When Colored Pencils or Oil Paint will Do.


So, if you haven’t noticed, I’m a big fan of freedom these days. Its one of the major thrusts of this blog primarily because it keeps coming up. Should Swedish fish become a major theme in my life I will likely just start writing about them…so stay tuned. (Though maybe not as this is not likely…if its a dessert, and there’s no chocolate, can we really call it a dessert? NO, I TELL YOU. WE CANNOT)

Something that has been helpful to me along the way has been to learn that several books of the bible have major themes running through them. When you grow up hearing scripture passages read out of their larger context it can be hard to recognize that the various authors often had particular themes they wanted to get across to their readers in a given letter. I’m only now learning about the narrative arc of the bible and the sub themes underneath it.

Given a consistent reminder in recent days to fight for freedom in my life, I was delighted to learn that the book of Galatians is often referred to as the “Magna Carta of Christian Liberty.” Ha! So for better or for worse I may be blogging from time to time about what I’m learning there.

A verse I keep coming back to is verse 15 of Chapter 6: “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” For perspective I’d recommend you check out the whole book but in short Paul spends his entire letter chastising the Galatian church for abandoning the gospel message. The gospel had freed them up to live creatively within their callings without guilt or fear and no sooner had they accepted that message did they go back to thinking there were certain rituals they needed to do in order to live a good life. Eugene Peterson translates these lines in his Message Bible like this:

Can’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do—submit to [the rules, reject the rules]. It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life!

These passages in scripture about circumcision were always confusing to me until I realized that its simply a different word for all the little behavioral modifications we attempt to make in order to live the lives we want to live. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • I’m abandoning potato chips and all desserts. Then I’ll lost the weight and then I’ll be in a better place.
  • I’m going to get up early and exercise every day. Then I’ll be more energetic at work and then I’ll finally be living right.
  • I’m going to pray the rosary or go to church every Sunday and then I’ll be right with God and then I won’t be so miserable.
  • I’m just not going to say anything when my kid/spouse/family member/friend irritates me. If I hold my tongue then we’ll all be a little more peaceful (never mind that smell that’s stewing underneath the rug.)

Many of these things are good and right things. Its good to go to church and to pray. Its smart to be a good steward of your body. Its often quite wise to bite your tongue in a moment of strife until you’re ready for a less heated conversation on a difficult topic. Yet Paul is saying rather emphatically in this book that the minute you think any one of these things can lead to freedom, you’re kidding yourself. Rules (honor your parents, keep holy the sabbath) and even the freedom you’ve been given to break those rules were things designed by God to lead you back to Him. They are not ends unto themselves.

These are some of Paul’s final sentences in his treatise on freedom and he wants to make his point loud and clear. So much so that a few verses earlier he says:  “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.” I love this. All the translations I read said “with my own hand.” I’m no theologian but I feel pretty confident here that Paul grabbed the pen from his transcriber and said “Move over. I’ve got this part. Then in “large letters” with his “own hand” Paul essentially says to the Galatians in all caps:  “HERE’S THE DEAL. YOU CAN BE A RULE KEEPER OR A RULE BREAKER AND IT REALLY MAKES NO DIFFERENCE. YOU’LL STILL BE IN THE SAME PLACE YOU STARTED FROM – TRYING TO DO SOMETHING TO FIND A FREEDOM THAT ONLY GOD CAN GIVE YOU. WHAT MATTERS IS TRANSCENDING THE ASININE CATEGORIES THAT MAN MAKES UP FOR ITSELF AND LIVING A LIFE OF FREEDOM IN RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AND OUR NEIGHBORS.

Paraphrase mine. But I think their the most freeing sentences I’ve ever written.

So practically, what does this look like?

Two weeks ago I came down with the weirdest bug. I had come down with cold symptoms a few days earlier and when I woke up with a wicked sore throat I figured it was more of the same. By lunchtime though I was googling “symptoms of strep throat” as the aspirin I was taking every 6 hours wasn’t cutting it and I was starting to get a headache. By 1:00 I started to feel like I had the flu so in keeping with my google search I headed across town to the only minute clinic I could find for a strep test. By the time I walked into the air conditioned CVS I was freezing cold and feeling like I was going to faint. Thankfully, Andy was right across the street at work and he came over and met us as all i wanted to do was go home and bury that 101 degree fever under a thousand blankets.

