Monday, February 8, 2016

clear

I had a college moment this weekend, you know the times where you had so much work to do that you suddenly had an overwhelming desire to clean you room. Yep. That was my weekend. And, wow, my house was clean, and I mean spotless, but only for about twelve whole seconds because I do have an eight-year-old boy.

The cleaning frenzy was a desperate attempt to clear my head. William Zinsser in his book On Writing Well, says, "Clear thinking becomes clear writing: one can't exist without the other." Writing is usually how I clear my head, but I've started a dozen blogs without being able to write more than a few sentences.

I've been suffering the past few months from 3 AM anxiety attacks. I don't usually feel anxious, but for some reason my body has been waking up around 3 AM nearly every morning in a physical state of panic; heart racing, tightness in my chest, out of breath... Often I wake up anxious for a student, and those mornings don't really bother me. I just pray until my alarm goes off. Sometimes though, it's a bit ridiculous. Back in November I had one of these panic attacks because I had noticed Quinn's leopard gecko was looking a little off, and I wasn't sure if he was shedding or dying. I had a panic attack about a leopard gecko. I feel like that's a new low, even for me. The gecko was just shedding and completely fine by the way.

Around the time of the gecko panic attack, someone pointed out that as a teacher I probably have upwards of three to four dozen interactions a day that require some kind of emotional processing. A lab group dynamic I don't like, a difficult conversation that needs to happen, an email I need to write, a student that needs correction, a curriculum quandary - all of these can happen in one day before most people have even had breakfast. And if teaching and coaching a hundred hormonal teenagers isn't providing enough fodder, there's always at least a dozen or so parenting failures to process. It would seem that I already have enough material to wake me up early for the rest of my life.

I was reading through Daniel last week, and in response to the unpleasant vision of chapter 8, he says, "And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days. Then I rose and went about the king's business, but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it."

I sat with that verse for a minute. Then a day. Then a week.

I have a hard time admitting that sometimes the knowledge of God, that his presence in my life is exactly what makes me heartsick. The news of refugees or trafficked women, the heartbreak of a student, my own sin... So much of this world - of my own heart, even - leaves me sick and appalled and awake at unreasonable hours of the morning because I know the one who has the power to fix these things and he has not yet done so. I am appalled by my own capacity for sin. Hearing about the evil in the world makes me physically nauseous. I deeply grieve the pain that my students inflict on each other.  I know that after writing about my anxiety I may be assaulted by a barrage of well meaning people armed with random verses implying that if I really had faith, I wouldn't wake up at 3 AM, but somehow I know they are wrong.

I am deeply grateful that God has not given me the appalling visions like he gave Daniel. Instead he has given me this life, my students, and this world, breaking my heart for each of these things. But he has also called me to get up and go about his business with my sick heart and weak knees and poor understanding. So I go forward without clear understanding, but perhaps with a little more faith.

A citrus grove in Belize




Sunday, January 10, 2016

take care


Unfortunately becoming a better speller did not make my son's list of new year's resolutions, but the rest of these are pretty amazing. Apparently he is reliving my childhood angst of not being able to whistle, a skill I couldn't master until college.

 My notes for this year's advent devotional started with an excerpt from Jeremiah 3: 6-11:

The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the Lord.” And the Lord said to me, “Faithless Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. (ESV)
Israel forsook the Lord to worship other gods, playing the part of prostitute, yet it is treacherous Judah, who is called out here for making only a show of holiness while her heart was still black with sin. I was hoping to explore the theme of holiness in the book of Hebrews this year, but this passage made me tremble with the weight of that task. All throughout Deuteronomy, the Lord warns the Israelites to take care to do this or take care to do that. All of these thoughts are echoed in Hebrews 3:12, "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God."

Take care...

