Tag Archives: faith

Puzzle Pieces


Today I may suffer great loss

but you will never leave

Today the world may turn its back

but you will not reject me

Today I may be faithless

still, you will remain – faithfully

Today I may scar my life with failure

yet your words will not scorn me.

It’s the puzzle of life that I don’t fully understand

How the One who is Creator extends to me His hand.

And the more that I know you – the less I comprehend

that no matter the mess or chaos I’m in…

Your love is real.  Your strength is sure.  Your mercies never end.



Filed under faith, Following Jesus, Reflections on Life

Grace is when…

GRACE:  benefaction, beneficence, benevolence, caritas, charity, clemency, compassion, compassionateness, favor, forbearance, forgiveness, generosity, good will, goodness, indulgence, kindliness, kindness, leniency, lenity, love, mercy, pardon, quarter, reprieve, responsiveness, tenderness

Grace is when I’ve used up all my chances and still get another

Grace is when your humility transforms my pride

Grace is when forgiveness extends a hand to my reckless choices

Grace is when gentleness meets my harsh words

Grace is when you hold on even though I am kicking and screaming at you

Grace is when you give me a break

Grace is when I’ve broken my promise and you still keep yours

Grace is when I’ve injured you and you bandage my wounds

Grace is when I’m surprised by a moment of underserved compassion

What is grace to you? When has grace been poured out on you?

What moments of grace can you recall in your life?

Finish the sentence: Grace is when…

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For Haiti

I’m weary and broken

I don’t recognize this place

There is nothing left

I’m struggling for even a remnant of faith


My stomach begs for just a taste

My throat cries out for water

How do I hold on and believe

When I feel let go by the hand of my Father?


Where are you God?

Please, please show me your face.

Are you digging through the rubble with me?

Can these ashes reveal your grace?

Although I do not even dare try to understand the depths of grief and loss felt by the Haitian people in the last week, like many, I have mourned for them and asked God questions on their behalf – only to find that peace and resolve do not come quickly or easily.  As a person of faith, a follower of Christ, I have no profound summaries of God’s purposes in this tragedy.  I can’t give an articulate, theological response to the question, “Why?”  And I’m not sure we are supposed to, either.  I’m feeling anger, devastation, helplessness, and doubt in the midst of trying to trust God at the same time, too.  So, today, there are no bullet points to keep in mind – just an honest lament for our brothers and sisters in Haiti.  One truth I do cling to – that God allows us to be right where we are on this road of reluctant belief and rigorous questions – and I think he’ll join us on that journey.

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Only because – a reflection on Psalm 5 & 6

only because you shaped my life from clay and dust

can i know you as creator friend

only because you saw my brokenness

can my wounds be healed with a potter’s hands

only because of who you are and all you’ve done

can i see the way i should go

only because of your unfailing love

can i walk in peace and grace and more…

i hang on only because you do not let me go

i stand in awe only because you have raised me up

i believe today only because you help me see through eyes of faith

i take the next step knowing that you are my ONLY  and my BECAUSE.

DM-Jan 2010

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Parenting Late Standard Time

I’m rarely on time.  When I am, people look around to see if there is evidence of a supernatural occurrence or they immediately put their hand on my forehead to check for a fever.  Those who love me and put up with my tardiness have come to expect a 15-30 minute late arrival and when it does not occur, they figure either God has intervened by picking me up and dropping me where I’m supposed to be, or they assume I’m not functioning at full capacity.  Some even ask who I am and what alien has taken over the body of Denise McKinney.  In my years as the youth pastor at Redeemer Covenant Church in Tulsa, one student even came up with her own affectionate jab for my tardy tendencies:  Denise Standard Time.

You have to understand that I don’t ever intend to be late.  It’s not a good feeling to keep people waiting, but somehow I fell into that pattern in scheduling my life.  It’s a rut I’m slowly digging out of, but I’m determined to not to be the queen of late my entire life.  Just like I don’t intend to be late in my scheduling, I don’t think we intend to be late in having important experiences and conversations with our kids either, but somehow we get stuck in a pattern of living that diminishes our influence in their lives.   

As a parent, I know I’m on a learning curve, but I don’t want to look back when they are grown and have a huge laundry list of things I wish I’d done with them earlier, or stuff I needed to say sooner.  And as I youth worker who has encouraged parents to not give up guiding and mentoring their kids too early – even if they have to do it from a distance, I’d like to offer a list of things we as parents should commit to not be late in doing.  Maybe we can encourage each other in the process:

