Category Archives: odds and ends

A Terraced Heart

In South Carolina, lawns were typically flat and flourishing. San Diego yards, not so much.

What San Diego yards lack in size, they make up in depth and character. It is not uncommon to have a yard that backs up to a deep canyon. Resourceful homeowners with canyon-views learn to terrace their yards. Their hard, creative work results in beautiful, multi-level yards marked with nooks and crannies.

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Psalm 84
This past week, I have been studying and meditating on Psalm 84. This well-known psalm boasts three main, “Blessed are those” statements, each coupled an image. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, shown poetically by the sparrow nesting in the house of the Lord.  Blessed are those whose strength is in you, pictured by  saints on pilgrimage to God’s Temple, and blessed is the one who trusts in you, imaged by the content doorkeeper in the house of the Lord.

While in other seasons of life, my heart has grabbed on to the first and the third images, this week, my heart and attention were captured by the middle verses and accompanying imagery.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose hearts are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84: 5-7. 

A Terraced Heart

The Hebrew word mesillah translated highways above comes from the root word salal. Salal can also be translated as lifting or ladder. A heart full of pathways, a laddered heart, a heart set on pilgrimage to more of God by the strength of God.

In the past when I have thought about a heart full of highways, the image that came to mind was the Autobahn in Germany, a well-paved, smooth, clear highway to the Lord. However, the introduction of the imagery of climbing and ladders shifted my image to one that seems to more appropriately show what pilgrimage to the Lord looks like. A climb, a curvy, circuitous route.

While those on pilgrimage on to the actual house of God would have climbed upward, I often feel like my walk with the Lord looks more like a downward climb to the heart of God. After all, in the gospel, we learn that the way down is the way up.

While it takes great strength to climb upward, it takes equal or more strength to travel the path of downward mobility that leads to the heart of God.

As I thought about these verses, our dear friends’ stunning canyon-facing yard came to mind. The initial level is a beautiful patio. Many people would be content to stay there, leaving the rest of the steep yard uncultivated. However, our friends have slowly, over the course of a decade, begun to terrace their yard downward, level by level. The result is that every time you visit their home, you are shocked to find yet another terrace, cultivated, beautified and planted.  They are not even 3/4 of the way down their property, and their terraced yard is already a maze of hidden spaces.

I long to have a heart that resembles their terraced yard. One that refuses to settle with what I know of God and have experienced of His presence. I long to continually,  by His strength, descend deeper into the untamed and wild places of my heart and the world around me, and begin to experience Him there.

A Place of Springs

The pilgrimage pictured in Psalm 84 is one through the Valley of Baca which literally means weeping place.  Often the pathway to the presence of God leads us through pain, disappointment and suffering, our own proverbial valleys of weeping. However, the psalmists paints a portrait of the tears we shed in those valleys of weeping becoming pools of refreshment for those who will pass through the same valley after us.

What depths of hope and purpose we have in the midst of our downward pilgrimages to better know and be conformed to the heart of God.  Each downturn is a chance to cultivate gospel-terraced hearts; each  valley of weeping is a chance to create a refreshing pool for those who suffer similarly in the future.

May we know the happiness, the blessedness of those who move from strength to strength, deeper into the heart of God!

 

Kindertransport & the Christ

Gil and Eleanor Kraus. Up until a week ago, those names meant nothing to me. Yet, their bold endeavor to rescue 50 children from Nazi-occupied Vienna ranks with Schindler’s List in rescue attempts.

A Bold Rescue
A Jewish couple from Philadelphia with two children, they lived a comfortable life even in the aftermath of the Great Depression.  However, after being approached by the leader of a Jewish humanitarian organization, Gil began to follow his heart and his legally-trained head into a series of decisions that would forever change not only their lives but also the lives of countless desperate families.

