When there’s no place to hide

At the risk of causing a popular Disney song to be stuck in your head for months, I have to say this:

“Conceal. Don’t feel. Don’t let them know.”

Of course, the movie Frozen is popular in our house. We have a 7-year-old daughter, and while “Let It Go” is overplayed and overused, its words are rich in meaning and application for life. This particular line, if you’re one of the seven people on the planet who haven’t seen the movie, stems from a girl’s years of protecting herself from her sister and the world at large so she doesn’t hurt anyone with her powers. She hides herself away until it’s unavoidable, and then, she gives in to the power, further shutting people out of her life. When she finally “lets it go,” she’s a destructive version of herself.

Fortunately for her, her sister is relentless in pursuing her and loving her, and it all ends well.

This story reminds me of myself sometimes, how easy it is for me to hide myself from others when I don’t want to hurt them, how I want to give in to the destructive nature inside of me and further push people away, especially if I feel I’ve been hurt or isolated or rejected.

spooky trees

But there is hope for those who want to hide.

“My poop stinks, too.”

We were having one of those conversations that happen when you’re living communally for a few weeks with people you aren’t related to. Bathroom habits become public knowledge when you’re sharing dorm-like bathrooms. My husband and I were in Kenya for 10 days this summer with a team of 15 from our church, and the bathroom arrangements were some of the most anxiety-inducing of the entire trip. I am not comfortable sharing bathrooms. I’m often embarrassed by the necessary work that takes place inside the stall. And I don’t like talking about it.

Read the rest over at Putting on the New, where I blog on the 12th of every month.

Where the work of God happens

If you want to see God at work, or the best humanity has to offer, just scroll through the campaigns on GoFundMe’s site.

I have watched in recent days as friends and family and sometimes strangers rally around families in great need, donating thousands of dollars in a matter of hours to help in times of trial.

There is this family, whom I know only from the Internet, but whose story is unfolding in challenging and inspiring ways. Praying for their son has taught me again how to pray for what seems impossible. Has reconnected me to the Spirit, whom I have accused of being absent and silent. Has restored something in me that I didn’t know was lost. And as I watch the dollar number grow I think of the love they are receiving, the assurance that though they are the weary ones in the NICU, they are not alone or forgotten.

And there is another family I do not know–friends of friends–facing cancer, needing financial security during the hardest days of chemo and radiation so the woman/wife/mother does not have to fight alone. Their community, also, stepped in immediately, raising thousands of dollars in a single day.

You are not alone. We are with you. Let us hold you up when you are weary.

This is what the numbers following the dollar sign say to me.

Crafting a fundraising letter of any kind is tricky work. How do you convince people that your cause is worthy and important, especially when some people might not agree with you? We learned this when raising money to go to Kenya earlier this year. You can oversell the need with unnecessary drama or you can tell the truth and trust beyond yourself that the funds will come in.

Few people would argue against families facing health crises being a worthy cause. I’m grateful our immediate family hasn’t had to face that yet. Still, I wonder about the kind of words people would use to describe us if we were in need. In the midst of suffering, and often at death, we focus on all the good qualities of the person or people we want to help or remember, even magnifying them beyond the truth. (I’m not saying we’re lying. We just overemphasize the good and overlook the bad.) It’s not bad in and of itself.

But it makes me wonder if we’re creating a system that puts people in categories: deserving of help and not deserving of help. Maybe even those deserving of life and those not deserving of life.

Christopher Campbell | via unsplash

Christopher Campbell | via unsplash

Part of me doesn’t even want to suggest this because in my own mind, I’m a compassionate and loving person with a big heart, etc. (Feel free to make a gagging sound right now.) I am moved by the needs of people who are suffering and I want to do something to help.

But what if the person needing help was someone I didn’t like? Or, worse, someone I hated? Or, who had hurt people? What about that? Can you imagine if someone started a GoFundMe page for a horrible person? (Maybe there are some. It might be worth investigating.) Would you give money to help someone you felt was rotten or had been mean to you? If they were dying and needed your help to live, would you give it?

I’m asking myself the same questions.

