Days and days with no rain. The grass crunches under our feet and the heat keeps us shut inside until the sun slides towards the horizon. Drought sucks the ponds lower and lower with each passing day as we wait. Wait for rain or cooler temperatures or cloud cover to provide relief from the relentless heat.
And it’s all we can talk about here these days…how hot it is, whether the power grid will break, when it will be over, comparing this summer to the scorcher that was 2011 and sparked unprecedented wild fires.
As much as I don’t want my mood to be governed by the weather, I’m fighting to cultivate contentment in this environment. Not ambivalence or dissociation …but true contentment. The attitude that acknowledges the reality of the struggle while also choosing to receive what I need from God to face it without despair or anxious striving.
The physical heat is the most obvious and innocuous part of life to practice cultivating contentment. A baby step, a most basic exercise, in learning to trust God. That is where I find myself learning the lessons afresh. The lesson that ripples out into all the other areas as well.
Can I entrust more than my physical comfort to God? Can I place in His hands the unknown future? The worries that wake me up at night? Will He be enough for my kids in the avenues of life they must trod? What will it take for me to lay down my anxious striving to solve problems on my own, without God?
And the heat continues, reminding me day by day to take this life day by day, entrusting myself and others to God. The crisp, brown grass and scorching seatbelts a tangible clue to my desperate need for the spring of living water.
Today, what is reminding you of your need to rely on God?
My son plays cello. No matter that we owned two violas, he wanted to play cello. Over the summer he took lessons because I wanted him to have something to do while his older siblings scampered around to jobs, hiking trips, and places with friends in cars.
Hearing him practice is a delight.
Once, his teacher moved one lesson online and a weird thing happened. While he was playing a scale, hitting the notes just right, the teacher’s cello all the way across town began picking up the sound waves and resonating a note. Through air, wires, chips, internet lines, then back through chips and wires and air that note traveled and replicate itself in the other cello.
When you think about it, that’s pretty incredible. Sound and music is one of the ways its hard for me to get out from under believing in the existence of God.
That resonance is what got me. One note moved through the air from one object and caused movement in another object.
Today I read about Peter at the last supper and then at that fateful campfire where he denied his friend, his teacher, the One he believed was the savior of his people.
It struck me that Peter didn’t know what was in himself. He was so sure that he would be loyal, that he would never… That all others might but not him.
And then he did the thing.
And Jesus turned and looked directly at Peter in that moment. When Peter met His gaze, he remembered what Jesus said would happen, what Peter so confidently denied could ever happen.
We don’t know anything about that look Jesus gave Peter. In my humanity I see raised eyebrows with I-told-you-so vibes because that’s how it works with me. Those moments when something comes true that I warned a kid about it takes everything in me not to raise my brows and waft off a distinct vibe even while I hold back the actual words.
What’s even more interesting is the interchange a few hours before. Jesus says to Peter three astounding things:
Satan asked to mess with all of the disciples to see what will shake out
I (Jesus) personally prayed for Peter that your faith would not fail
I predict you’ll come back
I mean, tons of questions here for me. Did all the disciples get sifted or just Peter? I assume Jesus said ok? Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail yet Peter did fail.
And! Jesus seems to know that Peter will fail or why else would Jesus tell Peter that “when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers”?
That kind of blows my circuits when I really think about it. Did one of Jesus’ prayers not get answered with a yes? Of course we know that in the end Peter did betray Jesus but he also turned back and strengthened others.
Did Peter’s response right after this affect what happened? Did Peter’s following confident assertion that he was ready to go with Jesus to prison and death reveal that Peter needed to know more about himself without which he would not be ready to strengthen others?
There’s so much we don’t know but so much to know as well.
For me, I hate that so much of ministering to people involves living out of weakness, failure and suffering. Why does it have to be this way? Why is it that to follow Him, I must see and embrace those aspects of me that feel like nothing but failure?
I believe it relates to resonance. That phenomenon where some chord strikes the chord of another.
Could Peter ever lead the way Jesus displayed to him without a colossal failure followed by repentance and then restoration?
I don’t think so. Peter’s failure led him to an experience of restoration that transformed him into the humble servant Christ taught him to be.
And I don’t believe I or anyone can connect with the soul of another without the experience of being fully known in that moment of failure and then fully accepted and forgiven there too.
