Seasons of Grace
On this Good Friday, I realized something very good. God giving us the seasons - literal and liturgical - proves that he never gives up on us. We always get another chance, a new beginning, a "next time" to do it differently. Notice I didn't say "do it right." We may have to wait for it, but it won't seem like it since whatever time it is, we'll be starting one of those cycles over again - or be in the middle, perhaps floundering, or even just anticipating the end of a certain season, so that we can move on to the next one.
What I mean is this. The last time I blogged was the beginning of of Lent. I had thought that by giving up and receiving grace for certain things, like reading the Bible in a year, catching up on past projects, etc., I would be able to more fully enter into the liturgy of Lent - do my devotional readings, spend more time praying, concentrate on repentance, quieting myself before God, finishing "The Celebration of Discipline" which I had been reading (barely) since...well, this post. What I actually did was pretty much give up on all of it. It wasn't intentional, and therein lies the problem. Somehow I have the best intentions but I fail to be intentional. Paradoxes abound. So does grace. Thank God.
So I failed Lent. And it's even worse than that. I also totally stressed over all the stuff I was trying to let go of thinking about. That's probably connected to my lack of connecting with God during this time. And to be totally honest, I had also decided to give up gluten, but I quit after two weeks. It wasn't that I missed it so much. I just didn't know why I was doing it. It turned out not be a spiritual discipline. I think the only food that would qualify for that would be cheese. But I digress. It wasn't the fasting part that made me feel like a failure. It was the part where I missed Lent. Where I didn't even make myself go through the motions except for a few feeble attempts. But guess what? I have next year. Come Epiphany 2013, I hope to start preparing myself for Lent. Because I think that's part of my failure - not planning ahead. Which leads me to my next point.
The two biggest cycles of the church year have down time in front of each of them. With Advent, we've got scads of Ordinary Time, and with Lent, it's the same deal...or it's Epiphany, but not much going on then, especially for us Protestants who don't have all those feast and saint days to bother about - no offense to those that do - I think it's very cool, but I'm a latecomer to all things liturgical.
My main point, though, with this post, is to marvel at how God redeems our mortality, not only through the gift of grace that gives us eternal life, but also through the way he structures time on this earth. Winter, spring, summer and fall (yes, the James Taylor song is running through my head, too) provide a rhythm for life, as well as a context, or a backdrop, if you will, against which we can see our growth and our need for growth. The world around us changes, yet it stays the same. We can either be a hamster on the wheel or we can be the groundhog...er, like that guy in the movie Groundhog Day (all these pop culture references are dating me, I know) who wakes up in the same day every morning (and to Sonny & Cher singing "I got you, Babe"). When he finally sees it as an opportunity to change, he becomes a new person (and gets the girl, of course). But it took waking up in the same day umpteen times for him to finally realize he could live differently.
Spring will come again. So will Easter. So will tomorrow. His mercies are new every morning. Let's remember that when we're groping around for God in the dark of night...or just sitting there on the couch, eating popcorn and zoning out in front of the screen. He's right there with us, ready to take us as far as we'll go, whether it's now or next year or the year after...
Giving Up and Giving In for Lent
Giving up my best intentions. Giving up my less than best efforts. Giving up legalism. Giving up perfectionism. Giving up my pride. Giving up myself.
...So what am I actually giving up?
My plan to read the Bible chronologically in one year, while also reading it liturgically. After plowing through Genesis and Job - man, was that ground rocky - I completely fell off the wagon around the beginning of this month. I never really did consistently do my readings for Epiphany either, but at least I could pick up with Lent, whereas with the one year plan, I couldn't (or wouldn't) skip Exodus and Deuteronomy to get where I was supposed to be with my reading. That left me no choice but to quit and try again next year...or so my perfectionistic all or nothing mentality almost convinced me...until it dawned on me that I could continue reading where I left off if I would surrender the idea of reading the whole Bible in a year. And if I removed the time constraint, I could even have a chance to study those difficult Old Testament passages that were part of the reason my motivation had waned. Moreover, it would leave space to weave in my church year readings instead of feeling like I had to choose between them. Giving up rigidity was gloriously liberating. I wasn't giving up - I was giving in. Giving in to the God whose plans always turn out better than mine.
