Fearfully and Wonderfully….and not forgotten.

I have been listening to the debate raging on my FaceBook feed, on Twitter and in the news. The debate about the Planned Parenthood video. It seems issues of deep importance, with political ramifications, keep demanding my attention. As I said the other day, I am not a fan of entering political or theological debates on FaceBook or Twitter. I simply do better hearing the voice and having the chance to draw out my thoughts in dialog.

 

Still. I was left feeling chilled and deeply saddened by the video. Many of us were impacted as deeply by the callousness of the conversation as we were by the topic. I’m not sure I could have eaten in the discussion.

 

There are certain truths that define us. For myself, the reality of God as Creator places such a deep value on each person. I confess I do not always carry that value in the forefront of my thoughts…and that is to my shame. As a mother of four, though, the amazing wonder of infancy and of simply the reality of how we are made is staggering. 

 

We truly are fearfully and wonderfully created.

Fearfully.

Awesomely.

It should take our breath away when we realize we are carrying a life within us. Staggering. There should be a healthy fear, a Godly fear, of the gift we have in carrying life within ourselves. Carrying that Image Bearer. It is not something to be taken casually….it is staggering. 

 

 

For some that reality is overwhelming to the point they feel the need to end that life. 

 

I cannot go there. We have to do better in helping those who are overwhelmed by a pregnancy….but we so deeply need to be formed by the reality of the God of Creation marking each soul as an image bearer of Himself. 

 

Image Bearer. 

Deeply valued.

 

Still…my voice seems so small, and sometimes I feel I don’t have a ‘right’ to talk because I have no experience with abortion. I do, however, have a dear friend who is intimately formed by the abortion practice.

 

Gianna Jessen has spoken for most of her life about her experience.

 

“Born during saline abortion” is stamped on her birth certificate.

 

Intended not to live, she survived. And she values life in a way that shouts not only of that auspicious entrance, but also of the deep mark of a Creator who knew her, cared for her and has loved her since she was formed.  Listen:

 

 

Who better to be engaged in this dialog than one who survived abortion?

 

I asked her permission to cull some of her thoughts from her FaceBook page to share with you here:

 

“enough with the cocktail party Jesus we create with our enlightenment. the one that makes the neighbors happy.

he’s not even real. we created him in the image of tmz.

all these things we face, will bring us face to face with what, and who we do or do not want. do we really want the Jesus that can raise us from the dead? the only One that can heal our land?

i am sitting here singing. in the darkness. all i want to do is sing to my passionate, beautiful God.”

 

“i know it’s not uber cool to mention Jesus anymore. but we have the blood of over fifty million unborn children on our hands as a nation. how can we bear the weight of that burden without Him?

how can i be embarrassed to proclaim the God Who spared me from that?

 

If you are in a position to share Gianna’s story, what better time? She has a perspective few of us have. A perspective that is vital in this dialog. 

 

It is not simply that abortion is bad. It is this…you are created by a loving God. The little one within you is created, not forgotten or ignored. Not simply a lump of tissue…a little soul and light and life with a purpose. 

 

Did you hear? You….sitting right there….you are known and loved and marked by the image of a Creator God. He knows you, loves you and has so much grace for you. And, Oh my soul, we need to be moved by these videos and by this reality. 

 

you are Loved by God and not forgotten. nothing about you is forgotten.

victory!

 

 

(For booking info see giannajessen.com. Text message updates (no spam) text: gianna to 95577)

 

 

Lessons Learned from Sending the Boy to Camp. Stop the Chatter.

“Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to manage the lives around you . . . remember that the lives of others are not your business. They are their business. They are God’s business . . . even your own life is not your business. It also is God’s business. Leave it to God. It is an astonishing thought. It can become a life-transforming thought . . . unclench the fists of your spirit and take it easy . . . What deadens us most to God’s presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought. I suspect that there is nothing more crucial to true spiritual comfort . . . than being able from time to time to stop that chatter . . . ”

Frederick Buechner

Last week the middle boy went to camp. The first time he has been away from us that long…five nights.

We immediately felt his absence when we drove away from the camp, leaving him in a cabin of rowdy boys and wondering what the week would hold.

I remember going to camp, I remember that uncertain feeling and also the excitement. The meals, the laughter, the games. The deep emotional talks.  What would his experience be?

The difference between when I went to camp and now is this: constant updates.

We watched the camp’s FaceBook page and Instagram religiously. They posted hundreds of pictures. Daily. 998 pictures by the end.

We saw our boy in 18 pictures. He is actually in 28 by the end…but that includes the cabin group photos and things from the last day.

