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easter synchroblogThis week at the Convergent Books blog, various writers have been reflecting on the characters of the Easter story. Today, they’ve opened the topic to any blogger anywhere to write about a character in the Easter story and what their role can teach us today. To read other posts in the synchroblog, click here.

His letter begins with these words:

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life–and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us–what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. (1 John 1:1-4, NASB)

He is John, the apostle, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and here, he is adamant: We heard Him, saw Him with our eyes, touched Him with our hands. This message we spread, this Gospel we preach, we were eyewitnesses! And we want others to believe because we saw it!

He almost fades into the background of the Easter story. We see glimpses of him but he’s not the first one we think of, at least he’s not the first one I think of. There are the women and Judas and Peter and the guards and Pilate and the religious leaders and Joseph of Arimathea. The Easter story is full of colorful characters, each with their own part to play, each with much to teach us about this most holy of days.

And yet, I find myself drawn to John, the storyteller.

Several years ago in a Sunday School class, we watched a video series about John’s final days in Ephesus. In it, he was painted as an old man telling the stories of his days with Jesus to anyone who gathered. He lived the longest of any of the disciples and his account of Jesus’ life is different in almost every way than that of the other writers.

Suddenly, I had a whole new appreciation for John, who must have spent all those years telling and retelling the stories. I wondered what he must have thought when he finally began to write them down. It was his life’s work. Yet even he admits that the whole world couldn’t contain all the books that could be written about what Jesus did (John 21:25).

But back to Easter and the events leading up to it.

His account of what we  now call Holy Week begins in chapter 12 of his Gospel. Could he still hear the crowds shouting, “Hosanna!”? Could he feel the crowd pressing in, surrounding Jesus, their King who had come? “We didn’t understand at the time,” he says, “but later, we remembered.” Did he smile at their ignorance? How they thought Jesus was there to overthrow Rome when, in fact, His plan was so much greater?

He walks us through the Last Supper, providing details about the extent of Jesus’ love. Did he remember what he felt when Jesus washed his feet? Did the memory of Peter’s insistence that Jesus not wash his feet bring bittersweet thoughts of his companion and friend? Could he taste the bread and wine? Did he still wonder why none of them suspected Judas of betrayal?

I love John’s words for their attention to detail. From him we get stories and words and actions we don’t get anywhere else. He was an observer as well as a participant, and his time with Jesus changed him. How could he forget such an important time of his life?

Chapters 14, 15, 16 and 17 of John’s Gospel are almost entirely in red in my Bible, the words of Jesus highlighted to stand out. Here, John passes on teachings, some listed as favorites among pastors and leaders: the vine and the branches, the prayers of Jesus for his disciples, for the world. Years later, as he writes, does John think of the significance of those teachings? Does he realize he is the link from Jesus to the generations to come? Or does he write because he’s called to it? Because somebody has to or no one will know? Does he know that his words will outlive him?

He continues with two whole chapters on the crucifixion and the events leading up to it. Did he cry as he wrote those scenes? Was he exhausted reliving the drama from the garden to the cross to the tomb? Did he lean in to the grief of those days so that his readers, his listeners would understand just how awful this was? John would get a faraway look in his eyes as he spoke. I can imagine how the emotions would have choked him as he told the story. Read John 19 out loud. Slowly. As if you can see it happening. But not even that is close to what it must have been like for John to remember.

But remember he did. And speak, he did. And write, he did.

And then the tomb. Empty!

How his heart must have raced remembering what it was like to sprint to the tomb and find Jesus gone. And the joy of seeing Him alive! In the locked room. On the shore.

Story after story after story and John’s theme is the same: “these have been written so that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)

What I learn from John is that he didn’t keep Easter to himself. He didn’t keep Jesus to himself. He spent his life telling the story, not so that he would have a bestselling book with his name on it but so that those who weren’t there, those who didn’t see, those who don’t know, might believe and have life.

We all have a story to tell about our time with Jesus. Who needs to know what we’ve experienced so they, too, can have life?

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Months ago, as I was considering the word that would define my year, one word settled in my soul. After a year of releasing things and people and feelings and stories, it was time to enjoy.

OW_enjoyAnd in the months since choosing that word (or did it choose me? I don’t know), I’ve thought about what it looks like to enjoy life.

You ready for this earth-shattering, groundbreaking revelation?

I. HAVE. NO. IDEA.

Whew. I feel better.

When I think about a life filled with joy, a person that embodies the very word, I do not fit the bill.

