My Context

Donald Miller posted recently about how life is the context for our spirituality. Simple, but, you know, I think this one gets lost in translation fairly often. Being a Christian should impact our everyday lives; we should be making decisions differently, pursuing more noble feats, honoring things that really matter.

My kids are my primary spiritual context (closely after my relationship with my husband, but this isn’t a post about him). Here are a few things my context is working out in me right now:

1. Answers Don’t Always Come The Way You Want. You know Claire has mild cerebral palsy from her premature birth and we’ve been going every 12 weeks for Botox shots to help relax the muscles in her tight leg. The night before our most recent trip, I had an increasing sense of reluctance and something resembling anger. Why do we have to keep putting her through this painful procedure? I want something to change! That morning, her doctor came in with the same attitude. “I think it’s time to do something else.” Yay! Well, sort of. The something else is a tendon lengthening surgery in both her lower leg and her quad area. Maybe casted for six weeks after. Months of physical therapy. But, it just might change everything about Claire’s walk and, in the words of the doctor, allow her to “do the things she wants to do.”

2. Some People Shine in Trials. Claire’s only response to the impending surgery is this: “I can’t WAIT to ride in a wheelchair!” : )

3. Giving Freedom is Tough. Our oldest, Jesse, is nine, and he got a new bike for his birthday. Suddenly he’s riding around the block in his little gang of elementary boys and asking to “go over” to so-and-so’s house to “shoot hoops.” Meanwhile, I keep the back door cracked open while he’s gone to listen for his cry when he falls off his bike or loses the basketball game. I know he needs to go, I just never anticipated how much it would worry me. Can I grant the kind of freedom to the people I lead? Can I trust them? Can I trust God? How does Father God do it for me? Or you?

4. Vacation is a Gift. I’m really looking forward to some family time in the days ahead without demanding schedules. I’m not sure what that’s teaching, but I think I probably ought to pay attention. (When was the last time I gave God that privilege in my life?) This weekend we’re off to do music for a dear friend’s wedding and they are putting us up at a “ranch” with a swimming pool. That’s a no-miss for our kids. Next week I’ll finish my final undergrad courses, and the week after that we’re off to Omaha for some genuine vacation.

Just One Thing

My friend Anna is a Rare Rock. She teaches the 3 and 4 year-old’s Sunday School class and when Jesse (now 9) was 3 she offered to pick him up and take him. Wrestling two babies and a preschooler alone, since Dan’s “paying gig” is every Sunday morning, I was never making it to Sunday School.

In turn, each of my three big kids has learned to wait at the door on Sunday mornings and watch for Anna’s white car to pick them up. It is a special treat for them and a wonderful help to me. Now Macy just turned 3 and earned a spot in Anna’s car. She wasn’t even born when Anna started this tradition. Rain or shine, late nights or holidays, Anna is there.

It’s just one thing (among the many) that Anna does to help others, but it makes a big difference in the little lives in my house. From Anna they are learning consistency, faithfulness, and devotion. Sometimes it doesn’t take a life-altering decision to be a Rare Rock, it just takes one thing. “The next right thing” is what Dallas Willard calls it.

Happy Weekend, Rare Rocks!

Join the Song

In my last post, I gushed about Claire’s cardboard testimony (click to see the video of the event) and only briefly mentioned the background music as the John Mark McMillan song “How He Loves.” I didn’t mention how truly perfect that song is and how moved I feel every time I sing it – especially with a bunch of other people embracing its engaging lyrics. Recently, Ben Arment described the song as “the biggest anthem of our generation” and I think you could make a strong argument for that.

I once heard the writer of “Revelation Song” – also a contender for one of the greatest songs of our time – say that when the idea for that song came to her she had been praying that God would bring unity to His Church. It wasn’t until after the song had become a Sunday morning standard that she realized God had answered her prayer. “Revelation Song” is sung by countless congregations from almost every stream. In fact, my children’s chapel kids request it on a regular basis and they can sing all the verses! Give us a song like that or the bridge of “How He Loves” and we might all know what to do with one another at the great throne of God after all! ; )

If you’re like me and you look for those unifying experiences on the earth, too, you might be interested in the project Ben Arment is administrating for the STORY conference I mentioned here. He calls it a song mash-up and you can participate from anywhere, even if you don’t plan on attending the conference (by the way, only a little over one hundred tickets left to the September event and the best price is available until Friday!). You just download the official track, practice singing along, and record yourself on video and on audio. (See Ben’s directions for specific things of which I leave completely to my husband!) The STORY crew is working on a video that incorporates as many of us as possible! How fun is that?

You know, I’d like to teach the world a bunch of songs, but this one would be close to the top of the list! Check it out and join the project!

With Faith Like My Child

My daughter Claire was asked to participate in a Cardboard Testimony project for our church’s Open House over the Independence Day weekend. We’ve lived here since Claire was born 7 1/2 years ago, 15 weeks too early and several pounds too small. My second pregnancy – twin girls – ended traumatically after placenta abruption and Claire survived but spent 115 days in the hospital before we could take her home. It felt like tiny Claire had read a preemie checklist of possible complications and did her best to attempt each one.

