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Bird Brain

Maggie's tree

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear…Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25, 27)

Last Christmas, amidst the festive rituals of going to my brother’s house to gather for yule tide family time, a special gift caught my attention nestled amid the branches of my brother’s Christmas tree. Tucked almost at the top of the tree in a cozy spot was a bird’s nest. He made a point to show it to us. It was perched so perfectly among the branches; it could have passed for an ornament hung purposefully by human hands or even overlooked altogether. They didn’t notice it until after they had picked their tree out, but before they cut the tree down (during their annual adventure to fetch a freshly cut tree). They made sure to remove the nest before cutting, lest the tree’s descent damaged it. They set it back in its place when they got home. I stood on my tiptoes to see it and could not resist touching it. It was stunning. It was the shape of a hand sized basket – made from handfuls of twigs and natural threads woven so deliberately together to form a place to keep something safe. But no hand had made it – merely the handiwork of tiny claws, a tiny beak and, best of all, a tiny bird brain.

During his scientific stay at the Galapagos Islands, Charles Darwin made it his mission to study birds, specifically finches. Using the specificity of such birds, he wanted to learn the origin of life’s ability to thrive over time. He thought if he started small with bird brains, he might then utilize his observations to understand more sophisticated cerebral systems. Okay, I confess, as an Intelligent Design supporter, I thought (as I observed that bird’s nest at Christmas) about how brilliant a bird is…and more directly, how wonderfully God designed a bird’s DNA to do that. A bird is designed to craft something sturdy and secure to incubate its offspring. Eggs hatch, baby birds learn to fly away and they instinctively build nests of their own to ensure the survival of their species. They’re really good at it. I like to think that God is really good at designing all of life to thrive and survive, according to its kind. But just because I think that, doesn’t mean I live like that. Throughout the Scriptures and more relevantly my life, God has used the image of a bird to signify His care for us. God describes how smart birds are, not solely because of their skill to soar high and weave nests but also because they don’t worry…at least, not like we do. One could argue, that’s because birds don’t know any better and we do. I think God graciously wants to tell us that it’s actually the other way around – our brains have been much more sophisticatedly designed to know all the more how God has provided for us, so we absolutely need not worry. Sure, we can build skyscrapers and jet engines; but we can also worry like no other creature can.

When I was thirty four, I burned out as a therapist. Talk about helplessness and hopelessness. I was diagnosed with both. The ever increasing hours at the office managing a full caseload of clients with serious issues to resolve and trying to keep on top of the never ending pile of paperwork drained me in a way I had never experienced. Any effort I exerted never seemed enough. I realized I could have worked 24/7 and needs would still have gone unmet. I remember asking God the inevitable questions of why and why not. Why was it so hard? Why were there not enough hours in the day or resources? I found myself spiraling into a black hole of despair. I’d lie in bed at night, hoping my clients were safe as well as hoping I could just get some sleep to refresh my energy for the next day. Neither hope seemed fully actualized. Living and working in an urban setting seemed to exasperate my hyper-sensitivity to how great the plight of people was.

One day while in route to meet with a supervisory mentor to talk about how to best help my clients or at the very least help myself, I distinctively recall asking God for help. Moments after I prayed, I walked by three consecutive people in some kind of need. The first person I passed was standing at the top of the subway steps talking on his phone to someone about how he was being evicted and had nowhere to go. I began to descend the subway steps to catch the train to my colleague’s house and passed a second person standing halfway down the staircase. The person asked people as they passed by for money for food. I looked at him and shook my head that I had none to give and I passed him by, descending further into the subway tunnel and further into despair. I honestly didn’t have a dime on me. I was barely making ends meet myself on a non-profit social service salary. My emotions were so raw from being so tired. I could have started crying as I passed the third person at the bottom of the steps also asking for any spare change. I found myself standing on the subway platform waiting for the train and feeling the tears well up in my eyes. I prayed again – though this time I did not ask God why but how. How were all these people going to be okay? How was I going to be okay? I had that feeling of vertigo as I thought about every person in the city, in the world needing help and how could God care for them all with attentive response. At that very moment, I looked down amid my dizziness and saw something on the ground. I widened my eyes to make it out clearly and fixed my focus on the area right in front of me. A little sparrow-like-bird hopped about around my feet. I laughed out loud. “What is a sparrow doing in the subway?”, I thought. The urban bird was really a sparling; but the nature of a small bird (like a sparrow) bore the image of a beloved promise for me and brought it back to my memory at the most opportune moment. I watched the little bird hip hop back and forth in front of me, sweetly chirping without a care in the world it seemed. I stood there mesmerized by its movements. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It fluttered around me for a few minutes and then, I kid you not, it whimsically chirped and hopped up the steps that led back to the turn style gate and out of the subway it flew. It was like God responded to my pleading question “how” with “how much more” (Matthew 6:26). My feelings of overwhelming burden became so much lighter as I waited on that dark subway platform. Tears of joy filled my eyes and I found myself smiling like I hadn’t smiled in a long time. I felt so loved by God. If the God of the universe could send a sparrow to encourage me in a dingy subway station, He most certainly could send whatever anyone else needed to keep them going. I mean, He sent Jesus for heaven’s sake! For heaven’s sake? Yes, God is always providing opportunities for us to connect with Him, so He can reconnect us to heaven.  He did not forsake earth or any of us when He sent Jesus as the quintessential solution to our problems (John 3:16).

That “sparrow sighting” has begun a long standing testimony of this theme. Every time I see those sparlings around town, I remember and smile. Friends have joined me in celebration of such imagery and have sent me images of sparrows at times to remind me of how God cares for me or how they have experienced His care for them. It’s become a sort of legacy of mine. When I’m boohooing to my dad about how hard life feels, he often asks me if I’ve seen any sparrows lately to nudge me not to forget God’s promise. I’ve added that Christmas bird’s nest as a great gift, reminding me once again of not simply my ability to trust God but God’s ability to help me keep trusting.

