Telling the Story to Myself

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A Bible Telling session with children: I’ve already told the story a couple times; the kids have acted it out; now we are creating a Way to Remember with pictures so they can tell it, too.

My work as a Bible Teller (telling the narratives of Scripture and helping others to learn them, too) means I carry Bible stories in my heart. There is obviously an outward focus to this as I tell and teach stories, but I’m finding incredible inward blessing as the Holy Spirit uses these stored stories to speak into my life. For example…

The other morning I was nursing a grudge about a situation in my life. It felt good to feed this little monster. After all, hadn’t I given enough to the person in this situation? Shouldn’t I be justified in feeling offended, feeling a little used?

I pushed the grudge off to the side (like putting a pot to the back of the stove to simmer) and listened to my audio devotional as I chopped vegetables for the crock pot. The Scripture was a story: Luke 13:10-17, in which Jesus heals the bent-over woman on the Sabbath. The leader of the synagogue is indignant about this healing and tells the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Jesus rebukes him for this and calls him and others there “hypocrites”!

I was feeling a little smug as I listened—Yeah, Jesus! Preach it!—until I heard the end of the passage: “…all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.”

Ah! All the people rejoiced at the glorious things Jesus was doing!

I suddenly remembered the grudge that was still simmering and realized, Jesus is preaching to ME! I’m frustrated by this situation in my life–but I should be rejoicing! God is at work doing some pretty amazing things in this person’s life, and I’m feeling “used” because this work of His is involving me in some uncomfortable, past-my-boundaries ways (just like the synagogue ruler was miffed that Jesus wasn’t staying within the traditional “boundaries” set for the Sabbath). Jesus isn’t following the script I have written for this situation, and this is making me anxious and upset.

And here’s where the Bible Telling—all those stories hidden in my heart—was used. One scene after another played across my mind.

First came the scene from Mark 3 in which Jesus heals a man with a withered hand. Those watching also disapprove of this healing on the Sabbath, and Jesus is angry and “grieved at their hardness of heart.” Yes! My heart was hard toward this person–and toward Jesus and his radical work!

But, right on the heels of this came the phrase from the story of Abraham putting Isaac on the altar: “The Lord will provide.” Ah, some understanding of my frustration: my sense of being “used” was based on my belief that I was the one providing. Not true. The Lord will provide. The Lord is the source, not me. I get stressed and self-focused when I begin to think I am the source. He is the source of all I need—salvation and beyond; therefore, he is the source of anything I offer to others.

Another phrase, this one from the parable of the unforgiving servant: I showed you mercy! Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant as well? This reminds me of my true place. In my current situation, it might seem I am the one continually giving, but in reality, we are both at the foot of the cross, both equal recipients of God’s great mercy.

And finally, the image of my little preschool students acting out Psalm 23, tiptoeing through their classroom, pretending to be afraid as they enter the valley of the shadow of death and then whooping and throwing their hands in the air as I proclaim, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me!” Yes, this situation has me feeling over my head, but I don’t need to fear, for you, my Lord, are with me!

All this from stories! They, too, are part of God’s Word–a very large part of God’s Word, and they are powerful and powerfully used by the Spirit!

If you have any questions about Bible Telling, please feel free to message me below! (It will come to my email account.) I love to talk with people about ways they can learn the narratives of Scripture.

Rain, rain…

Note: This was written after last weekend, when many basements in Chicago flooded. Our plumbing is now fixed, though it might take a few rainstorms before I stop checking our drains.

Usually, I like the sound of rain at night.

The gentle shower, the drumming downpour,

The splashing gush against the concrete beneath our window.

But not right now!

Now, with our plumbing issues, even the slightest shower jolts my husband and I awake.

We spring from bed and

Descend to the basement,

To hover over the drains and watch

As water—and the body wastes we thought we’d said goodbye to with the flush of the toilet—

Seep across the floor,

Completely oblivious to our lack of welcome.

My world grows small over the next two days—

I concern myself with the weather forecast;

With the flow of water from the two hoses

Attached to the two pumps

That—hallelujah!—are keeping the water from creeping up the walls;

with emptying the trash can we have wedged under the roof downspout before it gets too heavy for me to push

(During storms, “too heavy” happens every 10 minutes, and I have to wake my husband—whose turn it is to sleep—for help).

