I don’t rest easy. And I mean that both literally and figuratively.

I worry. I fret. I nibble fingernails and twist hair. I’m anxious.

I also can’t sit still. I rarely rest -- as in simply sit. More often I thumb through a magazine, write a grocery list or jot story ideas while I watch TV. Or surf the Web while I’m on the phone. Or polish toe nails while kids splash in the pool.

So when Ann Voskamp asked us to write about rest this week, my first thought was, “Well that’s easy. I don’t rest.”

But Saturday morning I realized that’s not entirely true. I’m in a constant state of movement, yes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t rest my spirit and soul.

Often I rest in motion in the garden. There I putter, pulling a clover weed here, creeping Charlie there. Crouch low to glimpse chartreuse pepper. Bend to inhale spicy scent of spiky Monarda, wispy Russian sage, pungent lily.

The kids and I often stroll out to the flower garden that borders the street. We like to see new blooms first thing, as sun breaks through birch, before Nebraska heat sizzles.

Stamen stand tall, pollen-drenched, beckoning like candle flames.

Bee bumbles inside prickly Echinacea, black legs golden in soft pollen.

Moth unfurls proboscis, drinking deep.

Emerald wasp burrows.

Fountain grass waves at Veronica, Stella de Oro, Heliopsis.

Leaves whisper gentle to clanging chimes as sun climbs high.

I am at rest.

The Lord your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

How do you rest in God? In motion? In stillness? Or in a little bit of both?

holy experience


An Interview with Author Rachel Held Evans

Today I'm doing something a bit different here. I'm thrilled to be able to feature an interview with author Rachel Held Evans, whose first book, Evolving in Monkey Town, was published this month by Zondervan.

I was first introduced to Rachel over at Rachelle Gardner's blog, when I read a guest post by her there last year. Since then I've followed Rachel on her blog and have eagerly awaited the publication of her memoir.

I was not disappointed. In fact, I loved this book! Rachel writes with honesty, humor and intelligence about her upbringing as a fundamentalist in Dayton, Tennessee (home of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial), her subsequent struggles with doubt and ultimately her emergence as a new believer. Despite our dramatically different religious backgrounds, I felt a connection and kinship with Rachel that I've rarely experienced with other authors.

To hear more from Rachel Held Evans, visit her blog. And make Evolving in Monkey Town a top pick on your summer reading list.

Here's the interview....

1. What was the experience like for you to go from reading the Bible from an apologist viewpoint, in order to defend your faith, to reading it in order to recover your faith?

The truth is, I still really struggle with the Bible, especially those troubling passages that seem to condone genocide, misogyny, and war.

But I think the biggest change in my approach is that I no longer look at the Bible as an answer book to be read and interpreted in isolation. Instead I think its tensions and difficulties can be good for us because they remind us that the Bible is not God, but rather a pointer to God, and that we’re not meant to read it alone. The Bible is supposed to be celebrated and wrestled with in community. It’s meant to start conversations, not end them.

2. Recently my eight-year-old son told me, “Sometimes I feel like I don’t believe in God.” Of course this statement, which seemed to come out of nowhere (these statements always do!), startled me, and my first thought was, “Oh no! Disbelief is genetic!” If you were offered that statement, from a child or an adult, how would you address it?

First of all, how great is it that your son feels safe sharing thoughts like this with you? One of the best gifts you can give a child is the freedom to explore tough questions about faith without feeling guilty or judged. I know this because my father (who is a genuine, certified theologian) always gave me enough space to wrestle, stretch, and grow in my faith. I’m so thankful for that now.

Once, when I was struggling with uncertainty, my friend David told me, “The line between faith and doubt is the point of action. You don’t need certainty to obey, just the willingness to risk being wrong.”

I’ve always found that to be a helpful way of looking at it. So when people tell me that sometimes they feel like they don’t believe in God, I usually say, "Me too. But sometimes I feel like I do. And that’s got to count for something." After all, obedience in the midst of doubt is just about the strongest kind of faith there is.

3. How have you changed the way you talk about religion, God, the Bible and faith? You began as a hard-core apologist…what would you call yourself – or how do you define yourself – now?

Well, I used to refer to myself as a “believer,” but now I strive to be known a follower of Jesus. It may strike people as a small difference, but for me it represents a serious shift in my approach to faith. I no longer think of Christianity as being a set of propositional truths I have to defend, but rather a journey of exploration as I struggle to “keep up” as Jesus leads.

4. You mentioned in the book that sometime in your late teens or early twenties, Jesus moved from your heart to your head. How did you get Jesus to reside in your heart again, and what advice toward that end would you give someone with a more intellectual, rather than emotional, relationship with Jesus?

I get the idea that Jesus wants to live not only in our hearts and heads, but also in our hands – as we feed the hungry, offer help the poor, embrace the lonely, and reach out to the marginalized. For someone like me who tends to intellectualize faith and who isn’t always comfortable talking about Jesus in highly emotional terms, action is really important. It’s the first step to engaging the heart, mind, and body. It’s amazing to me how a day of doubt can be transformed by a little act of obedience. So my advice is for people to seek out Jesus by serving “the least of these.” I always seem to find him there.

