Dream.Risk.Create

“In the beginning God created…” You and I are made in the image of God and one of the implications is that we are creative beings. At Sipping n’ Painting (the little art studio business that we own) it is very common to witness people’s apprehension, hear the objection “I’m not creative” and watch the hesitation around the idea of being artistic. Somewhere along the way someone drew a line in the sand and put a small percentage of the kids on the creative side of the line and the rest of us on the other side of that imaginary line. As a result, most of us believe and even say, “I’m not an artist, I’m just not the creative type.” But I don’t believe it, I think every human being is made in the image of God and there is no one more creative and artistic than the designer of this planet earth.  Just consider…aspen leaves turning and twirling in the wind, oh my! Underwater life, are you kidding me? A duckbill platypus, a baby kangaroo in their mamas’ pouch…and all the wild characters in my family! What creativity, what imagination, what incredible art!

I think the thing that stands in the way of our creating is a little word called risk. We can dream, but in order for our dreams to move from dream mode alone to actual work of creation we must take a risk. It is the risk that holds us back. It is the unknown, the fear, and the potential for failure that keeps us dreaming but never creating. Sometimes I think the place where walking with Jesus gets exciting is at the moment when we leave the familiar, and dreams in hand, we step out in faith to co-create with God. It is risky, which is probably why we do it so rarely. Each week in our staff meeting we review the week. We ask: what went right? wrong? What was missing? confusing? And we always end by asking ourselves: what did we do this week that was risky?

My hope and prayer is that our church can be a place where we encourage Spirit-led risk taking. I hope we can put courage in one another when fear paralyzes us from pursing the grander vision God has planted in our hearts. I pray we become for each other the incarnational presence of Jesus that is needed to follow God into the creative and unfamiliar places He is leading.

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.

Rate Me

Every time Amazon delivers something to my door, I receive a text message asking me to “rate my experience.” The text reads, “Your package with Pampers Baby Dry Diapers has been delivered by the carrier. Rate it right here at amazon.com/box.

Really? Rate my experience?  Let’s see… hmmm… I ordered the diapers, and then they arrived. Great job, everyone.

We live in a world that constantly prompts us to judge. Rate your experience, size up your competition, weigh her beauty, gauge his sincerity. Look. Evaluate. Assess. Judge.

These activities have a legitimate place in our lives. We weigh options for their risks and benefits. We attempt to choose right from wrong. We listen for truth and goodness in an effort to protect ourselves from deception. We teach our children discernment.

But judging can take up too much space in our minds and can become a perpetual habit. Once judgment becomes habit, I am prone to criticalness. I don’t want to be known for a critical spirit. I want to be about welcome, hospitality, and spiritual formation; I want to be about other-oriented-ness and active service. I want to develop a disposition that says, “This is enough. You are enough. I am enough. Relax, and rest,” rather than a personality that is always rating myself and others and concluding, “More, better, faster, higher. You could really do better next time.”

This vision of myself is not yet reality. I’m a driver. I run fast and hard, and I seek continual improvement. I need God’s words in my ear each and every moment reminding me as he reminded Jesus, “You are my beloved, precious in my eyes.” It is counter-cultural to allow myself, my circumstances and others to be enough – to cease striving and to rest in gratitude and joy. More and more, I want to live each day with less of an Amazon “rate me” philosophy and more of a Scriptural conviction: “Christ in me, the hope of glory.”

About Power

Several years ago I worked as a site pastor in a multi-site church. My boss at the time was the executive pastor Mike Ross, who later founded Mother’s Global Village, with whom Platt Park now partners in Guatemala. When the organizational structure of our multi-site church changed, Mike went from being my supervisor to being a site pastor at one of the other campuses. I remember writing him a note expressing what an impact he was having on me. I told him how impressed I was with his ability to transition between roles in the church without letting his ego get in the way. Most people would have gotten a sideways, resentful attitude about the perceived demotion of that change, but Mike never missed a beat. He seemed to readily relinquish the appearance and position of power for something more authentic…

I just finished reading Andy Crouch’s book Playing God, and I have to say it may be my favorite read this year so far.  Crouch says all of us-not just the obviously “powerful”-have real power and the responsibility to use it well. Power is both an idol to be rejected and a gift to be redeemed. Usually, we think of power as a bad thing; we nod our heads in agreement when we hear someone say, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Certainly, power can be corrupt when idolatry and injustice are involved. However, Andy Crouch shows how redeemed power is a gift meant for human flourishing. He says that the nature and essence of power can only be discerned by its effect, like the wind. The true quality test of power is found in this question: Are the people around us truly flourishing? What sort of wake are you and I leaving in our relationships? Human flourishing never happens by accident; it always requires intentionality.