Catching up on the Past. I haven't printed photos from the last 6 years. With each upload, my burden to get them sorted and printed grows heavier and more seemingly untenable. So I asked myself what is at the root of this? Guilt and fear. I feel bad that my children (ages 9,7,5) aren't able to see pictures of themselves when they were younger. I fear their memories will fade of special times because they haven't been visually reminded. I even fear my life being cutting short and not having properly documented everything. I finally asked myself, "Is it impossible for them to see these pictures if they aren't in book form?" Not at all. For some reason, I hadn't thought it could work for them to browse through iPhoto, even though they often would do that over my shoulder when it was on my screen. I guess I didn't think it was good enough. I had this picture in my mind of our family gathered around the couch, flipping through pages together, reminiscing. Anything less than that seemed like failure. Now I'm giving up that ideal, as well as the fear its rooted in and the guilt it grows...and giving in to grace. I'm trying to apply that to my other unfinished projects, especially organizational ones - the kids' artwork accumulated over the past five years , a decade (our whole marriage) of filing, and so on. I'm not giving up on dealing with it but I am giving up listening to the ticking clock, surrendering my fears of an unfinished life and guilt over failing to preserve our family's legacy in the "proper" way.
Homeschooling by the Book. Although I love The Well Trained Mind, it sets the bar quite high for providing a classical education. But it's home to me - it's where I started and where I feel safest (there's that fear again) and what feels right. At the same time, its rigorousness is beyond my capacity, so I feel inadequate since I never quite can implement all the reading and projects and subjects, which even the authors tell you not to attempt, but my perfectionism plugs its ears and creates a compulsion to complete every curriculum by the end of the school year. All of this pressure has caused me to overemphasize structure and to quicken our pace. This, of course, drains the joy out of learning, and doesn't give us the time to linger longer over what's most interesting or takes more time to master (for lack of a better word). So I'm loosening up and slowing down and stepping back to look at the big picture. Academics are only one of our reasons for homeschooling, so that shouldn't be steering our course. Once again I'm giving up...giving up the wheel and letting God take the driver's seat, even if that means leaving classical country for new educational lands, or commuting back and forth between them, rather than insisting we stay parked in one spot.
Obviously this isn't just for Lent, but it does seem the perfect (haha) season to start the process of giving up and giving into God's grace, beginning with these tangible areas of my life.
Soulmates aren't the same or even equal - there is a sameness about them, but it's not the way I always imagined. Before I met my husband, I thought that my soulmate would be my equal, and I his - equally attractive, intelligent, intellectual, spiritual, honest, and so on. Except of course in the traditional men/women characteristics - I imagined him taller, stronger, more courageous, confident, etc.
In fact, I married a man who is shorter, not as intellectual as I am, more attractive (well, at least I think so), and very different from me (besides our male/female differences), yet we are soulmates. In the early years of our marriage I wondered if I had made a mistake. We fought often and ugly - he didn't seem to "get me" so much of the time, and I didn't totally trust him. We weren't reading each others' minds and we had a great deal of trouble even understanding each others' words! Our communication styles and our ways of operating seemed to be totally opposite. Despite the conflict, we persevered, got outside help (parents, counselors, pastors), and kept working things out, even if was the same fight we had resolved ten times before. As we did that, a funny thing happened - we began to understand each other, accept each other, and actually become more alike!
Our stubborn refusal to give up communicating kept us constantly connected. And the other half of the time, we were mostly just enjoying, or at least being with one another. We were also having babies (three in those first five years, during which we moved homes every year, moved our business twice, and bought a house) and raising our children together. What we did have in common grew deeper - both of us prefer intuiting (N on the MBTI) and feeling (F), which makes us passsionate visionaries/counselors/artists (NF idealist on the Keirsey Sorter), but he prefers extroversion (E) and perceiving (P), while I prefer introversion (I) and judging (J). We actually found a book about ENFPs married to INFJs! Having an NF temperament was part of what made us both so willing to dialogue and grow and nurture our relationship with each other as well as our individual relationships with God. Our contrasting preferences created friction, but iron really does sharpen iron - it also forged each of us into being more well-rounded and preserved a sense of mystery/tension that helped keep the romance alive.
As we grew in our marriage, I began to realize that my husband was my soulmate. I started to see so many amazing qualities in him that blessed me and our children and the people around us. He does "get me" in a way no one else does. And I "get him" too, but even more than that, he loves me and serves me like Jesus. There is no more soulmate than that. My goal now is to become his soulmate - he would say I already am, he is so grace filled, he doesn't see the inequality, or maybe it's just that he chooses not to measure, which I shouldn't be doing either, because none of is worthy of our very soul, let alone a soulmate, yet the God of the universe loves us so much that he not only gives us life, but eternal souls, along with earthly soulmates. Both my soulmate and I know that there is only one who truly knows us in our deepest parts - the One who created us and with whom we will always be one.
