Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Giving – And Given – Freely

I saw him on the road most nights after work. He stood at the end of the off-highway ramp that was my exit for home. He leaned against the stop sign, holding a raggedy piece of cardboard with the words “Please help”.

When I first saw the man, dirty and leathery from spending his days unprotected in the hot sun, I felt a pang of sadness and even a little guilt for not stopping to help. I was in my early twenties after all, not able to spare much that could make a difference, and I was scared too, afraid of what a desperate stranger on the side of the road might do to a naïve young woman who opened her window and reached out her hand. I avoided eye contact and after taking that way home and seeing him many times, like so many other commuters, I ignored the man and his message.

One evening after an early dinner with a friend, I exited for home and, my courage buoyed by the presence of my friend in the car, hit the open window button and reached out to the man who still stood there in the fading daylight. He approached the car, and, seeing the container of food that I offered to him from our meal, waved us away disgustedly. Embarrassment and shame rippled through me – I had money to buy my dinner, why couldn’t I have given him some cash? How arrogant of me to expect that he would lap up my leftovers! I could have bought him a whole dinner of his own, even. But he didn’t even say no thanks.

My friend and I talked about him on the way home. Beggars can’t be choosers, we agreed callously. How rude was he, not even bothering to speak to us? Probably a drug addict, only interested in money for his next fix. He probably had a house somewhere, part of a crew of panhandlers on the highway who made their living taking money from chumps. From that moment on I ignored him when I saw him on the exit ramp, but the interaction still bothered me.

Years later, my husband, who travels for work, experienced a period in his life when people came up to him at different places – airports, usually – and asked for money. Money to help for a specific urgent need was the usual request. We talked about the coincidence of him being singled out by random people. Did you give them anything? I’d ask. He did. The people had good reasons for needing the cash. But my husband said that he sort of felt like he had been duped every time and that he wished he knew that they were using the money for the purpose he gave it.

In the Bible we are reminded that God loves widows and orphans, and takes care of those who live among us and who have no family of their own (Deuteronomy 10:18). He commands us to live generously as well, not being grudging with our giving, but give freely as God has freely given to us (Deuteronomy 15:10-11, Luke 6:30, 1 Corinthians 2:12).

It does not say in the Bible “Give freely, but only if the person is grateful and only if they really need it.”

When we give, we are not asked to judge the recipient of our generosity, nor called to put expectations on those to whom we give. We don’t give a birthday gift to a friend and ask them later if they are using it. Our involvement ends the moment the gift is in their hands; we don’t have control over how others use what they are given. If we worry about how a person is using something we’ve given to them, then our hearts weren’t in the right place when we gave the gift anyway. If they misuse the gift, that’s their problem to work through with God.

God could say the same about me. How many gifts have I received from him that I take for granted, refuse to thank him for, see as a burden, ignore, manipulate or squander?


God calls us to give freely as he has given to us. That’s all. It’s freeing to live life in the simple ways he asks us to live. If we can put aside our own encumbrances like expecting thanks or being recognized for a good deed or even knowing that our gift is used well, we can be at peace knowing that we are living the life we are meant to live. The person we help might not thank us, but we are asked to help anyway. This reminder is important for all of us to keep in mind when we give help, time, or resources. The recipient may not receive in the way we expect, but we have done what we were called to do.

And that is enough.


Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do. Deuteronomy 15:10 (NLT)

Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Luke 6:30 (NLT)

What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God,
so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 1 Corinthians 2:12 (NIV)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

In Need of a Faith Jump

Faith may grow during a lifetime, but it is not always a steady culmination. Even the most devout follower of Christ may lose interest in pursuing God.

We can blame the world’s temptations, hard times, illness, or plain distraction on this lapse or slowdown of faith-building. They are all valid reasons for a person stalling out on Jesus. It happened to Jesus’ disciples, and they were so devoted that they toured with him (John 6:60-66).

If this happened to people who saw Jesus and heard him speak every day, what hope do modern followers of Jesus have, we who don’t have the benefit of sharing his company? I don’t have lunch dates with Jesus, where we chat about what I need to accomplish the building of my faith. I don’t think I’m the only one who doesn’t know what God’s voice sounds like. Where is that voice that we hear above all others while life’s distractions fill our minds and seep into our hearts?

He is there, of course. He is always there. We feel his presence from the first day we believe. We are taught how to reconnect with him: read your Bible and serve others and pray and get with other Christians and go to church and listen to praise music and talk to a pastor. The Bible tells us to do all of these things and more on a daily basis to remain in The Father The Son and The Holy Spirit.

We each are given the same chance of the gift of salvation. It is offered to all and fits every one of us the same. We are not all given the same environmental conditions in which to pursue him – some people live in places where believing in Jesus can result in death – but the ultimate gift of eternal life is the same for all.

