Getting In Front of God

I’ve been reading 2 Samuel lately because I taught through 1 Samuel last fall and I love a good sequel. I won’t be teaching on this one in the next year or so, so this is just for fun.  2 Samuel has it all: intrigue, hidden motive, murder, power struggles, love triangles and weird names (Thanks Ish-bosheth and Asahel!).

Here’s the low down on the first four chapters with a brief recap of what happened at the end of 1 Samuel.

1 Samuel, you know, is the beginning of Israel’s human monarchy. I say human because God has been their king all along but they really wanted what the nations had- they wanted to have a king. So God finally gives them what they want. His name is Saul which in Hebrew is a pun because his name means “to ask.” So when God gives them Saul he literally gives them what they “asked” for. Note to self: when God continually tells you that he is what you need and you keep asking for something else, you might get what you ask for but it might not be the best. How could I have forgotten?

Okay, back to the story. Saul is a king. Over Israel. He’s big and he’s cunning, but he is also deeply paranoid. He’s jealous. He’s on a mission to get rid of anyone who comes between him and his power. So that’s what makes it tough for David. David is adored by the people and he’s better in battle than Saul. (I mean, big, tough Saul hides in the stack ladies purses to avoid going into battle. It’s a pile of luggage actually, but I giggle more when I think of this big strong king hiding under purses – so go with me.)

David finds out Saul is dead in 2 Samuel chapter 1. We, the readers, already knew this because 1 Samuel ends with this news. However, the first few verses of 2 Samuel sends us back in time so we find out Saul wasn’t dead-dead right away. He’s mostly dead and needs assistance to finish what he started. It’s an odd picture because Saul gets hit with a few arrows and is wounded but doesn’t want to go down in history as being humiliated by his enemies (remember, he’s a paranoid fellow) so he decides to ask his armor bearer to finish the job. But his armor bearer was timid so Saul grabs the sword and falls on it. Terrified, his armor bearer jumps on top of Saul, dogpile style, and kills himself. We learn they both die that day at the end of 1 Samuel. But 2 Samuel lets us know there’s more to the story.

In the first view verses of 2 Samuel we come to find out that while Saul is skewered with his armor bearer on top, his life still lingered. An escaped Amalekite (The people defeated by David right before Saul kills himself) found his way away from the battle and saw David and paid homage to him. They get to chatting and David comes to find out this man had just been with Saul. He tells David, “I saw him there on the sword and he called to me so I came over. He asked me to finish the job so it wouldn’t be a slow death so I did what he asked. I took his crown and I brought it to you, my lord.”

The strangest thing happens. David tore his clothes and wept for not only hearing about the death of Jonathan, his best and most intimate friend, but also — Saul. If I were to put myself in David’s shoes it would have looked more like the munchkins in the land of Oz singing with much joy, “Ding dong the wicked witch is dead!” and less like a sad funeral. I mean, does David remember having to run for his life for nearly a decade?

A few times David had the chance to kill Saul, but he did not. In 1 Sam. 26:9, while hovering over a sleeping Saul with sword at hand, David tells Abishai, one of his mighty men, “Who can kill the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” David has already been anointed and called by God to be king but rests in the Lord for the timing of it. David isn’t flawless, we know this – we’ll come to see he’s an adulterer and murderer, and lies like Pinocchio when you put his feet near the fire. But here we see David very cautious about making sure the Lord drives the timing. In fact, David will use this phrase more than once to caution and instruct people. We’ll see it again in 2 Samuel 1 when he tells the Amalekite that finished Saul’s death this same thing.

Chapters 2-5 are filled with more of the same. David’s army is growing and after the death of Saul, Saul’s army dwindled. Even though David knew God wanted him to be king nearly 16 chapters ago, the inauguration doesn’t happen until 2 Samuel 5. Up until then David finds out people from his army have killed Abner and Ish-bosheth in an untimely way, not waiting for the Lord to make that call.

A few months ago I was chatting with one of our new pastors, Ben. After our meeting he said a quick prayer that included these words, “Lord, help us not to outpace you.” These words have stuck in my mind like a catchy song on the radio. What an important prayer to pray regularly. How different my life would look (and how contented my soul) if I paused more often to ask the Lord for his leading and direction, but also being willing to wait. Knowing that the future is in the Lord’s hands is very comforting, but it’s also hard while we wait for him to initiate the timing of his promises fulfilled.


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Easter’s Audaciousness

There was a funny Facebook question going around about a year ago: “Describe your job in a funny way without using your title. Mine was, “I talk to people and explain the same book over and over again to people who have read it many times and even own, on average, four copies.” In a way, it sounds like I have a disorder!

This book I love, the Bible, is one most of the women I shepherd love too. I don’t have to try too hard to persuade anyone in my sphere to look to its pages for wisdom, love, comfort, instruction, and even God’s very own voice.

