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Takin’ Risks & Prayin’ Moonshine

On our road trip to our daughter’s southern college,20160819_124530 we talked for miles about change and fear— (and what exactly is Moonshine anyway? Didja know it’s also “foolish talk or ideas?” The McCoy version of talkin’ smack? Didja know they’re called the Smoky Mountains because fog in the hills looks smoky,20160819_195739 not because Smokey the Bear lives there? Revelation. We clueless Yankees crossed into southern territory, dumbfounded by places where every word is drawled, like the town proudly proclaimed on its water tower as “Florence, KY Ya’ll.”  And then Rockytop, TN. We trolled my siblings, singing “Rockytop” over and over. Sorry. Not Sorry. But I digress.)

For fun, we brainstormed silly conversation openers, pick-up lines, and ways to make new friends for each of us who’ve moved this summer. Which new activities to try. Yes, and which maybe not to try. (I’m both a mom and a minister, after all.) Remember this is the girl who went paraglidingscreenshot-2016-09-14-15-16-49 in Argentina this summer.  Jumped off a mountain with a parachute for Pete’s sake.) Anyhoo, during freshman orientation, Carlina tweeted:

Aug 27 that moment between taking a risk and seeing if it pays off or blows up in your face. that. 1 RETWEET 2 LIKES

Yes, that. A leap of faith. Restlessness. Passion. Optimism. On the verge. In a liminal space. Hope-filled. Moving forward. In transition. All those phrases suggest you are taking a risk and opening up your life into a new season of change. Call it whatever you wish, for many of us change is spelled:

F-E-A-R.

For some of us, that moment sss-tttt-rrrrrr-eeee-tch-eeees and sss-tttt-rrrrrr-eeee-tch-eeees out some more. I know it. I’ve read books about it. I’ve coached others through that season, asking them questions, “What one hopeful step can you take today? How can you use this in-between-time for growth? What great, big, God-sized dreams are you praying for?”

Mmm hmmm. “One hopeful step.” Sounds great to say TO SOMEONE ELSE! Even though I’ve lived it before. Six cross-country moves. Three career changes. Eight job changes.  A few years ago we accidentally turned into that family that moves a lot.  I now have several “interim” job titles on my resume to explain. But not anymore, right? We’re done. Settled. Let’s hope. Except that we follow “One who is notoriously unpredictable,” as Tim Hansel said.

Last time I made a big change from the Midwest to that region-that-must-not-be-named, it stretched into a year of underemployment. Many prayers later, I discovered that God and I do NOT have a special arrangement just because I’m a minister and supposedly follow Him full-time. (I dunno exactly how I wandered into that conclusion before? Hence the “supposedly.” #heresyalert). No job handed to me with my DMin diploma, either. (Uh Fuller, what WAS that $18,000 and five years good for? “Still waiting….” [Cue the Energizer Bunny.]  “Still waiting….”)

So no God deals for an insta-job. Turns out finding my fit takes time. And stinks. Even this time around, two years and three moves later, two years wiser. I know God is faithful; He’s done it before and can do it again, in my life specifically. Moving here to Chicagoland is but one part of what God’s gonna do next, and we have a front row seat to watch for it. (I hear your voice, Sally Kruse.) And I hear all you Narbs people shouting and jumping up and down, “Yeah, we heard it from YOUR mouth at Thanksgiving last year! ‘God is faithful; He provided us a job and a house and an open door.’ Do you listen to yourself, Pastor Tassie?” Yep, I’m not just talkin’ moonshine.

I’m trying to wait expectantly, with creativity, hope, and imagination—and all those big words I listed above. Many of you have inspired me with your hunger, passion, patience, and longing for God as you wait for a child or job or a cure or a yes. Thank you for your examples, far, far better than my own words. There’s still room for my great big, God-sized dream. And I also have learned the flip-side: if I want to make God laugh, just tell Him my plans.

How will I wait? I’m doing more praying, that’s for sure. Risking. Taking fruitful actions. Prayer doodling. Leadership brush-up. SWOT analyses. SMART goals. I’m using this time in-between to advance my skills. Reactivate my network. Make connections. Consult with a few churches. And did I mention prayin’ moonshine? Right now I’m praying for an exciting role at the Chapel, overseeing family ministry at eight churches. Or whatever our big God has planned. Please join my prayer posse. And let me know how I can join yours.