One of the uniquely  painful policies of Nazi Germany was that Jews were encouraged to leave Germany to emigrate to other countries; however, having been severely persecuted and stripped of their livelihoods and money, many were unable to actually get out. The United States, which was in a largely isolationist mindset trying to pull its own people out of the muck of the Great Depression, had stringent quotas regarding people allowed to immigrate from each nation. However, even those stringent quotas were not filled in the years of the Nazi reign.

As a lawyer, Gil Kraus came up with a plan to use some of the unfilled visa spots from previous years in a last ditch effort to at least save the lives of 50 children whose parents had received permission to come to the United States but were unable to pull off the emigration for various reasons, mostly financial and logistical.

Eleanor spent months doing tedious paperwork and countless errands which enabled 50 spots for children to legally enter the United States without their parents. Gil pulled strings and sat through disappointing conferences with US officials, trying to come up with an air-tight rescue plan that would be legally-solvent.

Both risked their own lives, entering tense, Nazi-occupied nations and leaving their own children under care of others, that they might be able to rescue 50 children. Even when they arrived in Austria, they knew there was no guarantee their plan would work.

They conducted heart-wrenching interviews with Viennese families, each seeking to get their child or children one of the coveted spots to safety. They had to select, from among hundreds, the children who would be most likely to be allowed to both leave Austria and enter the United States to live apart from the only family they knew.

Once they arrived in the US, the children stayed at a Jewish summer camp until arrangements could be made for foster families to host them until, God willing, their parents (or who was still alive among them) were able to eventually join them. Some were reunited with one parent a decade later. Some never saw their parents again.

These sad, yet hopeful shipments of parentless children out of Nazi territories came to be called kindertransports. As I read the story of these particular rescue, my pillow became wet with tears. As a mother, I cannot imagine the strength it would take to pack up your child and send them away to safety, knowing that you may never see them again. Eleanor Kraus vividly remembers the parents standing on the train platform with forced smiles of comfort and bravery, unable to wave for fear that they would seen wrongly as honoring Hitler.

A Costly Salvation
The heart-gripping thought of parents saving their children at such grave emotional costs to themselves and their own children gave me an even greater picture of the gospel.

God, the Perfect Father, who had only ever known perfect relationship and nearness to His Son, sent Jesus to the earth, knowing full well that He would treated unjustly and would die a torturous death. He did that to secure the most daring and unthinkable kindertransport of history.  His sacrifice and risk, far greater than the huge sacrifices and efforts of the Kraus’, secured salvation for those who would flee to Him through faith in the gospel.

The costs to the Kraus family and their supporters were great. The cost to Christ and the Father were infinite. The spots on the Kraus kindertransport were limited. The space on the Father’s kindertransport are as abundant as His children. The Kraus kindertransport provided earthly safety and opportunity. The Father’s kindertransport provides eternal security and endless opportunity.

What an undeserved, unearned, unthinkable salvation we have received. We have been shipped from the dominion of an enemy even more cunning and crafty than Hitler. We have been carried by, by costly grace through faith, to the safety of the house of the Father. May such a salvation shape the way we live every moment of our ransomed lives.

 

The Velveteen Years

Today, I found a  beautiful old copy of the Velveteen Rabbit on the 25 cent rack at our local library. I bought it, of course, because I love all books, but also because I was having a velveteen rabbit kind of week. As I sat this afternoon and read the beautiful old copy over a cup of coffee, I was reminded of this blog post that I wrote four years ago.

Four years later, I feel more patchy and less the kind of beautiful I pictured I would be in my mid-thirties. Yet, the dailyness of walking with God and seeing both His beauty and my sin, has made me more real. More than that, the gospel has been made for real to me.  I cling to it more, depend on it more, find my confidence increasingly therein.

“What is real,” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

We have the great privilege of working with college students. While I wouldn’t trade our calling for the world, it can be challenging sometimes for me to interact with fresh-faithed, prime-of-their-life, beautiful, in-shape college girls. Challenging only because I find myself comparing my well-worn, patchy faith with their conquer-the-world faith. Seeing their energetic personalities and their well-toned bodies makes me take double-takes at my tired momma-self and my more squishy body.

