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”

Divorce: Crash Course

That title is a bit of a misnomer. Let’s be honest- I can’t tell you what divorce is like for everyone who experiences that sad undertaking. I do, however, think it could be helpful to hear some of my experience. I only have a little advice which I’ll tell you now in case you get bored with my story:

1. Learn as much as you can about the reality of marriage and the faults of the person you want to marry before you get married. Make a conscious choice and not an emotional leap.
2. If it’s too late and the divorce has happened (is happening) make forgiveness your priority. Forgive yourself and your spouse completely. Unless you don’t really want to enjoy your life. If that’s the case, skip forgiving.

In the midst of it, divorce is like having a limb chopped off. It’s likely that for many, that feeling of disastrous separation from a part of yourself does not go away. Even if the limb were riddled with disease and barely operating in its intended function, it is still horrible to have it removed. It was, after all, yours. The empty space serves as a constant reminder of what could have been.

I get too metaphorical, I’ll now go narrative.

It was July 7th (some years ago) the day that my former husband told me all of his news- the most central was his choosing to walk away from God, whom he could no longer believe existed. The divorce part was almost an afterthought of his realizations and decisions. I don’t blame him for not seeing things the way I saw them. To him, I believe (and he may read this and correct me) we had become like roommates and our separation seemed a matter of course. It was not so for me. For me, he was my husband and unmarrying was a matter of purposeful destruction… Continue reading “Divorce: Crash Course”

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”

Purposely Provocative

Generally, my desire is to encourage, bolster or soothe people. This is not because I just want people to like me, but because my own troubles stem from an internal chaos of which I long to be free.

Being provoked to passionate feeling is not the opposite of what I’m looking for. In fact, if the provocation is well done and hits in a place I really care about, it will lead me to a greater sense of focus. It banishes chaos equally as well as comfort, although since my ability to change the world seems quite limited, the action that wants to flow out of the focused passion is often frustrated at the door of reality.

These thoughts started with some movies I’ve seen recently which purposely inspired strong feelings about what is wrong with the world. There are many people who prefer soothing because they dislike feeling helpless more than they can’t stand that others really are powerless to truly horrible situations. Slavery, war, violence, addiction. Most of us feel (when we are faced with the real facts on these issues) that there is really nothing we can do to help… Continue reading “Purposely Provocative”

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 HoseaContinue reading “The Big Idea”

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”

If God

I’m not doing well with words lately. Every time I’ve tried to speak it’s felt like pulling frozen taffy.

Yesterday morning I talked to a good friend of mine who is in Ireland. Somehow she said all of the things I’ve been trying (and failing) to say for the last few weeks. 

I’ve been asking God some big questions recently and while waiting to hear back from him, I’ve gotten trapped under a huge pile of words and emotions. It hasn’t been pretty. What I know about God speaking is that he usually does it quickly. Nevertheless, I have this sense of waiting on him.

There’s something of Romans 7-8 in all of my personal struggles. Usually, the first half of any hard time consists of me wrestling with myself and losing. At some point I remember the character of God and I’m encouraged to stop looking at myself and start looking at him. This is when I move into chapter 8 of Romans and I begin (again) to believe that he is good and that in my total weakness, he is strong and loving.

And Paul’s questions are the real thing, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

I also read yesterday, “The moment you realize that God wants good for you more than you want good for yourself, is the moment that you let go.” – Adam Smith

It’s not to say that everything will be easy, but there is real and solid peace involved in struggling with instead of against God. He is so good, so loving and so much bigger than everything we face… even when what we face is our own selves.

Reading in the Dark

I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a rough week.

Sometimes I get really stuck in the dark and I cannot see the way ahead. There are a lot of lies that whisper to me when the lights go out. It makes my head much like a haunted house and a heavy rock of grief, stress and fear sits on my chest and it actually feels harder to breath.

This morning during corporate worship I was desperate to get away from myself and see God. I picked up my Bible and opened to Isaiah because I remembered some good stuff in there where God says who he is in a very direct way.

Isaiah 43 has been an important chapter to me for the past ten years. Before doing the School of Biblical Studies, I had a hard time reading the Bible at all. Except for Isaiah 43. My struggle was that I couldn’t see how any of the words were really for me… people talked about “claiming the promises of God,” but I couldn’t see how any of those promises were for me… Continue reading “Reading in the Dark”

The Great Exchange

One topic that has come up for me a lot over the years is homosexuality. Same-sex attraction is the reason that my ex-husband decided to divorce me. He certainly has his own story and I don’t attempt to tell that here (I am not outing him to the world, he has already done this). That is parenthetical to what I really wanted to say, but important for you to know about my perspective.

You may or may not be surprised if you knew how many Christians struggle with same sex attraction. I know several. Before you get upset with my using the word ‘struggle,’ recognize that I’m not making a judgment- all of the people I know would admit that for them it is a place of great difficulty. I myself glimpsed into that struggle by marrying a man who was not attracted to women.

Was I fully aware of my own foolishness? No. Talking to a friend last night about this issue, she expressed thoughts I carried years ago when I got engaged…. Continue reading “The Great Exchange”

Paul’s Secret

During discussion group last night we went around in a circle talking about what we have learned from studying the New Testament. The students finished Revelation this week and will begin with Genesis on Monday.

It was so encouraging to hear the answers from the students because they are the reason that we, as staff, are here. I know that my part is a small one, but I’m grateful to have a part.

The staff shared, as well and I was glad to be last in the circle because I had no idea to say. I had some words floating around in my head and was also trying to listen to what others were sharing. It wasn’t until the person before me wrapped up that I grabbed ahold of the bones of a thought. Then the most unfortunate/wonderful thing happened. The truth I was trying to convey hit me as it was coming out of my mouth. Which, of course, means I cried.

Here is what I learned this last quarter:
Early on I was wrestling with the Apostle Paul… Continue reading “Paul’s Secret”

What God Says

I am inexorably attracted to people who know how much they are loved by God and they allow this knowledge to change them.

This Spring I will have been a Christian for twenty years. In that time I have met all kinds of believers; the bitter but tenacious, the happy naive, the fearfully upright, and the broken beggars who walk around amazed to be so beloved by the creator of the Universe.

“If we know how great is the love of Jesus for us we will never be afraid to go to Him in all our poverty, all our weakness, all our spiritual wretchedness and infirmity. Indeed, when we understand the true nature of His love for us, we will prefer to come to him poor and helpless. We can be glad of our helplessness when we really believe that His power is made perfect in our infirmity.” ~Thomas Merton

Honestly, I still spend much of my time with my forehead wrinkled up, carrying this weight of worry around with me. Every once in a while I look up and realize how truly ludicrous is this posture… Continue reading “What God Says”

Mental Digestion

I’ve been mentally digesting two important thoughts today that seem to oppose each other.

Thought number 1 came this morning from the Twitter world. It struck me so soundly, that I typed it into a sticky note on my computer. It’s been staring at me all day.

“Hyper-individualism leads to spiritual homelessness.” -Bevin Ginder

This makes so much sense. I have walked that particular road, although I have also seen God pushing me ever toward interdependence with other believers.

Thought number 2 came this afternoon in class. Ron Smith, the founder of SBS is here teaching the Gospel of John to us. Today, in the first four chapters, he touched on several great things about Jesus, but one that got stuck right in my throat. In John chapter 1 Jesus is baptized. John the baptist (who dunked the Lord himself), says that he saw heaven open and the Spirit descend upon Jesus like a dove. He saw the Spirit, and it was like a dove.

Ron pointed out something that makes the dove particularly unique among birds; their flight pattern is unpredictable…. Continue reading “Mental Digestion”