Eyes to See

I have to see my neighbor to respond. I have to be near them to identify they’re hurt, that there in their face is Jesus, and in the space between me and them is the salvific command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Perhaps others have better memory. God has seen it fit for me to stay in physical proximity to arrays of need, since moving to the equator at 13 till now, at 32, living on an equator between rich and poor. And I still forget. I still forget we belong to each other and the good samaritan example is the climax of this life of Christian discipleship.

Yes, there are needs everywhere, and so many under my own roof, but there’s something forceful about living in a place where your looks don’t match, your culture and background don’t match, and your norms are shown to be privilege, with daily reminders of the inequity and blight of this temporal world. It is my pleasure, my privilege, and my pain to be a guest here. Yes, becoming less and less each day but no matter how it all develops, it started with choice, and that sets me apart. It will always set me apart.

I live and love in a beautiful neighborhood with lush, inventive yards, gourmet home chefs, majestic magnolias, and strollers and children and small businesses everywhere. There are also money stores, robbing the poor, and failing schools, feeders to a criminal justice system that feels more criminal than just. Heat reverberating off the cement, bouncing off the stucco, gleaming in the sweat of hardworking people, pointed in the bars on the windows and burning in the hearts of the mothers wanting the best for their children.

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It is here, between three planes of cement, with a faraway sky looking down from above, that a neighbor was attacked, stabbed more than a dozen times, in the middle of the thoroughfare between the middle school my husband works in, that started my entrance into this zip code, and the elementary school my children attend. At 11 in the morning, before God, in the alley that looks like a gutter, blood was pooling, and people poured out from all the walls.

It is here I was reminded with scarlet and shrieking alerts that good samaritans do not work remotely. And though physically I may live in the midst of need, I can emotionally and mentally relocate. Her cries echo still in our community, pulling us out of our silos, pointing us, pointing us, back to the road to Jericho. Asking us, asking us–when was the last time you touched the stranger, risked your safety? When was the last time it cost you something to prepare for this eternal life?

The men called the professionals and offered advice. The impromptu team of women bent low, the first to touch, to ask about her kids, as though meeting in the market–the lifelines of connection, family and what to live for. The Lord shielded the eyes of the children, no classes out between nutrition and lunch, no transfers between electives and schools. Pressure, and touch, and prayers applied. Blood thickened, the loss slowing. Hearts went out, and were returned emboldened.

We didn’t know where all the wounds were. We never do.

In time the uniforms arrived. She was taken to better help. Her son on the way. Her attacker found. A young man, wounds inside, being chased by his own attackers. God have mercy.

I was on my way to precious office hours. The privileged work I’m paid for, the place where children are not tugging and the climate is controlled. I saw my friend running. The screaming was not a normal screaming. The interruption was glaring, the invitation stark. I couldn’t miss it. But so often, so often, I do. In less dramatic stories, I find the angle to the other side of the street. I don’t look up from my text, my text of Christian employment, domestic hurry, measured sacrifice, as though that could be true. I miss the bending to the ground, the giving and finding of life, the neighbor I so need.

I forget that the commands are in the middle of the gift, the good samaritan told in the context of how to gain. The mystery of this Christian life is not how well it coincides with our American identity and sensibilities and comfort. The mystery of this Christ-filled life is how the giving and the lessening and the kneeling is our only way of promotion and purpose. The broken hallelujahs. The breaking of the bread. The exposure of scars.

“In shattered places, with broken people, we are most near the broken heart of Christ, and find our whole selves through the mystery of death and resurrection, through the mystery of brokenness and abundance.” -Voskamp, A Broken Way. Blessed are you when bad things happen and faćades fall down–favored, preferred, attended to by God are you when…

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This morning I was replanting feeble seedlings in a garden bed. I am a stranger to growing green, to trying new things, and risking failure. As I pressed on the good soil I had mixed in with the old, surrounding the small plant–propping it up with a hope and a prayer–I heard “you hem me in, behind, and before…you lay your hand on me…” I felt so lucky to have laid my hand on that dear woman in a time of brokenness, and a few days later, replanting for abundance, both pressing and feeling pressed upon. A couple hours later a friend sent me the same text, graphic and new.

Yes, there is no where we can flee from His glory. In death, in pain, in the gutters of our own selfishness, we are not abandoned. We are surrounded, as though a woman in an alley, bleeding but helped, wounded but rescued. We are each so human, so broken. Vulnerable. And these very things, which Jesus tenderly modeled, are the currency of God’s favor and love–of transcendent life. Give and receive; break and find life.

See and be seen.

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Staying

It is no small and unholy thing to stay.

I don’t know about you but I sow my wild oats in the wee hours of my soul’s nights. I rebel from my heart, not my body. In my deviance, I move through my own life as a visitor, a reluctant tourist, as though my connecting flight was delayed and I flirt with fantasies of departure. Mentally, emotionally. I wish to be impenetrable. I think that it, that my presence, makes no difference.

