Fear

Free Write Fridays

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She was due to come home any minute. Eager to see her I had cookies fresh out of the oven. The candle in the bay window above my kitchen sink burned sweetly and twinkle lights lined the entrance to the mudroom. Her sisters were coloring contentedly at the homework table nearby and her favorite tunes were streaming into the room. The garage door was open so when the neighbor dropped her off she could walk right in the back door and be immersed in the coziness we had waiting for her. My girl loves school so I couldn’t wait to hear all about her day.

As I diced the carrots I was prepping for dinner the back door flew open as she threw her backpack down and began ranting about her day. I hadn’t had a chance to poor her a cup of milk before she was in tears. I rushed over and hugged her as she sobbed and slowly told me about what was bothering her. My plans didn’t matter; she needed a safe place to let it all out. She found it with me.

******

When the Mudroom first opened its door, just under a year ago, we said:

Whatever junk you’re carrying with you, you can leave it here. However much a mess you are today, the mudroom is here for you, a place to drop all the other selves we are constantly putting on and taking off, a place to catch your breath as your soul catches up with you.

And we mean it.

Each month we write on a different theme, allowing our writers to share bits of themselves. They enter the Mudroom and find a safe place to put their things down; a place filled with people waiting and listening. But sometimes when we enter we have a lot with us. Anger, frustration, disappointment. Sometimes our passion is overflowing and we just need to let it out.

This is where Free Write Fridays come in.

Sometimes it is the news of a twelve-year-old boy shot without any accountability. A tenured professor being suspended and fired. Protests. Gun control. Orphan care. Refugees. Elections. Brutality. Neighborhood violence. Poverty. Homelessness. Education. Creation care. Abortion.

There is just. so. much.

Each Friday, off script, someone is going to share. They are going to walk into this safe place and they are going to tell us what is hurting them. They are going to share the thing that keeps them up at night, and we will be here to listen, to open our ears and hearts to them and say, “We see you. We hear you.” They might challenge us. They might share something diametrically different than you believe. But we will be open to what God is stirring in them and affirm it.

What do you need to say? Find your place here.

Revelation is Not a Guarantee

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For a three-month stretch when I was seven or eight, I tried to learn how to pray.

When I couldn’t sleep, I’d pull a children’s prayer book down from the shelf and move it to the crack of light that shone in from the hallway. I opened it up to the Lord’s Prayer and read through the words, hoping that praying would do something.

Anything.

About a year before, my parents had sent my older brother to a Christian children’s home called Sunshine Acres. Then they put my older sister in a psych ward at a local hospital. In about a year, she’d join my brother at the Acres, permanently.

I was praying in the eye of a hurricane that was not quite finished destroying life as I knew it.

At the time, I didn’t really know I was praying because of the chaos in my family. I didn’t connect those dots. I just felt like something was wrong, was scary, and hoped prayer would help me stop feeling afraid.

Looking back, I am astonished that my first instinct was to open up a prayer book. We weren’t going to church right then. The Presbyterian church I had been before we moved to a new city was nice, but like many churches, its niceness seemed like the niceness of school: lovely and wholly unconnected to terror.

I prayed anyway.

If this story had a nice tidy Christian bow on it, I would have opened my mouth and had it filled with sparkling revelations.

But when I prayed, I didn’t hear anything. Not a whisper of comfort. Not one trumpet blast.

But I didn’t give up. Not right away. I did it again the next night. Silence. Again. Silence. Again. Silence.

After a few weeks of this, I stopped getting the book off the shelf. I stopped trying.

I didn’t decide God was a fairy tale. I just assumed my technique was lousy. I had no problem believing that God could fix me. I just thought I needed to try harder for me to hear him talking.

Look: I am so grateful I did not take the silence as confirmation that I was alone in the universe. (I wish I had not decided that it was my fault.)

But my heart aches that I got nothing audible back from my prayers.

This isn’t just a “pie in the sky” wish. As an adult, I’ve prayed and sensed God’s presence and direction so powerfully that it might as well be an audible voice. I have been enfolded in safety and protection and love and had my whole outlook change.

But it makes me ache, ache, that when I was little, I didn’t get any of that. I had no idea that Jesus was with me.

I have to be honest: I have no idea why.

Why wouldn’t God give me a taste of revelation when I was desperate and without any power? I mean beatitudes, anyone?