No matter where we are in our faith, we each have a difficult job to keep it up. The world makes sure that our lives are filled with obstacles and distractions. No one person has it easier or harder than another to keep the flames of conviction going; God equips us with custom-made tools to continue building our faith.

Easy for me to say, one who lives in a place with freedom of religion, where my parents practiced a Christian lifestyle and were comfortable inside the walls of a church. Further, my upbringing and subsequent life were peaceful, without regular fear or hardship. Save for a couple of bumps in the road, my path to Jesus was paved pretty smoothly. I had only my own convictions to overcome to see the light.

Sometimes the crosses we carry are invisible, only in our minds. Mental illness, pride, lack of confidence, self-aggrandizing beliefs, even laziness can steer us away from God.

We can all stall out on Jesus. We lag behind and wave our comrades in faith on ahead. Go on without me. Leave me here. I can’t go on any further. It’s taking too long to get there. I’ll catch up later.

Thing is, we can’t afford to catch up later. It doesn’t take any time to derail a person from pursuing faith. It’s too easy to give up – Jesus isn’t physically standing over us with his hand extended, ready to help us up, and when we give up, the world is ready to catch us in its wave and sweep us away.

But Jesus is here. God is here. The Spirit – here. All are here to get us back up and on our way. It might take a faith jump – serving others, a retreat, a new Bible study, making regular lunch dates with a good Christian friend – to get us going, but our Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will always be here to give us what they promise.



Friday, September 9, 2016

Rules for Love

The world has many rules for love. They trickle into our relationships, settle into our ways of thinking, influence our behavior, and can even twist and warp pure love into something interpersonally dysfunctional and personally harmful. We have all fallen into this trap of what the world tells us about love, and sometimes we spend our lives grasping at and clinging to an idea of love that isn’t love at all. We run in circles to conform to an ever-changing version of love that we are told matters the most today, and exhaust our emotions and our time and mental capacity trying to achieve what everyone else says is true love. #relationshipgoals

True love isn’t finding a soul mate or still holding hands after fifty years of marriage. It isn’t celebrating every milestone or giving gifts. It isn’t meeting expectations or accepting every behavior. These are just actions.

When love becomes a series of actions or rules or goals, we are chasing a dream instead of the real thing. We are dissatisfied when real love comes our way, and we miss it. Sometimes we’ve been convinced that there’s something about us that makes us unworthy of love, which is an even more sinister lie.

We have lost sight of what love is at its core.

God is love. And all love is from God.

Love is without fear, punishment, or condition. It is kind and strong. It is free and pure and can grow and blossom even in unlikely situations or relationships. It is found between friends and relatives and spouses and strangers. It is the peace that comes from knowing that you love and are loved. It is neither a checklist nor a set of goals to be met. Love can wait. If it is from God, it is on his timeline. No personal goals or demands from others set its pace or timeframe. It can’t be imposed, and it can’t be rushed.

Each of us has to figure this out on our own; the world ensnares all of us in its weird versions of love early and often, and tells us that we make our own rules about love. Eventually we emerge from the trap and can finally learn what love really is.

Love is the example of Jesus – his sacrifice, but also his life.

We can receive it and pass it on. And we can live in it, if we choose.


Dear God, everything in this world is so difficult. I am grateful that you have provided love to show us the goodness you intend and have made for us to receive. Thank you, Amen.


Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.
Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
1 John 4:7

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

My Job

It’s hard to admit a behavior when it doesn’t match how we’d like to present ourselves.

We read the news about climate change, see images of mountains of trash in developing countries, and hear about plastics clogging the oceans, and we join conversations, stating “We need to do more about pollution.” “I’m going to recycle more.” “We need to pay more attention to how we’re treating the Earth.” “I’m going to support environmental causes.” “We are contributing to our world’s demise.” “I’m going to be serious about my contribution to this issue.” “We need to do something together to combat this problem.”

Yet there’s a squashed water bottle right there in front of me, right there in the parking lot at Target. It looks like it’s been there for days. In seconds, I tsk tsk the person who left it there, double check that I locked my car, make sure my phone is in my purse, and step over it on my way into the store.

Not my trash, not my problem. Plus, ew. How long has it been there? Germ-riddled, dirty thing. The person whose lips touched that could have a stomach bug, strep throat, the consumption.

And in those few seconds it took me to ignore a small thing that I could do, something that wouldn’t cost me a penny or any time out of my day, I left the trash there, indifferent to the trashing of my neighborhood.

I contributed to the problem.

I didn’t do anything when I could have done something.

We are all expected to contribute to the upkeep of society. We teach our children Please and Thank You, hold doors open for each other, and shop locally to promote the neighboring economy. We agree that we all have to work together to make the world a better place.

We all have this responsibility. ALL. What do we do about it?

