Come to the Table

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I’ll never forget the first time I heard these words:

“Lord, you have called us to abundant life.”

We were at our small group leaders’ home in Towson, Maryland and my new friend Heather (who is now, 15? years later, the “friend of my right hand” – to quote Madeleine L’Engle) was praying for us. Just before beginning to pray she and I and our husband/boyfriend (Andy and I were not yet engaged!) had let out literal belly laughs as we’d remembered our time together the weekend before. The previous Saturday we had attended a fund raising party for a couple in our church that was adopting a child. This party was bananas. Wine and drinks flowed. Music bellowed throughout the beautiful home in northern Baltimore where the party hosts, also members of our church, lived. The food and drink: delicious and overflowing. We all paid $50 to attend in support of the adoption fund and just had a bonkers night on behalf of this wonderful couple that we all knew and loved who wanted to grow their family.

It was one of those nights that you think about for weeks afterwards and which Heather capped so perfectly through her prayer.

“Lord, our Father, you have called us to abundant life.”

Her prayer caused me to pause because after two dozen years in church I had never heard this before. If I had, it certainly hadn’t stuck. Abundant life? That sounds wonderful!

And this is allowed?

I wondered…and then I thought about our weekend. That party was abundant life, FOR SURE. If that’s what a life with the church and a life with the Lord is like, then count me in 10,000 times over and then some.

This is all coming to mind as Andy and I celebrate 10 years on our shared adventure of faith. Last weekend, August 17, was 10 years to the day that Andy packed up our Subaru in Baltimore and headed South to Galveston to start his PhD program. I would follow him a couple of months later after I finished up my duties at work.

Realizing the date over the course of this last week we determined to wake up super early on Saturday morning and have coffee together before our kids woke up, clamoring for breakfast. The past six months haven’t been the easiest as we’ve attended to a newborn and stretched our parenting muscles from one child to two. Lighting a candle in the backyard and enjoying a cup of coffee together while the sun rose was just the simple moment we needed to reflect on what has happened over the past decade and where we hope to go next.

The past ten years have not been easy. Nor, though, have they been utterly devastating. I suppose, if anything, its felt like we’ve been at the spiritual gym, gaining some spiritual resilience. Each of us have let go of things that we needed to loosen our grip on. Both of us have learned bit by bit to tune our hearts and our spirits to the Lord’s call. This process of discernment, we have learned, is almost always asking to be found underneath all the crap that we pile on top of it. Both of us have learned that we don’t have nearly as much control over where our journey will take us as we may have originally wanted.

But all of those lessons had us up at 6:00 AM on a Saturday morning sitting in our backyard (such that it is…picture a cement pad with a table and two chairs looking at neighboring apartments…URBAN LIVING, right?!), with two kids asleep in their room, a candle burning and some coffee…asking for more:

More career question marks that God figures out in his own perfect timing

More dinners with good friends that last far too late into the night

More gatherings around friends and their families at their weddings, where we lift them up in our hearts (and possibly in their chairs!) and remember our own commitments

Maybe, dare I say it, more gatherings around friends and family who are mourning, knowing that we’ll remember for weeks and years how we held vigil, singing for hours, until our beloved brother finally went home. More of this because we know its where we’re all headed. And more of this because it brings us to tears to this day as we think about it and remember, with awe, how a small band of people helped a widow and her family grieve in the most beautiful way we’ve ever seen.

More labor and delivery…of actual humans, sure, should the Lord lead…but also labor and delivery of long held dreams that we’d started to believe would never come to pass until suddenly its time to push and the angels rush the room to help us bring forth the life that we never knew we always wanted.

24 years in church and I never knew it could be like this. Or maybe it just took 24 years of hearing the same things over and over again until the penny finally dropped and we woke up to what those 24 years of inputs actually meant.

It means abundant life in partnership with the living God.

This is, frankly, where we landed on Saturday morning. We’re asking for ten (20, 30, 40?) more years of faithful partnership with each other. Faithful partnership with our kids. Faithful partnership with our church. Faithful partnership to A PLACE. Ultimately, despite our preferences, we want many more years of faithful partnership with the Holy Spirit who will provide the power and resources needed to make a beautiful story out of two people who can, in reality, be more prone to forget that God was the author and inventor of faithful partnerships from the outset.