  • We should talk openly and honestly about God and spiritual matters.   I find that parents either leave these conversations up to their kids’ Sunday School teachers, or they just leave them alone when they feel unprepared for the topic because of their own questions, doubts or mistakes.  But one of the most wonderful gifts we can offer our children is the affirmation of their own search for spiritual understanding by talking about the things we do know and being honest about the things we do not have figured out yet.  Our job is to point them to God by helping them experience prayer, scripture and what it means to belong to a community of faith.  God really does not expect us to have all the answers, but does want us to demonstrate an honest search, when it is easy and when it is hard.
  • We really should sweat the small stuff.  By that I mean, we should put time and energy into things our kids really find important that we may see as trivial.  Instead of making my daughter play the board game just like the rules are written, maybe I should go along with her creativity for a new game and not fuss about how I don’t think it’s gonna work. If your thirteen year old son is upset about a skate park closing or your 15 year old daughter is crying because no one has asked her to the homecoming dance, don’t fall into the trap of telling them it’s no big deal and it won’t matter ten years from now.  Be there, in that moment of disappointment with them, listening and offering practical help if necessary – because it matters to them at that moment.  And…our participation in these moments will matter in their ability to be vulnerable with us in the big moments.
  • We should get over ourselves and our fear of the sex talks.  For full disclosure, I’m telling myself this, too!  As a youth pastor, I’m pretty comfortable talking to kids about issues of intimacy.  Those conversations invite more anxiety as a parent.  What the youth pastor in me has taught the parent in me is that it is different talking to our own kids about sex, but it is also more meaningful and important.  Appropriate conversations at the right times, and honest answers to questions asked build trust with our kids and gives them healthy filters for the onslaught of information they will get at school, online and from movies and music.  We should begin simple conversations about human sexuality early in elementary school with an engaged radar for how those conversations need to deepen as the years go by.  As they understand more details about sex, we get to share about the sacredness of sexuality and how it is a powerful expression of love and commitment.  If we wait until our kids are in 7th or 8th grade to venture into this topic, they already have gotten a lot of information from other sources, most not so reliable.
  • We should plan to teach our kids without using words.  I can tell when my daughter is tired of listening to my thirty minute dissertation on the importance of a tidy room – and when I get that look, I know she has dismissed everything I just said.  But what she does respond to very positively is explanations in action.  Every Saturday is room cleaning day and how much she did to put things where they belong during the week directly impacts her clean-up time on Saturday, possibly giving her more free time.  This holiday season,  she initiated the conversation about poverty after helping with the grocery shopping and delivery of a Christmas meal to a family in a very poor neighborhood.  Planned or impromptu events where the family really lives life together and gives time and talents together may be the best teaching on caring for others and setting priorities.
  • We should learn how to say we are sorry before we expect to hear it.  Our kids need us to admit that we aren’t perfect.  Often, even if we know we are wrong, we hesitate to apologize to our kids for fear it will weaken our authority.  But I have come to admire the parent who can apologize for approaching a matter the wrong way, and still communicate the importance of the life lesson they had hoped to teach.  I’ve also found that I can expect my kids to “do better” when they are messing up, but working hard to “do better” myself where I’m messing up reminds me that “doing better” is hard, intentional work for all of us.

This is really just a starter list.  You may have great, thoughtful additions to these suggestions of things we should work hard to not be late in doing with or saying to our kids.  So, I hope we can spur each other on to do better than just “Parenting Late Standard Time.”.  We don’t want to be the kings and queens of what we should have experienced with our kids.  And while not every moment of parenting is glorious or perfect, every moment is an opportunity to teach and guide our kids in word and action.


Filed under Adolescence, Reflections on Life, Youth Ministry

Thoughts about Michael

I can’t get passed this season without returning to a painfully vivid childhood memory every year.  As many of my friends know, my amazing parents were foster parents to dozens of kids across two decades.  Growing up, I did not know anything but a noisy, chaotic, Christmas with presents stacked so high in the living room that we could barely see the tree – and usually 6-10 kids tearing into those presents with a frenzy on Christmas morning.

Four of the kids were my biological siblings, my big brothers Terry and Doug, and my little sis, Tami.  The other children were my emotional and spiritual siblings.  Our lives were tied together by the intersection of their need for a safe, stable home and my parents’ open doors.  We learned much from each other and the daily routine of cranking out necessary chores, walking to and from school, and sitting around a crowded dinner table made “family” happen for many of them and certainly redefined what family meant for me.

For eighteen months, one foster child captivated all of us – my parents and all the kids in the house.  His name was Michael.  His mother had actually been a foster child in our home for a few years.  When she was unable to care for him after graduating from high school, he stayed with us.  Then she left town and no one heard from  her for over a year.  It looked as if Michael might suffer the same foster care fate his mom did as she began a cycle of repeating the mistakes that her own parents had made.

At some point, it looked as though my parents might be able to adopt Michael since his mom had disappeared and we were the only family he really knew.  I was overjoyed at the thought of a baby brother.  Already invested in his life – I helped feed and care for him, posed him for funny pictures with hats and sunglasses, and just loved his sweet and gentle spirit.  He was my little brother.

One day, I came home from school and sensed a shadow of pain and loss in the house.  My mom had been crying and my father could barely find the words to tell us that Michael was gone.  There had been some court hearing that day. His mother actually made a surprise appearance and in a matter of minutes, Michael was literally taken from the arms of the only parents he recognized and given into the care of a confused, wayward mother that he did not know or recognize.

