Big Bad Bacon Burgers and Amazing Grace

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I sit across from him at breakfast. It’s our once a month tradition. He orders the big bad bacon burger. His regular. I order sausage links and fries with mustard for dipping. Outside it’s dripping rain and inside the AC makes it chilly, even though it’s the middle of summer.

While we wait for our food, we sip coffee and talk about everything tangible. Drones, a car makeover, travel, and mechanics. He throws out quips from the comedies he watches. I laugh, only half getting the jokes. He talks about his friends. The car he wants to buy. I talk about funny flight attendants. We joke about the amount of calories in the creamer we are putting in our coffee. And how his 2000 calorie burger will earn him a needed workout later in the day.

I ponder this boy in front of me. This kid nearly two decades younger than me, with sandy curls and a frank, open face. I remember the day he was born. The youngest of our tribe of eleven. He’s the kid with more emotions than any of his sisters. The kid who has more ideas than maybe all of us put together. Yet in family gatherings, he’s often lost in the crowd, silent on the edges. It’s sacred to get a snapshot of his truer self, here in a cafe booth on a July morning.

He’s in the throes of adolescence. I am fast headed for mid life. Yet he talks to me easily, like he did when I taught him to talk as a two year old. We share uncomplicated laughter and undemanding silence. But our conversation stays on the surface. I initiated this breakfast tradition in hopes that it would be a chance to encourage him and walk with him on a deeper level. As a big sister, I worry about him. There’s a lot in his life he doesn’t talk about. I pray for him silently in spaces between conversing. Ten years ago, maybe even five I would have introduced a spiritual question. Probed about how his devotional life is going. As if this is the measure of our spirituality. But sometimes it takes a kid to reteach us the simplicity of Christianity. Sometimes it takes something surprising to teach us how to live.

Of course there’s a place for probing, asking, challenging. But today I know in my core, that isn’t God’s invitation. I stay in the present. I enter into the sacred space of enjoying this young man in front of me as a person, with no agenda. I am learning to see Jesus in the moment and in the common tangible things of life these days. To be present with people. To lean in and learn from them.

It’s on the ride home that I hear and see Him — Jesus in the life of my kid brother. After the bill is paid and we’re cruising the last couple miles between town and home I’m kind of zoning into the day ahead.

“You know Johnny?” my little brother is chatting about different people and I am not paying too much attention.

“He’s my friend.” I’m listening now. Curious. Not many teens find time for an elderly person tucked away in a nursing home.

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“And he’s a christian,too” I can tell there is meaning in those words for him.

“That’s cool.” I say. “Does that make you look forward to going to nursing home service on Sunday afternoons?”

“Yea, I always look forward to seeing him. He always chooses song 71 in the songbook. Amazing Grace,” he’s grinning. I can hear it in his voice. “Sometimes if he’s not there for the first half of the service I choose the song for him.”

I glimpse the beauty and it catches my breath. The authentic care of a young man for someone decades older than himself. Someone tucked away and half forgotten but with a wealth of wisdom to give. The bigness of this kid’s heart shouldn’t surprise me, nor should his value for someone much older than him. But somehow it does. Perhaps because it’s rare in young people to have this depth. What thirteen year old remembers an old man’s favorite hymn, chooses it just for him when he can’t be there? Goes to a nursing home service on Sunday because he wants to? Calls an elderly person his friend?

We pull into the driveway. “Thanks so much for breakfast. It was good!” his gray eyes are bright with gratitude.

“Of course,” We part ways with the traditional fist bump and he’s off to live his day.

As I drive away I realize that I am incredibly grateful. Grateful for the grace of a thirteen year old kid showing me how to live. Today he’s showed me Jesus in a powerfully simple way.  Over a big bad bacon burger, without any effort at all.

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DID IT MATTER?

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He will not forget your work and the love you have shown for His name as you have ministered…and continue to do so. Hebrews 6:10

We sit in a small, noisy Vietnamese restaurant. A gathering of returning friends from far flung places. We are all in various stages of reentry, weeks to months. Each of us returning from serving in hard but beautiful places with displaced peoples. Sharing memories and moments.

I curl my fingers around a giant bowl of Pho and lean into the conversation. This is communal. This is what it means to be together. I don’t want to miss it. We bring our questions, poignant with the journey.

“Did we make a difference?” my middle aged friend is always practical. “I mean, the crisis is still going on. Did what we do really change anything for them?”

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“I’m not sure I really feel it anymore,” another friend says. It’s a place of grace, this place of hard honesty. Burn out is real. Sometimes just living in the constant pain on such a massive level, dulls our souls. Sometimes it’s the only way to survive it.

