My Story part 12

One of the ways in which I see God moving and working in my life is back when I was about 12 or 13. That summer before middle school, if I recall correctly. I was miserable. I don’t think that childhood depression had been invented yet; but in today’s terms perhaps that was what was going on with me. Perhaps it was just “the ugly duckling phase” as my parents would put it. I didn’t have the words to explain that things were ugly on the inside or to explain the depths of how much I did not like myself. It was far worse than just not being pretty or coordinated or so shy I could rarely talk to people.

So one way that God found me was through an public service ad on tv — as best I recall. I tried googling this to see if it was on the web somewhere, but did not find it. So take all this with a grain of salt. What I remember is black screen and a deep voice saying, “Is it better to light a single candle than to sit and curse the darkness?” and the sound of a match being struck and a candle is lit and all is glowing light. (Not from the Bible actually, which I thought it was until I investigated because of writing this. From a man named William Watkinson. And what was the PSA about? I have no idea!)

I thought, “Okay that makes sense. I’ll improve myself. I’ll light ten candles (because ten fingers) and if things are not better after that….”

Things were better after that. I get that my “self improvement” at 13 was mostly selfish — how I looked, how happy I was — but one of my candles was to talk to my parents.

My dad loved to go to garage sales and he would often make me go with him. So I started talking. After a few weekends of this, he goes, “So you have gotten … chatty…lately.” And I beamed at him. “Yes, I’m practicing talking.” “I think you’ve got it,” he said.

As an adult I realize that there was subtext, perhaps.

At the time I felt like a huge success.

Another of my candles was to make friends. And I met a girl named Diane — Diane if you are out there get back in touch with me! She taught me about making friends and being a friend. She saved my life.

Setting achievable goals to tweak your life toward better — that’s essentially what “solution-focused brief therapy” is about, and I highly recommend this problem solving technique. But I didn’t know that of course.  Lighting my “candles” was a gift from God. God reached me where I was and spoke to me in a way I could hear and helped me. And until I started this project of writing down my spiritual memoir stories, I didn’t even know it.

 

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My story part 11

Here’s a story of the most important sermon I ever heard; and a story of when I knew — deep down with a click — who I fundamentally am.

This was before we had our baby, as best I recall, and it was at our first church, the one that cherished us in our losses and taught me so much and made me often quite angry. The head pastor was a very serious gentleman. Very brilliant, very studious, very reserved. He connected with many people with an equally formal manner; but we rarely interacted. He was perhaps far over my head; or perhaps his very seriousness just blocked me from connecting with his words.

Yet in fact his sermon changed me entirely.

I think he was preaching on are you a sinner or a child of God and the answer was something like each of us is both. I didn’t really listen to a word he said.

What I heard was how he started: Who are you?

And I thought of all the roles I play — wife, daughter, sister, employee….. and suddenly:

like a crack of silent thunder 

I realized I was a poet. At that time I hadn’t written poetry in years. But I knew. There in my core I am a poet even if I never write another poem, even if I never again feel that tingle of a poem landing in my hands and heart.

I poked my husband and whispered in his ear, “I’m a poet.”

As a secret identity, being a poet can mean that I see unexpected beauty. Or weep and gnash my teeth at horrible injustice and suffering. Or try to reach out and connect with other people’s inner poets. Sometimes badly. Sometimes — ever so briefly — it feels like a flame.

FTGOG

 

My story part 10

In writing down parts of “my story” I have come to realize that I’m basically really dull; and thank God. There’s no story of how I over came tragedy, my childhood was in the realm of normal misery, there’s nothing that makes me special in the world’s eyes: I hold no power in terms of who I am or what I do or who I know. I am surrounded by many blessings that I would hate to lose. But I’m ordinary: a sinner and a child of God.

I am deeply deeply grateful to have followers and “likes”; to be heard anyway.

What has surprised me about writing down these bits of my story – my “comfort zone” with God seems to be mystery. I’m perfectly okay with the mystery of the Trinity, with the mystery of God’s greatness, with the mystery of Grace, with the mystery of what exactly happened when Jesus died on the Cross and why did it have to happen and all that it means. Of course I keep reading and dwelling in scripture and other writings to push into the mystery. But “mystery” does not scare me. I know and trust that God loves me, that God loves. That love wins. So the mysteries are exciting. The mysteries are the rest of the story. They won’t limit my faith or derail my faith. I can embrace learning how all this works and how the people of the past (the “Saints”) have thought about it all. And how knowledge changes and circles back and moves forward.

That’s soooo Presbyterian of me, yes?

