Private Woman, Public Walk

Gentle Reader,

The tree just outside my window transformed seemingly overnight. Sad gray branches suddenly full of green leaves and delicate pink blossoms. Winter has finally passed. Spring, with all it’s bluster and showiness, is here to stay.

When through the woods
And forest glades I wander
I hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
And feel the gentle breeze…

I’ve sung these words more times than I know, and yet, somehow, they remain fresh to me in ways that other words do not. Something in the poetry captures my mind. Perhaps this is because I am inclined to solitude. I don’t mind listening as the wind rustles the new leaves. I like stopping to listen to birdsong. If there’s an opportunity to watch the sun set in real time, I’ll take it. There is such complexity and wonder in nature, such a mark of God’s presence. Others can have the noise of cities and constant movement. I will sit and observe as the clouds change shape.

And yet…

My walk is a public one. My business is in the world, and I must mix in the assemblies of men or quit the post which Providence seems to have assigned me.

– William Wilberforce

God really does choose the foolish and powerless things of this world (1 Corinthians 1:27) through which to pour His light.

…the logic of the Gospel defies human wisdom and conventional expectations.

Asbury Bible Commentary

I don’t know what God is doing right now, what exactly He is calling me to. I do know that I am most wholly myself when engaged in ministry, whether that be through writing, teaching or preaching. Oh, yes. This shy and often tongue-tied woman has been behind the pulpit (well, music stand) before. It’s exhausting, but I like it. I like it a whole lot.

What I like even more?

Serving.

I want to be of good use in this world. I want to be helpful. I want others to see the hope and love of God when they’re in my presence. Perfect, that’s not a word to describe me, ever, and a state for which I no longer seek to strive. But consistent, constant? Those I like.

What I like even more?

Humble.

The greatest saints I know do the dirtiest jobs, and they often go without recognition. Yet their faces shine with a light that must be akin to that of Moses after he spent time with God (Exodus 34:29-35). They are full of joy, because they serve the King, who sees all. Perfect, they are not either, but definitely consistent and constant. Their wisdom impresses me. Their soft hearts convict my own that is so often hard and impatient. Their complete willingness to do as God leads stirs up a longing inside me.

A longing to be that immediately obedient.

I stood at the front of the sanctuary on Maundy Thursday, loaf of bread in my trembling hands. Thank goodness the pastor thought to wrap the base in a napkin, otherwise my clammy palms would have soaked the crust.

“The Body of Christ, broken for you,” I whispered, seeking to look every person in the eye, even as my vision blurred with tears. Blue eyes, brown eyes. Young eyes, old eyes. Eyes full of life, eyes full of pain.

Hands tore as much off of the loaf as they wanted. Smooth hands, wrinkled hands. Hands of office workers, hands accustomed to manual labor. Chipped nails, glossy nails.

Feet, in sneakers, in heels, in sandals, shuffled over to the cup. “The blood of Christ, spilled for you,” the pastor whispered. Her face, it was shining, a tender smile extended to all.

At once the fear left me and I focused simply on the holy moment. People of disparate backgrounds and experiences drawn together by the sacrament. The remembrance of Christ. The beginning of three days’ somber contemplation before the celebration. The noise of chairs, coughing, the clang of rings against the cup no longer registered in my ears. All I could hear, see, or feel was Christ and His love.

What an incredible privilege!

How wondrous it is, to be part of something logic-defying. How strange, to walk against convention. How utterly impossible, if not for Jesus.

So I will continue, one step at a time. I do not know where this bend in the road will end up, but my business is in the world. My task is among the people. And I think that, because He is a very good God and He knows that I need time and quiet, that there will be space for walking in the woods. There will be moments to feel the breeze. Somehow, solitude and service will join together in the beautiful and mysterious way that bears His mark.

I can’t wait to see what that looks like.

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A Shattering Peace

Gentle Reader,

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

– Matthew 5:9 (NIV)

Don’t you crave this? Not only the peace, but the being called a child of God?

Christians experience joy and self-fulfillment as they contemplate what God is now doing and what He will do when He fully establishes His kingdom at the second coming of Christ. … The reference to the peacemakers involves more than simply avoiding conflict or even attempting to reconcile warring parties (5:9). It stems from the OT understanding of peace (shalom) as comprehensive wholeness and well-being. Those who pursue this kind of peace do all they can to promote the welfare of others (cf. 5:38-48). Since God actively desires wholeness for all persons, He gladly will claim as His own [children] those who share in this enterprise.