5. When someone challenges me by using a Scripture passage (for example, Leviticus 18 against homosexuality), I often respond with the verse from Matthew 22: 37-40 – love God and love your neighbor. But sometimes this feels like a cop-out – like I’m running away from an argument or trying to tie up the messy, loose ends of the Bible into a neat, sugar-coated package. Do you think Matthew 22:37-40 is a too-simplistic view of Jesus’ teachings and the Bible’s commandments?

It would be a cop-out if love were easy! But it’s not. Love is complicated and profound and powerful and elusive...and so totally worth all the trouble. I’m convinced that it’s the most fundamental element of the Christian faith (1 John 4:7-12; 1 Corinthians 13:1-8).

Of course, the problem with this is that love can’t be systematized or made into law. So there will always be disagreements about how to apply it, and there will always be folks who want to try to tame it.

The kind of love that Jesus taught and exemplified was far from neat and tidy. It involved loving the most despised of society (the Samaritan woman, the tax collectors, the lepers) and even loving one’s enemies (which in the context of the Roman Empire meant serious bad guys).

I’ve been in difficult conversations about homosexuality before, and they rarely go anywhere productive. I figure the best thing I can do is just love people as best as I know how–(even though I stink at it most of the time)–and let my love be the expression of my “opinion” on the issue.

6. Toward the end of the book you talked about your husband Dan’s motto that we need to respect the process. I can relate to that. I used to assume that I need to have all my questions answered before I could believe in God – now I try to believe through the questions. You imply you might be through the messiest part of your faith growth (at least for now) – where are you in the process?

Oh I still make a lot of messes! I think it’s just that the shock of having doubts has worn off, so I’m coming to peace with the fact that my faith is always in process. I’m just learning to live in the mess.

7. Having kids offers me ample opportunity to talk about God, but often I’m forced to answer their questions with an honest, “I don’t know.” I find myself making statements like, “God is so big, so vast, so beyond human knowledge, that we just can’t always understand his ways.” That sounds a lot like Isaiah 55: “So are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Using this “his ways are higher than our ways” philosophy with my kids, and even with myself sometimes, feels like a weak explanation. How do you reconcile yourself to that explanation…or rather, non-explanation?

For me it helps that Isaiah 55 is this beautiful, poetic prayer about God’s abundant mercy. It’s good to know that God’s ways are higher than our ways in the sense that he is more gracious and more loving than we can imagine. So we can always say, “I don’t know, but I know that God is good and that he loves us.” We just have to couple that with a commitment to remain curious and open-minded and intellectually engaged in our faith. We don’t want God’s mystery to begin wherever our curiosity ends! Seems like the best approach is to admit when you don’t know something without abandoning that God-given desire to learn more…and maybe even find out. You can’t exactly worship with your head in the sand.

See what I mean? Rachel Held Evans is a rock-star writer. Take my word for it and order Evolving in Monkey Town from Amazon today!


The Chosen

Biblical passages that talk about separating the wheat from the chaff, or choosing some individuals for eternal salvation over others, make me nervous. In the past I’ve always assumed I will be deemed one of the unchosen when I reach Heaven’s gates. That I will approach God, and he’ll send me spiraling to Hell for eternity.

Yesterday’s reading, from Matthew 13:44-50, is no exception:

Again the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net that was thrown into the water and caught fish of every kind. When the net was full, they dragged it up onto the shore, sat down, and sorted the good fish into crates, but threw the bad ones away. That is the way it will be at the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked people from the righteous, throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Not a cozy picture, if you ask me. And I have to wonder, who’s to say I won’t be the bad fish, the one that gets tossed back, the one who gets thrown into the fiery furnace?

I thought a lot about this passage after I got home from church yesterday. Honestly, at first I didn’t feel like writing about it at all. I figured I didn’t have anything positive to say, so why bother? After reading the verse about the fish net about five times through, though, I began to see it in another light.

I’ve concluded that it’s not a matter of being chosen or not. God chooses everyone, after all; we all have the free will, the choice, to believe in him and obey his teachings. Jesus’ death on the cross gives us all an equal opportunity for salvation. It’s whether we accept that opportunity that will determine how we are judged in the end.

Accepting Jesus, accepting God’s grace, inspires us to obey the law. We don’t follow Jesus’ teachings because we have to, or because we should, in order to earn eternal salvation, but because we want to, in order to demonstrate our love for him.

The choice is ours. God doesn’t simply choose one of us over the other in the end. Instead, he gives each of us the choice to choose him from the beginning.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:21-24)
How do you interpret Bible verses that deal with those chosen versus unchosen?


The Fragile and the Awesome

At the Cascade River in Minnesota we saw this:

Suspended over this:

He split the sea and they walked right through it;
he piled the waters to the right and the left.
He led them by day with a cloud,
led them all the night long with a fiery torch.
He split rocks in the wilderness,
gave them all they could drink from underground springs;
He made creeks flow out from sheer rock,
and water pour out like a river.
Psalm 78:9-16


Dear God...

