All of Me for All of You Type Sacrifice

This is the sixth post in a series on Lenten reflections. You can find part one, the prelude, here. Part two, an overview about the six weeks of Lent and what it offers, can be found here. The third, a post about the communal nature of fasting, can be found here. The fourth, the value of alms giving can be found here. And the fifth, repairing shame through repentance can be found here.

To say that I was an overachiever when I was young is a bit of an understatement. As much as I’d like to blame my parents for my perfectionist tendencies, I can’t. I think I was born a bit neurotic, which is to say that I was born feeling like I had to prove myself. After two decades, it meant that I had a whole host of awards to my name.

At some time, all those recognitions must have gone to my head, because by time I was 19, I thought that I could have the goal of becoming the next National Press Secretary. I chuckle at the idea now, but it was a very serious dream back then.

But then, in my junior year of college, I got pregnant. It’s not the first time a young girl got pregnant unexpectedly, and I’m sure I wasn’t the last, but because of the awards, and because of the expectations, and because I was known as the God girl, it was a disaster. Standing, staring down at the pregnancy test, I hesitated to let it all sink in because there was one thing that I knew: if the baby was going to have any chance of having a normal life, my dreams — all my dreams — were dead. My reputation, my character, my achievements, and my goals were all gone. In seconds, I was very aware that I would have to sacrifice every thing I knew and work towards a life for a kid I didn’t even know.*

And that’s what I did.

I look at my life and my 10 year old son now, and it all doesn’t seem so bad. In fact, it seems a little silly to even write it so dramatically. But it was the hardest thing I had to do, and it is a choice that continues to be a sacrifice in the sense that those goals, and that life, are still forever over.  And in those moments when I miss who I used to be, I feel the weight of sacrifice that has been paid:

All of me for all of you.

Because that experience was lived-in, I approach Holy Week differently. I know we’re supposed to think about what has been sacrificed for us. But instead of putting on black and covering myself with ashes, I think about what it feels to be the one sacrificing. I think about where Jesus’ mind was at as He made the conscious and deliberate choice to make us His kids.

He knew the mocking that would take place, the torments, the slander, the spitting, the whipping, the stripping, but there was a moment in there before all that. It was the moment of choice. He had to choose me. He had to choose us. And it was going to take all of him for all of us.

And it doesn’t matter if you believe that the sacrifice He conducted was for the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, or just to teach us how to stop being such assholes to each other and to live peacefully. He still had the foreknowledge to know what was coming, and He choose to give up everything He had worked for, and cultivated, so that we could have a life that we wouldn’t have had if He didn’t. All of Him for all of me.

That’s where I want my mind to be this week. Steeped in the truth that He chose me. That He chose a path where He could be with me. That He chose having me as a kid, sister, friend, not in spite of the cross, but before the cross. And He keeps choosing, even if it still means that there are additional sacrifices now. Because I’m what matters to Him.

You’re what matters to Him.

He’d choose to sacrifice anything so you could live a rich, full, deep life, here, as you breathe your last, and beyond the last breaths.

May you spend your week steeped in the truth that you are so deeply loved.

Pam

*Now, most people will correct me at this point in the story. They will point out that there’s a lot of working moms out there. And I understand where they are coming from. And so, I just want to add, it’s not that I didn’t think I could ever work again. It’s that I couldn’t work where I wanted, how I wanted, and when I wanted to. Media relations teams work 14 hour days, and that’s just not the mother I wanted to be. To have the baby meant that it had my priority.

The Meaning of Repentence in a Shame Filled World

This is the fifth post in a series on Lenten reflections. You can find part one, the prelude, here. Part two, an overview about the six weeks of Lent and what it offers, can be found here. The third, a post about the communal nature of fasting, can be found here. And the fourth, the value of alms giving can be found here.

A recent Catholic mystic had a vision of walking with Jesus. She said that He took her to Purgatory. Unlike what she was expecting, Purgatory was a beautiful place, filled with valleys and flowers, a crystal-clear river, and brilliant, bright sunshine. But she found people along a walking path who were crying out in pain. As they walked, she asked Jesus, “Why don’t you help these people? Why don’t you forgive them?”

