“We’re throwing open our front door
and inviting you in, as we invite Him in.”

When where you sit matters more than where you step
I GIVE UP: Why I thank God for my Lenten fails
Will you stop and pray for this little boy today?
A radical response to a radical evil
Would Jesus Vaccinate?
Just where do you think you’re going in those shoes?
How to keep walking humbly with your dog, er, your God
Should we worry about the Doomsday Clock?
Why I still make my kids’ beds (at least sometimes)
Je suis Christian

When where you sit matters more than where you step

By Leigh Sain

Spring has sprung here in the south. And after 900 cold, wet winter days with no outside play time for my wild boys, I am a bit in love this new season. Mostly because it has brought freedom to open the front door and let the wildings take their leaping ninja-fighting selves outside.

For five minutes life is a bit calmer, and then I notice an odd thing happening with my littlest guy. He is spending these glorious new spring days crying. Constantly. Right out in the middle of our cul-de-sac. Right in the middle of this bustling boy mecca filled with seven boys ranging in age from 12 to 5. My little one stands and screams and swipes at his tear-stained face declaring loudly that everything is NOT FAIR! Not fair because this band of boys has separated into itself into “the little kids” and “the big kids.” His brothers are big kids and he is not.

“I want to see the brothers play!” he wails, as his little Power Ranger-costumed friends watch anxiously from the driveway. I suggest that he join them, because they have swords and masks and wouldn’t that be cool? But he can’t answer me. He can’t decide. He just keeps running back and forth around the circle while each group tries to call him or to shoo him.  He is unsettled, angry and loud.

Suddenly it seems to be what everyone wants to know: What will you do with yourself now that all your boys are in school?

And as I watch him race about, something in me seems to know it well, that inability to settle, that restless wandering.

Funny, how often God gives me glimpses of myself through that glass front door. I can clearly see the problem. This little guy has finally been given the freedom to play outside, to do anything, go anywhere. The thing he was begging for during the cold rainy days of winter has been handed freely to him. But instead of embracing it, he’s losing it. He’s just wandering and crying and lamenting that playtime is over now, and it is unfair because he never got to do anything! The uncertainty and the circles have claimed all his time. Now the sun is sinking low behind the pines, declaring an end to these untethered hours. And it did not go the way it should have.

Yes, I get it, really I do. Because you see, I too am learning how freedom is such an odd thing. With my boys getting older, I am being handed new pieces of time that are my own.  Twelve years of being a stay at home mom have left me with very few moments to contemplate what’s next. But suddenly it seems to be what everyone wants to know:  What will you do with yourself now that all your boys are in school? Will you go back to teaching? Hey, maybe you could head this committee next year or perhaps you could take charge of this event since you have more time? These questioners are well-meaning, but inadvertently I find myself in an unsettled season of decision making. What does God want me to do next? Where is he leading me? And why can’t I find the words to answer these questions?

Maybe you’ve had to make decisions too? Little ones, big ones, ones for yourself, ones for your kids? So you know how there is this relentless pull to get it just right. To use the freedom you have been given well and make good choices. Because isn’t this just what you wanted? To choose for yourself which way you should go?

And it can be hard to know how to move when you are blessed with the gift of choice. The trajectories life lays out in front of you can all start to look good. And don’t we all just want to choose correctly? Follow the right lead and step out in faith towards the work God has prepared for us. But what if I pick the wrong path? What if I choose one way and the other way was actually better?  What if God actually intended for me to do something else? What if …  You can start to come unwound in the choosing. And I wonder why God made it like this. Why doesn’t he just tell us outright how it should go?

The sweaty little one continues to proclaim that he will not come in for supper until he gets to play. And I marvel at how much I want to make it easier for him. How much I want to convey the wise decision; the fun that could be had if only he would just settle with the Power Rangers and give up chasing the long-legged crowd.  But there’s this: He must learn to do it on his own.  It must be his, this choosing.

And God knows that to be true about us, too. He knows that in the wavering, in the times of our lives where pathways seem unclear, where freedom gives us choices. He knows that our choosing to follow Him anyway — it must come from our own hearts or it is not real at all.

