Tag Archives: faithfulness

One Small Change: Listen Anyway

I only recently found Liz McEwan here on the Internet, but I absolutely love her insightful, beautiful writing. I’m so glad to have her writing here today!

cincinnati 2

After ten years of city living, there are many things that come easy to me. Walking instead of driving, for example, has become second-nature. And parking a block or two from my front door? I’ve gotten used to it, even with groceries in the car. Sharing sidewalks and noisy neighbors? Those things are now just a small part of the colorful life we live in the city.

This community provides a rich life for me and my family, but the more time we spend on the street and on the playground, rubbing shoulders with our neighbors, the more obvious it is that the experience is not so rich for everyone. The struggles of people living elsewhere can remain behind closed doors and privacy fences but, in the city, there is no hiding. Open your eyes in any diverse, urban community and the struggles around you are obvious. Absentee parents, substance abuse, domestic violence, poverty, hunger, homelessness–they’re all here, walking the same sidewalks as me and my well-kept and well-loved children.

The complexity of the urban landscape is overwhelming and, as a Christian, it’s very hard to know how to engage. For every offensive behavior I see and wish to shield my children from, there is another that breaks my heart and begs for my help. The sin is obvious here, but so is the injustice. And that is one part of city living that I’ll never get used to.

homeless 1

There are two sides of the justice equation—first is overturning injustice and the second requires setting things right. In the Kingdom of God, we are called to both sides of the equation. My responsibility is to weigh the needs I see in front of me and the gifts and resources I have to offer, then find my part in the picture. But, my time, our finances, my emotional energy—it’s all maxed-out on most days. So, what I have to offer doesn’t seem like much.

As in many other cities, there are “regulars” we see on the street every day as we go about our lives. Some of them are legitimately homeless; some are not. Some receive financial assistance; some do not. Some could get a job if they tried; some could not. They all have stories to tell about why they are where they are and some of the stories are true, but it’s impossible to know who to believe.

There is one particular man who hangs out in our neighborhood, selling newspapers and asking for pocket change. Unlike some of the people we see wandering the street, he is pretty harmless. He’s not prone to violence and only occasionally shows up with alcohol on his breath.

Like the rest, he has a lot of stories to tell.

He tells us his mother is in the hospital and he has to go visit her.
He tells us that he knows who stole my husband’s tools and he can get them back for us—for a small fee.
He tells us all of his clothes and bedding have been destroyed by bed bugs.
He tells us that he absolutely did not steal the pair of sandals he is trying to sell us.
He tells us that he has cancer and has only 100 days to live.

Some of these stories are true, I’m sure, and some of them are definitely not.
But, we listen anyway.

This man is, essentially, a stranger but we treat him as a friend. He sings songs to my children and brings them toys he finds waiting on the sidewalk on trash day. He helps me with my groceries and offers to work with my husband, building our fence in the backyard. When I have $1.50, I buy his paper. And when I have extra change, I give him that, too. My husband lets him in to use our bathroom and drives him home late at night when he’s missed the bus or doesn’t have enough change for the fare.

Our relationship with this man is very simple and, to be honest, it doesn’t require very much from us at all: a few bucks, a couple extra minutes, a smile and a warm welcome. We could never offer the same time and energy to every man or women we see in our neighborhood, but we have learned that we have plenty to offer this man. And, so, we give it freely.

homeless 2

Justice is an essential part of God’s economy and the work of every Christian. I am not capable of, nor responsible for, fulfilling every part of the equation myself, but there is always something I can offer.

The other day, my husband and a friend were moving furniture into our house when our neighborhood “regular” appeared and offered to help. After the work was done, this man told our friend another one of his stories. We’ve heard a lot of these stories before–stories about his mother, his bed bugs, his cancer.

This time he said that, thanks to my husband, he decided not to kill himself.

And maybe this story is true.

Maybe my $1.50 and the warm smiles of my children and the three mile car ride from our house to his really is saving this man’s life.

Or maybe it’s not.

It’s not my job to determine what “results” God brings from my labor. And, like the man who plants the seeds of a fruit tree, I may never even see the harvest. My job is to be faithful with what I’ve been given and be willing to offer it generously for the work of the Kingdom.

This is what God has commanded of us: to act justly, love mercy, and show compassion. There is always more to be done but, if we have done this, we have done enough. And if we would all do enough, together we could do it all.

 

liz mcewanLiz McEwan is a wife and mother of three living in Cincinnati, Ohio. Find her at thewalkinggreen, a “personal commentary on marriage & motherhood, urbanism & sustainability, theology & culture.”

The Parable of the Lost Cat (For Syria)

cat

A woman drives by our house on a Sunday morning and drops off a flier with a photo of her lost cat. My four-year-old boy carries it around all day long.