 

References:

  1. Paper cut out (birthday card to me) by Maggie Machledt-Girard 2013
  2. Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin
  3. Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe
  4. Unlocking the Mysteries of Life documentary
  5. Traveling Mercies by Annie Lamont
  6. Hind’s Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard

Ink Blots (Part 2 of 3): The Art of Forgiving

Ink blots2

Forgive: (verb) 1. to stop feeling anger toward someone who has done something wrong 2. to stop blaming someone 3. to stop feeling anger about something 4. to stop requiring payment of money or something that is owed. Definition from Merriam Webster’s Dictionary

 

To be completely honest, I have felt so angry at someone for hurting me in some way that it very really evokes a visceral impulse of wanting to hurt them, badly. I have not acted out these impulses in any devastating manner, except to play it out in my head. In my sequence of thought, I reach for something, preferably a rock, brick or iron frying pan and hit the person repeatedly. While I daydream the scene, I can literally feel my muscles flex and tense, as adrenalin surges through my veins. There is an initial sense of release in unclenching my fists and exhaling, only after I imagine the object thrown striking my intended target and then watching the person crumple to the ground defeated. In my obsessive effort to make myself feel better (in my imagined reality of revenge), I find myself smiling at the limp person laying at my feet. I don’t consider myself a vicious victor but a justified woman, ready to turn and walk away – feeling fine. God help me!

Can we all agree that my freakish fantasy simply exposes the serious need all humanity has for wanting to feel vindicated? In the vein of full disclosure, I’ve spent a lot of time this year feeling really angry about being hurt by people who may or may not have known what they were doing. These circumstances made me definitely doubt that God knew what He was doing. During the end of this past summer, I was walking down the street, desperately attempting internally to process things. I mumbled aloud, “If only I had a stone ….” I pictured myself picking up a stone and, then, in the midst of my daydreaming, I heard Jesus say, “You who are without sin, throw the first stone” (John 8:7). I think I froze for a moment on the sidewalk, even glancing around me to see if anyone else was aware of what just happened inside me. Until then, I had not connected my primitive impulse to throw something at someone with the epic words that Jesus spoke thousands of years ago. I had conjured up throwing stones because it simply seemed like an easily retrievable hard object that could easily do damage. Obviously, I’m not the first person to think of that idea. This is an age old dilemma.

I went back to read the Biblical passage and realized a deeper truth to be grasped. In the Biblical passage, Jesus is confronted by folks who use the old mosaic law as their justifying effort to throw stones. It seems that they actually cared less about the woman caught in adultery, but that they wanted to make sure Jesus was on their side to condemn her too. It was like Jesus was looking right at me and asking me if I was without sin. And even though I’m not, I knew Jesus was asking me to forgive because of how I’ve been forgiven by Him. I took note of the verse “one by one, they walked away, beginning with the oldest” (John 8:9). Sure, there is the impulse to want pay back; but maturity quickly reframes that desire to want something else, to not cower over someone but to give them space to meet privately with Jesus. I felt so childish and ashamed of my foolish inner functioning. I can’t hide my true feelings from God. He sees and hears all that goes on inside my head; and most significantly, He knows my heart. I felt like my spirit crumpled to the ground that day in a way it never had before and I laid in a heap at the Lord’s feet. John’s gospels records that the woman was left alone with Jesus after everyone walked away. Jesus lovingly spoke to her and did not condemn her. I envisioned myself to be that woman as much as one of the crowd. In fact, the passage ends with Jesus telling the woman to walk away as well. He said “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11b).

Forgiving is a stop and go reality. It’s ironic, for sure, but also makes complete sense, depending on one’s vantage point. On one hand, it is not fair. Where is the justice in not punishing the wrong doer? Yet, it is freedom to move on/away from fixating on a person, action or situation, and to focus on the bigger picture God has created for us to envision AND act out. No doubt about it, forgiving is hard work. It is our life’s work to implement such controversial practice. We want to keep looking back at the object or our wrath and pain and reach for another object that can help inflict some sort of comparable pain to punish the transgressor, again and again. Let it be known, it was extremely difficult for Jesus to forgive. It was His life’s work and it cost Him His life. He endured the cross as payment for our transgressions that would have required us to be put to death. He died in our place; because He wanted to restore humanity to be something capable of living beyond frantic impulses. He wanted to make us capable of loving, despite what’s been done.

He is our example and intercessor. When I want to throw stones, He intercedes to turn my attention towards something better. Likewise, when I feel like stones threaten to crush my self-concept, He intercedes to prove who He is. God is love. In forgiving us, God does not deny our wrong doings, or the serious consequences that can ensue; His love gives us the capacity to stop repeating the wrong doings and stop obsessing about the wrong that has been done. The anger and hurt I harbor in my heart takes up space that God so earnestly wants to replace with His joy. There has to be an exchange. The more I can forgive (and accept that I’m forgiven), the more joy will live inside me. Maybe this seems ridiculous to you as you read this. But I have experienced a new kind of liberating grace this year that compels me to see God for who He really is – capable of forgiving. This perception then allows me to see myself and others as God sees all of us – capable of being forgiven. I think forgiving is the hardest thing to do in anyone’s life; but I think I’m on the path towards maturing, developing a more focused response to let go of my anger and pain in order to embrace the joy God wants so much to give me…so I can in turn pass along that joy to others who are worn out from holding so tightly onto anger and hurt too.

