The Sum of a Life

I stand in the back and fidget, waiting my turn to address my ninety-year-old grandmother at a celebration in her honor.

She sits up front and center – poised and gorgeous – in a cool, celadon suit. Blessed with Norwegian blue eyes, silver hair, and flawless skin, the woman is breathtaking.

I sweat and grow splotchy (how elegant) groping for words that will sum up a lifetime of inner and outer beauty: How best to honor such an influence in a two-minute verbal tribute? 

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She has seen nine decades pass;

Thirty two thousand eight hundred and seventy-two sunsets

Were created for her joy.

She prays as she breathes, and sings while she works.

What will be the sum of my life when I’m ninety?

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She has raised four children well;

Her fourteen grandchildren nestle close around her,

Arranged like sparkling jewels in a crown.

All her great-grandchildren are remembered – prayed for by name – every single day.

What will be the sum of my life when I am ninety?

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She was a plucky pioneer, plowing soil and watering souls in a foreign land:

“She’s a pistol I tell you!” You don’t mess with grandma.

True in her words, with actions to match,

She is not afraid to call a spade a spade, or show unmerited grace.

What will be the sum of my life when I am ninety?

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She is ready to go home when her Father calls her;

Her handsome love waits for her, singing loud, in heaven’s courts.

Both have run the race well.

She counts her blessings in prayer and song every single day.

What will be the sum of my life when I am ninety?

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She is the rarest gift to those who come behind her;

We all know that prayer needn’t be fancy, but frequent.

A cloud of witnesses remains to testify:

“That Jesus loves you, and so do I.”

What will be the sum of my life when I am ninety?

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I love you, grandma.

Happy 93rd Birthday to a woman who is infinitely more than the beautiful sum of all her parts.

Kim

Standing In the Middle

Last summer, two teenage girls (14 and 16) were raped, killed, and strung from a mango tree in their Indian village.

Yesterday, my nine-year-old daughter went with me to visit a one-day-old baby, an only daughter, swaddled in the protective arms of her father.

In the middle of the night, the young girl-cousins had walked together to a nearby orchard to relieve themselves, and never returned.

“Do you think I’ll be able to hold the baby, mom?” my only daughter asked me on the way. 

On finding their dead daughters – their only daughters – the next morning, the fathers refused to take their girls down from the tree. They left them until an investigation was promised by the local police. They didn’t want their daughters’ deaths to be ignored.

Why would anyone want to bring a girl-child into the dark story of this world?

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I can’t bear to look at the picture of the daughters hanging from the mango tree. The NY Times considered the ethics of posting the photograph, concluding that the visceral image would speak more than a thousand words ever could. The picture – in their opinion – would be a voice for those with none. 

Is this our job, too? Are we to help give a voice to the oppressed? Or is there more?

There will come a day when Evil, and all who love it, will be corralled into a horrific place, never to lay a finger on creation again. Our beautiful world will be forever free from bondage and abuse. We will no longer groan under the oppressive weight of all that is wrong.

But what do we do now?

The oppression of women, the poor, and the earth will not go on forever. The unseen demonic forces we struggle against will be castrated – impotent – and unable to cripple or destroy God’s creation any longer. Evil will go to hell, and all that has been broken will be made new again. 

Yes, but what do we do until then?

Until that day, we ready ourselves with Truth – we stand – and overcome evil with good. We remember that God himself is near us, working for us, and that he will not forsake what he has promised to save.  

The world is a mess, and also so very beautiful. We contribute to her suffering, and participate in her healing. We are both the villains, heroes, and witnesses in the middle of a comic story: a drama where the wrongful death of the innocent, and the hopeful promise of new life are both true.

And so we go with God into all the places.

We make things more lovely. We bring order to chaos, and light to the dark. We raise daughters. We believe God when he tells us to overcome evil with good; to consider our neighbor as much as ourselves, and to forgive them for they know not what they do.

We do all this because our eyes are set on Jesus, who did for the world what we could not do for ourselves.

The innocent (and only) son of God overcame evil, not with power, but with love.

He has shown us the way. His Spirit is with us as we go into all the world, armed with the gospel of peace.