When the strep and flu tests came back negative, confirming a viral infection, I initially accepted that news and made a beeline for the door so we could go straight home. The more I thought about it though the more I had been certain I had had strep throat. Why would all of this have come on so quickly and randomly. So, I hit the google again (first mistake) and was suddenly quite concerned that I had:

TOXIC SHOCK SYNDROME. (yes, please laugh. I am also laughing. Also, please see this post for context.)

TSS is deadly and I’d heard it comes on super fast. In my feverish state of mind it was the only thing I could think of that would have made all these symptoms come on so quickly and I knew that if I was right I could be preparing for my own funeral if I didn’t go to the hospital. But I also wasn’t sure…I mean the PA at the CVS hadn’t been too alarmed. I knew I did not want to be faced with a hospital bill if it was simply a virus that needed to work its way out.

So, I present to you my thoughts in that moment:

“Ugh, what if I have TSS. I should go to the hospital so they can treat it quickly. But what if its just a virus like the clinic guy said? I really don’t want to deal with a hospital bill if I don’t have to. But what if it IS TSS?!?!?! TSS, hospital bill, You’re probably dying, but what if you’re not, TSS, bill, TSS, bill, TSS, bill. I don’t want to die, I don’t want to pay the bill, TSS, bill, TSS, bill…”

Finally, in a brief moment of sanity, I said what I thought in the moment was a super random, off the cuff prayer.

“Hey God. I might have Toxic Shock Syndrome. I know its terrible. I wasn’t planning on meeting you today and if I do I’m sure it will be a great reunion. I’m also not sure if I’m ready to go yet and quite honestly I’m not sure if I’m just overacting to all this. I don’t really know what to do. So, um, help. Please. In a way that I understand, Lord. Soon.”

I put my phone down and closed my eyes. 5 minutes later, my neighbor who just moved in up the street whom I have met exactly once, 2 months ago, when we exchanged phone numbers for butter and eggs sent me a text message.

“Hey! Are you going to the Neighborhood Annexation meeting tonight?”

Sarah is an Emergency Room physician.

“Sarah! no, I’m not. Sick as a dog. Speaking of which, you mind if I ask you a quick question? I swear I think I have TSS. Fever, sore throat, freezing cold, feel like I’m going to faint. So random. It all came on in less than 6 hours. What do you think?”

Pause while I watch the three “she’s typing back bubbles.”

“Oh isn’t it awful? My husband has it right now too.” she responded. “I’ve already seen four cases of it. Same symptoms. Just make sure your fever stays low with aspirin. Should go away in a few days. So sorry you’re sick!”

I put my phone down and snuggled down into my blanket. By 10 pm that night, all my symptoms had gone away.

I swear, most of my natural inclinations in life are to jump between camps. Obey the rules, cover my bases, and go to the hospital or let the rules slide, come what may and, possibly, die. I don’t know about you but those have just never really felt like very good options to me.

Paul says, what matters is the new thing God is doing. What matters is presenting our lives as a blank canvas and saying you can use the colored pencils or the oil paint or some combination of both and it really makes no difference to me. I’m coming to you first, the master artist, to let you paint the picture of my life with whatever mediums you so choose.

So what does freedom practically look like? I think it looks a lot like getting quiet, however awkwardly and erratically that might happen, and lifting your head to the sun to say:

“Help me.”


Dear Me.

dear me

Sweet friends,

This song.

I am sitting in a coffee shop trying to figure out if I should just turn the speakers up, hit play and run out of the shop.

Alas, I kind of still need my computer.

So I’m sending it to you. Find a quiet place, turn the sound up, and let it rip.

Lyrics are below.