It’s such a big job, we say. I can’t go around picking up everyone’s trash. I’ll never get anything done! It’s too much. Someone else can do it.

As Christians we are called to bring the gospel to non-believers, and to shine God’s love and to spread his truth to everyone regardless of faith.

All Christians have this responsibility. ALL. What do we do about it?

It’s such a big job, we say. I’m not a preacher. Just because I go to church, I have to be an evangelist, too? It’s too much. Someone else can do it.

I gave up the notion of doing humongous things for God years and years ago. I realized that one in 7 billion people doesn’t have much of a chance at making a difference in the world overall, especially when my main tasks centered on meeting my family’s needs. It was a hard lesson to learn because it seemed that the expectation was to do major things in a visible way so that the maximum number of people could be reached. What are YOU doing for Jesus today? those expectations asked me, all judgmental. Um, I made dinner tonight? Why yes, it was hot dogs again. I only yelled twice, and I didn’t make a snide remark to my husband today. Do those things count? I always felt inferior when it came to serving God.

When it hit me that every single thing I do in love and for the love of God through the gifts he gave me: paying attention to his quiet whispers of encouragement, showing kindness to others, performing mundane tasks without complaint, praying for my friends and neighbors – all of those things were exactly what I was made to do.

When I realized that THIS is my job, it didn’t bother me that I was doing little things.

Like picking up one piece of someone else’s trash in the parking lot. It may sound insignificant, but it’s not my job to judge what’s important. That’s God’s job.

Sharing God’s love is my job. It doesn’t matter what that looks like.


Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up. We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this.

If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.

You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:1-6

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Perfect Timing

Last week I spent a week at church camp with a bunch of teenagers.

While church camp certainly isn’t my number one destination choice for a week of summer, I have to say: it wasn’t terrible.

Truthfully, it was pretty great. There were incredible speakers and music and reflection time and company and conversation and laughter everywhere you went; great doesn’t even begin to describe it, actually. It had all the elements of a good vacation anywhere: plenty of activity and relaxation time, meals that were all taken care of, a clean, dry place to sleep at night.

Yes, there was sleeping. At church camp. Maybe a first.

I wouldn’t know for sure – it was my first time.

By the time I was a teen, I had camped before, usually a night or two away. In fourth grade I went to Girl Scout horse camp that scarred me for life (my horse, Sugar, terrified me after the day she stopped to pee, pinning the toe of my boot under her enormous hoof, but who remembers details like that, never mind, I’m perfectly fine), and I vaguely recall some other camping at a very young age, but a week of church camp was off my radar by the time I was a teenager.

It’s fair to say that I was a little nervous about going to church camp as an adult – after all, it’s a little late for me – and I also wondered if I would be an awful and ineffective leader. I quickly realized that I was surrounded by people I knew who had been there at least once before and were more than willing to answer questions and explain confusing things and were nice enough not to roll their eyes in an obvious way when I asked dumb questions and couldn’t figure out the schedule.

As usual I was mentally unprepared, barely considering that I would be responsible for making sure 11 girls got to and from their various activities on time. Lucky for me my teen squad knew me already, and they were comfortable showing me the ropes when I had no idea what I was doing, and after two days of slinking in five or ten minutes late for everything on the schedule, by the third day I finally knew what was going on and was able to help them stay on track.

But the best part about church camp? God.

It’s a no-brainer that God was present at a camp specifically designed for people to bond over their faith and talk about Jesus and changed lives. It’s why we went, why parents send their kids there: to spend time away from home, for the church camp experience. To grow in their faith with others and to learn who they are according to Him away from the distractions of everyday life.

Every day, the Holy Spirit was present as tears were shed when talking about loved ones who don’t believe, listening to questions about faith, wondering what God expects from us, making decisions for the rest of our lives.

By the end of the week I had heard outrageous stories of what kids do with their friends when away from home at church camp, but I also experienced with them the outrageous love that God has for his children. It was an honor to share these experiences with all the people who were there, to serve God in a way that was a pleasure and despite what most people think, not like a sacrifice at all.

I’m so glad that I finally went to church camp. It was the perfect time.


Thursday, July 14, 2016


I was sort of a gloomy little kid. My cynical phase started in elementary school and never really ended.

Meanness, betrayal, ugly truths revealed by education, the news, personal experiences of how horrid people can be – all these things caused me to regard the world with general wariness.

People are mean. We’re mean. We delight in watching train wrecks, love counting the bodies.

My husband consumes world events. He sits at the kitchen table with his iPad and tells me what’s happening. He asks “Did you hear about…?” My answer is a vague Sure, sometimes No.

Ugliness, fighting, senseless killing and other tragedies: these are uncovered, dissected, examined every day. More bombs dropped, literally and figuratively. It’s become a competition to see what Big Important News Story can get the most entertainment miles. It’s happening; every angle is covered. Tomorrow will bring another thing to be outraged about – that’s a guarantee.

