A Letter to My Future Self

In one of the last books I read in 2017 the author,  knowing she’d be traveling the world with her family, journaled a note to herself:

I question our sanity by our third day here. I’m enamored of the earth’s diversity of climates and cultures, and I want a drink of all of it. But China is a struggle for me, with its Communist worldview a battering ram against my overzealous democratic autonomy. I knew this about China before we landed here, so a few weeks before we left I journaled a note to my future self, as a hammer to break the glass in case of an emergency (the emergency being, of course, questioning our sanity and considering a trip to a coffee shop to grab some Wi-Fi and book a return flight home):

You’re in China, which is hard. But you can do hard things. You won’t be here long. This month is the foundation for the year. Lean in to the struggles; give thanks for the easy times. Hard doesn’t mean wrong. You’re on the right path. (Tsh Oxenreider)

This note keeps coming to mind as we move deeper into 2018. I’m not going globe-trotting with my family (I WISH!), but for the first time in many years I’m entering this one knowing for sure there will be hard things, because this year is bringing CHANGE (not my favorite.)

I want to be present and thankful, and I don’t want to let fear of future change steal my joy today. So from the peace and stability of January 2018, from a life that has stayed relatively the same from year to year for a while now, from a heart that naturally overflows with gratitude (rather than having to fight for it), here’s a letter to my future self.

Dear Future Renee,

From this frigid early January day, I don’t know how you’re responding to change and difficulty: With faith and grace, or struggling to trust God. Holding on tight to the things you know are true, or if giving in to fear.  I don’t know what hard things you’re facing, whether they are the ones I expect now, or others that have come as a surprise.

But I do know:

Whatever giants you are facing, God is bigger. He is with you, and His goodness is bigger than you know. You are loved and known, not forgotten and invisible.

As things shift and change, I hope you remember:

God never changes, and He will not change His mind about you.

Your stability does not come from your plans, or your ability to manage things so that everyone in the world is comfortable and safe and happy.

Your value is not from being needed by others, or from everything staying the same. Change is natural.

And your hope is not in people or organizations or homes or paychecks or roles. God’s goodness is not limited by your failures or other people’s response to you.

The great story of your faith, the story you see in the Bible and in nature is that life comes from death. You can embrace everything that feels like death right now, and release the things that are changing, the chapters that are ending, the seasons that are over. Let everything fall to the ground like seeds, and trust the God who makes the flowers grow, God who spoke everything you see into being.

Is this hard? Yes. But you can do hard things. Don’t try to do them by yourself, and don’t pretend to be stronger than you are. Say a prayer, go for a walk, choose gratitude, take a nap, call a friend. Hard doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong path.

Let these changes bind you to the God who calls you by name, the Father whose arms are always open to you, whose Word has been your treasure and whose Spirit has been your breath. He will not fail you.

He will not fail you.

A Letter to my Future Self

Are you facing change or other hard things in the coming year? What would you say to your future self?

 

Advertisements

You are Invited.

As a young believer learning to share her God story, I was taught to describe the process of entering relationship with God as “inviting Jesus into my life.”

As a more mature believer teaching Sunday School and VBS, I’ve used the words, “Ask Jesus into your heart.”

Over these years of wanting more of God, asking Him to break out of what I think of Him and show me where my God view doesn’t match up with who He is in the Bible and reality, I’ve moved away from talking about relationship with God in this way.

I’m not sure I have a great suggestion for replacement words, but I have enough of an issue with the concept of inviting Jesus into my life/heart that I won’t use this wording with my own kids.

Because “I invited Jesus into my life” makes it sound like I initiated the relationship. It can fool me into thinking I made the first move. And however you want to describe the beginning of your relationship with Jesus, God went first.

We see this throughout the pages of Scripture: In the beginning, God… (Genesis 1:1)

This is the story for countless Old Testament Hebrews, some God-seekers like Abraham and Job, others running from God like Jonah and Jacob. Their stories begin  “Now the Lord said to Abram…” And “The Word of the Lord came to Jonah…”

It is no different in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, where fishermen and tax collectors are minding their own business, doing their day jobs, and Jesus walks up and says, “Follow Me.”

I’m studying the story of Levi/Matthew’s calling this week, and I’ve been captivated by the first line:

After that He went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me.” Luke 5:27

He noticed a tax collector named Levi…

I spent years of my single life hoping to be noticed, longing to be chosen. I spend many of my hidden days, those family days no one sees, still longing to be noticed, wondering if what I do matters.

