Monthly Archives: April 2011

Got Vision?

It seems like I’ve had a lot of conversations about vision lately. We talk about the importance of vision–“Without a vision, the people perish”–and our own need for direction and motivation. But sometimes I think we—I—tend to obsess over it too much.

I started thinking through people whose stories have made it into scripture, and how they stumbled upon God’s vision for them. Usually it seems it was just like that—stumbling. Walk through scripture with me and see some examples. Abram was living with his father, married with no children, and after his father’s death God said “go.” Joseph had a big ego and weird dreams that got him into trouble, a boss’s wife that played him a dirty trick, and a fellow prisoner who got him an unexpected audience with pharaoh. Four hundred years later Moses commits murder, runs for his life, and after forty years of tending sheep in a God-forsaken desert, meets a burning bush. Gideon was a farmer threshing wheat and hiding from his enemies when God gave him his marching orders. Samuel was dedicated before his birth and started hearing voices when he was sleeping. Saul was unsuccessfully looking for his dad’s lost donkey when he was anointed first king of Israel. David was tending sheep and writing harp music. Peter was sitting in his boat fixing nets.

So often I have this idea that I have to “find” my calling, that so much depends on me and my wisdom in figuring everything out. What are my gifts, my desires, my dreams? How do they fit together? How then shall I live? I drive myself nuts. What if calling isn’t something you “find” yourself, but something that finds you? What if guidance is not something we need to run after, but a promise? “Without a vision, the people perish,” isn’t about the kind of vision we usually talk about. The NIV translates it, “Where there is no revelation, the people throw off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:13). We ARE a people with revelation–the full counsel of God’s word, and His Spirit within us. And that Word speaks of guidance as an inescapable reality. “For this God is our God for ever and ever; he WILL be our guide even to the end” (Psalm 48:14). “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:12).

Living in the presence of a faithful God is enough vision for today. And tomorrow–well, there’s no telling what I may stumble upon.

“I waited patiently for the LORD;

            he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,

            out of the mud and mire;

he set my feet on a rock

            and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,

            a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear

            and put their trust in the LORD.

Blessed is the man

            who makes the LORD his trust,

who does not look to the proud,

            to those who turn aside to false gods.

Many, O LORD my God,

            are the wonders you have done.

The things you planned for us

            no one can recount to you;

were I to tell of them,

            they would be too many to declare.”

Psalm 40:1-5


Today’s Resurrection

Easter break is over and I’m not ready.

Not ready to face another 5 AM wake up.

Not ready to be “on” for the next two weeks straight.

Not ready to show up, punch in, pour out.

Tomorrow will be another day when I need Resurrection Life.

Sometimes I see the needs of others and it weighs heavy.

The sorrow that steals light from their eyes is my enemy.

I don’t have the skill to fight it, or the right words to say.

Depression and despair are too much for me.

Especially my own.

I need Resurrection Life.

And then I visit certain stones of remembrance.

They’re inscribed with names that are very dear.

These pillars in my life crumbled too quickly.

To one I never got to say good-bye.

And though the ache is strong, one thought is stronger.

My only hope is Resurrected Life.

If the resurrection is really real, then it isn’t just a one-time deal.

It’s not just for 2,000 years ago.

It’s for today.

It’s for my burned-out, mundane, depressed and dying life.

Because it doesn’t have to end that way.

Resurrection Life is my inheritance.

And today I can ignore it, disbelieve it, or live in light of it.

Today I can cling to a hope and strength far beyond my own.

Today I choose a Resurrected Life.

The (Hair) Tie That Binds

I wanted to pull my hair back today, so I checked my wrist for a hair binder. Sure enough, I had one stored away just in case. It made me think of a time earlier this year when I was with a group of Norwegian girls and someone requested a hair tie. Half a dozen young women from different countries all looked at their wrists simultaneously. It made me smile. We speak different languages and wear a different style of clothes, but we all do the same thing when it comes to hair binders. How did this happen? Is it a tradition handed down one woman to another, or were we born with an innate understanding that this is the proper thing to do? It’s kind of a funny idea, really, to store something on your wrist. But apparently it is one of those truths and practices that tends to transcend cultures.

I’ve heard it’s common to fear people from other cultures, to fear those who are different from yourself. People feel uncomfortable when they don’t understand what’s being said. It feels threatening. How easy to miss the universal things we have in common, the things that “tie” us together, like love of conversation, need for significance, the beauty of humanity–and hair ties.

