Thursday, February 28, 2013

Deep Breaths and Shaking Hands

I made myself visit a church this past weekend.  My kids were staying with my parents Saturday night and I impulsively told my mom that I would try to visit a church Sunday morning if they could keep the boys until after lunch.  I immediately hated that I'd said it out loud, thereby committing to it, but sometimes it takes a few seconds of impulsivity for me to push myself into something I’ve been avoiding.  I mean, I can't just keep writing and talking about finding a church and not actually do anything about it.  That's not how it works.

It really shouldn't be that big of a deal.  I've attended church far, far longer in my life than I haven't.  Sure, each congregation has its own culture, but I have been to a lot of different churches and the service part is inherently not that difficult if you are able to sit quietly, follow the lead of people around you, and look forward for an hour.  It should have been easy for me to go.

But it wasn't.

I arrived a little early and sat in my car in the parking lot, The Lumineers playing through the speakers, talking to God in my head, and reminding myself to be open.  That’s when I realized my hands were shaking.  What the heck?  I know I'm an introvert and sometimes intimidated by crowds, but I'm pretty decent at forcing confidence when I need to.  After reflecting on it a few minutes, I concluded it wasn't that I was scared of walking into the building and sitting with people I didn't know, but instead that I am scared of becoming all the things from before that I've worked so hard to unravel and put aside. 

I am afraid of acting like I'm okay with things I'm not okay with because I don't want to rock the boat.  I’m afraid of defaulting back into the lingo and putting back on the front I’d gotten pretty good at before.  I’m afraid that I will feel like I have to hide my heart and my questions and my true voice.  And I'm even more terrified that I will follow through on those feelings and hide those things because that is what it feels like to me to be in church.

But I took a deep breath and got out of the car anyway.

I've been thinking about this and trying to write about it all week.  Now that I've started to understand some of my biggest fears about going back to church, I have to face those fears and navigate the process in a way that addresses them.  I think one thing that is going to help me with this is the realization that I'm not actually looking for a church, I'm listening for a church.

What I'm listening for is a place where people are encouraged to speak with the voice God gave them. We all hear God differently and experience God differently and speak about God differently and this is what give us each our own voice.  I want to hear from and learn others in their own voice, even if what they say doesn't sound like what I would say with my voice.  As long as what is being said does not go against what we knew from scripture to be true about God, there is a lot to learn from hearing things explained through the experiences and voices of other people.  What I am listening for is a church where everyone's voice doesn't sound the same.

I think that when I finally hear in a church that different voices are heard and appreciated, I will know I have found a place where it will be okay for me to speak with my voice instead of through the old filter of what was "acceptable" for me to say or to think. When I find a place where I hear people asking questions, I will know I have found a place where I will be able to ask questions. When I find a place where each person isn't required to speak in the same voice, I will know that I've found a place where I won't have to hide who I am or what I think in order to be part of the community.

So what I really need to do right now is to listen. And listen. And listen.  I need to listen so I can learn and understand.  And when my listening leads me to ask questions, I need to still be respectful of the traditions and the cultures of the congregations I'm visiting.  All of these things are necessary if I want to figure out how to live in a faith community again.  I have no idea if what I'm listening for is something I can find in a local church in the traditional sense, or if it will be in some other kind of regular meeting-together-of-people who are trying to work out and live out their faith with each other outside of the church.  But I do know that trying to find what I'm listening for involves a lot of paying attention and working to really hear what is going on around me. 

I know I need practice listening in a way that helps me learn to form the right kinds of questions that will help me get a true understanding of a church and the people whose voices are heard there.  I know I need to learn to reserve judgement, because first impressions can be misleading.  I know this listening and keeping an open mind and learning the right way to question isn't something I'm going to know how to do overnight and I will probably make some mistakes along the way.  At this point, I am completely overwhelmed, but with a lot of listening, whispered prayers, listening, questions, and listening, I’m going to keep trying. 