Isn’t the joyful person carefree and bubbly and spontaneous and upbeat? If you know me at all, I am none of those things, so what does it really look like to enjoy life?

I read a quote recently by Henri Nouwen (it was on the Internet, and I haven’t actually read any of his books, shame on me!) that said: “We have to choose joy and keep choosing it.”

Okay, there’s one clue to this mystery. Sometimes, maybe lots of times, joy is a choice. And not a one-time choice.

That is the theme I’m seeing repeated in these first few months of the year.

When I started this joy journey, I thought of course this year would be more enjoyable because the past few years have been so awful that anything–anything–had to be better. In some ways, I was right. We are healthy in multiple ways, finally thriving after years of merely surviving, and that in itself is a reason for joy.

Still, this fear: What if it doesn’t last?

What would you say are the best years of your life?

I posed this question on Facebook after Phil and I had a conversation about “the best years of your life.” At various times in our life, people have told us “this is the best time of your life!’ They’ve said it about high school (sorry, not true); college (um, maybe?); the first year of marriage (nope); seminary (not even close); and parenting young children (sigh). I’ve heard it said your 20s are the best years, your 30s and so on for every decade of life.

Which is why I posed the question. I suspected people of varying ages would answer the question differently. And I was right!

The responses I got ranged from high school to middle age to retirement.

And I’m beginning to think the answer to enjoying life is this:

The best days are now.

The best years are now.

If we choose to let them be.

Maybe you want to throw your computer across the room when you read that. Part of me wants to give myself a stern talking to for saying those words because I have been in some days, some years that I would not consider as best and I would have cussed out anyone who tried to tell me otherwise.

But here’s another truth: Even the best of times have their faults, and if I’m looking for perfect circumstances before I let myself enjoy life, I’ll die empty and miserable, having wasted the days and years I was given waiting for something better.

When I think back on the life I’ve lived so far, high school wasn’t great, but I made some good friends. Would I do things differently if I could? Absolutely. But I had no idea who I was or who I was becoming, and I think that’s another key to enjoying who you are and where you are. College, too, had its high points, including an unbelievable semester living in a manor house in England and traveling to Scotland, Ireland, Paris and Italy. I’m constantly dreaming about going back. But college was also a time of messy self-discovery. I learned some hard lessons and made some of the biggest mistakes of my life.

If I had to answer that question, I’d say my 20s were pretty great. Post-college, I made some amazing friends, had some great experiences of hanging out, going to concerts, traveling and doing the kinds of things when you’re young, working full-time and have no other obligations or attachments. But I struggled in those years to enjoy my job and I desperately wanted an other of the significant kind in my life, and even after I found him, he spent a year in Iraq, which was another of those best-worst times. Even then, I didn’t know who I was.

And my 30s? They’ve been full of marriage messes and family messes and learning to parent and failing and getting back up and figuring out what God has planned through all this. Even though I crest the hill of my 30s next month and look at the downhill toward the next decade of life, I can’t say that my 30s have been the best, either.

So, where does that leave me? Hoping that in my 40s life will get better? It’s possible. But it’s also possible it won’t. I could get cancer. My husband could die. My kids could give me crushing grief.

I don’t know what the next decade of life could bring, so I have to draw a line now and say: This. Right here. Right now. This is the best time of my life because it’s the only time I have. <Tweet that>

best time

I know it’s not easy. I know it takes work. I’m working at it every day. And I know it’s worth it.

I hope you’ll decide to work at it, too and find it worth the effort.

On Friday, I’ll share some specific ways I’ve found to enjoy life, even when it doesn’t look like I thought it would.

In the meantime, ask other people the question: What would you say were the best years of your life? The answers will surprise you.

And if you care to share your answer, leave a comment here.

Let’s help each other choose joy in any and every circumstance.

 

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I was a teenager the first time I saw a body lying in a casket.

My grandma’s second husband, a man not related to me by blood but who had become like a grandfather to me, had died and we were at his funeral, the first one I remember attending.

I couldn’t look at the body. It weirded me out to see the shell of a person I’d last seen alive looking like he was sleeping. I half-feared he would open his eyes and sit up. Looking at him felt like an intrusion of privacy. The world spun a little and I had to leave the viewing area.

Up to that point, I hadn’t known a lot of people who had died. A great-grandmother I knew a little had died a few years earlier but I didn’t go to her funeral.

In the last 20 years, I still don’t know a lot of people who have died, but I’ve attended more than a few funerals.

Last week, my husband and I took our kids to one.

