I Can’t Save Anyone From Injustice

save-anyone

She had bruises on her neck that Sunday afternoon. My breath caught hard and I looked down to blink back tears. I wanted to just scoop her up and take her away to some place where this pain could never touch her again. But she is an adult and there are limits to what even law officers can prevent when someone returns to an abusive situation.

I quietly pick up her little boy, the one who she will save and protect with everything she has, even if it means calling me and letting me keep him for hours and days. “You can call the police or just come home with me,” I remind her, “you don’t have to stay here.”

She looks away and I know there is more holding her here than him.

I know that her love for her son is true and right.

I don’t know much else.

“I’ll keep your son safe,” I tell her.

She nods and rushes back inside.

My husband walks with me to the car. He helps me buckle in the little boy who is clinging to his stuffed animal and a bag of microwave popcorn. I ache. I can’t save anyone. Not really. Not with love, not with time, not with money or energy. I touch the blond curls that fall against the car seat.

All over the world men and women are charging into desperate situations, working for justice and setting the captives free.

When I first learned of the slavery and abuse in our world today, the way that men and women and children were forced to mark their souls with horror, I burned to help them. I burned to do something, anything.

And God spoke so clearly, marking my own soul with truth. It starts right here.

It starts with me being willing to walk up to the neighbor’s house and offer refuge and safety to the broken. It starts with me being willing to stand in a driveway in the middle of my town and have obscenities screamed at me because the father of the child I am helping is dead-drunk and I cannot leave until someone else arrives to help.

It starts with me learning to taste the dirt of the marred and the imprisoned who live right here, to stop protecting my neat-little-life from the messiness of a broken world.

I can’t save anyone. I can’t stop her from walking back into the house where she is being torn apart and misused. But I can open my doors to her and pray God’s grace into her and maybe, someday, she’ll walk through them.

There is no hope unless I try.

Photo Credit: Edwin Emerlich , Creative Commons

In Want of More Blessings

blessing

My husband, The Farmer, is testing the waters today. Are the beans ready? Will they process through the combine without problems? Or should he wait a few more days?

Harvest has begun, and with it, a hopefulness is in the air.

What will the crops yield?  Will the corn be dry enough?  Will the beans be a “bumper” this year?

Throughout the summer, I have heard, “the corn is doing well” and “the beans are suffering”.  My Farmer talks about his fields like they are dear friends.  He has planted, watered, nurtured, and prayed.

But now that harvest is here, what blessings lie around the corner?

Blessings.  That word has been rattling around in my brain for weeks, months even. And it has come up in countless books, devotions, lessons and videos.  I even made a “blessing jar” at the beginning of the year. I prepared pretty little cards to record any new blessings. The cards are dropped into my jar, with hopes of filling it up throughout the year.  I look for blessings every day.

Don’t you? I want to be blessed.

Once when I was talking on the phone with a friend, we were just chit-chatting about small things. I began to complain about my mountain of laundry and the dirty floors. I grumbled about having to sweep and mop… again. My sweet friend replied, ‘Oh, I wish I could sweep your floors for you’.

Immediately, I was humbled and ashamed.

You see, when she was just a young mother, she had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. And her disease was severe. Most days, she was in bed, not able to do the laundry or cook meals for her family. These everyday chores I dreaded, she counted as blessings. Even my mundane tasks are evidence of God’s favor.

I wash the dishes because God has given us food.

I do SO much laundry because we have an abundance of clothes.

I sweep the floor because I have the health and strength to do so.

I make the beds because I have a home, a beautiful shelter, more than I need.

Do I need to be blessed?  Am I in want of yet more blessings?  I am blessed.  I am completely, totally, abundantly blessed.

Even when we pray, almost every prayer—from everyone—begins with “God, please bless us”.  There are well over 350 verses in the Bible with some form of the word bless, and most of them have to do with God blessing us! In Genesis, the beginning, there are 65; there about 80 in Psalms and Proverbs combined; ending with an amazing half dozen in Revelations.

Our Bible is completely laced with God’s blessings on his people.

We are blessed, exceedingly blessed.

