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.

Change Happens

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While I was spending my time sailing, sunning, and writing pages and pages of thesis proposals that would get rejected and repurposed EVERY OTHER MINUTE in California this June, our front yard got a makeover.

Out with the Old

We called the city because one of the venerable old elm trees in the front yard looked ready to tumble onto our also old (if not equally venerable) house. The trees are technically on city property.

They came. They saw. They said that all three trees were bad and would be meeting the saw blade. (Insert sob emoji here.) A fourth elm sat just inside the property line, and it was in worse shape, so we struck a deal with the contractor to take it down for cheap while he was there.

Upshot—the entire front yard went from shade to full sun in a few hours. I returned home to a driveway I didn’t even recognize.

In with the . . . What?

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I do love light, but unfortunately, my front garden does not. We had planted it as a shade garden and filled it with hostas, coral bells, ferns, and the like. Now, they are baking. Turning yellow and crusty. They are not happy. It’s too hot out there to move them, and so they sit in the sun, as I hope and pray they survive long enough to be set somewhere  more understanding of their needs.

Meanwhile, an interesting thing is occurring in the back yard. There, the trees are growing. The spruce that was as tall as I am (and that’s not very tall) when we moved in now towers over its surroundings. If I wanted to get all mathematical, I’d go out there and measure the hypotenuse and the shadow and tell you exactly how tall it is. But, did I mention it’s hot? And I am not all mathematical as a general rule.

The ornamental pear tree we planted that was supposed to be remain small isn’t. Upshot—things that were planted in full sun, like our rose garden, no longer are. They’re also unhappy about the turn of events.

 

What is my point in all this?

My own back yard tells me that seasons change. Things never remain as planned. What we once thought would be forever isn’t, and what we thought would never be sometimes is. What worked once for us doesn’t work anymore. Usually, we keep trying it anyway, desperately hoping that we will not have to adjust to a new reality.

New Normals

  • Our bodies change or get injured. What was once easy isn’t.
  • Our kids leave home and our marriages turn in toward themselves and find hollow cores where communication and commitment once filled the space.
  • Our kids leave home period, and that’s enough change for any of us who love having their laughter and surprise and support floating through our days.
  • We move from single to two people, from two kids to three, and every addition is a glorious gift but still one we have to adjust to and whose learning curve may be steeper than we think we can climb.
  • We move to a new home, and its exciting and terrifying, adventurous and lonely, all at once.
  • Our faith turns into doubt nibbling away at the corners of our hearts and minds. What were once easy answers don’t come quite so quickly anymore.

Change doesn’t have to be bad to discombobulate our lives. (I love that word.) It just has to be what it is.

Different. New. Unknown.

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It can scorch our days like a July sun or it can shade our nights with extra darkness. It doesn’t matter. It just messes with what we thought we had stable and safe.

If I refuse to adjust to the new normal of our yard, the plants out front will die. They will shrivel and thirst and scorch and wither. They weren’t made for the sun. The plants out back will languish without the light they crave. They, too, will die. They weren’t made for the shade.

If I accept that normal isn’t coming back and I move them? I can create an entire new design out there. I have a chance to start over. I can make beautiful out of a new situation.

Create Beautiful

We can spend our time resisting whatever our new normal is, or we can embrace it. Now, I’m not advocating giving up on something that matters. I wouldn’t hang up my marriage if it changed. I can ( and might) plant a new tree in the front yard. I can opt to fight for those plants and that arrangement, because they’re important. Fighting is an option. It’s one I’d always take if change threatened something that truly mattered.

But, some things have just run their season. It’s time for a new one. Some things are better off for a new season.

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What if, for instance, I embrace this new empty nest that threatens? What if I stop seeing it as a threat? I can sit in my home and mourn the emptiness. (I will, some days.) I can guilt them into not ever moving farther than five miles away. (I have tried.) I can Snapchat my children incessantly until they block me. (I don’t recommend this.)

I can learn new ways to love them like crazy from a distance, pour my heart into other young people here who need someone, and renew career aspirations that have been put aside. I think that may be the better option.

On a larger scale, what if we accepted that “A Christian America” isn’t going to happen? The season of churchgoing as normal is over, and we pastors (and all Christians) have an uphill climb to be relevant or wanted. People aren’t going to beat the door down of my church.