“I have forgiven them,” He said. “They haven’t forgiven themselves.”

And with that, Jesus bent down, looked at one of them, and with the compassion found in His eyes, they got up, and walked further down the path.

mist of mercy

//////

The obsession with sin — defining it; being freed from it; explaining it — has caused ridiculous confusion about who God is, and what humans relationship to God should look like, especially in the past 200-300 years.  We’ve so messed this idea up that I don’t know if there is any other way to keep someone from running into God’s arms more than to accuse them of sin. It invites a fight.

But it wasn’t supposed to be that way.

In spite of our misunderstanding,  the idea of sin, and subsequently repentance, was supposed to be a beautiful understanding of the human condition. Because sin, according to the old teachers of the law, is  “a break in the shalom”* – a disruption in how it’s supposed to be.

Sin is our human condition then. It’s life interrupted. And therefore, repentance is supposed to be an invitation; a returning to something that was already offered. A return to paradise.

In other words, sin is the stuff that stops us from freedom — freedom of exploration, freedom of expression, and freedom in relationship. And repentance is accepting more — more exploration, more expression, more relationship.

Sin is something that we’ll torture ourselves over later. We’ll see how things could have been for us and for others and we’ll be just devastated.  Sin is not something that we’ll be shamed FOR, then, but something that we’ll be ashamed OF, and it’ll keep us from walking into the paths of paradise.With our best friend. For all of time.

The logical choice to turn away from that future is repentance then. It’s understanding that we’re not held to these shameful acts, and then choosing to accept forgiveness, the only way out.

Repentance is about reconnecting with Jesus’ great compassion and believing Him that He’ll restore shalom in another way, and then continuing to walk together towards something better.

When we talk about repenting during Lent, THIS is what we’re talking about. We’re talking about walking whatever path we need to to make sure we stay together. We’re talking about wanting shalom, for ourselves and for others. And being mindful to keep the shalom we have, no matter the cost.

During that process, may God be with you, inviting … beckoning …harkening in your heart for you to desire more of this shalom.

*This idea come from Cornelius Plantinga in his book Engaging God’s World, although I admit that I was introduced to it years ago in a talk by Robb Bell. In addition, many other writers have spoken on it, particularly in the past year, including Scott McKnight, NT Wright, and Kurt Willems.

Reflections for Week 3 of Lent: The Open Arms of Almsgiving

This is the fourth post in a series on Lent. You can find part one, the prelude, here. Part two, an overview about the six weeks of Lent and what it offers, can be found here. The third, a post about the communal nature of fasting, can be found here.

Every once in awhile, a television show goes viral. Like a good pop song or a great idea, people can’t help but talk about it — obsess over it — identify with it.. When television does this well, it’s usually because there is a compelling relationship to watch. The storyline may start out as some casual encounter, but soon, we’re drawn in by this couple, or set of partners, or brothers that have this extraordinary commitment to each other. At the climax of this storytelling, we often find that one of these strong, bold characters yields to what’s better for the other, often at great cost to their self. Some weep at the beauty of this sacrificial giving. And others more cynically deconstruct the decision. But in that moment, the show ceases to be just a show. It becomes personal. It becomes real.

I’ve always wondered why we could care so much about fictional characters in this way, but not be as moved when we see pictures of the poor or oppressed. But in the past couple of years, other brilliant minds have researched and wrote about why: because we’re only moved to care for the things that we think we can actually change.

Which, is why, many Christians have difficulty with the call for alms giving at Lent. We don’t have a picture of what alms giving means, or why it’s important. It becomes just another donation from our wallet. A donation not unlike the extra dollar we spend for breast cancer, or leukemia, or the planet. We don’t think we can do anything or change anything, so we just yield our pocket change instead.

But almsgiving is about something entirely different than mere donation. Alms giving is an opportunity to return to the image we were created in: a God who is a prodigal giver.

God doesn’t give because of obligation or responsibility. God is generous because giving until it hurts — giving your all – is actually when we see love. And God is love.*

When someone gives at that level — at the level of giving anything and everything — lives are changed. When someone gives at that level, they themselves change. They become more of who they were created to be.

