Isaac moments

Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him
Genesis 22

If you are a parent, then you have experienced it.  The paralyzing fear that something will happen to this little person that you love so much.  That all your love, your energy spent raising them, the precautions you take to preserve their life and safety, will come to naught.  That one terrifying, cataclysmic accident will suddenly steal that precious one away.  This fear gnaws at my mind.  It haunts my sleep.  It makes adrenaline spike when I am driving my car.  It makes me feel so… helpless.

I have heard these fears echoed by my friends.  I see it over and over again in online parenting communities, blog posts, Facebook comments.  The fear can be terrorizing.  I put bumpers on my crib… could my baby suffocate?  I didn’t put bumpers on my crib, could my baby get stuck in the crib slats? You wake up in the middle of the night, needing to check and see if they are still breathing, if their tiny hearts are still beating.

How can we as parents survive the terror?  What can we tell ourselves so that we are finally able to let go of the fear, get a full night’s sleep again?  For me, the issue boils down to trust.  How can I trust that my little ones will be safe when daily, I see evidence to the opposite?  This world is teeming with stories of horrors, of terrible accidents, famine, and pain.  And yet, the God we serve purports to be good.  I find myself able to trust his goodness when placing my own life in His hands, yet when it comes to my children, I doubt.  I fear.  I find myself unwilling for them to go through pain and heartache, even if I know that it is, in the end, redemptive.

I find a kind of perverse comfort in the story of Abraham and Isaac.  Here is Isaac, a strong, beautiful boy.  A child of God’s promise.  A living covenant.  And yet, God is asking Abraham to go and sacrifice him.  How?  Why?  It seems so harsh, so horrible.  Yes, God provides in the end, but imagine the anguish of each step taken up Mount Moriah, the tension of living in the doubt, the fear, the horror of the task ahead of you.  God provided a ram, but Abraham still made a sacrifice.  On that mountain, Abraham’s ownership over Isaac’s life was offered up.  His dreams for his son, his sense of control over Isaac’s future, were laid upon the altar.  They remained there, to be sacrificed along with the goat.

When I find myself in a crisis of trust, when I am not sure I trust God to sustain the lives of my children, when I doubt the path God is leading them down, I find solace in this passage.  I do not own the lives of my children.  It is not my white knuckled decisions that will determine the course of their lives, ensure their safety.  Instead, that belongs to my Father.  I must sacrifice my dreams, my sense of control, and allow God to provide for them.  It is the scariest peace I have ever experienced.  But it is a necessary one.  A dubious grace, that refines me even as I surrender to it.

Have you allowed God to reign in the ‘Isaac moments’ of your life?

the gift of ordinary time

Each day is replete with blessings.  Our lives hold impossible glories.
Right now, the sun is shining through my window, dust motes dance upon the air.
Tiny ballerinas.  An intended audience of one.
Unimaginable beauty, contained within the mundane.

What will you do with this day you have been gifted?
Hurry through, with eyes turned to deadlines, screens, traffic lights?
Or allow your imagination to capture your attention?
See the glistening water flowing through the tap, and behold the bubbles of soap in their iridescent splendor?

What does it feel like outside today?
Did you take the time to notice?
What blessings will today hold for you?
Will you take the time to receive them?

when it all gets stripped away…

Have you ever done the icebreaker activity where you tell someone a quirky fact about yourself?  Hi, my name is Marissa, and I can touch my nose with my tongue…  I have.  Hundreds of times.  It turns out, when you are in ministry, icebreaker activities kind of become a way of life.  I always viewed these as throwaway activities, ways to make others connect a name with a face, but not much more.  I never really noticed the power such statements have to create your identity.  Hi, my name is Marissa and…
… I read 100 books a year…
… I read the Bible cover to cover every year…
…I like to cook…
…I run a 1/2 marathon every year…
…I’m a volunteer at the library…
…I am the friend who shows up…
…I’m good at my job…
…I get things done…
…I’ve got it all together…

All of these statements were things that defined me.  I may not have said them all at a group icebreaker activity, but they were the things in my head that I thought of as ‘me.’ This was who I was.  And I had no idea how much I let these statements begin to define me until they began to be stripped away.  This stripping away process began (and pretty much was completed) the day my son was born.  A little blonde boy, with wide, innocent blue eyes.  Hungry for milk, and hungry for my time and attention.  And all of a sudden, I didn’t read 100 books anymore.  My rock solid quiet time routine flew out the window.  Cooking got a lot harder with a little one in my arms.  A 5K all of a sudden became a miraculous feat- a half marathon seemed like an impossibility.  I cut back my hours with the library, I could only be there for my friends at night and at naptime, I started feeling helplessly behind at work.  None of it seemed like a big deal at the time, but then, slowly, I began to run out of easy answers for my introduction games.

Hi, my name is Marissa and…
I am a mom of two.
My shoulder always smells like milk.
I actually can’t remember the last time I blow dried my hair.
I borrow books from the library, and then return them, overdue and unread.
I ran a mile the other day and I am pretty darn proud of that. 

In terms of the wow factor, underwhelming.

And yet, this forms another identity.  One that I am terrified of losing.  One that I know is inherently temporary.  In just a handful of years, I will no longer be a mother of toddlers.  I will no longer have such demands on my time.  Will I feel lost again?

Here is my TRUE identity, and one I would be wise to invest myself in…

Hi, my name is Marissa and I am…
a child of the most high God.
redeemed by the blood of Christ.
Impossibly thankful for this sweet time in life.
Gifted and equipped to serve God’s kingdom, in whatever way He calls me.
Blessed beyond measure.
Set in my life for such a time as this.
Still able to touch my nose with my tongue…

yours to carry

Something has bothered me deeply about the national discourse on Robin William’s death.  So much so that I didn’t want to write this post, because I didn’t want to use his name in vain.  I didn’t don’t want to use his death for my purposes.  I am not going to reference it any more in this post… but here is what I have to say.  His death isn’t about you.  It’s not yours.  It belongs to him.  And his family.