 

Resources:

  1. Artwork in process; Sketch #2 by Jamie Wasson 2014
  2. Restorative Justice
  3. Prodigal God by Tim Keller
  4. The Forgiving Life: A pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating A Legacy of Love by Robert Enright

 

 

 

Ink Blots (Part 1 of 3): The Art of Focusing

Ink Blots Ink blots

It is suggested that when we are born, our visual acuity is about eighteen inches. This focal capacity is quite significant, since that is approximately the distance from a baby’s gaze (as they are cradled in someone’s arms) to the face of the one holding them. Not until a few months old, does a baby develop the ability to focus on something farther. Is there really a need to see long distance any sooner? Babies are completely dependent on another to keep them alive, fed and not alone outside of the womb – focusing on the face of someone who is ensuring their success to thrive (up close and personal) seems pretty intuitive. If you have ever held a newborn, you may be well aware of how they stare at you, as if peering into your soul. Maybe they are. Babies have been documented to prefer looking at soft lines of facial features, loving expressions and gentle emotional cadences. Every culture has been observed to care for their infants in similar manners – with sweet sing-song voices and tender glances. A stern or even apathetic facial gesture equates, for the infant, a relational disconnect has occurred. Babies will either look away to search for a more comforting focal point or initiate their own gestures directly to elicit reconnection. It may seem ironic for me, a visually impaired person, to be discussing focusing facts. Yet, whether fully sighted or not, we are all wired to focus. All of our senses have the capability to perceive things – visible and invisible. At least, our senses want to, including our “sixth sense”.

Within the womb, we were already trying to make sense of sounds and movements – what seems pleasant, harsh, safe and unsafe. Throughout our life, this interpretative art becomes either stunted or more sophisticated, influenced by environment, experiences etc. We consciously and unconsciously focus our attention on the world around us and within us to create an identity that includes not only our own self-concept but also a social construct that then dictates how we think and behave. It’s all quite complex to explain here…but then again, it can be very simple. In the 1920s, Herman Rorschach developed a tool to simplify this process of understanding who we are and how we “see’ the world. His Inkblot Test became a methodic means of determining the well-being or psychosis of someone’s mental status. Projection is one of many ways we assign meaning to life. How we see, hear, feel, taste and smell something outside ourselves can reveal dynamics occurring inside of us. Our memories of prior experiences can become relevant to current happenings. The past can persuade us to accept or dismiss something not based on its present authenticity but on our prior experiences with something else and may continue to impact future encounters. It becomes necessary to learn how to focus on the big picture as well as the scene playing out in front of us. This is easier said than done. It’s like listening to a symphony and trying to pick out each individual instrument while the song swoons along with all sorts of melodies and harmonies. What’s more important to focus on – the part or the whole? Is it even possible to focus on both “A” and “Not A” at the same time?

In this age of a gizllion buzzing signals and 24/7 access to worldwide information, ADD is inevitable. Our attention is practically sabotaged to malfunction and disengage quickly. Looking away is not only our knee jerk reaction, it is expected. Social psychologists are discovering that despite our constant bombardment of social media resources and connections, failure to thrive is not just a condition reserved for infancy anymore. Our brains and souls are looking at abstractions and charactures of life and so desperately trying to make sense of the mess we are faced with. Fatigue to keep trying sets in. We want to give up, shut down our senses altogether. We forget that we have the freedom to re-focus our attention on something/someone consistent and life giving. Amid the din of this world, God is still speaking to us, showing us visions of joy, offering us a banquet table to feast at and be held by eternal arms of love. The beauty of this kind of attention is that God knew how easily distracted humanity got a long time ago – that‘s why He sent Jesus in the form of humanity. Jesus provided our whole being with the ability to regain our focusing skill by becoming part of us. God’s Spirit now remains with us to guide, discern and redeem all that we experience. It can seem absolutely over-whelming, over-stimualting at times; but God is the ultimate resource to restore our strength to endure. When the apostle Peter walked on the water with Jesus, he began to sink when he looked away. His focus on Jesus was his life line, perceiving that it was completely because of Jesus that such miracle could occur. As Peter sank, Jesus attended to Peter immediately, hearing Peter’s cry and grabbing his hand. Now that is focus! Though we look away, God never does. And He is an arm’s reach away. He reaches for us and holds us up even when we can’t. We are no longer infants, but there is still an intimate embrace that can occur for us to know that we are cared for – “knowing”, not in the intellectual sense, but in the primitive place inside us that is looking for something/someone to trust to keep us alive and thriving.

References:

  1. Jamie dresses up as a psycho-therapist; photo by Sylvia Martinez 2002 (Halloween)
  2. Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn by Penny Simkin
  3. Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health: A Comprehensive, Developmental Approach to Assessment and Intervention by Stanley Greenspan
  4. The Inkblot Test; Herman Rorschach

The Economics of Love

Reposted from The Hannah More Project

october jamie

A friend of mine once said to me, “I only work now, so that one day I won’t have to”. We shared a good laugh about her statement – a sentiment of how many people define what it means to make a living. If I’m honest, too, I share this idyllic effect of what life’s efforts should be. This is the American dream, right? Wendell Berry is a prolific writer (poet and prophet) of what it means to live in a manner worthy of being called “living”; and his definition is quite different from my friend’s ideology and the overall historic American anthem of “Work less and make more”. Such reductionistic investment, according to Berry, is not sustainable and is actually devastating to society and the sanctity of life. He advocates for and has sought to practice a lifestyle that involves the complex workings of a whole community – many hands sharing skills and resources, and distributing them equally among its members. The combined effort within any and every community, as God defined it to be when He said “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), is about generating new generations that reflect and glorify God’s wondrous works of love.

There seems to be an n economic correlation between working and loving. We are motivated to work for what we love.  In God’s economy of love, endurance and disregard for greed is at the core. However, we seem to be hard wired to want to take the path of least resistance and keep what we think we rightfully earned along the way. There’s something to be said, though, about the result of generations of this kind of lackadaisical living. We desperately need Jesus, now more than ever, to rewire our brains and put new desires in our hearts to be “good stewards” of the earth and life itself. We need to understand the high price Christ paid for us to keep living. The price industry pays these days for us to keep living is so low that is perpetuates poverty and insufferable living. God’s design for generational living is being unraveled by the hands of mankind. Generations will cease to exist if God does not intervene. We need to know the reality of resurrection! We need to acknowledge the cost of living and act accordingly.

