Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thankful Thursday - Looking back and looking across

A year ago tonight, on the third Thursday of February of 2016, my daughter told her story, a story of fear and pain, suffering and illness, to a group of new friends at a local church. She was so brave, as she always is. She told the truth. She told it plain. It was a story about the crazy love of God in a crazy time in her life eight years before. A time when she couldn't think clearly or sleep or sit still, nor could she (or any of us) understand why she couldn't think clearly or sleep or sit still.

The verse that we chose as the theme verse that night last year was this:
The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. 
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

As she told her story a year ago tonight, we listened attentively.
We laughed. We groaned.
We cried - well, I sure did.

When she was done with telling her story, some of the people in the room asked questions. Some complimented her for her courage. Others just sat in quiet respect for my dearly beloved child.

Then I prayed. This is what I prayed that night -

Dear loving, cradling, singing God,

We thank you tonight that you are indeed mighty to save, that you take great delight in us, that you quiet us with your love and rejoice over us with singing. What an image that brings into our minds - a gentle, loving, patient mother/father/parent God, singing your troubled children to sleep, calming our anxious hearts, showing us that you are right here with us, at all times, even when things fall apart. 

Lord, we acknowledge now that we are all facing challenges, we are all dealing with things that are falling apart, things that have fallen apart, and every single one of us worries about things that we think will fall apart in the not-too-distant future. Please forgive our persistent fear and worry. Forgive us for thinking that we can insulate ourselves from failure, pain, illness, and loss. Forgive us for being more concerned about ourselves and our families and friends and children than we are about other people and those they love. Forgive us for not caring enough about other people - whose worlds are falling apart - enough to get involved and make a difference, even when it doesn’t affect us directly or personally. 

Thank you, Suffering Lord, Weeping Christ, for meeting us in the graveyards of our lives, for meeting us in the hospital rooms, for meeting us at the lawyers’ offices, for meeting us in our lonely, fearful, broken, sorrow-filled, most fallen apart places - and just being there with us. Thank you for the many times when you heal those broken places. Thank you, that even when you don’t fix it all, you stay with us through it all. Thank you for walking with us every step of this journey we call life. 

As we leave this place tonight and return to our worlds, patched and stitched, stapled and taped together as they are, please increase our awareness of your presence. Please open our ears, our eyes, and our hearts to perceive your hand at work in us and through us. Please continue to intercede for us beside the throne of grace, and please hear us now, as together we lift up the prayer you taught your disciples to pray, saying - (and here we recited The Lord's Prayer together) Amen

The very next morning, a new chapter of her story began to be written. 
She entered into the most difficult three month period of her life.
Sorrow upon sorrow. Buckets of tears. 
Dozens of appointments with too many doctors.
Endless days and sleepless nights. Deep sadness. 

During more than one hospital visit, I spoke the words of our theme verse to her -
"The Lord your God is with you, my sweet girl.
Mighty to save. God can and will quiet you with love
and rejoice over you with singing.
I will believe this for you until you can believe it for yourself."
I don't know how much she heard or understood, 
but I kept saying it and I kept praying it.
I kept pleading and interceding on her behalf.
And so did countless others. 

During an especially meaningful conversation with one of the pastors of my church about half way through that difficult season, I showed him the prayer I had written for that fateful church gathering and he suggested that I return to it and keep praying it. Why hadn't I thought of that before? So I read and reread that prayer for weeks - tears flowing, heart breaking. 

I thanked God for giving me the prayer, but I screamed at God for giving me the prayer. I thanked God for the love and care of doctors and nurses, but I wished I had never had any reason to meet any of them. I thanked God for the hope that my family and friends kept encouraging me to hold on to, but I was extremely angry that hope was all I had to hold on to. 

Looking back, my heart still breaks with the weight of all that we carried together for those three months.
Looking across the family room where I am sitting right now, my heart breaks with the joy of seeing how well my daughter is doing now. I know I write about her a lot. I know I've written chapters of her story before. But looking across the room now, I see a cum laude college graduate with a degree in sociology. 
Looking back, I remember the fear I lived in, the fear that one of my favorite mantras - "All shall be well" - might not be true after all. 
Looking across, my hope is restored. My joy is abundant. My daughter is back and she is happy and she is stronger than ever. She has absolutely no idea just how amazing she is. Just how strong. Just how remarkable. 

Looking back and looking across, I recognize and acknowledge that there are no guarantees of ease or protection or perfection or safety or good health in her future. Or mine. Or anyone's. 
But looking back and looking across, I am reminded of God's comforting presence. I am reminded of the verse that we chose for a year ago tonight: 

The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

The Lord our God is with all of us,
with each of us, mighty to save.
God takes great delight in us,
quiets us with his love,
rejoices over us with singing.

Looking back and looking across, I am grateful, so very grateful.
For life itself. Being alive is a gift.
Being alive and being loved - priceless. Truly priceless.
For joy and laughter.
For healing and wholeness.
For companionship on the journey - especially during the tough times.
For hope, hope that does not disappoint.
For hope and a future.