To me, he was a kind, old man at church. He didn’t say much. I’m not sure he heard much either. My husband had more contact with him. I knew his wife a little better. Though they were members of a church we no longer attend, going to the funeral seemed like the right thing to do.

There, I learned about his sense of humor. About mystery trips he would plan for his family. How he loved flowers and gardening and making yard ornaments. I thought he was just a barber.

Funerals fill me with regret.

In my 20s, an elderly neighbor I’d known my whole life died. She was a sweet woman who always had a kind word for my brother and me. She’d been a widow as long as I’d known her. I rarely thought of her as anything else. At her funeral I learned of her vibrant Christian faith. I had recently become a Christian. I wish I could have visited her and talked about her life and faith.

The stories she could have told me. Gone forever.

I’m driven by a passion for these untold stories, the seemingly ordinary lives of those who walk among us. I wish I could tell them all before it’s too late.

Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say

it is well, it is well with my soul

The man’s family ended the funeral with this hymn, a tear-inducing testimony of faith. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard this song at a funeral.

A decade ago, I was a newspaper reporter, taking my turn on weekend rotation, which meant a visit to the county jail to check arrest reports for publication in the next day’s edition. It was a task I’d done before, not one I’d enjoyed, but I was comfortable enough being buzzed into the facility and hearing the door click behind me while I copied information off the reports.

This day was different, though. An officer met me at the door and assumed I was there to collect information on a tragedy I knew nothing about. He handed me a press release about a family of four who had driven off the road near the river and drowned in their van. I spent the rest of the night making calls, seeking information and photos of the family. It’s a story I’ll never forget, and I’m sure I didn’t do it justice.

Later that week, I attended the funeral. No one told me I couldn’t be there, but I still felt like an intruder. I sat in the balcony. I took notes on the service. Our photographer took photos before being asked to leave. I was certain I would be the next one escorted out. I listened to family members talk about the faith and togetherness of the four who died. I watched as four coffins left the church in multiple hearses.

And I remember the words from the hymn and how a grieving family in the midst of an unimaginable tragedy sang those words and meant it.

It is well with my soul.

This is what I want my kids to know about death.

Photo courtesy of sxc.hu

Photo courtesy of sxc.hu

That it is a part of life. That joy and faith can exist in times of grief. That life in these bodies does not go on forever. That there is hope beyond the grave.

We’ve taken them to weddings, baptisms and infant dedications, all sacred moments in the family of God. So, too, a funeral.

They didn’t view the body, but we talked about death.

In the bathroom of the funeral home, our 4-year-old son, the thinker, talked about the man who’d died. He calls him “the dad who gave us the bunk beds” because that’s how our kids knew him.

“Yeah, he died,” Corban said.

“Yes,” I replied. “And he’s with Jesus now.”

“And someday we’ll be with Jesus,” he observed.

“Yes,” I agreed.

“How do you get to Jesus? I wonder how you get to him.”

While that might seem like a theological question requiring an “ask Jesus into your heart” kind of answer, I think my son was thinking about the mechanics of the process. Like could a person take a highway to heaven or fly in a plane?

I simply answered, “It’s a bit of a mystery, isn’t it?”

He seemed satisfied.

Since my husband’s uncle died a few months ago, we’ve talked to our kids about death. Because we want them to know why people they’re used to seeing aren’t around anymore. The conversations got a little morbid for a while. They would say things like “We’re all going to die someday,” and my husband and I would cringe when they’d ask specifically about family members who were someday going to die.

It’s an uncomfortable topic, for sure, but I want my kids to be comfortable with death. Not morbidly fascinated or afraid but informed and hopeful.

Death is a part of life and it’s part of God’s story in this world.

They will read the Bible someday and read about death. They will someday learn that some deaths are more tragic and unexpected than others. They will attend funerals of family members, maybe even friends. They will know that there are limits to our life in a human body but that God promises eternal life that can’t fully be comprehended now. I want them to know that death is not the end; it’s a door.

We won’t have those discussions all at once. They’re only 4 and 6, after all. But we’ll take their questions as they come and continue to include them in the life–and death–of the family of God.

How have you handled this topic in your family?

When did you begin talking to your kids about death?

What advice can you give from your experiences?

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I came to church in search of sisters, although I didn’t know it then.

Having grown up with family but not in the church, I was often jealous, in my early saved days, of people whose homes were, and always had been, Christian. Not only were they blood relatives but spiritual ones.