Every Sunday as a body we return to Scripture’s pages for, as 1 Timothy 3:16 says, “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training.” We also turn to be shown a mighty God saving a rebellious people, finding our own story in its pages. Every week. The same story. The same God. The same rebellious hearts.

At my church we change the colors around the sanctuary as the church calendar changes. Because it is Lent we are hosting purple. On Good Friday the sanctuary and the cross adorned in a purple cloth will change to black — but on Easter morning everything will be in bright white and gold. As someone who is visual, it’s something I look forward to – every new season a new color. It’s hard waiting for Jesus to come back, but the colors remind me that God is on the move — even when I can’t feel it, the Church reminds me.

The black cloth is only up for a short time. It seems before the death of Jesus my Savior sinks in, the white cloth appears Sunday morning. To be clear, that Holy Saturday is a long one. I think we live a lot of life in Holy Saturday – waiting for our Savior to move again. (I have a blog about that here) But Easter Sunday brings a lot of hope and rejoicing.

We’ve been going through the gospel of Luke in one of the small groups I help to facilitate. It’s been a long year, but a good slow look at Luke and digging into a gospel has been challenging to my norms. Jesus makes some bold claims in Luke and it’s hard to face them, if I’m being completely honest. Jesus strips me (us) of every pretense, everything I think I know about how the kingdom of God works, and even my part to play in the whole thing. And we’re getting to the Passion Week in the book just as Easter season is upon us. If anything should shake up our preconceived ideas about what God can, or will do, it’s Easter Sunday.

In a week or two we’ll study Jesus’ resurrection. As someone who has grown up in the church, went to every youth event and group that was offered, and then went to Bible school and to Seminary, and who now works at a church, talking about the resurrection barely phases me. But then I try to explain my faith to another and all of a sudden everything seems as new as the day I first heard it.

Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus rose from the dead! JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD!?! How does this get old? The more I say it the more I’m faced with the audacity of the claim. Easter is a chance to remember what we believe and learn how to share it.

Let’s be honest: let’s say you’re sharing your faith and you get to the resurrection. It’s the only thing that makes our faith viable (1 Cor 15) and it’s showing how God is in the business of restoring everything broken. It’s beautiful and it true – but it doesn’t make it easy to share. Every Easter the worldwide Church declares with one voice, we believe this. Sharing faith is something that allows us to remember this is no ordinary tale. This isn’t a superhero come to save the day story. This isn’t do-good-ism. This isn’t normal. People don’t just rise from the dead. It’s crazy. It’s like it changes e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. And it did, and it does, and it will continue to. He got out of the grave so we could too. I’m going to let the white and gold colors around the church on Easter next Sunday shock me.


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Mandy- 7 years; I have a Babadook in My Basement.

Every year since my friend Mandy was killed while biking home from work, I’ve written a short reflection about her and her life on April 30. This helps me not only remember her but tend to the grief that I experience over her loss. Two weeks ago, Mary Alice, a dear friend, passed away from brain cancer. As I’ve reflected the last 14 days on Mary Alice and also on Mandy, the memories of Mary Alice that came, showed me just how much Mary Alice helped me process Mandy’s death. Grief is a hard thing to process publicly, but I feel like it honors their lives and allows me to share a part of who I am with you who remain. Perhaps we can all tend to our own griefs a little better through hearing each other’s stories.

On this day I remember Mandy, her life, her wonderful spirit, her stubbornness, her insatiable hunger for living life to the full, her strength, her femininity, her joy, her constant hair cuts. I must tend to her and her memory not only today but whenever she comes to mind.

When I learned that Mandy was killed April 30th, seven years ago, I felt like the air had been knocked right out of me. With every loss I’ve had I feel like the timeline of my life splits in two. There was life with mom and life after mom. LIfe with Grandma and life after grandma. Life with Mandy and life after Mandy. This pattern repeats with every person I’ve known and lost. I’m not sure how much more splitting in two I can handle.

Two weeks ago another dear friend passed away, Mary Alice. She never met Mandy, but she knew all about her. Seven years ago I was supposed to head out for a work trip the day of Mandy’s memorial but my work was kind enough to pay all the fees to change my flight so I could fly out the next day. They also paid for a rental car for me since all of my co-workers would be taking the car we reserved.

When I arrived, the day after the memorial, I sat in the room around one of the many decorated tables listening, albeit not well, to the main speaker. I was still in shock and also processing a memorial service for a 24 year old. Everything seemed blurry and moved slowly as if I was underwater. I remember how itchy the table cloths were as they were lightly resting on my ankles. When you are grieving some things seem so muddled and other things you would never normally noticed, like the way a table cloth feels, are pronounced and annoying.

