On Dissonance

I’ve never been comfortable with dissonance. I have the cliché need for the song and the chord to resolve. It needs to come back to the 1 (if you’re a Nashville number system follower), the root chord. Maybe it’s that I have an unrefined ear, an inferior taste based more on feeling than creative musical appreciation. Whatever the reason, dissonance makes me crazy. The unresolved chords in my life also threaten to drive me to insanity. I like things to be wrapped up neatly, to have closure, to have their proper label and place. But life is unrelentingly messy. It’s more like the sounds of a symphony warm-up than a flawless performance. There are moments of clarity and beauty, but so much is muddled, smashed up layers of sound that you can barely make sense of.

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On Pushing Back the Darkness

love If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’re on social media of some sort. And assuming that, if your news feed isn’t chock full of the heated discussion of world events and the refugee crisis, I have to assume you either live in a commune or on Mars. Our world is in crisis and the opinions on how to handle it are many, highly varied, and are being expressed at length and very passionately.

This is not a post to add my own opinion to the millions out there. In fact, many articulate pieces have already been written that would encapsulate how I feel. Many enlightening perspectives have been shared, and I don't think my own is necessary, so this is not my take on the world's situation.

This post is actually much harder to write. It's about my own heart's situation. It’s a confession of the ugliness that’s been surfacing in me this past week as I have read and read until my eyes burn. It’s a cry for God’s mercy and it’s a call to all of us who follow Jesus to run to him right now. I’ve been reminded over and over again this week just how much I need him. I’m responding to Jesus’ call today to “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” This is a post exposing the darkness in me, that is thankfully being revealed by the glorious light of God. I write it hoping that calling out my soul's struggle will encourage all of us to keep fighting the good fight—the one that’s not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities of darkness. As followers of Jesus, we must live in his presence, being continually transformed by his spirit into the image of Christ. God, do that holy work in me.

“The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

God, may your light shine into my own heart, and banish every trace of darkness.

Here are a few of the ways the darkness has been lurking in me lately:

Fear. Fear is a divisive and disgusting enemy. Perhaps that’s why God commands us “do not fear” hundreds of times in scripture. He knows we are weak and prone to fear, but he knows the damage it causes. And so he asks his children over and over again to “Be strong and courageous.” He tells us that “perfect love casts out all fear” so I must choose over and over again to love instead of fear. When I am tempted to be afraid, I will look into the face of love. I will stare deeply into the eyes of fire that are consumed with love for me and for the world. God, clothe me in love.

Reaction. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control. The Spirit of God is never panicked. God is never quick to fly off the handle. When we spend our lives in communion with God, we find ourselves slower to speak, quicker to listen. But I’ve found myself reacting frequently this week. My reactions are a red flag that what I desperately need is time in God’s presence. When I am grounded in God, I am at peace, I am calm, and I am able to be patient. My inability to stay in this place is a glaring reminder that I must guard my heart. I must run over and over again to the secret place with God. My heart is vulnerable to it’s own panic, it’s own first instincts, which are never helpful. God, center me again in you. Clothe me in your spirit.

Anger. The uncomfortable, vulnerable truth is that while violence rages on the world, violence exists in my own heart. I see things, I read things, and my blood boils. God, forgive me. My own anger is a startling reminder of the desolate state of the human condition. The world is broken and the crack runs deep through my own heart. God, mend this violent, broken world, and start with me. Jesus, you ask me to love above all—to love the needy and the bleeding, the guilty and the unjustly imprisoned, the stranger and the family member, the pastor and the imam, the refugee and the president, the ISIS fighter and the American soldier. Teach me how. Fill me with your spirit so that my life becomes an arrow, pointing to your goodness and your love.

Father, forgive me. Heal my heart, God. Make me strong and courageous. Correct the selfish bent of my heart and guard it with your peace. And above all, fill me with love. May my life be lived in the place of communion with you. Only then can I carry the light. Only then can you use me to push back the darkness.

"Blessed Are Those..."

tyandterri Like many others in my city and in my circle of friends, my life sort of ground to a halt this week. We lost two dear friends in a car accident, and everything feels upside-down now. But it also feels a little clearer, a little more in focus. I was not going to publish about it because so many others have remembered them beautifully, and sometimes you just feel like you have no right to hurt when there are others hurting more deeply. But since their kids have said that knowing how much others loved and were impacted by their parents is a comfort amidst the unbearable heartache, I will join my voice with the thousands of others and say, I love you, Ty & Terri. You are two of the very best.

