Monday, November 9, 2015

The Right Fight

I sometimes wish that I somehow had some piece of wisdom that would undo all of the tangle found on Facebook and Instagram and in the stories my kids come home with from school.
We live in a day of insanity.
I had a friend tell me the other day that the number one threat against school aged children in the United States is a school shooting. We went from being shocked in 2012 at 4 school shootings to horrified in 2015 by our current total of 52 school shootings to date.
Are you freaking kidding me?
In a day where there is more education, more resources, more self-help books, jobs, money, government, society - the number one threat in our society is our children being killed while they are in class learning?!
Does anyone else want to scream?
I don't have the profound one-liner that makes this right. There is no one to condemn, not one sin I could hold up a sign against - no program I can tote, no presidential candidate I can endorse, no amount of money I can pass around - that will undo what we have done in this culture.
There is no assurance that can be found in, "If people would just ______"....because they won't.  We won't. There isn't a time coming when we all get it right and all work in unison.
But, we grasp.  we grasp. we grasp - at answers that are vapor.
If everyone would commit to vaccinating their children, every child could be safe.  Yet in 2010, I held my newborn begging her to take a breath because whooping cough was trying to kill her. She shouldn't have gotten whooping cough, she should have been safe - if only everyone would follow the vaccination schedule, she wouldn't have been sick, and the sweet baby in the room next door wouldn't have died.  Everyone has access, everyone could.  but not everyone believes, not everyone knows, not everyone is on the same page. And who really even knows what the right page is.  But, we add more vaccines, different schedules, larger outreach efforts. We are so close...if only everyone would....if only we could...
and we grasp. we grasp. we grasp.
My daughter comes home from school so sad because she doesn't fit in - no one knows her - she has no one to talk to.  They say her problems aren't real.  They say her pain is insignificant. But, it is no different than the core issue her other friend - a beautiful person who struggles with her own gender identity and has problems at home - has.
They both feel alone. Misunderstood. Confused.
How is it supposed to go?  How is this supposed to feel?
Who am I supposed to be?
Who will notice me?
Who will love me?
Who will complete me and make me whole and make this whole thing make sense?  Where is my salvation?
We have more than enough churches to adopt all of the children in this country that need a home.  Enough money to end poverty. Enough nuclear power to clear the whole game board and start over.
Which enough will win?
Which enough is right?
Our brand of social media Christianity is to stand behind what we see as the right-right and mock anyone who has a different right. We go to great efforts to find the article or the one-liner that will point out how what we do or believe is the only way that makes sense.
But really, tell me - how much sense is there in believing our own brand of self-righteousness?
It is insanity.
We live in insanity.
But, what is the answer?
Because it is where we live.  It is where we are.  It is now; and, you and I were chosen and placed here for right now.
Do we stop immunizing?
Stop being passionate?
Stop trying to save the world or correct injustice?
Do we pull all of our children into our homes and keep them from the world that is bent on corrupting them. If only we all home-schooled, then there would be no more school shootings.....If only everyone would... - see family like I do - be a mom like I am - love their children like they should.... if only.... but they won't.....
we won't.
So, what is the solution? Do we give up?
No. NO!! No!  This is not the answer.
We don't give up.
For crying out loud! We don't give up!
We fight.
Only we engage the right battle. And, if your soap box ends with "If only everyone would ____  then everything on earth would be right" - your battle is not the right battle.
It's not going to be right, not here.
But, the One who will make us ready for His Promised Land, is doing His work here!  In our hearts: peace, love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control.  His peace against any chaos around us.  His will against any question about what to do, how to respond, how to love.
He has the answer, and the way.  He is the answer and the way.
And such a good teacher.
And He is always at work.
And He is not surprised that even with every single possible resource we could think of at our fingertips - we are still raising children that are depressed, angry, confused - killing each other - killing themselves.
Because every breath that is spent defying Him - His right, His goodness, His love - is a breath that leaves toxic air for those around it to breath in like second-hand smoke.
Save the Earth if you are passionate about it.
Save the Children if you can't sleep at night because of their cries.
Stop drinking Starbucks if they offend you.
Befriend the friendless - love the hurting - feed the hungry - weep with those that weep - Dance with those who celebrate.
If it makes your heart stir - engage it.
He made you to feel it -
and He filled you to respond to it!
You may love a different preacher than I do.  You may categorize sin differently than I do.  You might fight different injustice than I do.
But, peeps! If we are doing it to testify that God is real and Jesus' sacrifice is Salvation, hope and love - then YES!! Keep fighting!
Let's all do more different for Him - imagine the ground we could cover!
You are His. Chosen and Equipped by Him - for Him.
He is the answer. He sees the path.
He is the fight worth fighting - and the way I see it - if we are all still  here - the war ain't over.
Keep fighting friends - and pray we find the wisdom to fight the right fight - and the humility to fight it together.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Pause, Survive, Repeat

I went to a retreat a few weeks ago, and the theme was "Follow".
During the weekend we sought to find the definition of following God and we found it in Exodus shortly after the Israelites were set free from slavery that had defined their country for hundreds of years.  We found the definition from a group of people that had learned how to survive even if they had forgotten how to live.

Many of us can probably relate to a season where our main goal in life is to survive. It is as if, for whatever reason, life just suddenly goes on pause. And things happen to us while we are in the midst of surviving. 
We get good at it.

The only problem with pause is it is only supposed to be temporary.  But, sometimes we stay on pause for long enough that we set up camp there.  And, if we are at camp too long, our "awful" - our "chaos" - our "fear" - our "compromise" - become normal and comfortable.  And then normal and comfortable feel like home, the place where we know ourselves. The place we can always come back to - because home defines the essence of safe.  And safe feels like the same thing as life.

But, that is a lie. When the Egyptian army comes after us we sometimes realize we want to be home where at least the terror is known.  That place where we feel like we have some sort of control over our life because there, even if it is hard, we know how to buckle down and survive. So, while we don't return to the exact circumstance that taught us, we return to the way of living that is surviving.

