Wednesday, June 19, 2013

care-full.


Lookout - it's one of those nights. I have arrived home from another Zion Wednesday exhausted, but too overwhelmed by joy and grace to keep it to myself. I'll back up a bit.

I am a 3/4 time solo pastor. That means, in order to do anything creative | outside the box | risky | new | growth-focused, I spend even more weekend and evening hours away from my family. It means I stretch myself a little thinner and have to put down things that others view as essential to my role. It means feeling like I'm a little crappier at life because there are more spinning plates in the air.

But Zion is all about trying new things and so am I, so we're constantly weighing and balancing this dilemma. It's messy and it's so, so fun. I am moved by our mistakes and our victories. I begin experiments convinced that I am crucial and, in the end, am overwhelmed with gratitude for the Village.

The Lyndale Community Dinner is a good thing. We feed 50 people every week. Most of them are regulars and need this intersection of community and nutrition, so it's a worthy investment. We could keep chugging away the way we've been doing and there would be plenty of worth to celebrate.

But while the status quo is fine, the potential is hard to ignore. Lyndale is a neighborhood ripe for pushing boundaries about community, gathering, and wellness. People involved believe that relationships should be about neighborliness instead of "us" serving "them". And so we urged each other to try something new this summer.

It meant wide dreaming and evening meetings and cheerleading and asking people to be involved with one more thing. But in the end, this is happening:

  • Once a month, volunteers are hosting a Free Lemonade stand on a busy street just one block from the dinner. They're spreading the word and providing a local "happy hour" effect that helped us make two dozen new friends tonight. And three of those families wandered over for dinner.
  • Local organizations have agreed to Adopt-a-Wednesday. They get to promote their presence in the neighborhood while helping with tables and chairs, serving and grilling. The buy-in is transforming this meal.
  • I am a regular at the nearby Dollar Tree. A few plastic balls, sidewalk chalk, and bubbles cost $20. Tonight we had five times the number of kids we normally serve. They played together and hugged each other goodbye.
  • Zion is a wide community with friends, members, and neighbors loitering on the edge of this mission. I believe the good stuff happens on the edge, so these are my favorite invitations. I'm already seeing young adults and quiet leaders take pride in what's happening on Wednesdays because they're part of this summer scheme.
  • I hired someone. In January, I hired my friend Lee to be the dinner coordinator. He has all the gifts and people skills I wish I had. He's a community builder and natural equipper. He organizes wellness and education events in conjunction with the dinner. He networks in the neighborhood and dreams big about Lyndale working together even better than we already do. Tonight I got to watch him be in charge while I found quieter ways to help.
Because of this grace and these leaders, I was in charge of very little tonight. I watched and handed out chalk and listened and loved. I ate and smiled and hugged. And I noticed the care-full things that make this time together so priceless.

Each week at 6:00pm, Lee asks us to share things that we're grateful for. Several regulars offer their thoughts: a recent surgery, family member, or addiction. They're open about life and we all cheer when their gospel is spoken into the crowd. Then kids are invited up first and we get noisy. This sets the tone for everything that happens next. 

There is gratitude and grace and deep care for one another. I watched the new Lemonade Families, curious to know what they were sensing from this goofy looking tribe. And it was clear they had each made note of the care-full-ness, too.

Our numbers were up (81 tonight) and I was excited about that. Volunteers were proud of our dreams coming to fruition. Morale was high and that was a good reward for stretching beyond status quo. 

I lost track of time and almost forgot about Recovery Worship at 6:45pm. Sometimes the care out here is so great that we need a touch to remember that worship is starting soon. So I moved through the crowd, gently touching the shoulder of each person who would join me in the circle inside. They all looked up and smiled the same smile, glad to be fed, glad for the touch, and glad for this care-filled place.

truest self.

I've had a few pastoral care conversations this month
that echo one another.

I don't think God hears every prayer 
and I don't think God necessarily cares.

I feel bad because I'm usually asking for stuff when I pray 
and I don't like to be needy.

What's the point of praying, anyway?



Anne Lamott has three prayers: help, thanks, and wow. I have three prayers, too: ugh, why, and yahoo. Prayer can sometimes feel too casual or too awkward. It can be used sparingly or you can sound like a broken record. You might feel like a crazy person talking to yourself or a selfish brat for making it all about you.

Sometimes I try to list a bunch of stuff about other people before I get to the crap about me because I feel bad for only praying for what I want and need.

When people confide in me about this stuff, I get (what my mom calls) diarrhea of the mouth. I have a billion mediocre metaphors and ideas waiting to erupt and I have to remember to slow down and listen. And in listening, God reminds me to pull out the Holy Resume.

These big questions about prayer and relationship and our worth in God's eyes call for a careful examination of God's reputation throughout history and in our own lives. And so, instead of playing court lawyer, I try my hand at storytelling.

