A Visceral God

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Like when you sit in front of a fire in winter — you are just there in front of the fire. You don’t have to be smart or anything. The fire warms you.  -Desmond Tutu

I studied biology in college. I thought I wanted to be a high school teacher. My first class in education requiring I observe a local classroom informed me being a teacher was not a good idea. I continued in the biology path, obtaining a Bachelor’s degree, eventually making my way to grad school for a masters degree in nutrition.

I don’t think my education path was suitable for this new person I have become. That life, twenty years ago, those choices were built on evidence, science, concrete. Testable. Palpable. Provable.

My faith was the same. Scripture was clear. Black and white, good and bad, right and wrong. Choose well, ask for incessant forgiveness – just in case, pray before all meals, carve out an hour at the dawn of day, carve out an hour before bed while trying in desperation to stay awake (always failed), make sure all things reflect the glory of God: food, body, weight, relationships, spending, parenting, marriage, recycling, music, television watching, voting. These actions, all, insured my safety and safe keeping, my attainment of eternal life guaranteed by my goodness and my invitation of Jesus. I strived, I proved, I failed.

I didn’t know love. I couldn’t know grace. Mercy toward myself and others an impossibility.

I could not understand a god that that didn’t require my sacrifice. I couldn’t understand a god that didn’t require my self-scourging. I couldn’t understand a God of generosity and mercy, devoid of condemnation, abounding in compassion…for me. The god I followed was wrath and revenge and waiting to pounce for the slightest infraction. My god kept track, tallying the number of efforts praying the prayer, repenting of my horrible sin, reflecting and renewing upon my commitments time and time again, fear ruling. My god forced me awake at night recounting shortcomings and failures. My god tripped me and tested, like a bootcamp solider before sun-up.

My physical body suffered, I ate copious amounts to relieve the pressure from perceived failure. I attended church without fail to appease this god. I journaled and prayed and evangelized and volunteered to earn my keep. My goal, a someday, far-off Heaven. Maybe I would be chosen, maybe God would say, Well done.

Over the years I have shed this god of judgment and revenge. My story is now written and read in the prose of grace and kindness, justice and mercy, hope and redemption. My imperfections draw me nearer to my God, my surrender provides the avenue for grace, my divided heart allows invitation, my idols and substitutes, revealed. My mind once filled with racing thoughts over my salvation, allows for rest and help, relief and renewal.

Like a diviner hunting for water, my body recognizes love. My body knows the truth, my body tells me what I need to know. My head and reason follow much later, waking me early, inviting pen and paper to sort and sift, to lament and question. My gut is where the Spirit dwells, informing my digestion and heart rate before my head can understand.

I am a Christian. I choose Christ. I choose a life attuned to Jesus’s work in the world around me. In claiming the word Christian, I guarantee the ease of my life is gone, my comfort is a gift, not an entitlement. As a “little Christ” my responsibility is to look like Jesus, to taste like Him, to care about what He cares about. The cross of Christ is a daily choice, somedays I make the choice and others I don’t.

Love is our choice. The work of Christ is Love. Love is not linear, nor is it clear. Love lives in the body, in mine and in yours. Love goes before, through and around, identifiable, true. Love is not defined or measured. Sometimes you will not agree with my definition of love, and I won’t with yours.

While vague, true love does hold one defining quality – love and fear do not, cannot coexist. Someone invoking fear cannot be motivated by love. When fear is evident in my body, love cannot move through me. When I am terrified, I am incapable of surrendering to empathy, to compassion, to mercy. Fear of the “other” cannot be in love.

Love leads in ways our heads cannot make sense. Love leads to dumb and impractical. Love leads us to see people, challenging assumptions and stereotypes. Love does the heavy lifting of dismantling systems that oppress. Love says, I’ll take less so you can have more. Love dies on crosses for people who deserve nothing. Love wears whipped stripes and oozed puss, hatred and spit. Love drives nails into one’s own hands and feet to bear the pain for another. Love spears our sides to release the separated blood of the One who scapegoats off with our pain, stench, shame, the greed and pride of our self-righteousness and superiority.

Living a life of love guarantees not a life of comfort and privilege. Living a life of love holds and lifts up another, while bearing the weight, knees buckling, tired and worn. I choose this life, most of the time, for this just might be my salvation from a certain life of self-importance.