In Matthew, those counted as blessed are the poor, the mourners, the gentle, those who are thirsting for God as well as those who are pure in God, the merciful, those who keep the peace and those who are persecuted. I’m on that list. How about you?  And I have not even touched on the truth that God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens!!

We are blessed. We are blessed. We are blessed.

I have gotten way too comfortable with my blessings.  They have become my normal; my expectations. I am living in a paradise compared to 90% of the population.  I am enjoying the blessings, but often not remembering The Blesser.  I am blessed because God has chosen to bestow favor.  He has already given me much — over and over again.   I could spend the rest of today and tomorrow filling out cards for my blessing jar. It should be overflowing with cards.

I should need another jar, and then another.

‘Let us bless you, God’ should be our prayer. “Now unto him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think…to him be the glory”.

Yes, glory to God, the Giver of my abundance.

My phone chirps, and after one morning of field work, I receive a text from my Farmer: ‘problems’ (he has always been a man of few words).  I lean over and tell my “anxious-to-ride-the-combine” three-year-old grandson, ‘Papa is having trouble with the beans today’.  This wise little man (who has been listening to farmer-talk) replies, ‘that’s ‘cuz the beans are p’bly not brown enough’.

And he is right, the beans are not dry enough, and our harvest will have to wait a day or two.  But whether the corn and the beans yield an abundance or not, we are blessed.  Yes, we are.

Photo Credit: Jon Bunting , Creative Commons

Love Is Calloused, Holding My Hand

love-ew

The pastor is praying and the woman in the pew in front of me has an oxygen tank. She’s breathing in and out and it’s soothing, but also jarring, because you don’t realize how much you need oxygen until you stop being able to breathe.

And I reckon the same can be said about love.

Love is holding my hands, all calloused with a wedding ring on its right finger, and a scar where he cut himself with a Cutco knife years ago doing a knife presentation for Cutco.

We’re taking communion together, and there are kids up in the balcony and we’re surrounded by gray hair and the sound of the oxygen tank, in and out, and I start to cry.

For all of the broken hearted; for those for whom love is not just a man away.

I think of Friday night, of the young couple who came to our house, and we’ve known him for a decade now—my husband mentored him in high school—and she’s pregnant for the second time in four months and they’d just broken up. And the young man tells us, after a game of Settlers and a beer, after our kids have been bathed and put to bed and the house is quiet enough to hear the woman’s heart bleeding.

He tells us that he doesn’t think he’s ever loved her.

A single tear falls down her cheek, like all of those films, only this is flesh and blood sitting right beside me, with long thin arms and black hair and they’ve been living together for a year and a half. He met her after taking a course on how to pick up women. He used all of the lines on her, the lines he learned in the course, and later he’d use them on other women too, while still with her.

And it didn’t hit him until we were sitting there that night, that maybe he’d hurt her. That maybe all of those texts in which he’d said he loved her, while partying with other girls, weren’t enough for her. That maybe living together wasn’t enough for her. That maybe she’d had enough of falling in love, and all she wanted was to walk in it–to hold its hand, without the crash of the fall, without the break of the fall, without the lies of the Fall.

Their whole relationship had been a lie.

And the truth about love is this:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.” — 1 Corinthians 13:5-8

Love does nothing for itself, and everything for the other.

So now I’m curled over my knees, sobbing in the pew, for this girl who’s carrying a baby born out of deception. I’m sobbing for all of the children born to single parents who believed they were loved, but love is more than a partner, love is more than a queen sized bed, love is more than a parked car or a dinner and movie, love is more.

And yes, there are days—maybe even months—where I don’t feel it, and so I can relate, but I’m learning to live it, with every breath, because love is an oxygen tank, is the hand that will hold you when you’re arthritic, is the hug that will sustain you when you lose your job, is the eyes that will look into yours and say I Am Here For You—because everyone needs someone who knows their middle name, their favorite color, whether or not they cry at sad movies and how they like their steak.

We’re eating the cubes of brown bread now —

drinking the communion wine and the sound of glasses clinking in the cup holders. The woman’s still breathing, the pastor’s still praying, and all around me are hearts that have been broken, including mine I suppose.

And after church I pick up my son and I hug him, because the only way to fix the world is to fix myself, to start at home, with the ones in my care. All I can do is choose to be love incarnate for them, and hope there will be a ripple effect.

