A prayer for a fractured Church.

God, help us just… stop.
Help us just stop a moment and listen.

Help us quiet our hearts,
Beckon us to come to Your feet, together.
Speak to us, together.
Earthly fathers might ask us to tell them what all the trouble is,
But perhaps You might do something better.
You might ask us to turn toward each other,
To look beyond the agitated faces and furrowed brows and harsh tones,
And see what is going on in each other’s hearts.

Perhaps, if you helped us, we would see the heartfelt concerns,
The aching spirits, and the genuine convictions
Of our brothers and sisters sitting across from us.
Could You help us see each other’s hearts?

Could you help us to remember that our war is never really with these people?
And could you show us your hands? Show us the place where your scars are.
Remind us of the unfathomably deep love you have for your people.
Perhaps if we felt a bit more aware of the immense value you placed on them,
Then maybe we could stop imagining they are faceless enemies,
And start remembering that they are brothers.

Could you quiet us? Could you remind us what’s important?
I won’t pretend that I know what you would say,
Because I think what you would say would likely surprise each of us.
I think Your words would hit each of our hearts like firey darts.
I think Your words would bring conviction to every soul,
They would humble us if we would receive them.

So would you quiet us?
Would you call us to Your side?
Could you help us- help ME- hush up and listen for a bit?

 

Birth control, Caesar, and Christian run businesses

‘Christian Businesses’ has been quite a theme in the news lately. There is a lot of debate about whether a ‘business’ counts as a person as far as religious liberties are concerned and about how the ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ spheres interact. One big topic at the moment is this healthcare mandate. Businesses of a certain size (I believe 50 or more employees) are required to provide their full-time employees with insurance that covers specific types of care, including contraception.

There are multiple businesses suing the government right now, saying that to provide the coverage for contraception violates the consciences of the business owners. In other words, the business owners believe birth control (or at least certain forms of it) to be immoral, and therefore are unable to put money into a health insurance ‘pool’ from which some funds would come out to pay for those services.

There are multiple tangents we could go on here: what government should dictate to businesses to begin with, the morality of birth control, and more, I’m sure. But I’m mainly focused on this question of ‘Is it immoral/unBiblical to contribute money to a fund where some of the fund is used for immoral purposes.’

Some might say the answer is an obvious yes.

But what I got to thinking about was when Jesus was asked if the Jews should pay taxes to Caesar. You know the story. They come to Jesus and ask Him to give His opinion on whether it is right to pay the tax or not. He answers in His usual wise way, getting right to the heart of the matter, saying that they should ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’

This passage can be studied to no end, I suppose, but my point here is pretty specific. Those taxes that Jesus told them to pay (and Paul also affirmed the paying of taxes in Romans 13)… those taxes were used for all manner of immoral things: unjust wars, corruption, oppression, and cruel torture and executions. Jesus (and Paul) told the people to not resist the government’s demands to give money to a fund from which some of the money would get used to pay for immoral activity.

So my question: Is paying taxes to Caesar any different from paying money into these government mandated health insurance plans? If the answer is ‘yes, it is different!’, then I would really love to hear your thoughts about HOW it is different.

Now, of course we live in a democratic society where we can lobby and vote for better mandates or no mandates… and that is all well and good… but if you lose the battle for better/no mandates, what then? Does conscience in fact dictate you resist paying? At this point, I think no.

The baby’s bottle

“I kinda feel guilty every time we make her a bottle.”

This is what I said to Luke as he was getting ready to give Karina a bottle the other night.

I normally breastfeed her, but every other day or so she gets a bottle of formula. We did this with Clara too. (Don’t even ask about Leyna, as if I can remember a whole four years ago.) It’s mostly intentional- having her used to getting a bottle makes it easy for me to be gone for the evening and not have to worry about her needing to eat.

It also was a way for me to get a bit of reprieve during that first month of absolutely horribly painful nursing. I don’t know exactly what it is with me and breastfeeding, but it’s never come easy. This last time I was *this* close to switching over to a bottle completely. Thanks to a good balance of encouragement, a great lactation consultant, and the grace of God, I was able to finally make it work. But good heavens, I feel like no amount of PG rated language could POSSIBLY express the pain I was in.

