O God, make haste

I’m struggling with worry right now. On the other side of this move, with some things settled (like Dave’s teaching position), other things are still very much up in the air: a job for me that brings in more income but still allows me to homeschool Em and “mom” my kids well; Em’s schooling—is this the best path longterm?; soccer and friendships for the kids; church; adjustment to a decreased budget…

I finger all the strands in my mind, till it’s simply a snarled mess and I’m hopelessly tangled in it.

In very low moments, I ask, “Are you there, God?”

In other moments I know He is. I remember His faithfulness, the fact that he has never, ever failed, that the darkest moments of the past have then turned into seasons of watching and marveling at the creativity and goodness of God.

I feel like I’m cycling through the lament psalms, repeating the psalmist’s rhythm of despair/crying out/remembering God’s faithfulness/hope.

By the time I get to the remembering part, I’m ready to dump my entire snarled mess in God’s lap. “Please take this. I can’t do it. I can’t figure this out.” This brings relief, because his lap is large, big enough to hold me as well as my mess.

But, just a day or two later, sometimes only a few hours later, I find a fresh snarl of yarns in my head and the cycle begins again. Who knew my mind could gather fluff so quickly and spin so much so fast!

God has used my neighborhood to help shred my worry web, to help me move past myself to others. When I get out and about in the neighborhood and pass mothers waiting at bus stops, holding children on hips, others by the hand, I think, How many of them are running a rat race that feels hopeless? How many are working minimum-wage jobs, trying to feed and shelter a family on $350 a week, with childcare swallowing up a huge chunk of a paycheck? And, comparing these struggles to my current light-in-contrast worries—which I’m flattened by pretty easily—I wonder how long it would take before the hopelessness of that kind of grind would wear a person into the ground.

My husband’s work also shapes my perspective. The other morning he got a text from one of his student’s mothers, asking if Dave has heard from her son, that he ran away the night before and she’s hoping against all the fear in her heart that he shows up at school, that he hasn’t succumbed to some gang that’s promising him belonging, that he’ s not using, that… oh, the darkness that can swallow up all our hope.

And so my prayers change, and when I say, “O God, make speed to save us. O Lord, make haste to help us,” I do not have just my family in mind but my neighbors, my city, beyond.

As I recite Psalm 143, I imagine myself standing before God linked hand-in-hand with a long line of people: “Hear (our) prayer, O Lord, and in your faithfulness give ear to (our) supplications; answer (us) in your righteousness.”

And for those who are so burdened they cannot even whisper the words, whose heads are bowed low, whose knees are week, I change the singular pronouns to plural; I speak louder; I raise my voice: “Our spirit faints within us; our heart within is desolate. We stretch out our hands to you; our soul gasps for you like a thirsty land.

“O Lord, make haste to answer us; our spirits fail us; hide not your face from us lest we be like those who go down to the Pit. Let us hear of your loving-kindness in the morning,

For in you we put our trust.”

Housekeeping Notes

flower-side*I have a couple of blog/writing-related notes at the end of this post. Thanks for reading!

Earlier this year, trapped in a quiet waiting room while one of my children was doing academic testing, I picked up a book from a shelf and flipped through it. It was a book about Christian missionaries ministering to Muslim women, and it was compiled from the experiences and wisdom of women missionaries who’d served in Muslim countries for many years. I loved reading the accounts, but oddly enough, now there is only one I can recall with any clarity. It was from a woman missionary who felt amazed she’d been asked to contribute to the conversation. She, her husband, and their two daughters had been sent, years before, to a strict society, one in which she had very little freedom even as a Western woman, one in which her daughters had even less freedom.  She said something like this: “I have spent most of my time ministering to only two young women, our daughters. I have been their teacher, their spiritual mentor, and their mother. That has been my ministry. I do not know what wisdom I will be able to share.”

And yet, I remember clearly, she had much wisdom, the kind that comes from humility, quietness, watching, waiting, praying.

I wonder if I have been called to just such a season. My husband’s work is most definitely ministry, and it requires deep attention. It is good, good work, and we know he is impacting young men and women who desperately need good education and good male role models. Many of them need father figures. He is being used.

My children are in the middle of good work as well. They go to schools where they are the racial minority (except for my youngest, of course); they go to an after-school program with kids from our neighborhood; they befriend the three young boys who end up at our house many afternoons.

And I? I get them all out the door to do these works. I do the laundry and fix the meals and help with homework and encourage and remind and pray with and, when belonging seems far away, cry with. I homeschool the oldest child part-time, and my paid work is writing, which most of the time is done in quiet. Most days, I do not feel as if I am doing much of anything that is related to what we feel we’ve been called to here, to the work of being integrated, to the work of equality and justice and being/showing Jesus.

I recently wrote an article on the documentary film made about Lilias Trotter, one of the pioneer missionaries to Algeria in the late 1800s (look for a blog post in the next week or so about this). In the research process, I read this quote from her:

Surrender – stillness – a ready welcoming of all stripping, all loss, all that brings us low, low into the Lord’s path of humility  – a cherishing of every whisper of the Spirit’s voice, every touch of the prompting that comes to quicken the hidden life within: that is the way God’s human seed-vessels ripen and Christ becomes “magnified” even through the things that seem against us.
– 
Parables of the Christ Life

This, too, I am reminded, is good.