I hear from people that Syrian refugees aren’t worth helping. They don’t say that outright, but their Facebook rants are laced with the truth. Sometimes I want to believe them, but then I read the stories that people like Brandon from Humans of New York are telling and I remember that just because a person is from Iraq or Iran or anywhere not here does not disqualify them from help. Their stories are not so different from mine.

Paul, to the Romans: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” –Romans 5:6-8

Jesus, to His followers and anyone who could hear: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” –Matthew 5:44-46

I don’t know why good things happen to bad people or bad things happen to good people. I’m also not sure why we say it that way. I like to think I’m a good person, but I know better. I also know that I’m not all bad either.

The Doctor (Doctor Who, in case you’re confused) says it best: “We’re all just stories in the end.” If I walk into the middle of your story and it’s the part where you’re in trouble, I don’t want to have to read all the previous chapters and determine your worthiness before I offer my help.

We can sort that out later.

Let me be like the Good Samaritan who sees a need and acts on it, who gives beyond what is “deserving,” when his enemy is in trouble.

This is God at work.

Let’s talk about this running thing

This morning, cold rain falls from the sky and the air has its first real nip. A true fall day if there ever was one. I lingered under the covers longer than I should have, so we scrambled through our morning routine to get the kids to the bus on time.

I ought to be out there now, walking and jogging, listening to some upbeat tunes to lead me through my workout. Instead, I’m huddled under another blanket with a cup of coffee and words to keep me company.

For five of the last six weeks, since my kids have been in school, I’ve reintroduced regular times of exercise to my life. I began, again, a couch to 5k program, and it’s been slow going. After five weeks, I’ve officially completed three of the program’s weeks and I’m not sure yet I’m ready to move on to week 4.

But I’m trying not to be sad about this. I’m a task-oriented person and many times I just want to check the boxes and get it done, but I’m learning to listen to my body and my life and take it as it comes.

Besides the rain and chill this morning, I had a bit of a sore throat. I could go out there running but I might come home having weakened my immune system and be sick for days to come. There will be more running days next week.

This is, in a way, grace.

I have a lot of “shoulds” in my life, some valid, some not. Exercise brings this out in me, sometimes, as I run against traffic and imagine the criticisms of passing motorists. (Why I think they think of me at all is another problem altogether.)

That girl should not be running, I think. My weight is more than what I would like, and I am not fast or elegant. My first time out this fall I spent more time adjusting my T-shirt and trying to keep the headphones in my ears and focusing on not dropping my water bottle than I did on anything else. I’ve found solutions and more of a rhythm since then, but I am not what you would call a graceful runner.

Joshua Sortino | via unsplash

Joshua Sortino | via unsplash

But I am running. For multiple minutes at a time. And I am tired and sweaty and red-faced when I finish, but I feel strong and alive.

That, too, is grace.

I pass an older man who walks by shuffling his feet along. And I see others who walk with canes or use a wheelchair to get around, and I vow to enjoy the use of my legs for as long as I have them, even when my calves start to cramp and my feet hurt.

Eventually, I want to run a 5K. It has  been five years since the last time. It is a feat I never thought I would accomplish, but I did it once and I will do it again. My husband and I finished nearly last in that race, but we finished.

I’ve heard it said that slow and steady wins the race. It’s a lie.

I think of this when I’m out jogging. I am slow. I won’t win any races or break any records.

Slow and steady rarely wins the race. But slow and steady is in the race, and that, I think, is what matters.

There’s a lot of talk in the Bible, especially in Paul’s letters and other epistles, about running the race and training yourself for the Christian life like you would for a physical contest. And it only really makes sense to me when I’m actually out there jogging and running and walking and working toward a goal.

What I love about the program I’m using to build my running muscles is that it’s doable and it starts off gradually. The program doesn’t tell you to wake up one morning after having never run a step in your life and attempt a 5k.

Instead, you alternate running and walking. The first week it’s something simple like one minute of jogging with 90 seconds of walking to follow. This week I’ve just finished, I’m up to 3 minutes of jogging at a time. The next step is  5 minutes.

It eases you into the discipline of running, building your confidence and your muscles at the same time.

