Category Archives: Soapbox

Buzz Bissinger, upping the ante, and the God of redemption

In a miraculous twist of fate yesterday, my children were napping during NPR’s program Fresh Air. I was in the kitchen making a meal for a friend who has a new baby, but when I heard the show’s guest, I was immediately disappointed: it was Buzz Bissinger, Pulitzer Prize winning author, writer of the Vanity Fair cover article on Caitlyn Jenner, and author of many books, including Friday Night Lights, which has a 25th anniversary edition coming out. I thought to myself, What do I have in common with this man? I haven’t read his books, I am not interested in sports, ugh. But out of a sense of obligation to the fates that allowed me this precious time cooking early enough in the day to have an hour to LISTEN TO NPR WHILE MY BABIES SLEPT, I kept it on. And I was glad I did.

Mr. Bissinger is a fascinating, intelligent, incredibly articulate gentleman. He answered the interview questions about his experience researching Friday Night Lights and the response over the last 25 years with conviction, passion, and integrity. It only took me about 5 minutes to warm up to him and start thinking, I need to read this book!friday night lights

He is a compelling figure. Who has surely written compelling pieces, even though I haven’t read them. Yet.

The second part of the interview moved into his personal life; he has recently been treated as an inpatient at a rehab facility for a shopping addiction. But as he talked, it became clear that the shopping addiction, which primarily involved leather clothing, was a symptom of something even deeper. He says, “…the admission of the shopping addiction was just a, you know, a cover in a sense for some deep, deep-seated, you know, sexual habits.” His official diagnosis was “complicated sexual addiction.” After a childhood with a difficult mother (who always wore leather gloves), he grew into a man with some gender confusion, who enjoys cross dressing, has had all of his body hair removed, and has indulged in dangerous S&M activities.buzz bussinger

At this point in the interview, my heart was heavy. Bissinger is very open with his story and speaks very highly of his supportive children and wife, who decided to stay with him throughout the addiction and recovery. But I couldn’t help but think, This is just one more story of brokenness. The sadness is not worth it to me.

And then Bissinger said something so profound: “My life was guided by shame. And that’s what I learned most of all in rehab. I was ashamed of myself, so you find an addiction, but it’s not enough, so you up the ante, you up the ante and you up the ante.”

Wow.

YES!

There it is—the human condition. An articulation of my own heart—he could have been speaking for me. Bissinger explains that the road to rehab was full of dangerous behavior, “the search for an identity that will probably never quite come.”

In my head, I know that my identity has indeed come, although this side of Heaven I won’t experience its fullness. I also know that my identity has nothing to do with my sexuality, my past, my successes or failures, my race, etc. My identity is that which God has named me. And yet, do I live out of that identity? Do I walk around in joyful confidence of God’s love for me? Or do I look for ways to cover up my shame and numb the lies that threaten to swallow me up? Do I find my own way of upping the ante, my own form of a shopping addiction? Bissinger is articulating my functional theology.

At the end of the day, Bissinger is describing you and me. All of mankind. Granted, our search for identity may not lead us to rehab or gender confusion, anonymous sex, or infidelity. Etcetera. Yet we all struggle against the shame, against the voices that tell us we aren’t good enough; in fact, forget good enough—how about the voices that tell us we aren’t enough, period?!

Bissinger says he has made peace with his search for identity. He says he is happier. I think that’s where the disconnect is for me—I don’t want to be happier; I want to be hopeful. I don’t want to accept that my search for identity will never be conclusive; I want to relish in the confidence of who I am because of my relationship to The Great I Am. Bissinger says, “You have to strip yourself bare, and once you strip yourself bare, you build yourself up.” But my experience tells me something different—shame strips me bare and only Jesus can build me up; only the unconditional, sacrificial love of Christ can change me, convince me, coax me into believing the truth of who I am and experiencing the peace that comes with that.

I can assert with all confidence that Mr. Bissinger will wake up tomorrow and struggle. As will I. What will I do in the midst of that struggle? Will I trust the God who promises redemption or fall back into my shame, looking for ways to up the ante? Will I believe that vicious, manipulative voice in my head or the kind, gentle voice of God who only asks for my trust?

Remembering broken hearts on Mother’s Day

I have a mama in my life who is beautifully vulnerable. Who loves her children passionately and pursues them well. Who sends me texts about her fears and failures, who trusts me with her tears when she is sobbing after a rough mama day. I am honored to be trusted by her and to be a safe place for her. I love speaking truth into her life about her worth in Jesus, how well she is raising her children, and how hard we have to fight for grace and kindness in those dark moments.

