Friday, December 27, 2013

Is Love Enough? :: Advent Thoughts

So it's a couple days after Christmas, and I started this blog post about love a few weeks ago, but then got distracted by life. Please forgive the late posting, but these are still some thoughts that I want to share...


We are a culture of dichotomy, of either/or. We love a good, strategically placed "but." (Yeah, that made me giggle, too.) Often I will hear people say things like, "I want my kids to know that I love them, BUT they also need discipline." Or, "I believe that God loves everyone, BUT you reap what you sow."

Now, this is difficult, right? Because, the BIBLE. The Bible is so darn confusing about these things. Because it says both! And, in addition to the "you reap what you sow" stuff, it also says, "God allows rain to fall on the just and the unjust." So, which is it? Do we get what we deserve? Or is it all just random and willy nilly and out of our hands completely?

Father in heaven, our dichotomous, Western, scientifically-minded, masculinity-obsessed culture wants to know -- Is it this one OR that one?

Which is why there are approximately two bazillion Christian denominations -- and why I get almost PTSD level nervous when someone starts a sentence with, "Well, the Bible clearly says..." Uh oh.

But you know, others have written extensively about this topic (Biblical interpretation, namely) and so if you want to read more about it, let me know and I'll send you a short list of books/blogs that I like. Bottom line for me right now is this: The Bible contains all sorts of things, and if I'm gonna stake my life on it, then I'm gonna stick with the major stuff and let other (more conscientious and intelligent) people duke it out over the details.

My major thing right now? God is crazy about me, the way I'm crazy and misty-eyed and speechless when my three year old daughter walks over, puts her hand on my knee, and says, "Mama, I want to tell you a secret..." and then she leans in and says, "I love you so much."

He gets so much JOY from me, the way I get joy from her rendition of Silent Night. "Si-lent night, qui-et night / All is palm, all is quite / Round yon bir-gen, mudder and child / Holy infant, so pen-der and wild..." And so on. Apparently, if she doesn't know the word, she'll just sing whatever she hears. Virgin becomes bir-gen, and so forth.

He is present with me, the way I am present with her when she says, "I wasn't lying to you. I was just saying those words." I know the potential of her good and bad actions even better than she does right now. I feel the weight of that; I believe He does, too. Do I shame her when she messes up? Do I withdraw from her in cold disappointment? By God's grace, I do not and will not. Even though it's tough (excruciating at times), I stay connected to her eyes and to her heart, and we co-labor over these problems.

And as far as I can tell, that is the work of the Incarnation -- connection and interaction in the midst of stink and mess and, even, glory.

May 2014 be a year of Incarnational Joy for you and your loved ones.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"Hope is not a plan" :: Advent, Week One

At church on Sunday, my pastor gave an excellent sermon on hope. She confessed her interest in crime TV shows (holla!), and gave an excellent quote from one of these shows, in which Hetty Lang of NCIS Los Angeles tells one of her subordinates, "Hope is not a plan, Mr. Callan."

I started getting worried at this point in the sermon. I thought, Oh no, she's going to start talking about how we need to plan to work harder at life / spirituality / relationships. I don't think I can take one more person telling me that my life isn't working because I'm not doing enough.

But. I should not have doubted her so.

She went the total opposite direction. She admitted that, yes, hope is not a plan. But she also stated the obvious truth that any person who has spent any time on the planet knows - which is, that even the best-laid plans often fail. The Scriptures are clear about this (Matt. 5:45, Job 2:10, and the entire book of Ecclesiastes), which is part of why I am so baffled by believers who present their sermons and their lives to us as a sort of how-to-live-and-be-awesome guidebook.

Larry Crabb says it so well in his book Soul Talk, when he says that many people have unwittingly adopted a formulaic view of their spirituality. The formula is basically:

I live a good life + God honors my actions = My life goes reasonably well

How many sermons have I heard that advocate this formula? How many have you heard? I've heard approximately one shitload. And I was nineteen years old (actually, six years old...but my powers of denial are pretty formidable) the first time I doubted this formula. Because you know what happened? The unexpected. The unexpected happened, and it knocked the air right out of me, and my prayers during this time were mostly along the lines of, "Ooouuuuccchhh...." Then again in my mid-20s, and again a couple years ago.

But I gotta tell you, I am getting better at something. I'm getting better at opening my hands - or at least, if I can't do that, of loosening my grip. (Notice I did not say that I'm getting better at expecting the unexpected. This is another mutant form of planning that invokes anxiety, i.e. fear, and I don't want any part of it.) And what helps me let go, even if it's just an itty bitty bit? It's knowing who's got my back, and knowing that he is GOOD.