But our pause is not our home and surviving is not the same as living. 

See how the Israelites responded when they heard the Egyptians coming.
(Exodus 14:10-12) 10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

They wanted to go back.
They said, "It would have been better in Egypt"...but!! They were slaves. They had no hope for a future. Their babies were being stolen from them and murdered.
It was not better.
Fear can make us believe some very unreasonable things.

Consider what you are tempted to return to?
I just had my epiphany this week - I have been returning back to my home all summer - instead of pressing toward my real home, which is not backward - but in front of me - I have stopped pressing on and have been going back to the place where I tell myself that I don't have to engage in the hard things - where I can just endure them and quiet the noise with simple pleasures.  I tell myself it's not a big deal, that it's temporary and I make it feel okay, because no one - even God - if I had the courage to talk to Him about it - should expect more out of me right now.

Because right now, with so many other things out of control, I just want to feel good.  And, this journey is long and it is constant and I sometimes feel tired and out of control to fix things for the people that I love - and I just wanted it all to stop - just for a minute.

But, here is the irony - there - in my pause - life becomes more out of control. I have to add more and more to quiet God's call for me to deal with the pain, to grieve with Him - to give these things to Him.  I create a mess with practical, tangible things - and then the stress mounts because - more is out of control.  And while intellectually, I can see that there are some bad things  about being in that place - emotionally I can reason that at least I know that place - and at least there I know that no matter what comes at me, I can endure, take care of the basics, and survive.

Fear makes us believe really unreasonable things.
And it doesn't satisfy because pause doesn't work in real life - and things weren't actually better there.
And surviving is not living.
Pause is not follow.

The Israelites are panicked. They show their scared hearts when they accuse God of leading them to the desert just to watch them die.  They do not know that He is good.
And Moses says to them, '(14:13-14) 13 “...Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Be still. Stand Firm.
The only way to be still and to stand instead of retreat is to know who you serve and who is fighting for you! 
Our Father is good.
Our King is honorable.
Our God is real. He is love. And He is here.

And, we can be still.  We can stand firm. Even when our past is coming up behind us intent on destroying us.  We don't have to go back.  Even when life, and bills, and sadness, and fear and temptation are pressing in - we can hold our ground.  We don't have to retreat to our pause - we don't have to go back to the place where we only survive.  It is not better there.

And Moses says be still - remember who fights for you.  Stand firm. You don't have to go back.
See that God is in front of you, behind you, in the day  - in the night. He has not left. Give up this incessant illusion of control and safe and know that His presence is real and relevant.
And good. Uncompromisingly good.

And then God responds and says, (14:15)15 "Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move" 


Be Still - know who I am - and move.

I know things are hard.
You may feel like He tricked you, He led you from one bad to another and you think He didn't let you take the shortcut to freedom because He is sick of you and He wants to watch you die. - but friend, no.  He does not want to watch you die.  He wants to set you free.  He is not sick of you.  He is not giving up on you.
And you have somethings in the past He doesn't want you to run from - He wants you to face them and see His hand wipe it out. For you.  Because He fights for you.  He is not mocking you.

He is leading you.
He is reminding you.
He is calling you.
It is not better there.
You were not better there.
Do not go back.
Be Still. Stand Firm. Take a deep breath. Trust me. 
And move.
Because child we got places to go, and I got things to show you.
It is time.

Let's keep fighting. Let's keep engaging. Right now is not the end of the story.
Be still, Stand firm,  don't put it on pause.  Engage it - whatever it is - stand and face it.
And Move.
One step. It's time to stop the pause and find the courage to follow our good, Holy, and righteous Master. 

All Scripture taken from
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

When Our Hearts are Burned

Recently my husband got second degree burns from his knee to his toes. I couldn't help myself, because as gross and painful as the injury was, the life application was nearly oozing from the sores.  (See what I did there?!)

How he got burned probably matters far less than what the healing process was like. 
And the healing process was painful - shockingly - painful.

The doctor had to keep assuring us that the pain was actually a good thing.  I don't know that you could have convinced him of that by day four.  Because the pain felt like a bad thing - like a "Are you going to lose your foot?" sort of bad thing.  

I am getting ready to speak at a retreat in two weeks and God keeps impressing on my heart this idea of being open to Him.  And somehow, I keep thinking about my husband's burned leg.

There are so many areas of my life where I am not open because I have been burned.  Many of those areas, I have neglected to clean - because uncovering the hurt, even to then again cover it in medicated salve, was too painful. And because I didn't, a lot of those places are still open and raw.

Here is where my annoying habit to see everything as a life application becomes painfully relevant, because I have to ask; "What if my pain is actually a good thing? Proof there is still life?  Proof my heart could be healed"?

Check out each stage of the process of healing on his leg and see if the life application doesn't hold true for our burned hearts:
  • The initial burn hurt, but it took a few hours for the blisters to show up.  The first blisters were large and ugly, however, it seemed that they would be contained to a three inch diameter.  Yet, the skin continued to blister and peel off. Days after the burn first took place his lower leg had blistered and peeled so many times, there was actually less of his leg covered with skin than there were areas that were exposed, raw, and open. 
Isn't it the same for our hearts?  When the initial "burn" comes at us, it hurts and it doesn't usually take long to see the first obvious sores. I am sometimes quick to deal with the initial hurt by band-aiding it:  "It's fine" "No problem" "I shouldn't have...."  "That person is just a...."  "Whatever...."
However, sometimes the "burn" is just too deep to respond to those quick methods, and while I just said "It's fine", I feel far less than fine.  Maybe I am angry, scared, hurt, sad; maybe all four.  But, the second I admit I am not "just fine" it seems to spread.  If I go to really deal with the one large blister, it turns out there are many other blisters popping up. And, every time another one shows, it also peels away and more of my soul is exposed and raw.
  • After the blister is opened, it has to be cleaned - everyday and the sores are very susceptible to infection.
Just like our hearts. Once they have been opened, they have to be cleaned - everyday - for they are very susceptible to infection. The pain involved in that cleaning can be overwhelming - but if we don't open them up in front of God, again, and again - the Holy Spirit cannot, again and again, place His healing touch on our rawest parts - the parts that are in need of the most of His love, the most of His mercy, the most of His grace.
And, if we don't protect those places with God's very real love; they are left exposed to the lies that we use to medicate ourselves - and those lies can cause dangerous infection.

