Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Putting a Stake in the Ground

I'm glad Jesus said it's important to come like little children to Him, because I've discovered recently that my complex reasoning powers have evaporated and I'm left feeling like a small child with the simplest of understanding.

It almost feels like I'm back at the beginning, back at that place when I was six and believed what I heard in Sunday school or from my parents without any doubting. Only this time, I've been through the doubt, the ugly arguments, and all the rest. So I'm really not the six year old, untried and never questioning. But I have her simplicity. At least for today.

So many conversations have taken place in the past little while and I see ones dear to my heart embracing beliefs and theologies that I cannot accept as true. At first, it shook me, and I felt like a tippy canoe on a wind tossed ocean in the Broken Islands, destined to capsize and drown. All these people around me, so much more learned than I, with so much greater ability to express themselves and form cogent arguments, drawing from history and things beyond my grasp. And there I am, just listening, wondering if I'm simply not smart enough to draw the same conclusions that they have determined to be true. And if I ought to draw those conclusions even if I cannot understand the linear way to arrive at them. And I wonder if my gut feeling is just a foolish child's reaction to cover her eyes and ears with her hands and not even consider what is being presented.

But then, I make my choice. Haltingly, carefully. Knowing that it will be tested. Knowing that it will cost something. And I decide.

I am content with being a child even though I know it will be mocked and thought stupid and narrow. I hammer my stake in the ground, tongue off to the side to help me concentrate and little arms swinging hammer too big and too heavy. But I do it anyway.

My stake is this:

I believe that the Bible is true, all of it. And I believe that it is relevant for today and meant to be lived out. I don't understand all of it, and I don't even like all of it, but I'm trusting that God will explain those parts someday. Just like a child trusts her dad to explain electricity.

I believe that Jesus is who He said He is, and that His main purpose was salvation from sin so we could be reconnected to our Heavenly Father who made us. I believe that His atonement on the cross was a very big deal and the center of the Gospel message. I believe that He gave us directions on how to live, how to love, and how to get ready for the Home He is making for us.

I believe that Heaven and Hell are real places, and not just states of being. I don't know all there is to know about them, but like a little child, I believe that they exist.

I believe that my job is to believe and to live out faith in an active way, loving and caring and serving and being Jesus' hands and feet without favoritism, keeping away from letting my life be polluted with all that is less than the best.

I believe that my finite brain can't begin to comprehend the mysteries of all of this, but I believe that God is exactly who He says He is and that His infinite brain will explain it to me someday.

And then I put down my hammer and go back to living life, knowing I don't have all the answers and can't begin to grasp so much of the knowledge that is around me. But like a little child, I'm trusting that that is okay. Simple? Most definitely. Simplistic? Maybe. If it needs to change at any point, my simple answer is that God will work that out in my heart and mind. Meanwhile, a little stake stands in a bit of ground, waiting to find out what happens next.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mama Bird & Baby Bird

No, this post won't be about my little boy, though most days he does indeed wake up and tell me that he is not a kid but a baby bird. Days like that he won't respond to his real name or allow me to refer to myself as just plain Mama. No, this post is about something else.

***I have to put in a clarification here. Lately, as I've gotten more involved with the birth trauma group and have begun finding what appears to be almost a calling to help women, I've started wondering how to balance all the parts of Inkling on this blog. In that work, I've met some incredible women who believe and live completely differently than me. And sometimes that has tempted me to edit myself here. Because, let's face it, a lot of people who don't follow the faith I profess look at Christians as weird, backward, narrow, or hopelessly judgmental. And I don't want anyone to think that about me, nor do I want to be that way. But there isn't any way around it: I'm a Christian no matter how hard I've tried to shake that label or the beliefs that follow the term. And the truth is that I'm figuring out all over again what exactly being a Christian means and looks like. The only thing I know for sure is that it does not include looking like those cruel people who protest at funerals of military folks. But it does include compassion and love and thoughtfulness and generosity, and all of those things are character qualities of the women I've met. So though we are different, we are also very much the same.***

Moving on to the whole idea of a mama bird and her offspring.....

