Thursday, July 7, 2016

Made for Love

Another arbitrary return from my blogging hiatus here, with a post I actually wrote for my church a few months back-- right before giving birth. I've thought of it multiple times since then, and may emerge with a postpartum version one of these days (depending on how much sleep, caffeine, and free hands are in my immediate future). Until then, know here is my experience of motherhood so far, in a nutshell: 


When I first began “showing” in my pregnancy, I struggled to adjust to the fact that my body was undeniably expanding. Looking in the mirror at times I felt that I did not recognize myself; that my body was being taken over by someone else (of course, it was!). Now as I approach childbirth, similar anxieties about what will happen to my body have surfaced. It surely is a great privilege to partner with God in bringing life into the world, but it is not one without pain.
Bringing these thoughts and feelings to church week after week, I’ve been invited to gaze upon the Cross of Christ which hangs high in our sanctuary. There I have been reminded that He, too, experienced the pain of self-giving as He bled for us. He, too, gave his body for love. Jesus was not a mother, but He has become my example: “this is my body, broken for you.”
In becoming flesh, Jesus Christ dignified the human body beyond comprehension.  And then, through simple acts—touching lepers, blessing children, washing feet, carrying a cross— He showed us exactly what the human body is for. It is not for maintaining perfection or for self-promotion, but rather for giving. The body is made for love.
If you happen to find yourself in a church sometime soon, gaze upon the Cross and remember the One who gave His body for you. He did not turn away from the pain that it required to bring you life. And whether you are a mother, a father, a friend, a spouse, a child, a brother or sister, ask of Him, our great example, what it means for you to follow in His footsteps. How is He calling you to give yourself, body and soul, for the sake of love? It might be uncomfortable or even painful at times. But it is what you were created for.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

My Two Kinds of Christmas

Christmas, like most major holidays I suppose, is a weird time. It’s weird because it accentuates the joy of some and the pain of others. Some of our newsfeeds are overflowing with cuteness, images and announcements of the love and meaning that fills our lives. Others of us hide from all the public displays of merriment because they only serve to highlight the pain we feel about the loss or lack of those things in our own.  

I feel this awkward tension of truth perhaps because I have belonged to both categories of people. As a child when my father was terminally ill and eventually lost, the warmth and seeming wholeness of the Christmas season felt like salt in a wound.  And tonight, as I look at the tiny stocking hanging between mine and my husband’s, I thank God for his abundance but also am reminded of the countless men, women, and children whose own families have been taken from them.

Sometimes I wonder, “Which experience is more true? More in touch with reality, able to connect me more fully to the riches of Christmas?” Tonight I realized that the answer is both. Both our seasons of abundance and fullness—and our seasons of pain and isolation—belong to and are crucial in understanding the depth of the Christmas story: Jesus did enter the world in a loving family. His parents embraced him from the moment of his birth. Their reality was one of togetherness, love, and community. So when we experience glimpses of that ourselves, it’s a reminder of how things ought to be.

And yet, Jesus entered this loving family so that others could be brought in. His whole purpose in taking on flesh wasn’t to live his own version of the American (Israeli?) dream, but to seek out those who’d been abandoned, betrayed, who’d run away, who can’t find their way Home. He became a son for the sake of the orphan. 

If your Christmas experience this year is laced with pain, know that Jesus came for you. He came to heal what is broken, to fill what is empty, to restore what has been taken. He came so that you might no longer feel like an outsider, but be brought into the Family. And if your Christmas experience this year is full of warmth and togetherness and wholeness, know that Jesus calls you to do as He did, and give it all away. Open the doors of your home and invite others in. Share what you have been given rather than hoard it for yourself. Incarnate the love of the One whose Family is constituted not by biology or law, but by Love.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Seasons of Love

I interrupt this blog hiatus (Temporarily? Permanently? Time will tell) with an important announcement: I am pregnant.

We were surprised in late August to discover this fact since we had not been “trying.” In fact, full disclosure here, it took a while for me to adjust to the news. What would this mean for our work, which we were just starting to figure out? What would this mean for our finances, our time together as a couple, our ability to sleep at night for the next two years? What was this going to do to my body? All the things I claimed to hold loosely were suddenly being revealed as more precious to me than the very life of another human being.

Why do I share this? Because it is the real context in which God has begun to teach me more about love. Not as an idea that sounds nice on paper, or a recreational activity that I can fit into my calendar, but as the primary call He has placed on my life. God calls me to welcome and love each person He puts in my path, whether or not it’s convenient, whether or not I feel “ready” to sign up for it, whether or not it will change everything. 

What I am learning is that is not just about children. This is the basic call of the Christian life—a pattern of self-giving that is modeled not after a family full of kids but a celibate man who hung on a Cross.  The man Jesus who, on the night He was handed over to suffering and death, took bread and broke it and said, “this is my body, given for you.”