That our sons and daughters would not just fall in love but remain in love, forever and ever, through sickness and health, until death do us part. Amen.

Photo Credit: Amanpreet Kaur, Creative Commons

The Art Of Praying Naked

prayer

I step out of the shower, wrapped in just a towel, and stand in front of the full-length mirror. Water is still dripping from my hair, creating a tiny puddle next to my feet on the shiny brown tiles.

“This is it,” I whisper to myself.

Slowly, I unwrap the soft towel from my body and let it fall onto the puddle of water on the floor.

I take a deep breath.

I look at my naked body – my dark chocolate skin, the tiny scars on my knee, the pink-ish pimples scattered on my face, the fields of hair on my arms, my muffin top and jiggly thighs, the curves of my waist, the feet I’ve never been fond of…

Then suddenly, I fall.

With roars of ferocious laughter, I knock myself down to my knees.

This isn’t any ordinary laughter — this is the snot-running-down-your-nose and tummy-viciously-aching and uncontrollable-wheezing and aching-facial-muscles and I-think-she’s-in-pain-call-911 kind of laughter.

This wasn’t how I expected any of this to go.

In her book “An Alter in the World: A Geography of Faith,” New York Times Bestselling Author Barbara Brown Taylor claims our bodies are temples, where our souls grapple with the divine in tangible ways. The practice of wearing skin is so poignant and beautiful, she says, it is one of the most underrated miracles there is.

When I first read this, I ached with understanding.

Our bodies speak to us when we hunger, when we feel cold, when we physically hurt, and when we emotionally hurt. Our bodies have the ability to give birth, to give pleasure, to heal from hurt. Our bodies are divine works of art, mastered by a brilliant creator. Barbara argues that Jesus understood this magical ability of our bodies to communicate what our souls couldn’t.

Jesus intentionally touched the leper, an act that not only broke social norms, but also expressed the deep love he has, to a human who thought he was untouchable.

Jesus physically broke bread, allowing his disciples to taste his faithfulness and provision — literally. Jesus got on his knees and washed dirty feet, a lesson words would be incapable to teach. Jesus knew our bodies were as sensitive to the Lord’s spirit as our souls are.

He knew this so well that he wore a layer of skin, so he could eat with the hungry, drink with the thirsty, and bleed for the weary.

I remember the first time I indulged in Barbara’s book. Her thoughts about bearing our bodies fascinated me. I was engrossed by every word she had written, and soaked each sentence like a sponge. My eyes moved from line to line, hungry for all she had to say…
Till she said something that made my jaw drop:

“I can say that I think it is important to pray naked in front of a full-length mirror sometimes, especially when you are full of loathing for your body.”

Wait, what?

Barbara went on to explain how our culture has managed to deem our bodies as sexual or private matters that aren’t meant to be celebrated. We spend most of our time covering our bodies, and only get to have quick glimpses of our bellies and thighs during a shower or while changing our clothes. But if our bodies are holy miracles, a gift from God that is meant to be cherished and loved, we need to truly treat our bodies like temples.

Barbara suggests praying naked.

I’ve indulged in many different prayer practices such as lection divina, breath prayers, prayer labyrinths, and Quaker prayers. But this was a new one. A strange one. An exciting one!

Yes, yes yes!

I was completely sold on Barbara’s idea of seeing our bodies as holy miracles. And so, this summer, I decided to do it.

And… well, things didn’t quite go as I planned

I tried to pray naked. But I couldn’t.

After seconds within studying my body, I was laughing. There wasn’t anything funny about my body or the situation, but I was hysterically laughing.

Barbara said this was a spiritual practice that was supposed to lead me to self-love and a rocking relationship with God. Why was laughter my response instead? Where were the Spirit-led prayers of adoration and thanksgiving?

I will confess: I have had issues with my body before.

I used to make rude comments about my “less-than-perfect” stomach and thighs. I did everything I could to stay away from bikinis and skin-hugging dresses. I enviously looked at magazines, dreaming of thinner days that would never come.

But somewhere along the way, thanks to the inspiration and courage of certain women in my life, I learned how to laugh and how to recognize the joy in my life. I allowed myself to eat an extra Oreo (sans the guilt).

