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.

 

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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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Pancakes

Ironically, having a baby forced me into contemplation today. This almost never happens.

Lucas is sorting out his sleeping demons, which is really fun for us, and in a last ditch effort we went for a walk this morning. With each step I found myself able to pray for quiet, consecutive minutes, a luxury I used to ignore.

So many things facing us, aren’t there? Personal health. Court trials. Paperwork. Bills. Activist hearts, cluttered brains, booked calendars. Faith and fear. Life and death.

We ended up at a large cemetery, a block away. It had been years since I had been there. It’s a quiet walking area in the middle of our densely noised neighborhood. It’s also where we honored a student and friend who died unexpectedly in 2007. I found his resting place.

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I was so young and inexperienced with grief at the time. He had been my student the year before, and was in his freshman year of high school when “Pancakes” suddenly became very sick. The questions outlived the answers.

Today is his birthday. Today this young man would be 24.

My prayers turned to his family. I couldn’t believe the math, the date. This rock and this contemplative place, where so much grieving has taken place, reminded me that God has asked us to mourn. He has invited us to be a lamenting people who kept the faith, a grieving people who looked at the truth of their hearts and situations, not deny it. One of the main things God has been teaching me over the past 11 years is grief. I am still so young and inexperienced, I know. But experiences like losing Cesar and witnessing the pain in his family and the community have been formative and eye-opening.

Forced contemplation today reminded me that God is very, very big. The stretch of His reach and power are not dismissive to the list of needs I brought today; the true burden of those things inform my appreciation for His superior breadth. The grandeur of our problems and burdens, of the losses we face or carry, are enveloped in, and indeed inflate, our view of His greatness.

I felt that reassurance today, as I found myself at this grave, warmed by the sunlight, and the memories of this young man, on his birthday. I feel so lucky to learn grief with those who have become my neighbors and family, and want to give others the permission to name their own. I am encouraged by the reminder that God is larger than the scope of my concerns and inadequacies this week.

Deliverance from Adultery: A Message for the American Church

Every day I need deliverance. I just forget it, which is the scary thing.

All day I have a scrolling list of shoulds and T-charts and timers. I have the domestic burden and blessing of trying to decide if organic zucchini is worth the price if they won’t eat it anyway and how much screen time is a good reward and how big of a deal is picking up dirty socks and the word “fart.” I have the Enneagram type 1 hat of problem-solving and advocacy and general discontent (my prescribed growing direction is Ryan’s type 7, which carries the motto “I want to have fun!”). Oh YEA!

This time in history is like a warm, moist environment to this bacteria of constant reform and conviction within me. When my breath catches in my throat under the wave of an injustice or a worry, when I see the feeds that starve, and the posts that dismantle, when I feel the weight of responsibility and disappointment over what the margins have to say and what the powerful keep missing, I wring my hands with the rest of them. And I labor…I dream of fixes, simplicity, solutions and revolution.

But well-meaning thoroughness, and honest engagement, are no substitute for deliverance. I do not muster deliverance; I take hold of it. I receive it. I let go because of it.

And it is a time, more than anything else, for deliverance. 

Yes, there is advocacy and sacrifice. Yes, there is becoming informed and listening. Yes, there is civil discourse.

But first, and last, I want to pause before the throne, before calvary, and say, “Yes, Lord – please deliver me. Please deliver us. Through all this chaos, all the violence and false narratives, all the fear and greed, and cloudy future…You’re here. You’ve done the work, as irrelevant as it may seem some days. In You I place my hope and I see You in these shambles.”

And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.  And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:1-4

History tells us this isn’t actually the worst of times. I’ve seen people call this election, this anti-everything, binary mode the worst–for Christians, cops, voters, the like. I don’t need that to be convinced things are bad. No, but it is raw, and there is no lapse of evil to take a breath.

But in this very moment is our deliverance, Christian Americans. In this very hour, we might be saved.

Awake, souls. No longer is there an autopilot, and that myth of a Christian nation must be a little tipsy by now. Let it fall. No longer can faith pretend to sleep with a political party in wedded bliss, all the while committing adultery. No longer can righteousness be molded into a political system and a national story that was never capable of holding eternity and never had an edge in God’s economy. No longer can the sleeping American Christian avoid shining awkwardly or owning its shame and contempt. It is a day of reckoning, and in case it hasn’t dawned on us yet, the alarm will undoubtedly keep rising.

Receive your deliverance. Take hold. Let go. Step out.