Mary Alice noticed my underwater-like disposition and mouthed to me across the table, “Check your cell phone” and then she got up and walked out of the room. I looked at my phone discretely after I fumbled through my purse to find it and her text read, “Meet me outside in five minutes.”

Upon coming outside I saw Mary Alice standing there holding the keys to the rental car saying, “let’s go for a drive.” Mary Alice and I went on a scenic drive around Oregon where I felt like I was being helped out of the water. As she asked me about Mandy she was giving me a towel. The first hour of the drive I got to talk about Mandy and about the service for her. The second hour she shared about some hard things in her life. Mary Alice gave me permission to grieve in the middle of a work conference and then she tended to my wounds. After that I was able to talk about Mandy in a healthy way. I even gave myself permission to get up to leave meetings or parties when I needed to tend to my grief. When I returned to Chicago you could find me in Mary Alice’s office every day recounting little bits of Mandy’s life to her. Soon we were sharing poems, songs, and life.

If you know me you know I do not like horror movies. I saw The Ring in the theater and nearly dug a hole with my nails in the arms of the man next to me. I saw Candy Man in 6th grade at a sleep over and didn’t get to sleep until 9th grade. So when a couple people in my book club recommended the Babadook to our group I was hesitant to trust that they were recommending a movie to me that I could handle.

Before I knew it I was promised an hour of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (a funny new comedy on Netflix right now) after the movie as well as being nestled together all tight and close on the couch with blankets and having everyone agree to tuck me in that night. No tucking in necessary; this movie turned out to be a gift of grace to me. While it’s scary, it had purpose and put many hard things into words for me.

*** I am about to spoil the plot of the horror movie here, so please see it if you can before you read on***

The story begins with a woman, Amelia, and her son, Oskar, in their drab house in Australia. There is no color in the house, and not much light either. It’s depressing from the opening scenes. We come to find out that the Amelia’s husband died while driving them to the hospital to deliver their son, Oskar.

Oskar knows his mother resents him for being the reason his father was killed. Soon Oskar has major behavior problems and has to be taken out of school. He has a huge imagination and tells his mother that he will protect her from the Babadook, a monster that Amelia believes he made up.

During bed time reading Oskar pulls a book out called The Babadook. Amelia has no idea where this came from. After Oskar falls asleep that night Amelia takes the book to read in the kitchen. It is filled with scary images. The odd thing is, there are many empty pages at the end of the book, as if it wasn’t finished being written. She rips up the book and throws it away. When Oskar brings up The Babadook again, Amelia tells him to let it go, the Babadook doesn’t exist.

It wouldn’t be a horror movie unless the book showed back up all taped together – so that is exactly what happens. Amelia, terrified, opens it up to see that it is all there and more of it has been written. The line in the new portion reads, “The more you deny, the stronger I get.” Mortified, this time she burns the book in her back yard.

Oskar continues to bring up the Babadook and Amelia continues to deny it exists. After a few close calls with the Babadook, Amelia finally sees it and she swallows the creature-  a scene that only makes sense if you see it. At various points this creature takes her over and causes her to do things that she would never do. Oskar knows what is happening and reassures his mother that he will protect her. Amelia doesn’t know, but Oskar has rigged the basement and will try to help his mother come to terms with the Babadook. In a fit of anger Amelia runs to the basement to harm Oskar as she is momentarily controlled by the Babadook. He binds his mother with rope and caresses her face, reminding her that he loves her. The creature is eventually vomited out.

The movie ends with Amelia going into the basement to feed the Babadook and Oskar asking if he can ever go in the basement. Amelia lovingly strokes his hair and says, “not today but someday.”

For me, this movie personified grief so well. The more I try to deny that something hard, or even horrible, has happened, the more my grief owns me. The hard work is looking our babadook in the face, and saying the horrible exists and it has changed us. – the hard work is letting the secret out. It’s been seven years since Mandy died and I get a lot of comments like, “Well that was a long time ago.” Inferring I should be over it by now. While the same sting isn’t there, if I don’t go tend to the Babadook in my basement, my babadook can take over.

The reality is, as the movie pointed out so well, the Babadook never goes away. It’s always there in my basement. The Babadook no longer owns me, I own it. If I feed and tend to it well I have the freedom to go to and from my basement when I need to.

I miss Mandy oh so much and Mary Alice’s death is a new wound. Both were strong women who have changed my life.

Today, in a way, I am inviting you into my grief, to come on this journey with me. It’s mildly embarrassing and partially horrible. I want you to meet my babadook.

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Winter’s Woo

You hate me already. You read the title and you thought of all the reasons why you hate winter and you’re waiting to see what sort of malarkey I come with to defend the season that most people have a hard time embracing. Winter. Well, I wish you could meet Bekah, because she just might help you the way she helped me.