I could demand things go back to the way they were. I could throw up my hands and gnash my teeth about the current state. I could toss blame all over the place and find scapegoats to label and denounce.

I could embrace a different culture and find my way to create God’s image of beauty within it. I know which is the ultimately more productive choice.

What if a new normal has brought something into your life that also brings worry, fear, anxiety, or sadness? How can you grow into that today? How can you look at your new season and find the beauty in it? What do you need to embrace in order to grow in this season rather than wither?

I hope and pray you find it. If I can help, let me know.

What Do You Want?

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“What do you want?”

It can be a loaded question. Depending on the day and the questioner, we can answer it in a number of ways.

On an average day, my answer would be something like, “a fireplace, lasik surgery, and a trip to the Galápagos Islands.” Minimal needs, really.

What about you?

“What do you want?“ happens to be the first question Jesus asks. What would you say if Jesus asked you that question?

 The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus. Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” he asked them.

They replied, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” “Come and see,” he said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place where he was staying, and they remained with him the rest of the day. (John 1.36-39)

 

What do you want? It’s such a wide open question for these guys. Literally, he asks, “What are you seeking?” He has good reason to ask. People sought out Jesus for a lot of reasons. Some reasons were better than others. If these two were going to present themselves as disciples (which was essentially what their actions said to Jesus), he wants to know from the outset what motivates them.

Imagine if he asked all of us that before we could follow him.

  • The rich young man’s reasons were all about how he could manipulate the system to be accepted. Jesus tried to get him to reconsider.
  • Simon wanted Israel’s kingdom to come by force. Jesus confronts that interest as limited at best.
  • Nicodemus comes in fear and fascination. Jesus prods him to consider carefully exactly why he’s there.
  • Zaccheus needed salvation—and he got it.
  • Many longed for healing—and they got it, too.
  • Others craved signs and wonders, miracles and circuses. He told them to go look for someone else. He didn’t come to be their sideshow.

All the time his question lingers in the air for all of them—what do you want?

What do we want?

If we’re honest, sometimes our motivations for following Jesus are more about us than about him.

What would you say if he turned around to you and asked—What do you want? What are you looking for?

Andrew and, we guess John, answered with another question. (They caught on quickly.)

“Where are you staying?”

The question was their way of saying, “Where you are, we want to be there also.”

Good answer, gentlemen.

Jesus gives us all the verbs we need when confronted with his question—what do you want?

We want to come, see, and follow.

Come

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“Come” is an invitation to His life. Join me. Walk beside me. Journey with me through this thing called the kingdom of God. Let’s be companions and ultimately friends and brothers and sisters on this trip. Come.

See

When I was eight, the school told my parents I needed glasses. I didn’t think so. I could see just fine. Until the doctor put that first pair of blue cat eye glasses on my face. Then, I could SEE. There were so many beautiful things that had been so hazy for so long I didn’t even realize it.

Come and SEE, for the first time. Look around you and find out what it’s like to have a ringside seat to God’s victory over sin and remaking of the world. It’s way better than the miracle sideshows you want to be content with. CS Lewis said,

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (The Weight of Glory)

Jesus’ invitation is to see what he’s up to—and come along with.

Follow

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I love that just before this in John 1 we hear that Jesus is the word of God in human form. We can study God’s word in his book. And we should. But not to exclusion of studying the Word of God. To follow Jesus is to study God’s word in the flesh.

What are you looking for? Sometimes, honestly, we’re more often looking for rules to follow and laws to memorize than the living Word. We want the newest version of how to live and be good, Phariseeism 2.0, rather than to face the persistent questions of a visible God.

Jesus says, “I’m not your guy for that. I am The Word. Study me.”

Dig in deep. Get your hands dirty. Live with me and live like me. Gospel with me. You’ll see that it’s a verb the more you do it. Jesus didn’t spread good news, he was good news. Following him means we are, too.

Nichole Nordeman sings (in a song that could be my autobiography):

“And you cannot imagine all the places you’ll see Jesus–You’ll find Him everywhere you thought He wasn’t supposed to go. So go!” (Dear Me)

Go. Be the follower ofd the wild, untamed, unreligious, homeless, challenging, demanding, healing, reconciling capital W word of God.

WHAT DO YOU want? If he asked that, what would you say?

