Wednesday, April 16, 2014

when houses fall down

yesterday I stood outside a house I'd never noticed before. I watched as it was torn down - blow by blow it crumbled down into rubble. I watched as the piano fell out of the attic and the strings rang out as hit crashed to the ground.

I didn't know who lived there; I knew nothing about the house, but I couldn't help but care just a little.

Later that day that house kept coming to mind. Something in me hates seeing things torn down. I remember being a kid and my dad deciding to knock out one of the walls in the dining room. What should have been an absolutely joyous moment for us kids terrified me. He handed us kids a hammer and told us we could knock out that wall.

I remember standing there wondering if my dad could actually build that archway he was talking about.

As my siblings threw the hammer into the walls, I remember thinking my caution was wisdom but now I see it as a lack of trust. 

I don't like tearing things down because I'm not sure what the next stage will look like. What if the next place doesn't have as many memories? What if there isn't a next place? 

When I finally got over myself, I loved working alongside my dad - tearing something down, rebuilding it - making it better... allowing an idea to become reality.

I think of so many things in life that requires us to be torn down before it can be rebuilt. It is when part of us is torn down that we recognize our need to be rebuilt, we become better, and ideas become realities.

Pride being torn down is the foundation of the gospel. When we realize we are stuck in sin, unable to reconcile ourselves on our own that we see our need for Jesus.

It is when our pride crumbles that we can say sorry and find forgiveness - from Christ, from our spouses, from our friends.

As I stood there watching the house crumble, a family walked up with their strollers. They had bought the lot, and tearing down the house meant they could finally begin building their new home.

Being torn down is always the beginning of something new.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

MS150, you got nothing on us amateurs

Clayton has spent 9 weeks working in Austin the past few months, so I am well acquainted with the drive from Houston to Austin. I know all the clean gas stations, where I can speed, and where I better not go one mile over.

Well, I got a little too acquainted with that route this weekend. Clayton and I made the bright decision to sign up for the MS150 - a 150 mile bike ride from Houston to Austin - back in January. We were sure that signing up would get us off the couch and on our bikes.

But, uhhh... that didn't happen.

Come the Tuesday before the ride,  I'm frantically calling every bike shop trying to find someone - anyone - who will take our procrastinating, in-over-our-heads-selves bike's to tune them up. With each and every call I felt more and more like there wasn't any room in the inn. Finally, we found a place. Friday we picked them up and Saturday morning we got on our bikes for the first time in years and off we went (after Whataburger, of course - breakfast of champions people-who-don't-know-what-they're-doing).

After 86 miles sitting on our unconditioned tushes, we camped overnight in our brand new tent (purchased at 9 PM the night before, I might add). We loved camping so much we decided next time we will just forget the bike riding and drive to our camping spot (That's our exact plan this weekend!).

Back when I was younger I loved trying new things. I was horrible at most all of them, but as long as I stuck with my piano lessons, my poor mother let me hop around and try new things. I'd do swim team for a year and then try a hip hop class (that was extra bad), then try horseback riding, a few art classes and then I'd give tennis a shot. In high school I ran (read: walked) cross country despite hating running and my friend Mandy talked me into trying out for soccer despite us knowing nothing more than it was a game where you kick the ball.

I'm glad my mom made me stick with music lessons, but I'm even more glad she let me chase adventures. Trying new things can be scary; it almost always is. You don't know if you won't be able to do it (like I learned in my 7th grade hip hop class). But, you always learn that it's ok if you're not all that good. In fact, it's almost more fun that way. You get to lie down at the rest stops, laugh along the way, and impressing others is the last thing on your mind.

That's one of the things I'm extra grateful for with Clayton. He always down to try new things, too.

Besides the fact that I took a shower in a trailer, have an embarrassing farmers tan, still can't sit down, and picked my contact out of the dirt halfway through the ride, I'm so glad we gave it a try. MS150, next time, we're gonna train, so ya better watch out.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Time Spent Rushing is Lost Rest

I tutor a little third grader and she loves to time how long it takes her to do each part of her homework. We set a timer, she gets her serious face on, and we delve in. Once she finishes, her reward is guessing how long it took her. 

It's cute. What took an hour, she'll guess it took 15 minutes. Then, what took 20 minutes, she'll guess it took 2 hours. Maybe we'll work on conceptualizing time next. 

But, what makes me smile is that calculating time - however off she really is - helps her maintain focus. 

I'm the same way. I work from home, and my only accountability to stay on track, focused, and finish my job is myself. And I do so by calculating time. 

