We Have This Hope That Is An Anchor for Our Souls

A little over a week ago, my family and I celebrated Father’s Day, and in the midst of the ongoing tragedies happening in our nation, I want to write about why the fathers in my life give me hope that reconciliation and equality is not an impossibility.

As a child, I picked up some stereotypes about black people from my dad. Because he took me to hear T.D. Jakes preach at revivals and Bernice King speak at women’s rally’s and jumped at the chance to take me and my sisters to any local Gospel choir concert, he painted a very specific picture of the African American community. He used to tell me, “Black people really know how to worship.” And as a child and adolescent this was the lens at which I looked at my black peers and teachers. When I met a lively man or woman who spoke kindly and laughed without reservation, this stereotype was confirmed. Black people loved life and they thoroughly enjoyed worshiping Christ in song, dance, and enjoyment of community. When I met someone who did not fit the stereotype, they were the exception.

The picture my dad painted for me about the African American community was not based on literature or film, it was based on his experiences with his black friends. I cannot doubt that his close relationships with so many black friends and colleagues impacted my life. Because I associated fun and passionate praise with the black community, I joined the Gospel choir in high school and enjoyed being the only white girl. When I heard peers speak negative generalities about black people, I immediately recognized their words as darkness.

As an adult I now know that not all black people love to worship expressively. I know not every older black man is a preacher, not every black woman writes for a successful magazine, not every black teenager likes to sing Gospel music. But I see our multi-ethnic world as a byproduct of a creative God, and I still see black communities as full of faith and fun.

It breaks my heart to know so many fathers paint a different picture of black communities for their sons and daughters, one not based on genuine close relationships but based on years of intolerance, confirmation bias, and systematic prejudice.

My father is not the only father I know who seeks to promote love for people of every color. When I first told Rick that God impressed upon my heart to adopt a child from Ethiopia, he did not hesitate for a moment before expressing the desire to do so also. I asked him how he could get on board so quickly as he said, “I don’t want a boring family. I want a family that looks like the Kingdom of God.”

Rick is fathering our two boys in the way of truth, humility, and justice. And he is empowered to seek actual solutions that lead to real reconciliation. I think about the way he loves are boys and I know his ability to Father them so well is because he allows our Heavenly Father to love and lead him so closely. He spends a lot of time with the King, which is why he is so passionate about bringing Kingdom into this world.

This is my challenge to all of us: If you have thoughts and feelings toward others that our Heavenly Father does not have, let him supernaturally renew your heart and mind. He can help you unlearn hate, hostility and indifference. He can make all things new.

In the wake of all the tragedies against our black brother and sisters this week, I refuse to lose hope. I will cry more tears, I will labor in prayer, I will get mad, but I will stay close to my Savior Jesus Christ, for His hope anchors my soul.

When I look at my sons I am reminded that the lens through which they think about ethnicity and color will be shaped by Kingdom. When Han sees a black man, he will think of his brother. And when Grady sees a white man, he will think of his brother. One day, when the Glory comes, we will look at people of every tribe and every tongue and see our brothers and sisters. May it be on earth as it is in heaven.

 

dad with grandsons pic

Back on the Horse (Or Pavement)

So it’s been a while since I blogged.

Since my marathon I’ve run two 5ks. I paced my good friend Lindsay in the TR Earth Day 5k back in April and despite the cold rain, she did awesome. In May I was supposed to face off against my friend Shavoyae in the Hartwell Dam 5k but the race sold out before he could register so I had to go it alone (but he did come to cheer me on and still bought me breakfast afterwards).

Honest confession: I have not run over 3.1 miles since my marathon. I’ve been taking a much needed break. I actually tried Zoomba because I thought my love for distance running might have left me completely. It has not, but I’ve enjoyed the sabbatical. Life has just been super busy. I’ve preached at our Sunday morning service twice this month, I’m trying to read every legit parenting book ever before I teach Sociology of the Family this Fall, and I’ve been on a de-cluttering kick for several weeks now, managing to clean out 5 out of 8 closets in my home so far. With not too much effort on our part, Grady has conquered potty training completely, staying dry all night, even once for an 11 hour stretch! We’re still trying to convince Han that walking is far superior to crawling, but he has a strong will like his mom mixed with the conviction to never be in a hurry like his dad, not to mention he is a professional speed crawler! In a nut shell this is what it looks like to be a pastor’s wife, professional mother, and full-time college administrator. Never a dull moment, but extremely awesome…most days.