In the morning, when dawn starts and I feel the relief of new mercy, I relearn that becoming absent is not the answer, but rather full presence is the promise. Compartmentalizing is not often our strength as nurturers; integration is. On the other side of my leave, I resolve that one of the most powerful and transcendent things I can offer my own health, my Lord, and my family community, is the posture of staying. I pray for the faith that suggests that God is for me here, with my longings and fears. I believe that God is for them—the children, the friends, the others—here, so we can all stay and I can be present to whatever this holds.

Professional chaplains finesse the art of this ministry of presence. Their work relies on the theology that the Diety indwells the humane and in one another’s company, we draw nearer to God. Whether visiting a person in a coma, or incarcerated, a premature infant in NICU, or a chatty outpatient, the chaplain offers their presence to the pain, and enters the space having been honest with their own condition and capacity that day. Their effectiveness is not often measurable; it must be undergirded with a sound theology of Immanuel. So too is ours.

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We do not wear badges, nor chart our visits, but mothers and wives and women are full time practitioners of the ministry of presence, the discipline of staying, and it is a powerful cadence in the milieu of constant updates, upgrades and uprooting.

As missional women, the fire in our spirits and the thrust in our activism can lead us to a restlessness that bankrupts our confidence. Because the rubric of the empire, which American Christianity has often adopted, involves fame and fortune, statistics and stages, we itch. We measure our success on a faulty scale and despair, when all the while, our steadfast presence, our dwelling here and with, is the salve to our want, and the world’s searching. It is resistance and it is confounding. It is growing up and it is an anchor to the tossing.

Sharing reflections from the transformative community of Benedictine life, Joan Chittister speaks straight to me in the middle of my sticky linoleum: There comes a time in life when everyone else’s family seems to have been better than my own. There comes a moment when having everything seems to be the only way to squeeze even a little out of life. There comes a day when this job, this home, this town, this family all seem irritating and deficient beyond the bearable. There comes a period in life when I regret every major decision I’ve ever made. That is precisely the time when the spirituality of stability offers its greatest gift. Stability enables me to outlast the dark, cold places of life until the thaw comes and I can see new life in this uninhabitable place again. But for that to happen, I must learn to wait through the winters of my life (Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, p. 151).

We know this irritation and this wait. And we also know, when by God’s grace we’ve approached Him with our misgivings, and sat with ourselves and each other, warding off both the guilt and the flight, that the ministry of presence is disarming in all the right ways. We know, for when we receive someone’s full attention or we feel the Lord’s pleasure after the full arc of a day alongside a child’s wonder, that the ministry of presence is healing. Renewing. Soothing.

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As a chaplain of communities such as the family, the church, the school, the neighborhood, the mother figure announces God’s goodness and steadfastness even as she relies on it herself. As a person vulnerable to other people, she demonstrates the invitation of the triune God. As a person rejecting the chains of perfection, consumerism, and control, she presents herself as an approachable companion to others. As she sits without judgment with an overwhelmed new mom, quietly occupies an overtired child in a hospital waiting room, or listens to a child’s unreasonable plans for a birthday for the tenth time, she suggests a Love and a Grace we only learn from one another. She resembles a weeping Savior, a cooking Messiah, present, stayed in the smallest and deepest of ways.

Even when it costs. Even when the night before she took a little trip through the weeds of want and the rushes of regret. She is present not because she does not have any other options or distractions or because it is easy; she is present because God is present to and in her, and this station is a conduit of the calling, not its culmination.

And so, my sisters, I see your choice to stay and I raise my glass. I applaud your outstanding grit to remain present over the years that you cannot speed nor slow, the surprise visits, the illnesses, the chores, that bleed into each other, that step on the heels of the next, and on the toes of your own securities. May the meaning of the moments neither pass us by nor overwhelm us to despair. We are here, together, injecting the daily with the divine. Thank you for staying.

Missional Women and Skyscrapers

When I first became a mom, I was also in my early years of adulthood and vocational ministry. I had just graduated with a masters in theology, and as grateful as I was for the gift of a child, I also deep down felt a little cheated. Like I had let everyone down, like I was going in the opposite direction as planned. I was very young, and I had many ideals and intentions that seemed incongruent with being a mother. I careened into motherhood like I did other stages of my life, and as quickly as I could I resumed roles and responsibilities, out to prove that being a mom wasn’t the end of me. Mostly to myself. In doing so, I delayed forming a more congruent sense of identity, and fostered a belief that motherhood competed with a better purpose.

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Looking back, I wonder if I spent too much time fighting against my role as mom, disliking the embedded stereotypes I felt defensive towards, as opposed to seeing this new part of my life as a conduit through which those ideals could manifest creatively. I wonder if I could have been a little easier on myself, a little more trusting of God’s work through me as opposed to relying on my effort. I am now seven years into my irreversible tenure as a mother and I’ve settled down a bit. I had a short, glorious reprieve from diaper bags, leaking sippy cups, and pack’n’plays. Now, we are a year into our third son, cherishing the good with the hard, a little less rushed, a little less pressured, and, honestly, a little less together.