There was a blog post over a year ago where a woman wrote about the dilemma of mothering small children and finding time to feed herself spiritually. I remember writing her and saying that I wished there were some way someone could come alongside young moms and feed them, and how the Bible talks about how God gently leads those that have young. Neither one of us ever followed that idea any further.

Until today.

It dawned on me today as I was driving home from a Bible study at a church in the next town that I'm getting that exact thing right now. You see, we're doing Beth Moore's study on James. That means we're watching a video of her speaking each week as she explains the Greek and Hebrew, the Jewish traditions, and the original intent with each passage and topic we cover. And we get a book with homework for each day that allows us to dig in deeper.

It suddenly occurred to me that she is basically functioning as this sweet and diligent Mama Bird, finding the bits of meat and tearing them off, even chewing them a bit before giving them to us, the Baby Birds.

It's like this, I sit in front of a video of her and she explains how the word "greetings" in the first verse of James literally means "joy to you". And later on, she talks about how the term "to look intently" literally means to bend over and look closely. She explains that the seemingly simple term "glorious Lord Jesus Christ" is referring to the idea of the Shekinah glory and just how important that is. And there are a zillion more things she dissects for us and carefully spells them out so we can really grasp what each verse is saying. These are all things one could do if they had an amazing seminary library at their disposal and time to pour over texts, do Greek word studies, and read up on Jewish customs and history.

So this is how God gently leads those that have young.

The interesting thing is that I'm carving out time to do my homework when my son naps, and he knows he HAS to have a rest time even if he doesn't sleep so that mama can do her Bible study. And I'm attempting her suggestion to commit the book to memory while working out on our elliptical after the dishes are done and the male portion of this household is asleep. That is so much more than I ever did with any other study back in the day when I actually did have a seminary library at my fingertips and time (not to mention syllabi and course requirements) to get me digging deep into homework. Maybe it's the desperation and the feeling of starvation of the past long while that has made me like a frantic Baby Bird, eagerly waiting with open beak, ready to eat up anything placed in my mouth. Fortunately, Beth Moore is a wise and good Mama Bird, so the food she offers is good and filling. It's like the more food she offers, the more eager I am to eat.

It reminds me of the Oregon Juncos we watched some months back when the adults came with their babies after there had been a mishap with one of their nests. We put out food and watched the adult birds feed the babies. But as each day passed, the babies began learning how to eat bigger bites and open their mouths wider, and then they learned how to find and pick up food for themselves. But even after they were big enough to do that, the adult birds were still diligently feeding the babies, just at a more relaxed pace.

I wish I could say that this study is going to "change my life", but I can tell you that the only way it will is if I actually make a habit of doing the things I'm hearing. I look back at too many of my Bible study books and see my notes and wonder why they fall flat and seem lifeless. It's because I didn't actually do too much beyond just listening and letting it touch me. So check back with me in a year or so to see if I'm actually "doing" what I've been hearing.

But in the meantime, know that there is one tired mama who has been so very grateful to assume the role of hungry baby bird. Yes, it is true. He does lead those gently that have young.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

When Community Works

It's been a year, more than a year actually, of yearning for a community that works, a community that feels like home. In the past little while, some neat things have happened that have given me a glimpse of the good parts of community.

A card came in the mail awhile ago from a friend in the States. In it was some cash with the specific instructions to use it for a date night. I figured we would use it to order take-out one night when we could put our little guy to bed early, and then just curl up on the couch and watch a movie or chat without the resident three year old asking questions. But then the phone rang last week. It was the girl who used to come to our house on a regular basis to be my mother's helper. She had just been to youth group and they had told the kids that they were cancelling youth for Valentine's Day and encouraging them to go out and find someone to serve, specifically in the form of babysitting so a couple could get a date night free of charge. She was offering that to us. Talk about perfect timing. We had our first real date since October when my parents took Grasshopper for an evening so we could get out for a few hours while we were visiting the States.

