Monday, January 1, 2018

Thoughts for the New Year

In 2018, my daily prayer is going to be:  "Show me how to be a godly woman.  Give me the strength to obey you, to serve you, to serve my family, to serve others."  I struggle with staying in the Bible the way that I should---I read small bits at a time.  Sometimes I go long stretches without reading it at all other than at church on Sunday morning.   I tend to do better with some kind of devotional that only gives me small chunks of the Bible with a lot of explanation tacked on.  I think there's a place for that---and sometimes I just need a lot of explanation to really understand what I'm reading----but as time goes on I've become more convicted that I need to devote more time to actually reading and praying through the Bible.   I want God's voice to be the first one I hear in the morning and the last before I go to sleep at night.  And I want to learn how to be obedient to Him in all things.

God has been good to me.  Through every doubt, through every hardship,  through infertility, through the challenges of adoption, general parenthood, teaching---- through joy, through loss---God has shown up.  God has been there.  In personal, loving, ways that display His kindness and His goodness.

Psalm 16:2  I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”

I have read this in the Bible---but I also know this to be true from my own experiences.  I went through a period in my life when I ran as far as I could from God.  I was actively trying to mold Him into something I could easily accept---and if I was not able to do that---if He couldn't be what I thought He should be----then I really didn't want anything to do with Him.  And He showed up.  And showed me kindness, grace.  When you hit a place in your mind where there is obviously nothing good in you---where every thought seems to be resentful and hateful towards yourself and even towards others---and then something Good touches you, stands by your bedside and holds your hand and calls you Beloved--you know that Goodness didn't come from inside you---it came from something outside of you.  

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

And you realize that the God who made the universe has given everything He could ever give---sacrificed and suffered on your behalf-- in order to reconcile with you--a sinner--a person in active rebellion from His love.  There is no greater love story. There is no greater rest.  There is no greater peace.  There is nothing more humbling.  There is nothing more beautiful. And there is no true happiness outside of this knowledge and acceptance of the gift extended to you. 

Throughout the year of 2017---I began to be convicted about the way that I was using food as a way to make myself feel better--and even the way I was using my extra weight as a kind of  strange protection.  I would eat too much or sit too long---and God would whisper---you don't really have to do this.  I'm right here.  You can't fill the void you're trying to fill with anything but Me anyhow...I would sit under preaching at church about idols---about turning to things other than God for things that only God can give. I watched my health decline.  I took more medicine to control blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.  I listened to the doctors warn me that my extra weight--which I had learned to lean more and more on for protection---was killing me.  I knew I needed to change.  But I've tried to change before---I have changed before---superficially--- with short term weight loss.   I would always turn back to food eventually.  And turn back to the weight.  I was afraid to try. For a long time, I was afraid to even pray for God to help me turn away from this sin---because I feared that it was so much a part of me---that I could never really let it go.  

Less scary than actually starting the process of loosening the control of food/inactivity on my life---was praying about it.  And sometime in 2017---I did start praying.  At first, just during the church services when I would feel convicted about the idols I was maintaining in spite of the love God had shown me.  Then I started walking sometimes at night.  I'd bring my Kindle with me, walk slowly, and read my Bible.  And pray.  And ask God to help turn me away from excess---and turn me more towards Him.  I would read my Bible and the explanations that went with it---and there were times I was just struck with the wonder--- that I have been set free--I don't have to be enslaved to food or greed or anything else.  I'm free --I'm accepted completely because of the love and sacrifice of  my savior--- Christ Jesus, I'm loved, completely.  I'm no less loved because I'm overweight----but I don't have to be overweight---and I can change.  I can break free from this---not of my own strength---but through the strength of the God who loves me.  I listened to a sermon once by Tim Keller---where he talked about these moments where sometimes you feel as though God has just lifted you up on His shoulders.  He compared it to the feeling a child has who has been lifted up into his father's arms feels----the child is no more or less loved by his father whether he's in his father's arms or not---but the child feels the father's love more acutely when he is in the father's arms.  We are no more or less loved by God regardless of our feelings---but there were times that it just felt as if I'd been lifted into my heavenly Father's arms.  It was sweet---and it restored my soul in a way I hadn't thought possible.  

So around August---I started the work.  Counting the calories---keeping them below the number allotted in order to lose weight.   Walking 3x a week for 20 minutes....walking every day.....walking further and longer because it became joyful---and because I looked forward to it. I often read my Bible as I walked.  I prayed.  I asked others to pray for me.  Many of my friends and peers encouraged me.  I started running---just a little---just to see if I could.  Began the c25k program----and somehow---against all of my expectations--- that became joyful as well.  Running and asking God to carry me one step further today than I went yesterday felt like a new kind of worship---a new kind of relationship building activity between me and God.  I ran past the Christmas lights in my neighborhood,  I ran under the hawk swooping over my favorite trail, over the imprints of the leaves on my path, and on the bridges over water that sparkled as the sun reflected off of it.  And there was a deep peace in this---one that I cannot adequately describe---one that I am so grateful for.  I started a little strength training a couple days a week because I wanted to be strong enough to run further.   And I started swimming laps at the local gym----because I can't run every day without risking injury----and that too---just pushing slowly across the water---asking for the strength for one more stroke---one more lap---it is a kind of healing---a kind of replenishing.  

