A Time to Plant

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As soon as day breaks, I hear the pitter patter of little feet slide open the back door to head outside.

“Mama, daddy and I are going out to the garden,” Kolby whispers in my ear.

I love the way that word sounds—“garden”—it implies so much more than an ordinary backyard.

The ordinary backyard is what I’m most familiar with. A few rogue bushes the professional gardener maintains and no more. I’ve kept my backyard simple and streamlined because life is busy enough (or maybe I was just too busy to care?).

In all truth, I’ve struggled to even keep a house plant alive. Orchids flee when they see me coming. My thumb was nowhere near a shade of green—black perhaps?

And I’m not sure I cared very much. Our backyard wasn’t a place we often visited. Yes, we barbequed and yes, we were blessed with some lovely patio furniture—thanks to our generous neighbors—but it wasn’t an inviting place. It was a square box with a large expanse of wall—yawnable at best, the before version of any good makeover story and a perfect blank palette for an episode of Backyard Crashers.

I didn’t find rest there. In fact, I didn’t really go out there.

But I do now.

It started with a trip to Home Depot and then many more trips to nurseries and Lowes. Soon, we couldn’t stop planting. I found some Hello Kitty gloves for Kolby and mini tools for tiny hands. We bought roses and fruits, herbs and vegetables. The siren call to get our hands dirty and engage in the dance of soil, sun and water won us over.

And I’m learning far more than how to grow a jalepeno, I’m learning how to live differently.

Lessons from the garden:

1. Gardens nurse a broken spirit back to health

One of my favorite books as a kid was The Secret Garden. It’s about some children who discover a walled and locked garden, break in and learn to care for it. Through their efforts they bring it back to life. Not surprisingly, they too transform in the process—one child moves from a sickly and withdrawn orphan into a lively and engaged girl, another takes her first steps after a terrible accident paralyzed her and the father of the paralyzed girl finds redemption in the restoration of his lost wife’s passion—the garden.

The garden is a metaphor for God’s deliverance—from weeds of sickness and bitterness to roots of liberation.

And just like the book, our little garden is moving within us and changing our hearts too. It has become a place of healing and recovery. In the garden we find solace and respite. I am able to pray and release hot tears to water the soil with hope and anticipation of the beauty just under the surface.

We watch our plants grow, we do all we can to assist them (water, water, water)—but ultimately we surrender to God’s will and provision—the elements are his alone. We can coax the plants to grow but not control them. We can plant the seeds but ultimately God bears the fruit.

After a brutal season of turmoil, chaos and death, our garden is a symbol of new life—both tangible and spiritual and a reminder that despair is not the end of the story.

2. The Garden awakens Delight

The garden is a place of whimsy and toil, of watching our nine tomato plants sprout baby green fruit. It’s a place where we battle rats (six down) and fight for our strawberries, a daily adventure of nurturing and culling patience and finding enchantment in the smallest buds. It’s where glorious roses parade their blooms and show off displaying their vibrant colors—like a strutting peacock’s plume.

Food tastes better when you grow it. We savor the fruits of our labor. And I know it’s organic because I grew it! We ate cilantro with our carnitas tacos the other night and the smell of the fresh herbs made the whole house smell like a taco bar.

I also find myself connecting with my husband differently. The garden is a shared project—a journey we take together, separate from work and kids sports and hurried life. When he turns and lazily smiles at me, wiping away a sweaty and dirty brow, my tummy flutters with butterflies of desire. In the garden we can be our truest selves, working side by side as partners and friends.

3. The garden connects us to the seasons of life

Living in the land of constant summer—AKA Southern California—I forget that life is not a balmy 73 degrees every day. I forget that reality is far from the Disneyland suburbia I call home, filled with Real Housewives and athletic families in yoga pants. I become anesthetized to pain because life is pretty dang comfortable and I know how to play this game all too well.

My garden reminds me that to everything there is a season…a time to plant and a time to harvest (Ecc.3:2)

And even in Orange County—land of eternal sunshine—there is a time for pain and death. I will have to replant my tomatoes in the spring because they too will wither and die.

When I forget the rhythms God placed in my life to remind me of time, I lose track of my purpose and focus. I think it’s all about the here and now (and all about me) instead of harvesting a thankful spirit. I forget to prepare for the winter and store up during the summer bounty because I think the frost will never come. I focus too much on leaving a legacy or being “more” awesome instead of drinking in the bigness of God and simply enjoying the obscurity of following a far greater light than I could ever aspire too.

How about you? Is it your time to plant a garden?

“There is always music amongst the trees in the garden but our hearts must be very quiet to hear it”.—Minnie Aumonier

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Counting the Gifts

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“I keep waiting for the phone call,” I whisper to my husband as we snuggle in bed early one morn, reluctant to get up, get going, and start the day

Tim rolls over and pulls me close to him, “What phone call?”

“You know the one where they tell me, ‘We don’t really think you’re ready to be out in public yet.”

“Who’s they?” he asks.

They are out there—the judgers.

Tim’s chest starts shaking, and my head, burrowed in his neck region—eyes cast downward—bobs up and down with his peals of laughter.

“Honey, no one is going to call you. They might think you’re a little sad and introspective, which is normal for your situation, but I don’t think they’ll pick up the phone and call you out on it.”

I pout, “You never know, they might.”

………………………….

Despite his words of encouragement, I feel this way on the tough days—vulnerable and raw—like my soul was scratched by a stubbly three-day-old beard.

