In the Weeds or Up in the Treetop

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” -Proverbs 29:18
I studied leadership at Denver Seminary, and one thing most leadership gurus agree on is the importance of vision. This word “vision” can be intimidating because sometimes it feels like vision is about always being energetic and/or crystal clear on what you want and where you’re going. But I think vision is really about caring. It is about caring deeply. If you have a vision for your family, you care deeply for them and want your kids to want to come home when they’re 30. If you have a vision for your marriage, then you care deeply and want to grow old together even as you both change over the years. If you have a vision for your company, then you care deeply and want to retain, develop and engage your customers and staff.  Vision is really about caring deeply.
The scriptures say that where there is no vision the people perish. Perish is a strong word. Perish means die, expire, rot, decay, wither, evaporate, vanish, disappear. Where there is no vision, the people perish. I’ve been fascinated by survival stories. Why do some people survive and others perish in the same set of extreme circumstances? Researchers have found that those who die simply lose hope, they give up caring, and they perish.
Every day you and I wake up and have the choice to be up in the treetop or down in the weeds. The reality is that much of life is lived in the weeds – filling up the car with gas, driving to work, figuring out what to eat, changing dirty diapers, paying bills, running the dishwasher again. But if we are only ever in the weeds and never up in the treetop, we go through a process of perishing. We slowly begin to wither on the inside. We might begin to lose sight of how God uniquely formed us for abundant life, joy, and participation in the Kingdom of God on earth.
I wonder what you can do today to get up in the treetop of your life? Here’s one idea, but if this doesn’t work for you, find something today that does: In your car before you enter the office or your home, intentionally set aside 5 minutes to take some deep breaths, close your eyes, be silent, and listen to the voice of God who has nothing but love and care for you. I believe true vision (deep caring) is born of God and is a gift He gives us as we create space in our lives to listen to Him.
What can you do today to step out of the weeds and foster a little “up in the treetop” time in your life?

The Sacred Practice of Staying Put

Sometimes the most sacred thing you can do is stay put.
I grew up in a church that really emphasized the importance of going. They spoke often about the gospel as “Go ye into all the world and make disciples…” Every year an elaborate missions festival highlighted all of the people who had forsaken everything to follow Jesus by going to another part of the world to minister. I am grateful for the incredible people I know who have listened to this call to go. They are doing important kingdom work, Jesus’ own great commission work.  However, sometimes the emphasis on this particular spiritual path of “leaving everything” to follow Him has diminished the worth of staying.
Tim and I moved 8 times in the first 12 years of our marriage, but we have now lived in the same house for 3 years – a new record for us! I am starting to see the value of staying in one spot. One beautiful byproduct of staying is the opportunity to foster community. Kurt Vonnegut once said, “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” Like tending a garden, fostering stable communities takes time, energy, love, and creativity. The community to which God calls me may be in another part of the world, or it may be right within my family, neighborhood, or office. For this season of our lives, God has called Tim and me to grow roots right here, in this home, with our two children and with Platt Park Church. We are practicing taking relational risks, extending and receiving hospitality, healthily engaging conflict, and enjoying humor and intimacy.
Another rich blessing of staying has been, ironically, the opportunity to explore how Christ’s invitation to “go” is relevant for every follower of Christ. Whether we travel far or stay close to what is familiar, often the hardest things to leave behind are the instincts that live and wage war inside of us. Relocation will never resolve our resentment, anger, jealousy, lust, fear of failure, competition, and the need to prove our worthiness.  We hold these internal attachments in the secret places of our hearts. They reside in our wishes, hopes, dreams and fears more than in our physical address. Often these things go unnoticed and untended, but we need to leave them in order to fully follow Christ.
When Jesus tells us to “go,” he may have more than one possibility in mind! This Christmas, as we celebrate Jesus’ own leavetaking from his heavenly home to stay with us a while, let’s listen deeply for his particular invitation to us.

