Treasure

Today a small, lovely, godly soul left this world.

We put down a dog today, a friend. I’ve decided that the reason some people become attached to their dogs is because dogs really do reflect God to us. They bring Him into our lives in a tangible way. Unconditional love. Joy. Abiding. Rapid forgiveness. Loyalty. Protection. Trust.

During this process of dying, in which we stayed and he went, the friendship was broken. I felt that the tears we cried were love that has nowhere to go right now.

During this process of dying, I felt God was asking me to treasure His Spirit as I treasured the dog.

Muddy Knees

This mud on my knees is from the ground
where I buried the dog,
in a hole with muddy water
on land not our own, but
belonging to a modern-day Joseph of Arimathea

We wrapped him in blankets with his favorite toy
and covered him,
in between trees that hold the atoms of his predecessors,
small souls of friends.

Our vet entered the room
with a box of comfort and death.
The first injection brings sleep
We placed our hands on him
as though we might soak in every last wisp of his being
as he slipped into sleep
whispering, “You’re a good dog, a good dog”

The second injection brings death
Smoothly
We watched in the stillness as our vet
listened for his heart to give up life

We came in the front
and left out the back.

God placed the animals in Adam’s care
and we took death into our own hands
We say we’re making the right decision
but in our hearts we know
we were never meant to make that choice.
It’s not the apple we thought it to be

This empty state
we cannot escape
We are monsters for allowing suffering, or
murderers for choosing death

We shoulder burdens we were never meant for
Our souls split every time our hearts carry the weight of Judas Iscariot
but the Christ shall make us whole

RIP, Bixter. We love you.

Entering the Third Dimension

If you’re a parent, you might be familiar with the phenomenon of waking up in the night in total panic about something regarding your kid’s health or education or future or whatever. That’s me tonight. I’ve spent the last two hours talking myself down.

In the process of doing this, I realized that I have always viewed most of the people in the four gospels as two-dimensional — as supporting actors in a story, or as extras who get one line in the beginning of the show so you can care about them when the plot kills them off 10 minutes later. But indeed they were not so superficial.

All the parents who asked Jesus to heal their children were just like me, except they had it much worse. Their kids were dying or chronically tortured by illnesses. By the time they met Jesus, they were hopeless. Remember the guy who said, “I believe, Lord; help my unbelief”? He didn’t just say that like he was ordering a double cheeseburger. He said it with anguish.

23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” – Mark 9

When this father cried out tearfully, it was visceral. These weren’t the small tears you can blink back as they squeeze out of your eyelids. They were the kind that pour out uncontrollably in huge sloppy drops. The kind that come when you worry about something for a long time, but you continually stuff it down in your gut, until something forces you to deal with it. The kind that come when you realize a problem is truly out of your control, and you don’t know how to proceed. The kind that come when you finally meet someone who can help you, and you see hope is possible for the first time.

This guy was desperate. He loved his son with his entire being. He couldn’t bear the thought of missing an opportunity to help his son. This father thought the only problem — at least the only problem he cared about — was his son’s condition. Jesus saw there was more to the story. Jesus frequently provoked people to acknowledge the real issues driving their beliefs and behaviors. He not only saw that the boy needed healing — He also saw that the father needed restoration of hope. Jesus considered spiritual and emotional healing every bit as essential as physical healing.

Right now, I’m realizing that prayer and Bible reading are essential to my spirit. I’m also realizing that I have anxiety issues that are not intermittent, as I’ve always thought they were, but chronic. I’ve simply become less effective at stuffing them down. I believe Jesus when He described the Holy Spirit as our Comforter and Counselor. I also believe I have specific problems that need to be dealt with by working with a counselor. And that’s OK, because like Paul said,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  – 2 Corinthians 1

Many times, God does this work in us by means of other people. As Christians, we seem to be OK with giving that help. We need to be just as OK with receiving it. Considering our human need for community and relationship, I think it’s supposed to be that way.

