Category Archives: odds and ends

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.

Love’s Beams

My how things have changed. I remember my father taking a whole weekend to untangle Christmas lights from the large cardboard attic boxes that held them captive in a knotty mess until December. Now, ’tis the season where people can now project an array of lights from a little magical box. To each his own.

While we don’t have such a magic projection box, my heart has been pondering on spotlights of late.

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
For the past few days, I have been forcing myself to think about where and for how long I am focusing the spotlight of my attention. Rather than scanning over the horizon of the news, I allowed the Lord to focus my attention beam on the situation down at the border. While I recognize that it is a complex problem, the Lord allowed me to cry tears of sadness and buy some sleeping bags to be delivered by a friend. While it felt like the smallest thing, I felt a little agape love slide down the beam through friends to some soaking wet asylum-seekers at the border.

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 holiday 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.

A Word to Stumpy Souls

Plumerias are strange, stumpy plants that produce the most exotic flowers. Their milky, thick, fragrant flowers, which grow in a variety of colors from fuchsia to white with subtle yellow and everything in between, are used to make beautiful Hawaiian leis.

A friend gifted us a Plumeria stalk which we planted in our old backyard.  Its blooms were arresting, so when we moved, I took a cutting to bring the beauty to our new address.

And so, a strange, stumpy stalk has been sitting in a pot on our doorstep for months. My kids have taunted me, telling me it is dead. To be honest, I can’t fault them for their teasing, as it has most certainly appeared dead, even to me.

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The other day, a tiny leaflet appeared from the stump, and I nearly burst into tears. Lest you think I am that crazy plant lady, I need you to understand why a single leaflet led me worship.

Of late, my soul has felt like my stumpy cutting has looked. It seems that only uncomely things have been coming out of my heart this summer. I am doing the things I know to do, remaining in the Word, fighting to take my thoughts captive, praying and pondering; yet, I have felt like a barren stump.

My soul has felt withered and tight, trapped and taut. With each passing week, my heart became more and more frantic, desperately wanting to feel and sense His presence, to see His face.

What am I doing wrong? Where are the flowers? Is there something wrong?

It has taken a great amount of effort to remain potted, to simply stay where God has me and my soul.

The Lord has had my soul idling in Isaiah 30, the Scripture I run to in barren places, clinging to His word rather than my feelings (or lack thereof).

Therefore, the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.
Isaiah 30: 18-20. 

It helps me to know that in my waiting for His presence, for His face to shine through my numbness, the Lord, too, is waiting. He is actively waiting, preparing, positioning Himself to move in my seemingly stagnant soul. He bids me remain and trust His character and promises, not my discipline, ability to stir up my own soul or pathetic attempts to produce forced blossoms.

He hears my desperate cries for deliverance from the stuck places of sin, for a vibrant walk with Him. And He promises that even after what has felt like scant rations in the unfavorable climate of my soul, I will see Him.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
Psalm 27:13-14. 

Wait. Stay potted. Abide. Remain. Keep watering what appears to be dead. Don’t trust in appearances, trust in His promises.

These have been my watchwords of late, which is why two little blades of life coming from my stumpy cutting filled me with timely hope.

If your soul feels stagnant and stumpy, barren and bald, I pray my slowly growing and gradually returning to beauty Plumeria plants hope in your soul.

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Questioning our Queues

I have stood in many a line for many a thing. The allure of free Chick-fil-A sandwiches has had me in a long, hot, sweaty line dressed as a cow with my little calves countless times. I once wiped my eyes, grabbed my coffee and posted up at the local public pool at 6 am to get free swim lessons for my water-phobic children. I am no stranger to the strange compulsions of a love of a mother.

Yet, the recent phenomena of out-of-control queues for the the “Pay Your Age” Build-A-Bear promotion has me saddened and concerned.

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On the one hand, as a mother, I understand deeply the desire to work hard to secure and procure good things for our offspring.  The love of a parent for a child is a near-miraculous thing. Yet, on the other hand, I see a sad story in the Build-A-Bear conundrum. We find it acceptable and expected to see lines wrap around entire malls for toys, yet seem to have a hard time expecting, accepting and empathizing with families queuing up on our border in attempts to leave dangerous situations and life-crippling poverty.

I am quick to recognize that immigration policy is a complex subject, so I will avoid any discussion of what we should do as a nation, as that is not my area of expertise; however, I am concerned about our hearts and our posture towards those queues no matter what the policy.

We are quick to assimilate long lines for toys into our view of reality while rejecting and ignoring the longer queues at our borders.

I have thought and pondered long on my own heart’s desire to focus on my own possessions and places while conveniently tuning down (or turning off) those which make me face uncomfortable realities. I believe we are afraid to face the refugee situation because we are afraid to face our own fears.

In our country, as a whole (as compared to most other nations) we are able to believe in the facade of control, stability and longevity.  As such, refugees make us face our deepest fears that life on this earth is indeed temporary, that, despite the fact that we live in secure homes on mostly ordered streets, any neighborhood on this globe is really only a tent city, a temporary home.

Our country has made its name and built its history on an independent spirit. My own soul desperately wants to self-sufficient, even as one who knows that the gospel primarily means a delightful utter dependence upon God. To pay attention to refugee populations who have become, often through no fault of their own, utterly dependent on hand outs and aid is to be reminded of how deeply dependent each of us are to others for our well being.  After all, we breath borrowed, walk on legs we did not create and eat food we did not grow.

The sad reality is that in rejecting to at least deeply consider the plight of refugees we are rejecting a remedy.

What refugees offer to our nation, in addition to countless other gifts of culture and perspective, is remedy in the form of a searing reminder. A reminder that this earth is indeed only a vestibule, a hallway into an eternal life. That, especially as believers, we are called to live as those in tent-cities, living lightly, ready to move at any moment, utterly dependent upon our God for life and breath and being.

While we offer stability and security and the chance to begin life again for refugees, they bring something we desperately need but equally desperately seek to avoid: a reality check.

I fear that in refusing to engage in the refugee situation, we are refusing a great and timely gift, one that would benefit our neighborhoods, our Churches and our souls.

For in the recognition in our ultimate lack of control, our desperate dependence upon God for all things, and our deepest desire for a forever home, a city without walls whose builder and architect is God, we are able to live in this earthly vestibule in a way that brings the most joy, the greatest hope and the longest security.

I, for one, need these reminders daily, as, in my flesh and fear,  I am tempted to become accustomed to toy lines and accusatory to border lines. By the grace of God, may it not be so!