Category Archives: Kingdom of God

i am the beggar of the world

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I was at a writing conference over the weekend, the first one I have ever been to. The highlight was meeting up with my friends, my lifeline, my cheering squad, my angel editors–calling them a writing group does not even begin to cut it. I also had the strange sensation of trying to match people up to their online profiles, with varying degrees of success. I knew, even before the conference began, that everyone would be so much more interesting than I could possibly believe. I wandered from session to session, from poet to writer to thinker to theologian. Sometimes I skipped and sat in the grass with good people. By the end, I was overwhelmed in every way.

During the sessions, my mind would sometimes wander. The conference itself was such a small microcosm: dismayingly white, educated, Christian, social media savvy types. I would think about my other life, the one back home. I kept thinking about my students, about the beautiful chaos of my classroom, my friends. As I listened to smart people talk about smart things, hovering between being accessible and literary, I was thinking about cell phones. I was thinking about how every morning I teach, the cell phones always ring, over and over again. I had given up on outlawing them; dozens of times a day I politely yet firmly tell my students to get up and go to the corner of the room to talk, so we can get on with class.

At the conference, I sat and listened to people talking about Novel of Ultimate Concern. My hand wanted to shoot up, to ask the same question in every session I went to: What about the poor? I should get the question tattooed on my forehead. I should make it backwards, just so I have to ask myself it first thing in the mornings when I look into the mirror.What does any of this mean if it is only available for a few?

I am thinking about how my ESL students are at the very bottom of our Empire, but whose lives are very much of ultimate concern. I am thinking about the cell phones, going off every few minutes, similar to the poor around the world, adapting to our shifting, stateless world. I am thinking about how they always answer the phones–not because they do not respect me or because they do not want to learn. They answer every phone call that they receive, because each one is of equal importance to them. They never know who is calling–a family member in Africa, a case-worked in America. They have to answer every single one, because it might be life or death, like so many things are.

They answer every call that comes in because they cannot read, not even the numbers.

 

 

I went to a session with Eliza Griswold, author of the Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam, a women who has been on the frontline of war and poverty and religion, all over Asia and Africa. She talked about her new book of poems by Afghan women which she collected, and what they mean for those who create and recite them. Why does she share them? Because they are valuable. Why does she share them with us, with the world? Because she sees the limitations of how we portray people in the media, and she wants to subvert that. “I am not interested in the headlines,” she told us. “But I am very interested in the places where the headlines are happening”.

I’m taking that one for a new life motto. I am uninterested in the stories of poverty that you and I already know. I am very invested in the ones that surprise us, thrill us, knock us on our asses. The humor, the pathos, the sin, the ingenuity. Griswold shared with us one of the poems in her book, from which the title comes:

 

In my dream, I am the president.

When I awake, I am the beggar of the world.

 

As you would expect, the rest of the poems are stunningly varied; tragic, violent, romantic, naughty, hilarious, contemporary, ancient. Reminiscent of my students, my friends, my neighborhood. Today, in class, another crisis was revealed, and I at a loss for how I can help, limited by my language and knowledge and the overwhelming magnitude of the problems that the poor and the non-literate face in my corner of the world. The beggars of the world is how some would view it, and I confess at times I am tempted to do the same. But we are not headlines. We are real people, real women, real stories. We are living in the places where the headlines take place, and I on a quest for the work of the kingdom of God in the midst of the violence and greed of our world.

I am thinking of the phones, ringing constantly in my ear, of what it means to never know who is on the other line. I am thinking about the frustration of never knowing how to translate well. I am thinking about how much I enjoy erudite, complex, academic conferences, and how ashamed and small it makes me feel. I am thinking about all the wonderful people I met this weekend, the gifts they are to me. I am thinking about all the people who weren’t there, who felt excluded in some way–due to race or education or religion or money. I am thinking about how rich we are in some currencies, and utterly poor we are in others. I am thinking of how in order to tell stories well we must first be obsessed with them, how love covers a multitude of transcribing sins.

 

I am thinking about cell phones. I am thinking about how little I know, what a beggar of the world I am.