And I'm going to keep taking deep breaths and making myself get out of the car, even if my hands are shaking.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

$#!&-y First Drafts

My beautiful friend Kara, who happens to be one of the world's best givers of gifts, sent me books for my birthday.  I recently finished the last one, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by author Anne Lamott.  I highly recommend it even if you don’t write.  I have no plans to write a book, but I have been trying to incorporate some of her instructions into my writing here.  Presently, I've been focusing on the chapter titled “Shitty First Drafts.”  Ms. Lamott offers some amusing narrative on how she views these terrible first drafts, but also offers this bit of wisdom:
For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts…. Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.  You need to start somewhere.  Start by getting something – anything – down on paper.  A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft – you just get it down.  The second draft is the up draft – you fix it up.  You try to say what you have to say more accurately.  And the third draft is the dental draft where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.
After considering this, I realized I need to break a bad habit I picked up when I was in college.  Between working two part-time jobs, taking a heavy course load, serving in student government, and trying to fit in a bit of a social life, there wasn't much time left to set aside for all of my writing assignments (Political Science major + English minor = a ridiculous number of papers).  I would try to do the reading and research in advance, but I rarely started writing a paper until the night before it was due.  At that point, I would write until the wee hours, review the paper, sleep an hour or two, glance over it one more time to correct any glaring errors, and turn it in.

Although I managed to do pretty well with this routine, it certainly was not ideal.  I realize now that never developing any kind of true editing and revision process back then has bled over into my current writing.  Until the past week or so, I used to write and post most of my work in the same day, without putting in much time for real scrutiny.  I went back and read some of my older posts and realized the ones I’m most proud of are those I worked on for several days before I posted them.  There are a lot of filler or ranting posts in between the better ones which are, quite frankly, just shitty first drafts masquerading as actual blog posts.

I’m trying now to focus on spending more time in the editing process so that I post less first-draft work.  I've found that taking a break from a draft for a day or so and revisiting it later makes errors more obvious to me; I also find I’m much more willing to delete sentences or entire paragraphs once I've distanced myself from them a bit.  When I used to write/review/publish all in one sitting, I felt more attached to what I’d just typed and ended up leaving in a lot of superfluous writing.

My writing may or may not be improving, but I feel like I've produced some better-edited posts, which is a pretty big deal for me.  I am extremely critical of my own work and almost always have a twinge of panic as soon as I click "Publish," wondering if I really should have shared whatever I posted.  Being more intentional with my editing has helped me feel a little more confident in my work, which is not an insignificant thing for me.

In the words of Flannery O’Connor, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”  That pretty accurately sums up the entire reason I write this blog.  Improving my writing will help improve my understanding of what I think and believe, so I should absolutely put in the effort to be intentional about it.  Better editing and more clarity may also be a welcome change to the few people who read what I write.

Of course, I've spent several days editing the heck out of this post, but there are probably still superfluous words and flow issues and errors.  I'm okay with that.  I'm not trying to be perfect, just better.

PS.  Thank you again for the book, Kara!  I loved it as much as you said I would.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Resolution Update

A little over a month ago I posted a list of books I'd started and needed to finish.  I decided I was going to read at least six of the eight books before starting a new book.

To date, I have finished reading the following books:
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Gospel Medicine by Barbara Brown Taylor

I am still in the process of reading:
Home by Another Way by Barbara Brown Taylor

I gave up on these two (for now):
Right Here, Right Now by Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford
Home: A Memoir of my Early Years by Julie Andrews

And I just started reading The Authenticity of Faith by Richard Beck.  Yep, that’s right.  I started another book before I finished six from my list.  I really tried, but Right Here, Right Now is just not what I need in the here and now.  And as much as I love Julie Andrews, I am going to wait and try her book again when I'm more in the mood for a memoir.

I could have easily finished Home by Another Way by now, but it is my current church service.  Reading Barbara Brown Taylor is my Sunday morning ritual before the boys and I do our scripture and discussion, so I decided not to rush through it just for the sake of meeting my six-book goal.  And really, no matter how wonderful the sermons, they aren't meant for reading an entire book of them straight through in a day or two; it is important to take time to reflect on each one. I decided that rather than waiting till I finish the book of sermons on my Sunday schedule and not reading anything in-between, I'd start The Authenticity of Faith.  It has been on my reading list since I finished Unclean a few months ago and I feel ready to tackle it after finishing several lighter reads.

