Last Days in the Desert

A long time ago, in a desert far, far away, I found myself standing in a half-circle with a handful of professional Christians on a film set in the middle of effing nowhere. I was invited there, along with a pile of smart people, for a sneak peek at a little indie art house production, written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia. The film, Last Days in the Desert, imagines Jesus toward the end of his famous 40 days of prayer and fasting, as his journey intersects with that of a boy and his parents, dwelling in the desolate dry wilderness. While Satan continues to pluck at his insecurities, Jesus finds himself drawn into the little family's plight, as they grapple through sorting their lives. The screenplay was short, the dialog sparse, the cast and crew minimal, and I was super curious to see how this would play out on screen.

Cast, crew, dirt.

Shortly after we arrived on set, actor Ewan McGregor came over to shake hands and introduce himself to us, one by one, saying, “Hi, I'm Ewan...I'm Ewan, nice to meet you...I'm Ewan, how are you?...Hey, I'm Ewan...” Like we might not know he was Ewan. When I called home that night, my kids asked what Obi Wan McGregor was like, and I told them the truth. “He was kinda like a homeless person...but, like, if a homeless person's eyes were made of the Caribbean Sea.”

It's true. The guy I met was gross and dirty, and I don't recall him actually smelling bad, but he looked like he probably smelled bad. Let's just say, I did not have the urge to run my fingers through the greasy mess of matted hair that hung limp from beneath his head wrap. And, much to my own surprise, I had zero desire to make out with Ewan McGregor's crusty mouth or to allow his gritty hands anywhere near the small of my back. In fact, after we shook hands, I quickly wiped mine off on the side of my pants like an asshole. I'm not sure what they used to make his finger nails look so painfully dry and dirt-caked (it was probably some expensive, organic, rejuvenating Hollywood makeup artist's magical witch potion), but it looked like mud and poo, and it made me feel icky. I was honestly having a hard time reconciling the hot mess in front of me with the charming Scottish boy-toy of my dreams, and my body felt confused.

See what I mean? 

In his defense, McGregor was aptly dressed for his role as Jesus, but this was not like any version of Jesus we're accustomed to meeting in films about the iconic religious figure. This was not a powerful, omniscient robe-clad Jesus, or a kind-eyed, forgiving Jesus. This was not a beaten, bloody submissive Jesus, or even a smiling, warm, welcoming Jesus.

This was Jesus, fully man.

It was a rare depiction of the Jesus who “grew in wisdom and stature”, who learned and matured, Jesus who asked questions and sought answers, because he didn't always have them. This Jesus appeared tired and tattered, disheveled and uncertain, physically sapped by the conditions of the desert, emotionally stunned by the expansive silence. Hungry for the love of a distant Father. Thirsty to hear His voice.


It's been a full two years since I read the manuscript, talked with the director and a couple of the producers over lunch, met the actors, and watched a little bit of the action on set, but – FINALLY - last Sunday in a darkened Episcopal church in Pasadena, I got to see whatever came of Ewan McGregor's dirty Jesus, that lonely little family, and the last few days in the desert.

Nutshell? It was so good. And I cried.

Want more? Ok, fine.

Last Days in the Desert isn't so much a story about Jesus, as it is the story of fathers and sons. It's about boys becoming men, being both brave and afraid, simultaneously clinging and letting go, searching for independence while seeking approval. It's about grown men who still somehow long for assurance from the men who grew up before them, and the generational handing over of a broken baton. It's about wanting to do the right thing, but maybe not being quite sure what the right thing is, or who you're doing the right thing for.

The relationship between fathers and sons is perhaps the most complicated of all relationships, and we see layer upon layer of it here through the musings and complaints of the father and son in this story; A father who loves his son desperately, but can't say it, and a son who desperately wants his father's blessing, but can't see it. The Devil (also played by Ewan McGregor) is insightfully aware of this timeless father/son tension, and uses this to try to speak doubt into Jesus' own attempt to connect with his father, God.

Disclosure: As the mother of THREE SONS who, at 22, 18, and 16, are each smack in the middle of this exact same kind of coming of age bullshit, I felt the struggle and the pain and the longing of the son so keenly it made my heart actually physically hurt. His desire to be recognized by his father, to please his father, and, at the same time, to be free of his father's ideas and expectations made me ugly cry.... UGH. NOW I'M CRYING AGAIN!


