Sunday, December 22, 2013

Wisdom from Elders...Vincent Harding and Phyllis Tickle

I listen to a lot of podcasts and interviews on line, and one of my favorites is On Being with Krista Tippet.  Krista  interviews a wide variety of people about their beliefs and spirituality, as well as how they live their lives and find meaning.

Recently Krista did an interview with Phyllis Tickle and Vincent Harding about race and emerging church. Both of these persons are over eighty years of life with deep insight into how God moves throughout history, both in the world and in individuals.

Vincent was a contemporary and friend of Martin Luther King, Jr. He was active in the civil rights movement and active in the Mennonite Church, and continues to speak to the issues of race equality in our country as well as within the church.

Phyllis is an academic who studies the history of religious movements. She is incredibly knowledgeable about the many many forms of church and each version's strengths and weaknesses. She also immerses herself in prayer and has compiled my favorite trio of prayer books, The Divine Hours.

Part of the fun of this interview is the great depth that each person gave to the discussion. There was still the idealism that must have been present in their youth tempered with the realism and disappointment that comes with age and seasoned with hope that flows from deep faith. 

The entire interview sparkled with insight and wisdom but two nuggets especially caught my attention, and continue to inform my thoughts throughout my days.

The first was brief and was a part of the conversation where Phyllis and Krista were talking about how the younger generation is demanding a fuller and more life encompassing version of faith. They want a faith that is bigger than thought or belief, but also faith that they feel with their bodies and act out with their lives.
Phyllis was talking about what she had been hearing from young adults as they work toward authentic lives. She said,
"We are one thing. We are not body here, and spirit here, and mind there. We are one thing. This is us, the whole thing. And therefore my body has to believe to believe in Jesus Christ. It's not enough that my mind does."

and here is the response from Krista Tippet:

"We've narrowed, when we talk about Christianity in American culture, to what you believe. But it's not what you believe. It's who you are. And that includes how you move through the world."
and Phyllis Tickle again
"It's what you eat and how you breathe. It's one thing."
This is such powerful truth, and it is what every generation of young people desire as they begin to work out their own faith. I went through that longing too, the desire that the church be real and involved in every aspect of life, and not just a set of beliefs we feel great about but don't live out. As long as the church exists it will have hypocrisy, and it will have prophetic voices that call us away from that hypocrisy.

Which brings me to Vincent Harding. I was so moved by the faithfulness and mercy and grace of Vincent Harding. Being over 80, he has lived his entire life immersed in the struggle for equality. Being an African American, there was no stepping away from the struggle for a minute or a month. His life has been shadowed by inequality every minute of every day.

This reality is what makes his words so very powerful. It is what makes them important enough to sit at the computer and transcribe them, a few words at a time, listening again and again to get it right. It is what makes those words echo throughout my daily activities.  Here is what he had to say:

"We have been involved in this country now for almost 300 years of our history, a history of 300 years in which white domination, and the dispossession of the natives of the land, and the enslavement of the African peoples of the land, have been built into our life. And it is so important for us to recognize that it's  only been about 50 years that we have even begun to say in the church, outside of the church, anyplace, that we want something different, that we want a new society, a society that is built on really loving concern for each other, a multi-racial society, a compassionate, peaceloving, and peacemaking society. We've only said that to each other in a large way for about 50 years. So we've got 50 going up against 300. And I think it is terribly important to keep saying to ourselves, We have work to do. We have work that is not impossible, but only possible when people recognize the work and recognize the time span in which we are living, and recognize that we are basically still learning. We are, where multiracial democracy is concerned, we are a developing nation. We are not experts. We do not know what multiracial democracy really means, as we can see just by looking around us. Therefore we come together in a different kind of spirit---the spirit of seekers, the spirit of learners, the spirit of supporting each other, and I think that a church that emerges in that kind of spirit, with that kind of consciousness, with that kind of agenda will have different future than a church which does not."

