Saturday, April 30, 2011

Disaster: An Essay to the Christian Community

Matthew 25:36-40 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

In light of the unprecedented tornadoes that swept through my home state of Alabama, I would be remiss in not commenting on the state of our present suffering. My home and our community were spared, but all around us are people without homes, without power, without water, without hope. Their homes and communities and schools are literally flattened to the ground. There is so much to do that it's sort of like standing in the middle of a war zone without a clear clue as to what to do first or how to start. These are our neighbors, our friends, our people. We must do something.

Here are a few harsh truths that Christians need to remember when helping those in overwhelming need:.

People who have just lost everything don't give one rip about your God. They need to mourn. They need to wail. They need to grieve. Then, they need practical things: food, clothing, water, shelter. Once those needs are met, a person will listen to everything else you have to say. But until that moment when hope is restored, you are confirming their deepest hidden suspicion that it is your God of Love who has visited this wrath directly on their home, their family. Keep your mouth shut until the Holy Spirit moves you to speak.

We need to work WITH other organizations not against them. God didn't come to Earth for a hostile take over. Don't do anything to damage God's reputation by showing your rear when you don't get your way. Be at peace with all men. Cooperate. Share your toys. Be patient and kind even if you don't feel like it.

Keep in mind when you are talking to people who have been hurt, that human beings are very attached to their physical belongings. Having them ripped away is like losing a limb--not something that can be easily replaced. And even if you get the very best, most expensive prosthetic, it's not the same as having YOUR arm back. Not the same at all. Never forget that you aren't replacing someone's belongings. You are allowing them the ability to start over, but nothing will ever change the loss. Be sensitive to this issue.

And finally, expect lost people you encounter in a community to behave like lost people. Do not hold them to your standards of behavior. Love them anyway. That's what God did for you before you were saved. It's the  very least you can do for others.

Love does indeed cover a multitude of sins. Thank God!

Psalm 119:50 My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.

Stage Fright

Lord, help me, I get so sick before speaking engagements.

There was a time when I printed out my standard material, had fun, enjoyed the crowd and the process, just told the stories, had a big time (as did everyone else), oh, and collected my check.

What would I give for it to be that way again just one time...

Now I wallow in my indecision--panic about the topics. I roll around in the muck my fear generates. I taste it on the back of my tongue. Roll it around in my mouth like bad medicine, dreading the swallow. My stomach is sour. My head aching. My nerves on edge. I smell panic on me like truth.

I avoid giving a commitment to speak until the last possible minute, allowing churches to back out on their invitation and hire someone else. I don't respond to emails in a timely manner. I let the phone go to voicemail. I keep trying to avoid, but it's always the same. No, we haven't even thought of asking anyone else. No, we've still got the date. No, we understand how busy you must be and totally understand.


I'm not sure what changed between the Then and the Now unless it's that I actually have something important to say. Something that I hesitate to call 'from God', but it definitely didn't come from me. And the responsibility of that is like drowning slowly in thick paste. I am sick for days before the date. I struggle with preparing my material, waiting until the last minute to put anything on paper, sometimes not until the day of the event. I don't prepare or primp or gather my thoughts. There's nothing to gather. I am empty except for this feeling of dread.

God, what will you  have me say? God, will these people be angry when I tell them the truth? God, will anyone listen? God, what if I say it wrong? God, I am so inadequate. God, can I say 'no, my schedule is full' next time? God, please, please.

I  know I'm supposed to be crying, 'send me, I'll go', but I really want to put my head under the covers and hide. I am spoiled and difficult and not at all a willing servant. I am completely unprepared and inadequate. I can only guess why God keeps putting opportunities in front of me.

So, I find myself going to another church tonight that will be full of nice women expecting a nice evening of nicely decorated tables and catered food. They think I will take the podium wearing my nice clothes and tell a nice story about nice things that God has done in my life. When I rare back and unload both barrels full of righteous anger about all of the useless nice things we are doing as Christians, myself at the top of the list of offenders, I wonder if this is what they expected when they called me. It isn't nice at all. It's humbling. And horrifying. And  messy. And full of unmet expectations and toe-stomping truth.

I liked my little 'pocket god' much better when He let me just be Nice. Now we have a real relationship fraught with all sorts of demands and expectations, much like the ones I have with my husband and my children. He's moved me, taught me, lifted me, protected me, and trusted me. Now He's ready for the payout. So, I'll take the stage and will tell the truth as I understand it from the Word of God. The beauty of that is then I'm free of the sickness. I can again get back to the basics of daily living and not crumble under the weight of these unbelievably heavy expectations.

Until next Saturday when I'm due at the next church.

Lord, Jesus, all of you and none of me.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Duran Duran

Andy, Simon, Nick, John, Roger
I had the most amazing experience this month. When I was 13 years old, just on the cusp of turning 14, my father loaded me and three of my dearest friends in the world into our family Buick and drove us from Urbana, Illionis to the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago to see The First Band I Loved: Duran Duran. Holly Herman, Erika Laberteaux, and Shannon Archey were in on that collective experience. (Funny the things that never leave you.)

