Friday, January 24, 2014

The Love Project: A Cup of Joe

Friday morning. 6:00am.  Coffee time.

Starbucks is right around the corner. Praise the Lord. 4am rise and shine times on Fridays, they get to me sometimes.

I pass a lot of people on the street everyday. I notice a lot of them, but not all.

I don't know what it was about this guy that caught my attention.

Maybe it was his stooped, hunched shoulders. Or his neatly trimmed beard. Or that he looked cold.

But, I watched as he bent over to pick up what I thought was a penny. The closer I got, the more I realized it wasn't a penny. It was the butt of a used cigarette.

As I passed him, I watched him put it to his lips and try to re-light it...

I am a fan of frugality. This however, was not frugality, it was desperation in it's most quiet form.

Then I got choked up. And almost started to cry.

This man could be anyone we know. Our grandpa. Brother. Cousin. Father. Friend.

I almost turned back and asked if he wanted some coffee. I hesitated too long though, and he was gone. Maybe next time. Or maybe someone else.

I am richly blessed, and I know it. I can go to the store for groceries whenever I want. My bed is warm at night, and I have shoes. Too many shoes.

This morning I was convicted, because,  maybe I need to be more generous with what I have. If I can buy myself a cup of coffee, then I can buy someone else a cup as well.
It's not much, but maybe, just maybe someone will feel love through that cup of coffee.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Love Project: False Perfection

I sit back from the water and it looks perfect. However, as I come closer, and begin to see the imperfections beneath the water's surface, I begin to wish I had continued to stay back in my delusion. My delusion of perfection.

Recently, I attended a session at a local church conference. I really wasn't planning on going, but someone had asked me to go with them, so I agreed.  About an hour before I left for the conference, I was struck with a deep sense of panic.

I take the bus to work every day. So I dress practically for the wet, wintry weather. Meaning I wear tights. I wear boots. And yes, I wear pants. And yes, I was wearing pants that day.

Now, I’m not going to fight about this. I realize a lot of people have personal opinions regarding women wearing pants. That is fine, and to each his own. I choose to wear them, and feel no less close to God when I wear them, than when I wear a skirt. So if anyone gets ugly, I will kindly and with Christian love ask you if you wear pants to bed.

This sense of panic continued to creep in and I began to feel very self conscious. Some would say I was being silly. Some that I was "under conviction." Then again, some wouldn't even register my wearing pants was an issue. And really, it isn't, nor should it be.

Why then, would I have so much anxiety if I wasn't doing something wrong?  At the beginning of the service, I could not have given you an answer. By the middle of the service, I was more clear; and by the time I laid my head on my pillow that night, it was completely clear.

I threw myself into a state of inner anxiety because I was worried about the response to my pants. Not the pants themselves.

Why was it the response to my apparel I feared? I wasn’t immodest. I was dressed like a lady. I wasn’t drawing unnecessary attention to myself. So then why did I instinctively respond with such a high level of discomfort?

Unfortunately, there has been an unhealthy and harmful mindset set before our young people and new Christians. I don’t know if it was intentional, however, it still exists. The prominent unspoken theme is that your depth of your spirituality and the level of your worth as a Christian is wrapped up in how well you conform to the preferences, rules and guidelines set before you. If you conform to every detail and every preference, then you must be very spiritual and close to God. If you don’t… well, then we will just pray for you, while we continue to hold you at arms length.

Is every community of believers this way? No, absolutely not. But I have seen it, and experienced it.
Jesus doesn’t operate like that folks. Now, don’t get me wrong, life is not a free for all just because we have forgiveness and grace. There are commands from God we need to follow in order to live a more holy and committed life for Him. But, women not wearing pants and guys not having a comb over are not two of those commands.

We tend to make up rules to make ourselves feel more comfortable. We fit ourselves into a mold that is unrealistic and fake. Oh, and if you think the world doesn’t see it? Think again. They see it. They call it like it is. And then they want nothing to do with Jesus or us.

This revelation got me thinking. If I, as a steadfast believer in and follower of Jesus am afraid of the response from my peers and if they are going to doubt my commitment to Christ, then how in the world does everyone else feel when they visit our churches? Get together with us for coffee, or do life with us?

If they are afraid we are going to hold them at arm’s length because of their piercings, then do you think they are going to come to us when they have deep sin in their life? Or when they do something stupid? Or want to know about Jesus?  Or are hurting? Yeah, not likely they are going to come to us. In fact, they probably aren’t going to come to us – ever.

You see, in our efforts to “be holy and separate”, we have created an environment where no one can talk about their struggles, their sin or their shame.

We have created an environment, where yes, sin is named, but also, things that are not sinful are named as such.

We twist and manipulate Scripture to back what makes us comfortable, instead of being honest when asked a question - and saying, "I don't know". Or, we just quote what we have heard our entire lives, instead of seeking the truth for ourselves.

People want to ask questions. People want answers. People want to learn and grow.

People want to feel safe. People want to feel loved. People want to feel accepted.

