Because I forget

I had barely begun my nine mile run, and I could already feel the arch of my foot becoming tender.  Every step on the pavement was singularly focused on this itty bitty part of my anatomy.  It became more painful around mile 3, at which point I cut my route short and headed back to my car.  Perhaps you saw the really tall lady in hot pink shorts kind of limp-running under the 1-10 and muttering curse words under her breath Saturday morning in downtown Tucson?  That was me. I was both frustrated with my body and disappointed over admitting defeat.

It is interesting how for me, running is not just running.  Physical pain or limitations are not just physical.  The emotional, mental, spiritual and, um, therapeutic elements intertwined in a nine mile run are never more obvious than when that running is threatened, or taken away.

Maybe it’s an idol.  Maybe it’s a gift from God.  But suffice it to say I spent a fair amount of time the rest of that Saturday pouting on the couch, awkwardly trying to hold an icepack to the bottom of my foot.

Then, it was time to head to church.  Frantic dinner, hyper kids, make-up thrown on in a rush, empty gas tank, uncooperative foot. Inhale.  Exhale.  Here we are.

The church is in a sermon series that is asking some questions about why The Church gathers.  Why bother?  Why do we need it?  Why does God desire it?

I got some answers.

Earlier that day I had posted something on Facebook about my Poor Unfortunate Foot and no less than four people at church came up and talked to me about it.  People who didn’t  bother to ‘like’ or ‘comment’ on Facebook.  People who would rather approach me, in person.

I saw their faces.  They saw mine.   I heard their insight and questions, not via written text but instead through their unique and beautiful voices.  I shared my frustrations with my hyperbolic ramblings and  facial expressions and arm gestures. One of my pastors even took me aside and showed me some stretches I could try out.   I am knownFrom my COMPLICATED feelings all the way down to the tiniest tendon under my right foot.  I am known. 

Sometimes I forget that.  I forget I am known, and I forget how good it is.

This is why we gather.

Time to sit in our chairs now, the service is beginning.  The words “Desperate for Distraction” show on the screen up in front of the Sanctuary, flashing for only a moment in the midst of a short video clip, but it was enough for my soul to be pierced.   Desperate.  For.  Distraction.  This is how I live.

Let me tell you, it is a heavy burden and a tiring work.

I closed my eyes for the rest of the video and let God lift my face toward Him, and I chose – in that unique moment and yet also for the thousandth time – the living water of Jesus instead of the broken cisterns that somehow always seem just fine and satisfying during the week.

And it was good.

And easy.

And light.

I keep forgetting.

This is why we gather. 

It is interesting how in the Old Testament God is pretty darn particular about the Isrealites doing these 2 things; offering sacrifices and gathering to remember.  Remember the Passover.  Remember the Sabbath.

And then…Christ…our atonement once for all.  And God in the New Testament is now quite particular that our need for sacrifice is over with.  OVAH!  Forget about all those lambs and goats and blood.  Hallelujah.   But being together, remembering together, this is NOT over.  Why not?

Why can’t this be forsaken as well, it’s not like my fellow Gentile Christians and myself celebrate the Passover.  Why can’t I just stay home and listen to a podcast?

Because.  Because I need to hear your voice and see your empathetic face while I narrate my running problems and I need to watch that video clip and sit next to you while you sing and let you hear me sing (louder and louder..actually sorry about that!) and hear you say Amen from the back of the building and be touched by how your ministry is caring for special needs people and teach me from the bible and teach me from your life.

Because I can witness the joy in your eyes at having your daughter home for a few days, because you asked me to pray for you, because your baby just gets bigger and cuter every time I see her.

Because I needed that Christian stock video clip and your kindness and your touch and your words to help me worship, to love me, to pierce me, to remind me.

Because I keep forgetting. 

This is why we gather. 

And then these people who I love stand up there with guitars and its a song we sing a lot and on the radio a lot and blah blah blah.

But somehow through this song I am taken back to my morning run.  In all the attention I was giving my frustration and my foot, I missed celebrating how lovely and cool the morning was.  The calm and quiet of the university campus.  The brilliant southwest colors that paint Downtown.  The mountains and all the glory of el amanecer sobre el desierto.  I close my eyes and am given an opportunity, a second chance, to go back and see what you wanted to give me, that I wasn’t willing to receive at that time.

To give to you now what I couldn’t, at least not on my own, earlier that day.  Bless the Lord, oh my Soul!

Week by week by week by week.

I keep forgetting.

That is why we gather. 

The Matriarchs

You know the ones.

That woman in church you have seen, but never spoken to.  That woman who raised you.  That woman who taught you.  That woman who blessed you. That woman who organized.  That woman who prayed.  That woman who showed up. That woman who sings. That woman who leads.

They are everywhere.

