In Stormy Political Seas, These are Words To Remember about Faithfulness

As far as colors go, gray might just be one of my favorites. I’m sitting on a gray couch beside gray arm chairs resting their feet on a gray area rug. I painted the clock on the wall gray. And, how’s this for timing, I’m wearing a gray t-shirt this very moment.

But when it comes to life decisions, ethics and even Theology, gray is a hard color for me to swallow. In the university setting, during an ethics discussion, I didn’t like it when I felt like we were in gray territory and there wasn’t a clear black or white solution at the end of an hour’s discussion.

In the years that have followed, I’ve since come to have a different understanding of gray areas. Gray has become a new color for me, so to speak.

Earlier this year, many of you might’ve read this post I shared about my word for the year: Faithful. This word was like a tiny whisper to my soul from the Lord, just nudging me to keep my ears open and my heart listening to what He had to say.

This year, I’ve come to realize faithfulness and perfection are not the same thing, and I don’t have to be so hard on myself.

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I’ve learned that other people might not know what faithful looks like for me — so I don’t need to fear judgment or outside opinions. It’s the Lord first and foremost I’m called to be faithful to.

And this bullet shot out of a speeding train pierced my heart through while I was writing the Swim Your Own Race series a few years ago:

Your Race is in Your Lane.

Translation?

Your faithfulness and my faithfulness are going to look completely different. But that does not mean we are not both being faithful.

I have friends who have never taken their kids trick-or-treating because they feel it’s wrong to celebrate Halloween. I have friends who make a big deal out of Halloween and see it as an opportunity to connect with their neighbors.

Will I give the one side a high five and tell the other side they’re ridiculous? Obviously not.

Faithfulness looks different for different people, because God has different plans for each of us.

Am I saying there aren’t cold hard black and white areas where I think there’s no room for discussion? Of course not. We had some friends over for dinner this weekend and were discussing their denomination’s stance on a particular faith issue. The husband of this sweet couple commented, “We try to speak where the Bible speaks, and remain silent where the Bible is silent.”

That’s wisdom worth taking notes on.

Thousands of years ago, do you know how Alexander the Great became the ruler of one of the largest and most expansive empires of all time? War. Battle. Great strategy and Physical Domination.

How did Genghis Khan found the longest contiguous empire in history? Think the Mongols took a vote? Think again. Invasion and domination.

In Ancient Greece, Athens was known as a city where people had voices, and political decisions were discussed in an open marketplace. Down the road in Sparta, strength and physical domination were the most highly valued prize. But the Athenians were on to something we still believe today: the idea that an uneducated mass of people can be very easily ruled over, even bullied, truly. But educated individuals, given the right to vote, can elect officials that will represent their ideals well. It was a novel idea in those days.

Today, my fellow Americans and I have the privilege of casting a vote to elect the officials that will rule over us. I think about a very dear friend back in Zimbabwe, where elections aren’t really true, honest or real. My Hero Hubs is a resident alien, (and a South African Cowboy Gentleman) he watches from the sidelines. We mustn’t take it for granted: the democracy we call a “unalienable right” is still in many places a far off dream, a hoped-for-someday privilege.

If we do have the privilege, we should not take it lightly.

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Paul once wrote these words to the Corinthians to encourage them in their generosity:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. {II Cor. 9:6-7}

Like the Corinthians in their decision to give, before we make a decision and fill in a bubble on a ballot, we should wrestle in our hearts before God. This soul-searching is the most important part of the process. The Corinthians would have had to consider whether they were being greedy or trusting God for their provision, perhaps how much they were able to give and still meet other commitments. Similarly, we must wrestle with what we value most — are there certain political ideals we want to hold most firmly to? Certain character traits we feel are the most important? Are we valuing the right things most?

At the end of the day, some Corinthians would’ve given one amount, and others would’ve given another. But those different amounts didn’t mean one was being faithful and another was not. Each decided in his own heart and hopefully gave as the Lord led him.

I’m sure I don’t have to spell out the parallel to you — based on what’s on our hearts, what ideals we value, what character traits we are looking for, we will perhaps come to different conclusions about how to appropriately mark a ballot on November 8th.

But there is a beautiful conclusion for all of this:

We can feel differently about issues and still each be faithful to what God is speaking to our hearts. God might lead one friend to choose not to trick-or-treat at Halloween, and another to be out in the community with her kids in costume.

We can all do different things, and still be faithful to what God is leading us to do.

The most important part of the process is perhaps the wrestling. The drawing near to your Creator and doing your best to bare your soul and hope to live your days with a clean conscience before God, trusting that you listened to the Holy Spirit to the best of your ability.

