Tag Archives: Jesus

When We Are Bit Players in Someone Else’s Story

photo credit: World Grunge Map - Sepia via photopin (license)
photo credit: World Grunge Map – Sepia via photopin (license)

I was reading about the Syrian refugee crisis in the news yesterday morning, and I had to keep referencing a world map. Though I’d looked it up before, back when the war started, I couldn’t quite remember — where was it again? And where are Jordan and Lebanon in relation to the Mediterranean Sea, and why are refugee boats collapsing in it as they flee, flee, flee an awful, confusing, devastating war?

I’m not sure whether high school history and geography failed me or if I just failed myself, but I’m thankful for the maps that Google spits forth in a matter of seconds, allowing me to zoom in and out on the faraway world as I try to put the puzzle pieces together.

“Why does the city of Damascus sound so familiar?” I had to ask Andrew while reading an article in The New Yorker about the war and the devestation and the problems arising in the world’s second-largest refuge camp in Jordan.

“Because of Paul. The road to Damascus is where he had his moment when he encountered God and went blind.”

“That’s right.” This is the ancient, familiar world of the Bible stories I have read a hundred thousand times. Of course there is still a Damascus. Of course life is still happening there. There are people there now just as there were then, and if I squinted my eyes in that direction, I might actually see them. 

But I have never been very good at thinking about the larger world. It’s too much — too vast, too complicated, filled with names that I can’t pronounce and nuances I can’t make sense of, and so I shrink my focus down, down, down: this house, this city, this state.

The place that I live. The place that I understand. The place that is my home.

*

It’s been almost exactly six months since my World Vision trip to Armenia. This half-anniversary — paired with the fact that it’s my sponsored child, Aleksandr’s, sixth birthday is in a few weeks — has me thinking a bit more than usual about the other side of the world: the mountains of Amasia, the mothers, bustling around their stoves, the children, waiting for us in their best sweaters.

I went to Armenia because writing is a gift that World Vision asked me to give, and it was a gift I could say yes to. And, also, I went there because I needed to get out of my own small life — the place where I’m so often placated by schedules and task lists and planners into thinking that I have some measure of control.

I wanted to go out into the great, big complicated world. I wanted to see the Kingdom at work. And I did.

I wandered in with a small group of bloggers. I watched and wrote and talked and listened.

There was a Story going on in Armenia, and it was about about creativity and love and poverty and hope. And I was not the heroine. I wasn’t even on the stage, but off in the wing, pen in hand, small monthly donations winging electronically from our checking account toward our sponsored child with his mischievous eyes and his crooked grin.

Armenia was not my story. But I was the smallest, most invisible part of it. And that was one of the most beautiful, freeing things I’ve ever experienced.

Photo by Matthew Paul Turner
Photo by Matthew Paul Turner

There’s this whole thing in vogue in Christian circles these days about living a good story. I don’t know if it started with Donald Miller or if he just popularized the concept…and certainly there are really beautiful things about it.

It’s beautiful to be purposeful about your life, to choose bravery, to embrace who it is that God made you to be and to live abundantly in the freedom that Christ offers.

It’s a strong undercurrent of the women’s ministry that I’m part of at my little church — this idea of helping women tell a good story. And I love the way that it communicates that every person matters, that your life has dimension and importance and reach.

But also, there are so many fragmented moments when the small simple thing you’re doing is anything but a story — let alone a good one. You’re scrubbing the dishes. You’re writing a report. You’re sitting in rush hour traffic.

You’re sitting at the kitchen table while the kids fight over some TV show in the living room, and you’re reading about the Syrian refugees. And you know that you’re not going to move to Jordan and help out in the refugee camp. That would be a good story, but it’s not yours. You’re not even sure you have it in you to drive downtown once a week to teach English to the ones already here.

These are the moments I’m interested in — the moments when the story is not about you. Or when you fail to live up to the Story. When you’re just sitting there, at the edge of the whole thing — listening, watching — somewhere in the wings.

There is so little you can do, and it doesn’t feel like any kind of poetic victory to donate a little money or breathe a small prayer or write a letter. It doesn’t feel like a story at all.

And it’s this disembodied moment — the one that seems so beside the point — that I want to notice.

*

Google Maps tells me that it’s 493 miles from Syria to Armenia.

I routinely drive 411 from my home in Minnesota to my parents’ house in Chicago — not that much of a difference. And also, so much of a difference.