Reader, can I be honest with you? Most of this stuff is not sexy. Lest I mislead you, be aware that even this powerful morning coffee date between Andy and I required some divine assistance to stay on course. But somehow, as the years pass and we loosen our fingers from things we once held with a death grip, we are finding that there’s room for the spirit of God to do his thing in our lives. And this is just so refreshing.

So, if you’re reading this and your skeptical I say to you simply this:

“Come to the table.”

The table of the Lord is where you’ll find the fine wine every time. You’ll have the best conversations here and you’ll be fed in ways you never imagined you could be fed. Eventually, maybe even 10 years from now, you’ll find that you’ve realized, you simply can’t fathom why you would ever have wanted to leave in the first place.

If you’re reading this and your question is: “Ok, but how?” that can be a longer discussion (so clearly we’ll need more wine!). I may address this in more detail in my next few posts, but I believe that it starts with a moment of humility. It starts in the quiet, just you and God, where you’re finally honest with him.  Tell him you don’t know how to find him. Tell him your fears. Tell him what you want. Ask him to show you how to proceed. Ask him to show himself to you in ways you can understand. Readers, I have never, EVER, prayed a prayer of humility and not found him unwilling to sit with me. Answers often come later than I’d like. But presence? This is literally the Holy Spirits job description. Which is ultimately what we all want in this life. To quote a favorite speaker of mine: “the Holy Spirit came to put an end to loneliness.” Yes, more of this please.

10 years ago I believed that God was good like I believed marriage, homeownership and a retirement plan were good. Today, I believe God is good and “for me” in such an ultimate way that anything else he gives me from this point forward is icing on the cake. I feel like I finally know the path I must take to be who I really am. What a fundamental shift. What a gift to loosen the grip on things that do not ultimately satisfy.

You can call me crazy. (Lord knows I often feel crazy.) But I will just never get over this good news. So come sit at the table with me. I am a hot mess most days wondering how we’re going to get all of the things done and who will help me to do it. The reality is that God’s already got the details covered and I’m supposed to keep my eyes on the man at the head of the table. He’s got scars on his hands but he’s not out of business. He’s preparing an epic feast and you’re going to want some of what he’s cooking up.

Poetry: Let’s Be Brave

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Let’s Be Brave

By: Courtney Beck

 

When Galileo considered the cosmos,

Did he panic?

Did his heart leap in his chest,

And his guts try to hide?

 

Or, for a minute, did he

Stammer, like the Establishment?

Furrowed brow, clenched fist

Insistent on a power only as strong,

As their beating hearts,

Now forgotten, in an abandoned cemetery,

Across the impossible sea.

 

And what about me?

I awake today, restless,

Awaiting a morning sun,

Whose rising I cannot hasten,

Nor stop.

 

I consider a sliver

Of the sunlit moon,

Curling my hands around

My morning coffee mug.

 

Inhaling the space between us

Where human bodies rest,

I wonder.

Are we impotent?

Possibly.

Microscopically vital?

Yes.

 

“Let’s be brave,” I whisper,

“Let’s have faith.”

“Let’s build a chapel on the moon.”

Newly Published

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Greetings all! A quick note here to share that I’ve got some new articles out at external publications. America magazine (the Jesuit publication of the Catholic church) picked up a piece I wrote about my time both at Loyola University and in the Protestant church.

Check it out here.

Fathom Magazine picks up pieces from writers who like to think deeply on aspects of life and faith and so they kindly published a poem I wrote.

Check it out here.

I’m currently considering what the Fall writing season will look like and hope to have more posts out here and elsewhere during that time. I am grateful for my small and growing community here who has been such an encouragement to keep putting words down as we build our physical family and community here in Atlanta.

Would love to hear from you directly to learn about what the Holy Spirit is (or isn’t!) doing in your life. If I can encourage you in anyway, do consider me an ally and a friend – and I will do the same with you. Also, if there’s something you’d like me to consider writing about I’d love to hear that too.