Bitter Tears

36 Then one of the Pharisees invited Him to eat with him. He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And a woman in the town who was a sinner found out that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster jar of fragrant oil 38 and stood behind Him at His feet, weeping, and began to wash His feet with her tears. She wiped His feet with the hair of her head, kissing them and anointing them with the fragrant oil. — Luke 7

Have you ever tried to wipe up a spill with your hair? Me neither. I usually opt for something more effective in sopping up the mess. Maybe that’s why I never identified much with the woman who wept on Jesus’ feet and wiped it with her hair. Until last night, when I found myself crying bitter tears in the bathroom at Applebee’s.

We’d come in for dinner, land the place was packed. As we waded through the mess of people to get to our table, I passed by my former boss. I barely noticed him; I don’t think he saw me. This is the second time I’ve seen him since I resigned last spring. We sat down to look at menus, and I told my husband that I felt really disturbed and I didn’t know why. Then it struck me: The last time this man saw me, I was at my worst.

On my last day, I came to his office to turn in keys. He said, “Because you sent your resignation letter by email, I still need you to sign it in ink.” I had emailed the letter from home because I was seriously sick.

I took the pen from him, set it to paper, and began to sign. My hand was like molasses. Huge, ploppy tears suddenly fell all over the paper, bleeding my signature. I was shocked by the size and number of them. The realization that I was leaving, not with a bang but a whimper, was striking me hard. All the work I’d done seemed like a waste, since I wouldn’t be able to see it through. It was like my purpose in life was miscarrying.

I handed him that paper. We made small talk for a few minutes. I left. I discovered on entering my car that my mascara, which I hardly ever wear, and which was supposed to be waterproof, had streaked down my cheeks, like makeup on a clown from one of those horror movies. The smallness and defeat I felt inside was quite visible.

As I stared at the Applebee’s menu, I realized that it was a moment of great shame for me. It’s one thing to be vulnerable with your spouse or parent or good friend, because they’ve shared their vulnerability with you as well. But with this man, there was no such reciprocation, no cathartic moment to cleanse the shame and restore the self.

A moment later found me in the bathroom, leaning against a cold tile wall, crying the same bitter year-old tears into a scratchy brown paper towel. Suddenly I understood, at least a little, why that woman cried as she did on Jesus’ feet. Scripture tells us she was a harlot, which was not only disgraceful, but stonable.

If you were anything but a married woman with children, you weren’t worth anything. How great was the shame and vulnerability of having only your vagina to sell? I don’t know, but I know what’s it like to have a moment in time feel like it seals shame, and there’s nothing you can do to redeem it. In Jesus, she saw redemption. He wasn’t there to be another man reminding her of her shame and vulnerability and emptiness. He was there to share that pain, not to reflect it back to her.

I used to think, “Why didn’t that woman bring a rag with her, if she knew she was going to cry all over Jesus and pour some oil on him?” But now I get it, I think. We don’t control shame — it controls us. Like me, sobbing in the Applebee’s bathroom. It just came over me, which is probably what happened to her as well, standing in the presence of Jesus. And she didn’t have to stuff it down, hide it, any longer. Somehow, she knew that He would take that pain from her and give her that which she needed, but was powerless to give herself.

If I run into my boss a third time, what will happen? I’m not sure, but it will be different. I suppose that’s appropriate, since the number 3 was frequently symbolic in the Bible at times where wholeness, redemption, resurrection were required. Sometimes it’s gaining an understanding of the forces which drive us that bring healing.

Jesus taught nearly everything in illustrations and parables. Leaning against that tile wall last night, I prayed, “Lord, why is this affecting me so much??” He did not give me a scientific answer. Instead, He showed me a story of a woman in shame — a story that has become part of my own story.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit—the Father will send Him in My name—will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you. — John 14:26

When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. — John 16:13a

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. — John 8:32

Homeschooling Manifesto

Dear Younger Self,

Time is a one-way street, and hindsight is 20-20. If I could do it over again, I’d have pulled our kid for homeschooling two and a half years ago, after the Christmas of third grade. This would have saved both of us a ridiculous amount of unnecessary pain.

His third grade teacher told him, “Don’t be lazy.” His fourth grade teacher told me not to help. His fifth grade teacher said, “I’ll understand if you feel his needs are better met elsewhere.” As a teacher who created a new and successful music class for “ADHD” kids, and who researched and implemented methods of magnification for a nearly blind student, I have zero tolerance for refusal to serve “low end” learners.