When I click the Donate Now box for World Vision’s Syrian Refugee fund and fill in a number, it seems like such a small, unimportant thing. What can my small donation do in the face of so much pain? It takes one minute, two at most.

I am not the hero here; I’m not even on the stage.

But somewhere, a story is unfolding, and these small, unexciting acts of love are a part of it.

And I like to think that someday, in a sun-drenched eternity when we are all telling each other stories, this small donation will have a bit part in one of them.

And, in the end, I don’t think it will matter what part we played — small or big — only that we were there. Only that we were obedient.

Only that we believed that nothing is too small for God. And nothing is too big. That in the face of a terrifying war and a complicated, vast world, God is telling a story that is big and beautiful. A story that includes us all.

A story that ends with the most beautiful kind of Redemption.

*

Photo by Matthew Paul Turner
Photo by Matthew Paul Turner

You can donate to World Vision’s Syrian Refugee fund here, and I can tell you, from experience, that they are careful and wise and good with that money.

Also, these two cuties from Armenia are still in need of sponsors. I met them — sat in their living room, listened in translation to their story while their father leaned on his cane. He has chronic back pain, and his wife regularly wakes to him crying in bed.

If you’re interested in playing a bit part in this family’s story, email me. I can get you set up with the links!

The Truest Thing About Me

pain is not the truest thing

The depression came back a few weeks ago. It was sudden and sharp, and it knocked me off my feet.

It wasn’t totally unexpected — I’d started a new medication and I knew that it was possible that it might throw off my fragile emotional balance. But when it happened, when I found myself flat on my back at the bottom of that dark place, unable to move — AGAIN — it surprised me anyway.

I’m tired of being a person who struggles with depression.

I’m tired of these fallbacks and setbacks. Of the mornings that come with a bleak sense of dread. I’m tired of the wary, watchful way I have to approach my sad days, waiting to see if it’s just sadness or if it’s something more sinister and dangerous. I’m tired of the way that these normal, negative emotions don’t pass for me…but rather pool into a sort of sludge that I find myself stuck in time after time after time.

I’m not trying to be overdramatic here. There are plenty of times when things are fine, when everything feels tentatively okay. Mostly, the medicine helps. Mostly, things are manageable.

But a couple of weeks ago, the depression came back, and lately, it feels like it might be the truest thing about me.

*

I’m reading an advanced copy of Emily Freeman’s beautiful upcoming new book, Simply Tuesday. When the depression comes back, it feels almost impossible to open my Bible, so I open books like this one — the kind that can take my by the hand and gently lead me toward Jesus. And right now, in this hard, dark space, Emily’s words have been exactly what I needed.

There is a part in the book when Emily describes an interaction between her friend Fil Anderson and theologian Brennan Manning at a conference. During the conference the two men met, and Emily tells a beautiful story about their interaction. During the meeting, Brennan gives Fil some Bible verses to read — the ones about coming weary.

After he read these verses,” Emily writes, “Brennan offered Fil this simple instruction: ‘Sit with these words until they become the truest thing about you.’”

The truest thing.

What is it about pain and struggle that makes it so defining? You lose someone you love. You get the diagnosis. You can’t get the job or crawl out of debt or find that person to spend your life with….and this pain, whatever it is, is ever-present and sharp and dominating. It feels like the truest thing about you.

*

I got up at three in the morning the other night and went into my office. I’d been lying awake for half an hour, listening to the voice of self-loathing whispering in my ear, reminding me all of the ways that I am failing. And then finally I couldn’t take it anymore, so I got up and sat on the daybed and looked at the Bible on the end table next to me.

And I’m not sure if it’s the depression, or if it’s all of my Bible baggage, but it’s so hard to reach across that infinite gap between the bed and the end table to pick up my Bible.

But that night, I managed it somehow. I reached across that heavy gap, and I picked up that concrete-heavy book, and I managed to open it to Psalm 40.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.

And here in the slimy depression, the sinking mud feels like the truest thing about me.

But, of course, it’s not.

The truest thing is that there is a rock — a firm place to stand. The truest thing is that new song that God is weaving into the empty dark of my life, even when I can barely hear it.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls, Psalm 42 says, and this is the truest thing — not the thin stagnant water of my pain, but these breakers, these waves, this sea-song of love, love, love sweeping over me.

And in the end, I suppose, the truest thing about me isn’t about me at all.

It’s Jesus.

