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!)

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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.


Why theology matters.

February 4, 2008

Recently, I spent some time with a ministry team in a prison. Some of the things that I heard that evening made think about how deeply our theology, our understanding of God, affects us.

There was a woman on the team – I’ll call her Carrie – who was feeling very uneasy and uncomfortable being at the prison. For me, going to the prison is the best thing that happens to me all week. I love how the Spirit moves there in our chapel service and I love the hunger for God that the inmates have. I don’t know if it will always be thus, but that’s how it is now. That said, I’m aware that prison ministry is not for everyone. But Carrie felt bad that this wasn’t her thing.

One of the other women said that we should pray for her, so we did. The whole time, I prayed the freedom of Christ over her. While God can and does call us to difficult ministry, it does not mean that in order to be ministry, it must be difficult. That is not in the Book. We are not required to force ourselves into ministry situations that are deeply uncomfortable in order for it to be authentic. She seemed to have a concept of God that led her to believe that she should be at the prison.

Authentic ministry is you giving of yourself, out of the bounty that Jesus and God have granted you, to someone in need. And people in need are everywhere. Not just prisons and hospitals and funeral homes. Those needs are just more obvious. Everyone is in need. Everyone needs a dose of uncommon grace and love. And really, ministry is just another word for caring, for loving.

So Carrie’s thing isn’t prisoners – so what? There are unlimited places for her to care and love for people, I’m sure of it, because “the world cries out.” I feel worried that she is going to either a) stop coming to prison and feel really bad about it or b) continue coming to prison, where she is hog-tied and barely able to minister because she’s profoundly uncomfortable. I would like to offer her the theological ground to stand on for a third option. c) She could leave the prison ministry with a clear conscience and a light heart, knowing that God has plans to use her wherever she will be. Perhaps one day she will feel pulled or called back to the prison, but for now, it can be someone else’s place of ministry. God is not a guy with a list of crap you’re supposed to do before your allowed to be considered a “real” minister. He just wants us to care for people.

I feel like I should have included about six pages of Scripture references in this post. Maybe tomorrow. Seriously. Maybe tomorrow.


Christ and Culture

February 3, 2008

The other day I watched several episodes of “How to Look Good Naked” – a show that helps women appreciate their bodies as they are, instead of how they think they ought to be.

I like the show because it helps people become compassionate towards themselves. The host is Carson from the “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” show, and he is sweet and warm with the women. Who knows where he developed a heart for this ministry, but he has one, without a doubt.

I genuinely enjoy the show and hope it helps not only women who were on it, but women who watch it, too. However, it highlighted something about our culture that freaks me out. These women, and I don’t think they are unusual, are so caught up in how they look that their very minds and hearts are preoccupied with it, to the exclusion of other, deeper things. Their preoccupation is also negative. These are not Hermosa Beach housewives who walk around all year in beachwear and $400 sunglasses feeling and looking hot. (That’s the same preoccupation, just with a positive slant.)

If we spend the energies of our hearts and minds concerned with how we look, those energies can’t go somewhere else. I love cute clothes and looking nice as much (or more) than the average female. But I see what a trap I can set for myself if I make this a central thing.

I don’t mean a trap, as in, “oh, I’m trapped, because I’m going to try on eight outfits! Oh no! I’m such a slave to the appearances of things!” No. That is too simple. And I don’t think it is wrong to have some sort of an aesthetic for our appearance. I’m pretty sure that in every culture, everywhere, this is a part of how we roll as humans.

I mean that it is a trap because it can casually and insiduously keep me focused on the appearances of things. Especially my own appearance. And nowhere, but nowhere, does the Bible ask me to focus on looking hot. (Or on my house being fabulous. But that is another post.) Micah’s simple instructions about what God requires include: act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. “Look hot” is not squeezed in there anywhere.

This is where I think Christ meets culture on this one – he asks me not to be fooled, not to be overly distracted by stuff like this. He asks me to remember that the Spirit is here in the world at work, and that there is plenty of ministry waiting for us to step into. He reminds me that the joy and satisfaction of looking in the mirror and seeing something pleasing doesn’t compare with the joy and satisfaction of being touched by God, or of reaching out and touching someone else.


Of Blogs and Bibles

January 16, 2008

Today I had a grumpy morning with the children. They were just being children – fussing about how much cinnamon and sugar goes on toast, clothing options, etc.

Sometimes we’re all, children and adult, just contrary. Well. To a degree. I guess none of us adults has thrown a complete crying, screaming fit because we couldn’t wear a striped shirt. Then again, probably very few adults have their wardrobe choices curtailed by an unimaginative dress code, either.

But I wasn’t feeling resilient this morning. I hadn’t had my tea. I just wanted to wake up and have normal conversations with everyone. No “discussions.” So, after a few minutes of testy discussions, I took my tea and went to my google reader to see what the blogs were up to. I was so happy, because my favorite blogger had a new post, and she hasn’t been posting much lately. I read it. It was nice. I read a few other posts here and there. Then, my google reader was empty.

I closed the browser and sighed. I said to my blank screen, “can’t you satisfy me?” I actually laughed out loud after I said that. I realized I was using blogs to distract me from how I was feeling. I knew I needed input from somewhere. I intuitively knew that I wanted some satisfaction from words. But I was looking to the wrong words. My little daisy Bible was sitting on the desk next to my monitor. I picked it up and read this week’s lectionary readings.

