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Perspective is a funny thing. Nothing about us changes, but it changes us.

My husband and three other pastors from Life.Church joined one of our global mission partners, Samaritan’s Purse, on a trip over the big pond and into the third-world country of Liberia, Africa.

They flew on a cargo plane loaded down with medical supplies to be used in a newly constructed hospital. They got to see how Samaritan’s Purse is supporting many women and children turned widows and orphans after the devastating Ebola crisis—which killed over 4,000 Liberians within a few short months. They also witnessed how a village can be transformed by being resourced and educated on turning a mud hole, once shared with animals, into permanent clean drinking water.

Samaritan’s Purse provides physical and spiritual aide around the world in Jesus’ name. They realize that meeting physical needs has some value (you can’t share the life-changing message of Jesus with someone who’s dead), but spiritual health is the bottom line.

We Americans might not feel rich, but we are rich. Most of us live in a world of luxury, climate-controlled environments, and on-demand resources. (And if you think that’s not you: Do you own a vehicle? Well congrats. You are considered wealthy.)

We have grocery stores while most of Liberia does not. We can go to restaurants where other people will serve us, cook for us, and clean up after us. We have clean water IN OUR HOMES and sewage lines that flush waste AWAY FROM OUR HOMES—but many places in the world cannot imagine what that’s like. We have magic machines that wash and dry our clothes/dishes. Our trash mysteriously vanishes from the curb on certain days of the week. We have “metal horses on wheels” and paved roads and mowed lawns and education systems and vacuumed carpet and Amazon and Starbucks. We have the freedom to chase after our dreams, while a good portion of the world either does not have that right or does not dream beyond survival.

We are far from a perfect country, but we are rich. Yet we still have the same spiritual problem—just masked with more plastic and makeup. No matter how pretty we look or how perfectly we arrange our lives, we are still broken and fading on our own. But we are more than dying bodies who spend our earthly hours on Pinterest and in football stadiums. We are eternal souls.

The man (Joe) pictured above with Derek lost 17 of his immediate and extended family members during the Ebola outbreak in less than four months. SEVENTEEN. Gone—just like that. Miraculously, he has fought through the excruciating pain and found his identity, purpose, and strength in a relationship with Christ and is currently a living and breathing fountain of life throughout his own village. He is rich. And he’s spreading the wealth.

I asked Derek to summarize his biggest takeaway from Liberia and this was his response:

“Life is messy everywhere, but God is at work across the globe. We have different problems, but they’re ultimately the same. We are diverse, but we are alike. It’s both complicated and simple—the entire world needs a Savior.”

I hope this little reminder moves us all toward thankfulness for our own riches, to pray for those struggling with more than we can stomach, to repentance for our passive self-indulgence, and to action towards love, passion, forgiveness, generosity, and mercy in our very own circles.

 

Perspective is a funny thing. Nothing about us changes, but it changes us.

 

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I brushed a plastic dinosaur’s teeth last night—with an electric toothbrush. I woke up to Captain America heroically leaping into my REM cycle at 5:17am. I’ve braided Barbie’s hair, patched up skinned knees, wiped a few tears, sorted through some laundry with an unfortunate case of SKD (shredded Kleenex disaster), and spent twenty-five ridiculous minutes looking for the beloved stuffed member of our family. Lovey.

No doubt parenthood (and life in general) is a messy, full-contact sport. But this verse, y’all. It slays me.

Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest. (Proverbs 14:4)

You might be thinking: Really? What do livestock and stables have anything to do with my everyday life?

Without cattle the barn stays fresh. Without children the house stays clean. Without marriage our hearts stay unrattled. Without friendship our opinion stays on top. Without community our capacity stays unchallenged. Without creativity our dreams stay locked up.

But embracing the mess is a big part of the blessing, and there is no blessing without the mess. Even the Promised Land—full of milk and honey—had upkeep. Because you can’t have milk and honey without dealing with cows and bees.

Do you think farmers like to play in the dirt for fun? Of course not. Their zoomed-in focus is on the unseen harvest that is to come. Just like them, we must look past the immediate grime and fix our eyes on what will grow if we keep on and keep planting.

There is no harvest where there is no dirt.  

And dirt, after all, is what God used for the framework of mankind.

So what do you think He sees when He gazes at His creation? If you haven’t noticed, we are a wiry and busted-up mess who want to be entertained more than we long to be holy. We’re sinful and needy, self-absorbed and sidetracked.

