Praying over the scraps

Things were feeling a little backed up, so today we will do Church Plant Update Saturday on Sunday… Hope you don’t mind. 

Scraps

I get easily overwhelmed by big projects, it’s my personality type. When I get overwhelmed I focus on minutia, because it’s controllable and I can see measurable progress there.

Like when we moved into our new house, I ignored the basics and became obsessed with sewing curtains. Kel found it annoying charming at the time, I’m sure.

Right now I’m obsessed with painting murals at the church so, odds are I’m overwhelmed. But in my defense they’re gonna be awesome! 

I can’t think of any project we’ve ever tackled that’s bigger than replanting this church.

Right now the church is in the planning and people-gathering stage. We are sussing out building design and reaching out to the community. Kel spent the week delivering buckets of salt (the ice melting-sort) to our neighbors as a way of saying: “hello, we’re here, what can we do for this neighborhood?”

Everyone has slick walkways… so we went with salt because it’s practical, non-edible and a good conversation starter. Plus we can offer to refill the buckets and build relationships.

So that’s been Kel’s job this week, handing out buckets of Salt.

And to be honest? As everything else in church-planting it’s slow-going.

We’ve met with our design team twice now and I love and adore the direction we’re heading.

We’ve met with a few launch team members and those have been beautiful gatherings, I’m excited meet all those God has in mind to launch the church with us.

We’ve hashed out some vision statements and scriptures that will guide the church… but we’re not close to being “done.” I feel like we need to do that with a group of people, not just us…

Then there’s logo design, worship leader hiring, children ministry plotting, praying through how to foster diversity and the fact that I’m feeling increasingly white, waspy and hopelessly ill-equipped for urban ministry.

What we have right now is this: Hope and Scraps.

We have ideas and plans and vision and thoughts and budgets and meetings and chats and estimates and none of it is composed.

Everything is in-process.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re on the long haul for church planting or any other big project. We are a people who desire things now, or faster, and there is nothing fast or easy about starting a church from scratch.

But we’re almost always in-between and in-process.

This requires tsunamis of faith and patience, two tenants of faith I’m historically not great at.

I had a revelation a few days ago as I walked through the church, starting down the pink and mauve sponge-painted hallway. I will probably not paint this hallway and I have not yet met the person who will.

This thought washed over me like a wave, God has plans and people that I am not privy to.

He knows. I do not.

All I can do is wait and pray over scraps.
I am unable to speed time
I am unable to get the house we want to buy on the market
But I am able to pray over these scraps and hopes of the church that will be.

And this is No. Small. Thing. This prayer, this faith, this daily practice of giving the mess over to God.

Because when we pray over that which is beyond our control we acknowledge our smallness and find comfort there.

As such I have taken to the habit of laying down all the scraps I’m grasping at and praying over them, of walking through the church and believing that in the ghosts of what will be will materialize under the provision of a God who has all in mind before Kel or I were born.

Who operates outside of time and money alike.

Who is in love with His bride, His church, His people.

So when I work myself into a frenzy over the church (which is approximately every 47 minutes and twice in the middle of the night) I lay down all the pieces and pray for another dose of faith and patience.

Will we work hard? Of course, faith ≠ laziness.

But there is deep peace in the basic truth that we don’t have to figure this all out, God has people in mind, miracles yet to be birthed that will bring about tears I can’t wait to shed.

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The Melt

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2014 has been an epic winter for the midwest and for us here in West Michigan 5 foot snow piles are a normal part of the scenery.

We have had snow cover on the ground since before Thanksgiving with very little days above freezing and always additional accumulation raising the level of snow in the front yard.

“Alright winter, you’ve proved your point. Enough already. Go home.”

The cloud cover has been endless and it seems as though weeks have passed without a shred of blue sky or sunshine.

But this week? We hit 40 degrees and the sun hit the snow and turned it into fields of translucent glitter.

The kids and I headed out in the warm sunshine to build a snowman from the wet snow in our front yard. It promptly fell over from the warmth of the day.

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Continue reading

How a motorcycle picture made me cry because the church nailed it.

Today I want to talk about those moments where church felt like The Church, like everything it was supposed to be and nothing it wasn’t.

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It was every mother’s worst nightmare.

Okay not their WORST nightmare but still, it was a nightmare.