*

I’m in the middle of switching medications again. I’m off that one that sent me sinking back in despair. I’m about to start a new one, and I’m nervous and wary and this is not something I’m going to minimize to make a neat point. I struggle with clinical depression. It is a hard, defining, true thing about me.

But it’s not the truest.

Sit with these words until they become the truest thing about you, Brennan Manning said, and so I am sitting here.

If I close my eyes and stay very still, I can almost hear the waves crashing, true and clear and constant, like love, love, love, love.

Why I’m Coming Back to Blogging

Why I'm Blogging

Last Monday morning, I dropped my youngest off at a friend’s house, went over to my favorite coffee shop, and finished the second major revision of my book.

I have been working on my second book obsessively since I got home from Armenia in March —  every day, working through paragraphs, restructuring sections on card stock using Post-Its, crossing out and underlining and inking big green questions on my draft: What are you really trying to say here?

Writing. Deleting. Writing. Deleting. Getting a refill of coffee. Deleting, deleting, deleting. Yes, Pandora, I AM still listening.

Writing in this way doesn’t allow much space for the very different work of writing blog posts — at least for me. At least now — with small kids still around most of the time, still needing so much from me, still climbing on my shoulders while I sit at the kitchen table, writing.

So I let myself off the hook for the last several months. For most of the year actually. I wrote a post here and there, but mostly, I let myself be pulled under into the depths of this new work.

But on Monday morning, I finished that second major draft. Hopefully the next batch of edits will be smaller, simpler. Hopefully the deep underwater work of this story has been completed.

I closed my computer and brought my empty coffee cup to the counter. I wanted to tell someone, but the baristas were all in the back, and the counter was empty. The two old farmers who have coffee next to me every morning weren’t there, and neither was my pastor friend, Rick. So I just grabbed my stuff, slung my purse over my shoulder, and quietly made my way back into the world.

*

I gave myself a week away from my computer. I cleaned and went to IKEA. I learned to use a drill, re-did my kids’ new shared room, and made Liam’s old bedroom into (gasp) my office. (We’ll see how long this lasts, but I’m beyond excited. I’ve never had an office.)

I had a last-day-of-school water fight with my family, spent a few days at the beach, washed the windows, and read novels on the deck. I closed my eyes and paid attention to the summer breeze and watched the baby ducks trek up, single-file, to eat seed from our bird feeder. I went to sleep early and slept in as late as the boys would let me and didn’t worry about wasting writing time.

I sat in a sand chair at the edge of the Lake George, and I let myself brainstorm essays I might want to write, new writing projects I might want to pursue, new blog posts I might want to share.

It was a good week.

*

The first post I read when I logged back into the Internets yesterday morning was an insightful article by Amy Julia Becker at Christianity Today about “Why Bloggers are Calling it Quits.”

Becker’s points were solid and familiar. I too, struggle with what she calls “tyranny of the present” and the pressure to “to remain beholden to the constant information cycle of blogging and tweeting and posting photos online.”

I get that. There is nothing that stresses me out quite like a Major Cultural Event and the sudden, intense response of the blogosphere — a thousand megaphones shouting at me from my Facebook newsfeed, demanding my outrage. It makes me feel like a failure when Facebook reminds me that I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve never figured out, really, how to be “awesome” on social media, and that stresses me out.

And yet, at the same time, the blog world is still where I get my favorite book recommendations, my favorite recipes, my best IKEA hack ideas.

The Faith and Life blogs that I read regularly have a way of helping me to orient my heart around what matters. Where else but the blogosphere can you read something called “Go Forth and Be a  Little Jacked Up” by Glennon at Momastery? Where else can I read along as  Micha gently processes spirituality and motherhood and as Leigh works through life transitions for herself…and for all of us who find ourselves in transit?

Where else can I get glimpses of insight into things that I don’t understand…but want to?

I click over to Humans of New York and read the small, enormous stories of regular people. I read Emily Freeman and find permission to be unremarkable. I read Brené Brown and find permission to be vulnerable.

Where else is there such a powerful reader/writer connection — a conversation, a call to interaction, a buffet of topics and ideas and thoughts and insights? It’s an invitation into the living, breathing, fighting, wild, loud, raucous international family of humanity. It’s the coolest thing.

Listen — I believe in the long works. The memoirs and novels and essays and collections. I am passionate about them…and I’m a mom in her Tired Thirties, so I barely use the word “passionate” to describe anything in my life.