18 pictures. 

He is smiling in exactly 4. 

Mostly he is standing with his arms folded and that look of concern. Instantly identifiable, and instantly bringing back all those moments I felt insecure in group situations. You know, like last month or last year or thirty years ago. We all know that feeling.

The husband and I were praying fervently. Speculating. Wondering if we should text and ask the youth leader if he was okay. Hoping for a picture of him with his arm around a buddy. Finally, the last night I had a headache and came downstairs at 1am. New pictures were loaded and there was one with him arms around his cabin mates at the worship time.

Thank you, Lord. He is not alone, he is not completely miserable.

I did text the youth leader who told me the boy had been quiet, but didn’t seem upset. Quiet is unusual for this one.

So, we continued to speculate. The brothers were pretty convinced along with us that the week had been a let down. We all wondered what we would hear when we went to pick him up.

Can you guess?

Yep, he had a great time. Not phenomenal, and there were moments of homesickness…but he wants to go back next year. I showed him the pictures and he laughed. He kept pointing out pictures of laughter and group activities where he was just out of the frame. We just couldn’t quite see the whole picture. Our vision was narrowed and limited and we ran with only what we could see.

We fervently wanted to protect and manage his life. We prayed, but we prayed with advice to God. We chattered continually about the situation, and our chatter went along the lines of all the things that could be wrong.

Did you read the quotation from Buechner above? Here, I’ll post it again:

“Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to manage the lives around you . . . remember that the lives of others are not your business. They are their business. They are God’s business . . . even your own life is not your business. It also is God’s business. Leave it to God. It is an astonishing thought. It can become a life-transforming thought . . . unclench the fists of your spirit and take it easy . . . What deadens us most to God’s presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought. I suspect that there is nothing more crucial to true spiritual comfort . . . than being able from time to time to stop that chatter . . . ”

We have to remember that God sees the whole picture. He knows the whole story, and we can trust that. Our vision is limited, and it is not good to make continual judgments based on limited understanding.

Even of our own lives.

So, stop the chatter for awhile today. Stop running and questioning and determining the hundred outcomes you think will happen.

Be still and know that He is God.

It takes some time, it takes practice…discipline. Still ourselves and quiet our chatter. Realize the astonishing thought that our lives are God’s business. There is rest in that thought.

The Promises are True.

What a few weeks.

During the last week I have watched my FaceBook and Twitter feed carry on a long discussion fed by strong opinions on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue and both sides of the issues of race. Deeply personal reactions to flags, laws and how we are to live in this Nation together. I have listened and watched and seen some carry themselves with wonderful grace, and others with deep frustration and anger.

I am not one keen to dive into political or theological conversations on FaceBook. I need to have the time to pause and to think and to hear the tone in your voice. I need to be able to back up and correct how I state things. I need conversation in these topics, not wall posts. I listen, but I very rarely engage online.

This last week in the midst of listening to these conversations, deeper situations have held my attention. There is a young man who plays hockey a level up from my oldest. He completed tryouts a few weeks ago, even though he was not feeling well. His mother, concerned with his color, took him the ER the day after tryouts. They have been through a tailspin of diagnosis pointing to viral meningitis, viral infection, heart failure. Lungs filled with gunk. Liver and kidneys failing.

What is that argument on FaceBook? It does not have me holding my breath in the way that this young boy’s struggle has caught me and held my attention.

His mother has prayed. She has offered her fear and her distress alongside her hope and her trust in God.

She is trusting in a reality that is beyond what is before her eyes. She, and others reposting her thoughts, have kept us updated with each step of this young man’s struggle.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, in the midst of posts laced with hope, this young man Mitchell passed away.

All the other debates on FB feel trivial at the moment, and I apologize because I know they are not. I know they are deeply personal and important…but did you hear me? This young man who had just skated in tryouts for the highest level of hockey in our town, died three weeks after those tryouts.

At the same time, I heard from my family. A soccer teammate and friend of my nephew jumped into a river in Colorado to cool off. Strong, athletic, responsible young man. Hiking with friends who are co-workers at a camp, he hopped in a flooded river to cool off. Last I had heard they still have not found his body.

What do we do with the promises and the reality beyond what we see?

I have no idea how I would react in those situations, in the moments that follow. I cannot imagine the grief.

We could all list rapidly the stories of those in our lives who are walking through such deep pain and such tremendous struggle. Pastor Saeed and his family, little ones struggling with cancer, parents fading to dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Here is the reality, though. I do believe in a God who is true and who does fulfill His promises. I believe that He heard every one of those prayers, and that somehow he holds this grief and these situations in His care in a way we cannot understand in the moment.

