Who to Be

Yesterday I sat outside, finished reading a book by a theologian whom I love for his work in the patristics while being staunchly Reformed and vaguely Barthian. A friend came over, chatted for awhile beneath brilliant sun at only eight in the morning; sometimes it startles me how Colorado goes from winter to summer in the course of a week. He’s married, this friend of mine, and his wife is one of my favourite women though lately between school and work and life we’ve hardly spoken more than two sentences. Squinting at me as I talked about camping, Romans and Corinthians he said to me,

“in marriage, you get to choose the kind of wife you want to be.”

I nodded, head bobbing up and down in natural agreement. It’s obvious, isn’t it? I like the sound of that, I have control to be the kind of wife and person I want to be. Today, I want to sweet and gentle and tomorrow I’ll be kind and gracious. The thought of control evokes something deep in me, a longing in my soul for consistency, foresight and independence.

This morning, I climbed into the land cruiser that still shudders while idling and I felt a surge of frustration. Home is a mess and I’ve an exam this afternoon for which I’m hardly prepared amid everything else in life. In the short lived cool of the morning I was hot and upset. Ethan asked me what was wrong, as he always does when he can sense that I’m on edge, when he reads me like an open book.

I heard those words from yesterday’s sunny conversation, “in marriage, you get to choose the kind of wife you want to be.”

Today, I wanted to be strong, sure and content. So I lied through my teeth; said everything was fine and settled into the old fabric seat of our twenty six year old car that Ethan will always call a truck. By the end of the five minute ride, I had nearly exploded.

It isn’t about me choosing and forcing myself into prescribed mold of who I want to be in marriage, in life, in work or school. My friend was right, he was wise and spoke a bit of truth over me. But like dealing with the patristic notion of deification, one needs certain nuances.

I will be content and strong and sometimes I will even be sure of myself and what life holds. But that does not come from me choosing and then creating such a state of existence within myself. It is choosing who I want to be: a woman who follows Christ, who loves him and trusts him, who gives space to the Holy Spirit to conform and restore? Or something of my own making?

The beauty of the Incarnation is that God took on flesh and saved us by uniting humanity with deity, by making holy that which was sadly warped and twisted. The beauty of justification is that we are given a new identity, declared righteous and put in right standing with God.

The question now is whether or not we choose to grow into who we already are, and submit to the will of the Holy Spirit, the one who changes us into who we, in our deepest hearts, want to be?

Easter Monday

Yesterday we worked. We went to work, and then we went to friend’s for lunch to celebrate a resurrection we’ve heard about hundreds of times. So, how does one — after growing up in the church — make the resurrection new each year? This is always the problem for me. Easter is a holiday that I don’t dislike but I don’t love. It is full of pastels like pink and purple, frilly dresses and deviled eggs. Yesterday I wore chacos with my jeans and we went for a long walk after a lunch of lamb, parsnips and yorkshire puddings.

But yesterday was full of sweet gifts: hospitality, warmth, hope, friendship and sunshine.slane ruins

See, Jesus dies and takes all the sins of the world on him. But something else, something slightly different happens when we light the Paschal fire at church and whisper on the eve of Easter here that He has already risen there.

  
The Paschal fire at our little church burns the thanks and prayers we bring to Holy Saturday and the broken day between Friday Good and Easter Morn. And we watch life be rekindled, stand in swirling smoke that raises voices to heaven like a pleasant sound and aroma to Him. We stand with each other, huddled against the wind coming over the mountains and we are resurrected to new life already and together.

It’s something about community and the call of the church. Perhaps this comes with Pentecost in a fuller way: the Holy Spirit indwelling where he had only once rested upon momentarily. But it starts here: with Jesus come back to life, calming their hearts and restoring to them the reason they had come together to follow in the first place.

So the celebration the next day — after work that drains and saps life because the curse has not yet been stamped out — that celebratory lunch over lamb and vegetables from the hopeful ground restores community, hope for tomorrow’s work and fellowship. And these moments: watching the sunset from a warm front porch, laughing and shouting over a boardgame and cheering to new life in Christ: these are the moments that make Easter beautiful and make Monday bearable as we return to the drudge of a world that is still being redeemed.