Sunday morning I dragged myself out of bed and got ready for church, even though I was longing to snuggle in my warm bed because I'd been up far too late reading a good book. It was a good thing I went. Some friends of ours from our old home group were visiting from their new home a few hours away. I hadn't seen them since late summer, and it was good to catch up. We made plans to have them over for dinner this week while they were still in town. Some real community happened with them when they were in our group, but I can't write about it publicly. Still, memories of that shared community are meaningful to me.

On our way home from church, my husband put a white envelope made of taped typing paper in my lap and said that it had been given to him by a friend of ours with the words, "Someone told me to give you this." I opened it and tears gathered in my eyes as I saw that it was a gift of money. As work is very scarce at the moment and has been for quite awhile and we've had a few cancellations for my husband's outdoor adventure education business, it hasn't been the easiest. This gift of money meant we could head to the grocery store and pick up milk and a few other things, and it meant we could take care of another obligation looming in the immediate horizon. Community at work, and we don't even know who gave it.

It is moments like these that remind me to keep on persevering through the mess of building relationships and building community. It reminds me not to give up, not to think that I'm the only one giving sacrificially, not to believe the lie that says we're too broken to have community. And it reminds me to keep on being the positive participant in community without growing weary and giving up.

James says a lot about how real faith is active. It's times like these that I know there are some people of real faith out there. And I'm grateful to be on the receiving end of their kindness.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Community Living

Lately I've been thinking a lot about what makes a community work well. This week there have been more than a few reminders of how it looks when community doesn't work in a healthy way. The post I'm about to plunge into writing is a hard one, because all too often I'm guilty of exactly what this post is about. So just know that as I write, I'm listening too.

Up until recently, I reserved the worst of my anger about this for the church culture, for that was pretty much my only experience with messy and dysfunctional community. And then I joined a couple local kids items swap/sell groups for moms on Facebook. Boy, has that been an education.

As it turns out, what ugly things often happen in the Christian community, happen elsewhere too. Duh. You'd think I would know this by now. So I've been thinking about why this is so, why groups we form turn ugly, whether it's a church thing or a mom's swap group.

When people are involved, brokenness will follow. That's just the way it is. Our struggle then, is to work to put things back together until that Perfect Person comes to make everything right with the world again and make all things unbroken.

The core behavior at heart is unkindness. It comes about in many forms, from snide remarks to cliques to downright cruel actions. I think, perhaps, the core cause might just be pride. We would rather be right and have our own way than to ever give a bit of undeserved grace or cut some slack on another fallible human being.

That is just sickening for so many reasons.

The first reason obviously is that we hurt another human being created in the image of God when we act with unkindness and lack of care or concern. Our focus is so inward-bound that we forget the person we are hurting has a heart, has tears, has loved ones who could be hurt as well by our selfish behavior. We look at that person as expendable, merely a commodity to be traded for a better one. We do this in friendships. We moms do it all too often with each other. And sadly, I know all too well that the Christian community does this all too often. What happened to "they shall know you by your love"? Instead, it's become, "they shall know you by your infightings, splitting, excluding, and unkindness".

The second reason that my heart feels sick about the way we tear down each other with our words and actions is that there is a whole broken world out there that needs our touch, and it's foolishness to get caught up in petty unkindness and having to be right. Is it really the most important thing if the item you bought from a swap doesn't meet your standards and you have to go out of your way to rectify the situation? Is it so necessary to tear down the poor mom who did that? Meanwhile, there are children being starved, abused, trafficked, left homeless or orphaned. And that's just the beginning of all the broken things going on outside our little homes. Part of changing our hearts and behavior includes enlarging our focus so we can see more of the big picture.

I don't know if any of this makes sense or not. I find it difficult to articulate very well. But what I do know is that it is so much more wonderful and satisfying to learn how to be nice to each other. (Cue Boz music here.) Seriously, if preschoolers can get the idea of "be nice to each other, be nice and you'll see how nice being nice can be...", surely we grown-ups can put a little more thought into our words and actions before we type that post on Facebook or alter the course of someone's life in a moment.

There are moments when we will have to make hard choices that will cause pain to another, but surely we can learn how to do it in a loving, healthy, caring manner. Can't we?