Until then, I leave you with my favorite picture and poem from summer vacation. Sunrise on the lake…which followed a late night meteor shower across the visible Milky Way. (Which was then followed by a really long nap!) We are rested here and ready for what Fall has in store. I hope you are too.

With love,

Courtney

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First Lesson
By: Philip Booth

Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

 

 

Going “All-In”

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Happy Summer, faithful readers. I hope you all are enjoying the season and getting some needed rest time. I hope this for you primarily because we have, for the most part, NOT been getting our needed rest. Such is the life with two tiny humans and we are rather matter of fact about it all. We know the sleeplessness won’t last forever and we’re fighting the good fight with as much joy as we know how. In the big picture, we know we are well.

Before Ethan was born, my mom told me often about the fact that one child plus another child, will feel like more than two. She is not wrong about this. HA! Sometimes it feels like the minute you get one child situated and asleep the other one has a problem and you could swear on a dear one’s grave that these two have coordinated a game of “keep them awake” tag until the morning sun comes up. Some days you throw in the towel on getting any quality sleep and slump down the stairs to make the strongest pot of coffee possible. I think the hardest part for me right now is never having a minute to just sit down with your own thoughts. I find this particularly problematic because my career of choice actually requires me to sit down with my own thoughts and write about them. In ways, I’d prefer, that make sense to an adult English speaking audience.

Since Ethan arrived, I’ve made the decision to go “all-in” as a working writer. I’ve felt a calling towards writing since college and I knew once he was born that if I didn’t really go for it with both feet I would always wonder. Of course, going “all-in” has some severe limitations in this season. With no income yet, I have to find cracks of time to write in and sometimes those cracks get swept away by a kid that can’t sleep. Honestly, I think more than anything, my decision to go for a writing career has been more of a decision to say “no” to a bunch of other good things I could do in spare time that might distract from the goal of pursuing my calling as a writer.

All of this had me returning to John chapter 5 last week to read the story of the healing at the pool of Bethesda. I swear this is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. A man who has been sick for 38 years is sitting by a pool of water that he hopes will heal him. Of course we could mock the man for thinking that water could save him but after 38 years I’m certain we’d all do the same. There’s not a one of us who would not turn over every last rock to try to find some relief after literal decades of suffering.

So here’s this man, wanting to get into a pool, and Jesus arrives to ask him a super direct question: “Do you want to be made well?”

I love the man’s response because it’s so relatable: “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Do you see whats happening here as clearly as I do? The man didn’t really answer Jesus’ question? Jesus asked him a simple question that would clarify his deep desire and the man responded with all the things that were getting in the way of a short-term and therefore short-sighted task: stepping into a pool that, we know, likely wouldn’t get him any closer to healing than anything else he had tried to date.

Jesus doesn’t waste any time. After 38 years, he knows this man needs Mercy with a capital “M”. So he doesn’t press him like he might other individuals he encounters. He tells him “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk!” and the man does only to throw the Jewish leaders into a tizzy, starting a fight about what is right or wrong to do on the Sabbath. (Side note: this is a very typical move for people with power who don’t partner with the Holy Spirit – they nit pick your every move, looking to discredit your wholeness. The best answer for these types of people after you are healed from a season of uncertainty is to just keep on walking with your mat under your armpit. LIKE A BOSS.) (additional side note: I’m getting so amped up as I write this. Did I mention that I love this story? Well, I just love it. And you should love it too.)

Clearly, I’m getting off track here. Let me just tell you that this story came to mind like a total grace bomb on a night last week when I felt like the ship was going down. We were at the height of our summer kiddo shenanigans last week when all four of us caught a summer cold. Andy and I felt awful and wanted nothing more than to curl up and go to sleep but instead found ourselves dealing with two kids who only managed to feel the real symptoms of their colds at night when they went to sleep. One night, I went into Ellie’s room and laid down next to her, my mind drifting anxiously to the commitment I’d made to write more in the coming months.  I found myself talking in my mind like the man in the story. “Every last brain cell I have, and probably some of my neighbor’s, is wrapped up in these kids right now.” “There’s just no time to write. Ever.” “Who even wants to write anyway? At this point I’d go for a week or two of sleep with a package of Sudafed and some throat lozenges.”

