Keep Your Seat

“Haste makes waste,” he chides, not so quietly, as a dozen of us observe a hurried student slip and fall on one of many perpetually wet campus paths. She was rushing to her next class. It seems harsh to me, a fellow hurried student, that he, a gray-haired and beyond retirement professor, would fail to show a little more compassion. It’s not that he’s mean, just so matter of fact. I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve already taken a handful of classes from him.

One was an independent study class that required me to meet with him one on one in his office. No hiding in a back row of seats among other students. My heart pounded before every meeting.

Our first meeting, I approached his half open office door and gently tapped the dense wood. No answer. What do I do now? I wondered. Slowly, I pushed open the door, peak my head in first. There he was, sitting in his chair – hands clasped behind his head, eyes closed. Was he sleeping? Or worse? At his age, who knew! My imagination ran wild. Thankfully, before I had to make any decision about what to do, he stirred. He saw me and beckoned me to sit down in the chair on the other side of his desk.

What was he doing? Thinking. Being still and thinking.

Nearly twenty years later, he is with his Creator and I’m left with these memories: the quote and the image. “Haste makes waste,” and a reclined thinking man. The memories linger and I’m just beginning to understand why.

His example was subtly counter-cultural. Without much reason, I admired his example back then; now I find myself aspiring to it.

Stillness.

My mind wanders back to something the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica: Be ambitious for quiet. In Greek, the word we translate as quiet literally means ‘ to keep one’s seat.’ It implies a stillness of demeanor and one that is undisturbed by external or internal circumstances. I think of the old man with closed eyes, contemplating, taking time to be still.

Of all the things even we as Christians are ambitious for (career, finances, ‘kingdom building,’ service, parenting, approval, etc…), Paul only ever uses this term ‘ambition’ to describe what our attitudes ought to be toward one thing. Stillness of lifestyle.

Is this my ambition? Is it yours?

Author Emily P. Freeman talks about being able to sit down on the inside, even if you have to stand on the outside. It’s a perfect picture of this idea of quiet and stillness – keeping your seat. The world around us may be chaos, but our souls can still be ordered aright. A shark may need to keep moving to survive, but that movement can be purposeful, steady, and calm.

I begin to understand something even more: stillness is strength.

The Psalmist declares God’s desires when he writes, “Be still and know that I am God.” Stillness precedes knowledge of the Holy One. Stillness is the path of settling our souls into the loving care of God. One confidently seated in Christ is stronger than all “principalities or powers, or things present or things to come.”

Haste and striving, on the other hand, cause wounds and fractures in our souls. In the extreme, it causes us to waste away in every respect – physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally. Haste, the flurry of busyness and activity, does indeed make waste of our lives.

Hurry is not just a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart.

John Ortberg

A still, quiet thing, after all, is a strong thing – a Cornerstone, a Rock, a Foundation, an Anchor.

My first finished read of 2020 was a short book called, “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry,” by Portland pastor John Mark Comer. Comer speaks of spiritual disciplines, one of which is practicing stillness, as a trellis. “If a vine doesn’t have a trellis,” he writes, “it will die. And if your life with Jesus doesn’t have some kind of structure to facilitate health and growth, it will wither away.”

Stillness, ceasing even unto death of our own plans and endeavors, brings life and growth to seeds and souls alike. This is Christ’s invitation to us – die to yourself so that you might find life in Me.

What can possibly be stronger than Christ in us, our hope of glory?!

The world may see stillness and quietness as weakness. It may taunt us to jump up from our secure seat in Christ. But we are not of this world. We answer to a higher call. We serve the King of Kings. We can keep our seat knowing that He is sovereign – entrusting ourselves to the only One who judges righteously.

Be still. Cease striving. Be ambitious for quiet. Keep your seat.

May we all dedicate time to lean back in our chairs, fingers laced behind our heads, close our eyes, and contemplate the glory and power of our all sufficient God. May we chose, through stillness, to die to the pressures and ambitions of this world so we can experience the strength and peace of a life hidden in Christ!