Our conversation centers on water height and storm tracking;

We resort to “potty talk” for levity—

“Oh,” my husband says, remarking on a floaty, “Someone had corn for dinner!”—

Yet, on my watch, when I set an alarm on my phone for a twenty-minute nap—hoping the pumps will run uninterrupted till I wake up—and then lie there, wondering why I cannot sleep when my body is so, so tired,

My mind brings up images outside my own little water-washed world:

The husband and wife huddled in a freezing-cold pool in California while they watched their house burn to the ground.

The people trapped under fallen buildings in Mexico City and those working to find them.

The man in Puerto Rico drinking dangerously dirty water because he is literally dying of thirst.

Even our plumber’s other clients, some with water and sewage up to their waists in their basements.

These cross my mind slowly, one fading out as another takes its place. I do not sense that these images are meant to shame me for my own frustration at our comparatively minor troubles or even to minimize our situation.

But rather to knit my heart into solidarity with others, to properly align the walls of my world, to move me into prayer beyond myself—not just for these strangers but for family, friends, neighbors,

To move my island, awash in its individual swamp, near to someone else’s island—so that up close I discover the blue sparkly water I spied from afar is not so clear. It has floaties, too.

I am unable see others as God does: God’s light illumines all hearts; God’s mind knows all troubles; God’s spirit enters into everyone’s pain; God’s heart can somehow grieve with all who sorrow.

I have no such capacity, nor should I.

But I can ask for help in turning my telescope around. I can ask for my narrow, self-focused heart and gaze to grow, to be stretched, to see and feel pain and frustration and sorrow outside my own, beyond that of my family and friends and those with whom I identify.

Almighty God, who hast poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word: Grant that the same light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

The good work of waiting

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This is not quite the “waiting” I had in mind in this post, but I do a lot of this kind of waiting, too, these days. Good thing I have my 16-year-old chauffeur, plenty of portable writing work–and, sometimes, beautiful sunsets!

Most stories related in Scripture are quick—we rush through years in just a few verses. As a result, the emotions we experience as we read these stories don’t follow those of the people within them. We move straight from the “oh no” of the problem to the rejoicing of the climax: with Joseph over his success as the Pharaoh’s right-hand man; with the Israelites over their exodus from Egypt; with Hannah over the birth of Samuel; with Sarah and Abraham over the birth of Isaac; …

And in doing so we often glide right through the waiting period. We don’t recognize and sit in the grief, fear, doubt, and even anger of the loooong limbo that came before the climax.

I think we need to pay more attention to the waiting in the Bible—there’s quite a bit of it! The descendants of Jacob were enslaved for generations before the dramatic plagues that resulted in their rescue. Joseph, imprisoned after his double betrayal, must have eventually accepted his lot—until the cupbearer promised he would try to get him released. Joseph’s heart surely soared—and then descended to the depths when he realized the cupbearer failed him. The waiting years that followed must have been filled with some bitterness and wrestling—and lots of questions. Sarah chose against patient waiting; she worked and connived to get the fulfillment of God’s promise, but when she realized the folly and futility of her own way, she settled, opting for the numb loss of hope rather than the pain of expectant waiting. Hannah endured years of taunting by her husband’s other wife (who probably felt unloved by their husband) while Hannah prayed and cried for a son.

We read these stories and move from problem to answer in words and phrases. From the perspective of those living in the story, though, the climaxes did not come quickly. And often, when a climax did come, it was followed by more waiting.

Much, if not most, of our lives is spent waiting.

And waiting is hard.

A book that is on my summer reading list is The Patient Ferment of the Early Church. In it Alan Kreider argues that the early church saw patient waiting as one of its primary works. After all, the Church then saw itself as being in the already-and-not-yet time between Christ’s inauguration of the Kingdom and its complete fulfillment. We are in the same time! Waiting is an integral part of our lives as believers; it is, in a sense, one of the defining marks of our Christian faith.

Kreider believes the early Church grew and thrived through its focus on and development of patience; patience, he says, was a huge topic among the early church writers. They emphasized the use of prayer, catechesis*, and worship to help the church develop patient reflexes. And they saw that patience not only was work; it did work: good work.

We can and should develop expectant patience in the same ways; and some of our study should focus on God’s story as it wove through Israel’s history, was fulfilled in Christ, and is continuing to weave through the history of the Church. When we do this we realize, as the early church did, that our waiting is not new; waiting has always been required; and waiting does good work in those who accept it with patient expectation in God.

How do we do this? We can reflect on stories that had long lag times between the conflict and the resolution. Rather than gliding over the waiting verses, we can press into them; we can emphasize the in-between period more; we can wonder what sustained the biblical characters during this time.

We can also tell stories of our own waiting more often. Too often we only tell our fulfilled stories, our stories of answered prayer. Maybe we need to share our stories even while we are still in the waiting time; maybe we need to share the prayers we pray that are as yet unfulfilled. And we definitely need to affirm the good work all this waiting does in us; we need to examine it in ourselves and point out the growth waiting has accomplished/is accomplishing in others.

I waited and waited and waited for God. At last he looked; finally he listened. He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip. He taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise-song to our God. More and more people are seeing this: they enter the mystery, abandoning themselves to God. Psalm 40:1-3, the Message (the link takes you to this verse side by side in Message and NIV)

Wait on the Lord; his day is near.Wait on the Lord; be strong, take heart.  (These are the words to a Taize song that I often sing to myself when the waiting [for whatever] seems long and hard. The link is to a beautiful rendition of it on Youtube.)

*instruction given to a person in preparation for Christian baptism or confirmation—basically, the teaching of the faith.

How we grow

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artwork and photography by Em

About 20 minutes into one of my favorite workout videos, the trainer asks, “Are you out of breath? Hurting? Remember, you started this video so you would get a good workout—and those things are part of it. You chose to do this. It’s supposed to be hard. It’s how you grow.”

I appreciate that reminder every single time I do that particular video, not so much for the purpose of the workout, but for life. The first time I did that workout, I was deep in thought about the struggles resulting from our recent move into the city: each of our kids needed close friendships, and all of us were dealing with the loss of our close-knit community in our old home in Chicago’s western suburbs. When the trainer said those words: “It’s supposed to be hard; this is how you grow,” my head snapped up. It was a Holy Spirit message, delivered through my Fit by Kit workout. Crazy!
It’s a message the kids and I often discuss. We knew this move wouldn’t be easy for them. “Easy/comfortable” would have been staying just where we were. But God was stirring our hearts, and in all my prayers for my children (some of them rather panicky pleas), God kept telling me, “I have them.” I knew God didn’t mean that all would be easy and smooth for them, but that God knows the very best for them, knows how to stretch each of them, how to nurture hidden gifts, how to draw them into his boundless, intimate love and fill them with a real, deep, practical love for all people—all people. He knows how to embolden them with his love so they can go anywhere, do anything, and work with anyone. This is far more important than their comfort, or even their “success.”
Yet sometimes it’s hard to remember this ultimate goal in the middle of all that’s new and unfamiliar, in the loneliness that is part of forming new friendships, in the feeling slightly out of place in many situations. In the middle of all that, there are times when a return to what is comfortable and known is quite tempting.
One of my children and I are also prone to another temptation related to this: we determine God’s plan by how much we feel we are accomplishing. “I just don’t feel like we’re making a real difference,” this child told me just a few days ago. “Other than the little neighbor boys coming over, what else do we do to help in our neighborhood?”
I’ve learned (through personal experience) this kind of thinking can be a trap. When we think God’s will is all about what we do; when we see the work as ours rather than God’s; when we need visible, quick, substantial results as validation that what we are doing is indeed God-sanctioned, then we are not thinking rightly.
So I told this child, “I’m not sure the primary goal was ever about us making a difference. Yes, we moved here to join the efforts already being done in this community, but we moved here knowing the greatest change would be in us. We moved here so God would open our eyes and ears and deepen our hearts. We’re assuming that as he does this, he is also preparing us for involvement, but the change in us is a huge part of His work. Have you grown since we’ve moved here? Have you learned anything?”
She nodded. She has grown. I have, too. We all have. We still are. And we’ve got a whole lot of growing left to do, a whole lot of learning still to learn.
And it’s hard. At times we’re breathing heavy. We’re a little sore and achy.
But, in the words of trainer Kit Rich, this is why we came.
As I thought about and wrote this post, the Spirit brought to my mind friends and family members who are going through truly difficult situations. Some of these cannot be avoided (grief, health issues); others were stepped into (caring for a relative, pursuing a distant child, continuing to fight an addiction). No matter how much or little choice was involved at the initial entry into the situation, each one requires continual choice as to how the situation will be faced. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it hurts. But if we keep pressing into Jesus through the situation, our relationship with him will grow fuller, deeper. This is why he came; this is why he called us to follow. And he was clear about the nature of this call; his description was clear: it was no quick stroll in the park but a hilly marathon on rough terrain. It was a call to self-sacrifice, to the way of the cross, to the way Jesus lived. We answered this call; we chose to take up our crosses and follow Jesus. Let’s not grow weary in the middle of it. 
For this is how we grow.

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.

Announcement and teaching

it is wellHi everyone, it’s been awhile since I posted. It’s been a little crazier than usual around here, as our family has been praying about and anticipating a move this summer. The decision was just made final this week, and we’ll be heading just about 25 miles to the east to live in the city limits of Chicago. Specifics beyond that aren’t set (well, other than that husband Dave will be teaching at a charter school downtown–that’s a huge answer to prayer!), but we’re waiting to see how God leads.

In the meantime, I’d like to share a teaching that I gave at our women’s Bible study a couple weeks ago. It was written during one of the most uncertain times of this journey of moving (though I know there are more to come!). I’ve done an audio of it as well; it’s about 25 minutes in length and you can find it just below this paragraph. This is far longer than my usual posts, and I apologize for that.

“I AM the Way”

Our teaching topic today is Jesus’ “I Am the Way” statement. I’ve been thinking about that statement for weeks now, so the collect that was prayed at the beginning of the service this past Sunday jumped out at me. I’d like to pray it over us today as we look at Jesus as the Way for us.

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Before we get into talking ABOUT the passage, let’s read it together. This is John 13:31-14:10, some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples before he was betrayed. (Follow the link above to read the passage on Bible Gateway.)

In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This morning we’re looking at the first noun in Jesus’ statement: “Jesus is the Way,” and exploring what that means for us, both in terms of salvation but also for our daily lives, for the step-by-step journeys we are all on. I’m “preaching” to myself this morning. That is usually the case when I teach—God always makes it very personal, but this is one that has been intensely applicable to me right now, and I’ve been praying that the journey I’m on and what I’m learning of Jesus being the Way for me in it will be of real use to you as well.

For about a year now, my husband and I have felt a pull to move to the inner city, with my husband sensing a specific draw to urban education. We’ve sought discernment about this urge, we’ve gathered people to pray with us, we’ve gotten counsel, and my husband has applied for a couple of jobs in inner-city Chicago schools. I won’t bore you with the process that has followed, but it has been very much a 3-steps-forward, 2-steps-back kind of journey, and both jobs are still possibilities even though it’s now almost May—and in the educational world, that’s getting late! Meanwhile as I’ve sensed the Lord’s leading, I’ve fought fears of “If this happens, what about school for my kids? Won’t they all have closed their enrollment? What about housing? How will we sell our house and find someplace to live in that short of time? What neighborhood?” It’s gotten to the point that I realize that if God actually opens doors and makes this happen, it truly is miraculous because I’ve got no control over it.

So, with all this swirling around in the background of my life, I began to prepare for this teaching. One of the things we do to prepare is to work our way through a set of pre-sermon questions, and one of the questions is this: “How is this passage supposed to make you feel?”

I laughed out loud when I read that question because, honestly, I identified in many ways with the disciples. I’m asking some questions that sound really similar to theirs. “Where are you leading? What is going on? Is your way for us here or there? Can you please just make the way clear?”

So, just like the disciples in the passage, I was feeling confused. I was identifying more with their feelings than with what Jesus was saying. But then I had to look at the question again, because it doesn’t ask, “How does this passage make you feel?” It hadn’t asked me how I actually felt when reading the passage but instead asked how the passage was supposed to make me feel—and that was entirely different, because the intent of this passage is hope! It’s an incredibly hopeful passage, full of eternal belonging and promises of home.

But I, just like the disciples, needed to see it differently. I needed a different perspective on Jesus being the Way. I needed a different understanding of the way.

We, here in 2016, know that verse 31 is speaking of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection; he’s speaking of our salvation. Then, in verse 33 he is referring to his ascension and in 34 to the new resurrection life his followers will live. These are huge, eternity-changing events!

And after he says all these monumental things, Peter asks, “Where are you going?”

Peter missed the salvation; he missed the new life of love, and he focused on Jesus leaving. I get that! Peter missed all the other stuff because Jesus just said something that threatened Peter’s imagined way of life. “What? You’re leaving? That can’t happen! We’ve got plans! You’re our leader!” Peter, along with probably all the other disciples, had his sights set on something other than God, something other than God’s purposes. They couldn’t see anything other than their own purposes. Peter was still expecting Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom, to restore Israel to glory, and Peter was wanting a significant part in this restoration. Now please understand I’m not putting Peter down for this. He wanted to be Jesus’ right-hand man, the one known for being completely supportive. He wanted to be the rock that Jesus had called him.

None of these things are bad, but they were what Peter wanted. Peter wasn’t asking what God wanted. He wasn’t looking to the Father, as Jesus always was. In chapter 14 we see the same tendencies in Thomas and Philip. Thomas, in verse 5, said, “We don’t know where you’re going.” He, too, has his eyes somewhere OTHER than God. And that’s when Jesus points him—all of them—back to God, telling him that the way Jesus is going is ALWAYS to the Father and then Jesus makes the I Am statement that He is the complete and only way to the Father,

And before I smack my forehead and say, “C’mon, guys, don’t you get it?” I have to realize I do the same thing. I formulate my own plans, and I get my eyes off the Father. I forget that HE is my ultimate goal, my complete belonging. I, too, form a plan that seems right to me, one in which I know my place and feel settled and secure, and when God does something or says something that upsets my plan—or suggests that’s not His plan, then I’m just like Peter. “What?”

And when I do this, it’s like I’m walking through an open field with my eyes on the ground, making my own way—forgetting my way doesn’t lead to the Father. I forget to look up at the Father and keep looking up, so I also forget that in him I am home.

This looking, this Father-gaze—this Father-fixation, you could say—is only possible through Jesus. He made a Way, the only Way possible, between us and the Father. Through his death and resurrection he wiped out all the sin and evil that was between us so we can see the Father and know his loving face and feel his arms around us. So we can know that in the Father’s love, we are home. We belong. In and through Jesus, we are brought to our true home with him and the Father. That home is our ultimate destination.

And this Destination influences the journey to it, and this is another meaning to Jesus being the Way. He is not only the destination, He is the way of the Father. Jesus perfectly lived this way of the Father. He revealed it to us in both his words and actions. In the Gospels, he said, over and over, in many different ways, that his eyes were on the Father. And that determined how he lived. He wasn’t trying to please others or himself—just the Father. And this is the kind of life, the kind of way to which Jesus is referring in John 13:34-35. He tells his disciples—he tells us—Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. Earlier in this chapter he’d given them a very concrete example of this when he washed their feet and told them to do the same. Bishop Stewart spoke of this call to love in the sermon this past Sunday. He told us we are called to choose a life of costly love, sacrificial love—that is the Christian life. That is the life Jesus lived, the life that revealed the Father to us, that showed us the Father’s way. And it is also the life we are to live. We are called to service, to other-focused lives.

And here is where I get a little stuck–in a couple of different ways: first, HOW do I do that? I’m selfish by nature. How do I live a life of sacrificial love when I am unable to do that? Second, how do we know exactly which direction this life of sacrificial life should take? For example, in my particular situation right now, we have a lot of good choices, and all of them—including the choice of staying in our current situation—involve costly love and service. I don’t think there’s ONE right choice. I think God could and would use all of them, but we still are faced with a choice, and that can be overwhelming.

I see this in my head kind of like a Google map with the middle part missing. It’s as if I’m looking at the map, and two dots are flashing on it. One dot is the “You are here” dot; it’s our current location. The other dot is the “destination” dot. The map behind the “You are here” dot is filled in, in a lot of detail. We can look back on our journey and see a few of its twists and turns and kind of how it got us to the point we’re at. The other dot, the destination dot, is labeled “eternal home,” “eternal life with the Father,” and around the dot are all these wonderful descriptors like “full satisfaction in Christ,” “freedom from all selfishness,” “completeness,” “wholeness,” “belonging,” “everlasting peace and love.”

So I have the ultimate destination dot and I have the current location dot, but the map in between isn’t filled in. It’s blank, so I don’t know the path between the two dots.

Now, so far I have talked about two “ways” that Jesus is the Way. The first is that Jesus is our destination, our ultimate home with the Father, and the second is Jesus as our example, showing us the Way of the Father—full of sacrificial love.

Those are two wonderful and essential understandings of Jesus being the Way, but I need more! If I only have those two dots—the current location and the ultimate destination—and then the example of Jesus, that still leaves me with big blank space in my map. HOW do I walk your way? I ask. Which direction do I take? How do I know? Am I just supposed to choose the way that looks hardest each time? What if I don’t? What if I choose the easier way and then feel guilty? (Some of us get stuck in that trap, don’t we? You know who you are!) We say, Lord, I’m lost in the in-between place. I’m stuck!

This is where the third understanding of the Way brings hope to my heart. Jesus is the Destination; he is the way of the Father—and he is the way to the Father. He is the path beneath my feet as well as my guide and companion on the journey; He holds my hand as we walk together; he carries me in the difficult parts; he is before me and behind me and beside me. He is in me.

In this passage in John, the disciples couldn’t see this yet. Their vision was still clouded. They didn’t understand; they weren’t saying, “Lord, we get it; You’re completing our eternal salvation with your death and resurrection.” No, they were still looking for an earthly kingdom and still hoping for some recognition and honor in it—but regardless of their clouded perspective, they had this one hugely important thing right: Jesus was their life! They’d walked with him for three years, and they didn’t want that to end. They’d journeyed with him. They’d looked to him for where they were going to go and how they would be fed and where they would sleep at night. And now he was talking about leaving them. I would have asked the same question. I still do!

And Jesus says to me, to us, exactly what he said to them. Please look with me at John 14:16-19, 26-27. (The link will take you to John 14:16-27 in the NIV.)

 

Jesus didn’t leave the disciples as orphans. He doesn’t leave us either. We are not vainly trying to make our way to the Father, hopelessly striving in our own strength to live as Christ did. No, He gave us His Spirit. “You will see me,” he promised. “You are not alone on the way. I will come to you. Because I live, you also will live.”

So the Spirit guides us through the blank space between the current location dot and the destination dot on the map. This doesn’t mean we get to punch the “list navigation steps” button and see all the twists and turns laid out. No. Often the Spirit reveals only one step in front of us; though at other times the Spirit settles us in a sweet spot for a time. Sometimes the way is full of trouble and hardship. Sometimes we seem stuck—with the way in front covered in fog. We’re not sure where to step.

But no matter what the journey is like, we’re not doing it alone. And that makes all the difference.

As my family has been in this journey of ambiguity—which Pastor Matt calls “a darn good story,” (because he’s not the one living it! J) the Lord keeps reminding me of this truth in a lot of ways. There was the time when Father Kevin stood up after the sermon a few weeks back and said, “I sense there are some here who are in a smog of confusion”—actually, I don’t remember if he said it just like that, but being who he is, I can see him picking words like that—and my husband and I looked at each other and just nodded—and then went and sought prayer. There was the Good Friday service, when I knelt at the cross, full of uncertainty for my children in this possible move, and I heard the Lord say, “I have them. They’re mine.” And then when I shared that moment with my two daughters at the Holy Week reflection service a couple weeks later, my younger daughter’s eyes got wide and she said, “Mom, he told me the same thing when I was at the cross that night. He said, ‘Maddie, I have you.’”

In just the right moments, when my doubts are crowding in, God elbows them out of the way and says, “Look at me instead.” He did this earlier this week when I was meeting with a young mom friend and she said, “God gave me an image while I was praying and I think I’m supposed to share it with you.” And though her vision didn’t give specific direction—it was of a woman lying paralyzed at the feet of Jesus and then being raised by him into courage and strength and service—it encouraged me and renewed my hope. The Lord has done this again and again in this process.

And when I keep my eyes on the Father, when I remember that the Spirit is with and in me, then I also remember I don’t need to worry about the navigation steps. I don’t need to know them. He will reveal what needs to be revealed, when it needs to be revealed. I don’t need to be troubled or afraid. Jesus has made the way for me to be home in the Father, to belong to him. That will be fully realized in eternity, but it’s also a resurrection reality right now. I can live, now, at home in the Father, belonging to him. That is most important—that’s the BIG thing—so I can trust him for everything else, for this journey right now.

You can, too, no matter what your “current location” looks like, no matter what the step in front of you looks like, no matter if you feel paralyzed or overwhelmed or bored or lost or sad or anxious in your “current location.” In these past few months, my husband and I have prayed the prayers for dedication and guidance and quiet confidence over and over. Sometimes we pray them back-to-back, asking for our hearts to be prepared for service, asking for direction and then asking that we would be reminded that our place of belonging is in God. I’ve combined the elements of these prayers into one that I’d like to pray for all of us right now.

