There’s a lot of shouting these days. Also marching, crying, worrying, reflecting, considering, thinking, wondering, praying, celebrating, spewing, planning, mourning, hating, hoping – all kinds of “ing” going on in the heads and hearts of people, “ing” from every hidden nook and cranny of the emotional landscape.
I’m processing the previous months’ events and all the current “ing” privately. There’s much I could say, but there’s far more that I need to hear, contemplate, and think on.
In the meantime, I find great reason to hope – and the reason lies far outside the realm of most of the current rhetoric.
It lies – to be precise – in the back of my church where on Sunday morning, a group of dads were wearing their babies. The picture’s a bit fuzzy, I know – maybe because it’s not often that a dad wearing a baby snaps a selfie with other dads also wearing babies. It’s not the standard fare of Virtual Stardom. Nor does it jive with the current discursive landscape.
Notice they are all smiling –
Gracious, it surely does make my heart sing, my soul hope, my spirit rejoice, my mind relax, and my face break into a grin.
Dads in the back with their babies – not just with their babies, but wearing their babies. That’s an “ing” I’m going to dance about all week long. That’s an “ing” I’m all for.
[Coda: We closed the Sunday service reciting the well-known prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, everyone holding hands, across the seats and across the aisles – a room of people who assuredly have different views about all the recent “ing”s. We did it with full hearts, deep trust, abiding hope, and utter faith in the Father of us all, who not only made us and knows us but also wears us tightly bound to his chest. Even when all seems not well, all that matters is very well indeed. Amen.]
[I wrote the below post exactly four years ago, which happened to be “the morning after” rather than “election eve.” Even so, the point remains important: that we are not merely tally pinpricks on an electoral map, who may seriously doubt the value of our single vote, but rather we are Imago Dei pinpricks within an infinite cosmos, who can be assured of our present and eternal value. The final voting percentages listed below may be off from this years, but the truthful premise is not.]
Wednesday, 7 November, 2012:
I’m not a political activist, pundit, or powerhouse. That’s why after voting yesterday, I wrote that the precious freedom to vote is of less significance than the precious truth that we are human.
This morning, 51.5% of voters are euphoric (to varying degrees) and 48.5% are despondent (on various levels) based solely on their personal answer to this single question:
Who did you vote for?
Several hours ago, the political map of our country looked like this:
For entirely non-political reasons, I hate this map. Everything about it screams division and dissent. The non-United States of America.
I prefer this map:
A person has to really scrunch up their eyes to pinpoint “my” place. The color scheme has an artistic air about it. The division lines are faint, more like the marks on a master blueprint than the “cut” lines on a butcher diagram.
This map is even better:
This one is better yet:
And this is the best of all:
I vote because I can. Because I have been given that right. Because voting matters – on a temporal level, that is.
But I am not a pinpoint on a blue/red electoral map, defined primarily by my political leanings or judged by my voting record.
I am, rather, a pinpoint in a vast, immeasurable universe. I breathe because I live. I have been granted that miracle. Pinpoints matter – in spite of their smallness – solely because they are defined by their imago Dei and judged by undeserved grace.
The real question (for today) is not Who did you vote for?
The real question (for beyond days) is Who do you live for?
There are only three hours left of 9/11 here in Indiana, and there in New York, and there at the Pentagon, and also there in Pennsylvania.
Except for those who were present, or whose loved ones were lost, I suspect that most of the remembering is over for today and this year.
Remembering is an exhausting task. In a world where we hear and know about a million lives beyond our own, how much remembering can a single person handle?
And yet remembering is vital to our survival – not primarily our bodily survival, but our inner soul survival.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a remembering God.
“Remember when I brought you out of Egypt. Remember when I comforted your sorrow. Remember when I called you my own. Remember when I calmed your distress. Remember when I met your needs. Remember these words of mine.”
The incarnate Lord Jesus Christ is a remembering God.
“Eat this bread. Drink this cup. Do this in remembrance of me.”
