continuity

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How is this only Tuesday?

That question probably clues you in to the kind of week I am having. Oh man. It’s not been a bad week by any stretch of the imagination. Just full. A very full week. More conversations and experiences and emotions have been poured into the last few days than I thought possible.

This weekend I was privileged and grateful to run another half marathon with my dad. The man has turned into a running machine, yet still refuses to leave my side during these races. Once more, I’ve sworn it will be my last…though I admit the itch has already started to resurface. (Shhhh. Don’t tell dad.) I love spending time with my parents and the continuity of time I feel when I am with them. They’ve known me my whole life (thank you, Captain Obvious), and I love the stories they share that connect my current existence with life in 1985, and 1996, and 2001, and last week. I love feeling rooted to my parents, a feeling of deep belonging.

Continuity is a strange animal. Some peoples’ lives seem to be comprised of neat and tidy chapters; mine is delineated by the continent on which I resided at any given point in time. Mine feels less like cohesive chapters and more like a random assortment of childhood collections. There are my stickers, and here are some rocks, and I kept some coins around here somewhere. They all fit in a box, but they don’t really go together.

When I’m with my parents, that doesn’t seem true anymore. They witnessed most of the non-chapters of my life and recall the funny mishaps, new friendships, and minute details that made up life in its every stage. They bring a common thread to all of my experiences.

This is one of those days in which continuity seems so important. You could name almost any date in the past 27 years and I would have no clue where I was, but I know precisely where I was when I heard the news about 9/11. And every year it feels like yesterday.

A friend shared this link, and I can’t help but pass it on. I love Jon Stewart even as I occasionally cringe at his “nothing is sacred” sense of humor. But this episode, his first following 9/11, is poetry and beauty and feeling. I have so many thoughts on his “I grieve but do not despair” comment…but this post is long enough already.

To be continued.

it’s not even a competition.

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It’s a grey, wet Sunday evening in the Chicago suburbs. Somewhere close, someone’s gutter is overflowing, sounding strangely similar to the beloved creek outside my high school bedroom. The roommates are out doing something that probably involves watching football (is this even football season?), and I’m keeping company with music, tea, and a little N.T. Wright.

This week I spent three days “work nesting” as I added lamps and bookshelves and decorations to my new office. The first two days with my students were pretty much wonderful. I am grateful beyond words for everything about this job.

In the midst of it all I have continued to think about and be reminded of God’s love for me, sometimes in very odd ways. The other week, I watched my first ever episode of The Bachelorette. (Let’s ignore this.) (Seriously, I really don’t want to talk about it.) (Okay, fine. I was just so stinking curious.) It was what I can only describe as a train wreck: so gruesome that I couldn’t look away. Before I knew it I had watched three episodes! It’s like I lost all control! For those of you who care, it was the season with Emily. She’s a sugary sweet, beyond gorgeous, ridiculously skinny blonde from the South, and she’s wanting True Love. Anyway, she’s on this date with some personal trainer (I swear they’re all personal trainers), and they’re talking, and she says to him, “I really don’t want this to be a competition.” Um, really? You’re on The Bachelorette. And to the guy’s credit, he says, “Well, this is kind of a competition.” (Needless to say, she didn’t pick him.)

It’s such a crazy show. Several dozen men are vying for the attention and love of a single woman. The poor guys have no idea what she really thinks about them or how she feels about them in relation to the others. And it stands in such stark contrast with one of my favorite excerpts from Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved: “It is impossible to compete for God’s love. God’s love is a love that includes all people . . . It is only when we have claimed our own place in God’s love that we can experience this all-embracing, non-comparing love and feel safe.”

It is impossible to compete for God’s love. We create so many competitions in life: with coworkers, with classmates, with siblings, with that friend who seems to have it all together or that neighbor with the perfect front yard, or basically every girl whose body type or sense of fashion makes me think I should change something about myself. Competition is everywhere. Competition is normal.

And competition is insidious. It creeps into every section of my heart, convincing me that I must somehow compete and perform for God’s love, too, that I’ve got to earn the status of The Beloved. It is fueled by insecurity and sustained by guilt. And it’s exhausting.

And you know what? It’s not even a competition. God has loved me with an everlasting love, and has drawn me with unfailing kindness (Jer. 31:3). He loved me first (1 John 4:19). His love is so wide and long and high and deep that it surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:18-19), and I can’t be separated from this love by anything in the world (Rom. 8:39).

I know it’s super weird to get all that from an episode of The Bachelorette. Thanks for humoring me, and I promise it won’t happen again. May my poorly drawn comparisons leave you with one more little reminder that you are so, so loved.

this is not how it should be.