Then the pool of Bethesda came to mind, kind of out of nowhere. I recalled “Do you want to be made well?” which might as well be another version of my favorite question of all of Jesus’ questions: “What do you want?” I could feel my heart answer: “You know. I want to write beautiful things with you. I want these kids and this marriage and all the joys and difficulties that come with them.” All I can say is that the Holy Spirit responded in the same way he usually does. With the memory that the man who was sick for 38 years was cured followed by a peaceful and authoritative silence that felt like this:

“I already know, kiddo. Don’t stop answering my question. The fruit will roll out, bit by bit. And it will all be exactly what we’ve always wanted.”

Sigh.

I love God.

 

Going Deep

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About once every six weeks or so I come across a person asking the world how to best limit technology. It’s a common question these days. We’ve all had that experience where we sit down to check in on the world after a busy day and find ourselves, 90 minutes later, still chuckling at cat pictures on social media. I’ve never really known what to say when folks ask for tips. I’ve tried to limit social media in various ways. For me, social media platforms can be like having a bag of candy in my pocket. I consume it because its right there.

I don’t have any moral quandaries about social media use. I’m just wondering if it makes me slothful. After a time, it feels like consuming candy and its instant sugar surge as opposed to more edifying things for my mind and soul.

I recently read a book called Deep Work by Cal Newport. Newport is a business professor at Georgetown University. He’s also a young father and husband who wants to see his family at the end of the day. Ask any college professor and they will tell you that work/life balance is a hard target to hit in the field. Newport had to rearrange his work day in order to keep all the balls in the air. For him, the answer lies in long stretches of time working on important, hard to solve issues without the distraction of social media, email and even meetings with students. Newport has published four books in his short amount of time since completing graduate school and the only network tool he has used is a blog. It drives his publishers crazy but he’s making a great point. You can succeed and not get sucked in to the call for quicker and faster connection to your community. In the long run, you might even find yourself more fruitful.

I bring this up for two reasons. First, I finally feel like I have something substantive to say to people who ask for tips about tech use. I believe people are really asking this: How do I live well in a social media world? How do I contribute in a significant way to my family and workplace without getting sucked into this secondary world of people who are not actually present in my living room? My answer? I think you need long stretches of time when you shut the platforms down. I think you have to have faith that you won’t need to keep up with the current sarcasm trends to remain relevant. In fact, I’m starting to believe that people are so distracted these days that the person who’s the most present with themselves and other people will become the most relevant person in the room.

Maybe there will be seasons like Halloween where you join back up and reconnect with old pals. But likely, for the rest of the year, it needs to stop coming into the house. Afterall, if you’re anything like me, and there’s a bag of Kit Kats on the counter, you’re going to eat them. I’m saying all of this as a person who wants to get published one day. And still, I can’t get past the notion that my best work will come from long periods of time spent wholly in my own life.

All this helps me consider the problems and issues that I really want to put my hands to. For me, its my people and my writing career. I realized a few weeks ago that if I was to survive the summer with my kids, I would need to make a significant change in this department. I became far too reactive, specifically with my energetic three year old. I also realize that what’s most important in my writing career right now is to actually write. Yes, there might be a time when I need to share my work more regularly in a viral way. Social media tools can be helpful with this. But these tools don’t matter much if I don’t have anything of substance to share. So I made the decision to shutdown Facebook for the summer in order to go deep.

I’ll leave you with a quote from a great article on the topic: The Art of Focus by David Brooks.

“The information universe tempts you with mildly pleasant but ultimately numbing diversions. The only way to stay fully alive is to dive down to your obsessions six fathoms deep. Down there it’s possible to make progress toward fulfilling your terrifying longing, which is the experience that produces the joy.”

We’re all in different places in life, but perhaps you’ll find these thoughts helpful. How are you living wholly in your life right now? Are there ways you limit technology that you find helpful? Would love to hear from you.

