Dangerous Comfort

My daily wardrobe frequently utilizes layers. This particular spring has featured cool, wet weather mixed with sunshine, so it’s smart to be versatile. When I climb into my car, I adjust the thermostat to make sure the temperature is just right, frequently adjusting as I drive toward my destination. But first, a quick stop at Starbucks. Will my coffee by hot or iced? This, of course, depends on how warm or cool I feel in the car! We certainly can’t upset the balance.

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This was a rare “hot coffee on a hot day” day. Because holiday drinks. #starbucksaddict

At work, I turn on the heater. There’s one overhead and a vent at my feet. Later, when I return home, I might open the windows if it’s stuffy or wrap up in a blanket in case of chill (confession, it’s usually both simultaneously). In a month or two, when summer settles on Southern California, my layers will be replaced with tank tops and the office heater will be swapped for air conditioning. My coffee will almost always be iced and a fan will be enlisted into service next to my open window. It’s all about maintaining comfort!

We take such great lengths to control our temperature- and even the temperature of the air around us. If it’s the slightest bit too hot or cold, we quickly adjust. It would be unfathomable to sweat or shiver. But we never stop to think about how slightly ridiculous this is. We are so adverse to discomfort that we practically flee from it, taking great care to control precise degrees Fahrenheit.

Our comfort is considered in our clothing choice, home arrangement, bedding, vehicle interior, and an ergonomically-designed office space. We can now recline at the movie theater and turn a camping trip into a glamping experience. We avoid social awkwardness, conflict, and emotional difficulty. Our comfort is king, and every effort to be in control is necessary.

But what if…. What if for a second we allowed ourselves to bravely venture into the little-known territory of discomfort? What would we find there? Misery? Panic at the lack of control? Chaos careening willy-nilly into despair? Would our world crumble into pieces around us?

Why is discomfort scary?

Perhaps it’s because we aren’t aware of its value. We feverishly avoid being uncomfortable because we are blind to the ways God can shape it into beauty. Discomfort naturally prompts us to growth while developing something greater in us. Exercise at the gym is not comfortable. It’s hot and sweaty; muscles ache and thirst persists. But strength increases and the health rewards are great. This isn’t something that can be achieved from soft couch cushions- fitness requires discomfort.

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Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com (This is clearly not me, but one day I shall have good beach yoga form!)

Sin should make us uncomfortable, yet we’ve found ways to make it cozily fit into our lifestyle. Excuses and comparisons justify the ways we aren’t *quite* in line with God’s Word. We just adjust the spiritual thermostat to our liking and go about our day. However, when the Holy Spirit gently prods us, the discomfort of conviction begins to pervade our souls and it’s not pleasant. Guilt and shame can quickly overtake us if we’re not anchored in faith. We thrash around in the waves of despair, nearly drowning until we reach out and take the hand of our Heavenly Lifeguard. It’s tempting to retreat to the safety of the comfortable set-up we have on the shore of complacency, but eventually that also becomes a place of discomfort when we feel stagnant and stuck.

abraham-starsThere is little choice but to relinquish control and allow the Lord to lead us through discomfort. In the face of intimidating unknown territory, will we close our eyes and protest or allow God to lead us into new adventure? In Genesis 12, God told Abram to leave home and travel to a land that He would later reveal. Abram was asked to abandon physical comforts as well as the stability of his family and community. Travel would be literally uncomfortable in addition to difficulties being a foreigner in strange lands. But God didn’t call Abram into these circumstances without reason. This was the route to blessings beyond generations and a spiritual legacy that continues even now with you and me. There’s no way Abram could have truly imagined that his descendants would actually outnumber stars and sand, yet his discomfort was part of the journey to exactly what God promised.

Now comes the part where we look inward. How has our obsession with comfort blinded us to God’s reality? What are we avoiding as we cling to what we decided somewhere along the way was absolutely necessary for happiness? What do we risk in discomfort…. and what do we have to gain?

Here’s our challenge: step out of the comfort zone. Genuinely ask God to reveal something uncomfortable in order to become more like Christ. Then, take a step. Read a book by an author with a different point of view. Visit a new church. Serve a group of people that you don’t know very well who might not be like you at all. Have a conversation with someone you love about a topic you’ve been avoiding. Change your routine and ask the Lord to lead you to something new and fresh. Pursue a new skill that brings you in contact with new people- and go with the heart to learn from them, not to teach them anything. Take a chance with vulnerability before running quickly from it.

Or perhaps embrace small efforts and refrain from touching the thermostat today. You never know what beautiful thing God will craft from the smallest discomfort. Stepping out with Him into the unknown waves is the beginning of a great adventure.

Make Space

On one special Sunday each year, the kids and youth of our church lead the worship service. The youngest members of our congregation sing with the praise team, read prayers, and pass the offering baskets. The youth group even handles the sermon! On this special Sunday each year, there is usually a surprise blessing or two.

