Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On Giving

My family lives on the generosity of others.
If you know me, then you may know that our family's income is 100% supported by others' donations. Our ministry at Hiawatha Church, my service at Tapestry Resource Center, and the work I create with Sandbox Theatre-- every paycheck we receive is money that someone else chose to give to us.

We don't take this lightly. We buy groceries, pay our mortgage, celebrate birthdays, and enjoy a thousand other small things that many others are unable to, simply because other people choose to invest in us. This reminds us -

first,  that we are accountable to serve and to create with integrity. everything we do in ministry and in art has an eternal purpose, and we work HARD at doing it well. not because we owe those who give to us, but because we desire to honor their gifts with work that is truthful, loving, and relevant.

and second, that what we do is bigger than we are. it is incredibly humbling to know the names and see the faces of the people who pay your bills. it is even more humbling to see them give their finances joyfully to you. we are continually reminded that our small labors have great impact because an entire community of people participates in making it happen.

This Wednesday November 16 is GIVE TO THE MAX Day, a day to come together to raise as much money as possible for MN nonprofits in 24 hours. Our family is involved with three incrediblenonprofits, which many of you are already supporting.

Would you consider choosing ONE of our organizations to give generously to on Wed Nov 16?

Our opinion may differ from others', but rather than giving $10 to all 3, we encourage you to consider giving a generous gift of $30, $60, $100 or more to just one of the nonprofits that we are blessed to belong to. Please take some time on Wed Nov 16 to check out the websites, ask us questions, and consider how you can be part of making our ministry and art happen.

Also, if you are familiar with my work in any of these areas, PLEASE consider passing along this post to just FOUR people, asking them to consider donating on Wed Nov 16, too.

Again, we don't take this request lightly and we don't want anyone to give out of obligation. But we ARE excited to continue the work that God has given us and to bring others along in our journey!!!  Grace and peace to you all.

Sandbox Theatre -
Give Here

Tapestry Pregnancy & Family Life Resource Center - -
Give Here

Hiawatha Church -
Give Here

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Discovering Jesus Part 9: A Park Bench

hypocrisy |hiˈpäkrisē|
noun. the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform; pretense.

I tend to think in black and white. Right and wrong. Fair and unfair. I take people at face value and I judge them based on how well their words and actions coincide.

It's one major reason why I spent most of my life not believing in God. Because most of the people I knew who claimed to have faith in God did not, in any visible way, appear to be living on that faith. They'd go to church on Sunday and spend the rest of the week full of worry, lies, immorality, and unkindness. I figured that either their god was a big hoax or he wasn't worth my time.

But then, on July 21, 1999, I had an encounter with YHWH that showed me, not only how wrong I had been, but how much more I had to learn about all the gray in this world.

As with any life-changing event, it came out of nowhere. The day started with me driving from Iowa back to Minneapolis to celebrate my ex-boyfriend's birthday. We quickly got into a fight and I ended up at 'home' at Michael's parents' house.

Michael got off of work earlier than usual that evening, gave me a call, and came over. We went for a walk through the neighborhood, and he asked me what I was thinking about the whole "Jesus thing."  By this time - about 6 weeks after we met - I had read a Christian apologetics book that Michael had given me, and I was thinking alot more about Jesus than I ever had in my life. The book - written for Christians - approached the subject of faith from a completely intellectual perspective, and I constantly found my arguments against Christianity defeated.

So I told Michael that, in my head, I could rationally accept that Jesus was the Son of God who became a man, died, and rose from the dead. I no longer had any good reason not to acknowledge this as logical fact. But in my heart, I refused to believe it.

This, friends, makes all the difference in the world. At this point in my story, I wanted to disconnect myself from intellectually assenting to a truth without choosing to let it make a difference in my life. This is the difference between believing in Jesus and actually following him. For even the demons believe (according to James) but still they rebel against God.

Michael asked me why I would make a statement about Jesus' identity - a pretty big statement, like, he's God - but not want to accept this at an emotional and life-changing level. Because I don't want to be a hypocrite, I replied.