I know it takes time—the grief cycle cannot be short-changed. But I can’t keep avoiding people until I decide I am normal again.

(Normal, meaning “not obviously sad”)

So I decide to sign for a women’s bible study and stop hiding from the “judger’s I conjure up in my mind.

I’m tentative in the group. I hold back at first, then talk too much. I cry. I tell them I just lost my mom. I tell them I just lost my dad. I hiccup. I’m a mess.

But no one calls and tells me not to come back, so I show up again.

We are reading Ann Voskamp’s “One Thousand Gifts.”

The study is about living in Eucharist Deo—joy through thanksgiving.

I’m intimidated—one thousand gifts—that’s a lot of gratitude for a temporarily melancholy girl.

Can I make a list of that many gifts? My thanker might be a little beat up–cancer and atrophic brain disease have a way of doing that.

Can I open my eyes wide enough (in the midst of pain) to see that both the suffering and the blessings come from the same hand?

I pray against my inner skeptic and the creeping doubts whispering “this chick is nonsense” in my ear.

But I stay. I listen. I try not to laugh at the weird parts in the video (Ann is a wee bit eccentric) and I force myself to engage, stop rolling my eyes and open up.

Maybe she’s on to something?

So I start a gratitude list because that’s what my homework tells me to do.

Sam’s gifts

#1. I didn’t cry today

#2. Jasmine tea steaming in a mug when it’s 100 degrees outside with the air conditioner on. (another heat wave in So Cal)

The first 20 are hard. Then it flows.

It doesn’t take long—maybe a week or so? And something starts to change in my spirit. The seed of joy burrows in, roots deep, and waits for me to water it.

Time slows, just a tiny bit. Probably because I am forced to stop and notice the details.

#23. the blooming of my garden

#24. the hot sun warming my toes

#25. the abusive Santa Ana winds that make me spend more time in my garden watering. Oh shucks!

I notice I have to be EXTRA aware. More present. If I focus on the past too much or the future I miss the present—the gifts are right now.

#56. the tiny lizard running by my feet as I type on the porch

#57. the sounds of my husband puttering around the garden setting rat traps to protect our tomatoes.

#58. my daughter Faith slams the door—home from school. She will be out here soon, bugging me, asking if we can watch a Hallmark movie together—her favorite treat.

………….

Today at Starbucks, they remember my name.

I stare at my cup.

SAM

Three little letters that fill me with ridiculous joy.

SAM

They didn’t ask me for my name or my credit card. They just knew me and my drink.

#100. the SAM cup makes me RIDICULOUSLY happy.

It’s a gift.

I am known.

And I praise God who creates community. Even this microcosmic Starbucks community—this hodge podge crew of baristas and caffeine addicts that accept me and love me despite the fact that I usually hog the leather chair next to the outlet.

#127 My tall Americano with room

#128 My comfy chair that I share (almost never) with other Starbucks peeps

#129 The friendly dad’s with the local sports page in hand who root for my son on the football field and chat up sports with me.

All of these go on the list

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………

I scroll through Facebook and all of a sudden there’s a picture of my dad staring back at me.

What?

A family friend posted a picture of him (from last year) posing with their daughter Emmy (whom my parent’s adored) at her graduation.

Dad’s smiling his dad smile. Emmy is in her her robe and honors swag looking gorgeous. My step-mom Fran is proud of this sweet girl who spent her high school years living with them. And they are so happy.

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It’s out of the blue. And whack, I am stunned with emotion.

The tears jump like crickets out of my eyes and wet the keyboard–plop, plop, plop.

I stop, I look, and I remember my daddy—all the joy and the love and yes, even the sorrow.

#201 …And I thank God for this gift even though it hurts.

Ok, Ann Voskamp, you got my attention.

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Dance, Daddy, Dance…

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When I was a little girl my dad would put me up on the table and say, “Dance, Sammy, dance!”

And the two of us would dance like maniacs. 

Not too long ago I caught him doing the same thing with my youngest daughter Kolby.  And she giggled and cracked up as she watched her Papa Ken dance like a big goof with all his heart.

If you ask little Kolby, “Who’s your best friend?  She will say, with no hesitation, “Papa Ken!”

Because she knows whose got her back.

……

As a little girl, it was obvious to me that my dad was different than the other daddies.  He got up earlier and he worked later.  He was ambitious, the proverbial Type A personality who drilled into me the importance of the P words!—Perseverance, Persistence and PPMF (Piss Poor Planning Means Failure). 

He was movie star handsome, charming and extremely loyal.  He was a good provider and strong leader.  He was also a bit of a brat (and that’s putting it nicely).

But in the last ten years—slowly at first and then rapidly—my dad changed dramatically.  Oh, he still had all the great qualities that made him a successful doctor and man, but he added to that the inner qualities that set great men apart from the rest—humility, patience, kindness and gentleness. 

If you asked him what the difference was, he would have said God changed his heart.  Many people will say this but my dad lived it out.

Where there was once darkness now there was light. 

I talked to my dad almost every day –although in the last six months because of his brain disease he would forget and say “I miss talking to you Sammy, and I would laugh because we’d talked for an hour that very morning. 

And during our talks he would remind me of our special stories—which usually meant some form of torment for me. 

One of his favorite tales was skiing at Park City Utah.  I was six years old and my step-mom Fran was stranded back in the hotel room with a broken tail-bone—probably relieved to get a break from the slopes with my hard driving daddy. 