 

 

 

 

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translators

I live in a neighborhood where the youth group comes on Spring Break. I see them prayer walking, prayer giggling, prayer flirting up and down my slushy, grimy streets. I hear them, and I am transported back to last summer, when the churches flocked in to the neighborhood parks, put up awnings, cooked a meal, gave a message. People wandered around in T-shirts that said “Bringing Good to the ‘Hood”. I went there a few times with my daughter, happy to eat a free chicken dinner. But I stared at the people running around in their lime green t-shirts, and I was confused. I forgot, for a moment, that I lived in the hood. Thanks for the reminder. I forgot, for a moment, that there was no good here until you showed up with your microphones and chicken dinners and matchy-matchy shirts. Thank you, thank you for bringing it, I shook my head slowly, wiped the sauce off of my daughter’s fingers.  I felt sorry for the do-gooders who I am now willing to assign positive, if not ill-advised, intent. I felt bad for them, not being as enlightened and humble and missional as I was. I ate my free chicken dinner, on the dime of the large church a few blocks and a million years away from what goes on in this park, and I felt smug.

I had lived here one year. I too, in my heart of hearts, believed that I was bringing good to the hood. I had just learned to not put it on a t-shirt anymore.

//

I am an outsider wherever I go. I on-purpose moved into a neighborhood, a job, a life, and relationships with people who are so very different from me. It takes so much work, every day, just to navigate the perils of these differences. To try and understand better. To try and learn better. To try and advocate in a way that is actually needed. To will myself small, like the little seeds Jesus was so fond of.

But inside there are dreams of large trees, big enough to create safe havens for the birds of the air. I am writing, all day every day, in my head. The disasters, the miracles. The despair, the joy. The abuses, the sadness, the mental illness, the addictions, the disabilities; the perseverance, the community, the colors, the embraces. The erasers taped on to the end of a pencil. A box of free bananas in the hallway. The snow slowly melting to reveal a graveyard of vodka bottles, gray and blue and brown. The youth group roaming outside of my window, hungry and scared for that mysterious, inscrutable kingdom to come. I don’t even know it until I write it all down: I love them. I love everything about my life, even as it pulls me down, forces me to see inside myself in ways I never wished for. And that too, I must write about.

Every day I surround myself with people who are so different from me. Every day I write. There are so many ways I could do it better, so many fears of not doing it right. Like translating poetry, as my friend J.R. says. We have a choice: it is too much work, too perilous, too fraught with complications and you leave it be; or, you pick up your courage and try your darndest to translate to the very best of your ability. Either way, your heart comes out a little bit more broken.

One of my writer friends was talking to me about her own feelings on the subject. She mentioned the War Photographer series we ran here, and how she thought about it often. I just wish, she said, that so many people hadn’t ended in the place of “well, it’s really hard and complicated, so I guess I better not tell any stories”. Her voice is ringing in my ear, echoing what I don’t say often enough, but I believe right to my very core: there are so many stories waiting to be told, and they need to be told well.

I am in the thick of it; my life is a fine balance between learning and practice. Of getting high and mighty and then getting the smugness kicked out of you by life. Of blundering, learning, making mistakes, asking for forgiveness, picking yourself up and trying again. Of becoming paralyzed by our privilege and choices and systems, and forging on to be the miserable, lonely, messed-up agents of reconciliation that we really are.

I still have dreams of large trees, of beautiful safe places for the sparrows of our world. This, of course, is one dream in the kingdom of God. But for me, these types of dreams are so tied to productivity, problem-solving, tangible proof that I am bringing good, one small step away from a lime green t-shirt of my own. And the reality, the way I have seen the kingdom at work in my life is like seeds spilled and scattered on the ground. I am the farmer, oblivious and bumbling, not knowing how in the world these seeds sprout and grow. But they do, the seeds of Christ and his love for his world, they are sprouting all around. Some look like weeds to me, some look like fruit, they all look like people I know and love and am in relationship with. I always thought I would be ready for the harvest, a sickle in my hand, content to reap and be proud of all the good work I had done.

And instead I am being told to sit tight, listen hard, and watch the kingdom grow.  Be prepared to have your heart broken over and over again. Pray for the day when you are no longer needed, and until then translate those poems you are privileged enough to see, the ones that often enough look scattered, lonely, decayed and forgotten.

And stick around long enough to see the good that grows up and out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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#thirtynerdyandsturdy

look what my husband got me this morning!

look what my husband got me this morning!