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Compared to these young ladies who are fresh-out-of-the-box I feel like a Velveteen rabbit. But then I remember that all the loose ligaments, all the patched up prayers, all the physical and spiritual dents and dings I carry around with me now are proof of being loved greatly. I remember that I am in the process of becoming Real.

Anne Lamott shares a similar sentiment in her book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith.

“Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life – it has given me me. It has provided time and experience and failures and triumphs and time-tested friends who have helped me step into the shape that was waiting for me. I fit into me now.”

My favorite word in the New Testament is the Greek word ginomai, which means to become. It is a process word, not a product word. Ginomia gives me hope; it reminds me that God is a God of a process and that we are all works in progress. Ginomai reminds me that I am deeply loved by my owner, that I have been bought at a great price and that somehow, against all odds, there is a God who sees me all unraveled and yet loves me still. He is making me Real, making me into the one He has created me to be in Him.

And, in the words of a wise Skin Horse, “Once you are real, you can never be ugly.”

Here’s to the Real One who is making us Real.

A Radical Approach to Racism

image Black Kettle. Red Cloud. Sitting Bull. These Native American tribal leaders have been my company for the past few weeks as I have been reading Dee Brown’s seminal book (no pun intended) Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.

While this account is not light reading, it is enlightening. Enlightening not just to the hidden history of the way the West was truly won, but even more so to the insidious nature of racism.

I found myself reading about the gross injustices committed against a multitude of Native American tribes just days after the Philando Castile verdict. Clearly, racism is not a problem of a past century or a premature way of thinking chased away by the advancement of science.

With tears in my eyes and disgust in my heart, I read and reread the story of Black Kettle and his Cheyenne people.

Black Kettle and Lean Bear, another Cheyenne chief, had taken a trip to Washington meet the Great Father of the white man. “President Lincoln gave them medals to wear on their breasts, and Colonel Greenwood presented Black Kettle with a United States flag, a huge garrison flag with white stars for the thirty-four states bigger than glittering stars in the sky on a clear night. Colonel Greenwood had told him that as long as that flag flew above him no soldiers would ever fire upon him. Black Kettle was very proud of his flag and when in permanent camp, always mounted it on a pole above his tepee.”

Many years and honest attempts at keeping shifting and shady peace treaties later, Black Kettle and his diminishing people were camped at Sand Creek, with his tent at the center of the village. “So confident were the Indians of absolute safety, they kept no night watch except of the pony herd which was corralled below the creek. The first warning they had of an attack was about sunrise- the drumming of hooves on the sand flats.”

According to George Bent, a white man who had become an honorary Cheyenne, “From down the creek, a large body of troops was advancing at a rapid trot….men, women and children, rushing out of the lodges partly dressed; women and children screaming at the sight of the troops…I looked toward the chief’s lodge and saw that Black Kettle had a large American flag tied to the end of a long lodgepole and was standing in front of his lodge, holding the pole with the flag fluttering in the gray light of the winter dawn. I heard him call to the people not to be afraid, that the soldiers would not hurt them; then the troops fired from two sides of the camp.”

To spare you the gruesome details, the horrific situation which followed, known as the Sand Creek Massacre, took the lives of 105 Indian women and children and 28 men.

According to Brown, “In a public speech made in Denver not long before this massacre, Colonel Chivington advocated the killing and scalping of all Indians, including infants, saying “Nits make lice!”

Racist actions are bred from racist thoughts which begin in our very broken human hearts. As easy as it would be to point fingers and call those people racists, we must take an even more radical approach to dealing with racism.

In the words of Solzhenitsyn, one personally familiar with evil, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

Racism is a radical heart issue, one that begins at the root of every human heart. As such, it must be dealt with radically, not only on the surface.

There are two different ways to weed my garden, as my children can tell you. The quick, painless way to weed is to pull the leaves off the intrusive guests that push their way through the gravel outside our garden. With little effort, the garden looks well kept…until the next week.

