Anticipation

I love this feeling. Tomorrow I’ll get up super early and drive to the Amtrak station in my area. I’ve been to the station to pick people up, but never to be a passenger myself. A train to Chicago! Just me and hours of reading time. Wow.

Then the fun begins. City sights. Foods. Old friends. New friends. STORY. Inspiration. Challenge.

Yay!

See you back her with enthusiastic reports, I’m sure!

Perspective (Part 1)

This word – perspective – always helps me. I prefer to be an analytical thinker, but I am a woman, so sometimes that is simply not possible. I think you know what I mean. But the first man in my life, my dad, taught me how to employ perspective to fight the negative power of emotions and I still use his tactic.

As a teenager, I remember sitting on the Berber carpeted staircase in our huge living room and crying about . . . well, anything, everything, whatever was on the top of my injustices list at the time. I’m pretty sure it was boy related often. Homework related at times. Work or church related the rest of the occasions. The feelings are utter and complete despair, a certainty that I had no choice but to give up or die.

Sometimes Dad would casually remark that my emotionally out-of-proportion response might signal a negative hormonal interaction. I was always sure that was NOT the case, only to find out a couple of days later that it definitely was. Still, even when I argued that hormones were not the problem, my situation was genuinely DIRE, Dad always offered the same simple response:

“Just don’t take yourself too seriously today.”

And it always worked. It still works. My husband has learned how to employ this one. (Note to husbands and fathers: The phrase should, as often as possible, be used independently of the hormonal connection. Throw the hormone excuse at us when we are hormonal and things will not go well for you. We are trying to overcome this weakness associated with our gender, but I cannot promise our victory here. Play it safe and avoid.)

What does it mean to not take yourself too seriously? A list, shall we?

- Don’t make any life altering decisions. Don’t quit your job, cut your hair, or buy a puppy under these circumstances. Almost always it will be a mistake. And even when it isn’t a mistake, your timing is usually off.

- Don’t cave to the melancholy. Fight it by staying in your routine. Fight it by going above and beyond to be nice to people.

- Don’t ignore the melancholy. Find ways to comfort yourself that don’t harm others. Eat something bad for you. Watch a movie instead of cleaning the bathroom. Take a nap.

- Don’t forget that this will pass. Even if your emotional dip isn’t hormonal, it is almost always temporary. If you can remember that, you will find it easier to climb out of the pit.

What would you add to my “Not Taking Myself Too Seriously Today” List?

Theology for the Rest of Us

I used to think I’d like a book with a title like this. Theology seemed over my head, something for the big-name authors to fight about as they churned out books with titles addressed to one another. Seriously mind boggling, no? And don’t even try to sum up the debate for me . . . I saw the graphic in Christianity Today and still don’t get it. And despite the fact that it might make my father stroke out at its mention, I don’t really care.

I care about God. I care about salvation. I care about knowing Him more. I care about his unseen Kingdom and what that means, but I’m tired of trying to figure Him out so I can put Him in a carefully constructed theological box. Boxes are for the things we want to protect, move, or keep out of sight. None of that makes sense for God. I’m not as afraid as I once was of admitting that my theology over time has changed. It is, after all, the study of a so-big-we’ll-never-understand-it-all God.Why are we so afraid to let some of our ideas go and embrace new ones?

If you’ve read about Job, you know theology failed him. This was Job’s theology du jour: Good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. So when bad things happened to him, a good person, his theology didn’t work anymore.

In the end, God Himself had to show up and basically tell Job that he needed to get over it. Trust. Be faithful. I’m going to work it all out. It’s ok if you don’t have a bullet point list for this one.

And I’ve said all of that to set up the video to a song that I’ve posted on my blog before! But here’s the thing, this song is one of the simple truths of theology that I think would change EVERYTHING if we really believed it. Everything. When I hear this one, I feel like God is showing up, telling all the theologians to move aside and showing me what He really means.

Kari, could you take over?