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Big Lou & the DMV

 

searchFriends have epic war stories from the Jersey DMV. Waiting for hours only to have the line cut off just before you enter. Penna DMV was a stuffy 30×30 room with 75 customers packed in and 5 grim robots working too hard. “Papers?” Stamp. “Test?” Stamp. “Check?” Stamp. Indiana BMV was the best organized, with wait times posted online for each location.

But “wow,” Illinois DMV does friendly! Today I overheard and oversaw midwest-friendly in all its glory. When I first spotted a smile, my lingering, northeast suspicion popped up, “What’s really going on here? She’s smiling. Is he maybe asking her for a date? Nope. Smiling at the next three people in line, too. For no reason. And, look ! He is, too.” Scanning the room, “Oops, not the door bouncer. Definitely not her. But most. Weird.”patchmania_dmv_inside

All but 3 of the 28 workers, smiling. Some were even kind. Willing to treat people like people. Joking with each other and customers, “Where’s the sausage? I need sausage to work here. Or steak.” “Lou, you already look like you’ve eaten too much steak.”

Even while explaining the same questions over and over. You’d think they’d read Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” The six people who helped me each welcomed me back into town, like extended family I hadn’t yet met. Doug offered to use the picture from my last IL driver’s license–10 years ago. “You look the same. Really. Though your hair is red now?!” Uh, I do have one big question,” he asked, “What’s the deal with Philly Cheesesteaks?  Cheesewhiz? Really?”

When a young woman jitters up to Lou’s counter to apply for her learner’s permit, he plays it tough, “You know, we don’t give these to just anybody.” Blink, blink. “But you, well, since you have such nice handwriting, ok.” Big grin. She grins back.

Lou adds, “I’m really excited you’re here today because we need more good female drivers in Chicago.”

He reassures the next kid, “The test is easy. You’ll do great.”

Lou’s a guy with a mission. Not just pushing people through the process at record speed. Nope. Because frankly, it took  1 1/2 + hours to navigate through 6 lines along with a couple hundred others trying to get our titles, plates, application, vision & written tests and a half-decent photo. My lucky number was #643.

But you know what? I actually didn’t mind. From what I saw and overheard, Lou and the others’ mission was to help their neighbors, not just crank out small laminated cards with bad photos. Even the woman who failed the written test (Tricksy hobbitses! Expecting drivers to recognize stop signs!?) Even she got a comforting word.

At the DMV? Who knew?82b4ca_74911f2d7e6f4f648ac99a9ae22e29a1 I felt good when I walked out, better than when I walked in. Now that’s unexpected.

Maybe I should stop by  the DMV for a pep talk before my  job interview next Wednesday. If that Church gig doesn’t pan out, I could apply to work there. Or thinking more postively, take my new family ministry staff on a field trip. If so, maybe I should bring Big Lou some sausage. Widout whiz.

Mission accomplished: family time

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Most of the Macs (minus Ellen/Brendan/Davis, Christie/Lexy, Kari/Jodie)

Since my mission statement is “Helping make Jesus real in the lives of families, beginning with our own,” this summer has been a great step toward accomplishing the second half of that goal. And if it can happen while floating on a raft on the Lake, all the better!

Celebrating Dad’s 80th birthday, waterskiing, playing Balderdash,prepping meals for 24, composing family haiku while cloud-gazing, shopping for college dorm essentials, talking and praying together on the porch, competing intergenerationally in pickleball tourneys, and laughing, and laughing some more.  aad754bc-c830-4bc2-bf7e-751250cc5084

Our family’s move to Chicagoland and our summer engaged with the cuzzies (favorite cousins) near and far has been a gift from God, who has been very present in it all. Thank you, Lord, for our family.

All in. First purchases: skates and jerseys

There’s no place like home

Happily settling in, enjoying midwest comforts and family time. Grateful to be back!

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Moving: Junk and Joy

It’s packing day tomorrow. Moving day Friday. Thanks be to God all but our clothes are stacked  in a wall of boxes from last summer’s move.  Oh, we’ll slam headfirst into that wall of stuff and junk when we unpack next week.  But tomorrow, no sweat.

Marie Kondo’s test whether to keep any item is to ask yourself, “Does it spark joy?” IF SO, we must be the most joyful people ANYWHERE!

