I used to read a couple of blogs, just for the fun of getting filled with rage. I can’t be alone in this addiction–the viscious cycles of self-rightousness, anger, and cynicism. All of the blogs that made me feel both superior and strangely sad were ones by women with beautiful houses, chevron typography, gorgeous home-cooked meals, and a belief that most troubles in your life would be solved by trying harder.
A lot of those bloggers and writers would talk about the little things they did in life, and the pleasures to be found therein: creating a safari-themed birthday party and spray-painting tiny giraffes and elephants gold, filling their walls with artfully constructed Scripture references, pictures of their spotless children running through fields of wheat.
I would read, transfixed by the perfect curated-ness of these lives on the screen, both scorning their temporal pursuits (HELLO! PEOPLE ARE DYING IN DARFUR) and yet strangely longing for that assuredness that everything matters. That finding moments of beauty wherever we could get them actually did, in fact, matter to God. the trouble was, I just couldn’t believe it.
As many of you know, my little family and I are in a Christian order among the poor. I like saying those words aloud, like the way they trip off my tongue. For I have spent my entire life, even as a little girl, pursuing martrydom. When I was small, I was obsessed with missionary biographies, Bible stories, and Joan of Arc was my patron saint. I created a hierarchy in my mind of who God loves best (those who do big and wild and scary things) and I wanted to be right at the top. Which brings us to today, and joining a Christian order among the poor. I have many of the trappings of my heroes now: a self-sacrificing narrative, exotic locations, strange and terrible and beautiful and miraculous things happening. The trouble is, based on that hierarchy I created long ago, it turns out I am just using my friends and neighbors on the lower ends of the economic spectrum as conduits to make God love me more. Even though I have tried hard to do the oppostie, the people I am supposed to love and serve are still functioning as props in the larger story of me.
Obviously, this is a little devestating to realize, 20+ years into the game.
When I asked God about all this, he told me some hard and true things. Which basically amounted to what I had heard my whole life but didn’t have the wherewithal to actually believe: that God loves everybody, exactly the same. No matter what you do.
If you grew up like me, then you are waiting for the asterik to that sentence. Sure, God loves everybody the same. *But he really likes it when you go to Africa. Or start a food kitchen. Or adopt through foster care. Or buy cool, over-priced shoes that may or may not give an orphan in some nameless country a complimentary pair. Or turn your TV into garden for succulents. Or whatever it is that we believe we must do in order to be fully loved.
God took away my asterik, and now I don’t know how to classify myself anymore. I’m just a sheep of his hand, and it is more lowly and lovely than I could have ever imagined.
I am reading a book by Jonathan Martin, and he talks a lot about how Jesus is the example for everything. Yes, of course, I said, as I read along, but at some point I realized Martin wasn’t just talking about Jesus being all about love and social justice, some anti-folk hero who died for our sins. Instead, he focused on how Jesus was beloved by God, how he knew he was, and how that affected his every moment.
Martin also goes on to talk about the difference between King Saul and King David in the Old Testament. From day one, people looked at Saul like he had already arrived: so handsome, so tall, so brave and so fierce. It appeared that God had gifted him, so he was thrust into leadership right from the start. And it absolutely ruined him.
David, on the other hand, was forgotten for many years. Off tending sheep while all of his brothers did the “important” work. But what we in our hubris usually imagine to be a desert or a wilderness is actually the best gift of all: a place of obscurity, where God has us all to himself and tells us how much we are loved. David had this in the fields, years and years of soaking in his belovedness. And even though he went on to do many stupid, terrible, ugly things, David never forgot that he was loved. As Martin writes in Prototype, just go read the Psalms (seriously, go read then right now). That sense of belovedness underlies every single sentence: the joyful, the sorrowful, the angry and the awe.
This is a hard truth for me, a girl who always grew up reading the stories of the Bible and thinking but all those people God uses are so horrid. I’ve always hated David, just because I could never wrap my brain around the fact that this adulturous, murderous, neglectful father-type could really be so loved by God. Because if God could truly delight in a person like that, then why am I trying so damn hard?
