Faith Part 2: On the Ground

We’re all trying very hard, aren’t we?

This morning I was awake an hour before my alarm was set to go off and I was filled with both excitement and anxiety (I start college today!). I decided to work out with that extra time and while working out I had so much inspiration about this specific post. I was going to title it, “Work: Burden or Blessing,” and it was going to help us all get a better view of God and who He has made us to be.

Not surprisingly, I managed to get really tangled up in stress before I could sit down and start writing. Instead of that calm inspiration I felt on the elliptical machine, I was staring at a white screen and I was filled with wordless frustration…

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Faith Part 1: Outer Space

We’re all trying very hard.

Growing up we believe what we’re told, or we rebel against it because faith costs more than it appears to be worth. Nevertheless we wrestle. We make “I’ll nevers” for ourselves and “He’d nevers” for God.

This plus that equals another thing.

We’re creating math equations of existence with only a few digits, a few thousand denominations. God must be and yet… who is he?

I go spinning, like those horrifying movies set in outer space. Bouncing slowly along the outside of the ship to batten down some hatch, tethered by a life line. Then a meteor comes, some shift in the weightless darkness, and a man who used to be a boy, or a woman who used to be a little girl, goes spinning. Spinning forever into the coldest, darkest nothing. No air, no ground, no more going inside where it’s safe….

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Perfecting Weakness

It feels good to be small.

This is my main take-away from six months of sabbatical.

Recently I described the year like being lost in the woods .

It felt like I ceased to be myself for a whole year. I ceased to know the things I thought I knew well and stopped connecting with many things that had previously given me joy and life.

It freaked me out to be unsure of everything I used to know. To add another metaphor to the pile, I was drowning.

And kept drowning… 

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The Joy of Grief

It has become somewhat of a tradition to write a blog post on or near my daughter’s “day.” Grief is such a richly varied experience and I have found it to be a kind of beautiful gift. For this reason, there is always something to say beyond the obvious reality that it sucks to have your kid die.

I couldn’t say that I’m glad I lost her, but today and many many other days in the last 7 years I can say that while I lost more than I ever wanted to, I gained many things I didn’t even know I could.

The biggest gain is that I’ve seen God come through for me in a way that I only ever vaguely believed he would before. A week or so after Sarah died, when I realized that I could not grieve in a healthy way, I asked God to take all of it and give back only what is good. While I could recount many occasions in the last 2,555 days that I felt unpleasant emotions; screamed, cried, numbed up, felt sorry for myself, choked on the emptiness, laid in the cold mud of life without her, thought of who she would be now, felt anger at a passing pregnant woman… I have felt all of those emotions and more, but every one of them came at just the time I needed to feel it. Each one helped me heal a little more. Since asking him, God has been utterly faithful to carry all but what I was supposed to walk with in the current moment.

When people find out about Sarah they almost always say, “I don’t know how…” or, “I never could handle…” But of course they’re right and neither could I. Although it might seem weird that feeling pain has been a gift, it’s the way that I have been set free to grieve without guilt or shame, without wallowing or getting stuck too long. I haven’t made this happen, I have only accepted whatever piece came my way….

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A Lantern of Hope

Several days ago I asked God to show me how he is working in my life. As you could probably ascertain from my last blog post, I’ve been having a hard time seeing this. Being able to admit what I did in the last post is one of his answers and then something that happened yesterday, which I now share:

All day I was feeling the pointlessness of my existence. This wasn’t situational, necessarily.  It wasn’t a “big day,”  other than the rambling, normal celebration of a friend’s birthday. I had spent all day with these friends chatting, eating, staring off into space, being entertained by their children, taking photos with my cell phone…

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Getting it Right

Most of us want to be Good People. We tend to think that, just as a child grows from infancy to adulthood, everyone is at some stage of “growing up” toward maturity and greater independence.

A few months ago I posted something a friend of mine wrote where she mentioned a pastor who had committed suicide. Weeks later, another friend asked me about this- disturbed to consider a pastor doing such a horrible, desperate thing. Because of this idea we have that spiritual growth is a steep climb up a mountain made increasingly on your own, it is horrifying when someone “ahead” of us on the path gives up or slides dramatically backward.

We ask ourselves, “What is the point of my climbing if  someone like that can fall?” 

