dream big / want less

There is no better place than New York City to see the biggest and brightest (literally Times Square can blind you) dreams come true. All the struggling artists and actresses are dreaming big to get more – working multiple jobs to make reality out of the stage in their dreams.

Big > BIGger > BIGGEST

The biggest dreams are always best, so they say. I won’t say it’s a bad idea – the big dreaming. I love dreams – love to share mine and love to hear others’. I love dreaming and people who do it well.

What I don’t love is that dreams seem to be synonymous with MORE. Why do our dreams have to point us in the direction of wealth and status and fame?

I sat next to a most charming man on the plane to Chicago. He manages money for a wealthy family in Dubai and has for the past six years. From the sound of it, his boss’s pockets are deep. My friend Tom’s job is to invest capital so there is more capital to invest. He deals almost exclusively with BIG, if you know what I mean, and apparently he is really good at it.

Last week Tom was at a conference where 850 of the best and brightest entrepreneurs (his sister also happens to be a genius who owns several non-profit start up companies in NYC) met to share ideas, strategies, and success stories. These are the type of people who sell their companies over the weekend for $150 million without blinking (that really happened to the guy sitting next to Tom).

Do you know what the most popular session was at this conference? Relationships.

Yep, a psychologist got up on stage and started talking about life outside of 100 hour work weeks and efficient business practices and emerging markets. This is the message that captivated the brilliant crowd and filled their lunch, coffee, and dinner conversations. Relationships. Apparently, people with extremely successful entrepreneurial lives struggle most with their relationships.

I tell you this because my friend Tom asked me what I was going to do in New York, like for work. I said something about my passion for people and communities and specifically the impact neighborhoods have on some of the worst societal problems. Since his sister has her hand in several non-profit companies and a background in education, we talked about the “education space” and how it expands beyond the classroom. We talked about the trouble with “the system” and how it is unfortunately misused and manipulated and how that prevents effectiveness in improving communities and schools. We talked about how there needs to be better accountability.

And then he said to me, “Have you ever thought of just starting something on your own?” I blinked and then said, “Well, yes, actually. I have… but a person needs capital for that or brilliant connections. Right now, I have neither.”

He suggested I could form a platform that would provide the service of accountability to government and charity programs. I chuckled a little bit because his brilliance has trained him to always expand to the biggest dreams for the biggest returns. I suppose that is probably how it works in managing capital – you do it best when you do it big because it’s always about making more.

But, you know what I said to him?

“It’s about relationships.”

Just like he heard at that conference in Salt Lake City and just like those millionaires couldn’t stop talking about. No matter how many brilliant, efficient systems develop to respond to the real problems of neighborhoods, the most important component of any program is the relationships that form as it is carried out.

I don’t buy the Big > BIGGER > BEST model when best is about adding more – more influence or status or wealth.

I believe the biggest dreams can also look like less.

I don’t know if my new friend Tom would agree, but it was an interesting conversation.

worth it, every banana singing face

Have you ever thought that you are where you are when you are just for one soul?

Maybe it’s been 20 months or 20 years or 20 days in your current vocation, but you’ve found yourself still looking for reasons that explain why you do what you do.

I’m almost exactly at six months in my position as an in-home counselor and if I ever doubted why I spent the last half year doing this work, I got my answer this week. I had two littles in my backseat and we were singing an old gem of a camp song together. I thought it combined the right amount of encouragement toward healthy eating habits while weaving in excitement about delight in the Lord.

I like bananas
I know that mangoes are sweet
I like papayas (papayas!)
But nothing can beat
that sweeeeeeeet love of God

I’ve been walking-round-in-circles-five-miles-per-hour,
tryin’a find my way back to my Heavenly Father
the world tastes sweet but soon it tastes sour
then I ask Him in and I receive His power

We sang it several times, like a loop actually, because at the end we would bounce back and forth with “O!” until our “O!s” ran together and we swung into the bananas again. I saw the actions pumping in my rear view mirror and a smile stretched across my banana singing face. Some time in the middle there, between raps and bridges and verses and O-O-Os, one of the littles asked if we could pray. I gulped past the lump of months prayed for this case and the helpless mound of messes it was stuck inside. I looked into that rear-view mirror and said, “That’s a great idea. I’ll start.”