The Defiance of Your Beauty

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Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.  -Joss Whedon

A week at our cabin, always an experience of simultaneous rest and wrestling. I aim to sit still, to be, to honor the place and notice the beauty. I confront the voices that push for productive and busy and noteworthy, while beholding the chorus of birdsong. The gentle swish of deer traipse through the yard, narrowly missing the detritus of bicycles, rafts, chairs and drying clothes. Rabbits scurry, golden doodles gallop, mosquitoes buzz, hummingbirds hover, nests get built. Dappled light punctuates the forest floor, the treed canopy offering relief from the sun’s oft-oppressive gaze. The river’s rush, consistent background noise with an occasional hoot and holler from rafters

Nature unfolds before my eyes, on hyperdrive for the shrinking summer season. My senses overtaken by the beauty of creation. I am uncomfortable, wondering with the hurt in our world, if I am avoiding the truth and heft of injustice by enjoying and filling myself, by resting and renewing.

Weighted by the nonsensical violence, I question my place, my deserving.  How can I rest when so many others suffer? How do I relieve the pain for another? Where do I even begin to offer a modicum of hope and relief, while protecting and preventing myself from sinking into despair’s darkness? Cynicism and fear try to worm in, blocking the beacons of goodness, generosity, abundance.

And yet, I stare out the window toward the forest, wondering, observing, surrendered. I witness the cottonwoods, their heavy branches laden with seed, fluffy snow lining the driveway, wafting along the breezy currents. These seeds a gentle reminder of nature’s drive to secure sustenance and beauty through the gift of creation.

In the words of Fyodor Dostoevsky: Beauty will save the world. Our hearts and minds depend upon creation, the seeing and naming of beauty. Our presence in the world relies upon bearing witness to the awe-inspiring, to the wonder-full. Our souls, our being, depend upon our creating. We need to make. The world needs us to make. We must offer our personal and unique expression borne from our witness, borne from our many questions and few answers. We must attempt to make sense by offering our honest expression, our imperfect methods, our limping souls and confused minds. We must attempt to express our deepest joys and longings through our own creation, our own beauty.

Our offering of creation, of beauty, funnels out into our worlds through writing, photography, lyrics, building, notes on a page, a letter to a friend, painting, baking, planting, telling stories, goofy antics, laughter over meals, making love, poetry, sculpture, investing in our communities, teaching, asking questions, wrestling for answers, honest conversations over coffee, long drives in the country, hiking, wandering, wondering, eating, preaching, sewing, cutting hair, waxing eyebrows, coloring with children.

Our offering of creation, of beauty will save the world. While the work of creation is heart-wrenching, it saves me, it will save you. Whether you like my offering or agree with my offering, it doesn’t matter. The creation is my gift, my act of lifting hope high, of defying the evil and carelessness and apathy. Creation is my attempt to make sense of what is around me, to see and respond to the burdens while staring them down. I defy their power by concocting the appropriate antidote. An antidote comprising love, grace, consideration, mercy, empathy, wonder.

Our offering of creation, of beauty, takes down fear, challenging the insidious and hunted mark of a victim. Our defiance demands we get to set the terms, we make the rules, moved and marked by love, moved and marked by mercy, moved and marked by compassion and empathy.

Our offering of creation, of beauty is our public service to the world, burying the evil and resurrecting the good and true. Hope.

Our offering of creation, of beauty spreads our seeds. Our job does not involve knowing how much or how far or how wide, but to trust in the ultimate Creator, knowing She alone holds the world in her palms, secure. Our faith and our trust, a reflection of doing the timeless work of hope, justice, renewal, resurrection.

And in this work, we find release, we find rest. The process outlined by Glennon Doyle Melton, following the Creator’s model:

Create! Call it Good! Rest!

I beg of you. Please. Take in the suffering, the injustice, the hurt, the goodness, the gratitude, the pain, the confusing, the questions, the nonsensical, the flabbergasting, the shocking, the remarkable, the overwhelming. Take it all in, mix it up in the unique form of your being, funnel it through the filter of you and offer your creation up and out…

…for your beauty will save the world.

What’s Next?