Nothing I can add to that.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It seems to be over for this round.

Last May I wrote this post about my depression. Those of you who commented were kind and supportive. So many others whom I meet regularly were helpful, understanding, sharing of their own stories and respectful of the ways our stories were the same and different.

And now it's over. I feel happy. I have energy. I have too many things I'd love to do instead of no motivation. I'm off the meds and finished for now with therapy.

I want to thank those of you who know me for your kindnesses. I've been humbled by all the grace I was offered when I was doing less than my share and letting go of things I usually take care of. I don't know why this depression has ended so quickly. I did some of the things I knew I could do to help, like asking for help, getting therapy, taking meds... I tried to learn to set boundaries to protect my emotional health. I worked at loving myself more and blaming myself less, and at trying to see how deeply God loves me, with my strengths as well as my failures.

But I didn't do other things that are usually important...exercise, meditation, writing in my journal...well, I wrote a little, but not much.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I'm glad it's over, and I love feeling happy and motivated again, but I don't want to imply that there are simple tricks that everyone can do to end their depression. Depression is more complicated than that. People are more complicated than that.

And now that I'm not depressed I'm enjoying more exercise and I'm taking on new challenges, a little at a time. But I'll write more about some of that in another post.

Laughing with Aaron



Sunday, November 03, 2013

From Everlasting to Everlasting

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from my friend, Linda, about a gathering she attended at the care home where her aging mother lives. Linda's mother, Viola, was the lead teacher of the Beginner's class for years and years. She was one of those teachers who rarely took Sundays off, so the children had a familiar face present every Sunday. She was gentle and kind. So many children learned to love Sunday School while they were in her class. They began to glimpse the love God has for them by seeing it in her eyes.

Viola also directed Summer Vacation Bible School for many years. She did this back when our Bible School was two weeks long. I remember being dismayed when she retired from that responsibility, thinking that no one else would know how to do Bible School. She was the organizer, but she was also the kind face and loving attention giver to those children who found themselves too restless to be able to manage a whole morning in Bible School. They would accompany her in her tasks and still be learning, albeit a different, and maybe more important lesson. No matter how they behaved, they were loved and respected and valued.

Viola is now 96 years old. She has become forgetful, and communication is difficult for her. It has been quite a while since she has attended church. Her children visit her often and bring along items to help her remember happy times. They bring her beloved cat. She shows her emotions, but coherent sentences are more and more difficult.

So it was a surprise to Linda as she sat with her mother together with others from our church and two of our pastors, to have her mother clear her throat and announce that she didn't know how long her voice would hold out, but that she wanted to talk.

Linda took this picture of her mother.
 This is what Linda wrote in her email:  

She talked about teaching children. It mostly made sense, though it was not entirely connected. She talked for several minutes. Everyone was quiet, and I think quite amazed. She started out saying that when teaching children you need to let them do things themselves. It might be easier to do things for them, but it’s important to let them do it themselves. Then she went on to say that children do listen to their teachers, and that it’s important to have different people teaching so that they hear from more than one person. Her speech was kind of slow, and I thought she would stop a couple of times and then she kept going. Afterwards various people asked her questions about how long she taught children at FMC, etc. She didn’t know the answers, so I helped with some estimating. 

I love this story. It has been so long since Viola taught that Beginner's class, and we who are older and have attended since we were children are the only ones who remember her contribution to our lives. Yet the things that have been important to her throughout her life came to her clearly. Such a holy moment.

I've been memorizing Psalm 103. Much of it is about the goodness of God, the forgiveness and mercy and compassion God offers us. There is also a part about people.

"As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him,
for he knows how we are formed;
he remembers that we are dust.
As for mortals, their days are like grass.
They flourish like a flower in the field.
The wind blows over it and it is gone
and it's place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear him,
His righteousness to their children's children..."

