My jaw fell to the ground beneath the jungle gym. I studied my friend’s eyes to make sure she wasn’t messing with me. How could that be the way that babies are made?
I wonder if my playground face was similar to the face Mary makes when the Angel Gabriel shows up and tells her she’s going to have a baby. I’ve been thinking about this during Advent as I decorate and get ready for Christmas. This angel shows up in Nazareth to her, a virgin, and says, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
My Bible translation says she looks “understandably perplexed.” Who is this angel? What is he talking about? Is he messing with her? The angel continues, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”
Mary doesn’t skip a beat, “But how can this be since I am a virgin?” The angel responds simply, quietly, patiently with God’s best mic drop (microphone) answer, “Because the Holy Spirit will come upon you.”
God is the best type of ridiculous.
The first shall be last. . . A virgin will have a baby. . . who will save all people. . . Oh, and her friend, who is way past child-bearing age will have a child too. Our God isn’t just a God of forgiveness and grace (and don’t get me wrong, this Lutheran gal loves grace), but also a God of the impossible.
And what’s more, God’s people are called to be a people of the impossible. Mary looks at this crazy-talking angel and responds simply, quietly, patiently with her own best mic drop answer, “Here am I, the servant of the lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
The angel leaves. He’s got nothing more to say.
And maybe neither do we. A jaw dropped to the floor seems a pretty appropriate response when we realize that God is using us—yes, messed-up us—to do God’s good work with and for the human race.
Mary expects and trusts in the impossible from God and boldly from herself. What would it look like for us to do the same?
- Impatience with the kids
- Annoyance with every little snag in my day
- Focused on the negative, unable see the positive
Psalm 23:1-3 He restores my soul
God, my shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.
John Steinbeck wrote East of Eden. You might have heard of this book in English class, or (perhaps more likely) from Oprah’s book club. The story focuses on Genesis Chapter 4, the story of Cain killing Abel. The novel hinges on one key word in the story: Timshel.
I’m anxious about the Husker season, and not because of the hail Mary loss last week to BYU. I’m nervous for potlucks that will bring THE question, “So, how’s the new job?”
(I recently quit my cool college teaching job to take a cool youth ministry job. . . which didn’t work out. . . and I got a cool opportunity to teach eighth grade English. . . an hour away from home. The end. Er. . . the beginning. So my real answer to this question is a bit of a game day casserole.)
It’s good. (Smile.)
In his book, The Road to Character, David Brooks notes that character is built through drama and the everyday. But don’t I have enough character? Can’t we be done with this stretching? My elastic is sorta starting to crunch.
Angsty teenage responses aside, Brooks does help me process. Instead of the typical, “What do I want from life?” he directs us to ask a different set of questions:
What does life want from me? What are my circumstances calling me to do? In this scheme of things we don’t create our lives; we are summoned by life. The important answers are not found inside. They are found outside. . . Your job is to figure certain things out: What does this environment need in order to be made whole. What is it that needs repair? What tasks are lying around waiting to be performed? Or, as novelist Frederick Buechner puts it, “At what points do my talents and deep gladness meet the world’s deep need?”
In all this change I am reminded that the Christian walk is more descent than ascent. My bubble is intact, albeit a little deflated, but God’s power is made perfect in weakness.
And yesterday I was feeling pretty weak.
Today is better.
Gratitude grounds us when the familiar gets shaky and new:
- I’m thankful for work that challenges me.
- I’m thankful that my littles (C & O) are so well cared for by Grandma.
- I’m thankful for my students, the quiet ones and the crazy ones and the ones who fart loudly in the middle of reading Poe’s Tell Tale Heart.
- I’m thankful Brene Brown audiobooks that speed the commute.
- I’m thankful for the grace to write about the twists in the past few months.
- I’m thankful for my prayerful, supportive family.
- I’m thankful even for the tears that are washing something away, making space for something new.
“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.” – Thomas Merton
My parents replaced the beautiful etched-glass window with a plain one. Every time I looked at it, I was struck at its functionality, but also knew that I had destroyed something beautiful. That’s how I see sin working on the human side of things. God forgives us, but sometimes we have to clean up the mess we’ve made. Sometimes we have to pay a penalty, rebuild a trust, put in a new window. And sometimes, things and relationships are broken irreparably.
As far as the east is from the west is how far God has removed our sins from us (Psalm 103:12). So no matter how guilty we may feel, no matter how beautiful the thing we’ve destroyed, God sees goodness shining through us, goodness installed from the get-go, goodness to be shared through our relationships with each other and our relationship with God.
Amy Pohler doens’t claim to be a Christian author, but I find myself wanting to hold up my hand and say, “Amen, sister.” Like her, I’ve been guilty of over-analyzing and over-thinking well. . . most things. I don’t seem to notice that when I over-plan and over-reflect on everything, I squeeze life juice right out, until my days look like some gray, dried up sponge.