I said yes. The problem is, once I said yes, I panicked. I do that sometimes; I’m rash like that. So when Claire Burge, a blogger friend and amazing photographer over in Ireland (how cool that I have a blogger friend in Ireland!) asked if I might be willing to write a guest post in the form of a letter to God, I said yes.

And then panicked.

Because, you see, even though it may seem like I bare all here, I don’t really. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I dig deep, but more often I simply scratch the surface.

Honestly, the thought of writing a letter to God felt too intimate, too soul-searching, too much. The thought of it made me feel a bit sheepish, embarrassed. I kept putting if off because it made me feel vulnerable and exposed. And sweaty.

I even tried to cheat. I emailed Claire and asked if she had any specifics in mind for the letter. And she replied, “Make the letter your own. I simply cannot tell you what to write to God.”

Yeah. I guess that would be true.

So I did it – mostly because I had to (I’d said yes to Claire, after all), but also because I figured why not? Why not step a toe outside the box for a bit? Get uncomfortable. Take a risk. See what happens.

I wrote a letter to God. It’s over at Claire’s place… [actually, it will be at 11 a.m. CT – six-hour time zone delay!]


Hedgie the Watermelon

 Meet Hedgie.

Yes, he’s a watermelon.

And no, he doesn’t have a thing to do with God or spirituality or faith or religion. But I made him, and you should know, this is very creative for me, the girl who doesn’t sew, or craft, or scrapbook or cook fancy entrees with no recipe.

So that’s why Hedgie is on Graceful today. The kids and I made him for Brad on Father’s Day.

He was delicious.

And very well-behaved.

I'm linking up [late!] with Jenny's Alphabe-Thursday. The letter is W! Click over to check out her fun blog and lots of other W posts.


Glow Stick Gratitude

glow stick Pictures, Images and PhotosMy five-year-old, Rowan, and I had enjoyed a full day together: a morning at the zoo, followed by a picnic in the park and a stop at Target, where I'd picked up two tubes of glow sticks in the dollar section – one for Rowan and one for his older brother, Noah.

At bedtime that night Rowan suddenly gripped my wrist and pleaded for more glow sticks to bend into necklaces and bracelets. As I explained patiently that we would save the rest for the next evening, Rowan grabbed the tube out of my hand, tore off the lid and dumped the contents across his bed, scattering them like luminescent pick-up sticks. Then he picked up a handful of glow sticks, held them in his fist above his head for dramatic effect and proclaimed emphatically, "I bet you let Noah have all his! My whole life is so hard!" Then he crumpled into howling tears.

I'm over at High Calling Blogs today...will you join me there for the rest of the story?

Image: photobucket.


Overnight Guest

Recently my friend Sarah’s daughter stayed with us for two days. I’m going to state this honestly, without fear of offending Sarah, because good friend that she is, she knows me oh-so-well: I did not look forward to the experience. Not because I don’t love Laini – I do – or because Laini’s not a great kid – she is – but because the visit interfered with my finely orchestrated life. It was different; it strayed from the routine. Laini’s visit required that I step out of the box, shake up the system a bit.

I said yes because I genuinely wanted to help my friend Sarah, who had to travel out of town for a conference. I said yes because I love Sarah and her daughter. I said yes because I knew Sarah would do the same for me, without a moment’s hesitation. I said yes out of love, sure, but also out of a sense of duty and responsibility.

What’s funny is that in saying an obligatory yes, I was the beneficiary in so many unexpected ways.

I'm over at Make a Difference to One today. Meet me there to hear how the sleepover party turned out...


Tilling Soil

Yesterday’s reading was Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23, the familiar parable about good soil. I love this one because, as my pastor pointed out, it’s the only parable that Jesus actually explains. It’s like Parables for Dummies – which is perfect for me.

So…here’s the gist. When Jesus sows the seed – God's word – it lands one of four places: on the footpath, where it’s never heard and is eaten by birds; on shallow soil, where it grows into tender plants that later wilt in the sun; among thorns, where it’s choked by thistles and weeds; and on fertile soil, where it grows to produce a crop that’s 30, 60 and even 100 times more productive.

As I listened to the reading and the sermon, I wondered about the soil of my heart. Is it hard? Shallow and rocky? Thorny? Or richly tilled?

I choose E – all of the above.

For many years my heart was stone-cold metal. I doubted God existed. I didn’t bother to listen for his voice. I completely barred him from my life. During this long, barren time my husband, Brad, was the tiller of my heart, despite the fact that I didn’t offer any signs of softening. He married me knowing my conflicted beliefs, and slowly, gently, he encouraged conversation about God. It took more than 14 years of persistent tilling for me to engage in that conversation.

Even as a believer, though, my heart grows steely cold. Just last week, for instance, when I wanted to walk out of church, refusing to hear the message of forgiveness, I intentionally hardened my heart to God’s word. Only circumstances (tact, really) prohibited me from fleeing church. Thankfully, as I sat through the reading, hymns and sermon, my heart gradually opened to receive God again.