Berry sums up our current predicament this way: “Decades of cheap labor, cheap energy and cheap food (all more expensive than has been imagined) have allowed our society to incorporate itself in a material structure that will have to be seen as top-heavy. We have flooded the country, the roadsides and landfills, with shoddy “consumer goods”. We have too many houses that are too big, too many public buildings that are gigantic, too much useless space enclosed in walls that are too high and under roofs that are too wide. We replaced an until-then-adequate system of railroads with an interstate highway system, expensive to build, disruptive of neighborhoods and local travel, increasingly expensive to maintain and use. We replaced an until-then-adequate system of local schools with consolidated schools, letting the old buildings tumble down, replacing them with bigger ones, breaking the old ties of neighborhoods and schools, and making education entirely dependent on the fossil fuels. Every rural school now runs a fleet of buses for the underaged and provides a large parking lot for those over sixteen who “need” a car to go to school. Education has been oversold, overbuilt, over-electrified, and overpriced. Colleges have grown into universities, universities have become “research institutions” full of undertaught students and highly accredited “professionals” who are overpaid by the public to job-train the young and to invent cures and solutions for corporations to “market” for too much money to the public. And we have balanced this immense superstructure, immensely expensively to use and maintain, upon the frail stem of the land economy that we conventionally abuse and ignore.”

Ouch. Yes, these are painful truths in our modern day material world. But there’s nothing new under the sun and these are not the only truths. Every civilization throughout history has sought to capitalize itself by demeaning another; but God lovingly humbled Himself and became human to restructure, from the ground up, a secure foundation on which we can build an everlasting existence. While He was here on earth, Jesus established a spiritual economy of love that seeks to cultivate wealth within the soul. From the inside out, we can be inspired to care for each other and our world in a way that does not deplete our capacities but deepens our appreciation for and activates us to do what we were created to do – love God and love others. In the meantime, God’s love for us never runs out; and God will not let us forever manufacture glory for ourselves. One day, maybe soon, Jesus will come again to re-create all things. But until then, God wants us to keep our hands on the plow and to keep sowing seeds of love. May the words of the apostle Paul cheer us on: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Reference:

  1. photo by Jamie Wasson 2013
  2. What matters?: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth by Wendell Berry

I See You

I see you

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, and in our likeness…God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.”  Genesis 1:26a, 31a

Throughout the ages, specifically since the age of Enlightenment, there has been much discussion and doubt surrounding the above statements from Genesis. Regarding its literal legitimacy, did God really speak all of creation into existence and did He really see it from some sort of ethereal perspective and evaluate its worth to be special? One may also ask, what relevance does such reality have anyway with daily life, whether or not the story of Genesis is literally or figuratively perceived? The way we see God seeing us makes or breaks our connection with all of life every day – how we value life, each other and circumstances each day. There is a legit significance to grappling with these verses in Genesis, not only in how we can come to understand our historical beginnings but also our poetic beauty, our reflective genius of the Poet Himself and what the poem will look like in the future.

Dr. Carol Kaminsky has made this exploration her life’s work. As an Old Testament scholar, she has looked closely at the Hebrew text with eyes that seek to discover the truth about who God really is and who we really have been created to be. She has outlined her research and contemplation in a timeline entitled CASKET EMPTY. She begins with the (C)reation story according to Genesis. She notes how the structure of the text repeatedly details that “God said” and “God saw”. Kaminsky details how believing in a God that speaks and sees connotes a relationship has been established. More poignantly, God wants to be heard, He wants us to see how special He sees us. After all, the way we see ourselves is a reflection of how we see God – we reflect God’s image. He reserved a superscripted way of speaking and seeing us when He created us. In the first chapter of Genesis, all God had made up to the final phase, before creating humanity, was seen and declared to be “good”. As the Genesis story unfolds, God created a man from the same stuff the preceding creation was formed from; but also added something extra special – His breath. Only after creating humanity did God add “very” to how He described the goodness of what He had made. In Kaminsky exposition of the ancient words, she underscores that the Hebrew term translated “good” is the declarative equivalent to “awesome”. That means when God made us and looked at us, He said aloud that we are pretty awesome! Do we see and say out loud how beautifully awesome God is for His creative genius?

Paul Tripp recently released a new book simply entitled Awe. Because we reflect God’s likeness and He sees and calls us awesome, Tripp writes that likewise we are capable of looking back at God and declaring His awesomeness. However, we are prone to look away. Tripp notes, “Awe is everyone’s life long pursuit. Where we look for awe will shape the direction of our life. Our source of awe will control our decisions and the course of our stories.” We so easily get distracted by the things we make – even the things we make in “our image”. We displace the connection God wants to have with us to other created things. This disconnect has had gross ramifications.

Wendell Berry, author and poet, adheres to a similar life perspective of our ubiquitous significance in this world. He suggests that we have a responsibility (the ability to respond because of how we were created) to care for not only the world in which we live, but for each other as well. In doing so, we acknowledge our Creator with awe. He advocates that these two aspects of care are not mutually exclusive but actually reflect our innate make-up; it reflects our Maker. He has written many poems, essays and books that explore where and how we have honored our original intent. He also speaks boldly about where and how we have grossly dishonored our Creator and, in turn, creation. In his book, Life Is A Miracle, he doesn’t mince words about how industrialism has not brought about “progress” in revealing a better world and a better humanity. In the midst of our modern societal focus, he notes how we have deceived ourselves in thinking that industry has liberated us from antiquated ways of living – that we can see the future more clearly by building bigger buildings, larger economies and faster methods of getting “there”. He speaks openly about “the displaced person” in terms of people being replaced with objects of our own creation – not unlike what we did to God, replacing Him with objects of our own design that see or speak as we program them to. There is no relationship; at least, there is no relationship present in the way God intended.

