Is Unity Even Possible?

It would be wrong to describe my time of late as “reflecting on unity.” That phrase makes it sound like I have a tree and some tea and I’m watching the sunrise and thinking peaceful deep thoughts. No, I am learning through growth, sometimes with a stretching that must be akin to being put on a torturous rack and wrenched beyond what I can tolerate.

This is not just some singular thought that is staying nicely within the lines of one lesson, but rather it is bleeding into many parts of my life. It is political. It is professional. It is ecumenical.

You can hardly get online anywhere without worrying over the division around us. As I type my left hand wishes to type one way and my right another. Should I point at the hypocrisy? Should I announce my positions? Should I offer advice to the church? Should I take the opportunity to speak to the nation at large (or lets be realistic, because the nation at large doesn’t read my blog, so perhaps it’d be better to say “the nation at small.”)

I would not be true to where my heart is, where my words pour from if I left my faith out of this, however this is something I feel is not a specific word for the church, and so this is my starting point.

1 Corinthians 12:20 “As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”

I was turning the chapter this lies in over in my head on my drive to work this morning. It occurred to me that nowhere in this passage does it says “Work towards unity.” There is no reference to striving or to effort spent drawing the thumb towards the hand and saying “Be more secured to the body, thumb.” There is no indication that one body is responsible for the other part becoming attached, becoming useful, becoming used. No, the body is all created, and there is an underlying message, a starting point, which says, “This is the body you’re stuck with.”

There is flexibility in life. We can move from one people group to another. We can change churches, change jobs, change political allegiances, change zip codes and move to Canada, but the same experience will arise over and over until this concept sinks in. This is the body you’re stuck with. The body you’re in is created and formed already, you are just a piece in it.

You will no more be able to force unification with your body that you could jam toe into your ear and expect something to work. Your toe would be connected to your ear, certainly, and your toe and your ear would be discovering new things about one another, but both would be rendered useless in function.

In the same way, the foot will never truly be able to comprehend the purpose, the function, the design, and the application of skills required for the ear to move waves in the air from floating in the world into the brain. And furthermore, it’s not necessary for the toe to understand it all.

Would it be nice and helpful? Sure. Does it teach the foot to value the ear as uniquely wired and wonderfully made perfect to the purpose in its existence? This heel surely thinks so! But at the end of the day, whether each part can grasp the purpose or function of the other is secondary to the individual part performing and perfecting its purpose!!!

If each of use would spend our days working to be exemplary in our own created nature, to serve our purpose naturally, then our body will function with the radiant beauty of a professional ballerina moving in a way which will cause everyone watching to hold their breath in awe.

We need to know enough about each other to work together. A hand must know that in order to feed the body, the mouth must open, however it is not the responsibility of the hand to open the mouth! When the hand holds the mouth open, it can’t do it’s job! We get so busy trying to explain to others how they should be functioning, when and where and why and how they should be doing their job in the way we think it should be done, that we miss completing the task in front of us, and while the hand and the mouth try to figure out how to open and shut, the rest of the body starves.

Hands, stop using your fingers to point out flaws!
Eyes, stop casting sideways glances!
Mouth, stop bossing about the rest of the pieces!

Rather…

Hands, feed the stomach.
Eyes, travel ahead to protect the feet from stumbling.
Mouth, pray for the body.

Friends….if unity possible?

I think the point is that we are already unified. We don’t seem to have much choice about it. We just need to learn to operate in harmony by doing what we were created to do to the best of our abilities and trust that the rest of the pieces are doing this as well. This is accomplished with the practice of some very basic directions that we are able to do if we actually want to do this.

I need to hear this as much as anyone else.

Do your part. Do it well.

 

 

 

Fear Is A Liar

       Ringing in my ears as I walked through life this week was the grainy recording of FDR addressing the country and declaring this, say it with me, y’all, “The only thing we have to fear. . .is fear itself. . .”
In my childhood this quote stood tall and mighty next to JFK’s “Ask not” and MLK Jr’s “I have a dream” in defining who I was as an American. Americans, like MLK, strive towards a more compassionate and unified future. Americans, like JFK, seek to serve. And Americans, like FDR, are not afraid of anyone or anything, no way, no how.
Or, at least, we were.
It is undeniable that we are no longer a nation of challengers, a country full of men and women, shirt tails tucked, chins raised, eyes to the sky ready to face whatever may come our way. We are instead scattering, all pointing to the blue above with one hand and covering our faces with the other while we cry out “it’s falling!”
This is not a political statement. It has political applications, but this is a cultural one.
I keep coming back to this conversation. It’s different people, friends, family members, strangers, people from all walks of life. We are afraid. We are anxious. We are nervous. We have fallen into what FDR spoke of and I can see he was right.
Fear, friends, has it’s claws dug into our backs and it is a terrifying and terrible thing to witness. I’ve spoken into it before, but I will say it again. Fear is the enemy and the enemy is fear.
I’ve been hearing songs lately that say just what dear departed Dr. Klamet told me years ago, that fear is a liar. Fear is not real. You won’t prevent bad things from happening by being sick to your stomach with anxiety anticipating the worst and you won’t actually feel better should those bad things come to pass because you can say that you worried about it being just as it is. Fear can’t change the future, all fear can do is steal the joy of today.
I sat by a river and told someone this a few months ago. I sat on a stage and said the same. I sat in an office and there it was again. And tonight I sat in my bed and typed it to a far away friend.
Fear is a liar.
Fear tells us one little lie and he buys us for nothing. He must only claim to have the payment in his pocket, but he never is indebted to produce the purchasing price.  We give the weight, the value, the credit for fear to speak to our hearts and minds when we consider the lie as if it were or as if it could be truth and in that moment we arrange to foot the bill.
It is us who pays. We pay in our health. We pay in our relationships. We pay in our self care. We pay in our appetite. We pay in our sanity. We pay in the weariness in our soul. We pay and we pay and we pay until we are broke and broken.
And what we heard, never was so.
Oh there are things that are terrifying. There are things which sink stones in our stomachs which pull us underwater and threaten to drown us in sorrow.