Most often I’m shallow, rocky soil. I have excellent intentions – I listen to God and receive his message with joy, all gung-ho and inspired in the pew – but then drop it when life presents a challenge. That’s me – I embrace a Biblical lesson with abandon at the outset, only to grow bored with it after the initial excitement wears off, when following Jesus becomes hard work.

Most recently the seed has fallen onto thorny soil, choked by other responsibilities and “more important” concerns of daily life. About two months ago I launched a morning Bible study. I vowed to rise early, before the boys got up, to read and reflect on a Bible verse. I started with Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and the plan proceeded splendidly. As I filled my suitcase for vacation, I tucked in my Bible, knowing I would have more time for reading without my household responsibilities.

You know what I did every morning on vacation? Slept as late as possible.

And you know what I did when we got home? Continued to sleep in every morning. After less than two months, I let my morning Bible study slide and replaced it with sleep and Internet trolling. Not exactly a spiritual swap.

Periodically the seed does fall upon good soil. But as my pastor noted, good soil bears fruit – the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – and a simple glance at this list tells me all I need to know. My heart requires continuous tilling.

The fields are large and dusty, furrows long, tools rusty. Sometimes it feels like an impossibly long row, unfurling endlessly to the horizon.

It’s a good thing God’s got a hand on the hoe.

How's your heart-soil these days? Hard? Shallow? Weedy? Fertile? Or perhaps, like mine, all of the above?


Sundays are for Washing Cars

We washed cars, my dad and I. That’s what we did.

My dad washed their two cars each weekend that the thermometer inched past 42 degrees, year-round – still does. And I don't mean that he runs them through the car wash, oh no no no. Are you kidding me? That would leave water spots! No, Buzz washes the two cars himself, by hand, in the driveway. Not just a quick spray-down, mind you, but a ritualized process that he refers to as “pasteurizing, homogenizing and sanitizing.”

After the preliminary rinse, soap-down and final rinse comes "detailing." The tires, antenna, windshield wipers and hood grill are wiped down with towels, as if the car is a Preakness-winning thoroughbred itself, and then the entire interior, including air vents, cup holders, trunk and engine, is vacuumed meticulously with the shop-vac. I've even seen Buzz vacuum the inside of the glove compartment. All interior surfaces are then sprayed with Windex and wiped vigorously with a fresh set of towels – the steering wheel and horn are given extra attention. The neighbors always know when my dad cleans the horn.

As a kid my job was to scrub the whitewall tires. Remember those? The tires with the strip of white rubber encircling the circumference? I used an SOS pad and a stiff wire brush, crouching on my knees, the damp driveway crawling with earthworms, steam rising off the hot pavement as I scrubbed, rinsed and wiped, scrubbed, rinsed and wiped. Occasionally Papa brought his car over for a wash. My heart sank when I saw his Bonneville lumber up the driveway, knowing it meant four more whitewalls.

Even thought the whitewalls were the bane of my existence, I cherished the time spent with my dad. We didn’t talk much. Often he’d slip an eight-track of the Modern Jazz Quartet or Stan Getz into the car player, turn the volume loud, and we’d wash side-by-side, my dad whistling as he wiped Rorschach water spots from the hood.

I don’t know that I truly appreciated the value of the carwash time when I was a kid, but now that I’m a parent myself, I see the experience with fresh eyes. This is what comprises real life, I think now – this car washing, laundry folding, vegetable chopping, Windexing. Sure the goalposts are important – the trips to Disney World, the birthday celebrations, the baptisms and graduations – but this everyday extraordinary ordinary makes a lasting mark, too.

As a parent I don't know for sure what my kids will recall when they are my age. It might be the goalpost moments, sure – but it might be rocks in the washer, Windexing windows, swinging on the hammock, perching at the window. Every moment counts.

Now my dad creates new rituals with his grandkids – tractor rides over grass shorn short, filling the feeder full of nutty seeds, tinkering in cool basement.

I watch from the deck as mower thrums toward the orchard, little one on lap. And I remember the car washing. Morning sun drying driveway puddles, jazz thumping in my ears, the ease of simply being with my dad. 

Thanks, Dad, for the extraordinary ordinary. Happy Father’s Day. Love you lots.

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”  Henri Nouwen


Summer Sky

To see the summer sky
Is poetry, though never in a book it lie-
True poems flee
Emily Dickinson

I saw this Emily Dickinson poem on a blog this week [and I can't for the life of me remember where!], and I immediately thought of this photograph, taken last week in Jon and Janice's backyard. I simply tipped my head back, glimpsed this awesome sky, and snapped. Those clouds, that light...truly God's fingerprints, don't you think?

Linking up with Fingerprint Friday over at Beki's place.


Like a Good Neighbor...

I sit on the top step of her front porch and lean against the column, bare feet on cool cement. We don’t talk about anything in particular, my neighbor Karna and I. The weather, what’s happening at work, the sale on tortilla chips at SuperSaver. We watch the kids blow dandelion fluff, wisps floating in slanting sunlight. We comment on the female cardinal darting toward the feeder.

