Sometimes I just don’t want to write.
My mind just wants to be numb.
My heart just doesn’t want to feel.
I don’t want to pour out the heartaches and wounds of this tired soul.
I’d rather sit alone in silence.
Hold it in.
Pretend that life is perfect—or at least just fine–in these four walls.
Just not feel or even blink at the chaos that unravels around me and then lands in my lap a tattered mess.
But who would I be kidding?
I need to write.
It frees me from the loneliness of this life.
This broken, shattered life.
It gives me hope.
And in the distance, I hear an echo.
“That is my life too.”
I find community.
I find others with wounds like mine.
Others who know that life is not perfect within the four walls of our homes.
That we are not perfect wives or mothers or daughters or sisters or friends.
Others who know the heartache of loss and love and loneliness.
And in that community, I find hope.
I find renewal.
I find peace in the unraveling chaos.
Because, in the midst of community, I find Christ.
He draws close and He is in the midst of it all.
The healer of wounds.
The one who knits us together when the unraveling begins.
The one who holds fast to us when the world has emptied us of all hope.
The one who gives hope to the hopeless.
Sometimes we fail to say things to our children when we are thinking of them. Sometimes, it is because we don’t have the courage. Other times it is because we don’t have the time or the opportunity. Or, sometimes, we don’t know how they will respond. I thought I would occasionally post letters to my children to inspire others to share their hearts with their children, too. This first letter is to my son who is now 21 years old and who, last night, had to make a difficult choice to sacrifice a friendship he has had since first grade in order to try to save that friend’s life.
My Dear Son,
You have grown into a young man—one any mother would be proud of. You know the meaning of friendship—of true friendship. The Greek call this philia –fondness, appreciation, and loyalty to those you hold in community.
Your passion for life and those you care about drive every part of you. I admire it and at the same time I see it as a cross you bear. Your friendships have been characterized by loyalty, availability, honesty, trust, listening, nurturing, and a sense of finding a kindred spirit. But they also have been characterized by conflict, sacrifice, forgiveness, grief, and disappointment.
The depth of your friendships, the love you have for others in your life also means that you have had—and will continue to have—a sense of responsibility for those you care about. I know that you have had to choose, on occasion, doing what is right over the relationship. It has meant not just calling out your friends but also standing beside them when they desperately needed a friend they could count on. It has meant seeking help from family and friends to save the life of a friend. It has meant agonizing over the choice and ultimately choosing love and life, knowing that someday your friend might turn back to you, and may even thank you—hoping that you will have restoration.
It has also meant grieving deeply at the loss of some of your closest friends—whether the loss was because of death, or distance, or doing what was right. I have grieved for you, as I can’t imagine at your age having endured the loss that you have already endured. I know you have sought to understand loss and that, in many respects, it has eluded you. But I know that you have faith that someday you will heal, even if small scars remain. That somehow loss and grief will shape you in a way that will remind you that loving others was worth the pain of loss.
So I pray that you will continue to love deeply and value friendship above other things, for it is part of the fabric of who you are. It has been imprinted on your soul as long as I can remember. And, while it has been a burden at times, it has shaped you into a man of integrity and given you great joy. The way that you love others in community beautifully reflects Christ.
As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument through which God reveals to each the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them.”
With love always,
“Into this world of breathtaking opportunities and shocking atrocities, the church attempts to speak with relevance to women. But the message often fails to address the opportunities, changes and contingencies of life in a fallen world. It is not far-reaching enough to encompass every woman’s whole life within this multicultural, rapidly changing world.”
— Carolyn Custis James, Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women (Zondervan 2010)
I spent Friday evening and part of the day Saturday reading Carolyn Custis James’ new book, Half the Church. The quote above, printed on the inside cover, caught my attention. I often have felt short-changed by the message sent to women in the church—the message that we are to be wives and mothers first and that we are to submit to our husbands and take a backseat to the work of men in the church.
I’ve longed for more. I’ve longed to engage fully in the community.
Part of my longing and my inability to engage fully in the community is because I’ve bought into that message, at least partly. I’ve bought into the message that draws a line “establishing parameters for how much or how little we are permitted to do in the church” and that what I have to offer is “restricted to appropriate zones within the church” (p. 48-49). I haven’t bought into it intentionally—in fact, I’ve resisted it—but I let it seep in through the chinks in my armor and interfere with my identity as a woman Christ-follower. And, because I perceived that other women in the church willingly submitted to the message, I slowly conformed to the message.
Half the Church is refreshing. Using beautiful images of several women from Scripture, James paints a beautiful picture of God’s plan for women. She seeks to answer three questions:
(1) What message does the church offer women in the twenty-first century?
(2)What will the church do to address the rampant suffering of women throughout the world?
(3) What message are we sending to the world by how we value and mobilize our own daughters? (p. 41).
Candidly, I did not walk away with solid answers to those three questions. But, I’m not sure they were the questions I needed answered. Instead, I walked away with a refreshing view of God’s vision for women as His image bearers and ezars (warriors). That He desires me to be a vital contributor to the community—that He is counting on me to share the gifts He blessed me with. Only when I share my gifts do I enter God’s kingdom and carry out things I could never imagine.
