Discovering and playing and building in this little corner of the world to document my writing life. I'm glad you're here. {If you want to receive updates via email, sign up below.}

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Mission Story {40 of 40 Stories}



Click here for the backstory.

I’m not sure how I missed a story during Lent – I was surprised when I realized one was missing early last week. I didn’t know it was skipped. Maybe I should just leave it missing, because then 40 Stories doesn’t have to end. It’s not missing, though. It’s right here. Tonight I write Number 40. 

The end that is actually a beginning.

I’m beginning to think in wisps around ideas of adoption and faith. There are voices that have returned, leaving threads of ideas for me to tug. These are the voices that demand I write write write. These are the voices I hear when I write fiction, characters arguing and demanding and insisting – the voices of the story world.

This time it isn’t fiction. It is real life. It is still a story world. 

And it is waiting for me.

Here I am, holding out a feeble offering of story only to get it handed back to me. I’ve been giving 40 Stories this Lenten season, and I find out how I can’t out-give God. 

There is a story world waiting for me. The discipline of 40 Stories was practice and training ground for the next writing project. It is faith and action coming together, tailored just for me.

It is written in James 2 --
Don't you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: "Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith." He was even called the friend of God. So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.

I feel so...loved. I didn't know this was what would happen until I was in the middle of this story. Number 40 and God gives back to me more than I can fathom.

I get to write and find my way through a real live story world as a means of putting my faith in action. God is good to me.

Easter Traditions {39 of 40 Stories}


Click here for the backstory.

I woke up on this Easter morning, with these words of Jesus wrapped around me: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.” (John 11:25-26, NLT)

It feels like an Easter of broken traditions, and there is a little sting pricking at my heart. We decided to take this weekend as our annual get-a-way with my parents and brother’s family. One yes always means a million noes.

No to Easter service.
No to Easter pictures.
No to Easter breakfast with our church family.
No to Easter dinner with the Ayres family.
No to the Annual Ayres Easter Egg Hunt.
No to waking up to jelly beans on the nightstands.
No to Easter baskets on the kitchen table.
No to Easter surprises from my parents that always show up while we are gone on Easter day.

In an almost-feeling-guilty stage, I stop myself and ask: What is the tradition you want your children to grow up and remember? Love. I want them to have the tradition of love. 

Loving more.
Loving through the hard.
Loving family.
Loving friends.
Loving strangers.
Loving imagination.  
Loving because Jesus first loved us.

This is the tradition I hope we live on Easter and every other day of the year.

Jesus’ words are much more than tradition.  They are the truth of our faith, the reason we love. This Easter, we are living the truth of Jesus outside of the church building, outside of our traditions. This is how holidays, and this most holy of all holidays, becomes more than a date and more than a series of traditions. It’s about the choices we make to love – loving family and friends and strangers and ourselves. It’s learning that the more we love Jesus, the more we are able to love others. This is the tradition worth keeping – learning to love more.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Celebrate Easter {38 of 40 Stories}


Jesus is resurrected and we celebrate on Easter. I imagine the stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb and how frantic Mary Magdalene must have felt early Sunday morning, when it was still dark and the tomb was empty.

Frantic and alone. There was no one else there, so she ran to get Peter and John. They inspected the empty tomb and in that moment many of Jesus' teachings snapped into place. They saw and believed. Then they went home.

Mary stood outside the tomb and cried. No longer frantic, but still alone, she wept and stooped down, looking into the tomb. Two angels greeted her and asked why she was crying. "Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

She turned to leave, but was stopped by a man who repeated the question of the angels. Mary thought he was the gardener. She gave the same answer and turned to continue on her way.

"Mary!" the man said.

She instantly recognized the voice of Jesus and turned to him in delight.

When Jesus died and rose again, he promised to send the Holy Spirit to live within us and  speak to us. Just like Mary recognized Jesus' voice then, we recognize the nudgings of the Holy Spirit. We know it is God. 

Jesus later appeared to the disciples when they were all together. All except one, that is. Thomas was missing and when Mary Magdalene and the disciples told him about seeing Jesus, he didn't believe them. Thomas said, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

Eight days later Jesus appeared again and invited Thomas to put his fingers in the wound on his side.  Jesus said, "Don't be faithless any longer. Believe!"