How much healing do we leave on the table because we are desperate to avoid the pain?  How much more pain do we cause because we won't submit to healing?
  • Finally, the new pink skin begins to grow again, and with that growth, nerves also begin to grow back. 
Consider the areas where you have been burned and what happens as you begin to experience healing.  Healing comes with feeling, And, feeling with new exposed nerves can be shockingly painful. This is the stage we need the doctor who can assure us. "The pain is good.  It is a sign of health, of life. It won't last forever.  This is normal. You are not alone".
This is the time we need the doctor to tell us to keep going, keep cleaning.

  • How incredible to consider that even after that pink skin has completed its job and covered the entire burn; you will still have to be protective of it in the sun or when you find yourself once again near a fire. 
I only know how to demonstrate this with an example; My husband has been dealing with my pink and sensitive heart for the last few years, because it was only in the last few years that I began to enter in to some of the deeply burned places in my heart.  When we start to get near conversation that is hard for me to talk about, I once again feel the fresh newness of those places in my heart.  The fear that those places will be burned again is intense, and so is the desire to run away from the situation.  I am cautious, and thank you Jesus, so is my husband; because we both know that living life away from the things that might hurt - is not living at all.    
  • Eventually, the skin becomes whole again - and as time goes on, less sensitive. 
This is the hope.  Any place that we let God heal, still has life left in it.  Those places that I have experienced healing are free to feel again, free to hope.  And, the further into the healing I get, the more my heart is able to handle and experience.

I am deeply convinced that Jesus is relevant in all of our burned places - that He desires our healing; He came to set us free, and in Himself, make us whole.

At the same time, I am equally convinced that this type of healing will hurt - really, really hurt.  Like "am I going to lose my leg" kind of hurt.  Being raw is painful and it is scary.

But, it is time.
We are ready for healing.
We can no longer hobble around.  We have things to do in this world, people to love on. Our burns have placed us on the sideline.

God is real and He is relevant.
Letting Him heal our burned places means that we believe who He is.
And, when we believe, we are powerful.

Do you see that we avoid His power for some made-up version of our own?  A weak substitute that only offers us the illusion that we can keep ourselves from hurting?

Friends, it's going to hurt.
But the pain might just be the evidence of life you and I both need.
Keep fighting. Healing is coming. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Mercy Rule Indeed

Co-ed softball season might be a long seven weeks.
Last week we lost our game 28 - 3.....after only 3 innings.
A really long seven weeks.
However, I now fully understand the decision to make a mercy rule.  It was merciful to call that game, let us gather our things and leave before the other team showed up to see our shame. Mercy rule indeed.

Can you imagine playing in that game?  How would you handle it? Are you angry, quiet, determined, bored, stressed?  I handle it by becoming the talker.  Telling everyone where the next play is - how many outs there are - where they should throw the ball.  At first I am not annoying, I am helpful - but then....I am annoying. Really annoying.  I can't stop talking and cheering and "trying to keep you in the game" annoying.

It's like a switch goes off in my head and I can't separate real life from the game.  And I feel so desperate to make sure everyone keeps going.  I feel this responsibility to help everyone find a reason to play, to stay in the game. I feel like I need everyone to know what it means to play well even if there is no hope.  I feel like as a team we need to find something to be joyful about even when every ball drops where we were just standing one batter ago - or every hit we get goes to the shortstop who has range from third base to second base and an even better arm - that we need to keep fighting even if every feasible hope is lost.  I need you to stay in the game. I need you to see something good. 

And I just can't stop; no matter if  you want to be quiet or not.  I don't slow down enough to wonder if maybe you need to verbalize your frustration - or maybe you need a second to sort it out in your own mind - maybe you are angry - hot - tired - bored. Maybe you have a word to offer, but can't get it in because I haven't stopped cheering long enough for you to do so.

And, I don't think you are wrong.

I am sorry for all that I have played with over the years, who have found a different way to play the game, but felt judged by me because they didn't play it my way.

Tonight my livingroom group sat around my backyard and shared what is going on in our lives - turns out, we are all fighting in our own way to understand this God that is real and right now.  One of our ladies saw beauty that each one of us is in a different place with God: one wants to know why - one is so angry with Him, one is finding the courage to risk everything - one is obeying Him with his heart - one is trying to figure out if He is really the one for her - one is waiting for Him to speak - and all of us are loved and pursued by Him; and all of us desperately need Him.

I almost, for one brief train-wreck of a moment, became Jodi of the softball field.  Encouraging - chanting - overtaking - but I realized I don't have to do that.  Oh! My gift is to encourage and when I am doing it because I am obeying God and the Holy Spirit is coming out of me to give someone else courage - that is a win - no matter who it annoys.
But, when I do it so that I can take away a hard situation - or try to make everyone feel o.k. about what is happening - it's just not as beautiful. And that gift to encourage becomes something loud and clanging, something you want to ignore.

I am so glad that I stopped tonight because you know what? Some of the things the people in that circle are going through are really hard.  And, even for a moment, I do not want to take away the true parts of their pain. It is o.k. for them to struggle. Right now, they are having it handed to them. For some of them, every move they make, seems to be the wrong move, another hit drops in, another run is robbed.  They can't win.  And listening to me cheer in the background and tell them that they should find something different to play for - beg them not to give up ... it's just not helpful.

Tonight, they needed me to lose the game with them, and let it be o.k. that losing was really hard - Playing was really hard.  It was o.k. to just respect that; rather than try to fix it. And, for the future, I am working on a quieter, more respectful, wiser, and less desperate way - to say "Keep going.  We can start right where we are at. Every at bat, every hit, every ball pitched - it's just another step in a story that hasn't been finished yet.  And, at the end of every game, no matter how ugly - you and me - we are still a team - and the next game starts at 0 - 0. We can do this."

