The World is Good

The days are running into each other. I’m not reminded of Groundhog Day, at least not yet, but my general motivation waxes and wanes by the moment. Some days seem doable and I’m ready to do all the things. Other days, I wonder why it really matters whether or not I get up with my alarm. Spring is blossoming in our yard and I’m thankful for the reminders of growth, new life, and beginnings. But with the warmer weather, I’m achingly reminded that we can’t hang out with our neighbors; that our kids are incapable of riding bikes without getting too close.

It’s an odd season of blessings and loses. All the things I’m so grateful for are simultaneously stark reminders of things we are missing.

Early in our social distancing turned stay at home journey, I watched a sermon from our old church. The opening song was All Things New by Andrew Peterson. The refrain has stuck with me the past few weeks as we have sweet moments and hard moments:

The world was good
The world is fallen
The world is being redeemed

All Things New by Andrew Peterson

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that these days are filled with higher highs and lower lows than usual. Our family is connecting and the girls are playing together in the sweetest ways. But there’s also tender emotions and underlying anxieties that are simmering just below the surface. These weeks – and the weeks to come – are truly a lesson in living in the tension of liminality.

When I first listened to this song, I started to cry. Rachael, the co-pastor of Highlands Church in charge of worship, had slightly changed the lyrics from past tense to present: The world is good. When life feels hard and overwhelming; when I just want an end date; when I want clear directions and guidance from people who know more than me; when my heart aches for those whose homes aren’t safe and who can’t use this time in productive ways, I remember that what gives me hope is that the world is good right now and that the world is being redeemed right now.

But in the middle of the good and the redeemed, we remember the world is also fallen. I don’t think fallen means bad but it is a reminder of how very broken we are. Our systems are broken and are failing so many vulnerable people; our earth is broken and overextended from our constant use; our bodies are broken and unable to fight this disease.

In many ways, I’m thankful that this is happening in the midst of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. This is the whole point, right? That our hope is in the redemption. We don’t live in the brokenness, though that is certainly part of reality – both now and in normal times. We remember the goodness of our world now and the world that is to be.

How are you experiencing the goodness in the midst of the fallen? Where are you finding your hope during this particular moment?

I Am Home; This Is Where I Belong

I borrowed my mom’s car the other day and, because I don’t like messing with the radio, listened to the Christian radio station on my errands. I don’t mind the upbeat music normally and this trip was no different.

Until the song Where I Belong by Building 429 came on. As I listened to the lyrics, I became sadder and sadder. This is how they view our precious life on this earth?!

The chorus goes:

All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong

When Bea is mad, she often yells, Fine!! I don’t want to live here anymore!!!! Usually at this stage in our interaction, I’m more than ready to help her find an alternative living situation. In reality, I tell her that we love her and that her home is here, with us. No matter how frustrating life feels.

There seems to be a lot of fear these days – fear of others taking things from us: our jobs, our guns, our religion. We want protection.

In this fight or flight mentality of fear, it’s easy to want to run away. Since Canada isn’t really an option, heaven seems as good a choice as any.

Life is hard. I don’t want to engage. This isn’t my home anyway – I’m just waiting for heaven!

I want to sit down with Building 426 and ask for more. Surely they aren’t really asking us to disconnect.

I do believe we’re home. This earth was created for us and as long as we humans view it only as a pit stop, we’ll treat it as such: A means to an end. Rather than an incredible place for us to live and thrive, we’re treating this amazing creation as no more than a concrete picnic bench on a long highway.

I do believe this is where we belong. I believe that when we recognize our place in creation, it’s hard to ignore injustice or truly believe that we aren’t meant to care right now, in this time and place.

When the lyrics say Take this world and give me Jesus, who are we giving the world to? Take it from whom? I believe God gave us this world – how we care for it and cultivate it and respect it is a reflection of our values. I don’t think Jesus wants us to give this world “back.” I think he came to redeem and restore this earth.

It makes me sad to think of people listening and humming along to this catchy song. Perhaps they aren’t picking it apart now, but the next time a politician doesn’t reflect their own worldview or a news story laments the systemic injustices in our world and country, a go-to response is that we don’t really belong here anyway. Why care too much?

I think we need to care more! I think we really need to look at the commandments that Jesus gave – to love our neighbor; to live in an upside-down mentality where the poor are the greatest and the last are first; to recognize that kingdom living isn’t measured by the normal standards of health and wealth but by a completely different set of standards, where people care for strangers and outcasts.