We ascended to the toughest run on the mountain.  It was a triple black diamond run with “ski at your own risk” signs and “possible death warnings.”

A group of about twenty men stood at the tip of the cornice and peered over the edge which dropped straight down.  An arctic wind whipped up icy swirls taunting the timid.It was a 30 feet drop to hit the snow. 

Some men were brave and gathered enough courage to jump, but most turned around and went back to the lift with their tail between their legs.

I was terrified and pleaded to return to the lift.

My dad looked at me and said very firmly, ‘You don’t have to ski down, but you will walk. And it’s a long way back to the hotel.”

I glared at him and a deep well of anger churned in my belly. 

And indignation launched me right off the cliff. 

The entire crowd started cheering for the little girl who took the mountain.  My dad said that once he recovered from the shock, he then had to catch up with me—because I didn’t slow down to wait for him.

This same story out played over and over again throughout our lives.  He dared, or teased, and I took the bait.  It’s why I went to UCLA to spite his USC and it’s why I had a chip on my shoulder all those years to prove that a girl was just as good as a boy.

Maybe he knew exactly what he was doing, because it drove me to achieve, but in the end it didn’t matter–in the end I had nothing left to prove.

Once my dad changed, the chip on my shoulder turned to mush. 

I knew without a doubt that he simply loved me for who I was, not for what I accomplished, or the things I accumulated, just unconditionally.

And his love was life changing to a grown up woman with a little girl’s heart still seeking the love and approval of a father.

Some people never realize what they have until it’s gone.  Not my dad.  In the last few years Ken not only recognized his many blessings but he became a huge blessing to those around him.

On Thanksgiving Day this year, my dad said at the dinner table he was most grateful for his relationship with God.  I prayed for fifteen years to hear my dad say those words. 

If I had been honest, which I wasn’t because I am protective of my tears and didn’t want to cry like a baby over the turkey, I would have said, “I am most grateful for finally having the relationship of my dreams with my dad.” 

It might have taken 38 years—but the last few years made up for a lifetime.

On the night my daddy died, I sat and read to him.  He squeezed my hand as I read this verse from Eccles. 3.

“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

It was right at a time to dance that I got the squeeze.  I jumped up and I kissed his forehead and he raised his eyebrow.

(Pretty good for being in a coma)

They say it’s not how you start a race that matters; it’s how you finish it. 

I believe Jesus is now holding my dad’s hand and putting him in a place of honor.  He is saying well done, my good and faithful servant. 

And I can hear the sound of a million angels singing.

And my dad is dancing on the table like a big goof.

When Your Teen Dates

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No parent knows what their kid will be like once they get into a relationship.

I certainly didn’t.

I hoped my son Kyle would be respectful, but after a series of Jr. High texting relationships which lasted well into high school, I wasn’t sure if any girl would move pass the social media realm and penetrate his heart for more than a ten minute crush.

But I was wrong.

My son has been in a relationship with his girlfriend Grace for about four months.  A few weeks ago they made it official and now they even have their own Instagram hashtag–#Gryle

This is serious people.

Now, my poor son has been the recipient of years of dating advice from his parents.  It’s what we write, speak and blog about.  And Kyle could probably regurgitate our shtick back to us in his sleep.

But I never knew if he truly listened—I mean really heard us—and internalized our message on dating differently.

Fortunately, I have been surprised on a million levels.

First of all, Kyle picked well.  Grace is not only lovely on the outside but on the inside as well.  She is intelligent, light-hearted, and family oriented.  She loves God, respects people and is a fiercely competitive athlete—something they both share.  She’s nice to animals, little sisters and mothers and I think this bodes well for her future.

And I really love her mom to boot.  Could it get any better?

Kyle and Grace have boundaries around school, sports and their own pursuits.  They encourage one another and push each other to excel.  It’s bizarrely mature.  And although they text each other it’s not an all day affair.  It’s after the home work is put away and the workouts are done, or a quick shout-out on the way home from school.

(I counsel thirty-five year olds who haven’t figured this out yet)

Next, Kyle treats Grace like gold. He cherishes her and respects her.  He is interested in her well-being on all levels—not just making out and hanging out (although they do those things a lot too).  But, Kyle cares about her as a person and not as a thing.  And Grace reciprocates.  It is mutual affection based on respect and appreciation.

And here is where I am deeply humbled.

Was I a part of this?  I know it’s a culmination of dad and mom and step-parents and mentors, but in a world where men treat women like objects, my son, despite being assaulted by porn and Victoria’s Secret and the onslaught of an over-sexualized culture is choosing to be different.

I know he will make many mistakes going forward (on top of those in the past) but watching him treat a woman with dignity makes my heart soar!

Especially because at that age I let men treat me badly.  I didn’t understand I was worth more.  My son’s behavior  is redemptive for me as a woman and I thank God for his grace and mercy.

(Now we just have to make sure Faith and Kolby don’t carouse with douche-bags who treat them poorly)

The biggest issue I have is that this whole experience is so wonderful I don’t want it to ever end.

I’ll dream and pray none the less—maybe high school sweethearts can still make it in our crazy world?

