Wednesday, February 26, 2014


I've Got a Secret - A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret. Proverbs 11:13

One statement Liz made really jumped out to me: "Sadly, I fall in both camps: totally zip-lipped with the big stuff that truly matters, less careful with the small stuff that seems insignificant but really isn’t."

That hit a little close to home. 

I've had to play confidant and secret keeper quite a lot in my life.  I always take that position seriously and wouldn't dream of betraying that confidence. 

But how often to I misjudge the sensitivity of a small thing and betray a confidence without realizing the treasure of the information I was holding? 

Little stuff that's not little. Those little glimpses of deeper issues or vulnerabilities that we're not ready to lay bare, but we allow to peek through in interactions we have with people we think we can trust...with everything big and small.

I've been on the receiving side of that.  And it hurts.  It makes you feel small and exposed and wondering, "I wonder what else they say about me when I'm not around."

Today I'm challenged to keep an eye on my idle words, to abstain from whispered rumors, and to keep the secrets entrusted to my care.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Leviticus. Oh Leviticus! For many aspiring readers who want to read the Bible through from start to finish, Leviticus is the kiss of death. There’s just no way around it. It’s infamously boring. All those laws. Offerings and feasts. So many, and so repetitive! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve struggled through it, fighting the tendency for my eyes to glaze over and the words to morph into “blah blah blah blah blah.”

But I looked at Leviticus through a new lens, and suddenly this stale book came to life. (It might have helped that this time I was listening to an audio version, keeping my glaze-prone eyes from faltering.)

Leviticus was a book of law given to a people who for generations had known nothing but slavery. They weren’t treated as people. They were killed at a whim. They were worked to exhaustion. Their stuff could be confiscated or destroyed at the discretion of their slavers. They could be abused. And they had no way of standing up to injustices because they had no rights. They were simply slaves.

Suddenly, here’s a set of rules that affirms they have value. Their stuff has value. Their time has value. Their family structure has value. Wrongs have known and reasonable punishments.

What a world changer!

You mean I have a course of restitution if someone kills my cow? Yep. The miscreant has to make repayment.

You mean someone can’t just come in and take advantage of my wife? Nope. There’s a punishment for that.

You mean I don’t have to work day in and day out? That’s right. You get to have a regular day of rest, and holidays throughout the year. 

Line by line, Leviticus builds upon the framework of the Ten Commandments to show what is acceptable and unacceptable for a culture of people chosen to show the world what life looks like with God leading the way. This mass of refugees who have known nothing but slavery are given power to be people again.

A beautiful passage in Leviticus (Lev 19:9-10) talks about the “edges of the field” and basically tells people to look out for those in need.

What’s even more beautiful is that Leviticus gives instructions for how the Israelites should treat their own slaves. Unsurprisingly, it’s with dignity and fairness. It would be so easy for the Israelites to be angry and bitter about the injustice of their past, and pay it forward now that they’re free and in a place of power. Leviticus shows that God’s way is not like that. Someone may work for you, but that doesn’t give you the right to mistreat them. They’re still people. And they are valued.

That's the phrase that kept coming to mind: “You have value.”  A message that carries through the rest of the Bible and points straight to Jesus.

“But now, this is what the LORD says-- he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1 (There’s a lot of redeeming in Leviticus)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (A redemption worthy of God's son? That's quite valuable indeed.)

You matter. What a beautiful message to find in a boring book. (Sorry Leviticus. It's true.)

Sunday, February 23, 2014


Every time I read this woman’s story, my heart goes out to her.  The whole Jacob-Leah-Rachel story is pretty wackadoo, but she really gets the short end of the stick.

The wedding night mixup is still bizarre to me when I read it.  Was Leah an active planner in this debacle or simply a pawn to her father’s plans? Laban was a pretty shady guy, and double-crossed Jacob on more than one occasion.  He was a swindler and an opportunist.    While she was obviously involved, the narrative doesn’t tell us how much of it was her idea or if she was a voluntary participant.  I suppose in the end, it doesn’t matter.

But the hits just keep coming for Leah.  Her husband is very vocal about not loving her or wanting her, but he seems happy to keep sleeping with her:  fulfilling her week and subsequently fathering six sons with her.  6!  Women of that day measured success by their ability to bear sons, but hers didn’t seem to raise her in her husband’s esteem at all.  How did that prey on her emotions?  Her identity?  Her self-image?  Plus, how tormenting was it to watch her husband labor seven years to marry another person? Her younger, prettier sister no less? How bad could she be?