So where do we go from here? How do we live in the reality of what was meant to be? Jesus declared while He was here on earth that He had come to “open the eyes of the blind” (Luke 4:18). He spoke these words in both a literal and metaphoric perspective. God never stopped looking at us, though He altered his assessment of our situation to be in bad shape and that is why He sent Jesus – to refocus our ability to see God again; and, in turn, see how He truly made us. I find it to be my default mode to see and declare myself a loser, a failure and complete mess. But God is so gracious to get my attention over and over to remind me that I am awesome, because He is awesome. I can see His hands still molding me. I see His creation in all its glory glorifying Him as well as groaning for Him to restore, once and for all the destruction cause by us not caring for it the way God has cared for us (Romans 8:22). So we need to keep looking for ways to care about our earth and each other in the way God envisioned; and we also need to keep looking for Jesus’ return. Can you see the seasons changing? They are declaring that the time is near…

References:

  1. Kaia; photo by Jamie Wasson 2001
  2. CASKET EMPTY by Dr. Carol Kaminsky
  3. Awe by Paul David Tripp
  4. Life Is A Miracle by Wendell Berry

It’s Not Fair

Not Fair

“Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I don’t think it’s possible for any kid to make it through childhood and adolescence without voicing, at least once, the infamous assessment of life: “It’s not fair”. These three little words sum up so much. Saying this seems to be a rite of passage or developmental milestone that proves an accurate awareness has taken place of what the world is like, what we are like. This declaration of injustice seems to be further articulated by asking questions that begin with “Why?” For the average youngster, it may be as benign as asking “Why is his piece of cake bigger than mine,” or “Why can’t I stay up later?” And at some point for the conscious child, pouty faces and stomping feet accompany the experience of realizing how life is filled with disappointments and disenfranchised existence. As we grow up, we focus our attention on more intense areas of suffering and inequalities. Our outbursts of emotion can also become more intense. We wage wars to fight what’s not fair and to right the wrongs that we observe have occurred for ourselves and/or others. Is that the best way to respond?

Since I can remember, my dad has always offered the same response to my whiny utterances of what felt unfair. He’d say something like, “Not fair? Jesus died for our sins. That’s not fair”. Huh? As a kid, I would wonder what Jesus’ death had to do with me not getting more cake or not getting to stay up later. Yet, the profound simplicity of the statement “Jesus died for our sins” had its intended impact and instilled in me as a wee lass that my life is abundantly blessed because of the mere fact that Jesus died for our sins. Who cares that I didn’t get extra cake or an extended bedtime – I didn’t get death for not following all the rules all the time! The rules (or boundaries) God put in place for life were for our benefit to protect us from what is really not fair. The worst kind of injustice was resolved on the cross; and Christ’s resurrection empowers us to help others who are overwhelmed by the injustice that sin has wrought in the world.  God’s victorious gift of grace has often quieted my restless spirit and enabled me to willingly share my blessings with others, not just materially but also mindfully. Sure, in my early years, there were plenty rolled eyes at my dad, slammed doors and huff and puff mumblings about how mean my parents were. Though, as I’ve grown up, I’ve come to an increasingly deeper appreciation of this redemptive reality – Jesus died for my sins.

The implications of this kind of redemption, knowing that Jesus died for our sins, mean all of us possess an equal existence of needing grace. When Jesus preached about the golden rule while he walked this earth, he spoke to the core of his own mission – love others the way you would want to be loved, the way you have been loved, despite whatever you’ve done or have not done to deserve it. Can I love someone even if it is unfair? More specifically, can I love life even when I don’t get what I want? It is fair to say that there is much injustice in the world, in each other’s lives, that requires us to at some point let go of what is comfortable or coveted so that the discomfort and debt of others can be relieved – to more accurately reflect the shared value we all have. This is what it means to love as Christ loved us. Easier said than done though. But, the more I can comprehend the grace God has given to me, the more I am capable to extend it to others. I wonder what the world would be like if we all lived this way – what kinds of suffering would be eradicated; what hunger would be satisfied; what wars would cease? Alas, life is filled with injustice everywhere I look – this merely means there are always opportunities for me to love. I have no excuse – I only have grace to rely on to work in me and through me to prove how we are equally and eternally loved by God.

References:

  1. It’s not fair; pen and ink drawing by Jamie Wasson 1990
  2. The Cost of Discipleship; Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  3. The Jesus I Never Knew; Phillip Yancey

Red Light, Green Light

Reposted from The Hannah More Project

Red Light Green Light

Vivian was sixteen when she ran away from home. She was born into a family where domestic and community chaos was a daily occurrence. Physical and sexual abuse, drugs and alcohol and violence of the seemingly survival kind was a way of life that surrounded her day and night. Her direct exposure to and experience of these factors were not overlooked by the Department of Human Services; she was placed in foster care at an early age. She moved from foster home to foster home, as space and support shifted to address her special needs of long term care and post-traumatic healing. However, the start and stop of each new foster home, each new relationship, only added to her confusion of what a healthy life can look like. At thirteen she moved into a foster home with caregivers who wanted to become her “forever” family. They adopted her. Forever is a long time though, and often is inconceivable to children like Vivian. The pleasures of sex are quick, and often are the only familiar affection that children like Vivian are acquainted with.

During her early teens, Vivian became sexually promiscuous and soon discovered that she could make money from such activity. She no longer had to rely on her “parents” to provide for her, or wait for them to make her happy. She could provide and get something that had instantaneous returns – physical, emotional and material gain. She ran away from home and moved into a new reality of prostitution and sex entertainment. She was under-aged to be legally involved in such a multi-billion dollar industry; so she lied about her age; and even if her “business supervisors” did know, they overlooked this fact because she brought them equally worthwhile returns on their investment too. Vivian’s vulnerability, due to her age and longing to be loved, was easily exploited, and she found herself in a world very similar to the one she was born into. I knew Vivian during this tumultuous time. She is a real person who represents so many children with stories not unlike her own. This story occurs every day in America, in metropolitan areas as well as suburban and rural domains. It is hard to write about Vivian’s story without a nauseated feeling in my gut. I wish I could write that she found her way back to her adoptive home and found healing in the arms of her adoptive parents for all her years of abandonment and abuse, but I can’t. I can say that something inside her was trying to heal and did know what healthy love looks like, because she did return to her adoptive home a year later. She found sanctuary and stability there that was lacking in her career choice and lifestyle. Her adoptive parents welcomed her home, but her stay was short lived. The seduction of instant gratification lured her back into the sex industry. The last I knew, she called home from time to time and came home periodically seeking respite. Her parents continue to welcome her back and grieve when she leaves – they still want to be her forever family. Forever, indeed, is a long time. So, that means her story is not over. There is always hope.