I guess maybe I should feel a little disappointed that I didn't make myself finish one of the other books to meet my resolution, but I'm not.  It will only take me a few more weeks to finish Home By Another Way and I'm already being challenged by the Beck book, so I think I made the right choice.  I'd rather adjust my goal and keep my reading momentum than take too long of a break and have to struggle to get back into it.  Plus, who really keeps all the terms of their New Years' resolution anyway?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Why I'm A Feminist

There are many different kinds of feminists, just as there are many different kinds of.... almost any label or category you can think of that people use to describe themselves and others.  Broadly speaking, being a feminist means that you believe women are equal with men and should have equal political, social, and economic rights.  Outside of that, a person will often find a wide range of thoughts and beliefs held by those who claim to be feminists, as well as a variety of reasons why a person would choose to claim the feminist label.  If a person tells you she or he is a feminist, their beliefs and ideology may or may not be in line with what you think of as a feminist.  It is good to ask questions and listen.

I have not always identified as a feminist, but I have always believe in equality.  Over the past few years I've learned a lot more about the role my faith plays in my beliefs on equality and justice and would say now that one reason I am a feminist is because I am a Christian.  Another reason I would say I am a feminist is because I am a woman who realizes that despite how far we have come on issues of gender equality, we still have a long way to go.  I am a feminist for many reasons, but one of the reasons I think is most important is because I have sons.

Only sons and no daughters.  Sons who will grow up to be men.

I see the attitudes of so many men who are considered leaders in political or religious or business circles who, through their words and actions, communicate that women do not deserve equality or a voice or fair treatment... and my blood boils.  I see how men and women are portrayed in the media in ways that degrade and objectify women... and my heart breaks.  There are times the odds seem insurmountable to reach a point where we are all treated fairly and equally regardless of gender.  I don't want my sons to think any of this is acceptable and I especially don't want for them to become part of the problem.

Of course, I also see men in political or religious or business circles who, through their words and actions, promote equality and fairness... and I am overjoyed.  I see men and women who fight against the degradation and objectification of women... and my heart soars.  I want my sons to know about these people and see that things can be different.  Being a feminist and being aware of these people so I can learn from them and help my sons learn from them is a big part of that.

A few months back I wrote a post riffing on Rachel Held Evans' writing about the cosmic lottery and the privilege my kids were born with simply because they are white American males.  I wrote that I wanted to raise them in such a way that they do not use any advantages this gives them to put themselves ahead of others.  I went back and read it again and I think the following is worth repeating in this discussion:
I want my boys to learn that any good things they may have in their lives don't make them better than anyone else.  I want them to see others as their brothers and sisters in this world... I am trying to figure out how to teach my boys to be able to step back from their own experience, to listen, to connect, to care, and to think.  And, when appropriate, I want them to help, to stand up, and to speak out. 
Sometimes I feel like my heart will break with the weight of thinking about these things.  I wonder if there will ever come a day when there aren't so many people looking at others who are different from them and trying to find ways to deny them dignity.  I wonder if pondering and being deliberate about these issues will make a difference.  I wonder if trying to instill a sense of humility and responsibility in my two little boys will ever matter at all.
I think that sums up why I am a feminist.  I am a feminist because, even if it is only my two little boys who are hearing me, I want to raise them to treat others fairly and equally.  I want them to see that their dad and I treat each other as equals and share equally the responsibility for earning money and taking care of our household because that is what we both want and agreed to before we got married.  I hope they remember that we arranged our work schedules so that one of us was always home with them, even though we both work full-time.  I pray the example we set for them and the things we teach them will help them become members of society who realize the importance of equality.