Thomas exclaimed with excitement, "My Lord, my God!"


Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

I think the same is true for listening to the Holy Spirit. Too often, I wait until I see, waiting for proof, waiting to make sure I see things clearly and I end up missing the direction the Holy Spirit is leading.

We miss the mission because we are unsure of the unseen. 

Easter is about celebrating a living God. This Easter, I'm committing to following even when I don't see. I will cling to Jesus' words: Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.

This is how I will leap.

Celebrate THIS WEEK XXVII


I'm glad you are here to celebrate! Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter.

*****

This weekend I'm celebrating Easter and a living Savior.


And a favorite quote --

“I could not help but think that somewhere along the way we had missed what was radical about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable.”
--- David Plat

Friday, April 18, 2014

No More NOT GOOD ENOUGH {37 of 40 Stories}

Moses spoke with God through a burning bush.
Moses parted the Red Sea and helped the Israelites escape Egypt.
Moses received the 10 Commandments.


For all of the amazing ways the Lord worked through Moses, it may come as a surprise that Moses didn't believe he was good enough.

It's true. Standing there in bare feet, because he was on holy ground, beside a burning bush, after God told him it was his duty to lead the Israelites out of slavery, Moses responds, "O Lord, please send someone else to do it" (Exodus 4:13).

I know how Moses felt. Well, not exactly because I can't imagine being called to lead an entire nation of people out of bondage, but I understand the thought of maybe someone else could be a better choice.

I've been tempted to blame these feelings of not being good enough on my age or my gender or the fact that I'm a recovering perfectionist. But the truth of the matter is the enemy has been attacking humankind since the beginning with the lie of not being good enough.

Moses wasn't immune and neither am I.

The next verse, though, cracks my heart.

Then the Lord's anger burned...

God was angry that Moses suggested someone else should do the work laid before him. He was disappointed that Moses didn't trust Him enough. He was furious that Moses questioned His plan. Still...Do you know what God did with His burning anger?

He gave Moses support. God said, "Aaron can help you. I can speak and teach through both of you."

Not good enough is one of the biggest lies out there attacking our faith. God has work for each of us to do and when we succumb to the  belief that we aren't good enough, that there's someone else better, we miss our chance to make the world a better place.

Maybe instead of running away when we feel we aren't good enough, we should follow Moses' lead and say it aloud, straight to God. We can expect God to be angry, but we can also expect him to support and encourage and find a way for the work He has for each of us to do to be completed.

Not good enough is not going to stop me any more. I hope the same is true for you.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Celebration Expands the Heart{36 of 40 Stories}

After Jesus was resurrected, the third time he appeared was on the sea shore. He had a camp fire burning and fish cooking. Several of the disciples were fishing. They didn't catch anything the night before and they weren't catching anything on this particular morning.

It was early in the morning when he stood on the shore and called out to the disciples, "Friends, haven't you any fish?"

"No," they answered. They didn't recognize him.

Jesus suggests they cast their nets on the other side of the boat. He said they would catch some. Instead, when they cast on the opposite side of the boat, they were unable to haul in the net because of the large number of fish.

It is then they recognize Jesus. Peter gets so excited he leaps out of the boat and runs to the shore. The other disciples followed in the boat because they were only a few yards off of shore. Peter helps them pull in the net.

There were 153 fish.

153.

Someone counted the fish. I bet it was Peter.

Peter, who denied Jesus three times after her was crucified and before the rooster crowed the next morning. Peter who was outspoken and passionate. Peter who loved Jesus more than anything.

Jesus is standing on the shore, making breakfast and someone is counting the fish.

153. The fish were large.

153. The nets did not break.

153.  The celebration was noticed.

Peter messed up and was probably feeling a little down about denying Jesus. They are fishing and it's miserable. There's nothing filling their nets. I imagine they were tired. Then, in the early morning hours, things change.

They listened to Jesus.