My children and I arrived for church on time, got our bagels and coffee and headed to their children’s church rooms only to discover that children’s church was on a holiday that Sunday.

And I hadn’t a crayon or matchbox car or board book on my person.
And I was meeting friends for “big church.”
And I wanted to sit down and cry because without children’s church it’s very hard for me to meet up with God in big church.

Yet we carried on and made our way to the usual row of plastic chairs while I gave my kids a pep talk: “Okay guys, we can do this! It’s good to be still and AFTER the singing you can take turns with my iPhone and coloring on this bulletin with a golf pencil. I understand that you’re sad about your church being closed, me too, but we’re in this together, okay?”

Okay. Here goes nothing. I can do this… No I can’t let’s just go home… no… teachable moment! teachable moment! 

We sang, the teaching started and my kids took turns playing Angry Birds and scribbling with the golf pencil.

My dear friend Alyssa shared pens with Noelle and allowed her to kiss her as many times as she wanted, which with Noelle is always at least a couple dozen. She’s a kisser, should this worry me? 

They got noisy any time it was “their turn” to surrender the iPhone.

They fidgeted and switched positions

Then suddenly I looked over at the chair my son was sitting on and realized he was holding a drawing of a jeep.

What the what?

I looked around and soon I’d figured it out, the gentleman sitting in the row behind us, a father of older boys, was drawing pictures. For my kids. He looked up from his next creation and shrugged with a smile.

As I gave him my “You sir are a saint” look his wife passed Caedmon a colorful pen he could use to color in the jeep.

A few moments passed when I realized that Caedmon now had a drawing of a motorcycle AND a jeep. I turned around with another grateful look while the lady behind me mouthed “been there” and smiled.

I was able to focus on the sermon for a while and before long I looked over and saw Noelle holding a drawing of a horse. And these were good drawings people, like art quality sketches.

At this point I cried happy tears from some place deep, some place that identified with what Christ wanted his church to be for each other and the world.

As my friend helped Noelle with her Pony and Caedmon zoomed his motorcycle paper it hit me.

This is church, This is how it’s supposed to be. It’s never really been about the music or the bulletins or the teaching style… that’s all good but THIS IS CHURCH! 

This is two or three gathered in his name and actively making that name known to each other.

It’s not a crowd of people rolling their eyes at the woman with the noisy preschoolers. It’s drawing motorcycles and receiving kisses and above all else fostering the idea that we really are in this together.

And don’t we all need those moments where the church nails it to keep going? To keep showing up?

I don’t always have to be on the receiving end of things, I don’t believe in being a church consumer, I just need to regularly break down in tears over the obvious love of Jesus coming to life around me.

I do. I need to cry about it.

Or else I will forget what we’re really doing and get lost in church budgets and ministry plans and mission statements.

Then I’ll get cynical. And when I’m cynical I’m not compassionate and when I’m not compassionate I can’t hear what the Spirit needs me to be doing.

Then I start thinking about only myself and rationalizing a whole bunch of selfish things and throwing out a whole slew of judgements at those around me.

I need the healing of tears, weekly if not daily.

My prayer for us this this week is that we are all brought to tears because the love of Jesus showed up, because the Church nails it.

Not the buildings, Not the committees, The people. The Church.

I pray that every person who reads this plays a part in warming up our cold, gray world with a love that says “here I want to lift you up and I’m willing to give up something up to get us there, because you matter, your life, your struggles are not annoying me… in fact I want to share them.”

I’m willing to draw a motorcycle so that you can get a bit more sermon in your ears.
I’m willing to give up some fun money so you have money for gas and food.
I’m willing to give up time so your marriage has a fighting chance.
I’m willing to get there late so you don’t have to spend another second stuck in a snowbank.

Because you matter and if I’m thriving and you’re struggling then I’m doing it all wrong.

So as we plant a church, I’m setting a goal to cry more, to stay tender, to bear witness to more moments when we the Church… nail it.

Had the (big c) church brought you to joyful tears lately?
If you’re still cynical is there a ray of hope? 

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How to be an introvert, starting a church, talking to strangers about God without coming across as a creepy evangelist.

So, it Saturday, and even though I missed last week, today I am going to try and be faithful in my promise to keep you all updated on our church planting journey. 

