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… Continue reading “Faith Part 2: On the Ground”

Audience Participation

This morning I sat down to “hang out” with God. I barely opened my Bible where there’s a flyer marking some random book,  saw the title of a book and was suddenly flooded with revelation that sent me writing feverishly in my journal and flipping back and forth between books of the Bible, recording, processing, crying.

You probably already know the things I’m about to share, but let me tell you anyway.

The book fell open to Joshua.

First of all, as background I’ve been chewing a lot lately on the idea of holiness. I used to have the view that because it was obviously too hard to be really holy, God didn’t expect perfect obedience from me. He loves me, after all, and isn’t some cosmic police officer. But I’ll be honest- I have often swung between “striving” to please God then giving up exhausted, and falling upon grace. There was a real sense of my unworthiness and God’s goodness and the mystery of his acceptance, but I have never really understood that non-legalistic holiness existed.

Back to Joshua. If you haven’t read it, I’ll give you a little sum up. The Israelites wandered in the Sinai desert for 40 years. On the brink of The Promised Land, Moses gives an epic speech and then croaks, handing the leadership over to Josh… Continue reading “Audience Participation”

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…. Continue reading “The Joy of Grief”

The Odd Couple

Having lunch with a close friend after church yesterday I said,

“I don’t know how to be a Christian anymore.”

It sounds both more shocking and less extreme than I mean, but they are the only words I can find to explain myself.

I love Jesus. Even when I’m twisted into some weird, navel gazing obsession over the point of my existence… even when  I’m catastrophically overwhelmed by the clash of world news and daily personal hostilities I have this unshakable hope that God exists and that He is good.

At the same time I have totally forgotten the why and the how of so many rituals. When I try to pray anything fancy about healing or spiritual warfare, I can’t get out anything beyond, “Help, God.” or  “Please, God.” I say a lot more stuff to Him than that, actually I say all of the things to him, but I no longer understand why we concoct prayers that sound like magical incantations.

Last winter when I got this strong feeling that I needed a sabbatical I also sensed God giving me a heads up that this season (that I’ve just walked through) wouldn’t be any easier than the last season when I was piled under an unmanageable amount of stress. When I say I “walked through” this sabbatical what I really mean is I’ve crawled through, often just laying on my face in the mud pouring out of my heart.

I’m super broken, guys… Continue reading “The Odd Couple”

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… Continue reading “A Lantern of Hope”

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… Continue reading “Getting it Right”

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… Continue reading “A Plan to Lose it All”

Growing Young

I know Rich Mullins was not your typical kind of hero. From what I understand, he was a  very flawed and broken man. Nevertheless, the music and the words that God gave him have impacted me in a bigger way than I had realized until seeing  a movie about his life. He taught me two very important things about following Jesus.

His message resonated so quickly and deeply that I didn’t even know it was him that God was using to teach me. While this is about the influence of a musician, it’s mostly about the faithfulness of God to walk so near to me.

Lesson 1: Honesty

“These days I need more than just a line about Jesus.
I need to see his love, these days.”

I grew up going to a Southern Baptist church. What I learned as a kid was that the best Christians looked good and shiny on the outside. They had two parents, and plenty of money, they dressed up for church and they never said bad words. I saw nowhere to express my confusion and pain over life (not to mention I was poor with divorced parents and started swearing in elementary school)… Continue reading “Growing Young”

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… Continue reading “Existential Absence”

Being Here

What I’ve really be thinking about this week is God’s love. I’m stuck on this topic because not only is it taking this long for me to grasp it, but I’m starting to think it may be the only truly necessary topic.

Yesterday at the end of a lecture on the book of Ecclesiastes, Angela wanted us to spend time sharing what we had learned about God’s character this year. She connected this thought to the question that, since life is meaningless without God (vanity, vanity!) how does knowing him give life meaning?

