My Prayer for This Season: Rescue Us from Ourselves

file_000The days leading up to and after Thanksgiving I was bombarded with ad after ad for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. They were shouting at me, enticing me, telling me “good news” in the midst of hard times. Free shipping! Buy One Get One! Lowest prices of the year! Such sweet words to my frugal soul. They understood the game of shopping for me— getting the most bang for my buck. Funds had never been overly abundant in my life so deals had always been something to relish and boast of.

But with the many goodbyes and transitions we’ve gone through this year, with the heartache around the world and with the current of fear and grief running through our nation, I’ve lost taste for it. Possessions seem like sand slipping through our fingers in light of it all. Little of what we own will last in value or entertainment or even in sentimentality when life requires us to downsize and move or forces us from our normal lives into the unknown.

Through all the moves I’ve made in my lifetime— from California to Kazakhstan, to Boston and Vegas, and now back again to California, I’ve learned to simplify and shed. I’ve learned to pack fast and take up as little space as possible. Yet the desire for more still rages inside of me. A sign for 40% off or the little red discount tags at Target are enough to make me justify why I really need the thing that’s on sale. I create a craving for something I didn’t desire before with the logic of: I’m totally going to use that. I’ve always wanted one of those. This will be so useful for _________.

Perhaps that’s why the consumerism that hits full force every Thanksgiving weekend turns my stomach more than usual this year. The obsession for more is everywhere I look but especially in me.

The biggest irony of that weekend was how it ended with Giving Tuesday— a day set aside after the masses have literally trampled over one another to get toys and TVs for their families (or more likely for themselves) to donate and support non-profit organizations who fight for the marginalized. It’s meant to kick off charitable giving, but when we’re gluttonously full, do we have anything left in our hearts and wallets? Is there room in our homes and at our tables when the frenzy of the days before had us only thinking of ourselves and our own?

I ask myself these questions and struggle with the answers. I stand in judgment because it’s too easy to look away from all the tragedy during the holiday season. It may even feel necessary to focus on the feel good when the lights are twinkling and the songs are jolly. Nobody likes a Scrooge. But the fact that we can care about certain things at certain times or not care at all is a luxury. I can’t look away from the death and destruction happening around the world or in our nation, and yet, I can. I can choose to stay ignorant or I can choose to become educated. It’s privilege.

The truth is I’m weary of carrying the burdens of those around me- the desperation, the physical and emotional pain- but I’m more weary and wary of turning a blind eye, of gorging myself on distractions and temporal delights, of becoming insulated and unaware. A holy fear cracks my ever hardening heart open to take in another story of broken systems and the people who lose out, the people who die, the people who stay invisible. I let the weight of their lives bear down on me, and I cry out and pray for rescue and deliverance.

I plead with God on behalf of those who were freezing at Standing Rock and also with those who are dying in Aleppo, who are caring for the dying, and who are silently suffering. I intercede for those of us who are cozy in our festively decorated homes but who may be becoming numb with the comforts and safety blanketing us. I ask Him to wake us up and for wisdom and grace to live in the tension of awareness while celebrating together with loved ones this season. I want us to say yes to bringing peace where there is none and to take on the loneliness, depression, tears and hurt around us however inconvenient and uncomfortable it may be.

I mumble these words over and over again till my lips move silently but the ache continues to groan loudly in my spirit: Rescue us from ourselves, and deliver us from evil.

When God’s Deliverance Is Still Painful

deliverance-photoWhen I first reflect on God’s deliverance, I equate it to the easing of our suffering. After all, God is a big God and He can surely deliver us from our pain, right?

My journey to understanding the falsity in this belief began one night several years ago as I drifted off to sleep. As I curled comfortably under my blanket, my mind was sucked into a flashback of traumatic memories from my past. It was paralyzing and painful, and it was the first of many in a very difficult time in my life.

In the darkness of my room, I called out to God in desperation. “Deliver me from this pain, God. Free my mind as only You can do.” I trusted He could do it. I prayed earnestly for Him to cast out Satan’s grasp, but there I was, gripping my head as the shame and horror of the past overtook me.

God didn’t answer. There was no rescue that night. The next several months continued in the same way. Night after night my mind was assaulted with painful memories, and day after day I questioned God.

Why did He abandon me?

I couldn’t sit through a single church service without breaking down and falling further from my faith. I waded through a thick fog of pain, and I couldn’t find His light anywhere. There were days the pain of betrayal grew so strong that I told God I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t keep hoping for His love to rescue me. I couldn’t keep trying to live as if He would deliver me.

I wouldn’t say I lost my faith completely in this painful time, but I did lose faith in God’s love and provision for me. I felt alone and betrayed.