Drugs.
Bombs.
Politics.
Riots.
Racists.
Assailants.
Bullies.
Kidnappers.
Accidents.
Corruption.
Fires.
Floods.
Cancer.
Cancer.
Cancer.

     Which of those is improved by adding fear? Which of those is solved by fear? Which of those will be more easily handled should they be handed to you is you are also clenching your fists around fear? None of them!
But which of those have you seen resolved, overcome, defeated, restored, put out? I know, I am not naive, that it is not always a story of victory with no cost, not always a story of victory at all. But as long as you have seen one wildfire put out, you can believe that this too will be extinguished. And there is truth, absolute truth, that at some point, there was a wildfire that was the first to be put out.
There is hope.
There is hope, friend.
Even if all these things come to pass, even if we are struck from all sides, even if our lives and our bodies are destroy, there is hope. These things of the world….they are just a moment. And we have the power to choose, moment by moment, will we live in love or will we live in fear?
1 John 4:16-18 talks about how God is love and how those who have God, have love. It goes right into telling us that perfect love drives out fear. They cannot exist together. It concludes “He who fears is not made perfect in love.”
There are things I hear that stop me in my tracks for a moment. There in the distance I can see the waters rising up, building into a huge wave which threatens to crash on top of me and press me down into the undertow. But I have the choice. I have the choice to say, “I will not be pulled under.” I have walk on water kind of power to make the choice to not believe the lies.
The only thing that causes me trepidation is the idea that I might be overtaken by fear, because I cannot jam perfect love in the same space as complete fear. Cancer cannot press out perfect love, nor can fire or flood destroy it. Evil people cannot silence perfect love, nor can an accident catch it off guard. But love, it cannot exist where there is fear.
We must be on guard against fear.
When the adversary whispers lies…don’t believe him.
There is always hope.
And some may think I’m a fool.
Some might think I am simple.
Some might think I’m obnoxiously and naively holding on to a false belief system that will fail me.
That’s ok.
I’m not afraid of what people might think of me for having hope.
I’m not afraid of anything….except fear.

Is Speaking Truth Love?

In college I went with a group of kids to hear a speaker at EMU. I have long since struggled to remember if it was Max Lucado or Phil Yancey, but those are two names written down the sides of bookshelves quite frequently in those days. Most often I credit this bit of wisdom shared there to Max Lucado, but I’m covering my bases here. The words are clear, the speaker is fuzzy.

The words were: We have to speak truth in love. To speak love without truth is a lie, but to speak truth without love…that is no truth at all.

Let me say them again: We have to speak truth in love. To speak love without truth is a lie, but to speak truth without love…that is no truth at all.

For this strong minded, loud mouthed little girl, that was a shifting comment. If you knew me in college, you could rightly describe me as someone who speaks her mind. She will tell it like it is. She says what others are thinking, but won’t voice. If the truth cuts like a knife and leaves a wound, I was certain the other person would be reminded every time they looked at the scar I’d caused and be reminded of truth.

I can remember those days like they were just a year or two ago. Because, probably they still were. Truth, friends, TRUTH!!!! I know truth! And people need to know it. They cannot go astray. They cannot be misled. And where they are veering to the left of the right it was my responsibility to correct where I saw deviance from the most strict, most honest line.

I loved that quote from college but for many years when someone would quote from Romans “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do” I would hear my heart cheer in response, “My mouth, y’all. Welcome to my mouth.”

I’d flip from Romans to James 3 and read “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Then, knowing the struggle to do what I want to do, but doing what I don’t want to do while trying to tame an uncontrollable beast…I was certain there was no hope of overcoming this.

Sure, I gained some manner of control and learned how to restrict my comments and opinions so that I could generally function as a socially appropriate person, but truth would get me every time and I would be unable to hold it in. If I am commanded to speak truth, then every time you choose silence when you have truth is a lie. Or so I thought.

I want to preface what I’m about to say with this disclaimer: What I am working through in my head does not involve situations where one must speak truth to defend a victim or to report illegal activity. Does. Not. And I am in no way encouraging people to lie. I absolutely believe in the high value of honesty and the piercing impact it has when employed.

But, here is the thing. I would see people look at the mark I’d left behind when I’d whipped out truth, and they didn’t seem to be grateful for the reminder that they should be realigning themselves. In fact, they would often go the other way. But why? I’d spoken truth. I’d even been intentional to do it in a kind and compassionate manner.

The past few days I’ve been reflecting on the mighty and terrible power of speaking one’s mind. I’ve reflected on a few moments in the past years or two where I’ve learned more about controlling my mouth than I ever learned in the first 34 years.

I had many stories to reflect on. Times I’ve told the truth and it made people mad. Time I’ve told the truth and the person didn’t hear me. Times I’ve told the truth and people have acted like they agree to get me to be quiet.  How I have felt the burden for truth. How I have felt the responsibility to say what “needs to be said.” How I have held to the belief that to hold your tongue is to lie, every time.

My friends, just because you know something to be true, it does not mean that the way to speak truth in love is to open your mouth. The quote that is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi is true: Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.

I have in the past year taken some theological questions via email with a dear friend and spiritual leader in my life, if no longer official by certificate of membership, his grace and wisdom is a voice I will always covet to speak into this walk. I have taken via email the same questions to another spiritual leader in my life, and I don’t know why I think the answers will ever be any different from one to the other, it helps to have these two voices who are willing to help me hash things out and help me simplify the matter at hand. The topics have varied, but as I look at our conversations in the rearview mirror, I am finding that they all boil down to this…

Me: I have a truth and the rest of the world won’t conform to it.
They: Extend grace.
Me: Also, they can be mean and hypocritical because they lack the understanding of truth that I have!
They: Extend grace anyway.
Me: I could extend grace better if I could accompany it with truth.
They: Are you willing to look at your truth, to lean in and to be open to a truth that is outside of your very capable brain?
Me: Yes, but I’m right.
They: Ok.