Mind Boggling God Moment
I love it when God speaks to me through a serendipity. He often does it through repeated words or phrases that reappear in pairs or clusters - for a day, a week, a season. Some people might argue that my experiences are coincidences or that my mind is finding patterns because that's what it's hard wired to do. Oddly enough, that's exactly what makes yesterday's serendipitous moment profound to the point of transcendence...because it was all about the brain and spirituality, or as the book that started this whole thing calls it: "neurotheology."
About three weeks ago we were on vacation and stopped into a thrift shop where I found a copy of Fingerprints of God: What Science Is Learning about the Brain and Spiritual Experience by Barbara Bradley Hagerty. I vaguely remembered having read about it and being intrigued, so I was pleased to score such a deal on a relatively new book. Initially, I was captivated, both by the subject matter and the author herself - a "mainstream Christian" (whatever that means) NPR religion reporter on a paradoxically personal and objective quest to explore the relationship between the brain and God.
About halfway into it, though, I struggled with going forward. Two things were happening: 1) my specific belief system was challenged (much like the author herself) by the fact that people of all religions have the same kind of brain activity when meditating or praying; 2) spirituality was defined as having mystical experiences, even though that is not the stuff of day-to-day faith, nor do most Christians (pentecostals aside) have other worldly conversions or supernatural seeming encounters. In fact, many never do.
Still, it was a fascinating topic and I wanted to finish the book, so I kept reading. Yesterday I read about brain scans that scientists studying neurotheology performed on "spiritual virtuosos":
Newberg found another peculiar similarity. With both the nuns and the [Buddhist] monks, the parietal lobes went dark during deep prayer and meditation.Newberg calls this "orientation area" because it orients you in time and space: those lobes tell you where your body ends and the rest of the world begins. That is why Sister Celeste (and countless other mystics) described a unity with God, or as she put it, 'God permeating my being' It was the neurological reason that Michael Baine felt a "deep and profound sense of connection to everything, recognizing that there was never a true separation at all." (p. 174)
Later that day, I received some books from my Amazon wish list that I had ordered using a gift card from my birthday. It was a little like Christmas, getting these packages several days in a row. That night, I took a stack of my new books up to bed, and decided to a read a chapter from each - sort of a literary nosh, if you will. In the introduction of one of them, SoulTypes: Matching Your Personality and Your Spiritual Path, I read this passage:
A group of scientists interested in exploring whether there are brain-based differences that determine our religion are using the type of prayer described there to define who is and isn't "spiritual." In all religions, these neuroscientists say, mystical, spiritual moments happen when parts of the brain (parietal-lobe circuits) go quiet, turning off your ability to distinguish between the body and its surroundings. Without sensory data, you feel a sense of being part of infinity or, for the religious, being "one with God." They use SPECT scans to determine whether the person is having such an experience. Building on this research, books such as The God Gene describe how we either are or aren't wired for faith. Kenneth L. Woodward, a religion journalist for Newsweek, points out the problem with this approach:
"The chief mistake these neurotheologians make is to identify religion with specific experiences and feelings. Losing one's self in prayer may feel good or uplifting, but these emotions have nothing to do with how well we communicate with God. In fact, many people pray best when feeling shame or sorrow, and the sense that God is absent is no less valid than the experience of divine presence."
As I read that, I had an emotional experience - not of the presence of God, but of excitement over him having clearly communicated with me. He didn't do it through my feelings, an audible voice, or a supernatural sign - he did it through my life. He did it by leading me in one day to two books dealing with spirituality, which otherwise were totally unrelated, yet intersected at this one specific point, from whence they each went in very different directions. God used the second book to reassure me by validating/confirming the very thoughts that had come to my mind while reading the first book. It was especially powerful because it was merely a sidebar, so to speak, in the second book, and I therefore had no way of knowing that topic would be addressed, let alone that I would discover it just at that time!
In the river of life, I feel like I'm barely keeping my head above water, as the current pulls me along - at the moment, it seems like I'm drowning - the weight of everything unfinished dragging me down - I can't stop to catch my breath, so I frolic in the mess, letting distractions make me farther behind, all the time panicking as I gulp water, sputtering it everywhere in emotional outbursts.