I yearned for connection. I loved my biological family. But I needed a spiritual one as well.

—-

We were four peas in a pod, my best friends in high school. We met in a gym class our freshman year, and in the years that followed we were inseparable. We watched Disney movies at sleepovers while our classmates partied on the weekends. We ate lunch together and welcomed the outcasts to our table. We arranged our schedules so we would share some classes throughout the day. We passed notes in the hallway and defended each other.

It was my first experience with sisterhood.

Read the rest on Preston Yancey’s blog here, part of a series, What Women Want from the Church, posting on Thursdays.

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Twice in the last two days, I’ve been the recipient of quiet time. As I write, my husband has whisked the children away to the barbershop (for him) so I can have some quiet in the house time before the dinner/homework/bath/bed routine sucks the life out of me. This quiet solitude is usually a luxury, though I had a few blessed hours to myself yesterday as well, also unexpected. (And I wrote almost 1,500 words on my novel and maybe, just maybe, can see the faintest glimpse of the end!)

Quiet is something I crave but not often something I get.

And the last few weeks have been more full than normal. Which is why I’ve been a little more quiet on the blog than I intended.

But I realized that I left you with this look at my sometimes messy world with no follow-up, and I didn’t want to cause any alarm. Later that week, I came down with a sinus/head cold thing that put me behind in preparing for house guests and a six-year-old’s birthday party. Understandably, the blog slipped off the “to do” list.

I never stopped blogging in my head, though. I probably “wrote” a dozen posts while going through my daily life duties, and none of those will see the light of day. Maybe, though, I have a few spare thoughts to share. I realize it’s okay to disappear for a while, but writing (and blogging) are life-giving to me, and I’ve missed the chance to regularly share what’s in my head.

So, the girl turned 6, and the celebration lasted a week, and I can still remember her entrance into the world and the countless ways she changed us forever. To see her now, at 6, in all her emotions and feelings and zest for life, I’m reminded how quickly the days and years pass and how much of what we see in her now is what we will see in her years from now. Oh, how I dream about the ways God will use her unique (and utterly foreign to me) personality.

And speaking of personalities, I took a personality test for the first official time. It’s part of a leadership development small group at our church, and though I suspected certain things about the way I operate in the world, the test and its results were eye-opening. Shocking, really. Not because they didn’t make sense but because they did. Knowing my natural inclinations when it comes to living in the world helps me not to feel bad that I’m not like other people and makes me aware of areas where I can stretch myself a little more. (Oh, and if you’re into that sort of thing, I’m an INFJ.)

It snowed today. And I’m ready for spring. This is our first spring in this house, so it’s been a fun game to see where the flowers are going to come up. The kids skip around the house and yell excitedly when they spot a new bud or bloom. I’ve never been terribly “green” when it comes to plants and gardening, but I want my kids to love the outdoors and nature and to know how to take care of it. So, this year, we’re going to start small and try a few things.

A bunch of balloons landed in our driveway today. And when I say a bunch, think grapes on a vine. The purple-blue-green bundle blew into our yard and settled next to our neighbor’s porch. I looked out the window and exclaimed to our son, “Corban, what is that?” My husband rescued the balloons and brought them inside. (I really hope they weren’t on their way to a birthday party. We live on a busy street and would have no idea how to track down the owner.) Sometimes joy is like this. An unexpected burst of color and fun in the midst of your ordinary day. I want to be this for people and look for this in my day.

For every birthday my kids have had so far, I’ve made them a cake according to the theme they request. Some years have turned out better than others. This year, she wanted an Ariel cake. I’ve already done the doll with a bowl cake skirt so I wanted to do something different. I wandered the craft stores looking for inspiration (after spending significant time on Pinterest) and this was the result.

Izzy cake 6th

I frequently tell people I’m not crafty because I have not a lot of patience for kids’ rainbow looms and Pinteresty things that look fun but would probably drive me crazy. But wandering through an arts and crafts store revived my creativity. I could almost feel the possibilities in there. Everything in there has the potential to become something beautiful, and no two people would create the exact same thing, even if they had identical supplies.

When I’m feeling stuck in my writing or maybe even just a little hopeless about life, I think I’ll wander the arts and crafts aisles, even if I don’t intend to buy anything.

So, what have you been up to?

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On the outskirts of my hometown, on 400 acres of land sets an imposing building surrounded by barbed wire fencing.