And a few days later the conversation changes.

Me: I may have been wrong in my analysis of truth.
They: Ok. Tell me.
Me: New truth. Presentation of evidence. Conclusion.
They: Excellent! You have done well to lean in on this!
Me: I don’t feel so much like I need to argue about it with that person anymore….but it’s still not fair that they get to be mean and hypocritical.
And then this…..
This every time….
They:  Whose problem is that?
Me: Oh.

While processing a theological point in the past month, I went through this same conversation sequence with one of these great men and when we reached the point where he said, “I think that your confusion over other people’s responses is their problem… not yours.”

Oh my heart. Or rather, oh my ears. They were finally open. This person has said this to me for nearly a decade in one way or another. He has spoken that same truth over and over while I didn’t hear him.

You know what I have heard though? I have heard him allow me my strongly held beliefs, even when they are the exact opposite of my own. I have heard him encourage me to follow God’s word to me and God’s leading on my life even if it points me in different directions than he’d chose for his own.

But what speaks the loudest to me from both of these men is this. I have heard them not say things. They have held their tongues and chosen words carefully to be as clear as possible without giving more information than I needed at the time. They have not used the application of truth from their lives to attempt to realign my beliefs or actions into a forced submission of what they think and how God has convinced them to walk.

What has spoken to me louder than any other truth they’ve helped me find is when they’ve chosen to reserve their words and allow God to speak to me. 

I have stayed in the conversation because they have not told me to be quiet by pressing their rightness over my wrongness. They answer my questions as honestly and reflective of their interpretations to the best of their abilities, and those have helped me process concepts. But concepts are concepts.

What is speaking into my heart, what is changing me, what is absolute proof to me that entire sanctification exists alongside of ongoing gradual sanctification while I watch layer after layer being pulled back on my life, is the love, is the grace, and is the commitment to allowing God to be the truth giver, and not having the arrogance to think they have all the answers, not every story needs to be told. Neither do they bear the burden of responsibility to change my mind.

I am slowly but surely learning, it is my responsibility to work out my own salvation, not everyone else’s around me. I am slowly learning how to speak truth in love by closing my mouth. I am slowly learning that if I want to communicate truth in love I have to be committed to a conversation that could last for years, to play the long game, because truth is eternal, truth outlasts a conversation. I am learning to trust God more in this way.

I will close with how I responded to the comment that my confusion over other people’s responses being their problem, not mine.

It is something to consider that the more I learn, the more I come across the idea that the rightness and wrongness of the rest of the world is not my problem. I should write that on an index card and pin it to my desk.

Today I think I shall do just that.  🙂

Speak truth, y’all, and now how to do it with your mouth closed.

The Church On Tangier Island

Sometimes missing church happens, but in this day and age with all the technology available, you can find a service to livestream any hour of the day. That is, you can find a service to livestream unless of course you are visiting Tangier Island.

When you go to Tangier you are going there to disconnect, and disconnect you shall, because unless you stand by this one large mud puddle near the beach or this a certain plank on the seldom used dock behind the Muddy Toes library, you won’t have enough signal to text, let alone find a sermon.

I’d resigned myself to being churchless this past Sunday, until, as we rode the golf cart around the corner to our B&B, I saw the marquee. Service after service was listed. I saw that there would be 2 services that evening and my curiosity was piqued.

Cats, gnats, beach, bikes and ice cream, I have experienced Tangier.  But I’d never stepped foot inside the little white church on the corner. As it turned out, we’d come on homecoming weekend. No football games and pep rallies for this event, homecoming weekend is just what it sounds like. When the folks who’ve left the island return. There is a festival style party with bounce houses and a stage. People who’ve gone off to serve on the mainland in ministry come home and help lead in the many services offered all weekend long.

I have in years past looked with curiosity at the small white church on the corner, but we’ve never been there during a service. This would be my opportunity to find out just what church on the island is like.

I entered up the steps into a small entry. No signs necessary to find my way to the sanctuary, I needed only allow myself to be led by preacher who grasped my hand as I entered and swinging our handshake to the left guided me a step and a half forward into a wide well light room.

Oh, I thought, I know this kind of church.

The light came generously through beautiful stained glass windows. The wooden pews formed sort of a semi-circle facing the pulpit which was raised about the congregation a few steps. The pews were soft and shiny and one could imagine that in just the right Easter dress you could slide from one end to the other if you got a good start. This church and others like it smell the same, a mixture of dampness (this one with a tinge of salt air), Murphey’s Oil Soap and a few centuries of potluck casseroles.

This church would be the same as others I’d been to, I was certain, where eyes don’t lift 3 feet above the ground the entire service, gazing from hymnals during singing, watching your knees during the sermon, and checking in your purse or your pockets for a mint or something else to pass the time.

A strong woman took to the front and raised a mighty welcome and immediately my head popped up. She greeted everyone and I strained to understand her thick island accent. For the first minute or two, she could have been talking about coffee and crabs, boats and buoys, for all I know, but it was pleasant. After a moment, the strange vowels sounded natural I could understand her, and I was smiling with her joy expressed of services I’d missed that morning and the day before, of seeing friends and family back to visit. “Hey!” she’d called. An island word, a greeting so common to her and a joy she’d found to share with a man she knew from Africa, teaching him how on Tangier one local greets another. “Hey!” the congregation rang back.

Something seemed to let me know I wouldn’t be knee watching this service. I looked from window to window, from pew to pew, and the familiarity of an old time church was still in the tangible building, but something fresh was in the room, too.