Those who are forgiven much love much, right?
And so it is that embracing our weakness is the striking chord that resonates in the souls of others who also seek the truth.
Our first year overseas we lived in a dark, cold, damp, and generally unpleasant apartment. It occupied the 7th and top floor of a communist style cement block. There was no elevator.
The first few nights my quads felt like boulders. My bootcut jeans began to get snug from the speed skater size thighs I developed.
We got so tired of those stairs that we began taking risks. One time my husband got to the first floor, realized he needed my passport and called up for me to throw it down.
Yes. Throw it down to him.
I didn’t want to go down. He didn’t want to come up and it seemed reasonable to throw down proof of our identity to avoid climbing 7 flights of stairs.
I watched it float down. When it got to the 6th floor I realized climbing 7 flights of stairs was much better than spending 10 days trying to get that document and the visa replaced.
The little, blue, very important book graciously avoided a couple awnings and a sewer grate before landing on the pavement.
So, when a plum apartment opportunity opened up on the fourth floor, we jumped at the chance to rent it. Climbing four flights with groceries, books, friends… just our bodies… seemed divine.
In those days landlords needed a document giving special permission to rent to a foreigner. The police dispensed this document but it seemed to be taking a long, long time for our landlady to arrange the appointment at the police office.
We waited and waited for her to give us the word to show up at the police station with our documents. We called her many times and always left assured that she did want to rent to us. A divorce seemed to be complicating her ability to rent out the apartment, or so we gathered in our first year level language ability.
As is common in cross cultural situations, we didn’t understand a lot of what was going on at the time. We didn’t understand why we needed the permission from the police, or why she couldn’t get it. We didn’t understand why we were waiting and waiting to go to the police office right down the road.
But she was kind and we felt motivated to keep waiting on her and the apartment she was renting.
Then, one day the call came. She sounded rushed and hurried. She insisted that we show up at the police office that day at a specific time. No flexibility and lots of anxiety resounded in the call. It was strange but we grabbed our papers, skipped classes and met her.
Stamp, stamp, stamp…and the process was over after months of waiting. Finally our rental contract went through and we moved across the apartment complex, closer to friends and only four flights up from the road.
Much later I began to wonder how much I missed in that interchange. Did she bribe someone at the police station? Or just wait for the one police officer that owed her a favor?
Systems of favors and paybacks– social indebtedness or downright financial indebtedness– clouded most of the functioning bureaucracy but it took me a long time to identify early on. Even after more than ten years living in there, it took me a few extra beats to clue in that receiving something from a person could put me into a kind of debt with them.
It took many years for me to realize that I absorbed this cultural influence more than I knew. Accepting gifts or favors of time from people triggers an alert response to begin looking for ways to return the favor and get me out of an uncomfortable feeling of indebtedness.
Sunday I flipped to a passage in the Bible where God is described as a God who doesn’t take bribes. Huh. What does that mean?
I was also reading in Mark about how in Jesus’ day, some people devoted their wealth to God in some kind of ceremony or tradition. Then, because of this devotion, they resended their support of their parents in their old age. The money was going to something more important in their eyes…God’s work.
Funny thing is that in the first passage in Deuteronomy, right after it says God cannot be bribed, it also talks about how He cares for the orphans, widows, and foreigners–the vulnerable.
Devoting wealth to God began to seem to me like a form of bribery, getting into God’s good favor through giving something to Him. But then it missed the whole heart of God because God cannot be bribed.
And! Caring for the vulnerable is pretty important to God apparently. So important that Jesus seemed to say supporting the vulnerable in your family is more important than giving a lot to the church at their expense.
God and money and our soul are such fascinating topics!
Isn’t that how I behave so often with God too? Best behavior, nervous, anxious to please, gaming the system….
Yet, there is nothing more to pay…no more abundant grace to get for those who are in Christ Jesus. It all got settled and paid at the cross. My standing is secure.
It would be pure silliness to try and bribe God like I had any more to add to what He did.
Reflecting on those truths this week…remembering those rich years learning to love like God loves in a country where I did not fit in… and standing a little more secure.
Why try and bribe God? Just delight in this undeserved acceptance.
