Archive for the ‘Life’ Tag

Frictionless Marriage   3 comments

DSC01639By this afternoon the snow had mostly melted at our house, and it didn’t feel that cold, so I pulled on my tattered loafers sans socks and drove to the park with Mazie to walk.  The asphalt path was mostly free of snow, but by the time I reached the end, my toes were stinging.  When I turned onto the wooded dirt trail, I found half an inch of unmelted snow, and I started waddling with my feet splayed to keep from scooping snow into the gaping holes on the out-sides of my shoes.  As I walked, something strange happened–my toes began to warm.  I was surprised enough to pull out one foot and check that it wasn’t just going numb.  It was cool to the touch, but not icy, in spite of the snow that was clinging to the edge of the open splits.  Even on cold days my bare feet in loose shoes rub themselves warm against the leather as I walk, and now the broken trail made my feet slide around even more, increasing the friction.  There is an upside to friction… even in relationships.

Berly uses her lunch break to stretch her legs, and since I walk Mazie at the same time, we phone-walk together.  Today we chatted about yesterday’s blog post and how grace plays such a big role in our relationship.  My sketch was true in its broad strokes, but don’t suppose that Berly is always trusting and I am never selfish.  We screw up regularly.  But we make room for that in our relationship.  Our family values are framed by grace–we structure our lives to make space for one another’s weaknesses, fears, needs and the like.  Grace designs the principles by which we live but also the manner in which we live these principles, or rather fail to live these principles.  In other words, we give ourselves grace for failing to live by grace.

In my last post I said Berly trusts “that I am doing all that I can within the sphere of my emotional strength.”  But sometimes I shortchange Kimberly by doing less than I can, intentionally or not (that is, sometimes I am lazy and at other times I simply underestimate my own energy level).  We are deeply committed to one another, to mutual understanding, acceptance, and support and we live this consistently, but not perfectly.  We have expectations… our expectations are that we will fall short of our ideals on a fairly regular basis.  We trust one another not because we live flawlessly, but because we live in grace towards one another’s flaws.

In other words, we live with friction, and we think that’s good.  It’s possible to smooth over all interactions, but the cost of such a tightly controlled “peace” is shallow and inauthentic relationships.  Nothing is more lonely than a friendship where we cannot be ourselves.  If we are unique individuals with our own histories, views, personalities, and preferences, then doing real life together at any depth is going to bring tension.  Real life and growth comes from rubbing up against the rough grain of those we love and discovering that our flaws are the basis for our bonding.  It is not fixing faults but embracing grace that strengthens relationships and deepens trust.

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Posted January 23, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Life is Hard   Leave a comment

From Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow:

Human lives are hard, even those of health and privilege, and don’t make much sense.  This is the message of the Book of Job:  Any snappy explanation of suffering you come up with will be horseshit.  God tells Job, who wants an explanation for all his troubles, ‘You wouldn’t understand.’

And we don’t understand a lot of things.  But we learn that people are very disappointing, and that they break our hearts, and that very sweet people will be bullied, and that we will be called to survive unsurvivable losses, and that we will realize with enormous pain how much of our lives we’ve already wasted with obsessive work or pleasing people or dieting.  We will see and read about deprivation and barbarity beyond our ability to understand, much less process.  Side by side with all that, we will witness transformation, people finding out who they were born to be, before their parents pretzelized them into high achievers and addicts and charming, wired robots.

But where do we even start on the daily walk of restoration and awakening?  We start where we are. We find God in our human lives, and that includes the suffering.  I get thirsty people glasses of water, even if that thirsty person is just me.

Posted April 17, 2013 by janathangrace in Reading

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Hard Living   6 comments

stormAs I said in my last post, I am stuck with God.  When Jesus got weird on his disciples (John 6), many of them left.  He asked his twelve, “Will you leave too?”  and Peter answered, “Where else can we go?”  Yes.  Exactly.  We’re in the middle of the ocean, freezing cold, living on bread, squatting on steel decks and the captain of the boat says, “Feel free to leave.”  And where would that be?  Trust me, we are not staying because we like it here.  St. Teresa of Avila once complained to God, “If this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!”