My well-to-do grandma had a shoe-box tucked away on her closet shelf, scrawled with the label, “string to short to use.” Now there’s a carry-over of a fearful, depression-era mindset. No joy in that shoe-box. Can’t save everything.

What about our good friend Blair McKee’s classic 2 step moving method? 1) Light match. 2) Toss into pile. Weeeelll, as good as it sounds to me today, no joy in that either. Can’t  dump everything.

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As Ken’s the boy-scoutish “be prepared” saver and I’m the Scarlet O’Hara “fiddle-dee-dee” thrower, how will we face this big event together? I guarantee it won’t help that he’s on the red-eye flight home from Portland tonight, slammed from a crazy work week at the PC(USA)’s General Assembly. So perhaps we’d best face it delicately? Please join me in praying for our marriage.

As you throw out an item, Kondo says you thank the junk for serving you well. Who knew I’ve been doing it wrong? I’ve been incredibly thankful, and didn’t even realize it. (I’m not sure what Kondo says to do if you recycle or sell the stuff, but at this point I’d do a flipflop of happiness.  Some stuff I can’t even get people to take for free.)

What would happen if we applied this method to the Church, asking about each practice and event, “Does it spark joy? And then thanking the ones we toss out for serving us well. Certainly better than the match method, tempting though it seems.

I do think the “spark joy” option might actually work better in the Church than in our borrowed mansion’s king-size, walk-in closet. Especially since we’re right-sizing  back to a ranch with a twin-size closet.

Hmmm, on second thought, where is that matchbook?

FamilyLaunch will be back when we’re settled in Palatine, IL, joyfully!

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Monday faith

 I recently celebrated one year of hanging out with students at Narberth Pres.

20160525_183230.jpgOn a good Sunday morning, 44 students walked through the doors of the youth room. They ate over 1,000 doughnuts in a year, played 150+ games of ping pong and foosball, and talked together with the youth team about how to follow Jesus. Twenty to twenty-five returned for high school youth group or middle school fun night, playing crazy games together and digging into Bible study.

It may sound impressive, (especially the doughnuts), but it really only adds up to about 40 hours spent with each student in a year. I ask our small group leaders to check in with students during the week and look for ways to connect and build relationship. Many thanks to the 14 adults who give consistent time and attention, sharing Jesus’s love with students weekly. I also thank the 27 mentors who walked alongside a Confirmation student for a season.

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Mentors praying for their Confirmation students.

What can a youth team do in 40 hours? Play goofy games to bond as a community. Communicate God’s great big, no-matter- what-love and Grace. Dig into the Bible. Check in and pray for each other. But not everything that’s needed for the week ahead.

Students are trying to build a faith that works, a faith that is worth living for, even worth dying for, as Kenda Dean writes. Not just a Sunday faith, but a Monday faith.

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Orange Conference 2016

John Acuff introduced the Orange Conference theme, “Researchers have found the saddest hour of the week for Americans is Sunday at noon. We do a good job on Sunday mornings, but when members get back to their cars, Monday is waiting.” He continues, “In Church, we are in a unique position to launch people into their Mondays. Our culture is saying ‘Help us with Monday.’ They visit us on Sunday but they live on Monday.”

How do we help build Monday-ready faith?  Asking, “Where do our students really live?” Being ready to meet them there. Digging into our students’ Monday realities transforms students and the Church.

Sunday says pompously, “Look how badly Monday needs me.” Friday snaps back,”If you ask me, it’s the other way around.” –OC2016 skit

Monday faith is one that offers hope when the situation seems hopeless. Monday faith keeps company when a friend feels down or is struggling. Monday faith offers to listen and reflects back God’s peace when life feels stormy. Monday faith extends forgiveness for Friday mistakes and grace for Saturday unkind words and actions. Monday faith requires more than doughnuts to tide students through the week, much more than a sugar rush,which wears off in minutes.

Building Monday faith takes the cooperation of the whole family, and the whole church family, too. Maybe you’ve seen this image on facebook:

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I believe it’s not only each families’ job to disciple kids; it’s the whole church family’s job. I ask you as the Church family to look around the pews and up and down the halls for students. Get to know them, say “Hi” with a big smile and greet them by name. Ask them “What’s up?” in their lives and remember details to follow up in future conversations. Take your turn as a mentor. Be ready to answer their hard questions with “I don’t know, but let’s figure it out together.” Model imperfect, but living faith. Students need to belong and be loved through their doubts and battles.