As I map out my day, track what I've accomplished, and stamp my days with "A" for productive or "C" for a not-so-productive day, here's what I've been thinking about. 

My time is not my own; I make my schedule, but it’s a gift of God that I am alive today, that I’m sitting here typing - that I have the fingers to type, the ability to type, the freedom to type. It’s like I’m an artist of the renaissance and my patron paid my way to be here, because he believed in me – that I could make him proud.

...except God created me, breathed life in me, and dropped me on the earth - giving the Spirit to live within me to guide me.

When I waste my time, I am wasting time that is meant to be used well.
it’s not just time gone, it’s time that wasn’t spent doing something else.

Time spent worrying is lost joy.
Time spent stressing is lost trust.
Time spent gossiping is lost friendship.
Time spent judging is lost love.
Time spent rushing is lost rest.

Usually when we think of stewardship, we think of money. When it comes to being a steward of God's money, it is comforting to know that my security rests in Him. after all, I am a manger - not the owner; He's got my back.

oh how this is the same with time! I have the innate need to produce more, create more, love more - have more friends, read more, make more calls... oh, the list could go on forever. I have the need to do more. But, am I not calculating the wrong things? 
The birds of the air trust in the provision of God with ridiculous faith & the Israelites lived day by day from the manna that faithfully showed up on the ground. How much more is God faithful with our time! When we cling to Him, our hands open up and we drop our time at His feet. He exchanges our need for doing with his eternal plan that isn't dependent upon doing.

We are but stewards of time.

Time spent worrying, stressing, gossiping, judging, & rushing is lost... God.

I want joy, trust, friendship, love, & rest... aka - to live the way God designed.

Let's measure the right things. 

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12 

Monday, February 17, 2014

high school slow dancing and the problem with being so perfect

I spent all afternoon getting ready. My hair was curled, and then twisted and pinned on top of my head with bobbie pins that would take 20 minutes to pull out the next day. I was wearing makeup, which was a rare occurrence. That day, my mom had helped me paint my nails. I wanted them to be french tipped, but I didn't know that term just yet. So "white edge" nails is what we did.

It was high school homecoming, and I was 16.

Us youth group kids all went together to the dances. Though, I don't think I should even call them dances, because we didn't exactly dance. We had yet to realize that Christians were allowed to dance, or maybe we were just awkward. Probably more of the latter.

When I was 16 - before then too and even now sometimes - I lived life on guard. I carried this gut fear with me that I would get called on - that I'd have to give a response. I was a walking defense - as if I needed every decision I made, action I took to give an answer to someone. But to whom? I didn't know.

So, I prepared.

Popcorn prayer. It's probably one of the more terrifying things when you're 13. And, when the other popcorn-prayers are older "worship leaders types" who pray out loud with such ease - poetic prayers rolling off their lips - it's the worst kind of terrifying.

I would prepare - planning out what I would pray as the expert pray-ers casually offered up their prayers. When I felt them wrapping up, my heart would race; it was almost my turn. Then, someone would popcorn in. Dang it. My anxiety would start over again.

Sometimes my heart still races when called on to pray - even though I've been a leader - a Christian leader who is supposed to know everything.

I remember a girl sitting on my couch with the heaviest weight I've ever experienced sitting on her shoulders. I didn't know what to pray, but I knew we needed God. Desperately. I didn't have anything prepared, but the words that stumbled out, the silence that came between anguished petitions, the unpoetic, the raw, the unhindered prayer was... still prayer.

It was human, because I'm human. And God heard.

At the dances, us youth group kids only really knew how to slow dance. It's one of those dances you can't really mess up in your teenage years. My date and I stood as far apart as we could in that crowded school gymnasium, and as soon as my hands touched his shoulders, we completely lost our ability to have conversation. My hands sweat with embarrassment just remembering.

As we stood there - swayed there - my date asked me, "So, what verse are you memorizing now?"

I remember it like it was yesterday - like it were 5 minutes ago, because as if slow dancing weren't stressful enough, this made my heart race in the anxiety sort of way - in the - I need-to-prepare-to-pray way.

I had gotten my hair done by my stylist, had "white edge" nails done by my mom, my dress had been bought weeks ago, but I had not prepared a verse! How could I have known that as we were slow dancing, he would ask that?