–Samantha

 

Just as an update on my parents and a BIG THANKS to all who are praying.  My mom is on hospice now at home.  She has stopped chemo and all treatment for her pancreatic cancer.  We are enjoying the time she has left and pouring out our love on her in abundance.  Most of my days are now spent at their home in La Quinta trying to capture her smile and elegance and etch it into my memory forever.  My step-dad is doing a beautiful job of caring for her, along with family and friends, and hospice is a God-send.

My dad is at a secure Alzheimer’s facility in Beaumont.  He is recovering from three surgeries after he jumped off a ten-foot balcony at Christmas from paranoia due to his brain disease.  Mentally, he is pretty much gone and it’s heart-breaking.  He thought my step-mom was Santa the other day.  Physically, he is still having some complications from the broken back, compound fracture of the tibia and fibula and shattered ankle.  The pin has come loose from the ankle and the hole from the pin is infected.  Please pray for healing and comfort as we journey down this very difficult road with him.  I miss him desperately! 

The Bench

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I clock a lot of hours on the bench at my kid’s gymnastics studio.  Not surprisingly, I hear more conversations than I would like to.  I’m not nosy, but I am female, so even though I try not to eavesdrop, sometimes it’s difficult to close my ears.

I’ve seen a lot of single dads at the gym lately.  You can always tell when there are drop offs between a tense mom and dad, usually in the middle of a divorce, and the gym is their neutral turnover zone.

Bags are exchanged.  Homework explained.  Guilt-trips are delicately laced with instructions.

Little kids wave goodbye to mommy or daddy and try and put on a brave face before their peers and coach.  Little tears escape, brushed away in an effort to be a “big girl.”

Shoulders are slumped.  Sadness exudes.  Defeat hangs like a dense fog.

I notice an air of confusion on many of the recently single parents.  It’s as if they wear a large sticker on their forehead reading “Why didn’t this divorce make me happier?”

One of these sad guys plopped himself down next to me the other day.  He looked well put together, effortlessly stylish –clearly he had money and confidence –and yet something was wanting.

Another man walked by and inquired how he was doing –and out the story spilled.

His wife left him for another man.  But not just any man –it was his best friend.  She is demanding $10k a month for her expenses.  She also left him with her daughter whom he was now raising.  They were married all of thirteen months.

Through his anger and liberal use of f-bombs, I heard heart-wrenching and desperately raw pain.

I tried to fade into the wall.  I didn’t want to hear it.  It brought back emotions and days I don’t want to remember.

I watched his little girl do a handstand and wave and blow kisses, trying to make him smile.  She could tell her daddy was hurting.

And it reminded me how every person I meet has a story. 

That even the uber-attractive and wealthy folks pulling out of the kiddie gym in a Ferrari are often dying on the inside. 

EVERY interaction and EVERY encounter I make is important to someone.  Each day I have the opportunity to bring life or death, joy or pain, comfort or more sorrow to an already suffering soul.

I was recently told by a pharmaceutical rep that our CVS Pharmacy in Ladera Ranch has the highest revenue in the nation of prescription anti-depressants. 

This means my community of beautiful wisteria clad homes, hard bodies, families with 2.3 kids, and happy smiley faces is secretly drowning in a disease of sorrow hidden behind image management.

I tried not to be intrusive, but as I left, I looked the man in the eye and acknowledged his pain.  He weakly smiled back and went on his way.

And I am brought to my knees, crying out to God for this hurting man, for my hurting community, and for a world where hope is holding on by a thin thread.

If you are one of those struggling today, please let me encourage you to hold on.  Reach out and let someone know you need help.  You can’t do life alone.  We need each other.  We need Jesus with skin on.  We need people.

God reveals himself and comforts us through those who have walked in our shoes and previously traveled down the dark roads. 

You aren’t alone.

Hang on my friends.  Hang on…

–Samantha

Will Your Kid Leave the Church?

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It’s been a hot topic lately –“why kids are leaving the church.”  Over and over it seems church pundits want to blame old pastors wearing skinny jeans as the culprit.  Apparently, the sight of a forty year old with a goatee and paste on jeans makes our youth want to barf and disassociate from the gospel.

They say the church isn’t authentic enough… “Relevant” yes, but lacking meat and potatoes. They say it’s a McDonaldized version of the world with a happy meal Jesus.  The church entertains but fails to teach.  The atheists come at youth with science; the church comes at kids with rules.  The church is judgmental to their gay friends and we focus too much on sex and marriage and “looking good” vs. being good.

This anti-church message propagated on the radio by the rapper Macklemore, whom my kids love, claims the church paraphrases verses out of a 3500 year old book to shame and browbeat those outside the religious parameters.

And our kids are listening. They hear celebrities and artists who lift up and associate Jesus with everything BUT the church.

And it makes me sad, because this hasn’t been my experience with ministry.

(If you go to one of these terrible places that treat its youth with disdain, then leave.)

My experience with the church and youth ministry has simply been befuddlement.  Why are so many kids leaving the church and not coming back?  We try so hard and yet we are losing them?  What is the secret sauce to draw them back?

While I believe some of the millennial critiques hold credence in a sad and awkward way, I’m not buying the laundry list of nitpicky justifications young people use to reject the church as the real and underlying reason. 

All of the millennial criticism I hear boils down to one thing.  (And I don’t need a top ten list to tell you with neat little bulleted points)

So why kids are kids leaving the church?

I believe it’s a lack of love.

Remember Jesus?  He’s the guy who ate with sinners and gangsters, hookers, pimps and hoes.  Jesus is the man who loved the sexually immoral (pretty sure this includes gays too), turned over tables and healed the seriously messed up.