I’d show you our adorable church kids, but, you know, privacy reasons.

I sat on the floor of the front row- near enough to direct which kid was up next, but out of sight so parents could take pictures. Praise was in full swing with three second-graders enthusiastically belting out “I Am Free” accompanied by the adults on our worship team. Suddenly, I felt a little someone sit down on the floor next to me. A four-year-old from the other church who shares our building had wandered in. Perhaps it was because I was a familiar face, or maybe she was drawn to the other kids, but there she sat and began to clap along with the beat.

After a minute, she whispered something in my ear. I had no clue what she said, so clearly the logical response was to answer, “ok.” Apparently, she asked permission to join the second-grade singers, because she hopped up and began to creep step-by-step toward the girls belting into the microphone.

None of the three singers had ever met the four-year-old. However, the minute the girl on the end spied this aspiring praise leader making her way up to the front, she didn’t pause or look confused. She did not glance at me for permission or clarification. Instead, she immediately smiled at the four-year-old, motioned her forward, and moved over to make space for what was now a quartet. The new kid was welcome, no questions asked.

Are we making space?

Perhaps we have accepted that there is room for us in the kingdom of God; we have a purpose and place securely in His love. But are we looking so closely at our own situation that our eyes are not on our approaching neighbor? Of the three second-grade singers, only one saw the four-year-old while the other two held razor-sharp focus on the song lyrics in front of them. This was not wrong; they were worshiping the Lord with everything they had. There is no condemnation for these young disciples. However, can we see any parallels in our own spiritual walk?

While we dig deep into Bible study and unearth layer upon layer of godly knowledge, do we pause to look up at our neighbor? When we feel surrounded by His comforting presence, do we open our arms to embrace a brother or sister who is wandering around, feeling a little lost? As we rejoice in the splendid delight of what God created, do we keep it to ourselves or point out the wonder to whoever is nearby? During the healing of our broken heart, do we see another broken person and reach out?

Are we making space?

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Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

God’s kingdom is not only for ourselves. The personal nature of a relationship with the Lord can unwittingly push out our neighbors. But to do so is a violation of the community God intended. Paul’s letters are full of calls to unity as the early Christians began to form a church. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15-16). We are called to live in harmony with one another, bear each other’s burdens, and spur on one another to good deeds. Our life in Christ was never meant to stop at ourselves.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Since we were instructed to love both our neighbors and our enemies, that means there is not a single person exempt from God’s love. That’s pretty easy to accept when we define love by simply being nice to someone or even to go as far as to (gasp) like them. However, it’s foolish to leave it at that and pat ourselves on the back. Love happens in our actions. It takes sacrifice and intense effort. It means making space.

It’s not initially comfortable, but there is space for every need in God’s kingdom. There is a place for the migrant fleeing violence. For the LGBTQ community. For the woman considering abortion. For the inmate on death row. For the diabetic who can’t afford insulin. For the lawmakers voting for polarizing legislation. For the trolls on social media typing in anger. For all of those people that we’ve transformed into an “issue” and lost sight of their humanity. But, instead, we were called to the heart-breaking work of love.

Making space could mean putting our open Bibles to the side, scooting over, and welcoming our neighbor into God’s love. It’s a listening ear and an open heart. We must look through the eyes of the Holy Spirit and see a beautiful soul– not a problem or a project, but the son or daughter that God holds precious. It would be excruciatingly cruel to require conditions before entering His welcoming space, a conformity to our own ideas of acceptability. To make space is to allow God to sort things out, and then with His guidance to pursue truth in love at the right pace.

He made space for us, and when we make space for others, it ultimately makes space for Him. (Don’t believe me? Check out Matthew 25). What can we learn from our singing second-graders? Will we allow the example of His children to lead us? Take a moment to look around you. Who is creeping up the aisle toward the loving relationship you have with Christ? Who is hesitantly approaching grace but needs the assurance of your welcome to take that final step?

Are you brave enough to love?

 

How Does Your Garden Grow?

In the middle of her graveled backyard, my friend cultivates gardening miracles. During the summer, raised beds are filled with flowers, herbs, and vegetables, while potted fruit trees line the perimeter. Her hard work transforms an ordinary yard into vibrant green space.

The heart of spring is a season of preparation. Today, fresh soil was added to the beds, and next a new irrigation system will be installed. It will soon be ready for brightly-colored blossoms and an abundant crop of produce. Yet, the miracles have already begun.

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The blueberry bush survived heavy winter rainstorms and urban critters that nightly dig through the dirt at its base. Most of the leaves have fallen, leaving bare branches with low expectations for harvest any time soon. Yet, closer examination reveals berry upon berry. Despite hardship, it’s still bearing beautiful ripe fruit.

20190507_084259A patch of daisies rests under the shadow of the blueberries. They, too, have survived the temperamental weather and outlasted their neighbors. Though many blooms droop and sag, dozens and dozens of buds are poised to burst open into the sunshine at any minute. Resiliently they’ve stood for nearly three years as a testament of hopeful endurance.