In a world where Christians are greedy for blockbuster, feel-good movies with high production values and low thought content, Last Days in the Desert is almost ridiculously low-key in its approach to Jesus. We are never told what to think about the deity of Jesus. While there are some elements of faith and mysticism, which leave room for theological debate, the film is uniquely and refreshingly free of doctrine. During a panel discussion after Sunday's screening, Garcia described his imagining of Jesus in the desert – obviously inspired by the 40 days of fasting found in Christian scripture – as being "reduced" to its most basic elements. Much like the desert itself.

This reductive simplicity of the story is perfectly echoed on screen by cinematographer, Emmanual Lubezki (Yes - Gravity, The Revenant - THAT Emmanual Lubezki!), who shot every outdoor scene using only natural light. Every sweeping expanse, every endless landscape, every radiant crevice, and shadowy corner came to us directly from nature. The beauty of the desert as seen though Lubezki's lens is breathtaking in an epically organic kind of way. (You should really, really, really try to see this on a great big screen in a theater. I'm not even kidding. You'll thank me.)

Last Days in the Desert is far more of a spiritual/psychological think piece than your average faith based film. It's artistic. It's raw and rare, and a little bit uncomfortable. While box office flicks like God's Not Dead and Risen seem to have become the Bible tract of the 21st century (a cheap, easy way to tell anyone who will listen about the saving power of Jesus Christ without having to actually, y'know, get to know them) this artsy-fartsy indie film will likely leave you and your friends with more messy questions than tidy answers.

But maybe that's the point.


Or request a showing in your town HERE!


Missionaries probably shouldn't be jealous of a strippers. But sometimes they are.

I'm really looking forward to speaking the Love Made Claim annual fundraiser this Saturday, in Denver, CO. If you're in the area, YOU SHOULD TOTALLY COME! (ticket info here) Anyway, I was sitting here preparing my talk, when I remembered this old post from back in the day, so I thought I'd throw it out there again, for old times sake.

I still think about this girl... I wonder if she's still working in the sex-industry... and I wonder if she knows her great worth...

Check out Love Made Claim, Inc.

The other day I boarded a plane from Reno to San Francisco, and I was stoked because there was no one else in my row, and I wanted to read People magazine, but I would never want anyone to see me reading People magazine because I have a serious aversion to freaks who carry on weird, one-sided relationships with famous people. (What!? People is the fastest way for me to see how out-of date my clothes are. That’s all. That’s why I read it. Sheesh, let it go...) ANYWAY. You can imagine my dismay (and also how quickly I shoved Sandra Bullock’s tragic smile back in my bag and pulled out Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day) when someone stopped at the end of my row.

It was a girl, and she was wearing one of those tight black velour matching two piece sweatsuits with fake Uggs. When she turned around to shove her crap in the overhead, her butt said “Juicy” which, in my opinion, has about the same sexual appeal as having the word “Pfffffft” stamped across your rump. But, I'm old, so what do I know.

Despite her fashion sense, the truth is, she was gorgeous. GOR-geous! Like, twenty years old, with perfect skin and teeth and hair, and glossy, fake nails on soft, smooth hands. And her body was long and lean and seemingly flawless.

And I immediately did not like her.

Now, I’m not generally a jealous person. Seriously. I don’t really get jealous. I more, like...covet, but I don’t really get jealous, as in envious. Sometimes, I want things that other people may have. I want more money, I want a smaller butt, I want to be 5’9”, I really, really want a maid, and an admin, and a personal masseuse. And if you possess those things, I will probably covet them. But I usually don’t harbor feelings of hostility or rivalry toward people that have what I want, and that’s what I mean by jealous. It’s just not one of my go-to character flaws. Or maybe it’s just not as well developed as my other junk. Either way, it’s not my main thing. But this time, this time I was having these wild, crazy, JEALOUS thoughts. Mean thoughts. Cruel thoughts. Thoughts that were turning this girl, with whom I had never even shared a single word, into my mortal enemy

Because I'm such an asshole.

I was busy hating her in my heart, when I turned on my overhead light and opened my book, and as the plane started to taxi toward the runway, my stupid light burned out. Then, that awful girl looked over and offered a sympathetic smile, with her perfect, plump lips, and teeth like gleaming white chiclets. We both reached up and started pushing buttons and twisting knobs, trying to get my light to flicker back on, and she yanked on something a little too hard and the whole plastic casing came off in her hand. We looked at each other with huge eyes like “Oooh damn!” and then we both started snickering like third graders in the principals office. Snickering became giggling, and giggling made way for laughter, and by the time we were in the air, we were howling as if it was the funniest thing that had ever happened in the history of the world.

I know, in retrospect it's not really that funny, but that’s how I became instant BFF’s with a stripper from Reno.