Bekah and I met during the Gulf War. No, we were not in hand-to-hand combat, but the year was 1990 and it was a hot July evening in Itasca, Illinois. This was the same way I began my maid of honor speech at Bekah’s wedding almost two years ago. Needless to say I know this woman the same way I know the curves in my own thumb.

In Junior High we played the 90s hit bored game, Girl Talk, on summer afternoons. Nathan, Bekah’s little brother, always tried to join us. We gave him a red zit sticker and sent him on his way so that we could finish dishing on the guys we were interested in. In High School Bekah got a trampoline. Most people loved jumping on it. I was more excited for spending warm August evenings in high school looking at the stars while reclining on the trampoline. Some good thinking can be had in back yards on elastic nylon material. It was on that trampoline that many dreams were shared as shooting stars rocketed across the night sky.

Bekah and I also spent countless hours (and miles!) over the years on our bikes traversing the vacant hills of rural Wisconsin. Save the lunch stop with the large group, it was just us out there to figure out the world’s problems, or at least each other’s, donning a helmet, of course.

Bekah was there the day my mother died and the day each grandparent died. She was there when my wedding was called off and there when Mandy was killed. She was there when I got into grad school and there when I got into the punk and ska music scene (although I’m not sure she ever went with me to a concert, but she did let me crash on her dorm floor when my favorite band played in her school’s gym). And she’s still there, and that is what really matters.

In college there were a few conversations that help ease small talk and help you fit in. One was complaining about food in the dining hall. The other was complaining about the weather. I never did think the food was all that bad at Moody, except maybe the “squirty chicken” (Chicken cordon bleu- ours squirted butter when you put the fork in to cut it, so it got dubbed squirty chicken for generations to come). But I did begin to loathe winter.

One year a storm nearly stopped me from getting to Washington for vacation. I remember packing up for Christmas break Sophomore year of college and the snow started to settle on the ground in Chicago. The plows couldn’t keep up with the storm, but I was set on getting home that evening. I took my extra large suitcase packed full of most of my earthly belongings and wheeled it in the slushy streets because the side walks were slabs of untouched snow, already more than ankle deep. After waiting on the platform for the L to come for more than 30 minutes because of delays, I was frustrated to see every car filled to the brim with people. Like Mary and Joseph knocking on doors in Bethlehem, there was no room for me and my suitcase in the car. People saw my pathetic face and my elephant-sized bag and made no effort. My disdain for winter- and for snow- grew deeper than the puddles forming at my feet. The second train came and when the doors opened you could hear an audible sigh as people could finally take a breath with the extra inch of space from the door being ajar. I was Mary and Joseph’d again.

I decided to walk rather than ride the L to the Metra train station. At the Metra a suburban train would take me to my dad’s house where I would spend the night before being driven to the airport the next day to fly to Washington. I lugged my elephant back down the stairs and put it back in the sludgy streets. The snow came down sideways, now with traces of ice shards. I felt like I was inside a Slurpee machine.

The news reports showed the storm was still going strong and many flights were canceled. Mine was thankfully still scheduled, albeit delayed a few hours. After more hours of waiting in the airport and missing a connecting flight then nearly missing another one, I wanted to break up with winter forever.

The following year I had a car and winter gave me more reasons to hate it: scraping windshields, slippery roads, slow drive times, having to pump gas in the freezing cold and the closure of things I needed. I was grumpy for four months of the year. I decided that I was one of those people who didn’t like winter.

Next year Bekah and I were out shopping and the first snow of the season began as we walked about from store to store; drove from white parking lot to whiter parking lot. My mood became sour and Bekah’s became sweet. I started to notice that her feelings for this season and my feelings for this season were vastly different. Misery loves company so her child-like wonder and giddiness were really starting to rain on my already wet parade. In all my gloominess I wanted to feel the same way about winter that Bekah did, and was a tad jealous that she could enjoy it. So I did something crazy. I tried to like winter.

The next winter came around and the first time it snowed I stood in the window and instead of frowning and worrying, I decided to smile. I tried to remember every good memory from childhood that happened in the snow. I even made a playlist with wintery songs – from deep, smoky sounding singers to warm but poppy songs- the emotional manipulation was ready to go. Some friends were going tray sledding (in college when you grab a dining hall tray and use it as a sled) at the only hill in Chicago and invited me to join them. Instead of turning them down, I decided to bundle up and grab a tray. I was starting to enjoy winter already.

I think the best way for me to describe my ability to re-love winter was the ability to see it through a friend’s eyes. There are a few lines from Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz that help me express this,

I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.

After that I liked jazz music.

Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.

Bekah showed me the way. Bekah is married and has a daughter of her own now. If little Zoe is lucky enough to catch her mom’s child-like wonder at something so normal in the Midwest, she’ll grow up to be a lucky woman who appreciates the little things.

