On Faith, Life, and Refugees

A guest post by Andrea Bailey

We are not listening to each other. I hear conservatives accusing liberals and other conservatives that they have bought into liberal biased media hype. I hear liberals accusing conservatives of being hateful and intolerant, all the while not listening themselves. I hear those genuinely concerned for truth asking questions and being overwhelmed, not sure who they should trust. I hear so many proclaiming boldly which media sources can be trusted and which ones cannot, authoritatively dismissing legitimate questions and reasonable discourse. I hear fear and pride.

If only it were so simple. If only we could know with certainty which sources to trust. If only that source could outline all the answers. If only we could trust that facts and news could come to us without bias or could be completely neutral.

Speaking to those who seek to follow Christ, at this intersection of faith and life, there are no simple, axiomatic solutions. We must seek wisdom. The application of truth requires wisdom and is never simple; rather, its progress is often slow and it requires discernment, effort and humility to learn.

For those who claim the name Christian, how do you know truth? Where do you turn for truth and the wisdom to live it out? How does that truth teach you to stand in these matters? Is truth ever just rational or logical belief? Is it not also experiencing God in the details of our physical lives, authenticating and revealing more fully that which we also know and confess?

It seems possible that in these matters of loving others, we have erred too much on the side of reason. We have not experienced truth in that way which helps us to fully know it, through our physical, everyday experiences, entering into the physical, everyday lives of those we are called to serve.

Where do we think we can experience the grace and mercy of God more than in entering into the struggles of those whom He has taught us to love? But have we entered in?

Christ spent his time with the poor, the marginalized, the broken, the suffering, the sick—these are the ones he most often gave the gift of His physical presence. Loving others carries a cost but did Christ not show us how to love when He came to show His love for us?

God’s love for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the sojourner is undeniable throughout Scripture and His commands for us to care for them cannot be dismissed. And so it is needful to consider how we were taught to love.

Are we only supposed to love and welcome others when it is safe for us, or doesn’t cost us too much, even though the ones seeking our help are suffering or dying? When God calls us to love the sojourner, did He say only if they believe in Me and it will not threaten your safety?

I recognize that this type of thinking has the potential to conflict with national security, but does it have to? Can we rally for stronger security measures while still advocating for our government to give us the ability to welcome those who are suffering, in accordance with the teachings of our faith? Does our faith allow us to ignore the sufferings of others in the name of national security?

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Of those who are no longer allowed to come safely to our shores, is it possible that they might also have learned and believed the Good News—that God loves them and welcomes them to believe and be healed? Is it possible that they would have believed, especially in a land where they are shown welcome and are given the freedom to believe? But for now they cannot come. For now they cannot hear. For now, is it not more likely that they will think of America, that Christian nation (as it is believed to be), as a nation who worships a God that does not care that they are suffering?

To love is to sacrifice.

As Christians, can you claim to value and cherish life and then stay silent while it is denied to those who are in danger of losing theirs? Have you supported and sacrificed when those seeking to care for the ones who have already lost so much in this life, need help?

Let’s bring it closer to home—when you see a young single woman, trying to care for her child on her own, have you helped? Or have you referred her to government programs and then supported policies that make her life more difficult?

When you see adoptive or foster families struggling, sacrificially loving children who have lost or have suffered, have you entered in? Have you given of your own time? Has it cost you anything to help care for those lives which you said you were for? Has it changed the way you live?

If we have not entered into the lives of those whom Christ taught us to love, sacrificially giving of ourselves, is it possible that our unaffected lives mock their suffering? It is possible that our unaffected lives are the very thing which cause them to doubt God’s love for them?

And so today, to all who claim the name Christian, I invite you to enter into the lives of those who are suffering. Only in entering in can we more fully experience that which we know. Only in entering in can we more faithfully demonstrate the love of God for those who are suffering. Only in entering in can we see the power of love in the face of fear because only in entering in can we know more fully that perfect Love which drives out all fear.

 

Andrea Bailey directs a faith-based ESL program serving refugees and immigrants in her local community.

