Monthly Archives: September 2012

Reflections on One Year of Blogging

A year ago yesterday, I wrote my first blog post and sent it winging into the world.

I’m not going to get mushy about it today. I already said it, really, on my 6 Month Blogaversary. I remember feeling amazed.

I feel that same way today, that same disbelief. That same weighty gratitude. For this. For you. I’ve been searching all this time for “my people,” and here you are…and for that I am teary-eyed grateful.

Anyway, I had this idea that I would go back and find all the funny terms that people typed into Google to get to my blog. And there is some of that. For the person who Googled, “Should I give my social security number to AWANA,” I would say, Mmmm – no. For the one who searched on “How to talk your way out of baptism,” I sincerely hope you got that sorted out.

Someone Googled “Christian alternative to Ace of Base,” and I just don’t even know what to say to that. People keep coming to this site looking for icebreakers to Beth Moore studies, and I can tell you right now, I have zero ideas for you. Except possibly wine.

But what struck me as I went back through the pages was the terms that kept cropping up. Almost every day, there is a variation of the phrase “how do I feel the presence of God?” or “I don’t feel God’s presence.” There is the one who typed “I’m single at a Christian college,” and the one who typed “When you’re in a bad spiritual season for too long.”

And this feels so weighty to me. I am aware of the gap most of us live in. That one between the faith we are supposed to have and the things that we actually feel. I know well the loneliness of living life in that space between, of being so desperate for the presence of God that you actually ask Google, hoping for a blueprint or a list. Just needing some way in to the feeling that you are Loved.

Of course, I don’t have a list. There are no tips or tricks that I know of to get you there. To get myself there. Just this endless waking and struggling and working. Just all of us together, being honest, telling our stories. What I want to say is that there are more of us here in this gap than you’d think. That you are, decidedly and absolutely, not alone. We are your people.

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In honor of one year, I thought I’d do a couple of lists. Your favorite posts and mine, because that’s one of those weird things about blogging: the ones that stirred my own soul in the writing aren’t necessarily the ones that stir yours. It’s good that way.

Your 5 Favorite Posts

15 Signs You Were Raised in the Christian Subculture: My most popular post of all time (picked up by ChurchLeaders.com), which goes to show you that we love our nostalgia. And that a lot of us had duct tape Bibles and DC Talk CDs and post-Christian-Concert Compassion kids that our parents had to financially support for us.

“I’m Feeling Led…” and Other Crappy Excuses: “It is the perfect excuse. It is passive. It absolves us of the responsibility of our decisions, because they are not, after all, our decisions. They are God’s decisions.”

More Than You Can Handle: “It is the period meant to end the run-on sentence of another person’s pain. It’s the thing we say to each other when we don’t know what to say.”

Anywhere, Anything: On Worship and Hyperbole: “The problem with hyperbole, with lofty promises, is that life is not lived in the grand gesture.”

Spiritual Journey: The Mad Season:  “It’s hard to say which came first for me, the Depression or the anger, but the people of God felt decidedly absent from both.”

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My favorites

The posts that have a special place in my heart are the ones where something changed for me in the writing. Here are five of them.

Church Hunting (3): The Places We Land: I did a little 3-part series on Church Hunting/Shopping earlier in the year. The whole thing feels a little complex and painful to me. It’s a question I’m always feeling, an ache that won’t go away. But writing this post gave me a glimpse into the beauty of it and made me grateful for this imperfect place where we’ve landed.

It’s Not Religion; It’s Relationship: The day after I wrote this, my sweet neighbor took me with her to the Ash Wednesday service at her Catholic Church where I fumbled through the kneeling and crossing and couldn’t stop looking out the big glass windows into the forest. It was the first time I’ve felt the weight of ash on my forehead, and it felt powerful to me. And whatever word you choose, religion. Relationship…it’s all just a kind of reaching toward Someone. It all matters.

Proverbs 31 (Reimagined): I was among the evangelical girls bludgeoned with this chapter in my youth, measured up against it and found lacking. To reimagine it was unbelievably healing for me. (This post went on to be republished in the MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) national magazine.)