The calorie counting, the exercise---it's good and it's helpful---and it had to be done in order for me to change.  I've lost 56 pounds---and my dr dropped one of my blood pressure medicines with plans to drop more.  I am not finished--I need to lose another 40 pounds or so.  But I am not obsessed with the number on the scale--or the size of my pants--or how quickly I can take this weight off.  Not anymore. The important change was the one that came before----the one that came through God reaching out to me----through prayer and dependence, through practicing faith that God really can turn me away from a sin that I have long been enslaved to.

  There is a danger here of turning even exercise or calorie counting into an idol---there is a danger here of falling into the thought pattern:  I did this on my own.  So I write this in part to tell myself---remember.  Remember who gave you this gift.  All good things---come from above.  And this season in my life of feeling good and healthy and loved----it's a blessing.  And it isn't anything I did---it is something that was given to me.  There will be other seasons---there will be seasons of sickness---or sadness--or loss.  There may be seasons when the weight comes back.  Whatever happens---I'm still loved by God.  I may falter---He will not.  My love for Him may waver---His love for me will be steadfast.  And this is what I want to remember always---and I want to live my life out of the infinite wellspring of His loving kindness.  

So what I'm praying for myself this year is this:  "Teach me to be a Godly woman.  And create in me a spirit of gratitude and service."

Thanks be to God for the blessings He has given me.  And happy new year.  

Sunday, August 14, 2016


   Sometimes I look at the pastimes that I enjoy the most---and I wonder why these hobbies are so soothing to me---why do they feed my soul?  Many of the hobbies that I enjoy most are not things that I do particularly well---there's just something inherently satisfying about them.  Playing music--particularly hymns or praise songs--- on the guitar and the ukulele make me feel like finally, my mind is still---and I can think without the frantic pace that always seems to drive me outside of myself throughout a normal day.  When I play a song---when I listen to the words---I feel like myself again---the self that knows it is nothing without Christ---the self that knows that it is planted like a tree near the water----that there is a never-ending spring of joy to drink from---and to be satisfied---to be thankful in Christ alone.  Still---my heart is prone to wander even in these times---and while I am content on one level----somewhere far beyond the level I can most readily identify---I know that I have not yet been made complete---and that the joy I experience in singing songs to glorify God is a shadow of a greater joy---to come....  And when I stand on the brink of that perspective---I find myself profoundly homesick.

When I pick up the needles and knit---connect loop with loop----bringing order out of tangled string ....again---I wonder if this compulsion to try and create beauty out of little knots of a wooden stick is a deeper homesickness---a memory---if you could call it a memory---of a time when we were charged with looking after our home...tending a garden---bringing forth order from the wild growth.  Unfortunately, I've never had the compulsion to tend an actual garden----but I do wonder----does the satisfaction I feel with watching tiny loops on a stick connecting with other loops until something sensible or something beautiful start to emerge---Is that a symptom of a deeper homesickness??

When I spend inordinate amounts of time fiddling with water chemistry on the fish tanks----trying to make everything line up just perfect----so that the fish are happy and healthy---and tame enough to eat from our hands....does it all point to a time when nature was at peace with man-----when all was at peace----and am I trying to reclaim some measure of that peace when I attempt to tame an animal.....when I take satisfaction in the animal's well it all homesickness, I wonder?

There are some mornings when I feel like I am planted in a  deeper Reality than I am normally aware of......The tile feels more vibrantly cold on my bare feet----the coffee tastes richer---and the silence of the sleeping house feels inhabited....inhabited by a Personal God who deigns to not only rescue me out of my outright rebellion and save me from myself---and from hell---but who goes even further---to form a relationship with me---where I am known completely and loved completely simultaneously.   Who is this God who loves us so intimately?  So unconditionally?  Who chases after us when we run from him?  Who binds wandering hearts that would be lost if they really did get away from the One they're trying to escape form......The older I get---the more I can say---God is good.....There is no good apart from Him.....and I think CS Lewis was right when he talked about the profound homesickness we feel at times for a world that is not like this one---the desire to be reunited with our Love---and to be set back in our true Home.....

Monday, April 18, 2016

Voices find me in the night
They allege and they accuse
I hunker down and hide myself
For I have no excuse.
I have failed a million times
And what is seen is but a part
Of all the darkness I have nourished
Down deep within my heart.
I have been a shadow
Shackled in a dusty cell
One foot bound to this world
And the other bound to hell.
And though my feet are bound
God invites me Come
And makes a way--becomes the way
Till I can't help but run...
But I have always been a runner
From everything that's Good
I cannot measure up
To straight edges as I should.
Laws are written on my heart
Etched unmistakably
I know I should be perfect
Yet---I cannot be.
So I bury myself deep
Beneath feigned complacencies
Guard my heart with walls of stone
Till the muscle atrophies....
And still God reaches deep
Beneath the folds of all my sin
"The debt you cannot pay
--I have paid---now child---come in."

There is something green within me
I did not plant it there
For I was only darkness
Swallowing more darkness from everywhere.
But something green is changing
Though its growth is slow and small
It bends, uncurls, and lengthens
It pushes on the wall...
Like a shell surrounds a seedling
In the ground---before it wakes
Until the green becomes too large
And the shell begins to break...
Breaking isn't safe
Being broken--that is pain
And yet the green grows larger
And a strange joy can't be contained.
The darkness still remains
But its home is cramped by all the green
It is outraged at the cracks
Where the shell is straining at the seams....
And I could say I'm lost
In conflicting parts of me
And yet somehow, I know I'm found
And I know who I'm to be
Though there are times I close my eyes
Close my heart and fall to slumber
The weight of joy from deep within
Pushes outward and I crumble.
I have a heart that's broken
A million times it's been made new
But each new fracture leaves a space
For new tendrils to creep through.
There is something green within me
I didn't plant it there
The one who made me placed it
Tended it with care
Something green within me--
That wakes me when ignored
For it knows its home's a garden
And that it shall be restored.  

