The Bible in 2 Sentences

lydiaLast August on our family beach trip, I had a moment.  My daughter was playing with me on the bed, and she started paging through the Bible.  She was absorbed in her project, and, as most two year olds do, she was providing a running narrative of every thought that ran through her head.  As she was playing, she began ‘reading’ the Bible.

Page after page, she was reading the same two sentences over and over…

But I’m scared!
You must trust the Lord.

Over and over, page after page, the same two sentences.  She probably said it twenty times. But I’m scared! You must trust the Lord… But I’m scared! You must trust the Lord… But I’m scared! You must trust the Lord… scared… trust… scared… trust.  But.. trust.  

And that’s when it hit me.  This is the Bible, in it’s most simplistic form.  Yes- there are many theological truths missing from these two statements.  True- there is no Jesus there.  But implicit in these two statements is the crux of my daily walk with God.  The essential struggle between my doubts and God’s goodness.  My stubborn need to see the future, to know the way out, and God’s good plan for my life.

Now.  Before you pop a halo on my child and begin to think about how ‘the kingdom ofno-no-noah heaven belongs to such as these,’ know that she was basically quoting the monkey from her favorite book No, No Noah.  God works in mysterious ways.  And I have read her that book approximately 3,942 times.

However.  As I continue to read scripture, I am realizing the full extent to which these two sentences capture the essence of mankind’s story arc with God.  The Garden.  Abraham and Sarah.  The 40 Years in the Desert.  The Judges. Ruth.  The Prophets.  Esther. And that’s just the Old Testament.

In Joshua chapter 1, God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous four times in a row.  The future is unclear.  Real, bodily harm is a distinct possibility.  There is much room for fear and anxiety, and yet God’s message is clear.  You must trust the Lord.

Fear versus trust is hands down one of the most dominant themes of my life.  It feels as if I slam into this choice countless times per day.  Just this morning, I sent my husband out at 7 AM to stand in line to register our 3 year old for preschool.  My fear of not getting my daughter into the program our family felt like was best for us was undermining my trust in God’s good plan for us.

She got in.

I have the best husband on the planet.

God is good.

But even if she hadn’t gotten a spot at the school, is God not still good?  I think a lot of times we struggle with seeing God as a bearded fairy godmother- one primarily consumed with making sure life is easy and light.  Yet, do we not grow more as humans when faced with adversity?  When challenged to confront our ideas for what we want and then intentionally step outside the box?

Each day, over and over, I live out the liturgy of my daughter’s scripture reading…

But I’m scared!
You must trust the Lord.

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When love and judgment meet

So – like most of you, I have had a ground-level view of 2017-era America. In fact, I have been paying particularly close attention… Say what you want, but it’s not pretty y’all. 

The public discourse in the media, on Facebook, even in the legislature sounds like the backseat of my car when my two preschoolers are hangry. (i.e. what my car sounds like on my way home from work every. single. day. ) 

People are upset. Opinions are flying. And my brothers and sisters in Christ, myself included, aren’t holding back. And even though I have feelings (FEELINGS) about what is going on, the thing that bothers me the most is that I don’t believe that any of this is how Jesus would handle this. Christ saw his fair share of controversy. Of corrupt government. Of abhorrent behavior and outright racism. And yet each person he met seemed singular in his attention. Not stereotyped into groups. Not categorized by race or color or orientation or belief. Each person was precious and worthy of his full attention. 

And if that’s just not what I am seeing today. In fact, to confess, that’s just not how I am behaving today. 