Perhaps my personal worst suffering was in losing my first two pregnancies. One was a “normal” miscarriage and the other was more involved. A sonogram showed a very deformed fetus: no kidneys for example. While it was clearly not a pregnancy that was going to come to term we opted to have the new-at-that-time testing to see if the problem might be genetic. At that time, as best I recall, there was a three-week wait for the test results.

And that whole time was unexpectedly peaceful. Our whole church was praying for us; our Pastors were supportive and understanding; our families and friends loved us. By rights I should have been weeping daily. Instead I felt surrounded by angel feathers, wrapped in a blanket, cherished. Being held in prayer; being held in the light seemed to bring light and peace to me. I didn’t pray for a miracle; I didn’t pray in words. Prayer was something like:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

Not that there is a right or wrong way to face times of trouble — God will meet you where you are. Emmanuel God-with-us.

It’s a mystery of love.

 

Interrupted by the Cross

Believe it or not the same week in which my pastor preached on Christ crucified, like Paul did, in a completely random way I was trying to find “The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ” by Fleming Rutledge via my library for reasons having to do with the Festival of Faith and Writing in April. I only found a sample of the e-book but have asked my library to get it. But the sample is amazing. The sermon and this book together are bringing me — hope. I have been so angry for a over a year, at the awful awful world, at people, at some medical stuff going on with me, everything has made me angry. And living with that anger, being on that edge and needing that control all the time, is exhausting.

Rutledge writes ” Understanding the cross and resurrection as a single event, undertaken from within the Trinity itself, is of utmost importance … The scandalous “word of the cross” is not a human word. It is the Spirit-empowered presence of God in the preaching of the crucified One. The Holy Spirit … inhabits the message and empowers the speaker, so that the proclamation of God’s act in Christ is the new occasion of creation, issuing from the Trinitarian power of the originating Word itself.”

The world — as completely horrible as it seems to be — may in fact be in the midst of being made new. Not with worldly power in any way (not politics, or privilege, or people/mob power and certainly not with hate and anger); but the generative power of God…

For some crazy reason it gives me a feeling of calm. If God is trying to fix the world, then however powerless I am, its okay. I can do my best not to make the world worse and call that a victory.  It is an acknowledgment — by God no less — that the world was/is broken and needs fixing. This is a horrible world. Paul would nod and maybe even roll his eyes: Of course it is. But for so long it just seems as if no one was listening. Or they would listen in the wrong way like: yep that is it exactly, that is why I am just doing what I need to do and the rest of the time eat, drink, and be merry. Which I just can’t seem to do. I can’t seem to not care.

This world: brutal. Beautiful. Both.

But one day only Beautiful.

 

Mark 8:31-38 and the cross

After I have shared a scripture in storytelling form (by heart), afterward there is this beautiful peace in my mind and heart. It can last a week or so. It is just the most quiet calm feeling. My brain, heart, body was working so hard to learn the passage and after, suddenly, a welcome silence.

Last Sunday I shared Mark 8:31-38 and it went well (I think). For the first time I used a lapel mic and that gave me more freedom to turn, although I kept my feet planted. (Some storytellers move all over of course, and maybe some day for some story I might. But I like to feel grounded.) I turned first as Peter taking Jesus aside to rebuke him; then turned the other way to show that Jesus, when rebuking Peter, was not doing it in front of everyone. Their argument was in private. In verse 34, Jesus calls the crowd and the disciples back to him (and Peter) and says, that to follow him, you have to deny yourself, and pick up your cross and follow him.” So I tried with my turning to show the various movements of the story.

Now what is “your cross”? What is my cross? What does that even mean? Does it mean face your fears? Or maybe find your joy? Or speak truth to power? Or change, move, learn, grow, do … something? Something unique to us or something everyone can do (if only we all would), like just … what? The cross was an extremely painful death, and one with shame in it. I read this murder mystery a couple weeks ago and there was a scene of the death of a death row inmate. Painful. Justice? In this particular mystery it wasn’t justice. And the inmate had a family member there, who was deeply shamed and deeply grieving a life lost, “wasted”. Her life too was shamed and wasted. Perhaps Jesus’s death on a cross was intended by the Romans, rather like our death penalty, not just to deter crimes of rebellion against the state, not just to inflict a terrible death, but to shame the “criminal” and the criminal’s family? How did that work out for the Romans?

The cross then for me – should I expect to be facing something equally painful, equally hard?

Which, you know, I don’t want to especially.

And I wonder if too many of us hear “pick up your cross” to mean “pick up your cross like a sword and swing it at people”.

I feel that it is Easter that changes me, you, the world…. Hold on to your cross and feel it, and sorrow. Envision what things would be like without that to bear, without that sorrow. Envision how to create that world, full of love and joy and hope and trust. Easter is coming.

