Hope!

Mitch and my first apartment was on the top of a three story house. We had angular walls that created a low ceiling. The apartment consisted of three rooms that were all the same size; a bedroom, a living room and a kitchen. This meant that our kitchen was spacious. As a result, we found ourselves living life around our kitchen table.

I remembered recently how we would sit around that kitchen table and pray for people that God brought to mind. One time, Mitch got a song for it. The song became a backbone for us in intercession for others. It was a silly, single-lined tune and went like this:

What if the best thing that could happen, happened to _________ ?

We would then fill in the blank with someone’s name, and proceed to repeat the phrase with different names that came to mind.

What if the best thing that could happen, happened to Julie?
What if the best thing that could happen, happened to Lauren?
What if the best thing that could happen, happened to Casey?
What if the best thing that could happen, happened to Josh?

We would go on and on until our minds were filled like a balloon fit to pop with best-case scenarios for others. It was an amazing exercise of hope. Without fail, the rise of hope produced a giddy joy. We would end up in silly fits of laughter drawing out outrageous scenarios of goodness for the lives of others. Then … once we were FILLED WITH HOPE, we would release those best-case-scenarios over people in prayer. It is fun to pray from optimism instead of pessimism. I mean honestly, what if?

What if the best thing that could happen, happened?

To this day, the question challenges my hope barometer. Hope is the expectation of good. Why is that so hard for us?

I think our hope tends to be weak because we are scared of it. Many of us have been burned by disappointments and are afraid to hope again. We lack the courage that hope requires. Our weary hearts convince us that it is easier to leave hope behind. Hope involves vulnerability and risk. Disappointment is a bear. No one wants it. But what is the alternative to living with hope? A life marked by pessimism? Fear? Despair? A journey half taken without ever knowing the beauty of the second half?

I believe that hope and the goodness of God are linked. If I have a low-grade view of the goodness of God, I will also likely have a low-grade experience of hope. I recall the fox in the Chronicles of Narnia saying of Aslan, “He is everything we have ever heard.” I believe that the goodness of God is everything we have hoped for and more. If that’s true, than why would we not hope for the best?

In my experience, hope is a lifeline. I have let go of it too many times. When I lose track of hope, I find myself grid-locked into my circumstances with no way out. Its a terrible feeling; like being in a pit and watching the safety rope being pulled up without you.

Let me ask you a question, how often do you put your feet where your eyes have not first landed? 

Hope is like the eyes of the soul. It helps you see where you are going. 

Friends, I don’t know why we have disappointments. I don’t get it. I do know, however, that hope is a better protector than fear, even fear disguised as “caution.” Hope will keep you feeling alive and moving courageously through life. Hope is the road that seeks to lead you from good, to better to best. It is worth traveling on. I leave you with this challenge:

Hope.
Hope wildly.
Hope freely.
Hope again.
Hope so big it makes people uncomfortable.
Hope so much you wonder if it’s safe.
Hope for the best.
Hope against hope.
Hope for hope.
Hope!

Don’t give up.
Put your hope in God.
Consider that He is better than you know.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

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Isaiah 60:1-2

A meditation on Isaiah 60:1-2

Stand up. Stand tall.
Emerge from the shadows.
Come out of hiding.
It’s your time to shine.

What’s in you needs to come out.
Your voice needs to be heard.
Do you know that your personal expression matters?

You are not an extra.
Your output is important.
The world awaits your mark.

Nations will come to hear you.
Influencers will fall under your influence.
People will scurry into your sphere to find out what you’re about.

But none of it happens if you remain silent.
Nothing changes if what’s in you stays put.

Come into the light.
Put yourself out there.

Its okay if it’s unrefined.
Half there.
Half not.
Half whatever.
Take a risk.

Create.

Your expression is going to pierce darkness with light.
You are covered in glory and you will stand out.

The fear you feel is only there because it fears you.

Arise and shine.
This is your time.