So here goes… 

to my brothers and sisters of color, God loves you. Deeply. He created you to be exactly who you are intentionally and joyfully. (Ps. 139) his active desire for this world is to see love and justice roll like water, to break down barriers, to see his children sit together and peace, love, and equality.  Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

to my precious fellow children of God who are immigrants, refugees, strangers in a strange land, God loves you. Jesus himself was a refugee. His people wandered for centuries in a land that was not their home. God has a heart for setting the lonely in families. (Ps. 68) he wants to shelter you under the feathers of his wings. (Ps. 91)  Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

To my beloved family members who LBGTQ, questioning, or somewhere in between, God loves you. You are made in the image of the Most High God, and that God defines himself as Love. Your ability to love and the love you give and receive to the world is a reflection of His nature.  His thoughts for you outnumber the grains of sand on the seashore. (Ps 139) God rejoices over you with singing (Zeph 3). Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

To my dear siblings who feel marginalized, silenced, overlooked, God loves you. You are not forgotten, you are not abandoned. God perceives your thoughts from afar. (Ps 139) He knows your days, he says that to Him, you are a priceless treasure. (1 Pet. 2) remember – it was to you the angel armies appeared to announce the coming of our Savior. 

And to my fellow believers, my spiritual family, I pray that you know deep in your bones how wildly loved you are. 

-But-

I hope that you also remember that none of us, not one, are righteous. That if we were able to measure up to God’s standard on our own accord, there would have been no need for Christ to come and die. I hope that you remember your own awakening to this kingdom of faith, and realize that it was the voice of love, and not the voice of condemnation or fear, that drew you in. It is my conviction that the Kingdom of God would be much more close at hand if we His children encountered the world with an attitude of radical love, not condemnation.

Yes, I agree, sin is sin. Yet it seems lately more convenient to concern ourselves with the specks in the eyes of others. What planks hinder our vision today? Could it be that our preoccupation with legislating morality is actually hurting the kingdom cause? 

Jesus showed outright love and compassion to those the world condemned. The adulterous. The woman at the well. Zacchaeus. The thieves on the cross. He reserved his condemnation for the Pharisees, the moneychangers in the temple. Those who benefited from his grace yet did not extend said grace to others. 

I will admit – I have no answers. I do not actually know what Jesus would do if he lived in America today. But I have read the Bible. A few times. And much more than a rulebook, the Bible is a love story. And in this book, we are not the mighty hero. We are in the damsel in distress. Needing a rescue. Drowning in a flood of our own making. The thought of which reminds me to end with this: to my fellow Christians…

Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

Are you a real person? Am I? What about them? 

True fact. I have birthed two babies in the last five years. Which means, in the last five years I have gained and lost 50 pounds. Twice. I have been all the sizes. All of them. I may never have been skinny, but I have certainly been fat.

My friend, who has been in the same situation, remarked yesterday that she was shocked at how differently people treat her now that she has lost the baby weight as opposed to before. She recently took a flight for a work related trip. She couldn’t believe how different way she was treated this time than she was a few months – and several pounds – ago. 

I have had the same experience. When I weighed more, I received less eye contact. People didn’t hold the door open for me or smile for me nearly as much. It could be argued that this was just my perception, since I felt more insecure about myself, but the difference is so marked that I am convinced it goes beyond that. 

And what’s more, I am convinced that this is not just an experience of people that struggle with weight. Watching and listening to the national discourse over the last few months, I truly believe that different people have different experience in this world. And let me say right now that this is not a political blog. I’m not pushing a feminist or leftist worldview here. However, I do want to make an appeal to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This is not right.

I don’t care how you feel about federal funding, immigration, abortion, politics. (Or perhaps I do, but not in this blog). What I do care about is how we as Christ’s image bearers treat our fellow man. 

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. 

John 13:35

The story of the New Testament is one of a struggle for identity in the new church. There was a constant debate going on about who is on the inside and who was on the outside. Jews versus Gentiles. Circumcised versus uncircumcised. The rights of women. Who is allowed at the Lord’s supper. Which widows and orphans are allowed support by the church. And again and again the same answer prevailed. All are welcome. We are all sinners, all redeemed by grace. Through the blood of Christ, we all are equal.

It is the habit of our fallen nature to discriminate. To decide who is like us, who is acceptable, who is worthy of notice, of compassion, of kindness. But Jesus made a business of reaching out to those not universally accepted. The Gentile, the adulterous, the woman, the child, the tax collector, the day laborers, the uneducated. People whose stature in society was low. People who did not get doors held open for them, or eye contact, or friendly words from strangers.