Sunday, March 27, 2016


When I was a child, I was taught to believe in Jesus.  I was taught that God loved me so much that He sent His one and only begotten son to die for my sins that I might be reconciled to Him.  I was taught that because I believed in Jesus, when I died I would go to heaven.  I can remember vaguely----believing this so strongly that I wondered why anyone would fear death.  I can remember not fearing death as a child.  Looking back on this time, it's hard for me to say whether I was really a Christian at this time or not........because I don't think I understood fully at this time what Christ had done......or who I really was..... but then----there are times now I wonder whether salvation really is something that happens all at once-----or if it is something that grows gradually over time.... or maybe it is true that salvation is just the beginning----and as one's faith grows---and one's walk with God grows gradually closer---one experiences the salvation that always was---in a new and deeper way.  I don't pretend to understand these things....

As I grew older, I started to question things.  Verses in the Bible like "I am the potter and you are the clay.....does the clay question the potter as to how it is made..."---disturbed me.  I forged friendships with people who were different than me----many people who identified as gay or homosexual----and I loved these friends with my whole heart.  Hearing some people (it's important to note that this attitude did not come from the leadership of any particular church, but just from some people who also identified as Christians) within the church laughingly discuss how anyone who was gay/homosexual would end up in hell----hardened my heart towards church....and even towards Christianity.  I started to pull back.  I remember having a dream where it felt as if I were climbing up a ladder----all night long----climbing strenuously and with much effort---I reached the top and there was God....I asked Him if I could come into heaven----and He said no.  I woke up petrified.

Quietly, I walked away from the church during my college years.  I still professed Christianity----but I had no relationship with God....I only occasionally prayed or read the Bible or went to church----and then only because I had a deeply rooted fear of hell----I wondered about predestination----and often wondered if I were predestined for hell---because I couldn't uproot the questions from my heart.  

I became a music teacher.  I fell in love---got married.  Stu and I went to church together---a very gentle Lutheran church that had a lot of music and ritual----the rituals were soothing to me.  And I began searching for God----I read a lot of books about Christianity---I prayed---asking God to help me come into relationship with Him.  I can specifically remember asking God not to give up on me.  I journaled about the questions I had......I tried as best I could to deal with them... Time passed.  We wanted to have a child......found that we couldn't conceive a biological child.  Went to a lot of doctors---had a lot of tests---took different medicines that made me crazy and drained our financial resources.  I cried in a lot of closets.  And I got angry at God.

At the beginning of one school year---I climbed on top of a chair (which you aren't supposed to do by the way)---to staple music symbols along the strip of cork above my chalkboard.  I lost my balance---and fell down.  Pain.   My friend Karen heard me yell and came to check on me---I remember my ears ringing with the pain....and I felt I couldn't even think over the pain.....I remember Karen driving me around and getting me to the hospital. The first time the Doctor spoke with me, before X-rays and such---I remember him looking at me with a baffled expression on his face (I was crying---because well---pain)  "I suppose you aren't familiar with this kind of pain.....never played sports and sprained an ankle or anything?"  I didn't answer---felt ashamed.  Later, after x rays---I remember the Doctor casually telling me---"Well---it's really bad.  You've broken a your tibia and your fibia----and all the tendons around your ankle have been completely torn up too.  You're going to need surgery."  I could still barely comprehend anything over the pain----I hesitate to say too much about it because I feel certain that there are people who have been through so much worse-----but at the same time, I remember that each minute was an eternity----and that I did not know how to cope with this pain that never lessened.  And still in the back of my mind, I was thinking---Great----this'll really help me get pregnant.