It’s the largest medium security prison in Illinois, housing more than 2,000 adult men. It opened five years after I was born, so I can’t remember ever not knowing about it. It’s out of the way of regular traffic patterns, so if you don’t want to drive by it, you don’t have to. I’ve always thought it odd that the country club is on the same road, not even a mile away. Could two worlds be more different and yet so close in proximity?

Also not far from the prison is a neighborhood of low-income housing, built for the families who move to the area to be near their incarcerated loved ones.

The Dixon Correctional Center is on some of the most beautiful property in the county. A wooded bike path passes the backside of the property. Years ago, before it was a prison, it was a colony for epileptics, then an institution for the mentally ill and a school for people with developmental disabilities. I don’t know as much about its history as I’d like to, and I’ve maybe even gotten it wrong now. But I know that I feel sad and hopeless when I look at the building.

And I’m just on the outside.

“Want to go to prison with me?”

The man who asked was a friend and mentor, a Bible study leader who spent at least one Saturday a month teaching a Bible study in the prison. It was one of his favorite things to do, and he wanted me to go with him.

No.Yes.NO.Whynot?Okay.

That was what happened in my mind. I was working as a journalist and I almost never passed up an opportunity to do something I’d never done before. But go to prison? I didn’t know if I could do it, even if my friend was going to be there the whole time.

We met in the parking lot. I almost wet my pants just driving onto the property, certain that I’d mess something up and find myself in some kind of trouble. Because I was a good girl. I avoided trouble like contagious disease. I’d never even had a speeding ticket. The one time I’d had to go to detention in elementary school, I was physically sick about it.

Because I could do no wrong. So I thought.

But there I was. Entering a prison. Metal detector, pat down and all.

I was nervously excited. Maybe a little scared.

All these years later, I barely remember that day. But I know the fear faded. I was welcomed by the men who came for Bible study. They were genuinely glad to meet me and to see my friend. They had wisdom and experience to share. They were people. People who had made mistakes and were paying for those mistakes but people nonetheless.

Reading this book reminded me of that experience and reignited something in me. Something I’m still trying to identify.

Our church is partnering with another church during Lent to focus on injustice in the prison system. You can find out more here. I read the compact yesterday and the first day’s devotional, and I’m appalled at my ignorance. I have little firsthand knowledge of the injustice in the justice system. I know it’s not a perfect system, but there’s more to it than that.

What I appreciate about this Lenten compact is the emphasis on restorative justice, or giving convicted felons another chance at life outside of prison. It’s no easy road, from what I’ve read. In the book I referenced earlier, the author learned that women released from prison in Alabama are given $10, a polo shirt and pants, and a bus ticket back to the place where they committed the crime. And with that, they’re supposed to make a fresh start. Think even of movies like Les Miserables and The Shawshank Redemption. Those aren’t just stories. There’s truth in them.

That prison I mentioned earlier in my hometown? According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, it costs almost $24,000 a year on average per inmate to house them. To me, that ought to be serious motivation to examine how we rehabilitate, who we sentence and what happens when they leave prison. I absolutely understand it’s a complicated issue full of challenges I can’t even imagine.

But, can we do better?

Lent is a season of fasting and preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus, who came to free us from the chains of death and sin.

Because we are all in prisons, some of them self-imposed, and He offers freedom to us all.

The Lenten Compact begins with readings in the psalms regarding confession of sin and appealing to God’s mercy.

Because we are sinners. And He is merciful.

And we who have been shown mercy are to show mercy.

I confess: this Lenten Compact made me uncomfortable at first. I already felt unprepared for Lent this year, like I hadn’t given it much thought, but maybe that’s okay. Maybe all I need to do is show up and let God lead me through the season, then take appropriate action. I have no idea what that will look like.

But I’ve already been to prison once, so who’s to say it won’t happen again?

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I crawled back under the covers as the first of a waterfall of tears spilled out of my eyes and onto my face. I had woken up several hours earlier unready, unwilling, to face the day, but the kids were awake and moving throughout the house and sometimes they just need a little supervision to keep the fighting at bay, so I had gotten out of bed, made coffee, eaten breakfast and now here I was back in bed before it was time to walk to the bus stop.

The night before, I’d cried a bucket of tears, releasing all the feelings I’d invited to a party I didn’t know I was hosting. For several days, I’d felt everything, or close to everything, a person can feel: anxious, afraid, jealous, disconnected, insecure, unwanted, unloved, incapable, frustrated and well, all of it. That night, I just had to let it out and the next morning, I needed a moment to keep letting those feelings out.

“God,” I whispered through the tears. “I can’t do this. I can’t get out of this pit by myself. I need help. I need You.”