She is my safe place, too. She understands the heart battles I face every day, and she is always available to remind me of God’s furious love for me. I love the mama-to-mama aspect of our relationship. I am praying that she will be well celebrated this weekend. And I am so grateful she has a family that appreciates and loves her and will shower her with adoration on Mother’s Day.

md4I just read the story of my friend’s friend’s baby who died in her arms after a short illness. I studied pictures of the beautiful child, clearly adored and desperately missed. Her mother’s heart poured out on her blog, wanting the whole world to know about this baby whom so few got to meet.

I have a friend who gave birth to stillborn twins last summer. Whose identity changed to Mother as soon as those girls were conceived, but whose loss is silent. No one on the street knows that she is a mother to those sweet girls who are waiting for her in Heaven. New friends have no idea that she aches with a mama’s heart to hold her children this Mother’s Day.

My sister-in-law has a silent loss, too. Seeing her adorable daughters in their coordinated outfits, no one would know that she is mother to a boy, too. Because Timothy is with Jesus.

And mamas who have suffered stillborns. The tragedy of never having seen their baby, much less held it. And yet they have an undying love for that child, and their perspective is forever changed because of that love and that child. md3Since my own mother died, I have been extra sensitive to people who don’t have mothers or who have mothers who have been hurtful and abusive. I think about what it is like for children to sit in school, their classmates working on macaroni picture frames and coupon books for free hugs, while they fight back tears and mentally prepare to just make it through the painful day. I once unkindly snapped at a saleswoman who suggested I buy a certain trinket for my mother for Mother’s Day; didn’t she realize not everyone has a mother?

md1I think about Kara’s sweet children and Jason, who has celebrated almost 14 years of Kara’s motherhood, and what Sunday will be like for them.

I pray for my friend whose family will gather at the cemetery, gracing their mother’s grave with flowers as they do every year.

So much brokenness. What do we do with it?

I actually don’t know. I don’t know how to love hurting people well. I try to show up—to be available, safe, kind, gentle. To listen to hearts and be a shoulder to cry on. I ask for stories about mothers who have gone to Jesus and babies whose cries and laughs can only be heard in their mothers’ hearts. I try to be present. But I fumble. I know that my efforts at comfort are clumsy.

It’s hard to trust hurting people to Jesus, to believe that He is Good and has Good intended for His children even in the midst of terrible loss. It’s hard to believe sometimes that God is near to the brokenhearted. It’s hard to trust instead of question God’s intentions and Sovereignty. And yet that is what we are asked to do. When I drop flowers off on Sunday for a friend—a mama—whose little one is in Heaven, I realize that the bigger act of love is trusting God with my friend’s broken heart and praying for His comfort. md2Let’s not overlook the hurting this Mother’s Day. Let’s remember sons and daughters who don’t have a mama, and let’s remember mamas whose sons and daughters are no longer here. Let’s pursue the hurting in love and grace, even when we’re clumsy and awkward. Let’s pray for the brokenhearted and ask God to help us trust his furious love. Let’s grieve together but choose hope over despair.

Quantifying the mundane

Quantifying the mundane

Last night my husband and I crawled into bed at 1:30, anticipating a few things for the morning: sore muscles, a smashed television, and a sense of pride. We laughed at how our life has changed since becoming homeowners and parents—we are never up that late anymore, and when we are, it’s not like it used to be when we had no cares in the world and didn’t mind an early morning because after work, we could just crash on the couch in each other’s arms. Now my work starts at 8a when my babies are ready to get up, and it doesn’t stop until 7:30p when they’re ready to go back to bed.

Two of our three expectations were met this morning: sore muscles and a sense of pride. Thankfully, we haven’t experienced the horror of the sound of a tv falling off the wall; as we were hanging it last night, I jokingly asked my husband if he were high. Here in Colorado, we have commercials that remind us all that while it’s now legal to smoke marijuana, it’s not legal to drive after we’ve done so. One ad shows a man whose television has come crashing to the floor—it’s legal to smoke pot and then hang your tv, but it’s not legal to drive high to get a new one.

No, my husband was not high. And we were too exhausted to experience much excitement after the 2-hour process of hanging that Vizio on a lath-and-plaster wall in our home that is 87 years old. And actually, hanging that television was one of the most stressful things my husband and I have ever done together in our 8 years of marriage. Holy cow.

But hanging the tv was the icing on the cake—we have spent hours repainting that room. It used to serve as our church’s praise team’s rehearsal/storage space, but with the addition of a studio in Westside’s new office, we have this little room back. It’s an inglenook, and I love it. So we borrowed a ladder, bought some paint, and I spent stolen hours here and there painting the beams on the ceiling. Then this weekend, we painted the ceiling and the walls. And mounted the tv.