Anyways, to bring that tangent full circle, I felt a kind of duty to make breastfeeding work. A sense of duty that tipped into unhealthy territory, I must say. The kind of duty that makes me feel bad for giving her any formula at all. The kind of duty that also makes me feel bad for letting other people care for her so I can eat or shower or read or sleep.

Here is what goes on in my Mama psyche: I somehow think I should be e.ver.y.thing to my baby. Newsflash: I can’t… and I shouldn’t try. I am not God, ok? I mean, I might occasionally make the mistake of thinking I am, but I’m oh so definitely not.

You see, it’s easy for me to play the martyr. To take the thing on, whatever the thing is, and get my sense of worth from succeeding at the thing if it freaking kills me. So, when my baby gets a bottle and therefore it isn’t me doing the whole thing, I feel like I’m failing.

This is insane, ok?
To quote the very quotable Mark Driscoll, “Who do you think you are!?” Who do I think I am that I need to be everything to my child? Who do I think I am that I shouldn’t need help- be it in mothering or in any other endeavor? Who do I think I am that I should be trying to get my sense of value from being a martyr or a super-mom?

It’s like I want the satisfaction of being able to say ‘yeah, I did all of that, no help, just me, because I’m just that awesome.’ Time to get over it, folks. Because it will never be the case, and even if I thought it was the case, I would be wrong. I can not take credit for the growth of my child any more than I can take credit for holding the universe together. One person gets the credit, and His name isn’t Laura.

Oh, He lets me participate, even gives me responsibility and some say so. But without Him, none of this works. Without Him, I don’t take my next breath. Without Him holding the universe in existence, the whole thing disintegrates.

So maybe it’s time to lay off the self importance. Maybe it’s time to stop getting so much of my identity from what I think I do or how needed I think I am. Ultimate value has already been placed on me, regardless of any actions. Maybe it’s time to rest in being a recipient of God’s sustaining grace instead of trying to pretend I can do it all myself.

Ken Ham and The Science Guy

So tomorrow night ‘faith’ will debate ‘science’. I fear this is one of those debates where everyone loses in the end.

The topic of the debate is ‘is creation a viable model of origins?’
On one hand you have Ken Ham, a ‘young earth creationist’ who believes it is of utmost importance that we take the first chapters of Genesis literally. He believes Christian faith is incompatible with biological evolution and that evolutionary theory is a source of great trouble in our world. He will defend the belief that young earth creationism is a scientifically valid theory.

On the other hand you have Bill Nye, a scientist who believes the theory of evolution and believes young earth creationism to be scientifically baseless. Bill Nye is an agnostic in matters of faith, but he believes denying biological evolution is a source of great trouble in our country. He will defend the idea that creation (presumably Ham’s version) is not a viable model of origins.

The problems here are legion, but I’ll stick to the BIG 2.

1) Ken Ham, bless his heart, is not someone who I want people to look at and say ‘oh, that’s what Christians are like’. To all my friends who like him, forgive me, but he comes across as arrogant. I’m not even taking about WHAT he believes here, but about how he communicates. I don’t know the guy and can’t comment on his heart. I can only comment on what he portrays, and what he portrays is not how I think Jesus wants us to represent Him. I want the world to see Christians who speak and act with kindness and humility, regardless of what they believe about evolutionary theory.

2) This debate, as I mentioned, appears to pit faith against modern science. The message one gets from the Ken Hams of the world is that ‘if you want to be true to God, you must reject evolution.’ The message one gets from many (not all) scientists is that ‘if you want to be true to science, you must reject belief in the God of the Bible.’ Honestly, I never got the impression Bill Nye is engaged in a real war on faith in general, but there certainly are some hardcore anti-faith scientists out there who are waging that battle.

Either way, the message that is that evolution and Christianity exclude each other. It’s as if anti-faith scientists look are our origins and see a circle, and the young earth creationists look at our origins and see a triangle. Triangles and circles are totally different. A circle can not be a triangle and a triangle can not be circle. So it is with these two points of view.