(I’ve never been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, partly because doctors’ offices bring out the liar in me and mostly because neither are frequent or debilitating. Diagnosed or not, I think we all deal with these in mild form in some way or another, but I believe medication can help some people and I believe others don’t need it. I’d group myself in the latter.)

I pray this way sometimes. God, get me out of this mess. God, help me change. God, I can’t do it. And sometimes I expect a quick change and it doesn’t come and other times I expect nothing to change immediately except that I’ll have had a good cry and voiced my needs and can stumble through the rest of my day.

That morning, I didn’t know what to expect. Aside from getting my daughter to the bus and my husband to work, I had no plans, so I could wallow in my mood all day if I wanted. But when the words and tears came out, I felt the sadness leave, too. At the same time, my mind began composing words and thoughts, some of which you’re reading now. I was writing in my mind–I’m almost always writing even when I’m not parked at the computer–and I was being soothed in the process.

I got out of bed, dressed and completed the morning’s errands.

Where my mind had been clouded before, there was now clarity. And peace. And though the circumstances that brought on the anxiety and depression hadn’t changed, I had changed. I still carried a lingering sadness but it wasn’t overwhelming.

This is what it’s like inside my head some days.

Why do I tell you this?

To be honest, I have no idea, except that I don’t want you to think that what I write here is the work of someone who has it “all together.” I would hate for you to read these posts and think that I’ve arrived or that I’m better than you or that I can’t relate to your struggles.

I don’t know if that happens when you read this blog, but I know it happens when I read other people’s blogs and books.

Which is why I was deeply moved by this series on the Momastery blog recently. The Sacred Scared invited a handful of people who are speakers, bloggers, writers, and kingdom builders to share their fears to prove that no one has to be perfect to show up and do the important work. Many of the women who shared are writers I admire. And all of them–all.of.them–shared a fear that I can relate to. Insecurity, body image, social settings, how ministry will affect my kids. And in the sharing, they are no less inspiring.

Through them, I see that God is not waiting for the “perfect” or “all together” or “right” people to do the work. He wants what I’ve got. Even if it’s a mess.

If you walked in my house today, the smells of last night’s homemade cheeseburger mac would greet you. Our back door, the door we always use, opens into the kitchen and I’m never caught up on dishes. By the time dinner is over, I have no more energy to clean so I always leave the dishes till the next day. (Our dishwasher’s name is Lisa and she easily tires of housework.)

mess house

If you made it past the toys scattering the floor into the dining room, you’d likely step over more toys the kids had pulled out in the 15 minutes a day they’re together to play. (Seriously, how does it happen so fast?) You’d see unpacked boxes (we moved here in July) and random papers strewn across the coffee table. You might crunch a fish-shaped cracker or notice crumbs in the carpet.

Look too closely and you’ll find dust in the corners and on the electronics. If you came today, the bathroom might still be clean from a recent scrubbing. But I wouldn’t let you in to either bedroom for the piles of laundry that might greet you.

It’s safe to tell you this on the Internet because you can’t see it or smell it for yourself. And all of that mess is one reason I’m reluctant to have people over.

I’m embarrassed that my house isn’t clean, that my dishes are dirty, that we’re not completely unpacked from a move that happened more than six months ago.

But I’m beginning to wonder if being embarrassed by the internal state of my house says less about me and more about what I think of other people.

Do I think they’re going to judge me? Or not want to come over? Or be disgusted by it? Do I worry that I’ll look like I don’t have it all together? Will they think me lazy because I can’t spend hours every day cleaning my house? Will they think I’m a bad parent?

I do not judge a friend by the state of their house. At least I don’t think I do. Chances are if I come over, they’ve cleaned ahead of time. I know how this works. In the 10 or 15 minutes prior to arrival, there is a mad scurry of cleaning that accomplishes more than a day’s worth of housework. Never do I “drop in” on someone’s everyday mess because I know how I would feel if that happened to me.

And yet. We want our house to be a place where people can come. We want to have people over. And we have neglected this vital part of our life because … I don’t even know anymore.

So, maybe if I let you see the mess inside my head, I can let you see the mess inside my house. The truth is: life is messy. And sometimes I think I’m a mess, too.

But as the Momastery founder once shared: “You are not a mess. You are a feeling person in a messy world.”

That changes everything for me.

I have a lot of feelings. And life is messy.

And it’s messy for all of us.

And I need to let you in.