The purpose of a man’s heart is like deep water

but a man of understanding will draw it out. 

Proverbs 20:5

 

Poetry: We Have Everything That We Need.

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We Have Everything That We Need

By: Courtney Beck

 

Too often, I live my days

in the future. Too often I catch myself

Believing the lie that we’re behind,

the Establishment is watching,

and they are unimpressed.

“It’s time.” they say.

“You’re late.” they say,

All the while, my whole body nodding,

in its unconsidered agreement.

 

That is until the days, mostly recent,

when I sit back in my chair,

asking quietly, atleast at first:

 

“What is it time for?”

“What are we late for?”

“And who, might I ask, ARE YOU?”

 

We’re different, you and I,

in just as many ways as

We’re the same. 

We’re looking out the same window, at the same field

And we see, more and more,

that the boundary lines,

made in our minds, 

can be redrawn.

 

Cut to fit us, like a fitted suit

They feel like a finely crafted power

Made by the tailor, who sweeps and tugs at the fabric

he’s shaped to fit our shoulders

 

Do not be afraid, my love.

We will have what it takes.

Let’s go together.

We have everything that we need.

Poetry: American Robots

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American Robots

By: Courtney Beck

 

If there’s a chicken in every pot, who prospers?

Do I? Does my child?

I guess, I’m not quite sold.

 

I’ve had chicken prepared

A thousand ways in my lifetime.

Quickly, quickly after work.

Quickly, quickly before bed.

 

Is something missing?

Do we ever stop to ask?

When will be the right time?

 

Will we ever realize that Chicken Elizabeth,

after a time,

Drowns the senses for a summer salad

prepared from nobody’s garden.

 

There just wasn’t time to plant this season

And so, they won’t be showing for dinner tonight.

Chicken’s on the menu at their house this evening too.

On the Brink of Adventure

 

Mary Poppins returns

Good morning friends and readers!

Its a beautiful day today in Atlanta and while I only have an hour to write I figured there’s no time like the present. I’ve taken what feels like a year long pause on this blog primarily because I was working on another masterpiece for the world that required most of my brain cells and attention. Might I present to you Ethan Hutchison Beck who was born on February 26, 2019 in the late hours of the night. He has stolen our hearts (and our sleep, for that matter) and was truly worth the lost writing time – though I’ll be honest that I have missed this space and am excited to launch again. (Now on a personally hosted site! http://www.courtneytbeck.com)

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Fair warning, this might happen in fits and starts as my time is even more limited than it was before now that we have a second kiddo under our roof. But I have faith that God is in the driver’s seat and that he will lead the way.

Speaking of which…

If you haven’t seen the Disney movie Mary Poppin’s Returns, do not delay. It is JUST as glorious as the first and might I say that I have developed a minor girl crush on its lead actress Emily Blunt who hit an absolute home run in the title role. My favorite scene is the moment the Banks children and Mary Poppin’s enter the fictional world of their mother’s favorite porcelain bowl to fix a broken horse-drawn carriage (OF COURSE) and decide to stay for a ride around their porcelain surroundings. Everyone clamors and questions about their destination on the way into the carriage when Mary Poppin’s stops them all and exclaims:

“We’re on the brink of adventure children! Don’t ruin it with all of your questions!”  -Mary Poppins.

Readers, this is probably my favorite line of any movie ever in the entire world Amen. Right?!

Having just had a baby I can assure you that I’ve had my own series of clamoring questions for the Lord and for the world as we’ve struggled in fits and starts to get our feet on the ground. So many of those questions still don’t have answers and I think I’m starting to realize that this is OK. I keep coming back to the words I heard loud and clear from a blog post sent by a friend just a few months before Ethan was born.

“Follow Jesus.”

Two words. So powerful because I am confident of this: the Holy Spirit of the living Christ has not failed me yet.