It’s the most important answer you might ever make.

Telling Great Stories

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What was your favorite story as a child? Mine was Ferdinand the Bull. I didn’t think most people knew about Ferdinand, but he was special to me. Something clicked  between me and a bull who didn’t want to fight—just wanted to smell the flowers. I just wanted to sit under a tree and read a book. Or on the couch. Or in bed, under the blankets late at night. Or anywhere, really.

Leave me alone, and let me live peacefully. Ferdinand found that difficult as a bull intended for the bullring. I found it difficult as the youngest of seven kids.

I knew what it felt like to be different. Can another INFJ raise a hand, here?

As an adult, the stories that have shaped me, not surprisingly, revolve around second chances and grace and the least among us doing great thing. Lord of the Rings. Les Miserables. Pride and Prejudice. (Also, stories about women who aren’t afraid to say what they mean. And then sometimes have to apologize.)

Stories Change Us

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I will never forget the gut-punch feeling while sitting in a dark theater in December, 2001. My family watched The Fellowship of the Ring roll out on the big screen in Bozeman, Montana. (There was only one big screen in Bozeman.) We were only a couple months out of 9/11. The horror was still raw, the fear still tangible. And then Gandalf said the words I have never been able to shake.

To Frodo’s exhausted, “I wish none of this had happened,” Gandalf replied, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

It meant something. It still means something to me—enough to make me write a book and speak to young adults everywhere I can about the wondrous ability of Tolkien’s stories to change us.

Stories mean something. We read them, watch them, are changed by them. From the beginning of humanity, people told stories to connect and to reflect who they were and who they wanted to be.

I’ve been taking some time to preach through Jesus’ stories lately. Because if any stories are going to change us, those ought to.

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Jesus’ Stories Change Everything

Often when we read Jesus’ parables, we read them to extract a moral. What does he want us to do? How should we act? In the words of the rich young man, “What must I do for the kingdom of God?”

What if Jesus wants us to live the story—plot, character, climax, and conflict? What if he wants us to read it like he meant it—like a story, not a morality play? In fact, as a writer, I know the latter is a terrible way to write a story. We dare not tack on a moral at the end or we make it cliche, a trite tale that bashes the reader over the head with our Bible. (It’s kind of the way Christians tend to make movies . . . )

That’s not Jesus’ way.

Jesus drops a story in the listeners’ ears. The he lets them figure it out. He makes them figure it out. Jesus is not a bash-them-over-the-head sort of guy. (Although he has no trouble being a turn-the-tables-over sort of guy. That’s different.)

So what is the purpose of Jesus’ stories? They paint us a picture of life as it should be. His tales hold up a portrait, a landscape really, of the kingdom of God. This is what it looks like, guys. And he asks— Is this the story you want to tell as your own?

Jesus tells stories to help us imagine a world that aligns with how its supposed to be–to help us create our own story and tell it out. We study parables not for the moral of the story but for our story within them. What do they contribute to our tale? And how does out tale fit in God’s great kingdom, of which we are a tiny, tiny part yet still a meaningful one?

We tell stories to see the world as it should be and then go there.

In Jesus’ “introduction” to his parables, he gives another reason for telling them. To sort out who is truly listening.

That is why I use these parables, For they look, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand. This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says, ‘When you hear what I say, you will not understand. When you see what I do, you will not comprehend.

For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes— so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. (Matthew 13)

Jesus returns to the ancient shema—the call of God to truly hear and listen. From its beginning in Deuteronomy, the shema asks more of God’s people. They are to listen to his words with open ears and hearts, willing and wanting to respond to God’s words at all times. That’s the meaning behind “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus means don’t simply hear—DO.

So the parables are stories to help us find our place in God’s great story. They are also sifters to see who is really listening. Jesus is preparing to leave his followers, and he needs to know who is in and who is a hanger-on. Not that the hangers-on aren’t welcome, but they aren’t where he’s going to get his team for building the church when he is gone. He’s looking for hearers and doers. And the stories separate the ones who want to work at it from those who want the fireworks and free fish.

Just think about all the people who were Cubs fans last year but not this. That’s the difference, my friends.

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When do we listen, really listen, to stories, as I did in that dark theater sixteen years ago?

We listen to stories when we appreciate our need for them.