I can tell you that being a mom has not become the definition of who I am but it has determined most of my waking and sleeping hours for the past 7 years. I can also tell you that, at the same time, it hasn’t been a death sentence to my ideals, my sense of calling, and my dreams. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you, yes you, that new mom, or the woman who had an unexpected, irreversible detour of any kind, are still on mission. I’m glad to report, even just 7 years in, that the socially-minded, justice-fighting, feminist, grown-ass Jesus-loving woman can co-exist with this honor of motherhood. That, as Donald Miller articulates in describing his friend David in Scary Close, maybe while life is declining “in earthly validation [it is] all the while ascending in the stuff that really matters.” You don’t have to become a mom to learn some of the things I’m learning. But you don’t have to not be one also.

I am writing against the doubts and shadows of despair that I myself still face occasionally. You know the ones: the flat one-liners that reduce us to who we are in relationship to one other person, or box in our dreams to a specific shape, size, and color. I’m writing to you from a fellow trench of deafening needs, long days, and short years. You are still you, and your heart for others is going to grow, not wither, from your station in the home.

// .  // .  // .  // .  //

 

Women who are primarily labeled stay-at-home-moms in this blessed world routinely practice a very profound behavior: the act of invitation. She invites the tears of her children, the sighs of her husband, the stories of the cast of characters in her ever-growing community. She invites care when she is exhausted or confused, and help when she is sick. By nature of being a woman, she is vulnerable to surprise, cycles, changes, setbacks and regrouping. She receives people, in her physical space and her emotional depths. She reflects Trinitarian reciprocity and extends the hospitable nature of God as wife, mother, neighbor, friend, visitor.

As a woman translates her self into her leadership in the home, in developing familial and extra-home relationships, and in turn allows her self to be affected and matured through that role, she embodies a powerful combination of structure and adaptability. These are the crossbeams of a good invitation.

In family systems theory, boundaries, adaptability, and the permeability of family norms and rules is discussed. When a family dance is met with a new person through birth or adoption, or a crisis occurs in a particular person’s life, the system has choices. Does everyone’s life come to a screeching halt? Do family rules end up in the trash bin, never to be considered again? Does everyone except one person make sweeping changes, protecting a particular person’s rigidity? Does the family grow out of touch, strangers under the same roof? How elastic is the microsystem?

In Los Angeles, buildings are designed or renovated with an earthquake in mind. The techniques engineers use to mitigate damage to the structure given a seismic crises are mind-blowing to this onlooker. And useful for the ideas of family systems and missional women. There are a variety of technologies but what I found most interesting are the innovative ways in which engineers equip a building to be flexible, and move in counterbalance to the earth’s movement. Rigidity is not reinforced; tension cables, swinging masses, steel tendons, rubber bearings, shape memory alloy…any of these may be the ying to the earth’s yang. To think that our ever-changing beautiful LA skyline is invisibly fluid, absorbent, and responsive.

It occurs to me that in so far as a woman equips her self to be responsive, yet stable, to the larger world, whether the bassinet beside the bed, or the neighbor everyone else calls crazy, she accomplishes the holy task of making room for the Other. In a spontaneous and unglamorous act of allowing her day (not to mention her night) to be run by a pre-verbal life-sucking bundle of joy, or in visiting the lonely with a front carrier and a curated portfolio of puree pouches, she is practicing divine invitation. As she becomes practiced at changing her plans to host a school playmate, inviting an unlikely guest to the Thanksgiving dinner, or promoting her home as a place to drop by unplanned, she demonstrates to her children, her self, and her community that perfection and predictability are not the priority. She acts subversively to the isolating American norms of privacy and refusing liability. She calls to the carpet the evangelical idol of the nuclear family unit and the consumerist approach to making a home.

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When a family system is moderately cohesive, and moderately adaptable, it achieves a flexible structure, a retrofitted connection. Family boundaries are neither rigid nor transparent but permeable. So it is safe for a crisis to arise in or out of the home; the system will hold. It is okay for someone to have an autonomous thought. The connection is not threatened. The dance will change. The change can be painful. But the building does not fall down. It is safe to go to this family with a need. It is appreciated when a guest invites their friend to the party. The children remain the children; the adults remain the adults, but the home is not a bunker. It is a port.

As a missional mom, it’s life-giving to me to continuously and awkwardly sort out how to use my home, my errands, my little realm of supposed control, in a reciprocal manner. I ravenously watch other women who have achieved these maneuvers. A dream that has birthed from the labor of motherhood is to instill an attitude of invitation in my family. My default as a mom is structure, preemptive organization, lists, and routines; these are my Ritalin. (I’ve been known to tape a newsletter-like document to the car dash when my husband and friend road-tripped with our oldest two kids. Because control.) But as a player in the larger mission of God’s upside-down economy, with creative agency instilled by our Creator, I’m compelled to counterbalance that structure by subjecting it to interruption.