 

I’ve had quite the week–my sisters flew out to the frozen tundra that is the Midwest to celebrate my milestone birthday (hashtage thirtynerdyandsturdy). I couldn’t think of anything I would have liked more than tromping through art museums, seeing a cheap play, eating Nepali food, going to the Mall of America and seeing how many free things I could get for my birthday (a lot, actually). Then they left on Sunday and just as I was preparing to settle into the gloom and existential crises of it all my husband threw me a surprise “13 going on 30″ party. We listened to our favorite music when we were 13 (mine was MxPx all the way) and talked about the books we read (Frank Peretti and Bruchko for me). Our small apartment was crowded, stuffed to the gills with a crowd diverse in ages and backgrounds. And I sat on my little chair and soaked it in. This is my life: squeezing the celebrations out of everything we can, cobbling together a community wherever we can find it. It is all so hodgepodge, it is never enough, it is enough.

There were a few things I wanted to do before I turned thirty, and not many of them have come true. No books published, no more babies in our house, no miraculous movements. But I keep writing, keep trudging through the paperwork for foster care, keep praying for healings in spirit and soul.  And usually on my birthday I do the old evangelical habit of trying to find a verse for the year. But this time, a poem came out and hit me in the face (in a good way). I guess this is how I know I am getting older: I like reading poems, I am going to learn how to garden this year, all pop music seems very distasteful. Anyways, I read this poem by Wendell Berry and the last lines especially resonated with me:

 

As soon as the generals and the politicos

can predict the motions of your mind

lose it. Leave it as a sign

to mark the false trail, the way

you didn’t go.

Be like the fox

who makes more trails than necessary

some in the wrong direction

practice resurrection

 

 

A long time ago I committed to the idea that there was one straight and narrow way to serving God. The hardest way, the best way, no room for trial and error and failure in my world of righteous living. But of course I have wandered, and I have been crushed by the guilt of it all. All the decisions I have made in the recent decade of my life, all of the identity makers I have clutched with white knuckles–they aren’t enough for me anymore. And as Christ has so kindly stripped me of these illusions, he has been building me up too. Reminding me of the smallest ways the kingdom of God comes. Like my commitment to glittering all the things. Or my commitment to baking chocolate cakes for uncelebrated birthdays. Or my commitment to journaling every morning, petulant and emotional and expectant. Or my commitment to living in a place where I live and work with the poor every day, because that is where I meet Christ. In every face, every story, every life. It’s all so hodgepodge. It’s never enough, and yet of course it is.

I hear him say: be like the fox. This is the year of making trails. I struggle with this, because my entire life I have been so afraid of going in the wrong direction. He knows this too, and he tells it to me gently:

 

But for every failure, there is a chance to practice resurrection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to read the Bible for all its Worth*

You would think growing up Christian, having consistent times in the Scripture, journals, prayer diaries, attending conferences/lectures/twice weekly sermons and studies would be enough. Or traveling the world and performing plays about the love of God, passing out Bibles, preaching in small and sweaty churches. Or spending years sitting in seats and taking copious notes while learned and honest men lectured on all the truth they had found, getting a degree in Bible and Theology.

But in the end, it’s not enough to make you want to read the Bible, for the words to swim alive in front of you, for you to walk away a changed person.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Bible. I love it, I’ve been reading it since I was literate. There have been some seasons and years where I wasn’t so keen on it–it became a textbook, it became a millstone around my neck, it became one more thing I was failing at. But in the past few years, the Bible has slowly wormed its way into my life, a steady presence, something I long for, cling to, read in a state of astonishment and mild desperation. If you are not in a similar place, I totally get it. I’ve been there too. So I wanted to think about what are some of the practices that I have developed that have caused me to fall back in love with the Bible. Here are a few of them:

 

1. Read it with people who have never read it before.

This one is a life changer. This means you will have to step outside of the carefully constructed ghettos we build for ourselves–we have to find the unchurched. The ones who would never feel comfortable stepping inside of our houses of worship. We find those people, we read the Bible with them–and we watch. We see the Spirit of God hovering on the page, watch how people are drawn in, sucked into the stories, watch as their lives change. This has been the single greatest miracle of my life. My faith has grown in leaps and bounds, and I have been so blessed by reading it with the new eyes of my friends–a messy, chaotic, book and a very loving God. If you don’t know anyone who hasn’t read the Bible, it’s time to start widening that circle of yours.