This time when I read the story though, something jumped out to me.  The names of her sons, especially the first four:

Reuben.  According to the notes in my Bible, Reuben sounds like the Hebrew for he has seen my misery. “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”  Genesis 29:32
Simeon.  One who hears. “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” Genesis 29:33
Levi.  Derived from the Hebrew for attached. “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Genesis 29:34
Judah.  Derived from the Hebrew for praise. “This time I will praise the Lord.” Genesis 29:35

The names show both her pain and her faith, and it was the last two that really struck me.  She’s the mother of the tribe of priests and the tribe of kings.  And Jesus is described as the Lion of the tribe of Judah.  Leah’s not one of the famous five women called out in the genealogy of Christ (poor girl, overlooked again), but there she is.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob+Leah.  Not Rachel.  Leah.

While Jacob only had room in his heart for Rachel, God had room in his for Leah.  That's a pretty wonderful thing.

I’m so thankful for a heavenly father who doesn't overlook.  He sees.  He hears.  He loves.  He gives. Abundantly.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


Last Halloween, my sister asked me to braid her hair for her "dark elf warrior" costume.  Since I braid at the local renaissance festival, her request (though unique and elaborate) was well within my bag of tricks:   "Something like Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones, but bunned up, and with rope twists.  Oh, and with accents in the front to hide the seam for my elf ears."

Sure.  As long as we're keeping it simple.

But I knew she was looking ahead to a costume contest later that night, and I was happy to oblige.  After all, braiding is fun for me, and she has great hair for it.  I put my practiced fingers to the task and created a masterpiece.  And just as I placed the last touch and stepped back to admire the finished product, my sister said, "Ok.  Now you can paint it."

Huh?  I didn't see that coming.  But with great reservation, I did just that.

With each dab of paint, my beautiful braid lost some of its luster. The paint highlighted every stray hair.  Suddenly, an artsy, loose bun just looked messy and unkempt.  It was hard to get the paint into every nook and cranny made by the weave, so it started to look incomplete and unfinished.

At least to my eye.

She loved it.  In fact, she went on to win the costume contest that night.

And while I was happy for her, a part of me was sad that that was the version of the braid other people saw. Even though they thought it was awesome.

For some reason, it got me thinking about church and the gospel.  (Perhaps a little ironic on Halloween night, but there you go.) How hard to we try to dress up God's message when all we need is his truth?  Trying to make it cooler or more relevant or whatever?  Maybe my thoughts went that way because I tend to think in analogies, and no matter how strong or powerful an analogy is...there will always be holes.  And I've been in the church world long enough to see programs try to capitalize on different fads and trends in order to best win the attention and affection of their audience.

I wonder if his truth is like that braid.  If painting it up just makes it messy, or just diminishes the glory of what he originally had in mind?  Are we losing the depth of the message by painting it into a corner or costuming it up?

God with us.
It is finished.
Come to me and I will give you rest.

That's it.  Plain and simple.

I don't know if that makes sense. But it challenged me to just be God’s love in action and let the beautiful power of the Gospel speak for itself.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Mitsa Mar

I was 27 and battling a Jane Austen life-crisis. (Single, with no prospect of marriage, and about to officially become a burden on my parents.) However, the crisis was averted after a house hunting adventure uncovered this hidden gem that turned out to be perfect for my first place. As soon as I walked in the door, I knew. (So did my realtor. After looking at several other properties that day (all of them dismal), I bravely looked at him and declared, “I think I want to make an offer.” He replied, “Well…that’s good! Because as soon as we left the house I made a call to the office to get the paperwork started.”   “I just had a feeling,” he said.)

I miraculously went to closing just two weeks later, and after signing papers for the biggest commitment of my life…I promptly left the country for two weeks on holiday. The last stop of that trip was to visit a friend of mine who lives in Ireland. In the midst of catching up, I couldn’t help but mention my big news, and her first question to me was ,“What did you name it?”

Name what? I thought. My house? 

I’d never even thought of that. After all, not many houses in the US have names. But to her Irish sensibilities, all houses should have names. A la, Pemberly or Green Gables. Her childhood home had a wonderful name. Sadly, I can’t remember what it was, but the few times they had to relocate, they would christen their new home with it too.

So I sat down and pondered. What should I name my house? I thought about wanting to capture the idea of warmth and welcome and refuge I hoped my home would embody. I scoured my geeky knowledge to see if something from one of my favorite sagas would jump out at me.

And then it struck me: My house is my little piece of the world.  The tiny corner of the universe I get to call home. Being the Lord of the Rings fan I am (and wanting my house name to give a nod to the beautiful Celtic country where I was inspired to name it), I immediately went to see if I could translate “tiny corner” into Elvish. And voila. There it was. As soon as I spotted the words in Elvish, I knew I had a winner:

"Mitsa Mar."

