Saturday, January 30, 2010

Heaping it all on the altar

I will not even pretend to understand the story of Abraham going up to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22. I love faith to make sense. I love God to make sense. I love very clear right/wrong/black/white stories where good prevails and never disguises as bad, where people are better at the end, and where people don't sacrifice their children! Needless to say, regardless of how many times I hear sermons or read commentary on Abraham and Isaac, I still don't like it.

I don't understand all the implications of what God did. But I am experiencing what Abraham must have (on a much smaller scale!) when God said "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." Genesis 22:2

As S. and I have journeyed through highs and lows during his sabbatical, we've had some distinct days. The past 3 days have been distinct because we have both felt God asking us to 'lay on the altar' dreams that we have thought are placed in our hearts from him. As we have been asking, "What season do you have for us right now, Lord?" He has clearly shown us He has much to do in our little family of 5 and that some other priorities, while perhaps noble, need to take a back seat.

This month I completed our classes for foster-to-adopt and am more excited than ever. We have paperwork and a homestudy to finish but much of the work is done. Yet within the last few days I have come back to this story of Isaac, knowing I need to come to a place once again where I can say, "Lord, you are enough. If these heart's desires of mine are never filled I can trust you to still bring me to my highest aim of obedience and holiness." Isaac was God's gift to Abraham but Abraham was still required to hold loosely to the gift & keep his face on the Giver.

Yesterday S. came to the same crossroads with one of his ministry passions; Big Oak. He is hoping that the Lord will add it back to him but knows that the Lord is asking him today to lay it on the altar.

We need to be in a place to say "we aren't defined by ministry. We aren't defined by what we seek (even if it is from God), we aren't defined by our circumstances, we aren't defined by people who think they need us." It's easy to say our identity is in Christ. It's easy to claim we do it all for His glory. But can we still glorify Him if He strips it all? When we stand feeling like all we've worked for is dust and we can't think of a single dream still in us... can we glorify Him? S. told me "I'm praying for God to dream for me." Oh, that's hard for a man bent on too many creative visions to complete in one lifetime! Yet this is the process of being "found in Him". Not "with Him" not "agreeing with His principles", not "found doing His work" but simply "found in Him."

Even if we hope God might add our dreams back to us, it doesn't alleviate the deep sadness as we are splitting the wood for the burnt offering. I know God already knew Abraham's heart and how he would respond. However, Abraham might not have known his own heart and his own response. Perhaps it took physically laying his son down on an altar to himself realize God is sufficient and worthy of ALL sacrifice.

Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said; "By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and not withheld your son, your only son- blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice." Genesis 22:16-18

I have concluded that some of the things that God is calling us to lay on the altar will burn and never come back to us. As painful as that is- good. Burn away if it isn't His best! I am so ready to set on fire the garbage that has been clawing at our hearts. I'm also hopeful that some things we have on the altar will be spared as we lift the knife up- that we will discover they are God's gifts intended for us and unspoiled.

I know Abraham must have been relieved, surprised, then elated that God intervened and provided a ram to slaughter. In fact, he named the place "The Lord will Provide" (Yireh). I wonder if his elation was not only at his son's survival but at the realization of his own depth of faith. Abraham was able to say "I thought I knew who my trust was in. Now I truly know who my trust is in." He must have felt freedom and exhilaration in that moment.

God is sufficient. He is worthy of ALL sacrifice. I am confident we will look back at this season of wrestling, praying, bringing things to the altar, and say "I thought I knew who my trust was in. Now I truly know who my trust is in."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pre-School Warrior

I snapped this picture of Hudson sitting on the counter while I prepared snacks yesterday. At age 3 1/2 we are starting to see an inner warrior come forth in him. The other night he started praying about danger. He prayed about the 'robbers' who broke into people's cars in our neighborhood Christmas night. He prayed for the police to get them, for Daddy to get them and hit them, for them to bring back Mommy's cds. Then he prayed that God would get anyone who snuck into our house. Over and over he used the word "danger" praying with more fervor each time he said it. When he finally said 'amen' Darla burst into tears. "Hudson's prayers scare me!" She declared. "Why does he only pray about danger?"
Oh, the tender heart of a little girl and the fighting heart of a little boy.

Perched on the counter while I sliced apples, Hudson told me he wanted to be a soldier. We had seen some pictures of Matt Cole in Afghanistan and it made a big impact on a little boy. He said, "Me be soldier, Mom."
"I have no doubt you would make a good soldier because you are good at protecting people and loving what is good," I answered.
"Me go to 'Ghanistan, Mom."
"Yeah. Me not scared. Me have Jesus. Me get ALL the bad guys. Me get them and they not hurt people." He was giving his best 'tough man' face and taking swings like a bad guy was directly in front of him.