 

2. Read the Jesus Story Book Bible at night to your kids (or yourself).

Life is hard, the days are long, carry on warrior. I count the hours until bedtime, and then miss my daughter terribly as she sleeps deeply and sweetly. Every day I hear stories of sadness and perseverance, every day I have to nod my head and think yeah, that’s how it is here. Life is really, really hard. And then I read the pages of this book, the one I pray my daughter will someday love, and I find myself crying. Stories of the unloved and the unheard, the short and the messed-up and the silly and the sad, all being given a chance to be a part of God’s dream for the world. Every night we read a story, and we are circling through the book again and again. The truths are getting sunk into my bones, I go to sleep with the stories playing in heart.

 

3. Play around with it.

A simple story I have heard my whole life, but with the pronoun changed: “And Jesus said to her, “arise, pick up your mat, and walk“. For the first time, I considered that Jesus might have been speaking to me. That he wants me to walk. It took my breath away. Read the Message (gasp!). Re-write the stories in your own words. Allow for emotions like confusion, disgust, anger. Be prepared to be surprised.

I recently did an experiment where I re-wrote the Sermon on the Mount in more socially acceptable language. It surprised me, kicked me in the gut a bit, all of the words me and my culture seem to have put into Jesus’ mouth (if you want to see it, my re-write is over at A Deeper Story today).

 

4. Be prepared to obey

Maybe that word has weird connotations for you, so I will say it in another way: be prepared for your life to turn upside-down, as soon as you start asking yourself: “ok, so what do I do with this?” This one follows #1 closely. People who have never read the Bible before don’t spend a ton of time arguing over weird and minute theological points. They do tend to apply the Bible in instantaneous and unorthodox ways, able to identify patterns that need to change, asking God for the help to do it. Once you are in a similar place, be prepared for how life will get crazy. What if you actually believed God loves you? That Jesus came to make the world a better place now? What if you actually forgave everybody, even that person who doesn’t deserve it? What if there was nothing you could do to make God stop being for you? It would change your life, wouldn’t it?

 

5. Live like you need it.

Be despairing, despondent, mixed up and muddled. Be tired, forlorn, weary and burdened. Be lonely, be sad, be sick with a chronic illness in your body and in your mind. Know all the right answers in your head but have a huge, gaping chasm in your spirit. Be overwhelmed with life. Be messed up, and show up anyways. Open up the book that has changed so many before us and will change so many in the future. And recognize yourself in those pages–those horrible, murderous, ridiculous men and women–and realize that they are the ones bringing God’s kingdom here on earth.

And so can you.

 

 

*Actual title of a book I was required to read in Bible College. I don’t remember a blessed thing in it.

 

 

 

How about you? Do you have any experiences on what has helped the Bible be a living, breathing, cutting-like-a-sword book?

 

 

 

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The Consoled, the Insiders

I’ve been reading my old blog, for some inspiration and also to jolt my memory a bit. I am losing myself a bit here, in this space, in this season of life. There are mountains, mountains of snow and ice every where I go, the wind whipping my cheeks raw and red. I am turning 30 in a few short weeks. I have good intentions to read beautiful books and watch heartbreaking documentaries, but instead I laugh my way through Brooklyn 99 and find myself sobbing to 13 Going On 30. I am smack dab in the formative years, the rings of growth spreading outwards, painful, necessary, exhausting. I am bouncing between worlds, between people who argue on the internets and people who don’t have access to computers, between the haves and the have-nots, between all of us trying to love God as best as we can, most of us on the verge of burn-out.

 

Christus Consolator 1851. From https://collections.artsmia.org/?page=detail&id=104894

Christus Consolator 1851

 

I saw this picture in the middle of the art museum. I had run away from my life for a moment, was wandering the cavernous galleries with a journal in hand. This picture of Jesus, tucked into a corner, caught my eye. I read about the painting, and I was crying before I realized, the guard looking at me with alarm and compassion.

Based on one of my favorite passages of Scripture in luke 4, Ary Scheffer, a dutch painter, was inspired by the declarations of Jesus: Luke 4:18: “I have come to heal those who are brokenhearted and to announce to the prisoners their deliverance; to liberate those who are crushed by their chains.”

