua about their too-small piece. They say, “Why have you given us only one allotment and one portion for an inheritance? We are a numerous people, and the Lord has blessed us abundantly.”
Joshua responds by offering some unclaimed forrest land currently inhabited by Canaanites.
Manasseh balks at the offer, says they don’t have the means to take the land.
But Joshua doesn’t budge. He says, “You are numerous and very powerful. You will have not only one allotment but the forested hill country as well. Clear it, and its farthest limits will be yours; though the Canaanites have chariots fitted with iron and though they are strong, you can drive them out.”
I think of this story every time I survey the map of my inheritance and find it lacking, when I ask God to give me more of something—more money, more talent, more patience, more wisdom.
Sometimes God says, “Sure.” Most of the time God says, “Fight for it.”
I like the first answer better.
Tonight I’m asking God for more, and I know He’s gonna tell me to fight for it.
Can I be honest with you? Sometimes I’m not sure it’s worth it. Fighting can be exhausting and boring and painful. I get pushed outside my comfort zone. I hurt. I whine.
Today a friend of mine said, “I don’t really want to go back to school, I just want the job.” And I laughed because that’s ridiculous and because that’s exactly how I feel all the time.
What I love about this passage isn’t that God tells Manasseh to fight for the gift (that’s the hard part), but that God tells them, “You can do it.”
You see, Manasseh doesn’t get a handout because they don’t need one. God has gifted them with all they require—you are numerous and very powerful—so He asks them to use what they’ve been given.
And this where it gets tricky for you and I.
Sometimes I pray for wisdom but avoid the wise people positioned around me.
Sometimes I pray for peace but cram my schedule like I’m playing Tetris.
Sometimes I pray I’d get a book published but don’t put in the hours to actually write the book.
Sometimes I pray I’d win a million dollar sweepstakes (yeah, I know…) while simultaneously squandering the money I have.
I ask God for more when He’s already given me the resources to get it, resources I’d see if I weren’t so lazy or cowardly, small-visioned or short-sighted.
My prayer is that you and I would do a better job than Manasseh did, that we’d “clear the land” so that “its farthest limits” would be ours.
Let’s stop waiting for a handout and start picking a fight.
A couple weeks ago Justin taught a Bible class about Abraham sacrificing Isaac. As the class talked through our understanding of faith—what it looks like, when it’s called for—Justin wrote these words in black marker on the whiteboard:
I don’t know. But I do know.
And immediately that became my favorite definition of faith.
Because so many times I’ve experienced this tension of not-knowing and knowing, both…
When I decided to follow Christ not knowing where that would take me or what it might cost, but knowing He loved me and knowing I loved Him.
When my brother died and I had a hundred unanswered, grief-soaked questions and full trust in God’s ability to answer them.
When my husband asked me to marry him and I knew he was exactly the man I wanted to be with forever and had no idea what forever would look like.
When we moved to Brooklyn to do God’s work, work I know I was called to do, and then the funding ran out a day after the positive pregnancy test and I sat on a bench and prayed by skyline light, “I know you have something up Your sleeve. I just wish I could see what it is.”
When I held my daughter for the first time and thought, “I am going to be a great mom” and wondered “Am I going to be a terrible mom?” at the very same moment.
I like this definition of faith because it acknowledges that faith happens in the fog. Faith is not sight, and faith is not blindness. It’s the weird way we see when we live in the liminal, one eye on the seen, one on the unseen.
We see more but we know there’s so much more to see.
I’m thinking about faith tonight because once again I’m swimming in brackish waters, wondering, wandering and waiting. Faith is hard, tiring. My eyes ache from the constant squinting.
In Hebrews I read about past men and women of faith, about Abraham who sacrificed his son and about Rahab who hid God’s spies. I read their stories and feel a kinship. The text says, “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance…”
On Easter my kids and I sit in the back yard in the dark waiting for dawn. They crane their necks and stand on tiptoe, fidgety and sometimes whiney. Sometimes, when the morning is cold, they campaign to go back inside. But I convince them to hold out, and when the first shades of blue and pink light the dark, they jump up and down and cheer.
That’s what I think of when I think about faith and welcoming the promises “from a distance.”
The trusting can be tiring, all that wading through the thick uncertain, but we wait anyway and when the unseen appears, even barely, tracing the horizon in light, we welcome it, smiles broad and knowing.
I’m sitting here at my computer debating whether or not to write this post. I have a long column of reasons to avoid it (1. sappy, 2. self-indulgent, 3. irrelevant…) And one strong reason to go ahead: What I want to write about is the single most powerful, touchable and meaningful manifestation of the love, truth, and comfort of God in my life.
If this blog is about scouting God and if I’m going to tell you where I see Him, how could I avoid writing about this.
So here goes: I see God in Justin Gerhardt.