So, my dear ones, if you are reading this now, give yourself permission to sign up for the adventure that is following Jesus. I am cheering you on. Sometimes it will be damn scary. A lot of it can be confusing. Yet the Lord has a way of speaking to us in ways that we can eventually understand if we will allow ourselves enough time with him to hear him speak. He’s like the ultimate Mary Poppins, if you will. He’s called us to adventure. Want in? This carriage has plenty of room…

Are you or someone you know in need of direction or encouragement? Would you consider sharing this website with them? Anyone who wants to read regularly can subscribe above. I look forward to sharing more in the coming year.

 

 

Is Your Life Bearing Fruit?

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The other day I was on a local company’s website trying to get some information. The website was a little confusing and in no short amount of time I found myself clicking on several different tabs within the site as I attempted to find the information I needed. At some point in my hunt I found myself reading this company’s mission and vision statement.

To date, I have read my fair share of vision and mission statements. I still remember my collegiate business policy professor explaining quite clearly and succinctly:

“A mission statement is who you are today. A vision statement is who you want to become in the future.”

Makes sense to me.

After four years in business school and several experiences since then with highly paid consultants who could “take my organization to the next level,” I’ve found myself more than a little skeptical of mission statements. I knows its wise to have guiding/identifying principles in place; especially so when an organization or individual can’t figure out which end is up. Another part of me gets tired of all the jargon. There have been more than a few meetings in my life where I wanted to stand up and scream: “Lets stop talking about who we are and lets just do the things.”

So, it surprised me as I read this company’s “about us” page that I actually found it inspiring to read. Check this out from their core values statement:

Courage: We are afraid of new and scary things, and we believe that we can succeed anyway. We succeed on purpose. Our students and our staff are encouraged to try new things, be uncomfortable, be afraid, and do them anyway.

Isn’t that wonderful? What a great tone to set for a staff and ones customers.

This company’s mission statement brought together a few loose ends for me from 2018. Before hopping online to navigate this website I had put down a book I’d ordered from Amazon a few weeks ago. Its a basic finance book for young couples. Folks…its truly as basic as it gets. There is not a jazzy word or slogan in its 300ish pages to be found. Its a return to the fundamentals: set your budget, don’t live beyond your means, save a little bit every month.

These are all things that I’ve known and for the most part practiced since I left for college in 2002. My parents knew and practiced these things and taught them to me. But for some reason when we went from two full time incomes to 1 and a little (Thanks Mom gig!) I found myself getting…I don’t know…fatalistic. I think that’s the right word.

It was as though if I couldn’t put a huge chunk of change in our savings account each month than it wasn’t worth it in the end. If I couldn’t give to my church or my organization of choice in the amount I deemed appropriate than I just shouldn’t bother at all. And so, I got a little stagnant. And not just financially. The same has happened with my writing as I found if I couldn’t get a huge chunk of time to myself than my desires to write the big project I’ve long wanted to tackle should just be tabled for some distant day when I could get that time. Never mind that those large pockets of time just never seem to be available. At least not with any consistency.

Some different thoughts are starting to come together though.

Like this one:

Most of the books that have ever been written were written in one hour chunks.

Or these:

  •  All of the houses that were ever built began with a first delivery of lumber.
  • All of the plants that were ever planted started out from one seed.
  • All of the relationships that ever began started with an initial “Hi, what’s your name?”
  • All of the children that were ever born started out as one embryonic pin prick’s worth of cells. I still have an ultrasound picture of Ellie…when she was the size of a BLUEBERRY.

And here’s ANOTHER interesting thing to consider… When most of these really big things, like babies and books and houses and friendships start growing, the world doesn’t stop with its needs.

When I found out I was pregnant with Ellie, for instance, I still had to show up at work the next day. After an author finishes a chapter in her latest creative expression, she still has to figure out what she’s going to have for lunch. When a contractor drops off an initial load of lumber he still has to get the oil changed in his car.

I guess what’s finally clicking for me in this season is this: Sure, there may be times in life where growth or fruit comes quickly. But I don’t think this is normative. Not for the big things, like houses and babies and careers and deep friendships. These things take water and sunlight and attention and, frankly, just a heck of a lot of TIME.

