JoySorrow and HOPE, bright hope

Christmas celebrations can’t be over in just one day.

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Over each meal, we light the advent candlesIMG_20171224_175501039.jpg, last night with my extended family who have been arriving for New Years. While we enjoy hugs, reuniting, and good meals, there are two noticeable absences: my rambunctious, brother-in-law Ozzie died suddenly in May and my older brother and his wife have split.

We acknowledge Ozzie with stories. “He’d totally make fun of you, Troy, for wearing a hat and jacket inside, ‘Ready for an expedition, Nanook?'” I wish we could imitate his laugh. We look at videos from his grandkids, from the moments he would have loved: Davis’ big wipeout while tubing off a jump and Lincoln’s first bday pics.

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Our brave friend Lara Hauser, who is a young widow and wonderful mom of four, calls life’s ongoing mix of joy and grief “JoySorrow.” So we tell JoySorrow stories and laugh and cry: at Ozzie’s favorite strategy for staying warm nicknamed “three violent jerks,”  at what Christmas has felt like without him for Tam.

We brainstorm a strategy together for introducing 6-year-old Brantley from Florida to snow in the frigid week ahead, “Snow is fun. Cold means fun.” Then cousin Mark calls in from Minnesota, “Toughen him up. Tell him there are no whiners in the North.” If only that was true! We are ready to embrace “BBob”–as the teenaged cousins call him–and his dad in the week ahead with warm love amidst subzero wind chillsand subzero life chills.

This month as I led a congregation through Advent, we realized that God’s big plan to save the world begins with a knocked-up teen and her finance’s considering divorce. With Jesus, born in animal shed, who became a refugee. With foreigners and shepherds who pay attention and look up to see what God is doing through stars and angelic announcements. God works through all these out-of-the-way people in out-of-the-way places to “bring good news of great joy that shall be for all people.” The gospel story certainly relates to life today in our topsy-turvy times.  Cary Nieuwhof writes,

“What if your  imperfect Christmas is actually a front row seat to God’s grace?….The surprise of Christmas is this: it speaks to us in our weakness even more than it speaks to us in our strength.”

This is how our family life looks right now. This is how our ongoing celebration of Christmas seeps into its grief and reality with hope and love.

As a gift, I give you the words our family has said together since the kids were small as we light our advent candles:

Light the 1st Candle—Purple:

Jesus is our HOPE. Bright HOPE. Stars in the darkness.

Light the 2nd Candle—Blue:

Jesus is our HOPE for PEACE, Kind PEACE. Bridges over broken places.

Light the 3rd Candle—Pink:

Jesus is our JOY. Great JOY. Good news that changes lives.

Light the 4th Candle—Purple:

Jesus is our LOVE. LOVE for everybody. LOVE. There is nothing greater.

Light the CHRIST CANDLE:

Jesus shines in the darkness, Making it LIGHT. Showing us the way to new life, the greatest gift of all.

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Freezing Frogs and Sunday Hope

In oversize puddles and wetlands, my sister and I stalked amphibians to see if we could spot with our own eyes what was chirping the oversize chorus. Nope. Each time we got close to water’s edge, one frog stopped singing and another started just a few feet further away, playing hide and seek with us while singing an impressive chorus. We imagined their creature-from-the-black-lagoon plotting, “I think I can take the shorty, but the ginger target looks tastier.”  Wonder and giggles make good stress relievers.

Don’t we all need a place to go, to run or walk out our thoughts in our mixed-up, “manic Monday” world? To pace out our problems on our worst days, “Yeah, it’s finally Friday, but–dang it–I didn’t solve that yet. And I didn’t even come close to meeting my goals for the week.” Stress, stress, stress might tempt us to spend even more time at our computers. Nope. Add arrows to your Bullet Journal to move the task to next week. Not all change depends on you or your own efforts. Head outside!

“Don’t believe things can change? Just look at Palm Sunday — to Good Friday — to Resurrection Sunday. Always believe, always keep hoping — things can change.”

–Ann Voskamp

IMG_20170314_143618495When I’m frustrated, I walk the 3 1/2-mile Deer Grove East prairie path, several times a week. Sometimes with my brother and his bite-sized dog Samson. Always windy, rarely crowded, a great place to watch clouds and view the whole horizon. (Translation: no hills … or any feature, really … to distract from the sky and my steps.)

