Two women were praying one day.

One cried out to God, “Oh God, you love me and you love my unborn baby. Please have mercy on us and help me to find a job that will enable me to keep my baby; to feed her, clothe her, and keep her forever.”

Elsewhere a second woman cried out to God. “Oh God, I am unable to have children. Please speed up my adoption process and bring me a child quickly. Fill this empty hole in my heart with a baby who needs my help.”

One year later, a woman was proudly introducing her daughter to her loved ones. “Isn’t she beautiful? For this child, I prayed and prayed. God answered my prayers. It was God’s will that she would be in my arms.”

Elsewhere, a woman sat on a bench with empty arms, listening to a friend,

“God must have better plans for you.”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“God shut those doors. It wasn’t supposed to happen.”

Seeking God’s will used to be so simple in my mind.

It was so simple that these pithy, reductionist sayings didn’t seem bizarre to me at all.

But when we choose to see God’s will in everything, while ignoring the futility and despair of this life, we miss God’s will entirely and we lose sight of the hope of the gospel itself.

These are eight myths that I have identified in my life about God’s will and God’s involvement:

1. High school students should know what God’s will is for their lives and choose a college major accordingly.

The decisions we make during our early adulthood (career, marriage, etc.) alter the courses of our lives. But to expect that an 18-year-old would have the perfect life mapped out for himself/herself places too much responsibility, expectations, and false hopes on a young student, setting him/her up for failure and disappointment.

Those dreams look different in ten years, for better or for worse. And there is nothing sacred about the age of 18 in the determination of one’s destiny. Mostly likely, the 18-year-old will get it wrong a few times.

2. God’s plan for me is my vocation.

God’s will is about loving God and loving others. Only in a position of privilege can a person have the notion that work should be some romantic expression of his/her gifts and talents.

3. If you are bored with your job, it must not be your calling, or God’s will for your life.

The gospel does not promise the actualization of our full potential. Many martyrs have died without being able to make a living performing in a band or writing a ground-breaking novel.

We tend to believe the myth that our fulfillment in life involves labor which is creative, stimulating, and success-generating. But the idea that God’s will must involve following one’s dreams contradicts Scripture and disrespects the millions of impoverished people around the world who labor in harsh circumstances every day to provide for their families.

4. Some people have high callings.

God’s will does not have a front row and a back row. Missionary martyr is not first place; suburban housewife or husband is not number 53.

Finding wholeness and love in this life is all there is. There isn’t a bonus level with ninja powers.

5. If God does not want me to do something, God will close the door.

If God always were to “shut doors” on disobedience, then there would be no abuse, no lies, no bank robberies, or littering. God does not close doors to prevent all bad things from happening.

And the converse is also a myth: If all the doors are opening for me, it must be God’s will. Shouldn’t we beware of the illusion of orchestration through circumstances? Sometimes the best things are ruined and all the doors are shut in our faces. Sometimes the worst things open up for us with ease.

6. If something goes wrong, what you are doing must not be God’s will.

Resistance is not an appropriate gauge of the righteousness of a decision, nor is a “sense of peace”. Sometimes resistance proves to us that we are following Jesus. And sometimes resistance happens because this planet is a tough place to live.

7. Everything that happens to me is part of God’s plan.

Things happen to us that are contrary to God’s will. A person neglects or abuses a child. A drunk driver has an accident. God does not cause these things. What if you were supposed to get that job and someone lost the paperwork because this world is a dark place? What if your child was supposed to thrive at birth, but humans don’t always do their jobs perfectly?

What if what happened wasn’t truly meant to be? Is that okay? Can futile, awful things happen in this world?

8. Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.

Why don’t we put our faith in the Holy Spirit working within us much more than the signs and wonders without? Why do we look for confirmation of God’s will in tealeaves and toast crumbs? Are we really going to take this or that highway because someone had a bumper sticker that seemed like a “God thing”? Why does this seem more like voodoo and less like faith?

One of the most amazing, gospelly books in the Bible, Ecclesiastes, sets us free from the pursuit of meaning in all things. Nothing is new under the sun. Everything is a chasing after the wind. The wisdom in this poetry can set us free from seeing our lives through a Jesus-crystal ball. Sometimes bad things happen and that’s the way this world works. This fallen, dark, corrupt world gets it wrong. Why does that surprise us? Why do we need to explain it away?