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local photography via flickr creative commons andrewkuhnphotography

Two weeks ago I showed you around our lovely church, since then we’ve had a brilliant team of designers come through, one whom grew up in church and “gets it” in the best of ways.  She understands what works, what welcomes and what has been done to death. For this I am unspeakably thankful.

Also this week the boiler exploded, which caused us to wonder why more seminaries don’t offer classes on old building maintenance. Kel’s handy but boilers are beyond him #churchboilerdrama .

All this is true but it doesn’t really get to the heart of what’s REALLY going on with the church.  

Currently the main business of the church is connecting with the community.

What does this mean? It means that if Kel is at the church that he’s not doing his job. (#churchboilerdrama aside)

Because currently Kel’s main job is to go out and meet people by checking out their businesses, going out to lunch, working at coffee shops and taking walks through neighborhoods.  He’s supposed to meet with and chat up 50 new people a week. 50!

This terrified me for two reasons
1) Kel is an introvert, this could kill him.
2) I don’t see how one can do this without seeming like a creeper

But he’s impressed me every evening with his stories, all authentic and not the least bit slimy.

This begs the question: How does an introvert strike up conversation with a random stranger and steer the conversation toward the new church plant without seeming creepy or pushy?  

I think this is where I should just let Kel tell you, after all… he’s the one doing it.  

Hi everyone, it’s Kel.

So I’m going to start by telling you the story of a conversation I had this week: I was at McDonalds, not because I particularly love it (I’m not lovin’ it) but because they are one of the few places that has wifi in the area.

So I’m in line to get my large drink (which I fill with iced tea like a good southern boy) and in line behind me is an EMT.  So, I walk up to the counter and I say “1 large drink and whatever he wants” gesturing in the EMT’s direction.

He gives me a weird look but thanks me and puts in an order for an Egg McMuffin. He thanks me again and then asks:

Awesome EMT: “Do you have a busy day ahead of you?”
Me: “I kind of do but my schedule is pretty weird right now. You see, I just took a new job and I’m a pastor starting a church”

This leads us down a conversation about the ups and downs of my schedule. Then I tell him why I bought him breakfast.

“One of the things that I really want to be as a church is a place that serves the community. One of the ways we can start doing that is by serving those who are already serving the community. So buying you breakfast is a way for me to say thank you for what you do everyday.”

I could tell the guy was caught off guard. Apparently this isn’t something that happens to him everyday. Then he does something cool: he invites me to come down the station sometime so that I can meet the other EMT’s just before we part ways.

This conversation is at the heart of what I’m doing everyday, of what it takes to plant a new church.  

You see, when I started doing this nobody in the community knew who I was.  So when it came to making contacts it was important that people in the community got a feel for who I am. The best way to do that is obviously by authentically building relationships.

Every contact I make is another person that knows both who I am and that there is a new church coming to the neighborhood, that’s my only agenda.

So how do I do this without seeming like a creeper or a door to door evangelist? Its easy, I listen way more than I talk.  I ask people about them: What do they do?  Do they live around here? Do they like that sandwich?

I try to find common ground.

You see, it’s not actually about meeting a quota of numbers. Numbers to a church don’t really matter, its what those numbers represent: Each number is a story, a person, an opportunity for God to show up in real life.

That’s why its easy for me to keep perspective, As a pastor I’m the often at the forefront of those stories. I see the breakdowns, the illness, the funerals. Often I get to be the one that prays with people when they find out I’m a pastor.

For me, it is very encouraging because I get to see this community in a completely different light. This community is who I am trying to reach but ultimately it is God that changes hearts, not me.

So what is my job? To care, to love, and build relationship with the people that surround the church. To introduce them to the God that can bring about change in their lives.

It’s not about me, it’s not about numbers, it’s not about MY church… in the end it’s about God and his people and doing everything I can do to foster freedom through their intersection.

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To the Idealist at New Years

I’m an Idealist, which means that I am passionately concerned with personal growth and development. I have insanely high standards of how I should live, how our family should behave, how our house should run, how I should relate with God.  High, high, high.

Nigh unreachable and certainly exhausting.

And now it’s New Years, the time to reflect upon my 2013 goals and set new ones for 2014.

