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?

Turxting

Because last week was long and hard and exhausting,

because sometimes we just need a little laughter,

I’d like to introduce you to texting (or turxting) conversations between Ethan and myself (hope you’ve seen Castaway):

S: …I’m asking if there’s a way for us to know what’s going on at the meeting and vote by proxy. I also affirmed we’re committed, sound ok?

E: We are committed

S: Great. Sending the email.

E: message in a bottle

S: I cc’ed you. It is floating your way.

E: WILSON!!!!!!

S: poor tom hanks.
S: I hope you know I just blogged that.

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.

_______________________
*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).

Why: Laity

Last year, I wanted to take the Bibles out of pews. Have you seen that? At some churches, they have these things on the back of every pew that holds hymnals, Bibles and “get to know you cards.” Some places now have these on the back of each chair, or underneath the chair. As a kid, growing up in churches with chairs that folded up and made room for dozens of events throughout the week, with bare feet on hard cement floors and singing along to the words on an old school projector, I thought chairs or pews with built in book-holders were for the rich and old — probably because I usually saw in the churches that supported my parents which were full of old people and ostensibly rich by default (they were sending us money, weren’t they?).

This time last year, I wanted to walk through the aisles of such churches and pluck Bibles out of those holders. I wanted to take Scripture back from uneducated laity. I called a friend — after a hermenuetics class and flipped a lid with her. I was going on about poetry or narrative, about how people misinterpret passages of Scripture that aren’t didactic (such as the 10 Commandments, those are hard to misunderstand). It’s ironic to feel this, given my belief in the “perspicuity” or understandableness of Scripture by everyone (it was a big deal to the Reformers). Eventually, of course, I got over it. I’m even work in youth group now, where kids read their Bibles and misinterpret things all the time — like it’s their whole purpose in life, these kids end up with some weird theologies, trust me.

But last night, I was reminded why we need each other — laity and seminary student.

There’s a food pantry that serves seminary students and “the needy.” E and I go every couple of weeks, it’s good food which is fantastic because sometimes food pantries resort to quantity rather than quality. There’s certain merits to that approach; but it’s nice to have fresh fruit, meat and natural peanut butter. They serve the food in a  way that is incredibly respectful to our dignity, I need this food, seriously. But I never feel I am looked down on for that need. Last night, as they pushed the buggy of groceries out to the car, I had a lovely chat with Sue and Bruce who helped us load the food in the backseat and then asked how they could pray for us in the frosty night air. E, of course, being strong and humble said he couldn’t think of anything specific. I admitted to the woman that I’m struggling to be motivated at school and then I thought I ought to chime in on Ethan’s behalf so I asked her to pray for this house that he’s finishing.

“How should we do that?” she asked me, “I always feel selfish when I pray, you know, because I’m asking for stuff. How should we pray for his house he’s working on?”

I had to think, and think fast because it was frosty cold, my feet were already tingling from the ice beneath my booths and my cheeks were chaffing in the breeze. They were loading the last groceries when I said to her, “Well, I guess it’s more the heart. I mean, we want the house to finish well, and sell well of course. But it’s that I want him to be encouraged, to know that God’s walking with him in this, to know that he’s done a good job. I want him to finish strong, giving thanks, glorifying God. Yeah, I think that’s what we pray for.”

So she did. We held hands, all four of us in that icy parking lot on the windy hill. We bowed heads and that sweet woman prayed over us: for school, for work, for the food they’d just placed in our car.

This is why scholars need laity: to be reminded why we sit in class, research seeming minutiae and scribble our fingers down to the bone.

And this is why laity need scholars: to be reminded of the who, the what, the how we worship and remain in orthodoxy.

Because without one, the other would be lost in endless tracks of unnecessary philosophy and purposeless, too high and mighty to remember what it’s all about. And without the other, the one might fall into error, forget the past, or struggle to pray.

 

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.