“I want to have four babies, mommy” she said solemnly on the way home from the hospital. “Two boys, and two girls.”

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 Amen, only daughter.

And may they always know the love and presence of their Heavenly Father.

What Not To Do If You Go Public

Our kids have walked the halls of our neighborhood’s elementary, middle, and high-schools for the past twelve years.

We never set out to “do” public schools as a personal statement, or a moral philosophy. Like most parents I know, we sometimes wonder if we’re wrecking our kids. We waver. We wrestle. We just don’t know.

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Fortunately, we have good local options: the schools in our district are excellent, and the teachers are rock stars. I understand that this is sadly not the case for everyone, everywhere.

In our house, there has been an ongoing, twelve-year conversation around what’s best for each child (and the family) in every new phase and stage. Only eight more years, and we will have been a part of our local schools for twenty years. TWENTY YEARS! I wonder if our community will be any better, brighter, or more beautiful because of it?

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To be clear: this post is not about the merits, failings, or future of public education. I’ve read too many rants on this subject, and don’t wish to add another. Rather, this is a list of eight temptations (I’m sure there are more) that call for us to look down, after we’ve stepped out of the boat.

WHAT NOT TO DO IF YOU GO PUBLIC

1. Make too much of it.

You are neither a hero, a martyr, or a criminal for making the decision to stay local. 

2. Make too little of it.

You have been put in this particular place, at this exact time, by God himself. The Creator of all things as planted you in this soil. There is only one of you. There will never be another you.

3. Wring your hands.

The same God who creates everything (from nothing, by the way) cares for you, and your children. Leave the anxious worry to those who believe that all well-being in life is completely up to their good decisions.

4. Throw up your hands.  

God has not left the building! There are so many shining lights in your neighborhood schools. Can you see them? Do you champion them? Pray for them? Can you add your light to those that are chasing away the darkness? All is not lost. 

5. Stomp your feet.

Petulance should not define us. What does it say when we cross our arms, stomp a foot, and draw a line in the sand that others can’t cross? If you feel the need to stomp, stomp at God. He can take it. He can change a prideful stomp into a step of faith in a heartbeat.

6. Complain.

You are not a victim. If you’ve decided to be in your neighborhood school, be all there. Find the good and the beautiful. Be thankful. Be helpful. Use your words (written and spoken) to build up, encourage, and strengthen those who are with your children throughout the day.

7.  Attack.

This is your school, and your people! Be creative and winsome in all your efforts. Can you be an alert advocate for your children, and still leave the fighting to the LORD? Will you have mercy on your more difficult neighbors, as they are also made in God’s own image? Can you be more hospitable? A better listener? A trusted servant?

8. Retreat.

We can’t catch sin like we might catch a contagious disease. Sin is already in us, since the day we took our first breath. We take our sin with us wherever we may go to school. Hunkering down, and huddling up so that we don’t catch what they have shows we don’t know ourselves very well.

Do they want what we have, I wonder?

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A double-portion of peace to those of you who are planning to go (or remain) local this fall.

You are out of the boat! Keep your eyes on the One who called you, and who will surely keep you.

Kim 

While We Still Wait

It’s been so long since you were light-hearted.

God knows you try not to worry, to wait patiently, to be thankful in all the other things.

Will this be my lot in life?  You still wonder in the dark.

Will there be any joy left for me?

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You struggle to pray.

For what? What is it you are actually praying for? What is it that you want God to do? 

You can change this if you want to, Father. Your prayers loop in shallow circles. 

Why don’t you want to? 

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A tinge of unwelcome fear bleeds blue into life’s warmest moments.

Will it not happen, then? Your chest tightens, even in the sun.

Am I to be left living with only this?

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But, God wastes nothing.

For you who seek his face, all waiting and yearning is not lost.

Beauty and joy will come from all the ashes.

Trust in the plans of your Maker.

For you will look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

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Wait for the LORD.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage.
Wait for the LORD.

For you will look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

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He is our light, and our salvation.

He is for us.

What then, shall we fear?

He is with us.

Peace to each of you as you wait, and hope, and trust, in the goodness of God.

Kim

Will This Be What Hell Is Like, I Wonder?