You see, I hadn't actually picked up a Bible yet. I didn't have a clue what it meant to follow Jesus or to call myself a Christian and the last thing I wanted to do was put a label on myself that had no real definition in my life. The last thing I wanted to do was be a sitting target for people just like me who mocked Christians and their weak, foolish faith. How could I claim to know God when I...well....didn't actually know God?

And then Michael gave me the wisdom that I have been living with ever since - he told me that it's not my job to figure out everything there is to know about God. He said that knowing God takes a lifetime of experiences with him, and that God is more than able to reveal himself to me, if I am willing to listen and learn from him. He said that all I needed to do was acknowledge God and ask him to come into my life, to show me himself.

And that made sense to me. In the end, I reasoned, I wouldn't be a worse person if I tried this whole Jesus-thing and it didn't work out. So Michael and I sat down on a park bench, and we prayed together, and God changed my life.

Many people say that they didn't feel any different after they turned their lives over to God; they didn't feel a sudden presence of the Holy Spirit come over them or have a rush of adrenaline. Their process of transformation was slow and gradual. But for me, it was instantaneous. I sat down on that bench because my rational, logical mind said that I had no more arguments against God and I should give Jesus a try. I didn't feel like I was a sinner in need of a savior. I wasn't lost and in despair, grasping for a lifeline of hope. It was the most intellectual decision I've probably ever made.

Yet, somehow, when I repeated the words that Michael was saying that night, my heart was totally and completely affected. I believe that it's because I came to God honestly, without pretense or preconceived ideas of what I was getting myself into. I simply said that I wanted to know him. And I meant it.

The funny thing about the real God is that even though he could force people to blindly follow him, even though he could wipe out all his enemies with one breath, even though he could show up and shut the mouths of fools - he doesn't. Instead, he is patient. He loves people enough to let them use their own minds and make their own choices, even if it means rejecting him.

And he - oh why, God? - lets idiots like me be his representatives on this earth. Because now that I am getting to know this God, the closer I get to him, the more beautiful and majestic I see him, the more I know that I am a hypocrite. As long as I live in this body of sin, I will claim to believe all sorts of things about God but turn around and live just the opposite. I am married to Christ but I am a whore who cheats on him with cheap, worldly thrills.  And still, he lets me claim his name. He lets his reputation - what other people think about him! - come through what people experience when they know me.

So my prayer today is the same as the one I offered that summer night in 1999:
Lord, I am a sinner and I need you. Come into my life and change me. Let me know your holiness and make me like you.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

10.08.11 Discovering Jesus Part 8: A Stolen Kiss

Over a year ago, I began a series chronicling how I was changed from a self-righteous athiest to a lover of Jesus. You can reference all those posts here. And now I'm ready to finish that story...

The night that the Holy Spirit confronted me, after Michael left, I went into my bedroom, sat on the bed, looked up at the ceiling and said, out loud, "God, I think you are trying to say something to me. Will you please speak clearly, because I have no idea what is going on here?!?"

You could probably consider that the first prayer I ever prayed.

Shortly after that, on another evening spent talking with Michael, we ended up kissing on his couch. I told my boyfriend about it, and when he returned to town, Michael asked to meet him to apologize. So, while I was at work, Michael and my boyfriend spent three hours talking over coffee. During that conversation, Michael and he decided that the three of us would attend a church service together that weekend.

That Saturday evening was the first time I had set foot in a church building since I was a confirmed Catholic in eighth grade - and this service was nothing like the Catholic church! I found myself fighting back tears and wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into. Afterwards, the three of us - Michael, my boyfriend, and I - went out to dinner. And during our meal, we jointly decided that I was going to move out of my boyfriend's apartment and move in with Michael's mom and stepdad.

This part of my story amazes me to this day. God was so obviously chasing after me, but at the time, I just had no idea. At the time, I knew that even though I wasn't a Christian, my life was headed in a direction that didn't include my boyfriend. At the time, it just seemed logical that I needed to end our relationship and find a new place to live for the remainder of the summer.