The words come to me when I wake up in the morning, when I lie down at night, when I talk to Quinn, and I am convicted of my lack of intentionality about most of the relationships in my life. Then comes chapter 11 of Hebrews with descriptions amazing faith, a particularly discouraging passage to read for those of us convicted of our lack of faith.  But this year I found myself unusually comforted after reading it a little differently. Abraham? Oh yeah, that was the guy who was so afraid of foreign kings that he pretended his wife was his sister. And Sarah? Yeah, she laughed in disbelief when she was told she would conceive. And then there's that liar Jacob, the braggart Joseph, the fearful Moses, the prostitute Rahab... These are my kind of people. I can hang with some broken, ugly sinners longing for a better country.

This is my season for cultivating longing. I pray that I would become more intentional in my relationships. I pray that I would take care to do and not do whatever the Holy Spirit presses upon me. But most of all I pray to cultivate a heart of longing that, despite the inevitable detours into sin, always presses on towards that new and better country.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

a better country

There is something wonderful about swimming laps. Perhaps it is the rare quiet in my head from the complete concentration required to count to twelve over and over. It always amazes me how difficult it is to count past four laps with any sort of accuracy. I also now know why experienced swimmers drown. About five minutes into my swim tonight I cramped so severely, I thought perhaps my appendix had just ruptured or an alien was about to burst out of my right side. I managed not to completely panic, though, and within a dozen or so laps I was no longer imagining what everyone would say at my funeral about my tragic death by explosion in a pool.

About the time I hit the fourth lap of my third set and lost count again, it occurred to me that these last couple months I have felt that same cramp in my spirit. The thing about physical pain that intense is how much it collapses your world into a desperate struggle for escape. But when the pain is in your spirit, when it is caused by the thorn God has chosen not to remove, it becomes the wellspring of all kinds of temptation.

And I'd like to give a beautiful testimony of God's power being made perfect in my weakness, but I'm still waiting for him on that. There is darkness and pain and temptation and many prayers for deliverance that as yet remain unanswered. This is the place where my faith looks more like trying not to drown from the cramp/alien in my abdomen and less like a Disney princess frolicking with woodland creatures. It is the ugly faith on wandering in deserts with unanswered prayers.

For a number of years, my advent devotional has simply been to read the book of Hebrews, so tonight I skipped ahead to chapter 11, and I let verse 16 soak in:
But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.
Amen and amen.

The song below, off of Andrew Peterson's latest album, has been my anthem these past few days as I've waited in the darkness, not yet having received what is promised. Yet I know the light will come and I will one day stand at the burning edge of dawn, in the city of the living God, at the borders of a better country and know that I am home.

The Dark before the Dawn
Andrew Peterson

I've been waiting for the sun
To come blazing up out of the night like a bullet from a gun
Till every shadow is scattered, every dragon's on the run
Oh, I believe, I believe that the light is gonna come
And this is the dark, this is the dark before the dawn

I've been waiting for some peace
To come raining out of the heavens on these war-torn fields
All creation is aching for the sons of God to be revealed
Oh, I believe, I believe that the victory is sealed
The serpent struck but it was crushed beneath His heel

Oh, I know the wind can bring the lightning
Oh, I know the lightning brings the rain
Oh, I know the storm can be so frightening
But that same wind is gonna blow that storm away
Blow that storm away

Lord, I'm waiting for a change
I'm waiting for Your change

So I'm waiting for the King
To come galloping out of the clouds while the angel armies sing
He's gonna gather His people in the shadow of His wings
And I'm gonna raise my voice with the song of the redeemed
'Cause all this darkness is a small and passing thing

This is the storm, this is the storm
The storm before the calm
This is the pain, the pain before the balm
This is the cold, the cold
It's the cold before the warm
These are the tears, the tears before the song
This is the dark
Sometimes all I see is this darkness
Well, can't you feel the darkness
This is the dark before the dawn

I'm just waiting for a change
Change
Lord, I'm waiting for the change

I had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
And I could see the fields of glory
I could hear the sower's song
I had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
And all that rain had washed me clean
All the sorrow was gone
I had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
And I could finally believe
The king had loved me all along
I had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
I saw the sower in the silver mist

And He was calling me home

Friday, November 27, 2015

better than alcohol


"Mom, this is better than alcohol," were Quinn's exact words to me as he sleepily put down a copy of The Martian that my parents left at my house a few weeks ago.