Lately I’ve been contemplating a sabbatical, the strange option in my job to take three months of restorative rest from the day to day responsibilities of caring for souls. In our hurried world, this feels so out of the ordinary and strange that I’m a bit embarrassed its an option.
Who couldn’t use three months to restore their soul in our world these days?
But I have this option and I’m figuring out if I should take it. If I take it, when do I take it? Also I must talk through that time with someone beforehand which is a good idea because taking 3 months away could be difficult. That’s like 3 months of being unmoored from a central part of my every day life…for what purpose?
The last thing I want is heightened anxiety for three months because I can’t figure out how to rest!
I looked back at some key passages today about rest because rest was a big part of what God’s people were to do after they came out of Egypt and oppression. I guess rest wasn’t really a part of their enslavement because it sure was hard for them too.
In fact they never really did rest the way God told them to and God had such a problem with it that he forced them to go on a long trip to a foreign, deserty place to rest for the few decades worth of Saturdays they missed.
But it wasn’t only Saturdays, one day a week, they were to rest. Every seventh year, God’s people were supposed to just… not farm the land. That is stunning. They trusted God to provide a double crop on the 6th year. Then, that seventh year they trusted God to provide enough from what came up on its own to feed them until the next year’s crops came to harvest.
Not surprising that they mostly failed to live that out. It’s pretty radical.
As I think about sabbatical for myself, I anticipate disorientation, doubt, identity crisis, and anxiety. I also expect surprise, identity formation, and trust to build as I notice the budding of new growth from richer soil of belonging to Christ rather than performance for Him.
It seems somewhat wrong to plan a sabbatical or feel that it needs to produce something. Isn’t that antithetical to the true meaning of sabbath rest? To just be?
But I can imagine my B.C. self standing in my fields that I chose not to work looking over at my neighbors fields all neatly furrowed and planted…and feeling mightily tempted to grab my plow.
To rest is so counter-cultural that I need support and encouragement to stand firm in waiting and trusting God to provide. I am most needy for Him to provide my identity apart from my usefulness and productivity in this world. Instead of seeing planning a sabbatical as striving to make rest productive, maybe it is more that I need to cultivate my heart and time for rest, knowing my heart will gaze upon the striving of the world and be tempted to define myself again on my usefulness.
Expecting new growth to happen in the sabbatical waiting is truly different than striving to produce that growth.
As my book mentor Eugene Peterson says,
“Maybe if they [pastors] would all go into the wilderness for three months, not read their emails, announce a moratorium on all conventions and conferences, take a deep, long, prayerful time of doing nothing–maybe some equilibrium might return.” (Letters to a Young Pastor, 140)
By equilibrium, he means a groundedness that is not rushing to fix every crisis while missing the opportunities right before us. To be present in the life and people God has for us in the every day is what Eugene senses that we miss when we do not take sabbath rests.
As I write, I realize I’m sensing the value of the gift of sabbatical rest more and more. Coincidentally, we are approaching 7 years in our current ministry assignment…
What is it about the number seven!?
I’m curious to know from my readers, what struggles do you experience with rest? How does rest provoke your soul?
Lily is a lunger. I stopped walking her for a week because a back muscle spasm left me doubtful I possessed the strength to control her without incapacitating myself. Its embarrassing really, an indictment on our dog parenting skills, to have such an ill-behaved dog.
She seems ferocious with her heavy chain collar we bought to walk her. Don’t judge y’all.
It helped a little but didn’t keep her from pulling when she approached the big Collie she dislikes. Some dogs she likes and some she can’t stand. She can’t stand that glorious Collie. It’s hard to know how she judges or what they’re saying to her that sets her off. We just walk past, heads hung, sheepish smiles of apology on our faces as our dog barks her face off.
Our neighbors wouldn’t know she spends most of the time in our home sacked out on a couch or bed, completely docile. She behaves like an attack dog in public. I’m sure we’ve avoided a break in just due to her behavior on walks in our neighborhood.
We went to the pet store to look at lizards, my son’s absolute favorite category of the animal kingdom. We wandered into the leash aisle and browsed a bit before spotting a box with an idyllic picture of a cute dog on a walk.
What must that be like I wondered?
We agreed it was a lot to spend for a thin cord contraption but I’d seen other dog parents using it. Their dogs did what I wanted Lily to do. They walked beside their owner and generally behaved themselves. I admired their behavior and thought I’d like to walk my dog in a similar, calm fashion. My son convinced me the purchase was inevitable.