So - whatever you got to do - be quiet, be angry, be sad, ask questions - do it.  And then show up again next week, so we can keep facing whatever comes at us next - together. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Broken Limb and the Insignificant Branch

I was going to write this glorious life application blog about the giant tree that grows up against the fence of my backyard.  From the viewpoint of my garden I noticed there was an enormous, broken Y-shaped limb, hanging just perfectly from a small, thin branch that was growing from the trunk of the tree.

Crazy thing was - when I went out there tonight and was telling the girls that are helping to plan the retreat about this small insignificant branch that was holding up so much weight, I realized the branch that was holding the limb was actually a part of another piece of broken tree, and it was hanging on to a tangle of other broken branches - and further, while the broken limb appeared to be suspended in thin air, waiting to fall to certain destruction, turns out, it wasn't broken at all, it was just twisted and sad.

See, my first post was going to be about the weight that we can hold when we find our strength from the trunk of the tree; I hadn't published it last night because I was just finishing up the end - where I was having a bit of trouble reconciling what would happen to both the limb and the branch if the right storm came along, and I didn't want to let this life application die.  I assumed sitting on it for one more day would help shed the light.

And, I was right, only in my pause, I found something different. 
That tree in my backyard, is a hot mess.  It has so many broken branches and twisted branches, and broken limbs supporting broken twisted branches, I cannot untangle all of it.  And, with every wind storm, there are mounds of small twigs and larger sticks - scattered all over my yard - proving that it's not just the biggest parts of the tree that are in trouble.

**I feel like I should warn you that as you continue to read, you are going to want to not think metaphorically about the tree, and you will be tempted to stop considering the life application and instead focus on the practical reality that I really need to call a tree person to my house to take care of all of the decay before someone gets hurt.  And while I see your point, can you also see mine....even that is a life application....stay focused people.**

Then, tonight, I saw it.  I am not the broken limb supported by a small branch, waiting for the right storm to send me to the ground. Nor am I the small branch, in the right place at the right time. Instead, I am all of it; the knotted branches, the strong branches, the broken branches.

The soil, the sun, the air, the life around the tree; these are keeping that tree alive.  And though that tree needs some serious pruning, so it doesn't cause some serious danger (told you it was a life application)  that tree is giving life and shelter and beauty to the world. 

It's mess is so tangled in some places that you can't make out what is alive and what is dead.  In some of its places, the strongest limbs and the broken limbs are working together to create a whole support system for the rest of them.  In other places, there is brand new life growing - sometimes growing from where the weaker branches broke off in the storm.

To think, I almost wrote about the first life application anyways and lied that it was true. --  and missed all of this - this hot mess of life and beauty. 

In case life applications are new to you, let me show you this part: Jesus is our life.  He is the nutrient in the soil. He is the oxygen in the air.  He is the vitamins in the sunshine.

We live in this world that can be beautiful, for sure, but also broken and ugly and full of storms.  And, while those storms can cause some damage - we are rooted in Jesus - and the storms sometimes break away stuff that is holding other stuff - but from that, there is room for new life to grow.

And, I haven't even touched on the rain!  How is this God we serve Real??  What God would leave such inspiration in His creation, such love?  What God, with all power, would care that we would find comfort and truth from the trees?  This God is more than I can comprehend, more than I deserve. 

This God, my God, our God - is so in love with us.  Don't you see?  He left evidence of it all around.  Our brokenness does not scare Him; it does not disappoint Him because before we even drew a breath, He drew a tree - and He gave it life - and He called it good. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

When the Crazy Comes Through the Cracks

This has been an emotional week for me. My sister wife of another husband is moving....far away.
and it just makes it obvious that being an adult friend is really hard work.

What is it supposed to look like when we are running all over the place, and we are so spread out, and time is far more scarce than activity?  When prioritizing is a lost art and friendships are confusing.

See, my friend leaving has reminded me of this thing I have about myself - - i hate to hurt.
HATE to hurt.
Despise hurting.
Will go to great lengths to keep myself from hurting.

But, if I have friendships, I don't get the freedom to not hurt. It's part of the package.
Loving people sometimes hurts.
It means they sometimes are going to move away - or sometimes not come through the way that I want them to.
It means that I run the risk of being left.
It means I might find out that I wasn't good enough for them to stay.

And that exposes this other thing I have about myself --- I hate to fail.
I REALLY, really, REALLY,  H A T E to fail.
Fear failing.
Will go to great lengths to keep from failing.

But, if I say yes to friendships, I don't get the security of not failing.
I will fail. I will let them down.
They will put me in situations where I am accountable to them and how they feel will become important to me.
And sometimes I can't do enough - or won't do enough.
And sometimes I will want to be God and He will remind me I am not.

And then I will realize how little control and I have --- And then the fear.
The fear that they are going to leave me. The fear that I will never be good enough. The fear of not being in control  - - - - the awful, ugly, cycle.
All because my friend is moving.

(For those of you that are thinking I should go to counselling right about now - You are right. Yes. I should.)

So this girl moves into my life, forces me to fall in love with her and her family, teaches me to be a neighbor - and then leaves.
My heart breaks.
And then all the neatly stored baggage I carry around gets jostled up and some more of my "stuff" comes up through the broken cracks - and it very messily lands on the relationships that are around me - and I realize that I only have two choices:
1. I can stuff the junk that came out and pack it away - and some of the relationships it landed on will have to get packed up as well - or
2.  I can deal with it now that it is out and find a place for it in the open.

And herein lies my dilemma:
I don't want to stuff it away - to let it grow moldier and heavier.  I don't want to keep myself from the people that the less vulnerable parts of my being know that I need.
But, I also don't want to hurt and I don't want to fail.
And somethings got to give - because all of those things cannot win at the same time.