The answer I have found to all of these myths is in one statement: This too shall be redeemed.

We do not have to find meaning in every event, every change, every decision, every slight, every loss, every win. We find meaning in watching it all be redeemed in time.

Eventually. Perhaps at the end of all things when things are made whole again.

Elsewhere, a woman sat on a bench with empty arms, listening to a friend, 

“God must have better plans for you.”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“God shut those doors. It wasn’t supposed to happen.”

She looked up at this friend and said with sadness and peace, “No, I’m not sure it was supposed to be this way. But this too shall be redeemed.”




Last week we were driving home from a visit with relatives in Chicagoland and after a few hours we drifted off into the fog of road travel. We realized as the sights began to look more familiar that we were driving to the wrong home. We were driving to Michigan. We probably lost an hour, but I laughed about it all the way back to I-80. After living in three states and eight homes in 14 years, it’s hard to remember where home is.

This summer will by my second anniversary of living in New York. And even after thousands of subway rides I am still considered a transplant, an immigrant to the city. The day people started asking me for directions I felt like a legitimate urban dweller, but full New Yorker status may always elude me.

But for my daughter, it’s different. My daughter has been a New Yorker for a longer period of time than she has lived anywhere else. This is the center of her compass.  We have taught her a slogan when she gets tired of walking, “We’re New Yorkers. We walk.” The city is almost all she remembers.

So where is home? Is it my childhood home that winds its way into my dreams regularly? Is it the first home we bought as full-grown, real-life adults? Is it where our extended families live? Is it where we brought our children to sleep for the first time?

For me, it’s all of those places and none of those places.

I have felt home at home and I have felt lost at home. I have felt home in foreign countries, I have felt lost in my own country.  Pinpointing a home on a map is easy, but where does my heart feel at home? Not as easy to mark.

Home isn’t just where I have Wifi and a hot shower.

Home isn’t just where my family sleeps.

Home isn’t just that place that we clean.

Feeling at home is about feeling found, which is why the hymn Amazing Grace resounds with us. We all want to feel found. I have felt found in four states. In eight living spaces. Over 14 years of marriage. I have also felt lost in and among those places. What makes the difference?

Home isn’t a where. Home is a when.

Home is when I am safe to be me, to have my thoughts, to be loved in the fullness of my personality, gifts, and weaknesses; Home is when I serve someone in their need out of my abundance or little extra. Home is when we rest in a shady place before we move on to the next adventure. Home is a bench along the miles of sidewalk. Home is when there is finally peace between opposing forces, even if those forces are within me.

Home is when someone opens a door for the home-less, the refugee, the immigrant. A safe room with a lockable door for the abused child or victim of violence. Home is when a teacher makes accommodations for the struggling child. Home is when a church welcomes all people and means all people. Home is when the privileged are silent and we listen to the voices of the oppressed. Home is when there is love.

Is your home a home?






At the 168th street subway station in Manhattan, four elevators are the only way to get to the surface from the 1 train. Every few minutes, dozens of people step off the train and into the dungeon to wait for an elevator to bring them up. It is truly one of the most miserable public transportation experiences, and my children and I do it every day.

When one of the four elevators breaks, it’s depressing.

When two or three of them are down, I start thinking about the end of the world.

When there is only one left, I write notes to my loved ones in my head.

Last week I was waiting in the 168th street platform and I saw a pigeon.

A pigeon, deep below the earth, with no hope of ever escaping unless this pigeon learns to board elevators or accidentally gets back on the train. This pigeon was probably born in a tree in a park, eating the crumbs that people leave (even though the signs say not to feed the pigeons). This pigeon was minding her own business one day and accidentally boarded a train. (I’ve seen it happen.) And then this pigeon got out at the worst station possible.

This pigeon will live and die at the 168th street platform.

She may have plenty to eat. She may nest safely in the grimy rafters that never see the sunlight. But she will never find a mate. She will never bathe in a pond. She will never breathe fresh air again.

This semester I have been studying providence in my systematic theology class. I have written thousands of words to my classmates, my professor, my teacher’s assistant, my family, and my friends, trying to grasp what it means to find God in a world where, no, not everything happens for a reason.