Will the dam hold long enough for me to get my footing, climb up the bank, and build an ark big enough to hold all that matters? Lord, give me the strength, the wisdom, the self-discipline, and the speed to catch up on the past while I live in the present and plan for the future. Rescue me from the flood and set my feet upon a rock. Then give me wings, so I can chase rainbows...
Laughter at the Lord's Table
Why is that during the most serious part of the church service, I feel the most silly? Well, it came to an embarrassing crescendo last Sunday...
It started months ago with the big pieces of crackers. I didn't mean to grab the one the size of Texas, but there I was crunching away for what seemed like an eternity. The generous portions of matzo continued, and my husband and I started noticing that not only were they the size of large states, they were the shape of them also. So naturally we had to show to each other - "I got Florida." "Mine looks like Utah." "Giggle, giggle, quack" (okay, there were no duck voices - I just know way too many children's book titles). Sometimes we played it safe and had small half moons of gluten-free rice wafers.
Then there was the wine - ruby port actually - encircled by its non-alcoholic counterpart. Having only ever experienced Baptist flavored churches where all we got was Welch's grape juice, and only once a month at that, as soon as we joined a Presbyterian church last year, I knew I would always choose the real deal, just like Jesus drank at the last supper (don't let the teetotalers fool you). Probably because it's still new, it makes me a slightly giddy, like tee hee, I'm drinking *real* wine in church. Silly, I know, but I'm that girl.
My husband, who is funny ninety percent of the time, mentioned to me that he likes taking the communion cup in the exact center of the tray. So I began noticing whether it was there or not when we would get up to the front, and every so often, I would take it just for fun. We'd have a silent chuckle over that - or if he got it, he would give me those smiling eyes and nod of victory.
As if it weren't enough with all the whispers and stifled giggles between us, my mom and stepdad started sitting next to us during the service. They volunteer to prepare communion, so she has the inside scoop on details I would have been better off not knowing. For example, when I showed her the ginormous piece of cracker I ended up with one morning, she told me that it's really hard to break up the matzo. This is funny in itself, but moreso because we're Jewish by birth. She's also the one who told me that it's not kosher wine (I had thought it was Manischewitz) but port that they pour into the tiny plastic cups.
Well, one week ago today, the humorous energy that had been gradually intensifying reached critical mass, and the amusing details combusted into utterly uncontrollable hilarity. I went up to receive the elements, and as I always do, I made eye contact when the person holding the "bread" tray said "His body broken for you," but as I grasped the cracker, I realized I had two pieces. For a split second, I thought of putting one back, but they felt stuck together, and I had already touched them...and I couldn't hold up the line, so concealed my double portion and my amusement, took the cup and looked up for "his blood shed for you," and made my way back to my seat, grinning widely.
I couldn't help but show my husband and my mom the extra cracker, which they also found funny. My mom then mentioned that there are always lots of leftovers, so not to worry, and that my stepdad drinks the extra wine. So there I got this ridiculous visual of him guzzling these tiny glasses of port in the church kitchen, and I could feel the laughter welling up in me. I tried to suppress it but suddenly I noticed all these white crumbs on my black pants, which I battled to brush off of me. A few seconds later, I saw my mom doing the same thing - dusting her lap with her hands.
It was all just too much. My body began heaving and I had to bury my quivering face in my hands, my head shaking and tears beginning to escape the corners of my eyes (later I was to discover I had raccoon eyes from my smearing my mascara). My stomach suppressed the hysterics, but I faintly emitted a sound like sobbing, which is what I sheepishly wished people would think I was doing instead of laughing!
It took me the rest of the communion time to pull myself together, and only just barely. I wish I could say it was holy laughter, but on the surface at least, it sure seemed carnal. I had, week by week, let my mind wander into these trivial details - the literal aspect of the ritual - rather than staying focused on the symbolic significance of the Eucharist. Not that I hadn't tried, mind you, to shut out these distractions (and, in fact, they occur throughout the whole service), but I had not forced myself into submission. In a way, I see what happened as evidence of grace. Yes, I was embarrassed, but I also felt a sense of release and relief - both emotionally and in terms of not being able to project any sort of pious image. That's me, people, showing you that I don't have it all together, not even in the moment when I "should" be closest to the throne of God. Then again, who's to say that in his presence, in the fullest experience of the most important release of all - from sin to freedom - there wouldn't be uninhibited rejoicing? Tears and laughter are made of the same stuff, I've heard it said, or if I didn't, I'm saying it now.
