a passage of time

A woman and her young grandson wove their way through the woods, her long skirts rustling through the unruly grasses on the path they forged in their hunt.  The boy–lanky and sturdy, sun-browned skin and coffee-colored eyes–followed closely and tuned his ear to listen to her instructions and her thoughts.  He fixed his concentration, studying the vegetation the way that she did.  She searched for herbs and roots and wild-growing plants, ingredients for the medicines she had learned to prepare.  Cough syrup, tonic for upset stomach, colic aids, sore throat soother, and others.  She knew where to look, what was meant for healing, what could cause more harm.  He didn’t always remember which of their collected items went together, but he noted that his sight for the right ones had improved since his first jaunt with her.

As the two companions made their way to a clearing, grasshoppers and midges, moths and butterflies skittered up and out.  Cicadas hummed.  Frogs trilled back and forth across the glade.  Mother Min visited the woods frequently, and every time he was allowed to go along, it was like a class at the schoolhouse for him, only better.  They worked, but it wasn’t like work.  It felt like parts of church, if he was allowed to say so.  And maybe time stood still even though everything moved all around them.

Out of necessity, Mother Min found her way into practical nursing after a stint teaching school, which also came by way of necessity.  Soon after she turned into her 28th year, her husband died of typhoid fever leaving her with four little boys under the age of five.  She refused to separate them, from each other or from her.  There would be no shipping them off to an orphanage.  She sold the family farm and moved to a house in a nearby town where she took up teaching.  With 12 aunts and uncles on her husband’s side and 10 on her own, she appealed for help with the boys when she needed to work.  

She never looked back, only forward, one foot in front of the other.  By the time her grandchildren came along, her teaching days were over, and she earned a living in another helping profession.

The boy gained much from his grandmother, not only from the outings to the woods and fields but also from accompanying her on house calls.  He learned a great deal by simply paying close attention to the way she lived.  Mother Min spoke of God, of her faith.  She walked closely enough with Jesus and so reflected that love, often without particular words.  She possessed considerable grit and grace, resolve and resilience.  She was undaunted in the face of many obstacles.  Impressions the boy kept as reference, a compass of sorts, for years and years to come.

Mother Min died in August of 1957.  She was 82.

One day last week, I walked through the woods with her and my uncle while I visited with him on the phone.  I found a kinship with my great grandmother beyond blood, beyond years.  And my uncle, still considerably sturdy in his lanky frame, easily looked to that compass and found a comforting and teaching presence, across all that time.





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Hanging out with Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his short but terribly potent book on Christian Fellowship, Life Together.  One of those books that holds a special place on the middle bookcase, on the shelf where it keeps company with Nouwen and Winn Collier and Lewis, N.T. Wright and Eugene Peterson and Richard Foster.  The particular copy I own, published in 1954, has been in our home(s) since our Wesley Foundation days, since my two oldest kids were babes. I am finally finding some space, just today, to scribble through the thoughts about a passage I reference frequently, a passage that has been rumbling around in my head and heart for the past week or so.  Interesting that it is a day like today when I’m trying to figure out Life Together with my babes (who aren’t little anymore), with the rest of my family, with my own self.  Brother Bonhoeffer, I guess it will be today that you will instruct me, again, and push me hard into the Jesus that I love, again.

The image I gained some years ago, at the second or third read, was this very profound visual of Christ in between myself and those that I love or seek to love.  If I shared the visual with you in person, I would put my hand in the middle of us blocking your face from my face, obscuring our eye to eye connection; my hand the representation that I can only really see you if He is there.  His presence between us instructs me in always looking upon you accurately.

I think of this often.  I am aware of it often.  Of course, Bonhoeffer’s words place more flesh on the concept that does my own simple breakdown and my hand in front of my face.

“Jesus Christ stands between the lover and the others he loves.  I do not know in advance what love of others means on the basis of the general idea of love that grows out of my human desires–all this may rather be hatred and an insidious kind of selfishness in the eyes of Christ.  What love is, only Christ tells in his Word.  Contrary to all my own opinions and convictions, Jesus Christ will tell me what love toward the brethren really is.”  (p. 35)

And further, more visual,

“Because Christ stands between me and others, I dare not direct fellowship with them. … Because Christ has long since acted decisively for my brother, before I could begin to act, I must leave him his freedom to be Christ’s; I must meet him only as the person that he already is in Christ’s eyes.  This is the meaning of the proposition that we can meet others only through the mediation of Christ.  Human love constructs its own image of the other person, of what he is and what he should become.  It takes the life of the other person into his own hands.  Spiritual love recognizes the true image of the other person which he has received from Jesus Christ; the image that Jesus Christ himself embodied and would stamp upon all men.”  (pp. 35-36)

What stirred in me some weeks ago, and blended into a flurry in the past week, is this:  If I can not see someone properly without Christ in between myself and the one loved, what happens when I look in the mirror?  How can I possibly see, know, and love myself–my self–truly if Christ is not instructing me with His heart and by His love?  Contrary to all my own opinions and convictions and life experience and lists of failures (depending on the day) and boasts of glory (depending on the day), Jesus alone can tell me what the love of the brethren (or sistren) really is.