And that would be where I would leave it, needing to choose between a circle and a triangle, evolution and faith… Except we don’t have to do this. There is a third way. What if the circle and the triangle are not mutually exclusive after all?

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What if, given a different perspective, we can consider that both evolutionary science and God’s story as told by the Bible both speak truth about our origins? It’s worth considering that maybe we don’t need to be doing battle over the circle and the triangle.

Now I don’t advocate you believe both without examining them. One should arrive at beliefs on important matters (particularly the decision to follow Jesus) because you genuinely think there is good reason to believe it. I’m simply saying I don’t believe we have to chose between one or the other. I think both can be looked at on their own merit. Unfortunately, I fear this perspective will be absent from tomorrow’s debate. I just hope that whatever happens won’t do more damage to the already messy relationship between Christians and scientists.

For more info on science and faith in harmony, check out Biologos.

These are the days… February 2014

These are the days,
Of late night and early morning feedings,
Of juice and milk and PB&J,
Of crumbs and smeared faces,
Of poopy diapers and dirty laundry,
Of snot and spit-up on Mama’s shirt.

These are the days,
Of bubble baths and tea parties,
Of stories and nap time,
Of puzzles and PBS,
Of snuggling and dancing,
Of tears and of questions… so many questions.

These are the days,
Of feeling exhaustion and wonder,
Frustration and contentment,
Fear and hope,
And discouragement and joy,
All within the space of a few hours.

These are the days,
Of trying to live in the moment,
Of letting go bit by bit,
And of allowing motherhood to do it’s work in ME-
To tame me like a wild young horse,
So I can be a bit more pliable in the Potter’s hands.

The hero of my own story

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I love a good story. There are a couple of elements in most captivating stories- a conflict, a protagonist and an antagonist, and hopefully some resolution. For example, the Joker (villain) threatening Gotham City (conflict), and Batman (hero) trying to save the city (resolution).

Our lives are stories, albeit a bit less dramatic than the Batman saga. There are inevitably some problems and conflicts. Conflicts in marriage, with our kids or our parents, in our church lives, work lives, our neighborhoods. (For the record, I use the word ‘conflict’ in a very broad sense. Conflict is anywhere there is disagreement or a problem, whether obvious or subtle, verbalized or not.) We long for resolutions to these problems. But that hero and villain part? Well, that’s where it can get messy. You see, when confronted with conflict, most of us want to imagine that whoever or whatever is on the other side of that conflict is the villain. We tend to imagine we are the hero, or perhaps the righteous victim. In any case, our instinct is to see ourselves as right and good, and that other person as wrong and perhaps bad. But here is the thing- there is no way in reality that we are all the hero all of the time.

The problem is that our lives aren’t actually action movies where the guy in the cape is all good and the guy with the evil laugh is all bad. Don’t get me wrong- good and bad are real things of course. It’s just that no human is all one or the other.

Another problem is that we don’t often have real clear pictures of ourselves or our conflicts. We have an inherent selfishness that interprets situations in the ways most favorable to us. Ask two people on two sides of a conflict about what is going on and you will see what I mean. The details you hear and the details omitted or minimized often depend on whose side of the story you hear. If I tell you about a fight I had with my husband, the temptation is to focus on the insensitive thing he did or said, not the fact that I totally set him up.

One more problem: fear. You see, deep down, while many of us fancy ourselves the hero of our story, we have a lurking  fear we are actually quite flawed. We know we are not so right and good, and we fear being exposed. We are afraid of being humbled, of being called out on our selfishness and our slanted way of seeing ourselves and our conflicts. We are insecure… so we put on a secure and confident face, subconsciously trying make everyone, including ourselves, believe we are the good guy.

We need to figure out a fresh way to handle conflict.

In the dramas of our lives, there is something that can help us move through conflict to resolution: understanding.
Understanding. Such a boring word for such a relationship saving concept.