Because, you guys, I never believed he loved me after all.
This first year in the MidWest was supposed to be our Year of Jubilee, the Year of the Lord’s Favor. And it was, oh yes indeed, it just looked so different from how I thought it should.
But here, at the end of the apprenticeship year, I feel a bit like I had my own time in the wilderness. I found myself in situations of no importance, of little power. Nobody was throwing us parades, if you can believe that. And by the end of it, the hierarchy I had created in my mind about God and his love had started to crack. Because even if you sell all that you have and give the money to the poor (or move in next door) and have not love–well, I think you know the rest.
There came a point a few weeks ago where I noticed that I was yet again baking a Funfetti cake for one of my neighbors. If I had to count it up, I would say that I have made hundreds of these cakes for people over the years. I just really like doing it. There is someting about the sprinkles, the colors, the pleasures and joys of teaching people the elements of baking. I know it is horribly uncool (preservatives! peak oil!), and I should be making seasonal fruit galletes and all that (which I do, occasionally), but I just can’t quit the Funfetti. I love making these cakes, just like my own mom made for me.
I was making this particular one for a neighbor who is moving far away, to a situation that is likely very bad. My heart was sorrowful as I baked and frosted, as I did the only things I knew how to do. And as I did this I wondered “what will I do with the next person who moves in? Won’t they probably end up moving away and breaking my heart? How do we keep doing that most radical thing of all–keeping room in our hearts to love–when we are constantly, lamentably wounded?”
And I feel like God said: you keep baking cakes.
Some of the most unrecognized ministries are my favorites.
Like, the ministry of playing yu-gi-oh cards with awkward adolescent boys. The ministry of bringing white styrofoam containers of Pad Thai to people whose baby is very very sick. The ministry of picking up empty chip wrappers at the park. The ministry of sending postcards. The ministry of sitting in silence with someone in the psych ward. The ministry of gardening flowers. The ministry of listening to teenagers talk about their relational crises, and not laughing hysterically. The ministry of making an excellent cup of coffee. The ministry of noticing beauty everywhere–in fabrics, in people, in art–and in the wilderness.
The older I get, I realize now that the ministries I once thought so trivial I know think are the most radical. I spent the last year being stripped of anything that would make me feel lovely to God and I came out a different person. Because I discovered that he always loved me anyways.
I’m not Joan of Arc, it turns out. I’m just somebody who likes to bake cakes.
If I had said that at the beginning of this post, it would mean almost nothing. But because I am writing out of a place where I know that God loves me, my ministry of Funfetti is different. It’s radical. Anything that asks us to walk in our belovedness and extend that to other people is the best kind of madness there is.
I think about those blogs I used to read, and all the feelings they would bring up. And now I just want to sit down, over a good direct-trade cup of coffee, and say to those writers: spray all the things gold. Bake all the tarts. Make all the lemonade’s you want. And take all those little lovelies and run, run in the direction of the world’s brokenness.
In my world, there is a lot of pain. People in abusive situations. Addictions. Mental Illness. Sickness. Poverty. Demons. It’s like the New Testament, come to life! And God is asking me to run, not walk, into all of those contexts. Because I know God loves them more than I do, and the gospel of Jesus is one of freedom. I am being asked to start living like I believe in that love, like I believe another world is possible. I am being asked to bake cakes and knock on doors and believe in healing and deliverance and transformation because that is what our God does. I don’t always know what it looks like, but I can tell you from personal experience: He loves.
Because every year is the year of the Lord’s favor. I just needed the eyes to see it.
My friend Kelley is doing an online book club and this month we are reading Prototype by Jonathan Martin. I highly encourage you to read it. Plus, today you can head on over and ask him some questions.
Also, my family and I are trying to be a bit more open about the work we are doing in our neighborhood and the miracles we are experiencing, and asking for support along the way. It’s hard to write about on the internet, which is a good sign. If you are interested in learning more about our organization, our ministry, or just want to process the places God is calling you to run into, we would love to hear from you. Send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.