I just finished that second draft of that second book, and I am grateful for the time I spent away from the Internet, letting my mind orbit around the  questions I was asking, letting the words and sentences stretch long into places that I didn’t think I was going. I love writing books. I hope that I will continue to write them (although I’m about ready to take a break from memoirs, because holy smokes.)

But also, I love the experience of blogging. I never thought I would, but I do.

(Granted, I’ve never been one for writing about stuff that is newsworthy or relevant. I’ve had very few posts go “viral.” I don’t touch “hot-button issues” with a six foot pole. But still.)

It turns out that I actually like being a Blogger. Who would have thought.

*

There is a verse in the Bible about how God is working, all the time, in us. About how, in light of that, we should continue working out our salvation. (Philippians 2:12).

I don’t really know what that means, but I think this is where I do that.

This is where I take hold of the edges of my ever-changing faith and hang on tight.

This is where I write it out, where I find people who get it, where I feel less alone, where — sometimes — I even feel God in that way that we always hope we will. Where, when I don’t feel God, I can still find a way to engage, to move forward, to write toward the wholeness I so desperately want.

And I hope, somehow, that this blog does some of that for you too.

Anyway — all this to say, I’m back. It seems a little like I’m walking back into a room that everyone else is leaving. But I’m back anyway.

Talk to me.

For the One Who’s Still a Long Way Off

photo credit: almost there via photopin (license)
photo credit: almost there via photopin (license)

“So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off,
his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son,
threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20

So you’re taking the long way back, hobbling along, still a little amazed, actually, to find yourself heading back to that place you left so long ago.

Back then, you were young and drunk on the idea of independence, on your plans, on your dreams — your inheritance burning a hole in your pocket. And, besides that, you were sick to death of the whole damned thing, not sure what you believed anymore or why you’d ever believed it. Not sure if you belonged anymore in that house, among those people, the ones bowing their heads in prayer one moment and whispering side-eyed in the foyer the next.

You weren’t sure, even, about Him. The Father whose love sometimes felt like it might crush you, flatten you into something smaller than you wanted to be. Love as familiar and bland to your tongue as the bread you’d eaten every day of your life. And from the threshold of that doorway between past and future, the world looked like a buffet…a hundred thousand things that you’d never had a chance to try. And you found yourself ravenous.

If you’re being honest, it’s not like you’re particularly ready to go back. This isn’t how you saw this playing out. You thought this would all work better, and who can imagine, at first, the fragile nature of success? Who would think that it’s just a soap bubble getting bigger and bigger until it could almost swallow you whole. And then. Pop.

You’re going back, frankly, because you’ve run out of options. Because you never could manage to outrun your past, because it kept creeping up on you as you lay in the hollow of your despair, wishing things had turned out differently.

Go home, go home, go home, the phantom lullaby sang in your ears, and it was so familiar and soothing, that eventually you found yourself thinking, What the hell. What else am I going to do?

And so here you are, taking the long way, dragging so much baggage that you can hardly keep going. Failure. Resentment. Pain. Anger. Doubt. Distrust. It feels like a long way from where you are to where He is, and you don’t even know what it’ll be like when you get there.

Is it as bad as you remember it? Is it as good?

What is waiting for you at the end of this grudging acceptance? And Who?

A hundred miles away. A thousand. It might as well be a million for all you can imagine, and each step feels hard as you lift your leaden, heavy feet and walk.

You are not as far away as you feel.

You have turned, barely, in the direction of home.

So little. The least and the most that you could possibly do.

It’s exactly enough.

Somewhere far away from where you think you are, the Father is waiting, watching. He sees you who are a long way off. He comes running.

And, after all, who can outrun that crushing Love that, in the end, makes us so much larger than we ever thought we could be? That Love that has been waiting, watching all this time for you to run to the edge of the world and then turn, finally around.

I’m not saying it’s not a long journey. Anyone who has ever run away knows this. Anyone whose heart has calcified from sadness to anger to cold, stony cynicism knows that it’s a hard road home. But also, it’s so much closer than you think.

Because the Father is running toward you, His eyes full of joy and tears and all the love that’s been yours all this time. He will walk you home to where that same bread will taste familiar in your mouth and fill up your emptiness. To where you will finally understand that it was always enough.

You are still a long way off, I know, but I want you to know that he is coming anyway. Maybe you can’t see him yet, but he is sprinting, laughing, calling your name across the void.

He is closing the gap with raucous, echoing grace.

^
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