Reframed: Picturing Faith with the Next Generation
Jill is a writer, speaker, pastor, and mom of three mostly awesome young women. She is a dispenser of grace and a pusher of courage. She also believes in the power of Earl Grey tea, chocolate, a beach day, old musicals, and the Cubs. And God.
I heard her voice before I saw her face. My own face was bent into my hands, covered in tears. A lot was the matter, and I didn’t know how to fix it. But when I looked up into that kind face above mine, I saw Jesus standing there.
The summer after college, I traveled across the country with a music tour. Halfway through, my family called me to come home—Dad might not make it this time, they said.
A week later, after we’d confirmed that Dad would make it, my sister bought me a Greyhound bus ticket to rejoin my tour group. Unfortunately, when I got to Omaha, I discovered they were still four hours away—a geographical miscalculation that left me sitting in the bus station at 10 p.m., imagining what could befall a young woman in a place like that in the seedier part of Omaha.
For the rest of the story this week, go here to The Glorious Table For an amazing true story about loving your neighbor.
Sunday morning, I didn’t have a sermon. That wasn’t planned. Perhaps you noticed that the following morning, I didn’t have a blog either.
Let’s let me recap.
My husband stayed home from work with the stomach flu. I spent the day in a combination of caring for him and living in mortal fear that I could not escape this doom. (So far, I have.) Also, Monday was snowpocalypse. So there’s that.
while routinely driving my daughter to the train station for work, we got in an accident. A very young driver, probably in a hurry and certainly not paying attention, turned left and slammed into my driver door and fender. Hard. I walked away with a broken arm, and more importantly, both my daughter and the young woman were unharmed. Unfortunately, my beautiful, far too young, metallic peacock, best-beloved car did not fare as well. Sally Ride is no more.
No one went to work, except the doctor who casted my arm, as all of Chicago hibernated in the deep freeze.
We took our ailing middle cat to the vet, hoping that she could offer us some treatment. Instead, she offered us a lot of medication that we could try at home, but cautioned us that he would almost certainly die. In fact, it became traumatically clear during the course of the treatment there that we would have to relieve his suffering immediately, and our dear Pippin would not be coming home with us.
It’s hard to dictate those sentences (since I can’t type right now given said casted arm) because just saying the words is making me cry. This is not the cat that was diagnosed in December with cancer-–yet he also had the same disease, under the radar, hiding it well, just like a cat/middle child. We expect still to say goodbye to #1 cat very soon as well. Merry and Pippin will both be gone-–the fellowship will be no more. I’m not good at pet goodbyes. Who is?
None of us felt quite certain we should even get out of bed on
Was it the same old week, or was it a brand-new month? I didn’t have long to wait for the answer. That morning, I came downstairs to a loud roaring sound in my hallway and water gushing all over the floor. Have you ever simultaneously panicked, laughed, and cried? It’s pretty strange.
This all comes barely a week after we got the text that my mother-in-law would refuse treatment for her cancer and go into hospice. We expected her to make that decision—it was the right and best thing for her. That doesn’t mean the final choice isn’t devastating.
There are many things you cannot do without water. Also, there’re many things you cannot do without your dominant hand.
I couldn’t do anything.
I couldn’t even wash my grapes for lunch. So I sat here wondering if the next item in the series of unfortunate events would be my death by listeria. Do grapes carry listeria? I don’t know. I just know that I was eating dirty grapes, and I could taste the dirtiness, and that nothing was right in this world.
(Also, I came to the realization that I should never audition for one of those survival shows. When all of the plumbers said they couldn’t make it out for two or three days, my first response was not,” What must we do to cook and clean and survive for three days?” It was,” Where is the nearest hotel with a hot tub?”)
I never imagined I would stand in front of a group of people and tell them I hadn’t done my job. I never imagined that I would just blow off my blog for a week. I like my image as a fighter. I like people to know I will just power through and get the job done.
Except I couldn’t. The words wouldn’t come, even had I had 10 minutes not punctuated by calls from insurance adjusters or other emergencies.
And that is okay.