And I wonder why we don’t adopt this model in our spiritual lives.

Why do we tell people they must spend 30 minutes or an hour in “quiet time” with God, or insist they read at least a chapter of the Bible daily? Why do we tout the benefits of lengthy prayer times or multiple days of fasting?

Maybe not all spiritual communities are like this, but I don’t remember much in my years of following Christ being said about easing into this new way of living. Spirituality, for someone who is new to it, takes as much training and getting used to as running does to someone who has been on the couch for too many years.

If we wouldn’t pull a sedentary person off the couch and throw them into a marathon, why would we tell someone new to walking with Christ that they must be spiritually strong? Or why would we assume that spiritual practices come easy to everyone who calls themselves a Christian? Not all humans excel at running. It certainly doesn’t come easy to me.

In this, too, we need grace. For ourselves and each other.

Back to the “shoulds.”

I should be reading my Bible every day.

I should be praying more intentionally.

I should be at church whenever the doors are open.

I should be reading my kids Bible stories at night.

I should pray before meals.

I should memorize Scripture.

I should trust God all the time and not worry or doubt or have questions.

These are the shoulds that keep me out of the race. (And there’s a whole lot of “should nots” that would take up another entire post.)  When I compare myself to these standards, I want to quit the race altogether. If I believed I could only call myself a runner if I entered a marathon, I would sit on the couch all the rest of my days.

What if instead of focusing on the shoulds, I, instead, faced the reality of where I am and figured out a plan to get where I want to be?

I want to pray more, so I’ll start with five minutes every other day.

I want to know Scripture better, so I’ll start with one verse.

I want to hear God, so I’ll start with one minute of silence.

And when those steps cease to become challenging, I’ll add to it.

That’s how I know when I’m ready for the next step in the running program. If it no longer feels like a challenge, then I’m ready to move on, until that one no longer feels like a challenge, and someday, months from now, I’ll be further along than I thought was possible.

Whether it’s running or praying or helping my neighbor, it matters less to me how much I’m doing than that I am doing.

I’m no longer in it to win it, whatever that means. I’m just in it, period.

Don’t worry about winning the race when you’ve only just begun. Just get in the race. Get off the couch or out of the pew or into a situation that isn’t warm and cozy.

Do the next step. Build your spiritual muscles. See where it leads.

And when you get further along the path, remember the person behind you who is starting off slow and cheer them on for being in the race at all.

What happened when I left my phone behind

God tricked me into taking a break from technology.

I’ve long admired people who can walk away from social media for an extended period of time and embrace the solitude. It sounds like a refreshing way to live.

And yet I can’t make myself do it. Which is why I think God had to trick me.

Earlier this summer, my husband and I went to Kenya with a team from our church. Two weeks before the trip, I learned for the first time that we wouldn’t be allowed to bring our cell phones with us. Maybe not a big deal. We were going to Africa, after all.

But we were leaving our kids, ages 7 and 5, behind with grandparents and in the year 2015, it never occurred to me that a cell phone ban would even be a thing.

I did not take the news well. I cried for days. I snubbed my pastor, who was leading the trip, when he tried to talk to me. It almost made me physically ill. I proposed a compromise. I sought commiseration. I basically behaved like a toddler throwing a tantrum.

No! You can’t make me!

There were deeper issues than just feeling like I needed to be connected to social media. I wanted a direct line to my kids, even if I couldn’t be physically present. I wanted to be in control of how I checked in on them. I had serious trust issues, even though I knew they were in good hands.

“If I’d have known about this at the beginning,”  I told Phil, “I’m not sure I would have signed up for the trip.”

“Maybe that’s why you didn’t know about it then,” he said.

For almost a year, God had made it clear that we were to go on this trip. He provided money when we didn’t expect it and He kept moving our hearts in ways we couldn’t ignore.

Maybe He wanted me on this trip whether I could take my phone with me or not.

I sat with that for a day or two, considering the possibility that God—not my pastor or my church—might be asking me to do this.

Our group settled on a compromise. We could take our phones but we would have limited access to them while we traveled. And my husband and I did have a chat with our pastor to clear the air before we left.