Some have gray hair, some don’t.

Some wear funky jewelry, others show up in comfortable shoes.

Some are waving good-bye to sons and daughters flying from the nest.  Some are glowing as they hold their grandchildren.

Some sit next to me in church, others are a plane ride away.

They are all lovely. 

Their strength is tried and true.  So are their recipes.

They have been praying and serving and rolling up their sleeves for longer than I have been alive.

They are clan leaders.  They are mothers.  They are pillars.  They are oak trees.

The Matriarchs. 

They have gone before me and lead me and teach me.

Firm.  Planted.  Unwavering.  Dedicated.  Wise.

Yet, their years have given to them a softness, an understanding, a confidence and a quietness that allows them to move with ease.

And they allow me to lead.

They give me a place.

They let me try my own recipes in the kitchen, happy to assist.

They throw me a knowing smile when my children misbehave in church.

They listen patiently.

They answer my phone calls.

They invite me over.

They share their lives, open books still being written, and I hang on with rapt attention to every word.

When I am amongst them, I am amongst giants.

As I parent, as I lead, as I pray, as I live, as I timidly put one foot in front of the other, unsure if the next step is the right one, they surround me.

Hangin’ under a fig tree

At my most recent women’s bible study we played Pictionary as a way to share something about us that no one else in the room knows.  This wasn’t intended to be a spill your guts activity, it was an icebreaker, but the prospect of sharing something even superficial about myself elevated my heart rate.

Panic. Panic. Panic.

What should I share?  I suddenly couldn’t think of ANYTHING remotely interesting about myself and I DESPERATELY wanted to share the one detail about my life that would show the other ladies how fabulous and mysterious and intelligent and sophisticated and brilliant and perfect I am.

But…nothing.

I have two kids?  No, that wouldn’t work they all saw me walk in with them.

I’m from Illinois?  Who Cares!

I like to read? So does everyone else.

I have a cat?

Hmmm, I thought to myself, maybe I should share something real and deep.

Panic Panic Panic

Nevermind!  Ahhh, it’s almost my turn!

I broke Amanda’s princess wand at my 6th grade Halloween Party???  How would I draw that?

Is there NOTHING interesting I can share with these people??!!

I ended up drawing something totally lame.  TOTALLY LAME.  Not even gonna mention it here.  I’m just gonna move on to the sappy spiritual stuff I usually write.

I desperately want to share myself with those around me yet I panic when the time comes to actually live out that vulnerability and I end up trying to put forth what I think might make me look the best.

That’s exhausting, let me tell you.

But it’s better than the alternative.

Rejection, dislike, disapproval.  No thanks. 

I fear that the people I am exposing myself to, whether in a silly game or in a deep conversation, will not see me, just the thing that I choose to share.

There is such a deep desire in me to be known and affirmed and accepted.  I think we can easily point a finger at social media for making us a bunch of narcissists, there is certainly some truth in that, but really Facebook and Instagram and Tumblr and Twitter (and whatever else is out there that all those young kids these days are using) are at their core a women’s bible study game of Pictionary, just a means to let others know HEY YOU!  THIS IS ME!

LOVE ME!

KNOW ME!

I’m funny, I’m passionate, I’m smart, I’m silly, I’m kind!  KNOW ME!

And also,

I’m broken and I break other peoples’ things and I am undeniably boring at times. KNOW ME!

Jesus happens to be REALLY good, the best actually, at knowing not just the persona I put forward, but the real me.  The me that longs for validation.

 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus acknowledges this is in fact a great guy- an Isrealite in whom there is no deceit – and I think he knows that this is EXACTLY how Nathanael wants to be known. 

Just like I want to be known in a certain way.

And Nathanael, at seeing how this Rabbi is so impressed with him, is all like, “yep that’s me!  How did you know how awesome I was?  Word must get around!”

But I know Jesus, and I know his power and precision in choosing words, and I know his ability and desire to cut through flattery when dealing with grown-ups, especially those he wants to disciple, and move right to the true heart residing within.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

 

49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

What I want to know is WHAT WAS NATHANAEL DOING UNDER THE FIG TREE???!!!

This has always bothered me.  What was he thinking?  What was he feeling?  What was he doing?  Was he sinning?  Was he mourning?  Was he repenting?  Was he lamenting? Was he perhaps not acting the part of a man “in whom there is no deceit”?

I don’t think Nathanael is impressed that Jesus knew his geographic location.  I think something significant, good or bad, was going on over there.

Whatever it was, it caused Nathanael to move passed being impressed that this Jesus of Nazareth had heard of his upstanding reputation, to shout out  “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel!”

Any old fool can know our name, can know our reputation, can be impressed (or not) with the random things we share in ice breaker activities.

Only the Son of God sees me under the fig tree. 