The church in its efforts to gain the youth and save the “lost generation” have forgotten the main thing.

Love

We focus on new buildings, more awesome bands, food trucks and large crowds.  We think we need just one more thing to get them to come back, but when we do this we get lost and caught up in the swirly whirly distraction of the world.

I know great parents who have sent their kids to the mega awesome Church to be DAZZLED and instead their kids come home with a drug addiction from dealers in the church parking lot.

Just because a church attracts a big crowd doesn’t mean Jesus is moving in the lives of our kids.  The draw at these BIG TEEN EVENTS might be good drugs, hot chicks and free food.  Last time I checked, I can send my teen to a rave for a $10 fee.  I certainly don’t need my tithe money to cover it.

What about love?  What about people who care about our kids?  What about parents engaging with their kids and serving side by side with them and using less words and more action? 

We can’t just tell our kids to be good; we need to be honest about our own brokenness and the healing power of Christ. 

We need to be let down our perfectly pinned up church hair and remember our struggles with temptation as teenagers.  We need to let them know we went down some dark roads too and that God’s love is relentless in its pursuit. 

I didn’t make it through high school with my innocence intact and quite honestly; my brokenness is what leads me to Christ. 

The kid that tries drugs or pre-marital sex or even walking away from Christ with unanswered questions may actually be closer to God than the devoted and quiet student who shows up every week to Sunday School and serves in Children’s Ministry.

Who are we to judge the state of a man’s heart?

I hold on to the verse, ”Raise up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

Why do we gloss over the “when he is old” part?  There is a gap in between the youth and old.  Maybe the gap includes living and loving, hurting, questioning, and finally returning to the arms of the father.

Why do we punish our kids for the gap years?  Why do we focus on the prodigal son and forget that God gave us two stories –one of a kid who followed the rules and one who ran away –and yet both were loved.

We need to allow our kids to question the mystery and bigness of God and we need to stop acting like we have all the answers. (Read the book of Job again if you think you know it all)

The appeal of Jesus to anyone – a millennial, a young family, a divorced woman, or an old codger is love.  We are to love God and love one another.  We aren’t instructed to put on a show and work our ministers to death so they are so exhausted and grumpy and so un-loving that our kids see just another man (or woman) in a monkey suit (insert skinny jeans) working for achievement.   

When a pastor or a CHRISTIAN doesn’t have time for a hurting kid, we missed an important step along the way.

My son met a kid at the Spectrum (about 15 years old) who passionately spoke his mind about Jesus and God and love. After that night, my kid has looked at his relationship with Christ a little differently.  He prays more.  I find his Bible (gasp) open in the morning next to his bed. 

This is a kid who also has a chip on his shoulder about the church.  My son is a pastor’s kid and survived a church plant.  And while some kids make it through puberty thinking the church is AMAZING, my son has seen some of the darker sides of ministry. 

And yet he is still drawn to Jesus.  When he saw another kid s passion and love for the Lord, it made an impact.

Love burst forth from this kid and mountains moved.

We need to teach our kids that we can’t judge Jesus by the church.  Jesus loves the church and died for the church, but we are a broken lot who mess and muddle up love on a regular basis.  We need Jesus to forgive us for misrepresenting him.  And we need to ask our kids to forgive us for giving them a half version of the gospel.

Jesus is to be our model of love.  The church is the place we try to work it out in community.  Do our kids understand this?

I don’ think kid’s care so much about “cool church” as we think…

My middle daughter is wooed to Jesus through the relationships in her life. I have been consistently overwhelmed at the women surrounding her (female youth pastor, worship leader, and BEAUTIFUL neighbors) who are pouring into her heart and showing her what love and God look like on a daily basis.  She is encouraged to serve alongside them, care for their children, worship God with all her heart and model their love in action.

She could care less if they are cool.  She cares that they love her and they love God.

I remember the same thing in college.  I heard a young pastor explain Jesus in a simple way.  He was bursting with fire and exuberance.  And I was drawn to the person of Jesus Christ.  I couldn’t help but connect with authentic love, relevant sacrifice and a purpose to seek and save the lost, the broken and the disenfranchised of the world.

It’s about love –not REASONS why the church is blowing it.  Those are just distractions.

When I hear someone go on and on about what moves them, I can’t help but get excited.  It’s why we sob at weddings and act like idiots at football games. 

We engage in a story that’s bigger than ourselves and we remember what it feels like to be alive.

And we fall in love all over again. 

I don’t think our kids are leaving because we (the church) haven’t tried.  We have tried until we are blue in the face.  I just think we have forgotten the main thing.

We think kids want skate parks and nifty bracelets, Chick Fillet and hip lounge chairs.

Really?  I think a crappy old sofa with a caring young adult eating PB& J’s would suffice.

When we allow Jesus to not only transform us but to move within us, love becomes the fabric of our being.

And it changes lives.

I believe the biggest obstacle to our kids not finding Jesus is not the failure of the church…I know the church has tried, it’s a failure to remember what drew us to God in the first place.

What do you think? 

