How to Embrace the Sacred Now

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I’ve been wanting write this piece for some time.  I don’t usually write about my ongoing health issues because, well, truthfully the less mental real estate they take up, the better.  But sometimes the hardest won silent battles are the things that shape us the most.

Let me be really clear.  I do not EVER believe God sends sickness or tragedy to teach us a lesson.  That’s like saying it would be OK for parent to hold their five year’s hand down on a hot burner to teach them a lesson about obedience.  That’s not love.  It’s abuse.  But I do believe God never wastes our pain, the challenges of a broken world, the tragedies that split lives and families open wide. 

Four and a half years ago I came back to the USA from Africa with my health unraveling in almost every direction.  I was looking to hopefully find some answers that would put me back together.  While here, I had a routine dental check up from a former dentist who was substituting for my then regular dentist.  I had one questionable iffy spot so he suggested filling it as a precaution.

He did an old-school silver amalgam filling, right next to a molar with a gold crown.  That began a descent into hellish amounts of pain.  He unwittingly created a battery in my mouth and refused to fix it.  For three weeks, I had current running between those teeth.  I called and called in agony as the galvanic response was frying my trigeminal nerve.  First they told me to eat boiled eggs.  Then they stopped taking my calls at all.  Finally I found a new dentist who knew exactly what was happening and immediately switched out the filling for a non-conductive porcelain alternative.

But the damage had been done.

The second branch of my trigeminal nerve was fried.  A few weeks later I was in the ER after almost collapsing with the pain in a department store.  And this monster got a name.  Atypical Trigeminal Neuralgia. a.k.a. the worst chronic pain disorder known to medical science.

Almost five years later, my mouth still feels like it has been scalded with burning hot coffee, some of my upper teeth still feel like they are abscessing and often it feels like I have an electric cattle prod jabbing my cheek.  Sometimes all at one time.  My face has fits and flares and there are days all I can do is take one moment at a time because that is all I can handle, and that barely.

And yes there are days I am angry.  Angry at the injustice and the arrogance that left me with yet another thing to deal with.  Frustrated that there was no legal recourse because our state laws seem to protect doctors more than patients.  There are days I want to pound my fist on the ground and rail against the pain and the fallen, broken cosmos that let it happen and trite platitudes thinly-veiled in spiritual veneer.

But fortunately that’s not most days.  I have to make a decision every moment to trust in God’s absolute goodness in between the now and not yet.  To focus on the beautiful unfolding around me. To stake my very existence on a radical stance of gratitude.

To choose to let that pain for as long as it is there drive me deeper into what I’ve started calling the sacred now.  Tomorrow has no grace.  Next week and month and year suck the grace and joy and strength out of today.

But by His strength, I choose to stay grounded in the sacred now.  Because present in this moment, in Him is an eternity of grace.  And I am learning that is enough.

Do you know the present is?  It’s a gift.

Staying present to the gift unfolding around me is one of the most profound journeys Jesus and I have ever taken.

“Now” sparks, burns brightly and then is gone. It is fleeting, frail and fierce all at the same time.  It is the gift of the sacred, infinite and yet so very fragile.

For me, it is no longer a question of what will I do with my one and precious life.  It is a question of what will I do with the only moment any of us ever truly have?  This one precious moment. This sacred now.

What will we do with the present we are given?

I want to unwrap it, savor its marrow, explore its depth, capture it in pixels and letters and learn every lesson it can teach.  To live boldly with no space for regrets.  To live fully, not frantically.

So that my friend is my prayer for you.  That in the middle of this moment you find the ocean of love and grace found in His eyes.

You who walk with chronic pain of any kind.  I’m still standing for healing for both of us.  You are not alone or weak or in any way less than.  You wage a silent war every day and all of heaven cheers you on.  And so do I.

Always remember. No matter what.  You.  Are.  Loved.

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The Poetry of Heaven

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For my mind to stay focused these days, I often have a pen in hand doodling.  It is just the way I am wired.  Scripture comes alive when I can slow down and letter the words.  It is like the pen fuses with my soul.

I don’t know about you, but there never seems enough space to write out my thoughts in teeny print, let alone illustrate them in most Bibles.  I know there is a movement to paint over the words and turn them into a altered page canvas of sorts, but then I can’t go back and read the ones I painted over.  And, well, sigh……. it just doesn’t work for me.

But I found the ESV Interleaved Edition with a whole page blank alternating with the words. Note-taking, doodle-loving, hand-lettering, visual-journaling BLISS.  Be forewarned- this Bible is a weightlifting tool.  But it’s perfect to tuck away at home near your favorite spot to sip your morning coffee.

I’ve been thinking about Eph 2:10 where it talks about us being God’s poetry.  I love word studies, so I rarely make it through a passage without whipping out my lexical aids.  I was stunned as I read through this verse with the Greek definitions.

For we are His workmanship {poema: poetry, fabric, artistry, creation}, created {and founded} in Christ Jesus for good {useful, joyful, happy, excellent, honorable} works {ergon: business, employment, occupation, enterprise, undertaking, any thing accomplished by hand, art, industry, or mind} which God prepared {provided, made ready,  beforehand {in advance} that we should walk {to make one’s way, progress; to make use of opportunities} in them. Eph 2:10 (Michele’s Expanded Version)

I’ve been praying a LOT into this business as missions call. Truly this is as much His idea as sending me to Africa was.  Maybe in some ways even more so, because it is not a path I would have chosen for myself.