One Thing Most of Us Agree On

There is a lot of debate going on in our world today. Debate over who will make the next best president, debate over immigration, debate over gun control. But with all the debate, it seems that most of us agree on one thing at this time of year – and that is our desire for peace on earth.
What is the “peace on earth” that Christ came to bring?  Peace on earth is not the absence of conflict, and it’s not the perfect poise of a stress-free life. Rather, it is this: peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. From this peace we become free to have the humility to say sorry, the confidence to accept when we blow it, the hope that is higher than our worst fears, and the trust that transcends the ups and downs of a world at war. This peace brings stability that is present in the midst of a storm, during the ups and downs of our relationships, and this peace can carry us thru the joys and grief’s of this life.
The heart of Christ’s birth and the peace on earth that Christmas brings is found in those old familiar words we sing, “peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”
See, we usually tend to think that world peace is the result of certain problems being solved, and so we say:
  1. the problem is just ignorance, we need better information
  2. the problem is just indifference, we need more compassion
  3. the problem is just apathy, we need more motivation
But the scriptures teach that our primary problem is estrangement from God. Like a couple that was once in love and is now estranged, the scriptures say I am estranged from God and so I need reconciliation. Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. The story of God is that He created the world as a perfect Garden, and because we turned our own way it became a wild jungle. Our planet and all people on it were created for good, but we and our world have been deeply damaged by evil. In Christ we are restored for better – but not just so that we can be better – but also so that we can be sent together to heal a broken and hurting world.
God offers us the gift of peace – not just so we can be at peace – but so that we can go be peacemakers in the world. How will you be a peacemaker this year?

Adopting Lyla: Part 3

We were sitting in a required parent training for adoption a couple years ago now, when the facilitator started explaining that there is a “primal wound” that develops when a birth mother and a child are separated shortly after childbirth. She was teaching from a well known resource published in 1993 by Nancy Verrier called “The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child.”  The primary focus of both the book and the class was the effects of adoption on the adopted. The big idea was that all adoptees, even those adopted at birth, experience a break in bond that is a deep emotional wound. And that a loving set of adoptive parents can help to heal the wounds.

I remember there was a woman in our class who listened to all the unique challenges of bonding and attaching inherent in adoption and then she finally blurted out, “This is so depressing! I’m not even sure I want to adopt anymore!”

Tim and I listened, learned, were sobered by the realizations but didn’t feel any less drawn to adopt. For us it felt empowering to know the information. It felt honest to acknowledge and embrace the research. Just like there is a nostalgia to romance, there can be a nostalgia to adoption. Nostalgia plays a role in initially drawing us, inspiring us towards a beautiful vision of what could be. But nostalgia is a limited view. It’s only a small part of the true story. Real love – the tough, weathered, true kind – doesn’t remain in nostalgia-land forever. Authentic love is sometimes boring, sometimes brutal, sometimes messy and scary and roll-up-your-sleeves, push-on, one-foot forward, hard+hard+hard work. Nostalgia comes and goes. Sustaining love on the other hand, embraces the truth, lives informed and rides the seasons of winter, spring, summer and fall.

I want to be the kind of person who moves beyond nostalgia to give and receive sustaining love.  I want to offer this kind of love to my people; to my kids, to Tim and to our home team. I want more than pseudo-community that is all about conflict-avoidance.  I want the real deal. I want to foster true, authentic community that is only born when we risk vulnerability and are willing to enter the tunnel of chaos to find one another as we truly are on the other side.

Embracing “the primal wound” of adoption is just a picture to me of embracing people for who they really are (and not who I want to make them be) and not minimizing the pain of our unique human experiences – whatever they may be.  This takes humility and vulnerability and patience and time – and it is relevant in all my relationships. Because we all have different pains & wounds, and we all have the chance to offer one another healing too.

Adoption Update

When our son Russell was still only an unnamed hope in our hearts, Tim and I felt drawn to adoption. It is estimated that 153 million children worldwide are orphans. That need, combined with our sense of God’s calling and our own desire to build a family, led us down a winding road whose destination we still don’t see clearly. We began the journey more than 5 years ago by attending various local and international adoption agency informational meetings. We eventually chose Chinese Children Adoption International as the route that felt most consistent with our hearts and God’s leading. We struggled through some of the potential “ugh” realities of adopting, including the possible lack of knowledge on family medical history, the unique attachment journey some adopted kids and parents enter, the unknowns, and the long waiting periods. We sat through 24 hours of required parenting courses. We began saving our money for the associated costs of adoption. And we waited…

Last week, after a long silence, our dossier (the extensive paperwork associated with adopting) was finally filed in China.  We received the first “file” of a little girl for our consideration in adopting!

Please pray for us. We are seeking to discern if this sweet little girl is a “match” for our family and us for her. The thrill of hope inside of us around this possibility is indescribable!

