Sunday I sat with other kids ministry leaders at my church to plan and pray for our kids and families. One of the concerns we have is the way we teach kids.
This generation is born into the world of the cloud. They learn via visual images on screens that change quickly to keep their attention. This is what our kids are used to. This is the air they breathe. But I think it’s important that we do not trade in matter for the cloud when it comes to how we teach our kids.
I think there’s something spiritual that pushes back against the zeitgeist of AI, virtual reality, and screens when things you can touch are upheld as good and necessary.
Our kids need to touch books, open pages, hold their tiny fingers under the lines of scripture in paper bibles. They need to sit with us on the floor and sing together and dance and clap. They don’t need flashy attention-getting images on a screen. They need dirt in their hands. Leaves under their toes. Arms that are safe to hold good boundaries and love them well.
They need matter.
The Christian’s faith in God in the flesh, bodily risen from the dead is a tangible hope and solid ground for a generation confused and lost in screens.
God made the earth and all that is in it. And he said it’s good.
I fear our children and grandchild are facing an age that believes matter doesn’t matter.
They need the body Christ to have hands and feet and books and gardens and songs and stories told face to face. They need the security of the good creation of God.
I have an aversion to clean slates and starting over. Those things have their appeal and their place as well, but as a practice or rhythm for life they don’t work very well. Especially where humans are involved.
Rachel Joy Welcher wrote, in her poem, Tangled, “When will you realize, oh my soul… That is is not within your power/to untangle joy from pain?”
There are no real clean-slates in relationships. Where we’ve wounded one another, we cannot simple wipe the person and the wounds they’ve caused from our lives and move on as though those pains, those people, never existed. Even where we must end the relationship, the wounds that heal leave scars.
I am having a hard time putting words to what that quote from George Herbert stirred in me. Maybe it’s because it tugged at my soul like the question in Welcher’s poem. Maybe it’s because though I realize I have to take the joy with the pain, I still crave things not being so tangled up.
Sometimes I think I get stuck because I see both the black and the white of it. And there is a lot of grey. A lot. I can’t clear-cut the wrongs from my husband or sons’ lives like they do in the Douglas Fir forested hills of southwest Oregon. Heck, I can’t parse out my own wrongs from my life without digging myself into a deeper hole. But although the lament comes with the love, the joy with the pain, there are some clear lines to be drawn and clear ends to relationships that need to take place. There is a time, as Mary Oliver put it, for a clear and announced, “Yes! No!” There are boundaries we should not move or remove. But here in the already-not yet, our walls are overgrown with thorny Bougainvillea. Our relationships are a bittersweet drink of joy and pain.
As a Christian, I see my life, and all of life, more and more as a garden to be planted right where I am. With the dangers and delight that are sure to come. Rather than a slate or a white board to be wiped clean. There will be weeds and thorns even after I clear a patch of heart. There will be droughts I have not control over and floods that will drown what I’m trying to grow. There will be lessons to be learned about climate and shade and the need for light, especially on the things that want to hide in the dark.
I will plant myself right here with these people and thank God he hasn’t left me. He’ll tend to my heart. And I will lament and love.
Since it’s a new year I thought I would do a sort of a re-introduction to this blog and the why behind it.
A central theme written over my life and tied to everything I write is faithfulness.
About 14 years ago I started blogging. Almost everything I write, whether on my blog, in a poem or essay is born out of nearly 30 years of marriage and 20 years of raising sons. And in those relationships especially, the pursuit of faithfulness and faithful love reigns.
I’m on a quest in life, in my marriage, my parenting, my writing, my work to see the faithfulness of God and learn to live faithfully as well. A persistent question never leaves me, “If I’m really a Christian, if Christ is really risen, if he really dwells in me, then can I learn to love like Jesus?”
Learning to love is tied closely to what it means to be faithful as a Christian. Throughout scripture, God describes his faithfulness in terms of faithful love. A simple search of the phrase, “faithful love,” in the Blue Letter Bible shows how often God is described by his faithfulness and faithful love. Jesus said loving God and neighbor are the greatest of God’s commands and the evergreen tree from which all his law and prophets hang like pine cones.
So what is faithful love? What does God’s faithfulness look like? And What does it mean for me to cultivate faithfulness? It would require much more than a short blog post to answer those questions. Exploring the answers to these questions is what I aim to do on this blog. It’s what I aim to do with my life.
As a point of reference, I looked up the words cultivate and faithfulness in the Webster’s dictionary the other day.
Cultivate means to prepare, to loosen or break up soil; to foster the growth of; to improve by labor; to further or encourage.
