Five Minute Friday: “gather”

Week in a summary: Had a lovely, soul-refreshing visit with Kimberly and Erick; then got hit with laryngitis; had hard-but-good conversations with two close friends (after laryngitis was over, of course …) which reminded me that working through conflict actually strengthens and deepens true friendships; and now we are looking forward to a visit from my Mom this weekend (in response to the SOS text I sent her on Monday – saying “we can’t do this anymore. Help needed from Gigi, please?!”). Oh, yes, and right in the middle of this week, I was privileged to hear the rich teaching of Ruth 2 that God provides generously and specifically for his people (and for the “outsider” – Ruth). Thank you, Sara, for teaching us this week.

And now, this Friday morning, I come to Five Minute Friday – a 5-minute unedited writing exercise – a familiar writing anchor as the weeks roll by.

***

One day we will all gather there together. From every tribe, tongue, and nation, says Revelation. We will gather at the throne room of our glorious King, and we will worship. We will be in full-soul delight, no more sin or crying or sadness or tears or injustice or frustration or brokenness or wounding. Nothing but worship. Loving and being loved perfectly. Aahh, how beautiful that Day will be!

photo from 6degreesms.wordpress.com

photo from 6degreesms.wordpress.com

But we will have to be gathered there. Which implies a scattering beforehand, and that is certainly true of our lives right now. We are scattered physically, emotionally, spiritually. We are individuals who are broken into a thousand pieces of ourselves, and we are trying to be made whole again. And we, the Church, are scattered into a thousand corners of this globe – as God sees fit – in an attempt to gather in, to bring in, those who are not yet here. We are scattered from brothers and sisters who are being persecuted today. Beheaded, hunted for their faith. And they belong to us, and we to them. (But we forget – let us gather our thoughts to be present with them through at least our prayers today.) We are scattered from our brothers and sisters who are impoverished while we complain that we can’t afford the latest in home and fashion style. We are scattered from each other in our churches by our busy lives and busy schedules and self-centered hearts. 

We have One who even now is gathering us together. He is healing the fragmented pieces of our hearts and our souls and our churches and The Church/Kingdom. Let us look to Him for Lenten repentance, and let us beg Him to continue to gather us together, until the day when we will celebrate face-to-face.gather

***

a mother’s prayer on Ash Wednesday

ash wednesdayFather God,

It is not even noon yet, and I am aware of how much I need the grace of repentance that Lent invites me into on today’s Ash Wednesday. I have lost my patience with the children you have entrusted me with – the souls I am to be nurturing into faith and repentance. What a high calling! And an impossible one.

Could it be that my greatest Lenten fast will start with admitting I have no strength to parent?

Could it be that the deepest Lenten repentance will happen as I lead my children into it by example (and necessity)?

Could it be that engaging in mercy and justice for me, in this season of parenting littles, will mean that I show mercy first to these two who are entirely dependent upon me for all of their needs?

Could it be that promoting justice begins with repentance of the entitlement I feel about the sacrifices I make on their behalf?

I turn away from such a prayer, but you invariably call me back. You show me a love that has loved me in my low estate, and a love that fights on my behalf for justice, and a love that grows to match (and overcome) the strength of my rebellious will. Lord Jesus, teach me to love this Lenten season. Lord Jesus, teach me how you have first loved me (and how you always FIRST love me … this love is what shapes and propels my love for my children).

In the name of the Father of all compassion and the God of all mercy, I beg you for Lenten grace this Ash Wednesday.

Amen.

10 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking (featured today at OnFaith)

It is a privilege to be featured today at OnFaith. They took the rough draft of my heart’s plea, and through their editing have turned it into a concise call to action.

You can begin reading below – and then click over here to read more:

***

I didn’t hear the phrase “human trafficking” until well into my 20s. (I’m now in my mid-30s.) Initially, I brushed it off because I could not bear to carry in my mind the reality of such atrocities. But awareness is the most important step to engagement, and it’s this first step where many of us get stuck.

The words of Dr. Diane Langberg, member of Biblical Theological Seminary’s Global Trauma Recovery Institute, are instructive here: “The things we cannot bear to hear about are the atrocities that he/she has had to live through.”

When this sinks in, we have no choice but to repent of our passivity and beg God for the strength to engage in what is close to his heart. Often the next question becomes, where do I begin? Try starting here:

1. Recognize why you’ve been passive.

Ask the question, Why is this hard for me to hear? Maybe you can identify with one of these:

  • It’s viscerally uncomfortable to read about these atrocities.
  • It brings up issues of your own past of abuse. (If so, skip to #2 below.)
  • It challenges your trust in humanity to choose what’s good more often than not.
  • Its existence seems to fly in the face of a good God who is over all things.
  • You feel scared — for your own safety and that of those you love.
  • You feel powerless to help.