Psalm 73:28. A verse happened to come to mind. Maybe I was memorizing it then, maybe I had just read it. I'm not sure. That verse is now my life verse - my cling-to verse, but when I was memorizing it was a 16-year-old, I had no life under me to even know that saying "As for me, it is good to be near the Lord" was a loaded, complicated statement.

I stumbled through the verse, and threw out a reference in Psalms that may or may not have been even close.

I passed. It was a horrible test, but when I passed we were back to silence.

A few weeks ago a friend asked me how I was doing and what I'd been learning lately. Usually, I would have been prepared with an answer - unintentionally scripted, carefully crafted with the best intentions - as if quick, on-target answers were more valid, more spiritual.

Her question hung in the air. What have I been learning? Well, I'm tired. So tired. I'm weary from trying to figure out what's next. I'm battling discontentment constantly. I go back to Psalm 73:28 - now my life verse - it is good to be near the Lord. Why doesn't it always feel good? How on this dusty earth do I be near God? 

And that's what I told her. They were rambling, unprepared thoughts. They were messy and unfiltered.

It was a human answer, because I'm human.

I think God might have smiled. Because He knew that being honest is freeing in itself - it invites encouragement and love, community and grace.

Sometimes I wish I could go back to the high school gym and to so many other moments where I gave the "perfect answer" - an answer that didn't really let me be honest. I'd go back to those moments and not let that gut fear override, and I wouldn't let perfection override the simplicity of being human.

I'd go back to that dance floor and I'd maybe confess that I wasn't sure. I bet my high school teenage date would have said, "Well, here's my favorite." Or, maybe he'd say, "Me neither."

Either way, there'd be a burst of freedom and just for a moment, I would have broken the cycle of upping the game. And instead of upping the game of always polished, always perfect, always prepared - I'd show myself some grace... and help others around me show grace too.

In 1 Peter, Peter says - "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who ask you to give you the reason for the hope you have."

So, we are asked to be prepared. But, the preparation isn't about being on-guard to look good or appear spiritual. we don't prepare out of fear of getting caught or because we're scared to not be perfect.

What's the answer we are to have ready? Why we have hope. 

It has absolutely nothing to do with what we're doing, how eloquent our prayers, how spiritual our thoughts are. The hope is that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." He demonstrated his love for us even though we did absolutely nothing to deserve it (Romans 5:8).

We come to know this hope as we realize how un-perfect we are and the grace that showers us anyway.

Isn't that backwards? Perfection is out to get us. We gotta beat it.

Let's stop preparing all the wrong answers. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

This is the Single Most Important Thing About Valentine's Day

You are loved even if you don't love yourself.

You are loved even if you look in the mirror and hate what you see, even if you look at your life and doubt every part of you. Though you may feel consumed by self hatred and self doubt, you are not consumed.

Sometimes not loving ourselves is the hardest un-love to conquer, but sister, know you're not consumed. God's love reaches into those dark places, and "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail." Lamentations 3:22. That compassion God shows us? Show it to yourself today.

You are loved even if someone has said you're not worthy of love.

I hate that for you, with you, but know, their ignorance - their own inability to see your value never negates how loved you are. Even though a fellow sinner on this earth has wounded you and didn't convey love as they should, the Lord is never wrong. And what does the Lord say about you? He says that he delights in you. And, "he will quiet you with his love, and will rejoice over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:17.

Instead of cycling those painful words through your mind today and instead of replaying those deep wounds, allow the songs of God's to love wash over you. He delights in you. He sees you; He cares for you; He likes you.

You are loved even if you've done things you think make you unloveable. 

Maybe this is a new idea, and if it is, I hope you'll carry it with you every single day - you can never do anything to make you unlovable. Nothing - no impurity, no hidden secret, no addiction. Nothing. God's love is not dependent on good works. In fact, God didn't wait for us to be good to love us. He loved us while we were still sinners, and He demonstrated His love for us when we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). He loved us then; He loves you now. Will you believe that today?

You are loved even if you've been cheated on, stood up, forgotten, walked out on, neglected.

Jesus knows what that feels like. His closest friends stood Him up - denying Him as He was ushered toward death. And then he knew the pain of abandonment on the cross as our sins separated from Holy God, crying out "My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46).

I am sorry you've been wronged. It's not ok; it's never ok, but I know on this side of heaven we will all have imperfect fathers, brothers, husbands, sons - all in different capacities. But, we have a perfect Father who says, "I have loved you with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:1). Everlasting. Everlasting! That means it lasts forever - into eternity. His love will never cheat on you, stand you up, forget you, walk out on you, or neglect you. It's everlasting love - it's forever-love (1 Chronicles 16:34).