He painted Christ, in the center, and around him he filled in the broken-hearted.  A woman kneeling with her dead baby clutched in her hands. A refugee with a walking stick. A man lost at sea, a man who killed himself with his own dagger. A poet imprisoned as a madman, three generations of women, all abused. The oppressed throughout the ages–a Polish independence fighter, a Greek warrior, a Roman slave, an African slave. A dying man, with Jesus taking off his shackles. Mary Magdalene, the famously forgiven, kneeling at his feet. Everyone is pleading, stretching, shackled, in agony–and everyone leaning into the Christ.

And he consoles them.

It’s what he came to do. like he always has done, throughout the centuries. He comforts the imprisoned, the sick, the sad, the dying, the lonely. The burnt-out, the lost at sea, those floating out ever farther from the land they staked their lives on, adrift and unmoored by the suffering and pain of the world.

And we who are lost are brought back by one person alone, and that person is the Christ. The one who suffered like us, with us, for us. Who promises to break all the chains, to bring his new kingdom here in this earth. Who hangs out with the outsiders, the ones the world forget. Who sees us for who we are, as the bringers of his kingdom.

We, the ones who most need the consolation: we are the insiders here. I scribble this down in my journal, and I walk back to my life. Every day a chance for my own shackles to be taken off, the ones I put there of my own accord. Every day a chance to tell someone else: there is a place where you are the insider, too.

 

 

 

Thanks to those who have already submitted ideas/essays about “Upside-Down Art“–keep them coming! I look forward to the conversations we will be having in regards to art and how it widens up our world. E-mail me your ideas/submissions at dlmmcsweeneys @ gmail . com. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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mercy > sacrifice

there’s nothing like spending time with family and your closest IRL friends to shine a light on the murky depths in your heart. there’s nothing like rest, of sitting down with no screens in sight, of walking on a foggy beach, running in the pale oregon sun, listening/reading/soaking in the good stuff, the words that will lodge tight and remind you of truths you knew as a child but somehow shoved to the side.

everyone has already said it, but i will reiterate: it’s hard to be truthful on the internet. the levels of complexity here are fierce. i desire authenticity, and privacy. i want to share the deep parts of my life while never betraying the confidences of my neighbors and context and location. i want to process, i want to empower, i want to stir all the pots and but mostly i want to tie up everything in a neat little bow.

this is not how life is, however. so, here i am to say:

lately, it has been hard to drive. this is how i know my anxiety is getting to a place where it is maybe out-of-control, when the thought of driving paralyzes me, when i make excuses and walk or bike or (when frostbite is a real and pressing concern) have others drive me or simply stay at home. i am white-knuckled behind the wheel, the fear always a river running through it, illogical and senseless and frustrating. i am pulling, pulling, pulling on my bootstraps, and this is just one of many areas where daily pep talks are needed just to get myself out the door. the other day i charted a map in my mind of how my dislike of driving has turned to annoyance, then loathing, and now dread. in the chart in my mind, the fears just went up, up, up. i realized, in that moment, that if i continue on this path, there will come a day–perhaps next month, perhaps next year, or even the next decade, when i will be physically incapable of driving.

writing that down is hard, as i want my life to be all about going and obeying God, not fearfully staying in my apartment because it is the only place where i feel i have control, where i can keep everybody safe. and i am quick to point out that i am still doing a lot, i am still going out and saving the world, i am still busy and productive and i have all my little rags of righteousness clutched in my hand. but the question remains: how long can i hold on?

my anxiety, like many i suppose, is partly due to me and it is partly due to a battle being waged that i don’t quite have the eyes to see. oppressions take many forms, both systematic and spiritual, and you can’t seem to fight one without fighting the other. and for me, much of my fighting seems to stem from two competing thoughts swimming around in my brain, two slippery eels which propel me forward into places both good and bad alike, and they are these:

 

1. that i am invaluable to the world, that without me the work of the kingdom will stop, all of these beautiful people will be lost, that it is all contingent on me and my small determined shoulders, the entire weight of the world.

 

and

 

2. that unless i do all the things, God won’t ever love me.

 

 

 

and i really, really need him to love me.