You might laugh because I’m writing this on the cusp of spring, and a Saturday that promises to be in the seventies in two days. But winter will come again and I hope to find it even more wondrous than the last time it visited.

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Aslan is on the Move

Aslan is on the move. As I was reading Joshua this morning, these words from CS Lewis were awoken from the recesses of my memory and refreshed my heart.

Joshua begins, “After the death of Moses…” Their leader was dead, but God was not. He was working now in Joshua, being faithful to his covenant promises to his people. Aslan is on the move. I went back to where Mr. Beaver said these words in The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe and I think what follows is worth repeating:

And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning—either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in his inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.

Lewis has a way with words and a way with finding his way into each reader’s purview. When each child heard, “Aslan is on the move,” each had a different response. Edmund felt mysterious horror. Peter felt brave and adventurous. Susan’s artistic capacities were given weight. Lucy felt excitement for what is to come and for that feeling of newness.

So often I feel like I try to fit inside a one-size-fits-all Christianity and end up with an unsightly muffin top of personality spilling out. It’s refreshing to see that different people have different responses to Aslan. Sometimes even I have different responses to Aslan in the span of a few hours. Was the way that Lucy felt and experienced Aslan better than how Susan felt? That’s not the point; it’s the wrong question. Aslan will deal with each child, each heart, knowing the exact way that he’s wired and created each one. There is so much dignity with Aslan, so much freedom, so much so much. It’s hard to accept this dignity, this freedom, this much-ness. It’s so much easier to get a cookie cutter explanation of who we’re to be and how we’re to respond. But freedom, freedom is for people who trust the good God who knows them and wants them whole-self. Hiding ourselves gets us nowhere. That’s something Job’s friends never got and something I’ll be learning in every corner of life.

God is not stingy. God is not a killjoy. God is full of grace. Aslan in on the move.

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Longing for Sunday on Saturday

I recently moved and I can tell you that I drew little “plans” for my new apartment. I lived in my last place for four years- four very full years.  That apartment held Christmas parties, dozens, (maybe hundreds?) of dinners with friends, lots of late night chats, and some studying for my masters – but that mainly was done in coffee shops.

As I planned out my new place I searched long and hard for the rug for my living room. I wanted something a little updated and more fitting with my color scheme – I had…a …. color…scheme!

The rug works perfectly and I couldn’t believe that it matched a new love seat I got on the dime just before. Last week I hung the art around my place and am now looking for creative ways to store my bike and hide the Christmas tree. This new place has everything I could want in an apartment except closet space. No matter, if I’m clean and put things away, this place glistens. I feel like the Lord saved it just for me, for just this point in my life. I love each room.

If you have been watching the news the last couple weeks, you’ll know that rugs and color schemes just don’t matter.  When I finally settled and read what is happening to the Christians in Iraq, my heart melted into my toes. During church the word Iraq was said and I couldn’t concentrate.  I started to cry. I starred at the golden cross in the front of the room and said to God, “if you got through that, surely you can do something about this.”

This morning as I was reading in Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, a beautiful prayer book by Walter Brueggemann, I prayed this prayer that he gave me:

Against your Absence
All power, honor, glory be to you!
You… sometimes hidden, silent, absent, unresponsive.
We are so privileged that we seldom sense you
                        Hidden, silent, absent, unresponsive.
But we know people who do,
            We think of places where you do not appear.
We imagine you defeated
                             held captive.
And we wait a day,
                        two days,
                        until the third day.
And then, most often then,
                        quite reliably then,
                        you appear then in your full glory.
This day we pray against your absence, silence and hiddenness
Come with full power into deathly places,
And we will praise you deep and full. Amen.

David prayed similar prayers in the Psalms, asking God to awake from his slumber. These are dangerous prayers, but prayers that must be prayed. How often does our worship lack honesty? Part of praying these prayers helps us to voice our questions, laments and petitions to God. These kinds of prayers help us wrestle with things that we see as inconsistent with the character of God and the fallenness of the world. We may know hope, joy, and bliss are on the other side of the millennial rainbow, but that doesn’t make today’s pain any less hard.

Caedmon’s call has a song called Valleys Fill First where the last lines begin,
“And it’s like that long Saturday between your death and the rising day, when no one wrote a word, wondered is this the end”

These August 2014 days are like that Saturday the disciples sat after Jesus was crucified. Waiting is hard. Pain is harder. Silence is harder still. They sat, wondering, “He was going to redeem us. Now he is dead. Was any of it true?”