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photo is of the ruins at Hill of Slane. Copyright belongs to Wikipedia.

Friday Good

Today I rolled out of bed, climbed from the loft and hurried to get ready in twenty minutes. I burnt an egg, forgot my Bible, and brushed my teeth while texting E apologies that I was running late, even though it was my appointment to which I was late. I hardly remembered as I slid my macbook into the bright timbuktu bag, I hardly realized it was a day other than Friday. I only thought once, in a momentary glance at my Bible, splayed out on the coffee table to pages in Isaiah, I barely remembered in that instant that this Friday was more than just the last day of Spring Break and the day that Ethan’s parents would be in town.

Twenty minutes isn’t time to contemplate Good Friday.

We drove through construction, always Colorado spends the time between winter snows under construction. Like some bizarre metaphor for life: that we’re always under process, except when ice and frozen earth bring us to grinding halt. But even then, with the water in the grooves of the road, melting and freezing with each day’s cycle, even then there is process and change; even if we don’t see it until the cracks have spread to wide gaping holes.

I lay on the table at the chiropractor, wincing beneath the hands of massage and adjustment. My knee stretches out and back in, and when he’s pushing on a certain point in the muscle I can feel the pain radiate to both ends of my leg, and he’s shaking his head that I want to go rock climbing today. My body is broken, and I want to do what? But he sighs and gives me permission, says it won’t help but it probably won’t make things worse.

An old friend, one who has helped immeasurably with Ethan’s business start, texted E this morning while we were waiting through that construction zone. Something about writing a reference and at the end of his cheery morning message, left a little wish: Good Friday to you. But there was hardly time to think of that when we were driving me to work, and shuttling E off to his own last day at a lingering worksite that seems to push back with everything he does.

I came in to work and found an email where I was graciously dragged over hot coals. Sometimes, when they’re being polite, the anger is almost more severe, the disappointment more stinging. And apparently the office is closing early today, though no one told me and my hours are all over the place for this month’s paycheck, this month’s survival. Why are we closing early?

Good Friday.

Because today is the day that Jesus died. The day that he — God come down among us — let himself be stripped, broken, crushed and crucified. Last week he was riding in, prophetic statements abounding and triumph seeming close at hand. Tonight, at Tenebrae, he’ll not make a noise as he goes to the slaughter, like the sheep they killed each Passover: quiet, calm, resolute and sure. In darkness and shadows we’ll remember the one who took on fallen humanity, took on my broken body, my harried pace, my unkempt sin and put it to death with the piercing of his hands, and torn back, crushed side and bloodied head. And in his death he took on the curse: the bold rebellion of sin within humanity and the bruised earth suffering beneath, fighting back at you and me, even as we fight amongst ourselves.

Because Jesus came, came to do this act of love. Came to take me on, broken and angry. Came to walk at Ethan’s side, tired and frustrated. Came to walk among us, know us, reveal the One to us, and then in the most unexpected act in history: came to fling out his arms, take on all our mess and ruined humanity, and in his great, bloody embrace, came to take it all away.

Thus says your Lord, the LORD, even your God Who contends for His people, “Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of reeling, The chalice of My anger; You will never drink it again.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.

By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living,
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?

My brokenness, forever under repair, my fallen nature evidenced in a body that so easily falls apart, the sin that makes me rush instead of wait, wait on the Lord, those things for which I am due much, much more than strained knees and abrasive emails, for that he took on flesh and carried away the cup of wrath: from me, from the nations, from the earth.

All this on a Friday we so desperately and hopefully call Good.

 

dedication of various sorts

Recently, while starting a new textbook I read through the preface and discovered the book had been dedicated to a friend of mine. She’s a beautiful sweet woman who’s getting married in a few months and I have the privilege to have her dad as a seminary instructor. She has been encouraging and patient and kind with me, excited about my life and my hopes in a way I’ve rarely had with female friends. Needless to say, I read the lines of dedication and nearly burst into tears in my office.

Needless to say, it’s been a long week. It’s been a week of tears and exhaustion and late nights with dinner at 930pm on more than one occasion. There’s been enough discouragement and existential theological crises to go around the seminary and back again. And I’m not even referring to midterms.

