Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Case For a Broader View of Faith

It's okay that my room is not cleaned and hasn't been for a week. It's okay that I ate only cannoli today for lunch and haven't worked out in three weeks. It's okay that I look in the mirror and never like what I see. It's okay that I'm tired of working hard and a lot of times just want to give up. It's okay that God has shown me what I should be doing, and I still don't think I'm good enough to do it. It's okay that I am a troubled soul even though I have everything I could possibly need. It's okay that I should be seeing a counselor but can't afford it so I'm resorting to social media therapy. It's okay that I know hope is found in Jesus, but I still feel hopeless a lot of times. It's okay because I don't have to feel good about any of this to make a decision to live according to truth.
A clean room is beneficial, but the truth is, it's not eternal. Cannoli are not beneficial long term, but the truth is, they won't kill me today. My body isn't where I want it to be, but the truth is, I'm not unhealthy or overweight. I might not like what I see in the mirror, but the truth is, God does, and his opinion is the only one that really matters. In this very moment, I feel hopeless, but the truth is, I'm not hopeless, because my hope is and forever will be in Jesus, the resurrected Savior. I don't know if I will ever feel good about all of the above, but the truth is, I don't need to feel good about any of it for it be true and good.

These are a friend's humble words flung out onto social media. With them, she raised the veil for a rare glimpse of authentic faith. She is not a new believer. Rather, she has a master's degree in Christian education from a Christian university and is a leader in her local church.

This is a faithful kind of doubting where there is hope and trust in spite of and in the midst of continued human nature. This is what true faith really looks like.

Faith is hard and complex. Although we like to romanticize it, it's not glamorous. It's a slog through the mud, and it shouldn't come as a surprise. Our flesh is made of dust, and Christ is living water. Mud results from exposing the one to the other, and that's precisely what makes clay malleable. This is the very condition Jesus needs in order to craft us into his image. The work of Christ is both filthy and holy.

Courage exists only in the presence of fear. Heroism exists only in relationship to self-preservation. Faith and hope exist only amid despair, lament, and woe. The dichotomies are essential, yet Christians often focus only on the positive traits as if they exist in a vacuum.

Western Christianity distances itself from doubt, sorrow, and mourning and exalts success, victory, and strength. But we should esteem the questions we are afraid to ask and own the doubts that still remain, because the truth is, there are questions that will never have adequate answers. Faith is being at rest in the unknowing of things.

Yet we Christians strive to keep a secret from others — and maybe even ourselves — the fact that we don't have it all together. We do so because uncertainty and shortcoming are not virtues in our societal norm. This notion skews our understanding of strong faith. Our lingering, pesky doubts and failures might be construed as evidence that Christianity is a farce and should be dismissed, or that our faith is not winsome and is, therefore, ineffective.

So we tell a tale with a happily-ever-after ending replete with nary a hardship. We craft a false narrative of the Christian faith where sin is unequivocally conquered and forever banished from the kingdom. While it's not a fairy tale. it won't become a reality until after Jesus rides in on his white horse.

In the meantime we don't want our incompetence to detract from God's name, character, or actions. So we compensate by obscuring our frailty and focusing solely on God's greatness, another trait that can't exist in a vacuum.

The law teaches that sin is defined only by the presence of holiness. God's vastness is all the more vast in light of limited humanity. In our weakness his strength is all the mightier (2 Corinthians 12:9).

So by scrubbing our humanity from the outward expression of our Christianity, we trivialize all that God is and does. His love and forgiveness are all the more merciful when they are couched in the rightful context of our impotence, depravity, and utter need.

We learn early in adulthood how to spin our failures into something more palatable to our Western sensibilities — to fail well, if you will. We spin our failures into something good: a life lesson learned, a more informed perspective through wisdom gained, increased compassion toward others, or an essential part of the path to a different success. While these aspects of failure may be valid, we are sometimes guilty of projecting success onto our failure to clean up God's image, to insure that Christianity doesn't suffer from our still-flawed humanity.