The way forward was settled even if I was still unsettled. It had only been two years since I’d had a smart phone and already I was so attached to it that I couldn’t imagine being without it for 10 days. That was a problem I could acknowledge, but I still didn’t see how it could possibly turn out well.

The phone went on airplane mode as soon as we loaded up the vans. I tucked it away, reluctantly and with a bit of anxiety, because I use my phone for lots of things: weather, clock, calculator, flashlight, to name a few.

Waiting to board our plane in New York

Waiting to board our plane in New York


Even as I write about it and think about it now, more than a month after, my heart starts to race. I’ve believed the lie that I’m useless without my phone.

As we flew from New York to Belgium and then from Belgium to Rwanda to Kenya, not having access to a clock was a benefit. I had no idea what time it was locally or what time my body thought it should be, so I just went with it. I slept when I was tired, and I ate when they fed us on the plane.

We were tired enough we got to our destination in Kenya that the phone didn’t beckon me at all.

The first morning was a different story, though. (You can read more about that over at Shawn Smucker’s blog, where I have a guest post on the subject today.) I felt like part of me was missing. I kept reaching for it, thinking I’d take a picture or check the weather or the time. I had to re-train myself to look for the clock in a room. Eventually, I could guess the time by where the sun was. We were so close to the equator that sunrise and sunset were near 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.

And the weather was virtually the same every day, so I didn’t have to check for the possibility of rain or whether I should wear jeans or shorts. We dressed in layers for the cool mornings and evenings, and changed our clothes when appropriate to the dress codes of the villages or the activities in which were participating.

I still wonder if it was easier to be without my phone on our trip because our days were planned out for us and because of our location.

Most days, we were so busy I didn’t worry about what time it was. On one of our painting days, four or five hours passed before I even thought, “What time are we eating dinner?” It was freeing, in a sense, to be so involved in life that I didn’t have to keep track of the time. Here, I feel like I have to fill my hours according to a certain schedule.

When we were given access to the WiFi password and agreed to limit our use to an hour in the evenings in our rooms, I will admit to being tempted to push past those limits. If I was in my room, who would know if I checked my e-mail in the morning? Because of the time difference, I didn’t always get the most current updates on our kids and how they were doing. I craved information about them, and the phone was the only way to get it. As hard as it was, I did stick to the agreement as I understood it. And most nights, I was too tired to even bother logging on to the network and checking e-mail.

In the evenings or at meal times, when I might have been surfing my phone for whatever, I was engaging with the world around me. We played Apples to Apples or sat around talking. We looked at the stars or smelled the flowers or took a walk.

I sometimes convince myself that I’m too tired at the end of a day to really engage with my kids for one more minute, but in Kenya, I was just as tired or more so at night and I still found some reserve energy for human connection. I’m ashamed of myself for all the times I zone out with my kids.

In the first week after our trip, I practiced leaving my phone in another room, or in the car if we were playing at the park. It was freeing when we didn’t need to be anywhere, and it was out-of-sight, out-of-mind. I didn’t think about checking it because I couldn’t. It wasn’t with me.

Old habits die hard, though, and I’m back to my former ways. Some of them anyway. The lure of social media, especially for someone who creates content, is hard to escape. I feel pressure to be interesting and post regularly so that people remember who I am and know what I’ve been up to. Because we all know that out-of-sight, out-of-mind also applies online. If I don’t see your updates regularly, it’s easy to forget you. (And that is not an easy confession to make.)

Even though I’m struggling to put my technology experience in Kenya into practice back home, I know that it was a good exercise for me, one I wouldn’t have chosen for myself. And I know I need to impose limits on myself for the good of my family and my soul. I don’t want to have to be tricked into doing it again.

I’m curious how you’ve accomplished this, or if you’ve ever thought about it. Do you feel the pull of social media on your life? Have you ever taken an extended break from it? How do you limit your online time in daily life?


This is what ‘yes’ looks like

“Phil, why am I doing this? This is a bad idea.”

My stomach churned. I thought I might need to throw up. Anxiety crept its way up my body, threatening to choke any courage I might have left. I stood at the door, keys in hand while the kids kept up their after-school shenanigans in all parts of the house.