And - I hear Him whisper....
Am I real?
Because if I am real, then I know that you hurt, and I care.
If I am real, I know that you want to love perfectly - and I know you are broken and scarred.  I was broken and scarred for you, remember?  I am not ashamed of you because you need Me.
If I am real then it is worth the struggle to be a  friend because you are in the midst of a real war - and they will help you stand.
If I am real - even if your heart is left or forgotten - it will never fall out of my hand.
And, sweet daughter, if I am real - I am enough.  
Let my love heal your broken heart. 

Oh sweet Jesus, my Savior, my King, my Friend.  Give me the courage to grieve well and to stay engaged and to celebrate such a special friendship you put in my life - and to nurture this friendship between the miles.  Courage to believe you to be God in her life - and to remember that I never was. Courage to keep learning.

It's a messy business but I love adult friends. I love doing life with other women.
I'm not going to put away all the baggage that came up.
I am going to show it to God.  Let Him see the mess and then I am going to believe that He can handle it.  That He can handle my tears and my fear.  I am going to engage the pain so I can celebrate the good things and have hope for more to come.
I am going to grieve.
I am going to mess it up.
But, I'm not going to quit.

thank you for doing life with me.
and to my dear sister wife of another husband - thank you for teaching me to be a neighbor.  i love you.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I Received My Package, Now What?

Dear, "Receiver of the God is Real Package",

Thank you for taking the time to consider the Bible study material that was sent to you and for visiting our blog!

If you would like to do this study with a group, it is our intention to give away the workbook in a PDF format.  In the near future, we intend to have an easy to find button where you can request the workbook be emailed to you.

For now however, if you know you are interested in doing the study, you can:

Just make sure you leave contact information so that we can get the workbook to you!

If you would like to tell someone else about this study, you can share your promotional package, or direct them to this blog.  Here they can request a copy of the workbook through email and decide that way if it is a study they would also like to use. We really appreciate your help in getting the word about this study to other women who would benefit from considering, "If God is real, then....."

Thank you for your flexibility!  We are excited and honored that you have decided to do this study! You are part of the ground floor, so please know that your comments and suggestions and stories are all appreciated.  We do ask that your words are for the purpose of building each other up, shaping this project's future and phrased with love.  If you forget - that is o.k., we just won't leave your comments public!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!
I cannot wait to hear from you!


Jodi L. Mikel

Sunday, July 12, 2015

encouragement in droves

We had such a great time at the launch party!  Thank you for everyone who made it and came to give me your support!  I felt like part of a team, so loved for, and so cared about.  Thank you!

I want to share a few more thank yous - this one starts with the girl who is trying to decide what she feels about God right now - you know who you are!  The one that I love.  Well, in her indecision, she was not up for partying a book released in His name, so she missed the party which made me very sad.  But, I want to thank her, because without meaning to, she ended up being a great help to me and the project!  I loved it!! God included her when she couldn't make the choice on her own to be included and it was so great to share that moment with her. Yea God!

Thank you also to the donor of ALL of the postage!!!  What a blessing - and equally as important as the money you gave was the way that your donation became a statement to my heart that God was involved and moving - and providing. The encouragement that gave my heart was priceless.  Thank you!!!

And finally, thank you to the sweet post office lady who was greeted with nearly 50 packages (some are going to be hand delivered!)  40 minutes before close.  This kind woman had to individually enter each address and print and place a label - one at a time....47 times in a row.  It took the rest of her shift!  She did it with a smile, which she assured me was because she had to - but I know for sure that is not true - I've met too many people in this world to believe that she had to be kind because it was her job - but I am so glad that she was.  I worked very, very hard not to make eye contact with anyone behind me in line.  Strangely, most of them did not share our enthusiasm about this project :)

They are all in the mail!  On their way to fifty different churches and individuals!!!  I cannot believe this is actually happening.

This is the GREAT post office lady who helped with a smile! So blessed to be at her counter!! (p.s. I got her permission for the picture! She said as long as you say nice things!!! Nothing but!!)
 I want to talk just another minute about the launch party day.  Many people came and shared this experience with me - without them, the work would have taken so long, the addresses wouldn't be so pretty and the packages would not look so great!

These will be arriving in your mailboxes this week!  A team of talented women put these together and gathered to pray over them.  Lord, God, I don't deserve this life!
That day was a big day for me and I wished I could have enjoyed it more, but I felt crazy most of the day.  So much emotion. I sometimes despise this part of myself, but no matter how I feel about how I feel - it is who I am, and it came with me into launch day.  I was worried about everything! Worried I wouldn't get everything done - worried no one would show up to help - worried no one cared.

My brain was fried - I literally showed up to the church for the party without the booklets, twine, scissors, or tape....(what did people do before frantic texting was a thing?!?!)

When I was giving a short benediction over this project with the warriors who were packaging the booklets that night - I remembered that two friends had contacted me that morning to tell me that life was getting the best of them.  The frantic, emotional me laid herself to rest and the power of the message of Corrie's testimony and the hurt in my dear friend's lives reminded me what we were doing.

Believing God is real is the hardest work you and I will ever do.  Sometimes it means that we will have to wrestle through doubt and hurt - many times it means we will have to die to ourselves for the greater life that He gives to us.  And, once you know - once you taste His freedom, see His goodness, submit to the wholeness of His holiness - you can't unsee it - you can't not know. Even when life is screaming at you that He doesn't matter - you will know in the deepest parts of your soul that He is the only thing that matters.  And that might tick you off because you will not be able to find the deep satisfaction you long for, outside of Him.

By sending these books out we are bringing the fight to doorsteps, and maybe they didn't know that they were signed up for a fight. I reminded the group that what we are teaching is emotionally costly and equally as precious.

Friends - let the journey that starts by having the courage to ask the real questions - never end until we see His glory and know His embrace.  I love you. Thank you for being a part of my story and a reminder to stay in the game.  You are worth more to me than I will ever have the words to express.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

When Headache, Exhaustion and Church Collide

Today as exhaustion and headache met church - I felt the message in addition to hearing it.  Our Pastor,  Mark Leech talked about intimacy, and not just with God, but with each other.