For whatever reason in this season, God has chosen to teach me about this Love through the gift of a child. It is one way that He is helping me to understand more fully what it meant for Him to give Himself for my life and what it means for me to follow in His footsteps and give of myself for the life of others—whether that be a child in my womb or a neighbor across the street or a nameless refugee on the other side of the world.

How is God is calling you to love in this season? Whatever it is, don’t be afraid. Receive it as a gift and let Him expand your heart accordingly. It will hurt. It will change everything. And it will be worth it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

For the Life of the World

I'm about ten pages away from finishing a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It's the story of a German pastor who opposed Nazism during the Second World War and lost his life for the sake of defending the gospel-- which to him, included defending the dignity of the Jewish people.

There are a number of posts I could write about my reaction to this story, but the one that has turned around in my mind over and over has to do with the way Bonhoeffer understood ethics, or the moral call of every Christian. Essentially, he said that Christians aren't called to be nice, "moral" people in the sense of abstaining from sinful activities or association with bad people. Rather, he saw the Christian life as one of dangerous action for the sake of good-- even if it meant making a mistake, being wrong, or getting killed in the process:

"It depends on a God who demands responsible action in a bold venture of faith," he wrote, "and who promises forgiveness and consolation to the man who becomes a sinner in that venture." The biographer summarizes this sentiment by saying that for Bonhoeffer, "The Christian life had nothing to do with avoiding sin or with merely talking or teaching or believing theological notions or principles or rules or did not merely require a mind, but a body too." 

I think a lot of us who grew up in the church missed this somehow. We learned the "rules," the do's and don'ts of "moral living," and somehow internalized the notion that to "be good" is to avoid anything and everything "bad." So we became sterile, hiding in our enclaves of purity to avoid the stain of the world. And we became self-obsessed, so focused on our own sin and how much of it there was that we forgot to look around at those in need.

Bonhoeffer said, "Such people neither steal, nor murder, nor commit adultery, but do good according to their abilities. But...they must close their eyes and ears to the injustice around them. Only at the cost of self-deception can they keep their private blamelessness clean from the stain of responsible action in the world."

It's not that having a consciousness of sin is wrong. We should be concerned with personal purity. But when the main symbol of our ethics is a fence-- a boundary which exists to keep something out-- we are focusing on the wrong thing. Rather, our symbol for ethics should be a vector-- a God-directed arrow that moves us to 'responsible action' out of love for the world, whatever the cost may be. 

This is what enraged Bonhoeffer in his day. Many "good church people" disagreed with Hitler and thought Nazism and its genocide were wrong, but didn't want to get their hands dirty about it one way or another. So they just stood by while millions were murdered. But "mere waiting and looking on," Bonhoeffer said, "is not Christian behavior." 

If there's one thing that has revolutionized my own understanding of the Christian message, it is this. Jesus didn't come primarily to rescue people out of the world with its evil, its genocide, its racism, its brokenness. He came to redeem that world and everything in it. He got his own hands dirty doing it-- so much so that he was accused of blasphemy and crucified. And as His followers, our job is not to retreat from the mess in the interest of keeping ourselves clean, but to be on the front lines of the gore in the interest of those who are suffering. Even if it means we get our hands dirty. Even if it means we get crucified. 

Lord Jesus Christ, who in your perfect purity didn't avoid sin but who raged headfirst into it for our sake, would you so remake us in your image that we  take up our crosses and do the same, for the life of the world. Amen.    

Saturday, May 16, 2015


About a month ago, a priest from our church and I went to a nursing home to share Communion and prayer with the residents there. It started with a worship service, which was smaller than usual on this day because many of the residents had come down with an infection and were quarantined on their floors. Those who did join us for worship were quiet.

During the service I spoke from Ezekiel 37-- a crazy story about a valley full of dry bones that the prophet sees God raise to a veritable army of new life. I talked about how reading this story again during the season of Easter makes sense of it, because Easter shows us how the story ends: 

"This story from Ezekiel is about God bringing the dead to life. At this point in their history, Israel felt hopeless. v. 11 says, “our bones are dried up, our hope is lost. We are cut off.” So God demonstrates his power and his love by giving Ezekiel a prophetic vision of these dry bones, being put back together again and restored to living, breathing creatures. It’s as if God is saying to Israel, no matter how hopeless things seem, no matter how dead you feel, God can breathe new life in you. He can do the impossible. 

Easter, too, is a story about God bringing the dead to life, is it not? It is the fulfillment of Ezekiel's vision; the historical resurrection of the man Jesus Christ-- Jesus who willingly went to the Cross to pay for our sins, who gave Himself over to death for our sake. And after three days in the tomb, God did the impossible; He raised Jesus to new life. And we celebrate Easter b/c this new life isn’t just for Jesus, but it’s for all who trust in Him. When we put our hope in the risen Messiah, we become united with Him in such a way that we too partake in this new creation, this resurrection life that He won. In Christ, we become the resurrected bones Ezekiel foresaw.

As I spoke these words, I looked at my fellow worshipers and wondered what this means for us, a collection of broken bodies gathered around a tiny Communion Table in a nursing home lobby. 

