Giving Ourselves Away

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend from church whose family recently took in three foster children (a sibling group, ages 2, 6, and 10). She and her husband are one year away from sending their youngest child off to college. Their oldest three are all either finishing college or already out in the working world. Her husband is just a year or two away from retirement.

She shared with me the day-to-day struggles of caring for a toddler at her age, and dealing with the six-year-old calling her “Mommy” from the first day they met, and the palpable anger of the ten-year-old boy when he doesn’t get his way. She said she ends each day completely exhausted. Looking into her weary eyes, I believed it.

Then she said, “You know, we were really looking forward to our retirement years, and they’re so close now. We talked about how we would travel, and relax, and spend time together. And sometimes I feel like we’ve sacrificed our lives for these kids.”

She paused, leaned back in her chair with a smile, and said, “But that’s what it’s all about: giving ourselves away. What’s our life for, if not that?”

Hope

Have you ever noticed that hope can actually be painful?

One of my students turned in a writing assignment last week that positively broke my heart.  She is a brilliant young writer, one with passion and earnestness and an astonishing gift for expressing herself.  To protect her identity (some of my students have happened across my blog), I won’t be specific about the subject matter in her paper.  But within that paper, she made a statement that I found both beautiful and tragic.

“I don’t think I could handle the hope.”

She was addressing something which, at one level, she desperately wants.  But she fundamentally does not trust that it would last if she were to receive it.  So, in this paper, she expresses her preference to never receive it at all.  She couldn’t “handle the hope.”

Even though I am confident that Pete will not leave me, I have to remember that he is human.  Anything is possible.  He could choose to leave; he could be taken from me in some sort of accident or illness (in fact, unless I die first, that’s just a matter of time).

I cannot let the uncertainties in life consume my thoughts and dictate my actions, or why would I ever get out of bed?  (Perhaps this is an element of depression–an acute awareness of one’s own hopelessness, and the inability to shake it off.)

It seems to me that the only hope that is not painful at some level is the hope we have in Christ; it is the only hope that is absolutely assured.  It does not depend on circumstance.  On weather.  On the ever-shifting whims of individuals (including oneself).  It depends only upon the power and benevolence of a loving, eternal God.  With Him, there is “no shadow of turning.”

Rest in that hope today, no matter how hopeless or uncertain your circumstances might be.  With Him, it is safe to hope.

Dignified? Don’t Think So.

Pete found out a few weeks ago that he’s been nominated as a deacon for our church. This was a huge blessing, considering the discouragement he’s experienced in the past year or so.  It’s also a great idea on the part of the person(s) who nominated him (no, it wasn’t me, though I was tempted).  Pete’s heart is pulled toward meeting people’s needs, particularly in a time of crisis.

He accepted the nomination and entered the process, which began with a lengthy interview with the Board of Deacons.  Once he’d passed that hurdle, the next step was the “question and answer” meeting, to which the entire congregation was invited.  That meeting was held last night, with all eight nominees up on stage, ready to listen and answer.  Out of a membership of roughly 800, I’d say there were probably fifty people there.  Not great, but not bad.

The first question was a doozy:  “Taking the requirements of deacons from I Timothy, would you say that you meet the qualifications?”

The questioner was referring to I Timothy 3:8-13, which states:  “Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” (NAS)

As the nominees began to take their turns answering the question, I flipped to the passage and read it for myself.  I sat there nodding as I read along, because Pete most definitely qualifies.  Until I reached the part about the wives.

Gulp.  I’m supposed to be dignified?

The Random House dictionary defines dignified this way: “characterized or marked by dignity of aspect or manner; stately.”

This definition brings several people to mind:  Grace Kelly (was there ever a person with a more appropriate first name?).  Laura Bush.  Rosa Parks.  Margaret Thatcher.  I don’t see myself fitting anywhere in this list.

Sitting there in the pew, staring at that word, I panicked.  How does one suddenly become dignified after 38 years perfecting the art of being goofy?  I decided then and there that I’d have to research the original Greek text to see if the purest translation might be something closer to what I can manage.