Why did it take so long for help to come?

Why is it that so many children suffer so much, with so little done about it? Why are they alone in the dark in the first place? Why do little kids often get the least help when they have the fewest resources?

I don’t know. I really don’t know.

I know that I survived without God’s revelation there in the dark. I know that somehow my heart stayed tender towards Jesus and other people, and that when I had enough theology to reach out again, I did it eagerly. I know that in the end, I got the revelation, and it saved my life again and again.

You know what, though? I’m allowed to grieve with that young girl in the dark.

Maybe I’ve learned this: revelation is lovely. But it is not the same thing as salvation. I wish I had sensed God’s presence with me as a child—oh, I wish I had known he was there with me. But me knowing or not knowing it did not change the fact that God was with me in strength and power with every one of his angels. He was there.

It does not take away the ache. But it helps to know that what I took as absence was only silence.

It can take a very, very long time for us taste salvation. In the meantime, it can feel like God is not coming.

Even blessed, desperate, helpless children have to wait.

Is this good news? I don’t know. But it helps me to say it out loud, because it’s both the truth, and the only antidote for the “try-harder” lie I internalized as a small child.

If you don’t hear the voice of God when you are praying, it is not because you are doing anything wrong. I completely understand getting pissed off at God about this. Feel free. But please, don’t get pissed off at yourself.

Revelation is not a guarantee, and it is not doled out because we’ve earned it. Revelation, like so much else about God, is a grace-filled mystery.

More often then not, we are asked to wait. And wait. And wait. We are asked to believe salvation is already here despite evidence to the contrary.

I think the waiting must be necessary. It’s not a punishment or a trick to goad us into performing like trained monkeys.

I won’t pretend to understand the mystery of God’s silence. I won’t pretend it does not give me pain.

Regardless: even though I ache when prayer feels like a brick wall, I trust God’s holy stillness has its own purpose. Perhaps a long wait, helpless and hopeful, is the revelation we have been dying for.

Sometimes, silence is the most holy place.

Straining for the Light

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For a long time the threat of a new year brought with it an onslaught of more darkness, more enervating melancholy, more long, gray days ahead to suffer through. It was nothing to celebrate. 

At the end of one of those especially difficult years I met Alece Ronzino online. She too had experienced a year (or more!) like that, punctuated by loss and betrayal and hopelessness. In 2009 she decided to find one word to focus on in the new year, instead of a list of resolutions that were quickly and quietly abandoned. One Word 365 was born. 

One word can change everything. Forget New Year’s Resolutions. Scrap the long list of goals that you won’t remember three weeks from now anyway. Choose just one word. One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live or what you want to achieve by the end of 2016. One word. 365 days. A changed life. ~Alece Ronzino

The last four years I’ve participated brought some incredible changes to my life. I became more focused, more hopeful, more inspired to hold fast, keep going, and expect good things. I’ve been challenged to be fearless. I have committed to believing. I have thrown myself into creativity. Most recently, I have spent a year contemplating possibility and what that looks like fleshed out in real life, and right now it looks like The Mudroom. I doubted it was possible a year ago, yet giving space for possibility to bloom made it a reality.

I’ve been brought low and robbed of energy by chronic pain. I’ve spiraled into dark depression. Anxiety has left me dizzy and breathless. I’ve been facing childhood sexual abuse head on and I have the bruises and scars to show for it. I’ve been humbled by my own darkness, my secret sins that cast a shadow over my heart and steal the light from my eyes. I’ve staggered under the weight of loneliness and grief and fear and despaired of ever feeling strong again.

My One Word for 2016 is restore.

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The locusts have ravaged me, leaving me bereft. I hardly know what plenty, abundance, fullness feels like. I find myself returning to that field of devastation, the locusts leaving nothing of worth behind. But there is a promise and I am claiming it.

Joel 2:25-32 (ESV)

25 I will restore to you the years
    that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,

my great army, which I sent among you.

26 “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
    and praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
    and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.

In these verses God is not telling his people to buck up, man up, cowgirl up, grow up, deal with it, get over it, or pull yourself together. He is acknowledging that this is a straight-up disaster, a full-on calamity. He sees and validates the wreckage and the ruin that has devastated his people, who have been left desolate. He tells them that it was his great army, obeying his command, meting out justice, which caused this cataclysm.

