A Long Obedience, and Other Lessons Learned at Nineteen

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Photo by Christine Mendoza on Unsplash

Running, Galloping, or Anything with Horses

I didn’t want to run with the horses. A neighbor’s horse had once run under a tree branch in our back field, with me on his back, full intending to knock me off. I’d hit the branch. I had not fallen.

Another horse, a supposedly docile being on a trail ride, had been bitten by the beast behind him and reared up, again, with me on his back. The height of it is probably greatly exaggerated in my ten-year-old memory, but I remember the fear.

Our cousins’ ponies tried to bite me. Leaders of Girl Scout rides believed, erroneously, that we would all love to gallop. My best friend inducted me into typical elementary-schoolgirl horse fever, and I created an elaborate ranch on my bedroom wall of paper horses, all different, with names and histories. I loved my horses. I just didn’t love real ones.

My history with the equine family is sketchy.

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Photo by Florin-Alin Beudean on Unsplash

But Eugene Peterson said that Jeremiah said that God said—I had to run with the horses. At that point in my life, I trusted all three, although I remained a little unclear on who Jeremiah was.

Halls of Fame

An author rarely makes it into my mental Hall of Literary Fame. It takes excellence of storytelling, language, argument, depth, and truth to attain that level. Like a preacher who sits in the pews and can’t listen for unintentionally  critiquing (that is who I am), I admit only authors who take hold of my literary imagination. Pushing me theologically earns bonus points.

To paraphrase Jane Austen, who is certainly well-ensconced near the apex of my Hall, “I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished writers. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.” 

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We lost Eugene Peterson in October. We lost—he gained. He is said to have passed with joy in his heart and greeting on his lips for the One he was going to meet but already knew well.

I met Peterson (through his work) at a crucial time in my development, literarily and theologically. A new freshman at Washington University, I was also a new Christian, stumbling and uncertain exactly what I had signed up for and if it had been the great idea I believed at the time.

As a new believer in a highly unbelieving university, it seemed the thing to join InterVarsity, and there I learned of an entire publishing house devoted to making me a smarter Christian. You can assume by the alma mater that I enjoyed being smarter. This has not changed.

A Long Obedience

Peterson stayed with me while others faded. He taught me early in my faith about a long obedience in the same direction and how to run with horses. He taught me what most nineteen-year-olds need to learn yet rarely can—how to allow for failure, to expect slowness rather than instant effectiveness. He taught me that discipleship was a hard road that required perseverance, not five-point plans.

Of course, I didn’t know I needed to know all that.

You can see how old the book is by the photo. I no longer go by that name. Haven’t for decades. I no longer mark my belongings with unicorn stamps either, although given the magic of books, it’s not amiss.

There are arrows and asterisks and a few underlines in the text of A Long Obedience. Not many. I was still at an age where I believed books were not to be written in, sacred pages that should remain virgin white because someone in a library had told me that probably.

I didn’t know that a book is made more sacred by its highlighting, underlining, exclamation points, and creases. I bet Peterson could have taught me that, too.

The chapter that contains most all the underlining is called “Joy: Our Mouth Was Filled with Laughter.” I clearly felt the need for joy at that point. Not surprising, since my college years were flooded with grief at my mother’s passing a few weeks before high school graduation, my dad’s descent into alcoholism, and a close friend’s suicide. Peterson met me when I needed joy, and I didn’t know how to acquire it on my own.

“One of the delightful discoveries along the way of Christian discipleship is is how much enjoyment there is, how much laughter you hear, how much sheer fun you find. We come to God because none of us has it within ourselves, except momentarily, to be joyous. We try to get it through entertainment. Society is a bored, gluttonous king, employing a court jester to divert it after an overindulgent meal.

But there is something we can do. We can decide to live in response to the abundance of God, and not under the dictatorship of our own poor needs. We can decide to live in the environment of a living God and not our own dying selves. We can decide to center ourselves in the God who generously gives and not in our own egos which greedily grab. Joy is the verified, repeated experience of those involved in what God is doing.”

Did Peterson pave the way in my soul to be one of those who would not rest without excavating what God was doing? Did he play a role in my decision not to pursue law school but ministry instead?

I know, from my note-taking, that he offered me a way to find the joy that had evaporated from my heart. Choosing joy is a decision I would have to make over and over, given my propensity to be more negative than the average bear. Somewhere in that long obedience, the joy stuck, and the negativity is what evaporated, though it’s always a beast that requires patrolling of the borders.