I want to raise my sons to know that although we are each put on this earth to serve others, we are never to treat others as though they were put here to serve us. We are never to objectify, degrade, oppress, or use others, because every person is made in the image of God, regardless of their genetic make-up or how different they may be from us.  I want to raise my sons to be the kind of men who treat others -- especially women -- the way they want to be treated.

And being a feminist is just one of the many ways I can teach them that.

Note: This post is part of a linkup on Feminism hosted by Kelly J. Youngblood at Renewing Your Mind.  Please check out the other posts and join in the conversation.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Only Happy Endings - Part 1

I have this thing where I cannot watch movies or television programs with a lot of violence.  This, of course, means that there are a lot of them out there which are raved about by my friends and professional critics alike that I am unable to watch.  Yes, I know it’s just acting and yes, I know all the blood and gore and scars of that violence is fictional, but that doesn’t make any difference to me at all.  When I watch violence on a screen, it deeply disturbs me.

I also have a quirk where I only like books or movies with happy endings.  I know there are literary and cinematic masterpieces this excludes me from enjoying, but I’ve come to accept that.  I do not find tragedy and heartbreak entertaining, so if I am choosing to spend my time on something for the purpose of being entertained, I want things to work out and I want people to be happy. 

From the time I was very young, I read memoir after memoir of persons who lived through some of the worst times in history.  I don't read so many of those anymore, but I do pay attention to world news and current events.  Too many real bad things happen in the real world and I can’t sit through accounts of awful things portrayed in entertainment without thinking of that.  Even though the violence or horror in entertainment is fictionalized, I know that much of it was inspired by actual horrible things that have happened to actual people in the past.  Even though I didn’t know those people, that doesn’t make me less horrified. 

And those are just things that are out there as part of history that happened to people I will never know, in places I will probably never go. 

In real life, I love people who have dealt with more pain and heartbreak than any person should ever have to experience.  There are other people who have a piece of my heart who just can't seem to catch a break, no matter how hard they are trying to do things the right way.  And just today I learned that someone I’ve never met in person, but whom I nonetheless consider to be one of my kindred spirits, got some heartbreaking news yesterday.  Tears are spilling over as I write this, wishing there weren’t so many miles between us and that I could hug her and play with her kids as she works through the process of going forward from here.  When I look around, there is plenty of real heartbreak and struggle and hardship in the real lives of real people I know. 

My insistence on good things and happy endings in entertainment isn't because I can't handle bad things or heartbreak; it's just that real life already has more than enough.

So, I’m sorry if I can’t watch your favorite television show because it has too much violence.  I’m sorry if I can’t enjoy your favorite movie because it has too much tragedy and a depressing ending.  I’m sorry if I didn’t like your favorite book because I couldn’t handle my heart breaking over all the horrible things that happened to a fictional character.  Real life is shitty enough a lot of the time and my heart is often too broken and raw from loving and hurting for people who are dealing with real bad things. 

I simply cannot handle spending my entertainment time on bad things too.  Please just let me have something to remind me of good things and let me have my damn happy ending. 

Even if it isn’t real life.

Update:  After having a few conversations about this happy ending thing, I'm going to write a follow-up post within the next few days.  I may not have fully explained myself here and think there is more to explore on this topic.


In trying to figure out what to do about church, I've been giving a lot of thought to the bandwagon-type movements that seem to cycle through American Christian culture.  It seems so often a person feels led to follow a specific path, and the next thing we know they are organizing conferences, printing slogans on t-shirts and bracelets, selling glossy teaching kits, and trying to convince everyone that what they came up with is the "Christian" thing to do. 

I often wonder if these people ever pause to ask if it was supposed to be something to try to sell to the Church or if their revelation was instead meant for their own heart, a decision for their own life.  I wonder if the people jumping on the bandwagon with them ever take the time to examine if it is really what is best for their own life.  Many things sound like a great idea at first, but unless we ask ourselves a lot of questions before following along, we may eventually look around and see we’ve gotten our own journey off-track.