The truth is, sometimes we fail, and there is no lesson God is teaching us Sometimes we fail because failure is part of human life, and there's no way to spin it into success. We cannot divorce pain, sorrow, suffering, anguish, depression, fear, doubt, anger, sin, and darkness from our faith. These are the earthen dust we are made of. Sometimes we face these issues simply because we live in the time in between —after the Garden but before the new heaven and earth.

What would happen if we welcomed a broader understanding of faith, keeping an eye on our deep brokenness as we look at and to our God as the remedy?

For now, in this age of in-between, it is ours to embrace the tension between doubt and faith, challenge and consolation, earthen and divine. Just as confessing our faith in Christ is powerful, so is naming our doubts. The tension is uncomfortable and keeps us vulnerable, but what is faith if it isn't entrusting ourselves to God when so much remains unknown, unseen and left wanting?

God is not ashamed of our continued fight with the flesh. It's where he has purposefully placed us in this age. The truth is, because we are still fully human, faith is not enough or our final solution. It leaves us longing for more, as it should, because now we see only in part (1 Corinthians 13:12). And while faith is not an easy or complete answer to our complex circumstances, it is the only hopeful and ultimately victorious answer.


This post first appeared in Reach Out Columbia, as the first in a three-part series on the role failure plays in our faith and in God's master plan for his children.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

We Knew Each Other Young

We met at church — I remember that much, but little else about how she came into my life. At 14 years of age, one doesn't know to pay attention to certain deceivingly inconsequential events, but that giggling girl there on the other side of the room was destined to stay for a lifetime.

We rode four-wheelers at the river and drove the beach with windows down, sandy hair and loud music flying crazy.

She is still the only person on earth I've shared a single bed with — well, aside from a night or two with my hospitalized two-year-old.

I wore her dress to the funeral home the night before we buried Jeff. Her gesture was not unlike my own desire to clothe my brother. She was newly married to Jeff's best friend, whom she was in love with since the beginning of time. Their bond to each other was another lash layered and entangled around my heart.

The relationships in which we have the most confidence are the first to suffer our neglect, and so we have stayed in poor touch through the years. Our lives have crossed only a few times after high school graduation. We know each other’s children only from Christmas card pictures.

But her voice is the same these 35 years later, and when I hear it, I'm not talking with a stranger. We are right there, still caught up to our hearts in knowing the other.

We talk of heartache, loss, failures and success. What makes us happy, worries us, and demands our time. We talk menopause, college kids, and husbands who were once teammates. We broach aging parents and confide that we've both mostly lost touch with our coastal hometown and don’t much care.

Four days later, I'm still thinking of her, haunted in the best way by the cliché of friendships with distance yet no distance at all. It's a serendipitous delight.

This woman still gets me, even though neither of us is the girl we were then, and we haven't been privy to the process that made us who we've become since. We knew each other young, and somehow, three years in the tumultuous lives of high school girls was enough.



Photo by Cheryl Holt, via Pixabay, used with permission under the  CreativeCommons License.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Weekend Wanderings: Mother's Day Weekend Edition


Special days to celebrate family ties and other things that bind us mean more when we contemplate the deeper things that define us in these contexts. May you find a way to see the blessings that come in the messy and all too human relationships that make us who we are in the end. And may you find that it is beautiful.


"Are we afraid of growing apart? Yes. We’ve seen too many couples drift apart as they’ve cultivated hobbies and passions away from their spouse. We’re aware of the risks. But what if we are like two hands playing the same piano music?"  Read on in ...

When You and Your Husband Have Different Callings // Leslie Verner for She Loves Magazine


Our youngest is about to graduate from high school. We have faced this twice before, but this time it feels more like the ending of an age for the parent part of me, not just a milestone in my child's life. If you're facing some endings of your own of any variety, Kimberly's words are a grace.

How to Navigate a Season of Endings // Kimberly Coyle


What this video lacks in quality, it makes up for in content. It's about songwriting, but, more broadly, it's about how we are all creatives in our own way and how incredibly important our creativity is. When I sent this to Adrian, he texted back the following:









I'd be remiss if I didn't share with you where I spend a bulk of my internet time. This guy's music has been the soundtrack of my life. Adrian is a songwriter, music teacher, worship leader, and performer. He's sharing most of his music for free these days, and you can explore his music on his landing page at AdrianMichaelMusic.com.