Then one night, driving home from work with the summer breeze blowing through my window, a small ray of light broke through my fog. It was as if God spoke to me and told me to hold on just a little longer. I didn’t understand it when the pain followed me everywhere. But slowly, God opened my eyes to His love for me.

I began to see it in the little things. The ones around me that had been providing for me. The blessing of friends who never once left my side. The hope that God could use my pain for a bigger purpose.

Each small realization led me to understanding the true message of God’s deliverance- that God rescued me all those years ago on the cross. He rescued me from an eternity separated from His love. And He was working in my life now to rescue me from the brokenness that had taken root in my soul long ago.

I realized that this process of pain is His grand scheme of deliverance from the grip of sin in our lives.

It became clear to me that breaking free from the chains of sin and brokenness in our lives is  painful, but that very pain is God’s redemption burning through the darkness of the fog around us to deliver us.

God calls us to face our brokenness so we can find His redemption.

As this message began to permeate my soul, I was able to shed the hardened layers of my heart.  I began to trust God’s love for me again, and I gained the courage to face the pain. I learned to trust that in the midst of my suffering God was working in my heart to deliver me from my brokenness. And most of the time that deliverance is more than anything I could ask for or imagine.

I must choose every day to trust Him no matter what my own understanding is and in this I have found the hope to persevere.

Deliver us from Christmas Cookies, We Pray…Or, Maybe Not

I love this time of year. I bet you do, too. It’s one of the only times where the party invitations keep coming in, the darker nights lend themselves to steaming soups, piping hot bread, and freshly baked Christmas cookies — not to mention more sweets, drinks, and nibbles “because it’s Christmas.” It’s a season of indulgence and yet, I wonder what we miss when we forget about the waiting, and when we cover up our real hunger with cookies and holiday drinks.

The problem isn’t the food or my inability to eat healthily, to say “no” to what is bad for me and hunger after what is good. The problem isn’t food at all. 

Like so much else — relationships, sex, church, houses — food is a gift. It is sustenance and grace and provision. Like good gifts it is meant to be received and enjoyed. But when we obsess over it, Gollum-like, through our indulgence or abstention, we’re simply using the gift of good food to say something about ourselves. 

That I don’t measure up unless I measure up. 

That I use food to feel my feelings because I’m too scared to feel them. Swallowing them is much easier. 

That I feel productive when I eat healthily so I’ll beat myself up when I deviate from my plan. 

That I deserve this coffee or cocktail or this cookie because somehow it’ll make up for hard decisions, tired mornings, and feeling unseen and unappreciated. 

As if food could solve soul problems. Food is the safest drug we have. 

We’re stuck in a cycle of hyper-control and over-indulgence. But even good holiday food does not deserve the mental gymnastics I play, the amount of time of flitting mental comments about jeans fitting, exercises that need doing, or let’s be honest, realizing that mostly I’ll end up curled on the couch with a book under some Christmas tree lights. We starve ourselves and we gorge ourselves, but we’re really just hungry underneath.

How we eat, and if we eat, shows us who we truly are. A Rabbinic commentary on the parable of the prodigal sons succinctly points out the connection between hunger and its end, repentance: “When Israelites are reduced to eating carob-pods, they repent.” When the younger son in the parable had spent his fortune and then, when it was gone, was starving, he woke first to his need. There in his hunger was a gift, too. The gift of the desert space was an awakening to his sonship. It is God’s kindness, even in the barren lands, that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). I don’t need more or less Christmas cookies. What I need is intimacy with God, what I need is to pay attention to the needs of others around me and serve others — from my children, to my neighbor next door, to the one in the next town over who doesn’t have enough to eat, to the one across the world. And, it is God’s kindness that helps us to hunger for him. But it’s so much easier, isn’t it, to laugh with a girlfriend about all the holiday goodies than tell her of the swirling questions surrounding that same cookie. 

I wonder what would change if I saw food as an invitation to communion with God. What if my experience with food could be less about following the law of it, and more about drinking beauty down to the dregs? What if food could show me my deeper hunger and that there is a feast that will satisfy? Will I be brave enough to go there? Will you?

God’s gracious call isn’t to a new diet, it’s to repentance and kingdom flourishing. It’s to a life lived in the space between already and not yet. It’s a life that looks back and a life that looks forward. It’s a life that can wheedle down to the marrow of our hungers because we have a God who sees. 

So we pray, this season: 

Deliver us from using food to satisfy longings that only Jesus can meet. 

Deliver us from feeling entitled to Christmas cookies while others starve. 

Deliver us from using eggnog to satisfy our souls. 