Then he paused, looked back at me and said, "Mom? You hold me now."
I scooped him up. He kissed my cheeks and snuggled in. How I love a warrior at the cuddly, Momma-lovin' age of three.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


"In silence and peace a devout soul makes progress and learns the secrets of the Scriptures." -Thomas A Kempis

"And when he (Jesus) brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice." John 9:4
We were blessed to experience how Jesus goes before His "sheep" this week. We followed Him & heard His voice as we "unplugged" from the world for some family time at the Vos's fantastic cabin (and by "cabin" we mean gorgeous home) at Mt. Baker this week. 5 Taylors, sleds, trails & river, hot tub, good reading, lots of playing, kids in bed at 7:30 so we could spend hours curled up in front of the fireplace.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

911 Hampton

I fell in love with a 1936 farmhouse on 1.25 acres a few years back. It was vacant, in need of repair, and was covered in various 80's wallpaper schemes. It didn't take much for S. to convince me it was just what we needed so with the help of some friends willing to invest, we bought it at an auction in the front yard one summer day, 2003. We went strong; new roof, new windows, stripping wallpaper until we steamed up the windows.

That fall our dreams were devastated as a Ford Explorer roared into our house at approx. 90 mph. When we woke at midnight to our bed shaking along with the rest of the house we went tearing out into the kitchen, panicked. We saw cracks, split linoleum, smelled gas. We left the house with only essentials and no idea what would become of our dream house.

The next week the construction guys came out to have a look. They showed us that the Explorer had hit the main foundation beam head on, moving the entire house 6 inches off the foundation. We had thought the wall cracks could be patched with sheetrock. They informed us that the cracks were too deep. "When a foundation gets hit, you have to strip the structure to the studs, re-lay the foundation, and start over."

We packed everything and put it in storage. Insurance paid for a duplex so we moved to what we affectionately coined "our winter home". Though we felt daunted by the task at hand, we were able to move forward and get excited about insurance covering the next round of repairs to our farm house.

Then the flood hit. "The worst flood in 100 years" the neighbors proclaimed. We jumped in the car to see how our house faired. We found we couldn't reach the door without hip waders. Ironically our address sign, 911, floated by. Our Christmas picture was taken with us standing in the water next to the gaping hole in our house.
When the water receded we took a trip back for "cleaning day". We found remnants of the roof we had replaced, an old window, paints, rotting wood, thick flood muck, a neighbor's garbage, some dead rodents. We looked around the property with sighs and dejection. We kicked around some garbage and wandered with empty eyes and sapped resolution. Cleaning day was over. Was this place ever appealing? Why did we ever want to live here? Will we ever be able to live here again? Do we even want to? We left the eye sore of a home to rest at our "winter home".

The duplex was a sweet season. It was strange; removed from our real home, knowing we were in transition. We didn't have all of our stuff and we never hung a single picture. But we were together. Everyone else was worried, "How are you going to get through this? What if insurance won't cover it? Aren't you exhausted? Aren't you scared to live there again?"
But it's amazing how God gives you the grace to trust Him and not rush past the day you're in. He met us, spoke to us, and gave us hope. I didn't know if I'd want to live there again. I didn't know how long or what the next season would be. But I knew God's faithfulness and that was enough. Some days we were discouraged looking behind us and some we were encouraged at what was to come.

It took 9 months. When they tore the house apart we found much more was wrong than we thought. There was asbestos under floor boards, plants growing through the walls, dry rot and some very scary wiring going on. We thanked God for not letting us go through life in ignorance thinking "we did the roofs and wallpaper so it's fixed." Heck no- it needed a major overhaul. It wasn't safe to live in and we didn't even know it!

We did move back in. It wasn't as scary as I feared. In fact, it brought healing emotionally to the whole traumatic year. God spoke to us much about the importance of a True foundation. It was gorgeous, functional, clean, and the grand total (paid by insurance) was a $100,000 remodel. Ahhh, the restoration was worth the brutal, long process.

S. and I feel, figuratively, as though a Ford Explorer has 'hit our house' in the last few weeks. Anxiety, lack of direction, poor choices; all these small little fractures have been appearing with close examination. I have prayed, more adamantly in the last few months, for God to reveal the roots. I've given Him permission to "do what it takes" to get to the foundation.