“I felt that way, too, until I returned for another term of service and made personal friends with a few people. Then suddenly it mattered again. It mattered that my friends were stuck in a hopeless place. I mean if one of you guys was homeless I would do something about it, wouldn’t I?”

“The harder thing is there is so very little we can do.”

“I know. How can we make a lasting difference for this mass amount of suffering?”

“Sometimes I ask, could I have done more? Have we done all we can? Have we done enough?”

“And what is the point? The crisis doesn’t stop.”

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The questions are weighty and real. They hold the cry of an inner longing for wholeness. For the God of peace to reach into suffering and right the wrongs of an unjust world. The faces, the eyes, the stories. They haunt us. Did our little bit of giving, matter? Did our going matter? Why go if it didn’t?

“I think, in the bigger scheme of things, it’s not about fixing the problem. It’s not about ending the suffering. I wonder if the real meaning doesn’t really lie in the value of the people we served. It lies in the fact that they are image bearers of the living God. When we gave to them we gave to Him. They are precious because they reflect Him and His value.” The theme widens out, seeking meaning.

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The conversation lulls. Warm soup nourishes our bodies. Our souls, too crave to be nourished.

A deep thinker in our gathering who has said little till this moment speaks now. Slowly. Quietly.

“I think that when we stop long enough to listen. When we quiet ourselves enough to hear what He is saying to us, He tells us He is proud of us. He tells us that what we did matters to Him and it mattered for them. And it will continue to matter on through time. I think we can rest in that.”

We drink it in. These words of life. And they circle back. Back to the Source of all life. Back to Emmanuel, God with us. It matters, because we did it “in His Name”. We did it with Him. We were present. We carried Him there and in being with them we gave them, Him. God’s beautiful promises to the suffering world aren’t immediately about ending it. Though that glorious day will come. They are first about entering into the suffering.

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“Though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, don’t fear any evil because I will be WITH you.”

“Though you pass through the river you won’t drowned and the fire won’t burn you because I AM WITH YOU.”

“Fear not because I am WITH you.”

“Go into all the world and I will be WITH you always.”

The place of ultimate redemption is WITH GOD. The place of comfort, of peace, of all hope, and in the glorious end, the place of eternal life. WITH GOD.

Did we solve world hunger? No. Are our friends still suffering? Yes. And it breaks our hearts, like it breaks His. But we don’t have to carry it. We can let Him carry that. Our little part is to be with Him and let Him be with us. To let these weak vessels “be still” or “let go” so the power of Christ may shine out and God can be exalted in this earth. To be present and to know.

In the end it will all come right. But in the journey we can’t always see. It is in that place that we can only truly know it matters when we slow down enough to hear Him say. “I’m with you. I’m with them. And that’s what REALLY makes a difference. That’s what really matters.”

Wisdom Is a Gift

                   

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” My heart hungers for wisdom and upon discovery, savors it’s sweetness. “

 

    Winter sunshine warms our faces as we linger over lunch. We talk of teaching styles, culture, life expediences, and scripture. “I’ve been pondering the life of Solomon,” the years are etched in her face but her hair is barely touched by silver, even at eighty. “He was the wisest man that ever lived and yet he made such stupid choices.” We discuss scripture’s fact oriented account of Solomon’s story. And wonder where he got off track. Was it the Egyptian wife where it all started? Love can do funny things to people. What is wisdom then if it is more than intellect? The man who wrote all about wisdom in the Proverbs knew so much. And yet lived off the edges. “I guess intellect isn’t enough.” She says. I love listening to the wisdom of this woman I call grandma. These months shared in her home are a treasure as I glean from her store of experience and scripture knowledge. Job 12:12 “Wisdom belongs to the aged.”(NLT) Her wisdom is a gift.

Several times a month I sit across the screen from a sweet southern woman, whose warm smile and earthy sense of humor put me at ease. I treasure the gift of sitting at the feet of a veteran returned overseas worker who is passionate about mentoring others. I find her insight invaluable as I traverse the very real transition back to my own life in the States. So many questions about the journey and it’s changes, my purpose and how it all flows together are mingling in my heart these days. And she is wise. She listens deeply. Challenges often. And affirms much. I’ve been impacted by her input, more than she knows. The Holy Spirit is invited to lead each of our dialogues, exploring life and it’s complexities. It’s meaning. Our sessions embody Psalm 107:43. “Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord.” (NIV) Her wisdom is a gift.

Today, I help a friend move furniture in her office. I look up to her. She is someone who has walked the path of my current career choice, and succeeded. I am in the season of beginners angst, study overload, so many decisions, so much new. And she relates, calls me higher, shines a light on how it all works. I walk away encouraged to keep pressing on. To think deeply about my options. To take it one step at a time with an open hand and an open mind. I am grateful for her advice and instruction. Proverbs 19:20 promises, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.” (NIV) Her wisdom is a gift.

