A Time to Speak

prophet“And now, Lord, take note of their intimidations intended to silence us. Grant us, Your servants, the courageous confidence we need to go ahead and proclaim Your message while you reach out Your hand to heal people…” Acts 4:29,30

I get confused sometimes.

My heart pounds with empathy as suffering weeps in silence. I reach out to touch the wound that’s not mine to touch. And my fingers linger on the scar as I long for healing to flow forth.

The job of Savior is already taken. 

And I get intimidated sometimes.

Responding to hurt and binding up wounds is often easier than opening up my mouth to proclaim abrasive truth.

Do you follow? I want to be the healer instead of the prophet.

“Christan, you need to stop bringing home your clients’ angst,” a friend told me, the social worker hoping to save my corner of the world. Years ago, I had a 14 year-old client whose story came home with me everyday… whose fragments felt like my own brokenness, for I tried to piece them together in my mind all night long. I stayed awake night after night thinking and pondering and carrying a shame that wasn’t mine to hold. I still think of her.


“Is now the time, Lord — the time when You will reestablish Your kingdom in our land?” (Acts 1:6) Fresh from witnessing the resurrection, Christ’s friends were still feeling oppressed… still feeling taken advantage of… still wanting a political hero to rescue them from Rome… still full of fear at what they might find just around the corner.

Have you waited incredibly long to be rescued?
Have you yearned and longed while injustice rips through the flag of freedom over and over, tearing it to shreds?

“Here’s the knowledge you need: you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. And you will be my witnesses, first here in Jerusalem, then beyond to Judea and Samaria, and finally to the farthest places on earth.” Acts 1:7-9

You will speak and reflect Me among what’s familiar
…and among people and cultures just a tad bit different
…and with those whom you fear and scorn and judge
…and with those you’ve never even thought of before.
That’s what you need to know for now.
You’ll open your mouth.
You’ll speak truth without fearing what others think.
You’ll boldly proclaim My love for those right in front of you,
for those that don’t look like you, for those who make decisions you would never make, and for those you’ve forgotten about. (Acts 1:7-9 paraphrase)

“You will speak, and I will heal,” says the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

Oh. But I want to do the healing. I want to bind up the wounds and see brokenness transform before my eyes. I want to do something meaningful, and healing seems significant.

But the job of Savior is already taken.


Again…
“And now, Lord, take note of their intimidations intended to silence us. Grant us, Your servants, the courageous confidence we need to go ahead and proclaim Your message while you reach out Your hand to heal people…” Acts 4:29,30

I see the accusers pointing at me. I see their hate …and confusion …and fear. Everyone has a story that’s led them to today. But I will proclaim what’s real without intimidation. I will not wait in silence. I will open up my mouth and exchange shame for courage and proclaim a Gospel-driven message of love and wholeness. For now, I will speak.

And I’ll watch my Savior reach out His hand to heal those I love. I’ll see His hand with that deep, deep scar cover the wound. I’ll see Him touch the scars and bring a restoration I never could.

Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:14

 

photo source | john sting, portugal

4 Ways to Uproot Bias

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It was quite a year: 2016 forced us to consider the refugee crisis… the #BlackLivesMatter movement… kneeling during the national anthem… a polarizing, words-heavy presidential campaign season. Yes, we saw numerous headlines forcing us into self-reflection, sometimes catching us off-guard, and we’re still reading similar headlines. What are our gut reactions to the latest stories? How did we get those opinions, and how did we get so confident in our views?

How did we get so… biased?

Five years ago, I conducted an interview with an African American woman on racism, and she kept redirecting the dialogue toward stereotyping. I’m finally beginning to understand why.

It’s getting near impossible to ignore our biases — those thoughts many of us ignore yet are influenced by daily. Current events shine a light on our thought patterns. It’s uncomfortable, for when news stories call us to sort through our own perceptions of people groups, we come face to face with the ugliness of our hearts.

So what do we do about it? We know we were made to live in community, and we want to. But stereotyping and silent prejudices have us facing the highest of relational walls. How do we uproot biases that have been lodged discreetly (and not so discreetly) in our hearts?

I’m clearly not an expert, and I’m stumbling along, but Scripture is full of guidance. Verse after verse, story after story, we see our Rescuer’s heart and His value of community, unity, the marginalized, the oppressed, and misunderstood people groups.