Afterwards, a lovely woman (who happens to be the director of children's ministry) came up to me and said she just had to ask what made me crack up. I told her the whole story (well, not as detailed as this) and we couldn't help but laugh together. Apparently joy is contagious - I almost wish I had let it all out and that the whole room had burst into laughter, but that will probably have to wait until heaven..."therefore, let us keep the feast"...and our sense of humor.
A Pioneer In My Own Right
I didn't realize how damaged I was until I started a family. My upbringing mingled with my sinful nature were what I brought into my marriage and motherhood. Thankfully God's grace had been at work all along, so that despite (and even because of) my frailties, I continued to be his image bearer in many ways - I was saved and kept by my Heavenly Father instead of wrecked by the abuse, brokenness, and dysfunction of my home(s). My innocence, purity, and character were evidence of the Lord's hand on my life, of Jesus dwelling in my heart, and the Holy Spirit directing my path. Still, there were wounds - from others and the ones I inflicted upon myself when I came of age - both of which he bore for me on the cross. They did not all come to light until this past decade, a season of uniting myself with another human being and our offspring.
In addition to struggling with my sinful, selfish self, there has been the challenge of living something new that I didn't see modeled. An only child of a divorced, remarried mother who worked full-time outside the home has not been trained to be a stay-at-home mother of three, let alone homeschool teacher. I'm breaking new ground, while mucking about in the dirt of the present and pulling weeds from my past. It has taken me ten years to learn and do things that suddenly seem obvious and basic. I feel like I'm so slow, but then I remember that I'm a pioneer - starting a family of my own is a journey, one that has been arduous and exhilarating at the same time, so it makes sense that I'm only now beginning to get settled.
Eleven years ago I began reading War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy and Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. That spring, my literary and spiritual appetites had been whetted by my time at the Mount Hermon Writer's Conference in the sanctuary of the Redwoods along the central California coast. God speaks truth through beauty and I had heard Him there, so I went searching for more in my favorite place to look - books. In the fall, however, he met me in an altogether different way. My heady reading fell to the wayside when I was led into the children's literature section at Border's on my first date with my husband, who read me aloud, "Oh, the Places You'll Go" by Dr. Seuss. What a prophetic moment that turned out to be. Instead of embarking on the path of disciplined grace, I was swept off my feet and carried away to the manic maze of marriage and motherhood, all but erasing from my memory banks the first four chapters of Celebration of Discipline and 200 pages of War and Peace. There was much celebrating and warring over the next decade, but not much peace or discipline (except of my own children).
Grace abounds even when we are not pursuing it fervently. That is how I have survived this induction into domestic life and now homeschooling. Lately,though, I have sensed that it's time to start moving from functioning by grace to gracefully functioning. Others farther ahead on the path have confirmed that there will be no reprieve during this season for me to enter a period spiritual retreat and renewal. If it's going to happen, it will be between meals, lessons, sorting out sibling squabbles, emails, exercise, TV shows, park days, bedtime reading...you get the picture. Thankfully, since they were young, I have (and this I see as another act of God's grace) trained my children (and they have cooperated with it) to transition from napping to a quiet time. So most afternoons, I have an approximate two hour block of time to be alone. As an introvert, that has kept me sane. It has also enabled our girls to read on their own while preschoolers (other contributing factors were literary genes and Baby Einstein, but when it comes right down to it, I say that God taught them to read).
So eleven years later, I find myself once again picking up Celebration of Discipline (War and Peace will have to wait), finally responding the Spirit's invitation to the path of disciplined grace, in hopes of it leading me deeper into the presence of God, of receiving more of his grace and overflowing it to others, but Foster articulates it more clearly:
"God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us.
The apostle Paul says, 'he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life (Galatians 6:8).' Paul's analogy is instructive. A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain. He cultivates the ground, he plants the seed, he waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain. This is the way it is with the Spiritual Disciplines - they are a way of sowing to the Spirit. The Disciplines are God's way of getting us into the ground; they put us where he can work within us and transform us. By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done. They are God's means of grace. The inner righteousness we seek is not something that is poured on our heads. God has ordained the Disciplines of the spiritual life as the means by which we place ourselves where he can bless us.
In this regard it would be proper to speak of 'the path of discplined grace.' It is 'grace' because it is free; it is 'disciplined' because there is something for us to do."