If I can understand you AND me, and you can understand me AND you, we have the most hope for peace to be made. In other words, when I have a conflict in any area of my life- family, work, church, friendships, then I must be willing to seek understanding. So how do we do this?

1. Imagine. Take some time and step into the other persons shoes. What is their motive? How might your actions, words, or attitudes look to them? How might they be right, reasonable, or good in this situation? Allow yourself to imagine that the situation has a lot more ‘gray’ than ‘black and white’.

2. Ask. Ask God to reveal your own issues, attitudes, and selfishness to you. Ask a trusted adviser or friend for their perspective… and I mean their real perspective, not ‘please-let-me-tell-you-my-hero-and-villain-story-so-you-can-nod-your-head-and-agree-with-me-so-I-can-feel-better,-and-if-you-tell-me-I’m-somehow-wrong-I’m-going-to-bite-your-freaking-head-off.’ Nope, their REAL perspective.

3. Get uncomfortable. Actually doing steps 1 and 2 bring out a lot of discomfort in me. Imagining that maybe the other person isn’t pure jerk means I may not be pure ‘good guy’. Imagining that their perspective might have merit might mean I have to change. Asking a friend to give me their honest feedback will mean I get to hear my flaws pointed out to me. My shoulders tense just thinking about being critiqued on such personal matters like my motives and attitudes! In reality, though, we can’t hope to get stronger if we don’t know how we are weak. We NEED to be willing to get uncomfortable.

In reality, mutual understanding and resolution only work to the extent that BOTH sides will seek it. I can only control me, you can only control you. But sometimes when one party is willing to seek understanding, willing to own their flaws, willing to humble themselves, the ‘other guy’ finds they can let their guard down and do the same. On the other hand, sometimes people never come around. Like forgiveness however, ‘understanding’ benefits YOU, even if the other party never reciprocates.

In the end, the best way to become more of a ‘hero’ is to be willing to admit that we aren’t always a hero.

*Disclaimer- The point here isn’t to get you to believe that the person you are in conflict with is necessarily ‘the good guy’. The point is to be able to honestly look at reality in both yourself and others. If you actually are dealing with someone who is abusive or otherwise toxic, then you have to act accordingly, no only for your good, but theirs.*

How to make enemies and alienate people

I’ve been wanting to write about ‘how to discuss and debate well’. I’m quite passionate about this since I love deep thinking and discussing ideas and I also want to act in a loving, Jesus-like way. However, I find myself highly unqualified to write about such a topic when I feel like I still fail at it regularly. So I decided to write about something I feel quite qualified to talk about. So here we go.

9 ways to make enemies and alienate people:

1. Start by assuming that you know where the other person is coming from and what their motives are. All motives must be assumed to be foolish, hateful, or otherwise bad.

2. Believe that you are the guardian of truth. To do this you must pre-determine that your position is completely correct and that to disagree with you is to disagree with all that is right and good and therefore be an enemy of the truth. If you are debating theology, then to disagree with you should be considered to disagree with God.

3. Focus on your differences. To spend time on areas you agree might encourage feelings of camaraderie and discourage the war like atmosphere you are going for.

4. Talk a lot, there is no need to spend time listening (see #1).

5. Rest assured you have nothing to learn (see #2).

6. Make sure you focus on winning the debate, not caring for the person. To do this it’s better to forget you are debating a real person at all. The best way to accomplish this is to take up debating in comments sections on blogs where people often seem to imagine that the person on the other side of the screen is a name-less, face-less, evil robot sent here by Satan himself.

7. Use terms like ‘bigot’, ‘racist’, ‘homophobe’, ‘liberal’, ‘neo-con’ ‘fem-nazi’, ‘tea bagger’, and ‘God-hater’ without reserve.

8. Never back down, even if the other person makes a good point. Act like their good point is clearly idiotic to everyone but them and hope they feel stupid or inferior.

9. And, lastly, never ever be willing to admit you don’t have a good response to their good point. This would betray weakness and undermine your position. Make up some b.s. and move on.