Worldy: I’ve always regretted how my faith walled me off from my peers in high school. How I let it wall me off. I wish I’d known that it wasn’t so black and white, that I didn’t have to segregate myself to love Jesus. Going to my 10 year high school reunion felt like a kind of redemption for me.

For My “Accountability Partner,” On Her Wedding: Every now and then, I mention my two best friends from high school on this blog. In those heady Jesus-Freak days, they were wearing WWJD bracelets right along with me. In the uncertain college days, they were hurt in their own specific ways by Christians, and the three of us spiraled together. For one year, we met at least once a month in the Wisconsin Dells, where we drank giant margaritas and figured it out together. This post was my way of capturing all the unspoken things that I felt during Kim’s wedding, of trying to say, “Your friendship matters. It got me here.”

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If you’re on Twitter, I’d love to connect with you, though, be warned, I tweet a lot about my kids. Or follow me on Facebook. (I usually only post there to let you know when a new post is up.)

Thank you again for being here.

City, Suburb and the Myth of Christian Art

It’s like Chicago is a rock dropped at the edge of Illinois, and the suburbs ripple out almost to Wisconsin. The farther you go out, the looser and wider the circles, and I spent my first 18 years living at the quiet northwest edge of it all, 45 minutes from the beating city heart.

My childhood memories of Chicago are concentrated around Michigan Avenue, where we wedged into the winter-worn crowd to see the Christmas display in the windows at Macy’s. Where we saw quirky plays that my Dad found in the paper. Where we took that long elevator ride to the top of the Hancock, felt like we might shoot through the ceiling into the sky.

So it’s new to me to wake up in a best friend’s city apartment, footsteps heavy on the wood floors above. To step out into the quiet movement of the city morning: the joggers, the dog-walkers, the suits and heels and briefcases, the energy.

On the brown line el train, I am entirely surrounded and entirely alone. I can’t stop looking at people. At their clothes, at what they carry, at the way their headphones lace up into their ears. I watch the skyline grow bigger before us. People get on and off, and then I do too.

The day is sunny and perfect as I walk the map I have memorized .72 miles toward the conference in my new boots. It makes me feel strong. I am part of the city in a new way, like she’s waking up, and I’m there for it. Like this is her real, just-out-of-bed face, and I’m, for the first time, seeing it.

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I’m there for a conference called Story. The website is vague. It never says “Christian” or even “faith,” just “Creatives.” The lobby is so full of plaid shirts and skinny jeans and weird, artistic displays that you could almost miss the Christian publishers nestled along the walls, the church vendors, the ministries.

I’ve heard of the musician who begins the conference with his plaid shirt and ukulele, but I haven’t heard him until he starts singing about love, and it makes me feel like I’m at the brink of the holy.

He sings, “The sweetest thing I’ve ever learned/is that I don’t have to have all the answers/Just a little light to call my own.” And God, if I’m ever going to give a three-minute testimony again, it’s going to be just that, just those words, just that haunting melody.

He is the first of the artists. Not a Christian Artist but an artist who is imperfectly Christian, who is straining toward the Light, struggling with the complexity of the darkness. There’s the visual artist Makoto Fujimura who says “artists are deeply shaped by their location in the world.” There’s that young music-video director Isaac Rentz who says, “I’m an agnostic when it comes to ‘Christian art.’”

Anne Lamott comes up with her short dreadlocks and black cardigan and says, “I have an hour talk on everything I know about writing, and I have an hour talk on everything I know about faith, and they’re basically the same talk,” and this is what I’m thinking about when I walk the city sidewalks that night, eyes wide open, watching everything.

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This is not a treatise on where to live: suburb versus city. (I long ago made peace with the fact that suburban does not mean sellout, that middle is not necessarily synonymous with mediocre.) It’s about that winter night in 2007 when I finally found the words to pray again.

And it wasn’t a worship song, and it wasn’t a Christian book on recovering from Depression, and it wasn’t even the Bible. It was Death Cab for Cutie and “Transatlanticism” in my earbuds as I walked the dog behind our Plymouth apartment building. It was the moon high and full in the clear winter sky. It was the lyrics, “I need you so much closer,” over and over again in my ears, as I walked, walked, walked.