Is He Him and Am I Me?
Dinner is ready - pork tenderloin and sweet potatoes are in the slow cooker; cranberry-mandarin sauce is in the fridge. I should be changing loft bed sheets (my most dreaded monthly task), but I'm going to let my husband help me with that, so that while the kids have their screen time, I can have mine (not that I haven't already been online throughout the day). Yesterday I dumped 9 pages of rambling into my journal (the one pictured above). I felt like there were so many ways and angles to approach expressing the epiphany that came to me, but I had to just pick one, and in so doing, I didn't expand upon its every facet of meaning. To do that would have resulted in not just a very lengthy blog post, but an entire series. And frankly, just the thought of that overwhelms me. Rather than polishing my scrawlings into eloquently articulated prose, I merely transcribed them (okay, I ended up totally reworking it), and hopefully you'll find a diamond in the rough, or at least an intact shell amongst the fragments of my mind.
Sometimes just thinking deep thoughts makes me tired, let alone trying to craft them into something worth sharing with the world. And that brings me to my epiphany...(forgive the inconsistent tenses, as this is both past, present and future, but all at the same time)
For a while now, I have been questioning my calling as a writer, wondering if that's really how God gifted me, and if he did, if it was just for a season. About a decade ago, a major shift occurred both in the world and in my life, and it has intensified with each passing year. Some of you know it as Web 2.0, which interestingly coincides with my own metamorphosis. As the internet entered its next incarnation, now known as social media, I became a wife, mother, and homeschooler. I went from being a person who spent a lot of time alone and a writer whose online interactions were limited to a static website and occasional chatroom to being surrounded by people nearly 24/7 and part of a virtual world where I communicated with multitudes in real time. While I was making the transition in my identity, the thing which had previously defined me the most was being redefined by a new media world without clear distinctions between writing and written communication. I haven't the time or energy to do what I once lived to do (while pining for the life I have now), but my talents (if I have them) are certainly not missed in a world where everyone with a computer (which is everyone) is a writer. So I'm losing [a part of] myself and left wondering if that's who I really am anyway. Okay, I'm being a little dramatic.
There were some other changes too. I used to be something of a crusader, though my voice wasn't as pious as some. I liked to write about controversial ethical issues. My writing was fueled by standing up for what was right, for going against the flow - you know, all the usual cliches of a Christian girl growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area and immersing herself in liberal institutions of education and journalism. Some of my identity was in the facing the challenge of being the odd woman out. I'm still passionate about injustice, but I'm not as black and white or as judgmental (it's the old adage - the more you know, the less you know). So some of that fire that fueled my writing isn't there anymore - I've mellowed as I've been humbled. And I'm also not out there "fighting" because I spend most of my time at home - I'm the keeper and educator of my children now, not the literary Joan of Arc I sort of resembled before.
With this shift in my thinking, so little time to spare for writing and so many words inundating us, I feel even more pressure to say only what is worth saying, that others aren't already saying...and so I have been wondering if I really have a unique voice and meaningful messages that can help others. And if I do, is it even needed? The last thing I want to be is another onscreen distraction from people (including me) living life to the fullest.
It has been humbling to have these thoughts, but it has also brought on an identity crisis of sorts. Suddenly I faced the possibility of not being who I thought I was. And if I wasn't that person, then why did I still have the desire to be her? The compulsion to write wasn't gone - far from it - I'm on the catch and release program with ideas and insights, except that I'm not usually intentionally fishing for them. They come and I let them go. Always with a twinge of guilt. Though I remain convinced that the good ones - if there are any - will return at a time when I can fully grapple with them. So my passion to write has been stifled...or is it just being tempered? My mom (aka my muse) said something today about how when we're held back, God uses that to make it even better when it's fulfilled. But it's natural to also question the whole thing. Which is what I've been doing until now (yes, the epiphany is still coming - you didn't miss it).
On Thursday, I was washing dishes when it dawned on me (and no, I wasn't using that brand of dish soap) that my "identity crisis" was very similar to the crisis of faith I experienced in college. Having grown up in the church for the latter half of my childhood, I began grappling with philosophical questions now that I was out on my own: Was God who I believe he was? Was the Bible really true? There were so many belief systems that seemed to be saying so many of the same things. How was I to know that the religion I had been raised with was the right one? Maybe they were all (or none) valid.
