In Transit

photo credit: ** RCB ** via photopin cc

photo credit: ** RCB ** via photopin cc

It’s Sunday afternoon, and both of my flights from Peoria to Minneapolis are delayed.

I’m mostly not bothered by this, though I do wish that there was a restaurant in the Peoria airport. Still, the airport seems as good a place as any to write and watch online TV and recoup from a busy weekend speaking. I learn that my flight has been pushed about the same time that I realize that my only dinner options here are nachos with pumped cheese, heat-lamp pizza, or a bag of Lays. So I decide on wine instead.

There is only one option for red and one for white, and when I order the cab, the woman in fluorescent pink shirt at the bar fills the glass up all the way to the top so that the red wine is flush with the edge. “Wow,” I say, taking a few classless slurps like a puppy before I can finally pick it up and drink it. “For $7.50 a glass, this is how I pour,” she’d said grinning a wide-crooked-tooth smile, her whole face glowing holy in the thrown light of the football game on hanging, sports bar TVs.

And who knows? Maybe it’s that over-filled glass of airport cabernet, or maybe it’s the afterglow of the weekend itself — exhausting and intoxicating and beautiful. Sorting through faith past and present over wood fire pizzas and fancy coffee, heavy chocolate cake and salted caramel ice cream, eating and talking with the pastor and his wife and my childhood best friend late until way past my bedtime. Maybe it was speaking that morning at their beautiful little church, the homeless man in front grinning at me under a mop of unkempt hair, the audience nodding like they understood exactly.

Whatever it is, I can’t seem to stop looking around. I can’t seem to open my computer and make myself write. I want to make small talk with the woman working the bar. She’s having her first baby, her stomach just beginning to round. It’s a boy, she says. We found out early because he was showing it off. I want to talk to the guy next to me, who shows us pictures of his six-month-old daughter and talks about the book he wants to write — the one about his grandfather and the war.

The airport is overheated, and we’re all sweating under the lights, and even though I know it’s perspiration and overhead lighting, it looks to me like they’re glowing. Like they’re straight from an old episode of Touched by an Angel, an open beam of heaven pouring over their seats.

Sometimes I’m stopped still when I ask questions. When I listen. When I stop trying to figure out how to write my own story and listen to someone else’s. So I sit at the airport bar and slurp my extremely full glass of cab, and I am dazzled by the beauty of all these strangers, loved as they are by God, known as they are in all their details. I’m almost disappointed when the flight gets un-delayed, and I have to abandon them mid conversation and hurry to my gate.

But there are people glowing there too — flight attendants talking wryly about the O’Hare delays, rolling their eyes about furious customers. Like we have ANY power to change anything here, they say under their breath to me. Their airport uniforms have little bows tied stiffly under their chins. I ask if they’re itchy. You have no idea. One of them says to me, and then she tags my carry-on and takes it into the airplane for me.

There are six of us on the flight, and it only takes a half hour to cut across the endless farmland between Chicago and Peoria. The thin Indian man who gets off with me has been in town to meet a girl that he met online. How did it go? I ask. He looks at me sadly, Not good, actually. 

We walk at a quick gait through O’Hare, pulling our rolling, carry-on luggage behind us, and he tells me how perfect it seemed in writing, and how quickly it disintegrated. I don’t say much, just listen and nod and make sympathetic sounds.

When it’s time to part ways toward different gates, he turns and says, How do you stay so positive? And this would be a great time to tell him about Jesus if I knew what that meant anymore. Once upon a time, I would have known how to segue a perfectly leading question like that one into a three minute testimony and a quick gospel presentation.

If I said Jesus, it would be the truth…but I don’t think it would sound like truth. It would sound like a sound-byte, a reduction, a cliched religious gold star.

I want to tell him that he is beautiful; that everyone here is so beautiful. That every so often, it feels like the heavens part open Touched-by-an-Angel-style, and I can see everything so clearly: we are all in transit. Weary travelers, being led quietly home.

I want to tell him that I’m thinking of God, that I’m thinking of Love, that I don’t understand how God can be close to all of us at once, but that in this moment, I believe it more deeply than I have in a long time.

