Saturday, July 25, 2015


"You're a Stevens, aren't you?"

I don't hear it as often as I used to, but every once in a while I'll attend a wedding, memorial service or some sort of church related reunion, and someone will stop me. They'll see the Stevens in me and invariably the question will follow, "You're a Stevens, aren't you?"

I'm proud to say, "Yes!" Proud that this means they know my parents (and in many cases even my grandparents). But even more than that is the warm realization that I'm known. Known and accepted for who I am. No questions asked.

I recently attended a bridal shower for a dear family friend. What a joy it was to be among women who've known me for most of my life, who accept me for who I am, no questions asked. (Except for the inevitable question and follow-up exclamation: "So how old are your kids now??? I remember when you were that age!!!") We laughed and cried and remembered, and together we knew, together we were known.

It happened again last Sunday. I stopped between services to visit with a couple that I knew from childhood. They were passing through town for a wedding, and it was delightful to catch up. As we visited, another couple joined us. And then another . . . and another. We looked around and marveled. Many happened to be from out of town, visiting that day for one reason or another . . . and we all knew each other. Together we knew, together we were known.

We hastily grabbed phones and friends and snapped away, capturing the uniqueness of the moment. I ran backstage to grab my mother. We smiled and posed, and then we'd see another "old" friend walk by . . . we'd shout and add to the ensemble. My favorite eruption was when we spied Jamie across the auditorium. There was much yelling and beckoning. It was anything but hushed and reverent, but there was a holiness just the same. It was a precious reminder that we all knew one another, that we were known.

We were getting rather loopy by this point. We were also getting a number of stares.

It's in moments like these that I catch a glimpse of heaven. I get a sense of what it will one day be like to be fully known, fully loved . . . to fully know and to fully love. What depths are in store for us!

As we wait for that day, we are given powerful reminders that the best is yet to come. But we are also given reminders that we have opportunities right here and now to seek to more fully know and be more fully known. To share our lives and hearts not only with old friends, but to open ourselves to new people and new experiences, too.

The other night I sat among a group of young women, Bibles on our laps. I've only recently met most of them, but as the evening wore on, it was evident that there was a growing desire to know, to be known. Stories were shared, hearts revealed, honesty welcomed, and the knowing grew. For it is in the sharing, in the honesty, in the openness that we know . . . that we are known.

I find that the biggest hurdle for me in knowing and being known is the belief that I need to have my act together first. Then I'll be ready. My house must be fully decorated a la Pinterest (and spotless, of course), my menu impressive, my hair arranged just so, my clothes stylish. Once I'm perfect, I'll be ready. Because surely that will put my guests at ease.

Several years ago I had a friend drop by unexpectedly. The house was crawling with children and toys, but I kicked aside the Thomas trains, tucked my wildly straying hair behind my ear, and invited her to come in. I was a bit embarrassed by the chaos, but she later said that that was one of the most freeing moments for her as a young mom. I was real. I had kids, and I had the mess that invariably went along with that. And because of that, we knew each other in a deeper, more real way from that day on.

It turned out to be a freeing moment for me, too -- a moment that I would do well to remember every now and then: I don't need to be perfect to be known, I just need to be willing to be known.

As we know one another and invite people into our space, we will notice our family growing. It might not be the family that asks, "You're a Stevens, aren't you?" But it will be an even greater, richer family. A family that beckons across the aisles, hooting and hollering, warm and welcoming. It will be anything but hushed and reverent, but it will represent a holiness, just the same.

And one day, it will be perfect. We will be with the perfectly known, perfectly knowing One, who has perfectly known and perfectly loved us all along.

What a day of rejoicing that will be.      

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

{Summer River}

We woke up yesterday with nothing on the agenda. At times this is a blessing. Other times it makes me fidgety and even guilty-feeling. Surely there's something I should be accomplishing. I should . . . clean! Bake! Paint! Organize! And then I'm worn out just thinking about the ominous, never-ending to-do list. There will always be something.

As I prayed through our morning and read, I was drawn to Judges 9:3, which says, "They were inclined to follow Abimelech."

We are inclined. Yes, we are inclined -- inclined to follow man, inclined to follow the guilt which says, "You should do this . . . be like this . . . follow this . . . ." When really, what we desperately want (without always acknowledging or even realizing it), is to incline our hearts toward Jesus. (Psalm 119:36)

Miraculously, mercifully, we don't have to incline our hearts on our own. The Lord delights in teaching our hearts to yearn for that which truly satisfies.

And my experience has been that, as our hearts accept this teaching, His blessings abound. I saw it abound yesterday as I closed my journal with a prayer that the Lord would show me how to seek and find the joy He had in store for us that day.

No sooner had I swallowed my last drop of Earl Grey than I had an irresistible desire to take the kids to The River. It didn't matter which river it was, we just needed to go. The kids were getting fidgety and bickery as the week wore on, and I felt the need to remove distractions and enjoy some carefree yet intentional time together. (I'm sure the numerous references to The Wind in the Willows in my current read, Pilgrim's Inn, were also influential.)