And we as Christians are called to follow that example. Which has convicted me lately – what are my unconscious biases?

Last week I was walking downtown on my way back from lunch when I saw an elderly African-American gentleman stumbling in front of me. His appearance was disheveled. Instinctively I tightened my grip on my purse and looked around me. But then, I checked myself. This man was not drunk. He was not interacting with anybody on the street. He was elderly, poor, and disabled. And my first inclination was not to offer aid, assistance, or compassion. It was to guard against him. I stood convicted by the Holy Spirit.  

And it has forced me to ask myself: what do I think when I approach someone on the street who looks or seems different than me? How do I treat people who live different lives than the one I am used to? I am not saying in a larger sense, but in the common everyday mercies I extend to others. Am I more annoyed by someone who cuts me off in traffic if they look different than me? Am I more likely to greet somebody at the grocery store if they are young and able bodied versus old and slow when pushing the cart? In what small ways can I extend love and grace to people who may not speak my language, who may not live in my neighborhood or who may not know my Jesus?

Before we can change the world, I think we have to take a long hard look at ourselves, to confront the unconscious biases we hold, and to actively seek to love our fellow (wo)man, all of them. 

And for me (perhaps getting a little bit political here) I have felt an overwhelming conviction that I need to listen. To stop protesting that I am not a racist or sexist or a nationalist or a whatever -ist, and listen to see what the every day realities of people who are not me may be. I have been shocked. I have been humbled. I have been convicted. I have been encouraged. But mostly, I have seen that what I thought was reality is not the every day experience of people all around me. Which has led me to think and pray about how Christ would feel about this. How Christ would react to these stories. And how I as a Christ follower should also be.

No answers yet. Just more listening. And praying.

What art teaches me about God, part two

So here’s the thing, there are different types of artists, just like there are different types of people. There are many successful artists who sit down and plan things out before they ever put the brush to the canvas. There are authors who write outlines before they type a single word of their story. Epic masterpieces are crafted painstakingly, one precious detail at a time.

That’s amazing. I am not that kind of artist. Usually, when I sit down with a new project, I have no earthly idea where the process is going to take me. Typically (hopefully) I have some sort of color scheme, medium, or format in mind. But that is about it. 

My approach to art, just like my approach to life, usually involves launching myself off the cliff and hoping to swan dive instead of bellyflop. Which one is free to do when your goal is the process and not the end result. Often times, I’m satisfied if I just end up with a decent looking cannonball. 

It is always an option to paint over canvas. To crumple up a sketch and pitch it in the trashcan.  To highlight an entire blog post and simply hit delete. It seems like a waste of time and effort. 

But what if your goal is the act of doing and not the end result? 

Then was it wasted effort?

When I am making something, I often feel discouraged. In the times when I feel like I’m not getting anywhere, I force myself to ask some questions:  

In the process of doing this, did I learn anything? Did I try anything new? Was there something I hated? Something I want to try to do differently next time? Am I any closer to figuring out what I am hoping the end product will be?  

Sometimes I force myself to press through and finish the piece I want to abandon. Usually, at the end, I still hate it. But sometimes I don’t. 

I wish, I WISH, that this attitude came as naturally to me when it came to living my life. Why is it that we’re all programmed to believe that life is supposed to be about achieving goals, instead of working towards them? Why do we always believe that our problems will magically disappear once (fill in the blank) happens?

 I always find it disconcerting when I achieve something I’ve really been working towards and then I realize that the next day is Thursday. Just another day. The world keeps spinning, life doesn’t stop. I did something – I achieved something great. But time still marches on. 

I’ll never forget the day I left the hospital with my newborn daughter. I felt like there should be a parade in front of us as we took her home. Sitting at a stoplight, I looked at the cars next to me and expected to see them giving me goofy grins and thumbs up. But, I quickly realized that for those drivers, this was just a Friday morning. They were talking on their phones, putting on mascara, eating egg McMuffin’s. 