Instead I shift and grin dumbly at him. He looks at his watch, Keep smiling, he says. And I do. I smile at the woman in the leather boots and the old man on the electric wheelchair and at the woman at gate C8. Did you have a nice weekend? I ask her. Busy. I was moving, she says, scanning my ticket. Next to her, a tired eyed woman fields an angry call. I can tell because she keeps saying, I’m sorry, sir. I’m sorry. Yes I know. I’m sorry. I ask her about the move and she talks and talks. She tells me about loud neighbors and unpacked boxes and new possibilities, and her eyes shine with hope.

In the waiting area, I smile at the woman next to me, who tells me that she just got a new job in Boston. When she leaves, I smile at another woman, and she tells me that she’s heading to a job interview. So many people. So many stories. Listen, listen, listen.

In transit, I never do tell anyone about Jesus. But it’s like Jesus is telling me about them. It’s like he’s pointing out each person, showing me his great love, one by one, all of us found. One by one, strangers tell me their stories, unbidden, and it’s like God is filling my cup all the way to the tip-top with goodness, like it’s more than I paid for, more than I bargained for.

My flight is two hours delayed, and I am exhausted and happy, knocked off balance by all the beauty. The plane boards, and we all settle into our seats. We are in transit. We are, all of us, on our way home.

Rethinking the Why

photo credit: milos milosevic via photopin cc

photo credit: milos milosevic via photopin cc

Somewhere in the total catastrophe that is my guest room, there is a binder that I kept the summer of 2011, when I was getting ready to start a blog.

The binder is full of scribbled tips from The Pros on blogging and social media. I think there is a haphazard list of evangelical terms and clichés that I planned to write about and a running list of blogs I was following.

And then, there’s the Why. At the top of a sheet of notebook paper, I wrote the question, Why are you writing this blog? And then, in my hastiest my-kids-are-finally-napping cursive, I made an attempt at an answer.

I had lots of reasons for starting the blog (not the least of which was because my agent made me). But the primary drive for me then was that I wanted to be part of The Conversation.

What this Conversation was exactly and where it was occurring, I wasn’t sure. All I knew was that I was that there were a few glaring Issues with the way we were doing faith, and I had Things To Say about it.

What I failed to factor into my righteous indignation and blog planning, however, is the fact that I’ve never been great at large-group discussion. In high school, I regularly got docked participation points because I preferred to sit in the corner and doodle, listening intently, but rarely engaging. In fact, the only time I regularly spoke up in class was that year in graduate school during my Mad Season, when I showed up for class every week semi-blitzed on margaritas. Then I had all kinds of wacky things to say.

Anyway, when I finally did stumble upon The Conversation in the blogging world, it was every bit as electric as I thought it would be. For the first time in a long time (maybe ever?), I felt movement and discussion around faith. My voice echoed and was echoed by other beautiful, smart, incredible people, and it felt empowering and exciting to me, like the maybe I wasn’t alone after all.

Things were changing and growing and shifting – and in the process, space was opening up for questions and healing and recovering. I loved it. I love it still. I love the thoughtful ways that people of faith are engaging with the past, present and future. I love the ways that Christians are learning to value story and vulnerability. Really great questions are being asked; there is less fear around the gray areas, more willingness to make room for tension and mystery.

And for that first season of blogging, I felt like I got to be a little part of it. I got to tell my story. I got to ask questions about the words we use when we talk about faith. I got to do it in some really unexpected and fun settings like On Faith and Relevant and Christianity Today.

And it was amazing. And it was terrifying. Out came the Internet Trolls, telling me all the ways I’d gotten it wrong. Out came the uncertainty, the second-guessing. The Conversation seemed to require that I have coherent answers to all the hot-button issues, which I don’t.  The more I participated in these high-level discussions, the more exhausted I became.

I still really value The Conversation happening around faith. I really do. I am so deeply appreciative for the ones at the forefront of faith and culture, carving out the space, fighting for understanding, making a way forward. I’ll probably still creep out of my classroom corner from time to time to offer a few words there. And yet, it’s become less and less of a driving force for me in my writing.

What is driving me are the lowercase-c conversations. The little ones. I came back to this blog (even though my book is still not done) because I missed these small explorations, working out my faith in words, sharing the deep parts of my own journey in the hope that somehow intersects with yours.

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Look, there are a hundred million blogs on the Internet.

Why should you read this one?

Read it because living in the tension of faith and doubt is hard and lonely, and it shouldn’t be.

