Finding the Voice God Gave You

Gentle Reader,

“You used to write like…I don’t know, like you were writing for an episode of Friends or something. A lot of quips and sarcasm. I noticed you don’t do that anymore.”

“Well, I did that because I felt like I had to defend everything I wrote in advance. I don’t feel that way anymore.”

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The above exchange between my mom and I took place just a few weeks ago, on one of our early morning walks around the neighborhood. Long has she said that I have “an old soul,” a personality that’s naturally on the quiet, reserved, and serious end of the spectrum. And she’s right. While I do love to laugh, I also love to think. I like to step back and observe. I like to study. My favorite question has always been, “Why?” …

To read the rest, head on over to Rise Up Writers. While you’re there, stay awhile.

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Five Minute (Saturday): World

Gentle Reader,

Have you hugged a children’s ministry director lately? Brought him or her a very large coffee? You should. I don’t know how they do what they do, apart from the empowerment of God. I spent 8 hours with a group of elementary students on Thursday, filling in for a counselor at my church’s summer program, and I’m wiped out.

I may not be able to tell you exactly where this calling of mine is going to end up, but I’m pretty confident that it won’t be in the children’s department. I’ll take 50 hormonal teenagers who just broke up with their significant others over someone screaming at me for no apparent reason (translation: they need a nap) any day.

Kate says: world.

Go.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the humanitarian crisis at the United States-Mexico border.

We can argue with each other all day long about immigration processes. And I do actually believe that there should be a process; I really don’t know anyone who is for the idea of “open borders.” The problem right now is that the system is broken. Blame the President, blame Congress, blame whoever. But that misses the point.

We have people crossing the border, some through official channels and some not. Whether you think they should be doing so or not doesn’t matter. The reality is: They are here. And we are not treating them as fellow human beings.

Particular sorrow wells up in my soul when I think of the children who are being taken from their families. (Yes, some children are being trafficked. That makes my heart break and blood boil and I very much want the perpetrators of this evil to be brought to justice. But, let’s be real, every child who comes to the border is not a victim of trafficking, and using that as an excuse to separate families is wrong). Government officials claim that it’s not necessary for children to have access to things like soap and toothpaste, because these things do not fall under “safe and sanitary” regulations, displaying an incredible lack of common sense. Prominent evangelical leaders wonder why we can’t just send these people back where they came from while in the next breath claiming their hearts are broken for them, displaying an impressive cognitive dissonance.

This isn’t a political issue. I don’t care what side of the aisle you normally sit on, what party you identify with, or who you voted for in 2016. It’s a waste of time and breath to argue about minutiae and legalities. Further, it’s an attempt to escape responsibility, because we who follow Christ, who truly know Him as our Lord and Savior, know that we have a holy obligation to care for others. No, not an obligation, a privilege. The whole of Scripture repeats this command over and over again. God does not take kindly to the oppression and marginalization of the least of these.

And if children aren’t the least of these, then who is? If people fleeing violence aren’t the least of these, then who is?

I know, I know. Some of you reading this want to tell me that we should care for our own fellow Americans first. If I may step on your toes a little harder, we, the church, as a whole, aren’t doing that, either. We are stuck in a mindset of occasional handouts and hoping that problems will magically disappear. Because caring for others, really caring for them, involves relational investment. It takes time and the giving up of our own agendas, which we don’t want to do. And I’m right there with you; I struggle just as much as you do to surrender my will and take up the will of the Father.

Once more, this is not political. Our inability to address these issues appropriately arises when we think of them as merely political, when we cast fellow image bearers into the “other” category and deem them enemies. This is a Jesus issue. How would He have us bring light and love into this chaotic, dark world?

The words at the end of a well-known parable echo in my mind:

“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

“The one who showed mercy to him,” he said.

Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”

– Luke 10:36-37 (CSB)

What does it mean for you to “go and do the same” today? What does it mean for me? Let’s wrestle with this together, and then do as God leads.

Stop.

Please read this letter and consider adding your name to it. Doing so may not feel like much, but it’s something. Then, join me in praying that God would grace us all with compassion and wisdom, from those in positions of power in the halls of government to those in the smallest communities around the nation.

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Rejoice When the Children Come In

Gentle Reader,

We’re halfway through 2019, and so I remind myself that the Holy Spirit directed me to focus on truth this year. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and feel my heart slow within my chest. God is good and pure and wonderful.

As I think on what is true, what God has revealed about Himself and about the world, I make a resolution to stop asking people about children. As in, “Do you have children?” or “Are you going to have another child?” And why not ask? First, it’s intrusive and unneeded; the answer will be revealed organically, one way or the other. Second, the asking can at least cause irritation for the one being asked, and can definitely cause pain if there are issues of infertility or if there has been death in the family. There are times when I want to go through life as the proverbial bull in the china shop, but I’m learning the importance of sensitivity. I don’t want to knowingly cause unnecessary discomfort in others just because I’m feeling nosy.

Desiring to be sensitive means I begin to notice when I am not sensitive myself, and when others choose not to be. Thus my jaw nearly hit the floor after overhearing a conversation, during which someone commented that they don’t approve of anyone pursuing a child from another country, because there are so many American children waiting to be adopted. Why spend thousands of dollars when you can “get a kid for free?”

Up front: Yes, there are a lot of children in the foster care system. I get that. I wish there wasn’t such familial dysfunction in our country that results in so many without stable homes. Almost nothing makes me angrier than children having to suffer because of the selfish, stupid decisions of adults.

I also get that the foster care system is primarily set up for reunification with biological family, not automatic adoption. Sometimes that’s a great thing, and sometimes that’s an awful thing, but either way, it’s nowhere near as simple as, “Find a kid born in the USA! They’ll be yours in no time!”