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A Tale of Two Kingdoms, or, Why a Conservative Christian Cried on Election Day

I rubbed tiredness from my eyes as they tapped red and blue-smattered digital maps and now and then cued the dramatic music for the next incoming projection.  A yellow checkmark shone beside the beaming candidate’s triumphal face, claiming another state, another trove of electoral votes.  There was disbelief, conjecture, and momentum towards an outcome radically different than expected.

When it ended I slipped into bed beside my sleeping husband, waking him.

“Trump won.”

“What?  You’re joking.  No way.”

“Yep.  Hillary conceded.  He’s going to be our President.”

“Wow.”

Then we lay in silence.

Tears came readily, for me, a pro-life Christian conservative.  Yes, when the power seemed to fall in my peoples’ laps.  The tears weren’t for Hillary, though I did feel sad for her own grief, having worked so hard.  I did not want her as my President, but I felt for her loss and frustration.  I grieved for the people whose hearts felt hope because of her support for the marginalized; I grieved for their fear.  You don’t have to agree to feel.  You can look into the eyes of those with whom you experience profound disagreement and feel compassion for their hurt, their disappointed hopes, their suffering.

No, I didn’t grieve for Clinton; I grieved for the Church.

History has taught me to grieve this; I cannot ignore it.  The government may or may not be improved with Christian morality legislated; this is complex and hard to quantify especially because Christian morality itself is interpreted so differently among Christians! Is it Christian to execute criminals?  Is it Christian to initiate war?  Is it Christian to tell non-Christians whom they can form a civil union with?  And clearly there are certain things that an effectively self-sustaining government must be ready to do that a good Christian could never do; we are constrained by the laws of another Kingdom which are incompatible with any earthly one.  How does a country operate in global relations if its beliefs include loving your enemy, blessing those who hurt you, turning the other cheek, loving your neighbor as you love yourself, not thinking only of your own interests, denying yourself, overcoming evil with good, welcoming the sojourners (immigrants and refugees), honoring them and caring for their needs without qualification?  History shows us that those who have attempted a Christian theocracy have either split their lives into two parts (public life and private life), or they have ignored the merciful and radically-loving commandments and used the Christian name to incite fervor and unity into their subjects.  Both distort Christianity.  When the Church and power hold hands, the Church loses, it loses its very heart and medicine.

Christianity is the path, the way, the hospital where our sin sickness is diagnosed and healed.  It is where we encounter Him, Christ, our very life.  Trying to make people behave like Christians through legislation ignores how each of us really experiences transformational change.  I would argue that we are changed by love, by humility, by joy, by good examples, by beauty, by heroes, by music, by art, by godly grandmothers’ prayers and the lives they led before us, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit’s work within us; not from top-down laws that govern our bodies but not our hearts.

Of course I want abortion to end, but I also don’t fool myself into thinking that true change will come if it’s made illegal.  Theft, perjury, child abuse, and rape are all illegal too, and yet how prevalent they continue to be.  Of course I don’t want to suffer persecution for holding on to God’s sexual ethics, but God never promised me a cost-free faith.  God does not say, “Make sure you don’t have to suffer for Me”; he calls me to suffer well for His sake, enduring.  We are to be the conscience of the nation, not the constable.

Which kingdom are we invested in seeing triumph?  And, importantly, at what cost?

“It has become more evident to me that we are to be given a great popular national Church, whose nature cannot be reconciled with Christianity, and that we must prepare our minds for the entirely new paths which we shall then have to follow.  The question is really:  Christianity or Germanism?  And the sooner the conflict is revealed in the clear light of day the better.”  -Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor who was executed by the Nazis

When I see that 80% of evangelicals rallied behind a man who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy, and that they’d let him because he’s a “star”, and who laughed at his own failed attempt to seduce a married woman, and who mocked both prisoners of war and a reporter with a disability, I am sickened (especially when I remember how they eviscerated Bill Clinton for his moral failures).  I am also disturbed by Christians who found the life of the unborn an insubstantial reason to not support Clinton.  I’m disturbed that they could so easily brush aside some very real concerns about her integrity.  I have heard all the justifications about voting for a platform rather than a person, about how God uses sinful people for His purposes, and so on, but what the world sees is far different.  They see that our bar is extremely low for the person we want in power and hypocritically high for those we don’t want in power.  Character matters until it doesn’t.

