Truth & Grace

Minion Christmas

(Jimmy’s Minions found their way to the manger. LOL.)

I’m an Enneagram Nine. Usually described as a peacemaker; one who avoids conflict. Talk to my husband and he’ll tell you this is for sure true. For better or worse. And yet. I heard someone on a podcast once (I can’t tell you now who it was) who said something about how a Nine is for peace EXCEPT when this Nine finds a hill to die on.

I have a hill.

I’ve known it for a while. For at least fifteen years, since back in the day when my boys were young and God showed me what I’ve come to call my P’s. You know what I mean if you’ve been following along. Performance. Perfection. Pride. Those guys. And when God in His mercy went to battle and killed those guys off, I took to my hill. Never again. I’m not going back. 

Lately I’ve been intrigued by a conversation that’s come up a number of times. Different contexts and different perspectives, folks who are talking about TRUTH and GRACE. And for all these years I would have probably told you my HILL was the hill of Grace. Until lately. Because just lately I’ve noticed this thing called Truth has been making its way up my hill, too, and it’s not what I would have expected.

A quick explanation. Truth and Grace is a churchy topic. It comes up often and usually in the context of “Are you more truth or grace?” And of course we know Jesus was fully both. We’re always quick to point this out. And if we’re to be honest, we’ve defined these two as opposites. Think Bad Cop/Good Cop. Truth is the hard side; grace is soft. Truth tells you what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Grace gets you off of the hook. That’s how we usually think. I think.

But then last Sunday I had a lightbulb. I’ve always suspected GRACE is something other than how we tend to define it. But on Sunday it struck me. This is also true about TRUTH.

We were singing when I had my lightbulb moment, and now I realize it happened on purpose. Yesterday at a staff meeting at church, sitting directly across from our new worship pastor, Jeremy said something like this. My job is not to lead people into God’s presence. That’s way too much pressure. My job is to lead them to Truth. Which is EXACTLY what happened to me on Sunday.

Every song, from the first to the last, had me thinking THIS IS TRUTH. These songs.

I am chosen
Not forsaken
I am who You say I am
You are for me
Not against me
I am who You say I am*

And that’s just one of a whole lineup of truth-telling songs. My friend Julia was singing her heart out and I tell you for sure, this gal KNOWS THE TRUTH.

Lost are saved, find their way, at the sound of Your great name
All condemned, feel no shame, at the sound of Your great name
Every fear, has no place, at the sound of Your great name
The enemy, he has to leave, at the sound of Your great name…**

And I’m thinking there’s no Bad Cop here. No bad news whatsoever, because, this is The Truth, as in Gospel, which is only Good News, and THIS. IS. MY. HILL.

This is truthandgrace, and I’m beginning to see they’re not opposites at all, but one flesh so-to-speak, and we can’t have one without the other. It’s what I said to the 5th graders and their parents two Fridays ago at our Gala at church. Don’t forget who you are – because your identity in Christ is all the Truth you need and you don’t need people filling your head with all kinds of lies.

Don’t mess with me when I’m on this hill.  

This week I’ve been grieving over something I can’t write about here, but I think I know the source of my anguish. This long journey away from those false truths that wreck and divide us. We give ourselves to lesser truths and in the process we lose sight of the only TRUTH that matters. This TRUTH is Good News, and GRACE is the secret sauce that makes it real. (Jesus does for us what we can’t do for ourselves, is the way I like to say it.) And I tell you this with determination. I’m not going back. Not now or not ever.


*Who You Say I Am, Hillsong Worship
**Your Great Name, Natalie Grant

Hope & Future

Thanksgiving Tattoo

Jeremiah 29:11. I’ve probably read in at least two different books just this week how we misuse that verse when we make it our own. And yet. If ever there was a verse you’d want to steal to tell a boy’s story, I’d give him this one without hesitation. For I know the plans I have for you… plans to give you hope and a future. And what’s it going to hurt for a kid to believe it’s God’s plan for him, too?

A few days after Jimmy got his tatoo, he applied to a college. We sat side-by-side at the kitchen counter while he selected bubbles on the online application. Later he moved to a living room chair to write his essay – his story of faith. He had me proofread, told me not to cry, and no wonder. A faith story and a life story intertwined, plans to prosper and not to harm. And there’s been plenty of both, believe me. Before bed I stopped by his room, put clean laundry in drawers and closet, and I told Jimmy about Luke’s podcast preacher and the story he told this week. Oh. My. Goodness. The most heartbreaking and oddly beautiful sermon I’ve ever heard, is how I said it to Luke in a text message, and the next day Kyle sent a text, too. Have you listened to this one?!! 

