Thursday, March 30, 2017

Denial



Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross  and  follow me." Matthew 16:24


I nod my head because I believe that is true. I can say, "amen" in gentle agreement because I have preached this and sometimes lived it and know it is a truth that is ultimately good, though not easy. This is the Gospel. This hard thing is a grace in our lives because it insists that we give up those lies about what satisfies and, instead, follow the only One that truly does.  Out of love, Jesus asks us to deny ourselves in order to follow him, because ourselves want things that we don't need and things that hold nothing for us except fleeting pleasure and empty promises. Nothing that lasts.  They are things that I use to replace God with something far less than who he is and what he offers. And sometimes, as a follower of Jesus for many years,  I forget that this is an ongoing battle. I forget that it is a continuous bending low to pick up a cross my flesh doesn't want, a retrieving of that cross that I laid down so that I could have something else that was easier for a while.

How long has it been, I asked myself recently, since I was truly convicted by my sin nature? Oh, not a specific infraction, not a fleeting "oh...I need to do that differently next time. Rely on God more. Use kinder words.  Think more holy thoughts, etc." kind of conviction. But, how long since I have been truly convicted by a truth I live that is contrary to the Gospel, by a lifestyle choice that doesn't match with the "amen" I utter when I hear sermons on denying myself? Truths like: "I need this stuff more than I need God, delicious food is better than Christ, my feelings are truer than scripture."  It's not that I would ever say any of these out loud with any passion or certainty, but my thoughts or my actions seem to confirm their reality. Do I desire something more than Him. Do I find greater pleasure in the created things more than in the Creator? Do I know the truth but just find it irrelevant or too hard in my situation?

This morning, as I read in my Lent devotional about the mobs shouting, "Crucify Him," I realized that the crowds calling for Jesus' death were saying out loud the truth that I sometimes live. Crucify him. He asks too much of me and I don't want to deal with it. Get rid of him. Holy Spirit, go away. I don't want to hear what you have to say this time.  And I can see that there are ways in which I am no different than the screaming mob. I think when I am unable to understand the violent crowds calling for Jesus' death, I am in danger of forgetting my own flesh;  in danger of forgetting that I, too, deny Him, instead of myself.   Maybe I'd rather think of myself more like one of his disciples in the story. Oh...well...I guess that works, too. After all,  it wasn't just the mobs denying him, being swept up in a bigger plan. His disciples deserted him, too. Fled for their lives. Most notably, Peter, who literally ran to save his own flesh.

Following Jesus doesn't mean that we will never do it again...that we will never struggle against our flesh and find ourselves losing the battle. But choosing Jesus means that our experience gets to be like Peter's. That the merciful rooster crows, that conviction that is both painful and good,  and we are reminded of Jesus' words about our weakness.  That we see our flesh for what it is and weep bitterly. In those moments, we are reminded that, to follow him, we have to stoop down and pick up our cross again.  And like Peter as he ran to the tomb on resurrection day, we are surer than ever that denying ourselves holds far more hope and joy than we could imagine. And sure that Jesus is what we need. That He is ALL we need.

This truth settles in around me and it feels good, but it feels hard, also. Jesus knows. He bent down low and picked up the cross first. And He's right there with me, shouldering most of the weight of it, anyway. So I journal and pray and then whisper, "amen,"  and I know I will need to remember it all again soon. Probably even again today.  