Didn’t they realize that this was a banner day? Didn’t they understand that things would never be the same?
Of course they didn’t. Because it was truly, just a Friday. And our life is a succession of Fridays. We live life focused so intensely looking forward to our goals that we forget that the majority of our time is spent in the in between. That waiting is how we spend most of our lives. And that that waiting, the process of getting there, has value. God did not create us to have a handful of magical moments surrounded by acres of empty time. 

In fact most of our growth, spiritual and otherwise, happens in the in between. It is then that we learn to work. That we are forced to try new things and to look at the world in different ways. It is in the waiting that we have no choice but to rely on God. To see that the trajectory of our lives isn’t as much in our control as we would like to believe. This is when we grow. This is when we are formed into Christ’s likeness. 

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up.”

2 Corinthians 3:18-4:1

And if we swing and miss in life, if we fail, that can be just as valuable. What if I asked myself the same questions and times of discouragement as I do when I feel stuck and the artistic process?

In the process of doing this, did I learn anything? Did I try anything new? Was there something I hated? Something I want to try to do differently next time? Am I any closer to figuring out what I am hoping the end product will be?  

Not Scary- FUN!

My two year old daughter is terrified of all things that make noise.   Anything can send her into hysterics- the garbage disposal, the bathroom fan, the ice machine on the fridge, half of the toys she owns…

In order to contain the terror, my husband and I have a phrase we keep repeating whenever she is screaming in terror… not scary- FUN!  She dutifully repeats this back to us- not scary… fun… This pattern has repeated itself over and over often enough that now, whenever she hears a loud noise, she comes sprinting towards us, hysterically half-laughing, half-crying, screaming NOT SCARY- FUN at the top of her lungs.  Other times, she buries her head in my shoulder, weeping, repeating not scary- fun.  Sometimes I wonder what kind of psychological damage we are inflicting upon her young mind.

Then I shrug, and turn back on the hair dryer.

not scary- fun

I may not be afraid of household appliances (with the exception to the vacuum cleaner) but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that send me into hysterical fits.  Things like walking into a room of people I only know marginally well, and being expected to socialize.  Buying airplane tickets.  Making decisions that will affect other people. Leaning in and engaging in conflict.  Adulting in general.

There is so much about living life as a human that feels terrifying and unpredictable.  The stakes can feel so high.  Decisions, even tiny ones, can have huge consequences.  If you allow yourself to feel truly alone in the midst of this, the weight can be crushing.

I cannot count the times in my life that I wanted to run and bury my head in someone’s shoulder, to be held and reassured.  But we are all trying too hard to seem confident and put together to allow ourselves to do this.

Today, I was reflecting on some of my life mottoes- quotes and phrases that stick with me. and I noticed a common theme:

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every situation where you really stop to look fear in the face.  You are able to say to yourself, I have lived through this horror.  I can take the next thing that comes along.  You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
-Eleanor Roosevelt

Fake it ’til you make it.

Here is the World.
Beautiful and Terrible Things will Happen.
Don’t be Afraid.
-Fredrich Buechner

Yoga Pants.
Messy Bun.
Coffee’s Brewing.
Get it Done.

When I stop to think about it, all of these quotes lead towards the central truth in one of my favorite passages of scripture…

You have not been given a spirit of timidity and fear, but one of power, love, and self control.
2 Timothy 1:7

The spirit in you, it is created in the image of God.  We live our lives in full view of the loving eyes of our Savior.  Every day is written in his book.  Every tear is collected in his bottle.  There is nothing that can hide us, remove us, or exclude us from His love.

We feel timid, we feel fearful, but this is not who we are.  We are immortal souls, who have one shot at this life we have been given.  It’s a divine opportunity to do our best, to give our all.  To love big, fail big, and learn and to stretch our wings.  The Spirit that is in us is greater than the spirit that is in the world.

Who would you be, if you were freed from the spirit of fear that is holding you captive?  What would you do, if you were unleashed to be the person you truly are on the inside?  How would the world change if we gave ourselves permission to really try?  Perhaps then, the words would ring true…

Not scary- FUN!