How did I want this election to go?  My hopes weren’t pinned there.  My hopes were that Christians would vote for those who both represented what they cared about AND were capable and experienced people of sound character and integrity, even if they lost.  That they would be kind and warm to those who disagreed with them.  That they wouldn’t vote if there was no one they felt in clear conscience that they could affirm.  That they wouldn’t choose a lesser evil, but would rather choose good always, even if it meant abstaining from voting.  That in all things, that they were more invested in God’s kingdom work than in the power plays of Washington.  I wanted the Church to be the Church, a distinct and beautiful thing that reaches not for power but for the downtrodden and broken, embracing them.

Last night at our local English as a Second Language program I sat down and played a board game with two young Muslim girls, their hijabs framing their playful, beautiful faces.  Their mother was in class, learning the language of her new home.  We laughed together.  I was so glad they’re here, and I hoped that their bright joy wouldn’t be stomped on by the hate and fear of my fellow Americans.  I stopped by the home of one of our Indian students, enjoying their delicious food and warm hospitality, laughing together, hugging them both as I left, saying “May God bless you, Mamagi (Mother, with respect).  May God bless you, Papagi (Father, with respect).”  These experiences were a balm on my raw heart.  Here was the kingdom work that I could be a part of, each connection a vote for love and compassion.burden

 

 

Is Stress Inevitable?

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We were gathered over our Bonhoeffer biographies, ostensibly discussing Dietrich’s life story, but our words had skipped off trail into the lives we were living.  We were talking about stress; how everyone seems to have quite a lot of it, how it becomes unbearable, overwhelming.  How do we manage it, reduce it, live well with it?

As we spoke, I found I couldn’t fully relate to the levels of stress, anxiety, and it’s corollary, depression, that seem endemic in our society.  Yes, I’d had stressful moments; I think of those times when the phone is ringing, the baby is crying, and someone spills the rice bag across the floor, but they are moments, not a chronic state of affairs.

“Is stress inevitable?” I asked.  The question left a wondering silence.

“Stress is simply a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium. In other words, it’s an omnipresent part of life. A stressful event can trigger the “fight-or-flight” response, causing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to surge through the body.”  -Psychology Today

Certainly there will always be stimuli that provoke us to internal agitation, but can we determine the dominance of that energy?  Can we contain that disruption and maintain inner peace?  Are we at the mercy of stress?  How does our faith, or lack thereof, inform our response to this malady?

I head to my bookshelf and open my 1970’s Webster Dictionary and look up stress.

stress:  tension; strain

That was it.  Wondering if “anxiety” would yield a more modern interpretation:

anxiety:  worry; concern; disquietude; uneasiness

The modern version of Webster’s Dictionary defines it thus:

stress:  a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc.;  something that causes strong feelings of worry or anxiety

So is it, following Psychology Today’s wording, an omnipresent part of life, or is it a reaction to normal life that can be chosen or not chosen?

Clearly this isn’t only a modern problem; life’s stressors may have changed over time; we may no longer worry as much over marauding bands plundering us, nor famine, nor dying of a simple infection; but we fragile humans have always had provocations to worry.  What has changed though, is how we regard this agitation, and what we believe about it.

Christianity has always taught that worry and anxiety are sins; a choice to not trust God.

“O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” (Mt 6:30–34)

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; . . . not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)

 “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  (Philippians 4:6)

Today though, it seems, we are led to believe that stress, anxiety, worry, and depression happen to us, and that it is the norm.  It is something, thus, to medicate, moderate, and live with.  When did it go from being a choice to a  chronic condition?  I do not speak here for those with chemical imbalances in their bodies who wisely have sought medical treatment; I am not a doctor and certainly not an expert on mental health; I address only here the very common experience of being regularly “stressed out”, anxious, and/or depressed without an underlying medical condition.