Can I tell you a secret? I haven’t looked back on my 2013 goals yet, I’m terrified to do so.  I don’t even dare open that blog post for fear that I will set off a shame spiral from which I will never recover.  But I know that I need to, so here goes.... reading post now….. 

Okay that was rough.  I only hit about 40% of my set goals for 2013, much of this has to do with the fact that we moved 1,000 miles and lived on half our normal income.  But still I struggle with unrealized goals, everything I set out to do in 2013 were things I seriously believe I SHOULD be doing, but didn’t.

Things like Run a 5K.  Ideally I would be someone who does that, but I don’t like running.  I want to like it, I like the way I feel after it, but I don’t like it overall.  Maybe I’m doing it wrong.

I read all the blogs about how to do it better, make it easier, more effective, change your mindset, your outfit, subscribe via email or there’s an app for that.

This me at New Years:  I can do EVERYTHING BETTER THIS YEAR!  Look at me go, I have Goals!  Big Ones!  I will subscribe to all the blogs, use all the tools, buy all the systems ensure I succeed at doing all the things better!  

2014 will finally be the year that I’m okay with myself!  Continue reading

When 2013 Was Me.

I’m going to hoist up my nerd flag, hear the squeaking? There it goes, flying at the peak of the roof of this blog.  It’s up, you’ve been warned.

Doctor Who Edit

Well here we are, 2013 is on it’s very last legs. The old man has hours left on the clock and bouncing, brand new 2014 is on it’s way, it’s practically here.  A fresh start, a blank calendar, a snow white new beginning to do something completely different, right?

Well yes. But also no. Not really.

Tomorrow morning you will wake up in YOUR house, with the dishes from YOUR new years eve shenanigans still in the sink, maybe you’ll have a mild headache from said shenanigans, a bit of 2013 following you into the new year.

The point is that 2014 will still feature something that played a key role in determining the outcome of 2013.  It will contain you.

If you don’t approach your New Year with this in mind, I can’t see how you’ll succeed.  Because really, truly wherever you go… there you are.

I’ve made a thousand million trillion mistakes in my life. I got a tattoo I don’t love and I dated a few total jerks. I once bought a car before test driving it and I chose my first college based on the laptop they’d give me.

I’m not saint in the good choices department.

But the one mistake I’m through making is this one:  I’m done ignoring the continuity of me.   

This plays out in two specific ways
1) I’m done transposing other people’s goals, habits, successes and subscriptions onto my own life. I’m a specific person and I have to take my preferences and personality into account when I make action plans in my own life. I can learn, I must grow, but I have to play to my strengths and know myself and my call.
2) I’m done ignoring all the mes who have gone before, I’m done being ashamed of them.  I’m done hiding those pictures in a box and pretending that we’re not the same people, that we are not me.

I want to know myself and own my life, from start to right this second.  I want to own it, and in a bittersweet way, I want to love it.

I don’t know how these two things would change your life, but for me they’re huge.  They stop me in my tracks when I look around and feel inadequate for who I’m not and they offer me grace and a chance to love myself in spite of who I’ve been.

You know what was the catalyst for these revelations?  It was the Christmas Special of Doctor Who.  Here’s where I get nerdy, hang with me.

On Christmas day the BBC show “Doctor Who” (with which I am in love) said goodbye to the 11th Doctor, played by Matt Smith.  (The Doctor regenerates as the same being in different bodies with different personality quirks. Read more here if you’re in the least bit curious. Then make a resolution to catch up on the show in 2014.  Do it, get past the first season before you quit, trust my stamp)

Anyway, the last few lines of the show were a speech by the departing doctor and perfectly summed these feelings I’ve been mulling over and learning as I store away one year in return for a new one.

CLARA: You, you are the Doctor.
ELEVEN: Yep. And I always will be. But times change and so must I…We all change when you think about it, we’re all different people, all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, not one day, I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.

If you are a Whovian, those words will cause tears and if you’re not I hope they at least give you pause.  I hope you can see the concept in spite of the geekery I’m throwing at you.

2014 is something new, yes, it is.  We aspire to become newer, better versions of ourselves.  It’s a new chance to be a new you, this is good stuff.  But you will only make something of it if you make peace with all the yous you’ve been. If you name them, own them, bring them along for the ride.