My friend Jodi Landers has adopted 2 children from Sierra Leone, and she has wisely said, “A child born to another woman calls me mom. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege is not lost on me.”

Thank you for your prayers as we seek to hear God’s voice in this process!

About Singing to Russell

Every night I sing to Russell before tucking him in bed.  Usually I ask him what song he wants to hear and most nights he requests: 1) “Santa baby,” 2) a made-up song or story about Papa Bear, or 3) a song about his friends Benji and Claire. One night recently, though, he said, “Mommy and Daddy drink wine, I drink juice.”  True confession… that is what my 3 year old requested I sing about! You’ll have to imagine how that song turned out because you’ll never hear it from me. No matter what I sing with Russell, I almost always end the night with a hymn, and lately it has been “Come Thou Fount.”

This past summer we did a message series called “Wisdom of the Hymnal.”  In it we looked at the stories and meanings behind some of the ancient hymns, including “Come Thou Fount.” One of the great lines says, “Tune my heart to sing thy grace.”

I love that line because it sounds like a prayer of invitation rather than of obligation. Sometimes I engage in spiritual practices from a sense of obligation or duty – and practices may legitimately become routine disciplines of daily life. But, I do not like when I find myself living primarily out of pressured duty. We always have freedom to offer our spiritual practices with a whispered prayer that says, “Lord, in this practice, tune my heart to sing thy grace.” Singing, living, embodying God’s grace is, after all, one of the healthy purposes of investing myself in spiritual practices. While my participation may delight God, it certainly nourishes my own spirit and hopefully bears witness of God’s aliveness and relevance.

Some spiritual practices that have become meaningful to me lately are:

-the spiritual practice of slowing in which I put my feet flat on the floor and take several deep breaths in and out…tune my heart to your perspective and pace Lord.

-the spiritual practice of reading in which I aim for depth over breadth…tune my heart to your deep mind and heart, God.

-the spiritual practice of friendship in which I make time for eyeball-to-eyeball, face to face unhurried time with someone else…tune my heart to being present over perfect Lord, available and wholly right here, right now.

Through each of these, I am learning to whisper a simple request, “Lord, tune my heart.”

Pretty Please: about asking

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. -Matthew 7:7-8

I’m not always great about asking for what I need. Maybe its because asking means facing the possibility of rejection. Maybe its because I just want to do it myself. Maybe its because I’ve spent so much of my life trying to fit in that I don’t’ even know what I really want to ask for.

But this is changing for me. I’m getting serious about my willingness to stand apart and not fit in if God is leading me somewhere. I’m sick of all the self-deprecating jargon I hear in myself and other people, like a badge of honor. Can we get beyond all that? Because God has placed grander visions in us. Every.Single.One.Of.Us.  And I don’t want to die someday having stood behind small-safe-selfish-afraid-comfortable living. I want you and I to get downright serious about not standing in the way of God bringing forth the next great thing through our lives in this world. There is too much need, too much brokenness, too much lonely living to play small and be afraid. Our world needs more willing, sacrificing, legacy leaving people who follow the Wild Goose (a Celtic expression for the Holy Spirit) into the great unknown.

Jesus spoke of the need to ask. Rumi also spoke of the need to ask when he said, “you must ask for what you really want.”

Asking awakens a powerful force in our lives because it is an act of faith and trust.  By asking we show our willingness to risk, to believe in a different tomorrow, and we show ourselves and others that hope is truly stronger than fear and that perhaps things could really change.

It is not that we necessarily and always get what we ask for. Sometimes we do not know what we most need. But the practice of asking exercises an important muscle in our lives. So, what do you need to ask for today?

The Average CEO

The average tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO is just 4.6 years, and  it’s even shorter for many pastors (average of 4 years.) This statistic could be explained by burnout, but it could also be a reflection of a shadowy tendency of human nature. People sometimes leave when the going gets tough, when the honeymoon is over. By changing positions frequently, it’s possible to keep one’s life and leadership in a constant “honeymoon phase” and leave the problems to someone else. However, this isn’t the kind of leadership Jesus modeled and advocated.

Jesus talked once about the mentality of the shepherd versus the hired hand. He said, “The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it” (John 10:12). Jesus highlighted the difference between someone who acts like a shepherd/owner and someone who acts like a hired hand. The shepherd has ownership of his flock, is invested in their wellbeing, and is connected with their destiny. Jesus describes himself as “the Good Shepherd” who knows his sheep and lays his life down for them. When it comes to that which God calls us to do, he wants us to imitate Jesus and be shepherds/owners and not like hired hands.