She is taking forever, and I am about to scream: how long does it take a soul to examine a head of purple cabbage? My impatience bores blackly into the back of her head.

It bugs me that she is wearing a wide-brimmed hat.

1) We are safely indoors. 2) The huge brim takes up an unfair amount of public shopping space. 3) The hat radiates a mysterious ‘I-can-examine-vegetables-as-long-as-I wish’ force-field that makes everyone in the produce section uneasy. Like an open umbrella in a horse corral.

I’ve burned a thousand calories shifting from one foot to another, sighing, and snapping my green plastic bag in an unpleasant accordion motion. Oblivious, the umbrella hat tips forward, and dips right. No! No! No! Do not even think about picking up that Napa cabbage!

She picks up a Napa cabbage and begins to slowly turn it over and around, as if a sketch artist will appear at any moment and ask for a detailed description. Clearly, someone’s life depends on her being able to pick out this particular cabbage in a line-up.

I’ve been waiting a minute. Maybe less.

Deep inside I hear the deep timbre of true words needing to be heard. Right statutes being quietly offered for my good.

Do you see Me? Do you see all that I’ve made? Do you see the care for my people in all these good things?

Now, I realize my envy. I want what she has: sweet, leisurely time to really see a cabbage with all (and I mean all) of her senses. Suddenly, I am filled with regret. I want that ill-spent, precious minute back. 

Will this be what hell is like, I wonder? Eternal minutes of impatient grumbling, as C.S. Lewis believed? Or shall it be the clear understanding that we deliberately chose not to see the beauty, goodness, gifts, life, or the Giver of them all? If heaven is being fully awake to all that is good – what may we expect of hell?

Do you see Me? Do you see all that I’ve made? Do you see the care for my people in all these good things?

Thank you observant, absorbed, giant-hat lady. You were a warning, a rebuke, and a heavenly gift to me. Somehow, I know you fully enjoyed every last bite of your perfect cabbage.

Peace to you all, and delight, as you enjoy God and his creation in all the minutes. 

Kim

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Seared Red Cabbage Wedges: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/03/health/nutrition/03recipehealth.html?ref=fitnessandnutrition

If You Have a Good Dad (And If You Don’t)

I was completely stupid very naive at nineteen. I was also self-absorbed, which, when stirred into stupid, made for an unfortunate personality cocktail. 

In those days, my narcissistic limited worldview was matched by an arrogant less-than-endearing attitude that I was always on point about exactly everything. No one could tell me a thing I hadn’t thought of first. In fact, I was allergic to reasonableness, details, rules, and every kind of follow through. I was also annoyed by every little thing you did. They said I was a real peach.

You will note the irony, then, when at nineteen, I somehow made the most heads-up, brilliant, far-reaching, and best decision of my life: I chose to love David. Twenty-five years after the miracle fact, my parents are still shaking their heads in disbelief and wonder  gratitude. It’s no secret that they love him more than they do me.

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Was it sheer luck, then, that in a season bereft of a shred of much wisdom, I experienced a flash of thoughtful maturity, like a strike of lightning on a clear day? Had I randomly picked the winning lottery ticket? Or was there possibly more to the story?

Of course there is more, friends, and his name was “Dad”.

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I had a faithful dad. He wasn’t perfect, but my father was constant and true. Dad believed that God would take care of his family in every way. He never returned evil for evil. He was faithful to mom, and encouraged his five children with great zeal.

My father entrusted himself  into God’s hands, even during exceptionally difficult times. I grew up tasting and seeing that God was really good. Of all the things dad taught me while under his roof, this is the lesson for which I am most grateful.

And so, even with all my issues, at the awful awkward age of nineteen, I was able to identify a man who delighted in God’s ways, and who understood what it meant to be faithful. Thanks, dad.

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David had a faithful dad. His father wasn’t perfect either, but he was patient, generous, and devoted to the well-being of his family. For eighteen years, David was a keen observer of a humble man who took his calling as a husband and father seriously.

David’s dad committed his ways, his marriage, his time, and his family to the LORD, and so his youngest son grew up tasting and seeing that God was really good. 

