Saturday, March 30, 2013


: my expectations for Lent

In almost every way, this Lent has not been what I expected.  That began early, when the timing of Lent snuck up on me and I didn't feel led towards a specific, easily enforceable discipline.  Instead of something straightforward like, "Give up caffeine," or "Walk every day," or even "Pray the hours," I felt a need to open myself and be receptive to the idea of being led daily to the well I needed to drink from.  This idea was a little scary to me, but I wanted to be responsive and receptive, even in my fear.  So I was blindsided, hurt and left reeling when I posted about Lent and received a snarky comment about Lent being a time for penitence.  The implication was that my discipline of seeking creative and restorative outlets was selfish and inappropriate.  That, combined with a reticence on God's part to direct me, left me stumbling through Lent rather than following along, walking near Jesus' side.

Perhaps the stumbling along can be traced back to the first whisper I heard to write during Lent.  Because I have done many things over the last forty days, but very little writing.  Taking a step away from writing has been somewhat unintentional,  yet I've been aware of the slippage and allowed it to happen.  Like a workout routine left undone for too long, it became easier and easier to not write.  I certainly had plenty of other things to fill my time and my soul gradually quieted and stopped asking questions that needed to be processed in writing.

But even as that form of communication quieted, longer form writing ideas pursued me - everything from an idea for a novel to an idea for a children's book series.  I have not written one word towards giving birth to either of these ideas, yet they circle in my mind and leave me fearful and frozen.  That's what fear does to me - it freezes me.  My mental and physical muscles clench and I feel unable to fight or flee, regardless of what they tell you adrenaline is for.  So the blog sits for days, then weeks and my writing muscles atrophy, then stop even asking for the release of exercise.  Thankfully, it was in just such a moment of fear induced frostbite that I went on silent retreat.

The Ghosts of Leah and Rachel

As my retreat began, Leah kept circling in my mind.  Maybe you've heard of her?  She's the one who married Jacob, when he intended to marry her sister, Rachel.  Her father tricked Jacob into marrying her, probably because he thought this was the only way he could marry her off.  Jacob never really loved Leah and I've always thought her story was a sad one.  She was on my mind because I had read about her in the Jesus Storybook Bible to my daughters.  Here's how her story ends in Sally Lloyd-Jones' rendition:

One of Leah's children's children's children would be a prince - the Prince of Heaven - God's Son.

This Prince would love God's people.  They wouldn't need to be beautiful for him to love them.  He would love them with all of his heart.  And they would be beautiful because he loved them.

Like Leah.

Leah wasn't loved because she was beautiful, she was beautiful because she was loved.  God blessed Leah in a way the world saw as blessing - he gave her children.  And not just children, but sons.  There was no greater gift, no more sought-after role than to give birth to sons.  But at first, Leah misinterprets God's blessings.  Each time she gives birth to a son, Leah thinks this will make Jacob love her.  She says, "God has seen my misery, now Jacob will love me (Reuben).  God has heard my cry, now Jacob will hear me (Simeon).  God has given me three sons, now Jacob will connect with me (Levi)."  And that does not happen. 

Jacob does not love her.

Not ever. 

But finally, Leah sees that someone does love her: God.  So when she gives birth to a fourth son, she says, "I will praise God (Judah)."

Judah is the line of Jacob's family that Jesus will be born into.  It's to a town of Judah that Mary will travel to give birth.  And Mary, like Leah is blessed by God.  But she's blessed in a way that the world would never, ever expect.  She's blessed with an out of wedlock baby, a son who leaves her to fulfill his ministry and who she ultimately watches die on the cross.  While Leah may have been blessed in a way the world acknowledged and valued, Mary's blessing from God was not what she - or anyone else - was expecting.

But both were blessed.  God loved Leah and Mary, even if the outward signs of his love were vastly different.

My expectations for Lent have gone mostly unmet this year.  I haven't felt closer daily to Jesus.  I haven't had an outpouring of creativity or seen with clarity a habit I need to break.  But even if my expectations have gone unmet, I have been met.  I've been met by the Holy Spirit, who hovers in and amidst my pain and confusion.  I've been met by Jesus when I've had the space and grace to invite him in.

I have been met with Leah and Mary and how their stories help me see my own story more clearly and more compassionately.

Whatever expectations, hopes and dreams you have that are unmet, may you meet Jesus, especially on this cold, dreary Easter weekend when we are reminded of how much we all need Him.  And may meeting Him propel you to action and move you out of the place of fear, than can keep us locked in and frozen.

Monday, March 25, 2013


4 a: to exert influence on : constrain

A little over a month ago, I read a fiction book that got me asking deep theological questions.  In the world of this book, there are three gods.   When the gods go to war, one god wins by imprisoning the other two.  (Question #1: What happens to our own faith when one part of the trinity is minimized or emphasized over the other two parts?  This one's for another post.)  The main character, Yeine, meets one of the imprisoned gods and comes to know him as more than the god of chaos, he's also the god of creativity - and don't those two nearly always go hand in hand.  Yeine has been brought to the capital to be used as a sacrificial lamb and she's talking with the imprisoned god about how she can't change her reality.  He tells her:

You are what your creators and experiences have made you, like every other being in this universe.  Accept that and be done... The future, however, is yours to make - even now.  Tell me what you want.  [As for me,] when I am free, I will choose who shapes me.
Question #2: If I get to choose what shapes me, what am I choosing?  What am I pressing in to?

