To be the Nurturer

Gentle Reader,

I guess I’m a hugger now.

For someone who’s a bit of a germaphobe and is always trying to protect her right side, this is a complicated development. It does not naturally enter my mind to reach out and gather someone close. That’s why I know this urge has been planted in me by the Holy Spirit. I begin to recognize how much people long to give and receive healthy touch. To know that they are cared for. And I am deeply moved by that recognition.

Attending teen camp a couple of weeks ago was quite the experience. The pendulum swung wildly between the highest highs and the lowest lows. The first two days, I wondered why I was there. A definite sense of not belonging, because while I do like to play and have a good time, I am wired for the quiet moments and one-on-one conversation. Contemplativeness is not a trait generally associated with youth ministry; we think hype and loudness and messiness when we think of teens. And there is a place for that, of course, but there’s only so much loudness I can take before I teeter on the edge of a complete meltdown.

So, what could I bring to the table? What was the point in my being around?

The third day, it clicked. Teens don’t always express exactly what they need (really, adults don’t do that, either), but as I sat in the chapel and watched students wrestle with the message they’d heard, I didn’t have to think about how to respond. I just started praying with people. I put an arm around each person, and, without exception, they sighed heavily and relaxed against my shoulder. And Jesus smacked me on the head, as He often does, and asked me, in that quiet way of His, if I was going to stop wondering why I don’t fit in and just do what He’s called and designed me to do

You don’t design your ministry. That’s how we approach it, and that approach is all wrong. God designs us to do what only we can do in the way He’s asked us to do it. For too long we’ve focused on programs and processes and been content with slotting people into “leadership positions” that don’t require leading, but rather just replication of a party line and way. I wish you could hear me speak these words aloud, because there is no condemnation here, but rather a sense of clarity, an understanding of what I’ve been battling for so long and why I don’t need to battle it anymore.

The Church does not value the nurturers, but the Church needs them. Or us, I should say.

Believe me, I never imagined using that term to describe myself. Yet I know in my bones that people need to understand that they are loved. That they are safe. They need to know that they can have conversations, ask questions, and just be themselves. this doesn’t mean that I don’t speak and teach truth, because that’s a vital part of nurturing. But instead of lecturing someone from a lofty position of cold authority, I grab their hands and invite them to follow Jesus as I follow Jesus.

For most of my life, I have run away. Kept myself hidden as much as possible. Some of the reasons for this are valid, and ones that I will continue to work through. But mostly, it’s the dread and fear, pounding in my chest. Now, I want those feelings to be replaced by the holy love that pushes me to run toward. Even if I get beat up, or looked over, or stepped on.

I must be about my Father’s business and will, come what may, even though my approach to that work looks different from others’. Oh, I’m going to keep stumbling and falling and crying and doubting. Highly doubt I will ever be one of those ministers who seems to have it “together.” I think that’s okay, because the consistent sense of my own fragility keeps me grounded in grace. And so I can stop beating myself up for not being whatever it is that I or others think I should be. What freedom! What sweetness! What joy! What great adventure!

Wind in my hair, sun on my face, flowers in my hands. Arms ready to embrace all I encounter.

I’m going to love lavishly, because that’s how God loves me.

Yes, Jesus. Grant me the eyes to see as You do, the mouth to speak as You do, the heart to love as You do, and the willingness to go as You do.

To Love as God Loves

Coming back to a post I began a month ago. A month! I have much to share with you about that month, but before all that, this, which flows into and provides context for the that.

Gentle Reader,

I stare into the mirror. An ordinary-looking woman meets my gaze. The afternoon light shifts, highlighting the gold tones in her brown eyes and the red in her brown hair. She looks a little tired, but she always looks a little tired. There’s something else about her face today. A sadness. A weariness.

Time is short, my dears. The days seem to stretch on, but before we know it the clock winds down and the alarm sounds. Breath, God-given and sustained, leaves a loved one’s chest. The spirit flies into eternity, waiting for the day when the Father tells the Son to go and fetch His Bride.

And so I think we have not minutes to waste in petty squabbling. Yes, some hills are worth dying on. I may be mostly a gentle puffball, but I’ve enough of a fighter in me to know that to be true. But most of the things we spend energy on, the conflicts that rob us of both peace and sleep, are pointless. Useless. Do not, in any way, impact the grand scheme.

Perhaps we can choose a holy way of expending the energy and passion that fuels these fights. Perhaps we can throw ourselves, body and soul, into love. Loving the way that God does, something beyond affection and deeper than preference. The kind of love that means something. Costs something. The sort of love that we all ache for in the middle of the night.

Romance is not dead, my darlings. It is greater than the longing glances exchanged by couples in cheesy movies, more than eroticism. Romance is the deep mystery, the grand adventure, found in walking with Jesus. He beckons. He calls. He woos.

Then, somehow, He creates a family out of the called.

Like any family, we are dysfunctional.

But we’re still family.