The second more painful yet more lasting option is to bloody one’s knuckles twisting, pulling and yanking at the deep root systems whose lengths far the exceed the visible problem.

When addressing racism, I must begin in my heart, recognizing that the capacity to judge and mistreat others is indeed my problem. As much as I rightly want to rightly call Colonel Chivington and his miserable remarks evil, the gospel tells me that I must call my own evil what it is before God.

From Racism to Redemption

Racism: a certain road from pride
to genocide.

Potent. Present. Palpable
In every human heart,
Must be suffocated,
Lest it rip lives apart.

Repent. Resist. Run from
This evil in every form,
Lest we be engulfed
In its hatred storm.

Marches. Pamphlets. Protests
Help but cannot cure.
Rooting out racism
Requires more.

Holy. Human. Hope.
He is full of grace of truth.
Jesus, slain on a cross,
Halts a tooth for a tooth.

Redemption: a road from death
to borrowed breath.

On Being Fed

Having grown up in Catholicism, I have self-consciously walked many an aisle to bed fed a host by a strange hand.

For our First Communion,  all the second graders at St. Rose were dressed to the nines. The girls wore white dresses and flowered veils which I now see as significantly mirroring wedding dresses. If only I had understood that what I was experiencing was intended to be a wedding of sorts, an outward sign meant to express the supposed union of my soul with my eternal husband the Christ.  Instead, I seem to have stood there rather awkwardly in my puffy sleeves.

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Whether I understood it then or not, having been reared in the Catholic School system hard-wired me with a love for and a pull towards the Eucharist.  A Catholic mass is available everyday for those who would desire to take communion daily.

While I do not adhere to transubstantiation (the belief that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ) or many other tenants of the Catholic Church, I am deeply appreciative of the centrality of the Eucharist in the Catholic mass.

From my now-Protestant viewpoint, there are a few things that I can see and appreciate most about the Catholic approach to the Eucharist, at least on a purely physical level.

It is offered daily. It physically requires us to be fed, rather than to be deluded into thinking that we can feed ourselves. As such, it is by nature communal. It cannot be done alone or in isolation. It is to be experienced in the presence of at least one other human being, often many more. There is a time of silent kneeling before and after receiving communion. These kinesthetics forced our bodies into uncomfortable postures of humility, attempting to teach our souls to fall in suit.

I find that the Protestant equivalent to the daily offering of communion may have become the idea of a daily quiet time. While I do earnestly believe that it is our soul’s great delight to find themselves happy in the Lord (a la George Mueller), I think that at times, daily devotional times can often atrophy into an attempt at self-nourishment.

I must feed myself. I must say or pray the right things. I must dig up a rich truth or principle. Seen and pushed through such an ego-centric, self-centric lens, even a daily devotional time can lead us away from the gospel.

Do not hear what I am not saying. I am not saying that I don’t believe in a personal devotional life. I most assuredly do; even further, I have been greatly enriched by it. In fact, it a passion of mine to teach women Bible study training tools so that they might rightly interpret the Word of God in the Spirit.

At the same time,  I have fallen into ditches of self-dependence rather than God-dependence many a morning. Bridging my Catholic roots with my Protestant training, I find myself desiring to approach my daily time with the Lord in much the same manner as when I was trained to humbly approach, open my mouth and be fed in the presence of a family.

When I come to the Word or to prayer each day, I tend to approach both as a chef might approach a kitchen fridge or pantry. Open the door. Poke around to see what is there and what you are working with. Attempt to prepare a meal from said raw materials. Stand back proud of your meal.

However, I am fighting to rather approach God’s Word and my slivers of solitude with my Savior in what I conceive to be a more Catholic approach. I kneel down in need. I ask. I am invited to walk towards the One who has a meal prepared for me. I need only open my mouth. He will feed me Himself with Himself.  He bears the burden, provides the food, nay, is the food. He receives the glory while I receive the nourishment.