Before I could say amen, she said, “Now, it’s my turn.” And, oh! What tenderness came from that little one! She rounded it out by saying, “A-num.” After we talked about prayer (and how she can pray whenever and wherever she wants because God loves to listen to us), she thought she had more to pray, so we prayed again. Then we talked about how we can pray about anything – things that make us sad or frustrated or happy or afraid – and there were a few more things she wanted to add, as long as God was listening.

Then we started with the bananas again.

This moment – this one case, this one child, and this one family. This. Maybe every bit of my six months in this vocation has been for such a time as this. So that I can sing about bananas and mangoes and the sweetness of Jesus that is better than all fruit combined.

If every 14-hour-day had moments like these, working might happen with a little less effort. But I also wouldn’t rejoice as deeply or depend as desperately on the Lord for His provision of grace.

Maybe all this – whatever this is for you – is for one single, solitary soul. And, friend, I want to tell you today that that soul is worth every 14-hour-day of frustration. Worth every banana singing face and a million more. Keep pressing on – further up and further in, believing God is glorified by your faith that He is sovereign over moments like these.

Because Jesus left the 99 to rescue that one single, solitary lamb and then became a helpless Lamb to ensure our rescue could be complete.

when pounds of paperwork are proven wrong

Every once in a while, a day like today flies in the face of the cynic.
It blows up all the pounds of paperwork proving it’s not possible.

This day is a gift and it’s not even noon.

It’s called reunification, which is a lot of syllables packed into one word that means the court says it’s okay for a family to be together again. And that’s what happened at court.

I cried a little bit and tried to shield my eyes from all the legal people who claim detached objectivity. I try to claim it sometimes too, but I have a heart that likes to trot out on my sleeve on a regular basis (I am aware I may not be in the right profession). So, I cried a little bit when I saw parents reaching for tissues and looking at me with red-rimmed eyes.

I know it’s not the end. All my co-workers and any veterans of the public welfare system will tell you: it’s not over. And I get that. I know the road is long and the battle is intense, but today I got to say the word reunification and the six syllables will be on my tongue until 8:30 pm tonight when I finally drag myself home.

Now, to pray this reunified family into reconciled reunification with a forever family. That happy day would stretch for eternity!

Today, I know that every good gift comes down from the Father of Lights and this good gift called reunification was authored by His sovereign hand. These tearful moments were in the mind of God before the world began. He is in this, even this and always this. There is not a moment that surprises Him, not one good or evil thing that prompts a plan B.

This good thing today is one of many millions of merciful good gifts that God will pour out. 

Oh, this day can’t even contain them! We might feel ten raindrops in a downpour, but imagine the amount raindrops! Imagine that each raindrop is planned and counted, just like the hairs on our heads. Our Father knows all and showers down every good gift!

You are good. You are good, O Lord. You are good and Your love endures forever.

a new commandment: love one another

Today is Maundy Thursday, which wasn’t any more than a funny word pairing until I read my holy week reflection. Mandatum means “command” or “mandate” in Latin and we celebrate Maundy Thursday because on the night before Jesus was killed he gave a “new commandment” (John 13:34).

Love one another, as Christ loved us.

What a great and impossible command he gave as his parting exhortation! Love as Christ loved? The perfect and sinless Jesus, who didn’t curse his enemies or get impatient at the market or cover up a white lie for his cousin? We are to love like this Jesus, who saw pain and brokenness and stepped toward it? The Jesus who associated with the lowly and the losers and the little children?

 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).

The Lord has been so gracious in these past few days to pour out His grace. The deeper I dig for gospel mercies, the more I find to fill my days. And I need it – every last drop of grace, I need it.