The end [goal] is life to the full with Jesus. The end is to spend every waking moment in the conscious enjoyment of Jesus’ company, to spend our entire lives with the most loving, joyful, peaceful person to ever live.” John Mark Comer

Elbows Up

I smile when I think of how many times God has worked on my soul in unexpected ways. Just when I think I’ve reached some sort of completion in my spiritual maturity, He sneeks in a side door and SURPRISE! He reveals Himself by nudging my soul toward further growth.

My husband and I are currently in the midst of a free month of membership at a local crossfit gym. We’ve attended several classes and we’re feeling it! That’s to be expected. A change in exercise regime is bound to prompt physical growth (and soreness!). But it was on day two of our little fitness adventure that I realized God was going to use this to work in my soul more than in my body.

You see, for many years now I have exercised according to my own plans. I haven’t had any coaching and next to no input regarding my form or technique when lifting weights at our local commercial gym. And I’ve been fine with that. I’m a pretty independent and intrinsically motivated person. I don’t NEED a coach or a class or whatever to keep me going. I tend to take pride in this fact.

But something new and strange and troubling has been happening since I’ve been at crossfit. There’s an instructor. He’s pointing out my bad form. He’s telling me what to do. I’m hearing things like, “keep your elbows up,” and “straighten your back,” and “thumb under, not over, the bar.” And it’s kind of ruffling my feathers. Even after day one, my flesh inwardly revolted against being coached. The exact words that came to mind were, “Don’t tell me what to do, thank you very much!”

Yikes! Am I really that arrogant and unteachable!?! Surely it’s just in this instance, right? Lord?

But my Heavenly Father has gently revealed to me that my pride and resistance to coaching extends to many other realms besides fitness. He has been using this rather inconsequential example of pride in my fitness to dig deeper into the pride swelling in my soul. He’s lovingly showing me how often my inner monologue sounds like, “Don’t tell me what to do!” no matter what the situation.

God is confronting me with this truth about myself and I’m beginning to see how deadly it is to my soul. My resistance to heed instruction actually sets me up for destruction and failure.

The crossfit coaches aren’t pointing out my flaws just for fun or to ridicule me. They genuinely want what is best for me: to avoid injury, to gain strength, to be healthy. If I don’t listen to them, I only hold myself back from growth and set myself up for pain and failure.

It is good, valuable, and downright VITAL that I accept their coaching.

It’s true of my soul, too. It’s true of all our souls.

A crucial component of our soul’s growth is ‘coaching.’ This is one of the roles of the Holy Spirit. It’s also a role of the body of Christ. We need each other to tell let us know when to “keep our elbows up” and “straighten our backs.” In other words, we need to be lovingly urged to keep our eyes on Christ when our circumstances overwhelm us. We need to be gently rebuked when we are unkind to family or friends. We need soul correction.

Most importantly, we need to accept the correction for what it is: Love. God disciplines those He loves not in order to unleash His anger (Christ has already taken care of that), but in order to lead us in the paths of righteousness and life for His glory and our good!

In order for our souls to be healthy and hopeful, we must be willing to accept and heed truthful correction.

“For whom the LORD loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.”

Proverbs 3:12

So, I’ll be working on keeping my elbows up, all the while remembering to let my soul be coached, too.

How Getting Away Can Bring You Home

We added 456 miles to our minivan earlier this week. We traversed the Cascades and settled in Central Oregon, with dear college friends, for two nights.

Even before we left, I had a gut feeling that this would be a monumental trip, in an understated sort of way.

It was.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the life God has given me and wouldn’t trade it for anything. But, getting away for a couple days was just what my soul needed. Leaving home, work, neighborhood, and responsibilities proved to be more than just a break.

Our getaway to the center of our state helped center my soul.

The more self aware I become, the more I realize how travel – whether across town or across the world – can bring health to my soul.

When I don’t spend time away, I start becoming dangerously myopic. All I can see is me and the people and possessions that I think orbit around me. I become the center. I become the hope for my soul. I deceitfully begin to think and feel as if I am the one holding my world together.

I go. I get away. I step out of my life. And everything changes.

This recent trip was no exception.