 

 

 

The Lack of a Loom

I am not a sewer, as the poor little stuffed bear whose nose I attempted to fix with a needle can attest.  The first time I heard women talking about “surging” and “notions,” I felt like they were speaking a foreign language. I have tried to change this about myself, occasionally employing the help of talented friends; however, my attempts at operating a sewing machine were both laughable and maddening. While I do not know much in the sewing department, I have found myself acutely aware that we, as a culture, are suffering due to the lack of a loom.

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I am borrowing the image from a poem written by Edna St. Vincent Millay, as quoted in Neil Postman’s book, A Bridge to the Eighteenth Century. 

Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,
Rain from the sky a meteoric shower
of facts… they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
is daily spun; but there exists no loom
to weave it into fabric.

We humans need an overarching narrative to give life meaning and purpose, to make sense of the scattered events and emotions that constantly bombard us. We need a loom, a place in which all the threads of human experience can be fit and woven together to create a beautiful tapestry. We need some way to integrate the dark threads of sickness, disappointment, pain and death with the bright threads of birth, laughter, friendship, and joy.

Without a loom, without what is called a meta-narrative, we end up with disconnected piles of threads and yarn and fabric. Sure, we can organize them into neat piles, putting sweet silky feelings and experiences in one pile, grouping commonplace day-to-day experiences and emotions in another and gathering the itchy, scratchy strands of suffering into a discard pile. But, living without a loom leaves us with lives and hearts and societies that are divided and compartmentalized at best, and schizophrenic and purposeless at worst.

Neil Postman, a contemporary prophet-of-sorts, describes the modern American conundrum as follows.

“When a people do not have a satisfactory narrative to generate a sense of purpose and continuity, a kind of psychic disorientation takes hold, followed by a frantic search for something to believe in, or, probably worse, a resigned conclusion that there is nothing to find.”

The end of the twentieth century was characterized by a deep questioning of all traditional narratives. According to Postman, these narratives are “the stories that are sufficiently profound and complex to offer explanations of the origins and future of a people; stories that construct ideals, prescribe rules of conduct,specify authority, and in doing all this, provide a sense of continuity and purpose.”

All those years of deconstruction have left us a society without a loom. We have more threads, more information, more communication, more technology than any other age. Yet, we have no way to order, organize, judge or understand these ubiquitous threads. And so they pile up, clogging our lives, leaving us walking around in mountains of experiences, wondering what the purpose of life truly is and wondering where we fit into the bigger picture, if, indeed, that bigger picture even exists.

Gospel literally means good news. And if ever society needed good news, it is now.

The good news we have to offer our confused culture is that there is, indeed, a loom, a framework, an overarching story that makes sense of the threads, both dark and light of human existence. We have a lasting loom, and we must learn to boldly and graciously offer the Christian worldview to a loom-less society.

When suffering rears its ugly head in our lives or the lives our loved ones,  Christians can offer much more than a sappy Hallmark card offering condolences and happy thoughts. Christians can say with full conviction that the world is not how God intended it be, that things are indeed broken. Christians can offer an answer as to why and how things went wrong, an answer that does not point fingers at establishments or classes or races but rather starts in the heart of every human.  Christians can offer a suffering Savior, the only One of His kind in all religions and world views, who took great pains upon Himself to fix the mess that we made.  Christians can offer a grounded hope that one day, the brokenness will be fixed, that things will be made right once more based on Christ’s promise that He will come again to make all things new.

For far too long, we have offered the world morality and rules and legalism or watered-down self-help theology that cannot stand under the heavy threads of human suffering.  But the world is suffering for lack of a loom, and the Bible contains such a loom.

Oh, may we graciously offer the world the loom upon which the Great Artist is weaving the beautiful story of redemption.