I was reading in Ephesians today, where Paul shares a beautiful truth, that Christ “is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…consequently you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Eph. 2:14,19). Despite all differences, the love and death of Christ is the unifying “tie that binds” all of us to each other.

One of the reasons I love hanging out with people from other cultures is precisely because they are different from me. I like to learn how they do things, be introduced to their pleasures and foibles, gain a broader picture of life. But I enjoy even more the moments that reveal our similitude, our soul connection as members of humanity and even stronger bonds as followers of Christ. That bond is incredibly beautiful, and it links me with many beautiful souls from one side of this planet to another. What a gift Christ has given us–potential soul friends from every nation, tribe and tongue! Wherever I go, family will follow. And never being caught without a hair tie is an added perk.

Friends Beyond Facebook

In life's journey we need not walk alone...

In the thirty-plus days since I began my facebook fast, I have gotten three or four emails kindly informing me that I “have 11 friends with birthdays in the next week,” as well as the occasional note to let me know that I “have 105 new notifications” or some such rot. All this just to break my resolve, or simply trick me into forgetting myself and logging on; after all, what will my acquaintances do without my happy birthday wishes on their wall among fifty others? Facebook appears desperate in its attempts to get me back. It is the quintessential needy friend or ex who needs to get a life and move on.

I have been reading today about the nature of friendship in a book called Sacred Companions (David G. Benner). He says that “the ancients viewed friendship as the crown of life, the fulfillment of all that is most distinctively human.” In our day relationships of romantic love have been put on this pedestal, and Benner suggests that this is because so few individuals have really experienced a “significant, enduring” friendship. He argues that real friendship has been lost in the quagmire of lesser relationships that we call by the same name, and it is infinitely more rare. As he went on to paint a picture of the ideals of friendship—involving the intimacy of shared experience, sacrificial love, mutual giving, seeing each other realistically and truly, calling each other towards growth, and in so many respects becoming part of each other in a profound way—it left me wondering how many true friends I really have. And it made me hunger for what he described. What good is it to have 100, 200, 300 or more friends on facebook, if you lack a true friend who is deeply connected to your life and who you are becoming?

Friendship, of course, can never be forced. It is always a gift. If I desire deeper levels of friendship all I can do is evaluate to what extent I am willing to go there myself and then extend the invitation to others to journey with me. There is one friend who has already offered that invitation to us. Jesus said, “I have called you friends,” and I’m pretty sure He didn’t mean the facebook kind. He meant He wanted to be intimately, passionately, sacrificially involved in a mutually beneficial relationship. If we’re willing to go there with Him, this relationship can change our very souls. But we have to be willing to give God more than a facebook friends level of relationship, and it takes sacrifice to get there.

I gave up facebook for a season to spend less time in superficial relationships and more time cultivating my friendship with God. It has not been the easiest thing I’ve ever done; sometimes it has been downright inconvenient. And I’ve found that there is always another distraction to keep me from time with God. I have reason to be disappointed in myself, disappointed in the low level of friendship I tend to be capable of myself. But I guess that’s where the final “ideal” of friendship comes into play—the ability to love the other in the space between ideals and reality, to not walk out in spite of imperfections and failures. I have many reasons to thank God that He does not give up on me, that He still calls me a friend, however imperfect, including my somewhat failed attempt to focus more on Him during this Lenten season. And isn’t that what Lent is about? Contemplating the depth of God’s love for us in the face of our failure, and our unworthiness to receive such a gift? As Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that He lay down His life for His friends.” This is a good week to be thankful for such a friend.

Shades of Life

Dazzle. Delight. Captivate. I stood in front of the covergirl aisle, painstakingly checking that each lipstick was in its place and unused. Cosmetics duty at my local retail store meant spending hours looking at tiny labels—a little tedious, but it gave me hours to enjoy the creative names on products and contemplate what would suit me best. Would I rather Enchant or Enthrall with my choice of lipstick? Maybe I should go with a tinge of hope for my future with Rosy Tomorrows, think happy thoughts with a Chai Grande or Espresso shade, or personalize with my favorite nickname, Nutmeg. Who knows the impact choosing the right make-up could have?

I don’t buy a lot of make-up, but slap a cool name on the side and I have a hard time passing it up. I have no doubt that the people who market cosmetics are fully aware of the power of words. Name an eye-liner “Talk to Me” and you’re sure to prick the interest of lonely hopefuls. And who wouldn’t want to smother their lips in Soulmate? Words express the things of dreams and identity, draw out smiles, laughter and tears, have the capacity to either build or destroy. Proverbs says “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Prov. 18:21). Life and death. It doesn’t get much more powerful than that.