At the age of nineteen, David knew what it looked like to live, and love, as a faithful man. Thanks, dad.

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We have a faithful Father in heaven. Not all earthly dads are faithful, or good. Many are absent. Some are selfish. None is perfect. For some of us, there may be significant pain, feelings of loss, hate, confusion, or anger when we think about our fathers. It tastes bitter. This is not as it should be.

If this is you, please know that you did not pull the losing lottery ticket. There is also more to your story. Your earthly father is not like your Heavenly Father. He will never leave you. He would die, rather than lose you. His face is forever turned towards you, and his ear is always attentive to your cry. Your Father carries you, fights for you, comforts you, and welcomes you. Crawl into his open arms. Seek his wise counsel.

Even when you blame, doubt, or forget him, your Father’s love will not turn cold. He is not demanding. He is not calculating, or conditional. His ways are not man’s ways! As his beloved and precious child, there is nothing you can do to lose his love. He made you, weeps with you, delights over you, and you are his. You will always be his. Your name is engraved on his hands, forever. 

Good dads, you display God’s love and commitment to all his children in your humble and daily faithfulness. Thank you.

May the LORD you ever bless you, and keep you – today and always – and give you his peace.

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Kim

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

She brought me a toothbrush, and a clean pair of yoga pants. And underwear.

She didn’t ask if I needed some skivvies before schlepping across town to hug her friend at the hospital. Obviously, asking someone “Do you need some underwear?” will always be an awkward question, no matter how close you might be. Instead, she walked around her own quiet house at dawn, and asked herself: “What might someone wish for after two all-nighters in the hospital?” This is how you do love.

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He came and prayed.

He didn’t ask if he should come. Despite knowing he’d battle rush-hour traffic, and would likely miss morning appointments, he still arrived in the early hours. He opened his Bible, and tenderly read a Psalm that his daddy had read to him as a boy when he was too scared to sleep. This is how you do love.

If you’re like me, I often don’t do love very well. It’s not for lack of love, or an earnest desire to help. No. It’s that I don’t always know what to do, or say, during someone else’s struggle. It’s a terrible feeling, isn’t it? The desire to be a real comfort, a good friend, and a tangible help – but not sure of the best way to go about it?

My inner conversations when I hear of a friend or neighbor in distress can go like this: “What can I do for them in their suffering? I want to help, but I don’t want to burden. Should I go? Should I call? Should I text? What will I say when I get there? I don’t want to make things any harder.  Are we close enough that they would even want to see, or hear from me?” How then do I love?

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She told me that dinner would arrive at 6pm. 

She didn’t ask if we wanted dinner, needed dinner, would be home for dinner, or if we all liked that kind of dinner. No, she prepared a summer meal in tinfoil, walked straight into my frighteningly messy kitchen, and placed it in the fridge for when we would eventually drag home. This is how you do love.

Friends, we are called to do love. If you, like me, ever wonder or worry how best to be a help in times of trouble, here are some brief thoughts on how to do love. I’m sure you also have many ideas of your own.

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1. In a storm, don’t ask them: “Do you need anything?” or “Is there anything I can do?”

I’ve done this myself –  countless times – and always with the very best intentions. Of course your struggling friend will truly appreciate that you are reaching out, but they probably won’t tell you what they really need. Why? Because, what they really need is for their child to be well, their loved one to be alive, or their cancer to be gone. Life is not as it should be, and what they need is for all things to be well.

2. Do ask yourself: “How might I show love in this particular situation?” or “Is there anything I can do for them while their focus is elsewhere?”

And then go do that. It will be different for everyone, there is no love recipe. Come and sit, even for a little while. Bring coffee. Bring a pillow, or sweater. Send a card. Mow the grass?  Take out the Monday trash? Water the plants? Feed the pets? Pick up the kids from school? Bring a meal? Bring underwear? You are doing it! You are doing love!

3. Do pray to our Father: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

She sets her alarm to go off every day at 8:00am, noon, and 4:00pm. Three times a day her little boy hears the alarm and runs to find her. “Mommy! It’s time to pway”. She can’t go to the hospital with both her littles at home. She can’t be with her friend in person, but she can be there in Spirit. She stops what she’s doing to sit on the floor with her sleepy-eyed boy, and they pray (and pway) to their Father, who is over, under, in, before, behind, and through all things. This is how you do love.