Understanding stress, anxiety, and depression as external to choice would have been unfathomable to our Christian predecessors; if God had commanded us to not worry, nor be anxious and cast down, would He not also provide us with help to fulfill that command? Could it be that we are to take life’s stressors as good medicine for us, rather than reasons to fall into despair and fretting?

“Sometimes men are tested by pleasure, sometimes by distress or by physical suffering. By means of His prescriptions the Physician of souls administers the remedy according to the cause of the passions lying hidden in the soul.”  -St. Maximos the Confessor

“You have anxieties about your life… Pray fervently to the Lord from your heart in this way: ‘I place my fate in Thy hands, O my Saviour. In the way that Thou knowest, arrange my life as is best. From now on I cut off every care about myself, having but one care, to do what is pleasing before Thee.’ Speak to God in this way, and by doing so you will already have placed yourself completely in His hands, not being concerned about anything, but calmly accepting every sort of situation, pleasant or unpleasant, as being arranged for you purposely by God. Your only concern should be to act according to God’s commandments in everything. This is all that is required of you.”  -Saint Theophan the Recluse

 “Without winter there would be no spring, and without spring there would be no summer. So it is also in the spiritual life: a little consolation, and then a little grief—and thus little by little we work out our salvation. Let us accept everything from the hand of God. If He comforts us, let us thank Him. And if He doesn’t comfort us—let us thank Him.”  – St. Anatoly Zertsalov, 19th Century Optina Elder

 

That admonition, “Let us accept everything from the hand of God,” has changed me deeply, causing joy to seep into the cracks where despair and anxiety had reigned.  If I truly trust God to be working diligently on my soul through the hardships, blessings, and day-to-day occurrences in my life, to make me more like Christ in all of it, then I have no reason to worry.  Being captivated by worry and anxiety would be like turning away my face from Him, the Great Physician of my soul, and declaring that the prescription was all wrong, and that I’d take care of my self, thank You very much.  I speak not as someone who has arrived at a constant state of peace, but as someone who has discovered a tool to help me get there.

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Well, how do we learn this trust then?  How do we stop the swirling, anxious thoughts, the mounting stress, and the harrowing depths of despair?

Here, as in many things, children are a good example for us.  If they have good and loving parents they do not worry that they’ll not be fed, clothed, and cared for.  They can look back and remember that all of their days everything necessary was provided for them with loving hands.  In speaking with their parents they feel the love and kindness in their voices; they hear good words and feel assured.

So also with us, we must look back and acknowledge that God has been faithful to us, bringing us through, sometimes in spite of ourselves.  We must speak with Him and listen to His loving voice.  When thoughts swirl we must take them captive, holding on to truth, praying for God to help us.  We must trust in His abiding love which does not let go.

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“O Lord, I do not know what to ask of You. You alone know what are my true needs. You love me more than I myself know how to love. Help me to see my real needs which are concealed from me. I do not dare to ask either for a cross or for consolation. I can only wait on You. My heart is open to You. Visit and help me, for the sake of Your great mercy. Strike me and heal me; cast me down and raise me up. I worship in silence Your holy will and Your unsearchable ways. I offer myself as a sacrifice to You. I have no other desire than to fulfill Your will. Teach me to pray. Pray You Yourself in me. Amen.”   – Prayer of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow

Is stress inevitable?  The causes for stress, yes, however our reactions to stress need not follow a dark trajectory.  We have, through constant prayer, a good defense from fear and melancholy, from anxiety and fuss.  We choose, and we can learn to choose well.

It’s All Unexpected

Maybe not everyone is so regularly startled as I am.

I came home from a ten day trip to find that my gardens had exploded with new blooms, clutches of green tomatoes, and dozens upon dozens of cymes of elderberries.  The grapes decided to indulge in a bit of conquest, leaping over the roses and aiming for the sidewalk. It reminded me of the children’s book character Mr. Tickle, who had extremely long arms and used them most mischievously, giggling at day’s end about his tickling pranks.  The sunflowers had thrown their orange petals back in glee and were waiting, swaying and smiling broadly.  I could almost hear them laugh; laugh at their own audacity and pomp.  A flower with a stem the size of a small tree!  The very notion!  In my mind they are the giraffes of the flower world; a small proof of God’s sense of humor.  I digress.