As well-meaning and based in scripture as some of these bandwagon movements may be, I think there is a real possibility that things like kissing dating goodbye or a specific money-management system or fill-in-the-blank wasn’t intended to be sold to the church as the model for all of Christianity.  This isn't to say that the reasoning behind these things are bad or that they aren't right for some people; It's just that when we attempt to paint all Christians with the broad strokes of these movements, we run the risk of missing a different point-of-view that is just as God-inspired and may be better for others.  

I’m not saying we shouldn’t tell others what we've learned or share our insights, but I worry about these things morphing from our personal convictions into a litmus test for the spiritual health or integrity of others. 

Certainly there are some things that are supposed to be universal to all Christians, but these slogans and pledges and movements can distract us from BEING the Church.  If we are all exactly the same, doing everything in the exact same way, there will be a lot of places we won’t go and a lot of people we won’t know.  It is not my place to tell others that their bandwagons and teaching kits and t-shirts aren't the right way for them, because I am not them.  But my life may not lead me to buy in to all of those things because, even if the scripture behind it is something I have to live out, the way the movement does it may be a wrong fit for my life. 

No one else is the wife of my husband, the mother of my children, the eldest daughter of my parents, the friend of every single one of my friends, the co-worker of everyone I interact with at work, and so on.  Even if other people are part of one of those environments, none of them have the exact same relationship to those people I have. 

I want to have the grace to listen to the people on the bandwagon and work on hearing their heart, but I also want to have the strength and discernment to opt out when my life and my faith takes me places the bandwagon isn't going.  Just as it would be wrong for me jump on for the sake of fitting in, it would be equally wrong for me to automatically dismiss the heart behind these things just because I'm uncomfortable with packaging of the source.  Listening without joining is okay.

I may not agree that when a person feels led in a certain way they should look immediately for how to leverage it into an idea to market to the church.  I may not feel comfortable defining my faith in a teaching kit, confining it to a bumper sticker, or proclaiming it on a bracelet, but I can't say if others should or shouldn't.  Faith is complex and I have to wrestle with mine in the best way I can.  I have to be able to embrace all the aspects of my faith and work it out in my own life with the people I am in relationship with. 

I know that for me, this is not something I can do on a bandwagon, wearing a one-size-fits-all t-shirt.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On Compliments and Weirdness

I have a weird thing about compliments and I've been called out a few times recently for my response to them.  I’ve been told it is rude to respond to compliments with self-deprecating humor or disagreement like I usually do, but I just don’t know what is the right way to respond. 

I am five feet, three inches tall and have a small frame.  I have long brown hair and blue eyes. I am somewhat oddly proportioned, with a long waist but a short upper-torso.  I have skinny arms and a small forehead.  My nose fits my face, but my eyes are more hooded than I would like. 

Aside from the ability to dye or cut my hair if I want, the rest of what I've described above was completely out of my control. I didn’t have any say over the face I ended up with, just as I didn’t choose to be near-sighted.  Trying to take care of my body and look presentable is up to me, but acting like I had some say in what I look like seems like saying I could have chosen to be born somewhere other than Ohio.

And this is why I never know how to respond to any compliments I may receive on my appearance.  It's not like it happens all the time or anything, but when it does, I simply don’t know what to say.  I look how I look.

When you really consider compliments on appearance, they come down to this: something about the way one person looks is appealing to the person giving the compliment.  If it is physical characteristics, the compliment is basically: "Good job being born with physical characteristics I find pleasant to observe."  If it is in regards to some other aspect of appearance, like the person's clothes or hairstyle, the compliment boils down to: "I noticed you choose a hairstyle or outfit I like." 

I brought this up at a recent work happy hour, because obviously after you've all had two drinks this is the perfect thing to get all psychological about – especially when you’re just a bunch of people who work in IT and none of you are experts in psychology.  Everyone (read: all three people) I've discussed this with agree with me that it is difficult to know the correct response to compliments on appearance. 