E has been on a deadline. This, of course, is nothing terribly new. We live on deadlines, our culture thrives on them as markers of achievement, accomplishment and success — even personal value and worth. I had deadlines too: papers, midterms, scholarship apps, taxes. But there was something in these lines, these boundary markers this week that made it harder than usual to push ahead and “keep up the good work.” Maybe it’s that in some of our life we’ve been over the deadline lately, in a way that nagged at security, value and worth. Maybe it’s that lent and penitence and realizing sin before the looming cross has just gotten to us.

To be honest, I wish it was the second option; that my sense of sin and unrighteousness, that my failure to to be conformed to the One in whose image I’m created was the reason for the tears in my office.

I cried on Monday because in a few minutes spent on social networking websites I felt undermined, cast aside, forgotten and unnecessary. I almost cried today because of the beauty in seeing my friend be so lavishly loved by her father so as to be remembered in words that many hundreds of people will read — to have work that took years of formation, challenge and perseverance dedicated to her sweet smile and progression from daughter-child to daughter-woman.

This week, I thought about giving up so many things for fear of failure, rejection and wavering purpose. Last week I heard Ethan do the same as he stood in my kitchen and said that work was doing him in, that everything was going wrong and wondering where is God in this? We’re trying so hard, striving, working, scrambling and serving. We’re on deadlines, with plates too full and cups too empty.

But then, last week, on the first day of Spring, the sky clouded over and I felt like the world was slowing down, coming to a halt; and we were finally starting to catch up to the spinning axis. And after class I read that “God was so much, and so intimately concerned with the destiny of man (and precisely with the destiny of every one of ‘the little ones’) as to intervene in person in the chaos and misery of the lost life.” Like the father dedicating his book and work and time to my friend, dedicating the project that had consumed so much of his very life, this is how God is: coming down, kenosis and self humiliation to walk alongside little Ethan and me in the midst of ruined projects, grammatically incorrect papers and mounting bills.

So we’re holding these two things in hand: that God is good and that life right now is hard.

But what if we’re not to hold those in separate hands, but pull them together and realize they aren’t so incompatible as they seemed at first glance?Jean Calvin placed election in such a position within his Institutes to comfort us and give assurance that amidst the travails of life in a fallen world we are saved, called, and promised such vindication beyond the grave that this will seem small and of no account. Nothing separates us from the love of God, even when it feels as if everything separates us from the love of God. And thus we are renewed, restored with value and worth that draws on being created by such a great and gracious Lover, given worth by being held tightly and close despite the mess of this thing that we call life. And we’re given back our purpose, we’re given back our heart to carry on — not because we are striving, but because we are already accepted, known and loved.

Not meeting deadlines or making grades or getting published. Just walking with Him, growing in trust, learning what it means to be like him as we learn who he even is in the first place and then giving all that back to him as glorious praise.

This week, by God’s grace, I’m busy with papers and reading and catching up on day to day work after midterms. It is grace to be so occupied  because Ethan is busy and I’m hardly seeing him but for late night dinners full of exhausted words and tired hands propping up heads and slumped shoulders. I’ve had a few nominal fits of tears, always restricted by the workload before me and the very energy it would take to allow for salty tears.

And somehow, we’re choosing, or learning to choose or choosing to learn that God is here, alongside, walking and speaking and listening. He is good when life is hard. We’re saying thanks for work, pushing control from our own hands and refraining from forcing God to meet our expectations. We’ve come into Holy Week when Jesus was crucified not only for sins but for failing to meet the expectations of those in Jerusalem. What are my expectations? That life should be easy? That work would be life giving despite the curse and hardened ground? That somehow choosing Jesus meant choosing life abundant in terms of the American dream? Are these my expectations of Jesus as saviour messiah? And how must that be recalibrated?

How can I see God, who like my friend’s father, has lavished love and time and effort in order to serve me? to bless me in ways I so quickly fail to recall? And in the midst of remembering his love, his faithfulness, his hesed and hoping in his name, his character rather than circumstance, how must I remember this:

that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We’re exhausted yes, but not ruled or governed in worth, value or purpose by the deadlines and measurements of society. We are governed and given worth by the love of the One who made all things, sustains all things and brings all things to completion.

