I have feelings about this word. I was thinking about it today while driving through beautiful and scenic western Maryland. Almost everything I lay eyes on becomes beloved to me in some way. But who calls me beloved?
Today’s word is water. After living it the desert for almost 5 years, water has become a welcome sight. We can see the wide, slow moving Susquehanna from our house, and the Bay isn’t much farther. I’m always reminded of how much civilization has relied on water for survival.
In the desert, abundant water can quickly become dangerous. Many times after a heavy rainfall roads would be closed due to rock slides or flash flooding. The ground in its perpetual dry state just couldn’t absorb enough of the rain quickly enough.
I don’t want my heart to be like the ground in the desert, desperate for water but unable to soak it up. I would rather be like the foundation of our house, made of river stone that lets water through as necessary. When there’s too much, instead of flooding, the sump pump moves the water out of the crawl space where it’s accumulated.
This process was strange to me at first.. Who wants water under their house?.. But now I understand. Water flows freely in and out, without causing rock slides or flash floods. That’s how I want my heart to be.
Passages from the Common Lectionary :
Psalm 103, Joel 2:1-2, 12-17, Isaiah 58:1-12, 2 Cor. 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
My yearly journey of reflection through Lent continues for the third year in a row. I think last year I fell off the wagon.. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised. Faith has proved to be a hard road to travel in recent years.
Lent will always and forever be an even more somber time than it usually is. Two years ago I was in the middle of Lent when my grandmother died. I really learned what ‘from dust you were created; to dust you shall return. Conversely, I also saw through new eyes what it meant to be resurrected in Jesus. My grandmother’s faith became more real to me in her death.
Today’s word is spirit. Tonight I’m thinking about what is said in yoga, that our spirit is our breath and vice versa. I like that thought, especially when we talk about death. When the breath is gone, so is the spirit. There cannot be spirit without breath. God created man and breathed into him, and so man was incomplete and unalive until that moment.
I have failed miserably at writing here every day. But I do that some thoughts that have emanated from my daily devotional on the YouVersion Bible App.
The current plan I’m going through now with a friend is all about devotions that speak to real-life. Really, that’s what I look for in any devotion. But one day so far struck me in particular.
Waiting is a tough thing. It can try the most patient person, and the type of waiting can really make that period of time hard to bear. In the midst of it, we have to remember God’s faithfulness to fulfill his promises.
This is a noble thing – and we should take hold of it, remembering God’s promises. But the way it was presented in the devotional text was not pleasant. It discusses different life events that can cause us to wait or question God’s promises, including infertility: “When there’s no pitter-patter of little feet, remember Genesis 30:22: ‘Then God remembered Rachel; he listening to her and enabled her to conceive.'”
This sounds like a nice thought in theory, but I think it’s where much of the ‘Christian narrative’ says that if you just pray enough, or wait enough, or remember the promises enough, God will give you what you desire. That the happy ending is coming. And I’m sorry to say this in case someone hasn’t heard it yet, but sometimes it’s just not going to happen.
I can’t tell you how strong my desire was (is…?) to have our own biological children. It was (is…? still working this out) immense. Overwhelming, all-consuming. Even as recent as a few weeks ago, I would be bee-bopping along in my actually really great life, then all of a sudden see a little girl with dark brown curls marching down the hall with her adorably too-big backpack and BAM. I was hit with that desire and emptiness that is sometimes so strong it could knock me to my feet in tears. I wish I were being dramatic.
So, considering our infertility, according to this idea in the devotional, did we not pray enough? Wait long enough? We have to look at this promise of God in context, as it’s specific to one woman, one situation in all the history of infertility.
The attitudes and apparent words of reassurance around the subject of infertility need to change, not just in the world, but especially in the church. There are probably millions of hurting women that instead of finding understanding and solace in the church when they confide their fears or feelings about their infertility are met with these one-off quotations of Scripture that really do nothing but cause more pain, at least for me.