“The only real ill-doing is the deprivation of knowledge.” – Plato

Why did it take me three years to see things weren’t working for him? I’m lucky his love for learning hasn’t been extinguished. He’s stumbling blindly through his education, just trying to survive, instead of seeing and knowing and understanding. It’s not his fault – it’s ours.

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” – Ignacio Estrada

My decision to homeschool is not about protecting him from “atheist ideologies,” as it is for some, which is a shoddy reason, in my opinion. It is, however, about protecting him from the belief that he’s somehow less than others. It’s saying, “Screw Accelerated Reader.” It’s saying, why do a second year of recorder when you can learn marimba? It’s teaching skills by modeling and guiding instead of sinking-or-swimming. It’s teaching writing strategy instead of assuming it’s a gift you either have, or don’t. It’s about seeing error as opportunity instead of failure.

“We must create the conditions in which discoveries are made.” – John Holt

It’s educating on purpose, instead of waiting passively for it to magically happen on its own. It’s giving our son Honors-quality concepts to chew on without requiring a 4.00 GPA to get in the class. It’s rescuing theology from its current treatment as just another subject to be tested, and restoring it to a dialogue about humanity. It’s giving our son things to which we had access, but his father was denied.

It’s about real equal opportunity. It’s about reclaiming the inspiration he deserves. It’s about redemption.

And now, Younger Self, I leave you a final quote to remind you of the cost of poor education, a quote that makes ignoring the current situation no longer excusable:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” – Proverbs 29

Coal and Mirrors

Speak life

This week, I’ve spent time with great friends, new and old. What I learned is that we are mirrors to each other. I reflect others back to themselves. They reflect me back to myself. Sometimes I’m happy with the progress I see. Sometimes I am ashamed.

I had lunch with 2 new acquaintances who declared themselves non-religious and then asked if I was religious. “You would probably classify me as religious, yes,” was my answer. We mostly discussed other topics, but when discussing religion, I was surprised to find that I can now discuss it from my own perspective and experience, with true respect for them as people with legitimate, if differing, opinions. I was truly listening to them, and truly interested in learning more about their opinions and experiences.

Authenticity is everything. I’m glad to have found these 2 new friends. I like them for who they are, not because I feel compelled to convert them. I think Jesus’ conversations with people were organic. They happened because He actually liked spending time with people who were authentic. No pretending. I hope they understood that not all Christians are the awful people my new friends think they are. I hope I was a mirror, reflecting their assumptions back to them. They were mirrors to me as well, showing me how people are damaged when Christians bludgeon people in God’s name.

That same day, I also visited a friend I’ve known for several years. She is the embodiment of Colossians 4:6, which says:

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

She is a mirror to me. I spend time with her and I think, “I want to be like her,” where every word that leaves my lips is somehow edifying to those around me. She isn’t pretending. She does this authentically, because she spends time with Jesus. She’s grafted into the Vine, and the fruit of the Spirit comes out of her life simply because of that, and not because she’s trying to make it happen.

We also spent time with some other friends we’ve known for a few years. In the effort to be funny and entertaining, a few things were said that shouldn’t have been said. Nothing earth-shattering, for sure, but things I’m not proud of, even if they didn’t bother anyone else. (Have you ever apologized for saying something the other person didn’t even notice? Yeah, that’s me. But I digress.)

These friends were mirrors to me, showing me a part of myself that needs to be changed. If my pastor had been there, those things would not have been said. That makes me a hypocrite. I don’t want to be that way, living different lives depending on who I’m with.

Toby Mac’s catchphrase “speak life” was on my mind all New Year’s Day. It took me the whole day to commit to it as a long-term resolution for my life, because I don’t see how I can do this without failing. But that’s the point: I can’t do it. Only the Spirit unchained in my heart and mind can accomplish this.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” – Isaiah 6:5

That pretty much says it all. Isaiah recognized the gaping canyon between who he was and who he should be, and he recognized that those two things couldn’t co-exist. The very next verse has the cure:

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Only something from the throne room of the King can fix this problem. In the stories we read in the gospels, people were changed simply because they spent time with Jesus. He was a mirror to them, showing them who they were, and who they could become in His presence.