As this political race comes to a close, remember that you are swimming your own race, and your race is in your lane. Faithfulness will look different for you than it will for the person to your right or your left.

Fix your eyes on Jesus, friend, love and respect your neighbors and their race in their lane, and just keep swimming your race with faithfulness.

xCC

 

Thoughts on New Shoes and Feeding on His Faithfulness

I mentioned the other day that we were at an end-of-the-fiscal-month-so-nobody-move-till-we-get-paid kind of moment for the past few days. (We get paid on the 25th.) I was also talking about “coincidences” a couple weeks ago and how things come together way too often in my life for me to chalk things up to Mr. Chance any longer. And this Monday I had another one of those experiences that, here it is Friday, I’m finally getting a chance to write down and tell you about. First let me share a Scripture to explain why I want to re-tell this:

Trust in the Lord and do good.
Dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness.
Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

That was Psalm 37:3-4. So. It was an end-of-the-fiscal-month-so-nobody-move-till-we-get-paid kind of day Monday. The Bear had decided he was too cool for Sunday school the day before — meaning he wasn’t cool with getting left with the other kids in the babysitting area. Hero Hubs decided to walk him around outside for a while during church, and he spent pretty much the whole service doing just that. By the time we got home, he had little blisters on his pwecious little toes, and it was obvious it was time for new shoes. He had worn out the ones he got for Christmas with all the car-riding! But like I said, it was an end-of-the-fiscal-month-so-nobody-move-till-we-get-paid kind of week. And we wouldn’t get paid till Thursday.

The issue was, if we didn’t buy the Bear a new pair of shoes, he couldn’t go outside and ride his car, because he drags his toes to brake, and he’ll come home with bloody feet. But if he can’t ride his car, he is as bummed as the day is long. And that thought made me really sad. Going outside and riding his car is like his moment of freedom — and the boy’s a little Scottish, you know, he needs his F-RRR-EEEDOM!

So we were in a bit of a dilemma. But not for long. As we were discussing what to do about the shoe issue, I just happened to look at this card a friend had sent us a few days before that I had on display on our counter. And I just happened to notice something I didn’t see before. She’d put a sheet of stickers inside the card for the Bear, and I suddenly just happened to see some writing behind the sticker sheet, even though I’d read the card at least a couple times already. I picked the card up, looked behind the sticker sheet, and there she’d written us another wee note, and included $50. (THANK YOU, MY FRIEND!!!)

$50 will buy plenty of shoes for Bear Bear in South Africa — his next ten+ pairs!

It gets even better. On our way to buy the shoes, we prayed that the Lord would help us find them at a good price. Our finances are tight, so we were planning to be careful and make good purchases and make that $50 go a long way! So we shopped around the mall for ages and ages to try to find shoes that were the right size (challenge #1) and that weren’t a ridiculous price (challenge #2). Finally, we arrived at a store called Ackermans which has really cute baby stuff. They had a ton of shoes on their “Giveaways” (meaning decent sales) rack and I started hunting. Eventually, I found these adorable sandals (pictured below!) marked R19.00. Yes, that is 19 South African Rand. And in case you don’t happen to know the current exchange rate, ZAR19 is like $2.56!! Or £1.73!!! Or €1.93!!!!

There were several other pairs of the exact same sandals on the rack. I looked through them, and they were all marked R79.00. It was obvious we just happened to find a mis-pricing, but we asked the guy who was labeling and putting things on the racks, and he checked and said, “19 Rand.” So we were able to buy the Bear a pair of sandals, and a pair of trainers, on sale for R59.00, with a ton of cash to spare!!!

The thing about feeding on the faithfulness of God is that He works in different ways at different times. Sometimes it’s a check in the mail. Sometimes it’s a shoe on sale. Sometimes your brother reads your blog post and deposits money in your bank account!! But the faithfulness I want to feed on — the thing I want to chew on and remember over and over again, is that God is good and that He has come through for us — in different ways at different moments — but every time. That means I can trust Him. That means I can be at peace about tomorrow. Because the God who comes through for me is already there.

So I just happened to take a moment to share this with you this morning. I hope you just happen to be encouraged by it, and perhaps to believe that more often than we think, things don’t just happen. 🙂 Has anything special just happened for you this week?

Without further ado… BearBear’s new shoes!!

Here’s The (Practical Application) Sermon in a Nutshell: We’ve been recording testimonies of God’s goodness and provision in a special little journal for a while. Although we haven’t been writing them down nearly as often as we should, it is really, really encouraging to open that journal up and feed on God’s faithfulness in moments where we need encouragement. Perhaps you can start writing down things you want to remember, so you can feed on that faithfulness, too!