The morning I received that awful phone call, I had just finished reciting the Beatitudes from Matthew 5, and I can’t help thinking that it was so appropriate.

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. It was mentioned during their memorial service that part of what endeared Ty & Terri to all of us was their openness and vulnerability. They were honest about their struggles and about their total dependence on God their father. And I think we can all agree that because they were vulnerable, we felt safe enough to admit our own struggles, to let down our walls and draw closer to others and to God. Their dependence on God allowed us to take off our masks, to quit pretending to be strong, and to run to Jesus ourselves with all our screw ups and scars. As difficult as it is, if it will make others feel safe and bring them closer to Jesus, I want to open myself up like they did. I desperately, DESPERATELY need God. I struggle, I fail, I break down, and I screw up. But Jesus is so, so crazy about me anyway. May that give me the courage to live openly so others see the love of Jesus, too.

God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Even as we mourn the loss of Ty & Terri, I’m reminded that they were ones who were acquainted with grief. They knew what it meant to mourn and to depend upon the comfort of God, even in horrific circumstances that no one could understand. I remember times they wept with heavy hearts, grieving over a life lost to violence in our inner city. And now they are in the arms of their father, experiencing the ultimate comfort. Experiencing the loss of Ty & Terri and reflecting on their life has made me believe now more than ever, that no matter how scary and awful it is, we can’t hide from our emotions. God himself is an emotional God, and he grieves with us in our pain. Emmanuel, “God with us”, runs to us and embraces us, joining us in the places our hearts are hurting. And if we deny the depth of our pain, we deny God’s comfort. May I never stuff or hide my pain, so that I won’t miss out on the comfort of God.

God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. Ty & Terri did not see themselves as extraordinary people, just people who were extraordinarily loved by God, and who wanted to share that love with everyone they met. Ty & Terri were constantly valuing others, and putting others ahead of themselves. They did not seek fame, though ironically, it turns out they are famous. These humble people are now in the presence of God, and they have received an inheritance beyond their wildest dreams, I’m sure of it. May I never exalt myself, but seek to walk humbly and honor others. May I put others first, just like Ty & Terri did.

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. I doubt you’d find two people more passionate about justice than Ty & Terri. They saw a problem in our city, and they were not ok with it. They saw a place where dreams didn’t come true, where dreaming was not even possible due to poverty, fatherlessness, and hopelessness. And their greatest desire was to see that change. They wanted every child in Omaha to have the chance their kids had: a chance to be loved, valued, and a chance for a good future. And they didn’t sit back and just wish for it—they did something about it. They longed for it so badly that they poured their lives into that dream. And they got to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven coming to earth because they hungered for it. They got to see Heaven intersecting earth because they were willing to lay it all down to see justice for the hopeless. Be assured, they will be satisfied. God is in the business of bringing justice to the oppressed, to the poor, to those on the margins. And Ty & Terri partnered with God in that mission. May their lives inspire us all to do the same.

God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Ty & Terri had the rare ability to love with wide open arms and not a trace of judgement. That’s why gang members felt comfortable in their home, and that’s why dignitaries were drawn to them. If you wanted to know what God’s mercy felt like, you could spend time with Ty & Terri. I’ve heard stories of people who weren’t necessarily huge fans of Christianity, but after spending time with Ty & Terri, wanted to know the Jesus they talked about. They knew the sweet mercy and extravagant love of God, and it practically bled out of them. I don’t know about you, but I’m not perfect, and I need a WHOLE LOT of mercy. God has been ridiculously kind in showing extravagant mercy to me. I want to live life like Ty & Terri, extending mercy radically and generously. Because when it comes to the end of my life, I’m not going to wish I had judged a little more, or told a few more people how I thought they were doing this or that wrong so they could see the “error of their ways”. How ludicrous. I’m going to wish I had given a few more hugs, believed the best, and loved with abandon, like they did. Like Jesus does.

God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God. Ty & Terri had pure hearts. They didn’t have ulterior motives, and they weren’t self-seeking. They loved purely, and they saw God because of it. Ty & Terri experienced God in their real, actual, day-to-day lives, and they wanted the same for everyone else. They saw people as God did: through eyes of unsurpassable love. I believe God gave them this gift because their hearts were fully given to him. Jesus, take all of me. May I be fully given to you, so much so that my eyes are unclouded. Purify my heart so that my eyes can see you, and see others the way you do.