So, I bought the new lead and wondered what would happen when we put it on Lily. Could this little cord really hold back 35 pounds of dog torque? Ok, you’re laughing but it’s a lot when she she sees a deer and imagines the kill.
I was doubtful. I saved the receipt and my son and I expressed gratitude that the box wasn’t one of those contraptions that needed a box cutter to open. We opened it without losing a finger and raised our eyebrows. It was small and thin for what it claimed it could accomplish.
We finally figured out how to put it on Lily and everything changed.
She went wherever I led her. A new problem emerged, our leash dragged on the ground and got under her paws. Trucks went by, she hardly noticed. Bunnies jumped and she just glanced at them. We walked by the yard of her arch nemesis, Cujo we call him, and she reacted not a bit.
Lily was a new dog.
A tiny bridle-like leash brought her to submission in an instant. She’s going to get more walks now. She will make new friends. People might break into our house but at least we can show our faces in the neighborhood without folks checking to make sure she’s up to date on her rabies vaccine.
I’m going to look like a queen with my medium sized dog walking right beside me.
Being a city girl…ok, a suburb girl…I never saw the power of a bridle quite so clearly until now. And, of course, it reminds me of more than just controlling animals.
Small things can control big things. Small things can turn powerful things. Small things can do big things. James, Jesus’ brother, connected this phenomena to our personal lives. Our tongues. Our speech.
It wreaks havoc in our lives, sets things on fire. The only way out, the only way to bring it in check is to submit our whole selves to Jesus Christ’s gentle lead.
This year I can’t believe some of the things said by people I used to respect. Insults that were off limits in the past got plastered across social media. I grieved the evidence of what lay in the hearts of so many. It became evident we couldn’t control much and tongues wagged, set things on fire and burned relationships to the ground.
I can’t believe things I’ve said in my life, things I deeply regret and needed forgiven. When I begin to see the power of my words it is sobering. How can I have such power to speak words that hurt so deeply? Yet I do, we all do.
It became so common place to breathe out angry words, it was held up as being brave and honest. I think, in reality, it was just a power play, a stab at controlling…something.
Now here we are, divided, suspicious, and scared because we did not put on that bridle and submit ourselves to God who gives the power to resist those forces that tempt us to try and control what we never could control.
I know the arguments.
What if He leads us on a way we don’t want to go? What if it hurts, what He wants us to do for Him? What if we suffer? What if we’re not the winners in this world but we look more like losers.
Jesus told His follower, Peter, what to do under such circumstances…you must follow Me.
Peter, you follow Me and you will lose earthly power and reputation, you won’t even get to dress yourself or decide the next place you sleep.
And Peter submitted to Jesus but somehow I sense we forget. I know I forget.
I forget that life with Christ was never about power but about sacrifice. It was never about my way, but His Way. The call to follow Jesus was never about being in control and it was always about making disciples.
So if I submit to Him, maybe my tongues will stop lunging at other people and I’ll look like Jesus a little more. He’ll seem a little more like who He is because I display who He is a little more accurately.
At least, that’s what I hope for myself. I’m not sure I’ll ever get comfortable with the bridle this side of heaven but I know I need it…desperately…and I know I’m not alone.
For the past many, many weeks an army of construction workers rotates around our neighborhood repairing the curbs. A section is cut out, dug out, framed and then poured. Some sidewalks are repaired but some are not. Eventually, the street gets a new, deep black layer of asphalt.
On dozens of walks we discuss whether the work even needs to be done. I mean, I’ve about lost a wheel on the pothole near the kids school and the roads over there look like they need the work a bit more urgently. It’s all quite a mystery and the neighborhood keeps scratching its head.
This last week the condo in Miami collapsed on top of itself. One floor on another floor on another floor. Maintenance was needed but the problems didn’t seem as urgent as we now know they were. So many souls lost. Much is yet unknown but maintenance was desperately needed.
And maintenance is a total drag. Its expensive and it feels like it’s not really needed urgently so it gets put off. Like painting our house or figuring out why one slab of the driveway is sinking. We know that the problem is growing, will require some work someday, and it will be expensive.
It doesn’t seem worth it until the problem is way beyond minor.
