Buckle up!

IMG_2024Roller coasters are by far my favorite amusement park ride. I love alternately giggling and screaming my way through the twists and turns, especially while upside down. Walking up to any given coaster, I can have some idea what to expect of the ride, but it’s impossible to know what it will actually feel like. Trusting that I’m safe, I buckle up and go for it.

Rarely am I that brave or trusting in my everyday life, even with the knowledge that God promises me both His presence and provision. Real life sometimes happens faster than I’m comfortable with. Days spill into nights that tumble into weeks that cascade into months. Suddenly, things that were once far off are upon me, often before I feel ready for them. Continue reading…

 

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Beauty

IMG_5437I love taking pictures. I love (attempting) to capture beauty so I can take it in over and over again. I love looking back at snapshots of the people and places and events that illustrate the story of my life. I treasure them. These images evoke memories and emotions of all kinds and can transport me instantly to very specific moments in time. But somehow, these same images so often disappoint. They are never quite as beautiful as the original moment was. They are but a reflection of something greater that simply can’t be conveyed by shapes and colors, no matter how lovely the composition. Still I chase beauty from behind my camera…longing to have tangible remembrances of the goodness and gifts in my life to hold onto for the days my heart forgets.

But sometimes beauty stops me in its tracks. Sometimes it is so profound and palpable that it demands I be fully present to it. Without a camera. And so, there are many favorite days, moments, and memories for which there are no pictures…

They are still dear to me. And they are not forgotten.

My friend Rachel was ordained as a minister one Sunday afternoon last May. Though I walked into a church in Durham that I’d never been to before, nearly everything else about the service that afternoon felt like slipping into a favorite old sweatshirt. I was greeted with the broadest of smiles and the tightest of hugs. It was like being welcomed home after a long time away. But I wasn’t home. None of us were; we had all traveled hundreds of miles to celebrate the goodness of God in Rachel’s life and to affirm her calling.

Walking into that unfamiliar sanctuary, I knew there was going to be a joyful celebration. I knew there would be an incredible amount of love. I knew the Gospel would be proclaimed. All of those things were true.

It is also true that I was completely caught off guard by how powerfully beautiful it all was. What a gift it was to be with those people in that place to send Rachel out! The Rachel I had known since her middle school years. The Rachel many in that room had known since her birth. This same Rachel who had been following the call of God on her life in small and faithful ways since her youth was being ordained as a pastor.

There was so much beauty and goodness in that sanctuary. I didn’t want to constrain it by trying to contain it. There was too much of it to wrangle and too little of me to both capture it and be present to it. As the opening song began, I put my camera away. I didn’t want to miss anything.

Beaming and singing with tears streaming down my face, I drank it all in. The goodness of God was all around me.

I was plowed over by beauty that day…beauty that is imprinted on my heart in ways more detailed and exquisite than any photograph ever could be.

Seeing and hoping

It’s an interesting scene out there in our world today. No matter your politics or opinions, it is clear there are people on the other side. Those “others” are our friends and neighbors, sometimes even members of our own families. There is tension and division all around. Even a brief look at the news or social media reinforces what we already know – while some are resting easy, others are uncertain or afraid. Many feel overwhelmed, alone, or even helpless. This is where we find ourselves.

But it is not the only place we find ourselves. We are not a people without hope. Advent reminds us that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it. Christ came to set us free. He came that we might receive his love, but also that we would bear it. To bear the light of Christ to others requires something of us. If we are to do good, seek justice, help the oppressed, defend the cause of orphans, and fight for the rights of widows as we are called to do, then we must also engage with, listen to, and truly see each other. Jesus went against the religious establishment and culture of his day to welcome the stranger, touch the untouchable, love the unlovely, and to show us the way to live. This includes loving those whose experiences are different from ours, who may look different from us, and whose fears we might not understand.

May we cling tenaciously to the hope of Christ this season and may the light of Christ breaking into the darkness shine on the face of the other and illuminate the way as we bear the love of Christ to our broken world and to our neighbors near and far.

(This post is part of the Advent meditation series at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.)

Where are you?

God’s question to Adam and Eve after they ate the fruit has been playing on repeat in the background of my mind for the past month or so. I’ve read and reread Genesis 3 a bunch of times. I’ve written the question down in my journal. It hasn’t gone away. I feel like I’m hearing it more clearly and more often. And I’m hearing it in a much different way than I used to.