And so our language must be seasoned with love and tempered with grace, for these are brothers and sisters, beloved ones, with whom we interact. Do you realize that? Do I? God calls us His beloved. Are we that kind of community? One that operates out of belovedness? Beloved of Him, beloved of each other?

What if we cared? Really, truly, cared? Paused and actually listened to that prayer request, and prayed then and there? Laughed with each other? Cried with each other? Were all up in each other’s business, not out of mere curiosity or nosiness but because that’s what people who love each other do?

There is a radical quality to the love of God, a quality that I begin to see is passed on and pressed into those who call upon His Name. The sort of sacrificial, selfless love modeled by Christ is ours to learn and share with the world. We do not drum up this love within ourselves by force or will. No, it arises instead out of time spent at the feet of Jesus. Sometimes that looks like hours of quiet contemplation. Sometimes that looks like a full day with hardly any room to breathe. Sometimes that looks like something in between the lull and the busy. But it always looks like a person devotedly – not perfectly – seeking the Savior’s will.

What an impact we might have upon this place, if we loved as He loves!

Five Minute Friday: Offer

Gentle Reader,

Fifteen or eighty-five.

In my heart, I’m fifteen, complete with the attendant maturity level. (I don’t know if this is due to spending increasing amounts of time with actual teenagers or if this is just…me). My body, though, it’s about eighty-five today. All my joints hurt. If my hands had the ability to speak, they’d yell at me right now for making them type. Every knuckle throbs.

Nauseated. Why? Because it’s Thursday.

Accidentally fell asleep for three hours this afternoon.

Looked in the mirror a bit ago. Ghostly pale face. Dark rings around my eyes. Why the Victorians were into this fragile, wilted-flower look, I’ll never know.

Nothing fun about it. But a most excellent reminder to dwell on thoughts of Heaven, to hope for renewal, to have faith in restoration, to remember Jesus.

Kate says: offer.

Go.

Evan Welcher reminds people of God’s love for them every day on his social media accounts. Literally; he posts the words “God loves you” every single day. The simplest of offerings with the most radical potential to change lives. Three little words containing an eternity’s worth of meaning.

I am thankful for his consistency, for I am easily distracted from this fundamental truth. You know, the Devil, he doesn’t play fair. He knows where the weak spots are and goes after them continually. If he can get me to doubt God’s love, then he’s won that battle. I am wrecked when I take hold of the lie.

That’s got me thinking about the words I offer to others. If everyone needs to know that God loves us (and everyone does need to know), then I think perhaps we need a revival in our speech, a scrubbing of our tongues. For if God loves us (and He does), then shouldn’t it be natural for us to use words like beloved, darling, dear and precious with each other? Not in a creepy or saccharine way. In the way that reminds us of who we are in Him.

So hear me tonight. Because God is love, and He loves you:

You are the beloved. You were created by the Master Artist, placed into this context for a reason. God does not make garbage.

You are the darling. God watches you sleep at night, like the proud Father He is.

You are the dear. You are the apple of His eye. He is proud of you every time you make the hard choice to obey Him.

You are the precious. Every breath is given to you as a gift of grace.

The world and the Devil in it will throw a lot of other words your way. Instead of accepting them uncritically, take each one and hold it up in the light of truth. There, the darkness dissolves.

Stop.

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Little Tortilla Girl

Gentle Reader,

This one is for my goddaughter, the spunky Riley Rae. When she was a baby and decidedly hangry, I held her in a headlock in order to get her to drink a bottle. We’ve been best buddies ever since.

********

A beautiful early spring evening in Bellevue…or Seattle…or wherever we exactly and technically were. (I have no sense of direction or place). The first day of Northwest Ministry Conference had passed by in a blur of workshops, conversations and a fast lunch trip to Chick-fil-A. (My first time eating the Lord’s chicken nuggets, complete with dipping sauce. Vegetarianism went out the minivan window. Hashtag worth it, never mind the liver complaining later). As the sun began to dip in the distance, calling the street lamps to flickering life, we sat, a tired but merry band, twenty-odd strong, around brightly patterned tables, noses filled with the scents of Mexican food. Or, at least, what passes for Mexican food in the Pacific Northwest (my Southern friends were about to object).

In a 1988 interview, author Ursula K. LeGuin discussed her daily schedule, noting that, after 8:00 p.m., “I tend to be very stupid and we won’t talk about this.” I had reached the stupid point around 6:00 p.m., very much ready for sleep but knowing that it was hours away. So, when my dearest Riley, who was sitting to my left, asked, “Auntie Marie, where is my food? How long does it take to make a quesadilla?,” I should not have been surprised (though I was) when the spirit of my father and uncles overtook my mind and the silliest of sentences came flying out of my mouth.

“Well,” I replied. “They have to go and hunt the tortilla, you know.”

Her eyes went wide. “That’s not true.” She giggled, gaps where teeth used to be on full display. “That’s just not true.”