But I’m starting to feel the need for speed once again and so I am 5k training. My goal for the month of June is to log 15 miles each week until my 4th of July race. Maybe I’ll even get a 4-miler in on my lunch break :)

Post-Race Blues?

After completing a personal goal like running a marathon, it’s not uncommon to experience post-race blues after the goal is reached. But I feel no sadness. I am 100% stoked to be free from those long training runs!

The marathon race itself is super fun (well the first 23 miles are), but the time needed for training for a marathon took it out of me. Even my condensed 12 week training plan felt a bit overwhelming. As a working mama and a pastor’s wife, I’ve learned that Saturday is my Sabbath (and it does not feel very restful when a 3 hour long run is on the day’s to-do list). I have decided to take an extended break from marathoning (I told Rick I probably need about 2 years before I’m ready to say I want to do another 26.2 mile footrace). I’m not going to stop running. Running is a great outlet for fitness, competition, fun, traveling to new places, communion with God, and time with friends and family. But I’m setting my sights on a new goal that is far less time consuming.

As motivation to not take a ton of time off, I’ve challenged my friend Shavoyae to a 5k race, the Hartwell Dam 5k on May 2. Loser buys the winner breakfast afterwards. He’s a great athlete. He holds the record for most points scored in a basketball game at Emmanuel College. But he also hasn’t been logging 100 miles a month like I have. It should be a close race.

voyae and me

I’m holding up a 5, he’s holding up the letter K.

So for the next 4 weeks,  I’m going to do very short track workouts on my lunch breaks and not much else, with the hopes of getting my 5k time down to 25 minutes.  This still satisfies my need to be fit and have fun, but no workout exceeds 60 minutes (yay!!) and the only exercise I’ll be doing on Saturdays is pushing our double stroller to the park with my boys.

Publix Georgia Marathon Report

Sunday I finished my second full marathon and I had a ton of fun! The hills were somewhat brutal, especially miles 17-23, as the course entailed an elevation change of just over 3,000 feet. But conditions were quite nice. It lightly rained on us the entire race, and despite the fact that our socks were totally soaked at 6 miles in, the temps stayed in the upper 50s so we stayed nice and cool, never getting too cold or too hot. The course still had a descent amount of spectators despite the conditions, and they kept the atmosphere lively.

publix 2015 crew

My faithful running partner Becki stuck beside me, even when my run became a shuffle at mile 23. She could have easily finished at least 30 minutes before me, but she is such an encourager. I think she got more satisfaction from helping me get across the finish line than she would have from finishing more quickly, and I’d like to be more like her in that respect. She entertained me with stories about her collegiate soccer days, and when I was really dragging, she just busted out praying out loud for me and my family. Why yes, I do have the best running partner IN THE WORLD! Our official time was 4:51:16, three minutes slower than my first marathon on the pancake flat course in Charleston, South Carolina.

becks and maggie moo

Becki certainly helped me get to the finish line, but it was Rick who helped me get to the starting line. He took on extra daddy duty to help me get those long training runs in, and I am so grateful that he so selflessly lets me be crazy me. And I think my craziness might be rubbing off on him because as we were having lunch after the race he confessed he wanted to do a full marathon at some point! I am beyond blessed to be married to man who so greatly values friendship, partnership and mutuality, and respects individuality the way he does. He made sacrifices to get me to Atlanta yesterday, a true reflection of both his love for me and the way he values Kingdom. Sorry to be such a cheese ball, but I could not ask for a better husband and best friend.

rick and maggie publix

Rick and I sat on our porch last night and talked through the events that have transpired recently. Four months ago I went into an operating room worried about infertility and the very real possibility that I could have cancer. Yesterday I finished a marathon, an athletic event that less than 1% of the US population can boost about. God’s blessing are so abundant. I’m so thankful for my healing, renewed strength, and my continued health. He’s a good, good Father. In the toughest miles of yesterday’s race, in the cool breeze while relaxing on my  porch, I feel His abounding love for me.