Further, domestic adoption is not free. Sure, maybe there’s not the initial, up-front fees, but there’s going to be a good chunk of change spent on counseling and other services, because it’s rare for a child in foster care to not have experienced trauma or to not be behind in development, whether academically, physically, or socially. And any parent worth his or her salt is going to be willing to spend that money, to do what’s best for the child. Besides, adoption, done with the right motives, is never focused on saving (or gaining) a buck or two.

The naivety of this comment is not what got me, however. All of us are naive, even outright ignorant, from time to time. That’s fine. We learn, we grow.

What’s not fine: The judgment behind the comment.

Why is it odd or wrong that a couple would sacrifice, would scrimp and save, to bring a child into their home? That they would go to the ends of the earth to find the little one whose picture they cannot erase from their minds, who is meant to be theirs?

Such disdain for those who dare to do something differently than another would do it.

Again, I understand that there are children who are shuffled around and want a family to call their own. I also understand that there are foster parents who have sought to adopt these children, and have been denied by the courts, because one or more biological family members refuse to sign their rights away. Yes, that’s right. It’s not as easy as, “Oh, this child is in foster care, so their bio family is done.”

This comment diminishes the heartache, the suffering, and the waiting, for both adopters and adoptees. This comment assumes that those who adopt internationally never considered the domestic option because they want an “exotic” child. This comment doesn’t take the direction of the Holy Spirit into account.

I know families who have done domestic adoption. I know families who have done international adoption. I know families who have done both. I know families who waited for years for a mother to choose them, only to have the adoption fall through at the last moment. In each case, a whole lot of agonized prayer went into the decision.

Adoption is just as individualized and personal as having a biological child. There are thousands of thoughts and reasons that go into the choice, thoughts and reasons that only the parents and God fully understand. Those on the outside have no business wondering “why” this or “why” that, for they have no way of truly knowing. And, bluntly, they should not offer their opinions on the matter, unless asked, and even then should tread carefully. Additionally, if the outsider has difficulty rejoicing that a child, from anywhere and of any age, has found a loving home, then that outsider should take some time and examine themselves, for why would any adoption be bad?

God never says that one family has to take the same shape as another, and so on and so forth. In fact, this side of the Cross, the emphasis is less on the nuclear family (though by no means is it unimportant) and more on the Church family. We are sisters and brothers and aunties and uncles and cousins and grandparents and extra moms and bonus dads. And God went very far, the farthest anyone could ever go, to adopt each of us.

If you have a passion to be a foster parent, do that. If you feel a burning desire to save up money and bring home a kid from Ethiopia, do that. If you don’t want kids of your own at all, but instead want to pour out your energy and love into the kids around you, do that. There is no law in Scripture to burden or condemn you on this matter (and the commands of God are designed to bring us freedom, anyway), so don’t let the opinions of mere mortals bring you down.

Listen to the Holy Spirit. Heed His voice. Others might think you’re going wrong when you do, but you aren’t. His way is the best way. He has called each of us to love children, and to see them as blessings, but there are so many different ways to do that. Your role is your role. You don’t have to do what everyone else does.

Five Minute Friday: Question

Gentle Reader,

June in North Idaho is a strange month. Monday the temperature reached into the upper 80s. Today it’s been clouds and rain.

Kate says: question.

Go.

“You want to be a pastor?”

Want might be too strong a word. I identify strongly with the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, neither of whom were initially thrilled to receive the call. In fact, I just finished reading Ezekiel recently, and this verse had me laughing aloud:

The Spirit lifted me up and took me away. I left in bitterness and in an angry spirit, and the LORD’s hand was on me powerfully.

– 3:14 (CSB)

Commentators are split as to whether his anger and bitterness was in response to the sins of his people or in response to being commissioned to do a thankless job. I suspect it was probably a bit of both. When God, in His kindness, confronts us with our sin, we rightly feel a rush of emotion. When God, in His wisdom (and honestly, sometimes with His sense of humor), guides us toward the path He wants us to travel, we wrongly get mad and stubborn.

At least I have.

I don’t like getting up in front of people and talking. A lip sync battle, sure, because that’s funny. A part in a play, fine, because that’s not me; it’s a character. Just myself, Marie, behind a music stand, daring to declare that God has given me something to say…wow. That’s a lot.

But like I said, God has a sense of humor. I think He gets a kick out of using unexpected people in unexpected ways, because it brings Him glory and creates goodness in our lives.

Do I want to be a pastor? Truthfully, I’m not quite there in the wanting department. Still a lot of fear to overcome. The better question is this: Do I have to be a pastor? Yes, I really do. Absolutely no idea what that’s going to wind up looking like. All I know for right now is that I’m meant to keep showing up for our youth and I’m supposed to go to seminary. (Yeah, I just signed away at least four years of my life).

The real question, the one that circles ’round and ’round my mind, the one spoken in the quiet yet authoritative voice of the Holy Spirit: “Will you obey Me?”

Even though I don’t know where this path is going.

Even though it scares me to the point of tears.

Yes. I’ll obey. Not because I’m awesome, but because my God is. Because when I stand up there, longing for nothing more than to run away or to disappear, a greater longing overtakes me. I want these precious and wild young people to know just how deeply they are loved. I want them to understand the glorious Gospel that sets them free. I want them to meet Jesus. I want them to grow in relationship with Him. I want to see them grab hold of transcendent truth, to be enraptured with their Creator – and then to go out and set the world ablaze as they live in grace.

Stop.

Side note: Super weird to have people start referring to me as “Pastor Marie.” Pretty sure I’m not ever going to get used to that.

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