We’re all living in these stories, and with no way to guess how any of it will turn out. Tuesday evening we skip church to meet up with family for a basketball game. First it’s Grant and Kiana and Maisy at Chipotle and before we’re finished with burritos there’s a new chapter being written, nothing any one of us could have concocted, and I glance for a minute at the ring on my finger. FAITH on one side, and underneath where no one can see it, a hidden message – walk by faith and not by sight. Grant was in high school when I bought birthday rings for myself and my sister. I remember it still, how He taught me to pray GOD, I TRUST YOU and mean it. Back then never guessing at this wife and this story and it’s a compelling reason to walk in This Faith.

And then it’s Nils riding with Mom and Dad the short distance from the mall to Bethel and he surprises us, too. Kyle says out loud how his head is exploding, which I think is his way of saying wouldn’t it be nice if God would give us just a little more information, which of course, He’s never exactly inclined to do.

Thanksgiving Day and we gather at Grammy’s for all-day feasting, and of course everyone’s asking about everyone’s plans. We write our thanksgiving on index cards, my list including the girls we’ve been adding – two brides-to-be and a baby granddaughter. Trey’s there with Anna, tying the knot next August. Just a month and change for Luke and Ali. We’re all eating pie, our third round of food, with one more to follow, and we’re updating wedding plans and future plans, reminding Grammy and ourselves, too, how it’s all subject to change.

My index card also includes Jeremiah 29:11, a direct reference to our family story. Five years ago we sat around this Thanksgiving table as a family of five and no one even knew we were praying that prayer about adding two boys. One month later we’d share our news with a candle-lit cake on Felipe’s birthday. And I’m thinking about Jimmy’s essay and how he remembers the exact date they found out, too.

The pies are still out, cups half-full of lukewarm coffee, and we start the leftover round. Remnants of a midday feast and remains of late morning hors d’oeuvres, and just in case Grammy’s also made up a batch of Sloppy Joe. We clear decks of Wizard to gather one last time around the dining room table, and someone asks about plans for a house at the lake. “These are thoughts, not plans,” is what I’ve been saying, because we really don’t know. Too many stories still unfolding and we’ll know when we get there is the best we can do.

Brian’s doing the washing, and I dry the last of the dishes from a day of feasting. Uncles and cousins circle the kitchen island, filling containers with tomorrow’s feasts-to-go. It’s been dark for three hours and the food coma is setting in hard, so I gather belongings to call it a night. We’re in two cars, Nils riding shotgun with me, playing Christmas music. We talk about how Cody Fry is a musical genius, Felipe listening from the back seat, saying how he’d still like to learn the piano. And I think about hope and a future and Jimmy’s compass. The places we’ll live and the stories He’s writing. No way of knowing, but GOD, I TRUST YOU. Because I do.

Coffee & Jesus

Coffe & Jesus

All I need today is a little bit of coffee and a whole lot of Jesus and I have to laugh every time I see it. The irony, and how many times have I rolled my eyes and made my snarky comments. Coffee and wine, and maybe it’s confession, or maybe obsession, but someone somewhere’s made it a market, placing slogans on mugs and t-shirts and kitchen décor, and now, thanks to Jimmy – mine, too.

It was a gift of love, no question, the boy remembering his mom on her fifty-first birthday, showing up shirtless and sleepless while I’m blow-drying on a Sunday morning, and he makes his presentation. I lift the lid on a red velvet box, a tissue-wrapped cup and a small wooden sign, my youngest son hovering tall, lean and leaning close to see my reaction. I laugh out loud and hug him tight. Coffee and Jesus. A no-brainer. Too true.

Two days later I’m at Caribou for the third time since Sunday’s large spicy mocha, on the house. Yesterday celebrating birthdays again, this time with Gina. My sister is four years and two days younger than me.

And now, on day three, I’m ordering a latte, small and plain, sitting across the table from a young mom from church, known only from email and a Facebook picture. She thanks me profusely for meeting like this, and I say without thinking. Ministry over coffee is my favorite. Cliché. So Jimmy was right. And the next ninety minutes prove this truth.

After all, the E for Eat did include warm beverages on a cool fall day and I’ll be the first to admit my BLESS opportunities are more often than not His ideas and not mine. Not my idea years ago when Missi and I started meeting sporadically to talk about life and kids and being moms. And then too much life happened and the two of us drifted, but a few weeks ago out of the blue I get her text and we’re back at it over coffees at Brio and all-you-can-eat Pizza Ranch buffets, and I’m telling Missi how I’ve loved Jesus more than I’ve ever loved any human, and it doesn’t get better than this.

And then this morning, it’s out of the blue again when I ask my husband where are you going? It’s Thursday and he’s heading out in rush hour traffic for a day at his office, unexpected, but he’s made plans to meet Andi for lunch. Which just proves what I’ve been saying all along. These stories span years and God is faithful.