But God.

God is a God of restoration, redemption, healing, and deliverance. He is a God of double portions and spacious places. He removes shame and exchanges it for radiance.

Jeremiah 30:17

For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the Lord

Isaiah 61:7

Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion

Hosea 6:1

“Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.”

He will not leave us as orphans. He will not treat us as our sins deserve. He will not ignore our cries for mercy. There is no shadow of turning in him.

In Life Together, Dietrich Bohoeffer penned a paragraph that all of us should write on our mirrors. He was referring to the morning, but I have replaced day with year.

For Christians the beginning of the [year] should not be burdened and oppressed by besetting concerns for the [year’s] work. At the threshold of the new [year] stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word. All unrest, all impurity, all care and anxiety flee before him. Therefore, at the beginning of the [year] let all distraction and empty talk be silenced and let the first thought and the first word belong to him whom our whole life belongs.

My proclamation for 2016 is to not be oppressed by the besetting concerns for this year’s work, but to face it with excitement and expectation. I will remember that God stands at the threshold of this year, like a sentry, offering protection but also reminding me that every day is a battle, but one I don’t fight in vain or alone. Darkness and distraction are no match for the light of Jesus and his wakening Word. Restlessness, impurity, worry, and fear have no place in this year. My first thought and first word of this year, and every morning in it, belong to God who has “destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

The onset of a new year isn’t a threat to me anymore. It doesn’t hold the same bleakness and grim prospects as it did previously. I’m determined to wrestle until I’m limping. I’m done with ashes and mourning and shadows and death. I’ve had enough of despondency and gloom. I’m aching for the light.

Who’s aching with me?

What Are We Searching For?

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I look at The Mudroom’s search terms every day. I love seeing how people find us, and what they’re looking for. It helps us discern what the need is so we can determine the direction we should take. We wanted to share the top 3 searches that brought visitors to us. It says a lot about where our minds are, what our hearts are struggling with, and how much we crave understanding and company along the way.

The most searched terms drawing people to The Mudroom were, in some form or another: anger, sexually broken, and losing your faith. The majority of our readership is female, even though we have some faithful male readers, like Patrick Bowman and Glenn Kaiser. Thanks, guys!

Anger

None of us are immune from anger. Righteous or unrighteous, it leaves us feeling out of control and ashamed. The more it happens, the harder it is to resist. My friend Lisa Kuzma is a counseling professor at Philadelphia College of the Bible. She spoke at our church’s women’s retreat, and her seminar was called “Learning From Anger.”

Talking about how squashing our anger is like killing the messenger, she tells a story about a messenger who brings bad news to a city, and when he approaches their gates a third time, they decide to kill him before he even gets to their walls. They don’t want to hear any more bad news. But the king was sending a message telling them there were enemies within the walls of the city, they are facing danger that is right in the midst of them. Lisa goes on to say “I think that’s what we do with our anger. It’s meant to be a messenger, telling us that there is trouble in our soul. But before it even gets a chance to speak to us, we kill it.”

She points out three messages our anger could be sending us: 1) We’ve been sinned against, 2) We’ve been hurt or disappointed, and 3) We have goals that are being blocked or we are trying to control things we can’t control. Read Tanya Marlow’s post “When Good Girls Get Angry,” and listen to your messenger. When you get angry, ask yourself, “Have I been sinned against?” Am I disappointed?” and “What am I trying to control?” If you would like to hear Lisa’s 3 part message on anger, email us at the address above.

Sexually Broken

The fact that sexual brokenness is bringing women here confirms our belief that we are incredibly susceptible to pornography, fantasy, masturbation, same-sex attraction, and sexual addiction, and this battle is raging in our minds, bodies, and spirits. We feel alone in our secrets, and ashamed and don’t know where to turn. We are longing for mentors and friends to walk alongside us. We are desperate for deliverance, but burdened with hopelessness. If this describes you or someone you love, check out Jessica Harris’s post “Hope and Healing for the Sexually Broken,” and the comments too. Please contact us at themudroomblog (at) gmail (dotcom) if you need some resources and recommendations. We are here for you.