We have the opportunity to be delivered from mistaking a government’s promises for God’s, and a government’s best interests for our own as His children. We have the opportunity, like Israel so many times in the Old Testament, to be delivered from a sinful apathy and assimilation. To be liberated from a facade of Christianity to our true status as foreigners in this land, meant to engage vigorously but not to enmesh seamlessly. We have the opportunity to re-find ourselves and be delivered from a lack of critical-thinking that has too long forced the Good News into an either-or tug-of-war that cuts the knees off of our Christ and took all our energy and resources. I love and respect this country but I will keep her an important acquaintance. We are not to confuse our way of life what the one–whichever one–she purports.

I am pained by who has fallen and by who we’ve elevated, and all the in-between plaguing our nation right now. But I am comforted by this deliverance. I am hopeful that my children will walk with God and the Church and not have to argue about the connection between abortion and healthcare and racism. I am hoping that they will not find it difficult or unique to attend a local congregation that sings in different languages and has no one ethnicity or gender or class in power, that doesn’t mind talking about a political candidate because everyone is a Christian before they’re an American and the bullying vehicle of political argumentation finds no fuel in the Church. I am hopeful that today’s deliverance means that tomorrow’s Christianity is brave and loving–and incongruous with any one nation’s fears or worldview.

This election, and the constant pitting of souls against souls in the rest of the headlines, could be enough to break up this sham of a marriage between the Christian faith and a great country. Oh, would it! Too long have we looked for Him under a flag and anthem rather than around the eucharist, kneeling beside the footwashing basin. Perhaps His Bride may return–beleaguered, but delivered. Perhaps, in the midst of this cracking we will find missing pieces and our voice again. Shining like stars, delivered.

See you at the table.

Weeds, Anxiety and Home

I need me some home.” -Johnnyswim

There are days that by 6pm, starting a load of laundry seems far too hard.

When the thought of next week, tomorrow, next year, carries too much work to bring that rush of Looking-Forward-To-life I think it will.

This infancy, this 3rd one from my own hormones and womb, has left me fighting demons of anxiety. Most common when I am quite literally feeding this little doughboy does the sense of alarm and despair threaten emptiness. It has improved over time, and has become less surprising, but still, Tired is nearer, No More is always within arm’s reach…and in the crevices of a cheerful, cuddly live teddy bear’s light and joy, there’s the bone tired drought and knots that appear from no where.

This afternoon, I battled a weed as big as me. It comes back every couple of months and I glare at it and I put in a request for a chainsaw (yes, this weed has a trunk) and a male’s upper arm strength and I wring my hands and maybe yell a few times. I let it take over the planter, filling my vision of the patio. And it can feel overwhelming.

Today I cut off all the parts of the weed and its spawn that I could. I made a heap of something that used to be feeding, growing, and absorbing energy, and will now shrivel and die. I didn’t solve anything but I don’t feel defeated when I look outside for the moment. Now it’s not the only thing I see when I look out the window.

In my refined, oldest child, perfectionist, Good-Christian, missionary kid/adult mentality, it’s really easy to think that going without is a virtue in and of itself–that somehow faith and being good and blessed has landed me in a stressful, tired place and that’s the way it is meant to be. That the weed is a thing of glory or a test or some crap theology like that and I just have to figure out how to BE HAPPY, doggonit.

And then I listen to a song. Then I spend 10 minutes of quiet with Galatians. Then I plant something or encounter a safe friend on the street or am spontaneously embraced or helped by one of my sons. And I remember Home.

Not a home I can find on a map, like many third-culture-kids and millennials nowadays. Not just my family of origin that shared so much with me. Not just a feeling of humanness and connectedness, or freedom and contentment that worldly beauty and comfort can aid. The Home that beckons us forward, that makes us bow our head in thanks. That disentangles our mind and our heart–our death grip–out and off of the lies of anxiety and shoulds and going without for no reason at all.

The Good News that’s kept my attention in the darkest does not proclaim that God wants me to carry a strained look around all the livelong day. He doesn’t send us things like illness, MediCal sagas, computer glitches that freeze our savings, and random phone calls asking if we can take a child (“We hope we can help soon…”) the very day we’re worried that that dream is dying. Yes, He’s grieved by asinine global and national developments and He is deeply involved in the loss and otherness and margins that invoke pain. But He isn’t behind every closed door and every upsetting curve ball. He isn’t preaching the Gospel of Muscle Through and The End.

