Lent – with cake

March 4, 2009

I know. Lent with cake sounds upside down. Lent is a time of penitence, of focusing on what it costs to follow this Jesus person. Each Lent, as I spend forty days in purposeful absention, I learn something new about God and myself. Cake doesn’t sound like purposeful absention. But this year, it is.

In the past, I’ve given up dishonorable speech for Lent (i.e. no gossip). I’ve made committments to pray and sit with God for an hour each day. Once, I spent my Lent praying for forgiveness for all the crap I’d done to people (including myself) in my twenties. Without fail, the leanings of my heart about what to focus on guided me deeper into my relationship with the Living God, so that each Lent, I stepped into the rest of the year spiritually fed and awake.

Gradually, my insights from Lent have been integrated into my day-to-day life. This Lent, I feel very aware of some of those integrations. I made a choice a long time ago to give my life over to Christ. I knew then and I know now that I would do that imperfectly and often sloppily. But when I gave over my vocational life, I put my life in His hands, instead of my own. That has meant, at times, less money, less security, and less clarity.  He has always provided – I’ve never been without a roof or food or friends. The yoke of that decision is light – but not without its accompanying worries.

Those worries have become burdens and even barriers in my faith life. I’ve been so confused and angry at God that I have spent weeks where my only prayers ran along the lines of, “What in YOUR NAME are you DOING?!” or “WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?” While I think it’s good and fine for me to be honest with God, I’ve often become stuck in those frustrations and fears, which I think are rooted in a lack of lively, creative, childlike trust in Him. I despair at times that He is really with me. I allow the circumstances of my life to determine how I feel about the Spirit. This is backwards. The Spirit has the power to determine how I approach my circumstances.

So this Lent, as my husband and I pray for provision and eat beans and tofu instead of something pricier and tastier, I am giving up despair for Lent. This Lent, I am focusing on the power that can raise the dead. “Resurrection power!” to quote my Pentecostal brothers and sisters. This Lent, G-Whiz and I are making one cake every week, to celebrate the fact that God is a good God – who delivers a delicious, abundant life – no matter what the circumstances may be. This Lent, I am choosing to abstain from despairing that God is good and God is present. With each tasty bite I plan on increasing my faith and setting down my fears.

Pictures of Lenten Cake #1 – Lemon Cake – soon to come.

(Quand meme, Jesu, viens vite!)


The cul-de-sac of faithfulness

February 22, 2009

This past Friday, I was out walking on a suburban street with my eighth grade English group. They come, if you can imagine, from 4-6 pm on a Friday afternoon, to do vocabulary, to read and to discuss literature with me. Oddly, they are all boys, and there are only three of them. On our walk, I asked them to pay attention to details as they looked around the California suburbs, to use those details in a writing we were going to do later.  I’d never walked on that particular street, and it turned out to be a dead end, so our walk was short.  When we got back to class, I wrote about the dead end being a surprise to me.  As I was writing, one of the students asked me how to spell cul-de-sac.  I almost laughed out loud.  He was right, it wasn’t a dead end, but a perfectly tidy, circular cul-de-sac.

When we were out walking, I was once again surprised by my own life. What a strange way to spend Friday afternoon. I finally know what I love to do vocationally, but I am hanging out with three thirteen year olds, walking down a suburban dead end cul-de-sac. This is not chaplaincy.

I do not mind so much, anymore, that it has taken me so long to find the thing that I love to do so much. But waiting to do it, the time that it is taking to equip myself to do it, that wears on me sometimes. The economic realities of my family’s life dictate that I cannot do another full-time un-paid CPE internship right now.  I need to do two more internships.  The possibility exists that I may find a paid internship, but they are rare.  I want nothing more than to be walking through a hospital, meeting people and having the opportunity to accompany them on their walk through difficult times.

Instead, I’m working at an after-school program, teaching English.  I am very grateful for the work, especially given our economy’s downhill nature these days.  My husband has been looking for work for about three months now, which is also dispiriting.  I was laid off from my ESL teaching job in January.  With all my heart, I wish I could be making a living (even a small living!) doing the work that I love.  But, for now, I simply can’t.