Reconnecting with old friends reminds me of that intangible bond we have with each other in the Body of Christ. Seeing differing topography and the myriad beauty of God’s handiwork reminds me of His vastness and my comparative smallness. Brief intersections with unknown (to me) humans – the fellow hiker or grocery store checker or gas station attendant – remind me there are billions of stories being written in this moment and billions more that have gone before and are yet to unfold. My story, but a single star in the night sky. So small, yet significant and loved by the Creator.

Each of these small reminders, the friends, the hills, even the strangers, are like stepping stones back to Reality. They usher me into a perspective more in line with Truth. Getting away brings my soul back to my true home, back to an earthly life lived in light of eternity.

The Painted Hills

Sustainable Gratitude

Sierra Leone in February, Mexico in March. Phew! To any of you who travel regularly for your job or even for fun, I applaud you. It’s valuable, but hard. I enjoy travel, but love home. So I’m thankful to be here, typing away at my own desk in my own bedroom.

After two missions trips in the last two months, I’ve heard a common comment from my fellow travelers. It came from my own mouth, too, after my very first mission trip in High School. By ‘it,’ I refer to this often repeated sentiment: Seeing how little they have makes me so thankful for what I have! Or some variation on the same tune. You’ve probably heard it or said it too.

But, for a few years now, this sentiment has bothered me. In processing my recent missions trips, a couple reasons for my unsettled feeling about this common response are becoming clear.

The first component of this response that bothers me is that it is based on comparison. But, should comparison be our source of gratitude OR dissatisfaction? Comparison is an unhealthy standard by which to perceive and approach the world around us. God doesn’t recommend we look around and itemize our possessions and other’s possessions and then, when we’ve found someone who has less than us, then and only then, give thanks. He tells us to look up to Him, the Giver of every good thing, and give Him thanks and honor and glory and praise!

That’s not to say that recognizing how much we, as Americans, truly have and enjoy is a negative thing. We MUST remember that we are in the extreme minority. We cannot become so accustomed to our ease of infrastructure and access to necessities that we lose sight of the blessing they truly are. We need to pursue a more complete perspective of the world around us so that we don’t take for granted what we experience.

I love that my youngest child, on our drive back from Mexico, kept asking me if it was OK to flush the toilet paper, or brush his teeth using the sink water. As a five year old, his eyes are being opened. Experiencing a different culture is a tangible and memorable way to remind him of the blessings of ease and comfort God has given us, even though we are undeserving.

So I guess what I am saying it this: comparison CAN lead to gratitude, but it cannot be our only complete source of gratitude. It is a shallow foundation upon which to build a life of thanksgiving.

“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18

If comparison is our guide, what do we do with verses like, “in everything give thanks”? When trial or poverty come, is the answer to look around for others whom we determine to ‘have it worse’ than we do? It begins to sound a lot like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 who thanked God that he was so much better off than the tax collector. It is a slippery (and prideful) slope to bolster ourselves upon the debasement of another.

Another frustration I have with this over-simplified sentiment is WHAT is being compared. Riches, possessions, ease, comfort. Perhaps such evaluations reveal an idol in our hearts. Aren’t there vastly more important things to be thankful for? Aren’t all believers, regardless of income and possessions, abundantly rich with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3)?! All things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter1:3)?! My sisters, and fellow pastor’s wives from other countries, Coni from Mexico and Rachel from Sierra Leone, are equally as rich as I am. We are equally as rich because of our shared inheritance in our Savior! Praise and Thanks to God!

My sister in Christ and fellow pastor’s wife, Coni, in Tabasco, Mexico
More sisters in Christ! From Left to Right: Nancy, Samuela, Amy, Zainab, Esther, Regina, Rachel, Deborah, Florence, and Me. Most of us are also pastor’s wives, working together for God’s Kingdom.

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.”

Ephesians 1:18-19

The command to give thanks in everything is universal. It is given to the family living in the dump in Mexico and to the Wall Street mogul earning $2000 dollars a day. It is given to the mother in Sierra Leone who has been abandoned by her husband because of her faith in Jesus, as well as to the middle-class, stay-at-home mom, typing out these words you read. Our thanks can, yes, arise from physical circumstance. But, this source is not sustainable. Our thanks must arise, in even greater degree, from spiritual reality. Money creates a false dichotomy that Jesus has abolished. Haves and Have-Not’s can all be rich in Christ!