As the service got underway, we sang old hymns, songs that I’ve been singing to myself this summer and missing. I love the new worship music, but sometimes it’s nice to sing “How Great Thou Art” without a kicking drum solo in the middle. One lady in the choir had a solo, and though the style of her singing was classic, it was full of newness. A duet of two middle aged men sang and old song and sounded about like two pleasant men singing until something moved the songs from their mouths, deeper, and it resonated from within them and spilled thickly into the air around us all.

The missionary woman came again and invited joys and concerns and testimonies, and people rose to their feet and shared, joy upon joy and then one man, certainly in his early 60s stood and shared how grateful he was for his salvation. With a tremble in his voice and a tear in his eye, he spoke more sweetly about how much his faith meant to him than I may have ever heard. Ever. So unexpected to me and so precious was that moment, that I could only think “What is this place?”

The visiting speaker took to the pulpit and said that when he’d been asked to speak on homecoming weekend, he knew right away what he’d preach from. I tried to pull up a fast verse in my head with the word home in it and predict where we were going, but he went straight into his verse, from Proverbs 22 “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.” Well, that doesn’t have the word home in it at all!

He gave a fine message where he spoke about his favorite national landmarks, and then moved to his favorite island landmarks. He shared the story of the history of faith on the island brought ashore with Rev. Joshua Thomas, a great story unto itself. He told of revivals that had happened on the island, where hundreds of people came forward to receive Christ. He referenced a revival on the island as recently as 1996.

Then he made this point. The landmarks WILL fall. The island, which is slowly being taken back into the sea as they pray for the funding needed for a second sea wall, the island too will fall. The people, good and faithful though they be, will also pass, from this life to the next. They are not immune to the passage of time. None of these are the landmarks. Not even, he pointed out, would he say that the revivals were landmarks. Those prayers and songs and times ended and people moved on from the altars.

No, he said, Christ is our landmark. Remove not Christ from your life, for He alone is the only which is unpassable, unshakable. He will remain.

And he closed expressing hope for another revival. It doesn’t matter that the most recent revival they’d experienced was in 1996, no time was too soon for more of God. His hope was for revival. His hope, he said, is that when people speak of Tangier Island that they say “They are a godly people.”

I will say of Tangier Island, they are a godly people. Do I know each of them? No. Do I think that they are free from the ins and outs and ups and downs of life? No. But this I know. While we on the mainland download and upgrade our faith, Tangier carries on, with hymnals and stained glass, with pews and and a pulpit. The service I experienced was dynamic and dear. It is not something you can manufacture for a special weekend. It is very obviously natural to them.

If you get the opportunity to go visit Tangier, include in your stay over a trip to the little white church on the corner.

Two last notes worth mentioning, if only so I can remember them years from now.

First, on the island there is a second church that I didn’t get to attend. I thought about the old joke about the man shipwrecked on the island who when rescuers arrived they found he’d built many small buildings. He showed them around his village he’d built pointing here and there saying “That’s my house, that’s the diner where I eat. That’s my church.” They saw another structure he hadn’t named and asked about it. He made a disgusted face and said “That’s the church I used to go to.” I wondered what it must be like to be on an island with two churches. On the mainland, we often ignore the churches in our neighborhood, viewing them as competition or not viewing them at all in our business to only view ourselves.

In the sermon, the man was thanking God for all the ways He’d blessed Tangier and set Himself among them. In this piece, he took time to thank God for the other church, for their work and their ministry to the island.

And secondly, as we entered the church there was a dog trying desperately to gain access to the sanctuary. He was shooed away repeatedly and I chuckled at how interested he was. Towards the end of the service, a woman rose and tiptoed out of the front door and returned a moment later. A minute or two after this, as our heads were bowed in prayer, I saw the woman in front of me jump a little. She spun around and mouthed something to people behind me.  Leaning forward, her shoulders went up and down with a little effort and then she popped back up, carrying the holy little mutt and taking him back to the entrance, she pitched him a little unceremoniously out the door.

It was as if I was reading a left out chapter from James Herriot’s Dog Stories. ❤

This service, these moments are enough to encourage you to give Tangier a visit and to find that church in session, but if that’s not in your ability, pray for those people, for their hope for revival and for their sea wall.

Resting Place?

Y’all, I’ve been busy. Like buuuuuuuuh-issss-eeee.

It has never been so apparent that I have spent the ten months before taking this job waiting for the phone to ring at a desk. My mornings, noons and nights have been jam packed. My muscles are pointing at each other saying “She hasn’t used me for a while, Has she used you? No?” A friend noted that she hadn’t seen anything from my blog in a few weeks, and I confirmed that it wasn’t a trick of Facebook choosing not to show her my posts, but in fact I hadn’t posted anything new in a long time.

Oh, I’ve started posts. You would not believe all the phenomenal expressions of the starts of ideas I’ve had the past 5 weeks, but before I can look back over things and hit post, I either run out of time or collapse asleep exhausted.

I have been doing and serving and helping and giving. I have done my honest best to do it with a good attitude and when I felt the stress level rising to walk myself into some private conversation with God, to seek out the counsel of a friend, or to sing and then sing louder.

But I have been living in anticipation of Tangier Island.

I am heading to Richmond with the kids today to join my parents and then rising before the sun tomorrow to head to the boat. A couple of days disconnected from the world, surrounded on all sides by rest and recovery? I can hardly wait!

It was with a body tired that I sent my mind to the ferry, checked out in the middle of the week. I have earned a break. So when it was suggested on Thursday that I help out  the next day building the pergola at the Resting Place at the fair, I was very clear. I would NOT be doing that. I was all served out.

Friday I drove in to do the last little bit at work I needed to do and start my vacation ASAP with some time spent with a friend I had missed during my busy season. What better to recover my spirit that lunch with my friend Jen.