As I ended my last post, this story in John came to mind, and I felt bad for not having Peter’s good attitude.  He answered Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.”  I heard Peter saying, “You’ve got it all–peace, joy, fulfillment.  Why would we leave?  We like it here.”  I was confusing ‘eternal life’ with ‘the good life’… spiritually speaking, of course–the delights of fellowship with God.  What was I thinking?  You want encouragement of the Biblical kind?  Acts 14 tells us that the apostle Paul was “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith,”  –what was his supportive message?–  “and saying, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.’”  What ever happened to “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands”?

happy baby

Jesus’ message was loony: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life.”  These are the “words of eternal life” to Peter?  Everyone was stumped, and many left Jesus over this cannibal homily–“If we understand what he is saying, it’s a problem… and if we don’t understand what he is saying, it’s a problem.”  Simon Peter, for all his flowery speech, was just as baffled.  Had he known Jesus spoke of his own sacrificial death, Peter would have corrected the Son of God himself.  For Peter, this was the one thing the “words of eternal life” could not possibly mean–the cross.

I think in all his fog, Impetuous Pete spoke the truth after all.  There is nowhere else to go because these are the words of eternal life, even if it leads through more pain and perplexity than other roads.  Those who stayed with Jesus after this sermon did so in confusion, not clarity, but they found him worth trusting right through the dark.  Even Peter finally followed him to his own crucifixion.  That is the one serious problem with resurrection–you have to die to get there.

cross

Posted January 28, 2013 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Walking Blind   8 comments

partsI have been soul-sick for several months now.  But today I feel okay.  Both the pain and the relief are inexplicable.  I accept mystery… as long as it stays theoretical.  But I find practical mysteries at best annoying: where are my glasses, which street do I take, why is the car making that noise?  When not knowing is costing me money or making me late or (more profoundly) hurting my relationships or my heart, I become agitated.  For me, ignorance is not bliss, it is often agony.  My method for coping with a scary, unpredictable world is to figure it out, experiment till I get it working, find new configurations for the parts lying on the floor.  As long as I have untried options, I can keep hope alive.

TRY THIS IN THE DARK

TRY THIS IN THE DARK

But I seem to have run out of options.  I don’t know why I am depressed and I can do nothing to change it.  It is a mystery of the worst kind.  Mystery is just a highfalutin word for confusion, and being lost and blind does not make me happy, especially when I bash my shins every other step.  Kimberly is struggling in the same way, and it has driven us to our new year’s resolution or annual theme of life: be okay with not being okay.  It is our stumbling way of embracing faith.  It doesn’t light our path or clear away the rubble, but it is our way of handing back the situation to God: “We’ve tried everything, and it doesn’t work, so we’ll try to adjust ourselves to whatever might come.”

I commented to Kimberly in our prayer time two nights ago that I’m stuck with God.  If I thought I could find more peace with the devil, I’d look up his address, but I know leaving God would make me even more miserable.  I can make no sense of what God does, but I trust who He is, and for now that has to be enough.

Posted January 24, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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Inventing Tradition: Simplicity   Leave a comment

We think of traditions as ancient, honored customs… but they had to begin somewhere, sometime.  After all, the first Christmas was in a pile of barnyard hay with a few dirty sheep-herders gawking nearby (the natty, gift-bearing VIPs showed up later).  Jesus was not born in a room full of colored lights and snow-flake medallions.  Even the angels singing out in the muddy fields didn’t show up for his party as far as we know.  So Kimberly and I decided to start from scratch in creating our own unique holiday traditions.  We planned to emphasize a different aspect of the season each week of advent… only it isn’t playing out as we had expected.

CHARLIE BROWN ALL GROWN UP

CHARLIE BROWN
ALL GROWN UP

We both like Christmas conifers, and the use of evergreens in winter speaks to us of life outwitting death, of stubborn hope in the midst of barrenness.  So we decked our banisters and brought in a scrub tree from the yard.  My idea was to decorate in stages, emphasizing each particular advent week focus, but our scraggly, homegrown tree looked more like a sign of want than of hope.  It started life as a weed in our flowerbed, and not having the heart to toss it out, I dug it up and planted it in the back yard.  It has been growing there for four years, completely neglected, and is now 6 feet of meager, sickly green thistles.  Those barbs were painful enough to scrape against, but since the branches were so weak, we had to shove decorations deep inside.  We should have worn long sleeves and gloves.  That pathetic see-through shrub had all its defenses up… a tree thick with issues… how appropriate for our home.  It was truly a symbol of life… life as we know it.

NOT MUCH ROOM TO MOVE
BUT WHAT A VIEW!