We need a bigger promise. More than just God will enable us to conceive, because as I’m a first-hand witness to, sometimes it doesn’t happen (and maybe there is not some mysterious reason.. it could just be), and I firmly believe that our failure to procreate has nothing to do with our level of faith.
My promises from God have to be bigger to encompass and devour my fears, my emptiness, my sorrow over children lost, however intangible those children may be. My promises from God have to ensure that He holds me, He knows me, He loves me and has important and impactful work for me to do that does not involve being a biological mother or spreading my ‘maternal instinct.’
I will quote another part of the devotional that I found to be the most comforting: “When hope is scarce, remember Luke 24:6-7: ‘He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you,… ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'” That is the bigger promise. That is the promise.
I’m almost finished with a YouVersion devotional by Oswald Chambers, one of my favorites. Yesterday’s topic was sacrifice and he said this: “In certain stages of spiritual life we get the morbid conception that everything we have we must give up. In the Bible the meaning of sacrifice is the deliberate giving of the best I have to God that He may make it His and mine forever.”
This biblical perspective is in opposition to our cultural understanding of sacrifice: “It looks as if we had to give up everything, lose all we have, and instead of Christianity bringing us joy and simplicity, it makes us miserable…”
When we sacrifice, we invest whatever we sacrifice. The returns may look different than the image that ‘invest’ invokes in this day and age, but the concept is that we sacrifice our best [fill in the blank] so that God can use it to its fullest.
This is a word that I still ponder. Not that I ponder the meaning; I ponder the solution. Many people wring their hands and say how can a supposedly good and just God let injustice run rampant in the world? I don’t know. I usually come back to the idea that humans have free will, and God does not interfere with it. Therefore, humans do things that are wrong, things that cause injustice.
Can all my rights fix their wrongs? Probably not in this life. But how can I lessen the effect of injustice in the world?
Great question, and it’s one that I’m still trying to answer.
We discussed something very basic in our church’s Lenten Bible study the other night – the fact that one of the things that made Jesus’ walk on earth so incredible is that he respected everyone and cast no one aside.
I could not pour enough money into trying to fix world hunger, or all of my efforts to equip all students with necessary supplies, but if I have not love, what good are my efforts? What injustice does it really undo or assuage?
I think the biggest impact I can have on the world’s injustice is loving everyone and excluding no one.
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
I Corinthians 13:1-3 NASB
Last year for Lent I wrote a little bit everyday about a given topic and related it to my walk with Christ. Instead of spending time on social media, I spent time writing, praying, and reflecting. I will take time this year as well to write about a topic a day. I found the practice to be healing and introspective. Over the next few weeks, I hope to stay true to the spirit of freewriting by not editing or revising much.
MARCH 1: HEAL
Twenty sixteen was a year of grief. I hope 2017 will be a year of healing.
What grief do I need healing from? First of all, the grief of the intangible: infertility. I’m still wrestling with the reality that infertility unfortunately brings upon its sufferers. And I don’t think suffer is too strong of a word. Second of all, I need healing for the loss of loved ones – most recently my grandmother, almost a year ago now. Her death was sudden and heartbreaking, and I went through many weeks of reading and pondering all I could about grief, death, what our bodies actually go through when they die, and the hope we have in an afterlife.
A good portion of my healing so far has occurred through a practice of introspection and disconnection from things that bring me, well, grief. To put it plainly, I’ve deleted my Facebook once and for all. I’ve taken many steps back from social media in order to quit the comparison game. I’ve given myself permission to take back my time and head space. It’s been quite revolutionary.