Jen and I are so alike that I best describe her to others saying, “She is like my brain outside of my body so I can talk to myself and not appear crazy.” Whatever it took I would be hanging with her today. Girls lunch out? Running errands? Help her settle into her new house? Whatever it took I would hang with her today.

I did my few things and then texted her.

Me: Hey! What are your plans today?
Jen: Helping set up the Resting Place at the fair.

Ha. Ha. Hardy har har. I get your point, Big Guy.

So, even though I’d adamantly refused to go do that the day before, laughing and assuring the people who suggested it that I’d see them Wednesday, I turned the wheel towards Rt 11 and showed up at the fairgrounds.

I wouldn’t say that I built a pergola yesterday. But I spent a few hours doing little tasks like spray painting buckets or holding a corner post of the pergola so the people who know what they’re doing could build it. And I did that with an interesting assortment of people. It was a few hours of laughter, joking, bouncing ideas around and arranging furniture.

I had to stop and smile when I remembered that last year I knew for some time before that I wouldn’t end up helping with this annual offering my church has at the fair, and sure enough, fair week rolled around and my appendix went phooey on me. This time I am headed out of town for the first half and unavailable for the second half, but it was nice getting to see what goes into preparing for rest.

I was sure a few days ago that should I agree to show up and do any physical labor before my trip, I’d end up even more tired, but as I pulled out of that parking lot I had that same feeling I had every time I volunteered last year. It was as if I’d gotten more out of the experience than I had given.

I said to another friend this week, “You have to choose to take time beside still water, or else you’ll sat down and that’s no fun. It says ‘He leadeth me beside the still water.’ Sometimes He has to trip us to force us to sit down and rest.”

I don’t know that my brain is put back together enough for a well written conclusion this morning. But can I encourage you to do something?

Don’t count out the idea of rest. Rest and recovery is every bit as important in our spiritual, mental and emotional lives as it is in our physical lives.

And secondly, don’t count out the idea that rest might be found in doing something.  There was more relaxation in being helpful with good friends than I would have found on any couch. I have found little in life as restorative as doing good work that I don’t HAVE to do.

If you are at the Rockingham County Fair this week, stop out at The Resting Place and enjoy a moment of relaxation.

I’ll be thinking of and praying for the island of respite I’m missing at home while I’m sailing out to an island of respite in the Chesapeake Bay.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy and The Scary Truth About Target

Y’all, you might need to sit down for this.

I have figured out why we have virtually no ability to self regulate in Target. Why we all understand the scenario of walking in under that big red bullseye and walking out 3 hours later with no idea what happened and cart full of things you had no intention of buying.

There I was, doing dishes and thinking about what to do this week while the kids are gone at the beach. Enter stage right of my daydream was the front of that red cart. I could feel the chill of a cold coffee in my hand. I could feel the motion of the back and forth as I would weave in and out of The Spot. I could hear myself saying “Now Sarah, if you behave, I’ll get you a treat!”

Something new occurred to me at this point in the daydream. Target has its impulse buys at the very beginning of the experience. How strange. This is not how other stores function. Target also has impulse buys at the register, but their major point of “Do I need this? Aw who cares, it’s only a dollar!” is at the beginning. Why could that be?

In the next moment the background in my daydream changed. There I sat in the gross motor/meeting room at Head Start back in Washington Court House, Ohio. We’d had a particularly challenging time in those months leading up to that training and were hungry for any advice that this behavioral expert could give us.

Over and over through the years I have used what he taught that day about “neutral observations.” Creating a connection with a child who wants to fight off any connection by making them feel noticed but not attaching a positive or a negative connotation to what you say to them. No more “I like your criss cross applesauce, calm body!” No more “We shouldn’t hit our friends!” Now we were to look at the child and say “I see you are wearing a blue shirt” and leave it at that. The child feels noticed but cannot exercise control over that interaction to push you away. You build a relationship. You sound like a big ol’ weirdo, but let me tell you. It works, every time.

The other concept he introduced was a “yes set.” You get a child to agree to what you want him to do by asking him questions that are very obviously answered with a yes. “Is that a ball?” Yes. “Is it red?” Yes. “Would you put it in the bucket?” Yes. It was not as mind blowing to me as the neutral observations and so I’d set it on the shelf in my mind and forgotten it.

But leaned up at the sink today, there it was again. A “Yes set.” And I understood. Target has exercised an amazing cognitive behavioral challenge on us!

Think on this. A mom goes to a similar big box store. She spends the whole store trip say “No. Don’t touch that. Don’t grab this. Put that back.” She is all practiced up for getting to the check out aisle with her little ones who match her training for training. Who will break? Can I have it, Mom. No. Pleeeeeease! No. Just one, Mom! No.

Mom wins the impulse control battle with the child, because she’s practiced the whole trip just repeating no. When she leaves the store, she feels negative because she just had to spend the whole time arguing with her kids.

But imagine, Mom walks into Target. The first thing she sees, which is actually stuck out further into the walkway so she cannot ignore it, is an impulse buyers paradise. And why not?!? A scarf? It’s only $3! A bow for your daughter? Just a dollar. A light saber? $3. A floppy hat, some seeds, a journal (she’s been meaning to write more), a pet toy, a new cell phone case, a very thin yoga mat (if it’s December and that New Year’s resolution is coming up), some educational tools for the kids, Minions socks for her son, a tea towel with a witty phrase, a holiday decoration, a chalkboard something (because it’s almost exactly what she saw on Pinterest, and now she won’t mess it up making it herself), a few pirate kid’s plates, a candle and she has a good start to filling up that cart. Turn the corner and there are those animal cracker packs so easy for sticking in lunch boxes. For just a measly, well, uh, it can’t be that much right, because each thing was like, a dollar….ish.