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What is wisdom? Knowledge is facts and ideas built through study and research or experience. Wisdom is something different. It is an ability to discern the right, true and lasting aspects of the knowledge you acquire, and how to apply them to your life.

Wisdom is a protection and understanding. Proverbs 4:6-7 “Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you… Though it cost all you have, get understanding.”

Wisdom is focus and perspective. Proverbs 17:24 “A discerning man keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth. (NIV)

Wisdom is the fruit of a kingdom based world view and way of life. James 3:17But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (NIV)

Wisdom is a Person. 1 Corinthians 1:30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” (NIV)

And in this person all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden and represented, it’s purposes made clear. Colossians 2:2-3My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (NIV)

May our lives reflect the beautiful gift of wisdom in an encouraged heart, a united love, and a deep knowing of our Jesus.

Our Wisdom. Our greatest Gift.

 

Fall’s Melodrama…

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I used to think no season could be lovelier than Autumn. The brilliant colors, the cold snaps, the harvest, and then the holidays. But somehow, perspective has a way of changing with the turning of the years. I still love the season. But fall’s melodrama always feels a bit melancholy. He comes again, and snow flurries mingle with wood smoke, as we turn calendar pages from September to October. I feel cold seep through my sweater — and shiver. Sometimes that’s the way life feels, too. Bittersweet. And yet —  Every season has it’s beauty. Fall is wild, vivacious, generous, and breathtakingly brilliant. I think part of the sadness comes from knowing his beauty is so short lived. Perhaps it’s beauty would fade to us if we were given a longer period of acquaintance. But it’s flickering flame leaves a warmth that will last through the coming winter.

I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in,’ ~ quote by George Washington Carver

Pass the Coffee – Pass the Love

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   She loves gas station cappuccino. She loves to mix the flavors. Dad buys her a 20 oz. whenever we go camping. It’s become tradition.

We’ve piled in the van for another memorable weekend trip to one of our favorite places. Tents and backpacks fill the cargo space to capacity. Teenagers, children and adults sprawl in the various seats. A sister reads to pass the time. The teens take crazy threesome selfies. And Mom leisurely sips her cappuccino in the front seat.

Then it happens like I always know it will. “Rachael, do you want some of my coffee?” She knows I love the drink as much or more than she does, but for some reason I just didn’t get one this time. “Are you sure?” I ask.

“Of course, it’s always better shared.” I can hear the smile in her voice.

“Sure.” I grin and reach for her cup as she hands it back.

And certain as ants in the sugar bowl, the smallest member of the crew pipes up, “Can I taste it too, Mom?”

“Sure.” The cup gets passed from hand to hand. All the way to the teens in the back seat and back again. It’s become a community cup. When it reaches the front seat again, half the sweet liquid has disappeared. I hand it back up and my Mom glances back, “sure you’ve had enough? Have some more.” And it hits me. This embodies her life, a small but significant symbol of how she lives every day.

Her life is not her own. In that cup is the sweetness of life, hers to enjoy and choose how to spend. She has chosen to give it away to those she loves. Her life is a community life. Her love a sweetness poured out that others might drink. Her gifts, her energies, her time, but most of all her heart.

Her love is enduring. Wayward children, sleepless nights, tears and prayers through long dark years. And her love wins. Because it reflects His love. They return to Him and to her. I watch it with awe and with joy, for I know how dark the night has been, and how rich the joy is now.

Her love is selfless. She gives and gives till she has nothing left to give. And when she falls into bed exhausted, it is still never too late to listen to her children’s hearts, to pause to pray with them, to give them life.

Her love is honest. She does not pretend that she is perfect. Her love for them is not based upon their performance. It is warm and encompassing, but tells the hard truth even when it hurts, because love is always based on truth.

Her love is hospitable. She doesn’t just mother her own. She opens her home and heart to so many. To the hurting couple, the single mom, the wild child, the lonely neighbor, and the family traveling through. There is always room for one more bowl at the table, one more sleeping bag on the living-room floor, and one more conversation.

Her love is wise. Her years and children have taught her much. She is one to whom many go to for advice, encouragement, and hope.

Her love is inspiring. She is stretched thin, but not too thin to stop and admire beauty and soak in the world around her. She is always learning and inspiring others to do the same through her excitement and passion over God’s word and His world.

Her love is joyous. Laughter, wit, humor. She has an endless supply. With her we laugh till we cry at late night jokes and life’s ironies.

My Mom is amazing. Not perfect, but amazing. She is my hero. Because she reflects our shared Hero, Jesus. She has shown me what Faith and Love truly look like with skin on. When she passes that cup of coffee, she’s really passing the love. The love that embodies her life every day.