Losing Our Faith

That’s been a popular theme. What one of us hasn’t questioned or doubted who God is, wondered what he wants from us, and asked ourselves, in the dark of a broken spirit, does he really love me? We’re not alone, but we feel it so keenly, that loneliness that comes from the need to seem together when inside we are feeling shattered and fearful. Read Tanya’s experience of her own loss in “When You Feel Like You’re Losing Your Faith.” It is such a privilege to share our words with you. We are blessed, enriched, and encouraged by your comments which are as deep and beautiful as the posts. Thank you. To end on a lighter note, here are the more humorous search terms we found. We actually thought about changing our blog name to the last one:

my friends are running away from me cause am boring
do brahmins have headstones
prettiest angry women
tanya hot blog.com
discovering the tucson landscape — ugly but honest
how to be a storm chaser for god?
never mess with a stranger
why sun is angry because of hot girls
girl you look beautiful in anger
why do beautiful and good girls get angry
the hardest people to date are pastors
angry hot girls blog

When Your Birth is the Slow Kind

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I have a book that I’ve been writing for a thousand years. (Are you really a thousand years old, you ask? Is that unnecessary hyperbole?) Oh, hush. I am. I must be, because I am quite sure that this book has taken me that long. 

A thousand years, yesterday. That makes me a thousand and a day, today.

I learned just recently, in this Advent season, that my book will be another full year in the making. I had hoped we’d suddenly pick up steam at the end, but no. A slow birth is slow all the way through.

I have all sorts of writer friends. Some of them have turned out two books—two books, all the way, concept to publication—in this same amount of time. If you play cribbage, that’s called “skunking” your opponent. It’s good that we’re not a cribbage playing bunch.

This game we’re in is something different: the slow unfolding of a piece of life force, from the shelter of inside life gradually into the blinking day. We’re birthing pieces of self.

I had quick births, with all my children. They weren’t without complications, but they were all fast. My middle child startled everyone by entering the room before the midwife did. Meanwhile my sister’s first labor stretched into days. It isn’t fair. But a long labor doesn’t make the child (or the mother) more worthy. And a long labor doesn’t make the child (or the mother) less worthy, either. 

It’s just one of those things that is.

I have a friend—and I’m not naming names here—who turned out a book very quickly, while I was incapacitated and gasping through about ten words of mine. In our conversations we accidentally turned it both ways. Once, that he was the rock star and I was relatively pathetic. And then the other way, that I was being held off because I am so special. 

Isn’t it amazing, how strong is our need to rank things? We really would like it, if life were as simple as a game of cribbage. We both love and hate to know where everybody stands. 

But as birthers of life force and literature and light we don’t get a playing board like that. As birthers of these things, so much of our work is the work of capitulation and surrender.

Waiting. 

Sometimes your birth is the slow kind. And it doesn’t make you Mary, Mother of God. But it doesn’t make you a sinner, either.

It just is.

What matters is which part you give up, and which part you keep. Give up the grasping, urgent, fearful part. And keep the hope. Whether your birth is fifteen minutes, or a thousand years.

We don’t start celebrating Christmas at my house until right close to the date. I see the lights, the flocking, the wrapped gifts in other people’s photos long before we indulge ourselves. In our house we’re all hot personalities, who burn hard. If we start too soon we’re completely sick of it all before the (theoretically) magic day even comes around. We shop on the 15th, send Christmas cards on the 20th, put up the tree on the 24th.

But hope is more patient than that.

If I could control all the things, all the things would be fast. Like pulling off a band aid. Fast holidays. Fast births. Fast book publications. Thank goodness I can’t. Because all my favorite things are the ones that slow me down. The changing seasons, the slow fall of dark, the rhythm of homemade bread. The kid who stops to look at every amazing thing in the woods . . . when I would charge on to meet some half-made-up obligation or anxiety. Sometimes slow is the only thing that’s true.

Sometimes your birth is the slow kind. Sometimes it takes thirty years to let a truth come out from the inside. Sometimes that’s painful. And sometimes it’s hard. But we are birthers of light and life and bits of self, from the inside to the outside. We hang on to our hope.

Emmanuel and Showing Up

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The first few days of Advent, I felt irrationally angry. I tried to call it irritable, or easily annoyed, but when I sat down to dig through it all what I found was anger. Advent is an invitation to the waiting, and frankly, I would like to decline. No thanks. Can’t come. Wish I could participate in your waiting, but I am busy doing other things, like doing, receiving, leaning into the completion not the waiting.

