Tag Archives: faith

The Church should be like a library

My husband always give me books as presents. He’s good that way. Although I talk with him frequently about my reading interests and maintain an up-to-date GoodReads list, he still might present me with something under the Christmas tree that is completely off my radar. He is good that way, too. This year he surprised me with a book I had never even heard of previously.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean not only details the circumstances surrounding the April 1986 fire which devastated the Los Angeles Central Library, but also chronicles the history of the California library. Orlean has completed painstaking research following Harry Peak, the accused, his life and the years after the fire, while providing juicy tidbits on the early head librarians from the late 1800s onwards, most of whom were women. Her book jumps from a detective whodunnit, to a work of archival history, to an homage on the nobility and malleable nature of the library’s role in society and its identity. The last section gives credit to library and library-inspired innovations like OverDrive, book mobiles, the Biblioburro in Columbia, Little Free Libraries across the world, and more.

However, toward the end of the book something caught my attention. A description of the library as a safe, public place, welcoming to all reminded me of something even more beautiful than a library. When speaking to the issue of homelessness most city libraries face, Orlean writes,

“The library’s commitment to being open to all is an overwhelming challenge. For many people, the library may be the only place they have to be in close quarters with disturbed or profoundly dirty people, and that can be uncomfortable. But a library can’t be the institution we hope for it to be unless it is open to everyone.”

p. 245

As much as I love libraries and all they do for communities, what if this section were instead speaking of the church? Certainly, church buildings can be important places to meet, organize charitable events and gathering places for community outreach. Church buildings have hosted AA meetings. They have held marriage seminars, opened their doors with food pantries, and threw neighborhood block parties. But I am thinking of something more than the building. I read the above quote with a specific eye on the church as the PEOPLE.

What would our communities be like if we, as a church, were open, welcoming? What if we accepted all unconditionally? The public library may be nearly viewed as a sacred space for the very reason that it enfolds the prosaic and unwanted, the lonely, the unemployed, the retired and the graduate student. Even though we all deal with problems in our lives, the church cannot be the people Christ expects for us to be unless we are loving and open to everyone.

Of course, I need to begin with myself.

Advertisements

Faithful

IMG_0536

Your children are certainly a credit to you.”

We have all heard these words of encouragement, either spoken to someone who has carefully parented and trained their children into impressive adults, or perhaps these words were even spoken to you at some point. Mostly they are said with all good intentions, giving honor to whom it is due, recognizing the hard-work and patience that is required in parenting. But it leaves me fearing that the inverse may also be true. What does it mean when your children make poor choices? What if they are not where they should be spiritually? What does it mean if life is hard and we are still in the trenches, losing battle after battle? Then, is the inverse true? Are the parents to be held responsible for rebelliousness or disobedience? Does it mean we are failing?

I don’t believe so. And yet, it doesn’t change my fear and sorrow and worry over my children. I began this blog over five years ago partly due to the encouragement from a friend, and partly out of a desire to record the daily ebb and flow of home schooling, as well as the spiritual struggles of parenting, particularly one on the autism spectrum. In five years they have grown, and not surprisingly, more quickly than I had anticipated. Out of respect for their privacy and to protect their dignity, I have written selectively and sparingly on any specifics regarding our struggles. This blog is likely to be from hereon a place where I come to confess my own shortcomings, to seek answers, and to share any morsels of grace.

In the middle of the trenches you just don’t know how things will turn out. Often, it seems I am failing. What if my children are not a credit to me? What if I am not a credit to them? What if the inverse really is true that I have failed in some way?

But I know this not to be true, even if I fear it. I know life is hard. And it’s not yet over. Christ has not called me to exact change on anyone, but only to be faithful. Most of the time being faithful is as much as I can handle.

The other day a friend, whom I admire more than I know how to write, handed me a piece of paper with a name written on it. It was a suggestion, a place to turn to for help. I think of her and know how faithful she has been, yet not without pain. Her eyes still reflected the same struggle, and reminded me being faithful is all I am called to do.