They gave me morphine through an IV.  I was to spend the night at the hospital and have surgery the next morning.  The morphine didn't touch the pain----it was like a raging fire that did not lessen----never diminished---always burned.  We questioned the nurse about why the medicine was not helping.  She told me coldly, "You're a big girl.  All of that weight falling on that little ankle---of course it's going to hurt."  Shame.  Pain continues.  I did not handle it with grace. I screamed and cried---I acted downright ugly.  My mom was with me---at one point she wanted to pray for me.  At this point, I think I could say that my anger at God had reached its climax----I didn't understand Him----even as I had searched---my questions remained without answers, without relief----I was angry that I couldn't get pregnant like anyone else---I was angry that I was in pain----and I saw this injury as one more hurdle I'd have to jump through in order to have a child---and I was angry about that too.  I told my mom---I don't think I can listen to a prayer right now.  Maybe before---I had fooled myself into thinking that really---somewhere deep inside myself---I was in good relationship with God----you know---we were working on it------but this time of stress and what could probably be labeled as a moderate amount of adversity if looked at relatively in comparison to what some people go through-----it drew back the curtain----and showed me that I didn't even want to deal with God.  The night dragged.  I watched the clock----I didn't know time could go so slowly.   I constantly seethed with an unruly anger.  Wee hours of the morning---mom was sleeping---she never left even though I was foul and must have been just awful to be around.  And then without warning---every hair on the back of my neck raised-----there was nothing but the quiet whir of machines...occasional footsteps in the hallway....and the pain that just had a hold of me.  And yet suddenly I was just really scared---not of my injury---but of the something *other* that seemed to be in the room.  I never heard anything audibly---or saw anything---there was no grand sign or anything like that.  But I remember being petrified and knowing that God was there--(I know He's always there, I just think sometimes our awareness is heightened) the conversation that happened after that was no less Real just because it didn't happen out loud----I consider it to be one of the most Real conversations I've ever had.  Please keep in mind that I was empty of anything good----filled only with anger for pretty much everyone----including God---who I did believe in---but had been struggling to believe He was Good.....I can't emphasize enough the fact that there was nothing good in me.....nothing.  I was incapable of high or noble feelings.......I was empty.  And suddenly I'm hearing internally this voice (voice is the wrong word--- but it will suffice) that is both authoritative and compassionate at the same time----telling me---"Stop this.  You're going to be ok.  You are blessed.  Look at your family and how much they love you.  I'm here---and I love you.  What more could you need?"  I can't describe this experience adequately----I can say it was as if someone sat on the bed beside me and held my hand----I can say it was as if someone kindly smoothed my brow....I can say I was both scared to death and simultaneously felt loved completely---from someone who saw me---down to the bottom---all the ugly parts of myself that I try very hard to keep hidden---exposed to this someone----and still...feeling loved beyond measure.  I remember crying silent tears---no longer from the pain---which did not stop-----but from this closeness--this intimacy with a Good God----who deigned to draw near to me even as I did nothing but run away from Him.  This moment.....this made me realize----of course I'm never going to understand this God----what God draws near to someone who's done nothing but run from Him?  What God shows kindness to someone who's done *nothing* to deserve it....His ways are infinitely higher than my own.....and though I believe we are given minds and that we should use the end I don't think every question has to be answered in order to accept the truth that God is Good---and He loves us all the time.  Questions are ok----God can handle our questions---that doesn't necessarily mean He will answer them.....and the journey into looking for answers can lead us to places that are far better than the answers themselves....

I had surgery the next morning----I was still in a lot of pain when they took me to prep me for surgery---and I was still crying.  The nurse was confused by my tears----"Are you scared of the surgery?"---she asked kindly.  "No," I answered honestly.  "I'm just in quite a lot of pain."  She seemed surprised---checked my IV.  "This has infiltrated" she told me matter-of-factly.  She put the IV in the other arm and within moments the pain subsided.  They put a plate and some screws in my ankle----and I spent the day in the hospital----went home that night.

Pain was a near constant companion for months after this.  I had nerve damage---and while the pain meds helped with other kinds of pain----the nerve pain---a creepy crawling fiery kind of feeling---was unfazed by the meds they gave me.  I couldn't sleep.  I found that doing something with my hands distracted me from the nerve pain----which was worse at night it seemed.  I started latch hooking----as I had done when I was a kid.....found that it helped.  Then, my good friend Karen who teaches art at my school--- taught me to knit.  I struggled as I learned---but found that while I was quietly cursing over my yarn and needles---I didn't focus so much on the pain in my ankle and foot....and after a while I stopped struggling----and began enjoying the simple pleasures to be found in clicking needles, and the transformation of tiny loops on a stick into something sensible---at times beautiful....

The ankle healed---I went back to school after an extended time away.....continued infertility treatments----continued mourning when they didn't work....continued crying in closets----but the sadness was no longer a lonely silence....God drew exceptionally close to me in a time of weakness.  I began to learn that Christianity really offered a relationship with God....something both terrifying and unimaginably beautiful.....Sometimes I'd be driving in the car alone----and yet----it was as if Someone was sitting in the seat beside me----laughing with me over absurdities---grieving with me over losses.....comforting me....encouraging me....convicting me.....   These times of intimacy with God were not every day occurrences.....but I held each instance closely to my heart----treasured seemed to be such an impossible thing----a completely unwarranted Gift----a Gift whose worth could never be earned....or even understood in completion.  What value can you assign to a relationship with a perfectly loving, just, holy, humble---God???  What value can you assign to a friendship with such a perfect God while you are completely aware that you yourself are completely imperfect???  Add on top of that the fact that you know you spent a large portion of your time running away from that perfect God.....only to have Him come steadfastly after you....pursue you...fold you into His arms with a never giving up love.....the love you've always craved....the love you've always tried to earn---the love you knew deep down that you would never be able to earn......offered freely.....offered sacrificially.

When we began to follow the call God quietly whispered into our lives towards adoption----we made a book for prospective birth mothers to look through.  After meeting with C---Miriam's biological mother----one of the things C said that drew her to us as prospective adoptive parents for Miriam---was the fact that I knitted---she liked the idea that I would make things for the baby---and she herself enjoyed crochet---and she liked that we had that bridge of commonality between us.....When we finally brought Miriam home---I spent many nights marveling at the fact that in my weakest moments---in the times I had been questioning God the most----even then He'd been weaving together something beautiful out of all the mess.  Connecting the dots into a picture that I couldn't have seen at the time....but a picture of a family---that I am so grateful for now.