This hits open nerves.  We don't want this, but we desperately want this. I am positive that God is trying to teach me that not only is intimacy important for the health of our church, and as I am prone to care most deeply, our women - it is part of His plan and our design.  It is for our wholeness, and our freedom. And a lack of intimacy in our relationships exposes us.

I am deeply convinced that every relational issue that we have - every wall that we keep up, every anger we harbor, every hope we don't explore - end up between us and God, even if they began between us and the people we don't want to hurt us.

And women - as a rule, we are hard.  We throw things between ourselves and our Father like it is a sport. We even clean it up and celebrate it.

So the questions I seek to find answers to as I move ever closer to mail date and ministry design team date - What are the critical aspects of intheVine that will put us in the best position to follow God's calling in our lives?  How will intheVine help women move closer to engaging in their lives and knowing their God?  We need each other, I am deeply committed to this truth.  And, in the constraints given to us here on earth, I want to be part of a ministry that breathes life; learning to share ourselves for the sake of something greater than ourselves is going to be part of the answer I am looking for.

I want to see God's love multiplied as we continue to learn to hold each other up in an atmosphere where women believe for each other in the dark times and, with great care and love, push each other not to minimize issues to just the issue itself - but rather to find God in the struggle. To ask each other the real questions - to walk beside each other as we wrestle with the harder reality of our faith and our rebellion; our hope and our surrender. I cannot stop seeking to follow God through the wreckage of earth to believe His hope and life.

He has so much left to bring to this world. Oh, that He would teach us to believe so deeply - so deeply we couldn't not.

I need His wisdom intensely; His wisdom and His creativity.  I want intheVine to never become something that just fills space or adds time on a to-do list that is already too full.  Lord, Father, teach me, and make me into someone who can learn. 

His timing.  His way. His women.  These are the things I go to bed thinking about tonight.  Well, these things and a to do list greater than the time left to complete it.  T-2 days!  Ready or not!! It's coming!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Mountains, Snakes, and Broken Trees

We are closing in.  I have the bookmarks that will go into the donated books designed, I will print them this week and we will laminate them and get the ribbons in them at the "Mailing Party"! Kimberly just informed me that her inbox has a bajillion confirmation for the books that she ordered! Her house is going to look like a used bookstore for the next week!
Next is to collect addresses.  I have none, so I should definitely get on that. I heard it is helpful when doing a mailing.

My husband just returned home from Montana, stay tuned - he is on a little bit of a "don't you think we should move to the mountains and raise cattle and get a 4-wheeler" kick.
My answer is very much - do they have snakes in Montana?  Yes?  Well, then "No, I do not think we should move to the mountains....."
We shall see how this ends.
He is smart though, because he knows what really gets me thinking, so he let it slip that the mountains are full of life applications. Oh.....I mean of course I knew that, but this one is really, really, good and it did sort of make me think what it would be like to wake up and look out my back door and read and talk to Jesus under the shadows of his mountains.
However, snakes...and the general lack of people or stores or cities or roads or cell phone service....I'm still leaning heavily on "ain't gonna' go willingly"
- but this one was very good -

He told me that while he was hiking in the mountains, he was surrounded by brokenness - broken trees, dead animals, broken rocks - but as a collective piece, the mountains were beautiful, majestic even.

I closed my eyes and tried to imagine it - you know what I saw?  Us.
Broken.  Stepped on.  Hurting.  Lost.
And I stepped back and I looked at us together, and it was breathtaking.
We are beautiful - majestic even.
Because in our brokenness, not in spite of it, but in it - there He is.  Holy - good.  Life giving.  And together, everything broken and everything burning with life is part of a very whole picture. A picture full of hope. A picture that points this world to a Savior, who we desperately need.
And as Eric pointed out, even the brokenness becomes part of life - the trees fall into the river and the fish have the food that they need - the animals die and become nourishment for other animals and for the soil.  Our brokenness unfolds into His grace and other people's stories.
God's plan is so perfect. He did not neglect one thing in His story of redemption and hope.
His love is so powerful.
Yes, we are all broken.  Now close your eyes and see us because in His story, we are all breathtaking to behold - beautiful and majestic.
We have a story to proclaim to the world.  Let is start with - He is real!
T-minus 8......

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"When I try, I fail..." Corrie ten Boom

"When I try I fail, when I trust He succeeds."  Corrie ten Boom.
Oh, how I would have loved to meet this woman. 

We are ever nearing "mail date".

It is surreal.  My to do list is long, but so is my energy and my awe.
So many have helped.  Another friend, Kimberly, has stepped in to purchase the most books she can get with the money that has been donated.  I am so grateful.  And right now, so calm.
So unlike myself really.

I read Corrie's quote today and it jumped out to me because - I have tried.  I have tried.  I have tried.
It used to be one of the things I would pride myself on.  A "try-er" - until it looked like I was going to fail of course, because at that point I most certainly became a "runner" - and then even more, a "hider" from the shame of it all.

Oh - I have tried.
And there was no end to it.
It wasn't good enough to succeed at first because failure was lurking around every corner.  I might have started well, but I would have to keep going - keep being better - because there was always more trying I knew I should be doing.

But then, even in my effort to avoid it, I would find myself failing at the other things on the list: peace, joy, patience.  always failing.  always falling.
I couldn't understand the freedom that Jesus spoke of.  I couldn't bear the weight of hope.
Drowning. So often, the feeling of drowning.

The thing that baffles me is that right now, I don't feel much of that, for the most part, I have peace.   I have hope.  I have freedom.
Freedom to be excited even.  Freedom to ask for help - even freedom to write about this whole thing - which I realize intellectually exposes me - but I don't feel its weight.

My dream is about to be tested, but I don't feel panicked.
Lord, God - do you understand how in awe I am of who You are?  Do I understand all that You have put in front of me, all that You have walked me through?  All that You have prepared me for?  
I have no clue Father. I cannot begin to grasp the scope or the power of Your love or of Your plans.  

