Monday, August 22, 2016

Aisles, Empty Nest, and "I DO"

 August 22, 1992, I walked down an aisle to marry the man that I love.

Today, August 22, 2016, exactly 24 years later, I watched another man that I love walk down another aisle--an airport corridor, actually, to head back to the States to begin his second year at Liberty University. 

Today, August 22, 2016, exactly 24 years later, I received a text message with a photo of another man that I love heading off on a bicycle to his first day of classes at Ivy Tech.

Suddenly, I'm keenly aware of the fact that we officially have an "empty nest." Who knew time could pass so quickly? How I cherished every minute! And I'm eager to cheer them on in their next steps. 

Many have warned me about the deep sense of loss that a mother might experience at this point in the parenting journey. I thought that perhaps I'd be immune from such sentiments. After all, I have a pretty full life, a busy ministry schedule, and all sorts of projects in the works, not to mention I'm in seminary. And it's not like those boys have needed much mothering these past few years.

And yet....

Yes, something has changed. Its not so much about a loss of identity, but a loss of proximity. They're still my boys, they're just, well, far. Far away from me. Getting on with life. Moving away. Moving on. 

As they should.

In the meantime, that guy to whom I said "I DO" 24 years ago is sitting by my side, holding my hand. Together we marvel at what has been and delight in what is still yet to be. 

This one I get to keep.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Changes for Chandler

This guy has had a rough year.

He attempted something that is considered a major challenge--he competed for a spot in medical school in France. It was a gruelling year-long fight, one that felt lost within months. He persevered to the end, and yet, he didn't make the cut. The process is so competitive that only 10-15% of the candidates actually get admitted.

When he learned his final results, he had some soul-searching to do. He no longer has the option to pursue medicine in France, but he could have chosen to go a different direction here. Or...he could return to the States, where the system gives undergraduates more time to make a decision about their ultimate career direction.

He has chosen to return to the States.

So tomorrow, Chandler will board a flight to Chicago, where my dear sister Barbarba will meet him and take him to her hometown of Bloomington, Indiana. Ultimately, Chandler plans to attend Indiana Univeristy, where my sister is a professor. But he'll spend the next year at Ivy Tech, establishing US residency and applying for admission to IU.

Please pray for Chandler as he makes this major leap. Pray for new friends--maybe even a few who speak French. Pray for direction as he tries to discern whether he wants to go pre-med or change directions. And pray that the overwhelming disappointment over the events of the past year does not steal his joy for what is possible in the years to come.

From the day he was born, Chandler has been a fighter. He's been knocked down, but never knocked out. He's got a lot more fight in him, and we're cheering him on with everything we've got!

We love you, Chan. And we couldn't be prouder.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Holy Fear

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,

And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 9:10

There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Romans 3:18

I suppose it is should not shock me that a world so lacking in reverent fear of God would also be suffering from a serious deficiency of wisdom. 

After my last blog post, my sister pointed out that perhaps the problem isn't fear, but misplaced fear. The Bible is clear: those of us who live by grace through faith in the saving work of Christ should be set free from every sort of fear, save one--the righteous and holy fear of the living God. 

This is a fear that reminds us that God is God, and we are not. It is a fear that keeps us humble, grateful, and hungry for justice. It is a fear that refuses to forget that there will be a day of reckoning. And it is a fear spurs us on to love and good deeds as the "out-working" of our salvation.

And while I believe we are invited to experience the lavish riches of God's grace, convinced that we can neither earn nor improve upon its merits, I wonder if we haven't wandered from the work that His grace is meant to accomplish in and through us. We delight so deeply in the love of God--as well we should, but have we neglected his Holiness in the process? The point of our salvation is not to give us a nice, cozy, happy life for all eternity. The point of our salvation is to make us into the image of Christ for the glory of God and the sake of the world. And this is to be done with a level of fear and trembling!

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;  for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
Philippians 2:12-13

Thankfully, the work is not ours alone. Paul reminds us that it is GOD who is at work in me. But it is precisely because God is at work in me that I should have a sense of holy fear. 

This idea is more easily understood if we put it in human terms. Imagine that your boss was always standing right behind you at work, listening to every phone call, reading every email, viewing every website you visit, watching every game you play, seeing every eye-roll, hearing every sigh. Imagine that this boss is actually eager to see you succeed (not fail!), but that she also has a better understanding of the company's vision, strategy, and goals than you do. In fact, she's the CEO, the CFO, and the Board of Directors all rolled into one. So she's offering you input along the way, feeding you helpful hints, and making sure you have every resource that you could possibly need at your fingertips so that you can do the job that you were hired to do. Might the presence and provision of your superior change the way you work? Of course it would! Because with that type of boss, you'd have both a sense of security that you couldn't fail (grace) and an eagerness to please the one who gave you the job (fear). 