Friday, December 2, 2016

I Heard the Bells

Three weeks ago, I sat in my small group from church and cried and babbled, mostly incoherently, about my big feelings. I told my group that I knew, even as I talked, that what I was feeling was too much. I was so sad about how awful people have been during this election season and especially after. I was personally wounded by the attacks on people I didn't even know and there was a heaviness in my heart because of all this pain.  And, I was incredibly saddened by the rhetoric of so many believers who resorted to name-calling and inflammatory language.  It felt shocking and deeply sad. It still does. Afterwards, Loren and I talked about why it had me so captured.  I knew much of it had to do with social media, and with just the regular media. It's hard to navigate the pain that is just a click away on our computers, in the news, on Facebook , in the zillions of blogs that are out there, and still maintain a worldview that is positive. There is a lot of pain. And I felt compelled to keep clicking, to keep reading it all in an effort to be informed, but also in an effort to really understand. I had good intentions, but I was drowning in the sorrow.
Then,  add to this, a slew of things with the kids and with friends that were hard and emotional, and some ministry challenges that were exhausting and tedious. I felt emotionally spent, physically exhausted by the constant processing of it all. And again, I knew it was out of proportion. Were these big feelings a gift or a liability?  Well, probably both.
Then, I had the good sense to go off of social media and regular media for a while. And, though I didn't understand why at the time, I also gave myself permission to quit the gym for a while.  For some people, the gym is their jam. It is their escape.  It has never been that for me, though. I love my gym, but CrossFit is a punishing kind of workout. Usually, I kind of like that. It feels good to work hard and leave feeling spent.  But, because lately, there had been so much hard work in regular old life...a kind of mentally exhausting work....it just felt like too much. And I didn't want to feel like I was punishing myself anymore.  I wanted to do something that felt like it gave me something instead of took something from me. I wanted to walk and listen to podcasts. I wanted to run and think only about breathing. I wanted to do yoga and feel my muscles loosen up and stretch. I didn't need to leave somewhere feeling beaten up and exhausted. I was getting enough of that in my everyday life.
I needed time to slow down and to turn down the volume on the world and the chaos in my own life. I needed to check and see if my perspective was accurate.  And when I did, I could hear the still, small voice of Jesus. There he was, still offering hope, offering peace, offering rest. He is still victorious. He still offers to fill us with the fullness of God.  What grace!
Just this morning I thought about how in the past couple of weeks my heaviness and despair has lifted, and my breath caught as I realized that this despair is what the world feels every day. I am reminded of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, turned Christmas carol, written during the dark days of the American Civil War:
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
This is the reality of those who are without Christ. The end of it all. What a tragedy! With a grateful heart, as a child of God, I am able to sing the last verse with confidence.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
I am grateful that, today, the music of Christ is more loud and deep than the music of the world in my own head. He continues to remind me that he is still working, that he never tires of setting things right. I have no need to despair! And, my glimpse into the heart of those who are lost challenges me to share this Good News. I can't imagine living every day without the knowledge and understanding that what this world offers in not all there is.
During this season of Advent, as we enter into the stories of those saints long ago who were waiting for the coming Messiah, we are being made brave enough to continue to wait for his second coming. I pray that it makes you brave to know that he, very literally, prevails to bring peace on earth and his good will to men and that the music of his victory is loud and deep in your ears. And I am praying that we, as the church, understand that we can be instruments of that peace and good will to the larger world and to those in our own lives. That as he chooses, in his grace, to fill us with all the fullness of God, we are responsible to share this Good News with those who need to know it.
The good gift of Christmas is this chance to remember.
Peace and good will to you, friends.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Election


I saw a meme Saturday that said, "I voted. And now I need a hug." Yes, exactly.

As I sat down to consider my ballot last week, the words below came pouring out of me. And they gave me a little perspective on what really matters. And then we ended our worship service yesterday with the hymn, "Be Still, My Soul"...an appropriate benediction for all time, but especially for these times. The last four lines say this:

Heart of my own heart,
Whatever befall
Still be my vision
O Ruler of all

Yes, and Amen

Be encouraged, friends.


Election
We are not souls who can exist on a steady diet of fear and hate
We are not able to stand up under the burden of our own disdain and cruelty
An eye for an eye is too big a weight to carry
The plank in our own eye is jagged and festering and affecting our vision
We are a people scarred by our own hands, the knives we wield serving mostly to pierce ourselves
To cut us off from each other, to cut us off from love, to cut us off from mercy
Walled in by thick rock and existing in darkness like in a sealed tomb
Wrapped in a shroud of despair
But God...
BUT GOD
In Him, fear is cast out to the far edges of the farthest reaching existence
Fear doesn't hold sway over our decisions, our reactions, our ability to love
In Him, love covers over a multitude of sins, ours and others', too
In Him, the impossible standard of perfection is achieved and placed over us like a mantle
The jagged plank removed from our eye and used instead to crucify a Savior
His hands and feet are scarred, instead
His side and his brow are pierced, instead
And in Him, we are no longer cut off from each other
No longer cut off from love
No longer cut off from mercy
It is in Him that we burst forth, from a grave into freedom
From darkness into the light of His truth
Casting off our shroud of despair and clothed instead as saints, in robes washed white by His blood
In God We Trust isn't just a motto
It is our only hope
And his election, the one that matters most