She has just said yes to every department she will walk through. She has already agreed to buy clothing for her and her children. She’s nodded happily to toys and home goods. She remembers that Fido was low on food, which she hadn’t really thought about until that squeaky seasonal bone looked so agreeably at her. She’s felt that holiday spirit and dropped in something that will remind her she did want to go all the way to the back of the store to see what they put back there in that impulse control disaster of a seasonal section, which is right next to lawn and garden where she certainly needs everything it will take to make those dollar seeds grow. As she walks out of lawn and garden, she remembers, Junior needs some food to go on that new pirate plate.

She has said yes so many times that by the time she makes it out of the Spot the idea of saying “No! Don’t touch that!” seems foolish, because HELLO who wouldn’t want to touch everything?!?!

Not only that, take a moment and realize that the other end of the cash registers is closed off, so Mom can’t skip it and enter through another path. This creates a bit of a bottleneck over by the entrance. That paired with the walled off feeling created by the snack display on the back of the Spot is absolutely enough to make Mom think twice. She had considered telling Junior that if he doesn’t sit down in the cart and stop harassing his sister, then she will make him put that light saber back! But ugh, to go back up there and put it back in the bin? That is a hassle.

She bites her tongues. Yes has been so easy and so pleasant, and no….well, no is the worst, because her cart won’t fit going against the flow of traffic and nobody wants to take a screaming kid back into the Spot.

So she heads to the register, Junior is happy, she is happy, the baby has fallen asleep because she’s been in the carseat on top of the cart for the past …uh…hour-ish. Mom reads the covers of the magazines. She smiles at the college girls with this dorm signs and the same holiday decorations she’s chosen, and feels hip and with it. They smile back, and she sees their approval of her life and perhaps their future, where they might have kids of their own and still use the same things in their cart which makes them feel super mature. Mom hears Junior tells the clerk about his new light saber. The clerk gives him a sticker. Mom thinks that she deserves a treat for having such a lovely outing with the kids and after loading the bags in the cart she heads right into the Starbucks line. And out into the bright, bright sun….and yes…yes…is it a beautiful day? Yes. Yes it is.

And all those tiny wins, those mom victories next to the college girl victories, next to the working woman victories, oh how you can almost smell the dopamine releasing in their brains. All those women releasing all those happy little pings that will let them know….on those days when the world seems just a little too NO to be fair, a little to “Don’t touch that” to be tolerated, she can find herself daydreaming about the one place that from the moment she steps in the door is yes.

Fellow women of America.
It is not our fault.
We are victim to one of the most extensive cognitive behavioral experiments ever.

Target has created a “yes set” and has changed our feelings about their big box store from negative, local store killing beasts with no heart, to the store that just feels good to be there and we don’t know why. Now, you do know why!

YOU ARE BEING MOLDED INTO THEIR PERFECT CUSTOMER WITH EVERY TRIP YOU TAKE!!!!

Should you accept this?
Should you allow a big business to control you like this?
Should you permit your mind to be changed and feed the addiction it creates?

Well, I for one can say quite clearly, yes….but…I’m not quite sure why I feel so compelled to answer that way…….

***Disclaimer – I do not have any rights to anything Target, except the stuff I bought from Target, which, if I find you snooping around my holiday oven mitts I will put a fight for. I do not work for Target or against Target or super duper near a Target, except relatively, it is closer to a Target than where I used to work. I made that picture on Canva, and the circles aren’t even even like Target’s circles, so it’s only supposed to be reminiscent of Target, but not identical to it, so that seems safe. My views do not represent anyone else’s views, except yours if you totally agree with me. I also am not a psychol-psychia-doctory person and so nothing I said above is to be considered medical advice.  If you have an emergency, please call 911.

But How Does It End?

A friend and I were talking recently about the deep theological point of omniscience, you know, how God already knows everything and the devastating of the lack of omniscience in ourselves. I know you’ve had the same conversation before. See, I may not know everything, but I know you have had this talk before.

It’s the conversation that follows when something is ahead of us, job offers, proposals, children, test results, healing, or anything that requires us to wait. It is the monologue we deliver when something is upon us, pain, sickness and suffering, trial or temptation. That desire rises up inside us to just know how this all ends.

We tell our friends and we tell God, “I just want to know how this all turns out. I want to know how this is going to be used in my life. Then I will willingly walk through whatever He has for me.” I’ve been there. I’ve seen friend after friend arrive to this point. We are fine and content when the story of our lives is reviewing the setting, introducing the characters, building a background little by little. We are happy to listen as the narrative tells us about the ins and outs of our daily tasks and we happily read through happy times, feasts and family experiences, events and adventures. In fact we’d almost prefer there not be any talk of an ending in those cases. More words about those things, please, more pages, more time.

But onto the scene arrives a villain. Into the picture walks a problem. I am not trying to minimize the absolute horror and terror that can be written in to our lives. We lose loved ones before we think it’s time. We struggle with demons that won’t let us rest in sleep or in waking. We watch people fight battles we can not take from them. We have trials. Big, scary, painful trials.

Then our thumbs drag across the edges of the page flipping page after page, eyes skimming for a word to latch onto which will signal the description of the resolution and the explanation of the purpose. We hit the back cover with frustration, because there just aren’t the words. There aren’t words on the pages yet. They haven’t been written. But not just there. We look out to our friends, to our leaders, to our own understanding and ask why! What is the point of all this!?!? And our friends, our leaders and our own understanding have no words.

So we beg to know the ending. God, if you will just tell me how this turns out. God, if you will just tell me why this is in my life. God, if you…then I. And we flip back through the book hoping to see that lines are forming, letter after letter the answer will appear and we might see the future. But they don’t.

It is enormously frustrating!

A few months ago I heard this story.

“When John Kavanaugh, the noted and famous ethicist, went to Calcutta, he was seeking Mother Teresa … and more. He went for three months to work at “the house of the dying” to find out how best he could spend the rest of his life.