Faithfulness is being steadfast in affection, allegiance, firm in adherence to promises or observance of duty; given with strong assurance, true to the facts, to a standard, to an original.
But it’s the message of Psalm 37 that has illuminated my desire to practice faithfulness and faithful love more than any modern definition.
Trust in the Lord and do good;Live in the land and cultivate faithfulness. –Psalm 37:3 NASB
In Psalm 37, David explores the tension and feelings of anger and discouragement sure to rise up while living with people who don’t seek to love God and others. And what is the solution David lands on for how God’s people are to live in such stressful circumstances? Trust God. Do good. And cultivate faithfulness.
And this is God’s instruction to me.
In this marriage, God has not called me to save my marriage, prevent a divorce at all costs, make my husband happy, or employ any formula to get the kind of marriage I want. In my parenting, God has not called me to save my children, prevent them from wandering away from the faith, keep them happy, or make them the people I want them to be. He has called me to trust him and do good. To live in this Arizona suburb with this man, these sons, these neighbors, this church, this government, this job, etc., and prepare the soil of my life to grow the fruit of the Spirit. And to do so steadfastly.
This means not only am I to live out what Eugene Peterson called a long obedience in the same direction, but because of my prone-to-wander state, I must determine to live out a long repentance in the same direction.
God has planted his faithfulness in my life. He has given me the seed of his word. He’s called me to spend my life letting him teach me, and help me, to love him and my neighbors, right here under this roof, and down the street.
I do not claim to have the answers. I have in the past, and probably will still foolishly stumble into blogging, writing and speaking as though I do. If I have any answer it’s a mysterious and real relationship with the Jesus of the Bible. So, as Mary Oliver said in her poem Mysteries, Yes:
Let me keep my distance, always, from thosewho think they have the answers.Let me keep company always with those who say “Look!” and laugh in astonishment,and bow their heads.
I pray this blog would be a place where I can say, “Look” and we can laugh together in astonishment and worship in response to God’s faithful love and the miracle of his work to produce this love in us.
With the Lord’s help I plan to spend my days growing in the faithful love of God; turning the fallow ground of my life, and learning to produce faithful love the way I was created to. Will you join me?
I heard the rumble and shout of a train hastening down the tracks alongside US 60 on my way to work this morning. The train announcing he’s coming through. Make way. Watch out. He’s not stopping.
2022 has been a train barreling down the tracks for me. My baby boys have become men and the empty nest has moved into my world, full steam ahead, whether I’m ready or not.
I told God the other day, “I wasn’t prepared for this! I didn’t pray about this! I don’t know what to do with this!”
Life is passing me by, horns honking, like traffic, while I sit at the light that turned green awhile back.
The good news is, I’m paying attention. God’s got my ears tuned like an owl to the sonar pulse answering his, “Whoo, whoo.” And he’s got my tears- a window display of colored glass bottles full of salty prayers.
The train of time chugs away, and I keep praying, waiting, watching, listening.
On a recent visit I asked her to retell the versions of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Jack and the Beanstalk and the Three Little Pigs she told us as kids. She said she couldn’t because, just like her biscuit or buttermilk pancake recipes, she never wrote them down.
My mom redeemed every childhood story she told. To the best of my recollection my mom redeemed Goldilocks and the Three Bears by turning the three bears into a hospitable foster home for Goldilocks. A safe haven where she could rest, eat and relax, even laugh, while the bears worked to help her find her way home.
Jack and the beanstalk, is a little fuzzy for me. But I think she told it something along the lines of, Jack’s mom was broke and sent him off to sell their beloved cow Betsy in exchange for money to buy food. But Jack was a dreamer and when told about the magic beans he could exchange Betsy for, that would surely lead to a magical bean stalk that grew to heaven, where Jack could get the golden egg laid by that great goose in the sky, he couldn’t resist. That golden egg would guarantee Jack and his mom would be fed and well cared for. All I remember after that is that Jack’s mom was mad that he got duped, so he threw the beans out the window, fell asleep crying and woke up to an enormous beanstalk that ascended as far as the eye could see into heaven. Jack climbed the stalk, in a half dreaming state, and when he arrived at the top, he went looking for the golden egg. He found the egg and instead of stealing it, he told the goose his plight and the goose gladly gave him the egg. When the giant discovered Jack with the egg and began chasing him Jack scrambled down the stalk and I honestly don’t remember what my mom did with the story after that. But I bet she made Jack convert the giant to kindness and they became friends who frequently visited each other and shared the wealth the had with all their neighbors.
She did the same redemptive retelling of the Three Little Pigs. By the end of the tale, the wolf repented of his sins, entered a work program with the pigs and built new homes for everyone.