Um.... You're gong to need to explain that comment, Quinn. Apparently he meant that "alcohol makes you tired and your brain not work well," and this book does that even better. Just as a disclaimer, this little fact about alcohol was not from his vast personal experience, but apparently his brain internalized that particular detail from a recent conversation we had on alcohol and its various uses and abuses.

As Quinn implied above in his Thanksgiving letter, I almost always answer his questions (unless I'm angry, apparently), but clearly I don't always communicate those answers well. It doesn't help that he always asks really hard questions. There was that time when he was four and asked me during breakfast how babies were made. He left that conversation thinking he was pregnant. Then there was the explanation of why we don't use artificial sweeteners, and he told his preschool teacher that he couldn't eat the yogurt because it would kill him. But the most awkward one ever was when he loudly proclaimed to the lady buying lunchables in the grocery store that she was going to get cancer, which was his version of my answer to why I won't buy him lunchables. So it was enlightening to discover what he internalized from our recent conversation on alcohol.

Not being familiar with The Martian, I didn't think much about Quinn reading it until I realized he was half way through it and the pages were filled with cuss words. After willing myself not to overreact, we had what I thought was a great discussion on cussing, why some people do it, and why we do not. I have yet to find out what little nugget he stored away from that conversation, but I'm sure it will be lovely.

Sometimes Quinn will decide that he has better answers than I do, like when he asked me about how to reconcile dinosaurs with the Adam and Eve story. Now, really, I should know better than to start an explanation to an eight year old boy with, "Well, that's an interesting question with a number of viable answers..." This time at least he just cut me off and told me how he thought it happened, which of course made no sense. I have an extensive history of losing arguments to the stubbornness of small children because apparently my explanations are deeply unsatisfying to small children. For example Quinn at the age of three, after hearing my explanation for what caused burping, insisted that pirates in your stomach were a much more reasonable cause of burps and would entertain no other explanations. I have finally learned to just say, "oh that's interesting," and then move on.

I've been reading in Jeremiah this month, and one of the recurring complaints against the people of Judah is not just their rebellion and worship of other Gods, but that they return to God in pretense only. In Jeremiah 3, God even claims that Judah is worse than faithless Israel because they go and play the whore with other gods while simultaneously pretending to have faith in the Lord. The people expect blessing without the cumbersome burdens of repentance, faith, and obedience. They will even offer sacrifices, as long as they aren't too costly.

That is beginning to sound a little too much like my heart. I find myself tempted to distill the beautifully complicated truth of salvation into a generic transactional formula that doesn't require anything so messy as sanctification. Surely heaven forbids I be made uncomfortable or forced to sacrifice my illusions of safety. Surely carrying Jesus's cross was a metaphor for something warm and fuzzy and easy that makes me feel good. Surely that command to do good to the refugee and orphan and poor did not mean I should make myself uncomfortable to do so.

Consider God's words from Jeremiah 17: 9-10
The heart is deceitful above all things,
    and desperately sick;
    who can understand it?
“I the Lord search the heart
    and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
    according to the fruit of his deeds.”
How can I be so aware of the deceitfulness of my heart at one moment and so ignorant of it the next? I stand amazed at how pitifully I digest the word of the Lord, distilling its meaning into half truths shaped by the deceitfulness of my own heart.
Then the word of the Lord came to me:  “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.
It takes the Lord to give me a new heart capable of knowing him and to returning to him.  I pondered that mystery as I ran yesterday through the neighborhood in which I grew up. Without constant vigilance my brain will slip back into the half-truths and false promises that are comfortable and safe. Living with this new heart, this whole heart, is an answer that I can't quite focus on because my mind won't quite fit around it. It's a question that makes my brain tired and not work very well, so in that sense I guess Quinn would qualify it as "better than alcohol."