The Gospel reading is from the first chapter of John. John the Baptist says (v.29), “Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Right there I was hooked again. The Bible for me is like a dynamic, strange, endlessly fascinating, illuminating conversation with the most interesting person I’ve ever known. Today, when I read that, my mind went immediately to that oft-repeated phrase – that Jesus somehow takes away sins. I find that thought so interesting and so strange. What does it mean exactly? I know the traditional, orthodox answer, which I hold as a gift from the past. But how can I deepen that understanding, know what it means for real, for me, for my friends? He takes away sin in general? From me? Where does he take it? How? And, what then? And why a Lamb, a reference to sacrifice and dependence, first? He’s a shepherd, too, right?

And then I read the Old Testament reading, which was from Isaiah 49. In verse 4, Isaiah has the Messiah say, “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”

Isn’t that outrageous? The Bible is incredible. It is full of this kind of despair and “FORGET IT!” kind of sentiment. When combined with an equally outrageous trust in God, it is a potent mix.

When I read the Bible, I know I will never be done plunging all of its mysteries. There will always be more for me to see, to learn and be amazed and baffled by in it. Already I feel pulled to spend more time researching and praying over those passages.

No one can rock it like God. No one has so much to say to me that is so encouraging, bizarre and wise. That is His job, to be loving and mysterious. The Bible kicks ass.

That said, let me affirm that I love reading good blogs. They can be a great blessing. Sometimes the rawest, most honest thing I “hear” all day is from a blogger – like this one from Melissa in Ohio. Sometimes the silliness of my fellow Christians just gives me a great laugh.

But nobody rocks it like God. Love you, God.


At the corner of my actual life

January 9, 2008

Life is weird. God is big. Strange things happen. You may end up standing at a corner, wondering how this is your life.

In 2000*, I signed up for a course to be trained in how to be a spiritual director. It was called Centerpoint. We met once a month and shared what God was doing in our lives and learned about how to listen to one another. It was a good group and it is where I met my bestest friend ever. (We didn’t exactly click while we were there, but that is another story.) The church where the group was held was an hour from where I lived at the time. It was in a town I had never heard of, San Marino. It was on the Northwest corner of two big streets. After that group, I never went back to San Marino and forgot all about it.

Fast forward seven years. I’m engaged to my husband and we were trying to find a good cake for our wedding. I didn’t want something boring and I didn’t want inedible fondant, so someone recommended a Chinese French bakery in San Marino. It was on the southwest corner, right across the street from where the church is. They did have taro cake (yum), but we decided against it. (Chinese French baked goods ain’t cheap, my friends.) I thought it was kind of weird that I ended up back on that same corner again.

Now, fast forward eight months from the cake incident. I have an interview with an academic enrichment center. Are you ready for this? It is on the northeast corner of that same intersection. Weird, weird, weird.

I stood there a few days ago, and looked at the church. And looked at the bakery. And looked at the academic center. This is my life. A weird, unexpected set of circumstances that brought me to each corner. These days, I feel like God has sort of forgotten about this daughter of His. I know that He hasn’t, but that is how it feels. I stood at that corner and nearly cried. What am I doing with my life? Church, bakery, academics, spiritual direction, wedding, SAT tutoring. . . Lord Jesus, help this girl out. Help me to see what path you want me to lay down to walk to that fourth corner. Cause I ain’t got NO clue, Rabbi.

*Bwana: is that right? Or was it 2001?


Eternity

January 8, 2008

Jesus mentioned it more than a few times. I have to say, normally, eternity just doesn’t really enter into my consciousness. But for some reason lately I’ve been thinking about it. It’s a strange concept. Time that neither ends nor begins. Ouch. It hurts my brain to try and grasp it.

The other day the kids and I were talking about how old my great-grandmothers lived to be. Their average age when they went to heaven was about 100. My people (at least the female ones) live for a looong time. I said something to my husband about how I was sad that I might be a widow for a long time, since he is 12 years older than I, and men. . . well, you know. Men just don’t seem to be able to hang on as long as the women. Not that we can predict anything in this life. I was just thinking about it as a possibility.

His response was that he planned on spending eternity with me. I told him (because I am sometimes maybe not the sweetest girl on the planet) that Jesus said there wouldn’t be “giving in marriage” and so forth in heaven. He was very saddened by that.

“But,” said I, “I’m sure if it is not marriage, it’s something better!”

He looked sad. And unconvinced.

The thing is, even though John (in Revelation), Ezekiel, Isaiah and others cover what heaven/ eternity is like, it is hard for us to imagine things so outside of our reality. The thing that sounds the best to me is the continuous worship. It sounds so awesome to join in with angels and everyone in singing and rejoicing to and with God. It seems like it would be so joyful and amazing and fun.

So many of our human interactions are difficult, messy and confusing. I imagine in our eternal “bodies” our relationships with each other will not be those things. It will be free and fearless. I’m curious to know what it will be like.

In the meantime, I hope some teeny piece of the kingdom leaks into the relationships I have now, in this pre-heaven, earthy place.