When I learned about the Fall as a little girl, I heard that question from God as an angry one — as if He was asking where they were to accuse and punish them. I mean, he did send them out of the garden shortly after this exchange, didn’t He? And right before the banishment, He pronounced a curse on them for their disobedience.

While those things are true, they aren’t the whole story. Not even close.

Continue reading…

Spilled

 

A couple things to know:

1. Chicken chili does not look dissimilar from vomit when it’s all over your car
2. If you ride in my car anytime soon (or perhaps ever) it is going to smell like chicken chili

I’ve gotten a little ahead of myself, so let me back up. The last couple of weeks have been busy and full, mostly good things, some hard, but it has felt like it was a little much…in that “I’ve probably squeezed in more things than was ideal and/or I’ve overcommitted myself just a little” sort of way. This is a place I’ve been before. It doesn’t usually end well. 

I found myself there again Thursday evening. I was chopping and sautéing onions, dicing chicken, and opening cans of beans in my kitchen at 11:45 p.m. Why was I doing this in the midnight hour? Because I’d chosen to spend the earlier part of the night with friends and it had been wonderful. Because I knew I could summon my inner night owl and muddle through one more day of work tired. Because I had an hour lunch break on Friday where I could run home, finish prepping, and dump it all in the crock-pot so dinner would be ready in time to feed my church small group that night.  

It was a beautiful plan. I left my house on time Friday evening. The crock-pot full of delicious chicken chili was wedged securely between the passenger seat and the underside of the glove compartment. The bag of assorted toppings and my Bible and notes, were on the seat next to me. I’d also signed up to lead our discussion that night. We’re sharing responsibility for meal prep and leading this fall.  Somehow it seemed like a good idea to take my turn for both in the same night. 

I was less than a mile from my house when the beautiful plan fell apart. A woman almost side swiped me as she attempted to change lanes. I had to lay on the horn and swerve onto the grass to not get hit. After the near collision, I turned to look at the woman in the other car. She was laughing…not in the “ooh, my bad” kind of way, but in the “what’s your problem? you’re totally overreacting” kind of way. Then I turned to look at the chili. The crock-pot was no longer full.  

I was obviously relieved to have not been in an accident. But tears and all kinds of other emotions were still spilling out of me as I merged onto I-64. I was mad at the woman for laughing at me. I was mad that I was going to have a big mess to clean up. I was worried there wouldn’t be enough chili left to feed everyone.

Then began the spiraling. Why do I try to do everything? Why am I not capable of being single and successfully transporting a crock-pot of food in my car without making a mess? (The last spill incident had involved baked beans.) Yup, I’m a 100% failure at safe crock-pot transit. I’m probably a failure at a lot of other things. The discussion will probably go badly. Why can’t I stop crying? I’m being ridiculous – it’s spilled soup, not the end of the world. I’ll probably be single and transporting crock-pots alone (and dumping them) for the rest of my life. I’m mad that I have to serve a crap version of what was once a nice diner. I want to go home and hide, not lead a discussion on Phillippians 2. I’m going to arrive crying and messy. 

That last part was true. I pulled into the driveway crying and with mascara all over my face. There was going to be no hiding. I’d sent a text from a stoplight that I was running late and half of dinner was no longer, but I was still overwhelmed to be greeted with so much kindness from my people. There were waving babies, offers of help, comments about how good dinner still smelled, and promises of leftovers in the fridge if we ended up short on chili.

As someone carried the dripping crock-pot into the house, others came out with paper towels and a bucket of water. I looked at the floor mat. It looked like someone had gotten sick in the car. I carefully lifted that out and scraped it into the garbage. There was chili everywhere. It had seeped under the mat, under the carpet, under the plastic panels, to places in the car you can’t even get to. 

The mess was bigger than I thought. But so was the love. I was not alone in the mess. These things are always true, but felt especially and tangibly so last night.

After some time of teary scrubbing and feeling like I was getting nowhere, one of the guys came back out to the driveway and said, “Why don’t you go in and let me work on it awhile for you?”

That is the gospel right there.

Jesus sees me in my mess, in my efforts to clean myself up and manage things on my own, and he reminds me over and over again that the work is His, not mine. There is grace. There is a rescuer. And His love is always bigger than the mess.