Sometimes you have to shout joyfully, even if you aren’t feeling it. {Psalm 100}

When my kids are especially full of complaints I make them give me 5 things they’re grateful for, telling them “Thanksgiving is like magic, it makes the grouchies go away.” It worked like a charm on my oldest but the younger two are more resistant, determined to fight for their right to be in a foul mood (wherever could they get that from??)

I’ve been praying the Psalms as a spiritual habit for the past few months. I guess I’ve been doing it for the past 100 days, since I prayed Psalm 101 this morning. Though I’ve missed some days, and there were a few Psalms that spoke so directly and poignantly to my exact feelings that I stayed with them for a few days.

It has been a good and life-giving habit, celebrating the character of God and being honest about the realities of life. If I can pray the Psalm for myself and others as a “we” then I pray for us all. If I can’t relate at all to the circumstances of the Psalmist, then I think of someone or a group who could relate, and I pray for them. It has been stretching and good, teaching me to pray beyond my own present experience.

Most of the time this practice has stretched me toward praying for hard things I don’t often experience – enemies, the need for revenge, oppression. But this week I was unexpectedly stretched by Psalm 100.

Sometimes you have to shout joyfully, even if you aren't feeling it. {Psalm 100}

The 100th Psalm is a favorite favorite, a passage I’ve read and written and sung and taught and LOVED over the years. But yesterday I wasn’t feeling it. At all.

It was a tired Monday morning, I woke up with lots on my mind, and I wasn’t exactly in the mood to start my day by shouting joyfully to the Lord. I wasn’t really even feeling much like sitting joyfully in the Lord.

Psalm 100 is only 5 verses long, so I wrote out the words in my journal and made myself think about them. This song is a call to praise Yahweh, 7 commands in 5 verses:

SHOUT (Joyfully)

SERVE (with Gladness)

COME (with Joyful Singing)

KNOW (the Lord is God)

ENTER (His gates, His presence, with Thanksgiving and Praise)

GIVE (Thanks)

BLESS (His Name)

It wasn’t really in me in that moment to shout or sing joyfully, and I was feeling a bit resentful about serving with gladness. But in verse 3 I found something I could do:

Know that the Lord Himself is God, and we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

So I stayed there for a while, knowing that the Lord Himself is God. And then I found that I could enter His gates (His presence) with praise, I could give thanks and bless His name.

In verse 5 we’re given the reason to answer these calls to praise:

The Lord is GOOD. His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.

That is true truth, true on a grouchy Monday morning, true on good days and bad, true for the rich and for the poor, true for us all. The Lord is GOOD.

And I realized: I was grouchy because I was fighting battles in my mind that are not my battles to fight, fighting battles with people who are not my enemy (people who are, as Psalm 100 reminds me, His people and sheep of His pasture.) I had my eyes on little things rather than the one BIG thing (The Lord is GOOD.)

And as it turns out, Thanksgiving IS like magic. It chased my Monday morning grouchy away. I was able to enter my day with thanksgiving and serve with gladness.

Even I still wasn’t ready to shout.

Sometimes you have to shout joyfully, even if you aren't feeling it.

 

The Power of Story: Everything I know about God I learned from kids’ books

 

I read a lot as a kid.

I read a lot now, but it’s nothing compared to how much I read growing up.

I read in the morning, I read at night, I read in between activities. I read in grade school, I read in middle school, I read through high school. In the seventh grade, not knowing what to read next, I started in the As in the school library and read every book that looked interesting to me (which is how I found Lloyd Alexander’s wonderful books, and also why I read The Sword and the Stone and Ivanhoe in middle school.)

I read books from the library, I read books my parents bought me, I read books I spent my own money on. I was picky about what I’d buy myself, wanting what I considered “real books.” Luckily, my sister was less snobby about her reading material, so when I was done with my real books, I’d read all of her Babysitters’ Club and Sweet Valley Highs.

I read for enjoyment, I read for escape, I read to visit other worlds. My best friends were Anne Shirley and Sally J. Freedman and the March girls and Meg Murray. I had a big fight with my fifth grade real-world best friend because she borrowed my favorite book and gave it back to me with the cover torn off. I’d read it 10+ times, it was dog-eared and worn, so she could not understand why I was so offended.

My mom says I was the only kid she knew who couldn’t be grounded…where is the incentive or consequence in sending me to do my very favorite thing?

I loved to read.

Thank God for all those years with my head stuck in good books.