I vacillate between most of the above, which has kept me from deeper engagement. But the beauty of realizing our passivity is that it can change in that moment. The fact that you have continued reading says you want to know more and be more engaged.

2. Work through your own trauma first.

As a counselor, I want to say there are very good reasons to be stuck in the place of “not-able-to-hear.” If hearing about this type of sexual abuse and trauma dislodges your own memories of abuse with overwhelming emotional effects, you need to get help for yourself first before engaging in further awareness. [head over to OnFaith to read the rest of the article, 10 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking]

Letter to Grief (reposted) and a book to purchase

[repost from December 21, 2014]

All is not calm and bright, is it? This time of year is more often chaotic and dark as we scurry around with our never-ending Christmas to-do lists, flitting from one festivity to another. And for many of my close friends, this Advent season brings unimaginable grief. I feel it with you. And so I jumped at the opportunity to join in a “Letters to Grief” event hosted by Kate Motaung coinciding with the launch of her book by the same name. This letter – it’s for you, my friends grieving loss this season. Whether that loss is of a parent or a child or a pregnancy or a job or a clean bill of health or a dream or a marriage – the loss of hope and community too often follows in its wake. Let this be a small reminder that no, you are not alone, and yes, it feels excruciating. Cry, and sorrow, for we are not Home yet. But grieve with hope, for Home is being prepared for all those clinging to the hope of our Redeemer Jesus Christ.

***

Dear Grief,

You have claimed many friends in 2014, and I have been touched by you as well. The worst part is that the church has too often refused to own you as she should. She has proclaimed a gospel of health and wealth instead of the message of the Man of Sorrows acquainted with grief who promised suffering for all who take up their cross to follow Him. And in those moments when the people of God feel like they have no refuge, you cackle and seem to win. You whisper lies, saying that there is no hope, and that God is as distant as the well-meaning friends who disappear after an initial rally of support. …

[read the rest over at Kate Motaung’s site where I am featured today as part of her book launch, Letters to Grief, which will be one of my first reads in 2015]

Sorrow-well-300x300

Letter to Grief

All is not calm and bright, is it? This time of year is more often chaotic and dark as we scurry around with our never-ending Christmas to-do lists, flitting from one festivity to another. And for many of my close friends, this Advent season brings unimaginable grief. I feel it with you. And so I jumped at the opportunity to join in a “Letters to Grief” event hosted by Kate Motaung coinciding with the launch of her book by the same name. This letter – it’s for you, my friends grieving loss this season. Whether that loss is of a parent or a child or a pregnancy or a job or a clean bill of health or a dream or a marriage – the loss of hope and community too often follows in its wake. Let this be a small reminder that no, you are not alone, and yes, it feels excruciating. Cry, and sorrow, for we are not Home yet. But grieve with hope, for Home is being prepared for all those clinging to the hope of our Redeemer Jesus Christ.

***

photo from terragalleria.com

photo from terragalleria.com

Dear Grief,

You have claimed many friends in 2014, and I have been touched by you as well. The worst part is that the church has too often refused to own you as she should. She has proclaimed a gospel of health and wealth instead of the message of the Man of Sorrows acquainted with grief who promised suffering for all who take up their cross to follow Him. And in those moments when the people of God feel like they have no refuge, you cackle and seem to win. You whisper lies, saying that there is no hope, and that God is as distant as the well-meaning friends who disappear after an initial rally of support.

I saw you tragically enter stage left on a late night in May when the Rodriguez family lost their 17-year-old son and brother, and the Jones family lost their police-officer-husband and young father to a madman’s random fire on the streets of Norfolk, Virginia.

You descended like a sudden summer thunderstorm on an otherwise ordinary Wednesday afternoon when a desperate mother decided to end her life and that of her 8-year-old daughter, leaving our entire church community gasping for breath as we suffered under your shadow. You came in waves of tears to the surviving father/husband and daughter/sister, and I know they still feel your touch.

You linger in Manayunk, a suburb of Philadelphia, haunting the friends and family of Shane Montgomery, a college student missing since Thanksgiving Eve. They do not quite know whether to succumb fully to you or to try to resist in hope against hope that there could be good news after so long.

You have been the unwelcome Advent guest to a close friend and her family as the sudden heart-attack death of her beloved mother sinks in alongside the Christmas carols and festivities.

Your problem is that you cannot be predicted nor defined. You come as a unique visitor to each of us, rarely on time and often in disguise. You hide yourself in many forms, putting on a mask of anger to make us feel strong instead of weak. Sometimes you sink deeply into the soul, bringing depression and despair that seems impossible to escape. If left unchecked, you can cause me to live entirely on the surface of life in order not to look within and acknowledge your presence there.