He tells us to remember. Over and over and over again.
Just as importantly, He listens as we lament and ask Him to remember. Over and over and over again.
“Remember your compassion and unfailing love. Remember your covenant promises. Remember me, LORD.”
Remembering what happened on 9/11 is important and significant to each of us in different ways and degrees. We must not forget.
But it is infinitely more important that we remember God’s love (lavished on us), God’s majesty (visible in creation), God’s forgiveness (available because of the cross), God’s grace (shared with His children), and a thousand other things flowing from the heart of God.
Remembering is a discipline. Remembering takes practice. Remembering takes patience.
Regardless of the circumstances, like the Psalmist we can (and must) say:
I suffer. I ache. I cry. I weep. I break.
But I remember….
And because we remember, we can live. Regardless. In the midst of the darkness. Today and tomorrow. The joy, hope, grace, and peace that come from remembering are there for all; we can drink their sweetness – today, tomorrow, forever – straight from the heart of the God who himself remembers.
[15 years ago – before the blogging era – I was a newspaper columnist. My original thoughts, written while I watched the events of 9/11 unfold on my television, can be read here.]
(Addendum: Last night, after posting this blog from within the wooded glens of southern Indiana, I was directed to this by Shauna Niequist. She wrote about Evan Jager in her first book, Cold Tangerines, in a chapter called “The Track Star”. I grew up just a mile or so from where Willow Creek Community started, in an old movie theater. Yesterday, the Willow Creek family watched Evan’s race on The Really Large Screen at their current location – because that’s what family does: they gather to watch their own run and jump as he competes in the steeplechase. Gracious, life is sometimes just over-the-top joyful and awesome and exciting and stunning, is it not?)
Last week, I wrote here about David Boudia and Steele Johnson winning silver at the Olympics. Shortly afterwards, a woman I’d never met left a kind and gracious comment on my Facebook page. She is Cathy Jager, mother to Evan Jager.
It turns out that Evan Jager competes in the steeplechase. He is a steeplechaser (can it be a predicate noun?). An Olympic steeplechaser, to be precise. In other words, he runs and jumps on land and through water really, really fast without falling or tripping over himself, which is what happens to me if I try to run even just through the backyard or jump even just from my relaxed reading position to an upright alert posture.
I am not much of a mover or shaker or runner or jumper, let alone a steeplechaser.
Steeplechasing (can it be a gerund subject?) doesn’t get a lot of air time. Nor does it get a lot of press time. We Americans are all Olympic-gaga about gymnastics and beach volleyball and swimming and diving. The related stories, interviews, and video clips are everywhere.
But this morning, when Evan Jager was running in the final 3,000-meter steeplechase, I was driving through the state of Indiana, and I could not find a single radio station that talked about the running and the jumping on the land and through the water. Not one. Politics, country music, and other white noise. But no steeplechasing.
And this afternoon, when I finally re-entered the world of wifi, I had to search and dig for a story about the race because, apparently, steeplechasing news isn’t headline news (which might be part of what’s wrong with the world today).
But at last, I found this story (and there have been many more since then, which is gratifying and encouraging and, well, just right) which reported on how Evan Jager had steeplechased (can it be a past perfect verb?) and announced his silver medal.
I don’t know Evan Jager, but I would like to say “bravo” and “thank you” to him because of this:
Because when asked about his performance, he said, “I think I had the perfect race today. I was just enjoying every second of it.” Notice that he didn’t say he was perfect, and notice that he didn’t diminish his excellent and stunning race even though he did not cross the line first. He raced well. He raced great. He raced awesomely. And he enjoyed doing it. He worked hard – very, very hard – and found it enjoyable, i.e. joyful. Hello, world. Pay attention.
Because when asked by an interviewer if his silver medal felt like a gold medal (since the US Olympic steeplechase history [can it be a descriptive modifier?] isn’t exactly storied), Jager said, “No. It feels like silver, but I’m totally OK with silver.” Our world is big on telling everyone they are gold-medal-winner-worthy, and that anything less is unacceptable and not worth celebrating. But that’s ridiculous. Only one person crosses the line first. And that’s OK.
We are not all gold-medal-winner-worthy. Most of us are immeasurably far from being legitimate contenders or players or performers or participants in much of what life has to offer. There are countless things I cannot do at all, let alone do them well, and no amount of “I’m-amazing-I’m-awesome-I’m-fantastic-I’m-worthy” mirror-self-talk-fiddle-faddle will change that. I still cannot sing, dance, build a house, paint a picture, weld a joint, plumb a drain, construct a quilt, train a horse, do a lay-up, teach shop class, drop a water ski, do impeccable accounting, and a thousand other things.
And that’s OK. My value as a person, your value as a person, our value as people is not found in whether we win gold or not.
It is found in this only: that the breathtaking God who created the breathtaking universe looks at each one of us – (who were designed to be breathtaking but have screwed that up in so many ways) – and says, “You take my breath away.”
Evan Jager ran the steeplechase today. He was fast. He was fantastic. He was fabulous. He had a blast doing it. He enjoyed himself. He won a silver medal.
And that is so very, very OK. That is amazing. And all of us non-running non-jumping non-fast non-steeplechasing people (can it be a negative gerund adjective?) should cheer him on because working hard with joy is something to celebrate over and over and over again.
The Olympics – when we all become insanely interested in sports we know nothing about (and until this week possibly cared nothing about), scream wildly at our screens for people we’ve only just heard about (though we now consider them to be close friends), and cry uncontrollably for human interest stories awash in emotions on steroids (metaphorically, of course).
Tonight, David Boudia and Steele Johnson won a silver medal for the US of A when they leapt backwards off a 10-meter platform, did a couple-and-a-half somersaulty things while also doing a couple-and-a-half twisty things at the same time, and then hit the water at the same time, at the same angle, making the same amount of non-splash.
I have a difficult time walking the length of my house without tripping over something or other, so everything Olympian is a mystery to me. But it seemed to be just another day at the office for Boudia and Johnson.
I don’t know David or Steele personally, but I would like to say “thank you” to them. Not because they represent my state (Indiana) and school (Purdue) with class. Not because they proudly wear the red, white, and blue. Not because they are bringing home silver for my country.
I want to say “thank you” to David and Steele because of this:
because when asked about their performance and medal, they didn’t turn their faith into a commercialized soundbite, point to the sky and say, “All glory to God for giving us this win” – as though God cared about them more than any of the other divers;
because when asked about their dives and scores, they didn’t imply that God pulled a rabbit out of a hat with a voila! hey, presto! surprise! you win!, but rather acknowledged the amount of hard work it takes to become an Olympic champion and credited each other with mutual challenging and pushing towards the prize;
because – and please don’t miss this because it matters immensely – when asked about their apparent sense of competitive yet calm confidence, they said this: they said that their identity does not lie in being a diver, or an Olympian, or a champion, but rather their identity lies in Christ – and that will never change, regardless of how they perform or score.
That’s it. No talk about how God has especially blessed them, or given them great victory over others, or shown them special favor. No talk about their own spiritual vauntedness. No talk reducing God to a winning-coach, prize-giver, or rewards-center. Instead, just a statement of everyday eternal truth:
the identity of those who follow Jesus is grounded in the fact that they are in Christ and Christ is in them.
Nothing else in life falls into its correct place aside from this foundational truth.
Whether we are a teacher, welder, merchant, musician, pastor, coach, banker, doctor, mentor, nurse, therapist, driver, doctor, artist, or diver, our identity is in Christ.
I rather doubt the statements from David Boudia and Steele Johnson will be repeated and replayed in the Olympic news coverage. They weren’t flashy or controversial enough.
No bother. We can – and must – repeat and replay them for ourselves. Daily. Hourly. Always.
We are His. We are His.
What else matters but that?