But when He looks at us, He sees us through the cross of Jesus—the debt already paid-in-full on our behalf. When He looks at us, He sees past the muck and disarray, and instead sees abundant orchards and vineyards. When He looks at us, He sees His kids—who are His absolute greatest harvest.

How dirty was He willing to get? He didn’t hesitate to sink down low into our filth, leaving heaven to come wash the crusty mud from our hearts. Though innocent, He allowed them—us, really—to break Him for short time, as He was completely wrung out because of His dangerous and unfair love.

But the story didn’t stop there, and neither should we.

Because harvest time is coming.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. (Galatians 6:9)

 

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Sunlight poured through the kitchen windows and onto lazy breakfast crumbs still lingering on the table. I reheated my coffee, threw Jack’s pajamas in the hamper, and answered the beckoning ding of my phone.

“So, last night?” the text read. “I rocked a teething baby to sleep while wearing lingerie. Let’s just say the evening didn’t go as planned.”

Don’t you love real friends who will share their real stuff with you? Who will remind you that you’re not alone on this wild rollercoaster called life?

That same spunky mama was also pulled over for speeding while pumping. WHILE PUMPING, PEOPLE. As in—one of the police department’s finest approached her window while breastmilk was streaming from her nipples.

(My face is getting hot just thinking about it.)

Actually, can we take a moment of silence to honor my friend, who shall remain nameless? Bless her soul. In case you are wondering, she did get away with a warning. Not sure if the officer was terrified or intrigued but, either way, it’ll go down in history as a memory for them both.

Ah. Real life is a lot of things, isn’t it? Tangled and funny, unexpected and ordinary, messy and breathtaking. But it usually looks different in real life than from the other side of a screen…

 

Take motherhood… From a distance, motherhood looks like a walk through Pottery Barn Kids. But up close? It’s more like army-crawling through Toys ‘R’ Us after an explosion. It’s washing sippy cups and singing The Itsy Bitsy Spider and kissing their squishy cheeks a million times and helping them learn to read and wanting to protect them from every-darn-thing and loving them so much it hurts. IT HURTS SO GOOD.

Take marriage… From a distance, marriage is all roses and passionate make-out sessions on an exotic beach somewhere. But up close it’s more like a kiss on the cheek while scrambling eggs, a just-because note on the windshield, having each other’s back no matter what, sharing thoughts/fears/dreams/inside jokes from the platform of a pillow, and wading through deep conversations about life and God at the bathroom sink.

Take ministry… From a distance, ministry might seem put-together and even a little fancy. But it sure feels a lot more like just showing up. Showing up to scoop ice into plastic cups and cry with a heartbroken friend and clean throw-up out of the kid’s hallway and laugh hysterically hard and boast in our weaknesses once again and worship the God of the universe from the corner of the sound booth at the back of the room.

 

Behind every fairytale is a line of frogs that didn’t work out. Behind every perfect picture is another hefty bunch that got deleted. Behind every piece of work is a mess in the other room.

So, let’s talk—off the record.

No lights. No makeup. No filters. No faking.

We are living in a dangerously happy state of constant pretending. And yes, my hand is up too. I’M JUST AS GUILTY. Guilty of showing the highlight reel instead of the wear-and-tear behind the scenes. Guilty of taking a picture of my coffee mug and light-pink hydrangeas, without acknowledging the wild children running laps in the background. Guilty of showing my best and hiding the rest, not intentionally trying to be be deceitful or manipulative, but still only telling half of the story.

For the record: I like modern technology and modern conveniences just as much as the next girl. I’m totally cool with Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Periscope—and whatever new is trending. We’ve been granted legal stalking rights and it’s certainly amusing, if nothing else. So I’m great with social media, okay? I use it, I like it. It’s a great tool, as well as an easy way to stay connected.

As long as we can all agree: IT’S NOT ACTUAL REAL LIFE.

Can we do that? I mean, really? Right now. Is it possible to pause long enough to reimagine whatever our stubborn perspectives have invisibly glued into place?

I honestly wish there was a sign-in agreement of some sort—a common acknowledgement every time we login to our phones/computers—stating our awareness that: This is only a glimpse. A peek. A moment. A snapshot. A slice. A highlight reel. I’ll give it “artistic expression” or “interpretive flare.” Even business marketing, as many use it for that. But please, for the love of all real live beings who imperfectly exist and breathe morning breath and spill things and have laugh lines, don’t call it real life.