Jesus Christ knows you better than any of us. He is “the man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) He bore the weight of what grieves God on the cross and conquered it fully in His resurrection. He took away the sting of death – sin – saying that you, Grief, no longer have the last word. Hope takes away your bitterness, leaving us a cleansing sorrow in its wake. Hope allows us to acknowledge you without surrendering fully to you. Hope frees us to look you in the eyes as you enter our hearts and communities, and to weep freely with those who sorrow. We the Redeemed can meet you without despair; acknowledge you without empty clichés; join with others who dwell in your shadow without demanding answers or reasons.

So come, dear grief, teach us to sorrow well because of the hope of a risen Savior who will make all things new and eradicate your presence from our broken world entirely when He returns again. You will not own us, though you may visit us more frequently than we would choose. We will not turn away from your presence in our own lives or those of our friends and family. And thus we strip you of your power to isolate, turning your presence into a sign of longing and an invitation to draw nearer to those suffering in your wake.

five minute “Friday”: adore

photo from shutterstock.com

photo from shutterstock.com

“O come let us adore Him …” rings the Christmas carol from the most unlikely places. Radio, department stores, Target. Everywhere I go, there are invitations to adore the newborn King.

But how do you adore when your heart is broken in two by grief? When you’ve lost your mom from a heart attack, when your missing friend still hasn’t been discovered, when you worry about an upcoming biopsy? How do you adore in the middle of heart-rending grief? When this is the first Christmas without your mom and your sister? Or your son or your brother or your father?

How can I adore when I’m caught up in all the tasks of the season? The parties, and the gift-buying, and the Christmas-cookie-making, and the making-sure-no-one-is-left-off-the-list?

Jesus. He invites me to adore him, and then he does the miraculous. He comes near so that I can. He interrupts my over-scheduled insanity with a bout of illness, and I’m forced to practice the white space I’ve been proclaiming. He comforts my friends in the middle of their deep grief. He leaves perfection to come to a quiet, dark, hay-filled manger – born amidst poverty. Our newborn King. He brings Christmas in a way none of us would ever have planned. And to think of this? There is no option but to adore him.

***

Writing for five minutes on a given prompt, unedited. A favorite link-up with a fabulous community of writers, hosted by Kate Motaung here.

white space

She lost her mom last night after an unexpected heart attack two days ago. You are never ready to say the most permanent of earthly farewells to such a beloved parent, but particularly not when it’s so sudden. I remember this close friend’s mom as being gracious, caring, kind, compassionate. And now she is Home with the Savior she loved and worshiped, seeing face-to-face what we know by faith. We who are left behind grieve her physical presence with us.

Another friend is waiting along with the rest of Philadelphia and now the nation on any sign of Shane Montgomery who went missing in the early hours of Thanksgiving morning. Vanished without a trace. She grew up with him and their family ties go back three generations. She has participated in search and rescue efforts; she sat with Shane’s mom for a few hours the day after he disappeared. There are no words.

A friend from my community group at church asked simply for “good days” for her dad who is dying of cancer. And that he would make it to February 5th, when he and his beloved wife will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. She is glad for the good moments they share, and she prays that they will continue to savor the present.

White space. How we need it in our lives! Tragedy’s disruption will always force us to make room for it. It is in the white space that we can grieve, and pray, and be present. The white space is needed because the dark spaces will come.

In visiting Anne Smith’s opening of “Corner Gallery” last weekend, it was the backdrop of the white space that gave the paintings their full effect.

Image from Anne Smith's Corner Gallery [December hours Wed - Sat 10am-2pm]

Image from Anne Smith’s Corner Gallery [December hours Wed – Sat 10am-2pm]

In the white space of our lives, we cease from rushing around helter-skelter. I take time to sit and watch my daughters’ impromptu ballet show in our living room. (I may even join in, only if the blinds are closed.) I look the cashier in the eye instead of ruffling through coupons or checking text messages. I purposely leave margin in my life, under-planning instead of over-planning.

In this “the most wonderful time of the year,” how can you and I make white space for the beauty of the Advent to dawn anew in our hearts? For us to rejoice that our King came to us, and for us to long for His next coming when He will heal our broken world forever? No more death, no more cancer, no more missing persons vanishing without a trace. Until then, I cry with the words of this hymn –

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirit by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
*Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.*

day 27: free

Monday morning comes rough and early and with the background of a scream-crying 4-year-old who can’t find the flashlight I gave her as a reward for good behavior yesterday. {And now I wish I’d never done that.} I feel a hair-trigger anger in response. How dare you interrupt my guarded, quiet half hour? This is all I will have of that commodity [quiet] today. And you are robbing me of it. 