We began a conversation that was mostly stupid and boring and, occasionally, intensely personal. And yes, she really is a stripper...I mean, ”dancer"?. She was on her way to California to visit her sugar-daddy. (Which, technically, I think makes her something other than a stripper, er, dancer, but whatever.)

We both pulled out our trashy magazines, and poured over the clothes of the rich and famous. We talked about our lives, as different as they are. And we talked about God. And when we didn’t talk, she pulled out her Sudoku book, and I thought, “Oh, awesome. She’s prettier AND smarter than me.” But, I noticed (because, apparently, I’m kind of a creeper) that when she got bored with her puzzle, she would scroll her name in cursive, again and again, along the edges of the book. Practicing her autograph? Signing her first name with some guy’s last name? Trying out a flashy new stage name? I really don’t know. All I know is that she was daydreaming as she wrote that name, all fat and swirly, over and over and over again with a glittery pink gel pen.

I was struck by how sweet and girlish this was, and it reminded me of how I used to do the very same thing when I was younger. In high school, my friends and I used this stripper name formula to decifer our pole dancer personalities : First family pet + street you grew up on = your stripper name. 

Mine is Heidi Oaklawn.

Maybe it sounds weird, I mean, since I’m a missionary and everything, but I could totally relate to this stripper, with her Juicy pants and spray tan. El Chupacabra and I have a little running joke that if our lives hadn’t turned a certain direction at a certain time, today he would be in jail and I would be in a nightclub. We laugh about it, but we know that it’s really not that funny...but it's probably not be far from the truth. If things had gone differently, you could be reading the blog of Heidi Oaklawn, the Very Worst Stripper right now. Or maybe you wouldn’t be. Or maybe you would....

Anyway, when we parted ways in San Francisco, it was clear to us both that we shared some sort of connection. Call it stripper’s intuition, but there was something there, between us. We hugged and quickly said goodbye....*sigh*

Juicy disappeared into the crowd, and as soon as she was gone, I realized that all of my envy had melted away, and only one thing remained. Before we'd gone our separate ways, I wished I'd told her something that had been nagging at me as we talked; I wanted her to know that God is jealous for her.

And I was jealous for her, too.  Not jealous of her, and not the envious kind of jealousy that makes a missionary act like a bitch on an airplane when a hot stripper starts to sit next to her. But jealous for her. Jealous in a different way. Jealous with a longing, loving, hope filled kind of jealousy.  

I was jealous for her to know that she’s worth more than the dollar she gets for swinging around a pole in clear, plastic stilettos, or the thousand that she’ll get for spending a weekend in San Francisco with some dirtbag she met on the internet. Jealous for her to feel love apart from sex. Jealous for her to daydream about her own name in a way that didn't have to include fame, or fortune, or dancing naked for men. Jealous for her to know that, if she can do Sudoku? She can do anything!

This is the kind of jealousy that begs for a change in direction. 

God is jealous for us to turn away from the distractions of this world and turn toward him. He’s jealous for us to let go of the false identities we hold onto so tightly, and to align ourselves with Him. He’s jealous for us to relinquish the things we allow to define our worth, and grab tightly to our value in Him.

Our God is jealous for her. 

And for you.

And for me.


So, the obvious question is, what would your stripper name be?


How Going on Vacation Might be Better than Going on a Mission.

The other day someone asked if we have any big plans for this summer, and El Chupacabra and I looked at each other and smiled because we do have big plans for this summer. We have really big plans...


When we shared our big news, we probably should have expected her response, but it still caught us off guard when she said, “That's amazing! Who will you be working with?”

We glanced at each other, “...Working?”

“Yeah. Like, what organization are you partnering with? What are you going to do there?”

And then it got awkward, because we were all, “Ooooooh. Oh. Yeah. No, it's not like that. We're not going on a mission, we're going on vacation... You know, just for fun. Entertainment. Relaxation. Adventure. That sort of thing.”

She blinked and looked confused.

I guess that's understandable. I can see how it might be counterintuitive to imagine a Missions Pastor and a writer who has the word “missionary” in the title of her blog taking their kids to Africa and not going on a mission. But that's exactly what we're doing. We're going to fly all the way across the world, and then we are not going to dig a well, we're not going to hold any orphans, and we're not going to treat anyone's parasites (unless, of course, they're our own). We will not be seen in matching T-shirts or praying in a circle at the airport, and you won't catch us “loving on” complete strangers with sweaty hugs, zealous high fives, or bullhorn street-corner evangelism.