My mom doesn’t like stories with sad endings. I guess no one does. I recently heard a podcast with Karen Swallow Prior, Jane and Jesus, where the guest was a female scholar of Jewish and Yiddish literature. In the interview she talked about how in Jewish literature, there are no happy endings. Sometimes there are no endings at all…. The story just drops. No resolution. No resolve. No Messiah. No redeemer. No happily ever after. No heaven.
I’ve thought a lot about what that lady said. The idea that there’s someone who will redeem all the bad things and make them come untrue seems too good to be true. A tale that is meant for fairyland, not earth. Not 2022. Not all our wars and murders and lies and greed and abuse and neglect and genocide and hatred and fear. Maybe we think there is no happy ending, no rescuer to make things good and right because we think this is the ending.
To some, my mom’s version of childhood stories seem insulting to real life. Turning all the bad moves these classic characters made into graduates from etiquette school feels unreal…because it is. It isn’t the way of any life, not even animal or plant life.
So should we all be fatalists and stop looking to redeem stories or write stories with characters who do what’s good and right? No, I don’t want to live or write or read like that. But stories with bad endings, unresolved endings that don’t redeem the evil or suffering or pain of the story, also tell a part of the great true story we all draw our stories from.
Listening to The Habit podcast recently, the guest talked about how all the stories we write are ultimately drawn from creation. We don’t make up new stories. We just draw themes and truths from the Great Story that God wrote. Redemption, rescue, repentance, doing good works, learning to love, all spring from God’s story, and feed the river that flows to the oceans full of all our stories.
My mom has long hoped in her Redeemer. She has suffered the pain and evil that make one wonder if anything or anyone can make things right. I love the way she edited the childhood stories she told me to include truth from God’s deep well of redemption. It’s one of the things I love most about my mom. She believes in happily ever after.
This morning I stood in my kitchen trying to force myself to think on what it means that Christ is risen when I’m angry with my son. I stood there waiting for the french press coffee to sit a minute before stirring, thinking, “Christ has risen. It’s Easter, Sheila. That’s what your entire faith rests on. You say it changes everything. So why is it that all you can think about right now is how mad you are at your son for not doing what he said he would do?”
Finally I opened my mouth and asked God the questions brewing in my head. “What does it mean that Christ has risen, right now, to me, in this moment, Lord? What changes?”
I need to know my faith has feet.
I don’t get miraculous answers from God when I ask. I get what most get I suspect. Silence. I went on with my morning.
I left for church talking to God about my struggle with my son and my long born desire to be a Jesus-worshipping family.
I got to church and greeted kids eager to hunt for candy-filled eggs, and then sat with those kids as we talked through the story of Christ’s death and resurrection using the symbols in the Resurrection Egg set.
We used our bodies, making sad faces when Jesus’ friends were sad that Jesus died. We made the motion of the sunrise with our arms and popped our eyes wide, mouths open, when the women found Jesus’ tomb empty. We fell to the floor (in the dramatic ways 5 year olds do) when Mary encountered the angel. And we ran in place with excitement when Jesus revealed himself alive to Mary and sent her to tell the guys he was alive.
I stood and sang and released my arms to fly high declaring to my soul and any powers listening, “Praise the Father. Praise the Son. Praise the Spirit three in one!” Because no matter how I feel, no matter what I am currently struggling with, the God who has laid down his life for me in Jesus and promised me undying life in his rising, is worthy of my praise.
As I held the torn bread and deep red juice in my hands, I heard the Spirit answer my prayer from the kitchen. “His rising means you can reconcile with your son.
“leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”
Matthew 5:24 CSB
Right there I put down the remembrance of Christ’s body and blood and picked up my phone to text my son an apology and a request to talk face to face. And right there I knew what Christ’s resurrection meant for me in my anger.
“Jesus answered, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. “I have spoken these things to you while I remain with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you. “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful.”
John 14:23, 25-27 CSB
Christ has risen and I can’t explain it, but I love him! And that means he and the Father can be at home in me (mind blown) and the Holy Spirit will teach me Jesus’ way ways. And that means when I’m angry, tired, sad, overwhelmed…lost, I can call on him and he’ll lead me.
Fear can strangle you. Lies can put you in real danger. Truth can be a hurricane sweeping through and flattening everything you’ve worked to build. And you can be so overcome with the shadow of death that you stop bagging your tomatoes in the produce section and grind your teeth angry, determined to cut off whoever you must to get back some good, normal, happy life.
And what’s the point anyway?
Why the long days of bending low and praying hard and training the vine to grow the right way, if it’s all gonna just get ripped up at the roots and tossed in the gutter? What are we trying to love these people in our four walls for anyway? Is it a waste?
