How Do You Draw Mercy?

dock into ocean mercy of God

If you were asked to draw a picture of mercy what would you draw? How would you take the tools of pencil and paper and use them to craft a concept like mercy? Would you draw an event in your life; an event where you were shown mercy and after that you would never be the same? How do you draw mercy?

But all the wickedness in the world which man may do or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea.” William Langland

Though crafted with words and not a drawing, this quote has given me a picture of mercy that I never want to forget. I found the quote through Madeleine L’engle’s book One Live Coal to the Sea; a book where she explores mercy in the life of a family. Mercy in the midst of evil and dysfunction; mercy despite selfishness and betrayal; mercy when life demands justice.

In the midst of life’s journey, in the middle of hearing, seeing or thinking about evil, it is easy to forget the mercy of God. Mercy for apathetic teens and adults, mercy for passionate teenagers shot out of evil intent, mercy (dare I say it) for the men who shot her, mercy for me.

Today I picture that live coal, burning hot; a coal that can ignite a fire or burn a body, causing great pain and damage. And I picture that red, hot coal hitting the vast ocean where it can no longer do damage; where it is overcome by something so much more powerful. It is so far beyond my understanding, so much bigger than I could ever imagine. Evil confronted by the mercy of God and in that confrontation losing its power — one live coal to the sea.

How do you draw mercy?

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” Micah 6:8

Advent Reflection – Silence and Liminal Spaces

When I wake in the early morning I am always struck that our home is silent. There are no voices raised in conversation; no arguments, no agreements. There is no music, no sound of chopping or mixing from the kitchen, no sound of running water.

Of course if I really listen I hear noise from the traffic on Memorial Drive a few blocks away. I hear noise from household helpers – a refrigerator’s hum of activity; radiators spluttering, working hard to bring heat to the house, the low-pitch of an electric heater.

Actually, it’s not really silent at all. There is activity, there is movement, there is work being done.

It’s this I think about when I think about what I’ve always thought to be the 400 years of silence between the Old and New Testaments.

Was it really 400 years of silence?

I don’t think so.  Just because we aren’t privy to details and many recorded conversations does not mean that God was silent. God did not stop working, because he never stops writing his story.

People were longing for the Messiah, but in their longing they continued to hear God. Priests in the temple continued to serve faithfully, to pray, to worship God and seek to know more. The human heart continued to long for God, continued to seek God, and continued to find God.

Those four hundred years were a beautiful, liminal space; a threshold to a new beginning. It was the time between what was, and what would be.

In my life I am too quick to dismiss liminal spaces, too hasty in wanting the next thing. But so much can happen in the space between.

Richard Rohr, a theologian and Franciscan friar says this about liminal spaces:

“We keep praying that our illusions will fall away. God erodes them from many sides, hoping they will fall. But we often remain trapped in what we call normalcy—“the way things are.” Life then revolves around problem-solving, fixing, explaining, and taking sides with winners and losers. It can be a pretty circular and even nonsensical existence.

To get out of this unending cycle, we have to allow ourselves to be drawn into sacred space, into liminality. All transformation takes place here. We have to allow ourselves to be drawn out of “business as usual” and remain patiently on the “threshold” (limen, in Latin) where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin.

Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible. It’s the realm where God can best get at us because our false certitudes are finally out of the way.

This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy. The threshold is God’s waiting room. Here we are taught openness and patience as we come to expect an appointment with the divine Doctor.”*

Simeon and Anna were two people that lived a long time in that liminal space. It was this space and seeking that allowed them to know the Christ Child when they saw him.

Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

    you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation,

    which you have prepared in the sight of all nations, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”**


Many of us are in the liminal spaces right now, the time between the “just ended” and the “not yet begun.” I think of this as I sit beside a tree, lights glowing, providing a protection against the grey of the day. Is this the sacred space of God’s waiting room”? I wait to see.

*Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999), 155-156.

**Luke 2:29-32

A God of Process

God of Process

Lent began yesterday evening in the Orthodox Church and with it a time of reflection and fasting. As I begin this time I am utterly convinced of the above quote and am grateful that God is a God of Process. 

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I will not be posting daily during this time of Lent, rather will do a few now and then, including some pictures from my daughter Stefanie, as well as feature a guest-post series on TCK’s finding their niche. I’ve got some great stories of Adult TCK’s and how they came into the work they are now doing. It’s fascinating to see the career choices of those who grow up between worlds and I want to focus on this as an encouragement to others. As always I thank you for reading Communicating Across Boundaries. It is a gift.

Stacy says this about today’s muffins: For this week’s Muffin Monday, we are visiting the pubs of England for a ploughman’s lunch of cheddar, beer and pickle. These muffins are called Ploughman’s Lunch Muffins and can be found by clicking here. 

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The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 19 “The Least of These”

I walk in to church and venerate the icons at the entry of the sanctuary. This is still not comfortable to me. I still feel like I’m ‘faking’ it.

Is this how converts feel in Evangelical churches? Like they still don’t quite fit? Square boxes in holy, round holes?