I dared to wear shorter dresses, despite my thighs which do not stand perfectly still when I walk. I held my head up slightly higher from the ground.

Somehow, I learned the joy of bearing my body, of wearing my skin.

But I didn’t realize I did… until I tried to pray naked. So maybe that’s why my laughter seemed to be the most appropriate response to my act of prayer.

Maybe laughter was my declaration that I love this body that does miraculous and wonderful things. Maybe laughter was my prayer, my proclamation that I like the way I look, so thanks be to God.

Photo Credit: Woupidy, Creative Commons

I Had to Quit Blogging

quit-blogging

I was thirty years old when I gave my life to Jesus. After three decades of living only for myself, there was a lot to unlearn.

I knew I had been given a new heart; I was a new creation.  Not just because the Bible told me so, but because I felt it in my spirit.  It was a moment that happened that could never un-happen.

But living from this new creation heart? I had no clue how to do that.

The answer came six months later.

I walked away from the one thing I thought gave me my identity: my blog.

I started out blogging about single motherhood and my adventures in dating and parenting.  I created my blog out of boredom and loneliness one night and soon I wasn’t lonely anymore. I began to tweet and fellow tweeters became my best friends. They were people I had never actually met of course, but people with the ability to validate me unlike anything I had ever experienced.

I got used to the validation. It felt good to be seen, for the mess of my life as a single mother to be accepted, for the unsung  beauty of my life to be celebrated.

Every retweet, comment, and spike in my stats felt like a meal I could feast on. For all the feelings of rejection I had packed on, for all the uncertainty I felt about my worth, finally a deep need to be wanted and to belong was being filled.

But the more I feasted, the hungrier I got. And the meals started feeling like mere morsels. I couldn’t write enough, or tweet enough, to keep the craving  pangs at bay.

My blog became my life.

Even as I fell in love with my new husband, and my whole world began to change, expand, brighten, I still wouldn’t loosen my grip to my online life. My cherished identity as “mom” wasn’t enough for me either. The only identity that mattered was being a personality in cyberspace.

And then I met Jesus and heard all about how he loved me, and how loved me so much he wanted my identity to rest firmly in Him.

But at home when I sat down at my laptop and opened WordPress to write, I lost who I was in Him. Or maybe I didn’t lose Him in the writing, but I surely lost Him in the obsessive follow-up to that writing.

The rush of being wanted, the comfort of belonging, the thrill of being liked for my words and thoughts — I was dependent on it. And on the days I wrote something that fell flat to my audience, I was crushed by it. If ever I heard crickets after a post went live my whole day would be ruined.

Even at church I  couldn’t praise or worship unless I was celebrating my own glory.

This was big problem.

I knew it. But I didn’t not know what to do about it.

“Why don’t you quit blogging?” My husband asked me one evening.

It was my birthday, and I was in tears yet again about my good-for-notin blog. Ever since I pronounced my new love for Jesus my readers began dropping like flies. This broke my heart. I wanted both loves.

But Jesus makes it clear you can’t serve two masters. In Matthew 6:24 he was talking about money, but he could have just as equally been talking about fame on the internet.

And I knew my blog had to go.

I surrendered my hopes and plans as a writer and laid my blog down at the foot of the cross. I turned it off. Shut it down.

And I didn’t expect to go back.

What I didn’t know then, is that God asked me to lay it down, not because it was bad for me, or because it couldn’t be used by Him. He asked me to lay it down because He was jealous for me. He wanted me to find, and know, and live freely from my identity in him, not in anything else — even the very things he has given me as gifts.

Our stories are gifts from God. And I call myself a “writer” because God has blessed me with a love for, and an ability with, words. Writing is a blessed gift.

But even good gifts don’t make great identities.

Ironically, God has invited me back to this public space of sharing my writing online. And with fear and trembling I have returned, holding tight to what I have learned about what it means to live from my “new creation” heart. For me it means I stand firm in my identity in Christ and I use the gifts God has given me, not as fishing lines for validation, but as instruments for his glory.

I am His. And if I am His, my stories and words are His as well.

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez , Creative Commons