So I agree, a big part of our problem is misplaced fear. We are often too worried about all of the stuff that God has under control (safety, provision, resources) and not concerned enough about the call that God has given us (do justly, love mercy, walk humbly). 

He has shown you, O man, what is good;

And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justly,

To love mercy,

And to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

Jesus exemplified this charge, proclaiming the year of jubilee by working justice on behalf of the oppressed, by extending mercy to the masses (which he saw as helpless and harassed), and by living in constant, humble, submission to the Father. This is where the fear of God and the freedom from all other fears converge. 

If I fear being treated unjustly and don't fear God, I won't be free to seek justice. The Bible teaches that the justice of God is found when I relinquish my rights ("Why not rather be wronged?" I Cor. 6:7), relinquish my possessions ("Go and sell all that you have and give to the poor" Mark 10:21), and relinquish my power ("For God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong" I Cor. 1:27). 

If I fear being treated unkindly and don't fear God, I won't love mercy, I'll tend towards cruelty. The Bible teaches that the mercy of God is given to the undeserving ("He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy" Titus 3:5), the mercy of God is limitless ("His mercies never come to en end" Lam. 3:22), and that mercy is found in giving it away ("Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" Matt. 5:7).

And if I fear being overlooked and I don't fear God, I won't walk humbly with my God, I'll seek to elevate myself. The Bible teaches that the way up is down, ("Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up" James 4:1) and that I should seek what is best for others ("...each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself" Phil 2:3). 

As I decide NOT to fear anything except GOD, I will become an agent of His justice and a lover of His mercy. Only then will I be humble before him, eager to work to please Him. 

Tying this to the last post, then, I suppose I need to ask myself, "What would it look like to put a fear of God at the heart of gun debate?"  "What would it look like to put a fear of God at the heart of the immigration debate?" "What would it look like to put a fear of God at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement?"  How do I, a follower of Christ, engage my culture on each of these issues in a way that exemplifies a right and holy fear of God without giving any room to fear of another kind? These are good questions, and again, I'm not sure I know the answers. But I want to wrestle with these thoughts and seek the peaceable wisdom of God so that I might discern His good, pleasing, and perfect will. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Reflecting on Current Events

What a week you've had, my fellow Americans.  And how very far away I feel from it all.  Yet, you are near to my heart. I am one of you.

It's moments like this when wordsmiths like me are out like mad on the web trying to make pithy statements or dazzling observations. Facebook lights up with soundbites and hashtags. All of us, trying to make sense of a world that seems senseless.

Knowing my words won't add anything new to the conversation, I can easily retreat to silence. But there is danger there, too. Because silence can communicate contentedness with the status quo, complicity with all that is wrong. So while I do not expect to add anything new, I must say something.

The first thing that I will say is that I am ignorant, which means that the best thing I can do is shut up and listen to those who are less ignorant than myself. As a white American, I have privileges and opportunities that I don't even realize I have. I cannot understand what it is like to be a minority. It's not that I don't want to understand. It's that I can't. So when I am tempted to spout off solutions or to claim that my experience is representative of another person's experience, I do not reveal my wisdom, I reveal my ignorance. This is not to say that I should not try to understand, but I must realize that I am only going to be able to achieve an intellectual level of understanding and not an experiential level.

At the intellectual level we can study statistics and trends, we can talk about "equality" and "opportunity." We can make laws and sign petitions and have debates. Even better, I can lean into my friendships with minority people in an effort to hear and learn from their experiences. I can stop listening only to the voices of those who sound like me and listen to the voices that challenge my paradigm. These voices may not change my mind, but they will expand my heart and help me to have compassion. And I need to really listen. Listen to understand, and not just to refute. I need to imagine the possibility that there are things I don't yet know, haven't yet encountered, or have wrongly dismissed. Such listening might open me up to a new perspective. It could help me to think more deeply and sincerely about the complexity of the problems. It could lead to better solutions.

Oh but that IS such hard work. And we live in a world that prefers quips and tweets. We're all looking for that one meme that is going to bottom-line it for us. Deep thinking is no longer valued. And, sadly, we evangelical Christians can be more about categorizing issues into black and white, right and wrong, than wrestling with complexities. Why do we do that?