But I’m growing in my comfort. I try to do this thoughtfully, really thinking about those in the icons displayed, grateful that they lived and died for this faith. And I am miles from where I first stood in relationship to this ancient faith, to when I stood with aching feet and legs wondering when the service would end. 

I’m in a discombobulated state. My contact lens, invisible proof of my vanity, is lost in my eye and has not surfaced. (Only those with contact lenses will understand this last sentence and just how discombobulated you feel when your contact lenses go missing.)

It’s the Sunday of the Last Judgment. Just writing those two words puts me in this place of discomfort. No one wants to talk about judgment — least of all me.

The scripture is based on a parable in Matthew 25. Jesus is talking about sheep and goats and the righteous and the unrighteous. And his words to the righteous invite them to come into his presence, to the inheritance that has been created for them since the beginning of time. He says something interesting to them:

“…For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

And the righteous – they question him — wait a minute? When did this happen? When did we feed you, clothe you, visit you, comfort you?

He replies:  ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  

But the parable doesn’t end there – because there’s another group of people who are told they didn’t help. They are surprised – what do you mean we didn’t help you? When did this happen? And the answer mirrors the first  “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Just the addition of a couple words changes everything. And the outcome for these, the ‘did nots’ is dire. They are sent away, told to depart. They are cursed and the punishment is harsh.

My mind begins to wander after the scripture reading. So – when I buy tea for Valerie on the street with cream and 5 sugars, I’m not really doing it for Valerie. I’m doing it for Jesus. And when Donald wants coffee — blueberry with 10 sugars, it’s coffee for Jesus. And when we befriend immigrants, strangers in a city, we are befriending for Jesus. And when I care for someone who is sick, it’s not about just being a nurse, I’m doing it for Jesus. Even when I have wrong motives? Even when I give grudgingly? Who are the ‘least of these’ in my life?

I don’t know but it seems that the ‘least of these’ matter to God. A Lot. This is judgment we’re talking about and apparently it isn’t enough to just love God. We’re also called to love those who bear his image, even when they are unlovely. Loving God means loving those who are made in the image of God. No caveats. No excuses. No ‘buts.’

This is not new information to me but my mind still has trouble understanding. When you have a middle-aged faith, new information sometimes needs to be dressed in different clothing and seen with new eyes.

All of us bear the image and stamp of our Creator God. “The least of these” are image-bearers and what I do for them I do for God.

Will it take a lifetime for me to really get it? That whatever I do for the ‘least of these’ I do for God? Monday morning tea for Valerie may never look the same. 

The least of these edited

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To Believe in the Beyond

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To believe in the redemptive love of God through Jesus is to believe in a reordering of life, to believe that things are not as they seem. It is to believe in transformation of the whole person. It is to believe that beyond the ugly is beauty, beyond the broken is wholeness, beyond dementia is a sound mind, beyond insanity is sanity, beyond the dark is light, beyond sorrow is joy, and beyond death is life.*

It is to believe that nothing is beyond the redeeming love of God.

It is to believe in the beyond.

This post is dedicated to my cousins – John, Jeff, Judi, Joe, & Jayna and to my dear Uncle Jim on the loss of my Aunt Jean. I love you. 

*Originally written for this post Scratched on the Walls of an Insane Asylum – The Love of God

It’s Getting Cold

It’s getting cold.

I walk to work in the morning with my body bundled into a warm coat, my feet in boots, my head down to keep the wind from biting too fiercely. We who are on these streets walk quickly, there is no room for small talk or conversation. We are glad to get to our destinations and breathe, away from the wind and the cold.

It’s getting cold. Yet there are still homeless on my streets. There are still men and women huddled together, spooning under blankets for comfort, there are still signs that say “Homeless. Can you help?” Shivering in the morning wind, Charlie asks me for spare change. I get him a cup of coffee and move on.

Border crossing - Turkey Syria

It’s getting cold. And Syrian refugees in no man’s land are in flimsy tents with little to guard them from the incoming winter. Bare feet and no jackets for children of all ages, families that have nothing left, a system strained under fear and corruption that has to fight to make sure aid goes where it is most needed.

I am acutely aware of all of this as I take a hot shower and sit before a warm heater drinking hot coffee. It’s getting cold and there are so many without — without heat, without home, without family. I can hardly bear this, hardly bear the thought of millions of refugees that can’t keep warm or nourished. Hardly bear that I walk by homeless huddled for comfort.

“This is not the way life should be” I shout in my head to a silent Heaven.

It’s getting cold and I have my choice of 3 coats to wear and scarves line my closet. It’s getting cold and I have warm sweaters and food, heat and light. I pray the only prayer that makes sense: “Lord Have Mercy” adding a question to the end of the prayer:

“How can I bring warmth to a world that is so cold?”

How do we bring warmth to a world that is cold? 

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date raisin muffinsI don’t know about you, but I find baking healing. Especially when the goods can be shared. Stacy has an amazing recipe today: Date Syrup Raisin Muffins. One of the things I love about Stacy is that she links stories to her recipes. Here is what she says about this recipe: “This week on Monday, 2 December, the UAE celebrates its 42nd National Day so I decided to create a muffin with some local-ish flavors.  This muffin is made with date honey or syrup and cardamon along with some cinnamon and raisins.  For those who can’t find date honey, molasses is an excellent substitute both in deep flavor and consistency.” If you try these muffins – let us know! Either click on the picture or the link above to get to the recipe.