The habitual short term missionary (the one who collects passport stamps crossing the planet on the support-raised dime of the Church to participate in safely organized service opportunities) will have a stroke if they read this, so maybe don't send it to them. Or do. But, for sure, choosing fun over field will have some people questioning my love of God, my commitment to Jesus, and my very salvation.

Behold, she chose a family vacation over a Christian mission
and, lo, there was a great clutching of pearls.

Here's the thing. I've lived abroad, traveled a bunch, willfully participated in and happily hosted short term teams, crossed paths with people from all walks of life and faith and culture, broken bread with the wealthy elite and the poorest of poor, and conversed with some of the most educated and experienced leaders in the global church movement, and it's all led me to this conclusion:

Going on a kickass vacation can be healthier, more productive, and more beneficial
 to both the traveler and the world than a short term mission.

I've come to believe my money is better spent in the hotels, restaurants, shops, gas stations, parks, monuments and attractions that provide legitimate jobs and dignified work to the very same locals I would otherwise be “blessing” on a short term mission trip. Tourism is a gross domestic product, an industry that creates layers and layers of real, sustainable jobs for a countries workforce. I'd wager that it's far kinder and more generous for you to leave a tip and a favorable comment for the woman who cleans your hotel room each day, than for you to show up on her doorstep with your selfie stick and a bag of rice once a year (#blessed). When you vacation somewhere, you're contributing to a healthy demand for everything from the edible goods of the rural farmer who might otherwise sell his child, to the administrative services of the urban student who might otherwise sell herself. When you vacation in the places you'd usually mission, you're engaging people's pride and joy without exploiting their shame.

I know, I know – What about all the other stuff? Like, what about showing our kids how other people live? And what about exposing our pampered teenagers to poverty? What about getting uncomfortable? What about learning to serve others? Every single time I speak on missions at churches or universities, these questions come up. And every time this is what I say:
  • I have an intrinsic desire to see the whole entire world and to show as much of it as I can to my kids. I believe this is inherent in me as a human, because we are drawn to the work of our Creator. I believe it can be a form of worship and I believe it can have value. BUT. It is not the Church's responsibility to send me or my kids all over the world for the purpose of “exposure”. If you think it's that important, you should sign your kid up for a foreign exchange program and pay for it yourself, or with grandma's help or whatever. As much as you and I both want it to be, crossing boarders is it is not crucial to your child's development as human or as a Christian. It's cool, but not crucial.
  • Using poor kids to teach rich kids a lesson about how good they have it is just gross. It's ineffective at best, and incredibly harmful at worst. Plus, it's ICKY.
  • You will never get more uncomfortable than in the intimacy of meaningful relationships with the people to the right and left of you, so go love your actual neighbor. Short term missions are more of a relief from the depth and discomfort of real life and real love and real relationship than a true dip into discomfort. 
  • An attitude of service should be learned at home and applied in the world, not the other way around, so if learning to serve is your end goal, there's no need to hop on a plane to do menial tasks for strangers. I promise, not a day of your life has gone by that wasn't chock full of opportunities to serve others – that's true of vacation days, too – we all just need to be looking.

    omg. I KNOW. I just like the way it sounds. Jeez.
So we are going to South Africa, Botswana, and Mozambique, and we're going there on vacation. And that's it. Who we're going with is each other. Why we're going is for fun. What we're doing is cool shit. Oh, and? Who's footing the bill is our own damn selves. We are going to stay in mediocre hotels, visit beautiful national parks, and eat cheap local food. We're going to do touristy things and less touristy things. We're going to see cities and countrysides and all the sights in between. We're going to try all the beers and taste all the fruits and make all the weird noises at all the animals. We're going to get lost once or twice along the way, because that's what we always do on vacation, and we're probably gonna be ok. 

This two week vacation will most likely be the last major trip we get to take with our three grown/growing sons. They'll be marrying and blasting out babies in no time, so this is our nuclear family's last hurrah. It won't be extravagant - we are literally saving pennies to make it happen – but I have no doubt it will be amazing. We're going to immerse ourselves as best we can in the culture and history and people around us. And, yes, we will be on vacation, but we won't turn a blind eye to the poor. And yes, we will be relaxing, but we'll also be doing some hard work in our relationships with our boys and with each other – some investing, and some reassuring, and some healing. We're going on Safari, because HOLY SHIT IT'S AFRICA!!! And we're going with humility, because it's our privilege just to be there.