He brings it with him in the car to church and it’s the first thing he tells the greeters at the door when they say “Hello,” to our ragged family. “The lady lost her cat,” he says. “Oh…no…” they say, unsure, and they look at us for an explanation.

He tells the kids in his class, and he tells his babysitters, who he finds in the foyer after service. He talks about the cat between bites of his cookie, as he carefully holds his plastic cup of lemonade.

After church, on the 45-minute drive to his Grandparents’ house, he stares at the picture of the cat. “We gotta find that cat, Mom,” he says. “That lady will be sad if she can’t find her cat.”

Andrew and I exchange looks. The likelihood of us finding that cat is so slim that it might as well be nonexistent, and we don’t know how to explain this to the boy in the backseat. “Buddy,” we say. “We’ll look for the cat, but we might not find it. Lots of people will be looking. Maybe someone else will find it.”

“Yeah,” he says. “Someone will find it.” But he keeps looking at the picture of the cat until he drifts off to sleep.

*

I learned about Syria at a nail salon in Chicago on the day before my best friend’s wedding.

A thirteen-year-old girl was doing my manicure – her summer job at her family’s salon – brushing a barely-there shade of pink on my chewed-up, Mama fingernails. She was telling me about going out for volleyball and about her favorite subjects. Above us, headlines flashed along the bottom of a muted TV while the most terrible footage of small, stilled bodies scrolled on a loop.

In that moment, I couldn’t understand what was happening, but I felt it pierce through me like a needle, puncturing the soft bubble of wedding spirit and champagne.

Weeks later, I still don’t really understand the political landscape of the Syrian civil war, except that it’s dire. “The killing will continue, probably for years,” the news article says. “There’s no one to sign a peace treaty on the rebel side, even if the regime side were interested, and there’s no foreseeable victory for either.”

I’ve never been very good at looking for the miracle. At allowing myself to really hope for it. Every morning, I receive a prayer for Syria in my email inbox, and I add my voices to the chorus of pleas.

I say I believe, and I want to believe…but in the end, my cynic heart just doesn’t. Not really. Though I breathe desperate prayers in the searching, the biggest part of me struggles to believe that the lost country will ever be put back together or that the runaway cat will ever be found.

*

It’s almost lunchtime on Labor Day Monday when I hear my kid yelling from the garage. He’s outside with his brother, riding bikes in the driveway with Dad while I sort through old bins of clothes for a garage sale. I come up huffing, “Why are you screaming,” I ask. “What do you need?!”

But he needs nothing. He’s wide-grinned-glowing, jumping up and down and pointing to the tucked in corner of the garage next to the recycling bin.

“I FOUND THE CAT, MOM!” He says, and the big pile of black fur raises its head and lets out a pathetic little meow. “I knew I would find you!” he says, and his Dad and I look at each other, speechless.

It’s been over 24 hours, and the missing cat has somehow made his way into the garage of the little boy who wanted to find him the most.

Dane sits on the garage step and talks softly to the visitor, and it feels like a holy moment, a parable come to life. I let out a breath of laughter and amazement, and I feel God there. It’s like he’s saying, Listen, love. There’s something here for you too.

parable of the lost cat

I received an email from reader and blogger friend Marilyn Gardner earlier this week. Her husband is in Syria, working with relief teams. She forwarded a bit of his email to me. “The medıcal needs here are overwhelmıng,” he writes. “Hygıene kıts and baby kıts are vıtal vıtal vıtal.

She asked me to make you aware of this simple way to help: putting together kits through CWS, an organization that works with partners to eradicate hunger and poverty and to promote peace and justice around the world.

The kits are simple and basic. For the Hygiene Kit: a towel, a washcloth, a bar of soap. Comb. Toothbrush. Band-aids. Clippers. The Baby Kit is simple too – a basic collection of baby clothes, cloth diapers and a couple of washcloths wrapped up in a blanket and sealed with a couple of diaper pins.

And here’s the thing: I started the One Small Change series because my tendency is to let my exhaustion and my own feelings of powerlessness keep me from even trying to make a difference in the world.

For too long, I was told to change the world in some epic way, and when I discovered that I couldn’t, I completely retreated. I stopped trying. I stopped knowing how to try.

I hold Peace in Syria with the same callous hands that I held that flier of the lost cat. We’ll keep an eye out, I think, but we’ll never see a thing.

But then – washcloths. I can do washcloths. I can do baby blankets and diaper pins. I can hold the photo of those Syrian refuges in my heart, and I can assemble these little grace gifts, and it won’t fix the giant rift between the government and the rebels. It probably won’t sway the political landscape one tiny bit…but it will go to someone. It might be the found treasure they’ve been waiting for.