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Peace to each of you, as you love each other well.

Kim

All Must Be Well

This has been a bloody week.

As a result of a nicked artery (the one-in-a-million complication during jaw surgery), David and I watched our son bleed.

The bleeding was aggressive and mean. Can a boy really lose this much blood and be OK?

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The answer is no. He cannot.

Luke withered and paled. His famous optimism bled out, and his hatred of blood grew fierce. And the prayers of God’s people were lifted up.

I call on you, O God, and you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.

Early in the despair-filled morning hours, David prayed the Psalms out into the dark. His weary voice carried eternal promises over bloodied sheets, and the suffering of his son.

Keep me as the apple of your eye, O God, hide me in the shadow of your wings.

Exhaustion (and blood).

For the LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, in whom I take refuge.

Frustrated tears (and blood).

We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.

Fear and blood flowed mingled down.

May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.

And the prayers of God’s people were lifted up.

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Luke rests in his own bed as I write this. Skilled surgeons, and their teams, repaired the damaged artery. Competent nurses administered the best of care. The blood has subsided, and in time he will be completely well.

And I write to you of God’s goodness and mercy, not just because all has turned out well, but because even in the uncertainty, the doubts, the fatigue, and the bloodiest hours, the prayers of God’s people sang out around us a resounding and eternal truth: Our hope is in the LORD, and All is well.

I love this ‘re-tuned’ hymn from Indelible Grace. We sing it often at All Saints, and you can listen to it here. Let the truths take root in your heart, especially if you are suffering.

Through the love of God our Savior, All will be well
Free and changeless is His favorAll is well
Precious is the blood that healed us
Perfect is the grace that sealed us
Strong the hand stretched forth to shield us
All must be well

Let all God’s people continue to give thanks, as we have for thousands of years, and in thousands of tongues, that through the love (and blood) of God our Savior, All will be well.

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God’s wisdom and peace to you, today.

Kim

Who’s the interruption?

“Oh dear…ahhhh…um…very sorry…but….argh!…can you just hold on a minute?”

In high-school, I remember taking some twisted pleasure in watching my father navigate the newfangled technology that was call-waiting.

If dad was on the phone, and another call beeped in, he would get a rash from the unnecessary rudeness of it all. He considered the alert of an incoming call to be a personal affront. “I’m so sorry…” he would fluster into the phone, all huffy and bothered, “…but someone else is trying to break into our conversation.”

Now we know that the call-waiting invention was just the tip of the iceberg. Since then, we’ve experienced a landslide of blips and bells, vibrations and whistles, guaranteed to interrupt any face-to-face conversation that lasts longer than seven seconds.

My father – bless him – has weathered the new world remarkably well (me, not so much). He’s done so by holding steady in his belief that when you are with people, you must really be with them. People love him for that. I love him for that.

Can this be said of us, I wonder?

Today, will all the people who share our time and space feel welcome there? Will they feel seen and heard? Or, will they feel like the unwanted interruption, breaking in on something more important to us?

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Hospitality is a beautiful mark of all who would call themselves children of God. It’s not a special gift some of us own, and others don’t. The grace of hospitality doesn’t depend on our personality, circumstances, or even how we are feeling: it only hopes to give as much consideration to the person before us, as we do to ourselves.

We might very well be an introvert, or live in a tiny studio apartment, or be tired. We might have little children that we home school, or work exceptionally long and demanding hours as a single parent. Even so, a hospitable and generous spirit is how our world will know that they matter.

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Christian hospitality is a way of seeing all the people – being with them – so that they feel welcomed in. This includes the stranger, the quirky neighbor, the husband, the liberal, the rich, the skeptic, the child, the sullen, the roommate, and the enemy.

How do we receive all the people?

God has shown us great mercy, but he’s also shown us stunning friendship. Not only have we been dramatically forgiven and rescued, but we’ve been warmly welcomed in as beloved sons and daughters. We’ve been invited into an extravagant feast in the home of the King – an invitation we certainly didn’t earn, and absolutely don’t deserve.