It is worthwhile experiment I am willing to put to the test.  I will never do Life Together well with my family, extended family, neighbors, church people, social media communities (that is a real thing, right?)–I can’t love anyone if I cannot do Life Together well with myself and the Lover of my soul.  If I do not and cannot let Christ stand in between me and whom I face in the mirror, forget grasping spiritual, Christ-directed love toward others.

Oh, but on this day, and easily others to come, I would rather avoid the mirror altogether, leave myself for lost, spin dust in the face of Jesus while I hightail it out of there.  I mean, it’s the truth, right?  Wouldn’t we rather just whine and carry on sometimes, argue with the Creator that the created thing is bunk, minus value, refuse in the pile of humanity?  Because if I do that, then I don’t have to be the true image that Christ himself embodies and did stamp upon me.  We are off the hook in this posture.  Well, depending on how you look at it.

In my fear and self-preservation, the smallness I have squished myself down to, I am prone to hide.  And that means I can’t possibly love my babes well.  Or you.  Or anyone.

“It will rather meet the other person with the clear Word of God and be ready to leave him alone with this Word for a long time, willing to release him again in order that Christ may deal with him.  It will respect the line that has been drawn between him and us by Christ, and it will find full fellowship with him in the Christ who alone binds us together.  Thus this spiritual love will speak to Christ about a brother more than to a brother about Christ.” (p.36)

I know I don’t what I’m asking, the shear wave of power that may come and undo me and all of us entirely, but will you speak to Christ about me in these days?  About others you love?  About those you don’t love?  About the self you can not see properly?


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Changes do happen, right?

I sat in the pew by my dad, and my heartbeat scampered ahead three paces.  The first few notes of the piano played, and my stomach fluttered as Aunt Betty raised us to our feet with the lifting of her hand.  That Sunday was the day.  I knew it.  The second verse was ending.  It was nearly time to skip the third verse of the invitation hymn, and I felt my will shove me from behind.  I walked the aisle quickly.  Yes, I wanted to belong to Jesus.  Yes.  Right then and there.  I’ve said yes a thousand times since.

I said yes again today.  While a silver doggy walked ahead of me and I saw her shadow on the green grass, I said, I will follow You.  While the wheels of the grocery-getter minivan rolled me closer to home-again-home-again after I dropped my oldest daughter off to meet her sister so they could conquer another piece of the world.  While the moon rose all orange and not quite full, and I felt an actual and sudden dizziness with the spin of the earth.  I said yes.

The earth has whirled in hundreds of circles and made its way around the sun multiple times since the pastor pushed me under the water and lifted me back up again.  After years of trying to be good and belong, a greater grace lovingly shattered my self-made righteousness and my hand-crafted Jesus.  That Sunday speed walk down the aisle, the baptism in the waters, a yes to a doctrine, a hope.  Incomplete as all of it was–the doctrine, the hope, Jesus Himself–I believe I did give my whole self to the real Jesus.  It took quite a few of those trips around and around to arrive somewhere near the power of Christ in me.

If it is so, then I am more true because of His love.  I am really myself because of His life and breath coursing through my very being.  I am becoming something less and less false, more and more reflective of Jesus.  Right?  Life with Christ, His life inside me is supplanting the old and creating always new.  This is a life fused with God through Christ, by the Holy Sprit?  Right?

If it is not so, I don’t know who or what I ran to when my 9-year old feet carried me to the altar before verse 4.  If only insurance from fire, I only am moved for a moment, only scared into bursts of trying on my own to be a good girl.  If only a religious ceremony, still no deep change in my core, just a marker and a small shift here or there, from time to time.

But if Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, then He matters beyond a singular experience.  If the real Jesus lives, then to let Him in is more than behaving as a child puts on manners for good company.  If God put His feet on the green grass and the desert sand and the red clay, and He felt the strain of a human heart and knew the bliss of laughing children and the good pleasure of a dove landing on Him–if all of this, I want it.  Please, God.  I want that potency abiding in my being, transfiguring me bit by bit.

Bowing my head into my arms onto the table only hours ago, I said yes again.  And I am asking that surely I will be more peculiar tomorrow, that I will be more like Jesus when I begin the day as a mom to my growing and changing kids, that I’m, please God, not the same mom that I was a year ago.  Because saying yes is meant to change us all.  That is the truth of the Gospel, yes?

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Long ago, and far away

I walked from the gym entry doors of my high school and made my way to the gravel parking lot and my white Buick.  The distance between the doors and my car was the same as any other day, but on this day, I used every step as a prayer station.  My urgent and desperate plea, Please, God, please don’t let me be pregnant.  I bargained with Him, You please fix this, and I’ll never cross the line again until I’m married.