But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12, NLT)
But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him. (I Corinthians 6:17, NLT)
All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. (I Corinthians 12:27, NLT)
See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! (I John 3:1, NLT)
I suppose that on this day, and last week, and next week, and all throughout this summer, tens of thousands of people will at some point go home from having worked and served at camp.
Substitute “mission trip” or “service project” for “camp” and add tens of thousands more to the tally.
Re-entry into real life for campers can be tricky to navigate – metaphorically speaking, anyway. Thanks to Siri and smart phones, it’s been ages since I’ve heard of anyone actually getting lost going to or leaving from camp, which is a good thing, but also has eliminated some of the camp adventure factor. I’m nostalgic about the lack of atlases on long road trips.
But re-entry for camp workers and servers is often even trickier to navigate, for at least several reasons: we were at camp for a long time; we lived in a large community of fellow workers/servers; we are going home to a family that doesn’t understand or buy into similar beliefs and motivations; we face challenges and difficulties at home that will make ‘living out my faith’ less normative and less, well, let’s say ‘glamorous’ for lack of a better term.
Working at camp and serving campers is a thousand times more exciting, motivating, and satisfying than being at home and serving family, friends, and neighbors.
For one thing, there is always music playing in the background.Loudly. (Unless it’s time for reflection, in which case it’s perfectly subdued.)
For another, there is a large cadre of fellow workers/servers to carry you forward, pump you up, and cheer you on. (And sometimes one who gets under your skin and you secretly wish would decide to give up, throw in the towel, call it quits, and get on out of there.)
Throw in some daily devos, adventurous movie-set-ish surroundings, and some regular one-on-one mentoring from a cool and winsome young adult (or a formerly cool, winsome-ish older adult), and it’s easy to see why the thought of ‘going home’ doesn’t always lead to a song and dance.
But home is real. Home is where life happens. Home is where Jesus is, lives, and waits to walk through life with us. Home is sacred. Home is real. Home is blessed (even when it’s not). Home is where the biggest miracles of all happen.
Home is where we are challenged and learn to do the most difficult things of all.
Yes, getting up at 6:00 a.m. every morning to cook for 5oo people is challenging and difficult. But learning to be gracious and kind, every single morning regardless of how early or late it is, to the person in your family that regularly drives you to the edge of rationality — thatis a miracle of home.
Yes, learning to work as a unified group with 8 other distinct people (read: love some, could take or leave some, can’t stand some) every day for a month or a summer is challenging and difficult and requires you to ask for the Lord’s grace and patience each and every morning (for a month or a summer, that is). But learning to work and live as a unified group with however many other people are in your household or dorm for the rest of your time living there —that is a miracle of home.
Yes, pushing through the days when you are tired and frustrated and just want to give up or slow down or push off is challenging and difficult and requires you to dig deep down into your soul’s reserves of strength and commitment. But learning to push through the days when you are tired and frustrated with the everyday, mundane, boring, non-camp-ish, adventure-less (we think), pointless (we assume), blahblahblah (we snivel) details of life for the rest of your life — that is a miracle of home.
It’s not hard to be changed at camp. It happens all the time.
Being changed for life – that’s the point. That’s what God wants for us. That’s what Jesus does for us…if we are willing to surrender and serve and listen and obey when we get back home, just like we did when we were at camp.
Big things happen at camp. People are transformed. People meet Jesus. People fall in love with God. People work harder than they ever worked before.
But really big things happen at home. We learn to obey. We learn to listen. We learn to exercise patience. We learn to extend grace. We learn to love, deeply, truly, impossibly, faithfully, and without end.
Do not miss the miracles of home once you’ve left camp. If you do, you will also lose all the miracles of camp, and that would be a tragedy indeed.
They pulled out of camp this morning, all of those precious mamas and babies with their faithful and loving mentors.