I mean, if we’re prepping for a test, and we think we’ve got all the time in the world, or we know more than anyone else, we’re not likely to really listen when the teacher is reviewing. We’re going to be in the corner on Facebook, or doodling in the notebook, or catching a nap. We don’t feel our need for the information.

Jesus didn’t force morals or tell his point straight out because he wanted people to realize their need. We usually only realize that when we’re made to work for it. If it comes easily, we don’t know how much we really need it. When we do realize it, we are really to change. He wanted to force that work. Because—

Good stories change us for the better.

and then—

People who are changed tell good stories.

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That’s the point of the parables. To get us to tell good stories with our lives. We will never do that until we have ears to hear Jesus’ stories and know that they aren’t intended to give us a new law or some behavior to check off but a completely new story arc.

We tell stories to see the world as it should be and then go there.

We do that when we let the stories sink through our ears and change our very hearts.

Good stories change us for the better.

People who are changed tell good stories.

Next week, we will begin looking into some of those stories. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear some of yours.

Also–what was your favorite story as a child? What’s your favorite now?

Searching for Sunday — Why So Many Are Looking and Why Evangelicals Needs to Listen


“Wrapped now in flesh, the God who once hovered over the waters 
was plunged beneath them at the hands of a 
wild-eyed wilderness preacher.”

She got me at the beginning with the sheer beauty of that sentence and never let go. Rachel Held Evans, in her new book Searching for Sunday(out today), calls the church to regain its sacredness, passion, and yes, even its weirdness. As an evangelical who dearly loves my tradition and (usually) its people but has her eyes wide open to its harmful aspects, I breathed this book in. I live her frustrations and her passions about the church.

I don’t always agree with Ms. Evans. But I always love her humor, her willingness to “go there” on tough issues, and her heart for God. This book is no exception.

This book is above all a call to listen to, respect, forgive, and love beyond all of our abilities and even preferences for the greater reason that there is a Kingdom at stake, and we are spending too much of our time arguing over who should be in it and far too little making it look like Jesus.

We spend a lot of energy, time, and research in pinpointing why younger generations are leaving the evangelical church. I know I do. It’s a writing project I’m working on now, plus a topic dear to me as the mother of three in that generation and a former high school teacher with an unaccountable enjoyment of young adults. Yet the church tends to get defensive whenever someone actually tells them the truth about they ‘whys’ we wring our hands over.

Ms. Evans tells the truth. Her voice speaks for thousands who are feeling the same doubts, concerns, and fears but who simply leave without voicing them. Of course, “simply” is a poor word choice, because that decision is often anguished, never simple.

An excerpt of that truth in her own words:

“I was recently asked to explain to three thousand evangelical youth workers gathered together for a conference in Nashville, Tennessee, why millennials like me are leaving the church.

I told them we’re tired of the culture wars, tired of Christianity getting entangled with party politics and power. Millennials want to be known for what we’re for, I said, not just what we’re against. We don’t want to choose between science and religion or between our intellectual integrity and our faith. Instead, we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. We want to talk about the tough stuff—biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation, and social justice—but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers. We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask.

Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity, I said. We’re looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus—the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he’s always been found: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.”

To flesh this out, she discerns our sacred need through themes such as baptism, communion, confession, and marriage. In each section, she poetically, theologically, and compassionately examines why we find these sacraments meaningful. What attracts Christians through the millennia to these same rites, these same words, these marks of Christ in life?

And how can we come to them trying to bring reconciliation and renewal to a church that desperately needs to see and hear those who don’t feel welcome in its doors?

In the chapters on baptism, for example, I love the bottom line truth of what it stands for that we can and should all agree on, whether or not we agree on dunking, sprinkling, or just about anything else.

“Baptism declares that God is in the business of bringing dead things back to life, so if you want in on God’s business, you better prepare to follow God to all the rock-bottom, scorched-earth, dead- on-arrival corners of this world—including those in your own heart—because that’s where God works, that’s where God gardens.

In the ritual of baptism, our ancestors acted out the bizarre truth of the Christian identity: We are people who stand totally exposed before evil and death and declare them powerless against love.
There’s nothing normal about that.”

The book is a cry to the church to stop trying to fix people or give them checklists to make them ‘OK’ before God (and more importantly, before us). It’s a call to come beside people and hear their faith cries. It’s a passionate request to be with God being with people, not over them.