Why: hope and lent

Last week one of my highschoolers told me that hope probably doesn’t deserve to be a stand-alone sort of word. She suggested it isn’t a distinct concept, separate from any other idea we communicate with words. It’s overused, she pointed out, and as I listened to the State of the Union last night — given by a man whom I watched campaign on hope and take office my last year of college when the economy collapsed — I had to agree. To my student, hope is simply another word we use to describe something we really want, a deep and longing desire.

We were outside, amid trees stripped to grey nakedness, with ice under foot and clouded blue sky over head, dotted by geese who’ve flocked to our wide open spaces. She’s a cynic and I’ve only just started my recovery from cynic to hopeful realist. We plodded along after she said all that, each looking to and fro across a landscape seemingly barren and devoid of hope. Between us I could feel the silence grow, soft and fearful as I wrestled for words to speak since I so vehemently disagreed with her.

But how does one explain hope?

It’s Ash Wednesday and there are people wandering the world with grey soot smudged on their faces in the form of a poorly drawn cross made by dirty fallen thumbs looking forward to redemption. But it’s a future redemption and today the ground is still hard and cold. Lent begins and we give things up: meat, sugar, drink or other things upon which we depend instead of finding rest in God. While the practice of fast is certainly formational, it’s also responsive and it’s worth considering in these winter months slowly turning to spring — what we are responding to.

There’s a thing that in seminary we like to call the “grand narrative” or a “controlling narrative” which serves as an interpretive lens for how one reads and interprets Scripture. As a good evangelical seminary, we usually consider this to be the story of Jesus Christ, the story of God coming in to save creation that has fallen down a winding rabbit hole towards greater and greater levels of chaos. We point to his words and the prophecies and the narrative of the seasons to say that Jesus will one day come again to restore and renew all things.

Lent, I think, the season of waiting and going without, is a response in recognition of this redemptive process. Recognizing that Jesus has come, and will come, and learning what it means to wait hopefully in the midst of this present age. Jesus is coming. He’s here, he has come. But I have not only been saved I am still in the process of being saved.* In a similar way, Lent reminds us that we are waiting. With creation we groan and wait and long for the renewal that comes in the end of times. We respond to the Gospel by entering into it; by acknowledging this period of waiting and hoping. Lent shows us we’re waiting, teaches us to long, and forms our hope for the future.

Hope, my friend said rightly, is an intense desire for something. I desperately long for violence to end, for wars to abate, for my family to come home. But there is more than just longing when it comes to the redemption of the world and the many things that make up that redemption. In the way that it’s used in political campaigns and  among high school lovers, hope is cheap and ill used, hardly needed as a word separated from desire and want. We want a better economy in the same way we hope for a job upon college graduation.

But this I’m learning: we don’t put our hopes in humanity and the world. We put it in the One who made those things and we put our faith in the promises handed down to us, the foundation of his faithfulness and the character that says he will fulfill what he has begun. This is what hope is, the faith and trust that God will see His promises through, the patient expectation that the earth will be renewed and the culmination of all things will include a new and distinctively different relationship with the One who is.

Hope is deep and more than simple desire. It pulls from the being of our person and rests on the foundation of previously fulfilled promises and the faith of those gone before us. Lent, the season of waiting helps us refocus that hope: away from created to Creator, towards coming redemption and fulfillment. Because in the liturgical season of waiting we are reminded that we are waiting existentially. We learn to long for renewal. We hang in suspension. This is the tension that Christians live in. Here, oh yes, here! But also not yet. We are expectant, anxiously so. We are waiting. And we know that it will come despite all our impatience! Despite persecutions, failures, and misunderstandings. We’re waiting, but not in empty desire.  We’re waiting in deep, founded, faithful hope.

_________________________________________
Phil 1. 6, 2.12

WHY: Doing Life

This week I’ve been staying with two of my high school students from youth group. It’s amazing how your life disappears when two kids enter the picture. They have homework, school events, friends and youth group. There are guitar lessons, art club and exams. Not to mention emails and junk mail from colleges. They’re out the door at 645 AM after what I hardly consider to be a real breakfast and they’re home again at 235 PM with homework and hungry mouths.