You are loved - so very loved.

What is so crazy about God's love for you is that even if you don't feel it, He loves you. 

Now, of course, life has so much more peace and comfort if you come to know this love, but sister, even if you don't feel it in your heart that you are loved, you can trust that you are loved... and slowly your heart can catch up.

There's absolutely nothing you can do to screw up God's love for you. I pray you come to know it, come to experience it, and come to realize the gospel of Jesus Christ is the ultimate love humanity has ever known. Because of the gospel, we can face the day, we have purpose for the day - because of the gospel, this life is about something.

"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rules, now things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus us Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Rational Guide to Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day in elementary school rocked. The only part that didn't completely rock was making Valentine's Day boxes. I always tried to make outlandish boxes that inevitably failed, and my dad would then come to the rescue and do damage control on my box super late at the night (read 9 PM).

How awesome was it that Valentine's Day at school was basically one big candy exchange?! I love you, you love me... It was just a random day in February that involved candy, which made the day awesome. Too bad we don't do that in real world. These days, Valentine's Day is basically the day each of us either loves, hates, or is completely over.

Maybe it's partly because thanks to social media, you and I will both get a play by play of every type of flower every girl "in a relationship" will receive and read statuses about all the romantic things all the significant others did.

Note: what your significant other does for you is great, but know, at the expense of you getting a few likes on Facebook, everyone else gets a few "geez, I hate my life's." Just a thought.  

I just can't wait to hit 'like' and be completely joyous about what everyone else is getting from their admirers.

Now, lest you think I'm going to completely bash Valentine's Day, let me first say I will go on a Valentine's Day date with my husband. He's my absolute favorite person on this earth, and through our time of dating and now almost two years of marriage I've come to know love in a deeper way than I ever knew possible.

When it comes to sappy, I am the queen. I love cheesy romantic gestures. I love notes, surprises, and flowers as much as the girl next door. I love secret admirers and quirky gift exchanges. I love holidays, I love flowers just like every girl, and I love love.

But, the problem with Valentine’s Day is far too many people leave the day feeling unloved—both those in relationships and those who are single.

And, let's be honest, feeling unloved is the absolute worst. But, before we hate on a day of the calendar and rid this earth of February 14th forever, let's think about this.

We should celebrate the one we’ve committed our lives to and the one we're going to spend forever with. We should set time aside for the warm, sentimental moments that make our heart race - be it on February 14th or another day. We need to celebrate our partner because in the next week they are probably going to drive us up the wall, lead us to tears, or make us question our own sanity as we stomp out of the room. (or, maybe even today!)

But, when it comes to Valentine's Day, we don’t dwell on the latter reality.

It is the warm, sappy moments that we—especially young women—envision and crave. We picture candle lit dinners, petals on the floor, classical music mysteriously coming out of the walls (or, whatever other cliché picture comes to mind when you think of a romantic Valentine’s Day).

The problem is these expectations are unattainable. My husband is truly a great husband. He still makes my heart jump sometimes; I want to spend any free time with him. He's selfless and makes me want to love the Lord more and he serves me so well. But, even though he's all those things, we don't live in a scripted Hollywood romantic comedy.

The expectations from culture simply aren't attainable (nor should they be the goal) when we are two very human people without makeup artists, scripts with the cutest of lines, and a soundtrack to go with our lives.

Love might have flowers & chocolate, but true love really is...  something beyond feeling.

it's commitment that says whether I like you or not today, I love you. I choose you over & over.

it's swallowing a good comeback because you realize that unity is better than winning.

it's learning to communicate without holding up defenses.

it's hearing criticism and realizing it comes from a place of edification.

it's about... it not being about you.

... true love is work. And when you think about it rationally, true love is nothing like what we envision Valentine's Day to be.

I cried at every birthday party all through elementary school. My tears came with such clockwork that my mom applauded me the first year I didn’t cry. I would wait so long for my party and the anticipation would build for the best night of the year to celebrate ME. When it came and didn’t live up to the Mary-Kate and Ashley hype in my mind, I cried. I think that’s a bit like Valentine’s Day.

For some who are single, Valentine’s Day has evolved into a focus on what is missing for idealized, romantic moments. For those in relationships, the expectation for those same idealized, romantic moments remains unmet... because we don’t live in a movie.

These expectations don’t foster to love. They inevitably lead to being let down. 

I challenge you to align your expectations with reality and remember what Valentine's Day is really about.