He is. Unfortunately, when God starts exposing all the ugly parts of your life, your marriage, your motives, your roles, your job, it feels less like beautiful surrender and more like you're waking up to your house being knocked 6 inches off the foundation. As I've looked around at us laid wide open and messy I've thought, "How can we live here?! How have we ignored the bad wiring, the rotted floor? Get me out!" We've spent the week kicking around the garbage and ruins.

We're moving into the duplex. It's unfamiliar ground, we're beat up, but we need to re-lay some foundation. We know 911 is not a safe place to live. God has been speaking certainly and clearly to us both constantly. We've been talking until at least midnight, sometimes woken up in the night with more thoughts and much to share. We've sat with coffee, Bibles, and journals early morning before the patter of little feet. When we have to review the fractures, hurts, years of anxiety and high paced ministry, I remember what our Hampton house was when it was a few boards and tarps in the gray winter months.
Then we look ahead to a house of wholeness and we have hope. We have fight left in us and we know the Ultimate Warrior has gone ahead of us. We know that our God is a restorer.

Today I love what God promises the Israelites in Joel 2:25-27, "So I will restore to you the years that the locusts has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied. and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; and my people shall never be put to shame. Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel; I am the Lord your God and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame."

I love the obvious things about that passage; that God gives promises, that God wants the best for His people, that He is a restorer. What I love most today is that the Israelites did nothing to deserve to be the chosen. They were idolatrous, unfaithful, complaining.

I have the absolute privilege of clinging to a God who has been waiting for my arms to be open in surrender, not for my act to be pulled together. So I'm going to enjoy the sweetness of my "winter home", allow myself some painful visits to the house in ruins, but also plan to be amazed as God lifts our house, re-lays the foundation, and goes to work on the frame. In the meantime, I'm going to start a pot of coffee at my duplex and not get ahead of myself to hang any pictures.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Darla's 5th Birthday

Props to my daughter for knowing how to throw a party. A house full of cousins, some friends & family, and one heck of a Tinkerbell pinata. (I highly recommend pinata's with small children- quality entertainment.)

We had Bible Study in the morning where Darla's class sang her Happy Birthday. Jasmine & her kids came over for the afternoon. At one point we thought Everett was playing with the other kids but had snuck in to do some wall art (okay, a lot of wall art) on a bedroom wall with a green sharpie marker. Not long after I discovered it I also discovered the closet shut and locked (we have no key). Thankfully, 4 out of 6 kids napped while Jazz & I had lattes & talked. Good thing we had the rest because soon after James jammed 3 toothbrushes down the sink.

Sean was unscrewing a closet door and taking apart a sink while our birthday guests arrived. 10 children 5 & under, a couple dozen hot dogs, pinata candy, and a bunch of dress-up clothes made for a loud, rockin' party.
My grandma is in town and made her special mud pie (just in case the kids weren't sugared out already).

Once everyone had left and it was way past bedtime, an exhausted and over-stimulated Darla all snuggly in new Tinkerbell pajamas, sighed and said,
"Mom, this was the best day of my life."
So worth it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A tribute to our 5 year old

Darla is 5 years old today!

I am increasingly careful of what I let Darla overhear because regardless of the topic, she will surprise me with her comprehension, challenge me with her questions, and soften me with her sensitivity. Last week she was in another room entirely when she heard us talking about the high percentage of foster children that have been exposed to drugs.
A moment later she was standing beside me asking, "Mom, what is a drug baby?"
I replied, "It's when a mom doesn't do a good job taking care of her baby growing in her tummy. She puts bad things into her body instead of staying healthy. Then when the baby is born the baby often is sick and has things wrong with their body and mind because of their mom's bad choice."

She was quiet a few minutes. I assumed she had moved on. (Never assume this with Darla.) She re-entered with intention and severity. She looked at S. and said, "Dad, for your job you need to get in the car and drive around the world. You need to tell all the moms to not do that to their babies! Dad, you need to teach them how to take care of their babies and tell them to make good choices! They can't put bad things in their bodies!"

I told her maybe God is showing her things that she has a passion for. She has now decided that along with being a barista, a waitress, and a teacher she is going to drive around the world teaching moms to take care of their unborn children. I don't doubt it. In fact, when I pointed out that this is kind of what her Aunt Megan does (Meg is house mom to unwed, pregnant women) Darla became excited and told Megan, "When I grow up I'll do your job with you! I'll drive over and pick you up, Aunt Megan."