To put a positive spin on our impecunious Christmas, our first week spoke of simplicity.  No lights, tinsel, streamers, or presents under the tree.  Even if we had a star, the top of the tree was too flimsy to hold it.  Kimberly and I live out of a shortage of resources.  I didn’t have the energy to find and care for a nice pine or fir, or even the initiative to plan that far in advance.  I had a little energy, and with it I transplanted a sprout, and now we have a tree, spindly as it is.  Having fewer resources makes for a tight circle of possibilities, and that may feel like a bare prison stripped of goodness or a narrow shelf above a sheer cliff.  We have felt that at times.  But a simple lifestyle may also be seen as freedom from the clutter of excess and from the need for a wider cleft in the rock.  We have fewer choices and less to protect, and that helps us focus on what is truly important, helps us enjoy the simple things more richly, gives us access to one another’s hearts more openly and easily.  The only difference between a simple lifestyle and an impoverished one is faith, and that difference is profound.

Posted December 13, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal

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The Gift of Life   6 comments

Kimberly woke me at 2 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning.  She felt uneasy, restless, and her heart was racing.  I couldn’t find the pulse at her wrist, so I tried her neck–boomboomboomboom–the staccato thumping of a quarter-mile sprinter, probably 200 beats a minute.  That scared me.  We were at her aunt’s home and I had no idea where the hospital was… I didn’t even know our address.  “Should we go to the ER?” I asked.  She said, “We can’t afford it, we don’t have insurance.”  I quickly answered, “That doesn’t matter.”  She responded, “I don’t want to sit there for hours in the waiting room.  By the time we see a doctor, I will have no symptoms to check.  Let’s look it up on the internet.”

WebMD called it “Supraventricular Tachycardia”– her heart’s electrical system was misfiring–and we should go to the emergency room if it “persisted”–how long is that?!  Her veins had been drumming for 10 minutes, but she had none of the listed signs of heart failure, so we kept reading.  It offered some home fixes–cough, gag, or shove her face in ice water to shock her pump steady.  She tried some dainty coughs, afraid of waking up others.  I told her to cough hard as I kept my finger on her jugular.  Within minutes the beating slowed.

So, tell me… what are you grateful for this Thanksgiving?

Posted November 27, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal, Story

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Under the Shadow [God’s Love Letter #8]   Leave a comment

Matthew 1:4 Ram fathered Amminadab and Amminadab fathered Nahshon

Wouldn’t it be great to be Billy Graham’s brother?  I’m not so sure.  How would you be introduced at parties?  Whose exploits would your children talk about around the dinner table?  In public, whose reputation would you be most concerned to protect?  CNN, Time, NBC would all contact you… with only questions about Billy.  Imagine your whole life and personhood defined by someone else.

Amminadab knew that feeling.  His name appears nine times before the gospel of Matthew, in four separate books of the Bible, and we know nothing about him.  But we know about his son Nahshon.  Even in the middle of a genealogical listing, the registrar pauses to trumpet Nahshon: “Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab was the father of Nahshon, the leader of the people of Judah.”  The only reason Amminadab’s name crops up at all is to note his relationship to Nahshon… except for his first appearance, when he is footnoted as the father-in-law of Aaron, the high priest of Israel.

We all live in someone else’s shadow that is cast by the spotlight on their better performance in cooking or speaking, patience or punctuality.  As I do life with others, it is naturally hard to feel good about myself, hard to avoid competing with Jennifer’s achievements, hard to resist comparing Jason’s friendliness to my own.  But when our culture also constantly rates us against our fellow, noting how we fall short, it becomes nearly impossible.  I can either sign up for this game where I must be a winner (in everything) to feel adequate, or I can opt out and be labeled a loser.  That is, I can constantly chase after the adequacy that is just beyond my grasp or I can give up in despair and accept my own worthlessness… or I can stumble into grace.

When you consider Amminadab, Nahshon, Aaron and Moses in the light of their descendant at the culmination of Matthew’s genealogy, they all rank shoulder to shoulder.  We all stand equally shadowed by Jesus’ glory.  But here the simile breaks down, for Jesus does not diminish us by his greatness, but transforms us by it.  We stand not in his shadow, but in his glory, and this comes not as the borrowed, vicarious glory of a famous relative, but in his fulfilling in us all he designed us to be.  Jesus being all he is makes me all I am and can be.  May we be such life-givers to one another.

Posted July 22, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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