My Courier of Good News is not the grim reaper of deprivation.

He’s the Home. Christ before me, Christ behind me. Christ beside me, Christ beneath me. Christ above me, Christ within me. The constant. The meaning, the refuge. Home.

Today, once again, I did nothing to actually end the battle with the nightmare weed, but I made it seem less big. So now I can focus on the plants I do want to grow–the choosing, the watering, the tending, out from under the lying shade of a bully weed. Today, I still do not have control over when and for how long I will experience anxiety and my chest muscles contracting and all the other blasted adulting that makes laundry too hard by 6pm. But I can rebel by doing the small things that help me be centered. I can partake in the things that whisper of Home—of being home-free, abundant, graceful and calm. I can avail my self to that which spites the weeds of this life, stripping them until they are only one part of the picture. I can lay claim to Home.

 

A Summer Solstice

I am an emotional wreck today. (Hush, those of you questioning that last word.) It’s relentlessly hot in Los Angeles and the heat scrambles all my emotional regulators and reason like eggs on a sidewalk. It just ain’t happenin over here. I would like to turn in my Adult card.

Sometimes the lack of my self-powered clarity and control allows a rush of Truth, over the rocks of desperation and face palms of discouragement. And in the midst of a mess, there’s a gift. Today, I remembered my name and was helped with worth. Even amidst the nonsensical noise that constantly, CONSTANTLY, fills my life with happiness and joy…

I urge you to walk in a manner worth of the calling to which you have been called…Eph 4:1

In an excerpt from For The Love, I read Jen Hatmakers’ litmus test for sound theological application after decades of her drinking the upper-class, homogenous white American Christianity Kool-aid that served her well with rights, wrongs and shoulds, but not always WELL. In essence, she’s landed on one helpful comparison to aid her escape: If it isn’t true for a poor single mom on Haiti, it isn’t true for me—theology is true for everyone. An interesting juxtaposition. I have some qualms but I see the point.

Today, this was the plate on which I was served Truth. As for me and my house, well— not really sure about serving the Lord today, but we are sure sweaty and cranky and needy—how about that! Conveniently, the little existential doubts about how I’m living life and how we are leading our family follow on the heels of, like, feeling defeated by Legos. No big THANG.

(They are literally so small and annoying and PREVALENT.)

It is a luxury to fret about our calling and decisions, to have options to weigh–to wrestle with what to buy and how to spend your free time. None of that is helpful to me today. But this, the litmus test and the Haitian woman whom I’d like to know, helped lift the weight.

To live a life worthy of the calling to which I am called does not mean gain professional development, put myself out there more, be a better housekeeper or have the admiration of other women. It does not mean I have to be perfectly groomed or humored or supportive. It means to have character. To be devoted to Love. These things are not accessible to the advantaged alone but also our sister in Haiti. Also to me at my worst. Character over competency, production, and charisma. Oh good, but oh crap.

So I don’t need to feel lousy about my disorganized closet and how that person treated me or be embarrassed when I size up my life compared to someone else’s. And I don’t need to feel secure all of a sudden when someone asks for my opinion or my kid does something well. I sit squarely before one set of eyes, grasped by one set of scarred hands. I may pretend to earn that spot and I may pretend I am outside of His gaze but my name suggests otherwise. Danielle means God is my judge, as the Old Testament prophet said, and my life is valuable insofar as it remains in His economy. His equalizing, grace-filled, no-nonsense system of rescued worth.

So maybe you find yourself a little disenchanted today. A little less enthused with your job, your hats, your people, your Self, this early summer day. Maybe along the way of fighting the good fight, you’ve become a little scrambled too and feel a little sensitive also.

You and I are not the sum total of our accomplishments and image and poise. You and I and the lady in Haiti are called to not dissimilar things. I want to walk in a manner worthy of that other-worldly economy; I want to stay in the belonging of that Grace-Gospel. So the hot days rattle less. So I have more in common with my namesake than the right or the left, or the perfectionism that haunts me. Peace be the journey.

A Bedtime Story

This time it’s over a miniature stuffed zebra toy whose back lights up through a star-filled plastic plate, sending an array of changing-colored stars on nearby dark walls. It’s over a tiny thing that a minute ago was disregarded on the floor, but now, since it is in little brother’s hands, is The Most Treasured Toy of All Time.