The apostle Peter, surprisingly, has a lot of relational advice. The man who betrayed his friend, Jesus, and then hid when it really mattered, eventually drank from the cup of forgiveness and grace. (John 18, John 21)

But time often has a way of bringing back our self-protective patterns. And Peter, the guy with the flaring temper and abrasive personality, is openly prejudice as he tries to lead the first century Church. We see him excluding people because of their race and refusing to eat with anyone who doesn’t share his ethnicity. (John 18, Galatians 2)

In true redemptive fashion, God pursues and restores him again, transforming Peter into an advocate for healthy relationships. The one who was an open racist is now giving advice on how to get along with others.

Our Redeemer can do the same transformation for us today. Sure, you may not prohibit someone of a different race from eating with you in the office cafeteria, but are you judging her and feeling superior as you eat together? Where do your thoughts jump when you pass a young man dressed differently than you? In a matter of seconds, we can make judgment calls on someone’s intelligence, value, and worth, all while feeling better about ourselves.

Here are some principles on how to uproot bias in our hearts — even when it’s in there deep.

Bravely Enter into Self-Examination
When we hear about injustice and oppression in our community, we often want to do something. I have been challenged over and over by others lately to first look inward. Sometimes it’s easier to join a movement of mercy or establish a cause for justice than to examine your own heart.

“Get yourselves ready, prepare your minds to act, control yourselves, and look forward in hope as you focus on the grace that comes when Jesus the Anointed returns and is completely revealed to you… Put aside the desires you used to pursue when you didn’t know better.” I Peter 1:13-14 

Choose to engage in self-reflection as you search your mind and heart. Get ready for what you’re about to find. But don’t stop there. Look forward in hope to the grace that’s available to you.

A few questions to ask yourself:
What stereotypes and biases have I been entertaining?
What do I assume about certain people before we’re even introduced?
Why am I scared to self-examine?

Discover What’s Been Missing from Your Narrative
While intentional steps are needed to move forward in combating our bias, it’s worth pausing and figuring out what got us here. What’s your story? What were you not told in childhood textbooks? Were photos of different races missing in articles you read throughout high school and college? From TV shows to history lessons and everything in between, sometimes what’s missing from the narrative imprints our hearts as much as the noise.

“You know that a price was paid to redeem you from following the empty ways handed on to you by your ancestors; it was not paid with things that perish (like silver and gold), but with the precious blood of the Anointed.” I Peter 1: 18-19

Peter urges his readers to remember that the blood of Christ shed on the cross — the heart of the Gospel story — can cover the “empty ways” passed down, which includes our ignorance. Once you see, you cannot un-see. And God graciously restores our ability to live in community as He reveals what has been missing from our life’s narrative.

Be in Relationship with Those Different From You
“Live as those who are free… Respect everyone. Love the community of believers…” I Peter 2:16-17

When we develop friendships with those who are different from us, our view of other races and cultures expand. We still see color, for our creative God has proven His love for diversity in the creation of humans and the physical world. But our stereotypes of others don’t have as much power over us when we’re in relationship with people who represent various histories, values, and customs. Instead of “that Asian woman”, I now see a woman that reminds me of a friend. Instead of “that black man”, I remember the seminary student in my small group. Instead of “that poor white guy”, I think of the man who is a greeter at my church.

Relationships turn people into people instead of just members of a larger group.

Crave Truth
Be hungry to learn more. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. Peter describes it like moving from infancy to maturity:

Be like newborn babies, crying out for spiritual milk that will help you grow into salvation if you have tasted and found the Lord to be good.” I Peter 2:2-3

When we wrap our minds and hearts in humility, when we listen to learn and not refute, truth will prevail. As we enter into the tension of what we’ve always believed to be true compared to new discoveries God is revealing, we can thank Him for stretching us into the community He intended.

Self-exploration and discovery are uncomfortable, but growth is often preceded by discomfort. Listen first as God reads your heart back to you. And then relying on His forgiveness and mercy, move toward relationships and advocate for truth like you never have before.

photo credit | patrick tomasso

The Aching Orphan

In honor of World Orphans Day, November 14, 2016…

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The Jesus Storybook Bible was given to my children long ago before their questions were as big as they are now. I read it to them, hoping truth would etch their hearts – enough truth to carry them through middle school and high school with all its drama and doubts and failures.