If I am God’s poetry, founded and grounded, written in Christ Jesus for joyful and honorable business, enterprise and art that God made ready and provided for in advance for me to make use of His opportunities.  That means all I have to do is lean and listen and step out.  I can be confident just as He provided supernaturally for our needs in South Sudan, He will do so here through these new channels.

I want to encourage you who don’t feel called to Africa or Asia, or to serve overseas at all, you still are vitally involved in missions.  And not just as givers and senders like so many teach.  You are goers called to step out as well.  The Greek word prepare in Ephesians 2:10 is a metaphorical nod to an oriental custom of sending persons to level the roads and make them passable to go before kings when they journeyed.  God so loves us His kids, He has done that for us!

This year the fear of failure needs to bow.  God has made our way passable and given us everything we need to walk in it.  We are the poetry of heaven and the creation of our Father.  Rest friend in that.  You are so very loved.

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Spirit, lead me… the prayer of my heart every. single. day.  Print available here

Why I Don’t Believe in Making Tents

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I have a long rather adversarial history with tents.  They get dirty easily, leak and blow away.  Bugs and critters can access them with little to no effort.  They are not climate controlled.  They usually come without necessary accommodations. Starbucks are usually very, very far away.  I mean, need I say more?  When I was Girl Scout, I even refused to camp in one. I was about as good of a Girl Scout as I am a vegan. 😳

Early in the first decade of my missions career, I was introduced to the term “tent-making”.  It sounded like a good idea to my inexperienced ears.  The popular missions definition approximates as “doing a job or occupation in order to get into places in the world you could not go as a missionary”.  A way to access places you otherwise couldn’t sounded like a brilliant concept.  But throughout my next 20 years in missions I began to realize the concept of tent-making as a strategy was usually at best incomplete and at worst down right destructive to God’s Kingdom.

The term tent-making is a reference to the life of Paul. Paul was the most traveled missionary in the Bible.  He made tents.  So, it must be a great term to use for missions and if I take a job as an English teacher in order to get into a place I couldn’t otherwise, then that is like Paul making tents, right?  And tent-making is an awesome missions strategy, right?

Wrong.

Let’s look at Paul. Yes, Paul made tents.

After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.  Acts 18:1-4, NKJV

I have heard this taught so many times as Paul made tents to support himself while he was doing the real ministry of preaching and teaching the Gospel.  That understanding demonstrates a deep and profound confusion as to what ministry and vocation actually are.  It also shows an unbiblical division between sacred and secular work steeped in centuries of broken understanding.

Paul believed in supporting himself, that he may not be a burden to those he was serving and to be a good example when such an example was needed.

For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us. 2 Thess 3:7-9, NKJV

But he also believed in making his work, his business a channel of provision supporting the community around him beyond his own needs.

I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Acts 20:33-35, NKJV

Paul believed and taught it was right and appropriate for those who served in ministry to be compensated materially for their work in ministry (1 Co 9:11-14, Gal 6:6) and he, himself, received financial support from some of the churches (Ph 4:15-18).  However, Paul chose to lay down the “right” to receive compensation when that compensation could be counterproductive to the Gospel.

There are powerful things to take note of in these passages which stand in contrast to popular concepts of tent-making:

  • Paul wasn’t “tent-making” to sneak into a closed country. He owned his own business, while writing many of the letters in the New Testament and discipling the known world.  He was a Roman citizen with free and open access to virtually the entire known world of his day.
  • Paul was not working at a trade reluctantly to compensate for any lack of provision or in order to get on with his “real” work of ministry. Paul had the sense that everything he was and did WAS ministry, whether making tents or having discussions in the synagogues.  There was nothing in his life that was not part of serving Jesus.
  • Paul was not “bi-vocational”.  Vocation is about calling, not profession, occupation or employment.  As followers of Jesus we have one calling (everything we are and do is to be ministry), with multitudes of expressions for that calling (professions, forms of service, seasons, occupations and trades).

Some practical observations about “tent-making” from my time in the missions field:

  • When the occupation is authentically embraced as central to the calling, it can be powerful.  i.e. Someone goes to country x because they are called there and becomes an English teacher because they have calling and passion to be an English teacher and work at it with all their heart, and have a sensitivity to Jesus, it can open tremendous doors of real conversations and authentic relationships.
  • When the occupation is only a means to the end of gaining access, it more often than not unravels.  Someone feels called to country x and they find out they can get into the country by teaching English- but they hate teaching and could careless about English.  But they do it anyway because it will become a platform for their real work. Missions peeps please, please don’t do that.  People are really smart and can usually tell less than authentic a mile away coming.
  • If you go somewhere as an English teacher or business person or anything else, be the best darn Spirit-led committed trades person that you can.  Genuinely love and serve people, be authentic and wise and conversations will happen.  A less than genuine you makes folks wonder if the One you say you serve is also less than genuine.
  • When we befriend and build relationships with people for the solitary purpose of getting them to accept the gospel we present, we are actually being manipulative.  And folks feel manipulated.  It is one reason so many feel like Christians are duplicitous.  Be real.  Be a great friend with no other motive but to love like Jesus. Be honest and wise about your own faith journey when appropriate.  Stay aware of what God is doing in the moment and equally aware that no one wants to feel like a project or a new notch on someones wall of attainment.  No one.  Ever.

The design and branding company I have started is not in place of missions.  It is not to fund me so I can go do missions on the side.  It is missions at its most fundamental and genuine.  (Love God. Love people.)  And I’ve been called to invest in it the same fervency with which I planted the work in South Sudan, by simply doing each day what God puts before me, and trusting Him with the vision, the provision and the results.  Selah. (Pause and think on these things.)

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