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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Just To Be Clear

I have read several articles on the when and the where of using, and not using, Christian jargon (this one being the funniest), but I would like to propose that it has no place at all in the communication of faith.

In a post about words, an “official” definition seems appropriate:

Jargon = special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.

Probably the most slanted definition I found was this:

Jargon = a form of language regarded as barbarous, debased, or hybrid.

There are several places where verbal short hand and specialized phrases are handy. They make work and study more efficient if the jargon exchange is between two people “in the know.”

Unfortunately, because people love to sound smart, they will often use their specialized language with people who are not “in the know” either as a way of detecting such fools, or to impress newbies or outsiders…

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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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The Ugly Truth

Sometimes I go down roads in my head I don’t want to go. This usually has to do with big questions about life and God. Several years ago I suddenly couldn’t shake the fact that the Bible doesn’t say explicitly what happens to babies that die. I couldn’t just believe something happy to soothe my fears, I had to know. And until I worked it out, I had a hard time thinking about anything else.

When thoughts like this come along, I don’t usually want to share the journey with anyone because I fear several unpleasant things. Mostly I fear that they will label me or decide something about me based upon my current feelings and thoughts without recognizing the journey of it. I fear this from others because I tend to do it to myself.

“THIS IS A BAD PLACE AND I WILL ALWAYS LIVE HERE.”

That’s the thing I tend to think when I’m wandering down the miry path called Crisis Of Faith…

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Bluebird in my Heart

Why is it so difficult to receive love? So, so much more difficult than giving it away.

Sunday in church, the pastor talked briefly about the things a minister/leader/pastor cannot do for those to whom they minister. The sum up is that a minister cannot go in and fix something inside of another person’s heart.

Pondering this and other things as I drove home Monday through the incredible beauty of the Wenatchee National Forest, I was stuck on an even more disturbing reality: How difficult it is to fix something inside of my own heart.

I know a lot of kids and have the pleasure of watching them interact with their parents. All of them are at various stages of obedience. Sometimes my heart is like the naughtiest, most disobedient toddler. I can say with great sternness what I want my heart to feel or not feel, to know or to not know. I can cajole it to believe, bribe it not to rebel, soothe it into gratitude…

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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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Party Pooper

Taking a sabbatical in my home town is a bit like going to a kids birthday party for some peace and quiet.

Nevertheless coming here and taking a sabbatical were both things I felt like God was leading me to do. It’s much easier to make jokes about than to manage well and I’m taking some time today to lay this situation before God. To be honest, I think this very thing is one of my main reasons I need a sabbatical and a huge part of why God led me to do it here in Washington state.

Like when you pray for patience and discover yourself surrounded by frustrating life you can (wrongly) see it as proof that you shouldn’t have prayed for patience, or you can see it as a divine opportunity to get in plenty of practice. And, let’s face it, life is ever full of such opportunities. It is just a matter of choosing to see each thing as a chance to grow instead of as a God given “trial.”

God is not spiteful, but he is wise and he is loving.

So here I am on the verge of a week in which many “opportunities” are presenting themselves, all piled up, pushing and pulling at me…

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A Father’s Love

A Father’s Love: Father to the Fatherless
Guest Post by Thad Nelson

I was on a construction jobsite a few years back listening to a conversation between two of my co-workers about how terrible their fathers were and I interjected quite insensitively how awesome my own father was. This stopped the conversation and Charlie says to me, “Hey stop it. You’re spoiling our pity party!” It was at this point in my life that I really stopped and took stock of who my father is and what I had learned from him. Peacemaking, patience, joy, sticktuitiveness, self control, frugality, gentleness.

My dad never had an opinion when it came to eating out. He is generally not a picky person but it’s not like he doesn’t have favorite things:

Lasagna, 1000 island dressing, and carrot cake, to name a few, but I realized in retrospect that what he really wanted for dinner was for us to be happy and not to fight. When I was young I wanted a certain wood toy and so he set out to build it for me. I was so distraught by the noise of the saw that he stopped and never made it. I think about myself in a similar situation and I think I would say, “If you don’t like it, then go in the house” Turns out, I am not my father. I began to recognize that he had consistently modeled the art of peacemaking by setting aside his own wants and desires for the wants and desires of others.

I would say that I learned patience from my father from countless hunting and fishing trips, but it would not quite be accurate. At least not in the sense that I typically think of his patience. He is patient with people. He was patient with me and my sister and my mother and our stray cats and all our shortcomings…

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