It seems I walk much faster on a warm March day (inspired by the name of the month?), but it’s in contrast with whistling headwinds that slow me down in blustery February.

Friday I walked with my sister Tami. We hashed over our family’s issues along the way, and lost–and found–her glove, but no solutions. And we stalked frogs as tiny as a fingertip. Visiting from Minnesota, she kept commenting on the uninterrupted green-grass vista and buds on the trees. Not spring in Minnesota yet.

Walking on a Friday brings me hope even when there’s no real reason. Nothing’s actually gotten better … yet. But I stop my striving and put the week to rest. I walk my way into weekend mode. I look forward to Sunday.

Monday I walked again,  alone this time, hurrying to complete my lap before a hailstorm rolled in. Almost back to the car, I nearly missed it — and it changed everything. How? “Pop,”a tree burst into full white bloom. Spring hope, there before me.

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Lovely tree along my walk route that burst into flower between Friday and Monday.

In the midst of the still winter-bare woods, a tree dressed fully in spring splendor.  Over the weekend, life found a way. While I was resting, watching movies, cheering at 12 PHS volleyball games, talking with two friends in marriage crunches. While I was worshiping and waving palm branches at church, God was re-creating his world. And hopefully, recreating me.

That Friday my sister and I talked through my ministry “do-over” options, brainstorming a possible shift from the church world back into non-profit leadership. My dining table was piled with 50+index cards listing my transferable skills in sharpie-blue. It’s uplifting as spring to have a sister you trust and who loves you look at your bold bucket of skills and say, “Yes! You’d be great at this            !”

Even without my sister to cheer me on, Monday felt better, with Sunday’s lingering hope. Monday brought morning sun and lemon daffodils popping open in the backyard, but quickly turned to holy hailstones crashing down from the heavens. During the storm, I boldly sent out my revamped, skill-focused resumes. Talked with a potential church employer about a fresh ministry area. Wrote a new article assigned to me by a magazine editor. Sunday hope carried over into my manic Monday.

I finally googled those crazy, chirping amphibians my sister and I had chased. “Chorus frogs”, they are called: locally, Western chorus frogs, and where I used to live, Northeast spring peepers.

The amazing thing I learned is these tiny hoppers can survive being frozen alive. These daring frogs come out of hibernation early, and when the temperature drops again, no problem. When the first ice crystals form, their livers quickly rush sugary anti-freeze throughout their bodies to protect their organs.

It all looks impossible on Friday, doesn’t it? With the chanting crowds, the darkened sky, and and Jesus’ being nailed to a cross?

It looks impossibly bad, yet we call it “good,” for God’s actions that Friday change everything. God means us to live in close relationship with Jesus and with others. Forgiven and forgiving. Redeemed and freed from “the sin that so easily entangles.” Jesus’ Friday death on that cross and his Sunday resurrection change everything. Jesus saves us. Unfreezes us. Brings hope and Spring to our wintery souls.

Turns out that none of what we need most depends on us, on any day of the week. It all dhqdefault.jpgepends on Jesus, on a cross, on an empty tomb. That’s Sunday hope on a Friday.

 

Sources:

Thanks for inspiration to Jon Acuff’s helpfully entertaining book Do-Over.

Aatish Bhatia, “What’s making this strange chirping noise?” https://www.wired.com/2014/04/spring-peeper/ (accessed 4/11/17).

Ann Voskamp, “When you’re kinda struggling through holy week–and don’t feel holy at all” http://archive.mlgn2ca.com/u=fb5ead1fd337d4ac2581b075b6244ad1&id=360d7273&e=1d0e0720 (accessed 4/11/17).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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

 

Impacting Generations Yet-to-Come

My faithful, Scottish, great-grandparents prayed daily for the unborn generations of our family–and for their spouses. Powerful prayers, now impacting the fourth and fifth generations of our family in profound ways. In a Pentecost sermon at Narberth Pres, I share this challenge and how it is playing out for us.  Click Link for “Out of This World Encounters” on 5/15/16.11891100_10206281780916465_5790979975412851679_n