A Thing to be Grasped

Number_1_MBTA_bus_route

The MBTA Number 1 bus plods its way down Massachusetts Avenue all the way to Dudley Square Station. Traveling on this bus is not for the faint of heart, the city hater, or the one who likes order. Along the way it picks up everyone from world-class musicians heading to Berklee College of Music, to the chronically ill, on their way to Boston Medical Center, to the Back Bay city dweller, ready to spend an evening at the symphony.

And the trip is never without a story. It’s a cross spectrum of humanity, all meeting in this enclosed space. As I travel on the Number 1 bus, I am struck by how important it is to see humanity in this way.

The Number 1 bus is no respecter of persons. It doesn’t matter how rich, how poor, how smart you are. You’re just another one of us, crowded in to a space where 10 different languages are spoken. Every age group is represented from teen moms with babies to old Haitian grandmothers, and every shade of skin color from pale white with freckles to deep brown with dark eyes.

Periodically fights erupt and someone comes forward as peacemaker. At other times a person’s behavior strikes everyone as so comical that there is muffled laughter and nods of understanding.

I don’t pretend to know the mind of Christ, but I think he would like this bus. I think he would use this bus to engage people and dig into their current reality, to heal the sick, to open the eyes of the blind, to change the bigoted, to encourage the teen mom. He would move over and give his seat to the man struggling to stand, would help the woman lift her heavy bags of oranges off the floor.

I think he would see this as a microcosm of the world, in language, color, and brokenness. His eyes, alight with compassion, would be always looking for a way to help. 

When I’m riding the bus the verse that comes to mind is from the book of Philippians where Paul is urging the church to “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself”.*

I’m struck by how often I’m struggling to grasp for equality, better still struggling to be ‘greater than’. And this fighting to be equal or more? It is exhausting. Yet I’m told with surety that Christ Jesus did not do this. He ‘emptied’ himself.

There is something about this Number 1 bus that helps me empty myself. In that sweaty, enclosed space – too hot in winter from stifling heat and too cold in summer from artificial air conditioning — I understand that I am just one of millions in this world, no better, no stronger, no greater. Just one of the millions that needs the light of Christ and the hope of a Gospel message.

Just one on the Number 1 bus, that needs Jesus, his eyes alight with compassion, always ready to help. 

*Philippians 2:5-7a

Souls Under Construction (& Monday Muffins)

English: Charles/MGH station, and the Longfell...

A green net covering a high chain link barrier obstructs my view of the Charles River. The Longfellow Bridge is under construction. It will be under construction for three years, causing inconvenience in traffic patterns, heavy congestion in an already crowded area, and ugly, obstructed views.

But it’s necessary. It’s a part of keeping the bridge safe and strong, able to withstand the constant stream of cars, bikes, subway, and people that it’s designed to handle.

Sometimes the only way to make things better is to fix them, to reconstruct them.

And so it is with our souls. There are times when our souls need to be under construction, when that is the only way for them to withstand the constant force of life in all its uncertainty.

I heard once at a conference that our “churches are full of hurting people who haven’t taken a season to heal”. This is part of the under construction process — realizing that your soul needs to heal and the wisest thing to do is to allow time for the construction and healing process to take place.

Several years ago my husband and I went through an extended period of healing, an extended construction period. It lasted over six years. During that time we did nothing beyond attending church and getting together with safe friends. We didn’t take part in any Bible Studies, we were not involved in any ‘ministry’, we did no service. We went through a season of healing and it was invaluable.

Besides achieving the desired result of healing and reconstructing, we learned several things.

1. We learned that we were far more use to God as people willing to be healed than we would have been had we tried to maintain a façade. The Psalmist David in a prayer of repentance says: “A broken and contrite heart you will not despise.” He speaks to the mercy of God, his loving kindness, the bones that God has broken. God has never, and will never, despise a broken and contrite heart. It’s the heart of the proud and the deceitful that concerns him far more.

2. We learned that our worth was not, and never will be, in what we do. Church service, ‘ministry’, getting involved – none of that is wrong. In fact, when done out of love for God it is a gift to be used for his glory. But it does not constitute our worth. Our worth this: we are made in the image of God, his creation, his love. Getting that wrong, thinking this is about what we do is far more dangerous to the soul than taking time out for healing.

3. We came to realize that when you go through a season of healing, God brings people into your life who are broken and need to hear that there is redemption, there is healing. Even in the midst of the hardest parts of healing, we would meet people who needed to know there was hope, needed to know we were also walking the long, arduous path called ‘healing’. Perhaps broken seeks out broken? I like to think broken knows that it can learn best from those also willing to go through the construction process.