You see, I preach and write a lot about letting go of perfectionism and expectations. I know how dangerous they are–I let them control my life for far too long. They still lurk in the shadows, because that is who I am. Hello, enneagram 5. My highest need is to appear competent.
Yet this is not what I teach others. Our Word of the year for 2019 at church is Peace. My personal word is Restore. Right now, I feel like January pretty much failed me on that one. But I know the One who can and will restore all things, and I know that sometimes before restoration comes death. This is not what I had suspected or planned, but if that is what it takes, then I will wait expectantly for his restoration.
Restoration Requires Death
Sometimes, we are forced to practice what we preach. Sometimes, that takes the form of telling people that we couldn’t do what they expected us to do. Sometimes, it means telling the truth about what we are capable of handling. Sometimes, it requires us to lean hard on the arms of the one who tells us we don’t have to do every thing and in fact, we can’t do anything without him.
Maybe that’s a different kind of restoration and peace. It doesn’t look like I expected it to. But Jesus told me to be a peacemaker–-and if that means that I lay down my idol of competence so that others do not feel they have to take it up, then I am grateful to make that kind of peace in someone else’s life.
Jesus restores. We have evidence. This hasn’t been the wonder and amazement that I thought restoration would be. It’s been the tearing away before the healing.
God loves me when I’m not competent. God loves me when I cannot do what I believe I should be able to do. God loves me when I stand in front of a group people and say, “I’ve got nothing.” Fortunately, so do they.
God loves you. Full stop. There is no qualifier. I pray for peace and restoration for you today. I know how much you might need it.
I cant be finished talking about books. Not quite yet.
Childhood Classics in Adulthood
I seem to have developed a habit of reading childhood classics for the first time well after the expected range. This happened, as I mentioned before, with the Chronicles of Narnia. Also Anne of Green Gables (where was she all my lonely childhood???), The Hobbit, and today’s classic—A Wrinkle in Time.
I loved A Wrinkle in Time so much that I went on to devour all of L’Engle’s writing shortly after reading it. I now have one more book of hers on my shelf, and I have just discovered, after beginning to Kondo my books (hold me!), that I actually have two copies. I wanted it so much I forgot I owned it already. (This is not an unusual circumstance for me.)
When I heard a movie was in the making, I got that familiar mix of thrill and horror. Would they do it justice? Would it come across as beautiful and longing and intense as L’Engle wrote it? I had seen previous adaptations—and they were less than inspiring.
I didn’t love it, but I enjoyed it. Honestly, the acting was meh, and the departures from the book too many. I did love Charles Wallace—incredible acting from someone who was probably only eight at the time. My real love, however, was the costuming, as I decided in that theater last January what I would be for Halloween ten months later. Mrs. Which was stunning, and I needed those eyebrows. (Here’s an fyi—corsets covered in parachute cord are very heavy. And extremely hard to fasten. Now you know.)
L’Engle’s ode to sacrificial love has never been so needed.
TL;DR version: Meg’s father is MIA. Her little brother is an uber-genius. Both kids are ostracized for their oddness, brilliance, and, in Meg’s case, her angry insistence that her father would come home. She did not take well to naysayers.
Meg and her brother journey through the titular “wrinkle” to find their father, and Charles Wallace (said brother) gets ensnared by the evil “IT” that is consuming the universe. Only a rediscovery of the power of her love—the one thing IT does not possess, allows Meg to save her brother and her family. She has to face her fears and her anger to find that love. After all, we know that only a hard-won, bought-with-a-sacrifice kind of love can offer anyone salvation.
It’s not a story without precedent.
L’Engle’s affirmation that there are some things worth getting, and staying, angry about is a vital corrective to our world. The transformation of Meg from a girl angry at the world to a young woman who understands the power of anger, and not to waste such power on small, self-centered things, informs us well if we let it.
Meg learns some things about anger that release her from her bitterness and propel her into a force that evil need reckon with. That is a change worth noting and emulating, fiction or no.
Too Much Anger?
I don’t need to mention that there are a lot of angry people out there in our world, too. (See last weeks’ post—re toxic.) That there is much to be angry about is as true in our world as it was in Meg’s, where the forces of evil threatened her beloved little brother and their tight relationship. Angry people sometimes sin, but it is not a sin to be angry. Sometimes, it’s downright holy.
