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.”

Highlights from the Holy Land

I just returned from an amazing week in Israel, walking in the footsteps of Jesus, visiting places we read about in the Bible. I’m sure the full scope and meaning of this trip will come into focus more clearly for me over time–like a picture that is right in front of my face and therefore blurry. For now, I’m so grateful to have had the privilege of…

-visiting Jesus’ birthplace (Bethlehem)
-sitting in silence in the Garden of Gethsemane
-floating in the Dead Sea
-being baptized in the Jordan River
-looking out over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives
-taking a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee
-hiking around Dan, Caesarea Philippi, & Golan Heights
-stuffing tiny, handwritten paper prayers into the wailing wall
-walking the ruins of Qumran
-contemplating the evil of the Holocaust
-standing on the Temple Mount
-visiting the site of the empty tomb

In addition to the wonder of walking where Jesus walked, my other highlight included spending time with my friend/mentor/colleague Vaun Swanson who traveled with me; we enjoyed some deep belly laughs, delicious hummus, and a fire hose of historical, political and spiritual learnings.

I remember returning from my first overseas experience at the age of 16, when I talked about my time in Bolivia so much that my friends starting teasing me, “Oh, one more story about the ‘B’word,” the “B-word” being Bolivia! I’m sure in a similar way there will be many stories, illustrations and lessons that I will want to share with you all in the months ahead. I hope I don’t go over board with my HL stories! Feel free to tease me if I do!

Off to Israel

I’m heading to Israel this week for a tour of the Holy Land with 30+ other pastors. I’m absolutely delighted to be going and simultaneously dreading being away from Russell for a full 9 days.  I know, it’s only 9 days, but I’m going to miss that little man!  I remember my childhood pastor Stuart Briscoe telling stories about missionaries back in the day who packed their belongings in a coffin and sang the old hymn, “I’ll See You Someday in Heaven” as they hugged and kissed their loved ones forever goodbye at the boat dock and headed to the mission field.

I wonder if there is any modern-day equivalent of such total abandonment to God and calling?  Leaving family, friends, comfort, home, and land to follow God’s calling when there was no Internet and only a slow boat in one direction seems to me now to be so single-minded, so final, so fully abandoned. Where are today’s examples, in the United States, of people who are “abandoning all” in surrender to God’s call on their lives?  Maybe I’m just being nostalgic about the old-school missionary stories, but I wonder sometimes if we haven’t lost something since then?

What do you think? Do you have any present-day stories of people who have sacrificed very deeply to follow their understanding of Jesus’ mission for them?

As I say goodbye to my sweet Russell for the next 9 days, I remember and honor others who have gone before me and modeled gracious openhandedness with the people and possessions dearest to them.

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.

Baby Don’t Struggle

When our one-year-old son Russell doesn’t want his diaper changed, or doesn’t want us to put on his clothes, or doesn’t want to get in his car seat, he can put up quite a struggle for a 20-some pounder. Gabby, our au pair, will often say in her Chinese accent, “Baby, don’t struggle,” when trying to get his diaper on or a shirt over his head.  It’s so cute how she says that phrase, and when I hear her, I wonder if God ever says something like that to me.

When Russell struggles against something that is so obviously good for him, I wish I could communicate in a way he could understand. … “Baby, this seatbelt will keep you safe,” I might say, and he would smile and calmly settle back against the seat… I suppose he will learn as he grows.

I wonder if when I struggle, God longs to communicate his heart to me in the same way I long to communicate with Russell. …“Baby,” he might say, “don’t struggle with fear because I’ve got the whole world in my hands. Baby, don’t struggle with concerns about what others might think because the only one who matters has already weighed in and is absolutely crazy about you. Baby, don’t struggle to prove yourself right or influential or put-together or justified because if I am for you, then who can be against you?”… And I would lean back against his promises and rest.

I suppose I’ll have to learn as I grow too.

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.