As I live in my faith----I realize that this is what God has always done.  Come down to us---when we could never climb up to can never be me climbing the ladder of salvation up to God----it always had to be God coming down to me..this is the God who left heaven----a place I can only imagine but can understand is infinitely better than this world---a place where there are no cruelty...where love is perfect and unblemished and unwavering....God leaves this heaven to come down to us---and to dwell in our world---that is continually breaking under the strain of sin.....The God who created the universe becomes a baby boy, born in a stable.  The God who is in all time and in all things.....becomes small---becomes man.....and sacrifices everything for love of us..... for God and sinners reconciled.   God dies for all of us---but death cannot hold Him in the grave because He has no sin......And on Easter we celebrate---He is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Happy Easter.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Hardest Thing About Teaching Music

The hardest thing about teaching music---is that if you are constructing a suitably challenging piece of music---which might include interesting vocal contours, orchestrations that both complement and contrast with the rhythms/melodies of the basic song itself, and movement that accurately reflects the mood of the piece----the students you are teaching cannot imagine this piece of music in its completed form.  And since teaching often means breaking down complex ideas/motives into their most basic components---you can't begin by teaching them everything at once---you have to give the piece to them in parts.  One week--learn just the melody---or perhaps only part of the melody if it is particularly challenging.  One week---learn the orchestration---in bits and pieces---one ostinati at a time.  Be sure a part can be performed in isolation, before attempting to layer in the next part---and while each subsequent part might be performed easily in isolation---when performed together--simultaneously---one finds the challenge greatly magnified.  And still another week---work on creating movement to reflect the music. Ask the students how should it reflect the music??  Should it reflect its tempo---so that fast movements accompany a briskly paced tune---and slower, more lethargic movements accompany a more quiet, wandering tune?  Should the movement reflect the contour of the melody----Using higher space when the melody is high---and lower space the melody is low?  Should the movement capture both these aspects at the same time---or focus on some other intrinsic part of the music entirely.  Should the movement try to capture some other--harder to name---elusive spirit of the music---some piece of the music that cannot quite be analyzed---that is more a feeling than a word??  And how---how can we really reflect what we can barely describe in words---or is it because we can't describe it in words---that we must do so in some other fashion.....The hardest part about teaching music is that what we are working towards in the class is so much more than the sum of its parts.   And all of the above processes described briefly above----they are hard work---rewarding, yes---but the reward is one of delayed gratification.  You can't really enjoy the fruits of your labor---until the labor is complete---when you spend a half hour meticulously refining repetitive rhythms on your instruments---being sure that all performers perform at the same tempo---with ears inclined towards balance---and a million other things to make everything line up just so---so that you can have a rewarding's hard work---and students can't always imagine towards what.....That comes later---when all is put together----and even then---the end product really depends on the efforts and skill of the class who have been working on it.  A conscientious class who has been steadfast and persevered through difficulties--that has used the weeks of practice to refine their talents and to strengthen their weaknesses----that has worked in good faith---even though they couldn't imagine the end product---if they work carefully on the building blocks---they can create something that is nothing short of magical.  And once they do---and if they feel that magic that happens----they are more likely to do more good work---to create more beautiful moments that we can enjoy together, as a class---in this brief little time we have with them in our little grey classroom that finds its colors in the music that fills it....  Of course, if there is a class who can't get past the idea of---this is all I see this week---so this is all there must be.  A rhythm or two performed in isolation from the entirety of the piece---is no magical thing.  And yet--they must be performed in isolation before they can be performed in the context of the entire piece if students are to have any hope of performing them accurately---in their most rewarding fashion.  And a class without faith that there is something beautiful to be made out of all of these rather insignificant looking building blocks strewn haphazardly about---a class like that can be difficult because their performance will not hold the same magic---and they will feel that their efforts (even if they were feeble efforts) were in vain.  And it will be more difficult to convince them to work harder the next time for something more substantial and meaningful.  Because until they step out on faith---that the music will be more than the sum of its parts----they won't be able to experience anything but the parts---they'll never be able to put them together and enjoy the true sum---the heart of the piece.  And that's my challenge---finding ways to build the encourage students to imagine what a song will feel like when all of its components weave in and out of each imagine the realize that the work is worth it...

As I'm reflecting on these things---it makes me hope that I can serve God as I'm teaching---even in a public school setting.  I hope that, through His grace, I can teach just a little about faith.  Because being a person who has faith----who can believe in something one can't understand right away----well that's something we all need.  To accept a Good God in a world of uncertainty, violence, and fear---we need faith.  To work hard quietly---when things aren't going well---and seem to have no hope of going well---to not throw one's hands up and say--Why bother??---we need faith.  To accomplish anything at all that lies outside the realm of the familiar and routine---we need faith.

Remember the man in the Bible who said:  "Lord I believe---but help my unbelief"  Sometimes I feel overly optimistic for hoping that I can "teach" faith---because on so many occasions in my own life---faith has been something given to me when I wasn't looking for it---even when I was foolish enough to be running away from it.  Faith itself---was not something I could manufacture for myself---God had to step in and "help my unbelief."  And surely if I cannot manufacture it for myself---I cannot manufacture it for anyone else.

Still---I like to think that faith itself---it's a part of the Real world----not the surface one that the darkness would like us to remain tangled in.  And though I can do nothing on my own---I am not on my own---and all I can hope is to somehow reflect back a tiny bit of the light that God has shown me---I know that's what God hopes for me anyways (perhaps he would prefer it not to be "tiny"--but the idea is the same) And so maybe He lovingly provides me an opportunity to do that---in a small way.  And just as I have to teach in a logical sequence from simple to complex---one piece at a time---then glue them deftly together----maybe faith can be taught-- or given if you prefer---in a similar fashion.  Maybe having the chance to teach students to be people who can believe in more than what they can see----maybe that plants the seed for them to be people who can accept a Good God who looks to redeem a world that is anything but Good.