Literally thank God, because those books were like Sunday School for me. I wasn’t raised going to church (we didn’t even go on Christmas or Easter), and God wasn’t something we talked ever about. I had a school friends who took me to church occasionally, and later to church camps. Their families talked to me about Jesus and I know they prayed for me. But in my home I had no way to learn about God or grow.

When I met Jesus face to face in college I fell in love hard, and hung on tight. I’ve often looked back and wondered how the very limited spiritual input in my childhood could have provided such fertile ground for the seed of Good News to grow.

As I have re-read my childhood favorites, I have found the answer.

I learned about God from the books I read as a child.

 

From CS Lewis, I learned about sacrifice, good-but-not-safe, character, bravery and fear, and received the best picture I’ve ever had of the danger of selfishness and greed (Eustace & the dragon.)

From Madeleine L’Engle, I learned to value mystery, love, and the power of naming and knowing people (lessons I lean on to this very day.)

From Judy Bloom’s books, I learned to explore who I am, and to not be afraid to ask questions.

I could go on and on. I am in awe of the ability of these authors and so many others to present deep, adult, meaningful reality through the power of stories simple enough for fifth graders.

I am grateful to have also had a strong theological education through the churches I’ve been a part of. I’ve studied and taught lists of truths, categorizing the information we have about God. And I like having everything Important listed out in columns and rows.

But thinking about these stories, these great books that were my first picture of God… Maybe it’s not surprising that so much of the Bible, God’s Word, the means He chose to communicate truth over the centuries, is narrative. Story.

The Power of Story

Small Church {Finding Meaning & Connection on Sundays}

I go to a big church.

And I love it. I love what a large church provides for me: Great teaching. Large and well organized children’s programs, vibrant worship with great production values, a wide variety of people making it easy to find kindred spirits and friends in my life stage.

Church is more than a building or a service, church is people. Community. Connection. And church should be a place where we learn to love those who are different from us, and find connection across life stage and natural affinity. That can be a lot harder to provide than good teaching, organized programs and exciting worship.

My church works hard to create welcoming community and connection (and I’m part of that work and welcoming), but in a bigger church, it is easy to go wide rather than deep.

I have the great privilege to be part of a team that puts on a college worship service a few blocks from our university campus. My involvement in college ministry and this service allows me to have the best of both worlds: I am part of a larger church with amazing resources and strong teaching. And my Sunday experience is close and connected, one I’ve had a voice in creating. I get to go to a big church and also have a small church experience.

College students are headed into finals next week, so this Sunday will be our last College Worship Hour until September. I am very much looking forward to a different schedule, and more family time while the kids are out of school and I work fewer hours. And during the summer, Sundays are truly “weekend”, as opposed to work days.

But I am going to greatly miss our little college worship service.

I will miss having a Sunday experience where I know nearly everyone’s name, can spot newcomers on sight and welcome them, where I can hug and be hugged.

I will miss having a more participatory, discussion oriented teaching time. A smaller group (we have between 100-150 each Sunday) allows us the freedom to include discussion times with those around, as well as large group. Most of us learn less by hearing and more by participating. I am grateful for a small space where there is more than one expert voice teaching about God, where we can learn from the Body of Christ, where a variety of voices discuss truth (with a pastor/teacher to guide us and keep us on track, of course. The discussion happens in the context of a traditional sermon.)

But most of all, I will miss communion. I don’t know at what point protestant churches dropped the Lord’s Supper as a weekly and regular part of their worship. But I wish we could pick it back up again. I wish we could pick it up as a weekly practice, and I wish we could make it communal and connected. Every Evangelical Church I’ve gone to practices communion every 6 weeks or so, and it is very individual. Small cups of juice, tiny cracker, passed around. You take your small portion of Jesus and you serve yourself.

Though it would be next to impossible in a big church, I LOVE the way we practice the Eucharist at College Worship Hour.

It is the centerpiece of our time together, and it is an invitation to come and receive Jesus. We use real bread. We have communion stations and servers. There is an extended time of silence or quiet music to think and pray, and when I am ready, I go to one of several places in the room. I step forward and cup my hands, telling the servers my name. And rather than taking, I receive. Someone (someone I know by name as well) hands me a chunk of bread and says, “Renee, the body of Christ was broken for you.” And then I dip my bread in the cup of juice and hear, “Renee, the blood of Christ was shed for you.”

Every Sunday I receive Christ.

