Monthly Archives: June 2020

Lights On

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I have two light fixtures in my closet, both with florescent light bulbs. One of those lights has been out for quite a while now.  Florescent bulbs and I don’t have the best history.  I’ve often struggled to fit them correctly in the grooves of the fixture, and I’ve dropped a couple in my day, shattering everywhere.  So, when this particular bulb in my closet dimmed significantly, I did nothing.  I just depended on the one fixture still working even though the closet was much darker and harder to navigate.

The other day, the dormant bulb suddenly came to life.  A buzzing sound accompanied the moment, just like in a movie. The light shone bright, and the darkness disappeared.  And, I saw the mess that was in my closet.  Instead of appreciating the unexpected emergence of the light, however, I was irritated.  “Really,” I said (yes, I was talking to the light).  “You pick today to come back on?  I don’t have the time or energy to deal with this today.”  I didn’t want to see the disaster in my floor.  While I didn’t take the time to clean the closet that day, I realized that once the light came on even for a little bit, I couldn’t pretend that the mess did not exist.

Life works like that sometimes.  The metaphorical light comes on and exposes something in our lives that we weren’t ready to see, but that we can’t un-see once our eyes are opened. In my own personal experience, when a family member cries out after injuring themselves, I tend to want to know what happened and what did they did to cause the problem.  I go directly to figuring out who did something wrong. Over the years, my husband Ben called me on this behavior.  He asked why I didn’t show some compassion first and find out if they were really hurt before assigning blame.  His comment stung.  My desire to be right is strong, and I was defensive.  I didn’t change immediately.  Once my behavior was exposed though, I then felt guilty every time I acted poorly in response to someone else’s physical pain.  Gradually, I started to change.  I’ve worked hard to make sure my first response now is concern and love, not blame or “I told you so.”

We can experience spotlights in our communities, big or small, as well. Recent events have exposed systemic racism in our society.  Ben and I have learned that there are segments of our nation’s history that we’ve never heard about, much less studied.  Some people deny there are problems.  They don’t want to see the issues.  But the light is on, and we cannot ignore or turn away any longer. We must seek to make systemic change to address the systemic injustices.

Jesus spent much of his ministry turning on the lights for people, culture, and society.  When individuals encountered Jesus, they came away changed.  He knew what they’d done, who they were, and he forgave and loved them anyway.  He spent time with the outcasts and made them feel worthy.  Then, he turned toward the upper classes of society and challenged them to care for the poor and weak; to walk away from strict doctrine if it meant excluding people instead of loving them.  Once Jesus exposed the problems, the people could not un-see them.  Some of them hated him for it, even to the point of killing him, but they could not squelch the power of his light.

I think Jesus calls us to be people who will change when we see the light, even when we don’t want to admit our past wrongs.  He also calls on us to shine the light on unfairness and injustice when we witness it.  We can change and also be agents of change.  Let’s look for the light and not cower when we see it.  God is still switching on the lights in our lives and our world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tangled

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My mother-in-law gave me a silver necklace with the word “Faith” written on it in a pretty script.  The word hangs vertically from the chain so that it looks like a cross.  The other day, this necklace became entwined with two other necklaces on my jewelry tree.  I managed to get one necklace separated quickly.  Disconnecting the faith necklace and the other necklace proved to be a more difficult challenge.  I began to work at it, but even using the sharp point of a pencil as a tool, those knots were harder to handle.

Sometimes, faith gets tangled up in real life too.  Most of us have experienced times when we struggle in our relationship with God.  We may find ourselves feeling distant from God for any number of earthly reasons. The struggle to maintain or find our way back to faith once it becomes ensnared is real and complicated.

Questions about faith can be deterrents to faith itself at times.  Some of my questions over the years: why is the world so hard for the poor and the least of us; does God intervene in our lives directly or indirectly; does God have specific plans for our lives or an overarching will for all of humanity?  I still don’t have the answers.  The Bible shows us a lot about the depth and breadth of God’s loving nature, but it can be confusing when it comes to finding solutions.  It contains some very strange stories about people and also a lot of contradictions.  Trying to reconcile every facet of the Bible is impossible.  Historical and political contexts play into the stories in the Bible and motivated the writers to present the material in specific ways.  Instead of telling parables, why didn’t Jesus just give us a list of crystal-clear directions?  Some of us have grappled with this lack of clarity.  But instead of a reason to doubt, I’ve learned to view this uncertainty as reason to study and dig and learn.  Even though the difficult times may bring darkness and frustration, the tough questions can help us grow stronger in our faith ultimately.

Churches and the people in them can cause a lot of faith issues too.  Christians haven’t always presented God in a favorable way, and our doctrines can be exclusionary and static.  We can be unkind, hypocritical, petty, and downright mean.  We don’t forgive as easily as we should, and we have a bad habit of judging others.  We don’t love nearly as much as God expects. We may even become disenchanted with faith because of the people in our lives and their roles in our faith journeys. But we must remember they are only human too.  Perhaps they need to work on their own faith journeys.  Whatever the case may be, we can’t let other people with their flaws and frailties stop us from working on our relationship with God, who puts up with all the incorrect things we say about him and loves us anyway.

When we find ourselves in wilderness times, our hearts hurt and our minds feel troubled.  We may doubt the usefulness of  wrestling with our spirituality, and worry that we will never again feel settled or sure. But relationship troubles with God are temporary, even though time is relative, and a drought can last much longer than we ever thought it would.  We must keep working through the twists and turns of our faith.  We must stick with it until we can feel the knots in our souls start to loosen a little at a time.

I’ve almost untangled the faith necklace from the other necklace, but not completely yet.  And there’s no guarantee that the faith necklace won’t become tangled again with a different necklace at another time.  But faith is worth the time and effort it takes to unwind our relationship with God from the issues that threaten to trap us.  We can’t just throw away our faith when it becomes jumbled – it’s too valuable for us to give up.