Deliver us from such an inward-focus that we lose that food is a gift meant to be shared.

Enable us to recover hospitality in its messy and broken forms. 

Help us to hunger and thirst for righteousness. 

Enable our hunger to draw us more fully into union with Christ and to serving our neighbor. 

Jesus, you are the bread of life, the Word made flesh. Help us to feast on you. Help us ask questions of our hungers and not cover them up with sugary versions of truth, justice, love and beauty. May you alone satisfy. Amen. 

 

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

Digging Deep For the Promises

The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner

The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner

On the way home from church today we found trees blown down across the road. Huge branches blocking our path, dangerous obstacles getting in our way, preventing us from continuing our journey.

One kid is ill and the wind howls outside. And all the leaves that had hung on until now, swirl in the air.

It is the first Sunday of Advent and the hope that is to come feels like a fairy tale.

My stomach churns and I feel empty. The words I speak evaporate into the air, swallowed by uncertainty that lies just one breath away.

Today, I need truth.

I need someone to speak truth to me.

And there isn’t anyone.

Today, I am the truth teller. I am the encourager. The bringer of the words of hope. I am the one searching for the language to point out the hidden reality. To reveal the hope that isn’t immediately obvious, that has been disguised by comparison and insecurity.

I try to bring light and clarity. To give strength. I paint pictures for my loved ones, vivid colours revealing purpose, describing a life of meaning. Digging deep to find promises potent with expectation.

But I need it myself. I need someone to speak truth to me.

Somedays I have to become that person for myself. Today is one of those days.

I speak the truth. I will write it here and feel it echo in my heart.


I remember what I read late last night, on the night before advent begins, the encouragement to stay in the story. To remain in it even as the world tries to convince me that this tale of sacrificial love will never work, that I need to grasp tighter and protect myself. I will stay and search for a truth that lies deeper than my circumstances or my emotions, that exists in spite of the horror on the television screen, the pain and inequality in the newspapers.

When the beauty of Autumn is reduced to rattling windows.


On the first Sunday of Advent I think of Mary and I remember the words the angel spoke to her.

“Greetings, you who are highly favoured.”

“Rejoice, highly favoured one, blessed are you among women.”

“Greetings, favoured woman, The Lord is with you!”

Whichever translation I go to, the message is the same. Mary is blessed. Mary is favoured.

Until recently I thought this was always with the knowledge of the job she was to do. That these words were some kind of divine flattery or manipulation. Language to ease the life-changing nature of the task ahead of her. Or maybe because she was remarkable, different, because she was exceptional.

And this rang true in all the ways I used to think of God. Back then. In the bad old days. When spiritual approval was based on my ability and my behaviour. When ultimate favour was determined by my obedience and self-control.

I know now, this is not the case. Far from it. For Mary and for me.

Mary is already favoured. Before anything has been asked of her. Before she has done anything. She is already blessed. It does not come with a qualification, with a caveat or footnotes. It is not dependent on her cooperation or her behaviour.

She is favoured.

And the angel’s words were not just for Mary.

They are also for me.

And I know this because the gospel of grace didn’t take on flesh and blood on behalf of the religious authorities, or the kings and pharaohs, the houses of power. The gospel of grace multiplied, cell on cell, in the womb of an uneducated teenage girl, living in an occupied state. This gospel of grace grew up to declare freedom for captives and dignity to the oppressed and downtrodden.

Elegance, competency, knowledge and power, were not prerequisite to His approval or acceptance. In fact, they often acted as stumbling blocks. It was the children, the poor, the ill and infirm, who flocked to him. Who were favoured in His sight.

And so I know this truth is not just for Mary.

If it is for Mary it is also for me.

It almost feels blasphemous to write it down. Some kind of prideful arrogance to say it.

I don’t care. I’m saying it anyway.

I am favoured.

(Deal with it, howling wind. I speak the truth)

And this is the truth I will practise. These are the words that stop me from holding tight to try and get my own way. These are the words that give me the courage to practise the art of letting go. These are the words to enable me to give up control and trust my way to Him.

Even when the circumstances of my life and the vulnerability of my situation would try and trip me into self-effort. Even when the voice in my head tells me that if I worked more or tried harder, if dealt in more influential circles, if looked better or behaved better, I could control my life to guarantee myself success, or security, or health.

Even then, I will remember the words of the angel, are the ultimate words to me.

You are highly favoured.

You are blessed.

You are loved.

On this day when it sounds as though the sky is falling down, and it feels a bit the same way, this is the truth that I will rehearse, that I will remember.

I’m Thankful for my Grief About the Election

election

It would be so much easier to bear a Trump presidency if I hadn’t learned about structural racism.