Last night we learned together how to plunge an overflowed toilet.

Tonight we’re probably going out to see a movie.

It’s a wonderful life?

When their parents left, their mother said to me that she hoped I’d have some opportunities to speak into their lives. Well, last night we talked about drinking and college and I told them all the reasons that they shouldn’t drink to excess. But I have a feeling that’s not exactly what mom meant.

What does it mean to teach kids? What does it mean when their lives are so busy? Between guitar lessons and loading the car full of DJ equipment for youth group, I’m not even sure when we’ll eat dinner tomorrow night.

We pray together before they go to bed. I told them I was writing a paper about Jesus and coffee and the importance of work for the human identity and purpose. They stared at me like I’d grown two heads. But it brought up a couple of questions… what does the crema of espresso have to do with expanding the Kingdom? And why did you stop listening to Ke$ha or half a dozen other artists?

I thought how one of my other high schoolers is going for a run with me on Friday. She has questions to ask me, apparently. We’ve just become official as mentor/mentee and I’m freaking out with my own mentor because God knows I talk more than I listen; I am a Franks and Kormick by descent and there’s mistaking that when I open my mouth. I looked  at the coffee cup when she asked me, in the same shop where I found Ethan and my mentor and a new reason to live. I stared at the brown liquid, the soy foam dissolved into sweet joy. I told her the same thing that G told me years ago, before I lived with her and the family, before I learned what it meant to be at peace in the midst of chaos.

The kids aren’t home yet, but they will be soon. I’ll have to turn down Mumford and Sons while we do homework, all jammed into the office together. Tonight, after dinner, Ethan and I will read the daily liturgy and though it isn’t expected of them, I’ll invite the kids to join us. Ethan hasn’t been here, and I’ve missed our times of eating and reading together. This is what we do, after all, this is how we experience God, how we learn of Him, hear from Him and are challenged by the words of the fathers and the movement of the Spirit.

It’s like taking Rebekah running — where I can process and feel the glory of God in the pounding arteries beneath my skin and the bite of the cold winter wind on my face.

It’s like folding laundry with G while she told me about Jesus and peace and suffering.

We do life together. We invite people into our stories, our journeys. We walk alongside one another, holding hands, laughing and crying together and learning together along the way.

Perhaps there’s another way to teach, to speak into one another’s lives. If there is, I haven’t yet found it. But I’m no parent and so I am years away from knowing. I don’t make any claim to understanding what all this is about though I keep finding myself in the midst of it. There’s so much to learn, so much yet to find and discover. This is what I do know:

walking in the way that Jesus calls always creates reason for talking, reasons for speaking into one another’s lives as we grow into the people he has called us to be.

Why: counseling

Well, cat’s out of the bag now. I’m in counseling, folks. I’ve considered blogging about this, and about my experience in particular, but for now I think I want to just offer some basic thoughts on why counseling is a really good thing — even for Christians.

Time and Intentionality
There’s never enough time for all we need to get accomplished. Trust me, I know this on a very personal level. I’m a full time student, I work three part time jobs to make ends meet, I serve in a youth group, I’m dating someone and I manage a fairly decent social life. I think in our activity obsessed culture (which is a standard mark of our Protestant roots) we are often bereft of deep, authentic relationships. Please don’t misread this. I don’t mean to say that everyone in our culture is “fake” and putting on a show (though certainly true for many). It’s that we simply can’t manage to sit down and have coffee with someone for four hours to discuss our marriages, our struggles with our jobs and our victories that are coupled with defeat. There’s a struggle to find the ability to invest in each other, not because we don’t want to, but because we simply “can’t” make the time.* Our kids play sports, we have small group, Awanas, work parties, gym memberships, work that we bring home with us and — oh yeah– sleep which takes up half of our lifetime. But when we don’t have time for each other to be real, honest and raw, we need to find that elsewhere.