Fighting Inattention

Everything in me and around me seems to be dead against focused attention. As soon as I sit down to finally focus on the task at hand, the instant pot beeps, begging for my attention. The laundry buzzes, beckoning me to fold. As soon as I finally sit down to read me to my littlest fella or get outside to kick the soccer ball with my older fellas, I see trash cans that need to be taken out, plants that need to be watered, and a flat tire that needs to be filled.

This is not to mention the push through news notifications, the ticker on the bottom of the screen, or the invasive, intruding campaign mail. On the outside, my life is scattered, but on the inside my heart is equally scattered, pulled in different directions by competing desires. I find myself longing to pray with David in Psalm 86, “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.”

A united heart will lead to unified, focused beam of attention.

Beams of Attention

A few month back, I read an old tattered book by Keith Greene, and one little nugget contained therein planted itself in my soul. Greene likened his focused attention as a beam or spotlight, as seen below.

“It is as our attention were a powerful spotlight, the beam of which God lets us direct. We can shine the beam off into the past or future or into the eyes of the people around us in the present…I began to see that agape love rides down the beam of our attention into people’s hearts.” 

It is a challenging thought to think about agape love sliding down the beams of our attention. We live in a culture largely known for its short attention spans, and we house hearts whose attention beams tends to continually reorient around self. As such, it seems that much agape love that could be sliding from the Father of lights down the beams of our attention to a desperately needy world never arrives.

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Focusing Scattered Beams

If focused attention is beam, my attention is more like a spewing geyser. When my older children are wanting to show me their latest invention, I find myself present physically but mentally-scattered. When my husband is seeking to share about his day, I find myself thinking of the remainder of the to-do list I might be able to knock out later that evening. I have found myself begging the Lord who is unified in His purposes and His affections to make me more like Him.

Rather than be utterly overwhelmed by the sheer number of women at our Church, I am asking the Lord to give me a few women upon whom I might focus my attention beam this season.

At home, I find myself scanning a yard that needs some TLC, a pile of laundry and a pathetic pantry. When I catch the beams of my attention dissipating into a spectrum of to-do lists,  I have been asking the Lord to let my beam of attention linger a little longer on the hearts in our home rather than the domestic duties.

But more than anything, I have been found myself wondering at the multi-faceted, multi-colored, constantly radiating beams of agape attention that God directs at me. That the God who created the sun and lightwaves and the spectrum of visible and invisible light would set His affection on anyone is shocking. That He would set it upon me, one who constantly fritters my attention on self and shimmery fool’s gold, is even more shocking.

The Beams of the Father
When I read through the Gospels, I see a Christ who consistently focused the beams of agape love that He received constantly on whomever was set before Him. A poor widow. A wealthy, woeful centurion. A pack of crazy kids. A crowd of hungry paupers. A suspect tax collector. Christ was able to radiate what He received by consistently relying upon the approval of His heavenly Father. More than the strange star that had indicated his birth beamed, the beams of God’s love perpetually warmed the Son.

Yet, in those painful hours on that horrible hill, the beam of favor turned away from Him. All was darkness, within and without, to the end that the beams of God’s favor might be set once again on those who would call upon Him.

The spotlight that the Son deserves has been turned upon those who look up to Him for deliverance. The children of light, those who receive the steady spotlight of the Father, are invited to focus the light they have received into the lives of those still in darkness.

May we know the fullness of the beams of His favor towards us. May the beams of our attention bring Him glory this season. Amen.

Decorated Homes & Dependent Hearts

In our home, we are shaking our tryptophan stupor off and decorating our way into December.  As we are only  1/32 elf in our family, we tend to keep the decorations simple. Yet, every year, when everyone goes to town with their tinsel, tree-trimming and twinkle-light-hanging, my heart finds itself in the same wrestling place.

Because I am not on top of things, I find myself frantically searching for a decent picture of our family to try to rush order Christmas cards. By decent picture I mean we are all clothed and bodily present with at least one eye looking in the general direction of the camera.

Next, I look at my meager two containers of light strands that have fractions of working bulbs. This will do.