Dear Me, By Nichole Nordeman

Dear Me
This is a letter to the girl I used to be
Dear Me
There are some things that you should know
It’s not my intention to embarrass or to shame you
What’s inside the rearview mirror is closer than it appears
We do the best that we know how, with what we have been given
And the difference between you and I is I’ve been given time
In time, you’ll see
Dear Me
This is a letter to the girl I used to be
Some things are not as simple as we said
Remember when we thought there were a handful of some magic words to pray
A guarantee and a down payment on a mansion
Remember all the rules we made about the Body and the Blood
The hoops we made them jump through though He offers it to everyone
I’m so sorry
Do you remember now the things I said I thought that I deserved
My flag, and safety, a place to learn
The things I know I didn’t earn
And bless their hearts, I’m sure it’s hard, but handouts don’t help anyone
And all the talk about the system
I sure hope someone can fix them
I said those things
Dear Me
This is a letter to the girl I used to be
You’ll see, you’re gonna take the long way
And there is nothing you could do or say to separate you
From the love of God who made you just exactly as He meant to
And you cannot imagine all the places you’ll see Jesus
But you’ll find Him everywhere you thought He wasn’t supposed to go
So, go
And hold all the mothers, whose babies bleed from bullet holes
And feel all the hunger, the bellies and the bones
Shout for the prisoner, cry for justice, loud and long
And march with the victims, as Jesus marches on
And sit at all the tables, ‘cause Jesus eats with everyone
And dance to the music, if you can’t sing its’ native tongue
And cry for the wombs, the mothers and the empty arms
And hold high the warriors, fighting now for freedoms’ song
And love, love, love, love like it’s your own blood
Love, love, love, love as you have been loved
Dear Me
You did not learn this in a day or two or three
So ask a lot of questions
But Jesus loves us, this I know
And there are no exceptions

We’re Neurotic and We Know it


In his book The Spiritual Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives Dallas Willard quotes Carl Jung stating:

“Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.”


Read it again: “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.”

Clear as mud?

I stumbled across this line about eight months ago and last weekend when I was perusing my journal entries from the last several months I found it again.

I don’t know. Maybe it struck me because I was interacting with a few somewhat neurotic people at the time. More likely those people were simply holding up mirrors to the ways in which I can be neurotic in my own life. And oh my God, the longer I live the more I realize that I have more neuroses than you can shake a stick at.

An example:

At some point on this blog I am sure I will go into detail about how Ellie came onto the Beck family scene. Ha, well, not THAT much detail. you sick people. I mean the decision process that we went through (or more accurately, stumbled through) to start a family.

Of course, had I known we were going to have ELLIE I would have signed up for the first plane to Elianaland. God, I LOVE that kid. But when you’ve never had a baby before the ball of cells that will soon turn into a watermelon sized baby in your tummy might as well just be, well, a watermelon! I should probably be more sanctimonious about all this, but there’s no clearer way to put it. Pre-Ellie Courtney only knew the miracle of life in theory. Current Courtney will probably weep like its the last scene in Steel Magnolias should we meet an Ellie sibling some day. Clearly, I just didn’t understand something I had never experienced.

This inexperience uncovered a whole host of fears I never realized I had when it came time to step out in faith. And while the grace laden process that unfurled for us calmed many of my fears they didn’t just magically disappear once I jumped over the first hurdle and birthed a baby. Several of those fears stuck around and continue to stick around for this part of the race too.

Enter our first year of life with a baby. In many ways God was immensely kind to us. My pregnancy, labor and delivery were miles away from the worst I had feared. I was honestly downright blissful once the second trimester hit. Her delivery? A total dream scenario (bless you modern medicine.)  But those feel good hormones finally settled down after several weeks and Ellie started sleeping through the night and we were starting to figure out a routine. I realized that those original fears of not being able to parent her would just crop up at the most random times. I’d look up at the clock and realize it was 6:00 and get hopeful knowing that my partner in parenting crime (that’s Andy) would be home at 6:30. Then when he’d get caught up in a late meeting or something at the lab or even just traffic I would, oh so neurotically, start fuming and preparing my remarks. He’d come home and I’d obnoxiously snap at him for not alerting me to his tardiness in advance. It was never completely the late night that bothered me as much as the reality that I was doing mental gymnastics with my own fears and concerns related to parenting a newborn and he became the target. His change of plans meant I had to stay on the monkey bars for longer than I anticipated and that, in those early days, made me, well, neurotic. For lack of a better word. (tho, honey, if you’re reading, there’s late and then there’s LATE am i right? well of course I’m right! Oh stop, we’ll talk more about this later.)