This is my community, these humble bungalows, these tilting front porches, these kind neighbors, this place where people come together.

Don’t get me wrong; sometimes I yearn for a fancier neighborhood, an expansive lawn, three stories on a cul-de-sac. I want a master suite, bathroom with jetted tub, twin pedestal sinks side by side. I envy the gourmet kitchen with the six-burner Viking stove and the walk-in closet that dwarfs my two bathrooms combined.

But then, just when I might consider a move across town to a bigger house with an attached garage, I remember this community of friends and neighbors who love and serve one another, who care for one another in small, simple ways.

Karna feeds Reddy, our scarlet beta, and waters potted pansies while we’re away. She captures swallowtail caterpillars in mason jars for the kids, and together they observe crysallis dissolve into delicate wings. She and John bring down zip-lock bags of ice, salt, milk and sugar and knead it soft. We sit on the back patio and spoon cream cool and grainy, vanilla rich.

The boys sprawl on the sidewalk to stroke Oliver’s orange fur and receive sloppy kisses from Archie the fluffy husky, their surrogate pets.

We double the recipe and slide another loaf into hot oven for George, two houses up, because we know he loves banana bread.

Marge next door dashes Noah off to school at the last second when I’m stricken with a stomach bug. “No problem at all,” she says, sliding bare feet into flip-flops as I scurry indoors, hand clutching abdomen.

We host a soup and bread supper; everyone brings a dish.

This neighborhood’s not fancy. Simple bungalows, more than a few in need of fresh paint, line the oak-shaded street. But then, it’s so much more. A community in every sense of the word.

“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them,” said Jesus. I think about the truth in these words, of the many communities that weave the fabric of my life – and how I see God in each of them.

These neighbors...and a Bible study group that encourages and accepts my questions. And the co-worker who listens empathetically. And the third-grade class parents who bear crockpots of stew and pans of brownies on parent-teacher conference night.

In this age of slapdash tweeting and emailing, texting and phoning on the run, fragmented conversation and connection, community is more important than ever.

It’s so easy in the midst of our frenetic pace to let these connections stagnate, to think, “Oh, I’ll just email her from work tomorrow,” or “Next month will be better.” But connection is critical for the soul. I know. I feel it every time I sit for a spell on Karna’s front step.

Who are your communities? And how do you find time to nurture them?

*Photo of my neighbor Marge's front porch.


Stumbling Stone

A tree limb lay across the path.

As I rounded the corner I saw several fallen branches, probably strewn across the path during the thunderstorm the night before. A cyclist was headed toward the obstruction from the opposite direction, and the two of us slowed to a stop and together removed the debris from the trail.

“Can you believe how many people must have gone right around this morning and just left this here?” the cyclist asked, shaking his head in disbelief. I nodded in agreement, my "it's a shame" face, and then we went on our way, he riding, me jogging.

I got to thinking, though, as I huffed down the path: Would I have stopped to toss the branches aside, had there been no one there to witness my action? Would I have let the next traveler deal with the inconvenience? What motivated me to stop and pitch in? Was it an intrinsic desire to help…or was it simply the mere presence of another human on the path?

The tree branch reminded me of another incident that had taken place more than two decades ago. I’d been traveling by bus to New York City, and as I sat hunched in the front row seat, the bus parked at a stop, I glanced out the vast windshield to glimpse a tottering elderly woman walking feebly with a cane. As she stepped one foot off the curb she teetered, listed precariously to one side, and then fell from view, her body straight like a falling ponderosa pine.

I didn’t see her hit the ground, but I knew as I sat in my seat that the old woman lay in the street in front of the bus.

And I did nothing. I shrank further into the worn upholstery, tipped my chin toward my chest, and I sat.

Twenty seconds passed. I eased a few inches out of my chair and saw the bus driver, who had dashed into the ticket station for a cup of coffee, helping the elderly lady to her feet, one hand gingerly lifting fragile elbow.

Why hadn’t I helped the elderly woman? Why had I done nothing? I can’t tell you for sure, but I suspect part of the reason was because I didn’t have to, that I wasn’t obligated to help because not a soul would know if I didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong; I felt terrible about my inaction. But within seconds I was able to justify my lack of compassion by blaming the woman herself. “It’s her own fault,” I remember fuming to myself. “Why is she even out here if she can’t even walk? If she can’t even cross a street by herself?”

I let myself off the hook.

So as I jogged away from the cyclist and the branches last week, I asked myself this question: Did I stop to help clean the path because I wanted to or because I felt I should? And would I have stopped had I been alone on that path?

Honestly, I suspect that I would have kept running. I’m guessing I would have leapt over the limb and moved on, bent on accomplishing my own agenda and ignorant and careless of what problems the branches might pose for someone else.

So…you’re probably thinking that I haven’t learned a thing in the two decades since I let the old woman sprawl helpless in front of the bus. But you’re wrong. I may not make the right decision each time I’m faced with the question of whether to serve or not, but I don’t let myself off the hook when I fail.

Or rather, Jesus doesn’t let me off the hook.