Roughly translated it’s “small house,” and I love it. (Tolkien didn’t develop Elvish enough to have words for either “tiny” or “corner”, so I used mitsa which means “small” and mar which means “home, house, or dwelling.”)

My house *is* small. Very small by American standards. But it’s perfect for me. And in many ways, it seems bigger on the inside. I’ve had the great joy to host wonderful evenings full of friendship and laughter. I’ve had the honor to extend hospitality to those who needed a place to stay. I’ve grown to love the solace of having a place to call my own…a refuge to come home to after being off on adventures (sometimes halfway around the world).

Finding it was definitely a miracle. But I know I was meant to be the steward of this little place. My small house. My tiny corner of the universe.

Mitsa Mar.

This post was inspired by Five Minute Friday and this week's word - "small"

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mashed Potatoes

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. Proverbs 3:27

I recently had my annual well visit with my doctor. I like him because he remembers details about my life, and when we were chatting about stuff he asked me about my recent mission trips. He made the comment that he has peers who have done work with “Doctors without Borders” and he has always wanted to go. I admitted that sometimes I wish I had a more “practical” skill to share with the people I meet. And bless him, he was quick to point out that people need love and laughter and encouragement just as much as they may need medical or dental care. They all facilitate healing (and the sharing of the love of Jesus).

So this verse encourages me to not minimize the good I can do. Whatever my “power” happens to look like, I shouldn’t hoard it, but give it freely away. I may never know the profound impact of my wee bit of good. And it’s not for me to know; it’s for me to give.

I also thought about how over the past year I have probably mashed more potatoes than…I don’t know, but I’ve mashed a lot of potatoes. See, I’m in charge of evening care for my Dad and Grandpa, and mashed potatoes are their favorite food. So I make them. A lot. Sometimes I feel like if I have to mash another potato, I’ll just scream.

But this verse reminds me that sometimes, love looks suspiciously like mashed potatoes. Because even when I’m a little weary of it, I truly love my family and I’m happy to serve them.

So I'll go on mashing, and go on long as it is within my power to do it.

This post was inspired by Liz's "Favorite Proverbs" post: Do Good

Monday, February 17, 2014

Blogging with Liz: Favorite Proverbs

My friend Liz has an awesome blog. This year, she’s going doing a weekly Bible study post on people’s 50 favorite proverbs. I love her exegetical style, and often find myself pondering the question she includes at the end of each post. So this is me…catching up with the proverbs she’s covered so far. Without further ado: Blogging with Liz.

Wisdom’s Source - For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 2:6

I'm late revving up my engines, but here I am! I believe God is asking me to use his free gift of wisdom to get back into writing. God often speaks to me in strange and off-the-beat moments, and I used to be good at sitting down and capturing them (or working them out) as blog posts. This past year has been one of closeness with my heavenly father, but relative silence in the blogging world. But I sense a changing in the wind, and I truly believe it's his still, small voice calling me once again to return to the discipline of writing. Now I just have to put feet to that call. (Easier said than done!)

Right Time, Right Word - A person finds joy in giving an apt reply— and how good is a timely word! Proverbs 15:23

Timely words. I’ve experienced this phenomenon a time or two, and the one that sticks out most vividly in my memory is the time I shared a bit of my testimony with a village of women outside of Jinja, Uganda. I struggled with what I wanted to say, because I didn’t think I would have any common denominator with these women. My background and circumstances were just so different from theirs. How could I possibly say anything relevant or encouraging to them? But I went out on what I thought was a limb and spoke from my heart. Wouldn’t you know it; they had just finished a Bible study that overlapped with several of the aspects of my testimony! It was a precious time of fellowship, and I emerged from that day with a renewed respect for that still small voice that speaks so faithfully to my heart.

No Fooling - The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice. Proverbs 12:15

Something that seemed so right at the time.  Missionary friendship. You know, continuing to be close friends with someone who once walked the straight and narrow but is now following the wide and popular…thinking my presence would shine a light in a darkened place.  It's a principle that may be true, but is a path that must be walked with great care and intention. Because while it is true that the light of Christ can shine in the darkest of dark, it is also true that bad company corrupts good character. And when roles are reversed, and the once discipled becomes the missionary to the disciple-er….the regular rules of outreach become blurred. Advisers told me to distance myself from my friend, but I foolishly thought if I held out, I could show grace and compassion and unconditional love and, be a conduit of reconciliation. But in this case it was foolish. When hearts are hardened, it doesn’t matter what my walk shows. The fallen friend sees what they want to see, and hears what they want to hear. Truth be told, my character and testimony *did* suffer for a time, and it was incredibly hard to back away from someone I loved. But through my experience I learned the difference between showing Jesus to a new audience vs. showing Jesus to a hardened heart. It’s a heartbreaking lesson, and I still pray for my friend…but I no longer walk as closely by her side.

