Choosing To Be Well – Three Questions

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A few months ago, Sam and I were anchored out, on a moonless Florida night, atop water that was as still and black as volcanic glass. Nothing moved. Not wind, not water, nothing. There was only perfect shiny stillness all around us.

It’s an unusual condition, so I remarked about it.

I told Sam about the time Jesus was napping in a boat during a hurricane. Fearing for their lives, his friends woke him up and accused him of not caring. Jesus got up and spoke to the storm.

“Peace, be still,” he said, and the wind died and there was great calm.

That phrase “great calm” is deceiving though. In the Greek it actually reads “dead calm,” like the water under us that night in Florida. Mariners know it takes a while for water to go dead calm after a storm, at least a day or two, if it ever happens at all.

Rightly, Jesus’ friends were terrified and said, “who is this that even the wind and waves obey him?”

As we slide into the holidays, a season that is tricky for many, including me, there are plenty of things to be anxious and unwell about. But lately I feel like the wellness I seek is a moment by moment choice. Here are three questions I’m finding helpful:

Can I let the holidays be what they are and not compare them to what “is” on television?

None of those families are real. The argumentative, dysfunctional one around the table, that’s my real one. Can I accept it?

Can I control my thoughts before I’m fully awake?

While still groggy, try answering any of these questions: What three things am I most grateful for? What are three things going well in my job? What am I excited about today? Maybe that sounds trite or naive, but it sure beats starting my day thinking about my new president. I’m not entertaining fear and anxiety first thing anymore, my thoughts are already elsewhere.

Can I be more deliberate with my time?

Spending the first and best of the morning with Jesus, usually means before sunrise. It’s then he asks me, like he did his friends in the boat, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

I’ve got some big changes coming up; ones that will surely at times feel like a hurricane or, worse yet for me, a vast snowy desert, but they are neither. They are just new lands along on the path I chose when I decided to follow Jesus like I mean it.

Truth is, Jesus told the disciples, before they got in the boat, they were going to the other side. So they were going to make it. Dead calm was a bonus.

Jesus was gracious enough to show a bunch of terrified fishermen just who they were dealing with. It was a lavish gift given to a bunch of skeptical, anxious humans who did everything possible to not deserve it.

Same Jesus. Different day.

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On Not Saying Goodbye

There’s this thing on the ship that people talk about all the time. Or maybe they don’t talk about it enough. It’s a nasty little gut check, a surprise I got this week as posts from DFW, Heathrow and Tenerife filled my newsfeed.

Every day, Mercy Shippers make you fall in love with them and then they leave.

They leave Texas for the ship. They leave the ship to go home, or they leave the ship forever to write the next chapter in their lives. After returning from field service in Haiti, and saying goodbye (or not) to a group of 30 (not 31) people who forced me to come up higher, listen harder, pray deeper and trust God more than I ever have, my heart broke in new and unusual ways.

My gosh, I’ve only known them for eight weeks. Please. But I’ve been skulking around their lives the whole time, asking questions I can’t even believe I ask. Questions that maybe we should ask more often in church, but don’t because we’re too busy, polite or afraid.

“Tell me about your Dad.”

“What’s the Lord saying about that?”

“What’s happening on the boyfriend front?”

I don’t know who gave me permission, maybe I just gave it to myself, but when you ask hard questions, people bristle, they fight, they cry or they breathe a sigh of relief and say, “My God, do you see me in here?”

Jesus sees you in there. It’s his light we’re shining. His is the only one I’ve found that reliably chases out the darkness. There are people sitting next to you right now, whose story would break you in half, if you knew it, but we avoid it because people are messy and loving them is costly.

Especially when they leave.

I’ve decided this is the Lord’s way of teaching me empathy for the crew of the Africa Mercy – people who live, work, eat, cry, pray and laugh together until the day they walk down the gangway in tears or stand atop it in tears, waving. Painful goodbyes are such a regular event on the ship, people say they’re not sure leasing real estate in their hearts is worth it. They know exactly how bereft that land will be when their sweet little squatters are gone.

That’s plainer to me now after a year of Gateways, and in particular this field service in Haiti, where I camped on a bunch of new real estate and let people camp on mine.

One day, when I nearly hurled a garden hoe across a huge weedy field and later sat on a 100-degree rooftop and cried, two different somebodies showed up to remind me that God is working in me too, and if all I can muster is to walk humbly as I grope my way through, well then, they’d happily stand by, praying.

I’d love to say I have a salve for the painful goodbye, but I don’t and frankly I doubt I’m meant to. Maybe a little longing, a little pain is part of the fullness Jesus had in mind when he explained what he was doing here. Remember Jesus didn’t promise us happy, he promised us full, and there is a difference. So if full means missing these faces until I climb the gangway again, I’ll take it.

Ship videographer Josh Callow put it like this in a blog post he called The Pieces of My Scattered Heart, which I beg you to read because it’s his heart laid bare on this topic, in a fearless and magnificent display.

The thing that is so great about Mercy Ships is the ferocity with which we love. These people that travel across the world to work for no pay to serve the poorest of the poor are some of the most selfless folks you’ll ever meet. They dive in head first and love at full speed…

So June 2014 On Boarding – Go dive in and love at full speed. Then pair up in threes as soon as you can.

xoErin

10429298_10152355639114737_1422943316129289360_n*As ever, the thoughts are my own, not those of Mercy Ships, but I’m pretty sure you know that.

When Mother’s Day Hurts

I kind of dread Mother’s Day. In fact, a few years ago, I was at Cowboy Church for Mother’s Day Sunday feeling pretty normal, until they asked the moms to stand so they could hand them a flower. I started crying so hard I made my own nose bleed and was in the bathroom for an hour.

See, right now Sam and I should have a seven year-old and we don’t.

It’s a long, horrible story that legions of women share, but don’t often talk about. We just cry about it on the way home from church. I’m 41 now, and I decided a while ago to either get ok with not having babies or go insane, so I got ok with it – 364 days a year. On this day though, I kind of have to gut it out.

It helps that I have a wonderful mom of my own to celebrate and two step kids. Even though Tyler, Emily and I converged when they were 17 and 19 and I was 32, Emily sends me a Mother’s Day card every year. She knows the story. She stands in the gap. She’s kind of amazing.

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Emily Left. Tyler Right. Best. Wedding. Ever.

So my loves, all you non-moms or trying-to-be-moms, it’s ok to be a little tender on Mother’s Day, but here’s something to remember whether or not your life ever includes the things you think you can’t live without:

For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome. Jeremiah 29:11

That scripture finally dropped from my head to my heart at Mercy Ships last fall. So this morning when the Pastor asked the moms to stand up, I stood, not just because of Emily’s card but because of Africa Mercy crew members KJ and Mary too.

KJ running a tight ship.

KJ running a tight ship.

Mary doing the same.

Mary doing the same.

Last fall, the three of us were sitting on the grass outside our classroom. We’d been asked to pray for each other and wait to hear from the Lord on each others’ behalf. If you have a hard time swallowing that, you’re not alone. Right away, Mary said the idea of expecting God to speak was hard for her, but she opened up her heart anyway and we prayed.

Then KJ, whom I didn’t know very well at the time, said this to me: “I don’t know what this means, but I feel the Lord saying, ‘You are a mother to many.'”

KJ had no idea what a direct hit that was, but guess who did? Mary. She and I had talked about mothers and babies and loss earlier that day.

See how cool God is? On the face of it, he was just speaking to me, when in fact, he was speaking to Mary too about something completely different, but just as important – Faith. It’s startling and delightful when He does it like that, and this is the God we serve.

So this morning I stood in church and counted all the “children” God has put in my life, people who are groping their way toward the light just like I am. Sometimes when I speak at churches or events, people will approach me afterward and tell me their story or just thank me for telling mine. Most often, they are women young enough to be my daughters. So I count them as such and think, my God, who am I that you let me do this?

But I’ve already decided, I want to spend the rest of my life seeing people for who they are becoming, not who they currently are; encouraging them with the truth that they are beloved and precious in the eyes of God.

And that to me feels pretty motherly.