Easier if I’d avoided stories from my black and brown friends about micro-aggressions, ignored history, police violence, and daily grief.

Easier to stay positive if I hadn’t figured out exactly how sexual assault happened in my high school youth group.

Easier if I’d never asked my brother and sister for permission to share parts of their assault stories.

Easier if I’d never faced my complicity in racism, misogyny, and abuse. Easier if I’d just well enough alone.

If I’d stayed quiet and small and naive, I could have ignored what’s happening. I could have told myself it has nothing to do with me. I could have preached to myself that Jesus is on the throne no matter what.

I could have pretended.

Easier to not hit my head on the brick wall of willful ignorance (my own and others’).

Easier to not hear people love dismissing Christ’s command to pray for their enemies.

Easier to not understand the implications of putting a demagogue in the White House.

Easier not to hear the grief of people directly affected by hateful politics.

Easier not to see, not to notice, not to pay attention.

I am grieved by the coming Inauguration. But even as I grieve, I feel thankful. Because despite the Administration we’re facing, I’m ever more thankful for deliverance from ease.

Once, I thought there was beauty in safety. I thought peace was a blank white box with smooth sides. I thought my anxiety was a life sentence and my fears could protect me from harm. I thought I had nothing to say and no way to change the world.

That world was miniscule. It was white, wealthy and afraid. It thought it didn’t bother anyone; it didn’t wonder if it loved. It tried to stay focused on the end of its nose.

What happened when I stepped off that minuscule planet is this: I heard cries of grief and examined the bulwarks of my own complicity. I had to acknowledge the shadows I feared had real threats casting them. It was a kind of apocalypse.

But this made me bigger.

Inside my heart, a fire raged after years of cold. Next to me gathered brothers and sisters I thought I’d alienated. I dug into my soul and started tearing out my indifference, my apathy, my shame. I started hearing drumbeats urging me to dance.

I no longer know what kind of country I live in, but my address feels beside the point. For the first time in my life, I know where I stand.

I know shadows have real power. But so do I. I see that taking one brave step forward is easier than I thought. I can do something, and I know doing something feels good.

Numbness was easy, but weighing it next to the ocean of being alive, there’s no comparison. How can I go back to pretending after the wild fire of living? How can I possibly thank the people who told me stories that broke my heart? How can I go back to alienation from my brothers and sisters? How can I believe that abuse and hate have any power to destroy what truly matters?

I am asking God for a deliverance that brings power to the marginalized, even if that means less power for me. I am asking for smashing of icy hearts, including my own. I am asking to see the dark, hidden spirits so I can pray Christ’s light on purpose. I am asking to be counted. I am asking to do better. I am asking for help.

I am asking to be rescued from the nothingness I once drew comfort from.

I am asking for connection, for empathy, for my enemies to find deliverance. I am asking for life so abundant, it rips open all our hearts.

Las Posadas: Enacting the Paradox of Advent

las-posadas

Advent is a time of waiting, a longing for Messiah in a special way, looking back to the first coming of Jesus as a baby and forward to the second coming of Christ as King. Seasonal Scripture readings link both “advents,” making Advent a season of paradox. Christians celebrate an already-but-not-yet faith: Christ has come, Christ is coming. We’re saved, we’re being saved. The Kingdom is coming, the Kingdom is here. Indeed, the celebration of Advent is not only “spiritual,” but like the incarnation itself, embodied in physical ways—from liturgy and traditions to acts of charity which incarnate Christ in his Kingdom coming and now.

Thus has Advent birthed representations in images, narratives and rituals. Many are linked to the journey of the Holy Family, looking for lodging and turned away. Celebrants have been known to put a candle in the window, leave a place at the table or the door unlatched for strangers seeking shelter. The custom of Nativity crèches (said to have been invented by St. Francis) is woven into many Advent traditions, sending sculpted figures on a journey around the church or house on their way to the stable, where the crib gets its occupant on Christmas.

A four-hundred year old Mexican Advent tradition began as a teaching tool of European missionaries and as a replacement for pagan religious traditions. Las Posadas, a nine-day celebration, features a caminata (pilgrimage) led by Mary and Joseph, portrayed in pictures or statues or by costumed parishioners—often children and/or accompanied by a figure dressed as an angel. A guide carrying a candle in a paper shade leads the nightly procession from December 16-24. The narrative is carried in songs and responses as the pilgrims seek a posada (inn, lodging) and are turned away by the innkeeper. At the last house, the Holy Family and fellow travelers find welcome and enter to songs, prayers and holiday festivities. The tradition includes particular songs, foods and drinks, and nightly star-shaped piñata.