And it is always meaningful, my eyes often pricking with tears. It is meaningful, and it helps me feel connected with Jesus. Some weeks I sit and pray and think for a while before moving toward the nearest communion servers. And some weeks I practically run to receive Jesus as soon as possible.

Maybe anything we do regularly, week after week, looses meaning and becomes routine. Maybe if enough years go by, I won’t feel such a deep hunger to receive Christ in the bread and cup. Maybe I won’t feel a weekly need to “remember Him.” (Luke 22:19)

But I don’t think so.

And though I love you, still we’re strangers
Prisoners in these lonely hearts
And though our blindness separates us
Still His light shines in the dark
And His outstretched arms are still strong enough to reach
Behind these prison bars to set us free
So may peace rain down from Heaven
Like little pieces of the sky
Little keepers of the promise
Falling on these souls the drought has dried
In His Blood and in His Body
In this Bread and in this Wine
Peace to you
Peace of Christ to you

“Peace”, Rich Mullins

What helps you find meaning and connection at church?

SmallChurch (1)

Saturdays are for Reading

I am nearly always reading more than one (sometimes more than 5!) books at once, and I try to read at least a little every day. But Saturdays are holy reading days for me, and such a gift. Here’s what I’ve been reading this week, and especially looking forward to reading today:

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I am about halfway through Deidra Rigg’s wonderful ONE: Unity in a Divided World. Deidra, through her blog and speaking, has been a tutor to me as I’ve navigated the rhetoric and reality of racial injustice, particularly in the church. I pre-ordered this book and wanted to devour it in one sitting as soon as it arrived. But I’m making myself go slower, to really digest and begin to live out what I’m learning.

This book is a gift to me right where I am today. It is speaking right to my places of unforgiveness, challenging me to lean into Jesus in order to find oneness in my particular circumstances. I love it.

God’s goal is always unity and healing, oneness and reconciliation, so he invites us to begin with mercy.

God invites us to begin with mercy because that’s what he has done for us. He isn’t telling us to move on or buck up or just get over it already. In the mercy seat rests the power of God to heal our deepest hurts. When we engage others form a position of brokenness and hurt, we risk causing more brokenness and hurt. Movign from teh seat of justice and into the seat of mercy has the power to short-circuit hatred, hostility, and hopelessness. Choosing to view a person or a situation through the lens of compassion (which is another way of talking about mercy) makes space for the possibility of oneness and unity.

Deidra Riggs, ONE: Unity in a Divided World

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I am also slooooowly working my way through Madeleine L’Engle’s lovely A Circle of Quiet. I read most of L’Engle’s fiction as a child, several of which are lifetime favorites (see below). But I’d never read any of her nonfiction. I LOVE her as a writer, and this memior-ish view of her writerly life and thoughts on family and words and being is just mesmerizing.

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My younger 2 and I are listening to the audiobooks of L’Engle’s Time Quintet (I read it as a trilogy, the first 3 books in this series are like childhood friends.) It is a limitless joy to experience them with my kids, and see them fall in love with Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace. A Wrinkle In Time is the first book, loved by all 3 of us. Now we are halfway through A Wind in the Door, meeting a drove of dragons which turns out to be a Cherubim. DELIGHT.

Ava Duverney (!!) is making a movie version of A Wrinkle in Time, coming out next year with Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon and OPRAH WINFREY as the Mrs. Ws (!!!!). It is going to be AMAZING. Please, for the love of everything good, read the book first. It is so very good. You can thank me later.

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April is National Poetry Month, and I need to read a Book of Poetry for the reading challenge I’m doing this year (Reading for Growth @ Modern Mrs. Darcy). So I’ve checked  out several poetry books from the library. I was an English Major, love words and reading, but I haven’t spent a lot of time with poetry (intimidation). I remembered loving Emily Dickinson and E.E. Cummings in school, so that’s where I started and am really enjoying them – particularly the way poetry makes you go slowly.

I also have a couple of Mary Oliver’s poetry books on hold, which I expect to enjoy as well. I’d love to read some other living poets, but don’t know where to start. Would love to hear any suggestions.

It’s a GREAT week to read, so thankful for GOOD BOOKS. What are you reading right now?

What I'm Reading Right Now

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{Our Best Parenting Decisions} Special Songs

Talking about parenting publicly gives me anxiety. Trying to raise functioning human beings is is hard, it feels like the entire world is telling you what to do, and who knows if you’re even successful for what? 20 years?