Remember how angry Jesus would get at the Pharisees, who were tithing down to the tiniest cent while failing miserably at loving others? They were working so hard at being right that they failed to seek true righteousness. Mercy can't be measured, so it fell off their radar.

The second thing I will say is that  from a distance, at least, the United States appears to be a nation gripped by fear. Given the challenges and difficulties of life, fear is a natural human response. But fear is not a God-honoring response. Fear begets hate. I'm pretty sure that's why "Fear not" is the most repeated command in the Bible. But the inverse is also true--perfect love casts out fear. So if you really need a black and white barometer, why not use this one: "Am I being motivated by love or by fear?"

Fear, unchecked, will be the death of us. It is becoming the guiding force of political and social issues, and it is not healthy! Fear is at the heart of the gun debate. Fear is at the heart of the immigrant debate. Fear is at the heart of racism. Fear is at the heart of the bathroom debates, for heaven's sake! And fear is at the heart of the all the election rhetoric.

Look at the fear-mongering that goes on, particularly from Evangelical Christian leaders. On his own website, James Dobson defends his support of Trump by saying, "Hillary scares me to death." This is not good leadership, it isn't even Biblical, for he is rooting his decision in fear. Ben Carson, a man many of us respected, has said things like "Hillary is of the devil." And fear of Trump is worn like a badge of honor by, well, just about everyone. Both sides are trying to garner support for their candidate by painting the scariest picture of the other person. Fear. On all sides.

Let's not take our fear to the voting booth or the pulpit. Let's take our fear to Christ, confess it as sin, and ask for His wisdom and discernment to be our guides. Let's step back from the hysteria. Listen to the words of James chapter 3:
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Here we have a filter to determine if what we are doing or thinking is aligned with God's wisdom or not. Don't ask "Is it scary?" Ask "Is it pure (or is it impure)? Is it peaceable (or is it hostile)? Is is gentle (or is it harsh)? Is it reasonable (or is it rediculous)? Is it full of mercy (or is it cruel)? Is it unwavering (or is it faltering)? Is it without hypocrisy (or is it hypocritical)?" And then consider how you share your views. Are you sowing in peace (or are you sowing  in dissention)? And just an aside--there is not a single news station in the US that is NOT sowing dissention. So maybe turn off the TV and the radio and read more newspapers. Most are available online these days, and this access to the written word allows you to search out all sides of an issue while refusing to support the inflammatory, baiting, fear-mongering rubbish that permeates the airwaves. Try to find facts, and take time to think constructively about the facts that you find.

Let me end where I began. I am ignorant. But I also have the advantage of viewing things from outside the American arena--which offers a unique perspective. I have so much to learn, and the more I learn the more I realize how much I don't know. So I'm simply sharing what I think to be my best contribution to the important conversations that are swirling all around us. Two things I am committing to do: Listen more and fear less.

The following are links to articles or books that I have found helpful. None of them are perfect, and I do not agree with everything that is found in them. But I do find that reading these things is helping me to understand the complexity of these issues, to think more deeply about solutions, and to consider what my best contribution might be. Believe it or not, there are a lot of very smart people of integrity on all sides of these issues.

Here is a link to a short article that explains why #AllLivesMatter may be an uninformed and unhelpful respose to #BlackLivesMatter.

Colleen Mitchell, a Catholic missionary in Costa Rica, speaks truth in her article, "10 Reasons Why I Don't Want to be You White Ally."

This is the best article I've read on why Trump is so popular with evangelicals.

I really appreciate this insightful article from a woman with a black son and a husband who is a white police officer.

If you haven't yet read The Same Kind of Different as MeI highly recommend it. It's an easy but poignant book.

I was challenged by bell hooks' book Where We Stand: Class Matters. Some of her writing is inflammatory and she does not provide sufficient research to support her harsh judgements; however, I must admit that some of her claims ring with truth and have made me think twice about the ramifications of our consumerist culture and how consumerism is linked to racism and sexism. This book is hard for a white middle/upper class audience to read because it is highly critical. But if you read it, seek to leave room for conviction and try not to dismiss all of it just because some of it is over the top.

Another good book on consumerism is William T. Cavanaugh's book Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Renovations Have Begun

The Evangelical Church of Old Lyon has begun renovations on the building that we are renting!!! For our first event in the building, we hosted an evening of Prayer and Worship. Sitting on bags of concrete mix, we invited the Spirit to take his place among us. 