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Truth We Live



We are the worst Tooth Fairies ever. I dare you to pit your stories against ours. You would think that there is strength in numbers, that the fact that there are two of us to do the remembering would guarantee that we would have a decent shot of pulling this off.  You would think that we would learn our lesson, that the number of times we have felt the sinking feeling of forgetting in the pit of our stomachs would be enough to help us change our ways, but you would be wrong.  Of the 20 or so collective teeth that my kids have lost in the last 7 years, roughly 10 of them were forgotten by the time we went to bed...leaving us to make up a hasty story in the morning about why the Tooth Fairy left a dollar on the front porch, or under the bed, or why it showed up sometime after breakfast. My kids have now assumed that the Tooth Fairy who comes to our house is really, really, irresponsible. They aren't wrong.

Last week, Ava lost her second front tooth, giving her that adorable, giant space right in front that is completely irresistible to me. And, classic Kolmans, after she went to bed with her tooth tucked neatly under her pillow, it took us all of about 5 minutes to forget all about the previous ONE HOUR of dramatics and all of the coaxing and cheering that it took for her to get brave enough to pull that tooth out herself. So, when she came down to our bedroom in the morning and said the Tooth Fairy hadn't left her anything, I nearly decided that it was time for the jig to be up.  Let's just tell her it's not true.  Let's tell her it's us and we are horrible parents. But, Loren is not willing to give in so easily and he knows a thing or two about the tenacity of belief that exists in kids at this age. Plus, he is an Evil Genius. So, he went up there to "help her look", with a dollar tucked into his watch. Mysteriously, he "found" that dollar on the floor under the bed. Ava was excited! But, because he is masterful in the dark arts of deception, he casually mentioned that he wasn't sure it was actually from the Tooth Fairy...maybe it was just left here by someone else...to which Ava said, "Nope.  It's from her.  I smelled it. It's from Fairyland."  That girl's imagination is strong.

It's more than her imagination, though.  Ava is still in a stage where she believes what we say now because she doesn't have a reason not to. She trusts us implicitly. And she doesn't have a lot of competing voices in her life right now. This is a great window of time, where we can pass on truths about who God is (and also lies about the Tooth Fairy, apparently) and she believes. But I have two older kids, as well as a whole bunch of teenagers that are in our lives constantly through Young Life, so I know that the days are numbered where words alone are enough to make belief take root.

Loren and I have talks often about kids these days, our own and the teenagers and young adults we get to know through Young Life and through our own kids. We talk about what is driving them.  About what is driving parents.  About the ways that so many are lost and trying to find themselves in things that are so temporary.  Sports, Academics, Extra-Curriculars. Popularity. Dating.  About how parents encourage this, sometimes unwittingly, sometimes not.  We also talk about the temptation we feel to buy into some of it, too.  We talk about how it begins to seem normal and even beneficial to encourage our kids to let their lives be wrapped up in these temporary things. And we talk a lot about how, the older our kids get, the more we will stand out as weird parents if we don't do that.  Parenting with an eternal mindset is no easy task, especially for a recovering people pleaser like me.  Because so often, standing firm feels like disappointing our kids...a lot. A wise man told me recently that if we are going to shepherd our kids like Jesus shepherds, we can expect them to be disappointed often. This was a great comfort.  Jesus disappointed and disrupted people, to be sure. He called them to things that our natural selves do not gravitate to. Things like selflessness, and humility, and loving your enemy. He called them to examine their lives, to forgive, to get the plank out of their own eyes, and that the first shall be last.

I am grappling with how to hold on to these simple truths in a world, and even in a church culture, that has normalized the idolization of self and pride and "me first".  We are living in a culture that has asked students to sacrifice themselves to gods that can't redeem them but, instead, distract them from their deep need of the Only One who can by putting them on a pedestal and telling them the world is theirs.  I am really struggling to know how to shepherd my kids to buck this system and, instead, follow Jesus into a life where they will become less and He will become greater. It's exactly the opposite of what they are hearing almost everywhere else.