As Christians, rather than seeing the brokenness of the world and, like a preschooler yelling, Fine! I don’t want to live here anymore! perhaps we need to actually consider what it means to walk like Jesus, to live a life of justice and mercy and kindness. To be an active part of redemption and restoration rather than hoping that God somehow magically takes care of things or gives the world back, as if there’s a benevolent return policy on faulty civilizations.

Especially during this election season, my hope and prayer is that we remember that our home is here. We are not passive players, nor are we called to outsource our beliefs to government leaders. It is our job to live out the kingdom, to recognize our own part in changing this world.

What’s your view of heaven? Do you think it’s a place we go after death or is it a restoration of this current earth? Does this shape the way you interact with this earth?

If you’re wondering about the place of heaven, I’d recommend N.T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope, followed closely by C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra.

Redeeming a Lost Weekend

We have two weeks left in tax season. These will be the craziest two weeks, but it feels good to be in countdownable mode. On my desk calendar, I have an x-ed out Hooray tax season is finished!!! on April 15 and had to move it to April 18. A whole weekend farther away.

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These girls can’t wait for tax season to end!

For some, the extra weekend will be welcomed – they will have a few more days to squeeze into the deadline. For us, it means one more weekend without Frank. One more weekend of bedtimes alone and one more weekend explaining to Bea that daddy actually does live with us. (Something she’s not always convinced of.)

Whenever April 15 falls on a Friday, the deadline is pushed to the following Monday. This is because Washington, DC celebrates Emancipation Day on April 16. And if it falls on a Saturday, all city offices shut down the Friday before.

The first time this happened, I was furious. I wrote a letter to the mayor of DC, wondering why Emancipation Day couldn’t be observed the following Monday. Or, why one city’s remembrance affected the entire country.

This year, my initial response was frustration. It seemed so selfish of DC to steal this weekend from us. I’m certainly not against remembering the emancipation of slavery, but I am against extending this already stressful season two more days.

But then, Frank and I were talking about laws and holidays and how something that seems good and obvious and helpful to me can actual be detrimental and frustrating and even harmful to others. I guess, especially with a heated election season, so many issues are coming to light that can be polarizing – laws that help some but hurt others; policies that keep some safe but put others in harm’s way.

It had me thinking about how I want the world to suit me. I want holidays to recognize my ancestor’s achievements; I want laws that make my life easier; I want job opportunities that help me achieve the lifestyle choices that make me most comfortable.

That’s not reality, is it? I think any one of us would agree that the world doesn’t actually revolve around us… Until we want it to. Until it’s a complete inconvenience. Until our own privilege is stepped on.

I suppose, what I am ultimately learning from this Emancipation Day inconvenience is that remembering a movement toward racial reconciliation is important. That for many, this is a day of celebration, of remembering, and of working toward a better future. And I guess, when I view it in that light, I remember that the world is bigger than a tax deadline. That, if I’m going to teach my kids about living in a just world, I need to use every opportunity to do so. That for us, we may not have even known about Emancipation Day unless it directly inconvenienced us.

It’s sad to admit it. That, unless something messes with my plans or schedule, I’m not going to recognize it or observe it. So, this year, instead of being grumpy that Frank is working yet another weekend, we’ll drop off homemade treats for the office and then we’ll find a way to observe Emancipation Day.

Perhaps it will be to introduce Bea to the Black American West Museum or simply go to the playground at Curtis Park. Either way, I’m going to choose to redeem our lost weekend. Hopefully I’ll keep this lesson in mind – that when life’s circumstances frustrate me and my own needs, I can step back and find a way to honor and remember the needs of others.

How do you respond to inconveniences and seemingly unfair situations? Do you naturally view life through the lens of others?

And, Denver friends… Any ideas of an activity we can do to honor and remember Emancipation Day?

Celebrating Strong Women: Daughters of Eve

unnamed-1I am thrilled to introduce Caroline Wenger as this week’s Strong Woman. When we met in Paris, Caroline was the first of my peers to help me realize that we are leaders now – not when we’re “grown up.” Caroline is British-born. She lived in Paris for 5 years  before moving to Swiss-German-speaking Switzerland with her Swiss-German/French husband of 9 years. She tries to keep linguisitc confusion to a minimum in her house by only speaking English to her two children aged 6 and 7. She sometimes writes, often bakes, would like to blog, attempts to garden, lives to sing and is still working out her vocation in life.