For further reading: Why Millennials Need the Church

Photo Source: http://www.csulb.edu/divisions/students2/intouch/archives/2007-08/vol16_no1/01.htm

Two Different Worlds

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Tim and I attend an inordinate amount of weddings –mainly because my hubby is a wedding pastor and teaches a pre-marital class. (And I would suggest because he is brilliant, hot and won’t mess up their pictures)

At one of our recent festivities we were seated at the “reserved” family table and enjoying dinner when one of the groomsmen brought over the family housekeeper and invited her to sit in an empty seat next to him. While the sweet housekeeper appeared flustered and awkward because she wasn’t dressed up, she did agree to join us and jumped up to grab the waiter for a plate.

As soon as the housekeeper walked over to the bar, the groomsmen quietly explained to our table that the housekeeper was sitting inside all alone and he wanted to include her because she was a part of the family. We all nodded and agreed it was a fabulous idea, except for his mother.

“She’s not invited son. She’s the help. I didn’t pay for her to eat with us,” the mother exclaimed in a loud and shrill voice.

I shrunk down in my chair in mortification.

Her son boldly stared his mother down. “It’s too late. I’ve invited her. Deal with it.”

The mother scowled and turned away. But a few minutes later she was back to telling us how involved she was at her church and yada, yada, yada…

And then I vomited in my mouth a little.

Because the damage of her remark lingered and it made me wonder how she viewed me –was I the lowly help too.

As the pastor’s wife, I wasn’t really an invited guest.

I looked down at the ground and chewed on my thoughts.

Do I judge like that? Do I discount people because of occupation or status?

While I hope not, I will fess up to feeling uncomfortable at Knott’s berry Farm the other day. I felt very fair-skinned and un-inked in a land of gang-type attire and attitude. I even saw toddlers with tattoos. I had to work hard to smile big and not retreat in fear.

And while nothing in me made me feel better or set apart, I did feel different and I know in awkward situations it’s easier to push away then lean in and embrace.

But as Christians that’s exactly what we need to do. We must stop trying to LOOK spiritual and BE spirit lead. We need to not only love our servants, we need to be servants. We are commanded to love our neighbor –even when they have unsupervised kids who randomly show up and stay too late, even when they party every Friday and Saturday night until 3:00am right outside your bedroom window, and even when they cuss you out on Social Media for a misunderstanding.

We need to embrace the uncomfortable.

So, although I didn’t confront the woman at the party because we don’t have that type of relationship, I wish I could have grabbed a cup of coffee with her and held her hand and looked her in the eyes and said…

I know this isn’t easy. I won’t pretend you will feel comfortable but let’s risk together.

Why don’t we invite the down-trodden in our life to the party? Let’s make room at our table for the poor and the quirky and the Mexican woman who has loved your kids and vacuumed up the dust-bunnies and scrubbed the stains out of your shirt. Let’s bless and love and love some more, even when it’s hard and even when people will raise their eyebrows.

–Sam

Bad at Goodbyes

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I’m not good at goodbyes.

Sometimes God has to light a fire under my butt to get me to move on.

The moment of truth hit me hard as I prayed and reflected at Catalyst ( a leadership conference) this week. 

I kept picturing a donkey with my face on it.  Over and over I heard references to Balaam’s Ass.

Could God be talking to me?  Was I the ass?

I knew, if I was brutally honest, I was operating like a stubborn mule about leaving our church to follow my husband to his new assignment.

For the last month, I have justified staying at the church we started in Mission Viejo instead of transitioning gracefully to my husband’s current position as singles and young couple’s pastor on the Irvine campus.

“It’s because of the kids.” I tell people (and lie to myself). 

But my last stand was starting to feel yucky.  Once the church in Mission Viejo announced Tim’s departure (four weeks ago) I should have packed my bags, followed my man and waved goodbye.

Instead, I stuck my heels in the sand.

And it’s confused people.  For the last few weeks, parishioners at MV have approached me quizzically, “I thought you left?” they ask.

And I answer sheepishly, “Well, uhhhh….(stutter more and stammer), you know, my husband did, but I’m staying with the kids who are sooooo connected.”

Blank stare.

I’m like the poster child for Sarah NOT following Abraham.

But this has nothing to do with Tim, who is my HERO, it’s about ME letting go of something I love.

Even though it couldn’t be clearer it’s time to move on.

This MV campus, the one we discovered after driving around every Saturday for six months in a car with two kids is doing just fine without us. 

It’s vibrant and sustainable and our part is over. 

But walking away from the church we have poured our lives and the deepest recesses of our hearts into isn’t easy. 

For two years my entire family lived and breathed this church.  From early morning until late at night our home became the church walls.  I labored 14 hours with Kolby at the church.  My kids did their homework and explored every nook and cranny of the cavernous building.  The church building was their playground, home base and their life. 

Five nights a week and six days, the five of us (along with the Alexander’s and the Ramsey’s) built a community of believers and volunteers.  We were the spiritual version of “SEAL Team 6″  fighting to build the walls of Jerusalem in Ladera Ranch. 

About one day a week, usually interrupted by a leaky church roof or some other crisis, we collapsed comatose on the sofa exhausted and ate pizza again–the diet of a church planter.

I worked three jobs during that time –thirty hours a week as an account manager for an IT company, twenty hours a week freelancing as a writer and another 20 hours at the church as the women’s pastor and assistant to my hubs. 

And as exhausting as that sounds, it was AWESOME.

We had a clearly defined mission and purpose that made every task worthwhile and a joy. 

I cleaned almost thirty toilets each week the first few months until we had budget for facilities. 

And I loved it –every stinky, challenging, conflict-ridden second.

Eventually the church stabilized, lead teachers were brought in and we were allowed to pull back and resume normal life.

