Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Why I Am Asking IF

Back in September at Idea Camp, I had the pleasure of hearing Jennie Allen  speak. And let me tell you something, I was all on board to sign up for whatever it was she was about afterwards. Her passion, her heart for Jesus, her honesty about being a woman and loving other women was a language I speak it deep in my heart. It is a language that has been beating its rhythm loud in my head since my friend Ann began calling us the #esthergeneration from the red clay of Uganda. Its song is being sung in my development of our social enterprise initiative and our St. Francis Emmaus Center.

So when I learned about Jennie's IF:Gathering, I got excited. If you know me, you won't be surprised that I leaped right in without looking at how deep the water was. I told you about the common ground established with people at Idea Camp. IF was an opportunity to really see that concept bloom, and I was all in.

When Jennie announced her bigger vision for IF and all the  ladies I like to read a whole lot started sharing pictures of those twinkle lights and that pretty white table, and I knew I could be a part of it from my little mountain top in faraway Costa Rica, I was doubly excited. But sad that I would be alone. So I boldly shouted that anyone who wanted to could come join me here for IF: Missions. I realize now that it is really easy to be all brave like the other girls when your proposal seems unlikely.

But then they said "yes". Ladies from varied backgrounds and different denominations said they would actually like to ask IF with me in this space and see where God led us. And then, as I tend to do when I jump into something with all my heart, I panicked a little. Not about having company. But asking myself if this was what God was doing, or what I wanted.

And so I did what I do when I am panicking about God. I prayed. I sat with Him. I searched my heart and I searched His Word. And He led me to the answer of why my heart simply must ask IF. That answer is three-fold.

1. My Morning Offering makes me an offer. For as long as I can remember I have prayed a Morning Offering that begs for the "unity of all Christians". But I have not every often asked myself what my responsibility was to what I was praying for. If we are honestly praying for unity, it seems to me that we need to be actively working toward unity, no? And how do we find unity if we never meet? Never sit at the same table and see one another for who we are. If there is no relationship, how can there be unity?

I want that unity. I want to be able to sit with sisters in Christ outside the lines and the boxes that have been drawn for us and see anew what unity could mean. I want to sit at a table that is about conversation not conversion to one way of thinking. I want grasp what is good and lovely and noble in the sisterhood of Christ and shake it up like a bottle full of dormant sparkles and watch it mix and float and become something breathtakingly beautiful. Because I believe in a God that unites. And I believe He does it in ways that are not systematic but surprising, in ways that are much less about what we bring to the table and much more about what He has to serve us, in ways that challenge the deepest parts of us and yet lavish us with love and generous grace. Because His purposes, His heart, His love are already triumphant. If we can just let Him win, the world will change. Hearts will heal. Stereotypes will crumble. Timid voices will find their vibrato and sing. And oh, how I would love to sing in the chorus of united sister love, in the #estergeneration's choir.

2.  Acts 2 asks for all. "When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them." That is what His Word says.

I believe that if ALL the disciples were in one place the day the Holy Spirit set them on fire and the church was born, that there were women there too. And the flames dances on their heads and their mouths opened and they were ALL IN ONE ROOM and they left from there and set the world on fire. Acts does not tell us their stories. And rightfully so. It is named Acts of the Apostles for a reason. It has a purpose and it has its story to tell. 

But who is telling ours? Because there is a story left to be told, the story that we are writing, the distant daughters of the women with flames dancing over their heads and the fire alight in their hearts and their tongues loosed with the power of God and the whole world waiting to hear what they have to say. And I want to be one who tells that story because I know in my deepest being that it is full of the glory of God and the kingdom come and heaven's hope. 

And I think it has start right there where it did in Acts 2. "They were ALL together in one place." In the days before division and denominations built walls between us, the Spirit came in full force when they were all together in one room. And the world was a changed place because of it. And I know from my own life that the Word of God is extensively repetitive. We go back and do what He did and what they that named themselves His name did, Christians, and the Word is alive again and our God lives and the flames dance and the fire falls and the world changes. And I want to be there waiting.

3. Romans 8 yokes me with an obligation.  If we are the distant daughters of they whom the Spirit descended upon and we claim life in Christ, then we live governed by the Spirit. My favorite book of the Bible then says in verse 6 that "The mind governed by the flesh is death,but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace". A mind governed by the flesh is death. Sin, division and fear have their origins in death. Life, peace, love, and unity are the thoughts of the mind governed by the Spirit. And so in verse 12 Romans tell us that we have an obligation: an obligation to live according ot the Spirit. To live life and peace and good and hope and unity and fire dancing, life changing risks. 