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Peace cannot be kept by force;

it can only be achieved by understanding.

-Albert Einstein

I am coming to terms with my personality. To be honest, it isn’t an easy one to carry around, but I’ve become quite attached and I believe it is good. I am grateful for who I am and am becoming. As one who needs a cause, I carry around burdens, doing my best to help others through listening and time. My work is to help. While I love it, I’m often tired.

I used to think my personality was weird. I wanted to be like those other girls, worried about her hair and clothes and shoes. And of course, I was, to an extent, but not at the expense of another. I love my ability to suffer with another, to get angry on their behalf, to pray in their stead, to hold space for them in my heart when the load is too great. I consider this my calling, my offering, my giftedness.

My life is wonderful, one with abundance and plenty, with margins and room. I have a life filled with generous kindness, healthy communication, good people, lots of laughter and goofiness, apologies and forgiveness. Don’t worry, it’s not perfect. I have my fair share of mistakes and self-loathing and difficult people, frustrations and misunderstood motives. I often lie awake in the middle of the night tallying the day’s failures, the shortcomings.

The present world we live in baffles and frustrates me. The politics and greed, the lust for more – to make America great (white) again. Our squandering of resources, lack of care and provision for the land, our desire to keep the right people in and the wrong people out. The words etched across our Statue of Liberty ignored and ridiculed.

The refugee crisis is staggering, an overwhelming number of dead each month attempting to cross the vast, inky blackness to safety. The risk of the water offering a reprieve from the tyranny of land. Death, a reprieve from the tyranny of flight and bombings and starvation and immeasurable suffering.

The racial disparity brought to light over these two years since Michael Brown’s untimely death in Ferguson weighs heavy. His body lying in the sweltering Missouri summer heat, with no regard or respect for human dignity. Story after story after story of young men and women killed by police.

Shootings of good people doing good things, people in their sanctuaries, people doing what they do best – gunned down, threatened, afraid. People loving and serving, people choosing to sacrifice their safety for others.

I think of the families in my own children’s schools with next to nothing, unable to make ends meet, living in what are called The Apartments. I confess, it is so easy to drive by, to overlook, to offer a friendly wave and smile but not dirty hands and willing feet.

I lie awake at night for the burden, knowing my life is good. I honor the gifts with gratitude, but the hollow ache persists when my happiness is the prize, the goal for which I strive. And my heart breaks at my own lust for more, spending money, acquiring, a timeworn distraction borne of boredom, habit and carelessness.

Happiness is shallow, oftentimes a burden. My happiness is flawed, considering me and me alone. My fulfillment. My purpose. My hope. My family and friends. My experiences. My happiness holds no weight or volume, like a bucket full of holes.

My happiness exists in direct proportion to my ignorance and chosen blindness.

Choosing discomfort is odd. It’s like poking yourself in the eyes and trying to see again – everything distorted. You start to see people, realizing assumptions are inadequate, each person holding a unique story and the only way to access that story is through relationship. Choosing discomfort peels the scales from our eyes, a death warrant signed on certainty, on judgement. No longer can you go through your days without concern and consideration for others, the people who cross our paths that maybe were once invisible. No longer can you, in good conscience, place blame.

So, what is the answer? How do we, who have been given so much, respond to the blatant unjust systems in place? How do we, who hold vast wealth, respond to poverty? How do we, with warm homes and soft beds, sleep at night knowing families are crossing dangerous waters in hope of some life, trading a damned future for an uncertain one? How do we reconcile the horrific suffering, the rejection of children at our borders, the evil, with our comforts and plenty?

The hope I hold rests in love. The hope I hold rests in kindness and justice and mercy. The hope I hold rests in seeing people, seeing the people in our little corners of the world . The hope I hold rests in the smallest acts of kindness, the tiniest acts of generosity. The hope I hold rests in choosing discomfort, without assumptions. The hope I hold rests in gratitude and goodness. The hope I hold rests in beauty.

May we, during these tenuous times, give an extra dose of grace to another, choosing discomfort. May we be quick to give of our time, wealth or talent. May we offer a cup of cold water to the weary traveler and a slice of buttery bread. May we smile more and worry less. May we honor where we’ve been placed and what we’ve been given by passing the goodness around. May we create, adding beauty to our world, setting aside fear. May we write and compose and sing and play and build. May we trust all things work together for good.