This, too, is God’s good work—in me, through me.

~~~

NOTE 1: If you’ve never visited my “freelance writing” page (follow the link here or scroll to the top of the page and click on the link there just under the header picture), check it out. If you have any writing or editing needs, please feel free to contact me. I love to help people get their ideas out of their heads and onto paper in clear and lovely ways. No job is too small!

NOTE 2: I added a donate button to my blog (well, actually it reads “Buy Now,” simply because I can’t get the formatting right for it to say “Donate”–oops!). Please do not feel any obligation to donate; I just wanted to give readers the option of contributing to the work of this blog and, through it, to the pro bono work I do for non-profits and churches.

 

Insignificant barriers

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When Emily and I toured the Frank Lloyd Wright home in Oak Park, IL, a couple weeks ago, I was struck by the quote carved above the fireplace: “Good friend, around these hearth-stones speak no evil word of any creature.”

A few days ago at the small fenced park where I let the dog (Chai) run, she chased a squirrel behind some deep, thick bushes. When I crouched down to check on her, I noticed a piece of foam tucked against the fence behind the bushes, a small blanket spread along one edge of it.

“Someone’s been sleeping there,” I told Em.

Today I met the someone.

The man on the bench on the sunny side of the park wore a ball cap, a hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled up, a big stadium jacket, insulated work pants, and boots.

A big bottle of liquor, almost a jug, sat at his feet.

I entered the park on the opposite side, tied Chai’s leash to a bench there, sat down, and started to work. I assumed the man would soon leave, and I could let Chai run free.

He didn’t leave, and something tickled the back of my brain.

What if Jesus had entered the park with me?

Because, after all, didn’t he?

Come with me, be in me?

Suddenly sitting there, across the park, back turned to this person, waiting for him to leave—it didn’t feel so right, didn’t feel like Jesus’s way.

I shoved my laptop in my bag, stood up, and turned in the man’s direction. He waved. I waved back and walked the circular path toward his side of the park.

I stopped next to his bench.

“I don’t bite,” he said, his voice gravelled but warm.

I smiled. “She doesn’t either,” I said, gesturing at Chai, and sat down.

We shook hands, exchanged names—John, Jen—and talked.

Mostly, he did. Felt like he needed a listening ear.

His eyes were heavy lidded and watery. He wiped them often on his sleeve. His nails curved over clubbed fingertips, reminding me of my Pappaw, whose hands looked the same. When I was a kid, my mom told me it was from years of smoking. I looked it up later. In my Pappaw’s case, she was right: the smoking led to the lung disease, which led to the clubbed fingertips.

John “confessed” first—not with any sense of guilt, but more to get it out of the way, probably to stall any questions from me. Maybe he noticed my cross. Maybe he’d heard the questions a hundred times.

It was cheap beer in the bottle, no apologies. He likes beer.

It’s his bed in the bushes; new tenants bought the place where he was staying, so he’s in between “permanent” housing. He should be sleeping on foam for only a week. He’s just praying the rain holds off.

He does odd jobs, cleans a little, wears a mascot suit for a local business (“That’s me behind the mask,” he laughs. “They started me at $9 an hour; now I’m up to $14).

He hangs out at different places, is “like the furniture” at a local bar.

He showed me his ring of souvenirs, given to him by different friends who’ve travelled, a bracelet from a friend from Africa, his phone, his latest phone bill. Each item led to a story.

And then, unprompted, he went back, launching into tales from childhood, growing up in Canada, in French Canada.

He spoke some French for me, talked about learning English because, “Well, you just had to.”

He played baseball growing up.

One baseball buddy was Italian. He remembered eating at his house once. “So much food! We sat there for four hours! I told them they’d have to roll me away in a wheelbarrow. But I couldn’t refuse the food. Those Italians, they’re crazy about food! You can’t offend their mama’s cooking!”
I laughed. “I know. I’m half Italian. Maiden name is Del Vecchio.”

He nodded. “That’s Italian.”

He got off on a tangent then, and it was time for me to go, so I waited for a break and told him I’d enjoyed sitting and talking with him. “You’ll probably see me around,” he said.

I probably will.

When I thought about this later, I wondered at the ease of it, at the simplicity of sharing a park bench. What almost kept me from that?

Why would I let anything keep me from that?

Oh, Jesus, you wiped away the biggest boundary ever when you put on flesh. With that chasm crossed, how silly the gates we humans erect of status and race and gender and education must seem!

Help me.

Help me to see them as insignificant as well.

Doing and Being

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pic by Emily Underwood

As I pray for Chicago and my neighborhood, I often find myself saying to God, “I don’t know what to do.” “How do I get involved?” I ask, “How do I feel as if I am helping in some way?”

He’s not answering the way I’d like—with a beam of light or voice from heaven, or even an email or phone call. Instead I hear, “Patience. Steadfastness. Stillness,” the words I believe I was given months before we moved—that I thought were just for during the move.

Maybe not.