The biblical account reinforces this idea of holy invitation, and dynamic family structures. Ruth and Naomi come to mind. Ruth, though she was the guest to Naomi’s family and land, opened up with her pain and adopts and attaches in response to calamity; their family dance shrunk and continued. In the Law, YHWH makes multiple considerations for guests and foreigners, establishing that even when His chosen people were a specific nation, that those boundaries were absorbent. His expectation was that they remember who they are and be responsive to the needs and guests around them (Deuteronomy 10:12-22). Structure and adaptability. Their family feast of booths included the visiting Levite, the servant, the sojourner, the fatherless. Permeable family lines. Jesus demonstrates innovative family makeup, and a hospitable heart always. Stopped on his way to bigger things, tending to basic needs of thousands, positioning his earthly mother to be cared for by his best friend. The culture of our faith is a radical hospitality. The sermon of our Gospel is simple invitation. Our realm lies strategically within this call.

This is unclear work. There is no syllabus. With every additional birthday of my children, additional personality type to the mix, job change, heck, counseling session, this goal of permeable family lines is adjusting. And it’s incredibly inconvenient but it’s a small price for remaining a congruent, missional person. Ladies, this is not win or lose. This is not pass or fail. Your heart is too big, your life too short for that binary garbage. Mine is too. We are committed to our families and that requires different things on different days. We are also committed to our gift for invitation and inclusion. Finding that sweet spot where these are mutually beneficial is a moving target, but what a holy opportunity. Our homes, our emotional space, our maddeningly ordinary tasks, may be the skyline of hope and belonging another soul needs. Stoicism need not apply. Perhaps never before have we been so in touch with our own humanity and limitations as now, here. What a perfect time to extend an imperfect invitation.

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Recipe Sharing

It was once recommended to me to walk into a room and consider myself the worst sinner there. Not to paralyze or dismantle identity or purpose, but to deteriorate the pride and pretense, and diffuse the human condition of anger and judgment.

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Social media is the room these days.

 

I raise my hand as the first among sinners in this room. I will say that I have done all the talking and none of the listening. I have engaged when I should have ignored or just watched. I have been condescending and used my privilege and power in unproductive ways. I have experienced the remorse that comes after speaking online, and after not saying a thing.

I confess this even as I brazenly share what I wish to keep in mind going forward (I know, I have some nerve…), because this environment isn’t ending anytime soon for most of us. And self-correcting, changing our minds and resetting is what keeps us human. I collect and share these things not as a teacher but a learner–humbly, acknowledging my blunders and gaffes. For some of you, this is too conservative advice; for others, you just wish everyone would return to their recipe sharing and crafts, me especially. For the two of you interested, here is where I am working from right now. I am still writing mid-way. This is the recipe I’m interested in and tinkering with and trying to crave.

None of these are original thoughts (obvious considering your unreliable source)…They are conglomerates of advice and note-taking and scripture and reading. Take what you will to your reflection in the mirror, or in the screen; lay whatever sticks before your God and test. I’d also like to hear your approach as we strive to live into this space with integrity.

 

7 Practices in Internet Hospitality

  • Identify truth as holy. Any little blip of it. Celebrate the holy. Dwell on the holy. Proliferate the holy.
  • Bear in mind your relationship with the person, and how much you value them. Affirm this if you can, whenever you speak. We are sensitive people, changing, reacting, hiding. Keep the humanity and personhood of the other in view. You may be doing all right today. Someone else may be at their worst. Don’t compare your best to their worst. Review your relationship. Get nostalgic about the other.
  • Pray about a response. Name what you want to say or not say before the Lord. Ruminate if this is the Spirit prompting or permitting you, or if the problem is a tickling in your sense of identity or pride or fear. Consider the Beatitudes. Would speaking put you closer to one of the groups mentioned that are blessed? Would sharing align with righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness (Eph. 1:6-11)?
  • Consider who has the least power, both in the conversation, and in the topic at hand. Give them extra room. Pass them the mic. Share their stories if you are speaking on their behalf. Accept that narrative or point of view and sit with it for a day or two. It may be packaged in something you could tear to shreds, or in a way you fundamentally disapprove of—the powerful get to walk away and define what is respectful, what is appropriate, how something should come up, and when something should end. Defer to the less powerful. Practice Jesus’ downward mobility. This is terribly uncomfortable and divine.
  • Excuse yourself from the binary tug of war that says speaking is wrong, silence is right or vice versa. Turns out social media is a place where people have to share the Good News, be the light, fight the good fight, apologize, forgive, shut up, laugh and connect over tough stuff. Hospitality looks a lot of different ways and when we make space for another person, we make space for their approach and consider what responsibility and Love look like within that. We don’t control it. We ride it. We avail ourselves here to someone else. “Hospitality means we take people into the space that is our lives and our minds and our hearts and our work and our efforts. Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves.” – Joan Chittister
  • Self-assess your limitations. How is my anxiety today? Am I in a self-preservation mode? Is my conclusion already set? Does this person remind me of someone else that I have unresolved issues with? Do I believe I am an established expert about this and therefore have no space to hear, and, maybe would have been invited if wanted? Some other great questions from Christena Cleveland specifically:
    • Am I believing the lie that if I don’t say it, it won’t be said?
    • Am I believing a lie that this person is bigger than God?
    • Am I remembering all humans are like grass?
    • Am I confusing taking up my cross with placing myself as a martyr?
  • Give and receive grace. What is your heart here? What is their heart here? Conduct yourself with integrity; there are no points. This is not debate class. Remember a time when you believed something wholeheartedly differently than now. Be prolific and sincere in your apologies and vulnerabilities; overlook whatever you can that is offensive and skip the vain defenses. Forgive yourself, and sit with the Lord to receive His forgiveness. Pray for the other person, the other pilgrim. Mercy is poured out each new day over us all. Grace is glory.