And Romans ends its brilliant treatise of life in the Spirit with this: "For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God...Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." 

And for this we will gather. We will suffer through the unknown and the strangeness and the things that divide God's children with our Jesus. We wonder why about one another and find things hard to swallow in our differences. We will feel the brokenness in the Body of Christ and wish there were away out of it. Because we know that there, in that place, his glory will shine. 

And wherever the glory of God is, I want to be. And I want to lift my hands and hear the wind of the Spirit rise and watch the flames dance in eyes of my sisters and speak the words of life in their foreign tongues so that they will hear. And I want them to do the same for me. 

So, me, I am asking IF. But I think God is already giving me a glimpse of the answer. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Common Curiosities

As I immerse myself into life here in Costa Rica once again, I have been thinking a lot about my time in the States and life there. And how different it is from life in most of the rest of the world. I am not one of those guilt tripping missionaries who want you Americans to feel bad about what you have. I just want you to appreciate how strange our lives may look to someone coming in from the outside. The longer I live outside the States, the more I find myself having to mentally coach myself through the process by saying, "Pretend that this is normal. Pretend that you do this all the time. Pretend that you are perfectly calm and okay with this." Because the American lifestyle? It's a little overwhelming. And I think most of you have moments where you would admit the same. I feel a bit more like Alice in Wonderland every time I go back with things that were once common to me becoming curioser and curioser. So, here are my top three (just so you know, I started with five, but was flush and breaking out in hives by three, so I am revising) common curiosities I encountered in the States:

1. Pavement: The sheer expanse of concrete in the U.S. is amazing, you guys. Highways with five lanes going in each direction. Parking lots the size of a small town. Sidewalks! Everywhere! The sheer expanse of paved, flat roads on which one can traverse the United States is a wonder to behold. Does it never strike you as curious that you can get from one end of the States to the other, changing altitude and topography drastically on mostly flat, straight roads? That we blow up mountains to keep the road going straight through in the middle of it rather than create a curve in our road? That we really never walk anywhere but we have sidewalks everywhere? That we would rather circle around for an hour and half before using the back half of one of our monstrous parking lots, but we keep building them to house twice as many cars as are ever parked in one place anyway? Look, you guys, I have no big moral feelings on pavement one way or the other. I just want you to appreciate the wonder of being able to get from one place to the other on a paved, wide, flat, straight line. This is truly a marvelous curiosity and unheard of in most other parts of the world. Also, I encourage at least once to seek the adventure of careening through curvy mountain gravel roads while an 18-wheeler careens back at you with no space for either of you to let the other pass. Your adrenaline will get the thrill of its life and you will never take your highways for granted again.

2. Wegmanns: Feel free to insert your nearest boutique grocery shopping experience's name here. Grocery stores in America have in general begun to be anxiety provoking experience for me. The bright lights, the hoards of people, the rows and rows of stuff begging you, "choose me! choose me! choose me!" But add in a man rolling sushi, an antipasto bar, an Italian pastry shop, a wine cellar and a place to sip coffee and WATCH OTHER PEOPLE GROCERY SHOP and you have a recipe for a panic attack. Seriously, Wegmanns in Northern Virginia on a Saturday afternoon about did me in. I think my sweet friend Mary may have feared for my sanity and physical safety. You guys, we have turned to procurement of food into entertainment and recreation.The jury is still out on the moral implications of this in my mind, and I said this blog post was not about the great American guilt trip, but can we. just for a moment, agree on how odd this is? The next time you step into one of these stores, try to imagine it through the eyes of a person who has only ever gone to a small neighborhood shop to grab the basics needed for survival for the next couple of days...rice, 1/2 a kilo of meat, dish soap, bread, oil. And who is one of the well off for the ability to do so. We seem a curious bunch through those eyes. no? I just am not even sure what to say about that. And the pet food selection? I cannot even discuss it without getting all self-righteous preachy...