We are blessed to be part of a loving, supportive community that knows her well. Few people here stare at her limping gait and try to figure out what is wrong. They all know she has a mild form of cerebral palsy. Her teachers remember praying for her to live when she was an infant, so giving her a little extra help when math doesn’t come easily is no problem. But our collective heart does break for her when we consider the uphill battles she still has to fight; we all know that someday we won’t be there to offer a hand on the steps or to carry a lunch tray to the dish window.

These are the kinds of struggles I expected Claire to address when she was asked to write her testimony on two sides of cardboard. The Cardboard Testimony is a fairly popular experience in the modern church. The idea comes from the roadside signs of the poor or homeless who scribble onto a piece of cardboard the description of their greatest need: Will Work for Food or Hungry Please HELP. When Claire asked what a testimony was, I told her it was the thing that you need the most help with and how God helped you. With Cardboard Testimonies, we get to use the second side of the cardboard.

“So what do you think your testimony should be about?” I asked Claire after school one day.

I imagined she would come up with something about her weak leg or her sometimes clenched fist on her left hand. I thought she might say she needed help with the hard math like adding and subtracting numbers bigger than 5. I didn’t expect her to say,

“Oh, like, how I miss my sister Ellery who is in Heaven?”

I should have known my expectations that Claire would be most concerned about her physical body were shallow. These are not her deepest concerns. She’s better than that and more honest. Her deepest concern is relational. She has felt loss deeply, in a way I don’t even fully understand. But at the same time, she has hope. This is faith like a child. This is faith I want.

Here are Claire’s two sides for the Cardboard Testimony from this Saturday (click to get a better view). Imagine in the background her Daddy and his band singing “O, How He Loves Us”:

An Invitation to STORY

Dan and I don’t do a lot of advance planning. I mean, we make it to the dentist every six months and Claire gets Botox every quarter, but we have never been the plan-a-vacation-a-year-in-advance type. With four kids and full schedules, our idea of advance planning is to make sure everyone has clean underwear for the next day. You can decide if this is a strength or a weakness in our characters. Last month, however, we felt so strongly about planning in advance for the STORY conference coming to Chicago on September 23-24, that we not only signed up ourselves, but we also signed up four of our siblings (the group rate rocks)!

I documented parts of our experience at STORY last year here and here, but I didn’t get finished. There is so much to tell. Some of it we’re still processing. (Dave Gibbons briefly mentioned the term “theology of pain” and if I don’t write out what that means for me before I die it will be one of my greatest regrets.) Some of it was just the joy of the experience; I couldn’t explain it in words.

We were planning to go again this year in that yeah probably kind of way until I heard from our friend Jason that his church, Park Community in Chicago, was hosting the conference this time around. S. O. L. D. Dan, Jason, and I spent a couple of very fun and formative creative years together. And when I say fun and formative you can assume that is both true and somewhat euphemistic. : )

This year the seating at STORY is limited to 500, half of which have already been sold. I’m not great at math, but I’m pretty sure that means if you are interested in coming then you should probably sign up sooner rather than later. I’m looking at you, Caleb! : )

This year’s list of speakers isn’t all big names. But this is good. To be honest, a lot of me made that trip last year just to hear Donald Miller. And he was good. But I was actually most impacted by the speakers I had never heard of before that day. This year’s lineup (check it out here) is about the members of the creative class who are actually doing the work. Probably a lot of work that you know, even though you might not recognize their names immediately.

Of course, you’ve probably heard of some of the guests: Kari Jobe ring a bell? : )

If you decide to make the trip, let us know. Dan and I are celebrating our 10th anniversary this summer and we’re turning this trip into part of a late celebration. STORY has been part of our growing up journey – something we found together and continue to refer to as a source of inspiration and challenge. We’d love to share it with you, too!*

UPDATE: Ben Arment, STORY creator, shares updates about the conference on his blog. Most recently he mentions a special hotel rate available for a few more days.

*I mean “share” in a see ya when you get there kind of way. I am NOT a fan of 15 passenger vans or any other trademark of church summer camp style road trips. But, really, let’s do lunch in Chicago! : ) And invite your friends!

Listen to Our Hearts

As a young person, I found prayer confusing. Difficult. Random. Since then I’ve read a lot on the subject, observed people who pray (from inside and outside the circles of my youth), and even taught college classes on spiritual disciplines (you never learn something as thoroughly as you do when you have to teach it to someone else!). So, I suppose, as a not-as-young person, I am still finding my way in prayer.

Two useful tips over the years have been the most beneficial to me. The first was the idea of using The Lord’s Prayer as a kind of outline for my own prayer time.The other was using the Psalms as a prayer guide. I’m also currently dipping my theological feet into Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours series as well. It provides written prayers and sacred readings according to the ancient Christian patterns of multiple devotional hours throughout the day.

Sometimes it feels there is so much to study, so many methods to consider! But this morning I heard the prayer of one of the four year-olds in our children’s chapel and I was washed in its simplicity. It actually follows some of the patterns I mentioned above, and it is very likely pieces of other people’s prayers that he has mixed together and memorized, but it was his all the same.

Dear God,

Thank you for our snacks.

Help us be nice to our friends.

Bless Jesus.


Beautiful photo from earlb on Flikr. Check his website also!