Daughters of Eve

Strong women are those who know themselves. Those who are strong in their identity and ultimately, those who know their identity in Christ. Who know where they come from – really come from. Not just their parents or place of birth (although this is important, of course) but those who have understood an accepted that they are a daughter of Eve, redeemed by Christ. I am a woman, made in the image of God. God was excited when he created me. I am fearfully and wonderfully knit together. I am not perfect, but I was made good. And what was not good in me, Christ is perfecting. This is my identity. There is no other foundation stronger than this and is the rock on which I try and build by life.

I guess that’s why my very first thought when I hear ‘strong women’ is nuns! Nuns have nothing to prove. In their rejection of all our ‘worldly trappings’, they have chosen the freedom of a disciplined life without the distractions and exhaustion of the life that I have chosen with a husband and family, work, and a home to care for. (Not that I would swap any of that!) Nuns can only do this when they are convinced that God is enough, that life without those things is not only enough, but the way they have chosen brings the abundance of joy that comes of living wholly in the presence of God and being able to concentrate on him.

I live near to a Christian community (it’s not a convent) whose women are known for their very modest dress, lack of make-up, and simple hair-styles. I recently made a comment about how these women were not free to be themselves and wear what they like. And I’m glad that a wise friend pointed out to me that they are more free. They do not have to worry about whether double-denim is in our out this year. Or if their bob suits their wide jaw or not. Or if their heels are going to be cramping their feet at the end of the day. These are strong women. They do not cow-tow what society accepts as acceptable and they know their identity in Christ is firm and established. It even made me feel a little jealous of them as I caught myself checking my make up before leaving the house. Again. Whose approval am I seeking when I walk out the door, and am I strong enough to accept myself as God sees me and not as the world thinks I should look?

As Christians we are always taught that in our weakness, we are strong through Christ. This is quite hard for me to live out for two main reasons. Firstly, I come from a family (my father’s side, at least) where dependence and weakness are frowned upon. My 94 year old grandfather still lives alone and begrudgingly has help every day getting up, washed and dressed. Independence is paramount and was to be maintained at all costs. Needless to say, this side of my family have missed out on the pleasure and the satisfaction of a life of inter-dependence. I am only strong because someone else completes my weaknesses. But I have to admit my weakness in the first place!

And secondly it’s hard because I know that God’s power is made perfect in my weakness, but sometimes I struggle to receive that power. Always berating myself for not having enough ‘quiet times’, blaming children, housework, my phone for distracting me from tanking up on God’s love and strength. But thank God there is another way of receiving him: Thank God for communion  – one of my absolute favourite things in life.

It is such a holy and precious thing to be able to receive God in a concrete and tangible way. For those of us with minds like butterflies flitting from one thing to the next, to be able to come to the Lord’s table and actually hold something in my hand and digest something that comes from God (or is God – who knows?) is very life-giving and strength-transferring. I once learned that communion is food for pilgrims on the journey of life and for me, this is true. I truly feel fed by the body of Christ when I have received communion. The Bread of Heaven sustains me and strengthens me. Even if my quiet-times and Bible reading habits could be a lot better. It’s a moment of grace that I could not live without. In this way, Christ is my strength.

I am closing with a poem written by a strong woman I know very well  – my mum Marian Thomas. She wrote this whilst on a retreat in the cathedral city of Ely in the UK. She does not know that she is a poet, so perhaps seeing herself published on-line will strengthen and inspire her in this direction.

Quartering an apple – time to consider

In silence,  cradling the apple in my left hand
Adeptly cutting it in two
In silence cradling the half apple in my left hand
Adeptly cutting it in two
In silence cradling the quarter apple in my left hand
Adeptly scooping just enough to remove the core, the pips, the potential for
Thousands more apples
They can return to earth in green waste
But left for me
The apple, rosy, juicy, crunchy
For me

How many apples have I prepared like this, for me, for my children?
How many apples did my mother prepare for herself, for her children?
How many apples will my  daughter prepare for herself, for her children?
Daughters of Eve – the apple is redeemed – Allelulia!

Remembering It is Good

One of my favorite translations of the creation story comes from Bea’s Jesus Storybook Bible. In it, God exclaims, “You’re good!” after creating the light, the land, the animals, and people. It captures God’s excitement as creation is declared good and perfect.