Those who cannot handle the anger of others, wishing them to wrap it up in colorful bows of sweet Christian platitudes, confuse anger with bitterness. They fear doing the holy work of hearing the anger of others and the echoes of all the prophets who have gone before.
If you’re uncomfortable with another believer’s anger, you must not read Jeremiah very often.
The beautiful lesson of Meg is that anger is good. Anger is holy. But anger is like a scalpel—best respected for both the healing and the damage it can do.
“Stay angry, little Meg. You will need all your anger now.”
That parting line from one of her helpers defines the transformation Meg needs to make. She must confront the reality that mishandling her anger only fuels IT’s power. Using her anger to defeat IT, by refusing to let hate win and pulling all her love to the surface, brings them all home.
It’s the best line in the book.
I don’t know what you’re angry about, or if you are. I don’t know if you’re uncomfortable with anger and would rather not see it in your newsfeeds. (Good luck with that.) I do know that learning to wield our anger well and for God’s purposes is the difference between destroying ourselves and bringing ourselves home. I know that pulling all our love to the surface is the only way to stare hate in the face and tell it, “not today.”
So, the word of the year thing . . . I’ve meant to. Really. And what, it’s only January 17th as I write this. Maybe I’ll go with this popular sentiment I’ve seen floating around.
Except February is just around the river bend.
I Do Love Words
I never picked a word last year because, well, one never picked me. I find it disingenuous to force the issue if no one word is calling to me. Or maybe I’m just too lazy to search. But this year, I know I want one. I just can’t quite decide which one. And one has not decided on me.
What I’m searching for is more a feeling than a word—and I can’t find the exact word for the feeling. This coming from someone who makes her living finding the right words.
Last year was hard. Exhausting. (Maybe if I had picked a word it would have made it better?)
It was also valuable and beautiful, but these things commingle often, don’t they? We’re already facing some potential significant loss in 2019, so I’m not certain the new year promises better things. I am certain they will also be valuable and beautiful, and I will find that the anchor of Jesus holds still, giving meaning and hope to both joy and loss.
Yet I am at a loss for the word that encompasses it all.
We’re All Just Tired. And Toxic.
Last year was emotionally exhausting, too. When the Oxford English Dictionary chose “toxic” as their word of 2018, they baptized an entire year with an overlay of anger. They’re not wrong.
There are so many parts of 2018 I am angry about. So many things I simply cannot. I cannot with jailing children, erecting walls, shooting children, fine Nazis, drowning children . . . I cannot. I cannot with the defense of any of these things by people with whom I share a faith.
And yet . . . I also cannot let the toxins invade and make a captive of me. To quote, well, myself when I gave two talks on this topic last year,
“When we begin to attack other humans we are engaging in the tactics of the enemy, and he is not our friend. He will use us. We will end up being what we fight against.”
We will end up being what we fight against.
I say “no” to that toxin in 2019.
So what words have I considered top define this longing?
Candidates have included:
(Yes, I’ve considered “me.” I have. I find no shame in that, even while I’ve looked for it, assuming that choosing “me” as a focus word for an entire year must contain more than a drop of self-absorption. It doesn’t. It’s time to be good to me for a bit.)
More Than a Feeling
What am I longing for this year?
A pulling back, a recalibrating of what I really need and what rabbit trails I don’t need to follow.
A reminder of what battles I don’t need to fight and which ones I really, truly do.
A restoration of some things that have fallen away.
A return to some of the joy-sparking things that I’ve let go. (Let’s channel Marie Kondo here, because why not?)
A peace in the midst of evil that isn’t going away but must not wash me out in its tide.
A solution to this perennial puzzle of what matters versus what demands my limited bandwidth.
A way to do this unhurried, unscheduled, restful thing perfectly so that I get it exactly right and accomplish all my other goals as well.
. . . . . .
I’m longing for wonder this year. The kind that gobsmacks you full in the face and and leaves you wide-eyed, smiling with dumb amazement that you never saw it before.