And in spite of the great thinkers and theologians that we are reading in school, I found the most solace in a haunting poem that I found in a book called Women’s Uncommon Prayers. I don’t know anything about the writer Terri Jones, but I resonate with the shadowy image of a sparrow in flight.  Enjoy:

It is not enough, Lord;
it does not suffice.
“Your eye, O Lord, is on the sparrow;
you will not ever let a sparrow fall.”
Does the sparrow know?
Can she take wing with security,
or sit safely in her nest?
Are you just a God of safety nets, O Lord?
Or does your breath beneath her wings
lift her through currents of the air,
support her as she soars and swoops alike?
Is the soaring and the swooping all the same to you?
Are the rising and the falling both alike?
Does it matter if the tide is in or out,
or if the lungs are void or full of air?
To you, eternal, changeless,
Encompasser of constant motion
in ultimate stillness,
there may be no difference:
no safety in repose,
no terror in the drop.
But it matters to the sparrow, Lord.
The sparrow knows the difference.


One of the most terrifying experiences I had as a child happened in the parking lot of a San Antonio McDonald’s. I was in the 7th grade. My family had just finished breakfast and we were leaving for our yearly trip to Six Flags. My sister and I got in the car and a man came up to my dad and started asking him for money. My dad held out a dollar, but the man started following my dad around the car, snarling at him. I didn’t know whether to lock the car door to protect my sister, or to leave it unlocked to allow my dad to hop in. I could just hear my dad saying “Jesus loves you, Man!” over and over again as he circled the car. Eventually a McDonald’s employee came out and shooed the man away and everything was fine. But I wasn’t. I was trembling with fear and obsessed about the incident for a full year.

One of the understated elements of living in a city of 8 million is that the sheer volume of people that we encounter every single day produces more experiences with humanity than the average suburbanite will have in a month or several months. My kids have observed more people in their two years here than I had observed in my whole adolescence, perhaps. They have seen people talking to themselves, they have seen people asking for money, playing music, speaking different languages, caring for strangers, and screaming at each other. They have seen people litter. They have seen people fall asleep after a long day. They have seen famous people, tourists, families that look like ours, and families that don’t. I am pretty sure that they will see some scary things. But something about the urban experience makes it worthwhile. Seeing the depth and breadth of humanity builds both empathy and street smarts. In some miraculous way, we are able to love more and discern better. That is a gift.

This is a picture of me not exercising.

Over the weekend I took an exercise class. In 2006 or 2009 this would have been no big deal, but I haven’t been to an exercise class in a long time. This was a big deal. A very big deal. As I pushed myself to move my body, I began telling myself a narrative that started with the girl in front of me. We’ll call her Black Spandex Girl.

She put her bag right next to my water. This must be her spot. I am taking her spot. She is annoyed. I wonder if she is a mean girl.

Then that evolved into,

I am the biggest girl in the room. I wonder if everyone is judging me or cheering me on.

Which took a turn into,

But I can dance. Check out these moves, everybody.


Because I have a sense of humor about myself and I like to show off.

Anyway, after the class I was walking to the locker room when Black Spandex Girl said something to me:

“That trainer is like the energizer bunny. I don’t know how she does it!”

(Uh oh. False narrative of mean girl disrupted! Now what?)

So I said, “That was my first class here.”

And she said, “Helluva class to start with!”

Helluva class to start with. Helluva class to start with. I turned the phrase over and over in my head.

Hello, validation. With just a few words Black Spandex Girl made me feel like a hero instead of a joke. But just by looking at me, she knew that it was a hard class for me, and she recognized me for that. It was such a profound moment that I meditated on it for an hour. What was so invigorating about those few simple words? Why did the validation feel so transcendent?

Because I was wearing my weakness on the outside. I was visibly exhausted, pushed to the limit. Black Spandex Girl saw my weakness and validated my struggle. So I asked myself the bigger question, who is walking around with hidden weakness? Who is struggling in ways that no one can see? Who needs to be validated just for getting up in the morning? Who could barely keep from hurting themselves today, but survived anyway? Who needs to be congratulated for getting dressed this morning? Which kids need to be celebrated for not breaking any valuables or bullying other kids? For holding it together for just….a few….more….minutes….?

When we wear our weakness on the outside, sometimes we get a bit more empathy from the outside world. But when we carry our weakness on the inside, the world is not a safe place. Black Spandex Girls don’t always know. Sometimes they are not nice. They don’t see the weakness. In fact, I looked at Black Spandex Girl and didn’t see weakness. It turns out this was her first class after giving birth six months ago. Who’s the mean girl now? Me.

