Watching Somebody Love

“Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.” Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz

I love this line from Donald Miller’s book. Miller was talking about how some people learn to love something – like jazz music or God – because they witness someone loving jazz music or God and it moves you. You can’t argue with it and sometimes it doesn’t make sense yet the evidence is in front of you in how a person loves.

Hands holding sapling in soilA few summers ago our youth group worked with a guy named Joe while on mission in Oklahoma City. Joe was a volunteer with a food bank and was in charge of their community garden. Joe loves vegetables and dirt and compost. He loves worms and fish waste and all things organic. Joe loves sustainable living and the natural world. I bet, at Joe’s house, he powers his toaster with a bike and showers in rain water he collected in his back yard. I loved being around Joe in the garden because Joe loved the garden. When a tilapia would defecate in the water, Joe’s eyes would light up. So many beautiful, organic things happening around him.  Continue reading “Watching Somebody Love”

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Back in the Boat

Several years ago I attempted to learn to water ski. Some friends had the cabin and the connections – an awesome lady who was a professional water skier and a ski instructor. The plan came together with ease and I said yes – eager to try something to new.

Struggling to skiBut there was a big part of me that was afraid. I wanted to learn to ski but water skiing involves water apparently. I’m not a fan of water since a rafting trip went terribly wrong in 1997. I was on a youth mission trip to Wyoming and we were rafting the Snake River near Jackson Hole. My raft of youth and adults hit some the most intense rapids at the same time a gust of wind blew – flipping our boat and flinging us all into the water. Despite what I knew about using my hands to guide myself to the edge of the raft, the rapids moved the boat continuously, preventing me from getting a handle and from surfacing. When I thought I had absolutely no choice but to inhale water, I popped up in an air pocket created between the upside down raft seats. Gasping for air in that tiny space, I got my bearings. Thankfully, we all made it out fine. The only things that remain with me to this day are the memories, claustrophobia, and a fear of water. Seriously – even typing this causes a physical, anxious reaction.  Continue reading “Back in the Boat”

I Got This, God

Several years ago I went to a counselor for the first time because I had been struggling with depression for over a year. It took me awhile to admit I needed to see someone and it was only when things got really bad that I finally made the call. I remember clearly the first session in this nice woman’s office. I cried for quite awhile and then I said the only thing that I could say that would free me to share with her my struggles:

I just need you to know that I’m going to feel really bad about coming in here and talking about myself and not asking once about you. But I know I’m suppose to do that because I’m paying you for this time but I just need you to know that I do care about you and I hope that you are doing okay and that you have someone to go to, too.

Those were literally my first words to my counselor. She didn’t have to dig too much to discover my issues. At first blush, some might think I’m incredibly selfless and thoughtful. But the more telling piece is that I clearly have issues with boundaries and I’ll give you one guess as to what may have been a significant contributor to my emotional exhaustion as a minister.

I am a peace-maker by nature. I show love to others by creating “peace” in their lives. I’m supportive, encouraging, loving, your biggest champion, your strongest advocate – whatever is needed to help you feel peace. That is how I love. I’m a visual person and I often just see myself taking your heart in my hands to tenderly protect it, to heal it. (Really, it isn’t as freaky as it sounds. Okay – maybe slightly freaky.) If you leave an interaction with me feeling peaceful, I feel like I loved you well. If I created stress or didn’t help you experience calm or peace, then I feel like I failed loving you well.

This is an unhealthy way to determine whether I’ve loved well and there is no way I can keep it up. So, when I wear out, I struggle to love others well which makes me feel bad and then it is a vicious cycle. The other, perhaps, bigger part of it is that I’ve come to believe over the years that I am loved because of how I love. If I can’t love you well, will you still love me? Will you even like me? If my worth is in my ability to love others, then am I worthless when I fail to love well? Some people create an impostor self of being the life of the party; my impostor is the love of the party.

As is often the case, our relationships with others mirror our relationship with God. I often hold my hands up to God and say, “Don’t worry about me. You have so much on your plate. I can do it. Please don’t let me burden you. I got this, God.”  In my heart, I feel like I’m showing God the greatest love because I’m trying to ease His burdens. I can’t stand the idea of causing Someone I love stress or pain.

But I’ve realized over the years that I believe God will love me more if I don’t burden Him. It isn’t just how I show my love. It’s how I think I earn love. Could anything be further from the Gospel?

John Eagen wrote, “We judge ourselves unworthy servants, and that judgment becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We deem ourselves too inconsiderable to be used even by a God capable of miracles with no more than mud and spit. And thus our false humility shackles an otherwise omnipotent God.”

What is most ironic, I think, is that the kind of peace that I devote myself to creating and protecting in the lives of others and myself is a false peace. It is a subjective feeling of peace, a shallow peace, it is a ‘strings attached’ peace. My need to create peace keeps true Peace at bay.

God continues to teach me about His love for me and His desire to be the One that holds and comforts me. He’s also teaching me that as I trust His love for me, I will be free to love others better – with no expectations or co-dependency. Some days I believe this, other days I forget and relapse. But the relapses are part of the healing process.

A final thought from author Shauna Niequist which speaks to me each day and perhaps it will encourage you today to remember where your true worth comes from:

“When I begin the day drenched in God’s love, that centering awareness of my worth and connection to God, the day is different. I don’t have to scramble or hustle. Fear dissipates, and what I’m left with is warmth, creativity, generosity. I can make and connect and create and tell the truth, because my worth isn’t on the line at every moment.”
Let’s stop hustling, friends. Our world is in desperate need of more warmth, creativity and generosity – not at our expense but out of our abundance. That can only happen when we’ve banked everything on the truth that we are radically loved by God and His love alone constitutes our worth.

Love Languages

My sister and I have several things in common. We are in helping professions, we consider chocolate a gift from God, and we adore her kids. Oh, and we both think we have an awesome sister. We are also uniquely different. I like to stay up late; she doesn’t. She always did her homework first thing; I did mine last. I enjoy the great outdoors; she prefers a world free of bugs and insects.

Another way we are different is expressions of love. I love fresh flowers and a beautiful bouquet brightens my week. My sister could care less for flowers that will be dead in four days. So, when I want to honor her by showing up with a gift in her first-grade classroom, the only bouquet I have is one made of Diet Dr. Pepper, chocolate and new school supplies.
Part of really loving someone is knowing what pleases them. It requires paying attention to the little things that communicate love and respect in big ways.

The same applies for honoring God. Sometimes we are tempted to believe that God wants some grand display or gesture. But, that is not what God requires of us. Our Creator wants us to live lives full of love – love for God and love for each other, and often this love is best expressed in ordinary, small ways each day. Empty words and mindless rituals to God are like bouquets of flowers for my sister. They don’t say, “I know you and I love you.”

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8

*This was my devotion from our church’s daily devotions which are produced and distributed daily via email throughout the year. You can sign up to receive those devotions written by various church members here.

Checking Off the Right Stuff

Hi. My name is Melissa and I’m a list person. (Hello, Melissa.)

I love lists. I believe in lists. If I do something and it wasn’t on my list, I write it on my list so I can have the satisfaction of marking it off my list. When I complete a task, a simple check mark fails to capture the profound awesomeness of my productivity and efficiency. I eradicate it from existence with the repetitive stroke of my pen or, even better, a single stroke of an extra wide sharpie that has the final word even as it vanquishes all others. I hear cheers from imaginary friends as I stand under a glittery rain shower of confetti. Ate breakfast? Done. Brushed my teeth? Completed. Closed my garage? It. Is. Finished, y’all.

Success looks a lot like productivity to me. If I don’t look closely, I get duped into thinking I matter because of what I do, that I am worthy because of what I accomplish. I imagine success comes in disguise to you, too, sometimes, and, like a skilled knock-off designer, it can be difficult to tell the difference. Not until you wear it a few times and it begins to unravel do you realize you bought the cheaper imitation instead of the real deal.

Success is not found in what we do but rather in trusting Whose we are and what has been done for us. This is the real deal.

I still enjoy lists. But maybe I should start each day with these instead: Beloved by God? Check. Saved by grace? Done. Free from shame? It. Is. Finished, y’all.

Say the welcoming word to God—“Jesus is my Master”—embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!” Romans 10:9-10, The Message

*This was my devotion from our church’s daily devotions which are produced and distributed daily via email throughout the year. You can sign up to receive those devotions written by various church members here.

Basketball and God

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My 5th grade nephew doing his thing last season.