When he met Mother Teresa, he asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she replied. He then uttered the request he had carried thousands of miles: “Clarity. Pray that I have clarity.”

“No,” Mother Teresa answered, “I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh said that she always seemed to have clarity, the very kind of clarity he was looking for, Mother Teresa laughed and said: “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”

This story was shared just days before I would come upon one of my own flip to the end times. Tell me what to do, God! Be clear with me! Send me a sign, a map, an angel who spells it out for me. But no, not clarity. Trust.

Back on that riverbank in that conversation I heard words come out of my mouth that I knew I’d need to write down. Not because they were particularly special, well formed and brilliant. Rather, because I know I will need to remember them later.

I told my friend to write down her story. To get a journal and write down this experience so that in a few months she could look back through her journal and see all that He has done.

But first, to know this.

When you ask God to write your story, when you allow Him to read it over your life….you already know the ending. It is going to be a happy ending. It is going to work out for His glory and our gain. Every. Single. Time. You can trust this.

I suggested she find a journal and on the front page write “And they lived happily ever after….what follows here is how it happened.”

Friends, it is advice I need to heed. I do not have some deeper knowledge of the future which gives me secret clarity or some ultra-faith that in unattainable to the masses. I sit on my own riverbank, in my car, on my computer, at my desk, on steps, in a friend’s office. The background to this situation changes, but the story is the same. I find myself explaining why God should let me in on the plan, why it’d be ok this time for Him to reveal more knowledge to me. And time and time again He leads me to the same sentence in my book…

They lived happily ever after.

And then He tells me to sit back and let Him get back to reading.

There is in this life or the next wholeness, happiness and healing beyond anything we can know here on this broken ground. There is hope and a future. There are plans to prosper us.  Do you know this? Do you?

Then you know the ending!

They lived happily ever after.

Now hush, child, and let Him read.

Unreal. 2 Weeks In.

Y’all, it’s been nearly two weeks. Almost two whole weeks since I started at the church. TWO. WHOLE. WEEKS. (almost.)

I have sat down at the computer countless times to record my experiences, because I know they’ll dim in my memory, and I do not want to lose a minute of it, but I just sit and stare at the screen, unable to find the words to describe any bit of it.

Me. Unable to find words. Well, able to find one word. Over and over, one word. Unreal. Unreal. Unreal.

I keep expecting to wake up and find it’s just been a dream. I keep expecting someone to come say “Ugh, I hate to tell you this, but we made a mistake.” I keep expecting something that will say, “Sarah, you made all of this up in your head.”

It has been a big year of the same lesson over and over for me, God repeatedly showing me that He is not just abundantly gracious, but that He is abundantly gracious to me. To me!

And yet, I walk around in shock that God is being THIS abundantly gracious to me.

The only thing I’ve formulated in my head by way of a summarizing statement of what the first two weeks have been like is this…..When you start a new job, you cling to everything they tell you, like there is going to be a test later. Where do you keep the paper? What color pens do you use? What’s the code? How do you turn on a computer? There is usually this tense transition time where you’re scared you’re going to mess everything up. But it hasn’t felt like that. Sure I’m having to learn where the paper is and about new software,but really, it just feels like I’ve started working from home. There just happen to be other people working in my house with me.

Moments of confirmation after confirmation. Joy upon joy. Situations I never thought I’d be blessed to be a part of.

I wish I could describe it better. I wish I had the words. But I don’t. So I’ll use someone else’s words. how about His?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

They so are. Because in all the ways I tried to imagine the graciousness of God TO ME…this is far better than I could have dreamed up.

Unreal. Simply unreal.

In or Out?

        I had just finished telling her why I would NOT be coming back to this church.

The people were nice enough. The worship was good. The kids seemed to like the children’s church stuff well enough. But one thing had turned me off and turned me off entirely. So I thanked her kindly for her time and consideration, but I was outta there.

When we first moved here, she had taken time out of her busy days a number of times to sit and talk with me. She had more important things to do, and that’s not me being humble. She legitimately had more important things to do than sit and talk to some random girl who came to her place of work unannounced. But for some reason, she took the time.

We had similar interests. Both in early childhood education. Both with big thoughts about the issues and experiences surrounding that field. We talked probably more intensely about theological issues than one should when you just barely know someone, but that is my way and she indulged me.

She had walked me around the church, giving me the updated tour. I hadn’t seen it since I was in college, when Kermit and I had come to this church a few times at the end of my senior year when the building was just being plastered on the overhead screen as blueprints and dreams.

She took time to invest in me and I told her thanks, but no thanks. All the same, she smiled and gave me another moment to listen about what had upset me. As I made my way to the door, she walked with me, wrapping up our conversation.

I put my hand on the door, trying to push myself out of that church and on to whatever lay on the other side of “anywhere but this place.”

She said “So what’s next?
“Well,” I began, certain of the answer, “My plan is to get my master’s and teach Head Start, but I wouldn’t be surprised if God didn’t have a completely different plan for me.
“I guess we’ll see.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, “We will.”

And with that, I left.
I had no intention of returning.
I was Jonah, having been told to go to Ninevah, turned and booked it to Tarshish,  the most remote place in the other direction I could think of. No doubt, it would take a giant fish and an act of God to get me back in the doors of that church.

Thankfully, mercifully, God acts.

         I have put pieces of the rest of the story throughout my blog in the past, and so I won’t retell the whole story of the storm and the ship and the whale that God used to bring this Jonah back to where He intended me to be in the first place.

This piece of the story though, I tell and retell, because even when I was running to the remote parts of the Valley to escape where I felt He had pointed me, I knew, my plan was not going to win out. His plan would.

Not only that. The part that is most tender to me, which melts me in front of the glorious redemptive love that my God has for me, is that in the VERY conversation which I intended to reject this church, God placed my hand on the building and put these words in my mouth “I wouldn’t be surprised if God didn’t have something completely different planned for me.”