lasposadas

Details vary, for example, the pilgrims moving from house-to-house or within a single church. The procession may also feature nightly readings. Themes draw on the Gospel—forgiveness, grace, the Divine call vs. human acceptance or rejection. The journey motif resonates across Scripture—through journeys of Abram and the Children of Israel, stories of exile and return, prodigals and homecomings, the original exile from Eden and ultimate arrival in the New Jerusalem. There are echoes in the Festival of Booths, including its emphasis on welcoming strangers. The lesson of Abraham’s hospitality is that strangers may be angels in disguise. Indeed, so much seems to depend on our response to strangers. “I was a stranger,” Jesus declares in that sobering passage of Matthew 25 and “you welcomed me” (v. 35) —or “did not welcome me (v. 43). How we treat “one of the least,” He insists, we “did it to me” (v. 40).

Given this, it is natural and appropriate that Las Posadas observations have embraced expressions of solidarity with migrants, particularly since the procession days pass through December 18, the U.N.-declared International Migrant Day. Readings and testimonies focus on human rights advocacy, as migrants share experiences and cultural performances. Stops along the pilgrimage may include a symbolic “border detention center,” underscoring the Matthew 25 charge concerning visiting (v. 36) or failing to visit (v. 43) those in prison.

la-posada-mary-joseph-el-cerillo-400x300

Such anchoring of Las Posadas in history invites a range of stories of migrants—Native migrants in North America, the arrival of Europeans, the involuntary migration of African-Americans along with the Great Migration of same out of lands of oppression. (One thinks of doors of segregated inns—and schools, churches, etc.—slamming in non-white faces.) In fact, recent variations of the Posadas tradition have embraced the Black Lives Matter movement. This reflects an instinctive solidarity with those who remain strangers in their own land, and underscores the tragedy of a nation of immigrants and a history of oppression of the Other.

The persistence of such oppression may suggest another thematic turn on the journey of multiple rejections. How many have cried out to God for relief from their oppression only to feel like the door was being slammed in their faces? That puts us on delicate theological ground with—apparently—the occasional casting of God in the role of the unwelcoming innkeeper. Still, a truly convincing actor in the role of unwelcoming innkeeper has also been myself—for I’ve turned away Jesus, in all his Mathew 25 guises, from my door. Then again, if the innkeeper has been me, so, paradoxically, has been “the least” rejected. May all those doors finally be opened. Advent-style faith is clinging to the promise that our knocking will not be in vain (Mt. 7:7).

las-posadas-door

My own Chicago neighborhood would make an apt setting for a multi-level celebration of Las Posadas. Uptown has been known as a entry port for immigrants, seeing many waves of new arrivals—whites, blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian “boat people,” Sudanese “Lost Boys,” Russian Orthodox and Middle Eastern Muslims, plus young people, not a few runaways, escaping old rejections, subject to new ones. Indeed, the neighborhood is shaped also by rejection of this great diversity of travelers, not least in evictions, gentrifications and loss of affordable housing. Homelessness remains a defining feature, concern, and battleground in Uptown. Posada is also translated “shelter,” and Uptown has many kinds, for the homeless, the mentally ill, for others seeking refuge from an often cold and hostile world.

Perhaps, in Advent’s Both/And mode, there might be fashioned some way to open up to an ecumenical celebration while holding onto the scandalous particularities of the Gospel story. In any case, the primary thrust of Advent remains an opening to those excluded. It may seem impossible, but that straining for the impossible—for a miracle—is the orientation of Advent. (The question of cultural appropriation is obviously of critical importance here, requiring sensitivity and respect for Latin culture in any would-be implementation of Las Posadas.)

The punchline to Wendell Berry’s poem is “Practice resurrection.” In Advent, we do so—yet we might also say “Practice Incarnation”: we wait for it, but practice it now, living Advent’s mystic interpenetration of past, present and future, Word and flesh, us and them, self and other. Remember and embody, role-play in Los Posadas, give hospitality and refuse to do so, be the stranger, welcome the stranger, remember the stranger, meditate on Jesus the stranger.

In this moment of history, amid rising forces of exclusion of strangers and fear of the Other, Christmastime can witness to the incarnation-in-flesh and praxis of the Gospel or it can betray all these, being one more sign-separated-from-signifier, in vaporous holiday consumerism. Embracing Advent traditions of embodied faith can ground a faith that too often drifts from solid symbolic expression and tangible acts of compassion to sentimental religious gas. Advent is a longing for wholeness, and a witness to wholeness present and spreading—if it is truly the Advent of Jesus Christ which is awaited, celebrated, enacted, and so made incarnate.