I moved my stuff out of my boyfriend's apartment, then headed down to Iowa to celebrate my 20th birthday with my family. On the way, my gas light came on while I was 40 miles from the nearest town, but I had to take a detour around said small town, which led to my second prayer ever - "God, I know you are not finished with me yet. You have more you want to say to me, so I'm going to trust that I'm not about to break down in the middle of nowhere with no way to reach anyone. Will you just get me to the next gas station, please?"

Which he did, but my prayer was forgotten by that point. I didn't mention anything to my family about Michael or any of our conversations. God really wasn't a part of that trip home. But God was patient with all of that. And he was waiting for me when I returned to Minneapolis...

09.29.11 Parenting Through Pain

At my job, I encounter women who chose to abort their babies and are back in our clinic with a positive pregnancy test. Others are carrying their 3rd or 4th child, with almost as many fathers. Most of these moms are unable (or unwilling) to provide basic necessities for these precious little ones, who suffer from absent fathers, physical poverty, and other issues of neglect.

Meanwhile, I know three sisters in Christ who have suffered miscarriages this year. Another gave birth to her stillborn son at 35 weeks. And many more struggle with infertility.


From a worldly perspective, life isn't fair. Irresponsible parents should not be allowed to bring children into their cycles of destructive darkness. Healthy marriages should be able to produce blessed kids. Our hearts long for justice, for wickedness to be wiped out and for Goodness to prevail. Especially for the sake of our kids.

But, in this world, we have no hope for that ever occurring. In this world, our three-fold enemies of death, Satan, and sin are still at work. And in this world, in our natural, worldly state, we - the non-addicted, still-married, employed, responsible, followers of God - we are no better and no more deserving of blessings than any other parent. Which means that, in this world, there really isn't any more hope for our kids than for the children of those "other" parents.

We must look outside of this world for hope. But the fact is, from a spiritual perspective, life isn't fair, either. It isn't fair that the Most Perfect Parent watched the brutal execution of his Perfect Son. It isn't fair that God's innocent child bore the weight of guilty children's sin, that he suffered at the hands of Satan's servants, and that he laid in the chill of death. It isn't fair that Jesus fought - and defeated - our enemies and that WE get the rewards.

God's grace isn't fair but it is just. And it offers the only hope for comfort in the face of death, courage to resist Satan, and power to turn from sin. If we want a life full of Good, then it must be full of God.

Only God makes the parenting playing field level, for none of us comes even close to his patience, his mercy, his generosity, or his delight as a Father. Only God sustains us through the frustration and fears of dealing with disobedient, whiny, rebellious children. Only God can create life, faithfully watch over it, and redeem it to himself. That is the standard of good parenting to which, by God's mercy, we can aspire. Lord, help us!

09.26.11 A Simple Creed

Over a year ago, I read a book that challenged the choices I was making as a wife and mother. Inspired by the author, I pulled out a notecard, wrote down a little "mother's creed" to myself, and taped it over my kitchen sink. We don't have a dishwasher, so I spend alot of my time at that sink, and I often glance at that creed. I can't miss it, really. And I am challenged, each day, to decide if I'm going to abide by it - or ignore its wisdom. I don't remember exactly what I was thinking when I wrote each of the little phrases by those pretty hearts, but here is how I attempt to live some of them out.

 PRAYS. The apostle Paul told the church to "rejoice always, pray without ceasing, [and] give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." This could be the only advice I heed as a parent and life would go well!

My prayer life has always been my daily life. I set aside regular time to journal, but most of my prayers happen as my day happens, which means that my daughter hears alot of talking to Jesus. She understands that when we're upset, afraid, or worried, or someone is sick or in trouble, we go to God about it.

The other day, we caught a caterpillar, and she told me that she didn't want it to turn into a butterfly. I explained that this was how God made caterpillars, so there was no other option. She responded, with that precious childlike faith, that she would ask God not to do that. "Dear Jesus, can you please not let my caterpillar turn into a butterfly? Amen." I love that she saw God, not just as the creator of that insect, but also as the one who could change the way it was made!