It was a simple request -- cast your nets on the other side of the boat -- yet, I can imagine the disciples rolling their eyes and shrugging their shoulders. They didn't know they were going to catch fish. They didn't even know it was Jesus. They weren't paying attention.

Then, in an instant, things change.

The net is full and they see clearly that it's Jesus.

They haul in the fish -- all 153 of them -- and they eat breakfast together. Meanwhile someone counts the fish. It's significant -- 153 is documented in scripture.

Maybe the secret to finding celebration in the midst of the muddle and the hard and the bitter, is to count the fish. Peter was still reeling from betraying Jesus. They were tired of fishing and not catching anything all night. They didn't know what they were supposed to do, how they were supposed to minister.

Then they counted those fish and things changed.

They sat and ate breakfast with the Savior on the beach. I like to think the disciples hearts expanded that morning and they realized they were loved with an abundance.

153 fish.  This is what celebration does. It expands our hearts.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Weaving a Story {35 of 40 Stories}


Click here for the backstory.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:14-16

We adopted Hannah when she was six. We caught her and kept her from being blown by the winds of foster care. Her life (and ours) was changed forever. As she's grown, it's become clear that we aren't enough to help her grow and mature and become the person she is made to be. It takes a whole community, a body of believers, to ground a person and help them become a "heavy weight" of faith -- not one who is tossed back and forth by the waves and winds.

I've realized part of parenting is learning to let go so God can work through others to offer your child exactly what she needs. I'm not going to be able to give her everything. The more she grows into the person she is, I'm humbled to be able to offer something. God equips his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. Ephesians 4:13

God uses a whole community to build up Hannah.

Sarah who gave her nail polish and a tiara within days of being home.
Eva who was her first best friend.
Eva's mommy who saw every good thing in Hannah and pointed them out to me.
Mimi who taught her to knit and sew.
Mamaw who taught her to shop.
Grandma Ayres who gave her Easter and Halloween and Christmas traditions.
Mrs. Hanback who sent her home a little better every single day of fourth grade.
Susan Bushong who sent her a note after a service project and told her she's a prayer warrior.
Mrs. Messer who made her believe she has a special gift for reading and writing. 
Emma, Rebecca, Erin, and Cindy, who have taught her friendship is about loving and forgiving and laughing.
Mr. Huber who gave her a place to fit in and excel.
Cousins who thought she was cute instead of clingy.
Mrs. Howard, the librarian, who never tires of talking books and spoils Hannah by getting anything she requests.  
Ron Eberly who teaches her bible stories and how they apply to the life she is living today.

And Mr. Zimmerman. He saved Hannah this year. It might have been under the guise of math, but it was so much more. He gave her confidence. He helped her believe in herself. He brought her smile back again.


This community is a little like a spider web. The intricate design and precision enamors me. The beauty and strength of the thin threads is powerful. I think this is the way the body of Christ builds up one another. Each person a part of the web of believers who are building Hannah up so she can develop a remarkable faith.

This web is fragile and powerful all woven into a beautiful plan to build up one another. It takes a whole community to help a person become who they are made to be. Hannah has overcome a rocky past and is developing a remarkable faith because all kinds of people are woven into her story.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Believe {34 of 40 Stories}



Click here for the backstory.

I take a deep breath before I open her bedroom door to turn out the lights, to say good night, to keep my mouth closed.

There are too many words that will be dangerous if they escape.

She smiles at me, eyes blue and rimmed with red because she has yelled and screamed and cried too much tonight. 

Just hug her. Just hug her. Just hug her. And get out before your tongue gets loose.

It is in the middle of my self-lecture that my toe catches her sandal strap and I trip, banging my already sore foot against her bed post.

How is it, that in a moment, my view flips? I quit seeing the sweet daughter who is doing her best to overcome and do the right thing and love. Instead I see a daughter who lies and manipulates and makes rotten excuses.

The words fly out before I remember the plan to hug her and get out. “What kind of shoes do we expect you to wear to school?” The words aren’t loud or unkind, but they cut straight to her heart. They say everything that is left unsaid: She didn’t get away with her lie today.