I could stay and eat dinner with my family and do the normal bedtime routine.

Or I could go to the volunteer training I’d signed up for.

Yep. That was the cause of my anxiety. See, to attend this training, I had to drive into the city and find a place to park my van. I had to enter an unfamiliar building and sit with strangers to learn how to help strangers from other countries adapt to life in the United States. And I would have to leave the city in the dark.

For an introvert, this is a deadly combination.

Sonja Guina | via unsplash

Sonja Guina | via unsplash

But I did it. I got in the van and drove into the city. I had a plan for where I was going to park, but when I went to make the turn into the lot, a man was standing in the middle of the sidewalk so I aborted that plan and went down to the next street. Parking in the city, anytime, is stressful for me. I’m never sure if I can park in that spot or how much money to put in the meter and I’m forever afraid of getting a parking ticket or having our car towed.

So, imagine my surprise when I found a spot right next to the building on a side street. That eased my anxiety some.

As I drove by the building trying to find parking, I noticed some people gathering on the front steps. One of them was a man with long hair, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt. After I parked the car, I was afraid to walk around to the front of the building because what if he was homeless. And then I realized how ridiculous that was because I was attending a training to help refugees–who are homeless!

Turns out he was there for the training, too, and if I believed all the western depictions of Jesus were accurate, I’d say upon closer look he looked a little like Jesus, so my anxiety leveled off.

We found our way into the building and entered the room and sat, not talking but looking through papers and a packet of information. Just after the presentation started, about a dozen more people joined us and I was intimidated by the look of some of them. I was in the city, after a work day, and many of them looked hip and chic and business-y. Maybe I was out of place. I’m just a mom, after all.

But then I remembered, again, why we were all there. This wasn’t something any of us had to do, I don’t think. It didn’t matter what else our lives were about. For this one night, we were united in our passion to reach out to others.

I was shocked by what I learned. Facts can be boring sometimes, but these facts represented people and for the first time in my life, I think I actually understand that.

Fifty percent of the world’s refugees are children. Like my own. There are 7-year-olds in this world who feel responsible for the safety of their family. I have a 7-year-old. She feels responsible for her second-grade homework and that’s about it.

Some families are separated for years in their journey to safety. This little office in a small section of Lancaster County in a tiny part of the world helps reunite families. Would I want someone to help me if I hadn’t seen my daughter in six years? This is superhero stuff right here.

When we traveled to Kenya earlier this year, we saw refugees boarding the planes we were on. We weren’t exactly sure at the time that that is what they were, but this training confirmed it. They were boarding planes and leaving countries of strife for resettlement elsewhere, maybe even here.

Did you know that refugees have to repay their travel expenses and they get a bill five months after they have resettled? Could you pay a $2,000 airline bill five months after moving your family to a new country and beginning entry-level work while learning how to pay other monthly bills in a currency unfamiliar to you?

Of the millions of refugees in the world right now, only a small percentage actually resettle in other countries. Most live in refugee tent “cities” for far longer than is planned or is healthy. There are some who have lived this way for decades. In Kenya we met people who had been living in an Internally Displaced People camp for seven years. They no longer had tents, but mud huts are no upgrade when you’ve lost the only life you knew.

Did you also know that refugees seeking resettlement are interviewed about their lives and personal stories and undergo health and security screenings before they are granted permission to resettle? Sometimes this process takes years.

And did you know that ISIS isn’t the biggest fear among Syrian refugees? No, they fear their own government and the corrupt regime of their president who tortures children and kills parents while the kids watch, who bombs houses where mothers sit nursing their children. This is why they leave.

I said “yes” to this training because I need to do something besides read and write and be horrified. I don’t yet know what this will look like, but I know that by the time I got in the van at the end of the night, I wasn’t anxious about anything.

Sometimes “yes” looks like an upset stomach before walking out the door because you don’t know what to expect. And sometimes it turns into stories you can’t ever forget.

How Convenient

I pulled into the bank parking lot, hands a bit sweaty, rehearsing my lines before I walked in the door.

I need to withdraw some money in different denominations than I can get from the ATM.