Asbury Bible Commentary

Here’s the thing, though: The pursuit of comprehensive wholeness and well-being, for self and for others, doesn’t always feel peaceful.

Such is the nature of obedience. Following where God leads is exactly what we should do. It is the way of fulfillment, of true life, of deep holiness. But it’s not always fun. In fact, sometimes it’s very much like standing at the proverbial fork in the road, knowing in your bones which way to go while also knowing that the next step will take you off the edge of a cliff. Into thin air. Into the wild and unknown.

The other road, it winds away from God and His will, but at least you’ve got footing. It’s familiar, though lacking.

I am desperate for peace. Faulty biology leaves me with a brain consistently on red alert. Experiences, both far and near on the timeline, have me looking over my shoulder. The world is large and noisy. I am small and quiet within it, just trying to get through without causing too much trouble or drawing too much attention. Always ceding space. Allowing my voice, my words, to be smothered. Or claimed by others, never daring to challenge them.

God, He tells me that this isn’t really peace.

And I know that. Because the familiar, it’s frustrating, even as I cling to it.

Something within is begging to be set loose. Perhaps has been for a while. There are things I want to do, things I want to try, desires and dreams and passions long ignored. Pushed aside for…what? Mediocrity? Safety? Keeping others comfortable?

That can’t possibly be the life God designed for me.

Can it?

And so peace can be pain. Deep, sharp, heart-rending pain. Because you can’t be made well and whole until Jesus pulls you apart and puts you together in a way that is for His glory and your best. You can’t step off the cliff until you trust that His hand is there to catch you.

You can’t be a peacemaker until you’ve experienced the peace that shatters your orderly world.

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In the Snow, Beneath the Pines

Gentle Reader,

You will notice that the variety of bodies is stunning. Just as there are different kinds of seeds, there are different kinds of bodies—humans, animals, birds, fish—each unprecedented in its form. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness. And we’re only looking at pre-resurrection “seeds”—who can imagine what the resurrection “plants” will be like!

– 1 Corinthians 13:39-41 (MSG)

I stood shivering in the cold, despite layers of clothing, my eyes, never of too much use in the darkness, scanning the yards ahead of me anyway, watching for any sign of trouble. My warm breath mingled with the frigid air, swirling clouds ascending to the treetops above. Weak lamps cast a pale yellow glow, unable to compete with the beauty of the stars above, but useful in their own way. Laughter and screaming filled my ears, never mind that they had all been instructed to be quiet. Panting and full of good cheer, a couple of teenagers fell at my feet, soaked to the skin but not seeming to mind.

I hadn’t planned to be there, in the snow, beneath the pines. Hadn’t anticipated earning a new nickname that I shall not reveal here because reasons. Hadn’t dreamed of climbing on a stage and lip syncing to “The Schuyler Sisters” with someone with whom I apparently share a brain. Hadn’t longed for sleepless nights. Hadn’t pictured myself in suddenly deep conversations. And certainly hadn’t, in any way, thought that I would be so thoroughly and completely embraced.

Drenched in love of the most wonderful variety.

All following hard on a year filled with harshness, with brokenness and rejection. I hardly know how to handle such acceptance. I’ve come to expect glares, frowns and tight-lipped whispers when I enter a room. Grown accustomed to the fear associated with knowing you’re being talked about – because you dared to disagree, because you went outside the accepted boundaries, because you aren’t perfect and wonderful and exactly what everyone wants you to be at all times. Believed that every bit of gossip and petty meanness was exactly what I deserved. Wondered if I really was that unwanted, undesirable and unloved.

So to have a group of people actually want you around… Encountering nothing but smiles and laughter…

Frightens and delights in equal measure.

Helping at a youth retreat is work, no doubt. My whole body feels it today. Neck aches from headbanging. Side of my hand throbs from pounding it on a table while shouting, “One two three four, JFK, FDR!” I’m not sure I will ever be warm again after giving my coat, scarf, gloves, snowpants and boots to people who claimed to have “packed everything!” Definitely had a moment when I thought duct-taping them all to the side of the lodge was a good idea.

But I’d do it again.

The things they said:

“You’re so fun and young, like one of us. But then we can talk to you about real stuff and that’s cool.”