C.S. Lewis to the rescue...I didn't even have to finish reading Mere Christianity before my doubts were assuaged. I continued to read apologetics and other books written by "thinking Christians." Underlying my intellectual struggles with my faith, though, something stronger was there all along. Actually someone. His name is Jesus. He had been with me through a tumultuous childhood (not the churchy one you might have been assuming) and brought me into a flourishing adulthood that would not have been the natural outcome of my upbringing. Prayers answered, provision supplied, path directed, comfort rendered, insights revealed - my life was a series of epiphanies, or theophanies, if you will, of my Creator and Savior walking with me, and carrying me when I most needed him.
That paragraph read like a Christian cliche - from C.S. Lewis to the famous Footprints poem. But there's a reason for cliches. They express universal truths. You can fault them just for being overused.
Jesus in my life and Jesus in the Bible might not always feel real, but he was true. Truer than me to myself or to Him. The thought of living without him was more than I could bear. Why would I feel that way if he were just a figment of my imagination? Losing my religion would mean gaining acceptance in the world in the prime of my life - recognition, praise, admiration and reward for my abilities and appearance. The temptation to turn away was strong, but the knowledge of whom I would be turning my back on was stronger. I could not simply forget what God had done for me, nor could I risk losing the fulfillment I had from following him, even if at times, the way was not clear and the guide was silent. He had proven himself over and over, though not in the scientifically observable ways tangible objects can be tested, so to decide it had all been a delusion would be to deny my identity in Christ...and who would I be without that? Without him?
Therein lies the parallel between my crisis of faith and my crisis of calling. I had been questioning my identity in much the same way I had questioned God's, though on a less fundamental level, but still involving both of us, because who God is, who I am, and what I am called to are inextricably linked. This time around, 20 years later, I am, predictably, much clearer about the fundamentals - I know I am a child of God (not that I don't still go through bouts of doubt), a woman (no doubt about that one!), a wife, and a mother. All of that is more than enough. In fact, the first is sufficient. And yet, there is one more defining part of me - my calling to write. God being Creator is enough, but he is also Savior and Lord, and because he made humans in his image, we, too, need to realize the full expression of him in our lives, so that we can use our passion and dreams to carry out his purposes. We are each an epiphany, a manifestation of his love, grace, and truth to the world. If we can do something, we should do it for his glory, even if we cannot do it as much or in the exact way we think we should.
What I realized about believing in my calling is not that I'll never doubt it again - just as I still have times of questioning who God is - but that I can't measure its validity by the state of the world or even my own life. While who I am is tied to what I do, it is not defined by it. Just as God is not defined by my spiritual experience of him. I am in a season of life where I cannot devote myself to writing or theology or contemplative endeavors. Yet those longings in me don't wither just because I can't fully pursue them. Knowing who I am and who God made me, I can trust that what I am doing now - raising and educating my children - will make me a better writer and help me to know God more, so that when this season shifts to a new one, I can bring my experiences, and my more mature self into the next season when, Lord willing, I can use the other parts of me that have been developing through mere living. That may look nothing like what I imagine now, but that reminds me of how it is with our deeper longings, which cannot be satisfied in this life. We envision their fulfillment in heaven but we do that with our earthly imaginations. There is so much we sense yet cannot grasp, so we must hold tightly to what has been revealed to us - who God is, his great love for us, who we are in Christ, and what he has called us to.
"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." ~James 1:17
"For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people." ~Philippians 2:13-15
"But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith." ~Philippians 1:22-25
So all day I was waiting for an epiphany. And it finally came. When I was washing dishes. That would make Brother Lawrence - if he weren't so humble - proud. Although I wasn't intentionally practicing the presence of God, he showed up anyway. An epiphany wouldn't be one without the element of surprise, so it makes sense it would happen that way...and yet, it does fit the pattern of how I usually receive the most profound insights. It's in the mundane moments, when I'm physically occupied by something menial, like showering or cleaning up the kitchen. And there's another theme in there, too - whenever I'm immersed in rushing, hot water, my mind gets an ionic charge (perhaps I've been watching too much Eureka). Or it may just be that because I'm stuck doing something tangibly, I have the freedom to mentally explore.
You see, this is why I don't blog often. It took me 15 minutes and an entire paragraph just to analyze the way the epiphany came. I still haven't even hinted at what it was. And now it's time to go to bed. Sorry to keep you in suspense, stay tuned tomorrow for the revealing post, entitled "Is He Him and Am I Me?"
(bonus: click the picture for a vignette I just wrote about that special sand dollar)