It’s been said that prostitution is the oldest profession. But according to the Bible, this is not true. Originally, God had another occupation in mind. According to Genesis, God made humanity and declared how their living would be made (Genesis 1:26 – 31). God created a world in which humanity would oversee the agriculture and well-being of society. Farming and family were the combined profession (of faith) that first existed in the world, established as an effort to reflect God’s creative genius and generosity. Dr. Carol Kaminsky, an Old Testament scholar, details how God created humanity to, in turn, create good things from and throughout the earth. In fact, Kaminsky highlights that God’s creation of humanity itself would, in turn, create generations of humanity to carry on the legacy. Kaminksy further underscores how God saw His work of humanity and His plan for humanity’s work and said it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31a). Many generations later, as I observe the world, I find it hard to say things are good, let alone very good. What went wrong? In Paul David Tripp’s book, Sex and Money, he explores how humanity has veered far from the original intent God had in mind when He created us and our capacity for intimacy and expectation of gain. Tripp discusses how sex and money, as created things, were never intended to truly satisfy us – the Creator, Himself, wanted that role. Humanity’s choice to reattribute the role of God’s benevolent supremacy and satisfying love for us to be mimicked by creation has proved its ramifications ever since, not only exemplified in Vivian’s story but in all of our stories. This is why Jesus came – to save us from ourselves, so we can start over and start living and loving as God intended. God’s grace and mercy keeps telling the story of redemption. The story is not over. There is still hope.

As a Christ follower, I am called to look, not simply around me to see where things are not good and ask for God’s help to advocate for and implement change, but I am also called to look into my own heart to see where I have bought into the misgivings of created things to satisfy me in the way only God was meant to. When it comes to sex and money, how have I chosen to dress provocatively in hopes of being “seen” by another for some self-exalted purpose? How have I contributed to the supply and demand for sexualized entertainment that perpetuates an ever-growing industry and negatively affects children like Vivian?  From that starting point, I can turn back and look at God to direct my steps to walk with people like Vivian, in an enduring and redemptive way – the same way God wants to walk with and love me, forever.

References:

  1. Traffic light: Google image
  2. 24 Hour Hotline for National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: 1-800-THE-LOST
  3. Stop human trafficking: Dining for Dignity
  4. CASKET EMPTY; Dr. Carol Kaminsky
  5. Sex and Money by Paul David Tripp

I do and I will

My Family1984

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”  Matthew 7:24 – 25

This week my parents celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary. They still hold hands when they walk together, and when they sit on the couch to watch TV. They still pray together while sitting at the breakfast table and after dinner, pretty much every day. They are still googly gaga in-love, not only with each other but with Jesus – to whom they credit their happily ever after status. They see love as a choice as much as a command. “Love God and love the people God puts in your life” (Matthew 22:37 – 39) has been the baseline of what I was taught and how I have chosen to live, whether I’m married or not. Though, love seems most tested and best lived out within the walls of a marriage and a family. My parents’ marriage and my family experience has been an amazing story of love…and it is still being told.

I grew up in a house that my dad built, by hand and heavy machinery. Our house was situated on a high hill that was comprised of almost solid rock. Living atop such a firm foundation helped boost feelings of safety and serenity, especially during storms. Some of my most cherished memories growing up was during a snow storm. Our house had a big picture window that offered a panoramic view of the neighborhood. Often, my family (my parents, myself, my younger and older brother) would gather by the window and simply watch it snow. There were times we lost electricity and heat; but then the portable kerosene heater was set up in the middle of the room. A tea kettle was then routinely placed on top of the portable heater, ready to whistle. The winter wind could howl all it wanted. I felt safe; and there was a palpable comfort in having my family near me. Our collective seclusion inside our humble home made us relate to one another in positive ways that we may otherwise have not. This sense of peace has become a significant solace throughout my life. It’s not just a memory. It was a privilege that has become a responsibility.

I am keenly aware that this is not every family’s experience. But it was mine. Let me be clear, my family is not perfect or even picturesque. I am fairly certain, among my parents, myself and my siblings, we have faced our unfair share of just about every difficult aspect of life. We can also easily point out each other’s faults, and at times we do (for better or for worse); but at the end of the day, we are a functional family – functioning according to faith, hope and love. Yep, we believe that the way we interact with and react to one another impacts both the unity of our family and our life pursuits. We collectively choose to love each other the way Jesus loves us – always.  My sense of security and resilience that was established in that house built on a foundation of rock became a tangible and symbolic touchstone for me to endure the storms of life. Because of this, my life’s mission is to be a lighthouse to others seeking a safe haven. I know such a place exists. I know how to build them, too. They can be hard to find and can take time to construct, especially in the darkness of life’s journey – but that means any little bit of light and effort can prove significant to see one’s way and experience respite. It is well worth the search and perseverance.

Growing up in a household that was built on a firm foundation of faith (i.e. believing God exists, is good and loves us more than we could ever imagine) was an essential part of how my parents constructed their marriage and our family. I was encouraged to pray, not as a ritual of holy living, but as a relational method of understanding what life is about. I was taught I could openly bring all my doubts and fears hope and plans to God – and He actually was listening to me and had important things to say to me as well. I learned at an early age that the Bible is not a boring book of rules, but a gracious guide for how to experience peace – within myself and with every relationship I encounter. My parents’ relationship with one another exemplified what it is to honestly communicate with grace and kindness and, at times, to unconditionally serve others without words. If you ask them what makes their marriage work so well, they will tell you – it’s about loving God first and loving each other the way God loves us. They will tell you how life is all about relationships and selflessly serving others. They will tell you that it is hard; but they will tell you that it is harder not to.