A speaker I heard recently shared about a season in her life when her health just would not get into gear. She was struggling with chronic illness and was just trying and trying and trying to find THE THING that would heal her and when each thing she tried “failed” she would start to think that she was actually failing in some way. It wasn’t until she found herself spilling her guts at an empty table with her brother in law that she finally started getting some clarity. After some serious word vomit, this woman’s brother finally asked her this incredibly wise question:

“OK, but is your life bearing fruit?”

From a Biblical perspective, the fruit of the spirit is this: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self control.

This wise man was asking her if despite her frustrations about healing was she growing in the things that really mattered over the long haul of a life. Because here’s what we all know but maybe don’t want to admit. Our physical bodies will fall apart some day and one day go away entirely. But you know what won’t go away? Those things that echo far beyond our 70 or 80 years that come about as a result of love and joy and gentleness and self control. Of course, that also means that the things that we do as a result of fear and hate and anger will echo out far beyond ourselves as well. My assumption here though is that we are reaching for the noble life. And nobility seems to start with the things they teach us in preschool.  Be patient. Be kind. Clean up after the messes you’ve made.

In our society, the fruit of the spirit is not very sexy. We like the hustler and the woman who takes no prisoners in her field of work. I confess that I read passages from Paul in the new testament and wonder if its all a little too kumbaya. (Colossians 3:12-17 for example) But if anything, Paul had an understanding of lasting impact that was formed by the gospel. A gospel that says we are far too easily pleased by our own self-motivated, self-governed efforts. Frankly, I believe he knew that the the REAL BATTLE in life was not ultimately to cross as many things off our to-do lists as possible in a given week but to fight for the slow growing fruit of love, joy, peace and patience in an increasingly neurotic world. A world with so many to-do lists and side hustles and life goals that we’ve forgotten why we have them in the first place.

There’s so much more to write here but this post is already too long. Let me leave it at this: I’ve become too cynical about mission statements. They are put in place for seasons like the one my family is in where we truly do not know which way the chips are going to fall. The other day I shared with Andy about the mission statement I’d found and connected it to the incredibly unsexy financial advice I’d read in a book with a boring cover. I then considered the growth we’ve made as people over the last 10 years of good, hard struggle that we’ve fought through and suggested this:

I think if our family ever established a mission statement it would say this:

“Our family pursues slow and steady growth.”

To which Andy responded:

“YES.”

He knew it. I knew it. Both of us have goals that are not coming off the check list as quickly as we would like. In many ways we expected we’d be further along. But I believe as I look back across 10 years I can say that I am far more patient than I was at 25. I’m certainly more peaceful. And joy is absolutely a more consistent thread in my life.

These traits increasingly feel like solid ground to me. A place to stand on days when the sun is shining and also on the days, weeks and months when the clouds just won’t seem clear. I’ll take the freedom that comes from that kind of fruit any day of the week.

 

Baseball Game Faith

baseball

Every time Andy and I talk about “the church,” a certain air exits the room. Its really kind of amazing. We’ll be talking about something we’ve read, or sadly, a recent bit of politics that’s somehow connected to the church at large and his reaction is almost predictable. He gets this look on his face of concern mixed with sadness and the pace of our conversation slows down a hair.

To be clear, this doesn’t happen in discussions about our local church or the churches we’ve attended in the recent past. Its really in relationship to the portions of the universal church, which for him historically, has meant the evangelical protestant church (EPC).

Truly, you’d have to have lived in a bunker for the past year to have missed the crisis the EPC has unveiled after it was revealed that 80% of us voted for our current president. Men and women I admire who have grown up in these circles have been left shaking their heads wondering what happened to the communities that raised them. Andy’s not the only person I know who slows down at mention of the state of things.

Raised in a moderate Catholic family, I’ve often struggled to relate. My mom, who taught us that the life of the church was fundamental, also taught us to hold it with a loose grip. I now believe that was healthy. In better words I’d say this: I learned that I needed the church to live a whole life while also learning that a fallible church with fallible people could not ultimately save me. This is an important distinction. Modern psychology would call this the ability to “differentiate.”