This brings me to faithfulness.  These days, when we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we pray it fervently.  When we give thanks, as we do at every meal, we do it even more reverently.  There is something about being on the edge of poverty (I know we are not nearly as close as many) that makes us even more grateful for what we do have.  We are trying to be faithful, to hold on to just a mustard seed of faith in a time of great unknowing and great need.

I try not to despair, to think of all the things that could derail me from the path that I believe God’s asked me to take.   Jesus meant something when he told us that moving a mountain was something we could ask for and expect.  He wasn’t joking, I assume.  My husband keeps moving forward, looking for some kind of job that a former pilot could do well, even if it’s not for much money.  This continual searching without much positive feedback requires the fuel of hope and faith on his part.

Faithfulness for me, right now, means trusting that God’s hand is at work in the midst of our want and confusion, even though I can barely discern what His hand is doing.  Faithfulness is not giving up on a dream of serving His people.  It means that even though I’m walking on what looks like a dead end, as the eighth grader reminded me, it is not a dead end.  It’s a cul-de-sac.  Hopefully this time will be like a cul-de-sac in my life.  I will get to the end of it, turn around and be back out on the road that I want to be travelling.


CPE, I heart u, but you wore my butt OUT

June 25, 2008

In the past umpteen weeks since I last posted the following things have occured:

a) I went up to Whidbey Island to visit my parents as a post-CPE treat.  It was lovely.

b) While there, I GOT BIT BY A TICK CARRYING LYME DISEASE!!! GRRRROOSSSS!

Please, allow me to tell you more about the tick.  It did not so much bite me as insert itself into my body.  How freaking gross is that?  EXTREMELY GROSS.  G-Wiz had to pull it out of me, it was on my side, kind of below my armpit.  With tweezers.  So nasty.  And alive! Just thinking about it makes my toes curl.

I went to the Dr. who told me that I was showing all the signs of being bit by a Lyme-carrying tick.  You should have seen the site where it was in me.  Nasty, nasty big red target circle woundy thing.  Now I am on these super antibiotics that are making my tummy feel ick and giving me the old lady fatigue.  Boo.  But, yay, no getting Lyme disease.

c) I finished my CPE unit!

Yay!  I loved, loved, loved CPE.  It was challenging and frustrating and rewarding and meaningful and . . .phew.  Mucho.  I think it was week five or six where I was walking down one of the hallways, just heading somewhere, brain in semi-neutral, and I realized I was really content.  Satisfied.  I was like, hey.  What is that strange feeling?

I like being in the hospital visiting sick people and their families.

What?

I know.  I was shocked myself.  There is something amazing about chaplaincy work for me.  For the first time in a very, very, very long while (maybe ever?) I feel incredibly well suited to a given work.  Chaplaincy uses all of me – all of my experiences – all of my skills – all of my flaws – in a way that no other work does.  I loved going into the hospital, never knowing who I would meet that day, what lives would touch mine, however briefly; what tears I would witness and cry myself; what laughter I would share.  It was dope.

I’m not sure where God and I are going with this, but it was an intense, amazing ten weeks that I am super grateful I got to experience.  Thank you Arcadia Methodist, thank you Amy, thank you Magdy, Aline, Mark, Thomas and Darren, thank you G-Wiz and Douglas, Thank you Lord.

d) I did not blog hardly at all during CPE.  I was working + interning for about = sixty hours a week.  Throw in a family and a girl who needs a LOT of sleep, and that leaves -3 hours for blogging.  Sorry, dudes.

e) My sweet Tasha died. More on that later.


I heart u, CPE

April 27, 2008

I recently started a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) chaplaincy internship at a local hospital.

First, I would like to say that CPE should totally ask the Peace Corps if they could have “the toughest job you’ll ever love” slogan, or at least share it. There are six of us interns in the group, and we are a fabulous mix of young, old, gay, straight, American, not American. . .etc. What we have in common is that we’re all kinda evangelical, but not in that icky conservative I-will-now-attack-you-with-a-Bible way; and everyone is pretty smart. We also share the fact that we are all trying to learn how to hold a holy space in the midst of quotidian places. We have a great supervisor who manages to corral all of us into a reasonably cohesive and caring unit most days.