I do believe every day offers us opportunities to experience and express love. For some, it is less familiar to know how and where to start. And for some reason, I was born into a family where practical demonstrations of love were a daily occurrence. How we talked to each other, who we invited into our home, what we did with our time, where we invested our money and energy revolved around proving that love (Jesus) is the cornerstone that upholds the reality that the same grace be extended to everyone – no matter what’s happened. This legacy has served me well and has compelled me to pursue the professional work I do. If we are honest about life, we all have experienced moments of defeat – unable to keep fighting, keep hoping for something better. We need someone to fight with us, for us. Psalm 23 is filled from beginning to end with how God provides victorious support. As a Jesus follower and child of God, I believe He does this for me and, likewise, calls me to do the same for others. Sure, I have made a career of helping people find rest, healing, reassurance that they are not alone in the dark, that they can have courage and find sustenance to keep going; but the living I have chosen to make was cultivated a long time ago in a home built by my parents. They insist that love (the Lord) holds the blueprints and utilizes whomever is willing to help be part of building an eternal kingdom. All are welcomed to be part of God’s family!

References:

1.      The People I Love; drawing by Jamie Wasson 1984 (age 7)

2.      Instruments in the Hands of the Redeemer by Paul Tripp

3.      George Mueller by Faith Bailey (An Orphanage Built by Prayer)

Blood, Sweat and Tears (Part 3)

“Planet Earth looks blue and there’s nothing I can do.”  David Bowie’s Major Tom

I listened to a podcast by Paul David Tripp recently. He spoke about our identity. He noted how “tears reveal what our hearts care about most deeply”. I’ve cried countless tears throughout my lifetime – about all sorts of things: boo-boos, broken hearts, defeats, victories, comedic timings and joyous moments, to name a few themes. The synthesis of these themes is that I’m aware (or feel like) something good or bad is happening. Tears are proof that we are cognizant of what is going on around us and inside us. When we feel heightened moments of pain/hurt, fear, sadness, love, joy, relief, grief, anger, exhaustion etc., tears emerge as well. Tears also protect outside harmful materials from invading our eye space – like dust, bugs, allergens and noxious gases. Our eyes must always stay a bit teary to guard against dry eyes, which can be detrimental to our vision. Tears manage worlds inside and out, and specialize in cleansing our bodies and souls. If we don’t cry (or produce tears), we are not healthy human beings.

Our sympathetic nervous systems respond to events, emotions and our mind’s interpretations of it all in a holistic effort to keep us safe, secure and sensible. Our blood, sweat and tears are a team of messengers that communicate with our conscious brains about our present state of being. Who am I? Who are we? Tears continue to baffle even the best experts, because of their mysterious solidarity to show up during both joyful and sorrowful moments. Practically speaking, tears seem to sum up that we are connected to what matters…or we want to be. Our internal capacity to deal with life on our own has its limit, and when too much life wells up inside, our eyes well up and the overflow spills out. Social psychologists have suggested that tears signal to others that we, ourselves, are in need of another’s solidarity – either to celebrate an aspect of life or mourn it. We cry because we care – others cry with us because they care about us. Is it that simple?

The shortest verse in the whole Bible is found in the Gospel of John, and it’s all about Jesus’ tears. John didn’t originally scribe his gospel verse by verse, but as a continuous narrative. Scribes over the centuries sought to make it easier for us to navigate the Scriptures, so they divided thoughts and stories into chapter and verse. Something about John’s observation of Jesus crying caught their attention, too. John documented that Jesus wept, as he stood by his friend Lazarus’ tomb. John 11:35 simply reads “Jesus wept”. Talk about solidarity – Jesus cried, as did others that day over the loss of a dear loved one. Research suggests that women cry five times more than men in an average year. I have to admit that when I see a man cry, it immediately gets my attention in a way that deeply moves me – something must really matter for them to emote in such a way. It obviously impacted the people who stood with Jesus by Laz’s grave. They commented to each other, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:36). But was that the only reason why Jesus wept? When Jesus saw Lazarus’ sister, Martha, by his grave, Jesus assured her that her brother would live again. Martha didn’t get his meaning. It seems Jesus wept, not just because Laz died, but because humanity doesn’t get how loved we are by God and how we can love each other (and life itself) the same way God loves. I confess, I cry most about not feeling loved and feeling like life is too hard, and isn’t turning out the way I had hoped.

Ed Underwood, a pastor and cancer survivor, details his understanding of how God loves us in his book, When God Breaks Your Heart. Lying in a hospital bed, Underwood doubted if God was there with him as he anticipated his death. But then he re-read the story of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus with new perspective. In the story, Martha and her sister Mary sent for Jesus to come heal their brother who had become very ill. Jesus received their message and seemed to dismiss their dire call for help. Even his disciples were confused by his seemingly indifference to the crisis. They urged him to act fast or else Lazarus would surely die. Jesus purposefully waited for a few days to pass, ensuring Lazarus’ death, and then responded to the sisters’ request. When Martha heard Jesus was on his way, she rushed to meet him and angrily accused him of not coming soon enough. She emphasized to Jesus that ‘if only’ he had come sooner (John 11:21). Mary didn’t even bother accompanying her sister to confront Jesus. She stayed home (John 11:28); I’m sure clutching a box of ancient Kleenex, overwhelmed by grief. Underwood writes that he deeply struggled with the same emotional and intellectual experience as Martha and Mary did. However, reviewing the Biblical story in full brought Underwood a new and profound comfort. Underwood defines how ‘comfort’ literally breaks down to mean “come forth”.  He underscores that these are the exact words Jesus declared outside of Lazarus’ tomb, after Jesus first ordered the grave seal to be broken (John 11:43 KJV). Martha winced at breaking the tomb’s seal and reminded Jesus that doing so would release a bad stench since Laz had been dead a few days (John11:39). Thanks, Martha, for pointing out the obvious – death stinks. Do we need to be reminded of that?  The answer is yes. Does God? The answer is no. God was already aware of this fact. That was the reason why He came to earth in the first place. When the seal of Jesus’ own tomb was broken, God completely removed the stench of death. His resurrection is the best thing to cry about. Jesus proved Himself Lord over life and death.