Those promises…that reality, is founded on a the truth that He Is. The reality that He carries not only the desire, but the power, to care for those who believe in Him.

That He is the Way the Truth and Life.

And that means something.

That His revelation to us is true and even when things seem out of control, they are not. He is still there and there is a reality deeper than the surface we see.

That He rose from the dead.

Is this simply platitudes and fairy tales?

What if the reality is that the revelation of God is true?

What if the promises are true?

In order for the promises to be true, there has to be an authority behind them. There has to be One who causes the promises to be true. Otherwise they are simply platitudes we hang on our walls. Sayings we hope carry some encouragement.

When the promises are given by someone who has conquered death, they carry weight. They carry authority. They are spoken by One who can change everything.

And when God has spoken in ways we can understand, we need to pay attention. When it is not simply fairy tales and wishful thinking, we need to listen. We need to understand that He understands our reality far more deeply than we.

What does He say?

He says that His grace is there for us. For all of us. He says that He has overcome all the boundaries which keep us from knowing Him.

He says that He is near, and that He cares.

He says there is a way to live that brings healing and life, and there are ways to live which leave us broken.

He says to love our enemies, and to care for the widow and the orphan.

When those in our midst are overwhelmed, when they are beyond themselves with grief, there has to be a truth that is deeper than hopeful thinking. I need to pay attention to that truth, so I have something to offer those who are overwhelmed, those who are broken, those who are in despair.

Something to offer that changes everything.

Something that speaks to that mother mourning her son. To that soul that is in torment because they simply do not know who they are. To that child watching their parents age and slip to dementia. To the young person wondering how they will find a job, how they will succeed in a life that looks so daunting.

To them, the promises held by the One Who conquered death hold a reality that is more firm than any law can provide. In that moment, I trust that the reality that these promises are not fairy tales gives a foundation when there seems to be none.
Truth.

And here is the catch….that those of us who proclaim to know this truth live in a way that reveals the utterly amazing truth that we believe. That we live in a way that proclaims compassion and grace. Ultimately it is not about winning arguments, and sometimes we will come to different conclusions when we read the words that I believe are God’s revelation to us. Ultimately, it is about realizing we are all broken people needing grace.

Reacting with Gospel Reality.

I have been walking for a couple months now. Some weeks better than others, however for a few weeks I was walking between 5-10 miles a day.

It was a commitment.

It took time out of my day and called for sacrificing other things.

I walked so I would feel better, and so I could lose some weight. After about 5 weeks of walking consistently I was at a house with a scale (our scale is broken). I thought I would see how I was progressing.

I had gained 6 pounds.

I didn’t walk the rest of that week out of irritation and frustration.

This week I am starting again…realizing again that some things simply take time and commitment. They take discipline and a long view.

The walk of the Christian is the same.

I have always loved the book title from Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. The reality of our pursuing Christ, of our Christian walk of discipleship, is that it is a long obedience. Sometimes there are dramatic results which happen quickly, but far more often the results of the Spirit working in our lives play out over long lengths of time.

When we are struck by a circumstance which used to excite in us anger or frustration and we react instead with compassion and patience, we realize the work that has been happening. Prayer and reading Scripture, worship and teaching and community have been at work in our character.

I don’t think any of us could imagine a circumstance that would allow for a reaction of anger and frustration as much as the shooting in Charleston. In the midst of a Biblestudy to be met with something so evil.

The forgiveness that was evidenced, immediately, by the family members and congregation in Charleston happened because that is their character. The reaction of forgiveness could not have simply been manufactured that evening in an attempt to do what they thought was correct. They reacted with grace, with great emotion, and with forgiveness because they have pursued the One who makes that possible. In the moment they showed the result of years of walking in prayer and the reality of a God who is both Just and Compassionate.

I don’t know that I could have reacted so quickly with such grace. There is still deep mourning, deep grieving. That does not overshadow the grace that has been so on display.

The result? A community which has joined together in their mourning. No rioting, no violence. Grace. Still calling for justice, yet so marked by grace.

The rest of us? We are grasping at ways to react. Banning flags, ridding ourselves of guns. Hugging people we might not otherwise hug. Listening with a more compassionate ear and trying to hear through the anger and the frustration.

We want to stop this from happening again. We want to somehow shore up these people with compassion…and sometimes the best way we find to do that is to shout angrily against the evil, or even the symbols of the evil.

We have to do something. The evil in our midst demands a reaction.