I doubt many folks think of God when they think of basketball. I’m sure a multitude of prayers

have been lifted up from courts and stands across the nation with the desperate hope of a buzzer-beating shot. But on the daily, not so much.

I certainly didn’t relate the two until a couple of months ago. I was in the middle of a personal retreat, wrestling with my soul-crushing inability to allow God’s love to define my worth rather than work and ministry. It was an agonizing couple of days struggling to traverse the deep canyon from head knowledge to heart knowledge. My head knows God’s unconditional love constitutes my worth. My heart, however, tends to think God is far too nice to hurt my feelings by telling me how much I’ve disappointed him. Maybe God doesn’t even realize he is disappointed. Maybe he isn’t being honest with himself. But I know. Which makes me feel worse so I work even harder to be worthy of His love and not let Him down. Pity party for one, please.

It was in the middle of this wrestling (excuse the mixed metaphors) when I thought about basketball. Continue reading “Basketball and God”

People Over Projects

One of the things we tell people over and over again as we prepare to travel to our mission partners around the world is people over projects. Always.

Nearly every culture I’ve spent time with around the world values relationships over projects – except American culture. Obviously, this is a generalization but I believe there is a lot of truth to this statement. We are a very project oriented culture. Success is based on whether we accomplish a goal or complete a project or have something to show for our day. Otherwise, we feel we have wasted it.

One of the greatest benefits we receive from our time with our friends and partners around the world is the reminder that relationships are the heartbeat, the lifeblood of life. You absolutely MUST put them first.

I always remember Jason, our partner in Kenya, instructing us on how to enter a local market to purchase something. In our culture, you know what you want. You go in. Avoid eye contact. Grab what you need, pay for it, maybe grunt, perhaps even smile and then out you go. It is admirable to be “in and out”.  Who has time for small talk? In Kenya, when you enter the market, you take time to make small talk with the owner or the worker. You ask about their day, their family, the news. And THEN …. you may proceed to inquire about what you are needing.

It kills us Americans. Sometimes you can see our physical pain as our patience is stretched to its breaking point. I don’t want dinner to take two hours when I can do it in 20 minutes! I still have my moments where I forget the importance of BEING rather than DOING.

The works-oriented nature of the western world has influenced our faith and religious practices and I don’t just mean well-polished worship services that convene before the hour is up. There is a tremendous pressure for us to produce, to be busy working for the kingdom – at the sacrifice of relationships – not only with others but most importantly with God.

We are addicted to and obsessed with the work of the kingdom, with little to no idea of how to be with the King.

I read this recently in a tremendous article by Mike Breen from a few years ago but it is still incredibly relevant and horribly true.

I feel like God and I are doing this a lot together lately. I’m kind of liking it.

I am incredibly guilty of this. I tend to spend more time on kingdom work rather than King love. The past few months this has been the primary thing that God and I have been working on. I know that sounds ironic – working on “not working on something”. But trust me. It is the right kind of work.

We spend a lot time right now just being together. Contemplating. God teaching me how to be aware of my Maker. Jesus teaching me how to sit at the feet of our Abba and be a learner and a lover. I utter “Abba, I belong to You.” over and over throughout the day. It has become my breathing prayer, my centering prayer [a prayer I learned from Brennan Manning] to remind me this life, this day, this agenda is not mine. It – and I – belong to Another.

I’m learning to sit and stretch first and run second.

Just like physical therapy taught me the importance of stretching and posture so that I can move with more strength and distance without self-injury, I’m learning the same thing spiritually. So many of us are trying to run first and only sit when we run out of breath, collapse or cause self-injury. A relationship with God isn’t all “sitting” or all “running”. Both are a part of the journey but we’ve put (and idolize) the cart before the horse.

Life with God isn’t meant to be this way. Seriously.

With God, it is relationships over projects. Always. God will always choose YOU over your work or your productivity. We’ve gotten this so mixed up over the years and it robs us of the one thing God truly made us for – relationships. Relationships with God and with one another.

And our relationship with the King supersedes them all.

May we all choose more wisely where to invest our lives. Begin with the One who loves you not for anything you do but for who you are – His beloved. And out of the overflow of that love, love one another. Clearly the Beatles where right on this one – all we need is love.

[reminder]