So often I try to tell God what I think he wants to hear.  I put forward to Jesus a persona that I think I am, that I want others to believe, that I genuninely want to be.

Supermom and saint is usually how it goes…

And I want a reaction.  I want impressed.  I want validation.  I want acknowledgement.

But Jesus doesn’t give me what I want.

He gives me what I need.

He validates and acknowledges and sees and loves and affirms and SAVES what’s underneath the Pictionary drawing.

I saw you under the fig tree…

I saw you weeping.

I saw you sinning.

I saw you lonely.

I saw you hiding.

I saw you loving.

I saw you praying.

I saw you ashamed.

I saw YOU.

And if you want to be supermom and saint to everyone else that’s fine.  But I see you.

I don’t love supermom, but I do love you.

And daughter through my grace, and my grace only, I will make you a saint. 

Dear Village,

Thank you for helping me raise my children.

Thank you for having the patience and gifting and college degree to sit down and instruct and craft and play in a way that I don’t.

Thank you for your hand me downs.

Thank you for for going to med school so you know what vaccinations and medicine and advice to give.

Thank you for keeping a watchful eye on my little ones at church while I am socializing.

Thank you for affirming and encouraging my parenting decisions and not criticizing me.

Thank you for being my friend, I am a better mama for having adult conversations and a shoulder to cry on and jokes to laugh at.

Thank you for the free baby sitting.

Thank you for your creativity.

Thank you for your bible lessons and Jesus songs.

Thanks for the perfect combination of practical advice and baby spoiling that only grandmas can give.

Thank you for producing Toy Story, Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3.

Thank you for play dates, my kids are getting better at sharing.

Thank you for the menu planning ideas.

Thank you for caring for my emotional and health needs as a mother.

Thanks for inviting us over.

Thank you for having raised your own children already, I need your encouragement and success stories and wisdom.

Thanks for helping us out financially.

Thank you for being different from us, my kids will learn to value diversity.

Thank you for raising me well, so that I might raise my own children.

Thank you for praying.

Thanks for that great parenting article you posted on facebook.

Thank you for giving me a long list of people I know I can call in in case of an emergency.

Thank you for teaching us the meaning of ‘Church’ and the meaning of “community” not through a how-to book, but through life experience.

Thank you for leading.

Thank you for serving.

Let me know if you need anything.

Love,

Evangeline and Zachary’s mom.

 

Community, for real.

It is really and truly almost unbearable.

Almost.

See, I have arrived at a point in my life where I cannot even mention a desire, a hardship, or a prayer request, no matter how weighty or trivial, without the people in My Community acting to provide something for me or my family.

I have actually started censoring myself because I know if I so much as mention a need (or in many cases a want) to any of the loving people in My Community, someone will jump in before I have a chance to finish my sentence with an offer of help.  Actually a lot of times there isn’t even an offer, just the goods. Delivered.  With love and no expectation of repayment.

And I cannot even begin to describe how uncomfortable this makes me.

Like I said, almost unbearable.

I am already so dependent upon the generosity of others so that we can be devoted to the ministry at the University and to its students.

My Community gives faithfully in this way to see this ministry happen.

But,  they just don’t know when to stop.

After sharing a pesky car problem in my weekly prayer request email with my mommy friends, mere minutes after hitting send my friend J is on the phone telling me that her trustworthy mechanic is expecting my car in his shop, all expenses paid by J’s family.

After casually mentioning how I wanted to make some changes to how I dress in order to appeal more to the sorority girl population on campus for the sake of the gospel (which, if you have witnessed my severe lack of style you know is no easy task…), my friend K starts sending me fashion websites asking me what styles I like so that she can buy me new clothes.

After saying that I was planning on buying Zach some new shoes, my mother in law has us in the car heading to the store to get him some.

After saying how much Evangeline would love to go to a Disney on Ice, weeks later tickets arrive in the mail from my own mom.

After simply knowing my family, our former InterVarsity student R offers free baby sitting once a month so Jon and I can have a date night.

And these are only five examples out of many unrequested gifts of time, money, and services that seem to get thrown at us.

Now, I am used to asking for things.

My job requires me to ask really hard things of people.  Like, all the time.

Will you share the gospel with strangers? Will you give up your free time to lead a bible study? Will you part with your hard earned money to support the ministry of InterVarsity? Will you babysit for free so Jon and I can both attend this ministry event? Will you not run away from conflict and healing and deal with this issue in your life?  Will you not sleep with your boyfriend or girlfriend? Will you give up your summer to go on a mission trip? Will you move into the dorms to witness to students there?  Will you pray for me?  Will you spend a Saturday with Refugee families?

It is hard.  And tiring.  But the invitations to stewardship, purity, healing, mission and the Kingdom of Heaven are usually always totally worth the ask.