And what I’m trying to tell you is that Jesus said, “The kingdom of God belongs to the little children,” and my kid is sitting in the garage next to a found neighborhood cat.

He is looking at it with victorious love. He is teaching me how to change the world.

 

To learn more about CWS Kits and how you can get involved, click here.

Light Years and Heavy Years and Marriage

On our 10-year-wedding anniversary, I stand at the Andover Gas Station/Post Office for forty-five minutes, mailing out a batch of advanced review copies of my book.

The clerk’s name is Susan, and she is kind even when I haul my giant bag of packages onto the counter and say, “Hi. I’m here to ruin your perfectly nice afternoon.” One by one, she types in the weight and zip code of each manila envelope, prints and applies the sticker, and puts them in the Out box.

The book doesn’t weigh much; the postage is only a couple of bucks, and the whole thing fits neatly in the small, 6” x 9” envelope. How can I explain how heavy it feels to pass it across the counter? To let the books fly out of my hands and across the country, where people who barely know me will read all of my secrets?

*

When I get home, I have fifteen minutes to dress for our date night while simultaneously throwing my dirt-covered children in the bath. Liam’s toe is bleeding because he dragged it across the driveway. He wants the Cars Band-Aid on. He wants the Cars Band-Aid OFF OFF OFF!

I put on my blue dress and the little heart necklace Andrew bought me that first Christmas we were dating. I was 18. He handed it to me in the stairwell of our college, and my heart raced when he clasped it at the back of my neck. I’d almost forgotten that necklace, tucked at the bottom of my jewelry box, but when I put it on, the contours of the heart charm feel familiar and light. I remember almost instantly how I used to touch it unconsciously during the long weeks that we were apart.

I put on a dash of mascara and get a streak of wet, dirty bath water on my dress while kissing the boys goodbye. And when we peel out of the driveway, I can almost remember what it felt like to be leaving our reception ten years ago, driving toward Michigan – Husband and Wife.

*

These are the light years. True, the kids are wild and a possessed by that terrifying demon that my early childhood education teachers call “disequilibrium.” Three nights this week, we’ve made it only until 4:30pm before saying, “GUESS WHAT GUYS?! IT’S MOVIE NIGHT!!!” And then we’ve sent them downstairs with peanut butter sandwiches and a Netflix Special so we could hide in the kitchen and eat chips.

Jobs are hard and time is at a premium and the house is always a mess and nothing is ever finished, but still, these are the light years. We are easy with each other; the conversation flows and the misunderstandings are small. There is a lot to laugh about, and the summer has been full of good things.

There are more stacks of advanced review copies on my counter waiting to be sent, and it is exciting and terrifying all at once. The books have a generic gray cover and the wrong subtitle, but I can flip to any page and be exactly right there. In the heavy years of my life and my marriage when the darkness seemed so complete that I didn’t know if I’d ever make it out.

I remember so clearly what it felt like to sit on our torn, living room couch and feel like we were in different dimensions of the universe – that even if we were to reach toward one another, we never would be able to touch.

I remember the ways we failed each other – some quiet, some incomprehensible – and the loaded silence of pain.

Every time I read that part of the book where I stopped fighting for our marriage, I feel the ache of regret and the sting of my own mistakes. And yet, also, I feel it crash into me again – the grace of God. The mercy of Love. That sudden, wild moment when the whole thing really ought to have broken apart, and instead, we got a miracle.

*

On the night of our 10-year-anniversary we drive to our alma mater, the Christian college where we first met.  Drinking was most definitely not allowed then, and I doubt it’s allowed there now, but we bring a bottle of red wine onto campus anyway, along with a loaf of asiago cheese bread.

The bench where we sit is new and smooth, but it sits in the same spot as the old wooden one did – the one we stopped during our first walk all those years ago. We raise a glass and we toast the past and the future and the decade. The heavy years. The light years. All of them bound up together in time.

All night long, the comments come in on my post from Thursday. So many of you shared the stories of your young marriages turned old and wise. We read them. We sigh. We laugh. I was 18, he was 20. You wrote. They said we were crazy. They said we couldn’t make it work.

And I think, Of course you’re crazy. We are, all of us, completely insane – out-of-our-minds to get married so young.

And yet.

10 year anniversary

Andrew and I wander around the campus, retracing the first, light years of simple love, and it all looks so different. The buildings have changed, the tennis courts are ripped out, whole parking lots have been added and extended, and the fountain is gone.

It looks different, too, through the lens of experience, and as we walk hand-in-hand through our past, it feels holy and beautiful and delicate.