AdrianMichaelMusic.com


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Weedend Wanderings

Because weekends are for catching up on your reading.
Because lately I've needed to quiet the frenzied noise.
Because these have left me speechless, and with much to ponder.


My True Name // Jennifer Trafton for The Rabbit Room

Martin Scorsese's Silence, and a Strange New Evangelical America // Rebecca Reynolds

The Art of Repairing Broken Things // Lore Ferguson Wilbert

A Tree Grows In ...  // Amanda Phifer





























Photo Credit: Wayne
Coffee Art Credit: a kind barista in Singapore

Saturday, January 21, 2017

That Powder Blue Suit Though

I streamed the inauguration from my desk yesterday. I've watched every transition of power since Clinton took the White House. The pageantry, history, and scope of a peaceful transition is inspiring and makes me proud to be American, no matter the party or politics.

FLOTUS Melania Trump was brilliant in her Ralph Lauren powder blue suit—everyone knows that already. It was so lovely, so stunning, she may have even overshadowed the new president.

I discussed her inauguration day clothing choices on social media. I indulged in scrolling through photos of everything she's worn since arriving in DC on Thursday, past first ladies' ball gowns, and Jackie Kennedy's bar-setting style.

I enjoyed every minute of it until I didn't.

I started feeling icky, like I was betraying of my own gender.

I understand that when you become the First Family, a piece of you belongs to America. Which piece? Well, that depends entirely on which piece our fickle society cares to have on any given day. We feel entitled as the followers because our leaders represent us. I get that. And as leaders, we  (because I am one of those, too) know this is a dynamic intrinsic to leading. It's just going to happen, fair or not.

On inauguration day we care about hairstyles, designers, and how much leg shows through the slit in the dress. We care about necklines, jewelry choices, and make up and who applied it. Yet, I heard not a single comment about President Trump's choice of shoes, handkerchief, or what he carried in his pocket yesterday. President Obama either. Just the fashion choices of the women, who apparently are fair game, are open to our scrutiny, opinions, and even approval or disapproval.

It makes me a little sick inside.

Yet I like to look my best. I enjoy style as much as the next person. And I would hate for my haircut or my wardrobe choice to stand in the way of being paid attention to for my character, my work ethic, my intelligence, and the contribution of my good ideas.

Because we women have those things, too. We are more than a great set of legs, and I'd hate for our humanity to get lost behind our beauty, no matter how hard we work to look and feel pretty.

I'm not sure where this one ends up when these ideas are carried to their ultimate conclusion. Double standards never lead to a single place. And I'm not sure where women expect to arrive when we rail against being objectified and participate in it at the same time.

I will continue to care about how I look. I'm no idiot—I know my appearance and how I present myself convey something of who I am to those I meet. That's true of all of us—to some extent regardless of gender. But if that's true of men, it's even (somehow) more true of women, and I'm not sure I want to contribute to that double standard.

Melania Trump's sense of style from her first 48 hours in Washington seems to say she is, or at least aims to be, classy, timeless, feminine, respectful and dignified. I like what that says about her.

I just hate feeling that I learned this much from Melania's clothing and grooming, while learning little—nay, nothing!— from President Trump's.

I believe the biblical standard is that men and women are different from one another, but equal in value and worth. I don't think we're there yet in real life. Not even in Western culture or 2017.

I think I speak for many women when I say I want my contributions to be of more import than my appearance.

That Ralph Lauren suit was something, wasn't it. Classic and timeless, for sure. It has brought me back to a classic question through the ages and will haunt me for the rest of my days.

We are such suckers for beauty, all of us.

I loved that blue suit, and I hated it.




Saturday, January 14, 2017

On Unexpected Tears and Being a Curator


Emily Freeman's book, A Million Little Ways, is about making art, and in it, she says you should listen to your tears. What makes you cry? Why would this thing make you cry? Those tears will tell you something about yourself if you only listen carefully.

////

Listening to the Hope Writers podcast on the way home from the office yesterday, I paused it and replayed the part where Logan Wolfram begins to cry.