 PROVIDES. My role as a mother is to provide the opportunity and the freedom for my child to learn about life and her role in it. I provide daily necessities so that she is physically cared for, but I also provide emotional support, godly wisdom, new adventures, and a safe space for her to be herself. I model a life of thanksgiving to God for ultimately providing all that we need.

Maren and I talk alot about sharing what we have because it doesn't belong to us. She knows that God shares everything with us, so, out of thanks for his gifts, we don't withhold anything from others.

 has FUN! I am really not a fun person, as adults go. But my kid wakes up each morning full of delight and expectation for what awaits her that day, and it is my privilege to share her joy. Many things in this life are NOT fun but she doesn't have to know that yet. Even better, she may learn (or teach me?) how to find amusement in the things we'd rather avoid. Every day, I let Maren choose at least one thing that she wants to do that day and I make sure that I am fully committed to having FUN while we do it. I don't have a biblical justification for this, but I do want my daughter to look back on her childhood and remember our silly moments. I think it draws us together.

has PEACE. As long as we live in this world, we will have trouble. We will be disappointed, discouraged, rejected, and possibly worse. We will suffer and we will fail. But if we have peace with God, through Jesus Christ, then our lives don't need to be ruled by our emotions, our relationships, or our circumstances. Instead, we can let the peace of Christ rule in [our] hearts.

A parent who possesses this kind of peace is not easily bothered when plans go awry or when children disobey. The peace of Christ gives parents the strength to respond to whining kids calmly, rather than enter into a screaming match. Christ's peace gives parents the ability to move through the day with hope and power and love. And ultimately, it points our children to the security of knowing and following Jesus - our Prince of Peace.

Of course, I am not perfect in this, but that's why prayer is at the top of my mother's creed! What about you? When you see my creed, what parts of it do you find difficult? Or how are you living out your own creed?

09.19.11 A Great Mom = An Excellent Wife

The only child-rearing advice that I am absolutely certain applies to all parents at all times in all places is this: love your kid(s), but love your husband more.

In some ways, this seems obvious. But for most of us, it is actually very difficult to live out. I think it's because the love between a mother and child is entirely natural - the moment you lay eyes on this little being, who is wholly dependent on and in love with you, your heart completely belongs to that baby. No matter how much they keep you up at night, how often they disobey, how simultaneously challening and demanding and manipulative they can be - we moms just can't stop loving those kids.

But the love between a man and a woman is completely unnatural. Not at first, of course - we all love the feeling of being in love, having a desirable man pursue us with romantic gestures and thoughtful acts of service. If we're lucky, we enjoy a honeymoon phase in our relationships, where nothing he does really gets us going and we're willing to overlook his tiny faults.

Eventually, though, romantic love fades away and we're left with the hard work of actually loving the man we married. And there is nothing natural about it. Our natural selves expect to be right all of the time; we want him to know what he's done wrong and how to fix it without having to explain it to him; we want him to work a good job, then come home and help with the housework, instead of retreat to the video games, and plan romantic getaways that sweep us off our feet. We don't want him to complain about any of our faults but be completely responsive and immediately change whatever he's doing that we don't like. That is how we naturally want to relate to our spouses.

Instead, if we are the people of God, we are called to treat our husbands with respect. Not because they deserve it, or because they've earned it, but because how we treat our husbands reflects what we believe about God. And that, my friends, is why loving our husbands is infinitely more important than loving our children - because our relationship with our husbands communicates the nature of our relationship with God, a relationship that we hope our children will one day choose for themselves, a relationship that - for both us and for our children - is infinitely more important than any human relationship we will ever enter into, as parents or as spouses.

I am the first to confess that it is way easier to hug my adorable little girl than it is to make sure my husband is greeted each evening with a kiss and a loving hello. It's more fun to read books and snuggle with a 3 year old than it is to communicate about a budget or schedule quality alone time.

I believe that God is in those moments with Maren, that he is honored and delighted when I share my love with her. But I also believe that he is glorified when I serve my husband, and that the way that I move towards Michael, the way that I prioritize him and support what he needs, is an act of worship, one of the most important acts of worship that I get to do while I am on this earth.