And when I wrote, last week, that it will be hard and you will have to fight for your marriage, I’m not being dramatic or vague or simplistic. I know because we almost lost it once. Once during the heaviest year, we might have let it go.

*

On the night of our 10th anniversary, we get home early, and the babysitter has cleaned the whole house. The kids are sprawled across their beds, asleep, and these are the light years. It’s a beautiful part of the story, and I am thankful for the heart necklace, for the contraband wine, the laughter, the sleeping babies.

But I know it’s only part of the story. The other part is in that book on the kitchen table. It’s in the chapters of our story waiting to unfold, and in those days, we will cling to the grace we’ve been given. We will keep learning and relearning to forgive and to hold on.

“Ten years,” I mumble. “Ten years,” he echoes. It’s only a start.

We kiss each other goodnight and go to sleep.

The Big Thing I’ve Been Waiting to Tell You

book contract 2I started writing my book during my MFA program at Hamline University a hundred years ago.

We were freshly home from China, and I was working as a technical writer at a software company. I’d sit in 2pm meetings and create online help modules, and then, after work, I’d drive to school.

Outside of small, lit classrooms, the seasons changed, and so did I. I always thought I would write fiction. Instead, I started writing my story bit by bit, prompt by prompt.

I started writing about faith and passion and being on fire, and I was always surprised by how many people seemed to relate.

Almost no one in those classrooms came from an evangelical background like mine, but everyone had some sort of church baggage. Some well-meant moment gone horribly wrong, some heavy-handed pastor, some overzealous boyfriend.

And then I was deep into my own Mad Season. I was spiraling, and I was writing about it because I had assignments due.

I’ve written before about the ways the writing of this particular book saved me – how God met me there when I couldn’t find him anywhere else. And because of that, this book feels both weighty and delicate.

*

My agent called to tell me about the book deal when Andrew and I were on our weekend getaway up north this February.

We got to our 1970s-decorated room at the Cascade Lodge, and I sat on the floral bedspread and listened to her voicemail.

It’s a two-book deal with a brand new imprint of Random House called Convergent.

And — here’s the super cool part — they’re fast-tracking my first book so that they can release it with their inaugural line in Fall 2013. This October. Only six months away.

When my hands stopped shaking enough to try to call her back, we realized that the Cascade Lodge has zero cell phone reception. So we got back in the car and drove to the nearest strip-mall coffee shop so that I could make that call.

While I talked to my agent, I watched a man who was waiting for his son to get off the bus. He had a hunting knife attached to his belt via holster. On the wall, there were various paintings of a family of bears engaged in typical “up north” activities – camping, canoeing, hiking.

The snow piled high outside, and the waves crashed in Lake Superior and the bell on the door jangled when knife-wearing man’s son came in from the bus.

“Let’s do it,” I told her. “I’m in.” And that was that.

I thought about getting a bear shirt from the gift shop to commemorate the occasion, but in the end, I decided against it.

*

I want to tell you that for me, the journey toward publication was long. It was a lot of  almosts and not quites. It was full of try agains and rejection emails and waiting.

I finished the book when Dane was a baby, and now he’s four, and I want to tell you that I felt the wait.

I need to say this because I know some of you are writers. Some of you are waiting for this thing to happen, and it’s not happening, and it feels really hard and tender – a purpling bruise that keeps getting elbowed by other people’s good news.

But I also need to say that I was changed in the waiting, and that these years have been so good for me. I learned things about God and about myself. It has been a softening. It has been a deepening.

I want to tell you that I think Convergent is the exact right publisher for this book. There were a lot of almost-fits along the way, but I feel this deep sense of rightness here. This is where I’m supposed to be.

But it took a while to get here, and I want to tell you who are in the aching, waiting place to take heart. This is just part of it for most of us. You will get there.

*

book contract 1I signed my book contract yesterday in the middle-flurry of morning activity. It took three or four tries to get this photo because Liam kept try to climb onto my lap to grab my pen.

In the living room, the TV blared – those SuperWhy! kids trying to find their super-letters. Dane kept shouting that he needed the wings reattached to his dragon toy.

I always thought signing a book contract would be a kind of transcendent moment. But in many ways, it was part of the movement of our day.

When I dropped the contract off at the gas station/post office, the boys abandoned me for the toy aisle immediately. I stood there alone, and I finally said to the clerk, “That’s my first book contract you’re holding.”

She looked at me with the dead eyes of an overworked postal/gas station employee, said, “So you want me to track it or something?”

And in many ways, this is a life changing thing. And in so many ways, it is business-as-usual.

In the end, I think that’s exactly, beautifully right.

Thank you so much for being part of my journey. I cannot wait to share this book with you.

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