What Should Christians Do On October 31st?

“What was your teacher’s favorite color?” he asked. Sitting on a bar stool at the counter, he was about to select a color for the leaf printed on the page in front of him from a tray of oil pastels.

“What was your teacher’s favorite color?”

I tried to refocus my distracted mind, tilted my head to one side and urged myself to listen.

“I’ve had lots of teachers, Blake. I’m not sure. What do you mean?”

“Your teacher….” he emphasized the word, “at the nursing home.”

I barely remembered. The hubs didn’t remember at all. But somehow, after visiting a nursing home as a family about 350 days ago, my six year old son remembers that one of the people we visited was one of my teachers in grade school.

And this leaf is for our next visit. So he’s asking for a suggestion about the color.

Duh.


_________

A little over a year ago, the Hubs and I sat down for a long series of heart-to-heart conversations about our plans for October 31st.

It’s a day that many Christians have probably spent a lot of time arguing about. I’m thankful to say we didn’t argue. We just talked, and we talked and we talked. Lots.

For the first few years of parenthood we were outside of the US and Halloween wasn’t really a question we had to encounter. When we returned and the kids were still young, at first we avoided, but when it eventually came time to figure out what we would do, we were blessed to have invitations from neighbors for get-togethers, and decided to participate.

But somehow, it just didn’t ever exactly “sit right” in our souls. As a resident alien hailing from far corners of the Earth, the Hero Hubs was perplexed by the holiday, its origin and purpose, and even more perplexed about participating in it.

After a couple of years of costumes and trick-or-treating, we started asking questions like…

Are we just going with the grain because this is what ‘everybody’s doing?’ 

Does celebrating this holiday really line up with what we believe and want to pass on to our kids? Does it matter?

Should we be trying to swim upstream like we’ve always said we wanted to?

Is it possible to somehow redeem this day, the way historians think the day chosen to celebrate the birth of Christ was redeemed? There was a spark.

____

Fast forward dozens of deep conversations.

A week or so before the 31st of October last year, I was on the phone with someone at a local nursing home wondering if we could bring artwork the children had created to the residents and wish them a Happy Fall.

With the baby in the little push bike she’d just received for her birthday, and dozens and dozens of leaves we’d printed and colored and decorated for the residents, we strolled into the nursing home on the afternoon of the 31st.

At first our kids were a little reticent — we joked about a nursing home being a really scary place to bring your kids at Halloween — and then something shifted.

They caught on to the fact that every. single. person whose room they walked into was happier and more cheerful when we left. They discovered a wealth of people who were overjoyed, over-the-moon delighted to see them, simply because they are children.

They brought the gift of a smile, a kind word, a piece of art, and left with so much more — a feeling that they’d given some really great gift, that they mattered, that they had something to give.

Our eldest, who at first was perhaps the most reticent of all, eventually became the one who wanted to walk in first and present the art work, who didn’t want to skip a single door.

Funny enough, some residents, very aware of the day, hurried to a cupboard and pulled out a bag of stowed-away candy, delighted to have children to give it to.

It was a sweet reward that warmed my heart.

On the way to a restaurant for a special dinner out, we talked for a bit in the car afterwards about the experience, and the kids were delighted and hoped we would go back again soon.

I resolved to do so in my mind, and knowing that so often the Christmas season is a busy time for the nursing home with visitors coming to sing, I thought perhaps we’d wait until January, when the winter blues set in and try to bring some light again.

The new school semester started, life scurried on, and here we are nearly a year later having not visited once since then.

But these big doughy eyes look across the kitchen counter at me, willing me to remember a favorite color for a teacher.

Maybe it meant more than we realized for the kids.

Maybe we’re on to something. And maybe we aren’t.

But here are some things I feel sure about, after pondering it long and hard for ages.

Often in life there are a dozen different paths to take. And the path that might be right for one person might not be right for another.

While I am fully confident that Jesus is the path — the Way, the Truth and the Life — I am also confident that He has plans and purposes for His children, and they are not all carbon copies of each other.

Your race is in your lane, and my race is in mine. 

I don’t expect anyone to try to swim my race, and I don’t want to try to swim anyone else’s, so I have to go to Jesus and ask — what does faithfulness look like, here, for me, to follow You?

And when I hear His still small voice saying This is the way, walk in it, well then, that is what I must do.

If your puzzler has been puzzling for a different path for October 31st, I wholeheartedly welcome you to join us in our hope to make it a day for us to give and love and be Light.

