Monday, March 31, 2014

It doesn't take a village. It takes an army.

You know the phrase "It takes a village".


I love this phrase, because it's so true. It does take a village to raise a child, or to accomplish anything crucial - be it in your career or ministry or family. We are not meant to do anything worthwhile alone. We need community, support, encouragement - we need HELP. We can't do it all, and if we somehow manage to for a minute, we're either deceiving ourselves or not doing it well. And we won't maintain it for long, because it's a farce. A façade. Equivalent to a newborn colt teetering on spindly legs before collapsing back in the straw from effort. Our efforts alone are feeble.


Ecclesiastes 4:12 "A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken."


It takes a village.


But you know what's even truer?


It doesn't just take a village.


It takes an army.


It takes an army to thrive - when you're inept and outnumbered and overwhelmed and underestimated. It takes encouragement and words of life from fellow believers, it takes helping hands - hands that drive carpools and bake casseroles and write thinking of you notes. Hands that change diapers and cook dinner and clean toilets. Hands that do the work when your strength fails.


And it takes an army to survive - when your prayers fade weak and your vision fails and your faith flees, it takes an army of prayer warriors, sisters and brothers in Christ holding up your arms, seeing the truth in your blindness and believing louder than the doubts in your heart.


It takes an army.


Yet there are still some days when it feels like even an entire army of sisters and brothers against just one stubborn foe isn't enough. A foe named Fear. Failure. Sin. Rejection. A foe that whispers "you're too much" and "you're not enough" and "this is all your fault". A foe named Condemnation. Manipulation. Death. Divorce. A foe that shouts "you'll never do better" and "why even try" and "give up now".


I can easily picture the images in my head, can easily see my personal band of believers, swords drawn, strewn about a battle ground stained with blood - my blood - all fighting against one. single. foe.




So very out numbered, and yet it seems as if it so doesn't matter.


Because it takes more than one army. It takes the invisible army of the Lord surrounding us, the one we just don't get to tangibly see yet.


Yet.


Then Elisha prayed, ‘O LORD, open his eyes and let him see!’ The LORD opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.” (2 Kings 6:17 NLT)


When you feel like you're fighting alone. Or when it feels like even the army you have isn't enough against the battle that rages inside you, look up.


Just look up.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The day I lowered my expectations of God...

There was a day when the pain of the past few years caught up to me, and stole my expectations.

I don't know when it was, exactly. Not sure which day it officially occurred. But it came, just the same, like a thief in the twilight, and snatched it right away--stole this lingering hope that had been driving me so very, very long.

Vanished.

I'd had it, and then I didn't.

It was a most unfair exchange - hope swapped for lowered expectations.

Because they go hand in hand.

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8)

When you're waiting, you're expecting. Expecting and hoping are painfully and irrevocably entwined.

And when my threads unthreaded, my knots untangled--my hope stolen, I was left with expectations that were void. Useless. They left me numb and empty-eyed and staring at the dust crumbling through my fingers, dust that used to be something gold and shiny and full of light.

Now ash.

Streaming through the cracks in my hands and slipping off the sides and I was grasping, grasping - but there was nothing left. Nothing to hold to. Nothing to clench.

It had happened. Somehow, someway, despite my determination never to go there...I did.

I lowered my expectations of God.

I thought it all too big for Him. Too hard. Too much. Too time consuming.

Too impossible.

But...

But God...

And it was there I realized my expectations weren't in God in the first place. They were still in myself. In my ability, in my work, in my effort, in my striving. In my attempts. In my pleas and prayers. If I wanted it badly enough, prayed for it hard enough, reached for it far enough...

My expectations were in me.

So when that day came, and I fitfully and ashamedly admitted that I'd lowered my expectations of God, I realized another, larger, broader, truer-truth... I hadn't lowered my expectations of God.

I'd lowered them of myself.

And now God could get through.

Breath. Light. Air.