Interrupted by Wakanda

I think it is amazing that a “superhero movie” — Marvel’s Black Panther — has so much to say to real life and real hearts in a number of ways. The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer wrote a wonderful essay highlighting and limning together text and subtext. Moreover, the sets, costumes, acting, music, and more all combined together to provide more than a couple hours of fun; it was more intense.  Yet me and my quirky brain are wondering about stuff that wasn’t in the scope of the narrative. Now I am delving into “movie midrash”, the way I do scripture, wondering what is off the page, what is happening just out of sight, or just deeper, or next. Thus, if I understand Wakanda, they have always been hidden and safe from the outside world. So presumably this included being “safe” from the good news of Jesus Christ.

What gospel might travel now to Wakanda? Would a cacophony of missionaries — protestant, Catholic, pentecostal, evangelical, etc. — head straight on over? What might they say? What might the Wakandan’s hear? Can this be separated from colonialism or be different from exploitation?  Or, since at least Shuri seems to know about the outside world’s “stuff”, perhaps Wakandans already have heard the message of Christ and created their own church and will be sending that into the world, and redeeming our flagging faith? I can imagine so many things.

The whole idea that is rather fundamental to Christianity is that God so loved the world, he sent his son to save it, not to condemn it. To heal the whole world by opening God’s love and grace and covenant to everybody and not just a select few. Yes?  And our Savior did that by dying. On a Cross. Suffering. And then he comes back to life after being really most sincerely dead. Christianity, at some basic fundamental level, wins by losing. Saves by giving it all away. Converts by loving each other.  Most people in Jesus’s day and the days of the early church saw this whole mess as “foolishness”. Count me a fool for Christ, said Paul.

Wakanda might see it just as foolishness too. After all their government doesn’t have elections but fights.  Their king is then imbued with the spirit of their god, the Black Panther. (Did I misunderstand? I really am new to this story. But otherwise where else does the Black Panther’s powers come from?) How would a people who literally believe that their king is divine, and have clear and physical proof of that, feel about the message of a Savior who died and rose again?

Perhaps rather like the Romans. They believed (I am told) that Caesar was a God/divine — or at least paid lip service to this. We’ve been here before, eh?

By the end of the movie Wakanda has agreed to be their brother’s keeper and is taking actions to help the world. They are very afraid — and Lord knows they have every right to be afraid  — will their country be a target? Will their country lose its freedom and independence? Will being their brother’s keeper end up costing them too much? Everything?

Here’s my hope, my prayer for Wakanda — may Christ’s love strengthen your will to help mend the deeply broken places of the world, in ways no superhero can, in ways that only human hands and human hearts can do. May your science and tech and beautiful uniqueness combine with grace and mercy and love to enlighten the world.

The stories we tell have power.

Interrupted by music

This new song is fantastic! Austin French’s Freedom Hymn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-VfFTVu-6E

And this song by Jeremy Camp “Word of Life” is refreshing my soul these days as well. “Lead me to your open arms.”

Raise your hands!

Dance!

I’m “telling” Mark 8:31-38 tomorrow at church and using part of Jeremy Camp’s song as the opening prayer. Because “What, indeed, can we give in return for life?”

Let’s love each other.

Let’s dance.

 

 

My Story 9, Halloween

Okay I truly absolutely hate Halloween. I realize that is almost un-American. I hate horror movies, costumes, parties, fireworks, everything about it. My brother and I went through a haunted house when I must have been about 12 and he would have about 10? And we were so scared by the end we held hands and ran out of there. I do like the little tiny trick or treaters of course. But in my last post I mentioned that children, in general, just seem to find me off their radar. I can just never think of anything to say. (Except my own child of course.)

But then last year’s Halloween happened. In the midst of a very very busy year at work, in life, I somehow agreed to tell ghost stories at the brand-new first-ever “Trunk-or-Treat” event that my church held. They found the ghost stories for me, I found a nice quiet spot in the graveyard, managed to hide my jet lag and migraine more or less, and people seemed to enjoy it all.

But in the back of my mind, I had an itch. I knew that I knew an awesome wonderful ghost story and I just couldn’t remember it. I could remember that it was a family camping trip and family friends were also at the campground, there was a campfire, and my dad’s friend, Mr. Somebody, told a story. And it was scary and creepy and at the end we were all rolling around laughing so hard, young and old. And I could not remember the story.

Anyway “Trunk-or-Treat” was wrapping up, and I had two boys show up about 5th or 6th grade? And I told my little ghost stories. The more talkative said, “Well, you did pretty good with that story but next year you need to find some better ones.”