Whatever Darkness You Are in Right Now

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“A speck of light can reignite the sun
And swallow darkness whole.”

Ryan O’Neal

Our theme this month is an important one. It brings the year to a close with essays about what rescue looks like, how deliverance can transform life, where redemption can be found. It’s especially close to my heart.

I’ve been rescued many times in my life. This sounds dramatic and noble and maybe it was on occasion. But to be honest, my rescues also left me bereft.

My rescue began when I was four, I was given up by my mom after social services removed me from her care due to her alcoholism and neglect. This led to a series of foster homes for the remainder of my childhood.

People think when a child is rescued from a dangerous home or family or country, they are overjoyed at their removal, so excited to go to their new home where they will be cared for by strangers and live a life they never thought possible. That’s what we want to believe, and how we play out in our imaginations. And sometimes it does.

But there is a story happening behind the rescue that most people can’t comprehend. As a child I didn’t know what I was being rescued from. I didn’t know that I needed rescuing, I had nothing to compare my life to at that stage. So what did that feel like at four years old? Abandonment. Rejection. Displacement. Fear.

It looked like my world crashing at my feet while I crumbled down in the middle of destruction. It means being torn from the safety of the “known,” however harmful, and thrust into confusion and despair. Sometimes the gravity and necessity of our rescue isn’t understood for years. Instead, rescue has to be worked out in the pain until you live into its “blessing.”

My story is one where rescue wasn’t immediate or complete. Deliverance has been a journey of unearthing fissures and cracks for light to come through. I can, of course, now look back at my life and comprehend the cost of my rescue and see why I needed to be delivered from my circumstances. But even the understanding of it doesn’t erase the darkness it created. Sometimes it makes it worse.

Deliverance can be bloody. It can result in death of some kind. It’s always messy. What one of us hasn’t lived in shadows of one kind or another, shadows of grief and loss, mental illness and addiction, abuse and agony?

Last November, before my first Deeply Rooted worship event, I struggled with serious spiritual oppression and after, I crashed hard. I spiraled into depression which led to relapse which led to shame which led to despair which led to more depression. I, again, needed rescue. The darkness I was under felt heavy and strong. I was tempted to believe I’d lost my last chance with God.

Light flickered in occasionally, taking different forms. A friend emailed me, not even knowing what I was going through, and shared her similar struggle that was becoming uncontrollable. I confessed to friends and my husband. I lay on the floor, face down, crying, begging for mercy. I knew I had opened a door that would be near impossible to close.

But God. He continued this work of rescue in my life. In April I flew to Guatemala City with Children’s HopeChest as part of a team of four female bloggers. The first day we visited a school and two of the students brought half of us home to meet their mom. We listened as the mom shared their story of hardship and hope.

We ask to pray for her, she says only if she can pray for us too. I raise my head and catch her eye and she doesn’t look away. She tells me the Holy Spirit has given her something to say. She takes my hands looks in my eyes and tears well up. She raises her voice and every statement is spoken with authority.

“Your feet were chosen by God since your mother’s womb, Wherever you go the Lord is in front of you. Wherever your feet touch, the Lord has been there before for you. The earth is yours. Whatever your feet touch, the Lord has given it to you. Walk in holiness.”

My eyes are wide open in surprise as this beautiful woman with a gold cross is clutching me and praying a blessing. It is being prayed twice over me, in emphatic Spanish and then beautifully-accented English. Doubly blessed. She embraces me and holds me tight, crooning over me in Spanish and swaying back and forth like she is sending me off to sleep. I hug her again as we left and she prayed over me again, another flicker of light: “Don’t be afraid, whatever God has called you to do he will train you for.”

Last month I celebrated the first anniversary of Deeply Rooted, doing what God called me to do, providing a space for women to be seen and heard. I was afraid, afraid no one would show up and terrified of bottoming out again. People did show up, truth was spoken and hearts were rekindled with hope. After the last night I was hanging out with Anita Scott, our spoken-word poet, who also performed the previous year.

She knew how hard this year was for me, she had been a constant source of prayer and encouragement. She told me, “When you got up on stage, you glowed. You radiated light. I thought maybe it was because you were dressed really nice and I’ve never seen you like that before, but the next day, in your jeans and flannel, it was still true. The words that came to me were spiritually clean.”

Anita named my redemption. What had started out as one of my darkest years, had ended with someone seeing light in me. Throughout this year, I have seen the promise of Isaiah 58 in my life:


And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.

He is my God, my rescuer, my restorer, the One who gives me a new name, a new life, new hope. God is a redeemer. He has been working to deliver me from something, he also has delivered me to something and that something is Himself.