My husband can examine a news story, understand the relative importance of it, hold onto its entertainment value for a second, and let it go. I scan a news item and immediately descend into a rabbit hole of moral, philosophical, and cultural repercussions. It's hard to find my way out. I read sparingly.

Recently I had a conversation with some friends about how social media is turning into a forum for opinions and editorials. For every news item that gets its time in the spotlight, thousands of people are ready to spout their opinions. It’s not what I signed up for, to learn which of my friends are for or against gun control, which presidential candidate they support, what civil rights issue is most important right now.

I signed up on social media to see pictures, to hear funny life experiences, to chat and to connect. That hasn’t changed for me.

I wondered if I have my head in the sand, that I shut my eyes to keep the bad stuff out, that I am naïve and stupid and silly for staying away from bandwagons, that I am missing The Big Parade. I care about things that happen in the world – I’m not cavalier about them. But I also don’t wring my hands and worry about them – I can figure out what I can do to help, and sometimes it’s to pray and continue to live this life, to love God and love others.

Then my friend said something that reoriented my perspective:

“Man sinned in the garden. Sin was defeated on the cross but we live with it until Jesus comes again. Evil has its 15 minutes. Jesus wins. The end.”

I am a Christian. I believe in this truth, that God has a plan for each of us, for all of us together. Terrible things happen because of the sin in this world. War and famine and terrorism and hate – they are all the same to God. They aren’t what he wanted when he created this world, but it’s what people have started, and his plan allows us to be redeemed by Christ, to live in a perfect world that is forthcoming.

No evil is bigger than God’s good. I believe that he planted this truth in me, which is maybe a reason why I don’t jump onto bandwagons. I don’t have to figure out why the world is as it is today. I know why. The things that are happening are terrible for sure, and things to come are worrisome, but I believe that good will prevail.

I will stay away from meanness, from the terrible things that people do to each other. I will scroll past fantastic news stories, and refrain from engaging into discussions about the issue of the day. This world is broken – I don’t need to read a hundred articles to understand this, and I don’t want to have conversations illustrating just how bad things are. It breaks me down, focusing on the bad stuff, and I was not created to be broken down. I was created to be a light to shine in this world. To pray and to live this life.

I have hope that God will do what he promised he would. My role is to proclaim this hope.

Maybe I’m not so gloomy after all.

* * *
No one lights a lamp and then hides it or puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house.
Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when it is unhealthy, your body is filled with darkness. Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness. If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light.
Luke 11: 33-36

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

All the Stages of Life

The past few years I have known great change, yet it creeps along so subtly that it is only during moments of slowness and reflection that I realize just how different the landscape looks now.

My children are teenagers, vastly different people than who they were not too long ago. They change daily. Our home is fifteen years old, in need of everything new. My body is slower and weaker; I have to be more careful.

Connections with others have changed or are lost. Loved ones are gone now, after periods of illness or infirmity which seem to last a long time in suffering but in retrospect are only months or weeks long. Formerly strong attachments to others have weakened and fallen away.

Other relationships have deepened; marriage and friendships grow stronger through life events that test bonds. New conversations are shared within established relationships, drawing us even closer together, making life sweeter and more grounded.

During all these changes, the Lord has been with me through it all. I am grateful, because change is hard. I need something solid to rest upon. I’m not afraid to admit it.

God is with us all the days of our lives, even when we don’t know him. He watches out for us, and has unique plans for each of us. He waits for us to answer his call – he has infinite patience! He cries in sorrow when one of us turns our back on him. He wants us all to know Jesus, to be saved, but he will never force us to accept his gift.

This kind of grace is unknown to us on earth – not one of us is as selfless as God, ready to let others in our lives grow in directions that go against what we want for them, what we think they should do. We hang on as if our happiness depends on how they conduct their lives.

We each have been given a life of our own. We are given different bodies, gifts, and circumstances that we must figure out how to use to craft a way of life in this world. We each have choices to make that are ours only.

When I think about what God has given me, instead of reflecting on all the ways that my life has changed recently, I am thankful. Thankful for this life that was made to fit me perfectly. Thankful for the choices I have been given, even though some have been difficult. Thankful for arriving at this point in life and faith - it hasn’t been easy.

There have been some things that I could have done without. Some wounds take a long time to heal, and some sorrows are hard to ignore. Even today, I could be more charitable, more helpful, softer with my words and gentler with my attitude. I’m not done yet.

I have no doubt that God will be with me during the rest of my life and all its stages. I have no doubt that there will be more of the growth that has brought me here, even though I sometimes miss it while it’s happening.

At the end of this life, I hope to still be able to look back and say Thank You to the God that saw me through it.

Every single stage.

Give thanks to the Lord because he is good, because his faithful love endures forever.
1 Chronicles 16:34