I put out a little facebook plea to see if anyone had suggestions as to where we might go. Now, when I think "river," I think of the rivers that meandered through the campgrounds we haunted when I was growing up. I wanted my kids to swim and splash and throw rocks. I wanted to bring a picnic lunch and not worry about crowds or parking. I wanted to read and rest under a canopy of trees and maybe even throw some rocks myself.

My dear friend knew my heart, understood my desire, and responded, "Ummm, please use our river. . . . I'm in Kenya." And so we went.

It was glorious. It was a gift. A gift wrapped with river-colored ribbon, dotted with verdant tones, and generously splashed into our grateful, outstretched hands.

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Friday, July 3, 2015

{The After}

As soon as we finished school and jumped into summer last month, Vacation Bible Camp was ready and waiting for us. I was a part of the song team this year, a blessing that the Lord dropped into my lap (after I stubbornly refused and resisted for quite some time).

I'm thankful that His ways are not my ways. It was a true joy to serve with Bethie (my co-leader!) and Aidan (one of the song crew) and to spend three months preparing with a great group of hard-working, enthusiastic kids.


One of the perks of being on the song team was that I had a break between my daily responsibilities. Some of my time was spent visiting with others and watching the kids enjoy their activities.

When possible, however, I tiptoed away to a quiet corner on the church property, Bible and journal in hand. I found a picnic table among the towering fir trees, quieted my heart, and listened. Mostly I heard the birds and the wind through the trees mingled with the children's voices across the lawn as they played their camp games. (It was a delight to occasionally hear Drew's voice take command as the fourth grade game leader. Wasn't he just a fourth grader himself?)

But I also heard the Lord whispering truth and love to my heart during those moments of stillness. He brought such timely, fitting passages to me as I read that it was as though He had tucked a precious note into my pocket for me to discover at just the right time. I was particularly struck by Psalm 68:4 which seemed to mirror my experience as song leader:

"Sing to God, sing praises to His name; Lift up a song for Him who rides through the deserts, 
whose name is the Lord, and exult before Him." 

There were several dry, desert moments as Bethie and I worked through choreography and planning in the weeks before VBC. We'd hit a wall or become frustrated by the lack of clarity, creativity, or inspiration. But without fail, the Lord rode through those deserts with us, gave us the water and manna we needed, and we very literally rejoiced in singing praises to His name that week.

VBC went by quickly, and we barely had time to catch our breath before packing up for camp. Jamie and I serve as leaders for The Calling, a young adult ministry at our church. I'm new to the group and felt anxious about jumping into a different situation. Especially one that involved mosquitoes and port-a-potties. But I knew from experience that camping is a pretty good way to quickly connect with others. I bit the bullet, grabbed the bug spray and hand sanitizer, and said yes. 

Again, the Lord rode through the desert. (And again He did so rather literally -- it was a hot week in Leavenworth). I learned to join this uniquely dynamic and vulnerable group in singing praises to His name. They warmly welcomed me, and I was blessed by their conversations and obvious love for each other, their group, and their Savior. It was also a delight and blessing to my mama's heart to see them scoop up and love our kiddos. (We got to bring Aidan and Avery along. Avery was in heaven with the many French braids and daisy chains with which she was adorned, and Aidan glowed with every fist bump he shared with the guys.)

This morning it all came to an end, which felt rather abrupt after weeks of pressing forward. Don't get me wrong -- I loved having my own bed, a long shower, my leisurely cup of tea, and no nagging details to arrange or plans to make. But I knew that this day would represent more of a valley than a mountaintop in my journey.

As I opened my Bible this morning, I turned to my bookmark and continued where I left off. I'm in Judges, and I so desperately wanted the Israelites to continue in the Truth they had learned under the leadership of Joshua. (Maybe they'd get it this time?) But we know the story. By chapter two, they had forgotten.

After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers,
another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord
nor what He had done for Israel.
Judges 2:10

That first word hit me: after.

Our faith is tested and revealed in the after. After a mountaintop experience, after a lesson learned, after a new step taken . . . after a powerful week at raft camp or VBC or wherever we may have met the Lord in a new way in which commitments were strengthened and friendships made, the "after" is inevitable.

I find myself in the after today. The day after weeks of preparation and activity, learning and connecting with others. And a prayer rises within me. I pray that the Lord would fill this "after" with his presence, wisdom and joy, that I would keep listening to the whisper among the trees, and that I would keep learning from the shouts I both heard and joined in declaring when leaping nimbly among the peaks with His people.

As often happens in my life, Spurgeon's Morning and Evening text for today spoke to this reality: How discouraging it would be to allow "days of sloth" in the after to "ruinously destroy all that I had achieved in times of zealous industry!" So my prayer continues: May my zeal remain, Lord, and may it remain for each student who experienced your presence this week. These "after" days must be "fed in the right meadow, spent with the Lord, in His service, in His company, in His fear, and in His way. I have had more experience of my Lord," and because of that I have learned to "be more like Him." (Spurgeon) 

And so may I be more like you, Lord. May my husband and children be more like you. May the men and women of The Calling be more like you. May the kids and leaders of VBC be more like you. And may Drew and Bethie learn the same as they head to Leavenworth for their own camp experience with the high school group today. Richly bless each "before" and "during," that together we may rejoice evermore in the "after."    

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