My dream is about to be tested in that I have always wanted to write and speak. But, perhaps because I have lived a little more, I deeply understand that my identity is not being tested.
And, right now, by the grace of God, I am not trying.  I am following.  And when I look around, there is quite a crowd joining me and we are all following.  Desperate to get the word out dear Lord that you are Real.  You are interested. You are moving. 
And Dear Jesus, our sweet Savior, you are so worth moving for. 

 Another day closer.
T-minus 14.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Red Thread Binding

Another big God is Real Project thank you to Jordan Lyons, who  is sewing all of the sample booklets we have had printed with red thread. (They look amazing!)
The binding is in honor of the time that Corrie spent in solitary confinement.  To do something other than talk to ants, she slowly pulled threads out of her sweater and used it to sew some color in her gray cell.

The red thread binding is: 
  • An acknowledgment that even in that place, God is real. 
  • A tribute to the courage Corrie lived her life with. 
  • A way to say thank you  because her courage still breathes courage to us. 
  • A reminder that even in that kind of loneliness, Truth will hold us together.  
I am so excited for women to read Corrie's book with this study.  My hope in writing it is that we will not just hear her story and think, "She is amazing."  But we will hear her story and wonder, "If God was real for Corrie Ten Boom and that is the same God that I love and serve - then .... is He that real for me ... and what does that mean?" 

Consider what happens if we all really let ourselves enter in to those questions.

I am sometimes so overwhelmed by His realness that it nearly hurts.  

And other times, I am overwhelmed by five kids, dinner prep, and a husband who is gone with work for two weeks. 
And other times I am overwhelmed with the pain that my friends are carrying, and the daunting call of living in this world.  
And other times, I am so busy I don't have time to overwhelmed by anything. 

I am so excited for women to read this study because in those other times we all need someone to remind us what this is actually all about.  To believe for us when we are too tired, too scared, too full of our own selves to see this God who is real and moving and calling us to His love.  

Thank you Jordan for all of your love and support and for being that reminder to me so often.  I am so blessed by this ever growing list of people who are making it happen. 
God this is for you and because of you....
T-minus 21  - Bring it on! 
with love - j.l.mikel

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Beautiful Red Ink

I was taught in college, while studying to be a teacher, that red ink is harmful to a student's psyche and that when correcting papers, you should use green or maybe even blue, which do not generate immediate feelings of wrongness and shame.
I suppose there is a lot of good psychology and study put into that point, and using multi-faceted ways to correct is just fine - not my point at all.

My point is that tonight I get to read a copy of God is Real, fully edited and marked to the nines with beautiful red ink (well actually, beautiful red font, but ink just sounds so much more poetic). I have prayed for help editing this book because every single time, I open the document to look for mistakes like spelling errors and run-ons, I end up doing an entire rewrite.  And, while that is a good part of the process, at some point you have to stop, and get someone else's objective eyes on the copy.

Then a friend introduced me to Tina Schieferstein; the woman with the glorious last name and years of editing experience.   Tonight, Tina sent me a copy of God is Real finished and ready for me to read through, and it is full of beautiful red ink - and the power of reading the study through someone else's objective eyes.

I do not want to sound over spiritual, but can I make a link to real life here - (**Life Application Alert**)  We do not need to be afraid of red ink.  We do not need to be ashamed.
I have lived so many years of my life afraid of someone else catching my mistake before I had a chance to fix it.  It was subtle, but it was also consuming.

I didn't just contain this mindset to my work, it started to spill over into my marriage, my parenting, my friendships, and most quietly, my relationship with God.  I was so afraid to fail.
I kept praying to God to confess about my weakness and my fear and my wrong attitude - and to thank Him for His love and His grace.  And then I would ask Him to help me get better and I would promise Him that I would work harder.

"Please, don't check my paper yet; I just need one more day to make it right"...."Please let me know when you are coming home from work; I just need one more hour to get the house in order"..... "Please don't need something else from me; I just have one more thing to finish first." "Please"...."Please"..."Please don't look yet - I'm not good enough."
I mistook red ink for disapproval and disappointment, a sure sign that next I would hear the thing I thought to be true all along, "You were almost someone worthwhile Jodi....I was almost able to use you....If you only could have been more...."

Here is the irony, the red ink was to show me that I needed Him.  In all of my effort to be better, to do more, I had started to believe that needing Him was the failure.
That is not the life that Jesus came to give.

And today, a few years older, I thank my gracious Lord that I can know, Tina's red ink is not shame; rather, it is hope.  And engaging in the "less than perfect" will lead me to the One who is perfect - the only One that can make me perfect - In His love - By His blood - and for His glory. Amen!

Mail Date is soon folks - T-Minus 23 days - Let's do this thing!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

It's a Group Project!!

Out of the hands of many, this project will take flight!

Let me tell you a little bit about our "marketing" plan. On July 7 we are going to mail a God is Real package to fifty women's groups.  This package will include: Unit 1 of the study, a copy of Corrie TenBoom's The Hiding Place, and a pamphlet outlining the study and directing people who are interested to a website. Our hope is that several of the groups who have a chance to review God is Real will decide to use the study.

Before we mail out the packages then, we are going to need is fifty copies of The Hiding Place.  In an effort to make this more affordable, my first thought was to go to a local bookstore and ask them for a discounted price or a donation. That wasn't proving as effective as I had hoped and my mom came up with an even better idea.

My mom usually does.

She said we should ask fifty people to donate a copy of the book, and I thought, Yes!  Yes, we should do that!!  I got geekishly excited about the idea because it is such a beautiful picture of this project and such an honor to give to Corrie's legacy and her memory!

I imagined us rummaging through second hand stores and saving copies of Corrie's book and then putting the story back into circulation so the world can hear and remember again!  Then, my friend Tina upped the perfectness of the whole thing and said anyone who donates could leave their name, their city, and the year on the inside cover of the book for the next person who would get to read this story.

I love it.

Everything about it.

