God isn’t confined to a geographical place. God is the creator of the world. God is everywhere. God is even where you are. And God is pursuing you, wherever you’ve wandered, and drawing you back. God is working to reconcile you. God is moving you towards his plan.
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When I walk through my grandma’s front door, I take an inhale and the smell immediately triggers a flood of memories. I see the blocks I played with as a child on the coffee table, my grandpa’s guitar waiting to be played in the corner, and the family table where I've spent nearly every holiday and special occasion for thirty years. I'm conditioned to look for those things.
The way our economy works today, it’s much easier to be a minimalist. I don’t have to hang on to things, because everything is replaceable. There’s no sense in paying for a repairperson, no reason to buy expensive parts, or to store things away for a rainy day. It’s trendy and admirable to be a minimalist. And part of the reason it’s so easy for us all to get on board with this, is because goods are cheap. It’s easier to toss things out, than it is to take the time to repair them.
When I was a kid, there was always a man waiting inside the church’s double doors. I knew he would be wearing a Christian t-shirt with something about the rapture, and he would be shouting, “Abby, are you on fire for Jesus today?” As he jumped up and down he’d yell, “I’ve been born again, have you been born again? Tell me you’re born again!” I was horrified.
When I was 19, the faith I had been holding onto my entire life crumbled like sand, and slipped right through my fingers. Everything had to go. The baby and the bathwater. Everything was suspect, and I just couldn’t decipher the good from the bad, the right from the wrong, so I had to let it all fall. It wasn’t just uncomfortable, it was painful. This is a story for another time, but as I read Out of Sorts, I wish that I would have had a copy to keep me company in those days.
We all want to know where we come from. It binds us to a story beyond our lifetime, giving us a feeling of immortality. For the majority of us in the west, the stories we uncover are tales of immigration and migration, tragedy and suffering, hardship and pain. My family tree is littered with holes, but my great-great aunt had the forethought to write out her memories. I read through it year after year to remind me of my roots and to learn the lessons of my people as I embody their legacy.
Looking back, I’m not sure how I survived the baby years. I’m just coming out of the throes of 24/7 parenting after five years of caring for babies. My youngest is 18-months-old and all of the baby gear is officially gone. There are no more swaddles or swings, bouncers or binkis. There is just one item I’m hanging on to, because the sleep and sanity of our family depends on it. Each and every one of our babies required a sound machine to fall asleep at night. The crackling static, like a radio dial between stations, signals my brain that the day is winding down.
Right now I can't get enough podcasts. I love to read, but I spend a lot of time driving to where I need to go. It's a great way to learn, be inspired and enjoy the drive. I also listen to them while I'm working around the house: cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and working out are far more enjoyable when you don't just feel like you're doing a series of mindless tasks.
We usually talk about Jesus’ birth in the most neat and tidy and sterile way. One minute Mary is pregnant and the next she is holding a clean, swaddled little baby, sound asleep and sucking on a pacifier. When we skip over the actual birth part, we end up missing the most important piece of the Christmas story.
I’ve been praying since I could talk. I was never taught; never guided. I was simply told to have a conversation; to speak my requests. I’ve prayed for a new cabbage patch doll at Christmas time, acceptance into college, and for a miraculous A on a test I didn’t study for. I’ve prayed for jobs, for pregnancy and childbirth, for healthy children, for healing, and for safe travels.
I zoomed in, and in, and in, until I could closely see the cuts and curves of a blade of wild grass. Everything behind it blurred and blended into the background. Chiggers gnawed at my ankles as I circled around the shot, trying to capture the desired hue of orange and magenta bursting through the empty spaces in the frame.
It’s the age old question.
It’s the question that keeps me up at night, begging me to think of anything, anything else. It turns my stomach into knots, tightening, twisting until I think I’ll be sick. I've studied it. I've dissected it. I’ve theologized it. I’ve shoved it under the rug and washed my hands of it a thousand times.
The day after the funeral is the hardest. The days following the death of a loved one are overflowing with friends and family, phone calls and text messages, meals and cards and hugs and stories. But the day after the funeral, it all stops.
Sometimes at night I wake up in horror, dreaming about the sound of a metronome clicking back and forth, back and forth. My mom was convinced that piano lessons would be the thing that made me an intelligent, cultured and well rounded human being. For that reason, I hated Tuesdays. Every week for five years, I dragged my feet behind me as I walked from the car to Mrs. Binder’s house.
Have you ever used the expression “if these walls could talk”? Sometimes I think that the walls in a pastor’s office could tell the kinds of stories that make for great movies and best selling novels. They could tell beautiful stories of redemption and courage, where good people in bad situations overcome difficult odds. These are the kinds of stories where the Spirit’s presence is undeniable and God’s purposes revealed in new and significant ways. Still, there are thicker and darker moments that hold confessions of grief, envy and doubt. In those moments, people let go of secrets and dissonant emotions in wavering whispers.