We played their albums over and over on the way to the show (an hour and a half one way), then fought through crowds of screaming pubescent girls to sit through a terrible opening act and a brilliant concert by The First Band I Loved.

Being that band, they were sort of like my first kiss. Something that you hold all other experiences up to in measurement. They maintain the standard of what makes a good show. I had every album, every 12 inch and 45 they produced, posters covering every single part of wall space in my bedroom (and that was considerable) including the ceiling. I owned band clothing, a fedora, magazines, and pictures. I followed them religiously in teen magazines and interviews. I watched MTV on a continuum hoping, praying at the television altar in our living room that one of their videos would come on. I waited for world premieres until all hours of the night and made scrapbooks. I was obsessed in the wonderful, powerful way that only a 13-yr-old girl can be obsessed.

John on bass, Roger on drums, Simon on lead vocal
My father was career military, so we moved every 18 months or so. I can't recall most of my elementary school friends at all and have no collective experience of being in the same schools with the same classmates my whole life. I constantly re-invented myself with each move. Molding, remaking to fit the new "in" and in order to make friends as quickly as possible so that I wouldn't be alone. (One of the reasons I was always such a great and proficient liar pre-salvation.)

My first crush--John Taylor
Holly is the one friend I never lost touch with in all of these years. The only one. We wrote letters, called, sent packages. She even flew from Hawaii one summer and visited me in Alabama. We are still friends to this day. So, when I saw that Duran Duran was going on a small, intimate tour of the US to support their new album (All You Need is Now, which is brilliant, by the by), I immediately set things in motion to go see D2 with Holly. (This is quite possibly my version of a mid-life crisis.)

John, Roger, Simon, and Nick on keyboards
Last Tuesday I flew to Denver and stayed with my girlfriend and her son, Alex, who were too much fun. We ate good food, talked for hours, drove into the mountains, and generally had a great time. But the completely surreal highlight of the trip was standing the small Ogden Theater and watching The Boys take the stage. Smoke, lights, small stage, perfect view, standing directly behind a girl who had been at the exact same show we had been at in Chicago 28 years ago (and had on the T-Shirt to prove it), holding Holly's hand as the band took the stage. Nick first, Roger, John, Simon (and that new guy who took Andy's place whatever his name is), it was absolutely like seeing an old flame again. Bizarre and strange and wonderful all at the same moment. It took my breath away. Then as the first sounds of Planet Earth came through the speakers I was back in that moment so clearly. What a gift to be able to hold a memory like that so close in one's hand! I was thirteen again with the entire future sprawled out in front of me as so much unexplored territory. Never yet kissed or hurt or broken or failed, but completely in love nonetheless.

The show was great; the Boys were On; the music was tight; the experience lacked nothing. And holding on to Holly's hand while the band played is one of my most precious memories, because we are connected by our experiences. By our friendship. By 28 years of continuous knowing. And Duran Duran is definitely the soundtrack to that entire portion of my life. I am so amazingly blessed by the people I have loved and been loved by that it defies explanation. I've failed more people than I can possibly count, owe apologies, and will continue to fall short, but I've loved madly, deeply, passionately, and I'm all the better for it. I hope that the soundtrack of your life is as rich as mine has been.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Not Preaching, but a Second Cousin by Marriage

I was invited to speak at North Shelby Baptist Church a couple of months ago. Basically, I took the stage and yelled at them about service (or lack thereof) for 45 minutes, and now I can't stop getting phone calls to come yell at people in this church or that church. Evidently, people want me to yell at their women too, which is all fine and good, but there's this one little problem.

See, I've been doing this Andy Stanley study about getting more margin in my professional life--having more time to devote to the things that I am actually good at instead of flailing around doing things that don't add to my personal "bottom line". In order to do this, I've been saying 'no' a whole lot more, and clearing my personal time out to have more rest. This is not going along with the whole "come yell at our people" offers that keep pouring in.
What's a girl to do?

One thing has become abundantly clear to me in this life: Christian people are tired of having their ears tickled. They are tired of eating pablum. They want to dive deep in the Word and hear the truth of God, even if it's personally uncomfortably. Now, it doesn't hurt that I'm sort of funny while yelling. (Folks will tolerate a whole bunch of truth if it's funny and said in love.)

So, if you wanna come hear me say some stuff this spring or summer (God only know why you'd want to do that, but here it is anyway):

April 30th Alabaster First Baptist Tablescapes "Seasoned for the Journey".205-663-3531 for tickets

May 7th Bluff Park United Methodist Church Tablescapes and Ladies Day Out "Friendship" 205-822-0910 tickets are $15.00 and include worship, snacks, workshops, and luncheon. Party starts at 8:30 with table viewing (I speak during lunch at 11:30)

May 9th Open Door Baptist, Tuscaloosa 6:00 p.m. Banquet  "Following God's Will" 205-349-1580 for tickets
July 23rd First Baptist Sylacauga, brunch event. More info to come.