May you wield your God-given and redeemed power for the flourishing of those around you.

First Steps

Russell still walking on his knees
Russell still walking on his knees

Russell is a late walker. He is 16 months old now and mainly he still walks on his knees. Here is the thing: he can walk. I see him do it, but he just moves so fast walking on his knees that I guess he thinks,  “Why bother?”. When the knee-walking works so well, the motivation to change is just not very high.

I understand, Buddy. I am late at a few things too. I am late at learning that not every situation can be smoothed over, no matter how hard I try.  I am late to accept that love and small resentments can co-exist, and that doesn’t mean that the ship is sinking. I am late at realizing that almost everyone does what they do for a reason, and if I will listen long enough, I may just come to understand why.

But you know what? Late is okay sometimes, and grace is for the late ones. First steps will come soon enough.  In the meantime, from the first steps until the last steps, God’s grace is sufficient for both of us.

on Power

Last week, I was in Guatemala with 10 other people from our church and in partnership with Mothers’ Global Village. Every morning we partnered with a local school to assist the local teachers in a kids’ program.  Our team consisted of people age 6 to 60+, including 9-year old Will, who–along with his 6 year old sister–was instantly famous. The Guatemalan kids ran to them immediately and wanted to touch their hair, speak in Spanglish, and play games with these two American kids. The rest of us were chopped liver next to Will and Kate.

After a couple days in the village Will noticed that one of the Mayan boys, Joni, who had darker skin than the other kids, was being excluded from games, and the other boys were not treating him fairly. This really bothered Will. Later that night he said to his mom, “That is not right. Those kids should not be treating him that way. And I’m a gringo, and I get respect here, so I’m going to do something about that.” And he did. Will went out of his way to choose Joni first and make sure he was never excluded. Later in the week, Will visited Joni’s home and took him a special gift.

Power. Will intuitively recognized he had power in this situation, and he wielded it well. I’m inspired by this 9 year old. We all have power, and we all get to decide how to use it. May you use whatever power and influence you have today for the good of others, and may the all-powerful God give you the wisdom to know right from wrong and the courage to choose it.

Having an “I used to think” List

Gary Aronhalt recently spoke in our worship service and made a passing comment that everyone ought to have an “I used to think” list.  I have ruminated on his idea ever since hearing it. We don’t usually like to admit that we used to think or believe one way but have since changed our opinion because that means admitting we may have been wrong. However, the alternative to changing perspectives is staying stuck and not progressing or growing as people.  Do I really want to be proud of thinking the same things today that I thought when I was a pre-teen, teen, or young adult?  Do I really imagine I have it all figured out today and will perceive myself, the world, and God the same when I am 70? Most likely, many of my present suppositions will change over time, which is a healthy mark of personal and spiritual development.

So I’ve been thinking… and here is my first draft of a list of Things I Used to Think:

I used to think that whenever people changed churches, they were flaky and just church hopping. Now I think that we have friends and faith communities for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. I used to think that because I’m an ENTJ and logically minded that I would not be a very sentimental mom. Now I think that parenting has opened up a part of my heart that I did not think existed. I used to think that if a woman made more money than her husband, they had a bad marriage and probably would not make it. Now I think that people of quality are not threatened by equality. I used to think that people could not be friends with their parents. Now I know that I can. I used to think that what a person believed was about all that mattered. Now I think who we are, what we think, and how we behave are interconnected. I used to think that God was stationary, like a rock. Now I think that God is on the move and active, like a world traveler. I used to think that if I was publically humiliated or rejected by others, I would not survive. Now I know I can.

Perhaps for me there is a theme of growing a bit in the grace and freedom of my life in Christ.  I’m curious, what would you put on your list? I would love to hear!

 

 

Happy Anniversary Tim –from Susie

When Tim and I were planning our wedding, which happened 11 years ago this week, we had our list of priorities.  #1. We would invite as many people as we wanted to invite, without any excruciating guest list cuts. #2. Stuart Briscoe (my pastor) had to perform our ceremony.  #3. We would host a really great dance.  Dancing was more important to me than my dress, and I think I dreamed about it more than walking down the aisle.