Justin is the best example of unconditional love I know. When I read “Husbands love your wives like Christ loved the church” I know what that looks like and I know Christ better because I do.
Here’s what I want to do in this post: I want to tell you every single way I’ve seen God in my husband in the past, I don’t know, let’s say week. But I’m not going to do that. Because the list is too long and because the list is mine.
See, God doesn’t show up for you in the form of Justin Gerhardt. Maybe sometimes if you listen to his sermons online. Maybe often, if you’re his friend. But still, Justin isn’t your pipeline. He’s mine. God put him right up next to me and filled Him with Spirit so the Spirit would slosh and I’d be covered in love.
So often (like 34 times a day) I look at Justin and I thank God. Not for perfection. For presence.
I decided to write this post because I realized two things:
1. Some of you have a person like this in your life, someone God is using to shape you and grow you and fill you and love you. And I wanted to remind you to thank God. And to appreciate your person.
2. Some of you don’t have someone like this (or don’t think you have someone like this) in your life.
I’m sitting here looking at that last sentence, and I’m crying. Not figuratively. Literally. I look ridiculous. I’m crying because I don’t even know you and I want, more than almost anything, for you to have a Justin.
I want you to have a meaningful and intimate relationship with a person who will treat you like God would treat you if He were a person.
I want you to sit on the couch with somebody and not worry what they think of you.
I want you to know what it feels like to really, really hurt somebody and watch them forgive you.
I want you to find a voice who’ll speak wisdom and truth into your messed up, lied-to life.
I want you to see God. In a person.
I can’t make a person magically appear on your doorstep. I did just pray for you, that you’d find one. But my guess is most of you don’t need to find one. You need to see the one already in the room.
I sat down tonight with Justin and read him the beginning of this post and we smiled and cried a little bit and laughed at how God works. We laughed because of what a mess Justin is. We laughed because we’re both so broken and we know that on paper and still we see God so clearly in one another.
Justin said to me, “You see God in me, because you’re looking for God.”
And I think probably he’s right. I see God because I’m looking AND I see God because He’s there.
My advice? Look for God, really look, and you’ll likely find Him in a person, in a person who wants a relationship with you, a person who wants to be close to you, a person who wants to treat you well. That person might be your dad. It might be a mentor. It might be a friend. It might be your kid. And it might be your spouse.
There are beautiful busted people in your life, people God perfectly positioned for your blessing. Get up close to your person. Let the Spirit slosh all over you. Be filled. Be challenged. Be loved.
Today I baked blueberry, lemon-glazed donut muffins for my husband. Because he loves them, and because I love him. They are exactly as good as they sound. And like all truly good things, they are hard.
First you mix two types of sugar. You zest four lemons and rub the zest into the sugars to make your own lemon-flavored, white/brown sugar.
That’s step one.
So I’d been working on these donut muffins for about forty minutes. Earlier I’d been to the grocery store, bought baking powder and two packs of blueberries and whatever else, and I’d finally convinced both my kids to embrace the magic of “quiet time.” Things were going well.
And then I realized I didn’t have enough flour. I needed five cups of flour, and I was sure, assessing the mostly empty bag, it couldn’t hold more than three. I checked the pantry. I checked the fridge—you never know. Nothing.
If you have small children you can testify, this is a major dilemma. Getting both of them extricated from their zombie, quiet-time zone and into clothes and into the car and into the grocery store… It wasn’t happening.
So I took a deep breath and started measuring my flour. I poured two cups into my two-cups-big measuring cup. Two. Another deep breath. Pour… Two more cups. Four.
Surely the bag is empty. Except it’s not. I pour again. I shake every tiny particle of flour from the paper bag into my measuring cup, and, lo and behold, I have exactly one more cup. Five cups of flour from a three cup bag.
Okay. Do I believe God miraculously multiplied the flour in my bag so that Justin would have birthday donut muffins? I can’t say.
But I’m not ruling it out.
Do you know why? Because my God’s that big.
Every so often I’ll hear a friend tell a story like my donut muffin story and she’ll say “Praise God!” and I’ll see somebody else in the circle roll their eyes. And I know what they’re thinking, ‘cause I thought it, too: Doesn’t God have bigger things to do?
The answer is Yes. Yes, God has bigger things to do. And He’s doing them.
That doesn’t mean He didn’t do this, too.
God is big enough to care about whatever God wants to care about. Caring about my donut muffins doesn’t prevent Him from bringing peace to Syria.
Because He’s God. And He’s big. And, if He likes, He can watch me bake like a mother watches her precious child, invested in my happiness, helping me when I need help, all the while world-ruling from His Heavenly throne, welcoming a symphony of major and minor prayers, overseeing a million daily sunsets, and plotting world peace.
God is not diminished in the multiplication of a mother’s flour. He’s multiplied.