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So that was just walking in the main path.  Then I was assaulted by the sheer number of things, useful and good, that proliferated in my home.  Sturdy pots, a deep sink, machines to wash and dry, toilets to perform humble but ever-useful duties.  The prayer corner, a place that becomes more beautiful with time; this too is an astonishing sight after many days away from it.  There is where home feels most poignant.

It’s all unexpected and I looked about and in my heart the impression was, “Oh, so you’re all here still, I suppose!?  AH, you are so much!  How has this all come to pass?”

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My dear bird was wary.  For a number of minutes he stared back at me as I called to him in our familiar language of clicks and purrs and words.  Then his guard dropped and he pressed his warm little body close to the bars of his cage and purr-trilled back.  It was all unexpected for him, that he’d come home again and be with us all again.  He had no idea of return, of this remembered life being his again.  What joy!  I opened his door and he snuggled under my chin, rubbing his head back and forth.  “Pretty bird!”, he said.

There has been some healing in my soul though I was not aware of any particular treatment prescribed nor followed.  I used to expect too much, want too much; to my shame I truly did have an ugly expectation troll, grumping about in my heart, hollering about what I deserved and stomping around, ruining moments I should have been grateful for, should have enjoyed more.  Somehow he was evicted, and joy moved in, and gratitude. All is in reverse now; it’s a joyful pessimism of sorts…I expect life to be quite hard; I do not expect easy times and smooth ways, and yet, I am almost ridiculously happy with each and every good I encounter.  I do not lay claim to blessings, and yet I find them dumped over my head.

God is kind.  I don’t endeavor enough, I do not struggle enough, I am ordinary.  I did not merit any of this, but God gifts as He sees fit.  It’s all unexpected._MG_5001

 

But…I’m Already Happy…

IMG_4721It happens, now and again, as I scroll through my Facebook feed, to encounter a dangling carrot.  The dangler, or angler, or lifestyle salesperson, or multi-level marketing pitch-er, croons a solution and jiggles the carrot.  This presupposes that I have the problem they’re ready to help with.

I’ve never been a fan of motivational posters; I mean does anyone actually feel more heroic or brave or encouraged from reading some cliche splayed across a rugged mountain scene, with some self-actualized hiker standing at the edge with his fists raised double and high?

So when friends, acquaintances, and high school buddies post a triumphant selfie, product in hand, and then talk about wellness, no more migraines, boundless energy, community, opportunity, financial freedom, balanced chakras, vacation money, bonuses, Lexuses, joy, bravery, DREAMS, hot tubs, and talk abysmally about J-O-B-S (yes, some actually do spell it out like it’s a dirty word) that are implicitly heinous, life-wasting occupations for the cowardly, blind, subservient miserable masses, I find I genuinely have no understanding of what sort of fish is hungry for that bait.  And why, to me, it looks like a neon, rubber worm with a barbed hook inside?

And then I know it; you don’t scratch where it doesn’t itch.  If the fish is well-fed, even the flashiest of bait isn’t tempting.  See, I’m already happy.  I’m not hungry for that oddly-luminous, sparkly bait.

No, they’re right, I can’t afford to travel the world, nor drive a Lexus, nor buy a fancy hot tub, nor receive massive bonuses, but what I can afford to do still astounds me.

We can drive to the ocean, folks!  THE OCEAN!  Where I grew up in Montana, the ocean was several hundreds of dollars and hours upon hours away.  I didn’t see one until I was seventeen.  I get a thrill every time I see it, and getting tossed around in it’s rocking and rolling waves is pure joy.

And, seeing those dear faces, I get to have kids!!!  Lots of them!  I know so many folks whose bodies don’t have the ability to bear children, and that breaks my heart.  I don’t take it for granted that this unfathomable blessing has been given to me and my husband.

Every single day we eat and have clean water to drink!  There is a group I’m a part of in Facebookland called “Real Hope For Haiti“, and they regularly post pictures of incoming patients; little kids swollen from kwashiorkor (malnourishment), and ask for prayers for critical cases.  My eyes fill with tears.  How could I not be grateful, so very thankful for our daily sustenance?  It converts my hunger into hunger-to-help!  Keep your protein shakes and moon juice and algae-aloe-smoothie miracle powders; I’m astounded to have the food I have!