And so it is with my soul too. Things are working so why dig into that tendency to make a joke instead of respond differently, engaging the other person more lovingly? I’ve read the Bible through a few times so I probably remember what it says well enough to put it aside for awhile, right?
But our world and our souls are constantly pulled in the direction of chaos, disorder, and decay. If the house doesn’t get painted, the wood rots. If the source of the water leak isn’t found, the damage extends. If the crack isn’t investigated we don’t know how deep it goes or how quickly it is growing. If I don’t read my Bible, I forget.
Then crisis hits and we scratch our heads trying to figure out what went wrong. I then face the reality that I didn’t pay attention. I didn’t maintain.
I didn’t want to put in the daily, seemingly mundane toil of repairing what wasn’t quite totally broken. It didn’t seem worth the effort to shore up what was weak or protect what was vulnerable to the very active forces in the world.
Honestly, anything that holds together or makes sense, an atom kept in stable balance or even an atom that races toward another to stabilize itself, shows me an aspect of God’s character by revealing that order still exists. There is a force, God, that keeps things together, that heals, that puts together our souls and keeps them together.
He is the One that does that for our souls. Maintenance for the human heart involves surrendering ourselves, mind and body, to His skilled hand. It’s easy to think we can and need to maintain ourselves, but it seems more that my work is to cede the work to God Himself and comply with His Way.
The surrendered life, the crucified life, the cruciform life.
The abiding life.
That is the life that is kept in perfect peace, solid against the dark forces of the world that would tear us apart.
We walked around the busy grocery store, my sister-in-law and I, carefully following our list and eager to escape back to the quiet lake house retreat. She just returned to the US after 2 years uninterrupted overseas. You know why, pandemic.
Grocery stores are among the most overwhelming re-entry experiences. The choices are different, the quantities are measured in different scales, and in America the abundance can be overwhelming. Choices become more difficult. Mentally tallying the dollar signs from the foreign currency taxes the brain. At some point, you just give up and dump it in the cart resolving to care another day.
America is the land of opportunity. The opportunity to have it your way. To customize. To choose. To never see the back of the grocery store shelf. To not have to rework your menu mid shopping trip because multiple things are unavailable. To not experience as many social restrictions or curtailed freedoms.
Except for this past year and a half.
In many ways, 13 years of life overseas prepared me well to encounter a lack of toilet paper, a reworked menu, an acceptance of social restrictions, and jumps through bureaucratic regulations. We signed up for difficulty when we made the decision to live overseas.
Life in lock down reminded me of some aspects of life overseas and I relished the time to jump off the treadmill of the busy American lifestyle so many warned us would come when we moved back to America. After 5 years of life on this side of the Pacific, we’d definitely become increasingly busy and committed. And not just us, but our kids had commitments on top of ours.
Jumping off the treadmill was a gift in many ways. I read through the Bible a couple times because I didn’t have to get anyone off to…well…anywhere. We spent a lot of time together as a family, something which I ached for as our kids got older and busier. It felt like a gift.
But we also lost friends, grieved the unfairness of life, felt guilty at times for having enough, wrestled with how to relate to others during a particularly divisive time in a country that we already struggled to fit into after 13 years living away.
Now life is picking up again. We are faced with re-entry in a wholly different form than ever before in our lives. Alongside an entire world, we are all wondering what we are entering.
Because its not really re-entry. Its entry.
I feel this push and pull about what is to come, what we are entering. I don’t want to go back to the insane schedule that challenged us trying to find time together as a family. But it’ back. The school extra curriculars are laying out time intensive schedules.
Everything is starting up and I’m feeling a little like my sister-in-law in the grocery store. Overwhelmed. Stressed. And feeling like I just need to dump some stuff in the cart of life and try to figure it out later.
But this isn’t cereal or potato chips. Its time and energy and cultivating a life in dependence to God in ever changing circumstances.
Re-entry and entry take time…mostly time to think, feel, and align ourselves with what following Jesus looks like in new seasons of life. And besides a world opening up…kind of…I also have a daughter a year away from graduating. That alone is catching my attention and heart.
Another sign that I am entering, not re-entering. My life will change drastically soon.
So maybe you can relate to me on some level with our current times or maybe not. I have a feeling that many of us may need a little more time to do things we once did so effortlessly before a global pandemic.