Attending the church I grew up in has offered me a unique perspective. I remember so many people who were vital and important to our church, 'flourishing like flowers in the field', making us beautiful and fruitful, offering their wisdom and direction, and sometimes also their faults and their dissensions. But now, the wind has blown over them and they are gone...so many are gone...and so few that are still here, where their place was, remember them.

That is as it should be, I know. If we spent all our time trying to keep memories alive of people we've lost, we would not do the important things that are there for us to do. But still---Viola's work has shaped me, and I am shaping others because of her. Though many have forgotten her name, her wisdom and her faith and her heart live on in us. And because of what she said the other day, I'm reminded again of important things as I teach children.

Best of all, even if someday all of what she has done is forgotten, still
"from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear him."

Viola will never be forgotten because God's love will always accompany her.

And so with each of us. We all want to have contributed something lasting, that will go on when we cease to be. Some of us may make it into history books. Most of us won't. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with us. We are remembered, and not only remembered, but loved. It is good.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Musings about adoption

There is a difference between birth and adoption. 

A birth child comes into my life knowing my smell, my voice, my music, my daily rhythms.  A birth child comes into my life believing that she is one with me...recognizing no separation until about the age of nine months.  My body was in sync with my baby's body so that I woke seconds before she did, and she didn't need to cry to wake me up.  There was deep and ancient chemistry there.

An adopted child comes into my life grieving for that mother whose smell is familiar, whose voice is familiar, whose music is now missing, whose daily rhythms are a thing of the past.  I am not the mom he wants.  I am a stranger and he doesn't really know or understand why I'm caring for him instead of his mother.  He thinks it may be my fault he isn't with the mother he misses, the mother who is a part of him.  He wanted to be able to stay with the mom he had, just like all the kids he knows.

Our children came to us through foster care, so that is a different route than most adoptions.  It implies an assumption that the primary goal is to reunite children with parents.  So I wrote letters to my children's mothers until their parental rights were severed.  I wanted them to know the words their children had learned, the things they had done, what they struggled with, how they triumphed.  For the foster kids that returned home, that connection was crucial.  It may have helped in their mothers' sense of hope and resolve to have their children come back home.

I also fostered within myself an awareness that these were mothers who cared about their children, even if they were unable to provide a safe place for them to live.  People are never simply bad or good.  Parents who showed neglect may have been neglected themselves.  They still have a strong emotional connection with their children.  Parents who discipline in abusive ways may not have the supports they need.  And most abusive parents love their children, although it is perhaps a damaging kind of love.  And their children love them.

Maybe that underlying awareness made things harder for my adopted kids.  I definitely had a sense that I was raising someone else's children.  Sometimes that was a respectful awareness that I wanted to do as good a job as possible so that I could someday be proud to show that mom it was OK, their child had been OK.  Sometimes it was an angry awareness.  Sometimes I wanted to erase all the hurt and grief and loss in my child and just be able to be the mom, the only mom, because things weren't OK and I didn't know what to do about it.

And so we danced the adoption dance.  I was the substitute mother.  I was also the real mother but not the only real mother.  I was the mother who had the privilege of seeing the innocence on their sleeping faces.  I was the mother who cleaned and cooked and guided and wiped noses and bottoms and vomit.  I bought the Christmas presents and baked the birthday cakes and went to the parent teacher conferences.  I did the worrying and the therapy and read the parenting books, the many many parenting books.  I sat through the rages that were so much more intense because of that longing inside them to have their first home be the home where they were safe. 

I was not the mother who wondered every day whether their child was OK or happy or safe, or maybe even alive.  I was not the mother who grieved on birthdays and holidays.  I was not the mother who prayed to someday see my child again.

Our kids are all grown now, but my perspective is still only limited.  All of our kids have relationships with their birth mothers now, some better than others.

One question that came up repeatedly while they were growing up was whether I loved my adopted kids as much as my birth kids.  How do you measure love?  Is it by warm feelings?  Is love something you feel?  Is it something you do?  Can you put a quantity on love?