Much of our immediate family is pictured below. (not pictured: Ken, Kari and Brendan.) While four of us are in full-time ministry with Young Life, the PC(USA), or counseling, all serve in unique ways according to God’s good gifts: writing books, mentoring students and small business owners, photographing orphans in Haiti and YL Capernum dances, building houses in Mexico or El Salvador, raising our families, working with women caught in trafficking, teaching dance, producing videos, serving on boards of churches, camps, missions, and youth organizations. Davis, the first great-grand, has the ministry of cuteness–and all share the spiritual gift of entertainment. I love watching  each flourish and grow!McLennan Family Retouched FINAL

Teen hack: the power of ice cream and 4 simple words to say to students

I learned this leader/parent hack from Kara Powell of Fuller Youth Institute in a seminar at the Orange conference this month. I put it into immediate good use with Confirmation students. One smart, smart boy was having trouble finishing his faith statement—he was all about God as his father, but Jesus seemed to be an issue.

I learned from his parents he had nTX8aeETBquestions, especially about how faith and science fit together, and he was willing to meet with me.

When we met after school over ice cream, I asked him about his beliefs about Jesus. He looked incredibly uncomfortable, wishing to have his braces tightened instead of this impending interrogation.

I covered the orthodox biblical basics about Jesus as the Son of God, fully human and fully God: Jesus was present at Creation and he then came to earth as a baby, lived a sinless life for us, died for us on the cross, and rose again for us. “Sound familiar?”

Even though this student couldn’t articulate all that himself without prompting, (especially between bites of a grasshopper sundae), he surprised me and said, “Yeah I believe all that. It’s what I have been taught all my life. No problem.”yckg7pB7i“Okay, so rather than guess, why don’t you tell me what your questions are?”

“Well I want to know about creation. How did it happen? I know someone who believes, ‘Pop! People appeared right out of thin air. Created. Bam. Not me. How did Creation happen?”

As life-long believer and 15-year family minister, as Rev. Dr. Green, M.Div., D.Min, I do have plenty of answers ready to pull out of my back pocket. But instead, I “powelled” it and started with “I don’t know, but we can maybe figure it out together.”

He visibly relaxed. I followed up, “Anyone who tells you they know how Creation actually happened for sure is lying.” He actually laughed, “Yeah.” Now I had him. In conversation.

“You know the Bible isn’t a science or history text book, right? So it doesn’t try to tell us exactly how it happened but that God created us and created us good, in His image. We can look up the verses in a minute. Did you know there are two creation stories in the Bible? How do you think it happened?”

He talked for a minute about the Big Bang, “I’m not exactly sure how it worked either. But that makes me feel better that I don’t have to know exactly or believe only one thing exactly to have faith in God and Jesus and be confirmed. And to keep going to Church.”

I thought to myself, “Ahhh. So that’s what’s at stake.”

I agreed aloud with him, “Yep, I don’t know either. I’m not a scientist. But I do know it does take faith to believe in God’s creating us AND it takes faith to believe in a scientist’s hypothesis, because none of us knows for sure. Faith and science can go together, can help us figure it out. And science definitely helps us appreciate the wonders of creation as they are always making new discoveries about life and new forms of life.”

“Like in the ocean! I know.! I always watch Animal Planet. And the History channel.”

“History? Oh, you wrote in your faith statement you want to be an archeologist, right? LiKkXoGXTDid you know they are discovering new finds about the stories in the Bible like the Exodus? It turns out maybe they were looking in the wrong place and the wrong time period and that’s why they didn’t find much evidence before now.”

“Cool. I’d like to know more about that. I have lots of questions about the Bible, too. But that’s okay, right?”

“Yep. You have a smart brain and are sort of a philosopher I think, so you might really get this. I think of faith this way: we bring all we know of ourselves to all we know of God at this time. And those are both gonna be changing as we grow.”

“Yep. I like that.

“What do you think? Does that help you? Are you ready to confess your faith in Jesus publicly and join the church?

“Yep. And I might help with VBS too.”

Ahh. The power of ice cream and 4 simple words, “I don’t know but…” Why do those words work? Kara says they give permission to ask questions and to doubt, which kids will do anyway. They chase away silence.

How?

“I don’t know, but…”