For  “We were made in the image of God – a giver – and we’ll never be happy until we return to that image.”*

If you really want to walk the road of lent, pick one thing that you have to give your all to for the remaining twenty days or so. Pick someone or something that you have to give your free time and your emotional energy and your money to, and dedicate yourself to it in order to better someone else’s life. Have open arms, withholding nothing. And see, see if you don’t get something more valuable and rare in return in the end.

May God fill you with grace and peace as you trust that there is enough.

Love,

Pam

**These quotes will be attributed when I find out who the appropriate person to attribute them to is.

When Fasting Isn’t Just About Repentance

“We commit ourselves to (the) process because Lent reminds us that there’s something better than what we’re currently experiencing, but it’s going to take us letting go of whatever we’re clinging to in order to obtain it. We’re going to have to stop picking and choosing spiritual disciplines, and instead, come under the whole experience of what it means to lay down our lives and gain the whole world.”  

Those are the words I wrote just last week. And I meant them. But I had to think deeply before I inked that on the page because I know that part of the process of Lent is fasting. And really, is there anything that people dread more than the idea of fasting? I mean, really, is there anything more boring to read about than the theology of a fast? In our “I-have-all-the-information-I ever-need-to-know-in-my-pocket society,” the answer to that question is no.

We don’t want to know about fasting. We don’t want to read about it. We don’t want to explore it. For goodness sake, truth be told, we don’t want to do it! If, for some insane reason we find ourselves agreeing to fast, we make it as easy as possible: sun-up to sun-down, and go to bed early. We wake up, we have our pancakes, and we hope that we’re not asked to do that again anytime soon.

But it wasn’t always like this.

I grew up on the Southside of Chicago — a place where you identified your neighborhood by your parish, not by what mile markers you lived between. Despite this self-identification, it always surprised me that the Lenten fast was so strictly followed by my neighbors. Being in a small, tight-knit community, even children knew that there were men who hated the church, and held to every vice, but who stood in line at the local fish store on a Friday like the rest of us.

What was this power? Why would men who couldn’t care less about the church want to follow one of the hardest church teachings?

I believe it’s because we’ve missed the point of the fast. Fasting was meant to be a communal thing.  

I can dissect biblical texts and prove it to you, but the most compelling evidence of it can be proven in your own life. While you can fast alone, think about what happens to you when you do. Namely, you feel isolated, alone, and like you’ve been left the handle your problems by yourself, talking and pleading with a God who seems very cruel, mean, and distant. Now, think about when you’ve fasted with a friend, spouse, small group, or as a church. How did you feel? I would bet that you felt included, empowered, strengthened, and more faithful.

That’s because Fasting is a community realization that we went the wrong way. That we collectively embraced ideas, thoughts, behaviors, and practices that led us away from God, each other, and life abundant. We realize the ways that we weren’t there for each other. We become aware that we we’re fearful that no one would care for us, and so we took care of ourselves.

We see that we’ve become small and weak because we’re living lives of shame and hiding. Repentance– turning away — might be the path that we choose from these realizations, if we can push past the hurt and pain and fear long enough and courageously enough to walk a different path. But often, we break fast because we can’t even get there. We feel that hurt and pain, and hide again, and then turn again to our self-soothing. That choice is not a choice to sin. It’s a demonstration of just how unhealthy we are. It’s a cry for help.

The men in my neighborhood who hated church fasted because it meant they were a part of the tribe. That despite theological differences, they too could participate in church life and church community. It was the one time of the year that they didn’t have to explain that they wanted to be a part of church, but felt forced out. That’s the power of a liturgical fast. It’s the opposite of a “farewell…” statement. It’s a group-thought behavior where we all get to be on the same playing field, if only for a day. And where all our burdens, boredom, and disappointment is met with faces and voices of those who admit the same struggles.

As you abstain from chocolate, or coffee, or sugar this lent — As you turn away from binge watching on Netflix or overindulgence, I pray that you remember that you’re not alone. You’re not alone in your longing for friendship. You’re not alone when you face hardship. And you’re not alone as you walk this life. You have people who you don’t even know who pray for you. You have people who want to connect. You don’t have to bear this life alone.