Whether or not I would have moved the tree branches had I been alone on the path is a moot point. The fact is, Jesus prompts me to think hard about my actions and inactions, no matter which path I choose. Sure, it’s best if listen to and heed Jesus in the moment, but I’m not discounting the fact that he stays with me even after a wrong decision has been made, for better or worse.

I thought about that tree limb, my “stumbling stone” (Romans 9:32) for a long time last week – long enough to know that next time Jesus places an opportunity to serve in my path, I won’t look the other way.

My stumbling stone was a tree limb that made me think twice about how Jesus is asking me to serve and obey. Have you ever come across a stumbling stone in your path?


By the Lake in the Woods

It's clear why natives call it God’s country, this land of ten thousand lakes. I can certainly see that truth from April through October at least (but I think I could live without Minnesota's frigid winter fury).

Last week when I mentioned my respite I didn’t say we’d be hitting the road to spend a few days with Brad’s family in Minneapolis and at their cabin on the North Shore of Lake Superior. [You know, just protecting my home from all you Christian burglars out there, waiting to ransack the place the moment we backed down the driveway!]

Needless to say we’re back, refreshed with a full week of summer already under our belts, and I thought I’d share a few highlights as part of Emily's Tuesdays Unwrapped. Oh so many moments to unwrap in one short week.

Catching shimmering bronze sunnies one after the other at dock’s end, light lavender on clouds suspended over still lake.

Old-fashioned, timeless fun: tossing rocks, bouncing skippers off boulders with satisfying clack. Smooth, flat stones racing like water bugs across rippling surface.

Emerald canopy, thigh-high ferns, delicate slipper nestled in dew. Wispy birch, dancing-leaf aspens, scarlet-stemmed ash.

Crackling, snapping campfire, flaming sweetness. Sizzling brats, juicy crisp on a stick.

Giantess lake, angry waves soothed to gentle hush.

Brushing fingers to light lace. Meandering quiet paths.

Ten thousand lakes...ten thousand blessings divine.

tuesdays unwrapped at cats


The Forgiven

So let’s start by saying Sunday morning was not good. Just back from a week-long trip to Minnesota, the laundry loomed ferociously; the van needed to be de-garbage-ified; I’d stayed up until midnight watching a movie on TNT; and 147 emails clogged my in-box (one of which was a rejection of an article I’d submitted earlier in the month).

Adding to my angst, the kids would not for the life of me listen. As I relentlessly repeated commands four and five times each – “Put on your church clothes! Brush your teeth! Find your sandals! Get in the car!” – I was mercilessly ignored.

My skin prickled. Heat pounded through limbs. My pulse raced and neck tendons bulged. I began to mutter unprintable thoughts under my breath. And then I yelled. And yelled. And yelled.

In short, I blew my stack. Blew it to smithereens, in fact.

As I cranked the reeking mini-van into reverse and screeched out the driveway, I shot over the curb with a bumper-wrenching bang. “Take it easy, honey,” Brad suggested softly.

And then I heard Rowan whisper meekly from the back seat: “Sorry, Mommy.”

I ignored him. Didn’t even glance in his direction.

Two seconds later, slightly louder: “Sorry, Mommy.”

Again, I responded with icy silence. Icicles dangled from the van ceiling.

A minute passed. I gripped the steering wheel, knuckles white, and glanced over my shoulder, fury boiling: “That’s fine, Rowan. But you know what, sorry doesn’t cut it. Listening to me is what I want. Listening to me is what cuts it. I’m done with sorry.”

That’s right. I refused to accept my five-year-old’s contrite apology. I refused to forgive my son for the egregious sin of not listening.

Surprise, surprise – as I settled into the pew, black cloud of putrid fury hanging over my head – I discovered the reading and sermon for the day would be on forgiveness. Does God not have impeccable timing?

I almost walked out. I kid you not. I told Brad later that I’d knotted myself into such a tangle of anger and bitterness, when I saw that the reading was a parable on forgiveness my first reaction wasn’t repentance or even acquiescence, but disgust. Just as I had refused to acknowledge Rowan’s apology, I barred God entrance. I refused to admit God into my brokenness. I refused to admit I was broken.

It took a while for the message to permeate my roiling darkness – half the worship service, at least. But penetrate it did. As I listened to the parable on the unforgiving slave I saw myself reflected in the slave's hardened heart, in his inability to forgive the one who owed him and in his determination to hold a grudge. When his fellow slave “fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me…’” (Matthew 18:29) the man – the one who had just been forgiven by his own master – refused.

And as Rowan pleaded with me to forgive him for his poor listening, I had refused. I was unforgiving.

But not unforgiven.

Later, after we’d gotten home from church, the roles reversed – I apologized to the boys, both for my anger and impatience, and for my refusal to acknowledge Rowan’s earlier apology. And you know what they did? They accepted it and moved on – no questions asked; no lectures on my suckbag mothering; no stony silence or bitter grudges.

On Sunday Matthew, Noah and Rowan taught this mother two much-needed lessons – the first in how to apologize and the second in how to forgive.

And God himself taught me the third: that I’m forgiven. No matter what.