But it’s never really normal after an experience like that. 

And maybe that’s what I miss the most and ultimately what I yearn for.

Adventure.  Purpose.  Meaning.

A journey so grand it’s IRRESTIBLE.

I didn’t go back to MV this weekend; I attended our new (old) church in Irvine and opened my heart and arms up for the next season.  I might have cried a little too and mourned the past as I simultaneously embraced the future.

And Like Isaiah I cried out, “Here I am God, use me (again).”

Because the crazy wild life of following God is worth every heartache and tear and even though I left a little part of my heart in MV, I can’t wait for the next mission impossible.

Have you ever struggled to let go of something you loved as God moves you into the next season? 

Dr. Gandhi, Yoga and a Stress Test

I took a stress test yesterday but strangely enough it wasn’t too stressful.  It might have actually been the most relaxing part of my week. 

A stress test involves getting hooked up like the Bionic man with wires and sticky patches that suck your hair right out of the follicle.  Then they place you on a treadmill and slowly turn up the pace from a leisurely stroll to a Mt. Everest run/climb.  I was holding on for dear life at the end and panting like a dog on a hot day. 

But it felt good to run hard and work off some steam.

Work has been extremely stressful, finances tight thanks to our new Lion(i.e. private school tuition for Kyle), Kolby had the hand, foot, and mouth virus all week and then there’s my pesky little heart issue –which makes me more stressed.  It’s like a slippery slope of heart palpitations, fever blisters and sweaty pits.

I know I’m supposed to give this all to Jesus but clearly I’ve been grabbing my burdens back and stuffing them in my backpack. 

My Dr. came into read the results.  He almost didn’t let me take the test because my blood pressure was all wacky when I arrived-probably because I came straight from work, but then he remembered he had the day off on Friday and he didn’t want to miss his golf game so he let me take the test.

Here’s the crazy part –after I worked out my heart rate looked all pretty and even –in nice little up and down rhythms.  Once I let go and relaxed into the run my body fixed itself. 

The Dr. looked at me strangely.  “Usually when we test, it goes the opposite way.  Which means you are stressing yourself right into a pace maker.  Do yoga, cut back on the stress and figure out how to relax young lady.”

But Dr. Gandhi doesn’t realize how much I hate yoga after a bad experience with a man in front of me who forgot his underpants and wore tiny shorts.

So, unless I want a pace maker I guess I better learn how to chill.  The funny thing is I’m a pretty mellow person and I don’t even realize I am stuffing stress.  I have a secret little pocket in my heart where I hide emotions and cram pain into a bunch of toxic ickiness.  Then it explodes into shingles or heart issues.

I keep singing “Jesus take the wheel,” in a raspy little voice hoping for a Holy Spirit band-aid when I should probably be on my knees begging for a fire-hose washing of the gunk weighing me down.

I really don’t want to go to Yoga…

But maybe I’ll try to run again and whisper to God and find my rhythm.

 

Martha’s House, Mary’s Village

 

My dear friend Bruce sent me this story in response to my post Helga the Cleaning Nazi.  It was a great reminder to keep the main thing the main thing-namely the love of Christ working through me- and to let go of the little crap that get me all riled up and cranky.

Bruce Carl Aronson is a true spiritual guide to many at Mariners Mission Viejo Church and his wisdom and heart are off the charts!  I am honored to share his story on a woman who I resemble all too often  I really want to be like Mary, but my inner Martha keeps nipping at my heels.

I hope you enjoy this as much as  did…

                                                                                 ***

Martha’s House, Mary’s Village by Bruce Carl Aronson

 

Martha was pissed.

She had to watch over her two hair-brained siblings ever since her mom, Enchania, and her dad, Syro, died.  That blighted tower that fell down in the earthquake, crushing both of the parents, and sixteen others, was the beginning of Martha’s great aloneness.  Her exacting soul found great comfort in clinging to the idea that the disaster was not the punishment of God.  Martha’s father had expected much of his first-born daughter.  At least, if I had been born a son, she thought to herself, I could enjoy that, but now it’s just a talent (for Martha a talent was not a skill or ability but a load weighing 94 pounds, in her day)Martha saw her brother and sister as hopelessly scattered, and surely without Martha they would be both homeless and starve.

She worked hard to keep a proper Jewish Home: ordered, clean, and run with a kind of autocratic authority that her sister and brother found withering. 

Now it was even worse, the Rabbi had showed up and nothing was ready.  It was okay for the men to sit around and gab, but a worthy woman washed the feet of each guest, made sure there was plenty of food and drink, and that her guests lacked for nothing.  So that is what Martha did.  It was getting hot outside as the sun was now directly overhead.  Even the cool, dark of her home was permitting some of that heat to enter.  She needed to prepare the biggest meal of the day, after which, everyone but her would take a nap.  She glanced around her home: it did please her enormously!  The family business had prospered, blessed be, permitting them, not the tiny little four room affair that most families squeezed into, but a lavish two-story (with an open third story) wrapped around a small courtyard.  Martha was in the kitchen, which opened on to the first floor looking out on the courtyard, but she could hear the laughing going on upstairs, in the dining room. 