Logan is the owner of the Allume Conference, and after four years of organizing, planning, and hosting the annual conference, she killed it, at least for now. It was a growing, vibrant, successful conference, yet she suspended it because it wasn't taking her to the places she wanted to go in life. She was talking about her two-book deal and the need for reasonable expectations of yourself and the publisher.

Logan says, "I can't just make something up and expect to write all of this book on nothing, when I have nothing to say. It has to come from somewhere. What I write is something that's welling up and needs to come out, and there needs to be a message."

"And if you're tired, and exhausted and worn out, then probably you should refill before you think you're going to have anything else great to say. You can't write from an empty well."  

Gary, the host, brings up something she mentioned before they started recording and Logan says this:

"I started telling you about it earlier, and then I started crying, and I didn't realize I felt so emotional about it. My friend Tim said that he thought it was interesting that for four years I was running this conference and he felt that, somehow, my own voice had gotten lost behind this space that I was curating. And I feel emotional about it again—I'm not going to cry again right now."

"Why?" Gary probes. "Why do you think that means so much to you?"

"Dang, Gary!"

"Because it's true?" Gary offers.

"It's totally true," she concedes. Almost unable to speak for trying not to cry, she continues, "'cause I spent four years....GEEZ ... I spent four years cultivating a space out of the overflow of my own heart. And it's not that I need the credit for it. But I need to not get lost behind it and then be expected to somehow reinvent myself for public consumption. Like my "self" was Allume the last four years. It was about hospitality. And it was about caring for your neighbor. It was about looking outside of your own city and seeing that there's a hurting world. And it was about loving people, and writing from a place where you're authentically you, and stewarding a space well."

She goes on to say that people don't understand what it takes to do such a big event that has so much heart, and that it drained her and, yes, the conference was better for it, but she wasn't.

She used words like cultivate, and pour into, and steward. She used the word curate so many times I finally looked it up.

////


Mike and I sat down at the kitchen table with our respective calendars and responsibilities and, as we find ourselves doing more and more often, we synched the next few weeks of our sprawling lives.

With all the details recorded on calendars, I said, "I think we should schedule some date nights." And I began to cry.

The tears came as a sudden surprise, bubbling up out of nowhere. I didn't know why I was crying and I said so, and laughed even while I cried. I was kind of a mess, and embarrassed, and it caught me off guard.

Mike has been urging me for years, maybe ten, to schedule time together, and I have always been outraged by the idea.

I saw myself as part of his soul on the inside of him, intricately knit into the fiber of his being. I was inside the man who opens his calendar, not an event on it. I refused to be reduced to something penciled in on a given day. 

I am more than a casual lunch with a friend that you should write down lest you lose track and forget the appointment.

I won't be on par with church activities. "I am not part of your schedule; I'm part of you," I said indignantly for all these years.

But now, now that we are almost three decades into this marriage; now that we've bragged for 20 years (at least) that our marriage comes easy and is good and we are best friends, and we are healthy; now that we are approaching an empty nest and we're so close to being able to focus on each other again but we are instead becoming strangers to each other; now that we sit down regularly to synchronize our complicated lives; tears well to the surface when I tell him, in essence, "You're right. We need to be on your calendar."

I'm telling him we have gotten lost behind all the things we curate. I'm telling him we need to find us again. Because it's not like we need credit for it, but we need to steward well these things we curate. And in order to do that, we have to actually be a we.

////

Mike left his phone at home. Mike left his phone at home! On purpose and of his own volition. We went to a movie for the first time in three years. We got lost in La La Land, a movie about chasing dreams and the good things to be gained and the hard things to be forfeited when you pursue your passions, when you are an artist, and what you do is create art and curate it.

////

CURATE: noun  1.  Chiefly British. a member of the clergy employed to assist a rector or vicar.
2. any ecclesiastic entrusted with the cure of souls, as a parish priest.


verb (used with object), curated, curating.
3. to take charge of (a museum) or organize (an art exhibit)
4. to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation



  













Saturday, January 7, 2017

Favorites: 2017 Week One

I took stock this New Year's like never before. Is this my age making me more reflective? Perhaps. There's more to look back on, and I'm becoming more aware that my lifetime's future amount of time is growing more and more limited as I approach 50. It makes me want to live more intentionally.