“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” – John 4:29

Those words were said by a woman who had a lot to be ashamed of in her life. She spoke to others about her experience, not because she had it all together, but because she couldn’t keep quiet about her encounter with Jesus. I feel like that’s me right now. We have expectations of people who speak to a group. We assume they’re holding the mic because they’re knowledgeable or qualified or they’ve got everything under control.

I just finished my first term of communications classes and will be taking more classes this year. What’s funny is that while I’m getting good grades, I feel that God is showing me all the ways in which I’m a terrible communicator in my personal life. By the end of New Year’s Day, after reflecting on all these things, I found myself literally afraid of what my mouth is capable of doing. But I think that’s good, because:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. – Proverbs 9:10

If I wake up every morning with that same fear, I’ll be grateful. In fact, I’m praying for it. Assuming I’ll live through another year on this crazy planet, by the end of 2015, I hope to be a very different person than I am today. Usually I’ve got some kind of plan for self-improvement, but this time, I have no idea what to expect. I think that’s a good thing. I think it leaves room for Jesus to work His magic in my hypocritical heart and mind.

If you’re reading this and you know me, please know each of you are a mirror to me, and for that, I am humbly grateful. As far as the world is concerned, I’m a really good person. But like Isaiah, when the mirror of the King is held up to my life, I fall so short that I’m ashamed. But so many of you speak life to me, like the angel as he cleansed Isaiah’s lips with the coal. Each of you is a mirror to me, sometimes because of the words you say, but mostly because of the people you are. He turns each of us as mirrors in His hand, revealing His truth in each others’ lives, piece by piece, as we cross each others’ paths in this life.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12

SPEAK LIFE.

(Thanks to CORE Youth Ministry and Toby Mac for the image)

Dealing With Anxiety

We recently tried to have a four-day weekend in the woods, but I didn’t decompress until the last day we were at our campsite. I realized that I use busy-ness to keep my brain occupied, thereby warding off anxiety. My brain was so hyperactive that I didn’t even sleep the 2nd night we were there. I tried to ignore it, but couldn’t. From Ebola to my future job prospects and everything in between, my brain was in overdrive with no brakes and no downshifting.

I managed to talk and pray myself back into normalcy (or close it) with the following thoughts.

Ignorance is bliss, but if you can’t stay ignorant, knowledge is power. When I know just a little information about something troublesome, that’s when I’m most subject to an out-of-control, anxiety-driven imagination. Since we can’t return to ignorance once we know something, the only way to go is forward. Arm yourself with knowledge. Learn what you can about the issue plaguing you, and two things should happen: 1) you’ll eventually get sick of reading about it and move on to something else, and 2) you’ll be better positioned to place news and social media updates in perspective. If you can, talk to someone with a lot of experience in that field – they’re usually great at providing perspective.

Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” I think He was speaking of Himself, primarily – He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – but I also think He was saying that generally, knowing the truth protects us from succumbing to lies.

Control is an illusion. I think we suffer more anxiety when we believe we can control “life.” But life is like driving: I have a lot of control over how I drive, but zero control over anyone else’s driving. I’m subject to whatever other people do, just by being present in the world. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Because the world is a difficult place. Bad things happen to bad people, too.

There is no Tree of Life. It disappears in Genesis 3 and doesn’t reappear until Revelation 22, the last chapter of the Bible. Whether you take Genesis and Revelation literally, metaphorically, or somewhere in between, the point is that we won’t have access to life in every sense of the word until the restoration of all things, until God’s kingdom finishes coming to us on earth.

Jesus brought us God’s kingdom during His 33 years on earth, and with His presence came healing, and we still long for that today. Do I believe miraculous healings happen? Yes, but rarely. Why? I don’t know. But I come back to this scripture from Job:

25 But as for me I know that my Redeemer liveth, And at last he will stand up upon the earth: 26 And after my skin, even this body , is destroyed, Then without my flesh shall I see God… (Job 19)

and this:

16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us[c] from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3)

I love their defiant attitude in the face of a terrifying situation. I want to be this way in the face of fear, saying “Even if God doesn’t save me from this particular situation, I still won’t bow down to you.