All joking aside, this is the time of year when we love to decorate our homes, filling them with all the smells and sights of the holiday season. While that is not my strong suit, I am well-acquainted with a similar tendency: to seek to decorate our hearts and our lives to match our cheerfully decorated homes.

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An image painted by Frederick Buechner in his memoir Telling Secrets has been haunting me of late. Speaking of his aging mother’s tendency to remember only the high points of her life, he writes the following.

“The sad times she kept locked away never to be named, but the funny, happy times, the glamorous, romantic,  young times, continued to be no less a part of her life than the furniture…She liked to paste gold stars on things or to antique things with gold paint – it was what she did with the past too of course  – and lampshades, chairs, picture frames, tables, gleamed like treasure in the crazy little museum of her bedroom.”

While my house does feature any gold-painted furniture, I do notice in my own soul a  scary tendency to want to make things appear shiny and together. I find my heart desiring to place gold stars on hard seasons or circumstances. I want to decorate my own heart.

However, more than a finely decorated, neat and tidy heart,  God longs to have a deeply  dependent heart. One that invites Him into the mess and the mayhem, one that cries out to Him for help and hope.

He doesn’t want me to plaster and decoupage my anxious heart and hectic home with gold stars; He wants something far more for me and my family. He longs that we admit our neediness of Him, our limitations  and our deep hunger for far more than this world has to offer. As we present our hearts in humility and honesty before Him, He promises to shape in us a refined faith in Him, proved of more value than gold.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by  various trials, so that the tested  genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found  to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:6-7.

In the midst of beautiful decorations and manicured Christmas card pictures, I long to fight my tendency to decorate my heart. Rather, I pray that God would give me a heart that is fully dependent upon.

Pain as Preservative

What formaldehyde is to organs in a jar, pain can be to the human heart.

I spent entirely too many hours semi-willingly quarantined in labs in college. Even the faintest whiff of formaldehyde conjures memories of organs and invertebrate bodies floating in large jars.

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Although it is not used as much now due to its carcinogenic properties, formaldehyde was once used commonly to preserve the tissues of the specimens, allowing them to be further studied. By being soaked and stored in formaldehyde, the organs or organisms remained soft and supple when they otherwise would have become hardened.

Suffering as Preservative

Pain, while terribly uncomfortable, can also have such a preservative effect on the human heart.

Recently, my grandmother passed away, and for the days surrounding her passing on either side, my heart was as soft as it has been in months. While out running errands and doing school pick up or cooking dinner and talking to a friend, I found my eyes leaking frequently at both the beauty and brokenness around me.

The world and the monotony of life can have a slowly hardening effect on our souls. And, in some ways, it is more comfortable to be comfortably numb than to have quivering, sentient souls that feel acutely.

Pain jolts us awake to the reality of life in the already/not yet of the kingdom of God. It protects our hearts from the hardening effects of life and keeps us supple and tender to the suffering of others.

Suffering as Silencer 

As a mother of three boys, I know that life can get noisy. As such, I have grown shockingly accustomed to an unnatural level of volume in my home. Sadly, I have also grown overly accustomed to an unnatural level of static in my soul. Static and background noise, a running list of to-do’s and ought-to-have-dones, a looping reel of lies and fears, the demands of the urgent. These are the sounds of my soul’s static.

Pain and suffering silence the static and sharpen the substantial. When a family member is diagnosed with cancer or a child struggles at school, when a friend betrays or a job is lost, the secondary static noise is quickly quieted, allowing us to hear the things that matter most.

Suddenly, the to-do list is eclipsed by a to-enjoy list and eternal conversations begin to trump surface subjects. Suffering teaches us to number our days rather than be numbed by them.