Can I be straight with you? 1. This is not the only thing I can be like this about. I can have neuroses about anything from personal time to relationships to global terrorism to travel (by plane, car, or train, thank you very much!) and 2. YOU ALL, faithful readers, ARE DOING IT TOO.

Secret’s out. But don’t worry. I’m not outing anyone publicly. We all out ourselves on a daily basis. There isn’t a soul I’ve conversed with for more than 20 minutes in the past decade who hasn’t in some way revealed to me a fear or anxiety. Its 2017 after all. 10 minutes on CNN.com these days and we’re all quite certain that the world will probably end by late next week. Which we internalize until the next news flash makes us realize that, no, it might actually hold together until next week but based on this new bit of information from the world stage it will MOST CERTAINLY be the week after THAT. And the cycle continues on and on upping our cortisol levels until we’re all running around ready to pounce on whatever threat might jump off of CNN’s home page and land at our front door.  And when it doesn’t land there. Because lets be honest, it almost never does, our family members or friends become the object of our bottled up emotions.

So what to do…We’re neurotic and we know it. Carl Jung would say we have to suffer legitimately with the things that keep us in turmoil. Jesus put it this way:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

In some ways I see this as Jesus calling us to condition our souls as we would condition ourselves in the gym. He’s teaching us spiritual technique here. One of the first things any trainer will teach you in a gym is proper technique. “No,” She’ll say. “Don’t put 10 pounds on the lat bar and pull erratically. Put 30 or 40 pounds on and slowly bring the bar down behind your neck. Now slowly raise it back up.” This is how you properly build muscle. First listen to your trainer. Then remember your training and repeat the exercise on your own. Call the trainer back over if you run into problems or forget the proper technique. The same is true of any other discipline or endeavor. Why would it be any different for the spiritual life?

Its easy to imagine that the yoke of a plow that Jesus speaks of takes some getting used to. There are going to be blisters and tired muscles at first as our bodies adjust to the weight on our shoulders. Yet Jesus is kindly reminding me to come to him when I’m scared as opposed to anxiously ruminating on a fear and then vomiting that fear in displaced accusations at my husband (so sorry, dear). You know what? I think for the first time I’ve actually got a shot at living freely. Freedom doesn’t mean we get to do whatever we want to do when we want to do it. That version of freedom is still at the mercy of available resources. Once you blow the bank your right back where you started.

The freedom God trains us for is the liberty to walk confidently even as the ruts and rocks and weather threaten to derail the plow from its path.  The ability to look out and know that you’re strong enough now. You’ll surely be able to plow this whole field before the rain starts tonight. And it all starts by coming to the plowman first, the Lord himself, and letting him fit us for the work. As good parents hope for their kids successes, the Lord has hopes for us too. Yes he wants to plow fields and produce a crop of justice and equity and righteousness that this world has never dreamed of. Yet he also looks with pride on the people he has bought for a price and says “You are mine. I want to produce something unbreakable within you too. We’ve got some training to do. I see what you can become and you’ve just got to trust me. Its worth the blood, sweat and tears. So here’s a burden I need you to carry right now. Steady on now, you can handle it. I’ll be right behind you. Not too much longer now and you’ll be fit for the King.”

When Millennials are the Solution

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A couple of years ago I had the humbling and terrifying opportunity to lead a Habitat for Humanity affiliate in suburban Houston. I was at the right place at the right time and when the woman who hired me for a family services position decided to take her career in a different direction I found myself applying for a job I never thought I’d want.

Our affiliate was at a pivotal juncture. My predecessor had raised enough money to open the organization’s first ReStore – a business venture that would profit our organization’s affordable housing efforts. The next leader of our affiliate would be charged with getting the business to a grand opening and into its first years of operation. Having seen a ReStore open at a previous affiliate, I knew in a slightly uncomfortable way that I was supposed to lead this project. After a brief interim period as Executive Director I was offered the full time job and got to work opening the store.