What I’ve been learning about God in the last few years has to do, first of all, with the message of the Bible as a whole. Big picture- God’s desire is to dwell with man. Time and again, we make a mess of things and time and again He steps in to set things right. But this “dwelling” isn’t just about cohabitation- it’s not just about the Most Holy Place or about Jesus coming to earth, or even, ultimately about our final hope of living in His heavenly mansion. The Being Together that God wants is a kind of active presence that I’m just barely able to wrap my mind around.

You know how some people are always someplace else, even when they are with you? Their eyes are looking, not at you as you talk with them, but far away and they merely nod their head in rhythm with the tune of your words. Then there are others who are so present that you actually feel heard. Their eyes pierce into you and they respond to what you’re saying with insightful questions, laughter, tears. They are with you and completely present… Continue reading “Being Here”

All Manner of Thing

I am mentally or emotionally uncomfortable about 80% of the time. 10% of the time I’m checked out and the remaining 10% I feel good, happy, joyful. Say what you want about the difference between happiness and joy, I’ll take what I can get. (That’s not entirely true. I do recognize the difference between things that are merely soothing me and feeling a real letting-go kind of peaceful joy.)

I took an online test recently (certainly reputable!) that told me that I’m a “Highly Sensitive Person.”

Good one, Captain Obvious.

The most enlightening/depressing thing I read, as I studied up on this before unbeknownst to me legitimate personality profile was that Highly Sensitive People spend much of their time unhappy because they’re always kind of struggling against an overstimulating world and struggling toward an inner sense of quiet. (An impressively long sentence, if I do say so myself.)

Good luck with that inner sense of quiet I’ve been working on so assiduously… Continue reading “All Manner of Thing”

Land Mines

I hear the phrase “fear of man” pretty often among the people with whom I spend most of my time.

Sometimes, unfortunately, phrases like this begin to lose their meaning for me when they’ve been used too often. I understand them less and less in any practical fashion and they slide past me unnoticed in the daily barrage of words.

Then one day someone will talk about one of these realities without using the common phrase and suddenly I am struck with the truth and given a much needed heart check… Continue reading “Land Mines”

False Witnesses

I’ve been writing a lot in my paper journal or on my computer in documents that I’ve begun labeling whatever emotion I feel when I open the blank page. Anger, doubt, anxiety, fear, hope, questions. One exultant document is titled Jesus Is Greater.

These are my Psalms.

One thing I love about the Bible is that it often expresses the emotions that I don’t think people like to see linked up with Christianity. Nevertheless, they are emotions we all feel. God is not afraid of them. I also don’t believe he’s waiting for us to quickly get over them. I think he welcomes our negative emotions as freely as our positive ones because what he wants most is relationship with us- however we feel… Continue reading “False Witnesses”

Send Someone Else

Does being awesome have to be such hard work?

I’m coming to believe that as much as I want to live my life on purpose, show as much love as possible and, above all, help people know God better- as much as I want that, I don’t usually want the difficulties that go with those things.

This isn’t where I give you some moral lesson about how I’ve really just learned to buckle down and do the hard work. This is where I admit openly that I don’t want to.

I don’t.

It’s stressful. It’s exhausting, and I’m pretty sure I’m going a little bit crazy… Continue reading “Send Someone Else”

Let Down Your Nets

This weekend I was really wrestling with the feeling that I am not up for the job I’m doing. I had all kinds of questions about how much stress is healthy and leads to growth and how much is unhealthy and leads to deterioration. It’s not as straight forward as setting boundaries for when I work and when I rest because sometimes when it’s time for me to study my brain won’t engage… and sometimes when I feel like I need rest I do actually have to be at that meeting.

Often people will say that if God calls you to do something he will give you the strength to accomplish the job. Thinking along these lines, if I look back at the last school I staffed, I see that it took a while to get the swing of things and until I

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“got it,” I was really wrestling – similarly to how I am wrestling right now.
On one hand it gives me hope that there will be a tipping point when it stops feeling like there’s an ogre sitting on my chest. On the other hand because there is a lot more work with this school, it feels like maybe it’s just more than I would ever be able to handle… Continue reading “Let Down Your Nets”