So here I stand, brushing my hands free of the last fragments of dust, and only one thing resounds in my soul--my soul that can hear and breathe and feel and think and see.

One thing. One truth remains here in this overly crowded, yet somehow barren place called my heart.

He still makes beauty from ashes.

HE makes.

Not me.

Isaiah 61:2-3 "...to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes..."


I make more ash.

He bestows grace. Beautiful grace.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Yep. I'm SO going there...

When I first read the below article, I thought "oh snap". Not because of a strong opinion of my own one way or the other, but because I knew the fall out would be swift and harsh and so very, very unfortunate.


http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/march-web-only/world-vision-why-hiring-gay-christians-same-sex-marriage.html


This is exactly the type of hot button issue that often gives Christ-followers a bad rep. Because let's be honest - the topic is a perfect opportunity to bring out our inner self righteousness, pride, and spirit of judgment.


A few years ago, maybe even less time back than that, I'd have jumped on the bandwagon with flags a-wavin'. Now, my stride is slower. My gate is hitched with a limp ala Jacob's famous wrestle. (Genesis 32) And my heart has a compassion that can only be birthed from brokenness. I've been through a personal hell and back, and my perspective is so very, very different now.


I don't have a flag anymore.


I do have an opinion. Don't we all?


But here's my bottom line and why I'm even writing this instead of letting the topic die down before too many casualties ensue.


IN THIS INSTANCE it doesn't matter what you think about gay marriage. It doesn't matter what you think the Bible says about gay marriage or how you interpret the Bible in general or whether your best friend is gay or whether you're gay or whatever.


The question that's important right now comes down solely to this: Do you sponsor through World Vision, and if you do, will this change in policy make you offended enough to remove your sponsorship?


AND IF YOU DO - who suffers for it? The company? Not really. The children you were sponsoring? ABSOLUTELY.


I'm not taking the easy way out here, and I'll prove it. Watch.


1. Do I believe that homosexuality is a sin? Yes
2. Do I believe it is one sin listed in the Bible, along with a thousand other sins listed in the Bible, many of those of which I am guilty of myself? Yes
3. Do I believe all gay people are going to hell? No
4. Do I believe I need Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross for my sin just as much as gay people do for theirs? Yes
5. Do I currently sponsor through World Vision? Yes, and have for over a decade. I'm on my third kid now, because the first one I saw all the way through until she turned 18 and the second child's family withdrew from the program.
6. Will this adjusted policy make me cancel my sponsorship? NO
7. Will this prevent me from taking on additional sponsorships in the future? No. I don't see a correlation. Kids are being helped in numerous ways through World Vision, and are being given the Gospel of Jesus. Nothing else matters but Jesus in the long run. Nothing.


Here's something else to think about - how many employees did World Vision employ before this policy change that lived this lifestyle in secret, anyway? Does it really matter now that it's "allowed" versus behind closed doors? What does that actually change? Were kids being given Bibles through World Vision? Water? Education? Gifts? Support? Yes.


Are they still, now, on the other side of this policy shift?


YES.


Think about this, too. How many companies and organizations that you frequent possibly have policies and allowances in place that you just don't know about because they're not public or spotlighted right now? If you knew, maybe then you'd boycott, like maybe you did Starbucks or Disneyworld or wherever else. Again, that's your choice. I neither respect nor disrespect that choice. It's yours to make. But if you never drink a white chocolate mocha again or take a photo with Mickey & Minnie, no one suffers. If you withdraw a sponsorship because of this principle, then kids suffer.


Just. Think. About. It.


Please, I beg you - think before you do anything rash. If you choose to remove your sponsorship through World Vision because of this, that's your decision, your choice, your prerogative. But think it through. Pray it through. And talk to the organization on the phone about finding a replacement before you leave a kid high and dry for something they have NOTHING to do with, and ZERO control over (like everything else in their poor lives).


Please.

Monday, February 24, 2014

A novel you can NOT miss! Plus a giveaway you have to read to believe...