3. American Football: Look, I am a Southern girl and a mom of boys. If I was in charge, I would declare football morally excellent in a heart beat. And Sunday family football gatherings. And Saturday tail gates. And Fantasy leagues. All of it. Yum-malicious goodness where I am concerned. But I do think we tend to forget that almost the entire rest of the world has absolutely no clue what we are doing in our football madness. And that it must seem just a little odd to them. I mean look, they get all crazy like just like us when it comes to soccer. Faces painted. Wild hates. Madness in the streets. Too much beer. It's not that. It's the actual sport of American football. And that none of us feel the need to describe it as AMERICAN football because we call the sport that the entire rest of the world calls football by a random name we made up for it because we have OUR OWN FOOTBALL...a sport in which man wrap themselves in protective padding and tight pants, crush each other with curious vigor to gain possession of small ball and carry it across a field to a painted rectangle and then do a self-glorifying victory dance. Try to fathom making mental sense of that with no frame of reference whatsoever. Curioser and curioser for sure. But like I said, I'm all for proclaiming the moral good of football (except for player salaries...which again ignite my pop up soapbox so we won't go there) so we're going to go with Alice on this one. Is football mad? I'm afraid so. It's entirely bonkers. But I'll tell you a secret. All the best sports are.

So there. For what it's worth, these are the things that made me feel like I just stepped into Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Strange things are afoot in the U.S.A. And that just proves that I do not think myself superior to the rest of you. I just quoted one of the strangest of our affinities of all time without guilt. So there.

photo credit: Brandon Christopher Warren via photopin cc
photo credit: Br3nda via photopin cc
photo credit: Complete Streets via photopin cc
photo credit: elviskennedy via photopin cc

Monday, October 21, 2013

How to (Not Really) Make New Friends

You know how your life is just normal to you and so you just run along most days doing what you do and not really thinking that much of it? And then you have some experience that brings light to the fact that the rest of the outside world may just not perceive your life as exactly normal? Yeah, me too.

One of the things we long to find here in our mountain mission post that feels so isolated to us at times are a couple of friends who might just "get us" culturally, speak English even, know what life is like where we are from and understand the struggles that come with adapting to life in this place. And, in all honesty, who might crave pizza regularly too and rejoice when they find peanut butter stocked in a local store.

So the other day when we were in the grocery store in the city and a gentleman spoke up in perfect English and asked us if we lived here, we got a little excited. We later figured out we might have been slightly over eager for his conversation. And maybe, just maybe come off as a little "oh, please, please, be our friend creepy". Greg and I chuckled at ourselves as we relived this interaction afterwards.

After the initial introductions, he took us to the car to meet his wife (she grew up in the town where we live) and his daughter (she grew up in Connecticut where they have lived for the last 25 years until they moved back to Costa Rica a few months ago). They explained they are living in the city so she can attend the private high school our oldest son attended last year. But that they come to visit her mother in our town often.

Us: (Holding bags full of crackers and juice boxes) Oh, you should come by and visit us some time when you are there. We live right across the street from the soccer field. We're almost always there, we're just in town right now visiting the indigenous mom who has been living with us awaiting the birth of her baby. She's in labor right now. We're bringing her juice boxes....

Them: General conversation with the overall theme being "we've heard those indigenous people are weird".

Us: Generally awkward response the gist of which was "yes, culturally they are very different from us and difficult to understand at times but we let them live with us and sometimes we go live with them because that's what God told us to do and so we've gotten over it"

Them: Awkward response about how maybe they'll come visit some time and how they have a deacon friends in the States who might think what we do is cool

Exchange of information

Us (Over eagerly offering additional options to hang it with us): Yeah, and we should get together some time when we are here in town. You guys should come with us when we go visit the orphans (you know, for fun, on Friday nights). Or maybe you want to come feed the homeless with us (you know, because sometimes you need more than one fun thing to do)...well, we have to go back to our friend now.

Them: Yeah. Maybe we'll come by tomorrow when we're in town.

They didn't. Is anyone particularly surprised by this? I mean, in hindsight, perhaps inviting them to meet up for pizza with a casual nonchalance might have been a better plan?

Or maybe they would have preferred to join us to tie up live chickens in sacks in their Mass clothes? Because that's how we roll.

I mean, you'd want to be our friend, right?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Common Depravity

So I stepped off a plane in the U.S. mid to end of September and then made my way toward Austin, TX. Without really knowing why or plumbing the depths of it, I had felt a magnetic pull to get myself to the States to attend Idea Camp/Human Care the moment I read about it on Jen Hatmaker's blog (which I present to you because if you don't know about it and you like to laugh while you love Jesus and ask hard questions, you should). I had already been trying to get to New Orleans in early October so this opportunity sealed the deal. I jumped on it and what developed was a month long whirl wind tour of the States for which I left my husband and five children behind in our mountain mission post caring for a 37 week pregnant woman and her four year old (a story for another day). I told you, there was not much in-depth forethought here...a blowing of the Spirit, a tongue of fire, and BAM I was off.