 

May the God of hope dwell within you richly.

Prone

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee:
prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
seal it for thy courts above.

What complicated, restless hearts we have. In the heat of the moment when I face difficult relationship problems, I always hedge my bets and blame the other person first. They weren’t thinking about me. They are avoiding this. Their insecurities have shaped that. I’m very innocent in the court of my mind, as luck would have it. But, of course, upon further examination, nothing is so one-dimensional, and it further extends the hurt and separation.

There’s a theme I don’t like that the Spirit has been raising a little antenna to in my heart. Abandonment. It’s a tough one. Not a pleasant word or idea, so harsh, so final. I haven’t learned too much about this theme in my life so far so will spare you the rambling, but I know it’s there.  And it has less to do with what actually happens to bring up my strong emotions currently than scars of my past and outstanding spiritual needs.

Today my guide for Lent directed me to the story of Hosea and Gomer. What a mess. I mean, really Lord? Here we see a painful marriage used to exemplify Israel’s abandonment of God, and God’s relentless pursuit and loyalty. Marriage, unsurprisingly, is great fuel for developing this abandonment theme in my life (sorry, Ryan…), and whatever the heck God wants to show me through it. I’ve said before, that to stay married is to stay a beginner. So this story of Hosea and Gomer, and his call to start over, and over, again, is compelling.

To Start All Over Again
v14-15 MSG “And now, here’s what I’m going to do:
I’m going to start all over again.
I’m taking her back out into the wilderness
where we had our first date, and I’ll court her.
I’ll give her bouquets of roses.
I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope.”

v23″I’ll have mercy on No-Mercy.
I’ll say to Nobody, ‘You’re my dear Somebody,’
and he’ll say ‘You’re my God!’”

Hosea was an imperfect husband, no matter how many times he went after Gomer. But, he is a great archetype for a perfect, loving God who powerfully speaks belonging and identity, hope and resilience, to the wandering. Even as I slowly start to wrestle with this word ‘abandonment,’ I sense His mercy. I sense that this is not a journey I have to go alone, and that He wants to show me that I was never alone, even when the seeds of these fears and trials were planted.

Fellow Wanderer, this is the Savior for us. This Jesus, this Good News, is the antithesis of abandonment. You’re the dear Somebody! The Gospel is for the Gomers. You’re the cause to start it all over again, which, really, is what Christ endured in a nutshell. A new suffering, a new courtship, an endless pursuit. Even as we prepare our hearts for the cross, no matter our sadness and suffering, we have the comfort of this loyalty and care. No relationship on earth comes close; this is not that which hurt us in the past, or repels us now. Likely, our experiences will only heighten our hunger for this, the original love.

I am praying for reminders for us of this perfect love. I’m asking to see glimpses of this extravagant faithfulness we so desire.

 

Your Crying is Safe With Me

There is so much shame in sadness.

I was told by an unhealthy friend this past month that I have no reason to ever feel depressed. I’m married to a guy whose enneagram motto is “I want to have fun.” I have young children watching me, gauging my emotions, desiring my attention and steadiness and happiness. And then there are the comparisons. I see the people seemingly perfect. And I shrink in the shadow of the real struggles my other loved ones face. Potential loss of a spouse. Incarceration. Refusing to be served by a restaurant because of their race or language. Fear of deportation. Cancer. Struggles of poverty and addiction.

It’s easy to try and muscle through (unsuccessfully) sadness and grief when it seems so petty or unmerited, situational, and privileged. When it seems so un-Christian, and unwelcome, and inappropriate. History would show me that I don’t have many good solutions for moving on when I start by denying the truthfulness of my experience. Nevertheless, the cognitive gymnastics continue.

Today the devotional guide I’m using for Lent asked me what am I sad about. We also read John 16:16-24, in which Jesus is preparing his followers for suffering and deep sadness.

Both of these things, in and of themselves, whisper to me that my sadness is okay. In this personal time of donning Christ’s suffering and offering repentance, restarting spiritual rhythms, and opening to the holy, my sadness is okay. These things suggest that my sadness’ companion, shame, is not from God, and that the two must be divorced.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice (v 20a, ESV).