Her hands worked steadily as she plied the pita dough squeezing it, balling it up, and smashing each ball onto the heated brazier above her kitchen fire.  She was squeezing the dough as if to strangle it and when she balled it, she smashed it on the hot metal she was using with rather more effort than the dough needed.  She had just come down from dropping off the last pita’s, butter, and wine.  The previous upstairs deliveries included olives, dates, and apples.  She was tired from carrying all that food up and down the narrow stairs that led to her dining room above.  There the Master was upstairs, on the floor in the center of the woven matt, with everyone hanging on his every word.  He was saying something profound, he always was, but the person who sat directly in front of him now really annoyed Martha.

Mary was not at all disciplined.  Martha wondered, Who would want to marry a girl who did not know her place?  Martha certainly knew her place, but it had done no good: she was now the village spinster at 18.  She had sent Mary up there to fill the water vat, knowing full well it would be a while before she ever came back.  Well, it had been more than a while.  Martha did appreciate Mary’s thirst for learning.  Like Martha, she knew how to stand behind a curtained door or half way up the stairway so as not to interfere with the men’s learning and still partake of it.  Much of Martha’s education had come from deliberately overhearing her father teach.  Now the Master was upstairs with his emissaries, and a few others.  Who was in the middle of all the men?  Mary, of course!

The fourteen year old sibling just did not get that she was not a man and should never sit with them while instruction was going on.  It wasn’t decent.  It wasn’t seemly.  And, no one was asking for her hand, in marriage either.  It was getting late for Mary too.  But, Mary was the pretty one.  Men liked her.  She got a lot of slack because she was gregarious, charming, and had a figure that could not be obscured by the robes she wore.

A cry of anguish slipped from Martha’s lips.  She had not kept her mind on her work and the side of her hand had brushed the hot metal.  She hoped that they had not heard that cry up above!  What would you say about a homemaker who did not even know how to keep herself from being burned as she cooked?  The skin was red all along the fleshy part of her hand.  This was going to hurt.  She was about to plunge her hand in the basin of water that was kept at the ready for such emergencies, when her nose reminded her that something was burning.  It was the pita on the brazier!  While she had been staring at her hand, the pita had blackened.  Now, they were smoking.  Could they smell that upstairs?  She could already hear the gossip at dawn, the next day, at the village well.  “Pitas get away from you, dearie?”  “So much food you can burn it up?  Warming the house with dough these days?”  How they loved to laugh at her!  (Of course, they were all jealous.  That’s all.)

Tears leaked down her cheeks.  Sure her hand hurt, but the shame of everyone thinking you are very competent and then you go and pull a small-minded stunt like this?  Pull it together, girl!  She swept the burned pita down off the brazier and into the fire below hoping that no one was the wiser.  Then, she looked at her hand again.  She thought, what to do?

Catching her completely by surprise, there was the Master scooping up her small hand in his great big ones! 

“Martha,” his majestic, deep voice intoned, “you are working too hard.  Come upstairs and sit with us.”

“Rabbi,” she stared up through her tears, “there is so much to do!”  She knew it was unworthy to complain, but it slipped out, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work myself?  Tell her to get back down here and help me out!”

He reached to her other hand and pulled her up to him, but merely said, “Martha,” as he held both hands.  Somehow his hand was cooling against her burned hand.  The pain seemed to be ebbing away…slowly. 

Martha looked down.  He did have beautiful, massive, well muscled hands.  He lightly turned her hand side up and poured a little olive oil on the burned part.  He worked it in tenderly with a gentle massaging motion.  She still fretted in her heart that he would find her unworthy and stop staying at their home when he passed through Bethany or Jerusalem.

“Martha,” he said again, with such tenderness it made her heart ache with joy.  He fixed his eyes to look squarely into hers.  “You are worried and upset about many things.”

Martha nodded, of course that was true.  She nodded fitfully that she understood.

He continued, “…but, few things are needed…”

She nodded again, transported by his gaze.  Generally, she could not say that he was a handsome man.  Yet, holding her wounded hand like this, he just seemed so beautiful.  Would a man like him ever consider…?

He smiled as if he knew her thoughts, “or indeed, only…one…”

All the cares she carried seemed to leave like smoke in a wind.  He was such a beautiful man!

He smiled again.  “Mary has chosen what is better.”

Mary, she thought, why is it always ‘Mary this’ and ‘Mary that?’  Then, Martha’s mind became clear. Mary was so deliberate about knowing the Rabbi well.  Carefully, she gleaned all that he shared.  She went out of her way to really understand everything he mentioned –even the obscure stuff.  Martha suddenly saw with clarity that it was not that Mary was younger or prettier (or luckier), it was just that she cared about relationships.  Mary was all about relationships.  Martha, realized (and it stung her) that she all about responsibilities.  Mary and Martha.  Relationships and responsibilities.

Martha lowered her head against the Rabbi’s broad chest.  He whispered in her ear, “It will not be taken away from her.”  But, she knew what it meant.  You do everything so carefully, thoroughly, and well, Martha.  Now, try Mary’s approach.  She nodded to him as if he could hear her thoughts. 

She looked down at her own hand.  The redness was gone.  The pain was gone.  And he was sliding his arm around her back and gently leading her to the narrow stairs.  Up they went.  When they reached the dining room all the men were silent and noticing how the Rabbi was walking with her as if she were an adored daughter.  People moved to get out of their way.  Mary stood and vacated her place on the mat.  Jesus pointed to that open place and indicated it was now Martha’s place.  She realized that while Mary had taken this place, the Rabbi was giving it to her.

And Mary took a tray of empty dishes downstairs.

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