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Thinking about this redemptive season and how all things are made good again comes naturally with spring and Easter. Flowers awakening from winter; trees budding; the season of Lent and then the remembrance of Holy Week bring us around again to the restoration of the earth.

Today, we remember that exclamation of, “You’re good!” Perhaps it’s in the solemn context of death and the cross, but we have the ability to rejoice in what is coming. Because Jesus came to reconcile, it is good.

As we move into the Easter season, I remember that when I work toward restoring a perfect creation, it is good. As we do justice and love kindness, it is good. As we seek hope and love, it is good. As we focus on healing the wounded, it is good.

As we turn our eyes toward a restored creation and work toward that vision, I believe God is saying, “You’re good!”

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

Stories

“In God’s family, there are no outsiders. All are insiders…. God says, All, all are My children. It is shocking. It is radical.”

Desmond Tutu, God Has a Dream

In high school, I did everything I was “supposed to” do to belong at our church: I taught children’s Sunday school, I was a regular participator in youth group, I never missed weekly Bible study. I was similarly involved in Young Life and helped lead the middle school Wyld Life club, as well. My junior year, I started questioning how things were taught. Nothing radical, but I started taking my questions beyond our dining room table, where my parents encouraged critical thinking and processing. One day, I sent an email to my youth pastor, asking a question about his recent sermon. I don’t remember anymore what the question was. I do remember his reply: There are many churches in our town. Perhaps this isn’t the one for you. A month or so later, during a leader’s meeting, I questioned an interpretation another student had about a verse. Suddenly, I was missing out on last-minute meetings. When I asked our head leader about it, he suggested that Young Life might not be the place for me.

Fortunately, my parents encouraged me to never stop questioning. Even though I wasn’t involved in church anymore, I knew that this was not how Jesus envisioned life together. As I prepared to leave Colorado Springs for Paris, my old youth pastor saw me one Sunday and asked if I was sure I wanted to go to one of the “darkest cities in the world.” I thought, Paris couldn’t be any darker than my experience here. The amazing, redemptive part of that story is that, in Paris, I attended an incredible, vibrant church that encouraged questioning. In fact, if you weren’t grappling with your faith, you were in the minority. I was refreshed by discussions and debates, exposed to new theology, and reminded that God is present, even in the darkest cities.

In fact, God has a way of showing light and grace in the most unexpected places, people, and moments. In our stories and listening and doing life together, we see redemption and a reminder that All are God’s children. When I was in Nepal, a country of Hindus and Buddhists and not many Christians, I saw God: In the hearts of my fellow volunteers, giving time and love to people around them; In my students as they eagerly loved learning and sharing their culture with me; In sitting on the rooftop, playing cards and talking about nothing in particular, except sharing life and stories.

One day, about two months into our visit, Ella and I were on the roof, planning lessons when a group of young missionaries joined us. They were in Kathmandu on a short term trip and staying in our guest house. We chatted a bit and soon they started asking us about our relationship with God. Ella, an Atheist, immediately shut down. And, without asking me my story, these well-intentioned missionaries assumed I needed to be saved, as well. It was an important lesson to me about the power of story and of assumption. Yes, Ella was an Atheist, but she was sharing herself with the kids she worked with in the same way these missionaries were sharing themselves with the Nepali people. And yes, I was planning English lessons rather than Bible lessons, but I was sharing myself with the kids I worked with. Maybe the words and intentions were different, but the actions were the same. “God says All, all are My children.”

In the years since, I  have experienced the belonging of community at church, but I have also experienced God loudly in having lunches with my teaching partner, as we shared stories and listened to the other’s point of view on theology and Jesus. I have experienced manipulation while working with a Christian organization and grace while discussing God with my weekly book club. I don’t think one is a more beautiful story or one reflects God more than the other; I think they weave together to create a story of redemption.

The radical idea that All are God’s children is woven into our stories. When we stop and listen, when we open up to the vulnerability of sharing, we experience God. I believe any story of redemption, any story of grace is a reminder of God working through All his children. And, as important as it may be for me to share my story, it is far more important for me to listen to other stories. To see God weaving his redemption into our world, even in the darkest places.

What’s your story? Where have you experienced God’s redemption?

Linked up with SheLoves Magazine’s month of Belonging.
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