This season of waiting for the light to overcome the darkness can leave us feeling weary and cynical. We’re crying out for the rescue of children in Aleppo, the deliverance of our country from racism and fear-mongering. We’re longing for the redemption Jesus promises us, over and over again, in his very Word spoken to us. Whatever darkness you are in right now, he holds it in his hands and lets that darkness pierce his own heart so that light will shine through his wounds, and bring you back to life.

Extra special thanks and a hearty shout out to Ruthie Johnson who made this post happen by not letting me give up. She is in every paragraph.

A Little Manifesto on Speaking, Silence, & Satisfaction

e_njrv9hre-felipe-santanaOne of the wisest of human beings, the philosopher-king of Ecclesiastes, said, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven…. A time to be quiet and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,7b NLT).

I have spoken.

I have cried out again and again about some of the things which matter mostimmigration reform, racism, mistreating the poor and marginalized. Indeed, I’m compelled to speak out, driven really, even if there are only a few around to hear me or only a few who will pay me any mind. For these words are ever before me:

If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength! Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done? Proverbs 24:10-12

There are other words that continually ring in my ears, words like MLK’s: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter,” and “There comes a time when silence is betrayal,” and, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends”.

Yes, I have the right to remain silent, but remaining silent and failing to act (when I should and am able to) can and will be used against me on Judgment Day. Though of course, I trust I remain in Christ’s mercy.

So like Luther, here I stand, finding contentment and satisfaction in speaking up and doing what’s right, to the best of my ability. I’m no better nor holier than anyone else, just doing what I can do with what I’ve been given—God helping me.

Speaking up entails I will offend some people. I’ve been accused of being too liberal or too conservative depending on the vantage point of those criticizing me. I’ve been scorned and scoffed at—accused of being simple.

Maybe I am.

No matter.

Speaking up—with prayerful actions backing up my prayerful speech, are the ways in which I concretely love God and others. Remaining silent when I should and can speak up betrays my God and my fellow human beings. I cannot sell out just to maintain or cultivate my reputation among certain powerful or popular people. If I were to do so, I’d commit grave injustices.

I still continue to speak carefully and cautiously in public via the written (and contacting our legislators) word knowing full well I’ll be criticized. Truth filled with love and expressed in love still will offend somebody—most of those who take offense are my fellow brothers and sisters in the Church.

Jesus is the most brilliant and loving person in existence. And yet, while he was on earth, his words and actions scandalized most of the religious VIPs of his day.

Jesus refused to get with the program when the program didn’t align with our Triune God’s ways. And today there are many instances where the American Church’s programs, ways, and agenda still do not align with God’s (and when mine don’t). When they don’t, we admit it. We speak up. And we speak up and act on behalf of the marginalized and mistreated no matter who they are (including animals and creation).

We do this when the Church is mistreating them, and especially if the Church is mistreating them. We cannot stand for it for those of us in the Church are supposed to be the face of Christ to others. God inclines his face and his ear toward the vulnerable (Psalm 34:15). He will not kick them when they are down (see Isaiah 42:3-4)

Not only do I find satisfaction in speaking up, I also find contentment and satisfaction in being silent. I can’t speak endlessly. Just as there is a time to speak, there’s a time to be quiet and listen (Ecclesiastes 3:7b). It’s only in silence and solitude that we can hear and see most clearly. God-haunted and prayer-laced silence, solitude—and the peace that ensues—leech soul sickness out of us. These disciplines keep us from doing violence to others through our words and actions. They begin cultivating love in us—even for those who have sinned against us—and they also help us weigh our words and our actions. These practices help us decide when and how to speak (and act).

I’ve been speaking (and acting). And now is a time for me to spend some time in silence and solitude. I can find satisfaction and contentment in silence and solitude because they will allow me space to speak and love well at the right time instead of doing violence to another.

All in all, whether I speak or am silent, I find satisfaction and contentment in fulfilling John Wesley’s words, one of my life’s mottos: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

Finding Contentment in My Restlessness

header-bowlingRestlessness is woven into the fiber of my being.

Also, I’m fairly certain restlessness is not a spiritual gift.

I know from the Bible that God gives gifts to all of his children, and that all of his gifts are good. That’s scripture truth. I also know that all of us are also plagued with certain personality quirks and tendencies that are carryovers from genetics, human history, and Eve’s original mistake in the garden.

In my own unique personality, there are too many of these latter ‘gifts’ to count, including an absolute inability to wait (for anything) and searing impatience with heat and traffic. The Atlanta suburbs in July make me a joy to live with.

Restlessness, though, comprises a large part of my psyche. It is the lens through which I view my calling, my husband’s job, my children’s schooling, and even the geography of our surroundings.