4. We learned that the words ‘ministry’ will never be synonymous with ‘God’, and when we make them, we are in a state of serious delusion. If we are not careful, ‘ministry’ becomes God. The word itself is held up as the ideal, instead of God himself being the ideal and ministry the result of our love for him. Defined as ‘the one that serves’ we can see ministry for what it is – not an end in itself, simply a way to reflect a love of God.

5. Mostly we learned that God is close to the broken-hearted. He cared not about our lack of service, he cared about our souls. Deeply, urgently, consistently he worked in our souls to reconstruct them to His Glory. The cuts that we sustained by his hand in the healing process were cuts of a gifted surgeon, done only to rid us of what would harm. And oh how they hurt, how they smarted. But when all was done, when surgery ended, the dead tissue was gone, only the healthy remained.

While a major construction and healing period is over, we are still ever aware of our fragility and propensity to go out on our own, thinking our souls are fully fixed. But the reality is somewhat different. Just as the Longfellow Bridge will go through this extended construction period and emerge stronger, it will always have its points of weakness,need for inspections, and regular upkeep.

It’s something I remember every day as I pass by this bridge under construction, our souls are always and ever under construction.

₪ ₪ ₪ ₪ ₪ ₪ ₪ ₪ ₪ 

Brown Sugar Browned Butter Maple MuffinsStacy continues to provide amazing recipes for me to post. Today’s is Brown Sugar Browned Butter Maple Muffins – a mouthful of title and goodness. Stacy says this: “they taste and smell of warm winter breakfasts to me.”

Parenting Series – The Spelling Bee: G.O.S.P.E.L!

The next three days Robynn takes us into a great conversation on parenting. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Part one:  The Spelling Bee: G.O.S.P.E.L!

When Connor was in 6th grade he was in the school spelling bee. He had won the class bee. He had won the bee for all of 6th grade. And now he was in the all school spelling bee.

I quickly decided that as a mom, attending spelling bees is one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done. You sit there quietly in the audience and wait for the word to be announced. Once you hear the word, you spell it out in your mind, quietly, slowly and then, still in your mind, loudly, insistently. All of your brain tries to will the spelling of the word to the mind of the young speller. It’s agonizing. When it’s your child standing, waiting for the word to materialize in their heads, it almost hurts you as a parent spectator to watch. It’s excruciating.

E.X.C.R.U.C.I.A.T.I.N.G.

Younger spellers were quickly eliminated. Soon there were only 6 spellers left. Now 4. It was Connor’s turn to spell. The word he was given was ‘gospel’.

Lowell and I squeezed hands. Connor seemed to hesitate. There was a long pause. The audience had time to spell out the word in their heads several times over. Still Connor seemed to struggle silently.

Gospel. Can I have it in a sentence please? Can I have the definition?

He was using all the familiar spelling bee participant’s stall tactics. He was grasping for the spelling of his word. Until hesitatingly, falteringly, he began,

Gospel. G…..O…..S……P……E…..L? Gospel?

Altogether, parents, teachers, students exhaled. He had spelled it correctly. The Principal of the school, sitting just in front of us, turned and said with a smile, “Wouldn’t that have been awkward to have the missionary’s kid go out on ‘gospel’?!” We all chuckled with relief!

It’s an amusing little story but the truth is I really don’t want my kids to go out on the gospel. I don’t want them to lose faith or to abandon God. We’ve made ourselves a sort of silent checklist…an unspoken, yet agreed upon “How To” guide…to help us parent our three. I have no idea if this stuff works—we’re still very much in process…but here’s the frame-work Lowell and I are using, in hopes that, by God’s grace, our kids will not go out on the gospel:

1.  It’s time to simplify!

It really is time to strip down our Christianity back to the simple Jesus underneath. Really the only thing that matters is Christ. It doesn’t matter what my kids wear to church, or how they do their hair. Their choice of music might be obnoxious; the volume might be too loud. But at the end of the day Jesus is the only thing that matters.

Connor came out of youth group several months ago fuming mad! Someone had said something that infuriated him. As he climbed into the car he spouted, “I hate Christians, I hate the church, I hate all of Christianity.” Admittedly I was a little alarmed. What had happened to provoke this type of visceral response? We talked it through on the way home. As soon as we walked into the house, Lowell asked how youth group had gone. I repeated what Connor had said when he got in the car. Lowell, in response, casually said, “Well Connor, what do you think of Jesus?” Connor’s reply was immediate and full of conviction, “I love Jesus very much.” “That’s all that matters then,” Lowell said. I was a little flabbergasted at Lowell’s nonchalance. I had gotten a bit more worked up about it. But Lowell is right. Really, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that our children embrace Jesus. Only Jesus.

measuring kids

2.  Remove the measuring sticks.

We’ve never forced our children to read their Bibles. We’ve never forced them to have a “Quiet Time”. Growing up in boarding school, especially when we were younger, there was a time for “personal devotions” –we were supposed to read our Bibles and pray. To help us in that feat we were given little Scripture Union devotional books. First you worked through the red one and then you could graduate to the Blue one. There was a green one and yellow one and I think, even a purple one. Spirituality became a competition all based on which little workbook you were in. When we were older, I remember reading my Bible in less than private spaces to ensure, subtly, that others might catch a glimpse of my devotion.