Our hearts are full – full of joy for all those we met and loved; full of sadness for having to say goodbye; full of thanks for having been part of this amazing week; full of sorrow for the many young mamas and babies in this world who are not surrounded by a circle of loving and caring people; full of laughter for the fun and games and play we shared this week; full of tears for the broken world in which we live; full of hope because of Jesus.
We packed it all up today – all those highchairs and booster seats and pack-n-plays and swings and tricycles and changing pads and napping mats and carpets and blocks and sippy cups and dolls and trucks and playhouses and kiddie pools and blankets and toys and strollers.
It feels like just yesterday – and last year – that we were first staging the strollers for their arrival.
And already today we lined them up, washed them down, and stored them away for another year.
Those strollers rolled many miles this week, ’round and ’round the lake, up and down the walkways, back and forth across the halls.
We cleared off the clotheslines, which looked different than most other weeks at a Young Life camp what with all the tiny little bodies creeping, crawling, and toddling hereabouts.
We took our final walks through the silent prayer labyrinth of trees, soaking up the beauty of God’s creation, considering what He would speak to our hearts this week as we served – which was, in truth, a secondary task (such a difficult reality for those who “feel called to serve”) to hearing from and listening intently to His voice.
We waved goodbye (and sometimes…often…hugged and held and cradled and cooed and said, “Gracious, you are a beautiful creation of God, you and your mama both, indeed you are!) to the many faces and fingers and hearts we met and loved this week.
And we felt a little piece of our own hearts pull out of camp this morning with all those mamas and babies and mentors – because how could it be otherwise? When the Lord sends love and grace into a person’s life, how can we do anything but respond with surprise, wonder, and a breathtaking gasp of joy?
The Lord was here this week. And He did mighty things.
But the Lord is also on busses, and in vans, and in cars, and back home, and absolutely everywhere.
We would do well to remember this as we ourselves pull out of camp today and tonight and tomorrow. We were privileged enough to watch – and even be a very tiny small part of God’s big amazing work here this week. Like the disciples thousands of years ago, we were invited to distribute the abundance of his love and mercy to a hungry crowd. He did the work – we simply passed it around, as faithfully and lovingly as we know how.
And now, when the week is done, we – like the disciples thousands of year ago – have been instructed to get back in the boat and go back…back home, back to the other side, back to where we came from, back to work, back to school, back to responsibility, back to daily life.
This was a powerful and amazing week indeed… because God was here. Let’s not forget that God is also here and there and everywhere, and so our service and love and kindness and caring must continue long past the moment we pull away from this place.
Young Lives is a bright and brilliant reflection of God’s love, as so many other things are.
Thank you, childcare workers, for serving so well this week.
Thank you, mentors, for loving your girls and their babies for such long and faithful weeks, months, and years.
Thank you, work staff for pulling out all the stops during this final week of your assignment.
Thank you, camp staff, for once again laying the table for the rest of us to both feast at and serve from. It took everyone to make this week happen.
But it took only God to make it real and sacred.
Bless the Lord, oh my soul – and may He bless the mamas and babies, wherever they are right now.
It feels like a year has passed since the childcare workers first arrived and made nametags –
like months have passed since we first unloaded the storage closet –
and like weeks have passed since we first met mamas and babies.
Indeed, a week of Young Lives camp cannot be measured in real time. There are too many joys, too many tears, too much laughter, too much crying, too much playing, too much resting, and too much life to measure in days, hours, or minutes.
A week of Young Lives contains a lifetime of love, hope, friendship, and in the end, family.
The childcare workers (gracious, yes) do indeed fall in love with each and every baby, toddler, and child they care for – not as deeply in love as the mamas (gracious, no), but in love nonetheless.
There are countless circles of love here at Young Lives camp: mamas for the babies, babies for the mamas, mentors for the mamas, work staff for the campers, childcare workers for the babies, childcare workers for each other. Each circle is a community of belonging and a family of hope.
All of these circles matter deeply. It is not just the love for babies that carries the day here at Young Lives – though that love is glorious indeed.
But it is primarily – solely and only, in fact – God’s love for fallen, broken, sorry, and undeserving humanity (each and every one of us) that carries the day. His love is why we care. His love is why we have hope. His love is why we wake each day. His love is why we are here. His love is why we live.
They arrived today – cars and vans and busses of young mamas, babies, and mentors (who are women of courage, strength, and faith that none can describe fully or faithfully).
We are off and running, and the race is going to be exhilarating as these young women are introduced to love, grace, joy, and eternal reconciliation.
This week happens, in large part, because of things that are seen by only a few people, things that are astoundingly and breathtakingly beautiful –
things like moving over 100 strollers from under the rainy skies to under the dry porch to wait for their first passenger to arrive … sometimes the weather is drizzly, you see
things like stacking highchairs and patiently vacuuming a dining hall where 100 tinies and littles just ate dinner with their mamas … sometimes the food flies, you see
things like wiping down sticky booster chairs in which 50 toddlers just ate dinner with their mamas … sometimes the food spills, you see
things like holding a little for the very first time while her mama heads off for an evening of laughter, fun, and whimsical play … sometimes the littles need some encouragement, you see
things like letting a tiny snuggle in close so she can sleep peacefully, safely, and contentedly until her mama returns with a wide embrace … sometimes the tinies just need a safe and warm place, you see
things like comforting a little while he rests in a new place for the very first time … sometimes everyone needs a reassuring presence, you see.
These are the unseen things that make this week possible – these and a thousand others like them.
Our God is a God of grace, and He has surely filled this place and these people with grace unbounding. He has breathed Himself into this air and into these lives.
[*note: Young Lives is the a Young Life ministry for teen mothers]
This week in Michigan, in a little tiny corner of the world known as Timberwolf Lake, a group of people are getting ready for the arrival of 100-plus teen mamas … and their babies.
Yesterday, one little tiny spot in this little tiny corner of the world looked like this:
It’s a lovely place indeed, a place where many people hear the beautiful truth about Jesus Christ and God’s love.
But this week, it’s especially beautiful, because this week, it looks like this:
In one short day, this place – intended primarily for teenagers without babies – has been transformed into a place absolutely and perfectly and completely intended for teenagers with babies.
I wish I could describe the transformation. Pack-n-Plays, high-chairs, booster seats, napping cots, tricycles, bouncy chairs, swings, kiddie pools, blocks, toys, toys, toys, blankets, sheets, diapers, snacks, juice, rocking chairs, and so much more. It all must be unloaded, unpacked, sorted, washed, organized, and delivered to twelve – yes, twelve different nursery spaces.
But it’s always the strollers that get me – those colorful, joyful, inviting, ready-to-roll strollers. They are the first thing the mamas will see when they climb out of a car, van, or bus. The strollers, saying, “We are ready for you. We’ve been waiting for you. We welcome you. We love you.”
Those are powerful words for a young mama to hear.
But they are not the most important worlds they will hear this week. These are: you are loved by a God who is not just a father but also a mother, like –
an eagle who hovers over its young
a hen who gathers her chicks under her wings
a comforting mother
one who gives birth to the dew and the frost.
Most breathtaking of all, when in the very beginning God breathed the breath of life into humans and made them living creatures, he was like a mother, for that breath (neshamah) is derived from an older word nasham, a verb that means “to pant, especially of a woman in travail or labour.” It shows up in Isaiah 42:14 where the LORD, marching forth like a mighty hero, will say:
I have long been silent; yes, I have restrained myself. But now, like a woman in labor, I will cry and groan and pant.
The LORD – our father God – like a woman in labor.
Gracious. Mercy. Astounding.
This week, 100-plus young mamas are going to learn about that God – the God who loves them, the God who became human to demonstrate that love, the God who offers new life, the God who created all life, the God who breathes life into us, the God who hovers, gathers, comforts, and gives birth to all that is.
Bless the LORD, oh my soul, for being just exactly what and who each one of us needs.