But first, be still — listen and wait. 

As Paul wrote to the Romans, “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” {Rom. 14:5}

Your race is in your lane, dear friends. Whatever that looks like for you.

So what should Christians do on October 31st? There’s not one right answer.

Just keep swimming toward Jesus.
xCC

Are You a Second Class Christian?

It’s been a bit quiet around here because all the “other things” seem to be shouting so loud right now. We enjoyed an overseas adventure this summer (after 30 Days Deeper) and then jumped into life and a new year of homeschooling with both feet. These words have been waiting in the wings for a couple of months, but I hope they speak to your soul today…

Spain. I left a piece of my heart in Spain. While we were there this summer, I heard this deep whisper in my soul that just breathed life and light onto a dark place in my heart that I didn’t even know was there. But I think I need to back up and give you a little backstory to make sure all this makes sense.

Many of you know I’m an American married to a South African I met in Scotland. The dashing gentleman who became my Hero Hubs was living and working in Edinburgh when I moved there to be part of a team starting a new church in the city. After a couple of much shorter overseas missions trips, this calling to do something “big” and follow the Lord as a “missionary” was something that resonated with my soul, and in 2005, the adventure of following Jesus to a new country began.

A couple years later, the Hubs and I were married and working for the church we’d help plant. Fast forward a couple more years, and we felt called to spend some time doing mission work more poverty-focused, and we spent two years doing just that in South Africa from 2009 to 2011.

At the very end of 2010, the writing was on the wall that the season in SA was coming to a close and it was going to be time to move to the USA — home for me, obviously a new home for the Hubs.

I’m not sure exactly what we expected returning to the US – I think that we would end up doing a different sort of ministry, perhaps serving as associate pastors in a local church, or even serving a non-profit ministry in some capacity. We were pretty surprised when we sought the Lord and He pointed to the camera in the Hubs’ hand and said — “Look what’s in your hand. Do something with it.”

Six years later, we have a thriving photography business that’s paying the bills. And that feels really normal — which feels really weird. When we ask God about ministry, perhaps leading a small group, volunteering with YoungLife or doing more than just helping occasionally with children’s church, we feel like He points to our four children and says, “Look at what’s in your hand. Do something with them.”

When we were on the mission field, God did some totally amazing things and blessed us in ways we couldn’t have even asked for or imagined. Financially things were very tight, sometimes emotionally things were crazy hard, but still He was there and we knew it and we saw Him work wonders.

What they might not tell you when it’s time to step off the mission field is that you might come home — completely at the leading of the Lord — and somehow feel like there’s a big “<” sign on your forehead. You know, < . The one in Math equations from primary school? Less than.

So. Here we are in 2017. And while I’ve had the privilege of visiting a fair number of countries in Europe, I’ve longed to travel to Spain for ages and ages and finally, just last month, the dream became a reality.

And we were on this beautiful beautiful beautiful island (Mallorca) overlooking the Mediterranean in this lovely house with a pool and view like WOW and we could stroll down the road to the beach and be up to our waist and still see our toes in the crystal water and honestly after a day or two I was just overwhelmed by the blessing of it all. This trip we worked and saved for and planned to celebrate the Hubs’ Mom turning 75, and for our kids to get to know their cousins? It actually came together even better than we expected and that was when the whisper hit me.

I had this idea deep in my soul that I don’t deserve gifts like this from God because I’m not “in ministry” any more.

Not like that was a thought I would logically think — but it was a belief, deep down somewhere — that God could not be as pleased with me now as He used to be, because now I’m not doing what I used to be doing and what I used to be doing is somehow better than the hard and holy calling of motherhood that I’m answering now.

When I write it down and think it out, it’s ridiculous. But there it was in my soul anyway, even though I didn’t know it was there. And it took us getting to the end of a day that was so wonderful that the Hubs looked at me and said “That was like… my perfect day. That was THE perfect day… playing with our kids at the beach and lunch and relaxing at the pool and…” We just marveled together at the goodness of it.

As I prayed the next morning, it all began to stir up in my soul, to this realization that I just felt like a Second Class Christian because I’m not doing “vocational ministry” anymore. 

God whispered back to me again those words He’s had me ponder over and over again: Swim Your Own Race.

And I prayed it back to Him with a big YES: “My call to faithfulness has nothing to do with a less or greater or more like this, less like that concept — faithfulness means doing what You want me to do all the time.” And I wrote it and underlined it and wondered if it could be tattooed permanently onto my heart somehow: “My race is in my lane.” I confessed, “I thought I shouldn’t receive Your gifts and blessings — or didn’t deserve them — because I was not doing “missionary” work any more. But You have clearly showed me otherwise by blessing me so abundantly…”

These were the words my soul needed, and I wonder, does your soul need them, too?