The shootings in Ferguson, racial and socio-economic injustice:
it is that long Saturday between his death and his rising day.
The horrible treatment of Christians in Iraq- being forced to flee or face death:
it is that long Saturday between his death and his rising day

The events in Gaza:
it is that long Saturday between his death and his rising day
To the women forced into genital mutilation:
it is that long Saturday between his death and his rising day

A suicide of beloved comedian and how it shows that people silently suffer horror:
it is that long Saturday between his death and his rising day
The kids who go to school every day wondering if they will make it home alive:
it is that long Saturday between his death and his rising day
The cousin that had an infant diagnosed with cancer:
it is that long Saturday between his death and his rising day

And where am I? I’m sitting comfortably on my couch writing all this down as my new rug is soft under my toes. All of that stuff “out there” seems so far away.  Ferguson, Missouri may only be 15-20 minutes from my apartment in St. Louis, but it could be Albania for all the effort I make to visit.

And where is God in all this? Sometimes it still feels like he is tied to the cross, helpless, needing water and unable to do a blessed thing. Other times, it seems like he is out for a smoke break, or a donut break, if that’s more your thing. I don’t mean to sound cynical or callous, just honest. This is the way it feels. And if it ever felt like that Saturday, it’s today.

So where do I go when it feels like this? Right back to the God who tells me that he is more active than I could ever dare to dream. That he has more compassion for his creatures in his fingernail than I could ever have in my whole body. Then I remind myself, it may look and feel like that Saturday, but we must move forward reminding ourselves that SUNDAY HAPPENED. He rose from the dead victorious.  But in our prayers and questions we can use the language of Saturday to a God who lived to tell about Sunday.

These kinds of things can come off so polished, so “And then, just in the nick of time, Jesus saves the day!” This all sounds so incredibly hopeful. Sitting here remembering Michael Brown, I don’t feel hopeful. Sitting here thinking of the Christians, my fellow brothers and sisters in Iraq, I don’t feel like I know a God who got out of the grave on Sunday. But in our prayers and questions we can use the language of Saturday to a God who lived to tell about Sunday. It’s honest. It’s real. It’s part of worship.

To be honest, I have sat for over a week on the conclusion for my thoughts here. I guess that is fitting. There is no bow to put on tragedy. And even when God promises in Revelation that he will make all things right, I have to admit, I have a very hard time believing it. I think what I am trying to say and trying to invite us to do and remind myself of, is that we can trust the God of Sunday on Saturdays like today and we can be honest when we beg for him to bring the everlasting Sunday. Maranatha.

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Forgive us Our Debts as We Forgive Our Debtors

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors- Day of Prayer reflection for chapel

I woke up 15 minutes late already and was out too late last night writing a paper. I stumble half blind into my kitchen, the blurry can of Lavazza coffee feels familiar to me and I grab the scoop and throw out the old filter, full of yesterday’s rejuvenation grounds.

I hit the brew button, not because I can see it, but because this is my tradition.
I trip over the cat and stumble into the bathroom. I turn the hot knob up on the shower and while waiting for it to warm up I rehearse all the things I have to do today. Stop at the store before class- first Sam’s for the event at work that I need to buy coffee and creamer for then to Trader Joe’s to get lunch for my day and a few things for a party at my house in a few days. Then I have to drive to campus- have two classes today. The first class I’m trying to keep up with the other class I’m already a book behind. Maybe I can read a bit in between classes. Maybe I need a nap already.

I take my shower, purifying myself. I ritually put in my contacts- finally I can really see. Brush my hair, blow-dry, brush my teeth and make my face look as much like the one on the front of the magazine staring at me.

I pick my clothes and put extra pair of tights on – it’s been so cold. Extra pair of socks for good measure. Zip up the boots. Zip the coat. And I’m off to the races.

I do it all without acknowledging you. Grab my keys and I’m out the door

I leave with my hands in my pockets because who knows where my gloves are.
St Benedict said I should say, “our hands in our pockets” – Everything comes from you O Lord – I forget.

I make it to the Sam’s parking lot. Why does that person drive like that. BEEP. I think of a few choice words for the driver as he’s about to back into me. Why did that lady cut me off on my way inside the store and then slow down in front of me. Ugh. Doesn’t she know there is a world out there going on. My dead turtle moves faster than her.

Bright florescent lights hit my eyes as I flash the greeter at Sam’s my membership card. She’s not even paying attention. Why do they pay people to do jobs that they don’t even do. I make my shoes make noise so the slow walker in front of me that’s blocking the whole entrance hears me and moves out of my way.

Slow down Jamie, not everyone walks as fast as you.

I have sinned a hundred times already today and I haven’t even opened my mouth yet.

I make my way past the obstacle course of parked oversized-carts and get the coffee. I make my way to the dairy section and choose from the plethora of creamers. Land O’ Lakes. That sounds like a nice place.

And it’s sprint to the cash registers while I balance the coffee like a new born baby against my chest and hold the creamer in my hands.

I pay and make my way to the coffee grinder. But first I must move 5 mattresses that are on load carts in order to get to the grinder. I walk to the service desk to get a person’s attention to help.