Valentine’s Day is an excuse to buy chocolate for yourself and friends.
It’s a reminder to love and cherish those around you.
It's a reminder for me to convey the love I already have for husband.
It is not a reminder you are single.
It is not a reminder that your spouse isn’t romantic.
It’s not a reminder you don’t have much money or that you have to work too much.

It’s a happy and simple thing. It’s a random Friday with chocolate and a reason to show love to those around you. Let anything beyond surprise you—not be the expectation.

Share some love instead of calculating what's coming your way. I guarantee that's the purest form of love. Pure, selfless love.

Let's be the best lovers this Valentine's Day by loving well.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The 1 Thing that Changes Everything

I prayed to my coffee this morning.

I didn't mean to. Really, who prays to coffee? nonetheless, what came off my lips was basically a prayer.

Saturday mornings are supposed to be for sleeping, but with Clayton having to go to work, I pulled myself up and did what I do every morning - pour a cup of coffee and wait for it to deliver.

This morning was extra painful. Even if it's the same time we get up every day of the week, it was just extra painful because it felt wrong. I mean, who thinks it's ok to work on Saturdays? Accountants, that's who.

I sat on the couch and literally said out loud, "coffee, please help me. please wake me up. Thanks." It would make me feel better if I were talking to my dog Lincoln, but he was still fast asleep. He does Saturdays right. 

The words hung in the air for a few moments and then it hit me.

I just talked to my coffee. And perhaps even worse? I basically prayed - to a cup of liquid in a ceramic container... and the coffee isn't even the good kind - it's Kroger brand. 

It was like walking into a wall - a wall of what the heck, Caroline? And then there were two things that came out of the long, convicting thoughts that followed.

First, it is Jesus who helps me; it is Him who wakes me up. He gives breath; there is no reason other than His goodness that I can exist let alone have relationship with Him. And having any enjoyment on this earth? That's His grace too, because He has redeemed me.

But, besides the whole misplaced prayer problems, this is what caught me -

How easy it was to mutter such an absurd prayer-like statement. How easy it was to look at a cup of coffee and ask for its help. Did I really think water infiltrated with roasted coffee beans would somehow help me beyond what I can do myself? uh no. It's a darn cup of coffee. With the risk of you thinking I need mental help, I'll admit I do this all the time. I talk to cars, my computer, the dishwasher. Please tell me you do this too - even if not out loud, you talk to things.

Here's where I get caught up. It's the ease at which I asked for help - it was so mindless - it was acknowledging a need but it really had nothing to do with who I was asking for help from. Let me say it this way - my prayer-like statement was about the need -- not Who could answer the need.

I know what you're thinking. Well, duh... of course you don't put hope in your brown caffeinated water. You were sleepy, that's all.

Yet here's where it pangs me.

I utter prayers just like that to God all day long. 

I say help me, guide me, give me peace... you know the drill. But some of those prayers could be muttered to anything, anyone, any it. 

I could mutter my prayers to a cup of coffee, because my heart - my mind, my focus, my attention - is not directed toward the recipient of the prayer.

Last weekend I heard a song on pandora and a single line jumped out at me. It said "I don't want to talk about You like you're not in the room." That day I was working at a women's conference, and all day I kept listening in on conversations about God - about what He was doing, how we could trust Him, and other churchy-like conversation. And I kept coming back to that sentence - are we as Christians talking about Him like He were there? Do we pray to Him like He is really listening?

It changes everything if He listens.
It changes everything if He's present when we pray.

Because our prayers move from "help me. wake me up" - prayers that could be offered up to a coffee cup - to prayers where God Almighty is listening to us. He hears.

I don't think the prayers themselves have to change - it's not the words that are the problem. It's the reverence that we lack because when we forget. 

I read C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters in high school and this single image has stayed with me so vividly. There's a part of the book where the demon is teaching another demon how to tempt the most dedicated Christians. He says the key is to distort their view of God when they pray. It's done slowly and slyly, but over time, the goal is to make the Christian associate praying to God with a feeling or maybe the corner of the ceiling they look at when they pray. They think they're praying, but they're not praying to God at all.

When we forget who we are praying to - if it's just a motion we go through - then we fall into that trap; we pray but not to God at all.

I need God too much to let empty prayers spew from my lips without regard to Whom I'm praying. And, just as a bonus, how humbling and encouraging and perspective-bringing is it just to ponder that God hears us? 

May that never get old, because it's the one thing that changes everything.

God hears you. 

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