Love,

Pam

Prayer, Fasting, and Alms Giving…Repentance, Rest, and New Life — What Lent Offers and Why

By now, many Christians are full-swing into Lent. They’ve chosen which vice they can live without for 46 days, they’ve marked their forehead with ashes, remembering that they are made of dust, and they may have even buried the Alleluia. But like a woman on a detox of maple syrup, lemon, and cayenne pepper, withdrawal is about to set in — if it hasn’t already — and the tough questions are about to hit impact.

“Why did I give up (choice item) again?”

“Am I just persisting in works righteousness?”

“What value does this have anyway?”

I sigh because these questions/temptations/excuses have been all too prevalent in my own life, and I know how many times I’ve caved. I didn’t really understand what Lent was offering, and so, in the face of ending sacrifice, I chose to relieve the pain.

But Lent is a picture of what this whole life could be. Walking this road of self-denial, selflessness, simplicity, and structure could give us a tangible experience of the abundant life that Jesus talked about in John 10:10. Because once we’ve lived something, and it’s brought about enlightenment and deeper relationship, chances are, we’re going to want to do it again.

That is what Lent offers — a full body experience of walking with the Divine. While that’s supposed to be what Christianity is about anyway, the knowledge that we only need to do it for five or six weeks makes it a little more tangible. A little more acceptable for our commitment cautious selves.

So how do you “do” lent? How do you participate and have Lent bring about fullness and life, instead of dread and shame? You submit yourself to Lent like you’d submit yourself to any journey: planning rest stops along the way, and knowing which towns you’re going to pass through and when. In other words: you pick a plan and follow it.

For some of you, that may mean picking a daily devotional. For others, that may mean that you break apart each week, focusing on one particular piece of lent. For the more social, outgoing members of our tribe, that may mean that you commit to attending a soup kitchen or fish fry every week, so that you both have something to look forward to and something to remind you of where you’re walking and why. If just thinking about planning that all makes you feel overwhelmed, I have some suggestions for these options given at the bottom of this blog.

We commit ourselves to this process because Lent reminds us that there’s something better than what we’re currently experiencing, but it’s going to take us letting go of whatever we’re clinging to in order to obtain it. We’re going to have to stop picking and choosing spiritual disciplines, and instead, come under the whole experience of what it means to lay down our lives and gain the whole world.

May you, who are rooted and established in love, yield to this process, and find life waiting at the end.

Love,

Pam

Lent Suggestions:

Video: 

Immanuel Anglican Church created this video for reflection to go along with their sermon series, Deliver Us. It’s unique and powerful.

https://vimeo.com/119393462

Daily Devotionals

http://Shereadstruth.com

Biola University’s Daily Devotionals:  http://ccca.biola.edu/lent/#

Dynamic Catholic’s Best Lent Ever: http://dynamiccatholic.com/bestlentever/

This page has the a quote and three of the liturgy of the hours prayers listed: http://www.universalis.com/today.htm

Weekly Focuses

I will be writing on Prayer, Fasting, Alms Giving, Repentance, Rest and New Life every week until Easter. I already wrote the prayer post in the past couple of days. You can find it here.

Jerusalem Greer has a great week by week journey through lent that even works with kids. You can find the start of those blog posts here.

Andrew Arndt has become one of my favorite pastors and blog writers on Christianity. His first week reflection about lent, can be found here.

Soup Kitchens and Fish Frys

I live in Chicago, so I only know Chicago options, but after a quick search, I’m sure would yield some results. On the Northwest side of Chicago, St. James Church in Arlington Heights holds a Soup Kitchen. On the south side, St. Gerald church in Oak Lawn also does (have a conversation with Fr. Malcolm. You may just love him.) St. Germaine and St. Christina have some legendary fish frys. I’m sure there are many more, but you write what you know.

Other recommendations:

Rachel Held Evans writes “40 Ideas for Lent” every year. You can find this year’s post at: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/40-ideas-for-lent-2015

***I realize that this list of suggestions is very one-sided, but it doesn’t have to stay that way! These are my favorites because they are friends or friends-of-friends and I know their personal character (which is why I can recommend them.) But if you have suggestions, please comment below and help us all.