There are often times that I feel like God sighs before He says things to me, wondering at my amazing ability to miss a point, but there is no sigh in that moment. Only this sense that God may have thought, “Watch this. Watch what I’m going to do here. Watch me knit my plan into her hand so that she will not ever forget the hard coolness of this door and those words which I am about to unfold in her life. Just watch.”

This morning I put my hand on that door again and pressed it open. Certainly one of the greatest evidences of redemption I have in my life is that when I rejected “that church,” God brought me back and over and over placed my hand back on the hard coolness of that door until that place became “my church.”

Today, my first official day of working for my church, this story came out again in conversation, drawing me back to those same words of the unknown plan of God in my future and hitting me hard with the magnitude of just how much higher His thoughts and His ways are than my own.

Closely behind this story came a verse to my mind, a verse that was shared in the sermon given the day I put words to the calling I felt God was laying in front of me. The sermon talked about considering the cost of following Christ and was full of commentary that felt so made for me.

Jesus speaks to a man who wants to follow Him, but wants to put it off for a little while, til he can enact his own plans and settle things his way. In Luke 9:62  “Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Here is my plow and my hand is upon it. How gracious was He who did not turn away from me when I ran from my plow. How kind is He who called me back to it. Each day that my hand presses open that door, I pray that the hard coolness under my hand will serve as a constant reminder of the day I spoke those words, and press into my heart which side of those doors I will choose to be on.

May I never look back from my plow or my door.

Saying Goodbye When You Don’t Have To

The day we loaded our moving van to begin our adventure to the east, I stood on the front porch, leaned against the wall. Friends had come by to wish us well, to hug and cry, to make promises of continued closeness and then they were gone. I watched the last few things loaded and there it was. Ready to go.

But I wasn’t. After being thoroughly convinced that we were making this move out of obedience to God’s calling us beyond our small town’s borders, there was this inside itch, this tiny voice, this urging. All I had to do was say “I was wrong. I’m not going. Put it all back in the house.” All I had to say was, “No.”

I could, too. We would have a just fine life in Ohio, with great family support and good friends and a church we loved and a home we loved despite it’s “antique needs.”

But I couldn’t. I couldn’t speak the words, because I felt so deep down that to unload that truck would be willful disobedience. So I climbed in the van and followed the truck out to 35 and on to our future. It was the right choice. I have been blessed beyond measure because I didn’t shove everyone out of the way and drag the couch back in the house. No matter how big the blessing, no matter the confidence I had in the direction, no matter how excited I was for the future ahead, I can’t deny that urge was there.

Last fall, as I began my second ministry class I had a period of time where I was overwhelmed at the bigness of the task ahead. Classes stretched ahead of me. Personal growth requires incredible effort that I had no concept of before. I am not everyone’s cup of tea and if the end of this is being a pastor, those moments where it is clear I am not for someone will hurt deeply, and probably happen more frequently than I want to imagine.

The week leading up to the first class session there was that itch, that tiny voice, that urge was there. I don’t have to do this. I can work at a comfortable job with people who like me. I can still sound smart and have good illustrations that I use here and there that would make people think well of me. I don’t have to show up to class or interview in front of panels. I could say no.

I could, too. Only, I couldn’t. Oh, it was true that God doesn’t need Sarah Kinzer to fulfill His purpose in this place. If you thought Mcgyver could do some impressive stuff with little to no resources, you should know, he has nothing on what God can do. I do believe that God would allow me to have a nice life, even if I said no. He’d use someone else who would be willing to do what I refused. But if obedience is a blessing, disobedience is a torment for the one who walks in it knowingly. Even if life was comfortable, I would know I’d said no, and I just can’t live with that.

That night in class Pastor Dave began with some opening comments which included this. He said “You will be tempted time and time again to be ordinary. Don’t be ordinary.” Those words were just what I needed to hear. Not just the encouragement to be extraordinary, but the recognition that the temptation would come. It wasn’t my weakness and it wasn’t my shame that I thought about the pretty bow that wraps up an ordinary life. It was a common temptation. But it was not without option.

I am able to choose to trust God’s unknown future where He hides His extraordinary plans until the appointed time.

Today is my last day at that job that I like, with people I like, doing tasks I can competently handle, that has benefits beyond what is laid out in the employee handbook. People are saying goodbye and wishing me well. This is a building full of men, so the crying and hugging which was so present as we left Ohio is noticeably absent, but the goodbyes are just as tender, at least to my heart.

There is that itch again, that tiny voice, that urging. I don’t have to do this. I don’t have to leave. I don’t have to go forward to this next adventure.  I can go yank my resignation letter out of the file and tear it up and just show up here on Monday. I don’t have to do this.

I could, too. Only I can’t. I can’t stay here in the safety and comfort of the known any more than I could get that couch out of the moving van and drag it back up the walk, sit on it and refuse to move. When God says go, you go.

I told my friend, Maite, this morning that I had a case of the nervousness and she got straight to the point in her encouragement. “God didn’t open this door for you to hide behind the door jam.” She’s right, too. Not because the option isn’t there for me to hide,  to resist and refuse, but because if I want God’s best for my life, I must accept it, take it, step into it. I must go.

So today, even though I don’t have too, because I believe in a God who offers, but never forces, new beginnings, I say goodbye.

Friends, I hope you have the opportunity in your life to say goodbye when you don’t have to because something better lies ahead for you. Be prepared for that itch, the tiny voice, that urge to tell you that ordinary is fine enough for you. And maybe it’s ok to daydream, for a moment, just a moment. Picturing it play out will set it there in your mind for you to return to the image when you are living in the extraordinary unknown and know that you made the right choice.

Oh, friend, in the pursuit of God’s best for your life,
you will be tempted time and time again to be ordinary.

Don’t be ordinary.