The boys share a room because we want to force them to be friends and in each other’s space as much as possible. We figure at some point the ganging up on us for the delay of bedtime and the pre-sleep squabbles have to evolve to deep-rooted camaraderie and lifelong looking out for each other. (Please do not tell us if this did not turn out to be true for you, please and thank you.)

After 8pm, emotions are rampant here. (And let me tell you, they weren’t in short supply at sunrise.) We devolve throughout the day apparently; our meds have worn off. It ain’t pretty, folks. Tonight is no exception. Tears, so many tears, when I vetoed older brother’s demands for HIS toy to be returned to HIM because HE wants it and the enemy-he didn’t ask [for permission to pick up disregarded/treasured toy—a birthday gift from a friend—off of floor], hmph!

The 4-year-old is less calloused by life (I hate to brag…) and in his sincere yearning for older brother’s approval and eternal happiness, often appeases him. While Dante and I were in the throws of a heart to heart (read: low-toned battle), mini-zebra Hope Diamond appeared on his pillow. Asher was already back in his bed, covering his ears, for the tears from the next bed over are always accompanied with wailing, in good post-8pm fashion.

I’ll spare you the details but eventually, slowly, with many comments about being “the most grown up” and “making me sad” and “worst day ever,” we eventually talked about what the most brave and most loving thing to do could be. Dante’s tears and torment didn’t end with the return of the Crown Jewel. It stung that his brother was feeling bad, and that his brother was demonstrating one of our rules that hasn’t fully taken effect: People are more important than stuff. It made him cry more that Asher felt sad but that Asher was being praised, that now he had this mini-light-up-stuffed-animal-plastic-thing and he kind of did want it but now he kind of didn’t. He didn’t fully believe that Asher wasn’t somehow the enemy, and cried, “We never get along!”

Eventually, Dante wanted to give the treasure back to Asher. He wanted to give him permission to have it. But he didn’t want to talk to him. He wanted me to give Asher a message. I was alright with that. The titanic doesn’t turn quickly, and it was enough that he was whispering with me, to keep from disturbing Asher more from further emotional trauma, and that he wanted to do the most brave and most loving thing: hand over the toy willfully. I dutifully delivered the package and the message to a relieved little brother, and returned to Dante’s side.

“Mom,” he whispered, “Now I feel sad like Asher did. I still feel a little sad!”

It’s true. My heart beat hard. I know you do, Sweetie.

Doing the brave and loving thing can help us feel better, it can let us go to sleep, but it doesn’t leave us feeling void of sadness. It’s true, we can feel a little sad even after All the Things we could do, we’ve done. Because it is a good toy. Because we still feel shame about our part in the problem. We wanted something else, other than what happened. Because we can’t control the Other, and we can’t control the future. We can’t ensure that they’ll remember our goodness or even recognize it, that the next round will go our way, that God Himself will keep the tally according to our terms of justice, and we just feel a little sad. The emptiness of doing the right thing, or letting go when we should, or giving the benefit of the doubt when it isn’t merited. Yes, it’s all true.

It’s okay to still feel a little sad.

The journey to rest tonight was long and imperfect and messy. We achieved some semblance of peace… but it wasn’t complete. We found some way forward… but it wasn’t perfectly satisfying. And this is so grown up, little boy. This is the Already and the Not Yet, in our simple shared space, with our friend-emies, in our late night fragility. We hold on to the Not Yet part of the Story of Brave Love and do our best, with our sadness, with our brother… together.

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We are not so separate.

My son has started drawing me “kind of like a pumpkin” and considering how difficult it was to get the milk from the bottom of the grocery cart this morning and, eventually, stand up again, I think I’m embracing the image.

It’s that time. When, though you want to save it up knowing a sieve of sleep is coming in the form of a live baby, rest is slippery and complicated. (At what point do the pillows become more of a nuisance than a relief…) When all the things that need to be sorted or planned or written down seem too tiring, so instead you waste energy searching for the perfect, stupid […insert baby product here…] ad nauseam. When (in my limited experience) people begin pointing a little and laughing a little at your convex mid-section and you just hope, HOPE, that you’re not showing any midriff.

We wonder what he will look like and how each of his brothers will embrace and challenge and give in and resist his arrival. We pray for a similarly smooth birth, and hope for that same nurse that was at the other sons, the same room as them, because wouldn’t that be fun, and for new and different eyes to see a new soul, a new person who stands apart from our other frameworks.

I also pray my stomach skin doesn’t end up mid-thigh length by the time this is all said and done.