A Safe Leader

I remember the plane landing in Moscow. I watched from the window as a heavy snowfall filled my view. The runway felt too short. Cabin doors opened. People gathered their things. I turned around to check the back door of the plane; sure enough it led to the same place, a Russian winter.

Courage pulled me out of that aircraft into a foreign airport. Exiting baggage, I saw a man with a small sign, Tver InterContact Group, Katie Burgmayer. I stood for a moment wondering if I should identify myself. I meandered while he puffed his cigarette and eventually we collided.

He drove me a few hours to the city of Tver where I would study abroad the next four months. I was dropped off at a big gray apartment building where my host family lived. I learned on the first day not to trust the elevator. Inside the apartment, I was met by startling hospitality. My hosts were a couple who were giving up their bedroom to me. They would sleep in the living room for months while I stayed with them.

Window. The first thing I noticed in my room was the window. When I saw it my heart warmed for the first time since departing home soil. Windows to me are a meeting place with God. I dropped my stuff and sat down on the bed. Eyes out the window, I remember feeling so far from home and entirely alone. Tver. A city where I knew no one. I had no family, no friends, no church, no one to speak english with … nothing but a bed – a window – and God.

The following days I watched the world bustle from my window; people covered in fur from head to foot scurrying around below. Moms carried their children on sleds through the ice covered streets. Cars managed to drive in extreme wintery conditions with no traffic lights to direct them. In time I would descend the stairs of my building and step unto those streets myself. A foreign pedestrian, watch out!

I had a mile and a half walk to school in the mornings. Imagine a neon sock tacked to a blackboard and you’ll have an idea of how I looked against the scene of that city. I would slip and slide all the way to school in wonder at how the Russian women could walk in heels on ice as if it were not ice at all.

By the time I got to school my face was often frozen. Temperatures were consistently twenty below or even more. Inside the school lobby I would stand still and wait for my face to defrost so that I could let out a “Dobroye Utra!” (Good Morning!) to the only person in my world, the school secretary.

Sounds miserable, I know. But if you could see the look on my face when it defrosted, you would find a broad smile. To me this was adventure, and I loved it. Live or die, I was all in.

When I look back at my journals from Russia, I find that my intimacy with God was nailed into place during those months. He was all I had to lean on. I have since seen patterns in my history with God where He draws me away to develop a stronger direct connection with Him. In these times, He is re-established as my chief leader. Russia was an extreme experience of this for me.

I’ve been thinking about these times as it relates to knowing God as a personal leader. It makes me consider the vast number of people who are getting hurt by spiritual leaders. Its concerning. In part, I think this hurt has to do with poor leadership. On the other hand, I’m beginning to see that it also has a whole lot to do with ungodly expectations that we put on our pastors and leaders.

In a teaching I recently heard, I was struck by the simple question, “Did Adam have a pastor?” I would add, “Did Moses?” “David?” Did the man who wrote “The Lord is my shepherd” have any other consistent leader in his life besides God Himself?

God has been desiring face to face relationship with people since the very beginning. A mediator for His care was our idea, never His best. Does that mean I don’t need leaders in my life? No. But it does mean that I refuse to put an expectation on my leaders that is meant to be on God.

There are times when we are removed from the care of others. Maybe its finding out your family is not a safe place for you, or your pastor has no time for you, or you have landed like I did in an entirely foreign world. Whatever the case, know that you are not off the grid. Most of the heroes in the bible were in the same boat. Consider that God may be shifting your dependence to keep you safe. He is the only thing that never shakes.

It took me time, but I learned in Russia how to walk on ice. I bought a fur hat and began to blend in, I worked my way into the hearts of a few people, and fell in love with their language. But most of all what I learned was that God is my shepherd, and when I have Him, I have everything I need.

What if you and I got a hold of “The Lord is my shepherd,” and could therefore help care for our leaders instead of burdening them to be God for us?

It was on an ice covered land that I learned dependence on God. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world because direct dependence on God is exactly what gets tested when our world shakes.