I had the chance to play a little game utilizing words with my high-school girls last week. We passed around a “magic paintbrush,” (just a random object) and whoever held the paintbrush was the center of our attention. The game began with the paintbrush holder sharing something they liked about how God had made them. Then others shared what they found good and beautiful in that person. It made my heart happy to hear these girls calling out the beauty they saw in each other, and they were good at it. I was the last to hold the paintbrush, and I didn’t want to put it down. The life my girls spoke into me was euphoric; it was like something in me changed in response to their encouraging words. Life and death.

Every day we have opportunities to speak life or death into the people around us, but many people spend more time selecting their make-up than they spend selecting those powerful words. And if it’s a challenge to intentionally speak life to others, it’s often even harder to speak it to ourselves. That’s one reason I like to surround myself with good words: words that remind me of what’s good and beautiful in myself, words connected to my hopes and dreams, words that keep me tracking with my purpose for getting up in the morning. It may be silly, but if a well-named eye-shadow will help me speak words of truth to myself, I consider it a fairly valuable commodity. Here’s a small example: today I will paint my toenails with Meet Mrs. Right (I promise I didn’t notice the name until after I bought it), and I foresee that when I do I’m going to shake my head and stifle a smile at what a ridiculous girl I am, but I will feel encouraged. Even though it’s silly, it’s still a word of life. If even an inanimate object has such power, consider what effect your real live life words could have.

So what shade will you choose? Dazzle? Delight? Captivate? How about Impart Life? That’s a no fail color that brings out the beauty in everyone.

Deadbeat Angels

I’m so proud of my girls. A small group student-led Bible study got a vision for something, walked it out, and last night saw it become a reality. They had seen a certain movie earlier this year, To Save a Life (comes highly recommended), which deals with the issues of peer pressure, teen suicide and the meaninglessness and worthlessness so many young people are facing. One day in Bible study this group got talking about how they could make a difference in our community and had this idea to host a public showing of To Save a Life as an outreach at the local high school. They organized, publicized, prayed and fasted, and last night more than 300 people showed up to an event that two months ago was just imagination. I feel like a mama bird watching my baby birdies jump from the nest and start to fly.

I had to leave the event half way through to man the office back at my own high school across town, but the message contained in even the first half of the movie was already effecting me. I felt burdened by the aloneness and emptiness of the young people depicted in the film, with a seed of desire that I would be a person who saw the outsider and didn’t pass him by. As I drove away from the high school through an icy mist, I passed a teen with long cornrows and a hat pulled on backwards, earbuds in, walking through the rain alone. What is his story, and where is he going in the rain alone? I wondered if anyone sees him, if anyone communicates care in his life. It’s one thing to be moved by the message of a movie, another to live differently because of that message. It’s one thing to get a vision, it’s another thing to walk it out. It’s one thing to talk about loving God and your neighbor, it’s another thing to see the Samaritan on the side of the road when you’re late for work and pull over to the side of the road. Thoughts like these were filling my mind all the way across town. Up ahead of me I saw an odd spectacle; a woman was trudging down the road with a bulging newspaper bag slung over her shoulder. As I got nearer I saw she was lugging plastic bags of groceries in each hand. Maybe she needs a ride. I’ve been trained to avoid strangers and lock my doors, and I passed her by, but then almost without thinking hit the brakes and rolled down the window. She hurried towards me as I asked if I could take her somewhere. She nodded thankfully, “Oak Street” and then there was a flurry of getting bags into the car. Three blocks later I was dropping her at her front door; four blocks later I was climbing out of my car, thankful that I could help someone else with what God had given me, ridiculously happy that when an opportunity presented itself, I hadn’t passed by.

It’s one thing to get a vision, another to walk it out. Walking out your vision is hard. I find it oddly coincidental that the students responsible for the event last night were studying the book of James at the time. James has some pretty strong things to say about this topic: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (James 1:22-25). I wonder how many people saw that movie last night, found it moving, and then went back to life as normal; they looked at their face in a mirror and then forgot all about it. I almost did. I came so close to driving by. How often does God give us opportunities to act on what we’ve heard, and we don’t have eyes to see it? How often do we miss the subtle shades of a divine moment, clothed in a tattered coat and carrying shopping bags? I wonder if God has a special task-force of angels who masquerade as deadbeats, down and outs, and druggies, just so He can school us in walking out what we say we believe. I wouldn’t be surprised.