Lowell and I could set up a system. We could offer rewards. But I don’t want to raise “white washed tombs”–I want children who want to know God. I don’t want children who look like they want to know God. When Connor makes his bed, he pulls up the top bedspread only. The rest of his blankets lay in a nested mess at the foot of his bed. I don’t want his faith to be like his bed –only one blanket deep and thinly veiling the hypocrisy and mess underneath.

3.  Don’t be afraid of the slippery slope.

It’s scary to parent without the measuring sticks because we have no idea what’s really going on inside the souls of our children. We are out of control. If we have those types of rules in place we know if they’ve been obeyed or if they’ve been broken.  They allow us to feel better about ourselves as parents. And without those rules, those mile markers, the measuring guides we have no way of knowing what’s going on. Not only are we out of control but there’s nothing to contribute to our sense of well-doing.

There is a prevailing idea in Christendom that suggests that we can’t completely throw out the law or the rules. Those suggesting this insist we need a balance. Too much grace leads to permissiveness….before you know it you’re on the slippery slope. A bit of law regulates our behavior in good and productive ways. This type of Christianity results in us controlling behavior; it’s really just sin management.

And it simply is not true. Grace is generous and complete. The law has been erased. The only rule that remains now is the rule of love.

Our worst fears lie on the other end of the slippery slope. Sin. Licentiousness. Paganism. Hedonism.

Jesus calls us to camp out on that slope. To trust ourselves and our children to the depth of his grace. We are called to love: the Lord our God, our neighbours, our families, ourselves. If we do sin, grace pursues us and welcomes us back. We need to remember nothing is wasted by God. He takes the meanderings, those mistakes and he uses them for His glory in our story. We can know he does that with our children too.

You’re either a parent or you’ve been parented, so what are your thoughts? What’s your story? Would love to hear from you through the comments.

Tune in tomorrow for Part two: Bible Trivia. Shmible Shnivia.

*Image credit: dekanaryas / 123RF Stock Photo

Sacerdotal Services

Sacerdotal services by Robynn

As many of the readers of Communicating Across Boundaries know, I am Canadian. Initially I was here in the US on an R1 visa. It’s a religious worker visa and it really only allowed me to do sacerdotal services. I could offer the sacraments: baptize, and serve communion. I could also bury, marry, and pray.

And that’s all I was allowed to do.

I volunteered in the lunchroom at Bluemont Elementary school where our three children were enrolled.  The Principal really wanted to pay me. No one wants to be in the lunchroom. It’s noisy and chaotic, it’s loud and often out of control. She thought the least she could do would be to pay me for my ‘hardship’. But my visa strictly stated that the only work I could be paid to do was religious work. I could only do sacerdotal services. I could have prayed in the school but I think the supreme court has had something to say about that over the years!

So I volunteered. That was several years ago.

Now I have a green card and I can officially work in the lunchroom at the elementary school. Three days a week I don my plastic gloves and I serve up canned pears and apple slices. I hand out whole wheat rolls (thanks to Mrs Obama!) and I dole out green beans. After the food is served and before the next class comes stampeding through there’s time to do what I love best about lunch room duty. I roam. I visit with the little people. I laugh at their jokes and hear their stories. I open milk cartons or yogurt tubes. I tie shoe laces. I release kids to go to the bathroom and I encourage them to wash their hands when they’re done.

But ironically I find myself also performing sacerdotal services. I hear confessions and I absolve the guilty. I comfort the broken-hearted. I help with conflict resolution. I hear who started it and I ask them to be brave enough to be the one to stop it. I encourage forgiveness and kindness. I break open their sandwich containers, I stick straws into juice boxes. I call them to sit and to stand. I tell them to ‘go in peace’ as they race out the door to the playground when lunch is done.

cafeteria

I wipe tables and I wipe tears.

As I walk through their tables I also offer up prayers for them. Many are lonely and afraid. Some don’t have enough food in their lunch box to sustain them. I worry for those whose nutrition is in jeopardy. Some seem so sad and terribly troubled. Some can’t eat. Their tummies hurt. I petition their Heavenly Father on their behalf. There are a few who seem already earmarked for trouble. They are already making choices that seem to determine their outcomes unless God steps in with grace. I humbly ask him to.

There’s a lovely story in the gospels where a group of mothers brought their children, loud and noisy, disheveled and disorderly to Jesus. And I love what happens. Jesus’ friends try to send them all away…but Jesus calls for the kids to come.  In the lunchroom, I do that. I quietly bring them all to Jesus. They are very noisy. Not many of them remember their manners. They don’t eat their vegetables. Their faces are messy and their hands are sticky. Pushing and shoving, giggling and wiggling, Jesus still calls for them to come.

The priest, the mom and the lunch lady have a lot in common. They perform sacerdotal services. It’s loud and messy but it’s holy work.

And now I get paid (a little!) to do it!

Vulnerability.Community.God

Today’s post comes by way of a friend from long ago. In fact, we first met when I was like one of the missionary kids featured in this article, and she was living in the U.S. with probably little thought that she would end up spending most of her life overseas.