We can only react with forgiveness and grace when we are so immersed in the language of Gospel that it comes naturally. Otherwise we are left to our insufficient fixes.

There are some things we can do physically and immediately to move forward. We can dialog and we can listen, and we can care deeply. Not cliche, not simplistic…we can truly deeply care. More than our agenda or what makes us uncomfortable, we can listen with Gospel reality.

Gospel which calls for reconciliation and grace and true peace. Gospel which calls for caring for others more deeply than ourselves. Gospel which proclaims hope in the midst of confusion. Gospel reality which proclaims a God who intervenes and transforms.

it is good to debate and to think through our stands on all the issues involved. Let’s follow the example of those who are most intimately impacted, and who have earned to have a louder voice, reacting with grace and forgiveness. Debating with grace and compassion.

Taking down a flag will not solve evil.

Flying a flag will not secure freedom. 

Transformation by the Gospel will prepare us for the next moment we are shocked and we hope to react in a way that proclaims we are Children of the Savior.

Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.  

2 Corinthians 3:16-18 The Message

Strengthened by the Testimony of the Saints.

“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours… it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually” – Frederick Buechner

In the last few months I have heard of several more people with families members now marked by Dementia or Alzheimer’s. Several more families now watching the person they love diminish before them. Several more families wondering how to care well for these loved ones, how to walk through this new season without becoming exhausted and overwhelmed.

Those that are closest to me, I refer to my Dad. The husband of one of these I told to call my Dad because he has walked through this with a wisdom and a grace that give strength. Not perfectly, and he will say he has done so with nothing remarkable…but the truth is he has shown all of us how to walk well in the season of suffering. I’ve learned from him. His story gives strength to those who hear it; they know they are not alone and that this challenge is not impossible.

The reality is that so many are touched by some form of this disease. The quotation from Buechner above is often used, mostly because of the deep truth it tells. We need to hear each others’ stories because they tell us more about our own situation. They give us strength in the midst of our own fears or our own uncertainty. We need to hear the testimony of those who have walked a little further in the struggle than we, and can tell us of God’s grace.

In the Book of Revelation, when it tells of the accuser of the saints being conquered, this is said:

“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” Revelation 12:11

Our testimony carries weight.

Our stories carry weight.

So. To those friends who have just begun the journey of Alzheimer’s or Dementia, to those who are overwhelmed with fear and sadness: God is still there. God is still in the midst and His grace is present. The testimony of the saints who have walked this way proclaims that.

Here is what my testimony in the middle of this journey proclaims:
It’s okay to be sad, to be overwhelmingly saddened by the loss of the personality of the one you love. To grieve deeply as life events unfold and you are aware that this person who is present is not completely with you…and to know how different the situation would be if they were. To know how they would love your children, to know how they would laugh and would rejoice over your accomplishments.
It is okay to grieve, in the midst of the journey…but know you cannot grieve the entire time. There will be moments of laughter in the midst of this craziness. There will be moments of light.

Dad: “Good morning, my dear. I love you.”

Mom: “Well. What do you want?”

———————

Brother: “Mom, did you like that restaurant?”

Mom: “Yes.”

Brother: “Would you like to go back?”

Mom: “Well, not tonight!”

There will be glimpses of that personality that pop up. And they will be all the more treasured because they are rare and they will bring a flood of memories of who that person is who is in your midst still.

 Laugh and rejoice in those moments, and don’t be afraid to laugh.

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This is a long and tiring mourning. This is a slow losing of the person in front of you: pace yourself. Rejoice when you can, and mourn when you need to. Then look for God in the midst. See Him in graces small and large. In family coming together in the midst of struggle. In strength you didn’t know you possessed. In appreciating this person in ways you might never have done without this change.

And realize that as we weep over this disease and what it does, we weep with God. This wounding of creation, this loss…I truly believe that He grieves with us. As Creation groans…as we groan. We cling to the promise of new life, of new creation. Of grace and of a Creator who cares and who intervenes and who redeems. We cling with hope as we hear the testimonies.

Tell stories. Tell of the one you love and remember them well, in the midst of the struggle. Write down the stories and remember. Know that you are not alone and pay attention. Know that eventually your testimony will bring strength to someone.

Again, Buechner

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

The Necessity of Play

Yesterday as I was walking I listened to a TED radio hour about play. Now, I was outside and I was moving, but I wasn’t exactly playing.

 

I was working to get my body in better shape…so that I can play more. With my kids. Because sometimes they need encouragement to play.