If this isn’t a firm foundation upon which to build our gratitude, I don’t know what is. We must lift our eyes to greater reality, to God’s reality! We must Aim at Heaven.

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

James 1:17

If you’ve never had the privilege of going on a short term mission trip, I strongly encourage you to bump it up to a higher spot on your list of priorities. You will be challenged. You will grow. You will be changed. It is awesome, in the literal sense of the word, to be a witness of God’s diversity and creativity among people as well as His undeniable involvement in the hearts of people all over the world. When you go, I pray that gratitude will be one of the outcomes of your experience. Gratitude for your tangible blessings, yes. But more importantly, a deeper gratitude for all God has done, is doing, and will do in you and the whole world.

God brandished His rich beauty through this glorious Mexican sunset!

Our UNword for 2019

It’s partly the expression of my inner rebel; partly the rewards reaped from such an endeavor. This thing Cyrus and I did last year, having an UNword – a word we were diligent to delete from our vocabulary – well, we’ve found it to be a positive, beneficial, forward moving practice for us each individually and as a family.

Our UNword for 2018 was the word busy. I lost count of how many times I was on the brink of using the word in everyday conversation and had to bite my tongue. Not for the sake of an arbitrary challenge, but in an effort to think more precisely, better understand the motives of my heart, and to communicate more clearly. If you’d like to read more about how we decided on the word busy, click here.

We will continue to be careful in our use of the word busy. And since we valued this challenge so much, we’re at it again for 2019!

So, drumroll please, our UNword for this new year is the word bad.

Yep. Bad.

This short little adjective, we’ve come to recognize, can do a lot of harm to our thought processes, our perspectives, our attitudes, and our relationships.

Our kids are quick to label foods they don’t care for as bad.

We call circumstances bad and color the whole day bad because of a few moments.

We judge others as bad, attempting to remove their speck before we remove our log.

We name ourselves bad, in direct opposition to the names God has given us.

This word, bad, is a dangerous word because it covers a multitude of issues with one vague, imprecise, gray colored brush stroke.

Using the word bad doesn’t help us to get to the real problem, and therefore it prevents us from getting to the real solution!

If I am having a bad day, what else is there to do besides wallow in my circumstances and seek some sort of temporary relief? But what if, instead, I more precisely declare: “Today I was hurt by someone’s untrue and harsh words towards me.” I can do something with that! I can seek restoration in the relationship, or I can pray for that person, or I can bolster myself by renewing my mind with what I know IS true according to our Heavenly Father. Calling a day bad will never bring me to this place.

Bad can be an adjective that leads us to cowardice, apathy, and having an unhealthy victim mentality. It doesn’t acknowledge responsibility. If it’s that thing or person or situation outside of me that is bad, then certainly I have no responsibility toward it.

When I use the word bad, it tends to reveal a heart that elevates myself above the Living God as judge and determiner of value. I see pain as bad, while all along God is using it for my good! Some of my kids view a bedtime as bad, but it is ultimately for their benefit! Throwing around this label of bad onto things and people, skews my perspective and can harm my desire to Aim at Heaven.

I believe that a healthy and God honoring perspective seeks to be honest and to bring all things into the Light. I can do that by being specific rather than vague. Instead of calling things bad:

I will call sin, sin.

I will call hurt, hurt.

I will call pain, pain.

I will call conviction, conviction.

I will call sorrow, sorrow.

I will call injustice, injustice.

I will seek to call all things by their true name so that the truth of God may minister precisely and effectively in my life. I will seek to do the same in the lives of those He has placed before me to minister to. To Him be the glory!

These are a few of the reasons Cyrus and I are choosing to UNword bad for 2019. Truth be told, I’ve already said it a number of times accidentally. This is going to be a much harder word to remove than busy! But, we look forward to how this practice will refine, challenge and teach us this year.

Do you think this is a practice from which you could benefit? We invite you to join us in UNwording bad. Perhaps this has sparked an idea for a different UNword for your year. Ask someone to join you and give it a try! Let me know if you do, and what your UNword is for 2019 if it’s not bad. I’d love to hear from you so that we can encourage one another in this goal!