So what do you think? I’m pretty sure I have used all of these approaches at one point. Do you have any tips about how to make enemies and alienate people?

World Changer

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Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

Am I the only one who has the worst time seeing the importance of the little things in the Kingdom of God? You know what I mean by little things? The prayers with my girls at night, cooking a meal for my family, the time spent talking with and listening to a friend, the money given to people who need it, the kissing and band-aiding of a boo boo, or the kind exchange with that person I just plain am not fond of. Kingdom of God things… God’s will being done in the little corners of my life.

And yet I normally don’t see these things in such a meaningful light. I’ve trained myself to look for the Kingdom of God in the big things. You know what I mean by the big things? The miracles and healings, the revivals where many suddenly believe, the ending of wars, the relief from poverty, the transformation of nations. These are the places I tend to look to see where God is working.

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When I was in elementary school, I went to a church camp every summer that was run by a missionary denomination. They had a heart for reaching the nations for Jesus, and this certainly came through in the evening services. “Who feels the call to be a missionary? Please come forward if you will go and take the gospel to the nations!” Your’s truly felt ‘the call’ and went forward. I questioned myself the next day. After all, moving to Africa (that IS where all the missionaries go, right?) didn’t sound like such a fun idea. I did, however, want to follow Jesus, and that pledge to take Jesus to the nations sat on a shelf in the back of my mind from then on.

When I was a high schooler, I attended Acquire The Fire every year. “Who wants to be a world changer?”, they asked. I wanted to be a world changer. I wanted to do something big to make an impact on the world, to see revival at my school, to see America turn ‘back’ to God, or to awaken a sleeping Church. I would return from the conference energized, pumped up… only to have the energy slowly drain as ‘normal life’ resumed and no change in said school, the nation, or the Church was ever as dramatic as I hoped.

When I was 20, I helped plant a church. We had all kinds of big, fun dreams for what our little ‘out of the box’ church might look like… how ministry might look different, relevant, authentic, and organic. (Can you tell we planted our church in the midst of all things ‘Emerging’?) We are 8 years in… well, 8 years and 5 months, but who is counting?… and in my mind it was supposed to look bigger, smoother, more ‘successful’, and just cooler than it looks and feels now.

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The problem here is that I’ve trained myself to look for the Kingdom of God in the BIG things. What I’ve failed to do is to realize that God’s Kingdom is made up of a billion small things. Let me pause a moment and mull over this phrase – “Kingdom of God”. God’s Kingdom is the dominion over which God reigns… so every way in which we carry out His will in our lives is an expression of His Kingdom coming to earth. So your every act of kindness, justice, generosity, and healing, no matter how small, is a part of the reign of God in your little corner of the world, no matter if you are in Kenya, Haiti, or good old Pennsylvania. Every act of forgiveness and reconciliation and self giving love is His Kingdom coming to your relationships. Every act of repentance, humility, and gratefulness is His Kingdom blossoming in your very heart. Every. Act.

Suddenly, everything is important. Everything is about ‘God’s Kingdom’. Not just the big revivals happening and wars being replaced with peace.

And really, think about it;
No lasting revival just happens one day. It is a million prayers and seeds planted, thousands of acts of faith, and a billion unsexy acts of discipleship.
And no true peace takes place in one foul swoop either. Peace is made up of countless acts reconciliation, justice, forgiveness. It is each individual soldier laying down his weapon and embracing his enemy.

Ultimately, the big looking things and the little things will meld together under the beautiful umbrella of His Kingdom. We will not regret that we didn’t do something ‘bigger’. What we WILL regret is if we miss all the little opportunities to be a part of His Kingdom expanding because we kept waiting for the elusive ‘big thing’.

So may you and I both stay present in the ‘little’. May we live fully engaged in what God is doing right now in our lives, in each moment, knowing it is an important part of something bigger and more wonderful than we can imagine.

That Time I Got Fired

I was about 22 years old and had just received my nutrition degree, but really wasn’t seeing opportunity to use it career-wise. So, broke as I was and needing more work, I thought I would look for a nannying job. ‘Those jobs are decent money’, I thought, and I knew how to take care of kids, so I figured it would surely work out!