 I know the best I can do for my kids is to teach them to love God and to love others, no matter the cost. That is the most important thing. But it isn’t enough to just tell them that with my words if I, myself, am navigating the safe waters of shallow faith and cultural relevance.  I have to show them that with my life and with how I help to structure theirs.  I have to show them with my own life that we carve out time and energy for the most important things.  That people are more important than being the best, or achieving your goals, or having things and that following the Lord is more crucial than anything else.  I have to teach them how to build their own lives around these principles.  That means that sometimes, less important things, even those things we enjoy and that benefit us in some way, get pushed to the side. That means that sometimes less important things are called what they are...a distraction, a chasing of the wind, an idol. The less important things can’t take precedence because then the truth our children hear and the one they see don’t match up.  Experience tells me that our kids tend to believe the one they see us live out, more than the one we talk about. 

My last born child is 7. Her days of believing whatever we say are numbered.  The Tooth Fairy is on her way out and good riddance to her and her irresponsible ways. But, I can't afford to be irresponsible with the truth. I hope the truth that we speak about who God is and how he loves is one that is seared on our kids hearts because they see it lived out each and every day.  I pray that our lives match up to our rhetoric.  I'm praying that my kids' disappointment when we prioritize faith and following Jesus over whatever current idol they are being asked to buy gives way to a deep rooted understanding of our greater commitment to God's glory. And I'm praying that, as they grow, it will be their greatest joy to become less as He becomes greater...which leads me to this sobering question.

Is it mine?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Safest Place



We had a parent/teacher conference last night for Ava and got a great report. "Ava is caring and friendly." "She is very bright and an excellent reader."  "Ava is energetic!" (Ummm....yes. Energetic is a kind understatement. I once tried to count all of the cartwheels she did in one day...then wisely decided it was a massive waste of my time. But, let's just say, there were a lot in that first 10 minutes of counting!)  Even as we were getting this good report about Ava from her teacher, though, I sat there fighting back tears most of the time. And even now, I am still processing why.  And I am still teary.

Ava's teacher is wonderful, by the way. If I was going to hand pick a teacher that had qualities I felt Ava needed to be successful in school, this is the teacher I would pick.  She is firm and holds the students to high standards. She teaches using a lot of rhythms and rhymes and repeating and movements...so perfect for my musical, energetic girl. She is kind and compassionate and authentically loves teaching. (And 1st graders are HARD, ya'll!) She communicates well with parents. And maybe best of all for me, she genuinely enjoys my daughter.  I don't think Ava could have a better teacher. I am so, so grateful that God has placed her in this class.

But, every year since preschool, when it comes time to talk with teachers about my littlest girl, I am teary. Right or wrong, the thoughts I have during those meetings are, "Please, love my child." I am overcome with such a strong desire for her to be really known and loved and enjoyed by those God has placed in her life.  I think it's because I know the struggles she has, the hurt she has already had to contend with in her little life. And I know how she deals with it, too.  How she has already learned to put up walls when she feels rejected in some way. I want people to see beneath the exterior...beneath the strong-willed, tough, sassy little girl, to the vulnerable parts of her that sometimes get unexpectedly exposed and send her reeling. I want people to see that she has big feelings about hard things in her life and that she doesn't always know how to process them.  That her fear of rejection is strong and causes her to react quickly and harshly sometimes. That sometimes she quits because she is afraid of looking like she doesn't know something...afraid of what that might mean about her.

I want people to see all the great qualities I see. Her wit and sense of humor, her compassion, her determination.  I think I am teary because I want to shield her from anyone that might misinterpret her behavior, her words. Because I know her. I see her. I get what is behind the hard parts.  And I see the beautiful ways that God has made her a unique reflection of Him.

But, the reality is, that's just not always going to be possible. In fact, when it happens in a classroom that is full of kids, it is probably just because she has an incredible teacher, like she does right now. But I don't know what will happen next year, or the next, or in all of the years that come after.

What I do know is that God has uniquely equipped me to raise this child.  I may not always feel like I am doing it all right, and I may not always (or almost never) feel like she is getting it. But, I know that my heart is inexplicably tied to hers.  That I can, so often, see what is happening just below the surface. That God has given me a gift, a reflection of his own heart, of being able to look at her when things are crazy and feel almost nothing else but love. (Almost...I'm not Jesus, after all.) And so, maybe everyone doesn't have to "get" her.  Because I do. And her dad does. And Jesus certainly does.

We can bravely send her out into the world because, at home, her heart is safe.  And maybe she can bravely go out into the world because, at home, her heart is safe.  And I can rest because, in Jesus, both of us have all that we will ever need.
Loving someone so much that it hurts is part of parenting, I think. But if someone could kindly tell my tear ducts they can have the afternoon off, it would be much appreciated.