Faithful. Last night at dinner. Never knowing when I’m making the food who’ll partake and when. But then with no warning it’s four of us at the dining room table eating grilled chicken on Kaiser buns. Lingering and chatting. Jimmy giving us an impressive outline of his Worldview class and I’m listening hard and saying little, trying to discover what’s in the boy’s heart. Two sons processing out loud their faith and their doubts and I’m sensing more former than latter, and I think it again. Faithful.

Minutes ago I head into the kitchen, birthday mug in hand for a splash of hot, and there’s Jimmy’s egg mostly uneaten, and I’m sure it’s because the boy’s nervous. Pizza Ranch chicken for lunch at school and I’d guess he’ll be picking at that, too, barely eating. Nearly a month he’s been counting the days to November 15 and his three-hour appointment at Wingnut Tattoo and I’ll admit right now I’ve done my fair share of eye-rolling driving past that particular establishment over the years. But tonight it will be the place where Jimmy tells his story in ink on a forearm. Jeremiah 29:11. I know the plans… A compass symbol pointing to a lifetime journey, and he gives his glory to God.

So there I was last Tuesday at Caribou. Cups of coffee and a brand-new journey, meeting up with this sweet young mom, and she’s all kinds of thirsty for Jesus. She demonstrates with hands how her cup was empty. All of it empty. Pursuing friendships and buying stuff, none of it filling. And then, out of the blue, she thinks of church. Her whole family shows up one Sunday and – that story about the two sons and the father, like the pastor was talking to me. And it’s not just her, but her kids and her husband, and she tells about her oldest son rushing through his pumpkin carving so he won’t miss reciting his Bible verse at AWANA. A whole family transformed to be thirsty. And I’m listening and loving and shaking my head at all of this blessing. How He fills our cups.

Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” John 7:37-38


Des Moines Oct. 2018

(Note Ali sporting Minnesota and Luke in UNI)

Who hates Iowa? We hate Iowa!!!

It’s the favorite cheer of the U of M student body, a chant employed not only at games against the black and gold, but also (so I’ve been told) at pretty much any game against any Big-10 team. And as a college freshmen, Luke ate it up.

Shhh. Don’t tell Grandma Bev.

As in, Ali’s grandma, and all the other aunts and uncles and shirttail cousins calling Iowa home, and oh-my-hawkeyes-goodness I’ve never seen the like. Or the bling. These people are FANS. Two weekends ago Luke and Uncle Matt were the only dudes at a bridal shower in Muscatine, Iowa. The same Uncle Matt who slipped a magnetic pig into his note of congratulations, a not-so-subtle reminder of Floyd’s long stay south of the border. I thought Luke handled it well.

It was the first of two long weekends I’d spend traveling from one end of the state to the other, and if I don’t end up getting a complimentary speeding ticket in my mailbox before the end of 2018 it will be a miracle and then some. Iowa’s like the Big Brother of the Midwest with its hidden cameras and postal citations and who hates Iowa? Just saying.

Of course, I hate Minnesota, was the phrase Felipe uttered first thing this morning, given our November snow and ice. Fortunately for him, his Eddie Bauer parka arrived in the mail yesterday just in time, and when he’d asked a couple of weeks ago if we’d buy it for him, I laughed out loud. You’re a true Minnesotan now, I’d told him. That first winter, refusing a coat, calling a sweatshirt his jacket. A Columbia windbreaker the next season (u-not-o, mind you, and no relation to the boy’s Colombia of origin.) And now this year, wrapped in a -40F parka with no shame whatsoever, scraping ice from his windshield before heading to class.

We’re all adapting, the word I wrote in my notes last week at a Family Ministry network session featuring Michelle Anthony, a favorite of mine. She opened with a story about years ago, as a young mom joining her husband for a four-month stay in Kenya, and he’d told her it would be just like living in Southern California, which of course, it was not. She told about picking bugs out of pie dough, and the first few weeks she could hardly eat a thing, but by the fourth month she’d bake those bugs along with the dough, which is how she knew she’d eventually ADAPTED.

And I’m thinking about four years, not months, and we’ve adapted, too. The guys and us, both. Michelle said this, too, how at first it’s offense and fear of the unknown, but the goal is Redemption in a culture of Love. I’m taking notes in Sharpie on a glossy promotional card, amazed at how she’s using all of my phrases.

We simply love people, while creating a culture for them to become spiritually formed through God’s Spirit… She’s talking about church, but I’m thinking about home, and how it’s the very thing we’ve been trying to do. Adapting is one thing, redeeming another, and Monday over coffee Angie said what I’d been thinking. How Redemption is the most amazing miracle of all.

So we buy coats online and we cook up one more pot of chicken and rice, adapting both ways. All the while doing our best to create a culture that chants I LOVE YOU, in any state, in all kinds of weather. Even Iowa. We love you, too (;