Because the thing about wonder is that, almost all the time, it’s always been there.
(Also, I wouldn’t mind bringing back the word “gobsmacked.” Because how perfectly descriptive of its own action is that word?)
Most years, I find a song as well as a word that I believe will, or has, defined my year. Like the words, they find me. This year, I think the song that has found me is Sarah Groves’ Expedition. She sings about going toward that next river bend—but unhurried, refusing to rush there just to say you’ve been. Not going down the river because you have to get to the next port or cross off the next point of interest on the to-do or to-see list.
Going because the bends are the exciting parts, and taking the trip slow allows us to savor those parts with wonder, not anticipate and strategize them until there’s nothing left but the same water you’ve traversed, thousands of times.
In defiance of her words (you really should listen):
I rarely approve of extravagant, and never wasteful.
Striving is sometimes my middle name.
I don’t have time for deliberate and slow.
I always feel I have something to prove.
“Strategy” is among my top five StrengthsFinders, and I am an enneagram 5!!! Do you not understand these important realities, Sarah???
This simply floating stuff does not come naturally. At all.
Yet for this year, I want to venture downriver and see what God has for me there, and I want to embrace it without reservation of whether or not I have the time or the capability. (Enneagram 5’s don’t do anything unless they feel they will be undeniably capable. That’s also exhausting.) I want to go around the turns and marvel at the glory and wonder of it rather than have it already planned out and categorized.
I want to be gobsmacked.
(No, that is not going to be my word. Even though it would look great in calligraphy hanging on the wall. A conversation starter, to be sure.)
What’s your vote? What’s your feeling or longing for this year? Do you have a word? What should mine be? I’d love to talk with you about it. After all, if I want to focus on what matters, one of those things would be you.
Since we’ve been talking about books that changed us, it seems appropriate to do a book wrap up blog—not an unheard of thing in the blogging world, and you’ve probably read a few already.
Usually, when I consider writing about the books I’ve read in the past year, I think, no one on earth except the nineteen other people in your doctorate class care about the books you read all year. And maybe not even them.
Truth, most of my reading is tuned to the thesis-writing channel these days. That might be over this year. It might not. Professional reading is fun to me, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I do a lot of it. It’s a blessing to love to read about what you do.
Nevertheless, here are some reads from this year I’ll pass on. I think you’ll find something you like. Maybe we can talk about it!
The New Odyssey: The Story of the Twenty-First Century Refugee Crisis, PatrickKingsley
Yes, it’s heartbreaking to read. I’ve had it on my list for a while. The author takes us on the journey of one refugee, while bringing together the tales of other men, women, and families, as well as facts about the refugee crisis. It’s riveting, horrible, and hopeful, all at once. It’s also the sort of book I’m working on right now, so stay tuned.
I heard Patrice at Breathe Christian Writer’s Conference and knew from the first night I would like her. When I listened to her teach about memoir, I had already picked up her book the night before. It’s a treasure of one woman’s learning how to navigate growing up, race, marriage, family, and not belonging anywhere yet finding grace. It’s beautifully written and relatable. I loved meeting her and hearing her heart. Also, that cover.
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown.
What can I tell you about this one you probably don’t know? I read it on a plane in a few hours. It was painful, arresting, and true. There are so many things I don’t know about being someone I’ve never been. It is so helpful to read about others’ experience so we can open our eyes wider at the world and our space in it. There is no fear in knowledge—especially if it makes us better able to love our neighbor as ourselves. There is never anything lost by hearing another story.
Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, Rachel Held Evans
I got to be on Rachel’s launch team for this book, so I got to read it before the world! There is poetry, drama, logical analysis, theology, and story, all woven together in this ode to scripture and our use or misuse of it. If you want to look at Scripture with fresh eyes and maybe see it in ways you haven’t, check out Rachel’s writing and her way of bringing love of the Bible to reading of it.
Why do I seem to like unsettling books? There is a trend here. I love a willingness to deconstruct church and its practices and not fear imagining something else. Not everything he suggests might work, but the candor to say it is refreshing. Viola offers a model for church that pulls us away from American cultural church and toward its roots. He dares to say that what we practice might be closer to our own preferences and heritage than to Jesus. It will make you think, and that’s the goal of all good books.
Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People, Bob Goff
I wanted to preview this book because Bob raises a question I struggle with—how do we really love people who try their hardest to be unlovable in today’s political and religious climate? Bob manages to open eyes to not only how we do that but, of course, how we sometimes are those unlovable people to someone else. His striking humility and hands-on personal testimony about how this works are enough to sell his authority.
One of my favorite quotes right off was: “I’m trying to resist the bait that darkness offers me every day to trade kindness for rightness.” Knowing it’s many of our struggle, not just mine, was a great start. It’s a daily thing, not a one and done. We have to resist that bait every single day it’s offered. And believe me, it’s offered a lot. Needless to say, I bought the whole book after being on the preview team, because I needed the rest of the story.
Full disclosure—this is my second read of this book. I love Rubin. She is a soul mate in some ways. Her work here on how we form good habits is perfect because it takes into account the many different people we are and that what works for one utterly fails for another. A great choice if you want to create better habits for 2019. I’m eagerly awaiting her next book.
OK, I’m late the the party on this one, but it was so helpful. Learning I am an enneagram 5 is a life-changer. I understand my motivational forces so much better, as well as the poor directions they could take me if allowed. Knowing why I have to feel so capable has led me to be able to put down some of those burdens and let myself be questioned and taught. I also understand my loved ones’ motivations and needs so much better. We have two 5’s, two 6’s, and one 4 in the family. It’s fun.
Books I am looking forward to in 2019:
Dare To Lead, Brene Brown. Enough said. It’s Brene. Also, I just got this one for Christmas, so maybe I’d better finally read it first.
Outer Order, Inner Calm. Gretchen Rubin. Same. If it’s hers, I’ll read it. Also, that title. Who doesn’t need that?
Can We Trust the Gospels, Peter Williams. Just found this today, and I think it will be a valuable resource as a pastor. I like to discuss the hard questions with the congregation, especially the younger members, and this promises to be easy to understand and interact with.
The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom, Helen Thorpe. How did I not know about this one? It’s recommended by Malcolm Gladwell, and that’s enough for me. Also, I volunteer with refuge high school students, so this is needed reading for me. Can’t wait.
Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth. This beauty. It came to me on my birthday . . . I cannot wait to be unbusy with doctorate stuff long enough to dive in. The illustrations alone are stunning enough to buy the book, if you’re a Tolkien fan (um, fan might not be strong enough a word) like me.
Small Church Essentials, Karl Vaters. I read his blog very day because I need all the wise info on how to lead a small church and love it. Another Christmas present I need to find the time for soon.
What about you? What was your favorite read of 2018? The one you most look forward to in 2019?
I’m a questioner. I knew this without putting a label to it, but Gretchen Rubin, in her book The Four Tendencies, labeled it for me and offered me ratification to be what I was. Questioners are happy to do anything for anyone—but we must be assured it makes sense, first. We have to know we’re making the effort for a reason.
This annoys my obliger husband—who follows rules because the rules are there to follow.
Sometimes, though, questioners can ask too much, fear too much, make too many excuses for our hesitation. We lean, hard, toward perfectionism. If we can’t assure ourselves the next step won’t fail, we’re reluctant to take it. We always want to know if there might be a better choice.
Questioners suffer a lot from buyer’s remorse.
Read more about how I deal with buyer’s remorse (and other regrets of a questioner) at The Glorious Table now!
My goal for the winter is to clean out the basement.
Our mutual packrattish tendencies have produced a lower floor filled with boxes, bags, and random loose “treasures” that all impede access to the freezer, shelves, and back room.
Too many hobbies have given us too much stuff. A love of sentiment precludes jettisoning of old school projects, artwork, and memorabilia. It’s even possible that my Christmas addiction has resulted in a few too many boxes of decorations.
I’ll bet you have a room like this.
Unfortunately, it’s been my winter goal for the last eight years to clean out the basement. Somehow, it never happens. The mess still keeps me from getting to the things I really need.
Continue reading about new year hopes over at The Glorious Table, one of my favorite places to have you visit!