“Excuse me?” She heard me but continues talking to her friends. Excuse me ma’am? She turns around holds her index finger up letting me know she’d help me when it’s convenient.

I wait… I move the heavy mattresses by myself while other employees watch. I have horrible ideas in my heart. I have mattress-moving-self-righteousness flying out from every inch of my being.

I walk over to the service desk to get tape because the bag never reseals the right way. The service desk has a line a mile long and all the workers are just talking each other still. No one is being serviced. I see the tape there on the desk- I grab it and walk the 15 feet to the grinder.  I grind my coffee and wait for the grounds to pour into the bag . I finish three of the bags and tape it up… I’m waiting for my 4th and 5th bag to finish.

One of the service desk workers finally is aware of my existence, now that I’ve taken the scotch tape. She walks over, looks at me and says, “You can walk back and forth from the grinder to the desk to get your tape. We need this to stay put.” I think of words for her. I look at her, my eyes gazing into hers tearing her down while I purse my lips and contort my face to let her know I think I’m better than her.

I eventually make it to the trader Joe’s parking lot in Brentwood and a whole host of new unspeakable words come mind. Am I the only wise driver put on this earth? Will anyone be considerate?

In my hurry I forget I am constantly bumping into your image. As I drive, every car around me is being driven by an image bearer. When I’m in line, I am surrounded by image bearers all waiting to buy their toilet paper and hot dogs. How can I be inconvenienced by this — by THEM? I am one of them.

I am one coffee buying, line standing, old car driving, busy and tired image of God that has been forgiven of SO much. I have presumed upon your grace and walk about as if the LORD of Lords owes ME something.

From the evil thoughts that entered my head that were entertained this morning to the way I interacted with others-

Will you help me enter wholly into your forgiveness so that I may forgive as freely, as astonishing as you have forgiven me? Help me never to see your image as an inconvenience and help me, even when truly wronged to forgive as you have forgive me.

Let’s spend some time in prayer, silently, asking the Lord to help us forgive others as freely, as fully, as finally as he has forgiven us.

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It’s Advent season. For those unfamiliar with that word or the weight of it, advent means arrival, emergence. This time of year Christians like to remember that Jesus, the God-man, stooped low and came onto the scene – to this “great terrestrial ball.” In crass terms, he entered our mess. Having created it many, many, many years ago, he was quite familiar with it. But this time he put skin on and came to visit it like one of us. This Advent season brings many emotions to the surface for me: regret, curiosity, thoughtfulness, thankfulness and wonder. However, if there is one word that comes to my mind more than others over Advent, it is the word HOPE.

This visitation is the cause for Christian hope. We can have hope because he is faithful. He came the first time, just as promised, so we can have hope that he will be coming again. We have hope that he will right all wrongs, that he will fix all the injustices and that he will, as the children’s Bible says, “make all sad things untrue.”

In the greek, the word for hope is transliterated “elpis.” It carries with it the idea of expectation. Hope, of the biblical variety, is not synonymous with wanting e.g., “I hope I get to see you soon.” knowing full well the person lives thousands of miles away and you know that you have no real plans to see the person, you just long to. Biblical hope is different. This hope is grounded in confidence that something will take place. The Christian can truly say, “I hope for Christ’s return” because her hope is grounded in a promise, not a whim. Hope is powerful and beautiful.

And terrifying.

Hope is double-edged sword. When you hope for something, it means you, well, have to hope for something. Sometimes hope feels like freedom, but other times hope feels like a prison cell. I have been praying for someone every day for 13 years. My prayers have been full of hope.  My hope is grounded in the faithful God who committed to listen to every prayer, who promised to tuck away every tear for safe keeping, and who vowed to love me. This is powerful and beautiful.

And terrifying.

This is terrifying because hope calls me to continue this prayer. This hope calls me to live in the reality that it has not happened yet and yet to trust the Lord with it. My cold little fingers have been holding this hope tight like a guy on death row clinging to the rosary in his pocket. It scares me – this hope – because it doesn’t promise me what I want.

So this Advent, when people talk about hope, I whole-heartedly agree. I’m sure Jesus thought the Advent was powerful and beautiful.

And terrifying.

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Farewell Futon

All good things must come to an end, every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end, time to face the music, and other cliches dealing with endings…

I feel ridiculous for even writing this down. It seems so silly to write about saying goodbye to a thing, but let me explain.

