Peace Like A Metaphor

Yesterday I was finally able to meet with my pastor after being delayed by that roundhouse car accident four weeks ago. On the morning of January 27th, as I drove, I mentally plotted out a sketch of the many things I couldn’t figure out or understand. But so much can happen in a month. The logistical life changes are in progress, and the spiritual dilemmas (at least a few) have had natural moments to untangle. Yesterday morning, sitting safely in Starbucks with Sam, I kind of stabbed at what hasn’t yet been addressed.

I’m usually pretty good at communicating complicated plots, but here I’m a little stumped, so I’ll head back into a metaphor that occurred to me while talking to a friend on the phone last night.

When I became a Christian in 1994, it was after having grown up in church, rebelled for a few years, and come back out of extreme depression. I put on my theology and beliefs like moving into a fully furnished house because I had nowhere else to go. I embraced all of it completely. There were uncomfortable things- paintings I found disturbing, rugs that I couldn’t pick up to clean under, smells I couldn’t eradicate, but it was home. I also added things to the house, but got rid of nothing, opting instead to leave those hard choices for another time, or maybe never. Because of some things that happened over the last few years, all of this became intolerable. It might have been smart to slowly tackle the issues, but what happened instead was total demolition. I was throwing stuff out the front door and lighting things on fire, smashing through walls and spending more and more time outside…

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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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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…

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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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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…

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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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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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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)…

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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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