A month or two before we the Grand Opening I attended a luncheon that was hosted by a  local credit union. At the time, AMOCO was gaining network traction by hosting quarterly luncheons that brought business leaders from various backgrounds together to connect. The luncheons were always great opportunities to meet current leaders in the community and once people sat down to lunch we were always entertained by a public speaker who would discuss some important topic of the day.

At one particular luncheon a human resources guru came to speak about the changing 21st century workplace. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this speaker, already trying a too hard to get a laugh from the crowd, was planning to spend his entire session ripping on the millennial generation. His primary message seemed to be that the current generation of twenty to thirty five year olds were in one fell swoop bringing down the American economy with their lazy, entitled attitudes towards work.

I’m willing to take one on the chin for the habits me and my generation have that are less than admirable. Every generation has its glaring flaws. That being said, I couldn’t let the speaker off the hook because his incessant nitpicking about the 25 year olds in our workplaces was so off putting. I angrily pondered his words all the way to my next meeting which was to be held at our newly acquired 30,000 square foot ReStore. As I walked in I realized why the entire event had rubbed me the wrong way. Brian, my newly hired store manager in his late 20s, was running around the space with his staff. All five of them, each around Brian’s age, were working with volunteers on various projects that would allow us to host a Grand Opening in the coming month. Some were building cashier stations. Another crew was unloading donations in the back of the warehouse and organizing them on the sales floor for pricing. Another group was building and painting a lighing display case for donated light fixtures that we would sell. I knew immediately why a lunchtime speaker on millennial laziness bothered me. From what I was seeing, his comments were simply not true!

This all came to mind as I read this article this weekend about millennials in the workplace. Shortly after I left the ReStore that day I called the public relations firm that we had hired and asked if she could send a press release to Houston new outlets. I wanted them to cover the new area business that would be opened and run by millennials the following month. Sadly the story never got picked up. If it had, I hope some of the points that were made in this article would have been included.

I realized in working with this group of people that we were starting a business in a very millennial way. We were passionate about the mission and we were constantly connecting via phone, text, and even by social media to get the store opened and the word out that the ReStore was coming. The staff used Pinterest and Facebook to solicit ideas for re-purposing store donations for resale. And yes, at the end of a hard day’s work, the staff closed up the store and played ulimate frisbee together or got a drink at the new vietnamese pub that had opened down the street.

I’ll never forget the sense of accomplishment we felt when we opened and made $17,000 on our first day. The entire process was one of the most enjoyable accomplishments of my early career and while we hadn’t planned to hire a staff of millennials at the outset we certainly didn’t go wrong by doing so in the end. My generation, myself included, has a lot of work to do. We need to understand what Spirit led commitment to people and places looks like. We also need to figure out a more life giving way to handle the fact that we all now walk around with computers in our pockets. Those computers help us open businesses more efficiently but they can also get in the way of true connection with others. Every generation has its difficulties to address but unlike the speaker that day I sense that mine is up to the challenges we face. We are passionate about doing good in the world and we’re not going to let the negative press tell us who we really are. I think that is something work celebrating.

I’m interested in what other people think! What’s your assessment of the millennial generation? Do you agree with the negative hype? Where do you see this generation rising above the negativity shaking up the bad press? 

Everyday a Hurricane

Everyday a Hurricane

By Courtney Beck

After the Hurricane

Hit New Orleans

I went to Jazz City

To see what could be done

Hundreds gathered

Early one morning

Rallying for orders

and direction

Our leader took to

a makeshift metal stage

An open top,

turned upside down,

Elevating him

above the crowd.

He shouted

from his belly

That Jazz city

would rise again because

Lumber and nails

could join together

Via voluntary hands

The crowd

shook off their slumber

As his cadence quickened

into shouts of



filled the air

in audible crescendo

as my neighbor;

a German native

cheered and laughed from

her guts.

“Oh how wonderful!”

She exclaimed.

“This is all

So incredibly


A hurricane hit my

neighbor’s house last night.

His father just

passed away

There’s no day

Quite like this day

To be an