It was Christmas 1998. It was the first Christmas without my mom and I had asked my dad for a futon bed because it was the winter before I would leave for college and I wanted to have an adult bed that was bigger than my four post twin bed. I hinted at it, I outright said that I had wanted one and I showed my dad pictures of the ones I liked. To my surprise, all my hinting had helped. Even though my mom wasn’t alive to help my dad pick it out, he did a pretty good job. I had to assemble the whole thing, but it was all mine. I was 17 and had a bed that suited my age. I got to enjoy it until the following August when I moved to Spokane WA for college. My dad got remarried and the bed went in the garage of his new house. When I came home for Christmas, there was a guest bedroom I would stay in, complete with lamps, end tables and two queen beds I could choose from. I just wanted my futon. I wanted the familiar. I wanted what was mine. It was bad enough that the house I had grown up in, where I had spent 18 years with my mom was being sold so they could make a new life together, but to not even be allowed to have my own bed in the name of “having matching furniture” was enough to make me want to go back to Spokane early.

Christmas break came and went and so did their marriage. The next Christmas was proof that my dad would be getting his own place within a few months. I felt badly for my dad, but I was glad to have my futon back.

The next year I was in Chicago to finish up undergrad so I came home about one weekend per month and got to sleep in my bed. When I graduated I got a studio apartment which suited my futon well. I kept that futon when I moved into a two bedroom apartment with four! other girls. Then I moved to Hyde Park with one other friend, and in my bedroom I had my futon.

After that it went to a short term lease place I got with another gal as I waited to raise support to go to Australia. Seven months later I was on my way overseas and my futon went into storage at my dad’s house when I moved. The support didn’t come in, so I came home early and felt at home once I got my futon moved into my new apartment. Two years later I found myself taking apart the frame to move it once again to Saint Louis to begin an adventure to seminary.

I used that futon for the first 6 or 7 months living here until I found an almost new queen mattress set that I couldn’t turn down. I have a sun room off of my room that the futon fits perfectly in. Unfortunately I have been away for weeks at a time and when I couldn’t clean the litter box, my pet found the futon a great second option.  This has happened a few times now and the futon just won’t get clean. It’s time to let go. It’s a mattress that is nearly 15 years old.

The reason why this is such a hard thing for me is because that futon has seen me into my adult years. It’s seen me through four break ups. It’s seen the tears and prayers of a girl trying to turn into a woman without a mom. It’s seen my wrestling with God over my support not coming in before I left for Australia. It’s seen my pounding fists when hard times have knocked at my door. It’s seen the sleepless nights after Mandy died.

That futon has been the comfort at the end of hard days and I think that’s why it is so hard to say goodbye to it. It was also a gift from my dad, the first one, that he gave to me by himself.

When I say goodbye to it, it feels like a little part of my growing up is also being given up. It might be silly, but it’s how I feel.

Farewell my futon. You did your duty valiantly.

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And God saw that it was very good

It’s funny how working on a paper will cause me to think of something else while I’m writing. The other day I had to stop in the middle of a thought for a paper to jot down some poetry that might turn into a hymn in a few weeks – stay tuned for that! Today, this very minute, I had to stop while reading a familiar passage to me and to anyone who has ever picked up  a Bible before. Page 1. I’m reading about creation and I’m writing about, ironically, writing. Something leapt off the page for me that didn’t before.

I had to pick a vocation and talk about how it has dignity by rooting it in the biblical story, starting at creation. We have a tendency in our evangelical circles to bypass the first two chapters of Genesis. Maybe it’s because we are so familiar with them; “oh yeah, creation, that happened, but then they rebelled!” We skip right over it. A lot of my classes at Covenant have helped me to slow down when I open my Bible and remember it all started out good, OH SO GOOD. I need to sit in the fact that God made people good. He made creation good. He made this world good and a very fit dwelling for us. In the words of one of my professors, “He intended us to live here. He didn’t drop us off at the wrong address. He doesn’t make junk and and he doesn’t junk what he’s made.”

In my slowing down to read this familiar story I find myself curious that after each thing that God did, he saw that it was good. And you know the rest of the story. God creates man and he “saw that it was very good.”

In each instance of God creating, he saw that it was good almost immediately after he made and named what he had done. But before this proclamation of creation with the inclusion of humanity as very good, he gave them an invitation (Be fruitful and multiply, subdue the earth, have dominion) and a blessing  (he gave them the earth with all the plants, animals and the dirt). Not until after the invitation and blessing – giving man and woman a purpose and the ability to mirror God’s own good acts, was creation “very good.” God’s creation was very good when he gave creation to man to steward.

It’s not often something likes this pops at me while reading a familiar story. I think this gives me pause because as an image bearer of God and created with great care, I’m able to see how good, how very good it is to be human. God didn’t call creation very good until the blessing and invitation were in place. I’ve never noticed that.

In my subduing and caring for the earth (which I confess I do not do often enough), I am acting in line with the way God intended at creation. In a way, humans are not reflecting the very good-ness of creation until they join God’s blessing and invitation. It is a very good thing to bless the earth.

These thoughts are all very much in process, but I had to put pen to page to get them started. I hope you will enjoy the journey of discovery with me.

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