God doesn't just invite people to pray, God commands us to pray.

While the Israelites are wandering, figuring out what their new identity is, God breaks in several times to give them a narrative. It always begins with, "I am the Lord your God. I am the one who brought you out of Egypt..." and then it emphasizes how deeply they are loved and that God wants to know and love them well. This, of course, requires communication and relationship.

But it's not like our human relationships, and so we wrestle with what it means to be vulnerable with one who already knows our darkest secrets and selfish hearts. It's scary to think that our toolbox for making friends and being amiable doesn't really apply in conversation with God. There's no one to impress and no narrative to create with the one who created stars and mountains and you and me.

You think your prayers are boring or selfish or infrequent or simple? Stop ranking them. God's tickled that you're in conversation instead of distant apathy. God never demands eloquence or fancy diction. Some dialogue is better than none at all. Some relationship, however awkward or confused or doubt-filled is better than building golden calves or the silent treatment.

Jesus prayed in private, in groups, and gave us the gift of the Lord's Prayer - a template when you have no words. It's filled with needy and honest petitions that give us permission for all that asking.

And so what if you think you sound selfish? God already knows how selfish you are. And what if, because God created you, God sees that selfishness as beautiful honesty. "Oh, my Meta. She holds this stuff in around other people - even close family and friends - for fear of being too needy. But she bears it to me and is willing to be her real self in my presence!"

Our neediness and selfishness is endearing and adorable in God's eyes...because God knows how hard that vulnerability is for us. God knows we need to be truly known in order to be fiercely loved...but that this becomes risky business in our human relationships.

Okay. Maybe. But it just doesn't make any sense. 
Why does God always do things the hard way?

And then I proclaim that God is crazy. God is like a swooning 14 year-old girl who just can't get over us even though we keep breaking her heart and jerking her around. God is in the unhealthiest of all relationships because God keeps choosing to do stuff with us and for us. God keeps calling us into the master plan, using our hands|feet|hearts, and making something beautifully messy out of God's beauty and our mess. It's literally crazy and, according to the Holy Resume, God gets tired and frustrated with us all the time, but will never break up with us.

If I were God's mother, I would get a restraining order, change our phone number, and find a wonderful family therapist. But I am not God's mother and God has instead called me to be the well-intentioned boyfriend with shady tendencies. 

(Whoops. See? I slipped out of storytelling mode and into a half-baked metaphor already.)

So you really believe this stuff?

Yes. I really believe that praying matters and God listens and the Holy Resume proves that God is in it with us. You're right - God always does things the hard way, but it's only hard because we're so damn difficult. And isn't it good to know you're praying to someone who knows how high maintenance and selfish and lovely you are? Someone who will stay in the thick of it with you no matter what?

I guess.

And then we pray. Because that's the only way God can get me off my soapbox - out of conversation about God and back into conversation with God. 

Ugh.
Sorry I went on and on there.

Why?
Why do you always choose the difficult path?
And why do you keep hanging in there with us?

Yahoo!
Thank you for making her brave in asking those questions.
And thank you for listening to her...whether she believes you do or not.

Amen.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

ahhh.

Be still (and leave your not-so-still child in able hands while you get out of Dodge) and know that I am God.

Big Shoes
I spent 8 days away from Jasper and it was hard. Without that daily text or picture or update, my heart started to ache. 

I spent 8 days alone with my husband on a boat. And by alone, I mean we were on a Carnival Cruise with 3,000 of our closest friends. 

We did not participate in the poolside "hairy chest contest" or buy the unlimited drinks passes, mostly because we're not hairy enough and rather frugal. But Coronas flowed, we overate, and the water slide made me squeal out loud. Our snug room on Deck One did not have windows or a clock, so it was pitch black until we stirred each morning. As the boat rocked us to sleep one night, Matt purred, "I feel like I'm sleeping in a big Baby Bjorn."

An Introvert's Nightmare
It was good to get away. With work covered and our phones off, my biggest decision each day was pizza v. reuben for an afternoon snack. (Regrets? Easy to rectify.) I read six books and worked out every day, mostly so I could feel self-righteous in the dessert line. We traveled the width of Belize to climb Mayan ruins. We held baby sea turtles and swam with sting ray in the middle of the ocean. We lingered over coffee each morning and held hands on the way to dinner.

Xunantunich Ruins near Cayo, Belize
On a Sandbar near Grand Cayman
Cayman Turtle Farm
We're back now and happy to be plugged in again. Work is busy and house projects continue to produce...more house projects. We are not cut out for a whole week of lounging and loitering. By the end, we happily crawled out of the Baby Bjorn and back into our messy and lovely real lives. Jasper was thrilled to see us and I burst into tears when he said the word, "sleeves" with a V noise instead of a saliva-filled F. So much and so little had changed in 8 days.

Ahhh.