I admit that even though I'm terrible at responding, I love it when someone compliments my appearance.  A kind-hearted (read: non-creepy) comment can immediately brighten my day.  If a compliment is really just a person stating his or her opinion, why do compliments still make us feel good about ourselves?  Is it that we appreciate so much that someone took the time to notice us and the effort to say something about it that the logic is behind it doesn’t matter?  Should we feel weird about giving compliments based on appearance if the other person doesn’t have any control over our opinion?

All this writing about it and I still have no idea.

Really, how we act and how we treat others should matter more than how well we appeal visually to others.  Kindness or compassion or hard work or making positive use of our talents.... Those are things we have the ability to choose and try to cultivate in life.  Maybe compliments on appearance seem weird because they are based on things we can’t entirely control rather than aspects of who we are that we can control.

I guess it’s not an either/or situation.  It’s fine to appreciate if someone takes the time to compliment appearance and it is also important to put effort into more than our exterior.  I still don’t know exactly what to do or say in response to compliments, but this whole conversation has made for some funny jokes at work now.  I may still be awkward about compliments, but if the result of all of this is something to laugh about at work, I guess it was totally worth bringing up.

I realize I’m completely overthinking it, but sometimes I do that.  I guess I should just say “thank you” to any compliment and move on without going over all of this in my head every time.

Yeah.  That’s probably what I should do.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Making Peace with Bonhoeffer

“Finally, one extreme statement must still be made, without any platitudes, and in all soberness. Not considering oneself wise, but associating with the lowly, means considering oneself the worst of sinners. This arouses total opposition not only from those who live at the level of nature, but also from Christians who are self-aware.  It sounds like an exaggeration, an untruth. Yet even Paul said of himself that he was the foremost, i.e., the worst of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). He said this at the very place in scripture where he was speaking of his ministry as an apostle. There can be no genuine knowledge of sin that does not lead me down to this depth.  If my sin appears to me to be in any way smaller or less reprehensible in comparison with the sins of others, then I am not yet recognizing my sin at all.  My sin is of necessity the worst, the most serious, the most objectionable. Christian love will find any number of excuses for the sins of others; only for my sin is there no excuse whatsoever. That is why my sin is the worst. Those who would serve others in the community must descend all the way down to this depth of humility.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together

Before I proceed, I want to say that I've shared only an excerpt from the book and if you haven’t read it, yes there are entire sections on confession and holding each other accountable.  I wanted to say that so no one makes the mistake of dismissing the sentiment above or what I'm about to write as some kind of “everything is permissible, even blatant sin” argument.  As much as I love and agree with the statement, “Christian love will find any number of excuses for the sins of others,” I do not, in fact, believe that means we should pretend that everyone can do whatever the hell they want with no consequences. 

That said, I finished Life Together and think I've made peace with Bonhoeffer.  I found so many insights in the second half of the book that it will take me years to process all of them.  I may have a college degree from a Christian university and be a life-long reader, but I am still pretty new to reading theology.  It can be inspiring, but sometimes frustrating and difficult to process.  I'm learning as I go.  I'm glad I committed to finish reading the book, because there is a lot I would have missed if I had stopped reading when I found the first part difficult to manage.    

I think there are some things we each believe on some level, but that we don't fully understand until we read or hear them explained in a way that "clicks" with our own mind and heart.  For example, when I was reading Exclusion and Embrace and I knew as I was reading I had always believed so much of what was in that book, but I hadn't put in the years of research and studies required to be able to explain what I believed with the wisdom and depth of insight in which Miroslav Volf is so fluent.

I had a similar experience when I read the above passage from Life Together, only this time with a twinge of realization of how far I am from that ideal.  Of course I, like many people, don’t think my own sins are really THAT reprehensible in comparison to the sins of others, otherwise I probably couldn’t live with myself. But I am deceiving myself to think that when I mess up it is somehow not as bad as when others do. Thinking my sin is more acceptable or is more easily forgiven is prideful and wrong. Sin is sin.