Sometimes, more intentionality can fill this vacancy. I plan my life about a month at a time — not because I like planning but because I have so much to get done and I want to preserve down time with God, with friends and with Ethan. We intentionally pursue certain people who we seek advice from and are honest with. Sometimes, however, this doesn’t seem feasible and one feels like they are drowning amidst obligations and shallow relationships that aren’t providing the ability to seek wisdom and discernment. It takes time to get to that point with someone and then time to maintain it. So, counseling can provide a place where those needs (for discernment, processing, correction, etc) are met. That has certainly been the case in my life.

Generations
Also problematic for finding someone to invest in you (and hopefully you investing in others) is that many of our churches are generationally segregated. Now, I’m going out on a limb here but I’d say this is not only a problem in churches via preference issues (music, clothing, etc) but is a standard issue across American culture where generations since the Boomers have decreasingly seen the importance of the wisdom of the elders. It’s something that needs to be combatted because there is a lack of wisdom for mentoring young folks if everyone is the same age! There’s no difference in life experience if everyone is on the same stage of life (young marrieds, new kids, teenage kids, etc).

I experienced the importance of having older folks in my life when Ethan and I recently snowshoed with a couple from our church who have kids older than the two of us. We took along their hunting dog and their little lap dog. Mathilda (lap dog) was slowing down about half way through so the other couple wrapped her up in a shirt and dropped her into the husband’s backpack with her head and two paws sticking out. Midway through the process, Cindy looked at me and said “this is what you do when you have kids, okay? Your life doesn’t stop. You adjust.” I need that. I need my married friends to wipe away the rose coloured glasses and assure me that arguments are normal, that marriage is compromise, that kids are cute but hard. Ethan and I are blessed to have many older couples around us who have been willing to take time out of their schedules and mentor us in a variety of ways (whether through snowshoeing or working on a house project with E). Unfortunately this isn’t always available to people in churches were the population is primarily made up of a single demographic. In this instance, I think counseling can again fill in a gap by providing wisdom both cerebral and hands on as people work through their issues (and this is especially true in marriages).

Spiritual Depth v Self Help
Finally, I think that as a Christian one ought to seek a Christian counselor. There’s this tendency in America to be obsessively oriented towards “self-help.” We can see this in our sermons, which are three points and commonly directed towards life change/behavioural modification. There’s a difference between self help and spiritual wisdom because self help, frankly, isn’t spiritual at all. It plays at the thought that one can change themselves to be better, healthier, more whole. While I believe one must cooperate with the Holy Spirit, I strongly believe that it is God who changes hearts. I think Christian counselors can make a huge difference here. They are trained to helping people unearth belief systems that cause behavioural issues — rather than putting someone on a diet, they help the person work through why they cope with life through food. A story might suffice here. My counselor and I have often talked about God and how my warped view of the Father has severely impacted my view of myself, E, and all of life (including my inability to rest and say no to people). My counselor and I recently discussed that I have terrible thought patterns (see previous post) and at some point I simply have to stop those thoughts right as they begin. What I didn’t say on Monday was that my counselor has also pointed out my need to memorize Scripture so I can speak truth in those moments of self loathing and doubt. You see? It isn’t self help, though that is what’s offered rather commonly in our churches and bookstores and relationships (a la, have you tried X, or tried Z?). What we need instead is a call to accountability and spiritual direction.

Considering…
Should everyone be in counseling? Well, at some point, yes. Not because we’re all horribly broken in a melodramatic way. No. But we all have pasts, we are products of the way people have treated us, the way we were picked on as children, manipulated by siblings, hurt by parents who didn’t love perfectly because they aren’t perfect. There’s sin in this world and we’ve all experienced it. I think, at some point, whether it is found in a mentoring relationship or a paid counselor, we’ve all got some ish to work through and we should do that as we pursue becoming who we already are in Christ and who we are constantly being transformed into.

Have you ever been in counseling? What are your thoughts on it — useful, necessary, etc?

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*I will say that sometimes the time excuse is just that, an excuse. I don’t have time for everyone, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have time for some people.

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.