The substance of my work is not something one prays away – it is the fruit of a world torn by sin and a people tangled in deception. The prince of darkness works 24/7 to battle the life-giving joy of the Gospel message and all the ugly will be there tomorrow morning and the next. Sin is a hungry monster – it eats disaster and spits it out. Sometimes it feels like my days are walking in sin’s vomit. Believe me, it feels as disgusting as it sounds.

The Lord has been gracious, though, to give grace when I’m knee deep in sin’s sticky sludge. At the day’s end when I am realizing that everything will look the same in the morning and my heart wants to despair, I remember that Jesus promised abundant life and then I say, “Yes, I believe it.” But, my belief doesn’t transform my circumstances… it transforms my heart.

And today as I reflect on Maundy Thursday – the new commandment Jesus gave to love as He loved us – I think this is exactly the place I need to be. This great and impossible command to love happens as we believe Christ for the glorious work of the cross.

Loving one another does not mean ignoring sin or downplaying deception or denying evil – Christ certainly didn’t ignore, downplay or deny. And anyone who works in social services must know it is impossible to make less of the helpless state of things. Please, don’t ask me to look an addict in the face and say sin really doesn’t have a hold of him. Instead, because Christ knew the depth of our sin, He also knew the cost of love towards us.

Loving one another as Christ loved us means that we are willing to walk toward the hurting.
Loving one another as Christ loved us means that we see the sin and deception and evil as darkness, but we believe in the power of light to expose fruitless, dark deeds (Ephesians 5).
Loving one another as Christ loved us means that we speak truth about the death grip of sin and speak truth about the offer of life.

Christ was not politically correct. He was not the greatest orator. He did not consult ratings before and after a public address. Christ concerned Himself with the Truth because He was the Truth. He held all things together and still does. But, he walked toward the hurting. He sat with the broken. He listened to the wicked. He held disobedient children in his lap.

Christ got so close to the hurting that they hurt him. His loving us cost Him his life. He got so close to the broken that they broke Him. We broke Him.

If we are really going to love one another, we have to get close enough that it will cost us our lives. 

breathe, step, Christ

The evil pressed in, breaking the seams of a gloriously beautiful, blue-sky day. It’s like poison warring to claim a body fighting for life and health.

The parking garages are always dark and quiet and cold, but today my brisk step met sunshine on the other side of the sidewalk. I stepped out from the garage’s shadows and under a warm blue sky for the 5 minutes it took to get inside the courthouse.

And in those 5 minutes, I claimed Christ – one promise after another in step with the clicking of my heels. Breathe, step, Christ. Breathe, step, Christ. Into the courtroom I went and out of the courtroom two and a half hours later into the same warm blue sky. Breathe, step, Christ. Breathe, step, Christ.

The joy of my slow, pre-work morning was distant and slippery now against the evil pressing in on all sides. I looked up and warmed my face against the sun and let my lungs fill with a heavy sigh.

No morning resolve will last the whole day through – it’s not strong enough to overcome the evil. My morning resolve wore off about one hour into my work day. One hour and I needed another promise to battle and overcome the opposition.

No, the gospel is not meant to be taken as a one-a-day prescription.

We’re meant to drink it all day long – to be satisfied in our souls with the richness of His grace. He pours it out and bids us come and drink. Today, I needed so many spoonfuls.

There is so much evil that threatens to rob us of joy and strength and resolve. And if we’re not drinking in the grace God has poured out, we will take a different medicine and fear will be our portion, worry will be our cup.

As I was driving away from one client and before I drive to the next, I rehearse the moments in which I need to believe.

In pain, Christ.
In fear, Christ.
In joy, Christ.
In hope, Christ.
In trembling, Christ.
In love, Christ.
In grief, Christ.
In failure, Christ.
In heartache, Christ.

Every moment, Christ.

I am being sanctified from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18) as this very moment rolls over into the next moment. And for all moments, Christ is sufficient and abundant to pour out grace enough to fill my soul to overflowing. For all the promises of God find their “Yes” in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Breathe, step, Christ. Breathe, step, Christ.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

Morning devotions are not enough.