Because when the proverbial shit hits the metaphorical fan of life, what is there to do? You roll with the punches. Well, first off, you duck. Because, ew. And then you roll with the punches. You find moments of stillness, and pockets of joy, and you pray one of the three essential prayers, "Help."

And you know that it's not over. Things are still happening, and there is still breath in your lungs, and you are going to be okay.

Yes, hope is not a plan. Thank goodness.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Sit Still

It was a perfect day. Sunny and warm, and I will always remember that specific shade of buttery, cheerful yellow on the daffodils in the banquet room. There were about a hundred people there for dinner; I will always remember the mirth and joy I felt having everyone together in that one room. I felt beautiful, and I thought he was so, so handsome. After dinner, we told everyone why they were really there by executing probably the best practical joke I’ve ever formulated. They thought it was the rehearsal dinner, and even though none of them were really “in the wedding,” we still got them to show up. As a good friend said afterwards, “I was at a rehearsal dinner, and a wedding broke out!” Yes, we had a surprise wedding. It really was great fun.

I changed into my dress and walked the aisle. I felt beautiful, and I thought he was so handsome. (I will always remember that.) I cried during my vows. “You may kiss the bride.” And then he turned to the audience and pumped his fist in the air. They laughed. And I laughed. I threw my head back and laughed.

One month shy of six years later, and it is a dramatically different scene. “Oh my God. Oh, Jesus. Oh my God, what am I going to do?” Screaming and sobbing into my pillow so I wouldn’t wake the baby, and he is on his knees beside the bed with his head in his hands. My sobs pour out of me in a constant stream of waves and convulsions; his sound like choking, stops and starts and stops and starts. It feels like time is frozen, but simultaneously somehow, unraveling all around us.

He eventually stands up. I look at his face and instead of a person, I see a pile of rubble. I study my hands, which are shaking and numb and ghostly white. I look back to him, blink, and say calmly, “I’m in shock.”
It is terrifying and wondrous how one moment can so dramatically change reality. How fragile reality is.
By some absolute miracle, the sun rose the next day. Every moment was tenuous that day and for days afterwards. Weeks, really. I had no idea what to do next, and so I waited. There were two things I knew to guard: my daughter, and my self-respect. Because anyone who has been through this will tell you that you cling to your self-respect like a lifeline, when so many people seem to have a different opinion about what you should do and they bring their own fears and junk into the middle of your situation as if you don’t already have a shitload of your own, thank-you-so-very-much. So you push these things aside and you just look into your own eyes. And when my self-respect (or conscience, or holy spirit, or what-have-you) said, “It’s time,” I knew it was time. And so I went through the big D and I don’t mean Dallas. And let me tell you that it is something you travel through. Not to. Not around. You go through a divorce.

And then it was time to survey the damage. Except, here’s the thing. I am a woman of action. I’m not super interested in details; I’m not good at puzzles. If it takes too long, it simply loses my interest and I set it aside for something new. My shattered heart – this was the jagged puzzle to end all puzzles, and so probably the best way to describe what I did with it…I kind of swept it up into one big, moderately tidy pile. Sometimes I would sit and look at it, and sigh, overwhelmed and at a total loss as to what to do with it. Then, as is my way, I found something else to do. This new thing had been a long time in coming, and as such, it will always remain and yield good dividends. This is grace; this is God working good in the midst of my (our) imperfect world. But when I do something, I do it. And man, I did this new thing. I jumped in with both feet. I went all in. And running full blast, I stumbled over that rubble. Smack! I fell down hard, right in the middle of that shattered mess that I had swept up just months before.

And guess what? I was already pretty banged up before this whole thing started, and as we all know, when you fall and you’re already injured – it hurts worse. It hurts like a mo’ fo’. It can make your head spin. So I think it’s best to just sit still for a minute. I’m going to be kind to me, and absorb the calmness that I myself can create. If you want to sit down with me; or if you have stumbled as well and you find yourself on the ground, and you want to resist the urge to stand in your mess and prance around flapping your arms and wringing your hands and pretending that it’s not a mess; if you want to be still and authentic and courageously, if haltingly, vulnerable…then we will have something in common. We can survey the mess, and we can sort through it for the valuables. Maybe I will cry, or you will. We will definitely laugh. And I will practice letting go – letting me be me, and letting you be you. I will practice taking this world as it is, and not as I want it to be…or that’s how it goes anyway, I think.

So, here are some questions…

In your life, what part of the healing process is passive? And what part is active? How do you participate in your healing, and how do you find yourself just receiving?

I sincerely value your insights.


Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert,
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.