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The Children Call

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We were at the pool the other day when a little voice from the kiddie pool area called out, “Mom.”  I quickly looked to see if the voice belonged to one of my kids even though they are all older and were at the deep end of the pool jumping off the diving boards.  I knew in some part of my brain that it wasn’t my child, but that didn’t matter, I looked anyway.  My mom told me that she always turned when anyone said “mom” in a store.  She explained it was an automatic response, and I have learned that to be true.

If a child’s call for mom accompanies a lost look on the child’s face, mothers will not just glance that way but will step into action.  At the Texas State Fair last fall, after the popular Bird Show finished, we made our way out of the crowded amphitheater.  I spotted a small boy, standing by himself, calling out for his mom.  I glanced at another woman who shook her head.  He wasn’t her child, but in an unspoken agreement, we both started looking for his mother while also loosely corralling him so that he didn’t wander farther off or get hurt in some way.  We didn’t want to scare him, but we refused to let him out of our sights.  His mother came running up fairly quickly, thanking us for staying close by his side.

On May 25, 2020, when forty-six-year old George Floyd was murdered by police officers who kneeled on his neck and body, he called for his mama as he was dying. My heart broke to hear him cry out on the video. When I found out that his mother had died two years earlier, my heart broke even more.  In his last moments, he needed his mother.  Although, it’s probably better she was not on this earth to witness her son struggling as he did against the cruelty that took his life.  No mother should ever see her child suffer like that.

Since Mr. Floyd’s death, I’ve seen the quote, “All mothers were summoned when he called for his mama.”  I believe that.  We mothers turn at the sound of “mom” or the cry of a child.  When a child is hurt or lost, I’ve never seen a mother shrug her shoulders and walk off because it wasn’t her own kid.  We make sure he is found or receives help.  We don’t leave until we know the lost or hurt child is safe. We don’t look away.  We answer the call of mama without even thinking.

In Isaiah, God says to his people, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” Isaiah 66:13.  God knows the special relationship between a mother and child and expects the people to understand the same when he promises comfort.  The love between a mother and her children is deeply rooted and unshakeable in most circumstances.  That love is large and all encompassing.

But we can’t simply take care of our own children at this time.  We must find ways to comfort and care for all of God’s children.  Whether we march in protest, pray for peace, or teach the children in our homes about our country’s history of racism and how systems of racism still exist, we must find ways to acknowledge that the current state of affairs is unjust and unfair. We must stand with mothers of color who fear for the safety of their little boys and girls going to the park, their teenagers starting to drive, their young adults going off to college, or even their adult children leaving for work or going for a jog.

We must summon the courage and concern of mothers throughout history. We must heed the cry.  We cannot look away.  Not this time, not ever again.

 

 

 

Broken

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When my son Alex was around three-and-a half years old, he followed in his older brother Clay’s footsteps and started building with Legos in earnest. One day, Alex asked me to join him in playing with some “machines” he had created at the breakfast table.  He proceeded to blast my characters because my guys were only allowed to “walk” around according to his game rules.

A little while later, Alex found me in another part of the house and held his creation in his hands.  “It broke,” he announced.  “Well, did you put it back together?” I asked.  “Yeah, but now it’s different,” he said.  He didn’t comment on whether the new one was better or worse, just different.

When Clay, who is three years older than Alex, built with Legos, he would build according to the plans in the instruction books.  He would make them perfect.  Then, not content to complete the structure as described in the pamphlet, he dismantled them on purpose.  Clay continually surprised me with his decision to break things apart to make something new from his imagination.

In keeping with my perfectionist tendencies, I would’ve expected Alex to try to put the pieces back together in the exact same order as he’d had them, to try and replicate the original.  At least, that’s what I would’ve attempted and been frustrated if I failed to make it exactly like before.  If I were Clay, I would’ve put my perfect creation on the shelf to protect it from harm.

Things break, like hearts, dreams, and expectations.  As much as we wish we could, we cannot always prevent brokenness. Sometimes, we know immediately that we are facing a broken situation.  Sometimes, it takes time and effort to see the damage to our lives or our spirits.  Sometimes, we have to make the break ourselves.

When we realize that we are no longer whole, in the way we were before, we may make every effort to reassemble things like they existed before the break. We try to pinpoint who we were before we were broken and retreat to that person.  We want to put the emotional pieces back in the exact same order so that nothing feels strange or uncomfortable or chaotic.

But that’s not how life works.  We may want to avoid the fallout from the broken parts of life.  We can’t.  We cannot go back to the person we were.  We must go through the process, the journey, and the grief in order to rebuild.

At times, the road seems too difficult, impossible even.  And it may take an excruciatingly long time to make our way.  But if we can travel through the difficult times of change with the realization that we are going forward, not backward, we can focus on becoming different. Perhaps, we will discover that the past situation was not as good as we originally thought.  Maybe we will decide that a return to what we previously considered normal is not what we need today.

God does not expect us to remain static.  He does not require us to return to the past in order to be faithful to him, either on a personal or systemic level.  No matter what we are experiencing – the valley of death, the wilderness, the desert – he is with us.  (Psalm 23; Isaiah 43).  If we are broken hearted or crushed in spirit, he is with us.  (Psalm 34:18).

Going through hard times and working to become different is not as easy as putting Legos together after they break, but nothing worth doing or becoming ever is.  Whether we had control over the events that caused the brokenness or not, with God’s help, we can take the broken pieces, and build something new and different. The process may be painful and long, but God stays with us every step of the way and will never abandon us.  God wants us to redeem the past and rise wiser and stronger to embrace the future in front of us.