In the Spotlight - The human spirit is the lamp of the Lord that sheds light on one’s inmost being. Proverbs 20:27

When I ponder this verse, I think about how God has set eternity in the hearts of men. The very fact that the human spirit continues to search and ask and explores deep questions is a searchlight meant to point the way home to our heavenly Father. And no matter how messy and complicated our inmost being might be, grace whispers “Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” (Romans 5:20) This promise has rescued me on more than one dark night, and my view of God expands each time I understand a deeper part of myself. “You love that part too?” I ask. “Yes.” Comes the answer. “I knit you together before your story began (Psalm 139:19), and I love you.” As my road continues on, I can truly declare that I love him, but he loved me first (1 John 4:9)…quirks and failures and triumphs all.

Here Comes Trouble - When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. Proverbs 11:2

When I look back now at all the activities and responsibilities I juggled in my early 20’s, I just don’t know how I did it. Being that high performer was an area of pride for me. My "Newport Beach" moment came when the inevitable happened and I dropped the ball in a big way. It was a time of transition at our church, and there was suddenly a need for someone to lead the children’s handbell group. The person who asked me thought I would be more than up to the task: I’d grown up playing handbells at our church, I was good with kids, I was a natural leader…everything pointed to me being the perfect person to fit the bill. I thought so too.

But it turned out that even though the kids only rehearsed once a week for an hour, the demand and draw on me as the leader went much beyond that. The kids were lovely. I had actually had a great time introducing them to the world of music, and even more into the world of handbells. But I quickly discovered myself falling behind and feeling unprepared and frazzled. Long story short, it turned out to be a train wreck and I dropped out just two months after accepting the challenge.

I was so embarrassed, disappointed in myself, and tremendously humbled. I prided myself on being dependable, being a leader, and being able to balance my demanding schedule…and I had fallen flat on my face. I felt guilty about letting the kids down. I felt guilty about letting the leader down. And truth be told, I spent the next several months avoiding both sets of people. Because each time I did, I felt my stomach drop anew. I was just ashamed.

The lesson I learned? The power of focusing on a few things instead of trying to everything. The necessity of being able to say “no.” And eventually, the beautiful forgiveness and renewal you can find in the context of serving in a church family. (That’s quite humbling to receive too.)

** Whew!  All caught up! ...Till Wednesday :-)  **

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Five Minute Friday, Linkup link
This week’s word: Garden


“Garden.” This is s a surprisingly laden word for me. Almost immediately, two pictures pop into my head. Ok. Three. Thus is the magic of the imagination.

 I think of my mom, and how she loves gardens but isn’t particularly great at tending to them. I tease her by saying she’s really great at growing jungles (of weeds), but there’s no malice behind the jest. I know she loves the colorful beauty of a well-tended garden, but like most of us, the “tending” gets lost in the everyday chaos of life. I’ve bypassed this at my home by simply refusing to garden for now. Maybe one day I’ll embark on a journey to home-grown asparagus and yearly planned flowers. But for now, I’m haunted by our once-in-a-blue-moon weeding efforts to rescue and resuscitate my mom’s garden dreams.

I think of the “Secret Garden.” That great children’s classic that gives hope to anyone who has felt afraid to live and love. Dickon will forever hold a special place in my heart, and I’m pretty sure I had a little crush on his character when I was in elementary school.

But the most vivid picture that comes to mind is of a garden in Uganda. I was privileged to visit the home of Pastor Bev in Jinja to celebrate the birthday of my friend Jen. And here, in the middle of dry season, right next to an infamous slum, I encountered a beautiful English garden. I snapped a few pictures that did little capture to splendor and charm of this little oasis, and that evening is full of precious memories for me. My friend is very quiet and reserved. But that evening, I saw her shine. A power outage (normal fare in Uganda) forced us to celebrate by candlelight and good old-fashioned storytelling. And the small, intimate, stripped-down evening suited her to a t.

Later in my trip, I returned to that garden to hitch a ride with another local missionary under Bev’s ministry. We took an SUV out to a distant village, picking up numerous passengers on our trek, and I had the distinct joy of sharing an encouraging word with the local village women. Two translators immediately repackaged my words into both Lugana and Swahili (which was beyond bizarre), and in many ways that day opened the floodgate of missionary work in my life.