So I have begun with this first week of 2017 incorporating a few intentional things. They are making me exceedingly happy. I wasn't quite finished preparing to start yet by January 3, so I dove in because time marches on even though I didn't feel prepared enough. I'm giving myself room for these concessions:

permission for these things to not be perfect,
knowing mistakes will happen, 
and instead of seeing them as failure, recognizing I'll be better for the learning process.

So here are my favorite things from Week One of 2017.

1.  TRUST

My Intentional Theme for the year is TRUST 

(in the Lord) 

(for what I need)

(with what he wants)

The Control Freak–Worrier–Everything Just So version of me has to go. And besides, I don't have to decide everything. It's quite freeing actually (okay, and terrifying).


2.  JOURNALING



On a whim, I bought this powder pink leather journal. On another whim, I decided to use it as a bullet journal. I've read a little about bullet journaling and how a few people are using it. I've taken lots of sticky notes on what might work for me. I've never bullet journaled before, but I am a stickey note queen, and wouldn't it be nice for all that "stuff" to be in one tidy, pretty place? So this is what it's going to look like for me:

Daily Log = Daily Dump

It's a daily log of the things I think that needs to get out of my head. That can be "To Do" stuff, things I need to remember, something I want to look into later, a thought I want to capture. It's going to be a diary place to chronicle the things that are significant today — like "Who, What, When," another Adrian original he posted on FB today. For me, the bullet journal is the new stickey note. I keep a separate calendar. This is strictly a journal of free writing, organized only by date and bullet journal signifiers. I hope it has enough pages to last me a year. I hope I'm still using it at the end of the year.

I have started a few collections: LionsHeart, Gift Ideas, one called Trust, so I can look back at the end of the year to see all the times and ways God taught me to trust him more. Instead of Freak-Worry-Just So, I will write, list, and chronicle the testimony God is giving me about letting it all go—right into his hands.

And one I've stolen from Tsh Oxenreider, called Nightly Examen. Before I turn off the bedside lamp, I plan (because I haven't started this one yet - see? I wasn't ready but I started anyway.) to quick-review my day with this question: Where have I seen God at work today? One thing a day.

I'm keeping it simple—mostly handwriting. I'm using washi tape to mark collection pages, but other than that, it's a basic journal. I love the pretty stuff, but it would keep me from doing this and my brain and my soul need it more than my eyes need pretty pages. 


My journaling Pinterest board for more inspiration.


3. WEEKNIGHT DINNER

My kids are old enough to come to terms with their vegetables. So even though it's causing nightly dinner crisis for one of my kids, I have started cooking clean. One week of clean meal planning is under my belt. A few meals that are utilitarian, a few that are scrumptious, one that works for eating crazy-late after Wednesday night church. It was a great first week, and I will build at least five more weeks worth of menu plans to hopefully build a new repertoire of weeknight dinner go-to recipes that keep us healthy and trimmer for the future. If it's a keeper, it gets printed and added to my green binder.


Scrumptious and more scrumptious from this week.


4. WORKING OUT

Okay, I only got two days in this week because it's a struggle, but I'm determined to win. I hate the gym, working out in public is not super power. Instead, I find my best success with videos in the privacy of 5AM and my living room. My favorites, in order, are my P.I.N.K. workouts, P90x3, and a small assortment of Jillian Michaels DVDs I've accumulated over the years. Stress relief and staying strong? Yes, please.  PINK taught me how to eat clean, and the workouts target women's problem spots like tight hips, triceps, inner thighs, and obliques. But don't think this is a stupid-easy girly workout. These workouts will kick your hiney and are as challenging as Tony Horton or Jillian any day.





5. LORE FURGESON WILBERT's SAYABLE

I have enjoyed Lore's writing for several years now, but in the last months so much of what she has written has been beautiful, thought-provoking, and worth every minute I have spent reading her site. She also has begun to curate other beautiful writing online, and all those links are just as fabulous, quality writing, quality thinking, and challenging. Thank you, Lore. You have helped cut down my wasted time online, improved the quality of my online reading from hit-or-miss to almost all homeruns.

Here's a not-so-recent one that has stuck with me deep and long.











I hope your new year still feels new, and is still full of hope, peace, and promise.
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