Are you looking at someone else who is doing this thing or that thing and drawing a Less Than on your own forehead because you’re not doing that thing that they’re doing? Because that girl there is leading the Bible studies or that girl is on her way to that country or that girl is leading worship or even just seems like a full time working Mom that doesn’t yell at her kids or…fill in your own blank?

The matter drew itself to the most obvious conclusion that I continuously forget: God loves me and nothing I can do makes it a more or a less kind of thing. He loves us and He sets boundaries for us because He loves us. And sometimes those boundaries will look like little and sometimes they will look like much. I felt like I deserved more back when I was serving God in South Africa — but I had less. And here we are, no longer in vocational ministry, but we feel like our cups are overflowing.

Did He love us less then and does He love us more now?

Absolutely not. The love of God has already been poured our for us in Christ — while we were still failing, fallen sinners. And while we should be thankful for all that He gives, He demonstrated His Love when He sent His Son.

There’s no favoritism in it — He wants everyone to know this Truth. He wants everyone to find repentance, and salvation. He is the Gift — the rest is temporary circumstance.

Friend, you are not a Second Class Christian — or a Second Class Human Being — of any kind, for any reason. Don’t let some hissing whisper to your soul tell you otherwise. You matter to God just as much as the next guy and don’t let the fog of focusing on circumstances tell you otherwise.

Take a deep breath and choose to look down your lane and swim your own race. God is pleased to see you do what He created you — and no one else — to do.

xCC

Checking in While Going Deeper

Hey! I have a riddle for you! What’s writing and writing and happy all over?

Give up?

Me.

Was that a bit cheesy? At least it was an honest joke.

I’m popping into the blogosphere with just a few thoughts in mind today.

First, believe it or not, we’ve made it to Day 12 of the 30 Days Deeper series, and wow, I’ve been blown away by the positive response from the readers. (If you have no idea what 30 Days Deeper is, read this.) The texts and emails and Facebook comments that tell me that people are being encouraged deeper into Jesus are like water to my soul!

If 30 DD wasn’t something that fit into your schedule right now, but you’d still like to participate in it at some point in the future, fear not! I am planning to make it available either by offering it again to a fresh Email Community in a few months, or by formatting it as an ebook that you can peruse in your own sweet time.

But because I’d like to share a little encouragement in this temporarily-slightly-neglected corner of the web, I want to share a few of the highlights from 30 Days Deeper, that I hope will be a blessing to your soul.

These are 12 Days of Deeper, if you will, so that you’re enjoying a slice of each day to chew on…

  1. Who your people are will have a very, very profound impact on who you will become.
  2. Swimming your race of faith with a lot of drag can be a terrible drag. It’s important to deal with the things that are slowing you down.
  3. Otis the Tractor is an incredible example of why you should learn to carefully follow your Leader.
  4. Social Media can make a bright day seem like a thunderstorm — guard your heart.
  5. Just like Elvis says, you need to learn to recognize something that looks like an angel, but is the devil in disguise.
  6. Don’t leave throw-up in a paper bag in a minivan. And be careful what you say yes to.
  7. Anybody can be a doofus and get swept into a bad situation. We all need Jesus.
  8. Creation can teach you way more about the Creator than you probably realize.
  9. It’s easy to grow weeds, but much harder to make good things happen.
  10. Studying the Word in the Light will give you a flashlight in the darkness.
  11. The wicked won’t get off scot-free… so do the good stuff.
  12. Find people who will tell you the truth, not just what you want to hear.

These tiny tidbits are just scratching the surface of some of the great discussions we’ve had so far! Would you like to have some of them unpacked for you? Like, what does Elvis have to do with faithfulness? And how is throw-up in a minivan related to saying yes?

Well, good news.

If you’d like to jump into 30 Days Deeper and join the conversation, it is not too late, and I’ll be glad to send you the emails you’ve missed so far if you want to catch up. But you don’t have to, so no pressure either way — you can really start going deeper any time! Isn’t that God’s goodness?

If nothing else, just hear this one thought today, friends. The Creator of the Universe loves you, personally, intimately, you-for-you you. Even if 30DD isn’t the right thing for you right now, I pray you are seeking and listening for those whispers of His love. His plans for you are amazing. His love for you is unending. Let Him sweep you off your feet. Soon.

xCC

You can click here to join 30 Days Deeper (do I need to mention that it’s free?) — and be encouraged to go deeper today. I’d love to welcome you in!

 

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