BECAUSE REAL MATTERS. Doesn’t it?

I would rather eat a home-grilled burger than a variant from McDonalds. I would rather sit in a coffee shop and have a face-to-face conversation than FaceTime someone at the other end of a radio wave. I would rather sink my toes into the sand and sea than look at a picture of the same thing in a frame.

Real matters. That’s why Paul advises us to fix our eyes on what is true (Phil. 4:8) and stay focused on the bullseye.

But in a world that’s altered and airbrushed—where secrets, filters, and fabricated perfection are glorified—how can we know what’s real? What’s true? We’ve gotten so good at pretending that the lines of distinction have blurred, somewhere between our actual lives and our romanticized perceptions of the rest of the world.

 

Let me tell you a little story…

 

Two weeks into this marriage thing, after honeymooning on the waterfall-covered island of luscious Maui, I got a stomach bug. And no it wasn’t some sweet-tempered little irritant, but a full-fledged, out-to-destroy-my-new-marriage type of crack bug.

I wanted to die.

And I wanted my mom.

Burning with fever, trembling with chills, and repeatedly yielding my lunch into a plastic trashcan while sitting on the toilet—there I was. Let’s just say that Hawaiian luaus, hibiscus blossoms, and black-sand beaches seemed about a billion worlds away.

My new groom, pale as could be yet eager to love me unconditionally, insisted on opening the intentionally shut door to deliver cold washcloths and nervously hold back my stringy, damp hair.

You really shouldn’t have, I thought to myself—but couldn’t access the words.

After reaching new heights in embarrassment, I was done. “THE HONEYMOON IS OVER!” I wailed in the most pathetic, melodramatic voice I could muster.

And it was over all right. But something happened that day; something unexpected.

That virus did me an unforeseen favor—because pretending that everything is or always will be “perfect” is exhausting. Turns out, you can only frolic in dream-world so long before real life slaps you across the face. The wedding lasts a few hours and the honeymoon lasts a few days, but marriage is meant to last a lifetime. And a lifetime of “for better or for worse” isn’t all rainbows and sunsets and happy emoji’s (although hopefully those are there, too).

Real life and real marriage is sweeter and harder and better than imaginable, when durably positioned on Christ. (Trust, authenticity, and embarrassing moments don’t hurt either.) A God-seeking marriage breaks past the facade of sugarcoated happiness and taps into the only source who holds the key to real joy.

Now, I’m not saying the highlight reel is completely invalid. In fact, it’s still an important part of the picture—and definitely worth celebrating. We’re all drawn to pretty things, it’s just not always the whole story. A highlight reel is most of what we see in history books, old photo albums, and even our news feeds today. There’s not enough time in the world to share all the things, and I honestly don’t want to see them. But we must have a mutual understanding that there’s always more.

“Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” (John 7:24)

When the fluff is stripped away, what’s left? Our bare foundations reveal what matters most.

At the core of our existence is a God who will never leave and never change. We need the real Jesus, who poured out His real life for us, who really rose again, and who is really sitting at the right hand of God pleading for us. Who will eventually bring all things to completion—fully redeeming what was lost.

We also need real people in our real lives who know the real us. Do you have a place where you can be the real you? Where you can confess your struggles, shoulder your burdens, seek advice, and filter raw thoughts? I have a handful of friends (other than Derek, of course) who know the hard stuff, the nitty-gritty, the joys and thorns in my life.

Those women are gold to me. Pure gold. And you know what? The mess we experience with each other is part of the beauty. It’s genuine and authentic, and that deserves an extra cup of coffee.

Because there’s a nudging in our souls to be who we really are and to set our eyes on what’s really real. To expose the naked truth and set a climate of transparency for every area of life. Because this? This only gets real and worthwhile when we can share our makeup-free faces, milk-splattered houses, and unedited lives. And I honestly don’t want to waste my time, or yours, with anything less.

God, help us to dodge the things that entangle us, imprison us, and chain us to a wasted life. Stir in us the desire to run far away from a superficial religion—from just going through the motions—and into an intimate relationship with You. Hold us steady and firm in that raw and holy place where it’s messy and sticky because you are real and unfiltered and constructing something magnificent from our scattered pieces. Help us to know you, Jesus—undistorted and uncommercialized.

The absolute, real thing.

“For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.” (Phil. 1:10)

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