Juggling a 3-year old and a 1-year old while trying to do this project was almost impossible. At least it felt that way. And when it was done, I took a quick picture and uploaded it to Instagram. LOOK! I wanted to shout. LOOK WHAT WE DID!! DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD IT WAS TO DO THIS?! And then I wanted to list all the challenges: babies, sick babies, 12-foot ceilings, vertigo, limited time, having to move the stinkin ladder every three feet, etc.  001As I was posting (thought not screaming my frustrations for my followers), I recalled an article in the Winter 2015 edition of Mockingbird that addressed exactly what I was doing. In “Optimization Nation”, David Zahl says, “Even the most mundane task can, when quantified, become a venue for comparison. That’s the allure of all this previously unknown information, after all—to chart ourselves (and others) to find out how we’re doing, whether we are improving or getting worse” (10).

So true. Here I am shouting my accomplishment to the world, and while the world may not care, I have at least graphed my work for my own sense of satisfaction. But to what end and at what cost? What standard am I setting for myself when even my most mundane tasks are under the threat of being measured and then, if not compared to my neighbor’s tasks, at least compared to my last mundane chore to see if it measures up.

But measures up to what? What am I telling myself when I quantify mundane tasks, when I tweet or IG or FB my every chore, meal, mood, or milestone? What pressure does this create for myself? What performance-based standard does quantifying the mundane create?

If only this were a Voscampian method of being grateful and counting my blessings…but I know it’s not. I see that sometimes, I am just so excited about finally finishing painting our inglenook. And that’s okay. But sometimes, I am looking for validation in the keeping track of the little things I do because sometimes I feel overlooked and unnoticed. I live a quiet life in our quiet bungalow and I wonder if anyone sees me or wants to know me. And oh, my heart yearns to be known! I want to be recognized and delighted in. So I try really hard. I try really hard to convince everyone around me that I am worthy of their love and pursuit. That I would be a really neato friend.

who are youI try to convince God of that, too. I miss the old days when I believed—trusted—his love for me. When I didn’t have doubts creeping in all the corners and cracks. Maybe if he could just see how hard I work or how much I endure or how clever I am…Maybe if he followed me on IG and saw my sweet house and beautiful children…

Typing it out weakens my resolve. I don’t really believe that God’s noticing my inglenook will catch his attention. I know that there is nothing I can do to catch his attention. Because I already have it—unwavering, uninterrupted love. Furious love. Love that can’t be quantified even knowing the sacrifice he made.

I am comforted and encouraged by Zahl’s conclusion:

What we learn is what we never quite learn, the message that is as bottomless as our need for it: God does not relate to us on the basis of how well we stack up…but on the largeness of his generosity, the gift of his Son, who ‘by his one oblation of himself once offered a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.’ (19)

created for love

Yesterday my sister Caitlin and I were discussing a book we’re reading together (Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Lane & Tripp), and she referenced something her pastor said in a recent sermon about God creating this world: creation was born (spoken) as a result DSC00882of a love among the Trinity. In other words, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit love each other so much they decided to create together and pour their love on that creation. We were created to receive God’s love. God created us to love us. And he thought the mess we would make of his beautiful creation was worth it. To the point where he sacrificed the ultimate to make sure we still had an avenue for receiving his love.

I can’t stop thinking about that.

God’s love is rich. Bountiful. Overwhelming. Lavish. Extravagant.

28897_509096341454_176300310_30260626_7441781_nI have a tendency to interpret my life didactically; it’s all about what I need to learn and how I should grow and what I shouldn’t do anymore. And I definitely think it’s wise to ponder those things. But I get so mired in the muck of looking at myself that I let the whole point pass me by: I was created to be loved and to love in response.

I love how John Piper interprets the chief end of man from the Westminster Catechism: To glorify God by enjoying him.DSC01012

When I think about who I enjoy, the people I love the most come to mind—my babies, my 31175_1447328225526_1302800685_1211839_1710450_nhusband, Caitlin. Etcetera. The deeper my love for someone, the more I enjoy them. And the deeper they love me, the freer I am to enjoy them.

Oh, the freedom that comes with being convinced of someone’s unconditional love for me! I am my best with my family, my most, my Blythest. And their love is a reflection of the love of my Creator’s. He created me—created you—with love and care and much attention to detail. And as we battle through the brokenness of this world day to day, God’s love preserves who we are and invites us to take off the masks we wear for self protection and to relax into the safety of his love.