Our job is not to save or convince. Our job is to live with our eyes wide open, respecting and honoring the story of another, choosing life and remembering…

Love wins.

 

*Photo by Claire Jepsen

How to Deal with a Mite-y Big Problem

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Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.  -Brene Brown

My hens have mites – red ones and black ones. These bugs, the size of your smallest freckle, like a satellite in the black of night floating amongst the stars, suck my chickens’ blood and threaten their lives. Their presence insidious, a cruel and covert form of torture, infecting the chickens by the hundreds and thousands. After a single visit to the coop I must dump my clothes at the back door, while announcing to all to turn heads while streaking to the bathroom for an immediate shower to drown the obnoxious suckers. My skin crawls with their real and imagined presence.

Mite mitigation has been my week’s theme. Unaware, one night, a few hijacked a ride on my pajamas from coop to bed. Once settled, book in hand, teeth brushed, dog relieved, kids asleep, the creeping and crawling commenced. The near microscopic bugs moved across my body and sheets, my aging vision unable to sense well what my nerve endings were shouting. Unsure what I was dealing with, I wondered about bedbugs and other possibilities. Sleep was impossible until I changed my clothes and location.

Truth dawned with the light of day and I knew I had a mite-y problem on my hands.

I discovered website upon website dedicated to the eradication of this pest. While obnoxious and life-threatening for my birds, the mites are not interested in me. They will indulge in a human snack, when desperate, but chickens and other fowl are the preferred feast. My fears were exacerbated by ignorance and darkness.

I do prefer you to think I am a stellar chicken provider, putting my birds’ needs high on my list, the reality is, these mites were not a surprise. In fact, they had been crawling in the coop for a couple weeks but until I was impacted, until my sleep was threatened and my fears realized, I frankly didn’t want to deal with them. I thought the problem would disappear.

Nope.

I chose comfort, I chose ignorance. My procrastination and denial ensured I had a serious predicament, requiring swift and severe dedication. Only when my satisfaction and basic needs were jeopardized did I took a long, hard look at the growing problem. It wasn’t until I lost sleep that I mobilized and took deliberate action.

All the hard and harmful things I have faced, my first, gut-response is to choose ignorance. I want my convenience, I pretend it will go away, that I don’t have to do the work, I don’t have to face the ugly wretchedness of my ease.  Ignorance can be bliss, offering a beautiful and believable excuse of I didn’t know. All the while, harm is waiting at the door, ready to crawl into bed with us, attached to our clothes, our bodies, our souls. The work we don’t do is the burden we will forever bear, as we limp around, damaging our relationships, trading health and wholeness for the perilous substitutes of temporary comfort and blindness. Living in chosen ignorance, or denial will stop serving us, it will stop serving our families, our loved ones. Choosing blindness is to forever be marred, to forever be marked. Chosen blindness is chosen darkness and chosen silence and chosen complicit-ness.

In the Come to Jesus moment, when we stop running and trust the light, when we face the truth, mercy rushes in. It is in this moment when grace enters. It is in this moment the Holy Spirit whispers, Thank you, child, for your honest admission. My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in your weakness. It is in this moment we get to face, head on, our deepest held fears, taking the first step towards a more whole-hearted life.

In the name of healing, I choose to protect my hens, to fight for their health, to eradicate these mites, to provide for them. I choose to take the concern, to face what must be done, to have humility and admit where I was wrong. Denial leads me to greater problems, the mites multiply when I ignore. But, sometimes, I just can’t, I don’t have the bandwidth, I don’t have the personal resources to clean the coop one more time, to study another chicken and be disappointed. I just can’t. But you know what? I have helpers. I don’t have to do this on my own, I can assign responsibilities, I can ask for help, I can bring in a professional if it’s beyond my ability. We are not alone. When grace is delivered, so are the helpers. Relief is waiting for us to stop running, to look hard, to accept, learn, and take the first step to healing.

May we have the courage today to stop denying what haunts and chases us. May we turn around, plant our feet firm, stare that thing full in the face, trusting and praying, believing in the good work of wholeness through vulnerability.

Denial always serves a purpose, the next step is choosing to see.