Based on my estimation I have been waiting long enough. According to my life plan, last Christmas was my last season of waiting. Yet here I am, in more or less the same place I was last year, wondering when the waiting will stop. I am ready to not be in the waiting.

I have a lot of questions. There are a lot of what-ifs, and if-thens, and then-whats that I am holding. No matter how many times I hop on Zillow while googling the stats of the town I may or may not live in next year, it leaves me with only fleeting comfort. I really have no idea where I will be putting up the Christmas decorations next year.

There is nothing to do but wait. And be honest about how hard that is right now.

I was leaving voice messages back and forth with a friend who was in this exact place last year, the place of waiting, of not knowing, of wanting and being afraid of wanting. She was also in the place of transition, seemingly stuck mid-leap with no place to land. She has been in this place that I find myself in. She knows how worthless the platitudes are.

So instead she gives it to me straight. She tells me that my greatest wishes could be granted, and that she is certainly praying for that. She tells me that my greatest fears could be realized, and that she is certainly praying against that. She tells me no matter what, that on the other end of this I will be there, she will be there, and God will be there. With us.

On the other side of this fear and angst and not knowing, God will be there. God will show up. Maybe in my wildest dreams, maybe in my cloudiest fears, maybe and probably a strange mix of both. But God will be there, with us. At the end that is the only promise to cling to.

It is hard for me to believe that right now, that God will show up. It is hard to see through the thick glass of expectation marbled with pre-emptive disappointment. It is hard to believe. So my friend shows up. I get a little bleep on my phone while I am making dinners or grading papers. We leave each other messages with the chaos of the kids in the background. She shows up.

And I thought I needed big answers and grand gestures. I thought I needed answers and completion and the waiting to end. Don’t get me wrong, if you’ve got them I will take them. But what I really need is for God to be with me. What I really need is someone to keep showing up.

Joy in a Minor Key

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The holiday season is almost upon us, like a sweaty dog. The Christmas lights and jingly songs blare their good cheer into the darkness, but they don’t seem to penetrate it. 

This year, we will decorate the tree together as a family, and I will try and snap pictures of my little boy looking angelic while hanging a straw star onto pine branches. (This seems to be more of a challenge as the years go on: he is more prone to making monster faces when there is a camera present. This, too, makes me smile). My family will gather at Christmas, and we will exchange gifts, eat far too much amazing food (and swear we will eat less next year), and watch the Queen’s speech, as we do every year in our home in South West England.

It holds comfort and joy. Christmas, for us, is a harmonious symphony, repeated every year with minimal variation. 

But for others, Christmas tunes have been punctured by the rattle of gunfire; the devastating news of an unwanted diagnosis; the death of a friend; or painful memories from the past. I cannot sing ‘Joy to the world’ in my head while there is a discordant bass line that’s thumping throughout the world. Syria, Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Mali. They hold such darkness that it is hard to remember there is a light that will overcome it. It is hard to sing ‘tidings of comfort and joy’ without picturing a refugee child, huddled and shivering, or the relatives of those killed in Beirut, comfortless, weeping.

My friend, writer Kath Cunningham, talks about joy ‘in a minor key’. If you’ve ever tried to play ‘Joy to the world’ in a minor key you’ll know how wrong it sounds. Just that extra semitone down can make all the difference. 

Sometimes life is like that. We have joy, but in a minor key. This life mixes up the best and beautiful with the ugly and evil of the world, and sometimes they play at the same time. 

As I approach Advent, the season of waiting and in-between, I want to be honest about the joy and the sorrow together. It doesn’t work to pretend that everything is okay when it is not; nor that everything is bad, because it isn’t. We have both. We have joy, but in a minor key. We have sorrow, but with a resolution into a major key.

As I approach Christmas, I want to remember the darkness of the world, and sit with those who are in mourning. But I will also light a candle and remember Jesus, the light who was not overcome by darkness. Whenever the world looks particularly dark, it is not a trivial thing to believe that evil will not have the last word. Faith can be an act of defiance and boldness. Lighting a candle does not solve anything, but it does help to refocus on the truth, and truth has power.

It takes discipline to reject both the jangly tunes and funeral march that this world offers, and listen out for a melody that encompasses redemption. This world holds pain; but it is not without hope.