Ahhhhhh. I am created to love and be loved. My, how that penetrates my heart.

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Introverted pursuer

About a month ago, I had the privilege of speaking at V7’s women’s retreat for a few minutes; Kara was the speakerspeaker, and she asked a few of us to give testimonies throughout the day. My assignment was to share my story of introversion and how I’ve learned that introversion is not an excuse for not reaching out and building community.

You can find my little talk here. What is not included is the story I told at the beginning: As we approached the retreat grounds that morning, we had to go through a gate with a gateman. When I saw him, I cringed and had a 60-second-inner-panic-attack. If you’re an introvert, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I lowered my sunglasses so I wouldn’t have to make eye contact, and I squeaked to my friends in the car, “Oh no! There is a stranger! I have to talk to a stranger!!!”

Obviously and of course it turned out to be just fine, but for some of us, those kinds of encounters are dreaded. Like the dad who spoke to me at Chick-Fil-A today. Ann was flirting with him, and I knew it was a just a matter of time before he talked to me to tell me how ridiculously adorable she was. And he did. I tried just smiling and looking away, but then he kept talking.

Rats.

I took a deep breath, smiled again, and gave what I think was an appropriate, kind answer. Stinkin babies are such a bridge to conversation with others.

Anyway, my favorite thing about my little talk at the retreat was the extroverts who came up to me afterward and said they wanted to thank me but gave me permission to not make eye contact while they talked. I knew they were joking, but sometimes I did avert my eyes. I knew they’d think it was funny, but it was a relief to me. Sidenote: the introverts sent texts and emails and FB messages to thank me, which I both loved and laughed about. Oh, how I understand!

There were a couple of things that I didn’t have time to talk about that day, though. One is that being an introvert does not equal being shy. Introverts are energized by alone time. Shy people are timid to talk to others. I would offer that you can be introverted and not shy and that you can also be extraverted but shy.

Another thing is that being an introvert does not mean you don’t need people and relationships. I am a shy introvert, and yet my soul longs—yearns—for relationship. My favorite is one-on-one, but I need my church, my beloved Westside. I also need our small group. I am crazy about my bookclub, and I am super looking forward to a women’s discipleship group coming in the new year.

The final thing is that confidence does not equal extraversion. I’m thinking specifically two things: Just because someone is an extravert does not mean they are confident in approaching others. And just because I’m an introvert doesn’t mean I can’t be confident in approaching others.

People often assume I am an extravert because I pursue others. I seek people out. On the contrary, I am an introvert who is made confident by God’s love for me (and my desperation for relationships). It gives me the courage to pursue others. I mention this to encourage extraverts and introverts—allow God’s love to motivate your pursuit of others. We all need love, we were created for relationship. Remember that as you seek people to pursue. We are called and created to love others despite our fears and personality quirks. But it’s scary. We can all appreciate that. So when someone approaches and pursues you, be kind, be accepting, be warm.

And…..stepping down off soapbox.

Surprised by hope

A sunny day in June, my family and I were pulling into the campsite in our favorite place in the whole world—where Aaron and I spent our honeymoon and where we go back every summer for our anniversary to share this haven with our babies—when my phone rang. I almost just totally ignored it, but instead I looked at the number. Emily. My friend and midwife and sister to my very close friend.

I answered.

Meredith lost the babies, she said. I don’t remember what questions I asked. I don’t remember her answers or anything other information she offered. I do remember being a puddle of tears by the time Aaron came back to the car from checking us in.

Meredith was pregnant with twins—Livia Rose and Lucy Eleanor. They had found out earlier in the week that the girls had a serious condition and would need medical intervention, but sometime in between that discovery and Meredith’s arrival at the proper medical facility, Livia and Lucy had peacefully gone to Jesus.

A few days later, we arrived home and Meredith gave birth to her daughters.

I realize the flatness of that last statement. But how can I express what it was for Meredith to experience labor pains for children she would never mother? To bring babies into a world they would never see? To cuddle babies who would never breathe?

Meredith asked me to visit her and the babies at the hospital. I am not sure I had ever felt so honored in my life as to share the gift of seeing these sweet girls the rest of the world would miss out on.

I was shaking with anticipation and grief when I arrived. People, I was terrified. I was scared of seeing my Mer as a bereaved mother. I was scared of seeing her girls forever still. I was scared of seeing her valiant husband crestfallen. I grasped the flowers and teddybear loveys I had brought with both hands to steady my quivers. I took a deep breath and put on a brave face. I willed my tears to stay put.

Why am I ever surprised by this: What I saw, what I experienced, what met me was Grace.