It’s too familiar. The anger because my agenda is interrupted, my will has been crossed, what I thought I needed for my day, for my week, is being taken away. By my child.

I hate my anger. And I hate the selfish heart from which it arises. I want to be free. Really free. And I know I am promised that in Christ, I am free. The old has gone; the new has come. … Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death. … Stand firm, therefore, and do not be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. 

photo credit: pixgood.com

photo credit: pixgood.com

So why do I feel the weight of the shackles still? I am in Christ by faith, and his life is in me. I am free from sin’s power, but I still live terrorized by it in moments like this. Perhaps “free” is to be the battle cry of my heart to press in to what is truer about me than my anger and my selfishness. I am free, and I will be free completely one day. Let me live in this hope in the in between place (the already and not yet).

****

Part of the 31-day writing challenge in October. {Five minutes of free writes from a daily word prompt.}

day 7: Haiti

Forty-eight hours before the youth mission trip to Haiti departed, I was asked to join since (a) I had a passport and (b) I was a youth leader volunteer the summer of 2004. So I took a deep breath, said yes, and went to get all of my shots and my malaria medicine.

haiti

photo: haitian-truth.org

As we drove to our destination, the poverty was unbelievable. Mounds of trash, dirt shacks, make-shift homes for the poorest of poor. Each morning I would hear drums from the witch doctors in the distance. The children hung on us in their tattered decades-old donated American t-shirts. We collectively repented of our Banana Republic discontentment and materialistic attitudes.

But the joy. That’s what I remember clearest. The joyful sharing of all that they had (which wasn’t much). The glad singing (for hours) on Sunday morning in church. The hope that filled their faces, spilling over into ear-to-ear smiles. The love they had for each other, for us, and for their Savior who was bringing them Home.

For they knew what I often forget. Home was not the temporary shack on the dirt road they walked back to, but Home awaited them at the end of this pilgrimage of life, tears, suffering, injustice, and poverty. The people of Haiti showed me true riches.

photo: blogs.mirror.co.uk

photo: blogs.mirror.co.uk

in the aftermath of tragedy

I have been at a loss for words. Understandable, after what we have all mourned as a community. And yet problematic as one who processes through writing, and one who seeks to give comfort through words of the same. It’s almost been two weeks since tragedy struck our community through the unexpected death of a mother and daughter. I think what feels both haunting and comforting is that life goes on. We have returned to our routines, and this feels wrong, for how can we ever really return to a “before” when tragedy interrupted our lives so forcefully and so permanently? Yet in all of the grief research, this very routine normalcy is part of how we grieve and process. Life has to have a rhythm, and it continues to roll on despite the times when I feel it should stop for awhile. Pause, let us catch our breaths and be able to absorb how life has now changed. It feels like a betrayal to grief that I should return to weekly grocery shopping and breakfast/lunch/dinner and reading stories and work-outs at the gym. All of this should be different. And it is, but it isn’t.

katrinadestruction.com

katrinadestruction.com

The analogy that comes to mind is walking through New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated that city. I was there with a team from my church to contribute to the ongoing rebuilding efforts. And four years later, there was still ample evidence of the destruction. Shops boarded up; homes crumbling in disrepair; areas of Ward 9 barely touched because of insufficient resources to rebuild. We began that week of rebuilding with a tour of the devastation. That helped us to have a context for our work, and motivation to work, and compassion as we worked. Could it be similar as we walk through the aftermath of this tragedy as a community? That now is a time for surveying what’s broken as we pray and grieve and ask about what and how we can begin to rebuild. 

We will do this in very apparently ordinary ways. Like bringing a meal to provide immediate relief to the surviving father and daughter, and not being afraid to reach out and call or email to say, “I’m praying for you. What do you need today?” I remember the words from my counseling professor Ed Welch in a class on how to enter into the suffering of others, and he said simply,

You show up. And you continue to show up. You aren’t afraid to reach out and to contact the person [grieving or suffering an unspeakable tragedy].

If you were impacted by this tragedy, how is it changing you? What’s the damage that will need to be repaired? Such as theological questions that came unhinged that will now need deeper foundations. Or categories of “how life should work” that seem to be obliterated. Even personal questions of how to support friends in need and how to know whether or not someone is in a desperate place and how to ask for help when I need it. All of these are part of the communal story of grief and response to tragedy. Let’s discuss them together and be changed for the good by such a tragedy. Couldn’t that begin to be part of the redemption story God promises to write, even (especially) here?

…For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted. (Isaiah 49:13)