A Prelude to Lent: How to Not Avoid Pain

I never understood why they did it. As a child, they would march our whole grammar school, Kindergarteners and all, into the church for Ash Wednesday. They would have us pray together, and then stand us in single-file lines as they individually spread ashes on each of our foreheads.

“Remember you are dust. And to dust you shall return,” they would say. The words almost being rubbed into my soul as much as the ashes on my skin.

That opening of the lenten season would close for us on Good Friday, as we would endure the silence of the Stations of the Cross together. I never knew why they would have children participate in such a solemn, sorrowful acts.

Now I know.

Those corporate prayers of repentance may have seemed lofty and burdensome as a child. But now, they seem strangely comforting. They gave words and movements to thoughts and ideas about a grief that seemed too much to understand: Our Savior was murdered. We murdered him. And we continue in our violence every day, in every generation. In our pain, and in our sorrow, and in our frustration of this life, we do not keep it together. We steal. We kill. We destroy.

And yet, Lent proclaimed that our sin is not the end of the story. That even our recklessness could be reduced to dust. And even more, in our broken state, God would show us a way to make it through together: Him locked into us, and us locked into one another.

For the people I grew up with, that meant community. It meant soup kitchens on Friday evenings in church basements. It meant special blessings over Easter baskets (hoping that as our food was sanctified, so we too could be sanctified). It meant adoration and benediction — that is, concentrated time on our knees, talking to Jesus, looking at Jesus, and asking for Oneness. But above all else, It meant we needed God and we needed each other.

Lent, more than any time of the year, calls out for this truth. It invites us to be vulnerable with one another, to share our sorrow and our sin, and to hope for a better day.

From breaking open paczkis or cutting into a King cake together, to Friday night fish frys, to refrains of “Were You There,” Lent is all about feeling the pain and then sharing the load. It’s about grieving with those who grieve. It’s about being drenched in our humanity, and finding that it doesn’t break us.

May you dive deep into your humanity this lent, and find that your soul won’t be swallowed whole.

Love,

Pam

Why Should I Pray When It Doesn’t Matter?

A friend of mine has a child with severe food allergies. After a number of emergency room visits, filled with breathless worry and too many needles, she prayed to God to heal her son.

“I have,” she heard.

And yet, after many more visits to the hospital, that seems absurd to believe.

Four years ago, my mom prayed the same thing for me. “Lord, please heal my daughter of MS.” She heard the same, “I already have.” And yet, my daily dose of cocktails to combat this nasty disease goes on.

There are studies that prove that prayer is worthless, dangerous even. In one discouraging study, the participants that were prayed for had an even WORSE recovery rate than those not being prayed for. (They think it may be because these patients had the additional stress to try and get better, making it seem like a miracle had indeed happened instead of random chance.)

So why pray?

As someone who has a severe illness, a child with food allergies, and two special needs kids, I’m a strong advocate for prayer. But I’m rarely on my knees looking for miracles. I don’t ask for healing, or for my kids to be changed. I understand why people ask for those things, but that seems, somehow, “less-than” compared to the reality that there’s something more that I can ask for.

Prayer, for me, is walking with a partner. It’s being heard, and having someone to hold me up. It’s a steadying power, when, left to my own devices, I’m going to be swallowed whole by worry, fear, control, and circumstance. It’s about connecting to a source of power that’s on the other side of what I can see. And yes, then, it’s also about being able to talk about the process of the in-between: the promised, but not yet.

But prayer really is, first and foremost, about this connection. The connection allows me to make a decision. To chose to let go of worry. To choose not to be a control freak. To trust the doctors with my body. To resist comfort and build character.

And in the process of making and walking out that choice, God stays. And a love and trust is built with a Friend that I believe I will spend eternity with.

Prayer becomes about that. It becomes about Us. About what we have together.

So if you pray for me, pray for that. Pray that I’ll remember that my God is a God who’s all about being here. Because that’s what I’ll be praying for you, too.

Love,

Pam

Why I’m Grateful for the Feminist Message, Even Though I’m a Stay-at-Home Mom

stay at home mom

Once upon a time, I used to put words into the mouths of famous politicians, thinkers, and athletes. Literally. I wrote their speeches, and they spoke the words that I put on the paper. It was kind of awesome.