Across the yard, green onions proudly sprout tall from their own bed, but they refuse to be contained. Somehow, they’ve managed to escape the confines of the soil and begun to grow in the gravel below. The harsh conditions of shallow rock are not enough to deter their reach for the sun as they develop savory onions for a future of salsa and soups.

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How are we growing? We like to wait for ideal conditions- the perfect balance of rain and sun in our lives. Just enough hardship develops character so we can live happily in easygoing days free of excessive challenges. We prefer to surround ourselves with other people in full bloom so that no one brings us down. When our environment nourishes us as it should, we will thrive and bear great fruit, right?

Except our reality is more like my friend’s garden. Trials can come in torrents followed by extended spiritual drought. The ups and downs of life blow us one way and then another quickly enough to cause emotional whiplash. We are so focused on survival that we don’t even consider the idea that anything good could be produced from the chaos.

Consider words from Jeremiah’s prophecy:

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8).

It’s easy to forget the very One who makes onions grow in gravel and daisies bloom without ceasing. We can sow literal seeds and water them, but the Lord is the one who brings life from the ground. This same God fills us with His Holy Spirit and yields fruit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). This fruit is visible in kindness to a friend, compassion to someone in need, and our relationship with Him taking deeper root. The miracle is the way His fruit bursts forth from the rocky, dry soil of life’s difficulties, and how His goodness survives the violent storms of tragedy and hardship.

Here’s the crucial thing: we MUST remember this when the bad stuff threatens to choke us out like weeds. The knowledge that a Master Gardener is tending carefully to our souls keeps us reaching for the Son when only dark clouds are in sight. Giving up is not an option, and it’s not even necessary. We are more than survivors, we are producing a crop of spiritual fruit ripe for the harvest. So we can give from our gifts, like the blueberry bush. We can stand tall like onions in any conditions. And let us burst forth like daises, sharing the joy of enduring hope.

 

You Got Q’s, I got A’s

This week has been a whirlwind of prep for two big events at the church where I work. It seems like a good time for some Q and A, so here we go!

(For fun, I also present some photos straight from my phone for your viewing enjoyment.)

20190421_162006How did you start writing?

As cliché as it sounds, I was writing poems and stories as soon as I could put words together into sentences. Also, my mother saved a handmade sign upon which I had scribbled the words “Anser Office” and set up shop like Lucy’s psychiatrist booth, so I’ve apparently also always been happy to tell people how to do things.

Why do you write?

Oh goodness, so many reasons. Sometimes it’s to work out an idea or to express thoughts and feelings. A lot of it is to connect with others, like you. Of course, everything we do is ultimately to give glory to God, so I pray my writing does that. 20190417_221915

How do you research?

It’s been said that a good writer is a good reader, and I stand by that sentiment. So reading as much as I can from as many different points of view as possible is a good start. Observation is always research, as bits and pieces of what we see and experience end up in our writing. Of course, research methods are driven by the nature of a specific project. For “The Other Three Sixteens,” I not only read the scriptures involved, but used commentaries and other related sources. When dealing with biblical subject matter, we also have the opportunity to go to the primary Source in prayer.

What helps you to write?

Well, lately, I’ll take any help I can get as I battle writers’ block! Quiet is also helpful, as is a good cup of coffee. A creative environment, like a local coffee shop, always seems to help things along. Mainly, it’s the inspiration of whatever I’m writing. Being passionate about the subject matter is a huge motivator.

What inspires you to write?

Our Creator motivates me to be creative. There’s so much wonder in this life He’s made, so much beauty in people, so much wrapped up in love. Writing is kind of like taking a snapshot and preserving a thought in a moment from a specific point of view. We could take endless looks at our world and never run out of things to see. 

What lessons have you learned in the publishing process?

For starters, publishing is so slow! After the book itself is written, the editorial process requires careful attention to detail. Right now, “The Other Three Sixteens” is being formatted and a cover designed, and I’m waiting to hear an official release date. When I self-published “Bible Time for Active Kids,” everything ran at the speed of… well, me. However, there are advantages to traditional publishing that make it worth the wait- like more distribution and marketing opportunities. When “The Other Three Sixteens” is widely available, it will be a day to celebrate! So the lesson here is, I suppose, patience. Sigh.

 What are your passions outside of writing?

Ooh, so many things! I work with kids at a church and I enthusiastically love my job. When I have free time, the ocean calls my name and I head to the beach. My two dogs are basically love wrapped in fur. It’s been awhile since I worked in the theatre, but there’s a special place in my heart for stage and film production. Meanwhile, I’m active with Team World Vision, fundraising to bring clean water to kids around the world (you can help do that here).

 

This is a little peek at me as an author, but I’m happy to answer any additional questions in the comments below.  I would also like to hear a little bit about you! Please choose one of the above questions and give your own answer in the comments!