At some point I’ve got to stop talking about and thinking about and analyzing it all, and lace up my Nikes (or whatever sensible shoes I’m wearing) and just do it.
How often are we guilty of talk, talk, talk without much do, do, do. I am not suggesting works righteousness where we earn our way to heaven or climb the ladder to being good enough for God. But what would it look like to live a life of action motivated by Christ, by thankfulness for the gift of faith?
What would it look like to finally just do the thing?
You know that thing I’m talking about. The one thing that is just sitting there patiently waiting for you to do it. Maybe it’s an e-mail to say I’m sorry, or a conversation where you really ask forgiveness, just showing up, or maybe it’s stopping to move a bit slower and respond to that need that is right in front of our eyes if we would have the courage to admit that we see it. The admitting is hard because once we do, we have to act.
Law and Gospel. Words and Actions. What matters most? Don’t get me wrong, I love words. I’m a word girl, but sometimes words and thoughts are what we’re doing instead of doing the thing that God is calling us to do.
God is like the best parent, attending to our every need and aiming to draw out and illumine what is best in us. I don’t think God wants to break our will, but to help us learn to wield it. It is with the gift of courage that we can each take the next tiny step. It makes me smile remembering how fun it is to not know the ending of the best stories.
Moving from talking to doing often requires an act of faith. We can’t have faith if we have it all figured out. The good news is that no matter what way we turn or where we go, or the bad decisions we make, God promises to be with us. You can be sure that no matter where you fall, you will also land in the outstretched arms of Jesus.
I know this doesn’t sound very gratitude-y, but I would like to formally start a petition to skip the months of January and February next year. Feel free to sign your name below. Nebraska. Dreary. Cold. Gray. Bleh. These last few months have been tough as it was dreary out and I felt dreary in.
But then the snow starts melting.
The birds start chirping.
Time change is one way the holy spirit works a change in me, and thank goodness because I was starting to feel like winter might never end.
And just like that, gratitude isn’t something I’m striving for, something I should be doing, but something I’m living, breathing slower as the sun warms up more than my face.
If you’re not feeling that this week, I dare you to take your eyes off this phone or your screen for a minute and just look out the window and notice.
This time of year, when the tulips are just pushing through, I always think of one of my favorite poems by E.E. Cummings. You can read all of “In Just-” by clicking here.
After spring comes my favorite, SUMMER! Start unpacking those flip-flops and check out these two workshops I’m doing in June! So excited.
|Photography by Curt Brinkmann|
My own face squished up wet, next to her little tear-soaked cheek. I hugged her and told her we would get brave together.
Whether you’re three or 103, there’s one way to see if your fear is real.
Yeah, actually move toward it (insert awkward laugh here). The anxiousness fades when we realize we don’t need to get brave alone. Get a buddy to be brave with you, laugh at the fear and take one itty bitty bolstered-step toward that thing that you’re sure is holding you back. Yes, some things we go through really are scary, but sometimes it’s not all that scary after all. And yes, sometimes when I act courageously it doesn’t work out, but sometimes it works out in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
I’m starting to see that my fear pops up most aggressively when I’m going to something that matters. What if instead of using the fear as an indicator to run, I used it as an barometer, telling me to keep moving, keep trying to help?
We’ll never know if the fear is real unless we take the courage God’s giving us and act! Take that little step and live your thanks today.
I recently got an idea that seemed scary. I wanted to share my friend Curt Brinkmann’s photos here. Because I was scared, I asked. I am glad I did. The little guy pictured above has a “God-given quality that makes everyone around him feel better.” Curt and his photography also have that quality. Check out his new, beautiful website at http://www.lifesastoryphotography.com.
This has been a week of screw-ups for me, my imperfection showing off. . . fantastic. All of it leaves me feeling complain-y and Eeyore-y But, when we’re not feeling thankful, the gratitude of others has a way of rubbing off, contagious. Grab a helmet–because they’re gonna blow your mind–and invest time in one or both of these videos. The return on this investment = gratitude, pure gift.
1. Everything Is a Present – Holocaust survivor Alice Herz Sommer practices the piano for three hours each day. She has a story that puts everything in perspective. Stick with it to the end where she teaches gratitude–with beautiful giggles throughout.
2. Michael Keaton’s Golden Globe acceptance speech (Start at around 2:13 on the clip) – We’ve all seen people get up to say thanks for an award–the thing that this blog is all about–but Miachel isn’t just thankful, he’s filled with gratitude. I love how he gives thanks for the real award/reward in his life and the thickness of the audience’s silence in this thin space/holy moment as his cup overflows.
- Dare Choice 1: Write down three things that have deep meaning in your life. When something goes wrong today (as it probably will), shift your thoughts back to your list.
- Dare Choice 2: Write up or reflect on your own life story like Michael does, “My name is ___ the son/daughter of ___ etc.” Let it inspire you to write a note of thanks.