The warmth of our welcome to all the people is a testimony to how well we understand God’s welcome to us.

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One of my favorite authors and pastors, Eugene Peterson, writes about his desire to be ever more leisurely with people. I love him for this, because he understands that even as a prolific author, pastor, thinker, and leader, being leisurely with people is the way to love them – even half as much – as we love ourselves.

The door to real life is not shut to us, but has been thrown open wide to those who believe.

Jesus broke into time and space for all the people he loves.

By the mercies of God then, let’s be imitators – living sacrifices – of this kind of hospitality.

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Peace to you, as you enjoy, and extend, God’s friendship to all the people in your path today.

Kim

Dear World: We’ve Got Your Back.

A while back, I wrote a post that unintentionally got lots of people hot and bothered.

It was an outlier post, different in content and tone from my usual writing. But – in the predictably unpredictable way of social media – it was shared online over a million times.

People were fired up.

Looking back, I can tell you that my “post gone viral” experience was not awesome – in the same way that a never-ending roller coaster ride at Space Mountain would also not be awesome.

I’ve found that there is no middle ground when it comes to roller coasters, or viral posts. You either love! love! love! them (like this lady), or you would rather be boiled in oil. I fall squarely in the latter camp, believing that careening at light speed, upside down, in total darkness, is a very special kind of misery.

And so it was for me. Just minutes after the post was published, it became obvious to all that I wasn’t properly strapped in, or remotely ready for this kind of ride. I wanted off. I wanted the lights back on, and I needed a bucket into which I could barf repeatedly.

“The LORD is your Shepherd, and I’ve got your back.” My pastor would often say to me in those days, holding out a bucket. And then it got even more totally not awesome.

Some non-fans felt compelled TO YELL THEIR OPINIONS OF ME AND MY FAMILY IN ALL CAPS (hasn’t it been well documented that this makes everyone think you’re a loon?) while thousands of others raced to their own blogs to write clever piggy-back posts: This Is What Would Have Said, and This Is How I Would Have Said It (if I had thought of it) Aren’t You Just Outraged About This? Isn’t She A Fool and Aren’t I Cool?

Note to self: never write a blog post about someone else’s blog post. It’s lame.

My first instinct was to gird my loins and rally the troops for a fight. I was Joshua, and this was the time to be strong and courageous, to march bravely around Jericho.

Take the land.

Strap in, saints.

Jump into the fray.

Good verses evil…and all that jazz.

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Except in my heart, I knew that the LORD wasn’t wanting me to fight.

Worse, really, it was dawning on me that God might want me to take it, absorb it, forgive it, and enter into the threatening discord with peace. I was being asked to turn my face towards my Father’s world, and not away from it.

“The LORD is your Shepherd, Kim.”

So, if the LORD didn’t want a fight, then who did?

In case you’ve missed it, all social media wants to see these days is a knock-down-drag-out fight to the death. It wants to see a drama, a tragedy, a horror. In fact, all our media thrives on controversy and conflict: it is alive only because we give it our own lives for fuel and fodder.

It’s not interested in shepherds.

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Friends, social media can restore no one’s soul, only reflect the condition of it.

It leads us daily – not to still waters – but to restless discontent.

Are we invited to lie down in green pastures by Twitter?

Nope. We are tempted to pick a side, draw a line, plant a flag, hunker down, raise our voice, shake our fists, and then call the other team morons.

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“The LORD is your shepherd, and we’ve got your back.”

Church: this is the language we need to take on as we quietly go out into our Father’s world, and redeem all corners of public life.

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What would it look like if the world knew that the LORD was their Shepherd, too?

How will they ever know, if we don’t have their backs? How will we ever remember, if we’re cutting each other down to size?

Are our faces turned towards the world our Father loves, or away from it? 

They will know we are Christians by our love, saints. Of course we must speak boldly and firmly into our world, but we must also shine on it warmly.

God’s Kingdom has come into this world, not to condemn it, but to save it.

He is the Good Shepherd of all his creation.

He has had our backs for all eternity.

Let’s go and do likewise.

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The LORD is your Shepherd, and I’ve got your back.

Kim