God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. If you had sat down with Ty & Terri and asked if their journey had been easy, they would’ve laughed in your face (kindly). They took risks in doing what they felt God had asked them to do, and they experienced hardships along the way. They went through hell to bring Heaven to earth. But now they are experiencing their reward. And if you were given the chance to sit down with them today, I know they’d tell you the reward FAR outweighs the hardship. I think they’d tell us all to persevere in doing what’s right, because “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Ty & Terri Schenzel were people fully given to God, and were used by him to change thousands of lives. Their ability to love others in such a powerful way is proven by the fact that we all feel like we were their best friends.

“Yeah, I was their favorite.”

—anyone who’s ever met them

And that makes so much sense, because that’s how Ty felt about God. He would say so often in his sermons that God’s love was SO incredibly abundant for him and he felt it so deeply that he felt like God’s favorite. He used to say: “God loves you more than anybody else. Not really, but kind of.” He so badly wanted us all to experience the love of God like he had, because he knew it would change our lives.

During their funeral, one of their kids referred to their dad as their “love-blinded cheerleader”. What a beautiful, accurate description. And I can’t help thinking that he got that from his Daddy. He had the deep revelation that God’s attitude toward us is that of a “love-blinded cheerleader.” God is so crazy in love with each of us, and if we knew just how much, we’d love others differently. Ty & Terri knew something deep down in their bones that could be called “the secret of life”. They wanted us all to know—to REALLY REALLY believe—that God was head over heels for us. They knew that if people could get ahold of that truth, experience it, and believe it with every fiber of their being, our world would be changed.

Feeling this loss, watching the collective pain of our community, and reading about their lives has begun to work a change in me. As often happens with tragedy, I see my world clearer. Ty & Terri left no regrets, and I want to make sure I live “regret-free” too. The things that really matter are coming into focus. Meditating on their lives is changing the way I treat my kids, my husband, and it’s shifting my whole perspective on life. What really matters is that God loves us with an everlasting love. My daughters’ Bible says a “Never-stopping, never-giving-up, unbreaking, always and forever love.” I want my life to be oriented around this. Jesus is what matters. And when I know his love, I can share it.

God, though it hurts so badly because we love them so much, may we feel the full effect of two lives well lived. May we let our own lives be changed by the perspective their death brings. Let us throw out everything in our lives that doesn’t matter, that doesn’t last, and run with our eyes on eternity. May we live our lives to the fullest, and may we live them for love. Thanks, Ty & Terri, for showing us how.

Why I Need The Church

PPPP

Pajama Picnic Potty Party! (I know all you English teachers out there appreciated that alliteration.) Let’s all take a guess as to what day this was…go ahead, just take a stab in the dark. Yep, Sunday. And not 2 minutes after this picture was taken, the cereal in those bowls was spread all over my bathroom floor. My bathroom is a happenin’ place on Sunday mornings. There’s nothing more fascinating than mom putting on makeup…or mom burning herself with the curling iron…or mom screaming in pain over said burn…or mom trying to pee while attempting to keep the toddler out of the shower. It’s a losing battle, friends. If you ever see a mom looking disheveled, crabby, or raccoon-eyed from the sleep deprivation, do me a favor. Walk right up to her with a big smile and tell her how beautiful she is. Offer to get her some coffee and take one of the million items she is juggling, and tell her she’s doing a good job. Even if her kids are disturbing the peace and running rampant all over the joint. Chances are, it was an uphill battle to get where she is (which is anywhere out of the house). Chances are, she could use a gesture of kindness and solidarity from another (adult) human being. Chances are, she’s feeling overwhelmed or tired from carrying the burdens of her day-to-day life, and a smile and a connection will give her the encouragement she needs to keep on truckin’. We’re all gonna make it, dangit. But not without each other.

The truth is, it’s not just moms that need this. We all go through seasons where we feel like we’re fighting an uphill battle. We all need kindness and solidarity from one another. And we all get tired and overwhelmed by carrying our burdens. These feelings are universal. I know this because I haven’t always been a mom, and I know plenty of people who aren’t. Loneliness is an epidemic in our society, even though we’re technically more “connected” than ever, thanks to social media. (The irony of me mentioning this via social media is not lost on me.) I hear the desperate cry for connection from almost every person I encounter, even if it’s not overt. I feel the cry bubbling up from within myself.