Perhaps it's ridiculous to look for the lines God connects throughout our lives----I'm certain they are too numerous to count---too subtle to even see at times---and too beautiful to comprehend at this time.  Still---maybe that's part of growing the faith---thinking about ways that a Good God can work Good from me---even though at many times---I am anything but Good.  And the only good thing in me---is Him.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Argument for God: Why God is More than a Fairy Tale

I just saw this photo on my Facebook feed---the one that showed a billboard that compares Christianity to a fairy tale. And I'm certain that the Christian community will have plenty to say about this as well.  But---I hope that this billboard opens up a dialogue between Christians and non-Christians---I hope that this billboard presents believers with the opportunity to first of all--- behave lovingly towards people who believe differently than we do---and secondly---to respond with our own testimonies that witness to the fact that God is way more than a fairy tale.

God is more than a fairy tale....many of the arguments presented here are things that I read from CS Lewis (who was groomed to be a strong voice for atheism himself but after reading the Bible converted to Christianity) and Timothy Keller.  Before anyone completely shirks off Christianity as a fairy tale---I would really suggest they read the Bible ---"Mere Christianity" by CS Lewis---and also "Belief in God in the Age of Skepticism" by Timothy Keller.  Since the Christian community is made up of people---and because all people are messy----I am well aware that some people don't want anything to do with Christianity because they look at the actions of people who profess to be Christians---and they say:  "I don't want anything to do with the God of such a hateful person... " Understandable....many people have done horrible things in the name of God.  And all people behave in a hateful fashion at some time or other---or many times over----even when they truly do believe in God and are Christians.  Being a Christian doesn't mean that you ever stop struggling against sin and hateful behavior....being a Christian means that you keep struggling against this part of your nature because you know what Christ went through for you----that Christ took the consequences of my sin upon himself---suffered immeasurably for me---so that I could be what I was originally intended to be----a person who lives in the joy of glorifying the God who made me---who loves me....  Because I know what Christ did for me----I WANT to live for his glory----but every single second of every single day---I am sinful---and if I don't continually lean on God---depend on God for strength---I'm going to fail---I'm going to fall---over and over and over again.  But being a Christian means---God's there to catch me---God's there to love me unconditionally.  And this relationship---this unconditional love that God shows me----that is the reason I WANT to show this unconditional love to others.  But it will never be easy for me this side of heaven----and it will never be possible for me without dependence on God.

God is more than a fairly tale.  Most people can agree that there is right and there is wrong.  We might argue about what is an absolute right and an absolute wrong----but we all know there is a right and a wrong.  Anyone who says there is no right/wrong will quickly change their tune once they are wronged.  I might say to myself---there is no right and wrong in this world---but then if someone comes along and steals something of value from me-----it won't take me long to start complaining that I have been wronged.  So---there is a right and a wrong----and we expect other people to adhere to this standard of Right.

Some will say that wanting to behave a certain way is merely this objection----CS Lewis writes:  "Supposing you hear a cry for help from a man in danger.  You will probably feel two desires---one a desire to give help (due to your herd instinct), the other a desire to keep out of danger (due to the instinct for self preservation)  But you will find inside you, in addition to these two impulses, a third thing that tells you that you ought to follow the impulse to help, and suppress the impulse to run away.  Now this thing that judges between two instincts, that decides which should be encouraged, cannot itself be either of them.  You might as well say that the sheet of music which tells you, at a given moment, to play one note on the piano and not another, is itself one of the notes on the keyboard.  The Moral Law tells us the tune we have to play:  our instincts are merely the keys."  Our instincts are like our choices---I have a whole piano's worth of notes that I could play----but if I just muck around on the keyboard with no regard to rhythm or time--or tonal centers---it isn't going to sound good.  I need the sheet music---or at least a knowledge of rhythm/tonal centers--laws that govern music---for my performance to sound reasonably good.  The Moral Law is the thing inside us that tells us:  "This is the Right choice---the Good choice"  You could listen to your instinct for self-preservation all the time---you could listen to your instinct for physical gratification all the time---but if you do--if you only follow your instincts and not the Voice that directs them/organizes them/-prioritizes them----you're just mucking around--- and your life isn't going to be good..... we need the Moral Law----if we want our lives be Good.

If we can agree that there is a Moral Law---the next reasonable question is---"Who set it in place???" Did we make it up ourselves??  CS Lewis:  "Some people say that though decent conduct does not mean what pays each particular person at a particular moment, still, it means what pays the human race as a whole;  and that consequently there is no mystery about it.  Human beings, after all, have some sense;  they see that you cannot have any real safety or happiness except in a society where every one plays fair, and it is because they see this that they try to behave decently.  Now of course, it is perfectly true that safety and happiness can only come from individuals, classes, and nations being honest and fair and kind to each other.  It is one of the most important truths in the work.  But as an explanation of why we feel as we do about Right and Wrong it just misses the point.  If we ask:  "Why ought I to be unselfish?" and you reply "Because it is good for society," we may then ask, "Why should I care what's good for society except when it happens to pay me personally?" and then you will have to say, "Because you ought to be unselfish"---which simply brings us back to where we started."  I hear someone in trouble---I feel the instinct to help---I feel the instinct to save myself----I hear the Moral Law telling me:  "Listen to the instinct that tells you to help."  This is a law---a Voice---that is superior to me----that demands from me a standard of behavior that I did not set in place for myself (because I can't keep up with it)----it demands that I put aside my own need for my personal safety and look after another.  I didn't create this law---this Voice----and yet I cannot dismiss it as mere "fancy" either----it is always with me---always demanding that I be better than I am ever capable of being..........."Men ought to be unselfish, ought to be fair.  Not that men are unselfish, not that they like being unselfish, but that they ought to be."    We find that the Moral Law is a real thing---"which none of us has made---but which we find pressing on us."