The bad news is that being a pastor or a missionary or a nun will not safeguard us from being Bad People, from getting depressed, from having broken relationships, from sin or from tragedy (a fact that is noticed easily by people who keep their distance from Christianity). Although we gain maturity and we learn lessons, we’re always light years away from being grown up…

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Library of Love

I have fallen so deeply in love with God by studying this weird collection of books called the Bible. I’m not talking about romantic love, but a love that is so, so much better.

Today in class, we finished the Old Testament.

*Pause for applause*

One of our fearless leaders, Scott Frase ended class by playing a slideshow he had made of the 65 books we’ve journeyed through in the last (almost) nine months (they begin the last book this Friday). Each slide was a book title, the main characteristic of God found in that book and then one or two key verses from said book which expressed this characteristic.  Most of us were devouring each slide and responding with tears to see what an epic story we have been immersed in for so long. (Maybe I was the only one crying?)

It was as moving as I’m sure the picture slideshows will be when we finally graduate these beloved students in two weeks. 

When any of our teachers finish their last lecture, it is SBS tradition to shower them with encouragement and prayer. For guest speakers, this happens soon after we meet them, but for those of us on staff with this school, we finish our last teaching near the end of a very long time together.

I was really struck today by a comment one of the students made to Scott as she expressed her appreciation and love for him. She talked about how, before coming to the school she’d had such a close relationship with God and she had feared that studying the Bible academically would suck the life right out of that relationship. It was a real battle for her and for several other students, but to Scott she said, “I thought I had to choose between knowledge of God or intimacy with God, but every time you teach, you show me I can have both.”  …

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A Plan to Lose it All

Lately I have been a real mess. Not a quirky, things-will-come-out-right-in-the-end kind of mess, either. A gross and ugly mess that you’re sure will yield rotting surprises. I have seriously questioned my mental health and the wisdom of even interacting with other humans. My heart and mind have been dark and confusing. Even just last night, all of the worst lies came out to taunt me as I tried to go to sleep.

When I woke up (after very little sleep) I felt that same raw and twisty anxiety, but as I sat down to spend some time with God, he came quickly in just the way I needed. He didn’t soothe me with “No, everyone really loves you, it’s okay,” but instead pointed me to how incredibly faithful he is, has been and will continue to be. I think it’s only after I recognize how big and good he is that I am able to feel comforted by what he then says about who I am.

Then, at the end of class today I had a good dose of “hindsight” as I finished up my last teaching in the School of Biblical Studies.

What I got to see at the end of my teaching is how all the things that God spoke about this season before it happened  (this season being my involvement with SBS since the beginning of 2012)  have taken place…

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Existential Absence

Raise your hand if you want to talk about loneliness!

No?

Me neither. In fact, until this morning I would have responded to the topic with a smile and shrug. “I’m not dealing with that issue right now.” For a few weeks now I’ve had that thought several times, to my own surprise. Who doesn’t feel lonely sometimes?

Apparently not me. Cool.

Then this morning, as I was beginning to question this unexpected sturdiness, I opened up the book I’m reading, The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen. In the chapter, Ministry by a Lonely Minister he talks about loneliness as a gift, he looks back at loneliness and says, “The truth is so disconcerting and painful that we are more prone to play games with your fantasies than to face the truth of our existence.” He also throws out a few things we do to avoid loneliness and, reading this, I realized I haven’t been craving people because I’ve been keeping myself so busy. Work, books, movies… even cooking and cleaning keep me distracted…

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The Big Idea

Studying to teach is a beautiful and frustrating process for me. If I spend too much time on details, I am immediately lost. What happens instead, is I spend a few weeks just thinking about the book I’m supposed to teach. Clearly, I have read through it and I will often gather bits of big picture information to chew on.

I ponder.

At some point, in the  pondering (and attempting to study), I Get It. This usually happens much closer to the time I’m to teach than is really comfortable, but that also somehow suites me. I take the stress and I plunge head first into papers and my teaching outline. What I want to give my students is the Big Idea- the perspective they will not have time to discover for themselves in the two days they will get to study the book I’ve been studying for 4 weeks. But it takes me most of that four weeks to see the big idea clearly enough to teach it to them.

Something else happens while I’m studying to teach a particular book- God allows me to somehow experience or feel this Big Idea in a personal way in my own life. You can imagine because of this factor I was a bit nervous before I started studying to teach the book of Job!

Now I am currently working on the prophetic book of Hosea

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