"Now what does that look like for us here today? First of all it means we can expect to experience new life now. Jesus is raised and we’ve been united with Him, which means we can enjoy renewal today. So I ask you, where in your life do you feel like the Israelites here? “Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost. We are cut off.” Jesus wants to bring healing to those very places. He wants to breathe new life into you, body and soul. So Easter gives us hope for today. 

And yet, we all know that healing in the here and now is incomplete, it’s temporary. We do experience emotional and spiritual renewal as we turn to Christ, we do taste physical healing as He pours out His mercy, but we won’t experience the fullness of it until we see Him face to face. And so today, our Easter hope also points us forward, to the day when Jesus Christ returns. On that day, new creation will be complete and our very bodies will be raised to perfection just as Christ Himself. The New Testament says that He is the first fruit of the Resurrection, which means we’re next. Us and all those who have gone before us, who are now asleep in Christ. On that day, the pain of our separation from them will be a distant memory and the whole creation will be caught up in this new life, breathed out by the power and love of God."

Easter is a story about God bringing the dead to life. It’s a true story, it applies to you and me, and it gives us hope for today and hope for eternity." 

I looked out at my fellow worshipers and was humbled to speak to them of truths they know far better than I do. They who have been walking with the Lord for longer than I've been on this earth know well the reality of new life; their stories of His faithfulness spans decades and generations. And they whose bodies are now frail and failing, who've seen not just one or two but many loved ones taken by death, know far more about the longing for resurrection that awaits.  

About a month ago, I was humbled to be the teacher who is being taught. Today I pray that this will always be so. 


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Old Wounds, New Story

For whatever reason, the last few months and weeks have been particularly emotional for me as I process old wounds in a new place. The facts of my nuclear family and personal history are unchanged; and yet, I am not. The losses I endured as a child are "old news," and yet I am processing them in a new context, as a new person, with new relationships. God has peeled back another layer of the onion as it were, and suddenly my soul is raw again. 

One specific narrative that has been unearthed is that of "Kid Sister." Dad is the Source of all Awesomeness, Brother is the natural heir of said awesomeness, and I-- am the Kid Sister. The Tag Along. In the backseat. Trying to be included, noticed, awesome. This is not the stuff of abuse or a story of neglect, but simply the confused interpretation of an eight year old girl in an ordinary family. And yet this childhood story mingled with cancer and death and some other things has in some ways morphed into a powerful narrative that essentially says, "you're not enough." 

It's never a convenient time to be emotional, to feel broken. But being so during Holy Week-- the week leading up to Easter-- has been appropriate. Because it's invited me to take my personal family baggage to the Family of God and to look at the Cross where it was paid for. It's allowed me to walk with Jesus as it were to His death and understand that even this new layer of pain that He has unearthed is being prepared for resurrection. And most poignantly, it's presented to me a different narrative, a new narrative, to subsume the old. 

What I mean is this. My pain comes from a father whose attention I craved and a brother who I feel received it to my neglect. And yet the story of Easter is all about a Father and Son who loved me so much that they gave everything in order to bring me along. Jesus Christ shed His own blood in order that I, too might be called a child of God. And not just a child, but a Son-- an heir to everything that belongs to God. Equal status with the Firstborn. Equal delight in the eyes of the Father.

The story of Easter is one that gives me a new story, a new life, a new nuclear Family. It doesn't erase the old or change the facts of history. But it does bring healing. And from that place of healing, I can embrace even the most painful aspects of the past without being mastered by them. 

What are the stories that you bring to Easter? How might the gospel reshape them? 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"Adventure is Out There!"

When I was little, I dreamt of living in Africa. I felt called to give my life away, to spend myself in love for Jesus and this world He loves. I wanted to follow Him to the place where pain and beauty meet, where His passion comes to life in my daily reality. And in my childhood imagination, such a calling happened “out there.” The other, the exotic, the unknown was where I felt I must be if I were to lay hold of this adventure of love.

When I was little, the thought of working in "a regular old church" would have depressed me. But today, I have a different perspective. I have a different perspective because week after week I see the kids who fidget in the pews and the gray-haired saints who raise their hands during worship and I realize the beauty of a place that holds together the energy of new life and the wisdom of the ages; I see the marriages that have been saved through the tears and prayers of the saints and realize there’s a Power here that accomplishes the impossible; I look at my new friends who've come to know Jesus in the last year, bold in their new belonging and I realize the glory of a family table that will never run out of room.

Today I have a different perspective because week after week I realize, adventure is here: in the real, messy, ordinary life of the local church. The chance to give my life away is here: in the raising of a child, the counsel of a friend, the serving of a neighbor, the comfort of a widow. Pain and beauty meet here: in the joy of a baptism and the grief of a funeral. And daily, His passion is here: in the faces, the stories, the lives of these precious, ordinary people.

I dreamt of Africa, which is a good place to be. But God gave me a parish— and I’m so thankful He did.