For those of you who haven’t heard the term – missionary kids are a subset of third culture kids and come with their own set of experiences based on the fact that it was faith and a calling that led their parents to work overseas. Because of this, faith and faith crises are often a big part of this journey. Not a bad part – but a big part.

And that’s why I love this post. My friend, who has chosen to write anonymously, takes us into some of that journey. I look forward to hearing your thoughts through comments at the end of the essay.

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There once was a Sunday school class & mostly missionary kids attended it. A group of parents had agreed to rotate as facilitators of the class, hosting maybe once a month. As weeks passed & schedules changed, the names on the parent roster dwindled, until there was only “one-man-standing.” Me. Never dreamed my crazy life could or would give space for something as regular as a weekly class with a bunch of equally busy high school kids but — with my erratic schedule & their willingness to put-up-with-it — it was a perfect match.

The years together remain one of life’s sweet spots, full of unsolicited chuckles & smiles.

Vulnerability, Community, & God
Some assume missionary kids must have a strong faith — because of their heritage, because of the way their parents live out their faith, because of the opportunities they’ve had to see God at work in the world. Although this is true for many, there are also many for whom the journey to define faith is difficult & full of questions. Questions that reveal their uncertainty about the very One their parents have banked their entire life’s work. Questions their peers may or may not accept. Questions many people ask at one time in life or another — but the missionary kid’s life is spent in an environment surrounded by those who are not-so-quick to reveal their own doubts. Guess this could be similar to kids in a church setting in any town, in any country.

Call it the plight of the missionary kid — or the plight of those who are raised in a home where faith in God is assumed true. Their exposure to the Christian faith at an early age is certainly a gift, one that could result in a deep faith; however, there are no guarantees. 

It did not take long to realize this fast-growing class needed a safe place to “work out their faith.” Even more than that, they needed a place where they could construct their own faith – discovering what they believe & why. For almost all, the beginnings of their relationship with God began with a simple child-like step of faith. Yet, for some, the size of their faith was not much larger years later. The only visible difference was the growing amount of Bible knowledge supporting it. This accumulation of knowledge can increase the size of one’s faith — or it can simply be an accumulation.Their willingness to be vulnerable, my willingness to be present & equally vulnerable, God’s ability to show Himself, mixed with tons of love for one another created a unique place – a place where faith had a chance to grow. To use the familiar Christian cliché, we built one another up in the faith. Many times I thought, “This is it!” As if learning it for the first time, this is how faith grows.Are all questions answered? No. Do they still have doubts? Yes. Did I have any clue what I was doing? Mostly not. But I’d like to think we walked away with a formula — not one we ever talked about — but one that we’ll remember & one that will serve us for years to come.

Vulnerability + Community + God = A little more faith than the day before

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip MuffinsReaders – forgive me for not posting this beautiful recipe for muffins yesterday! You’re going to want to stop and make these today, Tuesday, as soon as you see the recipe. So yummy. Here are Stacy’s words on these muffins: “Nothing too complicated this week:  Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins.  They have a mostly-sweet-but-a-little-salty thing going on with the addition of extra roasted peanuts and semi-sweet chocolate chips, along with the peanut butter.” Just click on the link or the picture to go to the recipe. 

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The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 2 “On Pews, Standing, & Overall Comfort”

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“I’m exhausted” I whisper to my husband “Do these people never sit?” We were attending Divine Liturgy, a service that had my husband’s face raised to the Resurrection Icon with a look of holy expectation, a service that had me shaking my head thinking “why can’t I sit?”

Orthodox churches differ in how many pews they have, but a common characteristic in all of them is that you stand. A Lot.

And I’m not used to standing, unless I’m speaking at a workshop. In fact, my body isn’t used to much discomfort. Too cold? I put on heat. Too warm? I put on a fan or go to the ocean. Too tired? I lay down. Too hungry? I eat. Too angry? I vent.

In a word, the world I live in is ‘comfortable’. I don’t say ‘no’ to self on a regular basis.

And that’s where my mind ends up going – thinking about how quickly I physically get uncomfortable and want to ease my discomfort. About how much I have to learn about giving up self, giving up comfort, focusing on worship and love of my Lord. The discomfort and agony of the cross is textbook discomfort for me, theory that I’d just as soon dismiss rather than shudder through, rather than really face.

If there is one thing I am learning on this journey toward Orthodoxy it is this: the church will not bend for my comfort. This strikes me as a startling revelation. So much of church shopping today is done according to comfort. “If I can’t go in my shorts, holding my large Hazelnut Latte, then it’s not the church for me.” is a quote I have heard in various versions in diverse areas of the country for the past 10 years.

And yet here I am in a church where comfort is not high on the agenda. Neither is creating an atmosphere that will make your local coffee shop aficionado feel like it’s their ‘place’. Rather, I am participating in a service and pursuing a faith that speaks in awe and reverence about the saints and their posture as they head toward their deaths. A church that hasn’t changed much since the first century. A church that invites me to look at worship in a new way. It is a church that takes the words in the book of Philippians seriously: “That I may know Him, and the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death.”