If you see your story as this continuous and ongoing narrative.  2014 isn’t a brand new year, it’s a brand new chapter in the book of you.  And as Jesus followers we are people of second, third and seventy-seventh chances.

We become new creatures as life brings us along with it’s storms and it’s peaceful valleys, but when we put up barriers, when we try to split our souls, when we refuse to take into account the essence of ourselves… that’s when our souls feel divided, when we become frantic and wild creatures, adopting things to cover up who we’re afraid we might be or who we have been.

So I welcome the newness and the hope of 2014, with open arms.  2013 has been a wonderful, terrible, beautiful shaping journey and I’m thankful for it.

It was hard.

We moved home, said goodbye and then hello!  Kel and I slept apart every weekend.  We lived on a half salary and bled our bank accounts dry.  I relapsed into grief driving by the cemeteries and train tracks where I lost my parents.

We fell apart and then God tenderly rebuilt us into these new people who are still the same people we were on this day last year, essentially.

And God Bless it, I want to be the me he made me to be.  Any year that involves steps closer to the Eden pure version of me shall be counted as a gift, a success, a good chapter in the novel of my life.

May you feel the same way about all that awaits you and all that you leave behind.  May you remember every line, every moment, may you be grateful in the best of ways,

May you always remember when 2013 was you.

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The Hands and Feet of Jesus are kind of Hairy (to me)

I rush around the kitchen. As I reach for bowls and plates, my chest tightens.  With every scream, nitpick or fight my children’s breakfast interactions grate on me as my adrenaline increases, like a slow burn.

Finally, one more: “Mom, I don’t wike dis food and I don’t wike dis pwate!”

And I’m done. I run off to the bedroom to scribble some notes on the cognitive distortions worksheet my therapist gave the previous day.

Because there isn’t a cell in my body that isn’t determined to unlearn the rhythms I use to survive, but there isn’t a chance I can stay another moment in the fray, fragile as I am.

When I return, all apologies I see him counting out twenties from our grocery / gas money stash, his lips moving as he does mental math. He walks around the table, into the kitchen where he holds me and presses two twenty dollar bills in my hand.

“One for Gas, One for you blow on whatever. When’s the last time you just had some time off? Not to work or produce. Just go be you.  I saw the your to do list and I’ve got it, I’ll get Noelle to school and I’ll clean the sinks and toilets. When you come home, dinner will be done. Just go baby, I got this.”

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He is the number two reason I will beat this thing, this anxiety, these inner lies.

He is my partner, supporter and very best friend. I didn’t know how deep love could go until I married Kel and every year?  It gets better.

He’s the one whispering God’s truth by proxy.

To me? The hands and feet of Jesus so often look like Kel’s hands and feet: strong, broad and kinda hairy.   Continue reading

The Song of the Weak Voices

I took seven years of vocal training as a kid. If you’ve met me in person, this shouldn’t surprise you.

I’m loud. I can project. I have things to say and often do so.

But this past Sunday and for a month of Sundays proceeding it, I can’t project and I can’t sing. I have a weak voice that can’t do much more than talk and even that’s a stretch by the end of the day.

This is due to an emotional October combined with a stubborn chest cold that’s left my throat in tatters.

This past Sunday was particularly frustrating, because our old worship leader returned to lead worship and brought with him some of my life’s favorite songs.

I wanted to sing, really sing along to those words that have soundtracked entire seasons of my life. I wanted my voice to match the passion in my heart and the tapping of my toes.

Yet, I could only softly squeak along.

The thought occurred to me not to sing at all, but I quickly dismissed it.

Because I had to add my voice to the song.  I couldn’t keep it inside, as weak as it was.  

And after all, doesn’t the church need all the voices?

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This goes so far beyond singing and chest colds, doesn’t it?  It extends into who we are as we gather together, and what we feel brave enough to bring through the doors. Continue reading

Day 5- Road tripping and Holy Rocks

I used to love going on road trips.  I’d buy great snacks, burn fantastic CDs and print out maps from mapquest.

I’d plan out which unusual roadside oddities we’d see along the way, a giant peach, a Volkswagen turned into a spider, maybe a massive Babe the Blue Ox statue.

Road tripping was a time of deep conversation, adventure and freedom.