Another portion of my healing, surprisingly, has been working with children. Exposure therapy, if you will. In August I was hired to teach elementary ESOL. I had never taught elementary in my life. I’d been an paraprofessional in first grade, but really had no idea about the #elementarylife. Funny enough, my office is situated in the hallway with the youngest children in our school – pre-K and preschool. Some days this has been rough, to see their adorable selves carrying their huge backpacks, thinking about if we had had a child when we started trying, he or she would be getting to that age. However, overall it’s been a wonderful experience. I never lack hugs or smiles…. but maybe I lack patience at times. 😉
And finally a third portion of my healing has been my yoga practice. I never thought I’d become a ‘yogini’, but I found a local yoga studio that’s just fantastic. I’ve been going about 3 times per week for about a month. The strength I’ve built is surprising… I keep joking that one day I’ll be able to do a legit pushup. Seriously, I’ve begun to love my body again instead of feeling so betrayed.
Running is always a part of healing for me… it’s also a part of celebration, of determination, of courage. It keeps me centered and gives me time to meditate and pray and appreciate the world around me. And for all these things I’m grateful.
I think when you have an attitude of servanthood to humankind, it’s easier to forgive. You see that holding grudges or anger against someone really doesn’t serve others. It doesn’t serve yourself, either.
Several years ago when I became a professional teacher, I also adopted the attitude that my number one responsibility is to serve my students, in whatever way that means. It could be picking up books that they drop, or lending them a pencil, or trying to get to the bottom of their multiple absences or tardies.
It’s easy to give that student a zero for bringing you a late assignment even though the syllabus says no late work is accepted. It’s easy to dole out a zero for a clearly plagiarized paper. It takes time to talk to a student after class, or have a meeting with him or her about the offending paper.
I had a student who was very nervous when I brought him in my office about his plagiarized paper. He knew my policy on plagiarism, but like many international students, they don’t fully understand the consequences of plagiarizing.
It turns out that this student asked his roommate to help him write the paper. He was embarrassed he couldn’t write at the same level as the other students. He didn’t want to turn in what he called ‘bad writing’.
We got to the bottom of it, and I allowed him extra time to work on the paper if he agreed to get tutoring from me and other writing tutors.
In the end, he failed the class despite his most earnest efforts. But I have no regrets about my actions towards him. He needed help, more help than I could give him in a whole-class environment in one semester. But he participated more fully in class, and even attempted freewriting exercises with more motivation than the other students.
I do not condone plagiarism, and my students will tell you that I am strict about my policies. But I err on the side of forgiveness and understanding when it comes to academic offenses. And I hope I can better extend this to my every day life.
Mercy is unmerited favor, not getting what we deserve. Story of my life. Story of all our lives if we are alive in Christ.
It’s not really something we can fully comprehend, and we shouldn’t, because if we did, we’d be God.
It’s one of those things where you ask God, How could you love me? And not punish me according to what my sins deserve? And the answer is, Because I love you. Because.
Sometimes a frustrating answer, but an answer that still gives peace.
There are many definitions for “confession,” but the most prevailing one, at least in my mind, is that of telling God about my sins with a repentant spirit. It’s the part of prayer that I don’t exactly rush to get to, and sometimes I feel shame knowing what I have to confess. However, I think this might be the most important part of prayer, not because God just can’t wait to condemn us for our sins (nope! Romans 8:1), but because it really opens up our hearts to receive. Receive what? Grace, mercy, forgiveness, gifts, love… the list goes on and on.
For me, worship is the place where God breaks down my stubbornness and I’m able to confess and therefore really take hold of what He has for that particular moment. There’s something about lyrics to songs, or verses in hymns, or even a certain chord progression that cuts to my core.
And that’s how God made me to operate, and it’s beautiful. From a very young age I had an affinity for music. My mom tells me that at eight months I could rock to the beat (I think this could be an exaggeration…). At 7 I started taking piano lessons. I grew to be a pretty good pianist, picking up organ, guitar, and clarinet along the way.
At the center, I always prefer acoustic piano, guitar, or cello to anything else. And simple, biblically and theologically sound words. It gets to me every time. I’m encouraged every time. The wall around my heart falls every time, and I let Him in, my confessions falling at His feet.
Scripture readings for the week: