Tuesday, March 27, 2012

extra super holy

Something about spring just makes me want to dance, albeit a very embarrassing and awkward dance since I have no rhythm, but that has never stopped me before.  The sunshine is like crack to my weary soul, and I can't seem to get enough.  I finally feel like my soul is shedding some of the heaviness it carried this winter, and the relief, not to mention the joy, is staggeringly intoxicating.  I keep finding new parts of myself, like I'm digging through my stocking at Christmas pulling out things I hadn't noticed before, and some days I flat out wonder if I've been the victim of an alien invasion.

point in case.

I love Quinn's Bible.  A few months ago I upgraded him to The Jesus Storybook Bible, and one of my favorite things is how it refers to the pharisees as "extra super holy people" who forget that nothing we do brings us closer to God.  So many aspects of my life reveal that I have long been a closet "extra super holy person," but one of them is particularly striking. I have spent most of my life being a lousy vacationer.  I am too good to enjoy a vacation because really extra super holy people don't need vacations.  I may go on a missions trip every now and then, but I certainly don't have fun or relax.  And yes, I'm mocking of myself there.

A few years ago Emmett was doing a men's leadership study at church and had to read a biography over the summer.  He chose a biography of Oswald Chambers and asked me to read it with him.  One of my favorite aspects of our marriage was that it was like having a built in book club because we always shared books and discussed.  Have I mentioned that I love being a nerd?  While the book was great, the only thing I really remember was being scandalously shocked that the book off-handedly mentioned that Chambers and his wife would take time every now and then to escape and get away, and the book said this as if it were normal and good.  I mean, I thought if anyone was extra super holy, then it would be Oswald Chambers. Sheesh! What a let down.

And then sometime in January I had this mad desire to go on a cruise.  That was the first clue my body had been taken over by aliens.  There is nothing more scandalously frivolous to an extra super holy person than a cruise.  So the alien in me signed up for one and roped some amazing friends into going with me.  For weeks the extra super holy me has been chastising the alien me for being frivolous.  So the compromise between my personalities was to travel with a very large book and the intention of not having any fun.

But I went last week.  And I had fun.  The extra super holy me is very shocked and ashamed.

And the more I thought about it, the more I remembered one of the first stories in Quinn's Bible about Adam and Eve.  His Bible paraphrases the lie of the serpent to be that God does not want us to be happy, that he doesn't love us.  The Jesus Storybook Bible goes on to trace how this particular lie reinvents itself throughout scripture.  And I am only beginning to realize how deeply I believe this lie that God does not want me to be happy.

It may be strange to say that despite the soul crushing grief of the last nine months, I have simultaneously been able to experience a deep, abiding joy.  And embarking on a frivolous adventure with dear friends was like shouting to the serpent, "I will not believe your lies."  And it felt good, not because I particularly love cruising, but because I'm beginning to meet the person God has created me to be, and dare I admit that person might be awesome?  I'm not sure the extra super holy part of me is ready to admit that just yet.

Don't get me wrong, here.  The extra super holy me is right about one thing.  It isn't the cruise that is important.  No material thing or extravagant experience can bring my joy, but neither can extreme discipline and seriousness ever earn me a joy I do not deserve.  There is, however, a joy in the freedom that comes from walking in the Spirit of God that empowers me to see the lies of Satan in my life and say, "Get behind me!"
And for me, last week, it was a cruise.  More on getting eaten by a shark, falling overboard, and embarrassing myself onstage to come.  If you're lucky.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Nothing makes me tremble with fear and hide under a desk like having dental work done.  When I went in for my emergency c-section with our first child and was told I might not make it through, I thought, "huh, well here goes nothing, Lord."  When I just thought I might possibly need a root canal a couple years ago (turned out to be a lingering sinus infection, oddly enough), I cried like a baby for over an hour.  My most dreaded recurring nightmare is that chewing gum gets stuck in my teeth and trying to extract it pulls all my teeth out.

When I was pretty certain that I needed that root canal, I had to prepare myself for over a month before going to the dentist.  Now this fear has nothing to do with my amazing dentist or my new friend at the endodontist.  It is a purely irrational fear that began as a child because no matter how much I brushed and flossed, I seemed to always have a cavity.  Seriously, if I were a horse, no one would buy me.  Good thing I'm not a horse.  And good thing I don't live a couple centuries ago, or I'd already have a mouth full of wooden teeth.  Yikes!

After Quinn being sick, getting my first root canal, and speaking in chapel this week I already feel completely drained.  Add the typical end of quarter flurry of deadlines and suddenly motivated students, and not only did I hit snooze twice this morning, I spent at least ten solid minutes whining under the covers.  I was even smugly satisfied with the dreary weather, thinking to myself, "ha! take that world!" as if I had any meaningful say in today's weather.

I departed my normal quiet time routine and spent time in the Psalms and reading prayers from The Valley of Vision.  It was good to meditate on my need of Christ and my complete unworthiness this morning, not because I was already moody but because I needed to be grounded in truth - but not the cold truth of theology.  I needed the warm living truth of prayer, supplication, and praise.  I don't need a routine or an agenda or an extra shot of espresso, just heaps and heaps and heaps of grace to cultivate an unhurried and unflustered heart.

Recently I remembered an old German philosopher I read in college who said something to the effect of, "we keep ourselves so busy because if we stopped, we would realize that we're standing on nothing."  I think I've quoted him before, but I'm beginning to notice that the state of my heart, not the state of my life is more important.  A flustered heart that is not centered on Christ leads me to create drama where it does not exist, to exaggerate offenses, and magnify self.  And I could do a lot of that this week (see the intro to this post as an example).  

I think it was in his book Seeds of Contemplation that Thomas Merton spoke about cultivating a contemplative spirit, even in the midst of a busy life.  Such a person has a heart receptive to God's spirit, no matter what the external circumstances look like.  Knowing how quickly my own heart falls into sin and despair when I get out of routine or focus on the work that needs to be done around me, I find that one of my new prayers is to develop a heart capable of stillness in the midst of stress, both real and imaginary.