But then, my brilliant husband graduated from college, and I came home to watch our first child. I always thought that I’d go back to work one day, or back to school to earn my doctorate degree, but that’s not what life had planned for us. Instead, God gave us two incredibly funny, life-giving special needs children and one very cool, very funky daughter. This God also allowed me to contract a couple of autoimmune diseases that are highly unpredictable and drain me of energy and make me wonder if I’ll ever be able to handle the stress of a full-time position again.

So every year, as I sit down to fill out tax forms, I dread the moment when I have to fill out my occupation on tax forms and write: homemaker.

It’s not because I’m not proud of the work I do. I’m incredibly fulfilled by loving and caring for my husband and children. It’s been an amazing blessing to be the stay-at-home mom who can feed pasta to neighborhood kids as they whiz through my backyard, pretending to be superheros. It’s also been stunning to see how God would use my time to serve women, particularly women who have been sexually and physically assaulted. I can’t tell you how many times I have been able to comfort, council, love, and serve women just because I had my eyes open and my schedule free.It’s also proven my mom’s words true: it’s always worthwhile to educate a woman.

But I hate filling out that form with “homemaker” because I feel like I’ve been a bad steward of this brain that’s been entrusted to me. I’m a valedictorian. I was an honors graduate of one of the best universities in the world. I worked 14 hour days and handled the media’s craziness. Surely, surely I can figure out how to be something other than a domestic engineer?

That’s why I’m grateful for the feminists.

The feminists have been in my corner this past decade encouraging me forward. While more conservative thinking organizations encouraged me that I’m doing “God’s work,” the feminists always told me that I was not just my family, including their failures or successes. They valued that I had prioritized raising my children, but always told me that I wasn’t not done yet. In fact, in this moment, I had a voice, and talents, and love to give. And it’s okay if I wanted to hand that stuff out,with wisdom and discernment now. Whether I was changing diapers or driving in carpools, feminists never stopped valuing my voice, and never told me I couldn’t participate because I had a child on my hip.

In contrast, I have been told that I should isolate myself because I needed to learn how to parent my special needs daughter better. I have been told, as she squirmed on my lap, “Get your act together, mom!” And, no, this did not come from feminists. It came from people who supposedly support my kind the most. The people who insist that I should throw every brilliant thought I have to the wayside, at least for TWO DECADES, and then, if my children prove my worth, then, maybe I can try to start a career. Out of scratch. When I’m close to retirement age.

If it wasn’t for the feminists, I would have lot my mind. If it wasn’t for the feminists, I would have lost my voice. And if it wasn’t for the feminists, I wouldn’t have served God because I would have felt guilty, thinking that my time could have been better spent lavishing even more love on my kids and husband.

It might seem like it’s really encouraging telling a stay-at-home mom that she’s doing the most important thing in the world. But what’s even more encouraging is telling that same mom that when she has some time, you’d love her input on the committee. Because God knows, she needs to know that she can do more than just teach a kid ABCs. And it might be wonderful if she can have that volunteer position on her resume if and when she ever chooses to bless the world with her gifts and talents full time.

What to do with all that Discouragement

The phone surprised me when it rang today.  I wasn’t expecting a call; not even a “Hi, this is the nurse at the school” call. I peered at the called ID and noticed that the number was from a publisher. Shame set in really quickly. I didn’t want to answer the call because I knew what the question was going to be: How close are you to publishing?

The truth is that I stopped writing six months ago. I realized then that the people who would love my book are also the people who would hate my theology and be the most unkind to my mentors. Unable to market this book to a different kind of crowd, I let it go.

But my publisher hadn’t.

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“How’s it going?” my agent asked.

“Um…I’ve actually decided not to publish.”

Silence. “But why?”

(inner groans) <<mumbles something about discouragement>>

“I think you’re wrong. I think you’ve put a significant amount of time into this book and there is a greater audience for it than you imagined and you need to rethink your conclusions.”

///

That’s just it, isn’t it — Discouragement makes it so you can’t see clearly. And not only can you not see clearly, but you end up making poor decisions and choices. It looks a little something like this:

I can’t go back to school (even if one night a week of school means that you’ll be able to financially provide for your children better for a lifetime).