My first impression when I heard that 80% of white evangelicals voted the way they did was that maybe the term “white evangelical” doesn’t necessarily mean what we all thought it did. A recent article by Tim Keller in the New York Times suggests I might be on the right track as he states that evangelicalism is now more likely a political term than it is a term that suggests alignment with any historical Judeo-Christian ethics.

The slight comfort this could be, it still has people wondering HOW the church they loved has become so unrecognizable. HOW did people who stood for morality and righteousness become aligned with a party that elected someone so unfit for office. WHY do the people who formed us seem to now align with a man we wouldn’t allow in the presence of our children.

An answer came to me last night as I finished Eugene Peterson’s 1983 book Run with the Horses. The book walks a reader through the book of Jeremiah and describes the prophet’s commitment to a faith partnership with God in the face of years upon years of difficulty and tragedy. At the end of the book as Jeremiah tries to rally the remnant of people who remain in a ravaged city, encouraging them through the Lord to stay and see what God will do, the Israelites decide they are tired of “living by faith,” to use Peterson’s language. Looking around at the devastation, they believed it was too much for them and for their (clearly limited) understanding of what God could do. They informed Jeremiah that they would be going to Egypt.

Egypt, Peterson tells us, did not require much faith. Egypt had a verdant Nile river valley to water crops, animals and people. Egypt had a clear social hierarchy where you knew where you stood. Egypt had mathematically perfect architecture with its towering pyramids and a theologically understandable system that required little more than an understanding of which god to pray to for which need. Egyptian religion to the Israelites could be what a baseball game is us. By a game’s end we know who won and who lost. Who advanced their ERA a percentage and who didn’t. How many singles, doubles, balls and strikes made the game end the way it did. Which is all incredibly comforting until we get home at night and wonder who won the day after a fight with our spouse and a successful visit to the dentist. Baseball game religion, Egyptian religion, only works until the “religious moment” is over and everyone goes home. The best you can hope for is less and less time between “games” which is why, for all my love of the part of the evangelical church that has matured me into adulthood, I believe we’ve identified our problem.

Living by faith is hard and we want to be in control. 

Here’s my point made a little clearer…Yesterday the Public Religion Research Institute released new data regarding our society’s opinions about the fact that in the next couple of decades the country’s population is projected to be populated more by people of color (African, Asian, Hispanic) than people of European descent. Sadly, 52% of white evangelical protestants viewed this probability as a negative thing for our country.

Now, I still don’t believe the term “White Evangelical Protestant” means what it used to. I don’t believe all people who identify as WEPs are spirit led Christians in the same way I don’t believe everyone who voted for Donald Trump identifies as a died in the wool Donald Trump supporter. Take a breath, y’all. I think we can all say with solidarity that we walked to the polls in November holding our breath.

I will say this though. If 1 of every 2 people who are in the very least Americans (who I would assume believe in the American Dream), or at the very worst, American believers in a triune God that states very clearly in scriptures that ALL people are made in the image of that diversely-unified God, then we are working with a people that are more interested in a system of worship that they can control than a life of faith that everything will work out for the good.

Diversity, after all, is hard. Its unpredictable and it takes a measure of faith. What if we close our eyes at the wrong time or say hello in the wrong way or chew our food differently. What if instead of minor custom infractions something worse happens. What if someone gets hurt. 

Well, to put it far to simply than I’d prefer, the cross tells us we’ll be OK. I think it tells us that there’s no pain we will endure that GOD HIMSELF hasn’t already endured for and with us. I think he’s saying we can go even there. Even into pain.

Further still, I can’t help but wonder if a controlled “Egyptian” faith experience could be hurting us in ways we don’t even realize. ‘Cause here’s something else I know. I think I’ve seen my husband cry a total of six times in the 14 years we’ve known each other. The man is not prone to lead with his emotions. Of that handful of times though? At least two were in the presence of a black gospel choir where the Spirit of the Living God touched his heart in a way that his head couldn’t stop.

Living by faith is so incredibly hard. Sometimes it feels impossible to follow a God I sense but cannot see. But I truly believe it’s our only way out of the dark.

 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

Psalm 139: 7-12