But it became a love story for me, shouting on some days but usually whispering until streams spilled out of my eyes as we read the last lines of each entry. The Jesus Storybook Bible remains one of the biggest influences in helping me understand the Gospel. Oh, I had known it for years, but this amazing work helped me grasp God’s love for me like never before.

One day I stumbled upon this random picture on Facebook. A boy was holding our Bible.

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Study it. See the orphan. See him tucked in a boring mosaic of mass-produced decorating, locked in a pattern of sameness.

See his name taped to his bed, identifying the only space he calls his own. Known to no one. But not really.

See his hands holding the Love Story of all time. 

Maybe he’s been in an orphanage his whole life and can’t know what he’s missing. Maybe he doesn’t grasp how alone he truly is because he’s never known what it’s like to be a son.  But still, he’s human, and our hearts are created to ache until we give them to Someone, until we surrender to the Rescue Plan.

And His heart just might not ache anymore. The boy, he holds the key to an eternity of being known. An eternity of being Someone’s son.

Hidden to the world by a sea of yellow blankets and identical headboards, the Maker knows his name. And as His heart spills over with love for the boy, God defines his worth different than culture and society.

The Maker, He knows my name, too, as I hide among houses that look the same from the sky. As I spin and race and keep searching for a life of meaning. Yes, He knows my name even when I forget to turn my face to Him. Even when I forget to open His Love Story and read it again.

God sees the boy and me both, made to love Him back. Regardless of how alone and forgotten I feel, regardless of how I stumble awkwardly trying to live in community — by believing I was made for a different world, I can truly live in this one.

Are you stuck in a pattern of sameness? Pacing through the status quo?
Are you convinced you lack significance? Lack a life of meaning?
Have you wondered so long you don’t realize the fullness you’ve missed?

Friend, turn and stare your ache right in the face. Run to it. Wrestle with it. Thank God for the boring routines. Hand your loneliness to Him as an offering. The ache is a gift, for He’s telling you there’s more. Telling you that He’s more.

It’s only in giving our hearts to Someone that the ache will be forever healed. Forever satisfied.


You have the fountain of life that quenches our thirst. Your light has opened our eyes and awakened our souls. Psalm 36:9

The Spirit you have received adopts you and welcomes you into God’s own family. That’s why we call out to Him, “Abba! Father!” as we would address a loving daddy. Through that prayer, God’s Spirit confirms in our spirits that we are His children.  Romans 8:15-16

Forgiveness: A Teenager’s Story

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The Wound

It was a normal school day in fourth hour. Some classmates were joking around, holding their iPads like frisbees. As Lucy bent down to retrieve her backpack, she felt a jab and then saw the blood. An iPad had accidentally been launched from Owen’s* hand, hitting her forehead and cutting through three layers of skin. Almost all the way to her skull.

Have you been surprised by trauma before?
Has your heart been pierced all the way to the core? Deeper than you thought possible?

Lucy found herself in the nurse’s office, full of panic and spilling with tears. She answered some questions and waited for her mom to arrive while her wound hid behind a temporary bandage and ice pack.

Are you doing that, too?
Are you trying to heal your wound with a temporary cure? Trying to numb that pain?

Together, Lucy and her mom raced to the Emergency Room only to wait. Sorting through the internal questions… navigating the tension… wrestling with the “why” — they sat for two hours before being invited into healing. She was terrified, for she knew stitches would be the cure.

Lucy, a seamstress, was no novice to needles. She knew their strength, knew the beauty they could create by piecing something together. She had seen needles penetrate cloth with permanency. And this is what terrified her. She knew the puncture was necessary to create, and in her case, necessary to restore. Pain before wholeness.

“The doctor told me he would have to sew through my skin, layer by layer, and that I’d have a permanent scar on my forehead,” Lucy recalls. “I went home after the stitching and cried and cried. You know how physical beauty is so important in this society? I was so angry.”

You, too? Do you feel like your wounds have tainted your beauty?