So yeah, “garden” brings me back to both my childhood and that trip to Uganda. I’m ever so grateful to both.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Messy Communion

Hiding at the back of the chancel as part of the worship team, I sometimes get to see the messy side of Sunday morning. This is a true story from a few weeks ago.

It’s time for communion. The ushers are making their way through the congregation, passing trays of bread and juice. The pastor is delivering a beautiful reminder of what this sacrament is all about. The pianist skillfully keeps the background music going to set the solemn atmosphere.

And while the pastor prays and asks everyone to "eat the bread in remembrance of me"…a poor guitar player is scrambling.

Sometimes the worship team takes communion together before second service, but this Sunday we thought we would try taking it along with the congregation. Our awesome man-behind-the-scenes thoughtfully laid out the elements before service started, so they’re patiently waiting there on the edge of the piano.

But this Sunday, the worship team is guitar heavy.

Four players – three guitars and one bass – are all in a row, and suddenly all four of them need to turn around to pick up their cups and wafers without also whacking each other with the necks of their instruments.  Two of the guys quickly realize they can duck back a bit and lean in to reach their bits of bread and juice. But for the guitarist right in front of the waiting elements and there’s really no easy or graceful way for him to turn around and pick them up. It takes him a moment to figure it out, and by the time he’s got it, the rest of the congregation has already moved passed the “taking” portion of communion and is on to the follow-up prayer.

I see him pause for the briefest instant (perhaps he’s asking himself, “Now what? Do I still take it?”), before he quickly eats his wafer and drinks his juice, finishing mere seconds before the pastor wraps up his prayer.

I don't think anyone else witnessed his struggle...but I did.  And in that moment, God whispered to my heart, “Yes. I’m with you always. In the messy moments too. Remember me.

God with us.

In our messy moments.

When things don’t go smoothly or as planned.

He’s still right there.

Sharing it all with us.

He doesn’t abandon us for the crowd.

He’s the kind of shepherd who reaches for the one.

How often do I lose sight of that and forget to remember he's right there?  Always.

I don’t know if that guitar player felt the same encouragement and reassurance as I did during that communion. (I hope so.) All I know is, I’m really thankful for my little hiding place on Sunday mornings. Sometimes it’s right where I need to be to hear his voice.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


Five Minute Friday
This week’s word: Write


I told myself in January that I would get back into the habit of wrestling my thoughts out of my head and onto the page. Now it’s solidly a week into February and I have yet to complete one post. For a moment, I want to beat up on myself and see this as a failure. But just as those thoughts are winding up for a good long rant…they’re stopped by another onee.

I don’t audition well.

I’ve played violin since I was in elementary school, and while I’m no Vanessa Mae or Joshua Bell, I’m no slouch either. But every time I tried to audition for something crazy awesome, I could never quite get everything in gear. In fact, while I was playing with one orchestra in college, one of the first violins had no idea why I was playing with the seconds. “You’re so much better than that.” My reply? ::shrug:: I just don’t audition well.

After a while I joked to someone (probably my best friend) that it was almost like God wanted to keep me for himself. Like my playing would be this gift of the moment, or a supporting role in a crowd, rather than a starring one in front.

And whether or not that’s theologically sound, it brought be a lot of peace and allowed me to let go of all that audition angst. (To clarify: I still don’t audition well, but now I don’t beat myself up about it. I just play for the joy.)

I remember being at one of the David Crowder Band’s final concerts. While reminiscing over their last 10 years of touring, Crowder shared that when their first song really took off, they realized they had been given custody of something much bigger than themselves. The lyrics were given to them, but they were a gift meant to be shared with others.

That’s how I see the work of my favorite writers (bloggers or otherwise), and I’d like to think some of my words are like that too.

Sometimes a thought comes to me and captivates my mind and my fingers, almost holding me hostage until I write them down. And whether they’re meant to be read immediately or sometime in the future, I just know that they’re meant to be shared. They’re a gift.

But other times, no matter how much time I spend staring at my screen, my thoughts rebelliously rattle around my head and refuse to be tamed onto paper. They scamper away as soon as I get close enough to see the straight path from start to finish. (Then almost without fail, as soon as I’m safely away from the keyboard…they present themselves just as beautiful and eloquent as can be.) It's just...I know someone will read it, and I'm simply locking up.

Those times it just feels like I’m not auditioning well.

I know a part of it is that I’m out of practice. (After all, no matter what your talent is, you have to work on it. Even “naturals” have to have disciple and hone their craft.) But I think sometimes a part of is…those thoughts are for me. Perhaps one day they’ll simmer down and congeal into something I’m able to share. Or maybe through the wrestling of writing I’m meant to learn something I wouldn’t have seen if it had come easily.

Or maybe, for this moment, He’s just keeping me to himself.