This hunger for deeper connection has caused “community” to become a popular buzzword in our culture. I seem to see it every time I turn around. Unfortunately, everything claiming to provide community usually falls short of the expectations tied to that word. What have we come to expect of “community”? So many things, but here are just a few I’ve heard in many conversations on the subject: Deep, authentic relationships. Help and support. To be treated like family. What do we find in the reality of community? Messy, complicated relationships with broken people. Some help, though imperfect and usually different than we prefer. The striking realization that these other difficult, broken people want to be treated like family, too. (The nerve!) True community is a can of worms people often regret opening. People often get hurt, and then run away to nurse their wounds, which is a natural and understandable response.

Sadly, one of the places where these dynamics are most common is inside the church. I mean, the church is a family all right, but it often looks like a pretty dysfunctional one with an overabundance of embarrassing uncles. Sometimes it feels like being trapped in a perpetually awkward family reunion when all you want to do is go hang out with your friends-the people in your life you get to choose. That’s the thing about families-you don’t pick ‘em. You never asked to get your cheeks squeezed by scary Aunt Bertha but there you are, stinging cheeks and all, and knowing you’re mom’s gonna let you have it if you don’t smile and pretend you’re not terrified by her drag queen makeup job.

I know many people who have been so disheartened, disillusioned, or wounded by the church that they’ve given up on it altogether and walked away. Again, I get it. That’s understandable, because the pain is real. The people who can cut you the deepest are family. And it’s hard to stay in a family where you feel awkward, misunderstood, and uncomfortable. I’ve been a part of the church since I was a fetus, and no church I’ve ever known has been perfect. News flash: there IS no perfect church. Do you know WHY? Well, there is a wise saying, “Wherever I go, there I am.” I am imperfect. I make mistakes. I have quirks and flaws. I’m sure I’ve hurt people over the years, and I truly hate that, but it’s just bound to happen. I’m human. And so is every other person in my family-both THE church, global, and MY church, whatever expression of the body of Christ I find myself in.

Jesus always meant for his followers to be a true community. He prayed, “Father, make them one just as you and I are one.” And he told his disciples, “The world will know you’re my disciples by your love for one another.” I often wonder, would people know I follow Jesus by the way I love my brothers and sisters in the church? And what should that love really look like? Jesus answers that one for me, though sometimes it’s hard to hear: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” OOF. That’s a toughie. But in order to follow Jesus, he tells us we have to take up our cross. We follow him by imitating the way of self-denial and sacrificial love. Catherine McAuley, the founder of Sisters of Mercy, said this:

“When and how do we expect to take up our Cross and follow Christ, if we are not to meet with it in those with whom we are associated?”

Being a part of this glorious, flawed, gorgeous, broken, beautiful family is often what God uses to sanctify me. (That’s a super religion-y word for making me more like Jesus.) I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if not for the church. I may have opposing desires to the person sitting next to me, or the person in that other denomination over there. We may disagree. We may rub each other the wrong way. That’s good for me. The more pressure and irritation the sand causes, the more the beautiful the pearl becomes in the end.

And being a part of God’s family is also what heals me. When I’ve been wounded (even if the wounding happened in the church), it’s my brothers and sisters around me who have listened, counseled, cried with, prayed with, and comforted me. If not for the church, my bitterness and cynicism could have rotted me. God’s family has been a safe place for me, carrying me when I couldn’t walk, giving me time to heal, and cheering me on when I was ready to run.

God’s global family has given perspective and depth to my faith that I never would’ve encountered on my own. Worshipping God in a baptist church in Russia, a charismatic church in India, and a Church of God in Appalachia has allowed me to experience God in drastically different ways, and to know him more. I’ve been challenged and refined by the church around the world, and I’m so, so thankful.

A few Sundays ago I had had a pretty rough morning (imagine that), and I was just not feelin’ it. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. I mean, I made it to church, what more could God ask of me?! I was standing there, watching the wonderful people around me worship God, and having a pretty stinky attitude. But as I heard my brothers and sisters singing, “Rise up, people of God. Rise up, and sing of his love” the most amazing thing happened. My spirit really did start to rise. I was able to get above my petty circumstances and fix my eyes again on my father. No, the church is not perfect. But I, for one, desperately, desperately need her.