Well, the closest I could get was Young’s Literal Translation (which, by the way, I love): “Women — in like manner grave, not false accusers, vigilant, faithful in all things.”

I’d have a better shot at “dignified” than I would at “grave.”  And, while we’re at it, I’m not all that solid on “vigilant” and “faithful in all things,” either.  At least I loathe gossip, so I think I’m clear on “slander/false accusers.”

If anyone has a fresh perspective for me on “dignified” or “grave,” I’d appreciate your input.  I know that our God is a God of grace, so I do realize that perfection is not required.  But I take very seriously my role as Pete’s wife, so I want to at least make a good faith effort at fulfilling the role well.

Help?

How Christian Fiction and Hollywood Are Alike

I just heard that the latest anti-war movie, Lions for Lambs, bombed at the box office this past weekend, only pulling in about $7 million. That’s an opening weekend. With three mega-stars at the helm (Redford, Cruise, and Streep). (See, they’re so “mega” I didn’t have to include first names for you to know who I mean.)So, why is the movie struggling?

One critic’s assessment: “Lions for Lambs simply isn’t fresh or courageous enough to make an impact let alone a difference.”

Really?  Is that the problem?  More importantly, is that the goal: to make an “impact,” or a “difference?”  I thought the goal was to make great movies.  Granted, there are lots of different types of movies, and different reasons for making them.  There are movies for kids; movies for pure entertainment; movies that move us and make us think.  And then there are movies like Lions for Lambs, otherwise known as “message movies.” (Note: a message movie is not the same as a movie that makes us think.  A message movie tells us what the makers think and expects us to quietly agree.)

Here is where my title comes in.  Message movies and most Christian fiction have the same problem: they place more importance on the message than they do on either providing entertainment or artistic merit.  As one speaker at a writers’ conference I attended put it:  “They present life as it should be, not as it is.”

When we present life as it should be rather than as it is, our work does not ring true.  Work that does not ring true has little chance of reaching the heart, or even the funnybone, of the consumer.   Message movies and message-centered Christian fiction are little more than fictionalized lectures, which have no hope of reaching the heart.

People are rejecting transparent message movies because they are smart enough to know that they only tell part of the story.  People know that soldiers are suffering and dying and innocent lives are being lost, all of which are the harsh realities of war.  But people also know that soldiers are volunteering to go back and fight in what they believe is a noble cause.  People know that soldiers are not blind fools who are only going because they’ve been duped and used by Republicans.  People know that soldiers are not that stupid.

In the same way, people know that Christians are not as benign and (dare I say) bland as they are often presented in Christian fiction.  Christian fiction often only tells half the story, with any indiscretions being presented as innocent mistakes or anomalies in the character of the pure, well-intentioned characters.  What impact would King David’s story have if we were not exposed to the evil that he was capable of in his adultery with Bathsheba and heartless murder of her honorable husband?

If Hollywood or the CBA has any hope of reaching people with their messages (clearly, I’m rooting for the CBA, and not for Hollywood), their best shot is to let the message grow naturally out of the truth of their story.  Not to let the message control the story until it is an unrecognizable mess with no truth in it at all.

Turf Wars

When we moved to Colorado, we were extremely fortunate to find our church home within a week.  I’d done internet research before moving, checking statements of faith and service times.  And we had decided ahead of time not to rule out any churches based solely on non-doctrinal things like music or order of service.  But the real attraction that we had to our church, from the very first minute, was the warmth of the people.  In fact, we met our first new church friend outside the church, before we’d made it out of the parking lot and onto the curb.

Within a week, we’d been introduced around to several other families, and within a month, we’d been to people’s homes for lunch and dinner.  It was a huge relief to find such a welcoming place, especially since Pete and I had been members of our previous, ultra-friendly church for sixteen and eighteen years, respectively.