That time in the hospital is private to me, a priceless and precious gift that I ponder and sometimes mention to Meredith, wondering in its beauty.

I was surprised by beauty.

Since then I have been surprised by hope.photo

I’ve experienced my share of grief. Heaven is a daily topic in The Bungalove. Dreaming about the New Earth together is a favorite pastime of Aaron’s and mine. But that was challenged when one of my closest friends lost her baby girls. My grief settled in my belly, a resolved sigh of trusting God’s Sovereignty.

I was blessed to hear some of Meredith’s thoughts as she started processing her loss. The effect of the grace and beauty of the hospital room experience and the love that overwhelmed me there started to fade as I grappled with the suffocating helplessness of watching Mer grieve. I couldn’t fix her heart. I didn’t have good words for her and I was clumsy—at best—loving her. I lost my ability to will my tears back, and they would flow at strange places and strange times. Meredith was articulate in her grief, asking poignant questions and realizing the far reach of her loss. We talked about what she would never share with the girls and cried at the quiet understandings of what it would mean to travel life as a mother of twins the world never knew existed.

Then something happened. I one day told Meredith that the most impactful thing for me as a bystander in the hospital room that day was seeing the love her husband had for her. I felt like an intruder as I watched how he loved her, how he climbed into her hospital bed to hold her steady through the shattering sobs, how tenderly he spoke to her, how he anticipated her needs. Here he was, a father who had just lost his children. He was hurting just as much as his wife, and yet he put her needs before his. He had never experienced this kind of loss, yet his love for Mer took over and dictated his actions—he loved with confidence and grace. Thinking about it even now overwhelms me.

I don’t know what Meredith would say, but this conversation was a turning point for me in how my heart approached this grief. I felt like we started talking more about Heaven and the New Earth—our dreams as well as our questions and doubts. And as we talked, I couldn’t help but notice the impact Livia and Lucy had had on me. Which seems improbable as they never even took a breath.

For one thing, my terminology has changed. When I say, The Girls or The Twins, I am specifically referring to Livia and Lucy. My relationship with Mer has changed—not only has she graciously and generously allowed me to walk with her, I relate to her differently because of the depths her soul has dived. She understands a piece of me she didn’t before, both because of loss but also because she is a mother now. I think of Livia and Lucy every single day. I daydream about what they are like and what it will mean to see them reunited with Meredith some day. I remember their perfect little bodies in the hospital, and I wonder what they look like perfected in Heaven. I grow excited about seeing Meredith not just as a mother, but as a mother to them. I don’t know what that will look like or mean in Heaven, but instead of just confusion, I have excitement, too. I have hope.

The grief that settled in my belly is still there. But hope has settled in as its companion. A hope that was born out of the despair of having nothing to trust but Jesus in the midst of an impossible situation. My piddly faith in turning to God in my tears and calling out, This hurts and my Mer hurts and I don’t know what to pray except help me trust! has planted more seeds of faith, which bloom hope.

Thanks to Livia and Lucy’s too-brief existence, I trust God differently now. My hope in God spreads farther and reaches deeper than before. My concept of love has been bolstered and expanded. My relationship with their mother has deepened. I hold my children a moment longer with each hug, understanding better the fragility of life. And my eyes have been widened to more of the brokenness around me; I don’t shy away as much as I used to, I think about the joy Livia and Lucy brought us in their short lives, and I yearn to know that joy in others, even if it means walking through some ugly with them.

Tomorrow is Meredith’s due date. A day for tears for what was taken from her and her husband but also a day for celebrating the gift of Livia and Lucy. You see, I believe that we will be reunited with them someday in Heaven but I also believe that their tiny lives have significance on this earth, in my life. God created them and numbered their days with joy and purpose. So I celebrate. With sadness and confusion, I celebrate. If you see me tomorrow and I am wearing these flowers, know they are for The Girls, my Mer’s girls, Livia Rose and Lucy Eleanor, who have changed me forever through blooms of hope.FullSizeRender(5)

Suffering with others

Our assistant pastor recently preached on suffering. You might think that his sermon would be a philosophical approach to the theology of suffering, or if not, that it would be depressing. It was neither. It was an honest conversation about what Psalm 6 says about suffering, and it was just what our church needed to hear. We have so many suffering people in our church family, and I personally soak up anything I encounter that deals with suffering and teaches us how to have a proper perspective and response. Jeremy talked about how suffering needs to be done in community. Oh, how that is true! He defines suffering with each other: to seek someone else’s relief is to willingly take a bit of their suffering on our own shoulders, to shoulder a piece of their suffering for them.