maggie moo publix 2015

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Enduring for Love

Five years ago, on March 21, 2010, I ran my first road race through the streets of Atlanta. My friends Jason and Nikki Croy had begun their first adoption journey, and Jason had decided to do something he never imagined he would do- run a 26.2 mile foot race. Some of their friends, including Rick and I, decided we would show support by running the half marathon that took place the same day. The process of adopting a child is a crazy journey filled with delays, frustrations, lots of waiting, and at the same time hope, love, longing, and incomparable joy. In many ways the adoption journey is like endurance running. It certainly is not like a sprint! In the process of training for a marathon you experience pain and pleasure, fatigue and strength, doubt and confidence. And besides being a beautiful comparison, marathon running can be a GREAT distraction while waiting for the new addition to the family! Jason finished his first marathon that day in March of 2010, and not too long afterwards, he and Nikki welcomed home their son Jayden.

ING crew

Original 2010 ING Georgia Marathon and Half Crew.

Well the Croys are adding to the family once again! Very recently they accepted the referral of a beautiful 12 month old baby girl, and they expect to be cleared to travel to bring her home sometime in the next 6 to 12 months. To read more about their journey, check out Nikki’s blog at endure4love.wordpress.com.

I trained for my first marathon when we were in the process of adopting Grady. I have not covered the 26.2 mile distance in over two years. But this Sunday, I’ll be running my second 26.2 mile event, returning to the site of my first road race in Atlanta. My love of road running was born there, thus I’m calling this my 5 year “runiversary.” I’m nervous and stoked all at the same time. My training has not been ideal, but I’ll have my favorite running buddy Becki by my side on race day. We’ve done a number of races together, including our inaugural half back in March of 2010, and I’m so excited that I get to be a part of her first full marathon experience.

I’m hoping to help the Croys raise some of the needed funds for their trip to Thailand to finalize the adoption of their daughter. If you are interested in supporting their adoption financially, you can donate online through GoFundMe (endure4love) or for a tax deduction, send your check to PO Box 842, Franklin Springs, GA 30639. Make checks payable to Life Springs Community Church and include in the memo “Adoption Fund.” My goal is to get 26 people to give $26 so let me know if you will want to donate!

Croy family

Jason and Nikki with their son Jayden.

Adoption is a beautiful, God-ordained way to grow a family. The first chapter of Ephesians tells us that adoption is a part of every believer’s story. We have all been welcomed into the family of God because of His glorious love, compassion, and goodness. Though not all of us will feel the call to adopt children into our families, we all can be a part of sowing Kingdom here on earth by helping families unite with children.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.  — Ephesians 1:3-6

If My Life Were Cinematic

I enjoy the Oscars. Every year in preparation, I make myself an ambitious list of films I want to see before the big award show. And I’m always glad I do. Film is a powerful way to tell story. And this year’s stories took us on a journey of both the joys and pains of the human existence.

In Boyhood we remember how awkward beginnings can be.

In The Theory of Everything we see how the most meaningful relationships are built upon close friendship.

In The Imitation Game we feel anger about the cruel treatment of those who are different.

In Whiplash we think about methods of inspiration and desire for greatness.

In Into the Woods we sing.

In Gone Girl we gasp.

In The Grand Budapest Hotel we laugh. We laugh a lot.

In Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) we soar up in our own dreams and then come crashing down as we ponder our real significance.

In Wild we strive for redemption only to discover it is always freely given.

I now want to burst into a chorus of the song Cinematic by Cool Hand Luke.

If my life was cinematic

With a soundtrack so dramatic

You’d be the hero

And you would save me

And it would have the sweetest ending

And then immediately the Oscar wrap up music is telling me to end this spiel so…

I want to thank the Academy for celebrating achievement in one of the best forms of storytelling. Thank you to my parents and sisters for helping me overcome such and awkward girlhood. Thank you to my beloved husband and precious sons. Women should get equal pay! The Lego Movie so deserved a nomination for Best Animated Film!