It is okay to be disappointed when I feel that others have completely missed the spirit of love by clinging so tightly to the letter of the law.  It is right to call out abusive words and actions.  But none of that can be done from an attitude that I am more right or have the upper moral or spiritual ground.  I can believe with all my heart that what someone has said or done is so wrong that I can’t even reconcile it with any thought of decency.  Yet, I still must not think that my sin or where I go wrong is somehow acceptable compared to what I perceive to be that person's sin or where they go wrong.

I have to be accountable for the things I do and where I fail.  I have to own the times I am wrong.  I have to be humble enough to say that even though I can see those things right in front of me that seem like GLARING NEON SIN BILLBOARDS on others, I have to know that my own sin billboards are twice as offensive.

For quite a while I felt that I should speak up and point out what I considered to be glaring errors in the way others behaved or how they thought of certain things. I felt that because I was learning to think differently about things and that I should help others get there too. But that isn’t my job. My job is to listen. My job is to focus on removing the proverbial plank from my own eye.

It is a struggle to "descend all the way down to this depth of humility," let alone to stay there.  It is always a temptation to justify my shortcomings by comparing them to what others do that I'd like to think is worse.  But after spending time with this passage over the past few days, I realize I have no grounds for comparison.  I have no grounds for feeling superior.  I have no grounds for excusing myself while condemning others.  Humility and love are the only acceptable lenses through which I can view the sins of others.  My sin is the worst and I must act accordingly.

"This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: 
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—
and I am the worst of them all."
1 Timothy 1:15

Friday, February 8, 2013

Romans 12:15 in Three Translations

Laugh with your happy friends when they are happy, share tears when they’re down. (MSG)
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (NIV)
Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. (NLT)

So much noise.  So much stress.  So many distractions.  So much going on all the time.  It is too easy for me to get caught up in my own life and what I have going on, but that isn’t the way life is supposed to be.  We need to share life with each other, to bear witness to what is happening in the lives of others. 

I’ve been trying to take time to do this sharing of life more often, although with craziness at work and someone in our house being sick almost every weekend so far this year, I can’t say I’ve been the best at it lately.  I did manage to get together with a childhood friend for dinner tonight.  I hadn’t seen her in a long time, and it was nice to sit and catch up. 

Even though I’m back home alone now, (the kids are staying the night with my parents) I’m taking some time to sit and share life with some people.  I can’t be with them in person at the moment, but I want to be present just the same.

Tonight I celebrate new life.  Two friends I’ve known as long as I can remember are both expecting.  One baby was a total surprise and the other longed and prayed for during years of infertility and illness.  These new babies will be delivered into welcoming arms and enormous extended families.  They will be cherished and so, so loved. 

My heart is full.

This world can be such a wonderful place.

Tonight, I'm pausing to laugh and to rejoice and to be happy with my friends who are happy.

But my eyes are also full of tears tonight.  All week that square on the calendar with the “8” in it has been catching my attention and causing a lump to rise in my throat.  February 8th.  Six months since beautiful Zeke’s accident.  Six months that his family has been missing him.  It is so unbelievably wrong and I think of them and pray for them continually, despite that I know nothing changes what their reality is now or what they feel.

My heart weeps.

And I’m pausing tonight to share tears and to mourn and to let my heart weep with those who weep.

Tonight I’m keeping extra space in my heart for others.

Tonight I pray.

Monday, February 4, 2013


A woman I know once told me that when she first started commuting daily on the interstate, she prayed God would always let her merge onto the highway with no issues.  She said that since that day years ago, there was always a break in traffic as she came down the on-ramp.  That is a nice story, and I was raised to believe that God cares about all these little details of our lives.  But I have to confess something I've realized recently:  If I’m expected to follow a God who will regularly adjust traffic patterns so that one lady can be less stressed about driving on the expressway, but who can’t seem to be bothered to do anything about genocide or war or starvation or kids dying of cancer, I don’t think I want anything to do with that God.  Do I know that God is not intervening and causing cars to part like the Red Sea for this friend?  No. I have no idea.  He may be. But these are the kinds of doubts and questions I struggle with daily and this struggle sometimes causes me to feel like my faith is weak.  So many other people are so very certain.


