The Poster Child for Pastor’s-Family-Goes-to-Hell-in-a-Hand-Basket

Years ago I was the poster child for Pastor’s-Family-Goes-to-Hell-in-a-Hand-Basket. I did not choose this role. In fact, if I could have, I would have chosen to be the poster child for Pastor’s-Family-is-Almost-Perfect, which come to think of it, might be why we went to hell in a hand basket in the first place. I wonder about that.

Lately, I’ve been thinking that we don’t get to choose what we’re a poster child for. It’s handed to you. Even Jesus experienced this when he walked the earth. By random selection, a scroll of Isaiah 61 was handed to him on his turn to read in the synagogue one day. Perhaps more than any other Old Testament passage, these verses beautifully express Jesus’ purpose for being on earth in the first place: “to preach good news to the poor… to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

When Jesus finished talking that day, you’d think he’d be hailed as the poster child for Hallelujah-God-is-on-Earth. But no. By claiming to be who he truly was, he became the poster child for How-Dare-You and Let’s-Run-Him-Out-of-Town. While he was quietly fulfilling his purpose, Jesus became a very different kind of poster child.

Last week a friend texted me a picture of a slide from my friend Jeff Shinabarger’s talk at Chic-fil-A’s corporate office. I knew exactly what Jeff was saying about me, and I wrote her back, “Yes, I’m a poster child for fear” and added the most sheepish smiley emoji I could find.

I saw Jeff a few days later and asked him if I could please be the poster child for something else, like Superwoman-Gets-it-Done. Secretly, I’m happy he says what he says, but sheesh, why do I get to be the authentic representation of a weakness every single time? I forget sometimes that I am weak. Jeff smiled and said, “Oh, so you don’t want me telling the Refuge story whenever I get a chance?”

If the most relatable part of this story is my fear – my daily terror, I should say – I’ve decided that’s okay. Overcoming the fear is what helps me fulfill my God-given purpose, whether anyone else but God sees that purpose or not. The fear is rather large, all glossy and obvious like an action movie poster. But at the end of the day, posters are flimsy pieces of coated paper with curling edges that fade and eventually disintegrate in the sun or the rain. They are the skin, not the DNA. They are the shadow, not the substance. A poster doesn’t begin to proclaim the purpose for your life. A poster does a better job pointing out the very thing that, like it or not, keeps you humble enough to approximate that purpose in real life.

Who you are and what you do matters more than the poster that tells about it. If you are driven by a purpose (for instance to raise children with love or to lead a non-profit well, which can be personal expressions of proclaiming “the year of the Lord’s favor”) and if you trust a God who trumps random selection (like making Isaiah 61 come up on the very day his Son stands to read in the synagogue), then whatever is handed to you is worth grasping with all your might. Take that poster, unfurl it, and tack it up with pride. Just go with it.

The Heartache Behind the Hashtag

Today’s post can also be found here at Refuge Coffee Co… I know I should only give a teaser with a link below, but I’ve decided to make it easy to read, so here’s the entire post. As Refuge gets ready to launch (in less than a month… ahhhh!), I’d love it if you’d pray for us. Despite our limitations, we have a burning desire to create refuge here in Clarkston for our refugee neighbors. Happy reading…

I’m really not a cynic, so when I tell you a thought I had during a recent visit to a Maasai village in Kenya, don’t judge.

Our group spent an afternoon with a young woman we all called Mama Julius, her family, and their neighbors. We, the foreigners, and our new friends slaughtered five chickens, plucked them, roasted them, and ate them together. I did things that day that I’ve never done before.

Most of the Kenyans present did not speak English, including the kids. Kids are easier to communicate with nonverbally, so I spent part of my time following them around and sitting under the only shade tree (we were at the equator, so that tree was prime real estate) singing silly songs with even sillier motions with them.

I’d already been in Africa over a week. I was as acclimated as one week can make a person to needs no Westerner can fathom without coming here to see them in person.

Anyway, here’s the thought I had as I watched those children—every one of them with bare feet—run over and around a pile of goat dung: “Where are their Tom’s shoes?”

I’m neither cynical nor naïve by nature, but I think this thought popped up because a series of well-made, heart-melting ad campaigns in the US had conditioned me to think world change really is that easy. I’m not blaming Tom’s. No, I’m just saying none of us in this business of social impact—even the big guys with seemingly endless resources—can impact everyone.

And that’s what really hurts.

If you’ve followed the dream of Refuge Coffee Co. at all, our hashtag #createrefuge may have resonated with you. Good. It is an honest simplification of our mission. But we are learning as we actually do the mission that heartache often accompanies the heart-melting images on our social media. Go deep, and you’ll likely hurt a little.

We are interviewing Refugee trainees this week. We cannot hire all of them. As we sit across a round table and listen to their stories, as we discover their siblings were born in refugee camps, their governments sent gunmen to their homes to murder them, their children are missing back home, and that they want so badly to work here in America and work hard to adapt, we have to fight the ache in order to be objective. Yes, we will hire refugees to be in our job training program. That’s creating refuge. But we will have to call half of the people we interview and tell them no. I’m not gonna lie; I hate that part with a passion. I hate it even though I’ve delegated it to someone else (sorry, Jessica!).

But the ache is what makes us human.

If our Refuge team is going to love well, we’d better make peace with a fair amount of pain. Tom’s can’t give every child in Africa a pair of shoes and we can’t give every refugee in Clarkston a job. And I don’t ever want to not feel bad about that. (Did you catch the “not” in that sentence? It’s awkward to say and even more awkward to feel.) This is the sobering backdrop I’ll never get used to behind the change-the-world hashtags. Ours included. #createrefuge

All the Glory We Do Not See

Talk about humbling. I have been absent from the blogosphere for almost a month, and this is what I have to say when I return? Basically, this post is about finding God’s glory in your pettiest moments. I’m banking on the fact that we all have petty moments.