Forgiveness is hard – how do you get beyond roiling anger and resentment to true forgiveness?
Image: Heart-shaped rock in Lake Superior.


Sundays are for Sharing Poles and Smiles

Just back from our trip to Minnesota where we visited Brad's family and had a total blast. I am rested and rejuvinated, which is a good thing, since I'm buried beneath 14 million loads of laundry, to say nothing of the lakeshore rocks we trundled home with us!

So for now I'll share this one shot of Rowan and his cousin Hope, who shared a fishing pole and many giggles as shadows grew long and the sun dipped toward lapping water.

What's better than catching shimmering sunfish on a summer eve? Not a thing if you ask these two. And I would have to agree.



My sister calls it her “daily well.” Maybe it’s a StoryCorps vignette caught on the radio; or perhaps a scene glimpsed through the windshield as her car speeds down the highway, but Jeanine claims that she’s moved to tears – or at least inclined to well up – nearly every day. Me? I’m not a crier. I go for weeks without shedding a tear.

Recently, though, I experienced the elusive daily well. And it happened in the Walgreen’s check-out line.

I’d dashed out of the house literally in the midst of dinner, half-eaten bison burger still warm on my plate, to make it to Walgreen’s before the pharmacy closed. I scurried to the pick-up window with three minutes to spare, but as I waited in the check-out line, I grew impatient, thinking of my dinner, lettuce now surely limp, fries soggy.

The man in front of me moved glacially slow, unloading his saltines and Kleenex and box of business-size envelopes from the basket, chatting with the cashier, wrangling wallet out of back pocket. He picked through the pile of change in his palm, then spread nickels, dimes and pennies on the counter, pushing each coin toward the register as he counted exact change.

I shifted from foot to foot and refrained from harrumphing.

Finally the man gathered his purchases, bid farewell to the cashier and turned toward the door, shuffling slowly.

Then he stopped. He stopped directly in my path. I couldn’t slide around his bulk; I couldn’t get to the door, back to my burger and fries. I moved once to the right, once to the left, and then stopped, stymied.

I peered around his shoulder, annoyed, and saw that he'd extended a hand toward another old man who inched toward him, leaning heavily on a wooden cane.

“Seriously? We’re going to stop right here, right in the middle of the check-out lane for a little chat?” I thought to myself, fuming. “Take it outside, boys. Let the rest of us move on with our lives.”

And then, because I didn’t have anything else to do, boxed behind two elderly men, I looked more closely. I listened. I watched.

“World War II?” the man inching toward the other asked, squinting at cap brim decorated with pins.

“Korea,” the other answered. “You?”

The two men reached each other, finally. Wrinkled flesh firmly pumped wrinkled flesh; aged hands clapped stooped backs. Standing together, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, they grinned. They grinned like best friends.

One leaning on the shoulder of the other, they shuffled together off to the side and stood next to the Cover Girl lipstick display, still smiling. And I stood behind, transfixed. Two minutes earlier I’d been hell-bent on pushing past, and now I couldn’t tear my eyes from these two men, two strangers who had served in two separate wars. I watched as they spoke to one another like old friends, connected through life, connected through death.

I’m realizing this more and more lately, this connection, this human experience. Truthfully, I’m not sure what it means exactly, except that it seems to speak of love – of serving and caring, compassion and empathy, gratitude and joy.

It seems to speak of connection, oneness, with God and each other.

Eyes welling, I stepped through the sliding doors and into the Walgreen’s parking lot and glanced over my shoulder once more. Through the glass I glimpsed both men chuckling as one gesticulated wildly with worn hand, crooked fingers, swollen knuckles.

I suspect the two men stood in front of the Walgreen’s lipstick rack a good long while. And even though I drove away, back to my cold burger and squishy fries, they stayed with me a long while, too.

What about you? Are you a daily weller or an infrequent crier? And what's prompted you to think about human connections lately?

Linking up with The Rusted Chain for Fingerprint Friday. 


Holy Moses: A Repost

Have you ever looked closely at some of the Bible’s main characters, the people we’ve been taught to emulate and admire? Most of them have one thing in common: they are flawed.

We all know Adam and Eve are a complete disaster, but what about Moses? You know, the story of the baby abandoned in a papyrus basket, the baby who grows into the brave and faithful man who communicates God’s word, his Ten Commandments, to the people. We know him; we’re all familiar with his story. But do you recall what Moses says to God when he’s instructed to tell the Israelites he will lead them out of Egypt? Here’s Moses’ response to God’s command:

O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue…O Lord, please send someone else to do it (Exodus 4:10-13).

Moses is trying to bail out on God! He’s saying to God, “No way, Jose! You know me, God, I can’t string together a complete sentence! I am not the man for this job.” He practically begs God to let him off the hook (for the record, God, hugely irritated, does let Moses’ brother, Aaron, be the conveyer of the message). We never seem to recall this part of the story, the part in which Moses loses courage and beseeches God to choose someone else.