“Would you pray with me for a second? There’s this thing going on…”

“You brought M&Ms? Hand ’em over!”

“Can I sit by you?”

“Ugh. Why don’t the boys shower? Their hallway smells like butt.”

“I frickin’ love you.”

“You are the prettiest!”

Makes a lady feel all bright and snuggly inside. The gooey, chewy center that she tries to hide all exposed but, for the first time in a long time, she’s okay with her tender heart beating loudly for all the world to hear. She is not trying to defend herself or be anyone other than the woman God so carefully designed and placed into this context. She wants to wrap her arms around all of them, teen attendee and adult leader alike, because she loves them so. She’s full of life, overflowing with it, and wants nothing more than to be a gracious, healing presence, soft and gentle and kind and warm. She hopes to be, empowered by the Spirit, a safe, comforting port in the storms, to provide the shelter of a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on for any and all.

For every compliment they gave, I had the joy of showering them with words of affirmation in return. I got to watch their eyes light up with wonder that someone saw good things in them, told them that they are smart and capable and a powerful force for good in the world. I got to watch them take steps, some microscopic but real, of belief. Belief in God, belief in themselves.

What a privilege that is.

Who am I, that this should be something I get to do?

I forget sometimes that this body of mine is fragiler than most. That’s the thing about walking around with an organ that’s doing it’s level best to kill you; when you get a reprieve from the pain, you feel energized and free and so you forget all the caution and warnings and go all in. I was blessed with a few hours’ release from the sharp stabs in my side. So I took all the hugs and knocking about that I could get. Then it came screaming back, a tangible reminder of my desire for resurrection wholeness, and I had to steal away for a moment to let the tears fall.

Then I kept taking the hugs and the knocking about.

It was worth gritting my teeth for them. It will always be worth gritting my teeth for them. Because they need a person, who isn’t a parent because what do parents know, to be present. To be willing to handle the discomfort in the service of true life and love.

I curl beneath a heavy blanket, dog on one side and coffee on the other. I know I have yet to truly begin processing all that I witnessed and participated in this weekend. My journal awaits, ready for the deeper notions and feelings, the things that I can’t write here but are safe before God’s eyes. It will soon come spilling out in sentences that make sense only to Him.

For now, this. Utter physical exhaustion. A glowing soul. Spirit full of love given and received. Mind entranced by thoughts of what might be next. Pessimism obliterated by optimism. Miraculous, divine and unexpected loosening of heart-knots.

Without doubt, supremely blessed.

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(Belated) Five Minute Friday: Share

Coffee

Gentle Reader,

Missed the whole thing last week. Instead of tip-tapping my way across the keyboard, I wrangled teenagers, which is a bit like giving a bunch of dogs a bath. (You think cats are harder to bathe? You’ve never met my dogs). Our church recently became part of the Family Promise network and the youth group wanted to be part of the overnight team, making themselves available to serve the two families who lived in Sunday School rooms for a week.

I think I fell asleep around midnight. I definitely woke up just after 3:00 a.m. Friday morning.

Yeah.

Kate says: share.

Go.

So we did that. I was proud of the teens; they jumped in and played with the kids who have no say in their living situation. Lots of hugs and giggles were shared. Jenga towers fell and ping-pong balls zoomed across the table. Then they all crashed and slept straight through blaring cell phone alarms, leaving Chris and I no choice but to rouse them with the infamous screaming goat video.

I needed a nap. I wanted a nap. I planned for a nap.

I got no nap.

And that was no good, because Friday night was another overnighter. (No, we didn’t plan this well). At 9:00 p.m., the twelve-passenger van packed tightly with bodies, backpacks and snacks sped toward the University of Idaho for seven hours of fun and games. We joked and scream-sang the whole way. Thankfully, I did not have to stay up all night. Instead, as the driver, I got to take the van, that I had never driven before, to a cheap hotel, that I had never stayed at, in which I would stay and hardly sleep due to the…exuberant festivities of the college students all around me.

I’m paying for it now. Back hurts. Head aches. Sleep schedule completely thrown. Too old and uncool for this.

Coffee is my BFF right now. Don’t try to separate us.

I’ll do it again because I’m so glad I got to share in those experiences. Don’t believe the bad hype about Generation Z. They’re cool people.

Stop.

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