People said (they still say) having sex is normal behavior for young people.  It never felt normal.  It hovered over me, a tent-like shroud, silently consuming pieces of my self.  Normal, I suppose, under different circumstances.  But I didn’t have that context.  The only context I knew was the one I was in, and I tried to normalize it.  Whatever life sex leached from me, I sold for some price of belonging and being loved.  I trusted too much.

We tossed around trust and love often and easily during high school.  Terribly intense times to try and navigate such concepts.  Adolescence is heightened enough without heaving in the melding of one body to another, of entrusting so much to hands too small to carry the weight of it all.

We were too young.  I was too young.  The information we got from adults about sex was lacking.  Someone taught us about sexually transmitted diseases and preventing pregnancy.  I knew basic anatomy.  I don’t remember the class discussion about pushing all of the envelopes, about pressure and guilt, about how both boys and girls objectify and use each other, about the gravity of becoming so naked.  So much insecurity and fear, yearnings and movie-scene dreams, self-doubt and self-loathing.  And not enough protection in the world to keep any of it at bay, to barricade the impassioned and complicated emotions that surge all around.

By the time someone in church talked about sex in a way that was true as well as kind, real but not shame-based, a heavy turmoil already lived in my being.  Growing up in the church, I knew well enough that pre-marital sex was displeasing to God.  I was well acquainted with rule keeping, and how breaking the rules meant wrath and anger and disappointment. What I didn’t grasp very well at all, and would not internalize for years to follow, was how God loves, how much beauty and joy He intends for us.  He conceived far more for any young man than buying temporary patches for the hole in his heart.  He dreamed so much more for me than the relentless pursuit of a boy–this one or any other one–to fill a hole in my heart.

I imagine another young girl.  She made the long trek to the school parking lot, too.  All along the way, she prayed and asked God to reverse things.  She slid into the driver’s seat and started the car.  She and I share similar stories.  But she was pregnant, and I was not.

What would life have been like if the switch had flipped in another direction for her?  For me?  How many young women in other small towns and big cities are walking to their cars after school, begging God to change the outcome?


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Chew it up again

I taught a class this summer.  A class on Sabbath.  During the preparation time, I discovered something profound in my research.  It challenged me and began a change in me.  Today, and all this past week, it has been kicking me in the ankles, like a toddler needing to pee at the grocery store, desperately needing my attention, and I’m too hurried and irritated to listen.  Now, it has my attention, and I wish I hadn’t discovered it, hadn’t learned anything like it at all.

Worse, I taught another class later in the summer.  A class about engaging spiritual battle, living a life transformed by the Holy Spirit, and leaving a spiritual legacy to those coming behind–all of those things in one class.  Aside from new insights I gained from preparing for this second class, what I had learned for the first class resurfaced and made its way into the outline and content.  While I sit here on a Sunday evening in my kitchen, the words I received and then taught have come back up, like dyspepsia, burning my throat.  Not pleasant at all.

For the Sabbath class, two realities emerged.  First, for the ancient Jews, Sabbath observances marked the time.  Every observance of weekly Sabbath and every participation in a special feast reminded them not only of who they were and who God was (and is), but every observance and participation also reminded them that time was moving toward something, moving with a purpose, pointing toward the coming Messiah.  At the birth of Jesus, the observance was transformed into a celebration of a now-reality.  Second, as Christ followers celebrating and observing Sabbath (resting, recreating, remembering who God is, and because of that remembering who we are), we place a stake in the ground with every participation.  We post a sign that says, “This is all going somewhere, and one day, Christ will come again.”*

This not only encouraged me, but it shifted my perspective.  When I began scribbling notes toward the next class, the thought that our lives and living matters not only for us but for those who follow us, and that we have to fight for it, and that our transformation gets short-circuited when we don’t engage the battle–all of that, it bumped into this marker and sign concept.  As I wrestled with the order of the content and the words that needed to come, I could not get away from the way our living is a signpost.  We point to a greater reality just by how we live.  My paradigm shifted even more.

Hours ago, I sat at this same kitchen table and told a friend and then my husband that it feels futile, all of this living life and getting up and running the same clock each day.  Oh, I knew it was crap.  My life isn’t even hard, and I’m bitching.  I know.  Gross.  I did repent.  I tried to tell John I was sorry.

But sometimes, don’t you just feel the futility?  Another day, another month, another year, another presidential election.  More news that makes your stomach churn, more random shootings, more poverty, more slavery.  Another load of laundry, another sigh about money, another parenting dilemma.  Another marriage on the edge of the end, another addiction, another illness.  Blah.  Lord, have mercy.  And the sun went down, the wind blows through the trees, and the sun will come up again tomorrow.

From my notes for the second class….   I wrote them.  I taught them.  Now I am having to chew them up and eat them, again.  Prayerfully, I can digest them and allow the truth of it to make its way to my cells and my bones, the very marrow of myself.  It is not for nothing, this turning and spinning and breathing in and breathing out.  It matters.

I am truly sorry and I humbly repent.  For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.  (adapted from the Book of Common Prayer)


*A good portion of my research about Sabbath came from a later chapter in God and the Authority of Scripture, by N.T. Wright.


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