The physical expectancy we witness in ourselves, in a 1st grader, in a preschooler, and in our community, because of this little son, is so helpful for nurturing a faith-expectancy in the bigger, more abstract places in which we long for change. The growing, the nearing, of a baby’s life–of so much that is certain but so much mystery–echoes, no, foreshadows, the next chapters we long to read elsewhere. For that one person’s freedom and self-confidence. For that new job. For the courage to enter a church. For the resolution to an injustice that has steamrolled our security, our savings, or our very family. For peace in a wandering, distant mind. For wholeness in a bankrupt marriage. For a friendship that is like the mountain air.

May the pregnancies we see offer spiritual meaning to our day. May the new cries, the new mess, the new skin of a baby whisper to us, lead us, forward in our prayers and hope. May we find our future, our next step, in the daily occurrences and observations that seem commonplace. We all carry the longings; we all have the sleepless nights of needs and worries. May something as simple as an awkwardly large pregnant woman or a squawking newborn babe indicate the holy, the next, and the coming in our own lives for our stories are shared. We are not so separate.

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An Untethered Courage

Courage, courage
Is what the Life and Deaths
Of Faith
Require.

There have been times in life that make us feel courageous, that we are courageous people, perhaps by the grace of God but also perhaps by our own virtue.

These are rarely the times of true courage.

It seems that true courage, or the next courage, feels crappy. It is not when the mission is utterly clear, when the sacrifices are distinct, and the rewards are quick to the tongue. Sure we were exhausted, sure those were good callings and brave steps, but we were comforted by many assurances that this new courage may leave behind. I suspect that true courage is found in its purest form in the ambiguity, in the dry mouth of shock and the straining eyes of “what is next?”

In and around me, I see the battle cries. The ones dismissing people from faith, from understanding Scripture, from their circle of trust, because it’s all too foreign. The ones setting a church over another, handing out excommunication slips with the slip of the tongue, freely and full of pity. The ones buckled to a certain position on a temporal issue, that is of course higher in the heavenly rungs of Babel than the next. I hear the scraping of lines being drawn, in the sand, on the cement, in people’s flesh and blood, raw with passion, rightness and self-aggrandizement. And blood, blood, is everywhere. Under a shoddy understanding of courage and conviction, we enclose ourselves in echo chambers that murder any shred of a will we had to understand and be curious about the Other. And I can’t find eternity and I don’t know a Divine voice.

I have been in the debates. I have defended my view, easily attacked the opposing side, dismissed a fellow Christian, felt full of my own rightness and bravery, thought my choices were all probably going to trump theirs whenever the scoring took place. I care very much about many of the “issues” at hand and many of the rights and wrongs worrying the Church today. But I have lost the courage I knew before—the courage that emboldened me to argue much, for long, in the face of the echo chambers. I have gone through enough (dare I hope?) disappointment the past two years to have to face a different type of courage I must learn. For me, it is one that requires more faith, more silence, and less stability.

This courage is less rewarding. It is a grueling morning of dragging one’s body awake, into the naked air, squinting at the abrasive, unrelenting Light, and slowly, resigned and resolute, adding “well” to the “it is” of the night before.

This is the new, next courage.

A courage that is craved and imitated poorly.

From the looks of it, this courage is less likely to call a person an enemy and less likely to be productive in the ways I’ve practiced. It seems that this courage is going to ask me more about Forgiveness and less about Rightness. It may mean the death of some discussions and the start of better ones. It’s going to scoot my actions and activism to the side, not to expire them but to bleed out the toxins of loyalty to any one culture above one Kingdom.

And in this new courage, I recognize that old friend grace—that soulful desire for embrace and being embraced continues, a metaphor Miroslav Volf explains by “the will to give ourselves to others and ‘welcome’ them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, prior to any judgment about others except that of identifying them in their humanity.” And speaking of identity, this courage does not rest in any resumé entries, from schooling to fostering to missionarying to mothering to developing. It just is. Alone. Without promises, untethered by the things to which I like to tether.

Perhaps you too are deflated from the night, from the pile of “it is”-s of the past. All of those debates and deaths and doings that have left us undone. And daylight is awakening a profound discontentment. If this courage makes sense in your new year too, if the morning is also brash and there are a lot of untethering things, not least of all your self, that you’re wanting the Divine to make well, let’s ask together, What is courageous in this place? What deaths and no’s or new-life yesses does a new-courage faith ask?”

“Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” Philippians 1:18b-20

Quote from Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, p. 29.