I’m reading A Light to the Nations right now, a book about the mission of God revealed in the Old Testament, about the nation Israel as a participant in that mission to bless and bring light to the entire world. The big idea is that Israel’s very reason for being—for being chosen, for being a nation—is missional, is for the purpose of revealing God to the entire world. “All the nations of the earth will be blessed through you,” God told Abraham. God’s people are chosen and privileged not for their own sake or for the purpose of hoarding or mere enjoyment, but to be a display and contrast people to those around them.

But Goheen makes the point that this mission was not primarily about going but about being, about “living an attractive lifestyle to God’s glory before the surrounding nations,” about living “publicly to God’s praise” (Barth, quoted in Goheen 634/7002, Kindle edition).

So when I asked God again this morning, “What do I do?” these ideas from Light to the Nations came to my mind. I have, honestly, plenty of “doing” to do. Much of it seems mundane or even focused primarily on my family rather than my neighborhood, but this everyday doing, when “done” in the sight of my neighborhood or the other places I go in the course of my week, is a display, a way of being.

My next question, then, is if my way of doing/being is also a contrast. The Torah given to the Israelites reached into every area of life so they would understand that even the normal, everyday things all humans do belong to God. He is God of every area of life, and all can be done in the knowledge that we are his and not our own; and this is to His glory. When everyday life is done with this truth in mind, then it will certainly be a contrast from those outside the faith. It will also be a way of being, a distinct and different way of being.

I pray that through this being, we are a light to the neighborhood…

and I pray for patience, steadfastness, and stillness to wait for and recognize God’s calls to “doing” as well.

P.S. This piece came out of a class assignment that I wrote for my Former Prophets class at Northern. When I read the original assignment to Dave (husband), he suggested I should add it to this post, so it follows below. The post above stands alone, but if you’re interested in the topic of God’s mission as it is revealed in both the Old and New Testaments, then feel free to read on. The class is studying the books of Joshua, Judges, and 1 and 2 Samuel.  

Gile (professor teaching the class) expresses the concern that many Christians have jumped for far too long from Genesis 3 to Jesus, from God’s promise that the serpent would be “crushed” to the coming of the One who defeated sin and death. The intervening story, including all the history of Israel, has been reduced, sometimes to mere examples or morality lessons. And when we look at it this way, we lose sight of God and his big story, his mission that did not take a hiatus from chapter 3 to the New Testament but has always been in motion. God breaks onto the darkening scene in Genesis 12 with the promises given to Abraham, chosen by God to participate in God’s mission to restore his fallen creation and move them forward into the consummation of a full restoration on a new earth. In this action of choosing one man and through him, one nation, it is as if God has focused his intense beam of light on one side of a prism, not for the purpose of hiding it or simply making that one side glow, but for the light to move through that and emerge on the other side as a full spectrum, revealing the holiness and goodness of a God who longs for all his creation to be in right relationship with Himself and each other.

Looked at in this way, the Old Testament becomes God’s story, with Israel commissioned as its major participant. Goheen (author of Light to the Nations, referred to in the above post) quotes Wolff and calls Genesis 12:2-3 a “‘stupendous utterance’ for ecclesiology—indeed for the whole story of the Bible” (740/7002). Election has a “so that” purpose: “God’s people are a so that people: they are chosen so that they might know God’s salvation and then invite all nations into it.” This makes the story of Israel a revelation of God’s mission, of God himself. As God redeems his people, binds them to Himself in covenant, and dwells with them, the people of God are empowered to a particular kind of being, a holy people on “display” who live in right relationship with God and then reveal and mediate him to others as a kingdom of priests. Their display is one of great distinction from the nations around them; their entire society was to be righteous, walking in the way of Yahweh, and characterized by justice for all, the least as well as the great. This distinct display, this “light to the nations,” was to be winsome, drawing people in to learn more of the God who so transformed his people and then inspiring them to worship and praise this great God.

 

Praying for Chicago

pc-77-east-garfield-parkWednesday night I went to a PrayChicago event, where church members and leaders from all over the Chicago area gathered to pray together. PrayChicago announced a partnership that night. They’ve joined with Prayercast (a great ministry that makes short prayer videos for nations and groups around the world–I really suggest checking out the Prayercast website) to create 77 prayer videos for Chicago, one for each neighborhood. They are releasing a new prayer video each day for the next 76 days (it started yesterday), and each video is accompanied by an informational page on that neighborhood’s history and particular prayer points.

If God has laid Chicago on your heart, please join me in praying for each of its unique neighborhoods over the next couple months. Just go the PrayChicago website, scroll down, and click on the “sign up for daily Chicago 77 updates.” You’ll receive an email each day with a link to the daily prayer video.

If you’d like to check out the videos before you subscribe, go to the Prayercast site, where you’ll find LOTS of prayer videos, for many, many countries as well as for Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods. Just look at the options in the top menu bar. Maybe you’ll decide to pray for a country a day, too.