 

//

 

it’s hard to hate the lies, to root them our of your life for good, when they have taken you to where you need to go. i tell other people “don’t do anything out of guilt” and yet guilt is the backbone for much of my life, what i wouldn’t wish for others i gladly accept for myself. there are so many things i love about my life, adore even, and then there are other aspects–the nagging thought that i could always do more, more, more, the sense of worthlessness if the tangibles are taken away, the hysterical sense that nobody is doing enough–that i could surely do without.

i was mentioning this to a counselor not too long back, rolling out my litany of questions i have about my life, should i be doing more or less, tossing out that word that we in the business so often misuse–what is sustainable? i told this counselor about one of my dreams, moving into the high rises where i teach, taking it to the next level. there are many reasons why moving into this place would be amazing, beneficial, and life-giving. there are many reasons why it would also cause my anxiety to skyrocket, how it would grind down me and my little family,  how many things about our life would get harder. but doesn’t that make it the best option?

the counselor nodded her head, listened. and then she said something that shocked me.

you could move in there, she said, that is a choice you could make. and you would be a beautiful flame, a fire burning bright for God. and like the brightest flames, you would not last for very long.

but, she said, tapping into my truest, basest desire:

 

 

you would be very beautiful while you were burning out.

 

 

 

//

the desire to be beautiful is deep within me, which has led me to places that are somewhat close to being extinguished. and i wrestle with this too, because currently in my life i am in a place of smoldering, a sputtering candle, tossed and turned by the winds of the world and the darkness in my own soul. but i think you already know where i am going with this, that it is these half-burnt out flames that Jesus most likes to use.

where my bruised reeds at? he says, looking for the walking wounded, the bent-over men and women, the smoldering wicks. where are my people who don’t even know up from down anymore, who can no more suss out what is sustainable than they can solve the problems of the world? where are my people at, he says, the ones who are beating back addictions, dysfunctions, lies that slink in and out around our ears? those are my people, he says, the ones i will not break. they are the ones i will not snuff out.

i used to think there were only two options for life: burning bright into the dying of the light, or sitting quietly to the side, snuffed out by the cares of life. now i am seeing all the middle places, the flickering candles, the fragile ones, the ones keeping vigil, praying, fasting, singing songs of truth, teaching, believing, creating.

but of course everything about Jesus is so upside-down, so the third way, eschewing the false dichotomies we create in order to love or loathe ourselves. he chooses the half-burnt out, the emptied, the white-knuckled. because it is for us, the ones who have tried so very hard to get both God and the whole damn world to love us based on merit, to whom the burden of following a radical servant-king seems light in comparison.

i don’t know how to end this right, i still want to say i am healed, i am loved, and everything is fine. but the truth is that right now i feel caught in a middle of a brush fire, all of my precious sacrifices going up in flames. and there, on the horizon, on the char-streaked hills, i see a glimpse of my future, being formed even now. i see a flickering candle, instead of a flame. i see a bruised reed, instead of a sunflower. and i see mercy, mercy, mercy, growing in the hardest heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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the year of the minivan

we bought a minivan just a bit over a week ago, and i can’t hardly believe it. our car, the suburu we drove over from portland, has been breaking down on us, over and over again. the mechanic told us not to put another cent into that vehicle, and we believed him. we spent a Christmas break cobbling together cars from generous friends to borrow, getting the flu, trying to navigate the wilds of captialist Craigslist without getting yet another lemon. kind, generous people donated money, and for the exact amount they gave we got ourselves a swagger wagon, the opposite of every car i have ever driven. the man we bought it from told us about his sobriety, his kids. he was confused when we declared that the dvd player being broken was a good thing. we drove away in our safe, boxy, gas-guzzler, and i am so continually surprised and confused by this life i am actually living instead of the one i would like to tell you about.

many of our neighbors do not have cars. we are friends with many people who have large gaggles of kids, all of who get extremely bored in this crazy extreme-weather town where we live. in the past, we could only take 2 at a time with us as we went off to explore lakes and museums and pantheon of american consumerism (it turns out pre-teens really, really like going to malls). as we started to think about what beater car we will drive to its death next, the image of a minivan floated through my brain. no, no way, i said. i am a minimalist, i have a shred of credibility, how will i park it in our inner-city life? but it isn’t about me, it never really was, God is having a good laugh about that downward mobility girl driving her 2005 kia sedona around.

because there are somethings that are more important than the ideology i surround myself with, the ways i try to present myself to the world. my life is not about downward mobility, or loving my neighbors, or working and living with the urban poor.

my life is about being obedient, which is all so much harder than that.

and it is never, ever boring.