Sometimes when I am angry with my husband, he asks if I still love him.   YES!  YES!  I am here!  I am willing to go through anger and hurt and contrition and forgiveness.  Anger doesn't mean I'm out.  It may mean that I don't feel warm or affectionate, but I choose to love him.  I choose him.

Maybe love is greater when you know it is a choice as well as a feeling. I don't know.  I don't think you can measure love.

Honesty requires me to admit that feeling warmth and affection was harder when my children pushed me away...even though I knew that they did it because they had suffered so many losses.  I remember times when those losses would fade and we would have happy times and laughter, or tears and vulnerability between us...the warmth and affection that accompanied those times were instantaneous and overwhelmingly strong. In those times I knew that I loved them by choice and by emotion.  It was so easy to feel warm when the tension would ease a bit.

So what is adoption?  I don't know.  It is a complicated relationship, different for every child and every parent.  It is wonderful and terrible and scary and humbling and miraculous and full of failure and forgiveness and redemption, when we offer it humbly to God for healing.

The Bible says we are all adopted by God, and there are similarities to our experiences.  We are loved with an everlasting love, greater than the distance between heaven and earth, so great that God allowed his only begotten son to die for us.  That is a pretty big love.  Huge.

At the same time, do I think God feels the same way about me as about Jesus?  Does it matter?  If I am loved with an everlasting love greater than the distance between heaven and earth, is that not enough?

But...I don't have some other god who used to love me, whom I used to live with, and whom I miss.  That part is different than human adoption.  This God I love is the only God I've ever had.

Or is that true? Before we choose God, what are we choosing?  Is it something we miss or long for sometimes after choosing our adoption with God? Possibly. But those are thoughts for another post, I think.

At any rate, it seems important to speak the truth, because it is the truth that sets us free.  I am free to love my children better if I am truthful that they are my children and they are not my children.  I also need to be truthful about their choices as adults.  They do not owe me.  They are free to choose relationship with me or not.

That adulthood piece is a bit like driving blind for me right now.  I don't know how much to initiate contact and how much to allow space.  I do not want to compete with their loyalty to their first families in any way.  I don't want them to feel abandoned by me.  I wish for a healed relationship with them, and I wish for them to have healed relationships with their birth families. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Depression. There. I said it.

This post is not for pity.  It is partly because I need to write, in order to sort things out and it is partly to be open. Depression should be something people can talk about.  Things that are hidden get too much power, and this doesn't need power.  It's strong enough already.

What does depression look like for me?

This is not a crashing depression.  Technically it might be called moderate.  In exact terms, I measure in the moderate range on the Burns depression scale.

No matter what time I go to bed, I still ache to go back to sleep most of the morning.  After that I want to listen to podcasts or the radio, or check out email or facebook or the NPR website because all of those things drown out the thoughts that persist in my head.

These are the kind of thoughts that tell me that I really should be vacuuming instead of taking a walk, or washing dishes instead of vacuuming or cleaning the bathroom sink instead of washing dishes or I should be getting some exercise or having devotions or helping someone or practicing mindfulness or anything but what I am actually doing...until I want to not do anything at all because no matter what I do it won't be enough.  So maybe I should just sleep, but then I would be lazy. But who am I kidding?  Look at this place! It's obvious I am lazy so what difference does it make? And not only that, but I don't really do anything well.  I'm not a good mom or a good spouse or a good daughter or a good Christian or a good friend and there are all these lists of things I did wrong that back up those assessments.

When those kinds of thoughts are the thoughts I can't seem to silence, then tv and videos and podcasts and news changes the channel for a while and I can escape.

But escape isn't a helpful answer.

I'm taking some meds.  They are helping some.

I'm seeing an excellent counselor.  She is helping lots.