But there are still pockets of people at our new church, a year and half later, who seem not to care that we’re there.  In fact, sometimes I wonder if they’d rather we left.  A few people–women in particular, for some reason–have blatantly ignored us.  There are times when I’ve been talking to a friend in the hallway, and one of these women will walk by, say ‘hello’ to the person I’m talking with, and not even look at me.  I teach Sunday school to the daughter of one of these women, and I don’t even think she’s ever asked my name.  I have chatted and laughed with the teenage daughter of one of the other women, and Pete is buddies with her husband, but each time I see her, I have to initiate the ‘hello.’  And if I don’t, she just walks by me without a word or a bit of eye contact.  I have watched these women in other situations to see if that’s just how they are–quiet, perhaps not very social–but that’s not the case.  I see them talking to other people quite a bit, but there is one common denominator in all of their friends: they’ve all been members of the church for many years.

Our church had a huge growth spurt over the last year, and I do think some of the current members are a bit bewildered.  But it is hurtful to be on the receiving end of the cold shoulder, whatever the reason might be.  It makes me wonder if these passive turf wars are in place at other churches as well.  Since I joined our last church when it was only two years old, and there were only 39 people, I have never really been the new girl.  Pete joined when the church was only four years old, so he’s new to being new, too.

All of this makes me wonder if I gave that cold shoulder to visitors, new members, even just newer-than-me members, back when I was the old-timer.  I hope and pray that I didn’t.  Because it misses the whole point of church.  It’s not a club or a hierarchy.  It’s a ministry, where all are welcome.

Or should be.

Neglecting My Father

If I take a few days off from exercising, I can tell in the way I feel: droopy and discontented. If I go much longer than that, and add in a few extra calories while I’m at it, I can tell in the way my jeans feel: snug and uncomfortable.

If I neglect balancing my checkbook, the consequences are concrete: I wind up spending extra time frowning over the calculator and muttering unmentionable things under my breath.

If I neglect the family budget, it becomes obvious pretty quickly, too.

But if I neglect my time with my Heavenly Father, the consequences don’t seem as obvious. I know that I’m cranky and discontented and not as able to handle life’s craziness, but for some reason, I fail to attribute all of these symptoms to the cause: detachment from the One who created me, sought me out, redeemed me, and loves me.

He is the ultimate Gentleman, so He does not push me. He faithfully waits for me to come to Him. I hope and pray that I’ll become more aware of that quiet, insistent presence, and the wellspring of life that He offers.

Why (I Believe) Christians Get Divorced

Please note: This post is entirely my opinion, not based on any studies or statistics whatsoever. Feel free to disagree and to tell me so.  Also, I am only addressing unbiblical divorces–not those caused by adultery or unbelief.

1. Some churches prescribe the Christian life as a road to happiness. That is thoroughly unbiblical. The most obvious examples that would refute that teaching are the disciples and apostles themselves, who were ostracized, tortured, and killed because of their faith. Besides being false on its face, this teaching is dangerous. If people believe that God’s main interest in their lives is to make them happy, they will be confused by the struggles and temptations and pain that life actually presents. This, in turn, leads people to evaluate their lives and try to determine what part of it is causing this unexpected pain–pain which, they’ve been taught, cannot possibly be ordained nor endorsed by God. After all, He wants them to be happy. Frequently, a main source of struggle is the marriage relationship. It’s not easy, even if you’re with your soul mate, to live day-t0-day with another person who is fundamentally different, who might be moody, cranky, selfish, unaffectionate, or sloppy. These misled people will then find it rather easy to believe that God would rather they leave this unhappy marriage than continue in their unhappiness.

2.  Largely because of the faulty assumptions in reason #1, Christians often do not feel free to share their struggles with each other.  If unhappiness is not our God-ordained state, why would we admit that unhappiness to our fellow churchgoers?  And if we don’t share our burdens, we can’t fulfill the command of Galatians 6:2 – “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” This leaves failing marriages with no support system, and nowhere to go but to the divorce court.

And that’s the way I see it.  What about you?