Be the bird, be the grass.

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[b]? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. (Luke 12)

I’ve heard and read that verse countless times, but it didn’t make sense to me until this weekend, as I was standing on a riverbank catching no fish. It dawned on me that everything in nature is operating on instinct, living in the present. The birds and grass don’t worry because they weren’t created to worry. It isn’t in their programming. As animals, we were created, like the rest of creation, to respond to present threats with fight or flight, receiving adrenaline appropriately. But when we’re in that state constantly, suffering from anxiety, the prolonged presence of adrenaline damages our bodies. We weren’t made for it.

Even more, though, creation doesn’t operate in the future. It lives in the present. If you’re a squirrel, gathering nuts is preparation for the future, yes – but something particular about one particular day prompted the squirrel to start gathering. Before that, it wasn’t on his radar. And that’s what Jesus is telling us: live in the present. See today for what today is, and do and be whatever you’re supposed to do and be today, with whatever you’re given to do it. To be blunt, the future doesn’t exist in the minds of animals, and it technically, it doesn’t for us either.

Prepare, if it seems appropriate and fitting. If you’re worried about a power outage leaving you with no water, heat, or food for a week, get some kits and supplies to store. Do it, and move on with life. In the same passage I quoted above about worry, Jesus goes right on to talk about preparation:

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. (Luke 12)

Jesus was talking about spiritual preparation, which is always what He was most concerned with (vs. the state of the physical body). But I think the principle – to be prepared – applies generally as well. Being reasonably prepared helps calm the mind.

Final thoughts…

The first 3 chapters of Genesis intrigue me. In what looks like just another ancient creation account are packed so many insights that cut to the heart of the human condition. I look at Eve taking the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and after eating, she hides because she was afraid. Rightfully so? Sure. Why? Two reasons: 1) She suddenly recognized that things were now out of her control, and experienced anxiety (fear of future possibilities) because of it. 2) She felt separated from God, hiding from Him, and as Sarah Young says in Jesus Calling, “Anxiety is a result of envisioning the future without [God].”

I’m glad to live on the A.D. side of things, where Jesus says this:

33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16)

and Paul says this:

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1)

Jesus died so I could have that peace. He suffered the worst the world could offer Him, and He suffered separation from His family, friends, and God, questioning God with “Why??” Read the account of Him sweating blood in Gethsemane – He knows what it is to fear the future. He also knows what it is to overcome.

Like any other addict, I’ll struggle with this the rest of my life, I think. I’ll probably come back to this very page in the future to reset myself. I hope you’ll feel welcome to leave your own comments about what helps you cope with anxiety.

Confidence! Got it. Now what?

I watched a great TED video tonight, “Susan Colantuono: The career advice you probably didn’t get #TED : http://on.ted.com/f0Wja.”

Basically, she says that women are funneled toward leadership development because that’s where all the advice says to send us. That’s great for getting to middle management, but for senior level positions, we need to be developing business, strategic, and financial acumen, which is what men are already doing.

I appreciated her example of the male mentor who was truly interested in giving those under him the best training he could. I think both men and women are tired of blaming and ready to learn more effective approaches to professional development.

Me in Relation to You (and vice-versa)

“Are you a good trumpet player?”

“Um… Yes.”

“Does putting down the kid next to you affect your skill in any way?”

“Um… No.”

A look of realization spread slowly across my 6th grade trumpet player’s face. This kid was smart and talented. He knew it, and enjoyed lording it over his counterparts. The classic teacher response is, “Put-downs are not acceptable in this class.” For whatever reason, I saw the chance to intrinsically motivate this kid, instead of lording my authority over him and watching him like a hawk, waiting for him to slip up again.

That’s “good preachin,'” as I sometimes like to say, for any age. When someone ticks me off and I get on my soapbox and start ranting about people, it doesn’t change anything about me. It doesn’t make me a better person. It doesn’t make me smarter or more talented.

I noticed a change in this kid afterwards. He wasn’t a saint, but I think it was worth it – taking a few minutes to help him realize that his skills and talents are independent of other people. There’s freedom in that.