In Dan Allender’s book The Cry of the Soul, he strategically provides insight into how our emotions (and tears) don’t just reveal what is going on in our own hearts, but also reveals God’s heart for us. He writes, “God’s passion is to rig the world so that we are compelled to deal with whatever blocks us from being like His glorious Son.” Our tears are like a bridge that allows love to flow in a two way direction – not simply between me and someone else here on earth but between me and the God of the universe. God sees every tear that falls. Whatever the reason, each one matters. The psalmist David wrote “You keep my tears in Your bottle” (Psalm 56:8b). Why would God do that? Because everything about us means something to God. Our lives matter.

References:

  1. Sense and Sensibility, motion picture 1995
  2. Major Tom by David Bowie
  3. Who Is Worthy? Podcast/sermon by Paul David Tripp
  4. Why we cry Blog post by Dr. Nick Knight
  5. When God Breaks Your Heart by Ed Underwood
  6. The Cry of the Soul by Dan Allender

Blood, Sweat and Tears (Part 2)

Wood carving

“Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summers day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.” To Kill A Mockingbird

I first read To Kill A Mockingbird in ninth grade, as so many ninth graders do. Something about the first lines of this renowned novel, noted above, captivated my attention immediately. Harper Lee painted such vivid word pictures of the reality of sweat. Her words have lingered in my ears and mind’s eye, much like humidity hangs on the skin and soul on a steamy summer day. I have never forgotten that introduction. The way Lee’s words foreshadowed her book’s strenuous tale of human struggle deeply impacted me. I have thought of these lines often throughout my life. Incidentally, when my best efforts to remain calm and cool are futile and sweat takes over my appearance and attitude, I remember her vivid depiction of southern climate. I’ve never been to Alabama nor Louisiana or even Mississippi. There’s always been something illusive to me about the deep south – the way people have had to manage not only unbearable hot temps but brutal hot topics. As a northern ninth grader, I wondered how people in the midst of such oppressive heat still made a daily effort to press their collars and powder their cheeks, knowing it would all come undone at some point during the day. Sweat seemed an enemy and any effort was fighting a losing battle. Why bother? Yet, as an adult, my perspective on sweat has changed to welcome it as a companion to help me overcome the mundane as well as more serious challenges of life.

Even as recent as the other night while walking along a river path near my house, it was insufferably hot and the sweat quickly formed a shiny sheen on my skin’s surface. I wiped the hair away from my brow more than a few times, which kept sticking to my face like pasted threads. I felt ugly and depressed, but then the wind started gently blowing and I quickly felt amazing. As the wind touched my wet skin, I felt a cooling effect and even had a chill or two. That wind was such a gift, but I also receive sweat as its own gift – wind and sweat work together to cool me down. There are many reasons why we sweat, but it all boils down to our body’s cooling and cathartic attempts to keep us alive and well. Our pores open and release moisture that is evaporated by the air, cooling us down when we get overheated. Hormones can also be included in our sweat, as our body’s method to release and regulate emotional and/or inner-physical intensity. Sweat is a signal for us to understand what is happening inside of us and around us. It’s a metabolic miracle. It certainly doesn’t feel good to sweat; but it can tangibly clue us in to how we definitively don’t feel good inside or that something around us is not okay. It signals for us to respond accordingly, to find ways to either weather the storm or improve conditions.

Sweat can also be the palpable proof that something good is happening in us and around us. When I exercise or perform manual labor, I often sweat a lot (TMI, I know, but it’s reality. Thank God for deodorant, showers and clean clothes!). As sweat pours out of my pores, I feel like it proves I am accomplishing something. I want to believe that hard work pays off – that as I toil day in and day out, my efforts are not in vain. Sweat can offer me the satisfaction that I am working towards something; or at the very least, it offers me an opportunity to evaluate whether or not my work is leading me in a beneficial direction. My body may be telling me that I am exerting too much energy and it is, in fact, time to rest, catch my breath and refresh resources to either carry on the same course or change trajectories altogether. Contemplation is its own worthwhile effort, though it is not easy work. Just as any hot day or labor intensive task exhausts me, so can considering how my efforts are empowering or dis-empowering myself and others. I need help to discern and confirm this process. The Holy Spirit is a sacred wind that restoratively blows across my weary and worn soul, especially when I feel the heat of life’s stressors.

At the end of Jesus’ journey here on earth, He promised that the Holy Spirit would come to “guide us to all truth” (John 16:13). Throughout all Scripture, the Holy spirit is defined as a “Counselor” and “Comforter”. This description is most meaningful to me. As a licensed professional counselor, I and my colleagues often ask “who counsels the counselor?” When I am sweating it out, overwhelmed by difficult or puzzling situations, the Holy Spirit counsels me.  Initially, He simply says “I counsel you…even during the night” (Psalm 16:7). Such declaration quiets my restless soul. During the day or, especially, as I toss and turn at night, He says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a). There are other times when words seem nebulous and He simply grieves with me and places my exhausted heart on secure rock to find rest and joy (Psalm 40:2, Romans 8:26). God, indeed, is my breath of fresh air. Every time I feel the temperature rise, He revives and refreshes me. In my restored state, I am better equipped to help others who are, themselves, in need of refreshment. I can point the fan towards them, and pour them a tall glass of sweet tea to sip while they rest. Many times, they are the ones, inspired by the Spirit, to offer me a rejuvenating cup of cheer. The best is when I can share such sustenance with someone. Then, no matter how oppressive things get, we can lift our glasses together to celebrate that we are alive, loved and not alone.

References:

  1. Wood carving sculpture in process by Jamie Wasson 2013
  2. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  3. Human Biology by Starr & McMillan
  4. Forgotten God by Francis Chan