I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

Revelation 3:8

New Eyes

I was fourteen, and she was about eight. Initially, I was surprised by her flippancy and matter-of-factness. I was tempted to look around to see if there was an adult to reprimand or correct her. There was none. She held her brother’s forearm as he lay there, seemingly with little thought, and shook it gently. His wrist, as his whole body, was lifeless and limp, and it flopped back and forth with her motion.

“This isn’t really Dale,” she said. “He’s already in heaven. This is just what he left behind.”

I wondered who had given her these words. Had she been taught them by an equally grieving adult in an attempt to comfort her?

Dale, and his big sister Opal, were “bus kids.” Many churches in the 1970s and the 1980s created ministries in their communities by bussing in unchurched children on Sunday mornings. Our moderate-sized congregation drove fourteen buses throughout local neighborhoods every Sunday to pick up over 400 children. My father began on Saturday visiting the kids as they played outside, speaking to any parents nearby, reminding them that the colorful bus would be there to pick them up the next morning. Opal and Dale were two of these kids, and honestly, some of my favorites.

Joy Bus
My brother and I in front of one of the buses about 1978 or 1979.

Opal bounded on the bus most Sundays still munching a piece of toast, hair uncombed. She was full of stories and explanations. Dale was quieter with dark blond hair. Sometimes we called him “Porky,” because he reminded us of the little actor who portrayed Porky in the 1930s Our Gang comedies.

About 1984 six-year-old Dale drowned in a Phoenix canal.

When I learned of his death, I was insistent that I was going to the viewing. It was my first. The room was small and there were few people I recognized.

Opal’s dry eyes and nonchalant way of stroking her brother’s arm or bangs touched me more than an obediently tearful little girl in a corner would have.

That little girl is in her early forties now. The last time I saw her was at her little brother’s wake. I’m not sure if she remembers riding the white bus with Noah’s Ark animals painted across it. I hope so. I don’t know if she remembers any of the bus songs, or me, or even my father, but I do hope she remembers a time when she was loved as a little girl. And I  hope she associates that with Jesus.

I hope her words at the viewing  were her words, and that they have guided her through life. I hope she sees through new eyes. Our old eyes can see only the tragedy and heartbreak, and it is tragic. But it’s not the end.

I don’t know how Opal’s story ends…or Dale’s for that matter.

I hope to see fully, beyond the tragedy and a small room hosting a blond boy’s viewing. I hope to see with new eyes beyond lost time and missed opportunities. I hope in greater things beyond feeble efforts and self-reliance.

Because hope is more that just plaintive wishes. It is assurance that we haven’t yet seen all that there is to see.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

“Thou art indeed just, Lord,”

Lately, I have been busy, but feel I am accomplishing little. It is the sort of busyness our Western culture strangely seems to value. I could enumerate several tasks I have completed throughout the day, yet the weightier ones, the ones which possess the most significance seem to remain neglected, undone. I have a list of deadlines looming, but even more our family seems unsettled and my own soul is not fully at peace. I am experiencing the disappointment of constant striving but without focus or satisfaction.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) experienced this, as well. The English poet was increasingly frustrated with his lack of productivity. The depth in his poetry seemed to elude him and though he wrote and wrote, the results disappointed him. He struggled with discouragement, even depression, most of his adult life.

Like the psalmist David, Hopkins begins his poem “Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord” with a lament and complaint.

Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and

why must

Disappointment all I endeavour

end?

This is a cry of theodicy, a questioning of God’s goodness and care in a difficult world that seems far from ideal. He then ends it with a plea for help and a praise-filled recognition of the Lord as the true source of refreshment.

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I

contend

With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is

just.

Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and

why must

Disappointment all I endeavour

end?

Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,

How wouldst thou worse, I wonder,

than thou dost

Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and

thralls of lust

Do in spare hours more thrive than I

that spend,

Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks

and brakes

Now, leaved how thick! laced they

are again

With fretty chervil, look, and fresh

wind shakes

Them; birds build – but not I build;

no, but strain,

Time’s eunuch, and not breed one

work that wakes.

Mine, O thou lord of life, send my

roots rain.

It is somewhat comparable to David’s content in Psalm 13 where the psalmist also confronts his creator on his fairness and justice.

How long, O LORD? Will

you forget me

forever?

How long will you hide

your face from me?

How long must I take

counsel in my soul

and have sorrow in my

heart all the day?…..

Consider and answer

me, O LORD my God…..

But I have trusted in

your steadfast love;

my heart shall rejoice in

your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD,

because he has dealt

bountifully with me.

Psalm 13, A Psalm of David

For weeks I have felt weighted down by my ineptitude as a mom, teacher, peace maker and spirit-filled being. Even if I grow heavy with the feeling of unfruitfulness, I can count on his grace and his refreshing rain like the psalmists rely on, to supply “my roots rain,” for “he has dealt bountifully with me.”

When He was ready…

Christ came not when we were ready, but when he was.

This has been a difficult year for us. It has been a particularly difficult year for my husband who lost his father just at the end of September after long, strenuous health issues. He has shouldered a good bit of stress at work, and we have been stretched to our parenting limits this year. Can you relate? Christmas may have come this year with us feeling weary and unprepared. There is, somehow, good news in this.

The grace of the embodiment of God on earth is partially wrapped in the fact that we were still a mess upon his arrival. We were far from ready. We had forgotten to be expectant, and had instead grown hurried, harried, and lacking in purpose. Christmas arrived before all the cookies were baked and frosted, it arrived before packages were wrapped and bows tied. We were caught in the middle of some major mishaps. Our lives were ugly and twisted. We had forgotten to hope.

The shepherds were leaning on their staffs, cleaning the excrement from their sandals when the heavens were ripped open and angels burst in chorus above their heads. And even Anna, (Luke 2:36-38) who was waiting in the house of the Lord, may have risen from a despondent corner of the temple, doubting anything hopeful would ever happen to her again.

We were distracted and agitated and frazzled. But then, before Mary had time to prepare a nursery, he was born. Before we tied up the loose ends, and resolved the mess our lives had become, he came. While we were embarrassed, stressed, anxious, and lonely, he arrived, donning tendons and truth. Or we were proud, arrogant, and crass, yet he wouldn’t wait for us to clean our lives up. He would not. We couldn’t.

As his infantile arms flailed erratically, he waved them about and cried, “Behold, I am new! Look, I will live next door. I make everything new!” (Revelation 21:5).

As he breathed on Mary’s cheek, so he had once breathed in us the breath of life. As his divinity seemed to take on a weaker nature, he poured into us his spirit of hope (Romans 5:5).

He came when he was ready, not when I was.

As I vacuum the house in preparation for Christmas guests, I feel the frustration of an imperfect house. It will not all get done. Let’s face it, with three boys, and trying to squeeze in time for a math lesson, is the house ever clean? There will most assuredly be dusty surfaces and blankets piled in a corner. It is an imperfect house full of imperfect people. If I am not ready with the house cleaning, how much more unprepared am I with my spiritual life? My soul needs dusting and there are certainly things I need to purge from my character. If I can welcome family into an imperfect home, then I can welcome this Savior into my imperfect world. He is here! Joy to the world!

His uncoordinated knees knock together as he now kicks, but his movements proclaim, “Come to me. My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30). And Mary, not having prepared perfectly for his arrival, picks up her burden, snuggles him deeply, and discovers, it is indeed light.

Merry Christmas.

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Are you ready?

A frequent greeting which falls from our lips this time of year is “Are you ready for Christmas?” And by this we mean, have you finished your Christmas shopping, do you have the meals shopped for and planned out, do you know where all the relatives will sleep, or how you will get to both sides of the family on Christmas Eve. We might rethink our intentions with this inquiry.

Are you ready?

Are you eagerly awaiting what has been long promised you? Are you resting in exuberant hopefulness? Is the Advent of the Son foremost in your thoughts? Are you ready to celebrate his once-upon-a-time birth and his most assured return?

May we be open to receiving the divine in our life. May we be open to recognizing the blessings and the light, just as the wise men recognized the bright, auspicious star. May we make room for him as we make room for the others before us who need a place to stay, a warm meal, or a sympathetic ear. Are we ready to welcome him as we welcome others in our lives? As we wait this advent, may we grow into a reflection of the holy Infant’s abiding love.

Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!

Luke 1:45

Lilies in Solidarity

With a heavy heart I approach the Easter season. Death is inextricably intertwined with this holiday of faith. In order for there to be rejoicing on Sunday, there must be the death on Friday afternoon. And yet although He died “once for all,” (Romans 6:10) there are still countless lives lost every year because of hatred.  As a Christian, I know these are not pointless deaths. They are horrible and unthinkable. Yet in Christ’s powerful narrative over death He has brought victory.


Here I am talking about the bombings at Coptic churches in Tanto and Alexandria, Egypt this past Palm Sunday. This brief post is a prayer for the families and for the perpetrators that Christ’s love and sacrifice will prevail in all of our hearts. I pray for peace. I pray not only for the kind of peace which erases war and terrorism, but the true peace which obliterates any kind of animosity, jealousy, greed, avarice, envy and prejudices. I pray against even the threat of violence. I pray for the peace that passes our understanding.

The Coptics date their Christian faith and practice back to Mark’s missionary journey to Egypt around 50AD, approximately the time Paul wrote his epistle to the Galatians. They broke off from what was then mainstream Christianity in 451 AD at the Council Of Chalcedon over their Christology (their view of Christ’s divinity and humanity). As I am technically a Protestant- although I dislike this term as I am not protesting anything- there are a few doctrinal and practical differences in our faith. This, however, is immaterial at such a time as this. I can only bow my head in prayer for such a people, who for centuries have been persecuted, and yet still seem to endure, who in recent years are only further persecuted, threatened and even murdered for wearing the name of Christ. May He keep His promises and strengthen His church.


We live less than half a mile from this Coptic church under construction. It is a daily reminder of the universality of the Christian faith. Even in the suburban Midwest, I feel a connection to those far away. What could I possibly do besides pray for these people? Indeed, what is the greatest thing we could do, if not to pray?! 

And so I pray. Yes, I pray for peace. I pray for their safety. I pray for the terrorism to cease. But as the early church also prayed, I pray we also have the boldness to live lives of faith.

I want them to know we are praying as well. It may seem trivial, but my husband has been talking about giving them flowers in our support. Ever since the January bombings of last year. And so, today, S and G and I brought them Easter lilies. Lilies in solidarity. I do not know if these Christians have any personal connections to Egypt, or any family members living there. Perhaps they have all been here for generations. But, we take this time at Easter to rejoice together that there is Life even in the middle of death. And I am encouraged that there are others around me who are struggling to live out their faith as well.

And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; and having made peace through the blood of the cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself…

Colossians 1:18-20 KJV

Please pray with me for them.

Teaching the Bible story

While I want my children to desire to know God and connect with people on a heart level, I also feel it is crucial for them to have a solid, textually-based knowledge of His Word, the Bible. Even though our morning routine looks slightly different from year to year, it always includes some form of Bible study or learning. In the past, it has been as random as opening the Bible to read a few verses together, to something more systematic like a reading and study of a particular book. One year we covered the Gospel of Luke, another the epistle of James, or enjoyed random readings from Psalms and Proverbs using our Bible verse box. The box is still hanging around on an end table in our basement, but it hasn’t been used in awhile.

This year I have accepted the encouragement from Sonya Shafer from Simply Charlotte Mason to keep key verses written on notecards and file them in an index box. We use no methodology for memorization. I simply read the verse each morning and my kids say it along with me as they become familiar with it. There is no pressure to memorize quickly. Some familiar verses we have learned pat in 2-3 days. Others, less familiar or lengthier passages, have taken us a couple of weeks or so. Sonya Shafer has an easy system of reviewing old verses so nothing is lost over time. Look here for her easy to implement Bible memory verse system. Oh, and if you are tempted to to shorten the length of Scriptures for the younger ones, refrain! The six-year-old, with his agile memory,  is our leader in this. G usually keeps us on track when we forget a phrase or mix up translations. (The King James version was the go-to translation when I was younger.) Regardless of how well we have memorized the text, I feel good that they are hearing beautiful words, words that they can hold on to for life.

I have also been searching for a way to teach my guys the Bible in a ‘big picture” format. I want them to see the overarching story line through history, to see the Bible as a cohesive text as well as a collection of histories, poems, letters written in their own contexts. I want my boys to see how they also fit into God’s story, and I think I have found one way to do that through Bible book summary cards. This group has Bible study curriculum for both a homeschool or home use setting, as well as a classroom setting. The cards are colorful 8.5″ x 11″ sturdy stock cards with graphic and mnemonic devices to help you and your child learn (and remember!) the main focus, doctrinal points, or narratives for each of the 66 books of the Old and New Testament. While they don’t take the place of reading the text itself, it is a wonderful way to give your child a thorough overview. Because there is a brief explanation on the back of each card, even those of us who can’t remember the main point of Haggai, can still learn and teach our kids. Some of the cards look like this.

img_7054
Hopefully, the skull and cross bones don’t distract from Bible learning. Come to think of it, I think we talked about Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones that day!

Can you guess which book this card represents?

img_7120

We are only a couple of minor prophets away from completing the Old Testament. I am amazed at how they have already connected with the story lines.

On the back of each card are five or six questions to help review. Each day we name the books already completed and I randomly choose a few for them to narrate back to me based on the pictures. We can’t do all of them every day; it would take too long! Then, we read and learn the next one. All in all, it takes us 15 minutes or so to say our memory verse, and learn our Bible book summary cards. In this way, my boys and I are able to start the day with God’s Word.

img_7118

“…this feeling in being in one’s own place”

Willa Cather’s 1931 novel on Quebec and the last days of Governor General Louis de Buade de Frontenac (1697-1698) is not one of my my favorites, but there is this passage that pulls  at me.

She put the sled-rope under her arms, gave her weight to it, and began to climb.  A feeling came over her that there would never be anything better in the world for her than this; to be pulling Jacques on her sled, with the tender, burning sky before her, and on each side, in the dusk, the kindly lights from neighbour’s houses. If the Count should go back with the ships next summer, and her father with him, how could she bear it, she wondered. On a foreign shore, in a foreign city (yes, for her a foreign shore), would not her heart break for just this?  For this rock and winter, this feeling of being in ones’ own place, for the soft content of pulling Jacques up Holy Family Hill into paler and paler levels of blue air, like a diver coming up from the deep sea.

from Shadows on the Rock, Book 2, VII by Willa Cather

Day after day Cecile had walked about those streets trying to capture that lost content and take it home again. She felt almost as if she no longer had a home; often wished she could follow the squirrels into their holes and hide away with them for the winter.

from Shadows on the Rock, Book 5, IV by Willa Cather

It is not only Cather at her most eloquent and poignant, but it also bruises my soul with its beauty and love for a home never fully realized. Just as Cather endured homesickness for Virginia as a child when she was uprooted to the vast plains of Nebraska at age nine, so often did her characters feel the tug of nostalgia and the yearning for ties to land. In fact, land and location were primary characters in many of her novels. It did more than provide back drops to stories, but rather shaped the characters, sometimes even overshadowing them.  Antonia Shimerda from My Antonia, though born in Bohemia, was inextricably tied to Nebraska’s wheat and wind. Here, in the above excerpt, little Cecile born in faraway France, pulls the tiny, illegitimate Jacques through the snow on her sled, and knows she belongs to this “rock.” Quebec has claimed her.

There is a longing we all have to belong that will never be fully satisfied. We may feel awkward and foreign no matter where we go. Whether we fear leaving our hometown or whether we have an insatiable wanderlust, it all comes from the same place – a deep yearning for what is truly home. Last year I wrote about this here more at length using other favorite examples from literature.

Cather may not have recognized this as a spiritual quest, but we see her characters’ repeated struggles with belonging and place. One day, we will be there, never more looking around us, never more torn between belonging and being the “other,” never straddling coming and going. We will simply be in our own place. That place which has long been prepared for us. To which our hearts long. Home.

It was promised

“I am going there to prepare a place for you…I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the place where I am going.”

John 14:2b-4