There’s something about slowing down, lighting candles in the dark and listening to God in the silence that makes me hear that song once again: joy, in a minor key. But this time it sounds more beautiful. 

 

(Kath Cunningham’s Advent thoughts which inspired me are also worth reading.)

 

Freedom

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It was in that Bible study that I realized I was not free.

We were eight couples, all of us fresh into our time as expats in Singapore, struggling to find our footing in what we jokingly called “Fantasy Island.” That group was a lifeline in the midst of our turbulent transition to a new country, yet I often walked away from times with them feeling insecure and unsettled. Why?

I was imprisoned by trying to prove my value to them.

For nine years I had been in full-time ministry, defining myself as one of the brave ones, the faithful ones, willing to go and do whatever God asked. It led us to the other side of the world where I was a missionary girl raising kids, tackling another culture and language, reaching the world, the “how does she do it” kind of wife and mom.

Then God uprooted us and planted us in a strange new land, a place where parenting went to a whole new, unfamiliar level and my ministry outside the home dissolved, leaving me with the title, “Erik’s wife” among our fellow missionaries.

There, God blessed us with this collection of amazing, godly business people. I had never been in a community with people outside of ministry. I was fully prepared for them to be impressed with our sacrificial, missionary lifestyle.

Instead, I found myself swirling in a losing battle of comparison. The yardstick that had always placed me on par, or above my peers, starting measuring me short.

I compared my missionary status to the guy in our group who was a missionary kid. He had lived his whole life with missionary cred.

I might be learning how to master homeschooling my two kids, but there was that other mom who homeschooled four.

I lead a Bible study at church, but that other woman from our group, well, she led the whole women’s ministry.

These people were just as spiritual. They pursued God with the same passion, maybe more. They had more. They did more.

I did not know what to do with that.

Who was I in comparison to these people? What now defined my life? What made me valuable when everything I did they did better?

That yardstick became a ball and chain, tying my value to an uncertain existence.

All the wrong questions, keeping me imprisoned in insecurity, making me believe that my value was found out there somewhere and it was my job to hunt it down and keep it safe. In the words of Brene Brown, I was in bondage to “hustling for my worthiness.” Suddenly, all my hustling was not enough.

What a gift.

My spiritual companions those days were Henri Nouwen and Brennan Manning. I drank in their words like honey for my soul, words that told me who I am and what He thinks of me. Words that called me Beloved child, called me valuable apart from what I do, called me to a solid place away from the voices of the world.

I grabbed those words and captured them in a journal, one place where I could soak them in again and again. Some days I would come home with my unsettled soul and spend hours reading those truths over and over until it finally soaked in. “This is who you are. This is who you are. This is who you are.”

The words called me to drop the yardstick and walk freely.

As Henri Nouwen told me, it was “the change from living life as a painful test to prove that you deserve to be loved, to living it as an unceasing ‘Yes’ to the truth of that Belovedness.”

The temptation is always there, to pick up the yardstick again. Every time I lay claim to my worth in Him, I cast the yardstick aside and know that freedom lies in resting, believing, grounding myself in my established worth.

What I Want for Our Children

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You asked me if I care about your children and my heart sank right into my chest. Oh, how that hurt. Do I want your children—or mine—to grow up in a world full of danger and evil? 
 
I didn’t answer then. The words I saw sprawled across the internet were written in black and white but they were painted in frustration, and there was nothing I could say to convince you or have you trust my intentions.  But today, as the sun shines bright and the cold wind rips the golden leaves from the trees I’ll tell you, if you’ll try to listen, what I want for our children.
 
I want our children, yours and mine, to walk through life without the fear that lurks in dark corners and jumps out behind new neighborhoods, new people, and a 24 hour news cycle. I want our children to know the Creator of the Universe is with them and has reminded them over and over again that His hand is on them and no matter what happens, He is there.
 
I want our children to make the words written in Matthew 25 so much a part of their lives that they cannot help to see the Imago Dei in each and every person they meet. I want our children to live a life of service and community.
 
I want our children to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep. I want them to know lament. I want them to know joy. 
 
I want our children to trust that God is true even if every human they meet is a liar.
 
I want our children to do the hard things, relying only on God’s grace.
 
But there’s so much more.
 
I want our children to laugh and play with the girls in their class who wear the hijab.
 