A lot of the pitches have three themes:  autonomy (you’re in charge, you own a business, you decide your hours), wealth (commissions, bonuses, free cars, cheaper or free products), and altruism (you’re helping other people achieve their dreams and/or improve their health) to make the first two seem like mere side benefits.  You can get the glow of a hero and the bank account of a CEO, all in one!

I almost feel bad for not having the problems they’re ready to fix; or in a lot of ways, I don’t see my particular sufferings in the same light as they do.  I don’t automatically assume that hard financial times are an altogether bad thing; they can be a crucible for one’s character, teach one frugal habits, activate humility, and make identification and empathy for the poor an immediate thing.  It’s hard to look down on someone you’re standing next to.

One seller posted accusingly, “Why be sick?  You can be free of that if you use essential oils, duh!” (my paraphrase).  I wonder how Job would have heard that, in his ash pile, covered in boils.  “Oh, so it wasn’t God allowing Satan to sift me?  I just needed tea tree oil?  Astounding!”  This sort of triumphalism in regards to health is the oddest bait of all of them.  The Bible says far more about the connection between our passions (envy, lust, resentment) and our bodily health than it does about what we put into us.  Even then, we’re cautioned from assuming a cause/effect outlook:

“His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened that the works of God would be displayed in him.”  -John 9:3

We can’t rummage through God’s toolbox and eject the tools we don’t like.  They may be just the right ones to fix something in us that is very broken.

I stood in front of a room full of sixth graders and asked if I could share my favorite inspirational platitude.  They nodded, grinning because I had already proven myself funny and odd.  “Die” I said, raising up my hands to make exaggerated quote marks for dramatic effect.  “Shouldn’t I embroider it and border it with flowers; wouldn’t that be lovely on the wall?”  They laughed and maybe they didn’t know what to think.  “Dying to myself, my desires, dying each day, even imperfectly, always, always leads to joy.”  I asked them how they could die each day; in what ways could they deny themselves in order to serve others or Christ?  They had really good ideas; they may have had some dissonance, sure, because our culture swaddles youth with soothing words of self importance and self fulfillment and such.  No one tells them to “die”.

But we do seem to tell each other how to “live”, how to be happy, how to digest our food better via pills, how to melt fat around our tums with body wraps, how to use our social networks as ladders into our bright futures, how to be successful and bright and better looking, and brave.

How come no one is telling each other to die?  To embrace unavoidable suffering with an obstinate love, patience, and trust in Christ?  To see limited finances as a gift from a wise Father?  To not buy hundreds of dollars worth of pills and wraps and creams and oils, but rather to give that money away so toddlers can not swell up and die?  Because that kind of stuff gets my attention; that scratches where I’m itching.

 

Even The Grays

It has been a week of clumsily wrangling table cloths and bedsheets over my flowering peach and nectarine trees in a futile attempt to save them from freezing into fruitlessness.  It has been a week of hunching over an old kerosene heater at midnight in the greenhouse trying to coax some robust heat out of it to keep the seedlings from certain, cold death.  It has been a week of washing poop out of underpants with a toddler who has no interest in potty training.  It’s been a week without a single order for soap and all the questions that can kindle.

It has also been bright.

Mr. Mango, our beloved parakeet, has begun making word-like utterances, much to my over-the-top delight.  Tobias has learned how to grin mischievously.  My daughter comes home from her long bus commute with a handful of poems she writes on the way; often springing from topics she’s learned about that day in history class.  Sunflowers, dahlias, and coxcombs are coming up in the seed trays, lifting their leafy hands up to the sun.  My boule bread has been turning out quite good, and we’ve cut down on our food bill via creative means.  My bees are still alive.

My daughter was asking me about hair dye.  She wanted to know why I rarely use it (I highlighted my hair in Chile, oh, six years ago or so).  I fanned out a handful of my hair in my hands.  “Look at all the colors.  Browns, blonde strands, copper.  Yes, gray too.  I don’t want to miss this, from bright to dark, even the grays.”