I am in a church that stands in awe, prostrates in reverence, fasts in remembrance.

And so I stand, and I open my ears to listen to the words I am hearing from the a cappella choir, I begin to pray that I will stand with strength, that my reluctant heart will be drawn beyond the weakness of the physical to the strength of the eternal.

Lord Have Mercy on this soft, squishy, reluctant Orthodox.

“But Grace Entered the Space Between”

On my walk from the subway to home I pass by some lovely (and some not so lovely) houses. A Victorian mansion with white picket fence on one side, a worn brick apartment building on the other — such is the property in a city. Last week as I walked this well-worn route I stopped in happy wonder to look at roses that were growing around and through a rusty, chain-link fence.

Coral-yellow petals with drops of rain peeked through the chain-links. The roses were like grace entering the space between. And I remembered in a recent article I wrote for another blog I used those same words:

“But Grace entered the space between…”

The phrase is on repeat in my mind.

Because those words have become powerful words in my life. I desperately need grace for the space between.

The space between blood test or biopsy and diagnosis; between engagement and marriage; between car accident and car repair; between angry words and reconciliation; between starting our studies and graduating with a diploma; between interview and job offer (or not); between making a decision and seeing the outcome; between marriage crisis and marriage repair; between pregnancy and delivery; between birth of the baby and graduation from high school; between arrival at a new place and feeling settled.

This Grace between is waiting grace.

Much of life is lived in the space between. When Grace enters that space I don’t have to worry about the outcome of the blood test, or the biopsy, or the car, or the degree, or the marriage. I rest in Grace. I recognize the things that are beyond my control, and the things that I’m being asked to address. Grace between is never static, always moving, always working.

I just don’t always see it, feel it.

Between the blood spattered cross and the empty tomb there lives glorious Grace. When all of life stands still, Grace continues to work.

So let there forever be Grace that enters the space between; Grace that gathers in, builds up, and gives away.

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Dusk

We took a walk last night at Dusk.

There is no more melancholy time than the time of dusk. That time when day has ended but night is not yet come.

I love dusk.

Dusk – when the Call to Prayer goes out over the city in Cairo, a cacophony echoing from minaret to minaret. Dusk – when birds raise their chorus in Shikarpur, and the smell of smoky fires permeates the air. Dusk  – when the sunsets in Phoenix make your breath stop and you marvel at the sky, even more so at the Creator of all Color. Dusk – when the sun sets over the Atlantic Ocean and there is no better response than awe.

When heaven meets earth in excruciating longing and a holy ache; when I know that I am created for more; when all is Grace at the end of the day. This is Dusk.

These next few months I will have dusk. Every evening the warm day glow of summer will end and night will come with dusk in between.

The sky will meet the ocean in Chartreuse, blue, turquoise and purple and I will be watching.

20130617-182137.jpg, Rockport, MA

20130617-182201.jpg, Rockport, Atlantic Ocean

20130617-182259.jpg, Rockport, Our rocks

20130617-182515.jpg, The end of the earth

20130617-182539.jpg, Rockport

20130623-185132.jpg, Rockport Cottage

20130623-185157.jpg, Good Harbor Beach at Dusk

20130623-185224.jpg, Good Harbor Beach at Dusk Longest Day of the Year

When Prejudice Looks Back from the Mirror

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I took a test recently that showed I was biased towards patients from the Middle East and prejudiced against those from North America — specifically the Northeast.

“That’s ridiculous!” I thought.  I am one – how can I be prejudiced against myself, against my family, against all my white American friends? But the way I answered the questions was overwhelmingly in favor of the final result.

When I look in the mirror, prejudice looks back at me.

I will forgive someone from the Middle East almost anything and people who were born and raised in America have to work to earn my trust and respect. And I realize that this is what I rail against in other people. It’s prejudice. It is treating one as valuable and the other as not. It is believing that one can do no wrong, while the other has all sorts of flaws that are irreconcilable.

When prejudice looks back at you from the mirror it’s ugly, and the face that looked back at me had prejudice written all over it.

But there was more that I caught sight of in that mirror, mirror on the wall.

Because she was there again with that slightly scoffing look on her face. I vacillate between wanting to kill her, being completely ashamed of her, and worst of all – being just a tad proud of her.

‘She’ was the pharisee I see in the mirror. The one who judges silently even as she extends a hand to the one in need. The one who thinks she’s better than others.

What do you do when what looks back at you from the mirror is so in need of an attitude change, a cleansing of the heart?

I fall on my knees and pray the ‘Jesus Prayer’ “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Me, A Sinner”.  And I go forward in Grace with a prayer on my lips that the power of the cross to transform can redeem and radically change that person looking back at me from the mirror.

Because that’s the Gospel message that I believe and proclaim with all my heart.

That Holy Ache

Spring 2017

I awake with that Holy Ache.

If there is any time I feel this acutely it’s on Monday mornings, where I try to move between a resurrection Sunday and the real-world Monday. Where I move from the weekend rest and peace, to the week day chaos and problems.

We who are human know this Holy Ache. It is something that transcends cultures and generations, something that will be part of us until our life on this earth is complete.