Although it has taken me some time, I’m now grateful for a leadership crisis I experienced at an early age. I had to face my own inclination to run away. I experienced new levels of grace through the grueling, soul-refining work of conflict resolution, forgiveness, and team-building that test a leader’s character. Crisis, portrayed in Jesus’ parable as the wolf’s intrusion and attack, has a way of revealing motives and prompting reactive behavior. We all have a mix of pure and impure, selfish and loving motives, but crisis often strips us of our facades and breaks down for us what is really important. Crisis clarifies why we are doing what we are doing and to what extent we are committed to the “sheep” entrusted to us. Crisis is a tremendous way to grow in intimacy with the Lord.

Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” -1963

When crisis comes, let’s trust our Jesus-shepherd and be faithful to the task and to the people who look to us for leadership. Let’s allow the hard times to take us deeper with the One who loves us and gave His life for us.

Church, Art, Beauty and Change

I have always felt deep down to my toes that there is nothing like a faith community when it is working right. I witnessed this as a child, when my alcoholic father came to faith in Christ through the witness of a neighbor and the love of a local church. His life, and subsequently the entire trajectory of my family’s life, changed course dramatically. I have seen this transformation of human lives happen over and over again, as Jesus and his church have partnered together. Participating with God in transforming lives has always been the church’s job, as we hear in Isaiah 58, when God defined true worship: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”  Faith communities are working right when people care more and more about the things God cares about and less and less about the things he does not care about.

God absolutely cares about recognizing and restoring beauty and wholeness in people.

This Sunday we are having baptisms, which I love because we gather together to witness and celebrate the stories of peoples’ lives being changed by God. Baptism is an acknowledgement that Jesus didn’t just die for us a long time ago and then leave us to fend for ourselves. He invited us then and now to follow him, to die to our old selves and our former ways of living and being. He invites us to begin fresh and to participate with him in extending this possibility to others. Our immersion in the baptism waters is a picture of our dying with Christ in his death, and our emerging from the water represents our being raised to new life. A faith community that is working right holds this picture of baptism always before itself as a reminder of what God cares about: the healing and redemption of human lives.

I cannot wait to celebrate baptism with the Platt Park church family this week

I Lack Nothing

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
The Lord is my shepherd, I have all that I need.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

From the perspective of our personal stories, sometimes this famous psalm of David just does not resonate. Lack nothing? Shall not want? Have all that I need? I lack the family of my dreams, I need more money to pay the rent, and I wantwantwant so many other things….

When trying to understand the seeming discrepancy between the words of the psalm and our experiences of need, we might consider that when we pray this psalm, we are participating in a much larger story than our personal stories alone can tell. We are being brought into the story of the people of God. The psalm is framed in metaphorical language, which means that it isn’t designed to be read literally. Rather, the psalmist David is conveying an impression–through a series of striking images–of a general truth: God’s relationship to his people is like that of a shepherd with his or her flock of sheep. This is the first time David uses shepherd imagery to describe God in the psalms. Prior to the 23rd psalm, we read about Yahweh as a more distant “king” or “deliverer” or the impersonal “rock” or “shield.” But here David uses the personal and intimate metaphor of a shepherd who is always with his sheep and who prioritizes their wellbeing. Like a good shepherd, the Lord cares for his people.

It’s the identity of the shepherd – not the perspective of the sheep – that takes center stage in the psalm. A shepherd’s heart and mind are focused on making sure that the sheep are fed and safe, provided for and protected. This is true in the collective sense of God’s people across time and geography, and it is true in our personal lives. “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake…” When we find ourselves in need, we can trust that our shepherd sees and knows our circumstances. We can “bleat” our prayers in confidence that our shepherd will lead us well, even through the valley of the shadow of death. We can come to love and trust our Shepherd so completely that our needs diminish in the light of his presence with us.

I am delighted that we are joining with The Church in Denver (a group of 10+ churches) to study this psalm during the month of July.  My hope and prayer is that we will not just learn about this psalm but that we will experience the loving Shepherd in new and intimate ways. Perhaps we could spend the entire series…or better yet our entire lives, just praying that those first two verses of this psalm might be true in our daily lives.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.