When I was in college, I went to see the campus counselor for several months because of something that happened to me when I was little.  Worse things have happened to other people, but it was damaging enough that I felt I should see a professional to help me figure out how to deal with it.  She was a nice lady, but when I told her about it, I’m pretty sure she was thinking, “That is really not that bad.”  Okay, maybe she didn’t really think that, but I honestly don’t remember anything we talked about that helped me feel any differently about it.  I know some people have dealt with worse, but that doesn’t mean that it was okay for this thing to happen to me.


Both of these seemingly unrelated things came to mind as I’ve been wrestling with my One Word.  For a couple weeks I’ve been working a riff on these lines about weaving:
Warp means "that which is thrown across.”  Weft is an old English word meaning "that which is woven."  The method in which these threads are inter-woven affects the characteristics of the cloth.  Because the warp is held under high tension during the entire process of weaving, warp yarn must be strong.  The warp of a fabric, in other words, acts like a net to capture the weft, holding these threads firmly so that they will not escape, causing the textile to unravel.

I have been putting a lot of effort into the concept of warp.  In trying to focus on figuring out how to put my unravelings back together and what characteristics I want my life to have, I thought that establishing the warp, especially for the context of writing about it, was pretty important.  I felt that I needed to clearly define the warp and focus on it for a while.  The sentence "Because the warp is held under high tension during the entire process of weaving, warp yarn must be strong" initially inspired me to write about how “love” is the warp.  I mean, isn't that how love is?  It has to be strong and made out of something substantial.  It can't be just a distraction or something half-hearted.  There is so much tension there – with who we love, how we love, the love we accept  – and how God’s love allows us to live out love in the right way.

But that post would not come together.  I worked on it for days and it never made sense.  As much as I strive to do everything out of love, I don't.  I'm flawed. My life doesn't fit into a neat metaphor that way.  I’m still sorting through so much, which isn’t a task with a clearly defined beginning and end.  I'm so busy reading and listening and learning and living and dealing with the new and the old that I can’t set a timeline for figuring everything out or saying that everything I do can be summed up in something so perfect.  And I refuse to pretend something that isn't reality just because I've committed to the word “weave” for the year and want to write something pretty about it.

At about this point in my frustration over the mess I seem to be making, I realized it's not love, it’s me.  I am the warp.  My life is the warp.  I'm not the one weaving, not really.  I know that I am making choices daily about what I make my life out of, but there is so much out of my control.  I may be making decisions about what to incorporate into or leave out of the pattern, but I'm not entirely in control.  I am the one in the tension, in the process, and the weaving is happening whether I’m trying to make it happen or not. 

Is God the one weaving?  Maybe.  There was a time when, just like the friend I mentioned earlier, I tried to believe that God was up there directing every detail of my life – from the grade I got on a test to finding a pair of shoes in my size on sale.  But I just don’t believe that now.  I do believe we are created in God’s image and I do believe that God is there, but I also think many things just happen.  They happen as the result of choices or sin or... who knows?  Maybe a butterfly wing fluttering or a tree falling unheard in the forest.  I have to do the best I can with what I have and with what happens and try to hold on to hope – hope that somehow, long after my present has become my past, the characteristics I end up with are mostly good and what has been woven is strong enough that it doesn't unravel. 

This is why the weaving is more about taking what comes and figuring out what it will be in my life.  It doesn’t mean not caring or not being as intentional as possible, but there are many unknowns and unforeseens and I can’t control all of it.  Some things are just going to happen, even if they shouldn’t, and some things are going to turn out far differently from what I had planned.  There will probably be times I realize that I’ve focused all my efforts on incorporating something, only to find that it doesn’t belong.  There will probably be times I suddenly notice something vital that has been there all along, but that I didn't see until something happens to make it obvious.  I know there will be times of unraveling and reworking, especially as I learn and live and grow.  And as frustrating and painful as that will be, it is real and it is okay. 

I’m learning that I am strong and I am getting used to the tension.  I guess I will find out if I am strong enough to keep up with the process.