Then fix this firmly in your minds: You’re going to be in deep mourning while the godless world throws a party. You’ll be sad, very sad, but your sadness will develop into gladness (v 20, MSG). 

Jesus does not ask his followers to not be sad. He tells them they will see Him again. And in the meantime, be incredibly bold and blunt with their requests to God. It sounds like sadness is not incongruous with faith. It sounds like even though they know that God is God and that things will overall, ultimately, in that transcendent way be okay, there’s space for lament. For mourning, and missing Jesus (“What does he mean by a  little while??”). For sadness and depression. And that out of that pain, they may be brazenly full of requests, pounding on God’s door, until they’ll “…no longer be so full of questions.

Whew, that sounds good. ‘Cause I’m bringing a stack of questions and a well of tears this Lenten season–tears for me, and tears for you. And tonight, I’m feeling less bad about it. Sadness is a part of this preparation for the cross, and the tomb. Sadness is a part of living as foreigners in this land. Sadness is appropriate.

Lent welcomes our sadness and questions the shame. Calvary promises one, and denies the other. Hosanna.

Nostalgia – Lent Day 1, Week 1

<< With gratefulness, I’m using my college friend’s devotional guide this Lenten season that brings in the scripture readings, reflections, parts of Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book record, and actual coloring pages designed by different artists. >>

The theme for the first week is Nostalgia. Like Garret, I have a strong internal voice from yesteryear, that influences much too much of how I evaluate Today. This unwelcome companion to my adulthood wants to define success for a life it knows nothing of and a life that yearns for godly success on its own terms. My old voice competes with the answer to “What is God’s invitation to me now, here?” and I feel, and know, and see that this voice contributes to my ongoing battles with discontent and depression.

I echo this part of the guide’s reflection: “…help me navigate the passion of my past with the wisdom of my present.”

I am filled with questions. What does spiritual formation look like now–what has it looked like for wives and moms of young kids, unpracticed in self-care, uncomfortable with traditional gender roles, and unfurled in this age of pseudo-connection and polarized faith? What space does passion inhabit when I am engrossed in other people’s needs almost every waking moment? What does the suffering and lament of Christ this season invite me to, as I both set aside temporal longings and find fulfillment and footing in the ancient, sacred rhythms?

img_5067The passages for today are 1 Kings 19:9-14, and Ps. 103:8-14. We were directed to listen and focus on particular verses in the song.

To me, verse 10 sang freedom. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. He does not maintain and enforce the old yardstick by which I measured my self; that was not His idea anyway.

Verse 8 also fought hard against the voice. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He does not hold me to a standard of motherhood and womanhood I cannot keep. He did not author the rubric I use to berate myself. His judgment is loving. His approach is calm.

In case you too are working hard to claim the Good News of liberation from past plans that have become judgments, I share this. Life is brutal; our God, our Savior, is not. His suffering is purposeful, foretold, redemptive. At times, I suffer as a part of His call. But other times, I suffer because of something empty, expired, and exhausting–a noise so consistent, so established, it’s been excused and accommodated though it no longer fits or rings true. As I step into more reflection this week, I am aware of the perils of this nostalgia soundtrack and my need for a Savior’s voice.

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Hope as Resistance

It feels more radical rather than religious to hope these days. So perhaps we’re on to something.

 

fullsizeoutput_30faThe first week of Advent is themed hope. The beckoning yonder that has no interest in denying the bleeding wounds. Hope shines under tears. It is at its best paired with sorrow.

The subversiveness of hope was lost on me as a child, and in different parts of my adult life. It’s a common word in the surface use. I hope I can find a parking spot. I hope they have my size. I hope…

Hope was veiled to me before finding greater solidarity and firsthand experience with suffering. Much of the Good News was neutralized. Much of this season was rhetoric. Hope was pretty and nice, like me, and easily packable like a wooden Christmas ornament.

Hope does not have its roots in well wishes and merriment. Nor is its head in the sand. Hope is defiant though the night is deafening. 

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This Christmas, we are practicing and whispering hope with fists clenched and arms linked. We are fully feeling the brokenness. Our feet are wet with mud and blood of chaos, pain, fear, and disappointment. Suddenly, this innocuous word HOPE, has become a battle cry for the warriors. The shroud of comfort and convenience has been shed and the power of the chant, of the mere suggestion of hope, is blowing us over.

Here people are bullied with threats of eviction and deportation, shame and disdain… and we read about that unwed teen finds herself home to Hope, pregnant, highly favored and honored.

Here the guilty are acquitted, and the innocent shot in the back, unmourned… and we read the father is visited, assured of his integrity, protected and seen.

Here the immigrated and enslaved, the stolen and the shuffled, are hurting with new rejection… and we read the nation is gathered, counted, and answered by God on High, starting with the lowest.

Here the corrupt and evil are taking positions with less care and fewer caveats than ever before… and we read the heavenlies led the mystic and the mother to safety, denying the powers that be for the Power that was, is and is to come.