It’s the one that reminds us that we are in between. We are in the not yet; the messy middle. That place where we know what we see is only a fraction of the real story, yet we ache for that real story to be revealed, to come to fruition. We are ‘between the lost and the desired’.

A Holy Ache.

That ache we feel when we read or hear the news and our hearts stop with the horror of it all, the longing to make all right, to gather up all the orphans, the widows, the sinners and show them the love of God. The holy ache that acknowledges we are capable of so little in comparison to the great need. That ache we feel when we are at a funeral of one we love, knowing we will never see their faces, hear their words, hug their bodies again. That ache we feel when the rich thrive and mock while the poor struggle to survive. That ache we feel of injustice and wrong and all those things that remind us we are in the between.

It used to be that the holy ache would direct me to despair. It’s all too much, I thought. It’s too hard. Seeing through a glass darkly is not enough. But lately I have embraced the holy ache as an integral part of my faith journey – a critical part that brings me to a greater love and desire for God.

Yesterday our priest said it well. We are caught, he said, between irrational joy and sorrow.

I have embraced the holy ache as an integral part of my faith journey

Irrational joy and indefinable sorrow.  Waking to the smell of spring, knowing we are alive, seeing new buds coming out on trees and bushes fills us with joy, even as we face the sorrow of a world that is not as it should be.

So welcome to today’s Holy Ache – may we walk in faith that aches will be redeemed and in the middle of Holy Aches we may know Holy Joy. 

The Unpublished Chapters

20130327-112312.jpg“My dear fellow. We all have chapters we would rather keep unpublished.” Lord Grantham of Downton Abbey

Jennifer Lawrence has wooed Hollywood and beyond with her real, down to earth, gutsy honesty. She seems to be what everyone has waited for. Some authenticity from Hollywood plastic.

We are in an era where authenticity is applauded. We want ‘real’. We want ‘authentic’. We want the gritty, the broken, the messy. Those of us who are Christians say we want it because we want to remind ourselves, and others, that Christ died for messy. He died for broken. He died to redeem all that.

And that’s not a bad thing.

But at the end of the day – all of us have unpublished chapters and perhaps we should keep it that way.

Perhaps it’s a good thing.

The idea that we are to be emotionally ‘naked’, fully honest with everyone is a cultural value gone wild. The idea that all can carefully handle our truth is a myth, a dream of a perfect society. The notion that ‘authenticity’ means bearing it all – a 21st century fallacy.

Because much of God’s work takes place in our unpublished chapters.

Much of his cutting, his cleansing, his replacing is done behind closed doors. Surgeons don’t let everyone into their sterile field – only those who have been properly trained and can assist with the surgery. I believe the same is true with God – he doesn’t want us to let just anyone in.

And perhaps that is the danger of the public world in which we live. A world where we are to tell all and more in order to appear authentic.

But then we realize the world can’t handle it and does not treat it with care. We thought we were being authentic – but we are skewered in the name of analyzing and critical thinking. That real, authentic, genuine stuff that we have gone through, felt deeply, shared with trembling, is figuratively cast before the swine of our day.

Instead of feeling free and supported, we end up crushed and hurt, feeling the weight of being misunderstood with our private selves revealed.

Can we give each other grace and understanding that there is a major back story without having to share it with everyone? Through blogging I have been privileged to hear a few of your back stories – your unpublished chapters. And they are amazing – they reflect resilience and grace, courage and faith. And I guard them with care.

In turn, I have been able to share with some of you my unpublished chapters – the things that will never go on this blog. They are too dear to me, too fragile, too counter-culture to share.

And so I say to you – Guard your unpublished chapters. Everyone is not capable of reading them and handling their truth.

“Because you’re not what I would have you be, I blind myself to who, in truth, you are. “~ Madeleine L’Engle

A Rare Moment of Quiet

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Quiet moments in my life are rare. I have a big family and though the kids are older, at any given time I still have a couple of them at home. My job is busy and full of people. I live in a city that teems with people on weekdays, and on weekends there aren’t many quiet moments.

But I found myself with a moment of quiet yesterday morning. All I heard was the ticking of a clock in the dining room. I never realized how loud the ticking was. The quiet was welcome and disturbing at the same time. In the back of my mind I felt I should be ‘doing’. Because sitting, meditating, thinking? All of those are counter-culture — contrary to the way the world operates.

In a world that says “Do”, I need to learn to “Be”.

In a world that says “Go”, I need to learn to “Stop”.

In a world that says “Get”, I need to learn to “Give”.

In a world that proclaims “Self”, I need to remember “Others”.

In a world that rewards noisy arrogance, I long for quiet confidence.

So in the quiet, I reach out for words to affirm what my heart knows full well. I am not disappointed for I find them from the prophet Isaiah who lived and prophesied in a world that heard a lot of noise.

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
A thousand will flee
at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
you will all flee away,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill.”
Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;
he rises to show you compassion.
For the LORD is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!
 

The quiet is no longer disturbing, instead I soak it in the way I soak in the sunshine from the window –  For this is life-giving, soul-strengthening, confidence-producing quiet.