I said, “Okay I’ll work on that.”

He said, “I could tell a story.”

I said, “Okay!”

And he told the story that Mr. Somebody had told! He told me the very story I was trying to remember! And he did a great job.

I’m not going to type it all out — but what a gift! What a wonderful miracle to have a tiny bit of childhood given back to me. And I had a good time chatting with these boys who were very funny. Their mom thanked me as we all stood up to go, but I said to her the thanks were all mine.

And I guess I have one story all ready for next year.

FTGOG

My Story 8, and Biblical Storytelling

It was about 10 years ago that a miracle happened. I was home alone; my guys were at some sports ball practice and for some reason I didn’t go and didn’t have chores. I was just home. So I got the mail — the snail mail. And a publication called “Faith at Work” was in my mailbox for no reason that I know about. I sat down and skimmed it and got hooked in an article about Tracy Radosevic. She was a professional Biblical storyteller and her story was amazing. And she was going to be teaching a class at a Seminary fairly nearby and in a Friday-Saturday pattern. I could take the class by using just a little vacation! I went to the web site and signed up as an auditing student before my guys were even home. I never did stuff like that. I literally felt a push on my back; this, do this.

My husband has been very supportive about the storytelling from the beginning, which is great because he had to teach me how to drive to the school, in the city, in the dark, in the rain. So the second miracle is that I did learn to drive to the school. (“I meant your other left, honey,” he might have said, perhaps with tiny bit of sharpness in his voice.)

I’ve never had good first-day-of-schools and this was no exception. I drove there just fine and found the parking but then could not find the building and had no idea what to do. I might have been crying a little bit, when an angel appeared and knew where I belonged and got me there. By angel I technically mean a very kind woman, a stranger to me; but I’m pretty sure she was an angel.

The class was wonderful. (The reading, the classmates, all wonderful. The process of learning a story by heart, of imagining the story. The whole thing was wonderful.) On the last day (as best I recall) Tracy had us each tell the scripture of our choice (that we had been prepping all through out the course).

I was so deeply relieved when that was over.

But Tracy said, “That was wonderful! Now do it again! And this time try….”

And honestly I nearly fainted; I had little black spots in my vision. I was completely calm doing it once. I never dreamed I would have to do it again.

Thank God, Thank God, Thank God that she had me do it again. That I could do it again. That the words hadn’t just left my brain instantly. That I could improve. That I could feel some or a lot of stage fright and still do it. That I could do it again, to an audience that had already heard it, and have them again lean forward, listening to the word of God. It wasn’t me.

It was the glory of God.

Maybe I can’t drive very well, maybe I fall asleep during meetings, maybe “mission” always goes wrong around me (don’t even ask), maybe children take one look at me and misbehave but suddenly I had something to give, some spiritual food for others that I could enjoy and share.

For the glory of God.

 

Mark 8:31-38 and suffering

So I’ve been working on learning Mark 8:31-38 by heart, and, if you read my previous post, then you know the huge impact the rhetorical questions here made on me, how they made the passage come alive, in a whole new way.

But another thing is slowly swimming up in my mind about this passage, which is so familiar that it can be hard to hear. Jesus says he must suffer, be rejected, be killed, and rise again.

The order of that strikes me: He is suffering first.

His heart is broken at the brokenness of the world, at this “adulterous and sinful generation” that has not kept faith with God’s rule of love. Out of suffering, everything else will follow, including the redemption.

Was it just chance that he put the order this way? How does the story change if he is rejected, then suffers, then is killed? That’s just the story we would expect isn’t it? Of course you suffer when you are rejected, aren’t listened to, are not believed. And then that escalates to killing. Sure, that’s the proper plot.

But Jesus suffers first, and not perhaps bodily harm, but (I think) because his heart just aches for us, for the widow and the orphan and the sick and the dying and those in chains and those in loneliness and those in madness and those in prison and … everyone.

I’m not eager to suffer, I don’t know what my cross is that I have to take up, but certainly my heart aches when I hear of another school shooting or mass shooting or impulsive suicide and then yet more inaction on commonsense gun laws. My heart aches with the thought of another hurricane season and what might happen to places still not fully recovered from 2017’s season. From violence and wars and heart-breaking stories of refugees. To simple stories of families breaking apart and illness and the ordinary suffering of life. This is only the tip. I limit the news that I take in.

Yet suffering is what happens to Jesus, what happens to him first. Perhaps the suffering heart is the most important thing. Let’s have soft hearts this week, let’s have soft hearts together, as foolish as that may be in this world. That may be a cross we have to carry, in order to fully follow Him. Broken hearts may be what we give in return for the priceless gift of life itself.