Do Not Be Afraid

Fear leads us to hurt, or to reject other people. John said, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

Because I grew up in the church, it’s easy for me to point the finger that direction, and say that the church often carries an “us and them” mentality. These are the rules, and we know who’s in and who’s out by who follows these rules. But why does this matter at all? Why do you have to know who’s in and who is out? What if you just lived in a house with a bunch of people from varying faiths, and with various morals, and you worked together like a family? How could it work, unless you loved, unless you didn’t fear what their otherness might do to you?

What will their otherness do to you?

When I was growing up, there was a pressure to not be close friends with Unbelievers. It probably says somewhere in Proverbs that “bad company corrupts good character,” but I’m beginning to realize that I am already the worst kind of company. We’re very, very afraid of becoming monsters, of being thrown out of the family, of becoming unacceptable, and unloveable, and this actually leads us to throw other people out first.

What if I’m friends with a gay person? What if (even worse in our current world) my neighbor has opposing political beliefs? What if I want to get drunk or have sex outside of marriage? How can we stop the world from becoming tainted by The Other’s ugly, wrong, oppressive, horrible view? How can we keep ourselves safe from tyranny, or keep ourselves from becoming tyrants?

Though I know very little now, I do know that one road that won’t work is the road of fear. Fear will lead us much more directly into suffering and monsterhood.

What defensive actions are we taking based on fear? How are those actions harming us, and those around us? What would it look like if what John said was true- that perfect love casts out fear? How would our daily lives be different?

You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out

I’ve decided to act like a grownup for Christmas this year. I should have done this long before age 39, but you must understand that I didn’t realize I’ve been acting like a child until some time in the mid morning of today.

When you’re a kid, your parents make holidays- from scratch out of love, and special parent magic. When you leave the house, you transition through stages: holidays with friend’s families, holidays with just friends, one horrible New Years Eve spent alone, several happily solitary Thanksgivings. And you enjoy the freedom, thinking that one year, not long from now, you will begin your own family; you will start your own traditions. You will tap into the parent magic for yourself and start building holidays as a gift to your own children.  Your heart will be made of chocolate and your spouse will know just where (and how) to hang the stockings.

That is, unless you remain (mostly) single and (mostly) childless. If this happens,  you will one day get an email from your boss asking you to work more in December, you may briefly compare yourself to Lucy Eleanor Moderatz from While You Were Sleeping, and then start sobbing in the middle of some house you are cleaning in Bellevue… Continue reading “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out”

The Ones That Love You

I used to feel superior to road ragers.  I was like, hey man, calm down, you’re not stuck in traffic, you are traffic. You know, pretty zen about taking as long as it takes, and navigating the insane maze of the freeway.

This was before I became a regular commuter. Now that I drive to and from Seattle four times a week, I am prone to driving angry even when I’m out in the country (I live out in the country). A few weeks ago I was driving down Highway 20 to meet a friend for a mountain loop hike. In between nowheres, I found myself stuck behind three RVs going about 10 miles under the speed limit. I did not remain calm. I wasn’t traffic, they were, and I just wanted to have a day off from slugging along in my car behind people.

When I was younger (I mean, until a few years ago) I thought that as I got older, I would become calmer and wiser, I would work through my issues and be a really kind old lady some day. The older I get, the more I dig inside to clean things out, the more I find that deep down I’m basically a selfish asshole… Continue reading “The Ones That Love You”

Underneath

There are a lot of movies out there with a desperately single female protagonist. The woman is usually in her late 20’s and gorgeous, with few real issues, but several endearing quirks. That, or she’s got super ridiculous issues, but she’s so gorgeous that some guy would do anything to be with her.

One of my favorite movies dealing with the aging single woman is called Broken English. It’s more realistic than most, about a woman who is painfully single. She has a string of terrible dates and becomes leery of anyone showing interest, such that she finds it difficult even to be hit on because she feels this deep distrust of men who would be interested in her. It’s quite amazing to want someone to want you, but then distrust anyone who actually does. What’s wrong with them that they’re interested in me? And how quickly are they going to decide I’m not worth their effort?

It’s a mess. At some point the idea of being in a relationship starts to sound like the possibility of becoming an astronaut. You already know how much I fear outer space, but somehow I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s a whole imaginary life that I can’t crumple up and throw away. It’s tattooed all over me with invisible ink. I know you think those are freckles covering my nearly-middle-aged skin, but they are actually hopes, and disappointed hopes. Sun kisses, or scars, or maybe notches to record imagined scenarios… Continue reading “Underneath”

Can I Get Back to You?

If you’ve known me for more than a few years, you may have noticed (you imaginary readers, you) that I didn’t write anything on my daughter’s birth/deathday this year.

Here’s what I was doing instead of writing: hanging out with friends, going to church.

For several months now, I have been in this angry-at-religion mode. Not angry at my Christian friends, not angry with God, but angry at all of the trappings, all of the methods and all the ways people use to talk about those methods. It had become reactionary to the extreme. If I thought through the things that set me off, I could identify that they were either really not a big deal, or I could see how I disagreed with them (also not such a big deal). In some cases, identifying something that set me off would cause me to realize I actually agree with that thing. Nevertheless, I was struggling furiously with all of it… Continue reading “Can I Get Back to You?”

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”

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…  Continue reading “Perfecting Weakness”

What God Says (revisited)

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…. Continue reading “What God Says (revisited)”

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”

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”

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… Continue reading “Bluebird in my Heart”

Splendid Spinsterhood

A year ago I was keenly longing for my own place- a kitchen in which to bake, a living room to invite people into,  wall space to hang my prints.

Three months ago I was making detailed plans for getting an RV to live in so that I could have my own home while still being able to travel.

I’m pretty happy staying in guest rooms and sleeping on couches, but at the same time, I find myself mentally decorating some imaginary home of my own. I spend a little time here and there “shopping” for things like area rugs and arm chairs. My dream house is the coolest thing you’ve never seen.

Maybe I talk about this a lot?

If it seems like I’m repeating myself, it’s probably because I’ve been in this flexible state for the last 4 years- not at all what I expected from life so near to 40. While I’m waiting and waiting to find out where “home” is, I learn more and more deeply how comfortable it can be to be homeless…

Continue reading “Splendid Spinsterhood”

My Favorite Ghost

My daughter Sarah is not alive anymore, but sometimes she lives so vividly in my thoughts it’s as though she is alive. But she’s not. It isn’t sad, but it is.

When I’m driving in the car she sits in the back seat and kicks her legs and laughs at something silly I said. Walking down a long hallway, she may skip beside me, she may hold my hand. And sometimes, when I’m sitting in a chair, she gets up into my lap and lays her head on my shoulder for me to pet her hair like I loved to have my mother pet my hair when I was little… Continue reading “My Favorite Ghost”

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”