I’ve learned so much about my ability to be pastorally present in the past few weeks. I’ve also learned a lot about myself. We choose a ‘theme’ to focus on during the CPE unit, and mine was outing my hyper-critical voice. Ouch. The voice that gets all judgy, especially on me. The more I get to know the voice, the sadder I feel for it. She (he?) really thinks that by criticizing, worst-casing, over-analyzing and over-assessing, something productive can be gained. She is, of course, sadly mistaken.

The CPE schedule is from 8:30-5:00 every day, and some days, by the time I make it to 3:30, I am whipped. Even with purposeful self-care breaks, healthy lunches and plenty of sleep at night, ministering to sick folks takes energy. Sometimes, a lot of energy. Especially if you’re dealing with a death. So far, I’ve dealt with three, and each one was pretty intense. Plus, I’m still tutoring some kids after work (I know, I know, it’s nuts, but a girl still has to make a dollar), and I’m working Saturday afternoons at a local academic enrichment school. My Sabbaths have become inviolable. I don’t even run an errand on Sunday. I go to church and chill the hell out and that’s it.

So that’s my days and nights for the next six weeks. Learning and growing some more – in a direction I never could have predicted, but that is super good. I heart u, CPE.


unexpected

April 12, 2008

Recently, I was accepted into a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) internship program.   It is at a local hospital, and I am in a group with five other interns.  It is an incredibly intensive program – we interns are invited to minister to the patients at the hospital one-on-one in every kind of circumstance.

I’ve not had to be at a job site from 8:30-5:00 in a long time, but that is the requirement for this ten week program.  When I did work somewhere with those hours, I was getting PAID.  In this case, I pay them for the privilege of learning how to pastor people I don’t know.  This is a skill that I don’t really have much experience with, as congregational work takes place amongst people with whom one is familiar.

This past Monday, I was asked to say prayers over a man who was going to be removed from his ventilator.  I am glad that my theology includes a concept of God as generous and understanding, because I think my prayers were inadequate.  At best.  His weeping family stood around the bed – and I cried with them.  He was only in his fifties.  I felt so sad for them.  This was not what they expected.

This is perhaps the most extreme thing that can happen to a family: an unexpected death.  Expected death doesn’t seem all that much better, either.

Then there are things like what I’ve been going through lately: unexpected feelings about how my life is unfolding.  I wasn’t cut out to be a second wife or a step-mother.  Especially when the first wife is an angry lesbian who hates my husband, her former husband.  My vocational life hasn’t made much sense to me in a long time.  My family life doesn’t make much sense either these days.  My life with God still has its moments of transcendence and goodness, but He is confusing me too.

I’m trying to hold on to the truth that nothing can separate me from the love of God.


The Reassurance of the Psalms

March 12, 2008

You know, a place where we can see some real need and some real reassurance expressed is in the Psalms. For some reason this week, Psalm 38 and 39 were really talking to me. The Psalms give us so much freedom to just BE REAL. To be honest about how we are really doing with God.

Take a look at Psalm 38 – this is in verse 9 to 10, “Lord, all that I long for is known to you, my sighing is no secret from you; my heart is throbbing, my strength deserting me, the light of my eyes itself has left me.”

Dang. This is bad. It goes on like this for a while, too – and then look at the end of the Psalm – verse 21, “Lord, do not desert me, do not stand aside, my God./Come quickly to my help, Lord, my savior.” That’s it. That’s the end of the Psalm. Notice that it does not end by saying, Thank you Lord for coming! There ARE Psalms that end like this, but not this one.

It’s the same with Psalm 39, too – look at the end of that one – at verse 12, “Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for help, do not stay deaf to my crying. I am your guest, and only for a time, a nomad like all my ancestors. Look away, let me draw breath, before I go away and am no more.” Nice ending, huh? But you can see, that last bit there, the Psalmist is just crying out from her heart. Listen to me Lord! Hear my prayer! I’m talking to you! Feel that emotion.  It’s intense.
All this EMOTION in the Psalms – like the FEELING of wanting some situation to just DISAPPEAR – or feeling like God has just up and Forgotten you COMPLETELY, all that is all in there. I think there might be some Christians – with good intentions, I’m sure – who might tell us we’re should only be grateful and sweet and good inside, because we’ve been saved, right? but that just isn’t a reality God is holding us to, always being sweet inside. Obviously, we should always be grateful to God, but that doesn’t mean that is the ONLY emotion we are ever going to have towards him, or bring to him. That’s just not a reality we have modeled for us in the Bible.