Searching for Sunday should be read by anyone in ministry, and there are many definitions of that, whether or not the reader is an Evans fan. In fact, I’d say especially if not. If a person truly wants to be a minister, he or she needs to delve into the truths of how the next generation (and many above it) are feeling about church and all its baggage. We dare not ignore the warnings that people are giving up on the institutional church (and their faith). We cannot pretend the reasons behind it have no basis – not if we say we are people of the Word who speak and believe the Word. We need to have the courage to listen.

Searching for Sunday is an informative and beautiful step in doing that.

I have been privileged to be on the launch team for Searching for Sunday, and I am lucky enough to have read its words before everyone else. But now — you no longer have to wait.

Find it on Amazon now.



When No One Wants To Build a Snowman


So, I didn’t exactly watch the Academy Awards this year. Didn’t exactly watch

any of the nominated movies either, come to think of it. At least, the Best Picture ones. Still, I am well aware of what won Best Original Song.


Do you wanna build a snow . . . something?
This is not opinion but an assumption–anyone with a young woman/girl in the house under, say, the age of 25, knows the Frozensoundtrack by heart now. That is an assumption I might bet on, if it was not against some promise I probably agreed to when I became a pastor. You know the songs.

One of my daughters has even learned “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” in Spanish. That’s how hooked we are.

I watched a sarcastic take on the movie a while ago, and one of the things the writer had issue with was how the sisters’ relationship remained healthy. Wouldn’t Anna have harbored just a teensy bit of resentment, he wondered? A slight tinge of, “Um, Elsa? Go fall off an iceberg. I’m done.”

He had a point. I wondered the same thing at times. If your sister refuses to let you into her life for years, would you feel like rushing off to her rescue and ultimately sacrificing yourself for her? Dubious, I’m thinking.

Do you wanna build a snowman?

Probably not.

Do Relationships Heal?

The more I think about it, the more I realize how amazing this healed relationship really is. Because you know, I’ve seen it. Up close and personal. In my own house.

For a number of years, I witnessed big sister locked in her “room” of isolation. I saw her unable to relate to her family, unable to let others in to the world she could not escape.

I watched her little sister sitting outside, thinking, “We used to be best buddies. And now we’re not. I wish you would tell me why.” The scene manged to depict something that maybe the writers never intended but that is too common in houses where things are hidden behind locked doors.

Having magical freezing powers was a social stigma in Arendelle. (It has a name. It’s called cryokinesis. How cool is that? Literally. Living with a mental illness has the same effect in our world. It shuts people behind doors. It keeps them from normal relationships. It terrifies them that someone will know. It ends up opening the door to really bad choices that seem good compared to the reality of now.

It tears apart sisters who just want to build snowmen like they used to.

In an animated world, I guess you can go back to the way things were once the storm is over and love has conquered. But in this world, it’s a little more complicated.

It’s hard to call through locked doors and get no answer.

It’s painful to trust and hope and have it squashed. Again. And again.

It’s scary to never know what normal is or how long it lasts.

It’s tough to have your life controlled by things you had no say in.

Sometimes, little sister just walks away. Maybe for good. You can’t blame her. But you wish for the Anna ending. The one with happily ever after. You know how unlikely it is. But you wish.

This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week. October 10thin particular is National Depression Screening Day, National Bipolar Awareness Day, and World Mental Health Day.It’s a week thathelps spread awareness of mental illness so those affected by it can get treatment and move forward with their lives.

I believe with everything in me we are all created in the image of God, and we are all deeply loved and known by him. Whether we choose to acknowledge that or not. Because of that, and yes, because I’ve lived it, I believe in treating those with mental illnesses like the beautiful creations they are. No one can do that if we don’t let the secrets out of the locked room and be real about loving people–no matter what.

People living with mental illness are our neighbors. So are their children, spouses, and siblings. Love your neighbor as yourself. Learn aboutmental illness. Learn about warning signs and what to do. It’s not a lack of faith or effort. It’s so much more complex than that. It’s just a few clicks on the internet to discover (from reputable sources, please) what mental illness is and how it affects you, me, and faith.

But those clicks might open someone’s door.