But we have managed to get one kid to 17, on the brink of a senior year, and he’s still talking to us. So I’m beginning to look back and see things we started long ago that were GOOD decisions. How lovely to take a deep breath and give thanks for the little seeds we’ve sown over the years.

I had one of those moments last week – oddly enough with someone else’s kid. A moment where I thought, “Wow, am I glad we started this all those years ago.” Continue reading

Quieting the Noise: 6 Things I learned from giving up social media for Lent

Usually I give up something food related for Lent, since that is my greatest area of excess. This year as a Lenten fast, I decided to give up social media. I am a fan of social media, particularly Facebook, and am very grateful for the way social media helps me to feel connected to far flung family and friends. But I had found myself a bit bruised on the internet lately, more easily getting my feelings hurt, accidentally offending others, spinning into cycles of ragey response to what people post, or sliding into judgmental thoughts.

And I was craving quiet. Desperately needing God’s voice and values to be louder than anyone or anything else. So I stepped away, only checking my social media accounts once a week, on Saturdays.

As usual with my Lent experiments, I had varying degrees of success. I’m never as committed as I want to be, and I too often forget the reasons I gave something up, what I’m hoping to accomplish.

But I did learn some things about myself and social media.

Quiet the Noise

Continue reading

A Prayer for Easter Sunday

For those of us who find ourselves locked in rooms of fear…. 

My Easter prayer is that we would find 

Jesus locked in there with us, 

Speaking PEACE 

And breathing His Spirit on us. 

A Forgiveness Crossroads {Good Friday}

As I sat in the quiet at a Good Friday service today, I was distracted by hurt, a recent injury, an ongoing “discussion” (fight) I am having with someone in my head.

I worked hard to focus in on the story, the great drama of Good Friday. But my injured feelings kept intruding.

And then I read Jesus’ words,

Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.”

I guess I have always skipped over those words before, “Jesus forgives. Check.”

But today they are new. Today they are for me.

“They do not know what they are doing.” But those who betrayed, tortured, murder Jesus did know what they were doing, right? It seems pretty intentional.

And those who hurt me also knew what they were doing. It isn’t betrayal, torture or murder, but it is a deliberate choice. It seems pretty intentional.

But do they know? Perhaps those who betrayed, tortured, murdered Jesus lost sight of His humanity. And had they known they were turning over and slaughtering the Messiah, the Son of God, surely they would have made a different decision?

And perhaps the wrongs I struggle to forgive also come from those who “do not know what they are doing.”

One way or another, I am faced this Good Friday with a choice. A forgiveness crossroads. Can I read Jesus’ words and not apply them to my own situation?

What does it mean to be a Christian? {Easter Thoughts}

Am I a Christian because I go to church on Sunday (and many of the other days)? Am I a Christian because of what I think about Jesus? Because I celebrate Christmas and Easter? Because I was raised to be a Christian? (I wasn’t, actually.)

I am a Christian because I believe Jesus is the Son of God, He is MY God. I have answered the great call to Follow Jesus. But as we slide down the last days of Lent into Easter weekend, I thinking about how easy it is for Christians to live as functional non-believers – myself included. We say we follow Jesus, but our lives bear no mark of Him. What better time than Easter weekend to contemplate what it really means to be a Christian, to follow Jesus.

Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.

Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded…

So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.

Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (John 13:1-17)

Jesus loved by lowering. John sees the love of Christ in the kneeling, serving Jesus. Jesus stripped, laying aside the garments of leader and teacher and taking the costume of a servant. Jesus washed even the feet of His betrayer, demonstrating love and service even for the hands that would slay Him. Continue reading

When it is hard, and feels like the death of something

I am in a hard season. Some hard things you see coming, but this one took me by surprise. After months and years of daily ups and downs in a relatively safe and happy routine, we woke up to a different world. There is pain here, and loss and change and a whole bevy of unknowns, all those things we spend our lives trying to avoid. I am having to die to some things right now, especially the illusion of my own control and security.

I am not alone in this season, not the only one facing a sort of death. I am here with a neighbor facing a biopsy. A dear friend dealing with chronic pain and illness, and another facing the loss of her job and calling. I am here with friends in life long mental health battles and more than one friend walking through mental illness and the resultant questions and behavior with their children. And I am here with friends who uncovered abuse in their children’s lives.

That is an awful lot of hard, a lot of pain, a lot of death. Meanwhile we come to the end of the Lenten season, as the worldwide church prepares to relive and reenact the great story of the Christian faith, life out of death. Continue reading