As Darla turns 5 I am humbled by the delight she has been to S. and me. (Okay, aside from the 2 month period as an infant where she would scream bloody murder from 6-8pm every night.) Some moments I look at her and think she's all me; dancing dramatically in front of her reflection, studying books intently, commanding her brothers with "their best" in mind. Other moments I look at her and think she's all S.; memorizing names and striking conversation up with strangers, unable to sleep because she's re-hashing her day, passionate about a good meal.

At 5 Darla is reading. Simple sentences, but reading nonetheless. Her Christmas present was a big whiteboard for by her bed. She spends hours drawing pictures and writing the words she knows with colored dry erase markers. I've been integrating her drawing with reading by writing "books" with a few pieces of paper. Each page has a simple sentence for her to read & then illustrate. Our favorite is "The Cat and the Rat" in which the cat eats the rat. Darla drew a picture of a wide-mouth cat with a rat perched inside. She can't get through the last page, which says "Yum yum" without collapsing in giggles.

We've worked hard with Darla on how to know when enough is enough. She is social and intense by nature but also easily over-stimulated. It's a brutal combination so we've taught her that quiet time is necessary and refreshing, and how to say "no thank you" when someone is coming on too strong and she's about to freak out. Today will be a test in over-stimulation because her birthday falls on her favorite day- Thursday. We get to go to Bible Study and then Jazz & her kids are coming to our house. We don't have enough space so Darla & Pearl won't have naps. They have quiet time together, which Pearl handles fine while poor Darla gets goofier as the minutes tick by. The rest of her cousins, aunts, uncles, and my folks will join us for a cousin party in the evening.

Darla has thought through and planned her party with detail. She reminded me we need paper plates and requested hot dogs for dinner (yes, we are grilling in January). The queen of cupcakes also invented a new idea for this year; she's requested a pinata. She has never tried one so her greatest expectation of the day is what it will be like to hit something with all her might to have it rain candy on her head. What she doesn't know is that I discovered a Tinkerbell pinata last week. Tinkerbell has become a huge deal here and I can hardly wait to surprise her with it.

My prayer for my little girl this year is that her creativity would continue to flourish; that she will not fear taking risks and pursuing passions, however big they may be. I ask that her heart would be tender toward the Lord. I know from experience that when you believe you have all the answers, you are used to being the "boss", and running the show, it's challenging to be humble and receptive.

Yesterday Darla was holding her favorite silky pink blanket. Her eyes widened and she asked in a panic, "Mom!? Do 5 year-olds still have special blankets?" I assured her that she could keep her blanket.
I asked her today what is exciting about being 5. She answered, "I won't have sippy cups anymore- just glass cups. I'm excited to be 5 with Pearl for a lot of days. And I can't wait to go to school and teach all the kids the ABC's and 123's. 'Cuz I already know all that... what they learn in kindergarten." (Oops. Sidenote: never tell your child that they know more than the kids around them)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Adventures from a church where there's "Always a Place For You"

Attending a church with the slogan “always a place for you” gives me warm fuzzies. Ahhh, I’m welcome, loved, and they have to accept me- their slogan says it!

Christ the King has a heart for lost and broken people, a model comprising of small groups, a vision to keep the main thing the main thing. In being part of the CTK story I have learned that a church that draws transparent people is always adventure. It isn’t always warm fuzzies…but it is always adventure. We regularly hear crazy stories of where people have been, how Christ has redeemed their life, and look forward to future with them.

In over eight years of full time ministry you start to think “we’ve seen it all”. There were 3 weeks this fall when this was proven wrong.

It started with the guy who is heading up our college/career group. He informed S. of an “incident” at college/career night. Apparently a homeless man wandered in for warmth. This is common because we are close to a main highway and are known for serving free breakfast on Sunday morning. I’ve started searching the faces of men holding cardboard signs on the corner because often they are from our congregation.

This particular homeless man was told he could warm up in the back of the worship center while college students met in the same room. Our director of College/Career noticed the man was missing after some time. He went on a search to find the man had started a pot of coffee and scrounged up a sandwich in the church kitchen. He let him keep the sandwich but informed him the kitchen was closed and escorted him back to the Worship Center. The man watched from the back and seemed to be reading some small group material that was left on a back table. Our College/Career Director figured maybe he’d absorb some good material & went to check on him at the end of the night.

Turns out the only absorbing the man had done were lines of cocaine on the back table while no one was paying attention. Needless to say, this man was escorted out. There is always a place for you…but we don’t make room for your cocaine on our small group table.