Bruised Knees and Joy

Last week, while running with one of my students, we decided to try out sprinting. We’re “training” for a race which means we’re trying to get my short little legs to run faster. After a seven month hiatus from running at all, asking these stubby appendages to do anything quickly is quite an endeavor. But it was cold and grey, the ground still frozen from the latest snow, so we marked the start and with the end in sight we began to sprint.

Three steps. I made it three steps before I yelped and cursed like a sailor and stopped. My knee had torqued to the side and I was bent double. But the pain faded, and the poor, tough kid mentality of my college years took over and I went back to jogging. Three miles later we’d done some decent sprints and I went off to meet with my own mentor.

Today, a week later, I’m wearing a brace and I had to gimp my way down the stairs to the car this morning. I’m just thankful I didn’t volunteer to walk to seminary today.*

This morning a dear friend hugged me and it felt like I might burst into tears when I stood up to return her embrace — the pain is worse when I go from sitting to standing, from bent to straight. She listened to what had happened and then said with her sweet smile:

This is all in his plan, it doesn’t surprise Him. Now, your work is to learn to see the plan, and even when you don’t you’re to trust.

Trust. Work to trust.

I’m to work out salvation in this day, this pain, the grinding anxiety that there’s something seriously wrong with my knee — something bound to cost money that I don’t have and time I’m unwilling to give up. But this is it, this is the work of the believer:

to look down at my knee, hidden in black elastic band and say, this is good. This the opportunity to trust, to wait more and hurry less, to be thankful for bodies that do work and pray for those that don’t.

It isn’t bruised, it isn’t swollen and it’s probably only a muscle sprain because it feels better when I’m moving. But I can’t run, I can’t train for the race, I can’t go up and downstairs with ease, I can’t bend at the oven or crouch with children. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.

But I can choose to see God’s goodness in making bodies that work, in sustaining my knee from sliding all the way out of joint in the frozen cold. I can choose to trust that even if I have to see a doctor, God will provide a way because he knows my needs.

And you see — there it is — learning to trust in God’s character (provision, care, knowledge, sovereignty) rather than the situation in which I’ve found myself. This is the work of a believer: to trust God (and how do you trust if you don’t know Him?) and then to go out and live a life that speaks of such deep trust.

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*on a sidenote, please don’t worry about my knee! We’re pretty sure it’s only a minor muscle issue that just needs rest and some extra support when I do take up running again (and no, that won’t be this week, but hopefully soon).

Penitence

Well, I’m no Catholic but I have sat in a confessional. The idea of a lone man listening to my sins from behind the partition reminded me of Oz and felt just a little uncomfortable. Thankfully, it was empty and I sat alone in the darkness, the scent of wood smoothed by so many sinful hands filling me with curious warmth despite my discomfort.

We attend a Celtic Christian service and my heritage is from the British Isles, smattered with bits of European continent. There’s a group there that has long intrigued me, a small sect of Scottish, Irish, Welsh and Briton believers that existed outside of the Roman church for a long time called the Celè De or Culdees. One of their practices was to seek out an anam cara or a soul friend, one with whom you shared everything — one to whom you confessed.

As I sat in that French Roman Catholic confessional and heard the whispered convictions of so many brothers and sisters I thought there was something beautiful in the act of bearing one’s soul to a man who vowed to remind you of your forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Though it might become warped and trite, a mere act by which one could go on living the way they always had, there was always the chance that hearing the sin spoken of and seeing it dragged into the light might be good, healing and restorative to the soul.

The anam cara, the soul friend might provide this glimpse of unconditional love, gentle rebuke and restoration.

Each week during our celtic services, the presiding pastor offers us a few moments of silence, to bring our grievances to God — the ways in which we have grieved him. We quietly confess, recite the Lord’s prayer and ask for help in forgiving those around us because it is we who were first forgiven.

Lent is the season of preparation and waiting as we walk with Jesus. He’s set his face to Jerusalem, signaled that nothing will be stopping him from that sacred, painful journey to the cross where the dividing wall is torn down and all nations are bless through Abraham’s seed. Lent is the season of penitence for the sins that drove him towards Jerusalem, towards the cross, the grave and the death of sin.