Peterson found me when I needed a wise pastor, and that he was. I hope he helped make me a wise pastor in return. Thank you, good brother, for being who you were and for speaking words that will not die with you.

What Does the Church Need to Bring Back the Younger Generation: Author Interview

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A few weeks ago, my friend Terri asked if she could interview me for her author interview series. Since she is a great interview-question-maker and a great friend, I said of course!

(Also, she is a very talented photographer–she took my headshot this year in San Antonio, and I am pretty certain the shot at the beginning of her post is of Oxford from our time there last spring. I know that hallway!)

Terri asked so many good questions about the church, its future, and the leadership of young people. Since I am known around these parts as an advocate of the latter (I mean, look at the tagline right up there), I loved every one of her questions.

Questions like:

Many young adults have left the church. What has driven young people away?

How does the church and its people need to change to bring young people back?

I especially love the last question–you’ll figure out why when you read it!

Just part of one of my answers–I hope it makes you want to click over to the full interview.

Jesus came to forgive our sins AND to usher in the kingdom of God with redemption of everything, starting right away. He came to set a broken creation right again. They aren’t separable. Young people find this story credible and compelling. They know the world is broken. They want to help fix it. We’re not just saved from sin—we’re saved toward wholeness.

Get yourself over to her full interview here. Thanks!

 

Pink towels and new adventures

Who knew a laundry load of towels and sheets could ambush you like that? It’s been things like that today. Little things that put me on the floor in a puddle. Cleaning the bathroom and noticing her towel is no longer on the hook. Turning around while packing and seeing the preschool picture on the shelf, tentative smile and leopard dress her sister made for her. 

In two hours we pack the van. She is ready. I so am not.

Those were my words last Thursday. And now it’s done—the baby is off, packed into her dorm room (on a day where the heat index read 114 degrees), happily organizing her new life. While I organize mine.

Borrowed van. Because you know what?
An entire life will not fit in a Prius.
There is plenty to do. I will never be one of those who wonders what to do with my time. I know there are new adventures to find and old ones to give my full attention to. I know God has a new chapter for me as well as for her, and I am ready for it.

Yet there are last words to say, and things I want her to know. I’m not going to take this space to lament the passing of time or the loss of a smile and someone who speaks simultaneously the same thought. 

Although, I will definitely miss her uncanny facial expressions that can always light any situation. But you know, the child is texting me as I write this, so it’s not like she’s in Siberia or anything. There is that. At least that.


With all the “you can succeed at anything,” “you are awesome,” and there are no limits to your adventure” talk our kids have been getting as they head into college, I want to add something. Something I don’t think they hear as much, Something I think they may need to hear more. So here, dear Child #3, is what I want you to know as you begin this, indeed, limitless adventure.

You will fail.

When you took that Buzzfeed quiz about “What place in the family are you?” and you got “the perfect one”? Please don’t believe that’s got to be you.

You will fail. You will make mistakes and have regrets. You will disappoint yourself and others. There will be tears. There will be days when you feel your entire identity is tied up in whether or not you get the grade, make the team, or impress the instructor/choir director/interviewer.

And you won’t.

Did you think I was kidding?
Because part of this new adult thing you’re trying to get used to is that the cushion is gone and stuff happens that lands you on your butt. Hard. I’m not there to catch you, and the tough truth is, if I was, I should not, and I hope, would not. You never know with mommas.

Is this depressing advice on your first week when everything looks so rosy happy? I hope not. I hope it’s encouraging, really. See, I know somewhere, in the back of your excited, anticipating, expanding mind, there is fear. 

I know it. I am your momma. 

Fear that this is going to be harder than anything you’ve done before. Fear that you’re standing on a tiny outcrop of stone, and it’s a long, long way down if you misstep and there is no net below. It’s all on you now. Scary.

Please do this at school. You will make
friends. I guarantee it.
So know now that it’s OK to take that misstep. You will fall. But it will not be the end. It will not be disaster. You will have the courage and the resourcefulness to learn from it and make other choices, and new mistakes, next time. You will stand taller after you fall, not smaller. You will have looked fear in the eye and defeated it.

We will still love you. Your community will still love you. Your roommate will still love you. (Just don’t wipe her computer like you did your sister’s. That may tax her love a bit.)

You will still be of infinite value, because your value depends on things other than your output, GPA, or face in the mirror. Eternal things. Things that don’t change like the day’s classes. 

You will fail. But it will not define you. 

Falling will not be the end. It will be the beginning of discovering for yourself that you have wings. And God is holding you up on his wings. So fly, kid.

Old door.
New door.