She yells until her face turns red and the water bottle is thrown on the floor and the tears come back.
It’s a little thing, wearing sandals to school in the snow without permission. She yells some more. It shouldn’t be a big deal. 

But it is… because of the
Sneaking,
Lying,
Twisting words,
Blaming, and
Trying to make it a problem that is not her own.

It happened last night, too. The sandals weren’t the inciting incident, something else was. Then there was the day before and the one before that and last week and last month, always something to sneak or lie or twist the truth.

It can wear a momma’s trust down to a wisp.

It’s about grace, Ruth. Grace.

I close my mouth. Kiss her forehead. “I love you.” I say it over her constant stream of too loud words and brush her hair away from her sweaty cheek. 

She pauses and I say it again, “I love you.” I hug her and get out.

I hate feeling like maybe she’s going to lie forever.

There was a woman in the Samaritan village of Sychar. She drew her water from the well in the middle of the day. It was strange to draw water in the heat of the day. For this woman, though, it was worth it. The discomfort of the heat didn’t even begin to compare to the hostile looks and snide remarks she would have to endure from the other women in the village if she gathered her water at the traditional times. She went to the well in the middle of the day so she could keep to herself.

She was surprised when the lone man spoke to her. He broke three Jewish customs: speaking to a woman; speaking to a Samaritan; and asking for a drink of water from her jar, which would make him ceremonially unclean. 

She was shocked as the conversation continued about faith and worship. He knew everything she ever did – all of the dirty secrets that brought her to the well in the middle of the day. 

He was kind to her and revealed, “I am the Messiah.”

The woman couldn’t contain herself. She returned to the village, telling everyone about Jesus. The village people found Jesus and convinced him to stay for two days and share his message.

The people believed.

Because Jesus first believed in the woman. She didn’t deserve his trust. She didn’t have it all together. She messed up. Again and again and again. Yet, Jesus believed in her.

I returned to Stephanie’s bedroom. She was almost asleep. I hugged her. She hugged hard, holding on to my neck and not letting go. “I’m sorry, Mom.”

“I know.”

“I don’t want to be like this.”

“I know.”

Her arms get tighter around my neck. I hold her. Rock her. Remind myself that this little girl has a lot to overcome. She doesn’t deserve my trust. She doesn’t have it all together. She messed up. Again and again and again.

“I believe in you,” I whisper in her ear. She snuggles into her pillow and I tuck the blanket around her. 

Just before I pull the door shut, I hear her say, “Thanks, Mom.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

Radical Faith = Stamina + Tenacity {33 of 40 Stories}

There is a force in this world that I don't like to acknowledge, but the truth is there is both good and evil at work. This force that I don't like to think about prefers for us to be worn and tattered. He prefers for us to feel run down and guilty and not-good-enough.

Because when we feel these things, it is harder to serve and love.

Jesus said, "Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me." (Matthew 12:30)

Sometimes I wonder why life is hard. Perhaps it's because I'm not working with God. How often do I work against God and not even know it?

I'm like Jonah and am blinded to the fact that my obedience makes a difference.
I'm like Peter and limit the grace and mercy of God.
I'm like Nicodemus and question how things of faith are possible.

Jesus said, "God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:17)

Sometimes I wonder if I forget this Truth. Jesus was not sent to judge, but to save. How often do I make it about following the rules rather than love?

James reminds us, "You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God.. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?" (James 2:19-20)

It's not about doing good works to avoid evil. It's about serving and loving because that's how good wins. James is clear that there are forces in this world battling one another.  

Sometimes hard wins because I'm tattered and worn and I forget God is bigger. 
Sometimes hard wins because my heart is narrow and I forget to find the celebration.
Sometimes hard wins because I quit fighting and give up too soon.

Faith needs stamina.
Radical faith needs stamina + tenacity.

This week, this Holy Week, I'm choosing to cling to these words from Paul, "If God is for us, then who can ever be against us?" (Romans 8:3)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

My Friend Joe {32 of 40 Stories}

My friend Joe is teaching me how to pray. He's so good to me. Joe was at the top of my list of stories for Lent. I keep trying to write about him and the words keep failing me.