I think this likely stopped when we had kids and every moment in the car became something to endure, to survive.

Now road trips find me with bloodshot eyes and Toy Story ringing in my ears while sippy cups roll around what used to be the floorboards, now an inch deep with toys and wrappers.

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Prekids road tripping, guy’s shirt, studded belt and of course Kel’s 87 Lincoln.

I’ve never been a patient person, I’m a person fond of immediate results.  Point A to Point B with no mess in the middle.

But right now we’re both in-between jobs, and we’re in-between houses

We’re very in-between right now.  We’re in a season of waiting for the next thing.

I think the secret to living in and loving “here” is to realize that, as the old cliché says, “Life isn’t a destination, it’s a journey.”

We can’t live always waiting to arrive somewhere else
We have to delve into the in-between because it’s just as steeped in God as the arrival will be, perhaps more so.   Continue reading

Day 3- Breath not Bread

The day begins with a two year old squeaking in my ear, asking permission to be hoisted into our bed: “up mama, up!”

So I roll over, position my hands under his shoulders and place him squarely in the middle, where he hones in on my pillow space before slowly finding sleep once again.

Usually this process wakes me up and I roll out of bed with the sleep that I’ve managed, happily alone to start the day. I find my robe, move down the hallway, start the teapot and inspect the contents of the cupboard and fridge, weighing our breakfast options.

Do we have eggs today or will it be another oatmeal morning?

Are the cupboards looking bare or is today one flush with choices?

Will this morning be luxurious or simple sustenance?

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This is the routine of feeding families, you get what you can manage and then set it on the table as a feat and a feast.  Each meal something to get excited about, to celebrate.

Because it is worth celebrating, another morning of “just enough” to fill bellies and send them on their way nourished.

Not only enough on the table, but enough in my heart, enough sleep and sanity to fix food in love instead of view it as another morning of rote annoyance.

We truly do serve a God of daily bread, who is interested in the daily work of provision, lest we get arrogant and think we’re the ones behind the eggs and oatmeal.

There will be seasons where the thing we need most, is the thing that is absolutely uncertain from day to day, breath to breath.

We were never guaranteed full storehouses across the board, it would only serve to separate us from the love we need to thrive.  

Because to thrive, we have to live in the right here, to realize that “daily bread” is more than a prayer, it’s a way to live.

We were never guaranteed a dozen eggs every time we open the refrigerator.
Never assured a full emergency fund or tank of gas.
There were no guarantees that we’d have enough time to fold all the laundry… or enough jeans to get through the week without doing it all over again.

The “always flush, care-free, sustained life” is a total illusion.

We are all running low in certain areas, all prone to anxiety in one way or another.

If we spend our lives always waiting for things to be guaranteed, for the store houses to overflow we will be tarried permanently.

We’re all low in some areas, all living breath to breath in one way or another.

Maybe it’s sanity, romance, money, eggs or gas.
Maybe it’s straight up cash
Maybe it’s patience or the gumption to do it all over again.

Not all our cups runneth over.

We’d like to hoard and store and consider ourselves all set and self-reliant, but it wouldn’t serve us well in the end.

We need to cling, to remain, to whisper hourly prayers for supplication that seems beyond hope and possibility.  (I’m preaching to myself)

This is why Jesus taught us to pray “give us this day our daily bread”

It’s not about bread, it’s about breath and the strength to go on in a world that seems to take more than we have in every conceivable way.

Christ knew, he came, he saw, he felt the tug and the pain and the reality of fallen earth.

So he gave us this prayer: “Lord, please, enough for today?”

And it comes, somehow it always comes, even when it looks like rock bottom and we fall to our knees, I have learned that in one way or another, daily bread is on it’s way.

sometimes small, often unexpected but it’s here.

Greed is hoarding manna, but freedom comes in the hands that gather and ask in the now.

Who gather and give thanks for their rosebuds while they may.

There is a sacredness that comes from going to the pantry morning after sleepy morning and breathing a prayer of thanks for the strength, sweetness, coffee and oatmeal needed for here.

The more we enter in to this prayer, this sacred rhythm, the more alive we become.

Less self-reliant and more God-expectant, steeped in peace.

Here

I’m spending the month of October writing for 31 Days on the concept of “here.”  Sign up right here to receive these posts in your inbox.