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I sat on the porch soaking in the warmish temperatures while the kids rode their bikes back and forth, back and forth. It was the best we could do the last weekend of February, and we desperately needed relief from cabin fever.

Patches of grass peeked through the mounds of snow, a sight we thought we might not see again until the calendar officially said “spring.” With my nose in a book, I barely noticed the cars passing by. We live on a busy-ish street on a lane that accesses a business behind our house, so traffic is normal.

A van with a glaring advertisement on the side whipped into our lane and parked. The driver hopped out and immediately began shouting at me about the delicious meat they were selling and how they’d just struck a deal with a Mr. Frank down the street and do we eat beef and would I be interested in seeing some steaks? megaphone

My protests went unheard as a second man got out of the van. They opened the back and each lifted a box of meat. I watched amused as they tried to find a way to the porch that didn’t involve walking through a yard full of snow. To their credit, they forged ahead, making witty comments about the snow.

They dropped two boxes on the porch while I sat on the glider, still holding my book open while the kids stood frozen in place. The second man introduced himself while the first man retreated to the van and made calls on his cell phone. I shook his hand but didn’t offer my name because I didn’t want this to get personal.

He handed me a brochure and said to not worry about the prices because he was like Monty Hall. (Would someone my age even know who Monty Hall  is? He’s lucky I watched a lot of old game shows as a kid.) Then he made me promise that if we made a deal I wouldn’t tell my neighbors what I paid for this delicious meat.

He opened a box of steaks and showed me the color of them, told me how his “lady” makes meatloaf out of the burgers but he just cooks burgers because he’s lazy in the kitchen. He pointed out the date the steaks were packed and slammed grocery stores for their labeling practices. He used the words “all natural” numerous times, as if to convince me of the meat’s quality. The same meat that was riding around in the back of a van.

He asked if we had an extra freezer and while we do, it doesn’t work right now so I told him “no.” He offered me one for free.

When he finished his presentation, he asked how the meat looked, and while I couldn’t deny the pleasing appearance of the beef, we honestly don’t have the money to buy a freezer full of meat right now. I told him so. He looked insulted. “You mean if I sell you $300 worth of meat for $150, you can’t help me out?” No, I couldn’t. $150 pays the bills right now.

He packed up his boxes, called his associate over, and they tromped through the snow with one open box of beef and an unopened box of chicken. They offered a half-hearted “have a good day” as they left.

I breathed a sigh of relief and told my kids that if anyone ever approached them like that and I wasn’t outside that they needed to come get me. Right away. I didn’t want to scare them because I don’t believe life should be lived in fear, but I wanted them to know that not everyone who seems friendly is friendly.

Sometimes, I think we try to sell the Gospel like this.

We look around us at the people in our path, and we try to find a willing victim customer. There, that person’s not wearing a cross or I’ve seen them working in the yard on Sundays or I’ve heard them swear. They need Jesus, and I have Jesus, so I will offer them the best gift ever.

I agree that people need Jesus. I do. Every day. That hasn’t stopped because I call myself a Christian. I still do un-Christian things and rely on the grace of His love and another day.

And I agree that we have good news to tell people. It’s the best news there is. But somewhere along the way, it’s become more like a sales pitch.

We barge into someone’s space and plunk down a box of good news. We open it up and ask leading questions that have them nodding. We’re slick and polished, but we’re also in a hurry because the world is dying and we’ve got to sell this Gospel before it all goes to hell.

We make promises God can’t keep.

And we walk away stunned when our offer is rejected.

Why wouldn’t someone want this good news?

The hard part is that I don’t have any answers. I have no earthly idea why some people choose Jesus and some people don’t. And I have no idea the best way to share this good news so that people will respond.

What I do know is that I wouldn’t buy steak from a guy in a van unless I knew personally someone else who had. And I wouldn’t spend what I didn’t have. The truth is, if I’d had the money to buy the meat, I still would have had to get our freezer fixed to make room for it. That doesn’t mean I don’t like meat or don’t want a deal. It just means I have some business to take care of first.

Maybe that’s how it is with the Gospel.

For some, maybe there’s some business to take care of first. Maybe they’ll ask around and find others they trust who know this Jesus. Maybe nothing will ever convince them that the news is actually as good as it sounds.

Maybe instead of trying to sell strangers a box of steaks, we need to take it slow. Get to know them. Let them see how we live. Grill out and let them smell the steak cooking over hot coals. Invite them over for a meal, without any thought to whether they’ll buy the meat we’re so ecstatic about, just because we think they matter.