This situational agitation comes in spurts: I go through months showing great contentment with our life, loving our community and our church and thanking God with great piety for his gifts.

And then, an explosion of discontent:

Why do we share space with five million other people?

Why do we drive ten miles to get to our church when there are ten churches within two miles from our house?

Why have they torn down another hillside of rolling trees to build another Marshalls?

A Whole Foods at that intersection is going to add ten minutes to my commute.

Why do I commute? Why do you commute?

I wonder, is the stirring in my soul the push from God I’ve been waiting for? The whisper, the urging, that is telling me to pull up stakes and make the bold move towards simplicity? I yearn to swim upstream against the pull of our culture that begs for more- more money, more hours, more career advancement. I wonder why my husband and God are not on board with this plan. My flight from the city is barred with practicalities- my in-laws and their dependence on us, my teenager’s absolute refusal to move mid-high-school, and my husband’s plea to stay put until this, that, or the other.

They are all good reasons. I ask God, and he tells me to wait, and so I tamp down my restlessness for another six months, hoping the next time it flares up, God will say yes.

Yet through each of these cycles the question nags: is this disquiet in me, almost always simmering beneath the surface to the extent that I would pack away fifteen years of friendships and history for a change in scenery, equal to sin?

As I pray for the surrender while simultaneously hoping God will make a change, I don’t have a good answer to this question. The desire for adventure and revolution is so strong that I have a hard time counting it as a mistake, and yet I’ve walked through adulthood feeling like a person who has worn the wrong outfit to a party.

My faith tells me that God is not rocked by my periods of moodiness. He made me, he loves me, and he is patient when I am not. Even more, he can see down the long road and around the blind curves, with unlimited wisdom and sight distance. It only remains for me to find the balance between trusting him with what I have, while always hoping for something a little different.

Am I content with my life? Never. There is always better. I want mountains and space and neighbors and travel. I want my kids to grow up pleasantly different from their peers. I want to live a life that looks different and is different because of the hope I carry each day.

However, I have learned in the great, long waiting game to be content with God. Even when I look around and heave a great sigh and wish a great wish, I can rest in a God who writes a great story, one that is going on all around me. The secret is boiling away the temporary and clinging to the adventure in the eternal- the difficult neighbor on my street, the children in the local school that need feeding, or my own children that are navigating adolescence.

It doesn’t always look like the grand adventure I seek, but most days I can have faith that it is because it was written by a wildly adventurous Author.

Finding Comfort in the Battle

fullsizerender-1This year has been cruel yall–like the stinging hits of freezing rain or cutting winds of a blizzard storm-harsher climates have shifted our atmosphere. The down pour of political and civil unrest has left our country drenched in hate, apathy and fear. Racial divides, Trumps win, continuous murders of Black Lives, Standing Rock, the threat of the wallgoing upneed I go on?

The colder the world feels the more I find myself desperately gravitating to the warm. Im not talking about temporary measures that can be satisfied by grabbing a light jacket or adding a thin layer to accommodate a just in casechill. Im talking about the need to stay close to a burning fire that has the power to restore life and feeling to that deep down to the bone-numb-I-cant feel-my-fingers-kinda-cold. Numb is how Ive been living.

This here America, the one we now wake up and wince in pain to see destroying itself again and again and again- is not the one my parents and ancestors fought already a trillion times to overcome. This America today is not the place I want to call home-so I wont-not today.

There are days we must fight and sacrifice for what we believe in and then there are days we need to simply go home. When we are weary from the battle and unsure of our footing it is crucial that we return home-home for grounding-home for rest-home for comfort.

Home for me is found in the warm brown eyes of my husband-being nestled close into the safety of his arms. Home is being surrounded in my children’s giggles and cuddles on our big brown sofa with soft blankets and fuzzy socks. In these four walls where we live and love faithfully and consistently I am filled up and made whole again.

Home smells like bubbling brown sugar and buttery tones of sweet potato pies made to order from my Mommas kitchen. Home looks like tears wiped away gently from sacred sister who finish your sentence when you cant speak the words.

Home is found in that special place of quiet and surrender-those precious moments when nobody else is around. Home is when the One who created me sings over me and lights again the flame that almost blew out from the cold-the cold I let sneak in from this world.

Sometimes courage means rising high to organize and petition and sometimes courage means getting low on floors with toddlers and grabbing crayons and coloring books.

Sometimes brave looks like protests and presentations and other times brave looks like pajamas and oversized tea cups.

Sometimes brave looks like coming home.

Im still trying to find the balance of the going out and the coming in. This time I almost stayed away too long. May you too never get to far away from what matters most-may you too always remember to return home.

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