Rudolph and Me–Misfits R Us

I gave my life to Jesus when I was 16, and I’m a quick study. Within a couple years, I was teaching backyard Bible clubs and could exegete the wordless book right alongside the kids who’d grown up singing “The B-I-B-L-E.” (Which was also big in backyard Bible clubs.)
As a shiny new believer in an uber-liberal university, I grabbed all the support I could and was soon fluent in quiet time, servant leadership (although, as a woman, I probably should have been more just plain servant), and telling people about Jesus, whether they liked it or not.
The perfect family. 
By the time I was a young married six years later, I tuned in to Focus on the Family every day, volunteered at a pregnancy clinic, and suspected that anyone who voted democrat probably would not be standing next to me in heaven singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
At 32, with three kids and a perfect life, I had read all the books. I knew exactly what to do to make sure it all stayed that way, blessed by God.
Until I didn’t.
Until I looked into the face of a raging child, screaming obscenities at me, cuts on her arms and traces of drugs in her eyes. Mychild. I cried out to that God for whom I had planned this perfect witness of a life. Begging for those black and white answers that had promised so much but suddenly seemed far less clear. 

He didn’t answer. Crickets from Jesus. You know, the Jesus who said trusting and obeying were the way to be happy all the day?
Happy” doesn’t quite describe the feeling of walking up to a stranger’s door to ask if your daughter spent the night there. It doesn’t encompass the terror of wondering if she spent it anywhere safe. It never applies to watching her once-sparkling eyes turn away from yours and seeing the fresh razor marks she tries to pull her sleeves over.

I had stood on the promises, and they dropped me. Hard.

Only later did I understand that it wasn’t God’s promises that had let me fall but the words we had put in His mouth.

I was a Christian, a pastor, and alone, with a bleeding, devastated heart where faith still resided by the smallest of glimmers. A spiritual misfit? What kind of pastor has a suicidal heroin addict for a daughter? It’s a great way to avoid eye contact in meetings. Everyone avoids looking at you. If only they’d avoid talking about you, too.
In fact, I’ve been something of reverse spiritual misfit. I started out conforming, not questioning whatever “they” told me I needed to be a good Christian. A weakling who believed I was strong. I look in the mirror now at a woman I didn’t know was inside during all my years of certainty, wounded where I needed to be, questioning what I always should have, strong because I know I am weak.
My sureness that I knew how to do this Christian life thing got hit by a 7.8 quake. When things shake to that magnitude, something is bound to shake loose. Questions bubble up from deep underground. Questions like, what is certain and what’s rubble in this mountain I’ve created? If it all comes down, what will be left to stand on?
If you stripped the gospel down to Jesus, to all he’d said and done, what was surely still there? And what had we added because we needed to be sure we were on the right track to make the grade? To be quite certain we were in control of God?
If you ask too many questions.
And you kind of like gray areas.
Asking questions like these can turn you into a spiritual misfit. It can get you looked at funny in the Christian blogosphere.
So can starting to ask questions like, “Who is really my neighbor?” Not my theoretical, nice biblical neighbor. My real, complicated, dirty neighbor whom maybe I’ve never chosen to see.
Looking into the faces of kids who hurt and who drown that hurt in drugs and any other self-destructive behavior they could find made me question all the people I had been certain were “other.”
Many of those kids wandered in and out of my house over those years. Kids I would have ignored before. Kids I would have feared. Kids I would have judged. But in my house, at my table, with names and pasts and brown eyes that echoed all the hurt they’d ever been dealt and all the bad choices they’d made? They were no longer sinners who needed to get their acts together. They were lost kids. They were my kids. I was the sinner who needed to get it together. Wait–hadn’t I always had it together?
Asking questions like, Why not love the unloveable? Why not forgive the unforgivable? Why not admit there is no difference between me and the junkie in the ditch or the immigrant running the border? No difference except Jesus, and I didn’t earn that difference no matter how many points I stacked up in the rules column. Those get you uninvited to speak at Christian ladies’ luncheons. You’re not safe anymore.
I’m not safe. Thank God.
I accept risk where I once demanded safety. I don’t just accept it—I revel in it. It means I’m alive. It means God is alive in me. And anything—anything–is worth that.

It is a good feeling, this spiritual misfitism. I’m not sorry to have lost what I believed was my salvation to find who I know is.