Wednesday, February 22, 2017

On Frogs and Living


I have learned over the past several weeks that it’s possible to go into hiding without meaning to. It happens in the slow drip of fast days, the ones that leave you empty, the ones that split your seams. I’ve experienced both this February, I always do. I used to think being simultaneously spent and topped off was impossible, or maybe the symptom of a larger problem. 

Now, I can only draw one conclusion, and it feels more like a song than a statement: I am alive. (Can you hear the music?)

Part of this epic “being alive,” at least lately, has involved conversations about frogs. Isn't that just the sort of thing that keeps us interesting in living? Not the frogs, but the striking reality that every single piece of it, every slice, every sliver, every atom holds the potential to grip us? One day, we’re roaming room to room in our cluttered home, wondering why we don’t just go outside and shake off our blues. The next, we’re hearing affirmations from the clouds and storing up accidental wisdom like a squirrel with nut-packed cheeks. 

I re-learned the distinctions between toads and frogs while sitting for an entire day in the vinyl chair by Calvin’s hospital bed. (He’s fine.)  A few days later I stumbled on twin stone frog statues on a warp-speed trip to Arkansas. The night I returned home, Silas asked to read about Moses in the Storybook Bible. I’m guessing he wanted the comfort of baby Moses sailing downriver in his pitch-sealed basket, being rescued from the reeds. My guy feels kinship with these stories of being found. For every story of rescue, for every baby dealt a new hand, there first came loss. Without release there is no capture, and this is enough to break us both. 
But anyway, the frogs.

The Moses we found that night was bearded and tall, railing for the captives to be freed. The answer was yes, and then it was no. This happened on a loop, to the soundtrack of creative, maddening disruption. Assault by nature – the parts of it that seem like mistakes to our untrained eyes. Eventually, the frogs were called out of their cool-earth hiding and into holy action. 

Silas wondered why God made everyone suffer, and it’s a very valid question. I personally wondered what God had against the poor frogs. They were made for the mud. Minding their own business. I'm guessing they never imagined their services would be needed to set captives free.

Here’s what I’m holding onto: none of us was promised a life of comfort. We’ve been called to a faith that will cost us something – must cost us something. Often, what it costs us is our preference for engagement. It costs us our big ideas on what it would take to really fix the problems we’re faced with. If we pay up, we'll never be more sure of our inability to solve a single thing, and that is a death worth suffering. So, we might mourn. We might gnash our teeth as we bury the mantles we’ve carried to “win souls for Christ” or whatever we were taught to call it. But after that last shovel of dirt is heaved, we’ll feel the looseness in our shoulders and our souls. 

This is freedom.
We’ll do anything for more.

I don’t believe I’ve been called to the holy war of disruption or the righteous battle of driving someone mad. I’m not that kind of frog. But I think it’s time to dig out from under this blanket of mud. Bury the old, awaken the true. I’ll squint at the sun and my thin skin will surely cry for mercy. None of this means it’s a terrible idea. It just means I’m a frog. It means I’ll need help along the way.

The miracle is this abundant life, the one we say we want. Though the details change from person to person, the themes are all the same. It will break our hearts and send us to bed at 9 o’clock three nights running. It will weary us. Wreck us. 

It will give us a glimpse of God’s kingdom here on earth, and we’ll find ourselves willing to do whatever it takes to be a part of it. We'll find ourselves stone-cold stunned by the strange and ordinary work God has for us.

It's somehow both February and spring outside my window. The physical world is calling us to wake up, and it's calling us early.  

Dig your way toward the sun. 
Come up out of hiding. 
Listen for the music.


Friday, February 3, 2017

Shared in Common


I first met Amber last Spring at Rooted Chicago. I had known her name for a while from social media and admired her knack for always pulling the best quote out of an article she shares online - something I'm not particularly good at. Standing next to her in that darkened sanctuary, I was able to really see her.

As I have mentioned, I'm being very intentional about listening to the voices and stories around me which might be different than my own. I am tremendously weary of the prevailing echo chamber concept, where we're quick to huddle up with others who look, live, and believe just as we do. I'm desperate to learn from friends who experience life differently and I'm committed to sharing some of those voices here on my blog, just as I shared Jess's story several months back.

Amber is a beautiful writer with an important story to tell. I asked if she would be willing to talk with us about what it's like (and what it could be like) to be a single woman in the church. I'm beginning to see the way we cater to marriage issues, quietly implying that our single brothers and sisters are not yet whole people. I'm recognizing our tendency to idolize families, quietly implying that a single person doesn't *really* have one - yet. I've been guilty of this myself. These sinful biases are inflicting real damage throughout our churches and we are missing out when we push politely push people to the margins until we feel that they're ready to hang with us.