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I just returned home from another hospital call. This has been such a crazy month, receiving hospital and hotline calls almost every time I am on call. (For those of you who don’t know, I volunteer as a rape crisis counselor, which involves answering hotline phone calls* or going to emergency rooms when new clients arrive.) This is not the appropriate venue in which to process this or any other call. I love this work. I am privileged to be part of this. And yet the suffering is so incredible. The pain is so deep. I know it may seem like Christianity 101, but I still wrestle with reconciling the goodness of God and the brokenness of the world. There are days when the edge of the hospital bed from which I am trying to give comfort feels more real than everything I learned in Bible classes growing up.

AND YET. And yet. I have lately been learning so much about the love of God. Not a nebulous, theoretical concept of love, but the real, constant, freeing love that God has for me, and for you. And it’s all nice and good to experience that love in the quiet safety of my living room, with a journal in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Those are moments when I know God’s love as gentle and intimate. But on days like today, God’s love becomes strong, unflinching in the face of the forces trying to wreck our lives and steal our joy. I believe God loves us so much that he cries and grieves for the pain we endure. I admit that I wish he would swoop in and save us from experiencing that pain in the first place. I don’t understand some things. But I am grateful for his sustaining love, and one day maybe I will understand more fully.

This song has gotten me through some very tough moments, including parts of today. It’s a quiet plea to God from a man who lost his daughter. It’s an acknowledgment of things we don’t understand. And it’s a reminder that there is still hope. And I hope it encourages you today.

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*Have you or someone you loved experienced sexual assault? There are so many places to which you can go for help (if you feel like you’re ready for that). If you want more information on resources, please let me know! This was not your fault. And there is hope.

we could build a good thing here, too.

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There is some music in this world that grips my heart and leaves me breathless. Much of Josh Garrels’s newest album, Love & War & The Sea In Between, is classified in this category of being gut-wrenching. (And he is so great that you can actually download part of the album for FREE from his website. Oh yeahhhhh.)

His song “Bread & Wine” has been especially meaningful in my life. It’s a vision of how I hope to be one day.

“Bread & Wine” by Josh Garrels

I was wrong, everybody needs someone, to hold on
Take my hand, I’ve been a lonesome man, took a while to understand

There’s some things we can’t live without,
A man’s so prone to doubt,
Faithful are the wounds from friends.
So give it just a little time,
Share some bread and wine
Weave your heart into mine,
My friend

Walls fall down, where there’s a peaceful sound, lonely souls hang around
Don’t be shy, there’s nothing left to hide, come on let’s talk a while

Of the places we left behind,
No longer yours and mine
But we could build a good thing here too
So give it just a little time,
Share bread and wine
Weave your heart into mine

If I fall, I fall alone, but you can help to bear the load
A threefold chord is hard to break
All I have I give to you if you will share your sorrows too,
Then joy will be the crown upon our heads
My friend

being the beloved

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Have you ever tricked yourself into thinking that the next season of life will be calmer than the present? I am one of those people who almost always feels like she is on the edge of control, barely juggling life’s many responsibilities, always longing for that barely-out-of-reach state of Having It All Together.

Case in point: summer “break.” I was sure that life after graduate school would be a breeze. Wrong. Between working three jobs, looking for full-time work, and trying to enjoy the pleasures of a summer in Chicago, there were rarely enough hours in a day. Surely life would assume a more gentle pattern post summer school? I guess it was my own fault that I traveled far and wide for two weeks straight, always moving, moving. There’s a danger in such busyness, and I found myself succumbing to the mental and spiritual numbness allowed by my crazy calendar. And to be honest, I think the last time my calendar wasn’t crazy was…a long time ago.

So it was a hidden grace that I was brought to a complete stop this week by sickness. Unable to continue attacking my omnipresent to-do list, I finally settled down to read, and think, and be. Things that are remarkably uncomfortable when they haven’t been practiced in a while.

And it was again hidden grace that a book I ordered arrived just in time for this forced season of rest. I am already halfway through Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved, and getting this book is one of those events showing that God works in all things. I love even the title of this book. It’s not Life of the Good Social Worker or Life of the Vibrant Church Member or Life of the [insert a role you play], all great things, but all implying activity and doing. Life of the Beloved is about being loved, and even then it’s secondarily about me loving others and primarily about me being loved by Someone who is totally outside of myself, whose love is not conditional or dependent on me, whose love is everlasting and whole. That kind of love frees me from my expectations of myself, from my to-do lists, from the desire to numb myself to the areas where I think I’ve failed.

Anyway, I hope I get to share some things I’m learning from this book at some point in time. No promises, since I’m not adding things to my to-do list right now. For now, I hope you are encouraged to spend some time today knowing you are beloved by God.