~ A Fall of Marigolds ~

Some authors tell stories, and then other authors pluck you right up by the heart and drop you straight into the middle of their stories. 

Susan Meissner is a plucker. 

Today I’m participating in a blog tour for a new book by award-winning novelist Susan Meissner who’s here to talk about her newest book from Penguin NAL. A Fall of Marigolds is a part historical novel, part contemporary novel set on Ellis Island in 1911 and in Manhattan a hundred years later. And HEY - make SURE you read to the end of the post so that you can find out how to get in on a drawing for a fabulous gift basket that includes a $100 Visa gift card!! What what!!  :)

Susan Meissner is a friend of mine (I'm soooo honored to say that!!) and the multi-published author of fifteen books, including The Shape of Mercy, named one of the 100 Best Novels in 2008 by Publishers Weekly and the ECPA’s Fiction Book of the Year. She is also a speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. She and her husband make their home in Southern California.

Susan, tell us where the idea for A Fall of Marigolds came from.
I’ve long been a history junkie, especially with regard to historical events that involve ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. A couple years ago I viewed a documentary by author and filmmaker Lorie Conway called Forgotten Ellis Island; a hauntingly poignant exposé on the section of Ellis Island no one really has heard much about; its hospital. The two man-made islands that make up the hospital buildings haven’t been used in decades and are falling into ruins, a sad predicament the documentary aptly addresses. The documentary’s images of the rooms where the sick of a hundred nations waited to be made well stayed with me. I knew there were a thousand stories pressed into those walls of immigrants who were just a stone’s throw from a new life in America. They were so close they could almost taste it. But unless they could be cured of whatever disease they’d arrived with, they would never set foot on her shores. Ellis Island hospital was the ultimate in-between place – it lay between what was and what could be. A great place to set a story

What is the story about, in a nutshell?
The book is about two women who never meet as they are separated by a century. One woman, Taryn, is a 9/11 widow and single mother who is about to mark the tenth anniversary of her husband’s passing. The other is a nurse, Clara, who witnessed the tragic death of the man she loved in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in Manhattan in 1911.In her sorrow, Clara imposes on herself an exile of sorts; she takes a post at the hospital on Ellis Island so that she can hover in an in-between place while she wrestles with her grief. She meets an immigrant who wears the scarf of the wife he lost crossing the Atlantic, a scarf patterned in marigolds. The scarf becomes emblematic of the beauty and risk inherent in loving people, and it eventually finds it way to Taryn one hundred years later on the morning a plane crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The story is about the resiliency of love, and the notion that the weight of the world is made more bearable because of it, even though it exposes us to the risk of loss.

Why a scarf of marigolds? What is their significance?
Marigolds aren’t like most other flowers. They aren’t beautiful and fragrant. You don’t see them in bridal bouquets or prom corsages or funeral sprays. They don’t come in gentle colors like pink and lavender and baby blue. Marigolds are hearty, pungent and brassy. They are able to bloom in the autumn months, well past the point when many other flowers can’t. In that respect, I see marigolds as being symbolic of the strength of the human spirit to risk loving again after loss. Because, face it. We live in a messy world. Yet it’s the only one we’ve got. We either love here or we don’t. The title of the book has a sort of double-meaning. Both the historical and contemporary story take place primarily in the autumn. Secondarily, when Clara sees the scarf for the first time, dangling from an immigrant’s shoulders as he enters the hospital building, she sees the floral pattern in the threads, notes how similar they are to the flames she saw in the fire that changed everything for her, and she describes the cascading blooms woven into the scarf as “a fall of marigolds.”

Your last few novels have had historical components interwoven within a contemporary story. Why do you prefer that kind of story construction?
I think living in Europe for five years awakened my love for history. It’s like it was always there but my time spent overseas just woke it up. When I think back to the subjects I did well in and that came easy to me in high school and college, it was always English and history, never math or science. I appreciate the artistry of math and the complexity of science, but neither subject comes easy to me.  History has the word “story” in it. That’s what it is. It’s the story of everyone and everything. How could I not love it?  Study history and you learn very quickly what we value as people; what we love, what we fear, what we hate, what we are willing die for. History shows us where we’ve been and usually has lessons for us to help us chart where we’re going.

Are you working on anything new at the moment?
My next book is set entirely in England, mostly during The London Blitz. My main character starts out as a young, aspiring bridal gown designer evacuated to the countryside with her seven-year-old sister in the summer of 1940. Though only fifteen, Emmy is on the eve of being made an apprentice to a renowned costumer and she resents her single mother’s decision to send her away. She sneaks back to London – with her sister in tow – several months later but the two become separated when the Luftwaffe begins its terrible and deadly attack on the East End on the first night of the Blitz. War has a way of separating from us what we most value, and often shows how little we realized that value. I have always found the evacuation of London’s children to the countryside – some for the entire duration of the war – utterly compelling. How hard it must have been for those parents and their children. I went on a research trip to the U.K. in the fall of 2013 and I spoke with many individuals who were children during the war; some were separated from their parents, some were bombed out of their homes, some slept night after night in underground Tube stations, some watched in fascination as children from the city came to their towns and villages to live with them. This book explores issues of loss and longing, but also the bonds of sisters, and always, the power of love.

Where can readers connect with you?
You can find me at www.susanmeissner.com and on Facebook at my Author page, Susan .Meissner, and on Twitter at SusanMeissner. I blog at susanmeissner.com. I also send out a newsletter via email four times a year. You can sign up for it on my website. I love connecting with readers! You are the reason I write.

As part of the release of A Fall of Marigolds and this blog tour, Susan is giving to one lucky winner a gift basket that includes a $100 Visa gift card, a copy of the book, the DVD Forgotten Ellis Island, and a beautiful re-purposed infinity scarf patterned in marigolds and made from a vintage Indian sari.

To be eligible, just leave a comment here between today and midnight Eastern on Friday, February 21. 

Additionally, there will be one winner of a signed copy of A Fall of Marigolds from among those who comment on this blog. Just leave a comment by Friday, Feb. 21 and you’re in the running for the grand prize as well as a signed copy of the book. 

Hooray! :)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

When all you have is the hope of hope...

What do you do with doubt?

When lies whisper louder than fact. When the doubts don't just blink the lights, they uproot trees and twist and strangle death to the roots. When they grasp like a whirlwind, loose, tight enough to sense, but not feel. When you're squeezed like a vice, you know. This is worse, this whirlwind, feather light, so unyielding and unending, twirling you right dizzy until everything you thought you knew is upside down and you can't even see the rest. 

What do you do with honesty?

When your five year old cries, loud and angry from the backseat of the car - "I wish he hadn't left. He is making my life so hard!" When her sobs turn to regrets. "Maybe I'm the problem. Maybe I should leave." 

What do you do with a broken heart that insists on staying in mosaic mode?

What do you do when you've picked up the pieces so many times, they just slip right through your fingers, and break again on the way down?

What do you do when your strength fades weak and you wonder if the battle is even worth fighting anymore? If there's any hope, any truth, any goodness left in the lie you lived for a decade?

How do you fix someone else's heart when your own is still up for grabs?

You say what I said to that five year old in the back seat. "It's going to be ok. Know how I know?"

"How?"

"Because God knows."

The silence that followed could have tucked me in that night.  

"He sees the future. He knows what happened, knows what will happen...and we can trust Him because He is good."

More silence, warmer now, like a quilt out of the dryer. Peace soaking into the deep places. Not joy. Not hope. Not yet. 

But there's the hope of hope. 

"God knows you and I didn't want this. He has a plan for us, baby. He knows what we do want."

Sniff.

"And so we just keep telling Him those things and waiting on Him for good."

It's a hard lesson for a five year old to embrace. But she took it and held tight, and her mama did maybe even tighter, words binding together wounds that didn't really come from her own mouth, but somewhere deep within, somewhere close to the residing place of the Holy Spirit. Words not from her own capability, but from Someone else's. Someone good. 

Because what can you do with doubt and honesty and brokenness? 

Nothing. Nothing worth anything. 

Unless you give it over to the one who specializes in Mosaic tiles. Who formed the universe from words, and man from dust, and has no trouble figuring out how to bring beauty from broken. 

The whirlwind whirls, the trees dip and sway, and the doubts still roar and howl. Still makes you wonder, every time, what is true, what is real, what is worth holding onto and is it even worth holding on at all. 

But the truth at the end of the day, that outlives the wind and the fear and the storm, remains the same. 

He is good. 

So we don't have to know what to do. Because He does. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Everything You Needed To Know About Divorce in 5 Words...

When the gaping hole first yawned before me, when I was very first pushed into the shadowed abyss not so fondly described as divorce in February 2013, I was given a lot of advice. A lot of opinions. A lot of encouragement, support, and truth.

But nothing so true as these five tiny words one friend shared with me.

You won't walk this perfectly.

At the time, I thought, of course not.

Even as I strived to do just that.

But she knew. Because she'd been shoved into the same reluctant hole, she'd been swallowed by the same bottomless pit, had gotten sucked in as woman and climbed out as superwoman. She knew. She knew the pit well, knew the monsters inside it, knew how the wind howled with lies, knew the emotions that lurked dragons full of fire, knew the broken fingernails accompanying the claw marks on the walls.

It was the best thing she could have said to me.

Because as I stumbled, tripping, aching, climbing, falling, breaking, pushing, trying, those words echoed in my head. When I gave up and wallowed in the cold bottom, I heard them again. When I fashioned makeshift ladders out of idols and climbed on my own strength and fell because they couldn't support me, when I broke again too, when I cursed and wailed and pummeled the walls and snapped back at the wind, those words were true, always with me.

At first those words almost haunted with the unmet, unspoken challenge. You won't walk this perfectly. Almost a depressing tease, serving to make anti-logic and human survival instincts rise in a bloody bidding war. Sure I will. Sure I can. I have to. How else do you survive the damp dark pit? If I am not perfect, then how do I ever get out? I have to do it right. Do it well. Do it with grace. Do it. Me. I have to.

But you can't. And that's when the anti-logic and human survival instincts morph into something even more dangerous - despair. And you just thought the wind hollered lies before, now the roar is deafening and you turn to all that is false just to hold on. The equivalency of scraping the dirt out from under your fingernails just to plunge them back into the earth in a desperate attempt for a grip. For substance. For clarity.

For a stronghold.

But the strongholds have you now, and guilt and regret and failure and shame spin into a pit-tornado of condemnation. And the pit, the pit you despised but had almost grown comfortable in its predictability now is a whirlwind of terror, with no escape.

Still - you won't walk this perfectly.

And that's when the words, once a challenge, become a comfort. They aren't to spur you toward striving, they're to sate you with satisfaction. With peace. Relief.

You won't walk this perfectly.

And thank God for that.

Literally. Thank Him.

Because until you scoot over and allow Him room in the pit with you, you'll never climb out. Never be free. Never feel sunshine on your face again. He'll eventually boost you out, but first He wants to just sit with you. In that pit He has you all to Himself, your company, your heart, your hurt, your tears. Your failures and sin and memories and doubts.

And the dark isn't so scary, and the wind isn't nearly so loud, and the dragons retreat in His light. The monsters fade and your nails grow long and clean because you aren't so frantically digging anymore, you're safe. Even in the midst. Even in the shadows. Safe.

My friend knew I wouldn't walk this perfectly. Because she didn't. Because you can't.

And the good news is, no one, especially not Christ, expects you to. He doesn't want perfection, He wants access to your pit. No monster is fiercer than Jesus in warrior-mode, and when His daughters bleed, He's on it. Rest assured, He's on it.