Last week as I was walking one morning, I pondered this question.  In my mind, I saw myself pressing in to my enneagram nine ways of living.  For me this means withdrawing (primarily emotionally) and sitting back in the reality that this world is broken and shattered.  And it means feeling incapable of changing the inherent brokenness that I sense.  The alternative felt like a choice to press into the Holy Spirit - that whirling softness that brings comfort, yes, but also growth and uncertainty about what lies ahead.  I ended my walk that morning determined to choose growth over stasis.

Then I went on a silent retreat - those lovely weekend interludes away with God that fill up my emotional tank and recenter me.  On this retreat, I imagined myself in the cleft of a rock.  There I saw the choice of what I press in to is not so clean cut as I initially thought.  I thought I faced a simple choice between doing things my way or doing things God's way.  Instead, I think my choices are more intricate, more compelling, more fluid.

I need both the quiet darkness of my nine space and the light and space of growth.  Like a seed that needs time in the dark recesses to prepare for growth, so my soul can't be constantly exposed to the light and sun without withering.  It's hard to remember that God made me the way I am and I don't need to change myself to conform to some idea I have of what growth looks like.  Growth for me will look different than for anyone else because we are all made differently.

I'm not saying my growth will happen naturally, without me doing anything to encourage it.  My job is to press in, both to the sheltering dark and the swirling hopefulness of the unknown.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


1 a : a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (as oxen) are joined at the heads or necks for working together

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” -Matthew 11:28-30, New International Version

Thanks to chapter 11 of Matthew, I've been pondering what it means to be yoked for the last five days or so. When I read through the passage, I was using the lectio divina method of reading scripture, so I read it through several times and then tried to picture myself talking to Jesus about it.  In my mind's eye, I saw Jesus guide me into a room both welcoming and beautiful.  Once there, I settled in on a sofa with a blanket tucked around me.  When I thought about the word "yoke" I felt clearly that what this word meant for me was "write."  This might seem contradictory since I have been doing many things - none of them writing - over the course of the last three weeks.

It's not that I haven't thought about writing - I have.  But most of my ideas lately have been of the fiction variety.  And who has time, energy (and talent) enough to tackle that?  Not me.  So I've been mentally filing away the writing ideas and instead pouring my time and energy into planning for our next school year.  While that may seem a long way away, the knowledge that I will be homeschooling all three girls again next year has propelled me to move from dreaming about an idea to actively pursuing it.  Starting in August we will have our very own neighborhood tutorial offering science, literature/debate and possibly a math enrichment option.  Since January, I have been working steadily to find tutors, work out the timing and get everything arranged.  Sunday night I took the somewhat scary step of presenting the plan to other families via e-mail.  Nearly all of them want to join us on this adventure.  I am pleased, excited and a little terrified.

I've been dreaming of doing something like this since my first year of homeschooling, but I've also been waiting for the right time.  Last fall, I accepted a job at my church overseeing the elementary Sunday school classes and volunteers.  Just recently, I agreed to expand that role to the preschool classrooms as well.  I've been treading carefully through all of this, taking it one month at a time.  But I have prayed for guidance at each step and I've honestly found the work quite easy.  A few months into the job at St. B's, it occurred to me that it might help prepare me for starting a tutorial.  Many of the skills I use for that role, including communication, volunteer management, setting clear expectations and supporting the people in the classrooms, could help me set up a homeschool tutorial.

How does all of this relate to being yoked?  I see it as being about my yoke because there have been times in my life when I've strained against my yoke, pushing ahead and pulling God along behind me.  There have also been times when God has had to encourage me to take a step instead of staying rooted to the spot.  But these jobs have felt like a natural outflowing of who I am and what I do well.  While I wouldn't say I have exactly felt like I am working alongside God (I haven't felt enough closeness to him to describe it that way), I can say that when I look back I feel like I have been gently led to where I am standing - and there has been very little need for pushing or prodding.

The hardest part of being yoked isn't being asked to work - I am finding that if I wait for God to show me the jobs that are meant for me, they are rarely hard.  He knows my strengths much better than I know them myself.  All three of the current things that occupy my time and energy - homeschooling, coordinating at St. B's and setting up the tutorial - require skills and interests that I have (in abundance).  So doing them isn't the hard part.  The hard part is believing that I've made the right decisions and having confidence that I can do these things.  So I'm trying to remember that I don't have to do all of this on my own.  That's where it's helpful to see myself as yoked - I'm only doing part of the work.  The Message version of Matthew 11:28-30 says it this way,

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. -Matthew 11:28-30, The Message 
When I hear the word "yoked," I may worry about being asked to do things I can't do or being pulled along to a place I'm not ready to go.  But these words paint a different picture.  Live freely and lightly?  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace?  Yes, please.  And I can see this in my life.  The work I am doing feels unforced.  That makes me desire even more to walk with Jesus and watch how he goes about his work, in the hopes that I can do mine in a way that likewise blesses other people.