I fully expect to see this EXACT scene.
I hope that we come home changed somehow, better, wiser, closer. And I hope that you'll ask me how our trip to Africa was, just so I can say something like, "OMG. It was AMAZING! I learned way more from Africa than Africa learned from me." And we can LOL. 


Also? No lie, I'm kinda pissed that Dax and Kristen beat us to this, but we're still totally gonna do it...


You Can Never Have Too Much Sofa

We bought our little house in California one million years ago, in 1997. And it's a good thing, too, because that was the last year our oldest child was our only child, and it was also the last year we could ever have afforded to buy a little house in California.

It's a typical, boring, no frills, suburban tract home, but nearly 20 years later, we still love it. The property is just over zero acres, the living space is compact, and the laundry is in the garage, but my kids still like to argue over who will live here when Mom and Dad are dead and gone. I mean, obviously, if we're dead, they should probably sell the house and split the equity three ways (Turns out, it was really smart to buy a house in California in 1997. You're welcome, kids!), but they say they want to “keep it in the family”. Ha! Either way, this house has become part of the legacy we will leave for our sons.

The only real challenge we have in this house is size. Not the house's size, the house's size is fine – we have no desire for a bigger house - it's more the size of the kids that's a problem. My boys keep doing this thing where they turn into men? And then they take up a lot more space with their bodies. It's so annoying. They've become very long people. They are so very lengthy, and they have these expansive limbs that stick our very, very far from their actual bodies. This house has high ceilings, so vertically we do alright, but try sharing a standard three cushion sofa with several people over 6 feet tall. Trust me, it's no bueno. So the primary problem with filling a small house with tall people is that there's no room for big furniture.

You can never have too much sofa. That's a thing I decided.

I don't care what designers and decorators and, y'know, all the rest of the professionals have to say about it. People need a place to lounge. We need space to spread out, get comfortable, and stay awhile. We need to be able to fall asleep on the couch while we're watching Hannibal until 2am, together, but not touching. Lounging is important. Laying around in your pajamas with your kids on a Saturday morning – no matter how long they are – is kinda crucial to the health and well being of your family.

Recently, I noticed that whenever we decided to watch a movie or something, one kid or another would disappear. It took me awhile to figure out that it's because there was no room at the inn. If the sofa was already full of other people's arms and legs and stuff, the last man standing would rather do something else. There just wasn't enough space for my whole clan to lounge at the same time, and that was unacceptable, so a couple weeks ago I filled our itty bitty house with a big fat sectional, yes, including a chaise. Now it looks like my living room is pregnant with Don Draper's sunken sofa, and I don't even care. Do. Not. Care.

The day after we brought home the monstrosity of comfort, El Chupacabra and I went out to search garage sales for a sofa table to go with it, but it was rainy so we had to look at estate sales. Estate sales are always kind of weird for me, because....well....someone died. I know I'm there picking through the remnant belongings of the recently deceased, usually while their loved ones watch, and I feel this massive tension between wanting to be mindful of their loss and hoping for a kickass deal. It's always super awkward. But, at the very first estate sale we found, we came across the most perfect old stereo console.

This thing was hand made almost 50 years ago by the...uh...dearly departed. Like, he MADE it. With his HANDS. His daughter proudly told us he'd made other beautiful furniture throughout the years, but sadly none of his kids had room for this particular piece. As it was carried out to the car, and I heard one of the siblings take in a breath and say, “Oh, there goes Dad's stereo...” And in the chaos of closing out their father's estate, there was a brief pause for grief.

Thus, a tiny part of their legacy became a part of ours.

Of course, the first thing Dylan said when he saw the cabinet was, “Can I have this when you die?”, and Jamison cut in to say, “I'll fight you for it.” They're charming like that. Then they helped get it all set up in its new home behind our massive sofa expansion. It took a couple of hours, but El Chupahandyman got the turn table working and the bass kickin', and our home hasn't been the same.

The kids lounge and the music plays and we've been seeing a lot more of each other's faces.

To be honest, I don't really care what my kids do with this house after I'm dead and I don't care who wins the funeral fist fight over the stereo cabinet. But I do hope my boys will carry on this legacy of lounging around together. I hope they will actively make space in their lives for the people they love. As the world changes faster and faster, and people see less and less of each other, I hope they will remember the importance of being in the same room as another human being.

Side note: I am not obsessed with Navy Blue. OBSESSED.

I hope their couches will be huge and I hope they have too many chairs around their tables. And when people give them the side eye for having ridiculous furniture, I hope they invite them to sit down for awhile and tell them, “My Mom always said you can never have too much sofa.”


Are you sure you have enough sofa in your life? Like, really sure?