The Dialogue
Lucy went back to school the next day which proved to be a mistake. Rumors had already been spread that simply weren’t true: Owen had flung his iPad toward Lucy on purpose…she was suffering from a major concussion…her entire face had been cut open…she was being over-dramatic and nothing serious had happened.

Have people tried to sort through your story?
Have they resorted to lies when they couldn’t quite make sense of your struggle?

Lucy wasn’t prepared for all the questions, either. She wasn’t equipped to give explanations or interpret her feelings for everyone publicly. My goodness, she hadn’t even completely faced her reality in solitude yet. Some would ask to see her wound, ripping away any sense of normalcy for the self-conscious girl.

Despite all the attention, she felt so… alone. “People didn’t make eye contact,” Lucy remembers. “They’d either look away from me or just stare. There was no middle ground.”

To help themselves navigate the awkwardness, some would turn to jokes. They weren’t cruel, but they tried to make light of something very, very real. Lucy faked a lot of laughs to go along. “It was very uncomfortable,” she admits.

The Healing
But the seamstress is also an artist. And she turned to paper and water and color for therapy.

rose

In something as delicate as a flower, Lucy began to find strength. She discovered her voice and fell into gratitude. “So thankful for how I’ve grown closer to God through this. It could have been a lot worse, and I am eternally grateful to him.”

And as she began to accept her situation, she knew forgiveness and reconciliation were the next steps. Owen had pursued her immediately. He visited her that first day in the school nurse’s office, overflowing with apologies. His friend had come along, too. Trying to comfort her, he shared his own story of receiving stitches once and assured her she would survive.

“He calmed me down and brought me back to reality that day,” Lucy recalls. Freshmen in high school… empathizing… owning a mistake… asking for forgiveness.

While she was engaged in ongoing conversations with Owen and the school counselor, Lucy’s peers were trying to support her. But remember her initial anger? Well, these kids loved their friend and were furious, too. Some publicly declared their rage toward Owen. They wrote hate notes to him and left them in Lucy’s locker, hoping to make her feel better.

“I had made peace with Owen, though,” testifies Lucy. “We weren’t enemies when the accident happened. I had moved on from the wound, but my friends hadn’t moved on. They had good intentions, but their hate notes weren’t supporting me.”

Have you found yourself wanting to heal but needing to comfort your loved ones instead?
Have empathizing friends who meant well kept you from forgiving?

The counselor urged Lucy find her voice again and publicly urge her friends to get over her situation. She wanted to thank everyone for their support but remind them they could lift her up without tearing down Owen. She turned to the canvas again.

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“We all make mistakes.”
“We all need grace, forgiveness, and a chance to start over.”
“Letting go of past hurt changes you.”

And it worked. People stopped sending hate notes, and she continued to forgive Owen. Her story impacted so many, and she recalls the certainty of knowing that many beyond herself were wrestling with God and engaging with Him because of her story. She drank from the cup of closure and was satisfied.

Friends, she’s only fourteen.

The Challenge
On that day in fourth hour, and in the weeks to come, Lucy’s people were reminded how faith and everyday reality do indeed intersect. How quickly we forget. Through the strength of the Healer and Master Artist, Lucy found the courage to forgive, and even reconcile. And an entire community was marked by her courage.

“If you’re reluctant to forgive,” challenges Lucy, “you have to really think about that person… and your relationship with that person. If you’re thinking about retaliating or choosing the “safety” of ignoring, ask yourself, ‘How could God get glory if I took a peaceful resolution?’ ”

So, my friends, what about your wounds?
Is God calling you to more than just surviving?
Is He calling you to restoration?

“He binds their wounds,
heals the sorrows of their hearts.” Psalm 147:3

 “Visualize this: His blood freely flowing down the cross, setting us free! We are forgiven for our sinful ways by the richness of His grace… Be kind and compassionate. Graciously forgive one another just as God has forgiven you through the Anointed, our Liberating King… So imitate God. Follow Him like adored children.” Ephesians 1:7, 4:32, 5:1

*Some names have been changed

photo source | SugarBean Photography

When You Have to Get to Know Your Kids Again

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As I write this, I’m sitting in a hotel room in New York City while my family is still asleep. I just noticed the last time I published a post on Repurposed was March 20 — almost three months ago. When I grow up, I’d like to blog for a living. But I do believe living a purposeful life sometimes involves pressing “pause” on dreams, rolling up your sleeves, and living the life in front of you.