I begin to see it. The thing that is stealing my peace. And maybe yours too? The wavering. The chasing. All the wanting of more, and seeking the perfect solution.
The tantrums eventually calm and later that night, the same boy smells of soap and toothpaste as he tucks the length of his five-year-old self into my lap. And we read. The story he picks is from the children’s Bible, it is of Elijah, the prophet and the Israelites. He asks a thousand questions about the mountains, and why are the boys wearing dresses? And it catches me off guard, how I come undone when I read the words that Elijah hurls at God’s chosen people on the top of Mt. Carmel. “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him.  If Baal is God follow him!” (1Kings 18:21)  But why do you waver?

I begin to see it. The thing that is stealing my peace. And maybe yours too? The wavering. The chasing. All the wanting of more, and seeking the perfect solution. I am those Israelites, chasing after my worthless idols. I am my little guy running from place to place trying to find the one thing that will satisfy me the most. And it won’t work, this chasing. Because my worth, your worth, will never be found in the way we make the right choice.

This pajama clad damp-headed boy, he gazes up at me and grins. “I think tomorrow I will just be a little kid,” he says confidently out of nowhere. Like maybe he gets it, too. Still curled into my lap. The quiet decision is made.

I smile slowly, though, because I know a thing or two about decisions. I know that it will not be so easy tomorrow. When the lines are drawn in the cul-de-sac again and the action is swirling on around him; he will falter, he will cry, he will not know. He will have to come back and sit again to be reminded how it should go. And maybe that’s it.

Because I don’t know. I just don’t. I can see that these decisions about what comes next are not simply “two roads diverged in the woods” kinds of decisions, where I can step forward and never look back. How I use this time I have been given, how I answer all of these requests flying at me each day affects more roads than just my own. So, I waver, I wonder, I circle my space and wring my hands. Yes? No? Maybe? I take halting steps. But maybe it isn’t so much about where I am stepping as it is about where I am sitting.

Maybe the question I need to be asking myself is this: where am I going to sit when the choices need making? Whose face will I look at before I take a step? Where will I put my eyes? Jesus, he suffered, he died and he rose again that I might have this freedom, freedom to draw in close to my Maker. And it is all that matters.

Elijah’s words keep ringing in my ears. “If the Lord is God follow him …”  Yes. But how?

In the dark of bedtime prayers with little hands tucked into mine, God whispers truth to my wayward soul. “Sit with me awhile and it will all make more sense. Come back and sit with me before you go racing about with all your choosing. Follow me, by drawing near to me, constantly. Make circles each day that continually turn your eyes back to me. Then when you don’t know what to do, you will know me and that will make all the difference.”

Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with your whole heart. And I will be found by you, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 29:13-14

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I GIVE UP: Why I thank God for my Lenten fails

By Mary-Evelyn Starnes

If there is one thing Christians do that garners the most eye-rolls and jokes from non-Christians, it has to be the practice of giving up something for Lent.  ”So wait,” they say.  ”You gave up Starbucks to make Jesus happy?  I’m sure he really cares.”

As a former Catholic, I have a colorful history of religious practices built around Lent.  I do not like to use the word “religious” to describe any part of my faith, but it applies here.  “Religion” is how we act or try to act in response to God.  And I’ve run the gamut of Lenten religion.  I’ve given up things.  Some years I’ve added things instead.  It was not compulsory.  Once I started butting heads with the Catholic Church at the wee age of 14, I refused to do just about anything it told me to do.  But when Lent came around, even during the college years when the Church had no hold on me whatsoever, I felt an almost magnetic pull to return.  I needed to go get those ashes.  And I needed to prepare for Easter.  Giving something up was a response to that feeling that preparation was in order.

Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, is all about preparation.  Once November hits, it is impossible to forget that Christmas is coming.  And that’s a good thing.  It is harder with Good Friday and Easter but I think so many of us realize that we need to be thinking ahead to those days and what they mean.  So we put in place these abstinences to help us focus.

“Do you seriously consider going without chocolate at all comparable to Jesus’ dying on the cross?”
It can be muddy spiritual water, though, because sometimes we do the giving up before we consider why are doing it.  Ask a hundred people why they give something up, and I bet you get a hundred answers.  ”I sacrifice to remember the sacrifice Jesus made for me.”  Or “I go without to be reminded of what life would be like without God.”  That sounds good, but as the naysayers would counter, do you seriously consider going without chocolate at all comparable to Jesus’ dying on the cross?

Some people are gluttons for punishment and really want to suffer.  (My mom used to give up coffee every year and I felt like we were all being punished.)  Others use the time to work on their personal vices.  They know it’s time to quit smoking, for example, and they treat the process as a spiritual one, asking God to be their strength and resolve.  And, while you don’t hear people say this, I think that there probably is a bit of atoning going on, too.  ”I want to do be better so I can be deserving of God.”  Hmmm.

And maybe having unclear or ulterior motivations isn’t that bad.  When I was in Catholic school, we were given a list of religious exercises we could do in preparation for Lent.  Each item had a point value (I’m not kidding) and we would tally up our points, though I don’t recall if there was a grand prize.  I do remember that one of the items on the list was to go into the sanctuary and walk the Stations of the Cross.   When we had been sent out to recess on particularly cold days, I would walk the Stations just to get warm.  Would I ever have done that for the “right” reason?  Probably not.  But I know that that practice made a positive impression on me regardless.

As an adult, I’ve had some years where I have been disciplined in my approach to Lent and others when I have basically disregarded it.  Lent coincides with tax season, and working 70 hour weeks as a tax preparer, I often felt like I had already given up everything enjoyable in my life.  There certainly was no room in those years to add anything.

What did I give up this year, you ask?  Gin.  And martinis.  You can laugh, as I certainly am writing this.  Andy and I have had some laughs over it, too.  We joke about whether me not drinking gin for 40 days is somehow going to offset the fact that I am mentally sinning every moment of every day.

Thank God that I am measured by who Jesus is and what he has done and not by what I have done.
So why did I give it up?  Well, it brings some dark truths about me into the light.  Last weekend, when it was so beautifully warm outside, Andy made a gin drink and I asked him for a sip.  He said, “Sure, if it’s worth it to you to go to hell for.”  Ha ha, right?  Obviously we don’t think that’s how it works.  But you know what?  I had forgotten in that moment that I had given it up.  One little vow and I am so impulsive that I almost broke it.  And why gin AND martinis, you ask?  Isn’t that repetitive?  It is repetitive but here is what I know about myself.  I love a gin martini and the point is to give those up, but if I only give up gin, I know I will just have vodka martini instead.  I am such a Pharisee.

My lack of self-control and my willingness to break the rules I set myself — it really is pathetic.  Paul said it better when he wrote: “For I have the desire to do what is good but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing.”  (Romans 7:18-19)

I am an accountant which means I like to measure things.  And I believe in the adage that we manage what we measure.  I have two apps on my phone with that in mind.  One counts my daily calories.  (A friend and I have an agreement that if one of us should suddenly die, the other is to delete all the  information from that app on her deceased friend’s phone.)  The other is a habit app.  I set the habits I would like to develop and then I check them off the list when I do them each day.  These aren’t big habits, mind you.  We are talking about eating vegetables, drinking water, and walking the dog.  These are all things I thought I did an OK job on but wanted to do better.  Do you know what I found out once I started keeping track?  For one thing, I do not do an OK job at all.  These things that I thought I did every day, I actually was rarely doing.  Also, when it comes to calories and to my daily habits, I do fine during the week but on the weekends … The weekends are killing me.

I hadn’t realized it was this bad until I tried to do better and saw my behavior as it really is.  I thought to myself, No amount of good four days a week can balance the bad of the other three days.

That’s when it hit me.  No amount of anything good that I do will offset my bad on the scales of righteousness.  Thank God that I am measured by who Jesus is and what he has done and not by what I have done.

So why do I give things up for Lent?  Not to self-improve or be worthy in God’s eyes.  I set tiny limits on myself and then marvel at my struggle to stay within them.  I realize how depraved I really am and how hopeless it would be for me to try to achieve righteousness through my own works.  Then I give thanks that I don’t have to.

When Jesus goes to the cross on Good Friday, I cry because I hate that I could not save myself and that he had to.  I cry because I know I am not worthy of that kind of love.  And when he rises on Easter I rejoice because he has raised me with him.

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Will you stop and pray for this little boy today?

There’s this boy I know in Kenya. His story might just break your heart.

He lives off a dirt road, in a small house with a dozen or so other kids.  At four, he lost both parents. His grandmother couldn’t care for him and released him to an orphanage. A few months ago his caretakers noticed something wrong with the boy’s left eye, something causing it to bulge out. Turns out he has a tumor. And it is growing.

But this is Kenya, remember, and things here move slow, sometimes even slower than a tumor. He’s being well cared for, but the complications of his case and the lack of surgeons available caused his treatment to get stalled. But the tumor was not. It keeps growing, and now the boy is in pain.

Heartbreaking. Maybe you’re ready to stop reading because it breaks your heart so much. I hope not, because there’s one more thing:

This boy I know in Kenya? His name is Praise.

A boy named Praise. Read More

A radical response to a radical evil

By Beth Hartt

Have you ever read the Book of Revelation? A little weird, right? I’ve read it 4 times now and it doesn’t get any less weird. Or easier to understand. But for the first time, a verse near the end stopped me in my tracks when I was reading it the other day.

Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

Immediately my mind called up the image of 21 men on their knees on a beach in Libya. Twenty-one sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, who were brutally beheaded for being followers of Jesus Christ. The anger welled up inside me—again. Because variations of this same story keep happening over and over, and I am mad. No, furious. And frustrated. I want to see these radicals punished and hurt like they’ve done to countless others. I want somebody, anybody, to do something, to stop this madness.

But I know this is not the response Christ wants me to have. I know that if I let the anger take over, I’m no better than the jihadis. Deep down in my Jesus-loving heart, I know I’m supposed to be praying for them. No, not just for the men on their knees in the sand. That goes without saying.

I’m supposed to be praying for the men standing behind them. Read More

Would Jesus Vaccinate?

By Jennifer Graham Kizer

So, about this recent measles outbreak.

Kids are getting sick from a disease we know how to prevent. This has provoked a lot of anger, and a host of questions. Should people have the right to opt out of vaccinating their children? What if this decision threatens the health of others? Does the government have a right to force people to participate in herd immunity? Does the media have a right to scold anti-vaxxers, because they caused this outbreak?

In my Bible study this year, we are making our way through the life of Moses. God’s been establishing the nation of Israel. It’s a theocracy, with Himself at the helm. So in a sense, we know how God governs, because it’s written down for us. He lays down all kinds of unequivocal laws, and many are of the public health variety.

Sadly, nothing about vaccines. Read More

Just where do you think you’re going in those shoes?

By Leigh Sain

Nineteen years ago this week, I met the boy who would become my husband. On a blind date. While wearing tennis shoes.

My choice of shoes may seem insignificant. But, as my sweet husband relishes in reminding me, it was not a tennis shoe worthy kind of date. It involved dinner. At a restaurant. Most people there were not wearing tennis shoes.

Now, in my defense, it was the 90’s—grunge was in.  I was a student then at a big university where the uniform of the day was sorority shirts, jeans and tennis shoes. He went to a smaller school where the girls wore actual outfits to class. I try to remind him about a lovely sweater I’m sure I wore. This earns me no points, though, because in his mind my Seinfield-esque sweater did not make up for the fact that I was wearing tennis shoes. On a date.

He recounts this story (his version anyway) as dinner’s chaos dances around us. And we laugh at the memory of that long ago awkward evening.  As I listen to him talk, twisting my hair—with its faint streaks of gray—out of my face, I begin to feel my 21-year-old self creeping into my thoughts; all young and overwhelmed by life’s expectations. And suddenly this place, with its chicken cooking, milk spilling, boys tussling to get to their seats first, becomes a bit of a marvel to behold. God really unfolded all of this from that tennis shoe-clad mess of a first date? Read More

How to keep walking humbly with your dog, er, your God

By Mary-Evelyn Starnes

It is time to blog again. And, as I search myself, I find no spiritual epiphanies or transformations with which to enlighten you. Not to say that there has been no transformation.

December, the time of noise and wonder, gave way to January, which inexplicably turned into dreary, drab February, before the ink of my New Year’s resolutions had time to dry. But as much as I miss December and dread these cold dark days, I welcome the possibilities that a mostly-empty calendar holds.  Now is the time to rein in my diet, to exercise every day, to get to bed early. Now is the time to get the kids back on track with their daily reading and math facts. Now is time to start blogging again, though honestly I don’t want to. Instead, I am ready to tackle the overflowing closets, the piles of paper, and the email inbox. I have time now to focus on these tasks and it will feel so good to knock them out.

I just have one little thing slowing me down. Actually it is not a little thing at all. She’s a 70-pound puppy that demands more attention than a toddler. Read More

Should we worry about the Doomsday Clock?

By Beth Hartt

Did you hear? The Doomsday Clock moved two minutes closer to midnight last week. In case you don’t know, the Doomsday Clock is a symbolic clock that represents a countdown to potential catastrophe, like nuclear war. The closer the clock gets to midnight, the closer scientists believe the world is to global disaster. The Doomsday Clock now reads three minutes until midnight. I feel like I should be alarmed, but I didn’t even know such a clock existed before I saw this story.

There was a time when I would’ve been a little freaked out by this news. I would’ve made a bucket list, Googled directions on building a bomb shelter, started my canned goods stockpile, and possibly even looked into purchasing gas masks and hazmat suits for the family. But I’ve changed a lot these last few years. My reaction was more along the lines of … eh.

Why? Read More

Why I still make my kids’ beds (at least sometimes)

By Abigail McConnell

A while back a little checklist circulated around Facebook about age-appropriate chores for children.  It listed the different jobs kids should be trained to do around the house by ages 2, 4, 6, 10, and so on.  I skimmed it and moved on.

Last week, as I was making my 14-year-old’s bed one morning, I remembered The Checklist.  And how bed-making, experts say, is one of the first chores a kid should be given.  Any toddler can do it.

Why on earth, then, am I making the bed for this boy-man of mine, the one who is a full six inches taller than me and capable of doing his own laundry, washing mountains of dishes and chopping wood?  Or for my nearly-grown daughter, who drives and works and will be in charge of her own bed and life in 18 months?

Can’t they make their own beds?  Of course they can.

Do I still do it?  Yes, I confess I do.  Not everyday, but enough to prove I’m no Tiger Mom.

I don’t do it because I’m a neat freak (which is evident). I don’t do it to cater to them, or even to teach them to do nice things for others. And I really don’t do it because they deserve it (what they deserve is a grounding for how messy their rooms are right now, even as I speak).

Why then? Read More

Je suis Christian

By Jennifer Graham Kizer

In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack, reasonable people are decrying the dangers of religion. I’m for not throwing le bébé out with the bathwater.

When I was in college, my freshman sociology professor explained matter-of-factly how God came about. Would you like to know? Here it is: People made Him up.

A funny passage in The Good Earth illustrates his point. A Chinese peasant and his wife are walking along, chatting about their recent string of good fortune. She’s had a baby boy. No good-for-nothing girls for them! And his work has produced a plentiful crop. Then the man stops short, remembering the gods. “What a pity our child is a female whom no one would want!” he shouts. “And covered with smallpox as well!”

He’s just covering his bases.

The man knows that a good deal of his success depends on dumb luck. But if gods exist, he can gain a measure of control. He can humble himself before them. This sure beats the alternative: eating from a cruel, indifferent can of No One In Charge. Read More

Copyright 2014 The Cul de Sac.

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