So, as I reflect on the identity that I have through my relationship with Christ, I hold a beautiful, transformed, image, as God intended. Perhaps within the church I will still struggle to share my gifts if they are not welcome—if the role the church continues to offer women is limited. But, I don’t want my identity to be dominated by a debate about the role of women. Instead, I will seek to make my identity in Christ dominated by loving God and sharing the gifts He has given me in the everyday kingdom.
If you want a refreshing look at the vision God has for women in this broken world, I encourage you to read Half the Church. You might be disappointed that James doesn’t expressly address what the church can do to address the suffering of women in the world. But, I don’t think that is what she intended when she raised the question. Rather, I think she leaves that to us and our response to Christ. As we lean into Christ and engage in the kingdom as image bearers and warriors for Christ, He equips us to respond to the suffering and injustice in the world.
I sat quietly on the blue couch with my word for the year, “live.” 5:30 am, January 1, 2011. A new day. A new year. A word that seemed to have great significance especially on the first day of the year.
I ask myself, how will I live for Christ today? I had no sooner breathed those words when my cell phone rang. 5:37 am and my 21 year-old son was calling. My heart felt as though it had stopped. That feeling of dread. A son who had been out all night. Who had driven to a new year’s party with a friend. Why was he calling me? At this hour? The “what ifs,” the thoughts of terrible things began to run through my head.
As I answered, I heard, “Mom, everything’s okay, but I need you to come get me.” –Funny how even my son knew that a call at this hour would worry me. He knew those were the words I needed to hear first.
“Are you okay? Where are you? And, where’s your car?” I asked. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just cold. And my car,well, I can’t find it. That’s why I need you to come and get me.”
And so, the story unfolded. He went with a friend to a small party in an area of town where she grew up–and area that my son didn’t know. They parked the car and went into the house. A few hours later, the group walked to the house of another friend–several blocks away. Here, they saw the new year in and some of these young adults–most who lived in the neighborhood–drank a little too much.
As the party began to break up around 3:30 am, my son realized that a few of these folks shouldn’t leave on their own, even though they were walking. So, sober and willing to help, my son pulled on his coat and hat, and walked a few of his friends safely home.
However, when he dropped of the last person and was ready to head home, he realized he had not paid attention when they had left the first house and walked to the second house. He only knew he had walked up a long hill to get to the second house and that he had walked several blocks.
So, for over an hour, in subfreezing weather, he walked the streets of NE Portland, looking for his car. He called his friend–who was asleep at the second house–for direction. No answer. He walked back to the second house and knocked. No answer. And, I’m sure he called a few more friends before he called me.
“I’m at the corner of Stuart and Alameda. How soon can you get here?” I turned on my GPS to see where I was headed, “20-25 minutes. Stay safe and warm. I’ll be there soon.”
And so, as I drove to get my son, I thought of my word — live — and I thought about my son. I thought about how his fun evening–catching up with friends home from college for the holiday, bringing in the new year–had turned into a morning of fatigue, and a feeling of helplessness and, perhaps, foolishness. I thought about how he must feel standing alone on a dark street in freezing weather, surrounded by homes, yet all alone.
And, I thought about how desperately I just wanted to be there to help him.
This moment reflected what it means to live in relationship with others. How necessary it is that we spend time in relationship with others. That we look out for those God has placed before us. And, that we learn to lean on others, even when we are ashamed or embarrassed.
As I pulled up to the corner of Stuart and Alameda, I saw my son’s dark figure standing in the fog. He jogged over to the car and slid into the seat next to me. “Thank you, mom,” he said, with eyes of gratitude. “You’re welcome. Let’s find your car so you can go home and get some sleep.”
That afternoon we laughed about how he had lost his car in the middle of a city neighborhood. But, it made me think about how lost and lonely we can all feel even when we are surrounded by others.
Being surrounded by others is not enough. To live in relationship we need to be purposeful and authentic. We need to engage others, let down our guard, listen, lean, love. We need to live authentic lives loving others.
Christ showed us that model. He showed us that authentic love gives hope.
“Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. . . And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” — Colossians 3:12-15, 17.
As the last days of advent slip by, the shopping malls become mobbed with last minute shoppers. The frenzy to buy those last minute gifts begins. The stress mounts. Traffic. Wet roads. Jammed parking lots. Lines to pay. Shoppers walking among other shoppers. The rudeness gene kicks in–you know what I mean? The “me first” attitude. The “I got here first” mentality. The “get out of my way” expressions. The dirty looks when you even slightly bump someone and turn to apologize.
Where is Christ in this picture? Well, I think you’ll agree, He’s not. He’s lost in the commercial, profit-driven, season. But the good news is that some folks are reclaiming Christmas and the Malls–reminding the crazed shoppers that Christ is what this season is about.
In a shopping mall in Canada, a flash mob blessed the shoppers with a beautiful, and moving, rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus. Over a hundred members of the Chorus Niagara converged on the food court and, well . . . see for yourself!
How will you reclaim Christmas (and the malls) for Christ this year? You don’t need to organize a flash mob. But, perhaps just plan or spontaneously do one small thing that might bless someone caught up in the commercial, profit-driven message. One small thing that allows God’s radiance to shine in the darkness.
(the video was made by alphabetphotography.com)