Those words grip my heart. How many times have I suffered without a friend to shoulder my burden? How many times have I felt incredibly alone in my pain, desperate for a kind word of empathy? And yet, when faced with others’ suffering, I recoil. I want to plug my ears and sing, “La la la la!” I am uncomfortable with suffering. I spend my life trying to avoid it, trying to spare my children from it. But I’ve learned it’s all around; I can’t escape it.

We were at a party a couple of weeks ago. I had been looking forward to the social time and meeting a friend’s new baby. I was excited to get out of the house and laugh with friends. Instead, I found myself immersed in conversation with a man I had met once before. As we chatted, his grief came out—he and his wife lost their 3-year-old daughter almost a year ago. I saw the torment of his heart on his face, how he spoke carefully as not to crumble under the weight of his words. I pray I did not visibly flinch. I wanted to say, “I’m sorry to hear that,” and then go pour a glass of wine, find a fun conversation to join.

But I couldn’t.

I couldn’t ignore the crack of his voice as he shared. I could not dismiss the very realness of his brokenness, right there in front of my face. I asked his daughter’s name. I asked who she was, what she liked, her favorite color, what kind of sister she was. He graciously and passionately shared with me until he was overcome. “I think I’m done talking now,” he choked out.

What a privilege to hear this man’s story and to know about his precious daughter. My awkwardness and discomfort paled as I soaked in every word about this amazing little girl and what a joy she was. I realized in the heat of my own emotion—wasn’t he reading my mind, telling me my worst nightmare?—that it was an honor to shoulder even a tiny bit of this suffering. That a 30-minute conversation could be life-giving to both of us and could provide a tiny bit of comfort and safety. That the fear and pain I was experiencing was simply a reflection of this father’s, and for the length of the conversation, we could share that burden.

That was a tiny expression of empathy. Everywhere I turn around, though, it seems like I have opportunity to love others and walk with them in their suffering. Will you please pray for me to have the courage and compassion to reach out in love instead of withdraw in discomfort?

Grace in normal life

When my parents died, I remember asking when it would stop hurting. I would wake myself up in the middle of the night crying. My tears mingled with the water in the shower. My cheeks would be wet without my realizing tears were flowing. Several people told me that it took a year or two to heal from grief. Desperate to escape the pain, I believed them and then was shocked when my grief was still very present a year later, 2 years later, 10 years later. I had expected the grief to go away so I could get on with living my normal life.

What I’ve discovered is that my life since then IS normal. Parents die, friends get cancer, babies are stillborn, relationships break, husbands and fathers lose their jobs. In this broken world, I can’t expect to live free of heartbreak. I’ve often dreamed of running off somewhere—let’s sell our house and our belongings, I’ll say to Aaron, let’s move to the mountains and live in a yurt and we’ll work menial jobs just to make enough, and we’ll enjoy our babies and we’ll stay warm in the winter by cuddling next to a fire. So often I long to escape the hurts of this world and try to fool myself into thinking I can.

When we tell people we live downtown, many respond by saying they would LOVE to live downtown but… or they ask if we feel safe or if the schools are okay. I feel like a lot of people don’t understand—we live downtown so we can take a cup of coffee to the woman passed out drunk in our front yard and engage the pot-smokers across the alley (not that there’s anything wrong with that…). Friends truly loved coming over to the last house we lived in—it was in an isolated area, and we had the best porch for the best parties, or soirees, as my Polly would say. But living apart from the world became exhausting. A textbook introvert, I started to forget how to interact with others, and I became really good at avoiding eye contact with anyone and everyone I met at the store or church or even work. I started to become consumed with our little life in our little home, and my world got smaller and smaller.

We live downtown to engage this broken world with its broken people. Like our neighbor to our right whom we suspect is a hoarder. She is an older, disabled, slightly crazy lady who is lonely. When I see her outside, I have to work up to saying hello, because it will turn into a 30-minute conversation. And while I might roll my eyes as I walk back toward the house, I’m always glad I talked to her. I can tell it lifts her spirits, and guess what? It lifts mine, too. We have a family behind us whose husband/father has terminal lung cancer. I send Aaron and Von over with food sometimes and we try to talk to their four teenagers when we see them. We’re trying to learn to love them in ways that make sense to a hurting family, and we find that they are the blessing to us—watching the boys sword fight with sticks in the backyard, seeing the parents take painstaking walks together with her half carrying him as they limp along, shaking our arms in triumph when we see him drive away to work on good days. There is always Grace in the pain, always some kind of joy in the hurt.