But, let’s say someone gathers the courage to ask a question. Too often they are shut down because the other person else feels uncomfortable. Or doesn’t have the answer. Then, the person who asked the question feels even more shame. They feel even more alone. And they have no one with whom to share their pain. (And don't say, "well, they have Jesus." We all have Jesus, and this is about us not being like Him)

We stand behind the pulpits and preach about how Jesus saved us from our sin. Yet, we somehow forget we still sin. As if somehow, being mean to your friend is an acceptable sin, whereas selling drugs is not. Sorry. It’s all the same.

We boldly say we are not perfect, yet we don't want to talk about those imperfections. Or the things that are unpleasant. Or the things that hurt.

We only want to talk about the things that make us, oh sorry - I mean God, look good.

We want to cloak ourselves in this veil of false perfection. We only want to talk about who we visited in the nursing home. Or how many doors we knocked on and how many times we were able to share the gospel with those "lost souls".

We don't want to hear about the person who is struggling with a pornography addition. The person who is struggling with their sexuality. The person who just has the ugliest attitude in their heart, EVER, and needs to be called on it. Because yes, a bad attitude is still a sin

We don’t want to talk about it, because it makes us uncomfortable. It means we have to come to terms with the fact we fall short of perfection every single day. But why talk about it? Why talk when it is so much easier to put on our churchy costume and parade around like we no longer sin.

We talk about it, because it brings healing. It brings forgiveness. It brings liberty. It bring accountability. It brings change.

Yet if we continue to hide it, that is a dangerous space to be in spiritually. And a dangerous way to tell others they should be. Whether it is a verbal instruction or just understood.

We are a family. We are a community. It's time we started acting like it. Instead of acting like co-workers and strangers, let’s act like the fellowship of believers we are. Our fake perfection needs to fall away.

We need to be real and be honest. If Paul can admit that he was the chief among sinners, then we can be real with our struggles. Because I don’t care how many pairs of culottes you own, or how well you tie your necktie. Those things are the least important things to the Lord.

He wants your heart. He wants you. And He wants you to shower love on other people. People need love. Not shame.

We can do better. We know to do better. We should do better.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Love Project: It Spoke To Me First

I cried on the train yesterday.

Nothing dramatic. Nothing loud.

Just tears filling my eyelids. Looking to creep slowly down my cheek.

I was just sitting there, drinking my grande vanilla soy latte. Grooving to some southern gospel (because it was that kind of morning), when we made a stop along the tracks. People got off, but, right before we took off again, a man jumped on the train, barely making it.

By appearance, he looked average. 5’ 8”, stocky build, middle aged, neatly trimmed salt and pepper mustache with hints of blonde. He and his wife were DECKED out in their Seahawks gear. I am going to assume they were football fans. However, what caught my attention wasn’t how he fit a certain demographic. Or the fact he most assuredly liked football. It was his smile.

This impish, doing things by the seat of your pants smile. This “instant, connect with strangers” smile. This “no person is ever a stranger” smile.

When I saw that, I cried.

I cried because, well, his smile reminded me of my dad.

And I miss my dad.

For those of you who know, my dad passed away unexpectedly when I was 14 years old. I lost my prince charming, my knight in shining armor, my best friend and personal comedian – all in one day.

Most days aren’t so bad. I am doing what he would have wanted. I am living. But, every once in awhile, a moment will sneak up on me. A moment I wasn’t expecting. A moment like this.

It’s crazy how the smile of a random stranger could illicit such a deep, powerful and intense emotional response. In the brief moment that man smiled at me, I was flooded with so many memories. So many feelings. So many thoughts.

Thoughts like this….

I miss the way he would smile at and be nice to everyone… at least to their face.

I grieve knowing he would think I was absolutely hilarious – and if he didn’t…. I would know.

I miss making music with him. Learning new songs and trying to convince him that the Backstreet Boys is actually decent music. (Never was able to convince him of that. I mean, when the man grew up with the Beatles and the Beach Boys, can you blame him?)

I mourn the knowledge that he missed out on some pretty memorable moments in my life, and the knowledge that this reality will continue.

In continuing with my vein of transparency, Sometimes I am super jealous of girls who still have their dads… like green with envy jealous. I know I shouldn’t be, but I am. And even though I trust completely in God’s perfect plan, sometimes I feel a little robbed.

Last, I have a bittersweet feeling about The Love Project. Because, I know if my dad were here, he would be behind it 110%. He would be throwing ideas my way. He would be ride along beside me, helping to make it happen. He was my biggest fan, and my biggest developer.

Maybe I realized, when this fatherly gentleman smiled at me that that was what was so compelling about my father.

Being supportive wasn’t just a quality he reserved for his family. Everybody felt it. He had this way about him. This smile that lit up a room. A personality that drew you in. Even if he didn't know you, you loved him. You felt like he believed in you.

As, the tears welled in my eyes, I realized my dad lived out the project I am pursuing... every single day.