My exercise class was a breeze for Black Spandex Girl. She could have looked at my red face and judged me for getting into the situation I’m in, but instead she said, “Helluva class to start with!” And I felt like a million bucks.


andykid copy

Last week Rachel Held Evans wrote a piece about Millennials leaving the evangelical church. Young people are finding faith outside the glossy café atmosphere of the latest hip church. They are reading Peter Rollins, Rob Bell, and Jay Bakker, and attending churches with smells and bells. They care about justice, the environment, equality and simplicity.

But what does that mean for our children?

A few years ago a friend said to me that he didn’t trust any Sunday school to teach his children about Jesus. I was horrified. But what about all of the well-meaning people? What about the essential Bible stories? What about the Christian community? I dismissed his feelings of frustration and focused on convincing him to bring his kids to church.

Years later I apologized.

I wonder if he and I have the same frustrations now. I am now a children and youth minister at a mainline progressive church. There are things about my experiences in the evangelical movement that are a treasure to me, but there are some things that I am ready to abandon:

1. White Jesus 

White flannel Jesus represents the Ugly to us. White Jesus represents a faith that is image-conscience and science/history adverse. White Jesus is usually accompanied by white dolls in the nursery and white families in all the books—especially the Bible storybooks. When the only people of color at your church are people on your missionary wall, what does that teach children? We raise money for the poor brown people. I am ready for a colorful Sunday school.

2. Accepted Jesus This Morning

Don’t tell us that our three-year-old accepted Jesus Christ as her personal savior this morning. For so many reasons. Let’s name a few. This is not appropriate for her stage of child-development. This is not theologically responsible. You just added Jesus to the unmitigated, indiscernible list of Santa, Pretty Princess, Abraham Lincoln, and Daddy. And like Santa, he knows that you’ve been naughty.

3. Hello and Welcome to Consumerland

We don’t want to drop our kids off into a sensory overload extravaganza of color, lights, music, and fun prizes.

4. Our Kids Are Special

At our local public school we can find people who care enough about including everyone to adjust the environment, hire aides, turn down the music, and accommodate for all abilities. We are ready for the church to go after the one little sheep who needs a little extra help.  We are excited about churches that have programs for our special kids.

5. Bible Heroes? Not For My Kid.

This discussion has already gained some traction. We don’t want to see a mural on the wall that is based on mass genocide via a worldwide flood. We don’t want our kids to come out of Sunday school with a coloring page about a person that we would never allow near our children. The events in the Bible are not cartoons. When we present them as cartoons we replace the depth and meaning with a moral that is styled after “Aesop’s Fables.” This is not proper use of the Old or New Testament. Sure, teach my child about the Bible, but think about the story first. What is it really saying? What did it mean then? Is God the only worthwhile character in the story? Then let’s call God our Bible hero/heroine. The rest are just people like us, sometimes worse.

6. Cry Rooms

Okay, so we like cry rooms if we are breastfeeding or if our toddler just needs to sing ABC’s at the top of his lungs. But the point is, we believe that children should feel welcome in church. And I don’t mean that children should feel welcome to sit still. Children should feel welcome to squirm, wiggle, draw, process, sing, dance, and move around and visit friends and family. This is best for their learning styles, and this is best for the learning styles of adults. If we were to cater to the kinesthetic learning styles of children, adults would actually learn more. More about this in another post. Bottom line: stop making parents feel like pariahs for our children’s normal, age-appropriate behavior.

7. The B-I-B-L-E

We love the Bible. We want our kids to love the Bible. It may seem counter-intuitive to ask churches to stop teaching our kids the Bible, but for real. Stop.

But seriously, stop teaching our kids to take verses out of context. Stop telling our kids to use the “sword of the spirit” in arguments with friends and online. Stop having memory verse contests that reinforce the idea that the Bible is a big book of one-liners. This is the opposite of taking the Bible seriously. This is paganism. This is not Christianity. This is a fortune-cookie religion and we are not buying it.

We want our kids to ask questions, express curiosity, and wonder about everything. We don’t want instantaneous obedience—we know better.

Like I said, I am in this for the long haul. I am in seminary, I am serving kids in full time ministry, I love planning VBS, and I treasure many of my experiences in the church. But we are not raising an army. We are not raising the “future of the church!” We are not raising the latest recruits in the culture war. We are raising children. We want a Sunday school that will help us do THAT.