But the five examples (again, only five out of many) I mentioned above didn’t involve any kind of asking, pleading or inviting.  I was simply talking about life like we all do.  Things I would like to do and have.  Car problems.  Life problems.  The stuff regular conversations and prayer meetings and friendships are made of.

Except there is nothing regular about it.

Nothing at all.

We as Christians talk about community until we are blue in the face.  We want Acts 2.  We want transparency, authenticity, sacrificial love.  We want to know and we want to be known. We want genuine brotherly and sisterly affection for one another.

But living it out is hard because true Christian community flies in the face of what our culture of independence, bootstraps and sufficiency tell us.

The truth is I am completely and utterly dependent upon others.  For my clothes, my food, my car, my house, and even my recreation.  I am completely and utterly dependent on others and it is humbling to the point of being uncomfortable.

A voice inside me tells me that my life is wrong; that getting help here and there is fine but eventually I need to move beyond this dependence and get a real job.  Or make some real money.  Or get my s%#$ together so I don’t need others so much.  Or quit being such a leach.

A voice inside me tells me I must have a sign on my forehead reading PATHETIC, PLEASE HELP in neon lighting; because if I am not even asking for half the stuff  that people give us I must have it written all over me in some other way that I am a needy mess.

A voice inside me tells me that me and Jon’s vocations aren’t worth other people’s generosity, that their money and time should be kept or given elsewhere.

And so I find myself censoring what I say because My Community just can’t help inviting, sharing, giving, serving, praying, splurging, and buying.  And because the voices can be loud.

The word blessed seems so cliche that I hesitate to use it to describe my life in The Church simply for overuse.

But as I experience giving and receiving and interdependence within The Body it is evident that I am in fact blessed and am living out what so many Christians long for and talk about.  Even if it means we can’t pay for our own car repairs and that I in turn give my two pennies as an offering to others.

The last couple of weeks at our church service it has been proclaimed that we cannot live the Christian life without each other. The Holy Spirit compels us to submit, give, depend, care for and support each other.

When I see how this truth has impacted my life and the life of my friends and family it is then that I can get a glimpse, a taste, of the beautiful concept of community that God desires and ordains for us to have.

Not a community that just nods and smiles.  Not a community that feels I am draining them.  Not a community that turns away from the ugly.

But a beautiful community.

One that I cannot live with out.

For real.

Thank You

The school year is coming to an end, but just as I feel like things should be winding down, the exact opposite is happening! There is much to do before we leave for China on May 31st (like my teaching job, which doesn’t end until the 29th), and as soon as we get back we have the weight of fundraising a large amount of money (so that our child will have health care -kind of important), getting ready for the new school year in August and of course the task of getting ready for our baby. I had actually been looking forward to maternity leave so that I could get some rest! Ha!

That being said, some wonderful friends of ours decided to give us an incredible gift when they invited us to spend a week with them relaxing in a vacation home at the beach in Washington State. All expenses paid!

There are so many things that I am grateful for in this invitation.

First of all, there is no way that Jon and I would ever be able to take a “real” vacation like this, we could never afford it. So for us to be able to experience this getaway without paying for anything is quite literally a dream come true.

Secondly, at a time when I have been feeling rather lonely and isolated here in Tucson we get an offer to spend a week with some of our best friends that we haven’t seen in almost two years. What a gift!

Thirdly, Jon and I both have a difficult time relaxing so to be swept away for a week to gaze at the ocean, read, and laugh with friends could not be coming at a better time for us.

In all of this generosity that our friends have bestowed upon us I have feelings of gratitude but also great debt. I love these friends of ours and am thankful that we have remained so close over such a long distance but have had ideas running through my head all day about how I can be a better friend to them. I should be better about calling her. We should send them a gift in return. How can I earn this great present they have given us? What can I do to make it worth it to them that they are spending all this money on us?

The answer of course is nothing. I feel helpless in that nothingness. I feel empty, like I have nothing to offer in return, no thank you that is special enough. Certainly no money to pay them back in any way, shape or form. No more time or energy to be a better friend than I did before they gave us this gift. Nothing.

Through this helplessness I see the love of Christ and how He died for me, knowing that I could never pay Him back. Knowing that there was absolutely NOTHING I could do to make it up to him. I try being a better person for God, try spending more time with Him, try being a better Christian, try to work harder – but I usually fail at those things and even when I don’t they still don’t even come close repaying the debt for what He did for me.

God saved me through grace, not through my own works.

God saved me while I was a sinner, not because I was worthy.

God saved me because I couldn’t save myself.

God saved me knowing I could never pay Him back.

Thank you Nathan and Andrea, not only for the fantastic gift of vacation that you are giving to us, but also for helping me to further experience what Christ’s gift means to me, and for causing me to be even more thankful to Him.