He knew everyone was having a hurt, a struggle. They were feeling pain, or discouraged. And maybe all it would take was a smile. Something he was able to, and did give, quite freely. And that’s what The Love Project is all about.

I was given a beautiful gift in the form of Greg Alm - I was given an inspiring example to look to

Love Project 2014? Yeah, already got started by a pretty amazing guy over 12 years ago... I’m just trying to carry the torch. We don’t know how our smile can change someone’s day. We don’t know that being patient in line at the grocery store will put the person in front of you at ease. We just don’t know. But we can love. Jesus did it. We can do it. Every single day.

Thanks dad... I miss you every day and ache that we can't have adventures together, but thank you for the ones we had. Thank you for just being you. Because you was awesome.


Monday, January 13, 2014

The Love Project

I had a car once. Then she died.

I mean, gave up the ghost died. Going into cardiac arrest with no chance of resuscitation dead. Ding. Dong. The Wicked Witch is dead, dead.

It also happened at a red light. At night. In the cold. I was alone. Slightly sad. And yes, it was pathetic.

Is this entire post about poor Lucy? Nope, but if you stick around, I might segway nicely into the actual purpose of this post.

Maybe… Unless I get distracted. By chocolate.

Backtracking ever so slightly…..

This past spring I took a job. In Rainier Valley. I live in Shoreline. For those of you unfamiliar with the geographic landscape of the greater Seattle area, I will put it into context. I was working 20 miles south of where I lived. Meaning almost 3 hours of commuting. Every. Single. Day…. And yes, it was as horrible as it sounds.

However, being the resourceful person I am known to be, I immediately began looking for alternative ways to go to work. Seriously, who am I kidding? I like sleeping in… more than I should. And, I also like saving money. So after months of not having any money (because it was all being physically poured into my gas tank), I decided to give the bus a try.

And the thing is, it worked. Surprisingly well. That is….when I used it.

As I mentioned, I really like to sleep in. Like, a lot. The main reason I like to sleep in, is because I am a night owl. My best ideas come late at night. I get the most done at night. I am more productive in the evening than almost any other time of the day. However, I have yet to find a job that is conducive with my night time preferences.

Translation = I haven’t found a job that will let me sleep in past 5:30am

Regretfully, I got a little lazy toward the end of the summer, early fall. Um, I mean, I was lazy from July – December. I maybe rode the bus 20 times. And not in a row either. The fact was, I didn't like getting up early. So I just drove. And spent more money… and was still annoyed and tired when I got home. Why? I guess because I could.

So now you are all legitimately bored, wondering why I am telling you about my sluggish and slacker behaviors. You mentally say you could care less and have just wasted 10 perfectly good minutes to watch TV.

So why am I giving this entire back story?

I sheepishly will admit, that saving money wasn't the only reason I felt compelled to take the bus. Jesus might have told me, the 2nd day of riding the bus in early July, this was an incredible opportunity to meet people, share His gospel, and show love to the people of my city.

But I wasn't committed to doing it every day. I should have been. But I wasn't.

So, do I think my car died to force me to ride the bus? Um, yeah…. I kind of do.

Now, I don’t believe it died because the Lord was punishing me. No, I don’t believe that at all. I believe Jesus allowed my car to die in order to show me something awesome. And to make Him real to me in a way He hadn't been before.

It was almost as if the Lord was saying, “Elizabeth! I want to show you something amazing, and if you don’t do what I told you, you are going to miss it. And then you will be super bummed out. So knowing you the way I do, I am going to take away the thing that is hindering you, because I want to show you incredible things.”

So 2014 is going to be the year of “The Love Project”

If you ask me what it looks like, I don’t really know….

If you ask for my game plan, besides riding the bus every day, I don’t really have a plan.

But, I have an open and willing heart, a drive and a purpose to see this through, and an ORCA card full of bus money, just waiting to be spent!

I want people to hear about the love of Jesus. I want people to experience the joy and awesomeness that only He can provide. I want to love on people. When someone is looking sad, I want to be a part of Jesus’ plan to make them smile again.

When I was about three years old, my sister and I made a cassette recording. It really didn't make any sense at the time, and to be honest, it still doesn't make any sense. My sister was just having me repeat everything she was saying. And I did it. Quite willingly I might add. One of the things she told me to repeat was, “I love everybody!” I repeated, “I love everybody!” as I was consumed by a fit of giggles. The truth of it was, I being completely sincere. Even though I was repeating my sister, I really did love everybody. I didn't necessarily like everyone, but I did love them. All of them.

I realized if I can love with abandon at three without fully knowing Jesus, then at 26, I can most assuredly love even deeper because I am filled with the Holy Spirit and His love is immeasurable, powerful and conquers all things.

As I go into 2014 with The Love Project on my heart and mind, I will keep you posted. I will tell you what I see, hear, experience and learn.

And in return, when you experience or share or see the love of Jesus at work, I want to hear about it. I want to see it. I want to know about it.

So please – take advantage of the gift that is social media and FB, IG, Twitter, etc all of your stories – oh, and use #theloveproject2014.

So excited about this year!