Well, I interviewed with a couple of families and eventually landed a job. The mom needed someone to take care of her 3 year old boy while she worked on her direct sales business. Her company was in the health/nutrition field and part of the reason she liked me was because I had just gotten a related degree. However, it turns out that just because you have a common interest like health, it does not in fact mean you will jive well with their family. I could go on about the reasons I didn’t enjoy my job, and I’m sure she would have plenty of reasons it wasn’t working on her end. However, I ‘hung in there’ for several months. I don’t even know why other than I needed the money and it was easier to just stay.

Then one day, as I was getting ready to leave, she kindly let me know that she didn’t think I was a good fit and that they found someone else. It ended nicely enough, though I believe I shed a tear or 2 or 50- either in the car or while still at the house, I don’t quite recall. It was strange- I didn’t like the job, so why be sad and dejected? Because as much as I felt I didn’t fit with them, being told the feelings were mutual- that bit of rejection- still stung.

I was about 1/2 way home that day when the relief hit me. Serious relief. the choice had been made for me. I could – no, HAD TO- move on… Either to a better suited nanny job, or something else all together. My former boss had done what she needed for her situation, and as much as it stung, it freed me up and pushed me to do something better for my situation. Within a couple of weeks or so I got the idea to start a new business- one that was much more in line with what I actually studied in school.  One that definitely made me more money. One I enjoyed more. One that stretched me in a good way. And ironically, the new business was somewhat inspired by something that had happened at my failed nanny job. I literally wrote a thank you note to the lady that gave me the boot.

I guess the life lesson for me was that *sometimes* the stuff that sucks in life can turn out to be a gift in disguise.

An Ode To My (un)Natural Births

Birthing babies… possibly one of the most contentious issues in ‘The Mommy Wars’.
Hospital, birthing center, or home?
Midwife or doctor?
Pain medicine or none?
Induced or simply wait?
Save cord blood? water birth? What birth positions? Wait to cut the cord? Save the placenta? The questions can go on and on… and so do the opinions.

Personally, I’m not one to have very strong opinions… about birth. I mean, I have a TON of strong opinions, just not about the *right way* to give birth. If you are a natural birth-er, more power to you. If you embrace the medicine, well, I sure as heck understand that too.

I can be kinda crunchy granola… leading me to at least like the theory of a more natural birth. I’m also a little aggressive, making me want -in theory to push through the pain. But I also like safety and security… ALOT. So this led me to a hospital with a birthing center inside. We all know hospitals have their protocols, which, if you want to give birth there, you need to follow: They will only let you labor so long after your water breaks, no food, etc. All of this leads to the bottom line for me: For my own sanity, I have to have somewhat of a ‘go with the flow’ attitude if I’m going to give birth in a hospital.

So, long stories short: 2 babies, one induced, one not, both slow labors, eventual epidurals, pitocin, and both with the most wonderful ending- healthy babies in my arms immediately after delivery.

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I think, because I didn’t have real distinct expectations about how labor and delivery would go, I didn’t have much to be disappointed about. (Side note: I was very happy to avoid a c-section, though I know they are necessary sometimes.) I guess low expectations can lead to greater contentment in these times? Perhaps that sounds bad… negligent even, if one feels that these things tend to have a really negative impact on the baby… I suppose I just don’t share that general conviction. Honestly, I’m just glad to give birth in an era where: 1- We actually have medical intervention and moms and babies don’t frequently die in the birthing process, and 2- that it’s not like my Grammy’s day where you go into delivery alone and they just put you under.

After all that, I do have to say- There is part of me that still wants to try and do it without the epidural this time. It’s the same aggressive part of me that wants to do a boot camp or take up boxing or have a, umm, discussion, with someone like Mark Driscoll. It’s also the same part of me that goes into hiding when the pain gets real bad. I will keep my hopes and expectations about labor and delivery vague and focus on the end result that matters most- a healthy baby.

So does anyone else identify with my inconsistent and varied thoughts on birthing?

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