And thus the Saga of Tortilla Hunting began.

“They really do have to hunt the tortillas. Where do you think they come from?”

Riley had no answer.

You see, tortillas grow wild in the plains of South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. They are bright pink in color, though a few green ones have been spotted. The green ones are the aged tortillas, the wise ones who have escaped capture. Trouble is, most tortillas are not intelligent, so they don’t listen to their elders, who try so hard to teach them how to live free.

“Don’t eat the guacamole,” they say. “Don’t trust the avocados.”

Put a little guacamole in the bottom of a tortilla trap and they come flying. They spin like flying saucers and make a strange, indescribable flapping noise. They only have one eye, so they don’t see well at all, often smacking into things in their quest to find the guacamole. Ah, but their sense of smell never fails them. They descend into the trap, mouths, at the center of their bodies, directly tied to their stomachs because tortilla anatomy does not include an esophagus or other digestive parts, wide open.

Clang!

A leprechaun, dressed in ninja clothes and riding a unicorn, slams the trap shut. Only ninja-leprechauns can hunt tortillas, you know. And of course they ride unicorns, because what else would they ride? How silly, imagining a leprechaun astride any other steed or using public transport. What do you think this is, a made-up-on-the-fly story? Honestly.

The leprechauns have to open the traps in order to stuff the tortillas into plastic bags, suitable for selling in local supermarkets. Some tortillas, stunned but determined to live, make their way out of the traps, flinging themselves against living room windows, but their stomachs are so full of food that they can’t hang on, and they fall into the waiting arms of the leprechauns below. (Oh, I forgot to mention: The unicorns that the leprechauns ride, they are smaller in size, able to hide in bushes. They are known in folklore as “Stealthicorns”). This is what happened to Billy Scrimshaw Tortilla.

Billy was a young tortilla, just venturing out on his own. Saddled with student loan debt that he could never hope to pay off, Billy nevertheless planned to be the first Certified Public Accountant for the tortilla community. Again, tortillas are not intelligent; they don’t use money, and their average lifespan is less than twenty years, so why Billy went to college in the first place is a mystery. And how did he get into school? Aunt Becky bought him a spot at the University of Southern California.

Billy had heard the stories. An elder who lived at the bottom of a gnarled tree had warned him. But Billy couldn’t help himself. The smell was too strong. His hunger, too great. He rose from the fields one clear night (for tortillas are nocturnal), driven by the powerful urge to eat. And eat. And eat some more.

He heard the sound of unicorn hooves. A soft laugh. (Leprechauns are rather bold in their hunting). His eye flicked this way and that. A brief thought flitted through his minuscule brain. He knew he should stop. But the guacamole was homemade. And it didn’t have any cilantro in it because cilantro is disgusting and tastes like soap. In a daze, he descended into the warm red circle, mouth watering.

“That’s not true!” Riley cried, arms flapping. “Tortillas don’t fly!”

“They do! There’s a documentary about it, but you may not have access to it due to parental controls because it’s a little disturbing.”

Fits of laughter, not at all proper manners for a restaurant setting. I began to speak in my Mary Poppins accent, adding a level of gravitas that made it all the funnier. But perhaps the best part was the contribution of the other adults present, who added little bits and pieces to the tall tale, or at the very least kept Riley wondering if, just maybe, there might be some kernel of truth in what I was saying.

Hours later, we were still going.

“You ate him, Riley! You ate Billy!”

We dissolved into too-exhausted-to-care giggles on the hotel bed. Tears dripped from my eyes. This was so very stupid, but the sort of fun that we both needed in that moment.

A brief pause while she styled my hair. Bangs askew, curls a mess. Didn’t matter to me.

“Auntie Marie,” she said, “let’s take a selfie.” Of course I obliged.

She approved the photo. “You need to send this to that guy in the red shirt from dinner, because you are the biggest liar I know but he is the second biggest.”

“That guy” added some crucial elements to the story. He also dared her to stick her tongue on a piping hot fajita pan.

Of course I sent the photo.

The night wound down. We lay on the bed, snuggled under the blanket, nothing at all to watch on television. Riley’s older sister, the delightful Emery Mae, sent some texts to her friends. Baby Aurora Jade fought sleep in their mother’s arms. I could see Tauni, my sister from another mister, in each of their faces. And in that moment, in that hotel room, hanging out with four of the ladies I love best in the whole world, I thanked God for relationships that stretch back years and will grow into the future. For friends who are truly family.

A knock on the door. Time for the them to head out. I hugged Riley and whispered in her ear, “Be sure to watch for the tortillas. They migrate this way in the spring.”

She pushed me and bounced off the bed, laughing once again.

********

Riley, or, to use your “Monty Python” name, Johann Sebastian Gambolpotty of Ulm, this is a night I will never forget. I am so, so glad that you are in my life. Watching you grow and learn is a joy. Being your auntie is a privilege. I look forward to many more days of ridiculousness.

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