I can’t “do better” and get another partner (even if it means that you are in a psychologically destructive relationship.)

I can’t lose weight (even though I know that eating right and exercising would do wonders for my mind, body, and spirit, even if I didn’t lose the weight.)

I can’t approach my child about <enter touchy subject> (even though not talking to them means that your voice isn’t heard and someone who cares about their future far less will advise them).

Discouragement always leads to the same path: shame for you, and someone else missing out on your gifts, talents, abilities, and blessings. It always causes us to have self-condemnation, and a loss of hope in others’ ability to value us. Discouragement always takes an order from God, intended to be a light for the world, and turns it into a dagger to our own souls that leaves everyone lost.

So how do you defeat discouragement?

The first thing is to let go of expectations. Discouragement will always point out how the goal is to big — too unattainable. So remove that goal. Here’s your new goal:the goal of this task is that I complete it, and that I can honestly say that I gave my best.If no one else benefits from this, you can be assured that you have grown and changed and become a better version of yourself. And that needs to be enough.

Secondly, treat discouragement like a Vulcan. On the hit TV Star Trek series, Vulcans always pointed out how certain actions or efforts were irrelevant or illogical. The famous captains always would smile and say something like “noted.” That’s because discouragement always has a little bit of truth in it — enough that you should pay attention, but not enough that you should let it have power over you. In fact, I’ll save you some time. If you specifically feel that God has asked you to go on a mission, it will seem irrelevant to the world’s standards, and it will be totally illogical. I’m not saying it will be devoid of wisdom. In fact, it usually takes wisdom to understand a call of God and how it can be carried out. But if the time, ability, and money to complete a task are there, and it’s just a matter of choosing to be courageous, then you know what you have to do.

Lastly, discouragement usually thrives when you have a full schedule and when you have been far from your closest loved ones. So circle the wagons. Reach out. Tell people you need them to pray for you. Missions don’t happen in a vacuum. They take cooperation from many different people. That’s why they are so powerful. Missions become movements. And movements…well those change the world.

Love and peace,

Pam

What Do We Do Now That Advent is Done?

Epiphany

More people fell in love with Advent this year than I’ve ever seen before. We desperately needed weeks to sit in ideas like faith, hope, joy, and love. But what do we do now that there are no structured reading plans and our world is still such a mess?

Where we sit now is where most people sit on the day after Valentines, their New Year’s Eve resolutions destroyed by heart-shaped chocolate boxes, steak dinners, and luscious mousse pies: defeated — knowing that the best thing to do is just to go back to the plan; and yet, feeling so powerless to do it.

I mean, really, who wants to hold on to believing if it makes you look naive? Christmas gave us an excuse, but now we’d just look childish.

Who wants to hope for a brighter tomorrow when military bases are taken over by terrorists? Christmas reminded us that God cared and came. But now, we remember that we’re alone. How can we hope when it’s time to prepare for something more dire?

Who wants to sing for joy as flu season approaches, arctic chills sweep in, and credit card bills arrive? The best most of us can muster is to get a pint of ice cream and pull up our Netflix account to see what new shows we missed.

Who wants to think about anyone else? Who wants to be selfless? Who wants to believe that anyone will even care?

Me. That’s who. And you do, too.

We long to return to home. We long to return back to a place where we can say I’m sorry and everything is forgiven. We long to have grace cover our relationships, and have conversations marked by depth and listening and easy exchanges.

That’s why Epiphany matters. Epiphany is revealing what matters most. It is post modernism at it’s best. It admits every real and tangible sorrow, and our need for something better — and then asks us to bring whatever we have, even if that means that we don’t get a picture perfect result.

Epiphany reminds us that we’ve already been on the journey, the least we can do now is show each other what we have to offer.

And when that happens, when people give the precious gifts they have, the most amazing thing happens: it’s enough.

Whatever you have to bring to your community …It’s enough.

Whatever time you can spend loving your family intentionally…it’s enough.

Whatever idea you can foster that brings goodness and hope to others: it’s enough.

Offer what you have, and it’ll be enough.

Love,

Pam