Now, don’t you feel better? And, rest assured, I’m quite certain that a future post from me will be all about how important it is to have good theology. I’m a communicator, after all; I can’t pretend that the structure of our liturgical language is not important. Don’t worry, Dad.

More on Hope

Too often we use the word hope in the same way we use the word wish.

I hope it doesn’t rain. I hope those jeans are still on sale.

This is an unfortunate misuse of a word. Hope is something more hard-won and meaningful than a mere wish.

Romans 5:2-5 (The Voice)

Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory. And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.

One of our church families has just experienced the death of their infant son. Although I know it is useless to compare the intensity or the degrees of our suffering, the burial of a child seems to be one of the most difficult to overcome. And, yet, we know that parents do it every day. Or, I should say, parents work through it every day. In my experience, grief is a constant companion that only makes a public scene once in a while; the rest of the time she sits quietly nearby waiting for me to indulge her with a few private moments of undivided attention. She never really goes away, even though I wish she would.

The power of hope is not hope itself but the source of that hope. In this passage, Paul is reminding the Roman Christians of their source: “true and lasting peace with God through our Lord Jesus, the Liberating King” (5:1).

This is the only sure hope in our lives. Consider the things we are tempted to hope in: people, money, dreams, etc. All of them could be stripped from us in a single tragic accident, a failing economy, or any number of real-life complications. As I mentioned in the radio interviews for Children’s Miracle Network last week, “We wish we lived in a world that doesn’t require a children’s hospital, but we don’t.” These are the conditions of our reality. We will suffer. (Notice my use of the word wish.)

But this is the hope that will never disappoint: through it all, God is with us and we are with Him. We have the hope of that relationship now through His Spirit and a hope of eternity as well. When I was a kid I had a much better idea of what that looked like. Now I’m not so sure. I like Randy Alcorn’s approach in his book called Heaven: Why wouldn’t this God who loves us so lavishly here in time also fill our eternal life with those things we cherish? (I turned to this source for a much more trivial grief last year when our dog got run over by a car in front of our house.) I think of eternity as a new state of being, a new reality. I think Jesus might have been telling us how near it really was when He said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” It is near.


When Claire talks about her sister who died in infancy almost 8 years ago, she doesn’t see her as a baby anymore. She basically sees her doing all the things Claire does, except Ellery does them in Heaven. She graduates from Kindergarten and takes dance classes and plays with her friends on the playground. But Ellery never struggles with math, she never needs surgery on her leg, and she never gets her feelings hurt by thoughtless neighbors. Claire’s idea of Heaven is one I really like right now.

But regardless of what exactly this eternal life is composed of, we know that it means a state of perfection in all things. And when I’m in the middle of my mourning – protesting the reality of this world that I know is all wrong – I need the hope of that time.

I need a hope that cannot disappoint.

Mirror

This morning, Macy (my three year-old) sat on my lap as I finished up blow-drying my hair. I do this particular activity from the “seat” of the toilet – lid down! – and the toilet faces the bathroom mirror. I said something to her and she responded with a particular expression that I recognized immediately as my own.

Dan was in the bedroom so I called to him, “Just now I saw exactly what people mean when they say she looks like me!”

This morning it was a pleasant experience when I saw myself in my beautiful daughter. Sometimes it isn’t so pretty. I’ve heard my oldest, Jesse, scold his sisters harshly and knew it was my tone and language he had adopted. I’ve watched my daughter Ada boss her playmates and was struck by my own need for control.

And this afternoon I’m just wondering what God hears and sees coming from me . . . if I am His mirror.

Last Friday I Went to Jail . . .

. . . and I’m not sure if I’ve ever been put to better use.

Our church commits to a Friday night chapel service once a month at a women’s prison about two hours from our campus. I had never been before, but when Dan returned from his visit a few months ago he told me I would love it. Love prison? Yeah, he kinda knows me.