It wasn't really until I woke up the morning of the first day of Idea Camp in my friend Nickie's house that I started to question myself. First of all, my most wonderful hostess allowed me to prevail upon her and her family even though we had only reconnected since high school on Facebook. She jumped to open her home to me when I zipped off a message saying. "Um, if I randomly come to Austin in September to go to this thing (insert Idea Camp link), can you provide me food, lodging and transportation for free?" Because she's a good girl and she loves Jesus and a NOLA girl so loves company, she was all, "YES!"

But I woke up on Friday morning to get dressed and await the ride she had arranged for me with a neighborhood friend and had a moment AKA freak out. What the heck was I doing? My family was far away, my husband holding the home front and ministry fort, while I was about to head to some hybrid conference/conversation thing with people I did not know to meet other people I did not know who did really awesome things I did know about. And all I could think was 1. I'm way out of my league and 2. Don't genuflect and make the Sign of the Cross when you get in the pew at that Church because you are totally going to creep these people out.

You see, I was pretty sure that I was going to be the only Catholic girl at this rodeo (That's a Texas reference, get it?) And that freaked me out because...well, I don't really know why. I think it's because I really do not care. I feel comfortable, inspired and hopeful about the future around Jesus-lovers and world-changers of all sorts. But I am never quite sure if that feeling will be reciprocated. I feel like I have to awkwardly work the fact that I am Catholic into the first line of every conversation to allow people the opportunity to walk away from me if they like. So I did. And they didn't. Not one person walked away.

What I found was a space where there was a unique commonality among those gathered. It went way beyond our antiquated "we all love the same Jesus" platitude (which by the way does nothing to cross ecumenical bounds and reach out to our deepest common places and is really just kind of dumb). It took me a while to figure out what it was that was there.

There was a van ride where two women became my instant friends. There was praise and worship that just felt right. There was a room and a conversation where I felt confident that I had something worthwhile to say. There was the lady who slipped into the pew beside me and then it turned out calls Costa Rica her second home. There was excitement about the work we are doing, and ideas and thoughts and offers for collaboration. There was lunch where we broke every health code and walked straight through the kitchen to our table. And where smart women had insightful conversation.

And that was all really, really cool. But it wasn't quite the heart of the matter. There was something deep happening in the hearts of the people I watched and listened to and talked with and prayed with over those two days. Something that bound us together differently than I had found myself bound to a group of people before. I heard in their voices, sensed it in their countenance, watched it glisten in their tears. We were not made brothers and sisters by some vague same Jesus we believed in.

If you heard the conversations that took place in that space out of context and without being surrounded by that atmosphere, you would have likely though the lot of us crazy. We cried and we were angry and we were disappointed and we were confused and we felt like we had no answers. Yet we were hopeful and we were brave and we were raw and we were in the fight. And we had been broken. Fallen in love with a real God who did the hardest thing for us, broke Himself wide open. And who had in turn sent us into the world with bleeding hearts that had broken for the least of His people. And we stood there together with the pieces in our hands and wondered what came next. We shared a common depravity.

And in that broken, depraved place where we admitted that we had fewer answers than we ever thought we could and that when we really were honest we knew less now than when we started, there was a new hope born. A hope that in admitting to our common depravity we could find ways to help each other keep being brave, keep asking hard questions, keep walking through the muck and the mud of relationships and Church and Christianity and charity and what the heck does it all mean. That the blind leading the blind often find their way in the dark faster than those who think they see and so need no one.

I left that space a little timid to face the world again. There was something so, so nice about being a mess among messes and knowing it was good. And knowing that even after we had quietly admitted to our common depravity in that space, we would take the pieces of our hearts, go back out into the great wide broken world and dig in again. Do the hard stuff. Ask each other questions. Invite one another into our craziness. It framed the entire rest of my time in the States. It changed me. It gave me new friends. Friends who love my Jesus, but not only that, love Him to that point of broken wide, messy crazy. Friends with whom I share a common depravity.

I have made many friends in the last couple of years with whom I do not share denomination. And yet I am drawn deeply to them in so many ways. This is my final explanation of what it is that draws me. It may not make sense to you. That probably just means you're not crazy. Yet.

Friday, October 4, 2013


I have about 13 blog posts running around in my brain about my time so far in the States. And I have had absolutely no time to write them. But this, this is today. The day I stood up with my family and honored my brother's memory with the donation of quilts from our Mercy Covers social enterprise to the amazing people at Team Gleason House for Innovative Living. It was good. And much of it was thanks to the generosity, love and support I have received from so many faithful friends and readers. So I wanted to share the video of that presentation with you here.