In June we went on our annual anniversary camping trip. As we pulled into the campsite, my phone rang. It was the sister of a dear friend. She knew I was out of town, so I knew she was calling with purpose. And I suspected what that purpose might be. I didn’t want to answer, I didn’t want to hear her news, but I didn’t want her to have to leave her news on voicemail or delay telling me. I answered. Her pregnant sister—MY sister—had lost her twin baby girls. They had gone Home to Jesus and Meredith was left with the unbearable task of giving birth to them.

All weekend while we were celebrating 7 years and two babies, we thought about and prayed for Meredith and Nate. I came close to asking Aaron several times if we could pack the car up and drive home just so I could be near to Meredith, but I couldn’t take away his vacation. The Lord was gracious in his timing and the babies were born the night we got home so I could see them before Meredith and her husband laid them to rest. All those hours of crying and praying about her labor, and what I discovered blew me away—what I assumed would be a terrible, heartbreaking experience was the opposite; Meredith cherishes giving birth, experiencing that entrance as a family. Seeing the perfection in the stillness of her daughters. Having a day to spend with them. She was sustained by Grace, finding joy in the pain.

As I type, as I cry over news we received earlier this afternoon about someone I love dearly, Aaron is in the next room singing In Christ Alone. That was the song Meredith chose for her daughters’ funeral. The truths of the lyrics carried her through that misery. The Grace the cross offers us will carry me through this night as I cry for the hurting people in my life.

What is that Grace? The Grace that we are not in this alone, that God our Father carries us and holds us closely. The Grace that what we experience on Earth in our lifetimes is not the end—that Jesus has prepared places for us in Heaven and we will see Meredith’s babies and my parents again. That all of our pain will be redeemed, even if we never see a glimpse of that redemption this side of Heaven. That there is purpose in our sufferings. That there is meaning beyond what our minds can imagine. That when we come out of this experience, we will be closer to God and understand his love for us that much better. Friends, there is so much Grace. The Grace of the hug of a friend whose arms will hold you up for the five seconds the hug lasts but whose faith will stand in the gap when your own faith fails. The grace of my 2-year old wiping my tears and saying, “Mama, sad?” His kisses heal my heart because I know that they represent an eternity of kisses I will receive after my tears have been wiped away, never to return.

Quail and mud pies

One of my All-Time-Favorite People in the world is going through a really tough season in her life right now. Really tough. I am clumsily trying to walk this struggle with her. I say all the wrong things and misunderstand and trip over my words. And yet she still invites me in to her heart, and I love her for it. We have a recurring conversation lately: how do you pursue healing without making health an idol? In other words, when you are navigating a broken world and are in a dark, hurtful place of pain, how do you respond in such a way that you do not get distracted by wanting deliverance more than you want the Deliverer?

In my head, I want to offer a solution, to fix her situation: If you just do this, then this will happen and all will be well and you can get on with your life! But I keep my mouth shut because I don’t actually have the answers, and saying those things would just serve to demean her problems and cause further hurt. Instead, I pray with her and seek Christ with her and hope in our good God that this season will be short.

A friend recently posted an answered prayer to a health crisis on her Facebook wall. The first comment read, “God is good!”

Yes, God IS good. But when I see that kind of response to good news, I always think, what if the health crisis had ended in tragedy? Would that person have commented, “Horrible news. God is bad.” No, of course not. Yet I can’t help but think what we really mean when we respond with “God is good” is “Hooray! We got what we wanted—isn’t that awesome?! God is good because he answered our prayer the way we asked him to.”

I often hear the argument, If God is so good, why does he let bad things happen?

I’ve experienced enough struggle and sadness to know the answer: I don’t want a God who is limited to my understanding of Good. I actually want a God who works in mysterious ways, who uses suffering to produce beauty, who understands that Good always trumps Evil, who won’t let me be satisfied with a surfacey goodness that I measure by how happy I am in the moment. I want to trust a God who fights for Goodness in my life by providing journeys that walk through muck and mire. I don’t want to be satisfied with quail and mud pies. I want to hurt, yearn, and suffer so that I can experience the depth of peace and  hope and eventual redemption. That is Goodness!

Or so I say.

And now one of my All-Time-Favorite People is hurting. I have cried out to God on her behalf—deliver her! Please, Lord, save her! Please, Lord, help her to escape. I picture her alone in a deep well. I am at the top, trying to reach her, but my arm is pathetically short. I wonder if I should try to tell her how to get out of the well—maybe there are footholds she could find if she looked hard enough and she could climb out. Maybe there was a rope down there somewhere and she could throw it up to me.

Here I am—wanting deliverance for her more than the Deliverer.