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So we hope with our time. We pray and listen, though the lists grow long and the invitations scatter. We create things and say no to things because hope causes us to do differently. And is anything but automatic. We call on behalf of the voiceless. We sign on behalf of the unnamed.

We hope with our dollars. We give more than we have ever before. We invest and save in places that abide by hope in humanity and not exploitation. We buy less and we buy smart.

We hope with our hearts. We confess the ugliness beginning in us. We force quiet to hear the quiet forces. We share and hold each other when despair is choking. We open to people we don’t understand and we are watchful for those vulnerable.

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Yes, we hope with wide eyes open and tears pouring out. It is our resistance, to the numbing injustice and the end of the story; it is our protest to the closed doors, plugged ears, and empire.

We hope hard though it is hard to hope.

 

This is advent–this is hearts preparing Him room. Though there seems to be no space, no possibility, we hope through the pain. We strain to see the empty stable’s potential. It is the labor before the birth.  We hope hard because we are suffering and angry and upright. We hope hard because He came and He is coming.

 

To my daughter // 9

A letter to my daughter for a time:

Today I am reminded of you. I remember the day you were torn from our home. Though you slept through the night, you were awake for much of that one. First for examination and a soothing bottle. As I fed you in front of a sympathetic police officer, I prayed and cried while your foster dad was interrogated by a very misguided lady. Then, after you had been placed back to bed and the officers had reassured us that there would be no removal or further problems, after over an hour later, you had to wake again. This time, because of that lady’s immovable choice. This time, for a final diaper change, a final hug and grasp. You were so disoriented as we placed you in that wonky car seat.

Why am I reminded of you today? Because now my son, my youngest, is the same age as you were then. 10 days shy of 9 months—that’s when your peace was disturbed and our protection was interrupted and we lost you, despite our best efforts. Now we will be with him longer than we had you.

Every day our youngest has been with us has been a gift, just like every day with you. He looks at me for reassurance when someone else holds him, just like you did. He crawls fast towards us, after venturing away for a brave minute, just like you did. That morning, we had a garage sale, and for an hour, I took you with me to a meeting and prayer time. Like him, you went with me just about everywhere. You were distractingly happy and playful, going back and forth from me to new items in the room. His glee at movement, at us, at life, are on par with yours. And today, he will go to bed and not wake up in foreign places, away from everything he’s known. Life will continue as it should. As it should have.

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I’m also mindful of you today for another reason. I’m tender towards the young girls in my world who are growing up in a world that elected our next president, adamant that you deserve better. Young girls like your aunt-for-a-time, who is feeling defeat like a true, new agent of change, destined to make a difference for a long time. I know that you’re not my daughter, but you are the closest thing I’ve had to one, and I often think what it would be like to have a daughter in these times. You have always had many women who loved you and sought to meet your needs; I may be the one you’re never told about. But it doesn’t make me less true. Now, I want to tell you in a motherly way some truth: you, as a female, are worthy of respect, leadership, and choice, though many things will suggest otherwise.

I want to tell you, my daughter for only a time, that no matter what our culture, our courts, our elections say about women, we are made in the likeness of God, and resemble the Diety in unique and powerful ways. I want to tell you that no matter what popular vote happens, no matter what Donald Trumps and Brock Turners occur, that you are encumbered and covered with love, intelligence, power, volition and beauty, and these burdens behoove each of us to reject the narratives that would normalize misogyny and downplay our accomplishments. They implore us to insist on our God-given place at the table—every freaking table. It will be a fight and it will not be fair. Today I wish we had a better historic landmark to offer you—you at the age of 3. Our culture’s dirty laundry and resistance to change is out for all the world to see, and slaps the face of all of us women who know that sense of being better-qualified, under-appreciated, under-compensated, harder-working, less-safe, less-credible or defeated—lest we forget.

Dear sweet girl, do not forget this: you, as a woman, are equal in worth and standing in the eyes of God. I pray that the truth of who you are will echo more loudly than our misogynistic culture lies of who you should be. I am dedicated to raising sons who affirm these things about you, and your sisters, your mothers and your daughters. I am raising sons with daughters in mind. It is an upward battle; as young as they are, they are already absorbing the skewed gender slurs that mitigate our value. I am writing you, in this somewhat imaginary scenario, partly because I miss you and I still grieve you, but more so because I truly pray for your empowerment as a woman and especially as a woman of color. And on this day, the day after a set-back in this realm of things, you’re first on my list to cheer onward.

You were my daughter for a time and you are the symbol of our daughters—those girls we love, and make space for, and teach and parent, whether for an hour or 9 months. You are a face to those girls we would give anything for, that they would have the freedom and empowerment to be all they are created and capable of being, without fear and apology. I’m sorry it will take so much grit.

I write to you, from my grief and disappointment today, in hopes that tomorrow your stories, and those of your peers, would have the bearing and validation they deserve. I was blessed to be a part of your story for a time…until the very last minute. I continue to be inspired by you and love you.

Love,
a mother and woman
(proud to be both)

Homosexuality, the Hatmakers, and Hell-raising

There is no shortage of bouncers in the Kingdom of God. If only it were an actual job description in the model of Jesus.