We won't be having services in the building until September because we have a lot of work to do to prepare the space to serve it's multi-purpose function. Do you see the word "co-working" on the door? 
Our plan is to offer shared workspace to entrepeneurs (M-F), where networking and community-building will  happen organically. There will be a living room-like meeting space available for use for those who co-work in the building, but this same space will be used for our community prayer times and devotionals Monday- Friday from 7:00-7:45 am and from 6:00-6:15 pm. 

On Sundays, the desks will fold up (like Murphy beds) and the space will be used for weekly church services. All prayer meetings and church services will be evangelistic in nature and open to the public, and our hope is that the space will become a place where the Kingdom of God is visible and active in all aspects of life. 

Because the average size of an established evangelical church in France is about 80 people, it is difficult for congregations to be able to sustain the costs of a building. The co-working space will not only allow us to reach and bless our community M-F, it will enable the young church plant to be viable financially for the long run. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Where's the Fruit?

Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ?

Where is your proof?

Disciples don't get club cards for their key chains. They don't have T-shirts with "Fishers of Men" logos. They don't get special name tags or wrist bands. So how are we known? What evidence do we have?

It turns out Jesus did give us a calling card. He said it so plainly we easily miss it. The proof is in the fruit.

 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 
John 15:8 NASB

Let's be clear, fruit is not a requirement for salvation, but it IS evidence of discipleship. 


Because according to John 15 (and like a bazillion other verses) if I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God lives in me. The very God who created the universe cannot dwell in a living human being without leaving traces of His presence. Those traces of His presence are called "fruit." 

Sometimes fruit manifests itself through our character:
 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,self-control; against such things there is no law. 
Galatians 5:22-23
And sometimes the fruit manifests itself through our actions:
For this reason also, since the day we heard of itwe have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God...
Colossians 1:9-10

But the point is, there is fruit. Or there should be. And if there isn't fruit, we should be alarmed.

And maybe we are. But what is our response?

I think that I go into problem solving mode. I read books and go to conferences and scour the web to find Five Quick Fixes for Fruitlessness or Seven Easy Steps to See More Fruit. These "helpful" resources often talk about things that we think we can do to in order to produce fruit in our lives, to prove that we are true disciples. They tell us how to improve bad soil, how to protect ourselves against lousy weather, or how to deal with pest problems. I roll up my sleeves and get to work, missing one very  important point: IT'S NOT MY JOB TO PRODUCE THE FRUIT. 

I'm only called to bear the fruit!  

God produces the fruit. And everything I need in order to bear fruit comes from the vine. If I'm connected to the vine, I WILL bear fruit. If I'm connected to the vine, I can't NOT bear fruit. So I can't blame the soil, the weather, or the bugs. The only reason Jesus gives for fruitlessness is disonnectedness. Therefore the only solution is to abide in Christ.

 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 
John 15:5

But me? I would rather be pulling weeds or spraying fertilizer. These things are so much easier to do than just abide.

Why? Because "abiding" is never done. I can never check it off of my checklist, because it has to be lived 24/7/365. We can't achieve it, we can't obtain it, we can't complete it. We can only live it. Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. 

In fact, if I'm not bearing fruit, it is likely because I'm busy doing things that I think will produce fruit and forgetting to abide in Christ. I get impatient with the process, and like a kindergartener who buried a bean in paper cup full of soil, I grow weary with the waiting. 

It's important to pay attention to fruit. Not just to prove we are disciples, but to know if we are abiding. The funny thing is, I'm not sure I even know what it looks like and feels like to abide. I'm better at being busy. I'm learning to abide. I have a long way to go, but here are three ways that I attempt to "abide in Christ" each day. 

  1. Silence: I begin every day with 10-20 minutes of silence. I sit still, in the presence of God, and I say nothing. I let my swirling thoughts quiet down, and I wait on the Lord. I don't read anything, I don't have music on, I don't pray, I don't write. I just listen. And whether God speaks or not is less important than the fact that I have spent time with Him. Abiding in very literal sense. 
  2. Community: I take time to pray with others. Together, we abide in Christ by reading His word, singing His praises, confessing our sins, and seeking His guidance. For some reason, I used to see abiding as a solitary endeavor, but clearly if we are to do it all the time, then we need to be able to abide in community as well. 
  3. Slowing: I'm active and decisive. I like to go fast. In so doing, I often rush ahead of the Spirit, trying to produce fruit. For some of you, you will need to pick up the pace to keep in step with the Spirit. Me? I need to slow down. When I purposefully match my steps to His, then in all that I do, I abide.
All of these are hard for me. And all of these are good for me. And the promise is sure: IF I abide, the fruit is guaranteed. If I abide I can't NOT bear fruit.  And when I bear it, it is so completely holy, so perfect, so pure, that it proves that God lives in me. 