There is a Standard of Right and Wrong---someone, not us, set it in what happens to us when we fail (and we will fail---over and over and over again) to live up to the Standard of Right.  What happens to us when we break the Law---or when we sin?  Most of us teach our children that there are consequences for our actions---it is easily observable to note that when we sin---when we screw up---there are repercussions---there is brokenness sown into our lives and into the lives of others.  If I engage in patterns of selfishness--and think continually only of myself--eventually I will find that there won't be anyone who can stand my company---and I will be alone, with only myself---as is fitting when one remembers that myself is all I have chosen to care about or invest in.  If I steal money or goods from a person--- perhaps I will be caught by the police and penalized in some form or fashion---perhaps not---perhaps the cost of my sin is paid only by the person I have stolen from---as they must live with an absence of funds or value  that I have left through my theft.  If I am unforgiving and vengeful---I sow into my own life hatefulness, stinginess, and an uncompromising ability to hold onto every bad thing that anyone has ever done to me---effectively paralyzing me in this hateful, vengeful place---where I am undoubtedly miserable and wretched.  Not to mention that my behavior under these parameters would make anyone around me miserable and wretched as well.  Sin has a cost---often a painful one.  The worst consequence of sin that I can imagine is separation from God.  If God is the only thing Good in this awful would it be to never know him.  To be left only with the evil in our own hearts.....A Holy Good God cannot abide sin---Goodness and Evil aren't playing some worldwide cosmic game of chess---where Good and Evil engage in easy banter as they move their pieces around the board with a sense of friendly competition emanating from their lighthearted interactions-- as is sometimes depicted in films that try to explain the relationship between Good and Evil.  Good and Evil----they're in battle---only God has really already called out "checkmate."  The game should be over----but this tension, this time between when He wins and the time when He collects---that is drawn out only for love of us....

In Christianity---we acknowledge that sin has a cost.  And it has to be paid.   Timothy Keller explains this better than anyone with his analogy of the gate.  He says---imagine that a car crashes into your gate and ruins it---leaves extensive damages---damages that will be expensive and costly to repair.  Several things could happen next.  In one scenario-- you as the owner of the property could demand that the driver give you the money to repair the gate---out of their own pocket---or through their trusted insurance company---whatever---you tell the driver that they are responsible for the damages---so they must pay up and fix what they have broken.  In another scenario---you as the owner of the property could forgive the debt.  You could choose not to demand payment---but rather pay for any damages yourself.  In either scenario---there is still damage---there is a cost to repair that damage---it's just in the first scenario the person who created that damage must pay the cost and in the second scenario the person who had that damage inflicted upon their property agrees to pay the cost.  Sin has a cost---our sin should separate us from the very Holy, Good God that we were created to glorify---to love --to fellowship with.  But Christ....Christ agreed to pay that cost.  The wages of sin is death.  Christ died in our stead.  Sin separates us from God.  Christ allowed Himself to be separated from the Father----so that we wouldn't have to be separated from Him.  Salvation isn't free----it cost a great deal---it's just that we aren't the ones being demanded to pay that price.  Christ agreed to pay it for us.  This is the gospel.  This is the Good News---that gets muddled when people try to use God for their own agendas, to perpetuate their own hatefulness and bigotries.  The Gospel Truth is that we have all sinned---we have all screwed up in more ways than we can count or even be aware of----but God still calls us Beloved---even though if God thought like man---God would have thrown up His hands and said--Fine---Live life the way you want to---You don't want to walk with me---Fine---walk it on your own---and Lemme know how that works out for you.   God doesn't do that---God sees that we break everything we touch---and so God comes down.  God becomes a baby---God lives a perfect life that we can't live---is tested in every way---measures up in all the ways that we could never measure up to----and He still stands Perfect.  He gets the "A"----but he agrees to take on the consequences of our "F"---He agrees to pay the cost of our sin---so that we can know what it feels like to be reunited with our God, our Father.  This is the Good News.  This is what we should want to shout from the mountains.  God loves us---He does not abandon us to ourselves---He comes after us---He pursues us--He pays our debts so that we can finally walk with Him.

It isn't a fairy tale.  God isn't Tinkerbell---waiting for people to clap their hands and say that "Yes, we do believe in fairies."  God is God---the Creator---the Judge---the Rescuer.....the Everything.  He is all these things and more whether we believe in Him or not.  He weaves in and out of our lives whether we invite Him to or not.  He draws us to Him in different ways--whether we ask for Him to or not.  Our God calls us Beloved---and He tries to gather us back to Him again---even though we may have already ruined everything He has already given us. Even though we might run from Him. He doesn't give up on us.  He has--as my daughter's Jesus Storybook Bible calls it:  A Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Always and Forever Love for us.  And I don't want anyone to discount this or see it for less than what it is---because what it is----is amazing.