I need to be reminded of this often, repeatedly, even daily. I do not mean to suggest that one beat themselves over the head with their sin and their guilt and then dwell in shame. Of course not! The resurrection frees us from that. But I do think in the midst of demanding schedules, screaming children, looming workloads and the daily drudge, it is easy to forget the movement of sin, grace, repentance and forgiveness that consumes our lives. It is easy to forget that I can forgive E because I am forgiven; just as I may bless and love friends because I am loved and am being taught what that love means. It’s this never ending growth towards becoming who we already are in Christ. And it starts with penitence, repentance and constant recognition of our need for Jesus and his work on the cross. This is one thing I love about our church: that each week we are reminded to repent, to reorient towards God and to be forgiven — and then to go out and forgive others! It is a convicting moment for me each week to consider how I have sinned by what I have done, and by what I have left undone.*

This is the reason we fast in Lent: to be penitent and mindful of our sins which drove him to the cross; to prepare for the long night ahead when he is in the ground; to recover our humble position in the divine dance that like a symphony moves from grace over sin, to repentance and culminates in restoration. What a beautiful season and opportunity to relearn and experience this masterpiece of God’s every year!

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. {Martin Luther, 95 Theses, 1}

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*Penintential prayer, Anglican Common Book of Prayer

WHY: singleness, dating and sanctification

Well, well, everyone said with a smirk when we told them, and finally! with sighs of happy exasperation.

It’s been nearly a year since I finally came around and told Ethan I had feelings for him – and had had them for ages. He grinned, like a silly school boy who’s just been told that the girl of his dreams will go to prom with him. And then he recovered slightly, shrugged, said he’d known for a long time, and hugged me like I was a long lost friend.

Dating has been interesting. It’s pushed me through a lot with counseling, helped drudge up and heal things I’d forgotten were buried beneath layers of hopeful disregard. It’s been strange to discover needs and dependence – something I always let other people have and refused to find in myself. I’ve found encouragement, grace and confidence in myself – that I am loved, and will be loved. That I am in fact liked. I rediscovered womanhood, pulled down the walls of achievement and discarded the mantra that as a woman I have to do things twice as well to gain half as much recognition. Instead, my femininity became a gift and not a burden, something to celebrated and not battled.

But it has not been easy. We were both so independent, so used to our own lives and schedules. Perhaps most of all, we were neither of us prepared for the terror of needing someone else when our defense has always been to simply walk away. We still do it sometimes, me just last week. I slammed a door, stormed up to my apartment and then cried while I searched for supplies to make a lonely dinner. I’d barely stuck my head in the fridge for the third time when a fist pounded on my door and I realized I didn’t want to be alone or argue, just wanted to hug, make up and cry. I used to think I was the self-made-woman who everyone wanted to be friends with for her intelligence and skills. Looking into Ethan’s eyes that night I saw that version of myself crumble and I relearned that I need him and I need God and the self-made-man is an American myth of faulty independence. I relearn that every. single. day.

Last year, a friend of mine said marriage was hard because it was like looking into a mirror of his own selfishness every day. He said he could feel it claw up from somewhere inside him, sin and contempt, frustration over nothing, selfish angst over everything. He warned me, “you don’t know how easy you have it, being single.” I laughed, because in a way I knew how easy my singleness was, I knew because all my married friends were saying the same thing.

Today, E picked me up for work. He was late, so I was late, I stumbled in after the provost and hurried to a health screening, and I was seething while I cheerfully made small talk with superiors as we filled out paperwork. It’s not fair, my head was screaming, that he gets free use of my car and I am late to work nearly every day. The little child that personifies my selfishness was stamping her foot, arms crossed over chest and sticking out her lower lip. It just isn’t fair.

But, you see, it is actually quite fair – this give and take and compromise and frustrations that force growth. It is quite fair to be faced with my selfishness, my greed, my self absorption and unwillingness to budge on just about anything. I’m the sun in this little universe, but slowly I’m being deflated and pushed back to rightful position of tiny star orbited by nothing. It is quite fair, this learning to give up and putting sin to death. Because this is the beauty of relationship after the fall. He’s my best friend and there’s much good in that. I’m my own worst enemy and he mirrors that, he quietly, patiently, stubbornly forces me to grow. Marriage is sanctification, and dating is getting close to that refining fire.