Read this blog when you’re not ready to go back to church. Read it if you’re looking for a church – a place, your people ­– and it’s breaking your heart. Read it as you sort out your baggage and try to figure things out.

There is no Band-Aid Jesus here. Only real, broken hearts, somehow — miraculously — not crumbling into dust.

Come to this space when you find yourself at that narrow edge between cynicism and hope, looking for a way to move forward, not sure at all what it is.

Come to re-imagine.

Come because you don’t have to be good to be loved…and because it’s so hard to remember that.

If you’re a pastor, and you’re looking for ways to engage with the cynics, the former church kids disappeared, read this blog. I don’t have Big Picture Answers or step-by-step instructions, but I will tell you about my own cynic heart. I will share my messy journal as honestly as I know how. In the comments, you will see brilliant insights and stunning vulnerability, and it will help you understand.

Read this blog because it’s fall now, and the sun is getting farther away. The world is getting darker and colder, and it so often feels like God is absent.

But the ducks are rising winged off of the pond, and God is the air that carries them. Carries all of us.

Come here to breathe in. Breathe out. Begin again.

Why I Am Made Right [Guest Post]

Ashley Linne is the author of a new book in the Inscribed Studies series called Inseparable: Who I Am, Was, and Will Be in Christ…which officially releases today! (Congrats Ashley!)

If you’re curious about the book and the rest of the Inscribed Studies series, you can download a free chapter from three studies, including Ashley’s, here. (No email required). In the meantime, let’s welcome her here to this space today!

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

I always considered myself a good Christian kid.

I never really rebelled as a youth. I always called home if I was going to be out late, and my mom always knew who I was with.

I always went to class and tried to make straight As. I never tried drugs or alcohol, and I didn’t have sex. I didn’t cuss; I didn’t listen to “secular” music. I didn’t even see a rated-R movie until I was seventeen. And for all of this, I was pretty proud of myself.

But I still didn’t feel right or good or happy.

All these things did very little to convince me that I was in good standing in God’s eyes and did nothing to make me feel that I was worth anything. I lived in constant fear that if I didn’t thank God for something, even my ability to see or walk, it would be taken away. I was afraid if I made one mistake, it would condemn me to the fiery pits for all eternity.

God was very important to me, but I didn’t yet have any real concept of His love or grace. My carefully constructed sense of security was founded on my own efforts. I was living the very definition of legalism.

Even though I didn’t sin in the “usual” youthful ways, I was still missing the mark right and left—I was mean to my sisters; I held grudges; I gossiped. I think we’ve all done a few things we’re not proud of.

For some of us, our lists of ugly moments might be longer than we care to admit. We’ve got skeletons in our closets, bad habits we can’t seem to break, and a list of things we wish we could do but just can’t seem to get right.

Many of us are grateful we can’t out-sin God’s grace, but we simultaneously hate ourselves for having to draw on it as often as we do. Others live as though we’ve forgotten that we’re supposed to live differently than our “lost” friends. Maybe some of us get drunk most weekends, have a one-night stand here and there, throw a co-worker under the bus when we need to look good, or tell a lie from time to time. But we’re all still Christians … right?

Others of us are so scared of “getting it wrong” that we spend our lives calculating our every move, over analyzing our every thought, and don’t know how to just be at peace with ourselves or God.

We are quick to point out the shortcomings of another, if only within our inner monologue, and are grateful we don’t struggle with that sin. We go to church every chance we get, we are in multiple Bible studies, we live by checklists and schedules. We would never admit it, but our obsession with being right and busy is just a cover-up for our belief that God will turn His back on us if we aren’t.

Whether we lean toward legalism or we lean toward licentiousness, we’ve forgotten who we are. We wallow in guilt, when we’ve been cleansed of all unrighteousness. Or we waste God’s grace, when we’ve been set free from sin. If we knew who we really are in Christ, our lives would look different than they do. More of us would be living in unwavering obedience to God because it wouldn’t be a burden; we’d simply be acting like who we are.

The truth is, if I’m in Christ and He’s in me, Jesus has reconciled me to God. It’s been done. There is no way any of us could ever make amends with God on our own, and we need to allow ourselves to enjoy the freedom that brings our souls when we’re in Him.