When something terrible happens to someone famous, we all have reactions.  We have opinions.  We have memories of the person, ways their life touched us or affected ours.  But the truth is, we didn’t know them.  They aren’t real to us.  We see glimpses, roles played, the public persona, not the person inside.  And so the loss of that person, while sad, isn’t world ending.  When something like this happens, and the world is captivated by the loss, the lingering public discourse always hurts me.  I can’t bring myself to click on the articles.  I don’t want to know the gory details, hear what the talking heads think, see the Top 10 Lists of best movie roles, their 14 best Golden Globe outfits, etc etc etc.  The truth is, this was a person.  They have friends.  A family.  Children.  And I can’t imagine losing someone I love desperately, and having to hear the rest of the world discuss them over the water cooler.

The same thing happens at our nation’s major tragedies.  I hate to see the reporters swarming a school shooting.  I refuse to read the profiles of the shooters.  I just don’t want to know.  Why?  Because in my mind, this person’s motivation was to become known.  They want the world to know their name.  To be captivated by their actions, their monstrosities.  When I refuse to click on the link, I refuse to reward the acts of terror.  We have to face it.  We have a celebrity culture.  We are watching the glitterati 24 hours a day.  In our country, to be important is to be famous.  To know about the comings and goings of the famous gives us something in common, something to talk about.  A seat at the table.

But here is the problem with that… we don’t actually have that in common.  We are just outsiders, looking in on someone else’s life, someone else’s tragedy.  The heartbreak of the people on the news is not ours to carry.  We can’t bring them a meal, show up at the wake, sit with them while they cry… we aren’t a part of their life.  We are just gawking at them from the other side of the screen.

In a way, I believe that the best ministry we can have to those people is privacy.  Give them the space and the room to mourn.  Show support and empathy, but hold the spectacle.  Stop the discourse.  This tragedy isn’t an issue, it’s a life.  A person.  A person in pain- not that uncommon.  We spend our lives surrounded by hurting people.  People whose lives we can impact.  Stories we can carry with us.  These are the people that need our presence, our ministry, our attention.  Have an opinion on depression?  Suicide?  How much time have you spent walking alongside someone who has been depressed?  Sat with people who have been robbed of loved ones by suicide?  These people are yours to carry.  Engage with them, engage with your world.  Instead of blogging, commenting, or tweeting about these issues, it’s time for us to get our hands dirty.  To invite our neighbors, friends, and coworkers into our lives and communities, and to do life with those in pain.  We can talk about suicide until we are blue in the face, but no amount of awareness, no pithy statement is going to stop this epidemic.  That hope lies within the context of relationship; it lies in face to face conversations; meals spent together; loving faces to witness the darkness of the pit.

That’s how Jesus did his ministry- not in public announcements, press releases, or blog posts (parchment posts?) but in living life with a group of people.  The disciples lives were transformed during nights around the campfire, fish roasting on a spit.  Jesus was deeply involved his people, and those people in turn, transformed the world.  It’s easier to stand at a distance and voice our opinions… but the reality is that nothing changes this way.  Dive in… engage… be present. Be with the people you are with, not the people you watch from afar.

Flipping the Switch

So… relationships can be hard for me.  It takes me a long time to warm up to people, and really let them in.   I will let pretty much anyone know facts about my life, but to see the real emotion and vulnerability behind those facts, that takes time.  Time measured in months and years, not minutes.  This is not something I particularly like about my personality, but I don’t know how to change itswitch.

I’ve been hurt by friends over the years, and it has caused me to develop a coping mechanism I call ‘flipping the switch.’  If I perceive that a friend is checking out of the relationship, or that I am bothering them, I’m gone.  I emotionally flip the switch.  I’m still nice, present, pleasant… the friend may not even notice the difference.  But I do.  I’m out.  This is NOT how Christ calls me to live.  I think about Judas, at the Last Supper, in the days and months before that.  Jesus still allows him to be one of his circle.  He still invites him to the table.  Judas hears the same words, feels the same blessing as the others, even though Jesus knows what he will do.  Let’s be honest, no slight or hurt from my friends can compare to being sent to your death on the testimony of on of your best buddies.

Flipping the switch may keep me safe, but it also keeps me alone.  I am not practicing hospitality, not investing in community, when I intentionally hold myself back from a friendship.  I have noticed another thing too- if I know a relationship is time limited, I never even consider investing in it.  If I know a friend is moving away, leaving my bubble, or in my life for just a season, I don’t want to let them into my inner world.  I don’t want to risk the inevitable hurt and heartache of goodbye.  So instead, I cheat myself out of a chance to be known, to truly know someone else.  All because I am afraid of the goodbye.  This, I am certain, is not what God wants.  This is my hidden sin.  Because here is the truth: we cannot be held accountable unless we allow people to see us.  See the real us, our hearts, our hopes, and our faults.

A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need Proverbs 17:17

I think that when God calls us to live a life of hospitality, he is asking us to let people in, not only to our homes and our lives, but to our hearts.  For our good, and for theirs.  We must risk pain, risk rejection, risk loss, in order to gain the companionship and the accountability we need.  When I feel the knee jerk impulse to check out of a friendship, I need to notice.  To examine the situation.  To fight it, and to lean in deeper.

But how do you do that?  How do you keep the switch from flipping?