Our stance in the threshold is awkward for He took the cross already, and He incinerated the measuring stick. So what stone is in our hand?

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There are many openings in the Kingdom, vacancies galore, but the hyped-up voices seem distracted by those roles that do not exist. I confess that I get too wrapped up in issues and who is wrong, to the detriment of loving others. I am part of the problem of the Church being front and center in culture wars rather than announcing a different culture, resolutely and tenaciously, from the margins in.

A few things: let’s keep learning, being malleable disciples of the faith, and allowing others the same, God-given luxury. Let’s remember who the real victims of this storm are. And let’s refocus our attention on embracing not excommunicating.

Watching wise older people has shown me first and foremost that age loosens rigidity and judgmental reflexes. The aging whom I admire suggest that God’s invitation is a lot more gentle and wide than was thought of yesterday…and the day before. The Seers I’m taking notes on have roots growing in Grace, for themselves and others, and have less and less invested in who is wrong.

Meanwhile, I’m amazed when people disqualify others from God’s family. Jesus Calling is demon-possessed. Hillsong is a cult. Women leaders in general: suspect. And now the Hatmakers are popularity-crazed, lukewarm (FYI, for the jargon newbies, this is the worst insult) Christians-with-an-asterisk, who will soon deny the resurrection, I’m sure.

I’m very sad for Jen and Brandon Hatmaker, as many brothers and sisters feel infallible liberty to smear them at will. As soon as I heard that a popular Christian voice had lambasted them to Kingdom-come, I knew the source…low-hanging fruit for his brand. They’re not the first. They’re handling it with grace and class. Jen Hatmaker loves Jesus and isn’t morphing Him to be Jen Hatmaker. She loves the Bible and my guess is she’s spending a lot of time there these days. Maybe she’s changed her mind over the years, maybe she hasn’t. Are we honestly going to hold them on a pedestal just to beat the crap out of them? When did it become a spiritual gift and duty to criminalize others?

Our insistence on crucifying Christians is in direct contradiction to the crucified Christ. 

But I’m more sad for the observers of this all-too-familiar back and forth–the overlooked whom this is actually about. The observers who have been personally hurt and harmed, bullied and belittled, because of this conversation in which we are soooo cavalier. The LGBTQ community need only the slightest hint of insensitivity or anger to tear open wounds of bigotry and shame inflicted by we people claiming Jesus. Those brothers and sisters who are in the Church and those who were approaching the front steps are first and foremost souls. This, this mailing back of books, name-calling, sexist judgmental pandering, and hell-condemning is about them. It is personal and fragile and the opposite of flippant. The Hatmakers are suffering public scorn for answering hard questions and for engaging in really controversial, complex parts of culture…but I’m confident they have the spiritual resources and community to care for them during this time. The LGBTQ onlookers and overlooked whom they have defended and invited, however,  are once again, or more so, made “Other.” To our deep detriment.

I am so sorry for the fits originating from the pews. My heart breaks for my friends and not-yet friends in the LGBTQ categories that are watching the chaos and hurt all over again.

Our faith’s love campaign took a hit, becoming further concealed, further calcified and conditional…far from the places Jesus would be were He walking earth today, I believe. We are fractured and broken, and oh, if we could only abstain from this hell-raising. We’re digging our own grave.

 

I’m the first to say I don’t know all the things. And I’m liable to change my mind, like I have on many other topics. And I’m liable to be wrong. I don’t know all about the Bible and homosexuality; I’m learning and in a process on this tender topic, again. And, thankfully, I don’t rely on people’s agreement/approval (i.e. support raising) anymore so I can share my own uncertainties and learning process more openly (how bizarre). Check back in if for some reason you’re wanting my personal “answer.”

But regardless of where I land, if I do, my attitude towards those who identify with different lifestyles is not affected. My ability to learn from and love those who are different from me, especially those who are less privileged, should not ebb and flow. I know that in any of these conversations, I try to listen to those with less power, and I’m going to make mistakes, and I’m going to err on the side of love and humility. And I have the privilege of not being asked by Jonathan Merritt, in front of a salivating Matt Walsh, what I think about every hot button issue—as though really, people had buttons, ready to drop the floor out like Edward’s old sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

The buttons are lies. For the love of everything that is holy, back away from the buttons. It’s easy to become more about removing people from the flock than inviting everyone in. It’s easier to be cloistered and confident than serving and susceptible. 

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God help me the day I wake up and feel so confident in every doctrine and belief that I am wonderfully justified in spewing vitriol at a fellow person. The day I have so much time and energy to start dissecting devotionals and other churches because my work amongst the orphans, widows, prisoners, hungry, lonely and marginalized is so complete. Why do we have so much energy to kick someone out of the church when we were commissioned to adopt people in?

 

Let’s get back to work. Let’s return to the job descriptions and postures of learning and loving that Grace handed us, not the ones our fears inflict. Jesus is not here; He is the living and this is the dead.