Anyone who knows me, knows that my "life application" song is going off like fireworks in my brain! It is said that when Corrie traveled to speak she would pack one suitcase full of copies of her book, not because she thought that she was so wonderful, but because she believed that her story; the evil and the pain even; could be redeemed if people understood and believed that Jesus was alive.

When all of us work together to get her books out there, it is like we are part of her army - and she is part of His army - and He is at work; and we are all in this together.  And I love it.

Maybe I am a little ideal; but I think we can do this.  I will begin collecting copies of the Hiding Place - starting now!  If you would like to donate a book, new or used, you can bring it to New Vintage Bible Church any Sunday morning through June and leave it in the God is Real Basket I will soon work to create.  You can also leave a comment below or on our Facebook page, or email me and we will work out the details of pick-up.

Peeps - it's on!  I'll post updates so we can celebrate together as the books begin to come in!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Lawyers and other "author-y" things!

A BIG SHOUT OUT to the latest in a quickly growing list of people who are helping!

Saturday morning I had coffee with a lawyer.  It was all very official, and I LOVED it!  I also loved that this girl, this Megan Gruennert, was so willing to come and to sort through my chaotic rambling in order to help me figure out what we need to do to keep moving forward with the plan for God is Real.   Megan is a tax lawyer, which sounds pretty intimidating, but she showed up with a composition notebook!  She's brilliant, speaks real English and is incredibly helpful - not to mention funny!  I had a great breakfast and was so encouraged to see God move and put people into place. Thank you Lord!!!  Thank you Megan! And I am excited about our next coffee date sans composition notebooks and technical terms!

<Imagine for a moment you are looking at a really cool picture of Megan's business card, overlapping my to do list.  Imagine that photo is artistic and angled all cool.  Imagine for a moment the one writing this blog also has the ability to do things like take that really cool picture and insert it onto this blog.  You get the picture.>

We are getting an LLC peeps!  Mark it off on your "This is really happening list"!! so fun!

How gracious for God to let me just be one piece in this ever growing machine.  In fact, I just got off the phone with a dear friend who is going to help with the binding of the booklets!

More "author-y" fun; tonight I received an email from the women who is donating her editing experience to help us with one final clean up of the study.  I was writing to her about flow and copyright and reworks - it makes me a complete nerd, but I love it.  I am pinching myself because this is really happening.

And then, even better - so, so much better - she shared that the message in the unit she edited were what she needed to hear.  It doesn't really matter if this all works - the marketing plan, getting word out, keeping a blog - because it is working, right now, for her.

I so believe that this is real, that God is Real!  That life is about Him - so one conversation that draws someone to His feet - truly has the power to change everything; to begin a trajectory that cannot be stopped.  How do you sit still when this is what the hope is?    

I am going to keep doing updates on where we are at with publishing and getting the booklets toward the mail.  We are moving closer and closer to linking the pdf so you can print your own copy of the study! Thank you for believing in me and encouraging me to keep moving forward. one shaky step at a time - let's do this thing!

Stay tuned for the next announcement - it's a big one, and it involves you!!

Truly yours,

Jodi L. Mikel

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The God is Real Project.

I am starting a blog....what in the world is going on?

intheVine is the Women's Ministry that I am part of and we did a Bible Study like a book club with the Hiding Place, and it was good and it was powerful and now we are going to try to get it beyond the walls of our church and in order to do that we are going to need a place where we can put up a link and people can get access to it.  So, tonight, in an effort to prepare for that, I start a blog.

It’s crazy because for most of my life I have wanted to be a writer, but I'm not a writer yet!! I am still very much just me!! – and that includes: a lot of mistakes, a lot of mess, a lot of emotion, a lot of…kids.  Five of them!  And not a lot of time and not a lot of finesse and not a lot eloquent speech or even proper comma usage. 

How does it happen like that? Your dream starts to unfold before you start to unfold.  "I am a runner people!"….ready to close shop when things get close and uncomfortable and intimidating.  And they are all of those things right now. 

Close – in the last week, we have found a woman who knows a friend that is willing to edit, a simple marketing plan that won’t cost a lot to get started, and a timeline that has us getting this Bible Study out by July and hopefully into women’s hands in the early fall.

Uncomfortable – in every way.  People know about this and therefore I am uncomfortable. I am desperately fighting against the temptation to make this about me – about my dream being up there for everyone to see and available for my failure to steal.   Uncomfortable because I have to wait for God to open doors and teach us what steps to take, but I just want to plow through and rip the bandaid off!  Uncomfortable because I am being held accountable to a schedule and deadlines and other people, and I can't quit because I am tired or lazy. Uncomfortable in every way!
Intimidating – I don’t know what I am doing.  I have a logical plan of action to take; a lot of great people that are willing to help, but every step we take – beginning with this blog - are leaving footprints in paths I have never before been on.

But, I am going to do it and I am not going to run.
Why?  I can't not do it. 
It is in my veins; like fire. Stronger than my fear even.

God is Real. 

Corrie Ten Boom lived through more than worrying if people were going to like what she did or give her some kind of props for her skills.  She lived through the concentration camps and she didn't just survive them – she lived through them, and she brought life with her into them. 

I’m finally at a point, where I want to bring life to my family, to my church, and to anyone else that I have the privilege to speak it to. 

We live with so little life around us; such small fragile belief in God.  
I first wanted to share Corrie’s story, so that together with other women, we could start to ask – if this is the God that she believes in – and He was real enough to bring her through that time in our history – who is He to me?  That is what this project is all about – bringing us around a book that is real and helping us slow down to ask – then what does that mean for me? 

This blog is about getting us all into the same room from time to time to share our experiences.  In the beginning it will be just my voice, sharing with you the process of getting this workbook ready for “mail date!” But hopefully, it will eventually grow into a place where we share evidence of the God that we serve, stories from the story we read together, and encouragement to each other to live this life fully – to trust this God wholly and to battle every day to believe His love.

Thank you for showing up.  This is going to be a crazy ride!
Jodi L. Mikel