And may we all be telling beautiful stories.

Though they may never be captured on the silver screen, I pray our stories point more toward our heavenly Father’s love, power, and freedom, and less to our preciously short supporting role.

Beyond Our Little Worlds

As an individual who feels called by the Spirit to promote Kingdom here on this earth until the day I reach God’s Kingdom in its perfection, I work alongside many Christian brothers and sisters to promote gender equality. Every day I am confronted by those that would want to exclude women from a variety of ministries and vocation and grossly twist New Testament scripture to promote patriarchy, rather than mutuality, in marriage. My heart longs to see a day where women are elevated to a place of honor, a place where they are valued for their individuality, a place where their leadership is sought in the home, in the church, and in the marketplace, and where they feel free to be true to their unique calling and giftings.

As Valentine’s Day weekend approaches, I am reminded that women are not the only ones who experience exclusion in the church and in the world. In a culture that worships sexual pleasure and romance, and in a time in when the church works so hard to glorify marriage and the traditional family, my thoughts are with my single brothers and sisters.

We pick up on messages, some subtle and some blatant, from a lot of places. From TV shows, films, and literature we get this message that you are not really experiencing life to the fullest without regular sex, romantic encounters, or even experimental passion. From the pulpit maybe we pick up on marriage being the preferred lifestyle when the majority of practical application for any message pertains to how we treat our spouse or children. Our families send messages when they treat us strangely when dating is not a priority. Singleness accompanied by celibacy is often treated as a second-rate existence, a life-style not to be desired, but one inflicted on those not attractive enough, not sane enough for lifetime partnership.

But this idea is so far removed from the truth we find in scripture. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul makes it clear that the single life and the married life are both gifts from God (verse 7), but he also adds that he wishes more would choose to live like him as a single person. Paul describes a multitude of reasons why he finds the single life superior to the married life.

It is free from complications that often come up within marriage (verse 7).

There is less stress (v. 28)

Your sole focus can be pleasing the Master (v. 32)

Time and energy is not divided between your family (33-34)

You can live a happier life (v. 40)

Ultimately Paul felt the single life was the most efficient way to live as a disciple of Christ, and for good reason. If Paul had been traveling on his missionary journeys with a wife and four children, he may not have been able to travel as many places, plant as many churches, preach the Gospel as often, or write as many epistles. That should not be taken lightly. And if you can’t take Paul’s words from the first century seriously, consider the words of my co-worker. He is 50 years old and has been single his entire life. This is what he says about his singleness:

“There is absolutely no doubt, no comparison that can be made, in relation to my being able to reach people more effectively as a single person. In the back of my mind I don’t wonder whether I will be late getting home for dinner or to put my children to bed, or to finish a promise project for someone in my family. I can be 100% present wherever I find myself. If I choose to marry, my first priority ministry WILL be to my family as it should be. As for now, I go on short term mission trips to places where harm is possible. I don’t have to weigh the overwhelming cost of leaving a place if I sense that I am being called. I don’t have to uproot my children from a school to follow Jesus. I don’t have to jeopardize my wife’s intimate friend relationships to move. I can be available late for the lonely. I can pick up the hitchhiker. I can love openly without people wondering if my family will approve or be damaged by the implications that come when we risk love for the Kingdom. There is an ENORMOUSLY high price to be paid for following the call to single living; but the potential for reward is equally high.”

The single life is not just useful, but it can also be fun and full of freedom. I work with college students for a living. It is not uncommon to hear student talk about the goal of getting or giving a “ring by spring,” meaning a desire to be engaged to be married before graduation. I try to remind students that singleness is a gift, and can be a really fun way to live! I know since I got married 7 days after I graduated from college, some might not think me a credible source. But I know many women and men who postponed marriage for 5, 10, and even 15 years post-college and had amazing life experiences and opportunity because of their extended time as a single. Last October I got to speak at a retreat with Nicole Doley, author of The Wait: Encouragement for Single Women. She shared with me this piece of advice for Christian college students:

“The notion that it’s best to graduate from college with your MRS degree is outdated. That may be true for some, but not for all. I’m a firm believer in marriage and I think it’s one of God’s greatest blessings. Nevertheless, unmarried 20somethings are starting businesses, discovering oil and making billions. Imagine all of that energy, time and talent invested in the Kingdom! The Bible says there’s a season for everything. In the past, the season for having babies was in your 20’s. I, however, had two perfect, gorgeous little boys in my 40’s. Thanks to modern medicine the window for starting a family is much larger. Why not take advantage of your youth, time and creativity and see what you can accomplish for the Kingdom, because when spouses and babies come, you will be blessed, but tired!”