What I love is being useful. What I love is doing things that make a difference in the way people feel or see the world or experience Jesus. Dan knew I would love visiting the prison. He even knew what I would speak about and what I would sing. We didn’t even need to practice.

When we first pulled up, it almost looked like a big farm. Dark red metal buildings were spaced out over several tracts of land. I had expected cinder block, I think. I barely noticed the tall fences with barbed wire on the top. The closer we got to the front door, however, the more of the tension I began to feel. It’s similar to the way I feel when I know a police car is cruising behind me: I don’t plan to do anything illegal, but its mere presence inspires a guilty feeling in the pit of my stomach anyway!

Gaining entrance is a series of security checks including badges that have to be swept over sensors at each stop, an “air lock”, and a personal alarm device that supposedly brings every guard to your assistance if you feel threatened at any moment. It weighed like a live bomb on my pants pocket. Once we finally made it into the open air of the prison commons area, I lost some of the nervousness for myself. Instead, my heart broke for the brokenness I saw in that yard.

Weary, wounded women were lined up like school children as they awaited permission to enter buildings. I saw lots of faces but didn’t hear a single laugh. Guards in every shape and size lined the criss-crossing paths of the open area. Most of them puffed silently on cigarettes and nodded solemnly as we passed.

Our “chapel” room was full of gray plastic chairs and lots of miscellaneous furniture that cluttered the space. A small stage was at the front of the room. On it we found our microphones and a plexiglass podium where I would later sit my Bible and my one page of notes and song lyrics.

The only item of real beauty in the room was concealed under a heavy canvas cover: a black grand piano. But as soon as Dan pulled off the cover, we discovered long, deep, systematic scratches across the glossy top of the instrument. It was scarred and imperfect, but it sounded beautiful. An omen, I hoped.

One by one, women began to file into the room. Not many, maybe ten. They wore gray jumpsuits and shoes that didn’t seem to fit. No make-up and a life of disappointments made them look older than they probably were. I don’t for sure. We were asked not to share personal details. But I didn’t need details to see the pain.

Their bravery to come at all surprised me. I was humbled by their willingness to subject themselves to the “ministry” of a stranger. I wondered if they were afraid of what I might say, of how I might treat them as less of a Christian than myself. I wondered if any of the visiting preachers had ever made them feel small or unworthy. I hoped not, but I know a lot preachers.

I opened with the story of my season of greatest pain: the loss of baby Ellery. I felt like it was the only fair way to enter the conversation – I couldn’t identify with their particular situations, but I knew we could all understand pain, disappointment, and fear. I told them about how burying a child changed me forever. I didn’t tell them that in that moment I was actually thankful to have a connection to them. I saw compassion in their eyes, empathy in their tears. Now they felt sorry for me – we were even.

I’ll share the points of the message in another post because this one is already too long. But at the end we sang a song that says, “Sometimes the sun stays hidden for years/ Sometimes the sky rains night after night/ When will it clear?/ But our hope endures/ The worst of conditions/ It’s more than our optimism/ Let the earth shake/ Our hope is unchanged.” And I sang it stronger than I’ve ever sung it before. And I meant it. I knew, looking upon tear filled eyes and vulnerable hearts, that it probably meant more in the barrenness of that room than it has ever meant in red-carpeted, stain-glass-windowed sanctuaries. At least, in that moment, that’s how it felt. It felt very, very useful.

And I think faith should feel that way more often.

*thanks to Still Burning Photography for the Flikr photo!

“We Demand Windows”

This is why I read. And probably one of the reasons I write.

From C. S. Lewis, as quoted in The Christian Imagination (Shaw Books 2002):

What then is the good of – what is even the defence for – occupying our hearts with stories of what never happened and entering vicariously into feelings which we should try to avoid having in our own person? Or of fixing our inner eye earnestly on things that can never exist. . . ? The nearest I have yet got to an answer is that we seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to himself. . . . We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own. . . . We demand windows. Literature as Logos is a series of windows, even of doors. . . .