So, to my single friends who lamented the holiday of love last week…you have it easy, in one way (one for which I’m often jealous). Don’t long for dating, don’t long for marriage as an answer to prayers and a fairy tale ending. Long for it as a chance to grow, to learn what it really means to love in spite of canceled dates, tight budgets, missed signals and reordered dreams. Long for the chance to be sanctified, to be continually reminded of the cross and redemption, of sin and futility in human nature. Because if we aren’t open to that chance of glorifying God by loving unconditionally even when things are hard – well, I don’t think we’ll make it far because we won’t have understood marriage and relationships in the first place.

A Church of Theologians

An open letter to SK and all the “non-theologian” folk I know,

I’ve been thinking a lot about our conversation on Friday when we talked about school (before we got onto youth group). You laughed when I told you about my classes and said that you didn’t think you had a head for theology.

I’ve been thinking about that all weekend and I have to disagree! Perhaps you don’t have the practice of studying things like…epistemology or process theology, etc. But I wanted to encourage you that you are theological just by very nature of being a Christian. I’m convinced that it’s the job (and nature) of all Christians to be theologians since theology is simply about getting to know God more and more.

I also think that whether or not we realize it, we’re theologizing all the time. We do this when we prioritize schedules and design lessons for students or counseling methods for clients. We’re asking, what’s the point here? (probably God) and how do we best serve Him or lead others to know Him? When you talk about EMDR and bilateral stimulation in counseling, you have to consider the role of the Holy Spirit in rejuvenating the mind and bringing healing. When we lead games at youth group or I sit on the sidelines, we have to ask, what does that tell our kids about themselves and about God?

When we complain we are saying something about how we view God and His obligations towards us. When we are grateful, we are saying something about Him and ourselves. When we comfort those in rough places, when we challenge those being drawn into sin, when we speak to non-Christians — we are always exploring what it means to know God and to be His followers. That’s all that theology is.

Of course, there’s the academic side of it. But any good theologian will tell you that the point of Academia is not to split hairs. It’s to provide a foundation on which the Church builds her practical, every day life.

So, you may not think you have a mind for the fine nuances of Moltmann or Calvin. But I think that you do have a mind for theology — otherwise you wouldn’t be in youth ministry or becoming a counselor (and certainly not at a seminary).

Of course, there is such a thing as bad theology and bad methodology or conclusions. But that simply means those who fall into faulty patterns and wrong conclusions need to be gently corrected. He’s a big God, after all. So there are plenty of chances for mistakes. Our theology must be grounded in Scripture and what the Church has long considered orthodox. It is not un-anchored, not a freedom to think without commitment.* But it is freedom to explore the One who is so wildly infinite that we will never exhaust the chance of knowing Him. It is freedom and joy to follow and walk in His ways. Further up and further in without a chance of ever being bored.**

Just some thoughts that have been ruminating. Hope it’s encouraging!

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* “Here is no unanchored liberalism—freedom to think without commitment. Here is no encrusted dogmatism—commitment without the freedom to think. Here is vibrant evangelicalism–freedom to think within the bounds laid down in Scripture.” –Vernon Grounds
** C.S. Lewis The Last Battle

Community and Truth

On Sunday nights I work as a children’s ministry director of sorts. It’s a small role at a big church but it comes with difficulties and joys all its own. Last night, parents were running late and I had a few minutes alone with one of my workers to catch up. She’s recently had a baby born with a developmental disability and a propensity to health issues. It’s been a hard nine months of pregnancy and an exhausting task to have a baby, have him hospitalized for 10 days then put on oxygen and manage to keep up the holiday glamour with her two older boys. The New Year for her is one of hope but also reservation. “I fit back into my jeans!” she exclaimed last night as she arrived, and I can see that things are evening out. But there’s the note of caution – “I can’t put him to bed without oxygen, I won’t sleep if I don’t know he’s alright.”

And sometimes, there’s simply isolation as the family walks through their brave decisions – “I want doctors to stop asking me why I kept him even though I knew he’d have issues. What matters is that he’s been born and I need to know how to care for him.” she sighs and adds, “we’re trying a new pulmonary doctor next week.”