I’ve forgotten the context, but our pastor recently asked in a sermon if we are okay with being mediocre. That question took my breath away. My parents were very high achievers, very hard workers. And they pushed us to achieve and perform well. It’s in my genes to want to be awesome. But it may not be in my genes to actually be awesome. This question made me examine my heart. And I see that when I am sick, my heart desires health over the Healer. When money is tight, I scream for provision over the Provider. When I am sad, I beg for relief rather than the Reliever. When I am scared, I call out for safety rather than the Savior. I am a fair-weather, flighty follower of Jesus.mud pies for you tooGod never promises that we will be awesome. He never promises health. Or that we’ll accomplish our dreams. Or that if we work hard enough, everything will turn out the way we want. Or that if we apply ourselves or pray hard enough, we’ll have what we want on this earth—a beautiful house, an ideal job, moral children. That is karma. Instead, God promises Grace. In his Goodness.

So here is my sister, in her dark well, and I am praying that God will deliver her. Yes, that prayer is okay—the Bible teaches us to ask our Father for what we need. But I am realizing that if I could throw her a rope and hoist her out of her well, her heart would still be broken. She doesn’t just need deliverance—she needs her Deliverer. Only God can heal her heart, draw her close, shower her with unconditional love, provide hope for her weary heart. Isn’t that what I really want for her? Isn’t that what I really want for myself?

This All-Time-Favorite Person’s struggle doesn’t mean God isn’t good. It means the opposite—that is God pursuing her, drawing her to him, proving his love to her, wiping the tears from her eyes, filling her heart with hope, calming her spirit with peace. This is Grace. And what is gooder than Grace?

Love is on our minds today…

My friend Beth wrote this beautiful exploration of love and gave me permission to share it with you all. Valentine’s Day is a bittersweet day for her and her family, but getting more sweet than bitter. I was blessed by her heart and hope you will be, too.
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Love is on our minds today. For weeks, red wrapped packages of sweet things and cards proclaiming passionate sentiments have filled the stores. Tonight a fine dinner will be held at church, tables set for two. Romantic love is a gift from our Lord and is rightly celebrated. We need only to read Song of Solomon to know that our Lord delights in this aspect of love.
Through the years, Dave and I have celebrated February 14 in two ways: Dave and I declaring our love for each other and our family declaring our love for one another.
One year when our children were small we surprised them. We told them special guests were coming for Valentines. We cleaned the house; my mom sent us a beautiful flower arrangement that adorned our table set with our finest china. We prepared delicious food. I instructed the kids to get dressed up, and they festooned the evening with their finery. We sat down to dinner and the kids began to ask, “who is coming?” Dave then told them they were the guests of honor. We clinked our crystal glasses in a sparkling cider toast—to our family. They were very surprised and probably a tiny bit disappointed because they thought they would be serving someone. However, the excitement of everything beautiful and treats gaily wrapped made them soon forget.
Our kiddos are a formulation of Dave and my love. The expressions of eros created little ones on whom we set another sort of love. Only Dave and I will ever be the parents of Sarah and Jason. As a first time mom, I was surprised at the depth and immediacy of my love for our new baby girl. She grabbed my heart; she is a wonderful blessing from our Lord. Two and half years later the Lord again blessed us with a precious baby boy. Our love begat further love. Our celebrations through the years though taking various forms were always a time to celebrate love in its various nuances. Valentines day however, has taken a different turn for my husband and me. We think on yet another shade of love.
Nine years ago our today our son finished life on earth. While it is a day we grieve, it is a day that we are reminded that our love for him has not stopped. Grief is that expression of love that God wrought in hearts for him still beating within us. Dave and I remember and speak of it to each other. We look for our Lord’s good in our remembrances of love. This day reminds us now that we do not have to be tangibly in the presence of someone to love them. This is a comfort in many ways. It means we do love our son though he is not here anymore. It means love can exist when we live on two sides of a country and not be diminished. It is a reminder of our Savior’s love for us and our love in response.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him” Peter wrote to the church. Peter knew the love of Christ and had experienced said love as he walked with Jesus over three years. Peter had the opportunity to declare his love to Jesus. In the scope of history however, very few had the privilege to experience Christ’s love in His corporal presence or to speak their love to Him. Peter’s line was written to the church as an encouragement that the love we have for Him is real. There is love to be known, experienced, and proclaimed that does not require bodily presence. I know it to be true. Christ’s love has pierced my heart and I am deeply moved to love Him back but as John Piper has written this love is, “not based on a physical seeing of Christ. But it is based on believing Christ.” Today is my day and your day to courageously choose to love Him more though we have not seen Him.