I have to work daily to cooperate with God as He reshapes me and cuts away the things about me that He doesn’t want to define me. I also have to work daily to cooperate with God and learn about resting in Him and enjoying life in Him. My prayer is that I live like I know who I am—that I’m His.

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” (Romans 8:1-2, NLT)

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Ashley Linne CroppedAshley Linne is a wife and mom who loves to write, sing, and travel. She is passionate about discipleship, mentoring, and sexual abuse prevention. She has been leading small group Bible studies for over 15 years is the author of Inseparable: Who I Am, Was, and Will Be in Christ.

Ashley lives with her husband and son in Bellingham, WA.

While I Was Out

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While I was out, the last days of summer came and went. We caught and released the last of the painted turtles that spend the summer on the pond before they all disappeared. I threw out the summer sneakers – all full of holes from running and bike riding and sloshing through the pond, the soles practically falling off – and we switched to the next size up.

The mornings got darker a little bit at a time…then all at once, and the ducks came back. I don’t know how they always somehow remember this place, but they do. They come by the dozens, and they spend the early evening wandering our yards for food, calling to each other loudly.

While I was out, my firstborn, Dane, boarded the bus to kindergarten for the first time, Avenger’s backpack strapped on his back, waving out the window, and I didn’t cry, but I felt it at the back of my throat all day long.

10.07 - kindergarten

Liam went from age three to AGE THREE and spent long afternoons sobbing over the fact that I put his milk in the wrong cup or that I put it into his hand in the wrong way. We had a lot of long battles about using the potty chair, and in the end I got him 2/3s of the way potty-trained before we hit a total power impasse. Which means that while I was out, there was a lot of laundry to do.

The Internet kept spinning while I was out, but it all felt farther away. I stopped reading blogs and looking at Twitter for the most part. Instead, the world became very small. A kitchen table. A piece of paper. A loaf of pumpkin bread in the oven. A red leaf on the driveway.

I helped one friend welcome a new son into the world with a diaper-and-wine baby shower. People from our church filled up the house with love and appetizers, and we passed the new baby, one set of open arms to another, exclaiming at his tiny fingers, his perfect features, his new baby smell.

I stood by another friend while she let her twelve-year-old son go, unexpectedly, far too soon, on a beautiful September morning. When they put his small casket into the hearse, we all waved checkered flags and popped confetti, and racecars showed up to do a victory lap. While I was out, I stood in a crowd of grievers, and we hugged through our tears and worked very hard to believe that this will all someday be made right.

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While I was out, I excused myself from calorie-counting and responsible, grown-up eating habits and binged on potato soup and bread and pasta. Sometimes I had lunch-wine at my favorite writing spot, and it felt like a luxury, alone at a table, just wine and words.

I was out, so I didn’t blog, but I wrote every day, thousands of words that I didn’t show to anyone. I second-guessed and deleted and rewrote and revised. I averaged five cups of coffee in the mornings, writing and guzzling, writing and guzzling.

Every two or three days, I stomped out of the kitchen yelling, I’m quitting writing forever! But then I’d go back, and it felt like learning to tune my violin by ear back in junior high school. Without the instant response of commenters and retweets and Facebook shares to tune my words against, I had to close my eyes and really listen. I had to remember the sound of sharp and flat. The fixed pitch of truth.

I didn’t read much – just bits and pieces, here and there. I couldn’t seem to manage whole novels, so I read excerpts and a lot of poetry. I renewed The Interestings twice and then finally had to give up and return it to the library.

I spent too much money on IKEA bookshelves and stayed up way too late putting them together. I got one piece backwards on the TV stand that I spent five hours building, and two nights later, I had to loosen the whole thing and redo it.

bookshelvesI had a garage sale. I sold our old rocking horse to an art student who will make him into a sculpture. I sold a good portion of our pretend food to new families who will be served imaginary meals by their enthusiastic children. It was therapeutic and sad – letting go of one part of their childhood, embracing a new part.

While I was out, I missed this place and the way I am changed at this blank screen. And I also appreciated having time to rethink what I want this online space to be about. Time to plan and to realign myself and to get excited about this new season of blogging.

While I was out, life kept happening, and I am grateful, and I am refreshed, and I am broken in a few new ways. I am a little emptier and a little fuller.

I am here. I’m ready to get back to work.

 

[Okay, update me! I missed you all. What have you been up to while I’ve been out?]