 

We all need that encouragement, and yet after listening to the speakers, I realized the importance of play. Or I remembered.  Play should be a priority.

 

We are born stamped with the image of a Creative and playful God. Yes, we face a myriad of struggles in this life, and there are so many things to think deeply about and to weep over. There are enormous, staggering issues that surround us. There are also the mundane duties and necessities of life, which demand our attention.

 

Still, there is this wiring in us that looks for and loves play.

 

There are waterfalls and rainbows and amazing sunsets and wonder all around us. There are signs everywhere of a Creator at play.

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The colors purple and pink.

 

The platypus.

Laughter. Deep, releasing and spontaneous laughter. The kind where you can’t contain yourself.

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And when we play we relate in such a different way. With freedom and with joy. Imagination.

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“That’s a sure way to tell about somebody–the way they play, or don’t play, make-believe.” Madeleine L’Engle

 

Part of the TED talk was with a Dr. Steve Brown who had researched the role of play in murderers. They didn’t play. They didn’t engage in spontaneous play as children. And they didn’t learn empathy. They didn’t learn the necessities of life that come through play. That is fairly staggering.

 

 

The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground. G.K. Chesterton

 

We have to have a release in the midst of the struggle. We have to sometimes be reminded to play.

 

Pinterest and my Facebook feed are full of ideas to spark play in our children this summer. There is a tinge of sadness that we have to sometimes manufacture play because our children need the encouragement. Maybe we need to incorporate more play in our lives so it becomes more engrained…then it can be more spontaneous. Maybe we, I, need to not say no when the children want to play…we need to encourage it and enlarge that desire.

 

 

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” G. K. Chesterton

It’s summertime. Let’s play. Let’s let down our guard a bit and get silly and get wet in the sprinklers and run around with the kids. Let’s laugh until we pee. Then laugh some more.

Let us allow that joy to revive us this summer.

Let’s play, and show our kids we still know how to be alive. Go throw a water balloon at someone, or color a picture, or play video games with your kids.

“I do not think that the life of Heaven bears any analogy to play or dance in respect of frivolity. I do think that while we are in this ‘valley of tears,’ cursed with labour, hemmed round with necessities, tripped up with frustrations, doomed to perpetual plannings, puzzlings, and anxieties, certain qualities that must belong to the celestial condition have no chance to get through, can project no image of themselves, except in activities which, for us here and now, are frivolous.

For surely we must suppose the life of the blessed to be an end in itself, indeed The End: to be utterly spontaneous; to be the complete reconciliation of boundless freedom with order–with the most delicately adjusted, supple, intricate, and beautiful order?

How can you find any image of this in the ‘serious’ activities either of our natural or of our (present) spiritual life? Either in our precarious and heart-broken affections or in the Way which is always, in some degree, a via crucis?

No, Malcolm. It is only in our ‘hours-off,’ only in our moments of permitted festivity, that we find an analogy. Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for ‘down here’ is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment’s rest from the life we were place here to live.

But in this world everything is upside down. That which , if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” – C.S. Lewis

The Unexpected is Exactly What We Needed

September 2010 I realized I was pregnant. This was unexpected and a surprise that staggered. Overwhelming would probably be the best word.

Sometimes the unexpected can stir fear or a sense of unease.

Sometimes the unexpected turns out to be the most wonderful, a source of delight we never knew we needed.

Madeleine has been just that. Four years old today, she has utterly changed our lives. She has brought a lightness and a humor, a touch of femininity to our lives we were not aware we were missing.

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This little one has already begun to soften her brothers. They care for her in ways I couldn’t have imagined…they love her quite well. Their future wives can thank Miss Maddie for this change she has brought.

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From the start she has captured our hearts with this sense of delight she has about her. Her laughter, her charm, her intelligence. And her simple innocence and beauty. Every day she stops us and helps us see something good.

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She was unexpected, and she was exactly who our family needed.

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As she has grown, she just seems to get better. She has a temper, and she does think she can interrupt any discussion to make her words heard. We’re working on that. Still, she is feisty and feminine in just the right measure. She stands her ground, but she can turn and be compassionate and tender in a heartbeat.

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She knows more about soccer and hockey than most 4 year old girls, and has watched probably a hundred games.

She loves art and books and pretty things.

Mostly this, though:
She simply is alive to life and it is delightful. I love a day to celebrate her, and a day to indulge in posting far too many pictures in one blog post. She is the only one I will take a duck-face selfie with. She brings out our best and makes me want to be not only a better mom but a better woman.

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And she has done all of this in four short years.

Happy Birthday, Maddie Jane.

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