I should call this part 1---because there's more to say here.  But I want to say to any non-believer reading this---don't dismiss God as a fairy tale---not until you really think things through.  Don't shirk the important questions---is there a right or wrong?  Who set a standard of right and wrong in place?  What happens to us when we can't measure up to that Voice that is telling us to always do better than what we are capable of?  Do I have sin?  Does it have consequences---does it have cost?  Is there someone who can/will pay that cost for me if it is too great for me to pay?  Follow the logic behind the questions---and don't dismiss God until you have studied Him and seeked after His ways.  But know that even if you do dismiss Him---He won't dismiss you.  He won't give up on you.  He will never stop loving you.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Three years ago today....

Three years ago today.....

We were at Target picking up groceries when we got the call that sent us into a frenzy of excited movement.  It was time to go to the hospital.  The child that had been matched with us was here.  It was time.

Three years ago today---we held Miriam for the first time.   I was elated----and terrified---at the same time.  She was so small---she seemed fragile--(Don't break her---don't break her reverberated in a silent chant through my mind) She was beautiful---with her dark hair and big eyes.  Tiny, wrinkled fingers.  Tiny, wrinkled toes.  How could anything be so small---so precious.  Stuart's face was gentle---kind---in love with his daughter.   Stuart is a quiet person---but one should never mistake a quiet person for an unfeeling one.  I have never known a person one who loves--- as unconditionally, without any regard for himself whatsoever---as wholly as my husband.  And in that quiet moment---which wasn't really quiet---but surrounded by a flurry of activity (sometimes quiet is something that happens on the inside---I really believe there are times when God slows everything down---just for you---and says---don't miss this---because it's Good)----Stuart met the tiny person he'd loved all along---and so did I.  And it was Good---it was beautiful.

Three years ago today----I paced the halls of a hospital for the entirety of the night---awake and unsure what to do with myself.  C had asked that I stay the night---so I did.   I watched M through the glass.  I watched the other babies---I watched the other mothers rolling in wheelchairs through the hallways.  Three years ago today---a lot of things happened that were frightening---coming really face to face with the brokenness that is at the root of adoption is an experience I will never forget---it is forever a part of me.  It was heartbreaking, scary----and a little lonely.

Three years ago today---God took care of me.  Even though whatever heartache I had must have been insignificant when compared to the heartache of Miriam's biological mother----God still was undeniably with me.  He was present in my family---He was present in the nurses----He was present. And when I wasn't looking for Him---- He was looking for me.  Three years ago God cared for me in my weakness---and He cared for Stuart.

Three years ago-----C told us---"This child was conceived in your heart long before she was conceived in my womb.  She is your child----don't let anyone ever tell you differently."  Three years ago----in a hospital room---there were a lot of tears.

Three years ago----not to the day---but it all runs together----we heard from the adoption agency that there was a very real possibility that C might decide to parent Miriam after all---(there is a revocation period where the biological parent can change their minds about placing the child for adoption)---that she was having second thoughts.  The adoption agency asked if we would like to put Miriam in interim care to protect our hearts.  But we couldn't do it----we said again----we will love her as if she is ours for as long as she's ours-----and we hope that will be for a very long time.  Stuart sat in the recliner holding Miriam----her fingers reached up for his face---curling and uncurling----and I watched my husband cry in silence.  Three years ago---we learned that the deepest vein of love doesn't taper off just because there's a possibility that a beloved person might not always be nearby---the deepest vein of love runs without ceasing----cannot be deterred by any circumstances----it is an unconditional love----the one we can only really understand when we reflect on God's unconditional love for us.....we got to feel a shadow of that kind of love when we first loved Miriam....

Three years ago----we learned that Miriam would stay with us---that she would be our family.  Three years ago---we celebrated Miriam.

Today---we celebrate her again---we thank God for her again.  Miriam is spunky--determined---sassy.  She is already full of compassion.   If she sees another child hurt or crying---she is always running over to them---patting on the back.  She has been known to kiss boo-boos---murmur soothingly---"It's okay."----or just be sad with them---"Baby's crying"---she will say sadly.  Miriam is outgoing---everywhere we go---she greets everyone with a cheerful "Hi!" and a wave----and when they leave (the restaurant, the store, wherever)---she tells them "Bye, bye!"  Miriam loves to sit on the "big bed" (our bed) and cuddle up for Backyardigans or Angelina Ballerina.  She loves her grandparents---her aunt Nikki---her Uncle Jake---and Aunt Kelly who she rarely sees but she remembers from past meetings and asks to look at pictures of--- to the umpteenth degree---I sometimes think she will burst from the excitement she feels when she sees them.  She loves her friends---who really should be called family---like Karen, Penny, Kristy, Ashley---to the same crazy degree.  I love that she loves---so stinking hard---and with every fiber of her little self.  She just loves totally---without abandon.  That's my favorite thing about her--- that she loves fiercely.

Today---I say a prayer---thank you God---for our little firecracker, Miriam.  Thank you for making her just the way she is.  Thank you for letting us be her parents.  Thank you for walking through every step of the adoption journey with us.  Thank you for loving us unconditionally.  Thanks be to God for the family you have brought together----and simultaneously---I pray for Your peace---the peace that surpasses our understanding---to pass over what was broken----what was lost---and may Your hand heal.

Happy Birthday to Miriam.  We love you 8 better than a snake.  :)