It was the decidedly nonchristian artist Joseph Arthur, who gave words to my doubt-filled struggling when he sang: “I don’t know anymore/what it’s for/I’m not even sure/if there is anyone who is in the sun/can you help me to understand?” And I kept it on repeat for an entire month, that song “In the Sun.”

And what this is really about is art, about how these neat Christian/Secular lines have robbed us of each other’s important voices in the world.

It’s about a Christian subculture that has moved out to the farthest edge of the rippling real. We’ve made our home 45 minutes from the heart of humanity. And there is something utterly tragic about that.

It’s this question that keeps me up at night, the one that I can’t stop thinking about: Can you be an artist working with that striking red thread of God’s love without getting pigeon-holed into some faraway cul-du-sac of faith? Is there a way to write straight into the reality of life, to make something that sounds like a love song? Something that brings others one step closer to the holy?

Because the thing is, I’m on the el train, surrounded by all these strangers, and I can’t stop looking at them. Can’t stop seeing how beautiful they are, can’t stop noticing all that they carry.

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When you stand inside the el station at night, you can feel the trains before you see them. You stand alone in the fluorescence of the underground, and the floor shakes with the power of it. The walls too. And when it’s actually coming – actually upon you – it feels a little like the world is about to end.

It comes into the tunnel with the force of so much speed, and you are blown by it, blown flat against the wall that first time you wait for it.

And then it slows, slows, stops. Opens. And the choice, as always, is whether or not to get on.

God-breathed (repost)

I’m in Chicago this morning, getting ready to go to Story 2012, a conference for the creatively inclined. I’m sitting on the couch of a good friend; I am getting ready to make the commute like a local — el train and walking and cup of coffee in hand. With the conference and the drive down from Minnesota, I couldn’t quite muster up a new post. But I hope you’ll read one of my old favorites from January.

God-breathed: A common description of the Bible, taken from 2 Timothy 3:16, which says, “All scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

In bare, well-lit exam room, Liam’s breath registers shallow on their instruments. The doctor is young with long fingers that he taps on the empty desk while he thinks aloud.

“I’m trying to decide whether to put him in the hospital overnight and give him some oxygen,” he says to the wall. “But no…he’ll probably be fine.”

He gives me some photocopies on bronchiolitis, which advise me to bring him back immediately if he is “acting very sick.” Super.

At home, we rock in his bedroom, his cheek warm against my chest, his soft chick hair damp with fever, and he falls asleep, mouth open, breaths fast and raspy on my skin.

God-breathed.

So many times, I’ve heard this verse used to precede something unkind: the argument, the confrontation, the “truth in love.” Here is a scripture about morality or right-living, pulled straight from the God-breathed Bible, so you’d better listen, shape up.

It’s that old bumper sticker theology: God said it; I believe it; that settles it, and it’s God-breathed, God-breathed, God breathing down your neck until you want to run as fast as you can away.

His room is getting darker as the tired winter sun sets behind the blinds, and I can hear Dane’s pounding feet on the other side of the door as he chases his dad around the house.

The vaporizer sends white steam spiraling into the air, and it’s not so much about the Bible as about the breathing. The rhythm of it. The mystery of it. In. out. In. out. How, if we are to believe the old story, it is he who first breathed life into our dirt-dry lips.

And so there is something holy about his labored breathing, my own soft breath on his forehead. The breath of God circling through us all, connecting us to one another, connecting us to himself.

Yes the Bible is God-breathed. But so are you. So am I.

I read into this book my own skewed perspectives, my own translation, my own fragmented understanding. I inhale it like breath; I breathe it back out in an imperfect way. And all the time, God-breathed humans walk broken and beautiful around me. Inhale. Exhale.

We are up all through the night, rocking, Liam and I. We are awake in the earliest morning in the steam-filled bathroom, skin-to-skin while the mirror fogs. I am aware of his breath, aware of my own breath, recalling a fragment of a sermon I once heard about the Hebrew name for God – YHWH – how it has no vowels, only the airy sound of an exhale, an inhale – more like a breath than a name.