How do we model Monday faith? We invite students to serve alongside us. Doug Fields challenges the Church that teaching students to serve makes faith stick more powerfully than any lesson or program, “We can’t just teach students faith for Monday; we need to prepare them to serve out their faith all week.” Or research shows they’ll likely give up on faith when their adult Mondays become hard or lonely; learning faith involves belief    and action.

Students aren’t the only members struggling with Monday faith. Look for parents of teens who seem a little worse for wear. Offer encouragement. Compliment them in front of their kids and see the astonished looks you get. Support them in daily prayer as they try to be direct in facing problems, firm with boundaries, gentle with discipline, consistent with discipleship, and overflowing with love to sometimes prickly people. See why families need care throughout their Mondays?

Students and their families are also working on Sunday to figure out their identities for Monday. We as the church family can welcome and embrace them as God’s beloved, sinners who are foIMG_9496rgiven, and family who belong here, serving in God’s world alongside us. We can support youth with our money and with our time in volunteering and in prayer. With each baptism, we as a Church make a pledge to nurture that doesn’t expire and is never limited to Sunday. Thankfully, neither is God’s love, which is always ready for our Mondays.

 

 

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Raining on the Sunny Side

In a stormy situation, my daughter recently asked me to pray for her for the best, most desired outcome, rather than simply for God’s will to be done. She reasoned, “God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do, so we might as well pray on the sunny side.”

When I listen, I learn from Carly. We are different–in all but determination–as her brain moves at lightning speed.  While I chased around this curly-headed toddler, she’d shout gleefully, “Mama, I’m messing with you!”

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Mural in Narberth, PA

Then my own sweet mama would try to reassure me,

“You only have to stay a half-step ahead.”

As if I could. Ever.

Now that Carly is studying south of the equator, her view of the world is turned upside-down. In a foreign land, her wisdom and heart are both moving and growing at the speed of light. Mostly without me. Leading our kids, while humbling us, also whacks us upside the head with lessons about leading others.

Richard Hester and Kelli Walker-Jones, in Know your Story and Lead with it, write: “Organizational leaders need to maintain an attitude of ‘relentless optimism,’ the theological view that God is always at work in our stories to bring about God’s kingdom. We need to tell the stories that acknowledge and express problems, but our stories must also reflect God’s ‘persistent, compassionate presence,’ if we are to lead effectively.”

That’s hard to do.  Especially when others suffer and all we can do is listen as they moan. We can’t even begin to fix it. With optimism, loved ones may accuse us of being too cheery. But life becomes even worse if we join in their pity party. What to do?  What about the can-do message Abileen gives the child she cares for in The Help:

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Or try this version,

” You are brave.

You are loved.

We are in this together.”

A wise king who faced incredible enemies, suffered betrayal, and failed more than once at leading while he climbed heights of success, wrote, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.  Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” Psalm 37:4-7, NIV 

Back to praying on the sunny side. I think God actually gifts us with many of the desires we have in our hearts as we trust and delight in him. And even when we don’t.

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Photos of the Vatican Wind Rose directional markers in St. Peter’s Square. Top of page is Northwest marker depicting the cold, powerful wind that blows storms into our lives. This Southeast marker shows the warm, gentle winds we prefer.

It’s okay to pray for what we desire most.

We’re being honest.

God can handle that,

including our anger at not getting

what we want.

 

 

 

Sometimes when we suffer misadventures or setbacks,

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The Grinch who Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss

a Grinchy view of God creeps into our hearts in the middle of the night, ready to steal our joy with empty sacks and a wicked smile. Grinchy God is not biblical. God is not trying to steal all the joy down in Whoville from the big and the small. 

What does the psalmist promise? As I am still, as I trust, as I do not fret, and as I wait, God will act. God will do. God will bring dawn. 

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And God can and does make our

“small hearts grow three sizes that day” through the process.

My newest friend Victor from Egypt once asked a student, “Which is faster the speed of sound or the speed of light?” She answered him, “The speed of God.”

God has a light-up the world plan for His good creation that is moving ahead at the speed of God, even when we can’t see a glimmer yet. So what do we have to lose by praying–and leading–on the sunny side?

 

“May God give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.” Psalm 20:4