Father God, through Jesus we have our home and belonging with you. By the might of your Spirit, lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that through Christ, you are our God, you are our Father. As our Father, please help us to follow the way Christ revealed. Draw our hearts to you, guide our minds, fill our imaginations, and control our wills so that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you. Then use us, we pray, for your glory and the welfare of your people. And Lord, when we are uncertain of the way, give us the grace to ask you for guidance. May the Spirit save us from all false choices and lead us on your straight path. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Catechesis

I took this picture when I was at Westminster Abbey in January--this is etched on the outside of the entrance.

I took this picture when I was at Westminster Abbey in January–this is etched on the outside of the entrance.

Q: What is the chief end of man?

A: To glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

When one of my Bible teachers at the small Christian school I attended as a child introduced me and my classmates to the Westminster shorter catechism, I knew none of its history. I remember, even then, being a little surprised. I thought of catechism as a “Catholic thing,” something from my father’s Italian, Bogota, New Jersey childhood, and it was unexpected at my fundamental, non-denominational school in the deep South in the late 70s.

But there it was.

I don’t remember how long we studied it, but that first question-and-answer set stuck with me. “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” I don’t know that I thought much about its meaning in childhood, but when I was an adult, and the phrases jumped into my head one day, I was shocked by the second part of the answer. My upbringing completely supported the idea that my supreme goal in life should be to glorify God…

But to enjoy Him?!

I didn’t have the first idea how to go about that, but still–memorized in youth–the phrase stayed and popped up again in surprising moments.

That’s what catechism and liturgy are supposed to do (well, one of the things); they’re supposed to stick. Even when they have become rote, they do not lose their power; they are just hidden, waiting for the time when you are ready to receive the meaning and the Lord’s work.

Several years ago, while working for the marketing department at a small college, I wrote a news release about one of the Bible professor’s recent publications, an article on the Puritan pastor Richard Baxter’s use of catechism to ground young people in the faith. I thought it was fascinating, and I remembered that article when I recently ran across an archived piece at Christianity Today by J.I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett titled “The Lost Art of Catechesis,” It gives a great history of catechesis and some wonderful arguments for using it more intentionally now.

So, if you are interested in exploring some catechisms for yourself, I’ve included some options below.

To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism

A Baptist Catechism

Westminster Shorter Catechism

New City Catechism (adapted by Tim Keller and Sam Shammas from the Reformation Catechisms

Come, Holy Spirit (a reflection from a recent Taize service)

DSC_0883We sat near the front, the great dome of the church almost directly above us. Two wide strips of green fabric crossed the dome, one nearly at its very top, the other just above the rim of the dome. The green signifies “ordinary time” in the Church calendar, the time of hope and growth that follows the Easter season. In Ordinary Time the truths of Good Friday, Easter, the Ascension, and Pentecost are to move us into renewed life in Christ.

I noticed the green banners as we entered but then forgot about them as the service began.

Midway through it, the children came to light our candles, and the cantor led us in singing a Psalm with Alleluia. Afterwards we walked to the cross and placed our lit candles around it. When I returned to my seat and settled into the silence that followed, I saw movement above me. The rising heat from the candles was billowing the green fabric banner at the rim of the dome. The green cloth rose and fell, twisted and swung. The heat rose higher, and the banner at the top began to sway.

I couldn’t stop watching them. They were alive with candle breath, rippling, their color made deeper, richer with the movement.

They were beautiful.

“Come, Holy Spirit,” I whispered. “Come with Your breath, Your wind, Your flame.”

The banners still swayed when we filed out, and in the car, I asked little Emery, my friend’s daughter, if she’d noticed the waves of green overhead. She had, but didn’t know what caused it. Her mother and I embarked on a science lesson, that heat, rising, disrupts the cooler air, causes currents.

It’s been several days now, but I can still picture those billowing banners. Luke 24:32 comes to mind. The two disciples who walked the road to Emmaus with a risen and un-recognized Christ have just realized the identity of their traveling companion. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked … and opened the Scriptures to us?” they said.

The Holy Scriptures…

Fanned into flame by the presence of God.

Come, Holy Spirit, like a tongue of fire, a violent wind, a breath, and fan into flame the Living Word.

And with the heat that rises,

Stir me,

Disrupt me,

Move me.