Last week I devised this brilliant scheme to help my husband simplify his day. I was tagging along on an afternoon of his work errands, which included delivering a gift basket to an office downtown. I knew he had budget and time constraints, so I, the gift-giving brainiac of the family, said, “Let’s stop by World Market since it’s on our route and put together our own basket in the car.”

I’ll spare you the gory details. I’ll just tell you what we ended up with: an ugly, asymmetrical, unprofessional excuse for a gift basket. We assembled the whole mess on the sidewalk near a trash can. In my vigorous creative haste I tore the cellophane and gave up on the ribbon, so the goodies and the filler kept falling out. Vigorous creative haste: my specialty. I plunked it at my feet in the car and said, “Welcome to my world. This is how I do things, all wonky and messed up. I’m such a loser.”

To his credit, Bill was aghast at this conclusion and said as much. But I was too busy comparing my creation to the many gifts I’ve received from friends like Karen, who can make a Walmart purchase classy or another Karen, who is the kind of baker who does not own a microwave. Magicians and purists, these are my friends.

I tell this story, not to over-dramatize my reaction to a petty failure, but to demonstrate the ubiquitous sense we women have that we are failures. It’s so subtle, we don’t catch it half the time. A few days later I told my daughter-in-law Callie about the basket incident, and she laughed and said, “Yeah, I always say ‘I can’t do anything well’.” Which shocked me because Callie is one of the most do-well people I have ever known. That is not hyperbole. The thing is, we are both pretty normal, and even what you might call mature.

And yet I think like this? A lot?

Like after my recent trip to Kenya. Somewhere in the jet-lagged stupor of my first days home, I found myself reliving the trip like this:

Why didn’t I ask better questions?
Why didn’t I prepare better?
I think I talked too much.
I was actually probably really annoying.
Why did I keep losing stuff?

There were happy, glowy thoughts about the trip as well, and mostly those sentiments got top billing. But there was also the subtle self-flagellation, the wearying perfectionism. And I was suddenly sick of it. I seriously wondered how to kick this habit.

Then last week, on the day after the basket debacle, I read something Oswald Chambers said:

If the Spirit of God detects anything in you that is wrong, He does not ask you to put it right; He asks you to accept the light, and He will put it right.

It turns out I’m a failure at fixing feeling like a failure. What a relief. I cannot put this weird, wrong inner monologue right on my own. You know how dieting makes you obsess over what you eat, over the numbers on the scale, and the way your jeans fit? Fixing yourself makes you focus on yourself an inordinate amount, and you really should fix that.

So what can fix it? And is fixing it the point anyway?

I’m not sure it is. Surely the real point in life is something higher and better. There’s this word in the scriptures that offers a clue, a word that I think is actually worth obsessing over. It is the exact opposite of all those dark words we call ourselves like failure and loser and messed up. It’s a word that describes God, but it’s also used often to describe us. It’s in the scriptures over 350 times. That’s more than twice the times salvation is mentioned, and 30 times more than love. To be honest, I’ve never fully understood it. That word is GLORY.

The same day I read Oswald Chambers, I read Psalm 78. The Psalmist says there are these riddles or mysteries every generation should pass down to the next. Ancient parables about glory:

“We will not hide them from our children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders he has done.” (Verse 4)

I read this and I wondered: How was I supposed to experience the mystery of glory in the midst of my every day fumblings? Life often feels like one step forward, fifteen steps back. Parenting is hard and fraught with daily opportunities for mistakes. Marriage is a minefield. Running a non-profit only serves to highlight what I don’t know. Community doesn’t happen naturally. So where are God’s glorious deeds? Where are his wonders? And how do I experience or better yet exclaim his glory to the next generation?

I dived into the rest of Psalm 78 looking for answers, and I got them, but what a shock. The next 68 verses read like a roller coaster ride of Israel’s ups and downs, mostly downs, a chronicle of losers who couldn’t do anything well, but who showcased God’s glory when… not when they got it right, but when their wrongs got righted by God.

I’m beginning to think the most glorious deed God has done in my life is to save me when I am lost, to resuscitate me when I am dying, to heal me when I am sick. I know this sounds too dramatic to describe a day when a gift basket doesn’t turn out right, but that is life nine times out of ten, is it not? I know my big failures need grace, but I handle my little ones on my own. And thereby miss the glory in accepting God’s offer to fix them for me.

God’s wonders are found, not in the perfect meal that’s served on time, but in the oily smear left by entire pot of undercooked pasta you spilled on the floor and the dog ate. God showed up in the spill and your sadness over it. That’s glorious, that he would be there then. It’s a wonder when you realize, hey, Jesus is standing in my kitchen. He is here now.

His glory is found when I hear my voice yelling, yes, yelling at my kids and I cringe. And maybe I cry and ask their forgiveness. And I sense the wonder that he would teach me to cringe in order to set me right. That he would give me righteous tears to cry.

I find wonder in his kindness that leads me to repentance, not just for the “big” sins, but for the times I was lazy and didn’t call a friend, but I he reminded me and I did it, for the times I was loud and arrogant and he quieted my soul and moved my focus away from me to the person in the room I was there to love. And for the times, the many, many times, I didn’t sin at all, I just messed up like an ordinary human trying to get a gift basket right.