Maybe it seems weird to you to have to practice what you’re going to say while running an errand, but I suspect most introverts know about this. If I don’t plan what I’m going to say, then I often stumble over my words or say something awkward or embarrassing.

It might not have been a big deal, but I hadn’t actually been inside the bank in two or three years. The world of online banking and deposits at the ATM have made it more convenient to not speak with a teller, and my introvert self sometimes prefers it this way.

I waited in line until it was my turn and then had a really nice interaction and conversation with the bank teller. I told him what I needed, and then I added, spontaneously, that it was for a yard sale I was having. This was my attempt at small talk and conversation, two things I’m not great at on the fly. When our business was finished, he wished me well on my sale, and I nearly floated out of the bank, so happy was I to have connected with a human being over something so small.

Read the rest over at Putting on the New, where I post on the 12th of every month.

What to do when you don’t know what to do

I’m feeling a lot of emotions these days. Some of them generated from the life in front of me–kids who won’t listen, worries about the future, fear about the past–and some from situations that are beyond my control and beyond my geography. I went to Africa this summer. It’s been a month since we came home. And the feelings I’m feeling now are tied to the things I saw there and then.

When I read about the refugee crisis affecting Syria and see the pictures of people longing for a home without violence and fear, I want to turn away. I want to get on with my life. Yet I also want to step in and do something. But even as I sit and read the article, there are people in my own home who are fighting over a toy or asking for food. There are needs out there and there are needs in here and I don’t know how to reconcile the two. Maybe that’s the problem. I’m trying to compartmentalize them. I want the time to take care of my family to be separate from the time I need to care about world issues. Maybe what I need is not reconciliation but some kind of intersection. A way to incorporate my cares for the world with the cares of my family.

Fifteen of us went to Africa and almost all of us, I think, want to fix something about what we saw and experienced. We want to do something. We want to change something. We were changed and that’s significant, but there are so many things to do. How do we choose?

The same day I read about Syria, I read this post, too, and it was an encouraging push to do something, whether it’s for Africa or Syria or my neighborhood. Even if it looks like the wrong thing to others, I can still do something. It’s the first part of that statement that scares me because I don’t like to be wrong. But would I rather be wrong and do something or do nothing because I’m afraid of being wrong?

I’m ready to do something.

I’ve written before that my writing is one way of doing something, and I’m still going to do that. But I want to take it another step forward.

In Kenya, we met people whose lives were disrupted by violence, whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed in a bid for power. They were refugees in their own country.

mud home

Their struggle is real. I looked at their faces and into their eyes. I walked into their dark one-room houses. For one part of one day, I entered the life of someone on the other side of the world, and though I offered prayer and encouragement, the words practically stuck in my throat because they sounded so hollow. Who was I to stand in that woman’s house and pray for provision? What she needed for a more secure house is what I pay monthly in rent. Let that sink in for a minute.

I know I can’t save the world. I’m not going to try. That sounds big and overwhelming.

But I can look at my life and consider what I have and what I can give. And I can do the next right thing.

In Kenya we also met a man who heard about the need in the valley, who knew that there were people living in tents in an unfamiliar place. He went there to see what he could do. They asked him to preach, and even though he wasn’t a preacher, he started preaching on Sundays for them. They met under an acacia tree. They became known as the tree church.

That was years ago. We worshipped with the people of the tree church in a building in the refugee camp when we were in Kenya. Because this man wanted to do something and then actually did it, there is a church building where people come for miles to give thanks to God for their very lives. Because this man went where he felt led, the children can count on one good meal every week. And he dreams of more things he can do, with God’s help, for the people.

So, I will take my one step forward. And I will let God take it from there.

It is a small step. Tiny really. But it’s something.

And I’d rather do something than nothing.

Today, I sent off a volunteer application to work with a local organization that helps resettle refugees in our area. This is not even a humble brag because it feels like nothing, but it’s something I was thinking about before Kenya and it has only grown stronger in my heart and mind.

That’s my “yes” today. Yours might look different.

And click here for an excellent resource if you want to do something to help Syrian refugees but don’t know what to do.