Last month we went to Mark & Kimmie’s wedding, and they too knew how to prioritize dancing.  So, Tim, I, Bill, Kate, Cherstin, Travis, and a host of other people whose names I want to list but won’t, all got out there and shook our stuff.

Dancing is such a leveling experience. Everyone moving, acting goofy, and throwing their hands in the air and their heads back in laughter. It’s about celebrating and moving and acting ridiculous, and even when you don’t know what you’re doing, you find yourself yelling out, “Go Mark, go Kimmie, go-go-go, Kimmie!”

I’ve decided Russell is going to grow up in a bilingual home. He will come from a family that taught him both English and Dance.  Grandma gave him this annoying little karaoke machine with the song “Shake, shake, shake your body,” and we play it multiple times daily.  It’s fun, it’s silly, and it reminds me of the importance of joy.

There are many disciplines I want in my life, and practicing joy is one of them.  Life is hard, really hard.  Yet God has built us with a need to celebrate, and sometimes the best way to do that is to dance.

Happy Anniversary, Tim! I love being married to you – and I’m glad we are still prioritizing people and dancing together today. To the rest of you, take a little time for joy today!

It’s my birthday

Today is my birthday, and I’m 37.  (Actually I am posting this 2 days after I wrote it, so Friday, July 13th was my real birthday) I know some of you are thinking, “Wow, she is old!” and others of you may be thinking, “I remember when I was that young…”  Age is what it is and there is no changing it, no matter how much botox, mommy make-over work, and age-defying moisturizers are applied. Honestly, I kind of hesitated to tell you my age because I know it could discredit me one way or the other, depending on who you are and where you find yourself on the age spectrum in relation to me. The scriptures say, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you’re young [or old?!?]. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity.” 1 Timothy 4:12. Paul, who was Timothy’s mentor and the author of these words, was apparently familiar with our human tendency to measure ourselves and others by artificial expectations of maturity. He gave Timothy a different and wholly counter-cultural measuring tool: the quality of a person’s character and life legacy.

I’ve had a front row seat to some people who have not handled the changes of aging well. I also know some people who are aging well and without fear of rejection.  When I say “aging well,” I don’t mean they look 20 at 40, per se, but rather they live more alive, content, in touch with their heart, confident, and free at 40 than they did at 20. Their lives, by word, demeanor, love, faith, and integrity reveal an inner depth and stability. And I just have to say, that is really beautiful to see. Grey hair grown through the courage of risking to love and wrinkles acquired through daring to still laugh in the midst of pain trump perfect hair and flawless skin in my book any day.

My birthday prayer today is for each of us to grow in grace as we age, no matter how many years we count.

Susie

What I Used to Think….and why being a Target mom is not so bad

I used to look at moms with their children at the store and feel a little sorry for them.  I mean, wow! – the disheveled hair, the baggy clothing, the digging in their purse while cheerios, bottles, keys and wallets tumbled out… It looked like a lot of work and not a lot of fun. Who would want to do that? I used to say to people, “I want to have had kids in 20 years, but I just don’t want to have kids now.” And then came Russell.

Now that I’m living the reality of motherhood, I can testify that it certainly is a lot of work and not always a lot of fun, but I can also now recognize parenting as a precious investment.  When Tim, Russell, and I are picking up groceries, or going to Target, or traveling somewhere together, we are creating memories and forming Russell’s childhood. When he’s older, Russell will remember some of these events in detail, but even more importantly, he will have impressed on his heart that our little, crazy, and fun family is a context in which he will always be loved.

Building this childhood for Russell is a privilege and a responsibility, and it’s very often a ton of fun!  I might fall into bed exhausted at night, but at the same moment, I’ll laugh so hard I cry as I tell Tim some funny story about the time I spent with our little guy that day.  So much of our laughter is about Russell and his funny quirks. He has added infinite joy to our lives and expanded us from couple to family. I’m sure there are many days when I look just like the other disheveled moms at Target, but I’ve decided to embrace the part. Bring on the memories, let’s build a childhood!

I wonder how much of contentment in life is about embracing the part? Accepting the season in its fullness, with pros, cons, beauty, longing, and frustration.  Living through the season honestly, vulnerably, and gratefully.  So many pieces of life are completely outside of our control, but we do get to decide if we will fight reality or roll with it. We get to choose to embrace the single life, the married life, the life with no kids, the life with kids, the life retired, the life as growing older. Every season has its pros and cons. May God grant you the grace to find and relish the beauty in your season of life today.