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It may not be a fashionable look; I may look older than I otherwise would, but I find some delight in looking my age, my thirty-six years of life under the sun.  I make no argument against dyeing of hair; just saying that I like to watch the march of time of browns and blonds and grays, right on my own head.  I don’t want to miss what the transition between youth and middle age looks like; I do not want to look perpetually young in anything but my childlike delight in life.  I welcome my years; would that I could kiss God’s feet in gratitude for all they’ve held.

As regards these days of both trials and blessings, I feel the same.  It is me, yes, bent over the toilet, swishing feces out of underpants for the third time in one day.  It’s me!  It’s also me that gets to hold my dear son, all cleaned up, and teach him the names of colors, and hear him mispronounce them, and smile all the way out to my ears.

I’ll take these days, these bright ones, and grays too, with great gratitude from a full heart, for God has dealt kindly with me.

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Rocks and Hard Places

 

burdenIt’s hard to write when a baby is crying.

I lay the words aside, over and over, and tumbleweeds roll across my blog and cobwebs hang dusty in the corner.

There’s pain too, and that can either release words in a torrent or swallow them whole in one dark gulp.

I threw out my back.  Stomach bugs went through the children.  Teething.  Babies up throughout the nights, fitful sleep.  My father had six bypasses put into his heart.  Fevers and hacking coughs.  Long hours caring for a friend who has no one; her hand gripping mine ever so tightly while pain wracks her body.  Tears like ripe fruit brimming my eyes; with the barest touch they fall, and a perpetual knot made swallowing hard.

There’s more, but that is enough.  Who am I to tell you that life can be hard?  You know it too; you have your own sorrows.

The match scraping against the box has become a part of my prayer time.  It’s like the pistol marking the beginning of the race.  We have begun.  The end ignites and I light the shrinking, puddling candles in my prayer corner and feel their warmth.  I blow out the match and lay it on a growing pile.  My prayer book has dog-eared corners; the book’s been opening easily to “Prayer for a Sick Person” and “Compline”.  “Prayer for Forgiveness” too.

My eyes read the words and my lips say the words that my soul longs to pray and set heavenward; they are whispered, and the candles lend beauty and warmth on gray days.  I tell it to myself, that prayer is the most important work I can offer; that I am not helpless.  The enemy knows these things; how often am I led away from my prayer corner, thinking, ah, I should get the laundry changed over first, and then this, then that.

My baby is crying again, and it is hard to write.  He is fed, changed; he needs to sleep but fights what is best for him.  He and I have much in common.

I used to pray at my bench, but my babies were routinely destroying that sacred space, scattering my candles, mouthing the spent matches, throwing the books on the floor.  I have this antique washstand, a beautiful piece, and I moved my prayer corner there, above the curious hands of my  toddlers.  My beeswax candles hang along the towel rail, my Bible, my lectionary reading calendar, and my prayer book lay unmolested.  It’s a place set apart and claimed for holy work.

And when squeezed between a rock and a hard place, you really need a holy place.  I didn’t used to believe in them; at least in my head, my theology did away with holy places when the curtain was torn.  It didn’t stop my soul from feeling the opposite when sitting in a cathedral, when wandering church ruins.  My soul was wiser than my constructs.

A lot changed for me when I read the Old Testament story…

As they were burying a man, behold, they saw a marauding band; and they cast the man into the grave of Elisha. And when the man touched the bones of Elisha he revived and stood up on his feet.  

II Kings 13:21

Holiness lingered in the holy man’s bones.  Peter’s shadow healed the sick.  Handkerchiefs that Paul had touched were brought to the sick and they were made well (Acts 19:12).  Holiness permeated matter, and suddenly, matter mattered.

This made the keeping of relics of saints a whole lot more understandable; it wasn’t some macabre idolatry, but rather an acknowledgement that holiness remained; that God’s working Presence doesn’t desert our matter; that our matter truly matters.

As this hard season continues, I have deep gratitude for my holy work in my holy place, and the Holy One who catches every whispered word.