Inhale. Exhale. Breath in, breath out.

I hold him against me. In the dark morning, and his breath grows steady in his sleep. I am paying attention to it. It is ragged, steady, holy.

Inhale.

Exhale.

When You Can’t See it Change

I am still wearing tank tops and cut-offs, still going back and forth on sending Dane to preschool, when suddenly it’s The First Day of School.

Facebook is buzzing with pictures of freshly scrubbed children posed by driveways and trees and school buses, backpacks strapped on. Smiling and happy and ready. I can barely believe it.

I knew it was coming because there have been fewer and fewer frogs under the paddleboat for Dane to catch. All the weeds in our pond have shriveled down, making it nearly impossible to scoop painted turtles with the big net.

It is getting dark early, staying dark longer. In the morning, I sit at the kitchen table writing by the fluorescent glow of the computer until almost six thirty when the first light finally stretches into the sky.

Even so, it seems to have snuck up on me. Fall is all of the sudden here, and I’m stone-sunk at the bottom of summer, all inertia and exhaustion.

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Part of it is this mothering business. The kids are so little and dependent, and this season of life spreads before me, vast in its sameness. Let’s count the pennies, the socks, the grapes on your plate. One, three…no, we forgot two!…Two, one, three

It’s No, we don’t hit your brother and Do you need to go potty? a hundred thousand times a day. It’s the only four foods he’ll eat, rotating in tiny, identical circles. It’s the same clothes cycling again and again through the wash, put away in the same place.

And the other part of it is this writing business. Every morning, up early, the cursor blinking quietly back at me. One word after another after another. It’s that careful picking across the landscape of my life, never totally sure where I’m going. It’s blog post after blog post swallowed into the sea of words, some rippling quietly in my circles, others disappearing without a sound.

It’s a pile of papers that make a manuscript, idling still at the back of my craft cabinet, waiting. It’s another literary magazine rejection letter in the mail.

None of it feels like the Minnesota autumn falling around us, change bright and beautiful and obvious. Red and orange and crunching under your boots. Cold in that crisp, lovely way that says something about endings and about beginnings and about God.

But of course, they’re important, these small acts of daily obedience. The surrendering, the giving, the words written and the words spoken again and again…these things matter.

Somewhere in the deep invisible, things are changing, and I know they’re changing, but I can’t feel it like the first 59 degree day, can’t see it like that first red leaf, can’t taste it like potato soup, made from scratch on the stove. I suppose that is the nature of faith.

Still, I’d forgotten how muffled and lonely it can feel, walking again and again the same labyrinth. Going somewhere but never quite arriving. The seasons change around you, and still you are here. Walking circles.

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I tried to put him into his 3T jeans the other day and couldn’t believe the way they barely buttoned at the waist. How they hung above his ankles. How suddenly even this summer’s crop of t-shirts looked so small on him, like he’s busting Clark-Kent style into someone new.

At the library yesterday, he picked out books without my prompting for the first time. He knew exactly what he wanted. The one with the blue-tongued lizard on the front. The one with a wide-winged monarch. He chooses nonfiction books every time, the ones spread with close-up photos of animals. He is becoming so wholly himself.

His little brother ran like a maniac, and I chased him down the aisles, trying to wrangle him with some board books, but Dane sat and read, and he looked so big there, his back against the giant painted mural.

And for a second it’s like I can see it. All that is happening. All that is changing. The grooves we are making in the earth with all of this walking. Sometimes you look, and it’s unveiled for you, like a hundred red leaves falling. The world is changing and God is in all of it, working all of these small moments into their own kind of beauty.

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The air is changing now, the geese arching over in perfect symmetry, stopping to rest in our pond. Every night, the boys pull their chairs to the edge of the deck to watch them move sleek and gray through the yard to eat the corn that our neighbor scatters for the ducks.

We are doing the same thing every day, over and over. I am writing and mothering and walking all these circles. And somewhere in the invisible real, the season quietly changes.

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