I never got to say goodbye.  And, because of the legal parameters of foster care at the time, rarely were foster families able to stay in touch with foster children after they leave.  So, I never saw him again, either.  Not a Christmas goes by that I don’t find a picture of Michael, wonder where he is and pray for good things in his life.  I also pray for  his mom, because even though she wounded us terribly, I understand the past she struggled to escape.  I know that when she and Michael left our lives, there was much help and healing left to be done that could not happen. 

It’s amazing how such losses can become driving forces in our lives.  I find that my days can be defined by the “Michaels” that I don’t want to see leave my life with unfinished spiritual and emotional business.  After years of walking alongside adolescents as a youth minister, I still want them to know they can return with their questions, doubts and struggles and I pray they won’t run away from those who care the most about them.

That is the good news of God’s kind of salvation.  Coming home to him after a long time away is not only allowed, it is celebrated.  And, we find relief and help in unpacking whatever baggage weighs us down from our travels. He never looses track of us and the invitation to return home is always before us. Oh, and he also gives us a spiritual family where we can belong.

So if I could talk to Michael today, I would tell him that we never stopped loving him.  I would remind him that even though we could not go where he was going, God never lost sight of him.  I would ask him if always felt connected to the prayers, thoughts and love of a family hidden in his childhood memories.

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Outgrowing Jesus

I meet lots of people who used to believe. 

They used to put their hope in something bigger than themselves.  They once followed a path that gave them answers, made sense of life’s nonsense and gave them a deep well of joy and purpose.  These friends once believed in Jesus.

But something changed.  Somewhere along the way, the wear and tear of growing up and facing more complicated issues, wrestling with deeper struggles, and enduring more profound loss caused the fire of that faith to be smothered.  And even if they desperately want to believe, they have forgotten how to live in that belief.

Just a few days ago, I heard “Where are You Christmas?” from the movie, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  I’m a lyrics girl, so I’m always listening to what the song is trying to communicate through the music and the words.  As I listened to the child’s voice ask the searching questions, it dawned on me that in most places of this song, you can replace the word “Christmas” with “Jesus.”  Take a second to listen to the song as Faith Hill sings it and insert “Jesus” wherever you hear “Christmas”:

That might be the faith heartache of your life.  Where are you Jesus?  Where are you when I have so much to face.  Why did you go away?  My life looks very different from the days when it seemed easy to believe and follow you.  Things have been turned upside-down in my life.  I’ve got a lot more questions than answers, now.  Does that mean all that I had hoped in gets turn upside down, too?

For some of us, maybe the questions of the next verse sum it up.  Where are you Jesus?  Do you even remember me?  I’m not the same as I was – I’ve made a lot of mistakes.  Is that why it feels like  you’ve let me go?

It’s almost as if we are supposed to outgrow believing in Jesus, just like we eventually stop believing in Santa Claus.  Many give up on the childlike notion that God could love us no matter what, meet us wherever we are, accept us regardless of what we’ve done, heal the wounds that have been inflicted upon us and be big enough to answer our toughest questions.

It is an absurdity, I’ll admit.  It doesn’t make much sense to the logical mind to believe in Jesus.   Just like the story of Santa is rooted in the real life events of the amazing St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra who lived around the 3rd century, it would make more sense to acknowledge that yes, Jesus was real person, and a great one at that, but that his redemptive story of saving us with a not-of-this-world kind of strength that actually brought him back to life, really just became a part of the sweet children’s tale that evolved about him through history.

Here’s the catch though.  All those fun details of Santa’s sleigh and reindeer and red suits and of course, the supernatural ability to get around the entire world in one night, well that’s all folklore that’s been added by us, the people who love the  story.  And, many of those details have been added as recently as the last few centuries. 

But, the miracle of Jesus being “God with us”, healing people from miserable diseases, feeding crowds of thousands with a few fish and loaves of bread, dying on the cross for us and then kicking death in the pants so he could come back for us, and offering to be our way, our truth and our life – all those were real-life God-powered events that people really saw over and over again.  The details of his life were written by those who actually knew him or lived as a contemporary of him.  And even more amazingly, things like where he would be born, how he would die and the kind of power he would have were all foretold and written about long before he even lived.  His life story needed no magical embellishments.  This real life story has been retold not because of how much people loved the story of this man, but because of the outrageous way that this man loved us.

The truth is that Jesus is here.  He hasn’t gone away.  He hasn’t let go…and he won’t.  He knows your life is different – and by the way, he does recognize you.  He misses you and would love nothing better than for you to embrace your belief again, realizing that a whimsical story cannot outlast childhood, but the extraordinary, living, breathing hero of the story can withstand whatever doubt or circumstance you face.

We may outgrow a limited understanding of who Jesus was and still is, but he will never grow out of his persistent desire for us to know him in deeper ways, and still see him  with the strong, believing eyes of a child.

The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.  John 20:30-31

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