//

there is another reason we got a minivan. we sent off the papers last week, our application for fost-to-adoption. it doesn’t make sense in so many ways, the legion of which i cannot tell you here. but it’s the same thing, me wrestling through every single horrible, heartbreaking scenario, the voice saying this is not just about you.

nothing can ever be easy, is what i say in my bitter hours, as i fight my way through another day of chaos, as i long for routines and results, never fully expecting either. my next baby will not be grown in my belly, my next baby will be baptized into sorrows that took me decades to find. the next bend, the next year, will only further explore the broken aspects of my neighborhood, my city, my government. i will teach my class, be reminded every day of the traumas and life situations that brought me these strong, survivor-women who are only now holding a pencil for the first time. it’s the year of sending my writing off into the great unknown, of opening myself up for critique and criticism, of struggling to do right by all the people who got tangled up in my story.

none of this is about you, is what i hear, but i don’t know how to take myself out of it. all i know how to do is take the next step.

send in the application.

create my lesson plan.

write a chapter.

knock on a door down the hallway.

drive the damn miracle minivan to the mall of america, tired and grateful as the kids riding along with me.

try so very hard not to shut my heart down to all of it.

because more is coming.

//

i’m sending you off as a sheep among wolves, jesus told his disciples. in my mind i see the sheep, marching white as snow, great gray wolves cowering off to the sides. but what happened to his disciples? i think about it now, sobered and shocked by the actual metaphor: the wolves got them, and the sheep did not come out unscathed.

it’s hard for me to write this, because i know it is true. we are being asked to be the sheep, and it does not mean we will be safe. it means Jesus is sending us out to be wounded, because that is what happens when you open yourself up to love. you will get hurt, very badly. Jesus made it clear: you could die, you could be tortured, you could be beaten and imprisoned and all sorts of other things. and you will, most certainly, get your heart-broken.

as i pray and think about this next year, i am thinking about what it means to be like a sheep. to trust, to put one little foot in front of the other, to head straight for the pack of wolves.

the other words Jesus said, right before that part about getting torn up, was about going out and proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. i went back and re-read it today; that’s all he told his followers to say. nothing about doctrine or even that the messiah had come: just go out and proclaim the kingdom of God: healing the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.

and that’s where the wolves are–with the ones who are already beaten down by the world: the sick, the hurting, the addict, the broken relationally. the people and situations in my life that scare me the most–the scenarios looping in my mind as i close my eyes–those are the ones who need the most proclaiming. they are the ones Father God has his eye on, the sparrows who are falling to ground in droves, and he counts them one by one. he sees it all, and he is asking me to keep looking, to keep walking ahead.

because it’s the year of love, and all the sadness that comes with it. it’s the year of authenticity over ideology. it’s the year of sheep and sparrows, demons and wolves.

it’s 2014, you guys. it’s the year of the minivan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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marriage is work

When I got engaged, my mom was worried about me. I was so stoic, chin up, accepting congratulations with a quiet dignity. No hysterics, fussiness, wild delusions of bliss for me, no. My mom took me aside and asked if I really, actually did want to be married. I was shocked. What sort of question was that? I knew I was supposed to marry this boy, no matter what. That was obvious. But did I want to?

Mom, I said, marriage is hard. Like, really hard. It’s a lot of work. It’s probably the most difficult thing I will ever do in my life.

I had no illusions of the lovey-dovey years: all I could see was two sinners, sharpening each other for all eternity. Romantic, right?

My mom nodded her head, a little smile creeping up her face. 

I got married, in love and grimly determined to roll up my sleeves at the enormous amount of work that a successful relationship takes.

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Six years in, and I am having the time of my life. We get to have adventures, snuggle, and make ridiculous jokes together. We share a common vision about God’s dream for the world, and we are trying to live it out together. We are best friends, tag-teamers, baby wrasslers, each other’s point of sanity and mirth.

We know the absolute worst and best parts of each other, and I wish I could go back 7 years and tell my serious little self: the good far outweighs the bad. 

 

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I have been surprised, in every way, just by how fun it has been to be married, to this one particular boy.

 

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Here’s to another year (and decades more) of fun, adventure, crazy-times, growth, silliness, and joy.

And to work that never, ever actually feels like work.

 

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Happy anniversary, dude.

 

 

 

 

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Christmas in 4 movies

Merry Christmas Eve, ya’ll!