I sit in the rocking chair, holding squalling baby or squirming toddler and I listen to her. I’m often saddened by the long journey they have ahead of them, but I’m always amazed by her grim determination. She hasn’t yet found joy in the undertaking that’s been put on them. But they are determined to see through what God’s entrusted to them in his quite unsearchable providence. We’ve cried together, hugged and traversed the trials of living after the fall. I’ve prayed, on many nights, that God would give me something worthwhile to say – something encouraging and actually helpful (she’s always getting shoddy, shallow encouragement from people in her faith circles—words that mask the fear of not knowing what to say).

Last night she was explaining her anxiety, her concerns about the future of the baby still tiny and hooked up to oxygen each night as he sleeps: oblivious to the world and the sorrows around him. I rocked, back and forth, an eye on the door where we check in children for the evening service. But all my attention was  given to her as she described, in her worry, something that I suddenly realized I knew.

 I asked her, when you’re thinking, is it obsessive? Is it cyclical? Does it wind into downward spiral? She nodded slowly. I have that, I said. I get a tight feeling in my chest, it’s an anxiety issue. I live with it, day in – and day out. Mine always focuses on E, and the fears, the worries, the mounting anxious thoughts.

I told her my story, I asked, is yours like mine? She nodded, amazed, “you too?” and her eyes red rimmed eyes full of emotion.

Me too. I’m in counseling. Every week. It’s getting better, slowly but surely. Because here’s what I was told to do:

When the black thoughts start coming and the anxiety grows at an exponential rate I pull myself up to a stop and I tell myself the truth.

I don’t have to live this way. I don’t have to have these thoughts. I don’t have to go down that path. I don’t have to live in fear, think this way, feel this anxiety. Because the truth is my God is good and he cares and he will not let your foot slip. He watches over you and he will neither slumber nor sleep.

I looked at my friend and I admitted, it isn’t easy and I still have dark days. But you and me, girl, we’re going to live in the truth and we’re not going to be dragged into the mire that is worry and fear. Because Jesus came, he sets us free: from bondage to sin and bondage to decayed thinking.

She nodded, slowly, tearful and I’d have hugged her but at that moment a child came, to play with toys and hear stories about the One who came to set us free while his mom and dad sang in church, songs of gratefulness and praise to that same One.

This is the thing about community. We are never alone in this fight against the way our sin has so permeated our lives, our thoughts, our being. It is crouching at the door and it will come in and eat you alive if you let it. But together we’re holding the door closed and pressing on in the other direction: towards Abba, towards Jesus, towards life in the Spirit of Truth and freedom.

And this is the beauty of truth. It leads us to Him and He is always for us, always for freedom, always for our joy and glory in Him alone.

Advent Conspiracy

Yesterday I woke just before my alarm at 615. It was my first day to sleep in, the first one in days, even weeks, and yet I woke before the ringing alarm that I’d forgotten to shut off. I lay in bed, knowing that E might call at any minute, announcing his impending arrival. The plan was for me to drive him to work so I coul dhave the car: for work, appointments, errands, and more work. I had probably half an hour at the least, so in the dark of my room, I rolled over and tried to sleep.

Maybe it was the christmas lights and glowing windows of the apartment building across from me but I couldn’t find my way back to unconscious dreams and hopes. Instead, I lay there, running over and over in my mind the millions of things I have to do and the pounding realization that there’s barely a week and a half till Christmas. I’m so unprepared. I’m so behind.

Baking, cards, gifts, lights downtown, ribbons for homemade compote and church services. A concert, phone calls, skype dates, romantic dates, decorating that’s only half done and the annual trip to the mall. When will all these things happen? I could feel the adrenaline coursing through me in the last moments before sunrise.

Here I am, telling people how I love advent, the candles, the wait, the expectant darkness, the hope. . . and all I feel is rush, stress and never enough time for all the things I wanted to do. In the midst of this, I remembered the Advent Conspiracy and all the things that don’t matter–while still present in my mind and heart–seemed to fade in comparison. And I remembered this video that I hadn’t yet posted in the middle of what has turned into an abnormally busy season for me. I thought, it’s barely more than a week until Christmas, and you might benefit from it as much as I did. A good reminder, a good conviction, and a good call to practicing what matters: not lights, not baking, not even remembering religion but actually being the religion and practicing what it means to be love.