What does it mean to you that Jesus notices?

He noticed a tax collector named Levi…and He said to Him, ‘Follow Me.'”

The Message paraphrases “follow Me” as “Come along with Me.” Jesus’ notice is not limited to the Spiritual Elite. His attention is not reserved for those who’ve proven themselves, earned His favor.

Jesus’ invitation to live life with Him is given here to the tax collector. The rejected, the despised, the not-good-enough. The outsider.

What does it mean to you that Jesus’ notice of you is not something to be afraid of? That He’s not going to notice you and then find you not good enough?

Levi responds to Jesus’ invitation with a big YES: He walks away from his dishonest livelihood, his identity and his shame, and goes where Jesus goes.

And then Levi throws a big party for Jesus, and invites all his tax collector friends.

This is what we church people want from new believers, right? This is the perfect success story, something we could show  and celebrate on a Sunday morning video, a sinner who walks away from his sin, and introduces Jesus to all of His friends.

For all our strategies and programs, this process is usually a lot longer. It can take new believers years to turn away from their livelihood, identity and shame. And it can take even longer years before people learn (usually through some sort of “training”) how to share Jesus with their friends.

Maybe times have just changed. Maybe that’s just life, and it takes longer sometimes, and that is fine.

Or maybe it takes longer because we see ourselves as the ones inviting Jesus.

We don’t see Him noticing us. Choosing us. Welcoming us even as He knows our sin and shame. Inviting us into life with Him not in spite of these things, but because of His great love.

What does it mean to you that Jesus invites you, just as He invited Levi?

Does it change how you think of God to realize that He initiated relationship with you, that He always goes first?

He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world… Ephesians 1:4

You Are Invited IG

 

God does what He wants {Psalm 115}

I’ve been thinking about idols lately.

Last week I prayed Psalm 115. It starts off so lovely,

“Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
But to Your name give glory
Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth….”

But verse 3 takes a turn, announcing

“Our God is in the heavens;
He does whatever He pleases.”

Not exactly a characteristic of God we tend to paint on rustic wood hangings or put on artisanal coffee mugs.

When we want God to do what we want, is it a form of idolatry?

But that gets at the root of idolatry, doesn’t it? We want a god who does what we want. Continue reading

Tell Me True Things {Real Life Parenting Lessons}

Last week my youngest son had a melt down. (He’s had meltdowns this week too, it’s not that uncommon.)

I can’t remember what caused this particular fit. Maybe homework, which he doesn’t enjoy, especially if his brother doesn’t have any. Maybe it was because I was making him read (finishing first grade unable to read causes him great anxiety, plus “reading is dumb.”) Or maybe one of his brothers had done something to set him off. Who knows.

I also can’t remember if I stayed calm and helped him deescalate – it’s nice if one of us chooses to be the adult in a meltdown situation. But let’s be real, there’s just as much chance that I wasn’t in a place to be calm, and responded to the fire of his temper tantrum with the gasoline of my anger, leading to both of us needing to apologize. It happens. I can’t remember.

What I do remember is holding him in my arms afterwards, feeling the anger drain out of him and the remorse rush in. I think this is a cycle for lots of children, and even adults: anger, bad behavior, regret and remorse, self-loathing. But the pattern is clearer in this child than I’ve ever observed, you can practically see the changes marching through his little body. Continue reading

Faith, Public Opinion, and the Cool Kids Table {Thoughts on James 2}

 

When I was in the 6th grade I got made fun of for my clothes. I was smart and shy and I had Wal-Mart brand shoes. Stacy Edwards came back from the bathroom one day and told everyone I was a loud pee-er. To this day, when I use public restrooms, I try to “pee quietly.” Whatever that means.

My 9th grade best friend was a bass violinist named Lori whose family took me to church, and who was a good and faithful friend. Sophomore year, I had 4th period with kids from the popular crowd, who invited me to eat lunch with them. I stopped spending time with Lori and our studious, steady friends, now seeing them as a social liability. I had a shot at acceptance with a group I’d always felt outside of, and I took it.

What if I’d never been made fun of for having the wrong clothes and peeing wrong? What if I’d chosen to stick with friends who were loyal and kind rather than chasing acceptance and popularity (which always stayed just out of reach anyway.) Continue reading