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(J.K. Rowling)

We’ve been going hard for the past three months, and while I’d like to attribute my silence to our busy work/play/sports schedules, in reality my quiet season is due to something deeper than a crazy calendar. You see, we came up for breath the week of Spring Break, and I realized I hardly knew my kids anymore.

“The days are long, but the years are short,” my friend Jennifer cautions. Indeed. Where has the time gone? I felt like I was keeping up, soaking in every new stage of their childhood. I actually enjoy entering new stages, and I don’t grieve the passing of time. But somehow, this school year swept my son and daughter away and brought back a teen and almost-teen that hardly resemble the kids I’ve been raising the past several years.

It’s rather humbling. If you like control, this experience can really rock you. And if being the most amazing parent has been one of your goals, you have to wrestle with some deeply buried idols. You wake up in the midst of your kids’ middle school years and discover parenting is not about you at all.

Gone are the days when choosing your kids’ outfits tells the world what your sense of style is. Gone is the season when you plan a fun day of activity and everyone goes along with enthusiasm. (And the affirmation you give yourself vanishes, too.) Gone are the moments when you can predict what your child’s response will be. (This might be the hardest one to let go of, for when they surprise you with unforeseen preferences, you feel like you don’t know your kids as well as you used to. And that’s kind of scary. And sad.)

Back to the blogging silence… When you’re humbled and realize how little you know, you sort of don’t have much to say. We’ve all heard how listening is usually better than talking, and these new identities have given me reason to be quiet. I have way more listening to do because I’m getting to know my children again.

I recently attended my school’s Arts Extravaganza, and the choir sang the sweetest poem:
A wise old owl lived in an oak;
The more he saw the less he spoke;
The less he spoke the more he heard:
Why can’t we all be like that bird?
– Henry Hersey Richards

Um, yes. The more he saw the less he spoke; the less he spoke the more he heard. Their little voices sang this phrase over and over and this middle-aged mommy was quite convicted.

When you bring your kids through the elementary years, you talk a lot. At least I did. When I carry on this tradition with my middle schoolers, they don’t sit there like sponges anymore, waiting for my next insight. Instead, my words are met with stiffened backs and faces that silently say, “You’re not hearing me. You’re not even trying to listen.”

And they’re right.

“Train up a child in the way he should go;
    even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 esv

I used to read this verse through a me-centered lens, almost as a guarantee to cling to when the going gets rough. I wanted it to say: Train up your child in the way that will help her make respectable choices (spiritually and morally), and when she’s old, she’ll still be living that dream of yours for her life, making you look good.

But slowly, and sometimes reluctantly, I’m choosing to read it through another lens: Parent your child, accepting the way God designed him and helping him discover the story God has written for his life. And when he’s older, he’ll still be living a life of purpose, in sync with God’s plan from the beginning of time.

This refreshed interpretation, well, it’s a lot harder because I don’t get to work hard when I’m frustrated or irritated or down right angry. (Have you noticed we don’t sit idle when we’re angry?) It’s a difficult interpretation to swallow, for it calls me to trust and not do.

What would it look like if we listened more… not just to be polite or to avoid looking overbearing? What would it look like if we listened with the intention of learning and discovering and understanding?

Are you with me? As I parent a middle schooler and rising high schooler, I need to learn God’s story for my children’s lives. I must discover what they would have told me the past several months if I would’ve just stopped talking. And I absolutely have to understand what passions are there beyond those teenage faces staring back at me.

What about you? Who do you need to listen to more? What topics do you need to hold your tongue on for a while, with the intent of learning and discovering and understanding more? You might not be parenting teenagers, but I know you’re wrestling, too. It’s the world we live in — whether you’re trying to be intricately engaged with your local community, or you’re yearning to be a global citizen, or you’re somewhere in the middle.

Your active listening might need to take place in your workplace, or your yoga class, or as you research and write a book. For me, I’m simply going to start at home as I get reacquainted with my kids.

Trust.

IMG_2848There’s heaps of awesomeness about raising teenagers, too, like snapping this selfie at the top of the Empire State Building at 10:44pm.  🙂