I believe in spiritual leadership. I believe in being covered, connected, cared for and engaged in a spiritual family. Its really important. But I also believe that there is one spot for primary leader in your life, and only one safe Person who belongs there.

When it comes to leadership, He is not second best. He is the best.

The Lord is my shepherd. I have everything I need. Ps. 23:1

Change

I watched a field get plowed last week. It was amazing. Dry tight dirt turned over into rich dark soil. Rows of transformed earth formed in front of my eyes in the wake of strong blades.

The scene reminded me of change; how much we resist it, and yet how much we need it.

The farmer will be sowing again soon. He will scatter new seeds over the fields. The fields that are plowed will gobble up those seeds in the wells of good soil. The fields that are not plowed will miss out – entirely.

Change. Think about it.

If I resist turn over on my land, am I not also resisting my next harvest?

Its too easy for me to imagine the fields around me high with corn in a few months, while mine lies dry and still due to being stuck in the mindset of a former crop. My prayer becomes:

God, I let go of what is behind. I take hold of what is ahead. I say “yes” to the change happening on the landscape of my life. I choose to embrace the new thing; the rubble of broken up dirt that is transition. I ask you to dig deep wells for the seeds you are scattering now. Make my heart a place of fertile ground for what You want to grow. Let the future begin.

Change, you have my permission. I’m riding you into something new. I embrace you as a gift from the Father. Eager eyes. Gaze ahead. Two feet forward. Here we go.

Friends, don’t look back. Its time for straight forward motion. Your change is divinely orchestrated,  or in the least a divine opportunity for bright new things. Let change happen. Move through it. Embrace it. Ride it into something new.

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians  3:13-14

Relating

Last week we went to a Smorgasbord. 200 feet of Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking. Imagine. We spent four hours there; reminiscing about 2014 and dreaming about 2015. It was fun. One course after another our memories unraveled like a tight ball of yarn – fully present and yet barely unpacked.

Towards the end of our evening I stood in the dessert section. Pies piled high. Ice Cream Sundae Bar. Puddings. Cookies. Cakes. Treats. The space was tightly packed with delighted eyes, eager hands, and full tummies giddy for more.

I struck up a conversation with the lady next to me. I was whining to her about my inability to choose a dessert. We related. She then raised her hand and her voice to the surrounding crowd, “Diet starts January 1st!” At her announcement the whole crowd seemed to unify with a delighted, “Here, here!” We all laughed and tumbled willingly into the permission she rendered us all to – eat more.

Moment freeze.

Old people. Young people. Big people. Little people. Dark people. Light people. Normal people. Weird people. Blatant people. Mysterious people. All these people at a Smorgasbord … unified inside this one women’s remark. I marveled. Feet as diverse as they come, all touching common ground in full agreement about something. Pie.

Could it be that people are not as diverse as we think? What if humanity as a whole has a lot more in common with one another than we presume?

One of the best teachings I heard last year was about how Jesus was able to relate to those who were different than Him. Somehow Jesus was able to be fully present with people without compromising who He was or demanding they change before He was able to relate. This challenges me.

Of course you and I are friends. We think alike, look alike, act alike, value the same things, dislike the same things, and by and large share the same belief system. I know  we’re really different, but honestly, we’re also very much alike. And that’s great.

But if that’s the extent of my relationships is that not also the extent of my influence?

One of my goals in 2015 is to get better at relating to people who are different than I am; the spiritist in town, the retired women at Wendy’s, the farmer’s helping hand, the cashier at the Giant, the grumpy neighbor, the teller at the bank. I may not have much in common at first glance, but it could be as simple as a piece of pie that lands us in a shared space.

Consider joining me. Reaching beyond yourself relationally this year to those you wouldn’t naturally relate to. Moving towards people when there’s a choice. Making an unusual friend. It starts with a simple, “Hi.”

I feel curious what will happen if we render our uniform lives to the diversity that surrounds us. I have a hunch that it will set the stage for the love of God to spread abroad, proving well worth it.