If the ones we love take our arms-open-wide efforts to be patient and kind, to point them to the truth and hold up life-giving boundaries and look us right in the eye and stab us right in the heart without a blink, was it all for nothing?
Maybe the old saying is true- If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! But how do you join in destroying the good? How could that possibly be an alternative?
There are no sentences to write in response to these lamenting questions. Just silence. Just sitting with Job in the ashes and pain in silence. Just waiting. Just three dark days of waiting for the stone to be rolled away.
I am the man who has seen affliction
under the rod of God’s wrath.
He has driven me away and forced me to walk
in darkness instead of light.
Yes, he repeatedly turns his hand
against me all day long...
Yet I call this to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s faithful love
we do not perish,
for his mercies never end.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness!
I say, “The Lord is my portion,
therefore I will put my hope in him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the person who seeks him.
It is good to wait quietly
for salvation from the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is still young.
Let him sit alone and be silent,
for God has disciplined him.
Let him put his mouth in the dust—
perhaps there is still hope.
Let him offer his cheek
to the one who would strike him;
let him be filled with disgrace.
For the Lord
will not reject us forever.
Even if he causes suffering,
he will show compassion
according to the abundance of his faithful love.
For he does not enjoy bringing affliction
or suffering on mankind.
- Lamentations 3:1-3, 21-33
Every year we resolve to do better. To loose weight. To exercise more. To use less screens and get outside more. And I love this time of year. I love the idea of fresh starts and clean slates, as though magically when the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve, all the pain, and fears, all the conflict, all the scars from 2021 or the entire past forty-seven complicated years will disappear like a shaken etch-a-sketch. But this messy life doesn’t work that way. Scars remain. The unfulfilled desires continue to growl like an empty belly.
Why do we love the idea of starting over so much? Maybe it’s because we think we have the power to save our own lives. I know for me at least, I want a clean surface to start making a mess on again. I want a clean kitchen before I cook, and a tidy, vacuumed living room before I sit to read a book by the light coming through the window. But our inner lives, our habits, our struggles, our brokenness, the ways we fail to love one another as we love ourselves- these can’t be tidied up, put in cupboards and made right with a nice burning candle or resolution list. Better than our resolves to do better, is the redeeming work of Christ.
Instead of going into 2022 with an ideal plan to fix my anything-but ideal life, I’m looking at what Christ has promised me- that he has and is redeeming my whole messy life- and I’m just going to thank him.
I’m going to believe that his unearned favor and love is enough. I’m going to forget and then turn and re-remember his body broken for me a thousand times ten thousand times, by his grace.
The preacher told us yesterday to take the mindset of clinging to Jesus in 2022, in the midst of our pain and brokenness. Instead of a clean slate I want to wrestle with the Lord, like Jacob, and never let go until he blesses, until I can confess who I am and he changes my name.
In 2022 I will set goals, and make plans, and try to replace bad habits with good ones. But I won’t look at 2022 and my efforts like some self-made clean slate. Rather, I’ll take the soil of my life and let the word of Christ get in me, and germinate something new. Something strong. Something stronger than the weeds I have growing everywhere.
He who began a good work in you, and in me, will be faithful to complete it. So, by his amazing grace I’ll keep turning back to him in 2022.
I, the Lord, made you,
and I will not forget you.
I have swept away your sins like a cloud.
I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist.
Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience In The Same Direction, is a favorite of mine. The title has served as sort of mantra for me over the years. But today, thinking and talking to God as I do my errands, it hit me that a better motto for my life may be: A long repentance in the same direction.
Every year around this time I pull out a journal I only use after Christmas and before the new year. I purchased it 17 years ago, when my marriage seemed to be over and I was pregnant with our second son. The cover of the cheap journal is now faded. The red poinsettia print is a dark pink. But the word “Faith” on the cover still holds.
Each year I’ve written prayers and confessed my weariness in those pages. When I read that journal at the end of every year, I’m actually embarrassed that I keep struggling with the same fears and desires. Desires that never seem fulfilled.
Tonight I opened my new copy of the Book of Common Prayer. I’m not Anglican. There’s not a bit of High Church in me. But I’m drawn to the structure of the BCP. Tonight’s reading from the evening prayer is all about repentance.
He heard me in the car. He knows my path. Every year I press on in the direction of Resurrection Day. And my daily progress towards that day is not so much a straight path of obedience, but a detoured, dizzying trail of turnings. Turnings away from bitterness towards tenderheartedness. Getting up and turning from head down faithlessness, towards my Father, believing He is good. No matter what.
“I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight.I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. “