Just last night Calvin was being DJ on the way to get groceries at Aldi. Naturally, Lacrae ended up in the mix. In one of my favorite songs he raps, "Your money your singleness marriage talent your time They were loaned to you to show the world that Christ is Divine."

I'm grateful that Amber is stewarding her gift of singleness well, willing to share with us so that we might see more clearly just exactly who God is and how He loves every single one of us.


Shared in Common
by Amber Wackford

After I was fired at the beginning of last year, I went home to Maryland for a couple of weeks. I needed to hug my mom, pray with the ladies from my Bible study, and eat at my best friend’s table.

Years before, when I was in my last year of graduate school, finishing classes and interning, my best friend, Jesse, worried about me. I had mentioned offhandedly that my days were so busy I didn’t even have time to eat a sandwich, and she immediately bought protein bars for me to keep in my desk and insisted on making dinner Tuesday nights before we went to Bible study.  I didn’t have to do anything, she told me, I just had to show up and be okay eating whatever she was making.

Because of this invitation to simply come, their table became for me a place of sanctuary. It was a respite from the craziness of that busy season. I was allowed to come stressed. I was allowed to be tired. I was allowed to talk about work or school, or I was allowed to not talk about work and school. I had all permission in the world to just come; to not take care of anyone, and instead let my friends take care of me.

So, it didn’t come as a surprise to me in that season when my job was gone and I started to question everything about my cross-country move, all I needed to was to sit at my best friend’s table again.

We planned it on a Tuesday night, as we had done some many times before. Only this time, while I set out plates, napkins, and forks and she stirred a pot at the stove, Jesse said without prompting, “I love when you’re home and in my kitchen!”   

From the table where he was buckling their youngest into his high chair, her husband, Matt, piped up, “She’s not kidding.”

“I know,” I said. 

Matt must have heard the dismissing tone in my voice because he didn’t let it go. “No, you don’t. She pines for you.”

I busied myself filling water glasses, and let their words hang in the air. I realized in that moment that the sacredness that I had experienced sitting with them week after week, eating and sharing stories and praying, they had experienced too.

I realized that over the course of several hundred Tuesdays, God had made us family.

***********

I wonder sometimes when we think about Church if we’re too quick to forget stories like this. The ones where people are welcome to come however they are to eat, and pray, and not be alone.

If we’re not quick to forget it, then I think we’re quick to dismiss it.  We’re quick to neglect that the Church is built in ordinary moments, and often in ordinary ways. And that this was always God’s design. It was always meant to be built on shared meals, shared stories, and shared prayers. It was always meant to be about people who love Jesus sharing their lives with each other, becoming friends, becoming a family.

The Church was always meant to be built on what’s shared in common, and too often we focus instead on what makes us different.

Nowhere in my life is this clearer than in my friendship with Matt and Jesse. I am single, and my best friends are married. While I was busy with graduate school, they were busy building a home and starting a family. They have settled in our hometown with their boys, and I left our hometown a year ago to try my hand at a new job.  We are in different seasons, called to prioritize different things, now living in different places, and we remain as connected and smitten with each other as ever.   

Because love is the thing we always hold in common.

***********

When I graduated with my Master’s degree, my married friends sat outside in rain with my parents and witnessed my walk across the stage for my diploma. They threw a party so I could celebrate with my people the accomplishment that came after years of hard work. They rejoiced with me, and they were proud.

Two weeks later, Jesse found out she was pregnant with their first son, the now-nearly-five-year old who calls me Aunt Amber and tells people I’m his best pal. Throughout the months of Jesse’s pregnancy, I ran errands, vacuumed, and scrubbed their kitchen floors. I painted the nursery, and helped Jesse’s mom and sister throw a baby shower. I rejoiced with them, and I still am proud.

I’m proud of how they parent, and proud to be part of the family that’s helping them raise their sons.

Because the thing is when you’ve sat at the table together week after week, and you’ve had all permission in the world to be yourself, and you build these relationships that bleed friendship into family, and you all love Jesus well together, you’re being the Church.

You’re being the kind of Church that Jesus wanted us to be all along. The one that says no to nonsensical divisions and embraces the image of God we see in each other. The one that creates space for the tired, the lonely, and the broken. The one that lets you come as you are have a seat at the table.

So that the things that are seemingly insurmountable differences become the things that are holy and beautiful.

It all works because we hold Jesus in common. And that’s enough. That’s everything.



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