I wrote an essay on Christmas for Christ and Pop Culture. Of course I talk about advent, Home Alone, and the Abominable Snowman. I can’t really think of another publication that would let me write about all three.

Truly, the best part of this essay is that Seth T. Hahne made an illustration for it. You can check out more of his work at goodokbad.

 

Here is the image (which I am now going to send to everyone in my family–Merry Christmas, guys!):

 

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So, see if you can guess which 4 movies I use to illustrate my changing perspective on the Christmas Season. And then go here to read the entire essay.

 

Also, my amazing friend Amy Lepine Peterson wrote her own essay on Christmas and movies. It is much smarter and better written than mine, and is also in the same issue of Christ and Pop Culture. You can read that one (which talks more about White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life) here.

 

Happy reading, and happy Home Alone-watching. 

 

 

 

 

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a city not forsaken

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this morning i rushed around, putting on make-up, pinning bobby pins in my hair, trying to finish a batch of brownies for the potluck today. i wrestled my ferociously opinionated daughter into her christmas dress, desperately tried to smooth her hair into pigtails. there were a few time-outs, a few threats of no cookies after church. the husband was out snow blowing, we all barely made it to church in time.

in the car, i find out that the wife of my friend and editor has passed away this morning. her battle with cancer was swift and vicious and it knocks the breathe out of me, strips away the illusions we build up about life and fairness and invincibility. she had a daughter, only a year older than mine. i sit in the car and cry and cry. my husband takes my daughter in and gets her dressed in her little lamb costume.

the pageant is chaotic, a gentle fiasco, my daughter refuses to sing and stands with her back to the congregation. i, like the other mothers of the young, have to stand on stage too, am in this pageant myself. we get through it, all mumbles and grins. the children race down the aisle so they can go to the nursery room and play with toys. they are only pretending to be gentle little lambs. was it a disaster? i don’t really know. but i can’t help but think that it is exactly how jesus would have wanted it to be: defiant three year olds, scared two year olds, exuberant babies, awkward middle schoolers, tired and grateful mothers. let the little children come to me, he said, and this morning my church embodied that.

there is a baptism, later, after the pageant. the light streams down through the stained glass and i can’t believe what all takes place in this beat-up, broken down city of mine. people die. people get married. people drink gallon after gallon of vodka, alone in their apartments. little children dress up like lambs and march down the church aisle, proclaiming jesus is born. people make casseroles and brownies and eat them together at card tables. people get baptized into something far bigger than themselves, others come and embrace them into it.

I’ve read the gospels every December of my life and I know that story like a glossy picture book. but now i am reading Isaiah, who foretold that story and highlighted the necessity of why it had to be. here it is that i am finding the story of the new city, the one in which a little child shall lead us all. this passage takes on new meaning as one who lives surrounded by refugees–people who have lost everything, all the fruits of their life vanished. God sees it all, and a new day is dawning. one where we cannot escape how loved and redeemed we are, one where we finally know our true names. 

On your walls, O Jerusalem,
    I have set watchmen;
all the day and all the night
    they shall never be silent.
You who put the Lord in remembrance,
    take no rest,
and give him no rest
    until he establishes Jerusalem
    and makes it a praise in the earth.
The Lord has sworn by his right hand
    and by his mighty arm:
“I will not again give your grain
    to be food for your enemies,
and foreigners shall not drink your wine
    for which you have laboured;
but those who garner it shall eat it
    and praise the Lord,
and those who gather it shall drink it
    in the courts of my sanctuary.”
10 Go through, go through the gates;
    prepare the way for the people;
build up, build up the highway;
    clear it of stones;
    lift up a signal over the peoples.
11 Behold, the Lord has proclaimed
    to the end of the earth:
Say to the daughter of Zion,
    “Behold, your salvation comes;
behold, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.”
12 And they shall be called The Holy People,
    The Redeemed of the Lord;
and you shall be called Sought Out,
    A City Not Forsaken.

(Isaiah 62)

 

the best days are the ones where i know what it is that i am doing. i am preparing the way for the new city. i am moving the debris, one christmas pageant at a time. i am clearing the rubble, prayer by prayer. i am building up the highway, with every christmas carol sung into the air. but still–living in the old city, i long for the new. i get more desperate for it, the more the old one fails me.

the new city is coming; on days like today, it feels so close i can even see it shimmer. 

 

 

 

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