Then there’s Jacob, another of the Bible’s heroes. In Hebrew, the name Jacob means “he deceives,” so we know right away that Jacob will have issues…and deceive he does. He tricks his older brother, Esau, and his father, Isaac (with the help of his deceptive mother, Rebekah, Jacob drapes animal fur all over his body so that his blind father will think he is speaking to Esau, the hairier son) in order to gain the birthright. Then later, when Jacob encounters God on the banks of the Jordan River, he wrestles with him. Can you even imagine the scene: Jacob pinning God in a headlock and the two of them rolling around on the ground like Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant? The fact that God lets Jacob wrestle with him is even more mystifying.

I could go on and on. There’s King David…he commits adultery and then arranges to have his mistress’ husband killed. Even Peter, the founder of the church, fails on a number of occasions: when he tries to walk on water, he loses faith and starts to sink; and later, of course, he denies Jesus.

I find all these stories of human failure reassuring, because they tell me one thing for sure: that God chooses us despite of our faults, in spite of our flaws. God knows full well that we are deeply flawed individuals, yet he chooses us anyway. He knows I’m a waffler, a questioner, a doubter, a person with a whole backpack full of issues, yet he sticks with me and gives me chance
after chance after chance.

I think that’s one of God’s best qualities.


Medieval Help Desk

Topics have run a bit serious around here in recent weeks, so I thought I'd inject a dose of frivolity into the discussion. Brad had me watch this YouTube video, and I admit, it made me laugh. First of all I'm thinking this must be similar to the reaction the Help Desk personnel at my workplace have when they see my name light up on their phone:

"Hey Al, you wanna grab this one? It's that lady from third floor again..." You know, the one who refers to her desktop icons as "those thingys."

I'm also wondering if God doesn't feel a bit like this, too, when it comes to my understanding of faith: "Man, she's a slow one."

Anyway, I hope you think this quirky little video is as amusing as I do.


The Mezuzah

Yesterday Noah and I made a Mezuzah in his Sunday school class. Not to be confused with Methuselah or Missoula (I had conflated theology and geography for a while and was alternately mispronouncing Mezuzah both ways), a Mezuzah is a small case containing the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the verses that begin:

“You shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

Devout Jews display the Mezuzah on their doorposts, taking literally the command in Deuteronomy to “write [the words] on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Since we were studying the Ten Commandments in Noah’s class, it was fitting that we create a Mezuzah of our own.

Noah was pretty excited about it. "Do you think my Mezuzah will make God happy?" he asked on the drive home. "Absolutely," I answered, "especially if it reminds you to love God whenever you look at it."

I was excited, too – I loved this whole Mezuzah concept, and couldn’t wait to get home so I could help Noah stick it to his bedroom doorframe. But Noah had other plans.

"I’m going to put it next to my succulent collection,” he informed me, "because besides God, I love my succulents the most. "

"Oh, no no no, honey, that's not where a Mezuzah is supposed to go; the Bible says doorpost, sweetie, not plant stand." I argued with Noah, insisting that he stick with tradition, but he would have none of it. Finally I acquiesced, and later I saw Noah’s Mezuzah affixed to the stool, right below his favorite jade plant.

Later, when I thought about all this, I realized that Noah had been right. Of course he should place his Mezuzah next to his most treasured possession. His choice made perfect sense. While my house is my most valuable possession, Noah’s succulent collection is his. The plants Noah painstakingly and lovingly cares for, the spot Noah spends the most time, the place he most often likes to show guests, is the perfect place for Noah to honor God.

So why was I trying to live vicariously through Noah’s Mezuzah? What was stopping me from affixing my own Mezuzah to the doorpost of my home? After all, it’s not that unusual to display a plaque inscribed with a blessing or a prayer on the living room wall or even on the outside of your home.

But my discussion with Noah made me realize that I wasn’t willing to do that; that I was too self-conscious to proclaim my faith so blatantly; that I was afraid of what the mailman or the Avon lady might think. I didn’t want to be one of “those people” – the person who quotes Scripture and slaps the “My boss is a Jewish carpenter” bumper sticker on the fender.

It’s going to take a while for me to shake my preconceived notions of who Christians are, how they are “supposed to” act, what they are “supposed to” say. It’s going to take a while for me to get comfortable in my Christian skin. But glancing at Noah’s Mezuzah displayed proudly on his succulent stand may help me get there after all.

A repost from August 2009.


Recipe for Respite

R-E-S-P-I-T-E, find out what it means to me!

Okay, I know it’s a corny play on poor Aretha, but my point still stands: I need a bit of respite! I’ve been burning the candle at both ends these last few weeks, and I feel like all that’s left of me is a gloppy, melted, waxy nub.

So…school’s out around here, and we’re kicking off summer with a bang. Doing a little sightseeing, a lot of much-needed family time, and much less computer time. I have a couple fresh thoughts to post, but mostly I’ll re-post from the archives this week. The good news is that since I had a single loyal reader back in August when I first started blogging (thank you, Brad!), these posts will be new to you.

I probably won’t be bopping around to visit my blogger pals in the next week or so, but I’ll get back to your places in a bit.

Hasta la vista, baby!

All material and photographs copyrighted Michelle DeRusha 2012

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