The Psalms are very honest. They are also full of trust – sometimes in the Psalms, we’re waiting for God to act, but not quite seeing it yet. I hope I can communicate this – that actually DEFINES faith – waiting for God to act, and not quite seeing it yet. That’s what Hebrews 11 is saying when it says that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. This is a HUGE part of walking with God. Just waiting some stuff out. Just trusting that something is going on in heaven on our behalf, even though we can’t see ANYTHING happening at the moment. That’s part of why these Psalms are here. To reassure us again. This is how it is sometimes in life with God. But hold tight. Hold tight. God knows who we are and what we need.


The Reassurance of the Garden Narrative

March 10, 2008

Take a look at this little bit of Genesis 3:

The serpent was the most subtle of all the wild beasts that God had made.  It asked the woman, “Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?  The woman answered the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees in the garden.  But of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden God said, “You must not eat it, nor touch it, under pain of death”.’  Then the serpent said to the woman, “Die? You will not die!  God knows in fact that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil.”  The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye, and that it was desirable for the knowledge that it could give.  So she took some of its fruit and ate it.  She gave some also to her husband who was with her and he ate it.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened.

Doesn’t it seem like the story of God and man and woman should have started off a little better?  I don’t know, maybe a little more reverent and worshipful, like, Oh, God, you’re so awesome, thank you so much for creating us, we’ll do whatever you say!  But instead, our story starts with us doing something completely wacky and wrong, eating from that tree we weren’t supposed to. I love what Ecclesiasticus says about this:
God made people in the beginning, and then left them free to make their own decisions.
God left us free to make our own decisions.  What a trusting God.  It’s kinda crazy, if you ask me.  Because look what Adam and Eve go and do with that decision making power.   Oops.

And there are some pretty serious consequences to this, if we kept on reading in Genesis 3, we have a list of all those consequences.   But what is AMAZING is that God is not just like, you know what? Forget you.  I gave you this opportunity to please me, make good decisions, and you sucked, so now we are not friends anymore.  Buh-bye.  No. If that’s what had happened, um, there would not be the rest of this book.

I think part of the point of this story is to help us see that this is just part of how we are – we LEAN in this direction that makes keeping God’s instructions something that takes REAL EFFORT.  I know that might sound bad – like – ooh – we are all made sinful and bad – but – even though that’s true – I think there is another piece of this story that gets overlooked.  Because really, this story IS reassuring.  I’m not going to ask for a show of hands or anything – but let me ask you, seriously – Don’t you struggle sometimes to follow God’s heart, God’s instructions?  I know I do.  I’ll gladly raise my hand.  I struggle  A LOT.  This story is here for a lot of reasons, but one of them is to reassure us: It’s not just you.  All your people are like this.  From the beginning.

And guess what?  God still keeps on walking with us.  For an entire life’s worth of stuff.  An entire Bible’s worth of people’s disobediences.

God keeps hoping that we will see that it would be better if we didn’t try to do it our own way.  We’re like Eve, we look, and see that something LOOKS good – after all, it says there right in the Book– she looked, and saw that it was pleasing and desirable – but if God has asked us specifically not to do that thing that looks pleasing and desirable – really – it will go much better for us if we stay away from it.  Whatever it might be.

The other day, I was thinking about doing something totally rotten.  I mean really, really rotten, something totally against God’s heart.   I was super, super mad at someone.  This person was being really horrible to people that I love.  And so, you know, super mature Christian that I am – I wanted them to suffer.  And this was on my mind a lot.  By a lot, I mean, um, all the time.  Nice, huh?  (I know, it’s nice.)

What was I doing?  I was going completely against God’s word.  How many times does God tell us in the Bible not to judge?  HE is the judge.  Of everybody. I was thinking that I was the judge.  But God is the judge.  Not me.  I was just like Eve. I was all backwards.  God knows that what I need in this area is not to punish this person, but to be free from worrying about it.

God knew who Eve and Adam were and what they needed.  And God knows us and what we need.

This is reassurance.