Then I know I'm a disciple.

What fruit are you bearing these days? How do you abide in Christ?  

Friday, June 17, 2016

Ten Totally Trivial Tidbits

1. This week I visited Geneva for the first time. While there I went to the famous Reformation Museum, and I bought this replica of a 15c board game, which is a sort of Calvinist form or "Chutes and Ladders." The instructions crack me up, and include rules such as "If a player landing on square 24  knows the principal quality attributed to King Solomon they can move forward two squares. If not, they must contemplate their ignorance whilst losing a turn." We've played it once. I spent most of the game stuck on square 31 "lamenting with Jeremiah." I never made it to paradise. I'm glad the game does not have the power to predetermine my eternal state!

 2.  I'm working on a baby blanket for Virginia, my assistant. She's due in October with her first baby. It's a great pattern, and I'm sure I'll use it again. No photos for now...but I'll post some once it's completed.

 "Assistant?" you ask. YES! Because sometimes God does even more than we ask or imagine! I've been praying for a few months for an assitant--a bilingual person who could volunteer about 5 hours a week to help me with marketing and communication for Elan, the French association that I am in the process of launching. One day, about two months ago, Virginia came to our church with her husband. They live in the neighborhood and were looking for a local church that they could call home. She is a young French woman with a Masters in English who is currently not employed. When she found out she was pregnant, she put her job search on hold, deciding that she did not want to dive into a new career on the brink of motherhood, At the same time, she felt like she had way too much time on her hands and had been praying about ways she could spend her time that would be beneficial for the Kingdom of God. When I told her that I was looking for an assistant, but that I would not be able to pay her (at least for a year) she said that she would be interested in the position. We sat down and did a semi-formal interview. She was captivated by the idea of helping missionaries to transition to the field and delighted with the possibility of being able to use her language skills.  We clicked, and Virginia agreed to work for me on a volunteer basis for about 5 hours a week. So at least one morning a week, Virginia comes to our home and works alongside me, answering emails, creating contact lists, and doing some translation She will also help create a website and market Elan to missionary sending organizations. Virginia is becoming a dear friend, and I am so thankful for her partnership in ministry.

3. This week I hosted a day-long meeting with French partners and missionary leaders to talk about Elan and officially create the organization. I had twelve participants, an even mix of French and non-French. It was a productive day!

4. It is SO MUCH FUN having Graham aand Chan BOTH in the house for the summer months. Since David and I are still working full time and I am still in classes, we have asked the boys to each plan and prepare two meals per week. They are doing a great job, and we are eating well! Chan has made pork chops with blue cheese and pears, and Graham has made japanese dumplings! 

5. While in Geneva, I had some time to lay down and watch the clouds go by. As I lay, I looked up and saw this lovely sight. It's like God was saying, "Hey there, little one. I love you." 

6. I'm currently taking a class on American Church History. My professor is a Native American of Cherokee descent. Let's just say that the class did not begin with the arrival of the Pilgrims. It is ironic to me that so many settlers, who were fleeing religious persecution, quickly became religious persecutors. The things that were done in the "name of God" are beyond comprehension. And yet, in the end, the Republic that was born offered more religious freedoms and boasted more religious diversity that had ever been found in one place.

7. I now officially wear glasses. Not just reading glasses, all day, every day glasses. My friend who is a Fashion Consultant advised me to go with a neutral color for frames. Which makes a lot of sense. I picked pink. Which kind of goes against the general understanding of the word "neutral." Oh well! I liked the pink ones best. 

8. I've been taking a calligraphy class this year at the local community center. I'm not very good at it. I can spend three hours practicing a single letter, and still not get it just write right. But here is my first attempt at writing out a whole quote. This is a favorite quote from Ijeoma Umebinyuo in "Diaspora Blues" and it resonates with me deeply, as an expat. It says, "So, there you are. Too foreign for here. Too foreign for home. Never enough for both."

9. The weather has finally turned warm here in Lyon. Which makes me want to eat ice cream. A lot. Every single day.

10. The European Cup (or Euros) is currently going on, and France is the host country this year. The Euros is a once every four years Europe-wide soccer tournament. Matches are held in all the major cities of the host country--which means many matches are being played here in Lyon. Fans from all across Europe and flooding into France, and there is a general spirit of excitment in the air. We are watching at least one match a day, and loving every minute of it. So far, France is undefeated! Allez les bleus !