The next week the church got interesting news. Turns out a memorial service that had been done at the church wasn’t needed after all…because the deceased is actually still alive. A resurrection experience? Not so much. A man in the church had shared with the staff that his mother had passed away. In his supposed grief he asked if the church would put on a service to honor her. Many supportive members of the congregation came to support this man and help him through this time. We then found out through the man’s brother “Mom’s not dead! She’s cooking Thanksgiving dinner this week!”

Eek! Think he wanted attention? Maybe had a history of lying? We can work through that. There’s always a place for you.

The following Sunday a woman on staff noticed a man coming up the steps of the church with a pet on a leash. Now, we aren’t picky about who makes it through the doors as I’ve already stated. However, a SEWER RAT on a leash?! The woman put her foot down at this point and told the gentleman that no, he couldn’t take his rat to church.

A few minutes later he re-appeared rat free…or so it seemed. When something began moving underneath his coat he was escorted out one more time. There is always a place for you but there just really isn’t room for your sewer rat. Harsh- I know.

A few weeks ago I learned why the disciples were appalled that Jesus would talk to a Samaritan woman (John 4). Samaritans were people who resulted from Israelites having children with foreigners. They were a “polluted” race. They didn’t fear the Lord and their lives proved it. They bowed to whatever god was popular. They sacrificed their own children and completely lacked morality. The Jews wrote them off and would even make their trip twice as long just to avoid putting a foot on Samaria’s soil.

Yet Jesus stops at a well to offer a Samaritan woman living water so that she will never thirst again. This comes right after Jesus disregards some ‘religious’ people because their hearts were not tender and receptive to receiving Christ. They wanted to feel justified, not to experience true transformation.

Jesus says he knows the heart…and proves it by spending time with a woman he knows needs true transformation. She’s a mess: she’s shacked up with lots of guys and she has the reputation of her ethnicity all over her face.

But she believes! She knows she needs something real, something that isn’t just for religious people. She needs real power of redemption, not a rousing theological debate. She receives Christ. She believes Him and then tells everyone the good news. It’s contagious! So a revival begins in Samaria starting with a sketchy woman, not with the religious people of the day.

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing my youngest brother Harrison speak at church. He shared how he tried many times to change his own life with no success. He explained what it means to be 9 months sober; it’s only happened by clinging to Christ and being transformed by His Word. I’ve watched Harrison hit bottom…and then watched the bottom drop out to let him fall further. I’ve had the fear of “is he too far gone?” and now this year I’ve had the unspeakable blessing of seeing him not only renewed but completely transformed. I’ve seen a boy who won’t finish a short story transform into a man who takes notes and studies complex theological books and ideas. This brother who for years wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone now examines others with piercing eyes while he asks hard questions and spurs people on to their own transformation.

This past week S. & I jumped on the crazy-train-needing-transformation. After battling anxiety for the past couple years, S. has made some serious headway in the past 6 months. He’s been intentional about not letting ministry consume him. He’s been conscientious about his health and tuned in to our family. For whatever reason it managed to sneak up on us again anyway; fear, being increasingly overwhelmed, bombarded by needs…Crash. S. has been down for a week now with anxiety attacks. We’re a mess.

Our senior pastor (also known as my dad) came over last night and informed S. that it has all been arranged- S. is to take a 6 week sabbatical starting today. There isn’t anything to protest about because the staff met and delegated out S.’s responsibilities. My dad talked this past week in his sermon about relationship v. religion. He spoke of Christ the King’s goals to invest in people and spur them on in their journey with Christ. He quoted a study that found many people leave the American church today because they feel they have to, to keep their faith intact. He emphatically told the congregation that we won’t be that church. Our goal is to value “organism over organization” and focus on “people not program”.

Now Dad has a chance to walk the walk. S. has to be cared for and work through stuff that we’ve managed to put off for years because of the pace of our lives. Christ the King will make sacrifices to ensure that we are healthy & where we need to be. So we embark on the next 6 weeks intentionally; to be on our knees, to get wise counsel, to do some healing, to dig out the roots of some of our crazy messiness (naturally this will involve reading a few good books & smoking a few decent cigars).

These stories of transformation are everywhere. It is what Jesus Christ is about. I am surrounded by these beautiful pictures of Christ’s love in people who at one point might have seemed “too far gone”- be it alcohol, moral failure, running lines in the back of a church, lying, emotional breakdowns, or just sewer rat weirdness. I am so thankful that I get to be part of this. I’m so thankful that there is always a place for me.

1 Corinthians 1:26-28, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things…So that no one may boast before Him.”