If you knew Joe, you'd understand. There are just some people who are impossible to capture in words -- no matter how much I try to make the words dance. I think this is a sign of a person who is completely sold out to Christ.

In a feeble attempt to capture Joe, I'm going to make a list of the important things about Joe.

  1. Joe loves Jesus. He has a lifetime of stories to prove Jesus is real and loving and powerful. I can't wait to hear one more story (or to listen to one again) because Joe's stories are precious gifts. I often wonder how I get to be so lucky to be trusted with his stories.
  2. Joe prays and God answers. He's teaching me to listen and develop a relationship with God so I can learn to pray into the will of God. He's teaching me to respond to the Holy Spirit.
  3. Joe prays for healing. Miracles happen when Joe prays. I know his prayers are instrumental in the healing of Andy and my children's souls.
  4. Joe knows God is big and he's helping me to change my perspective. Joe tells me not to put God in a box, because there's no box big enough to hold God.
  5. Joe knows what it's like to serve God in big, public ways. He was a leader in bridging racial tension within the Church in Chicago in the '60s. Joe knows what it's like to serve God while being in the limelight.
  6. Joe knows what it's like to serve God in private ways, too. He knows how to walk away from opportunities the world would say are "once in a lifetime" because God has another plan for him.
  7. Joe knows how to be sensitive to the needs of those around him, because Joe is sensitive to the Spirit.
  8. Joe's faith grows every day. Every. Single. Day. He knows Jesus more today than he did last week and he will know Jesus better tomorrow. He inspires me to grow closer to Jesus every single day too.
  9. Joe has a special wife. Janice compliments him perfectly. When they tell stories together it is a real treat.
  10. Joe teaches me it's okay to be bold in my faith. It's okay to shine and it is definitely okay to leap.
Joe calls me Ruthie. There are only three people in the world who I let call me Ruthie; I wouldn't want Joe to call me anything else. Joe is teaching me how to pray, but he is teaching me so much more. Someday, maybe, I'll be able to capture him in words.

Click here for the backstory.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

How to find the celebration {31 of 40 Stories}

"I am angry enough to die." These words take my breath away. Although you might imagine a child saying these words, in the midst of a tantrum, these particular words were spat by a man. A man, who when questioned by those getting to know him, identified himself as a Hebrew and a worshiper of the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land. A man who ran away from God.

Jonah.

A man with a narrow heart.

The Lord sent him to Nineveh to give the city a warning. When Jonah finally delivered the message, the city repented. They changed their ways. When God saw what they did and how they turned from the evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

And Jonah was greatly displeased. He became angry and said, "I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now O' Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."

Wait a minute -- Jonah is mad because God showed mercy? As I read these lines, I picture a little kid on the play ground, thumbs in ears and fingers splayed, and chanting, I was right and you were wrong! I was right and you were wrong!

God lets him. He lets Jonah pout. Then at one point he sends a vine to offer shade for Jonah. That night a bug chewed through the vine and it started to die. It withered completely in the sun the following day.

Jonah wails, "I am angry enough to die."

This man whose identity lies in the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land, is angry and disgruntled and totally missing the celebrations.

He had comfortable shade for a day. All he sees in the shriveled vine the following day.

He was sent to save the important city of Nineveh. Without Jonah it would have been destroyed. All he sees is his wasted trip.

He was saved from the sea, protected by a fish, and then lived to tell about it. All he sees is the inconvenience of running from God.

It's interesting, however, that Jonah found celebration in the belly of the fish -- from the depths of the grave I called for help and you listened to my cry.

Yet in his ordinary life he completely misses the celebration.

I'm learning it is a  process of expanding the heart in order to find the celebration. When our hearts are narrow, it is difficult to find the celebration. It might be because we only have a tiny window through which we are working. As our hearts expand, we get a bigger view of the world. We begin to see through new eyes and we are able to find the celebrations.

CELEBRATE This Week: XXVI


I'm glad you are here to celebrate! Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter.

******

 Here's my celebration:

I'm the kind of mom who can load up her four kids and drive across several states -- more than 8 hours -- to visit her in-laws in Tennessee. We had fun and remained joyful and there were no blow ups or melt downs.