From one pit-dweller to another, let me tell you this in truth and love. You won't walk this perfectly.

So just scoot over.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Christmas Confessions from an Almost-Divorced Chick

This Christmas didn't look like I expected.

But does Christmas ever, really?

We go into the season of Advent with expectations. With our own personalized versions of sugarplums dancing in our heads. We dream of a Christmas with sugar-crusted cookies and chocolate dipped pretzels. Of our children piled on hand-made quilts, listening intently to the reading of the Gospel stories every night. Of pictures with Santa and Pinterest inspired goodie-bags for the neighbors and a Pottery-Barn-Catalog-worthy home. We dream of carols and candy canes and presents. Joy and peace and holiday bliss.

All wrapped up with a shiny silver bow.

We want it every year, though we know in all reality, our Christmas looks more like the Before than the After.

Because the After isn't really real. It becomes real in our heads because we only see what we don't have, only envision the what-if's that aren't and never will be because they're just not. But instead of accepting what is and turning our Before into a beautiful package to open, we strive and perform and focus on the After. The unreachable, unrealistic, unfulfilling After. The kind of After that makes us stretch and long and ache when the answer is right there in the manger the entire time, totally in reach, completely in hand, 100% ours for the taking - and the keeping. And the sharing.

Jesus came for our messy Before's. To redeem them and restore them and mold them. HE and HE alone is our perfect After.

That's Christmas.

I knew my Christmas wasn't going to look like a catalog, this year especially. This year, my first Christmas being separated, was spent largely focusing on simply not thinking. Forget holiday bliss. How about holiday survival? That was my goal. My Before wasn't just messy or busy or wearisome, it was downright cut-throat. Some days, literal knives would have offered less hurt.

But there were glimpses of After's sprinkled throughout my Advent, like powdered sugar on my mom's famous teacake cookies...

Watching my five year old stand unprompted in the driveway, her faith-filled gaze fixed on Heaven, and sing Christmas carols to Jesus.

Hearing the voice of my cousin-in-law as he looked me in the eye and told me what an amazing mom I was and how proud he was of me.

Working a puzzle with another cousin, who understands a broken heart, and not needing to speak because solving the pieces in front of us was helping solve a little piece of the hurt inside us.

Seeing the joy on the face of my daughter as she opened a gift she'd always wanted.

Hearing the laughter of my niece and basking in the snuggles of my nephew.

Tearing up that my daughter not only made sure I had gifts to open Christmas morning with her, but hearing her insist I take the next turn when she still had several to open herself.

Sparkling Christmas lights both on my tree and outside my house that were helped hung by multiple people who love me.

Enjoying apple cider with caramel and whipped cream from Starbucks.

Listening to my daughter sing a Christmas song she learned at school for my entire family, despite the fact she was scared to death to do so. She's learning courage, like her mama, learning that bravery isn't the absence of fear, it's the pressing forward in the thickening shadows of it all.

This Christmas, it could have been easy to bask in the what-ifs and the what-was and the what-will be? To let the doubts and fears and regrets and throbbing pains dictate my holiday, steal its joy like the Grinch stole the Who's feast, let the hurt strangle me from the inside out.

But Jesus...I celebrated Him as a baby born but this holiday He somehow showed up more like the warrior who upset the money-changers in the temple and the gentle Shepherd leading this lamb by name, all wrapped up in one amazing Gift that I can open every. single. day.

This Christmas, Jesus reminded me that although things are different, so very different, they're actually better in many ways - one way being that this Christmas, I can rest assured and be secure in the fact that the people in my life now who love me, TRULY love me. And that number isn't few.

There's more candy than coal at the end of the day, now, despite it all. My stocking is full and my tree is lit and the gifts are piled high, and that's not a Christmas miracle, that's a daily miracle, one that I'm taking with me throughout each day of 2014.