I married well.  On a bad day when I've given in to the 'sleep all morning' demon, Chuck comes in and gives me a hug and I feel loved instead of judged and I want to get up and  do something to be worthy of that love.  Except he will love me whether I'm worthy or not.  Which is such a gift.

I'm trying to practice some healthier ways of being.
  • Tell myself the truth as much as I can.  Every person, good or not, makes mistakes and the mistakes are not what defines them.  I am a flawed person, as is every other person.  That doesn't excuse the flaws, or allow me to cling to them.  It does allow me to quit kicking myself about them so hard.
  • During the day, I have to practice noticing and being thankful for the things I get done instead of obsessing about the things I did not get done.
  • Related to that, I have to be intentional about being thankful, which is not necessarily the same as feeling thankful.  Recognizing good things is important to becoming healthier, even if it doesn't feel better right away.
  • Setting limits is important.
  • Be willing to make mistakes.  Fear of making a mistake just keeps me from doing anything at all, which is a mistake. :-)
  • Exercise and fresh air and sunshine are good.
  • Laughter is important.
  • Being with people is important.  Being alone is important too.  Balance is good.
  • Using my gifts helps, even though right now it isn't something I feel like doing.  After I go ahead, I feel better and grateful that I made myself do it.  Teaching Sunday School is one example. I pretty much always feel good after teaching.
  • I need to practice staying in the moment.  Compassion meditation has become a form of prayer that seems more accessible right now. 
Depression for me also involves a spiritual component.  In the past, depression was part of a struggle to keep God in the box that was comfortable for me.  So there are ways that I'm wrestling with God, right now, but I'm OK with that.  I think God would rather have a fight than a fake relationship. Through my own faith and especially through the words and kindness of others, I'm finding God quite filled with gentleness as we break down the walls of the current box I want God to stay in.
I want to be sure that it's clear that depression is different for different people, and that a moderate depression is different than a severe depression.  Many of the things I am doing to become more healthy would be good for anyone to do.  At the same time, becoming severely depressed does not mean that a person has been doing all of these things wrong.  It also doesn't mean that if they would try these things they would automatically feel better or become healthy.  These are good things to do.  But depression involves chemistry and genetics as well as behavior and behavior is very important, but not the only important thing. I'm not writing this so that people can judge someone else who struggles. 

That's enough for right now.  As I said before, I'm writing this as an effort to be honest, but not so that anyone will feel sorry for me or take responsibility to make me feel better.  That is my job, and I'm doing it, one day at a time.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Teaching...or Being a Co-Learner

Early in March in my Sunday School class, we were beginning a new quarter.  I teach fifth grade.  Usually when we begin a new quarter I completely redecorate the room with new bulletin boards and posters, etc.  But my week had been unusually busy.  There was illness and snow and family crises.  I decided that it was OK not to do all that.  In fact it might be good.

The lesson book suggested travel decorations because after Easter we will be talking about missionary journeys.  I have a stack of National Geographic maps that I threw into my Sunday School bag.

I wrote out the briefest outline of a class plan.  This class no longer wants to be babied.  They are ready to explore the Bible on their own terms.  I thought we might try a simplified Lectio Divina approach to the scripture.  We would look at the story together, and we would share with each other the things that God was helping us to notice about it.

I went to bed exhausted on Saturday night.  Didn't sleep much.  Woke up drained and tense.  Thought about whether I was fit to teach.  Remembered that nearly always, being with the kids changes me.

As kids started to arrive I told them that I decided to let them decide how we wanted to decorate the class.  I had maps.  I had memory work posters.  Did they want to get rid of everything from the last quarter?  Were there projects that they still wanted to keep?  Everyone got busy, and it was fun figuring out what to put where.

The lesson passage was the story in Mark of the rich young ruler.  Each person opened a Bible and we began taking turns reading a few verses at a time.

It was a bit rowdy at first, and our first reader had to start over a second time in order to be heard but soon the room was still except for the voice of each reader in turn.

"What did you notice?" I asked.  Everyone had thoughts about it.

We read it again, and I asked again."What did you notice this time?"

There were many responses.
  • a camel going through the eye of a needle? Why did Jesus say that?
  • why is it so hard for a rich person?
  • why sell everything and give to the poor?
  • remember the poor woman who gave everything she had?  do rich people ever do that?
  • maybe rich people are thinking more about what they want to buy and have a harder time giving?
  • maybe rich people count on their money to take care of them instead of understanding that God takes care of them?
I love this class.

My preparations for teaching usually include making an assignment for them to complete during the week.  I'd not had time to do that either, so I had blank pieces of paper.  "What should our assignment be this week?"

A few ideas began to come out and then one of the kids said, "I think we should do something with what we just talked about.  Let's do something that is giving!"

It was agreed.  Everyone was to find a way to give that week.  It could be money or time or caring.  Be creative.  Write down what happened.

A week later, our story was the story of the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  When we'd completed our usual preliminary activities we moved our chairs into a circle and I explained that today we are having a story that we've all heard many times before.  It's tempting when we have a story like that to quit listening because we already know the story.  But with the Bible, there can be new lessons to learn every time we read it.  We are older.  We might see things in new ways, or hear something that makes sense in a different way.  So we are going to read the story again, even though we've read it many times before.

One of the kids piped up, "Can we tell you what we noticed again, like we did last week?"

They are getting it!  God speaks to them, not just to me.  In fact God speaks to me through them.  It is good.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Easter Reflections

Our pastor asked me to share for a few minutes on Easter Sunday about how I experience new life in my daily life.  These are my reflections (which include a paragraph I left out at church because I was running over the allotted time).

* * * * * * *

When Anita emailed early in Lent, I didn't know if I could share about new life. Stressful events that required a lot from me had been piling up during January and February. I was beginning to struggle to keep hold of my vision of new life. I wasn't waking up in the morning singing, “Oh what a beautiful morning!” And then March became even more stressful.

So I decided to tell Anita that I'd love to share sometime, but that right now I wasn't experiencing enough “new life” in my daily life with God. She should find someone more successful than me. That was on March 12.

I headed to my computer to write the email.

I have never heard an audible message from God, but there are times when the thoughts that have come to my mind are not like my thoughts. As I got ready to write, this thought came to me. “If there isn't new life in me when things are hard, then there isn't new life at all.”

The next thought after that was, “Say yes to Anita right now before you can rethink this and chicken out.” So I did.

You can be the judge of whether that was a good decision or not because I've reconsidered it multiple times every day since then.

This Lent has been one of identification with struggle. The sleepless night in the garden has resonated with me during my sleepless nights of asking God for a lessening of my worry and fear. It has been significant to me that Jesus maintained his resolve in spite of no release from the task ahead of him. My tasks are not as great as His. But I am glad that the Bible included the story of that sleeplessness. It let me off the hook a bit from my guilt at being unable to feel peace, and to rejoice always.

The thing is, there IS new life. It IS with us right now, right here. Even when I'm having a low day, God is still good all the time. David had bad days. Elijah had bad days. Even Jesus had bad days. And Easter is here bringing new life to us somehow even in the midst of those days.

I keep a tiny gratitude book. In it I write down things I love, things that touch my heart, people who bless me.

It's a good book to read on hard days. So many of these things are given by God. The amazing song of a cardinal. Sunflowers. The feel of new grass on my bare feet. The smell of fresh warm bread. The way people engage with a baby. Chocolate. The light of a nearly full moon on a snow covered yard. My family. My small group. Luke's head on my shoulder while we read stories. Aaron's belly laugh. Charlie's happy dance. Too many things to list.

Remembering gratitude is a good way to remember the new life, even when I'm struggling to feel it.

And there is so much of you in that little book.

I need you. Being with you is one of the ways I can remember who God is and what God is doing. There are so many things I'm grateful for here. Sometimes just getting into the sanctuary and hearing the music is enough to release all the pent up tension inside me. Seeing the smiles and greetings as I enter and find a seat.

When Anita asked me about new life, my first thought was memory from fall, when Andrea asked the fifth grade girls to help lead a song in church. She gave the girls long white ribbons that floated through the air as they did the motions for 'Holy Holy Holy Lord'. I thought it would be fun to have Andrea lead that song again when I shared. I never got around to asking, but God took care of it. Last Sunday, the fifth graders helped Andrea lead all the children in that same song with all their palm branches held high and waving with the motions of the song. It was an affirmation of God's grace to me.

Another story...A week before Palm Sunday, I'd spent a lot of Saturday night awake. I got up Sunday morning with my stomach knotted up, unable to eat breakfast. It was my morning to teach and I wondered whether I should call a sub. But I remembered that teaching usually helps.

So I went to my class. We opened our Bibles to the story of Jesus and the rich young ruler. As we read together, the fifth graders started to talk about the things they noticed in the story. They noticed how Jesus had compassion for this young man who walked away. They discussed why it might be hard for a rich person like us to enter the kingdom...about attitudes that we who are rich might have that make it hard to trust God. They remembered the widow giving all she had. As we talked, my worries faded and my stomach ache disappeared. By the time class was over, I was full of gratitude for the way God teaches me through these children. New life.

One more story. Chuck and I attend Casa Betania whenever we can. My Spanish is lousy, but I take my dictionary and my bilingual translation of the Bible and I make out OK. I'm blessed by this church. On that particular Sunday, Jaime was preaching on the greatest commandments. As he warmed into his topic I heard again and again, “Quien es tu proximo?” Who is your neighbor? I would catch words and knew he was asking about people in our families, at our workplaces, who might need a neighbor. Finally someone in the group interrupted him, saying how hard this teaching is, how hard it was to offer love, to be a neighbor, to someone who was difficult in that person's life. Immediately the sermon became a dialogue of encouragement, not only between Jaime and this person, but also others joined in. The worship time ended with a spontaneous circle of prayer, not only for this person, but also for others who struggled to love the neighbors God had placed in their lives. New life in the midst of struggle.

New life is not only for the good days. Even Paul claimed not to have attained it. Philippians 3:13-14 from The Message reads like this:

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

I found the same sentiments in the words of Martin Luther, which I have copied and placed around my home.

This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly,
not health but getting well,
not being but becoming
not rest but exercise.
We are not now what we shall be,
but we are on the way.
The process is not finished,
But it is actively going on.
This is not the goal, but it is the right road.
At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle,
But everything is being cleansed.

It is here, where I am with you, who are also maybe not yet reaching the goal, but are actively seeking and finding the right roads...it is here that I so often find new life.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Last Year's Resolutions

It's time to give an accounting for my goals for last year.  I made one major goal in January, to ask myself a question daily. 

What am I doing to work toward God's kingdom coming and God's will being done on earth today?

Then I fleshed it out a bit, desiring to know God better in order to be more able to see next steps, desiring to be fully involved in a community of believers, and to live out what I'm learning (instead of just storing it up).

Quickly another specific goal became clear: to give up playing solitaire games on the computer.

Later I also saw the importance of being deeply involved in the brokenness of the world while carving out space away from the busyness of the world.

So...

how have I done?

In the case of computer games, I successfully stayed away from computer solitaire with the exception of a day last month when I relapsed for several hours.  During the rest of the year I allowed myself one game of sudoku on paper from the weekend paper every Saturday.  I plan to continue this, now that it is a habit.

In the case of asking the question daily, I don't know if I did that or not.  It is so frequently a part of my thinking, and I may have thought about it every day, but I don't think I was intentional...as in really seriously looking at my activities to see if that day was lining up with kingdom values or not.  This sounds so heavy, and that really isn't my goal.  I find that when I'm lining up my actions with my values...or with the values of God's kingdom, life often gets less heavy.

A small example is my kitchen.  When my kitchen is a mess, the heavy thing seems to be to clean it, even though cleaning messes would seem like a kingdom thing to do.  Sometimes I leave it till another day.  Sometimes I clean it.

When I leave it for another day, the reason for the leaving it becomes important.  If I leave it so that I can read a story to my grandsons, or have a meaningful conversation, or make a phone call...it isn't heavy and I get it done later. I'm grateful for the stories and the relationships that are growing.  I love the interactions.  My life feels fuller and richer.

When I leave it because I don't want to do it right now and I'd rather read or knit or check out the news stories on NPR.org, it's heavy.  It looms over me until I get it done.  I hate the room.  I don't want to cook.  I don't want to clean.  I don't even want to put away the dishes that are already clean.

When I finally get to it, even the process of doing it is a lightening of my mood.  I hear myself singing.  And when it is done (and you have to understand that for me it is done when it is 'good enough' and not when it is 'perfect'), I love being in there.  I look forward to cooking.  I want to light a candle and enjoy that space. 

What I anticipate as drudgery ends up being life giving when it is lined up with Kingdom goals.

I wish I'd asked the question more often in an in the moment, "what action should I take right now" kind of way. 

One major choice that I made in September was to begin attending Iglesia Casa Betania with Chuck.  Casa Betania is a Spanish speaking church that meets in the basement of our church building.  Chuck has been attending as often as he can for a couple of years.  He has had a long interest in learning Spanish, has worked hard to become more proficient at it, and loves the way faith is expressed among this gathering of believers. 

A couple of years ago we had one of our nights out that ended up being a very long walk/talk about where our lives are headed.  There was discussion about what each of us wanted to pursue, what was no longer life giving, how to look at those things in light of our faith and where God was leading.  I remember Chuck talking at length about his desire to learn Spanish and his enjoyment of Iglesia Casa Betania.  At the time we both agreed that this strong interest could be God given, leading him into new things that we couldn't yet see, and that he should follow it.

I have not joined him in that until now.  He always invited but I held back.

I like to be fully involved in the faith community I attend, and I found that when I attended with Chuck I felt torn by my desire to know what was happening in our church upstairs on one hand, and on the other hand feeling that I was not giving as much as I could be to Casa Betania.  How many places could I be fully invested?

But this year of often asking the question changed things for me.  It came to a decision point in September, when I was asked to serve on a commission in our upstairs church.  I prayed about this decision.  It was a job I'd done before and  I already knew the ropes.  Yet, it just didn't feel right.  When my last term was up on this commission, I'd felt a strong pull to get involved in something outside of our church body, something God was doing or calling me to.  Now I'd been off the commission for two years and still had not found this thing to be involved in.

It wasn't for lack of looking.  I thought the homeless shelter might be a possible spot, but every time it was our church's turn to volunteer there a real conflict would occur.  Not just an excuse.  A real family emergency or work related commitment would appear.  It happened too many times. 

Then I took the training for Circles of Hope, a support structure for persons working toward getting out of poverty.  The training was wonderful, but the Circles of Hope support groups always meet on a night I rarely have open.

As I prayed about this commission assignment I remembered reading that it is important to look for what God is already doing and then join it.  I'd tried with the shelter and with Circles, but I'd not tried with the thing God was doing in Chuck. 

Starting in September, I've committed to attending Iglesia Casa Betania whenever I can for a year.  They meet at least twice a week, and we make it to about half of the meetings.  My Spanish is not great but it is slowly improving. I am learning tons just by being in a completely different type of church experience.  I'm gradually getting to know people of deep faith and commitment.  I'll try to write more about that in another post.

At any rate, that's what I can report for progress on my goals for last year.

I'll try to write soon about goals for this year.