I want our children to smile at the neighbors as we walk by, without fear, just God’s love shining through. 
 
I want our children to know real freedom. Not the kind we try to give here, but the kind that is only found through walking with God.
 
I want our children to have Kingdom dreams, not the American Dream. 
 
I want our children to live out the things we teach them on Sunday mornings, walking by faith so they will be counted with the saints.
 
I want our children to live a life of radical grace.
 
I want our children to be world changers, not just in name but truly ready to walk in the unknown instead of retreating into a desire for safety and comfort.
 
We serve a God who asks us over and over to do what seems impossible. He asks Abraham to sacrifice his own child. He asks us to walk into fiery furnaces. To sleep with the lions. To sell off all that we have to follow Him. He asks us to live in such an extravagant way that we treat all those around us as if they are God in the flesh.  He tells us there will be wars and rumors of wars but to fear not. 
 
Friends, he tells us not to fear. He says He is with us. He gives us assurance over and over again even as He asks us to do the impossible. I cannot read the words of my Jesus without saying my door is open. I cannot turn away those in need. The commands to love others without reservation far outweigh anything that hints at self-preservation. I am compelled by the Gospel to welcome the refugee. And I want that for my children, and yours as well. Not because of a pie in the sky idea that love wins and all will be okay, and certainly not out of political correctness. I welcome the refugee because Jesus so radically welcomed me. And that is what I want for our children.

How Can I Write about Freedom Now?

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How can I write about freedom now, when the world (and my heart) is so often caged?

How can I write about surrender when refugees are turned away?

How can I write about joy when people of color are treated as unequal?

I only have borrowed words to fill my empty cup: “How long, O Lord? How long?”

On September 11, 2001 I was studying abroad in Oxford, England. The principal of the program told us New York was burning. We rushed to a television in the common room, our jaws slack in disbelief. I felt so very far from home.

The next day our group went to see a production of Julius Caesar and the blood and betrayal was simply too much for us to take in. Our wounds were still open. We didn’t have the wherewithal to open ourselves to more bleeding.

One of our associate deans shared C. S. Lewis’ sermon, “Learning in Wartime,” written at the beginning of what was to be World War II. Writing now, too, feels a bit like the “comic discrepancy” between creating art while death looms. Lewis writes:

Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord.” It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.

And:

War makes death real to us, and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality.

What is underneath the fears about resettling refugees in the United States, I think, is something rather basic: our fear of death. We move death into assisted living facilities; we call it names like cancer, addiction, old age, war. In our comfortable Western world, we push off death by fixating on the career, the kids’ soccer schedules and exotic vacations.

So when we see the picture of a 3-year-old child washed up on the beach, we grieve, and then perhaps because it’s too painful, we move on. We run to convenience instead of seeing how suffering births deep-down freedom, surrender and joy. A type of freedom that cannot be taken away and is not contingent on the color of your skin or your home country.

So I ask the North American church—knowing I am embroiled in the whole mess, too—“How long?” How long will we be ruled by convenience and nationalism? How long will my own heart run from the hard truths of Jesus?

And I continue to do small things. “The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.” So I get my kids ready for school. I cook hearty meals. I sweep the floor and vacuum and scrub toilets. I invite friends and neighbors in. I pray.

Outrage on Facebook will not change the world. Only Jesus can do that. Jesus changes the world as I listen to the Spirit blow through my windows, opening my eyes to a reality and a world bigger than my home-keeping. So while I vacuum I mutter prayers. I trust there’s an upside-down Kingdom where the Spirit translates my groans, my own feeble “I don’t know how to help.” I’m starting small conversations: asking how I can come alongside those who have already made strides towards justice and mercy right where I live.

The world is spinning and so I ask, how can I write about freedom now? Perhaps though, the question should be: How can I not write about freedom? How can I not see the wider story of freedom written across time, the one where a loving Father comes to get his lost sons and daughters? The one where “everything sad has come untrue?”

For, friends, there is a freedom that is wider than the sky and buoys you up like ocean waves. There is a freedom that smells like mountain air that fills your lungs and travels to the tips of your toes. It’s the sound of chains falling off and of running feet of joyous welcome. It announces with a resounding voice that sounds like mighty, rushing waters: “You are home.”

 

Resources:

International Justice Mission

International Rescue Commission

US Office of Refugee Resettlement

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