Maybe we leave people with love, instead of fear.

Because I’d hate for someone to have to tell their kids not to talk to me because I tried to sell them Jesus.

Jesus got my attention when I was 19 and brokenhearted. Lonely. Miserable. I was looking for Him but was too afraid to tell anyone or ask if they knew the way.

He broke through those fears with a whisper in my heart I was sure everyone in the room could hear.

All that matters is what I think of you.

I didn’t answer an altar call. In fact, in the years that followed that internal decision to live for Him, I felt guilty that I hadn’t ever walked an aisle and publicly proclaimed my conversion. I was baptized, yes, but it was not in a church. It happened in a pond and I was surrounded by family and a few close friends. I don’t have a certificate to prove it. Maybe by some standards my conversion is invalid, but I’ve felt the changes over time. I’ve heard His voice, felt His leading, and when I look back on the journey, not once did Jesus ever sell Himself to me.

He simply said, Come. Let’s walk.

And I did.

 

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The first time I saw an Amish buggy in person, I nearly drove my car off the road.

I was newly married, working for a newspaper in central Illinois, on an assignment in a little town called Arthur, where there’s an Amish settlement. In those days, I stared more than is polite, and I asked a lot of really stupid questions. When I had to call an Amish business for a story about a fundraiser, I called the chamber of commerce director first and basically asked her how I was supposed to talk to the Amish.

Back then I wouldn’t have imagined living among them in the Amish tourist capital of the United States (Lancaster County, if you’re not aware). But I did imagine what life might be like for them. I remember driving by a house and watching an Amish woman play with her children in the front yard. (Although now that I think about it, it could have been an older sister instead of a mother, but who knows?) I envied the scene. I wanted nothing more than to stay at home with kids. (Mostly because journalism is a hard job made harder if you’re an introvert.)

Then I got my wish. We moved to Pennsylvania, my husband started seminary and I was a stay-at-home mom. In the years since then, I’ve given up thinking that the Amish live an ideal lifestyle, but I still find myself drawn to their ways at times.

PA farmland

But what is it I think I actually want?

Books have been written on the subject, and I hear people dream of giving it all up and living off the grid like they do, but I don’t think that would solve anything for me.

I like electricity. The threat of losing it for a day or longer throws me into a panic. I like refrigerated food and a washer and dryer to launder our clothes. I like indoor plumbing (I’m not sure all Amish have outhouses) and technology. I like my online life and the ability to stay in touch with family even though we live in another part of the country. I love the ability to travel and expand my view of the world. Do I overuse and overvalue those things? Undoubtedly. But I don’t think I’d want to live without them.  I don’t want to give up my clothes or conform to a way of thinking that might stifle my God-given gifts.

So, really, what do the Amish have that I desire?

For one, there’s an order to their lives. Washing on a certain day. Grocery shopping on another day. And a day dictated by the sun and the natural rhythms of life. I wonder how my life would be different if lights, television and the computer couldn’t keep me up long after the sun went down. In fact, people who were without power last week told a newspaper reporter that they went to bed early those nights.

My life is often disordered and harried, and I’m a slave to a schedule of my own making.

There is value in living an ordered life.

Related to that is rest.

The Amish work hard, yes, but they rest, especially on the Sabbath. No cooking, no cleaning. Sundays are for church or visiting. (This might be a good time to mention that I am not an expert on the Amish. These are observations based on living in this community and books I’ve read by authors I trust to get the details right. I may be wrong in some of these assumptions.)

I don’t get enough rest. Even on Sundays there is still cooking and cleaning to be done. I’m still too busy. I don’t plan rest into my week. And I’m worse for it.

Then, there’s community. They help each other out in times of trial. They take care of their family members in their old age. They take meals together. Cook together. Quilt together. No, they’re not perfect. They’re people who quarrel and envy and hurt each other, but they model a togetherness that is foreign to most of us.

Order.

Rest.

Community.

I could learn a lot from the Amish about these ways.

Just don’t expect to see me in Plain clothing anytime soon.

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I’m trying to remember this today.winter beautiful bible

I’m trying to look for the beauty instead of worry about the snow that has fallen and the snow and ice that is to come.

I’m not always succeeding.

I’m ready for spring.

But I suspect that somehow this winter is preparation. That without the cold and snow and ice and disrupted schedules, life would be missing something. Maybe not life today. Maybe life tomorrow. Or springtime.

How glorious spring will be after a winter like this.

Today, I seek the beauty, even if I want to grumble.

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