For those that have not experienced the grocery store scenario of the newly returned expat, let me tell you it’s ok. It’s normal. It will take time. It will make you angry, sad, confused, insecure, and probably many other things to navigate the new world with its new challenges.
But in all that unsettledness, I’ve learned that following Jesus is the surest foothold through rocky life transitions. Something that all that reading the Bible brought into focus this past year.
If you’re looking for a first step, I suggest the Gospel of John and reading about Jesus who pretty much shook up every life He encountered.
As always, thank you for reading my thoughts and musings! I’ve struggled to write this year in the midst of so much…well…just so, so much of everything. I resolved today to write and break the silence and I’m so thankful you got to this point in my ramblings!
Every so often I’m in the car around noon on the day the gardening talk show is on the radio. Somehow I just never want to turn the dial eventhough I don’t garden.
It might be his soothing voice saying who knows what about a topic of which I know little. Or, maybe this will be the year I’ll need to know these things because this will be the year I become a planter of things.
But a couple times over the past month, I’ve stayed tuned because what he’s talking about resonates on a deeper level than maintaining my yard.
Once it was soil. Yes. Dirt. He was talking about dirt. It caught me because he said something like 75% of the chance that a plant grows is determined before the plant is put into the dirt. He was talking about the soil. If the soil was prepared well, the plant would grow well.
That explains a lot of why my flower bed look like they do. I just dig holes, put stuff in and pray. It hasn’t worked great.
Then, today they were talking about pests and diseases in plants. They complained about people who see pests and disease and just want some spray to take care of it. So silly their tone suggests.
Hmmm. That’s kind of what I do. Just get rid of the pest and we’re good, right?
No! They talked about looking at the whole situation and taking care of what was causing the issue in the first place or it would come back.
I realized my gardening is very surface level. I’m in it for fast results, not really the long term cultivation. I’ve not learned to cultivate the land and truly care for it.
The same is often true of my spiritual life. I want fast methods to lead to quick results.
Instead the Bible talks often about gardens, cultivation, tending, and shepherding…all activities that are wholistic and slow but when embraced in our soul, yield the lives we really want.
Lives that grow and produce beautiful things that can sustain others too.
School begins in a couple weeks…maybe. Who knows in all this uncertainty? The one thing I’m told to accept in this season is change. So. Much. Change.
I cannot think of many things that are certain besides what we will have for dinner…if the grocery store has all the ingredients, of course.
As the pandemic continues my tolerance of change is wearing thin. I want to know things. I want to be sure of something. I want to be able to tell my kids a piece of information I’m certain will not change.
Right now, I want to do something normal. I want to buy school supplies. I want there to be a list and I want to buy everything new, neatly packaged and put it in a backpack because it feels normal.
But I don’t need all the things on the list. I don’t know if my kids will darken a school door in a historically “normal” way. But I don’t really care.
I want the order to calm the storm that is happening around us.
When I check the news or social media, it provides mostly grief. We are all trying to latch onto something certain like desperate people drowning at sea.
Maybe its a politician, a plan, an ideology, or conspiracy theory…but we want a life preserver.
And when we think it will save us, we latch on hard. So hard.
One phrase in my readings of the Bible comes to mind often when I feel so much want that I don’t know what to do with it. Where do I go with these impossible longings for a life that looks different than our current reality?
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.
God wasn’t just talking about food. He is talking about total reliance on Him to fulfill our needs, wants, and desires. In the context of this verse, God’s people are going to many, many other people for stability.
It’s worth noting who they were going to:
Spiritual leaders who promised peace when God was promising captivity.
Political leaders who promised power when God’s power was with other nations.
Foreign leaders who promised alliance when God said rely on Him.
Material objects that promised fulfillment when God said only He could fulfill.
And nothing has changed, has it? I still want to go to these things and claim a place of power, of agency over my circumstances. More than many other turbulent times in my life, this era is unique in its universalism.
The whole world is scrambling.
The whole world is longing for the same things. But will we go to the One who is truly capable of providing for us?
I don’t know. I hope so. I labor towards that end.
And I open my soul mouth wide, naming all my hungers, and I wait and trust that God will feed me.
Somehow. In some way. Because He promised He would.
I don’t know how He will do it, but I am eager to see.