Suffering as Study 

As hard as it is to suffer ourselves or to watch those we love most suffer, suffering sets the gospel on display, inviting the watching world into a study of the gospel. When a friend who has lost her hair, but has not lost her hope in the Lord, the world wonders and takes a second glance at the gospel she adorns in her pain. When a mother loses her child, but continues to entrust her pain to a suffering Savior, those outside the fold are likely to do a double-take.  When an adoptive or foster family goes to great lengths to love a child who has no ability to love them back or to repay them long term, they see a glimpse at our suffering  savior who authored agape love.

It is not easy to live with a supple hard in a sharp world, but God calls His children to do just that. He bids us to be alive and alert to the pain all around us and to step towards it with the Good News of a lasting hope. There is a day coming when suffering will be no more, but, until that day, we are called to have supple hearts, preserved and softened by pain that we may point others to Him!

 

 

Can Crossfit Coach the Church?

Full disclosure: I do not do Crossfit. I do what I have dubbed “Mom Fit” which means that I daily carry heavy children and groceries and book bags in addition to my brisk walk. That being said, I have been observing the Crossfit movement from afar for quite some time. Many of my dear friends are involved in various Crossfit movements and gyms, and I have even nearly died a few times trying to join them.

As such, I have been pondering this morning what the Church might glean from the Crossfit movement. After all, I see these gyms mobilizing people to do insane and often terribly uncomfortable things daily. I see people involved becoming raving fans who cannot help but invite others to join them. I see Crossfit bringing people together across political, economical and racial lines.

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Clarity & Incremental Goals

It took me quite some time to realize what in the world WOD meant. For those who are couch potatoes or brisk walkers like me, WOD is an acronym meaning Workout of the Day. Each day, the people walking into the Crossfit gym are challenged to a very specific workout. The goal for each day is clear. If the WOD is too challenging, there are adaptable exercises that help participants incrementally gain the strength and form required to eventually do them with greater comfort and ease.

While I am not suggesting that our churches post a daily workout on a chalkboard sign, I do think that we could learn to offer people more clarity. What does it mean to be a member? What is required of volunteers? What does a community group (gospel community, life group, cell group, etc…) actually do for its members?

Rather than expecting that everyone who walks into our doors already possesses the necessary skills to open, read, study, apply and cherish the Word of God, we might learn to offer incremental trainings to get people to place where they can do their daily spiritual workout with confidence and skill.

Community & Consistency 

It seems that people who Crossfit love Crossfit. The community that begins over squats and burpies tends to bleed into other parts of life, morphing into friendships and dinner parties and the likes. From the outside, it seems that they have done an excellent job creating community around challenging tasks, around a shared mission. I most certainly find it hard to imagine waking up and getting excited about pushing my body to its uttermost limits, yet these gyms seem to have done just that!

Perhaps such a sense of community comes from the near-daily expectation of working out; perhaps the community is birthed from the consistency of having a shared public space which is neither the workplace nor the home. Either way, Crossfit gyms seem to have done what the Church continues to try to do: create an intimate community around a shared vision and task.

I recognize that the Church delves into messier areas of life than a gym; however, as a women’s ministry director, I sense I have a lot to learn from the contagious community around a terribly uncomfortable mission.

After all, the Church exists to make much of the name of Christ, to be the family of God here on earth and to equip its people to do the hard work of mortifying sin and living to righteousness (which is a far from comfortable task).

Long-Range Goals & Celebration

I don’t imagine that the Crossfit community promises results overnight. If I were to walk my not-so-toned self into a gym, I presume that they would tell me that while results take time, the end result will be well-worth the sore muscles and torn hands.

Similarly, sanctification and depth of relationship in the context of the local Church will not yield instantaneous results. We would do well to continually set the end-goal of Christ-likeness before our people while also reminding them that day in and day out practices might not always feel good or worthwhile. For no discipline at the time seems pleasant, but painful, but in the end, it produces the peaceable fruit of righteousness in those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).

Perhaps by celebrating the small wins more regularly and highlighting the reality of the struggle on the backdrop of the greater goal, the Church might move closer toward equipping its people for a long obedience in the same direction.