At this point, some of you might be confused about my intent in writing on this subject. You may be thinking, “Why would someone who is married and has two children be witting about the benefits of the single life on Valentine’s Day? She must be unhappy, right?”

Let me just tell you that I love being married. I have never regretted even for a second marrying Rick a week after I earned my college degree. I love him. And not in some awkward, dutiful way that we sometimes ascribe to Christian marriage. I really like him as a person. I still (cheese alert) start tickle fights with him when we crawl into bed. He is my best friend, biggest encourager, most-fun playmate, and loyal partner. And when I think about my sons Grady and Hananiah, and how precious and adorable and hilarious they are, despite all the work that goes into raising them, I get tears in my eyes thinking about how much God must love me to put them in my life.

I’m not promoting the single life here to diminish the gift of marriage and children. After all, God created marriage! I’m promoting the single life because, just like with the married life, there are remarkably beautiful gifts from God within that path. Though it is our tendency as humans to egocentrically elevate the lives we live, we need to see beyond our little worlds. We need to see that God has rich blessing and good gifts for us as his children, no matter whether we are married or single.

I am convinced that the church needs both married couples and singles to function at its highest capacity. But sadly the church is just as guilty as the world in treating singles as second-class citizens. Another single co-worker of mine, also in her 50s, said this about singles and the church:

“I believe the hardest place to be single in my experience is the church.  Single people are often viewed with either pity (as though something is wrong that leave them in this unfortunate condition) or suspicion (are they gay?).  One is not a whole number in the church, despite the fact that Jesus was single.  Can’t singles just be adults, disciples, fellow travelers on the journey?  Aren’t they part of the “faith family” too?  Often singles really enjoy the opportunities to be around kids and families, yet they are frequently shut out from those very opportunities.  A single who stays in the church for the long haul is rare indeed.”

So how do we change this?  How to we elevate the singles around us? How do we as a church create a culture that honors the single life, just as we honor the married life?

We can let our single friends know we love and support them, rather than constantly trying to play match-maker.

We can avoid talk that belittles celibacy.

We can point people to the Jesus that wants to co-labor with us, rather than just write our love story.

We can include singles in our community and social gatherings, even if they might be the only single present.

We can recognize that singles and married individuals are called to minister and serve the church.

We can make our main focus submitting to the Spirit and doing Kingdom work. In doing so, we align our hearts with the heart of our heavenly Father, and as a result see the beauty of life paths that look nothing like our own.

I suggest we start a new kind of love revolution, one that will bless and encourage a powerful group of people that are dearly loved by our Savior. Rather than treating singleness as a less-than existence, we can respect singles in a way that brings honor and elevates them to a place where they feel freedom and authority in their individuality.

I ran a night-time trail race a few years back. At the start of the event, when everyone was bunched together with their headlamps, it was easy to see the path. But as the race went on and the runners grew more and more spread out, I realized my headlamp was really dim. As the miles continued, I found myself alone in the dark. I actually tripped over a root, fell into poison ivy, and found myself at the doctor getting a steroid shot a few days later on account of my eye being almost completely swollen shut! I think the biggest lie we have come to believe about the single life is that it means running this race alone, in unknown and dark territory. But no single person is called to run this race alone, just like married people are not called to run this race exclusively with their family unit. As disciples of Christ, we are a part of the family of God. Community, in all its complexities and benefits, is a gift that God extends to each and every one of us. This Valentine’s Day I pray you will experience the love and closeness of a Christ-centered community that accepts and empowers you, and that you find, regardless of your marital status, gender, class or calling, you are never alone.