Looking back and looking across, I think I'm gonna get up and
go hug her and then I'm gonna go get both of us a piece of the
dark chocolate bark we made for Valentine's Day.
We have a lot of love and healing and courage and hope to celebrate.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

"Nevertheless She Persisted"

Our national government is a mess.
A disaster. One fiasco after the other.
Alternative facts. Just making stuff up as they go along.
Executive orders. Executive disorder. Horrific.
And no one can convince me otherwise.
Some said, "Wait and see. Don't judge him before he gets to the White House.
Give him a chance. Your fear means you have attributed too much power to one man."
Now we have waited and seen. And what we see is ridiculous.
Outrageous. Deeply disturbing.
On every level.

Yesterday, a senator was silenced in the chamber.
Silenced by a rule that says one senator cannot criticize or insult or badmouth another.
A woman silenced by a man. For speaking against a man who has shown himself to be untrustworthy around issues of race and equality and justice.
He can say whatever he wants to say, but she cannot.
He can make life difficult for black voters in the south,
but she cannot speak about what has been said about him.

But in his silencing of Elizabeth Warren, Mitch McConnell gave a whole lot of women a new mantra.
A rallying cry. A goal that we are now gonna work towards.
If my sources are correct, this is what he said:

"She was warned.
She was given an explanation.
Nevertheless she persisted."

I have read that some women are now feeling motivated by his words to live in such a way that those words are on their tombstones. Some have said that we should have tee shirts made that say: "Nevertheless she persisted." (Apparently that is already happening!)

After being cut off by Mitch, Elizabeth Warren stepped out of the Senate chamber and read the Coretta Scott King letter she was prevented from reading. That video has gone viral and has launched a wave of reactions that Mitch would never have had to deal with if he had just let her read the letter in the chamber. I sure hope he regrets that decision now.

How many times in your life have you been warned, been given an explanation?
How many times have warnings and explanations stopped you from pursuing what you wanted, dreamed, and hoped for?
How many times have the warnings and explanations prompted you to persist?

When I was a kid, growing up with three older brothers, I was told that there were sports things I shouldn't do and couldn't do. Play two hand touch football. Play basketball. Play catch. Play hide and seek. Hang out with boys. I ended up being invited to join the high school track team when I was in seventh grade and kept on running through most of my college career.

She persisted.

When I was in junior high and high school, I heard that most college students gave up their faith practices in college. Who has time for church and faith and prayer when there are track practices to attend and exams to take and papers to be written? I attended the Williamstown Baptist Church all four years of college, attended and served as a leader of the college Intervarsity Christian Fellowship group, and regularly attended campus prayer meetings at 7 am. I confess that I often showed up at church after only a few hours of sleep following late night parties on Saturday nights. I didn't always wake up in my own dorm room on Sunday mornings. But I still went to church - not out of a sense of obligation, but because I loved being there. I loved the people. I loved the sense of community. And I loved the old hymns of the church. So off I went.

She persisted.

A classmate of mine from college made the decision to take Sundays off from studying. She and her then boyfriend, now husband, felt convicted about keeping a sabbath day, taking an entire day off every week. I told her it wouldn't work. I was the one who gave her a warning and an explanation. She proved me wrong. They both proved me wrong. They were outstanding students - even though they didn't do school work on Sunday. They are both college professors now.

She persisted.

People who claimed to know us and love us told me and Steve that our marriage, our interracial marriage wouldn't last. Our children would suffer because of our selfish decision to cross race lines and be joined as husband and wife. At least one of those people chose not to attend our wedding. But here we are, thirty years after our first date, more than twenty five years after our wedding - still together. The same cannot be said about several of our loudest critics way back then.

She persisted.

Even before our children arrived on the scene, we made the decision that I would be a full-time, stay at home mom. When our daughter was three, we made the decision that I would homeschool her. I was told that it wasn't a good idea to homeschool because I couldn't protect them from all the harm and danger and bullies in the world. I was told that they would be introverts and social misfits. I was told that they wouldn't know how to deal with people outside our home. One is a college graduate. The other is in college. One spent sixth grade at a local Christian school, but then decided to come back home and graduate from high school here under our roof. It wasn't easy. There were many, many days when I wished I could put them onto a school bus and watch them head off to be taught by someone else. I wanted to be alone in my house. I wanted to know what it was like to have a martini at lunch time.

She persisted.

Not long after beginning seminary last year, I was informed by someone who was offended by something I said in a class that my opinion was not welcome in the seminary classroom. That for the next four and half years, I needed to keep my personal feelings and convictions to myself. Essentially I needed to just talk about God and the Bible and other non-offensive subjects. I responded that if I was wrong, if I was misinformed, then seminary was the place for my wrongheaded ideas to be corrected. If I was indeed racist and anti-authority, what better place for me to be set straight than in conversation with other seminarians and our professors?

She persisted.

I have a dear friend hard at work trying to bridge the enormous divide between the church where she pastors and a dangerous apartment complex across the street from her church. Gun shots. Drug deals. Frightful residents. Gang members. Much prayer. Much persistence. Much hope.

She persists.

I have a dear friend and family member who is preaching and teaching and writing and raising two children and learning new ways to love and support her husband in spite of all kinds of health challenges and work demands. She is one of the strongest, most determined, hard working, God-loving people I have ever known.

She persists.

Two nieces of mine, beautiful and inspiring sisters, have worked their way through college with their mom's help, support, and love. They are musical. Artistic. Multi-lingual. Smart. Articulate. Did I mention that they are gorgeous too? Even between bouts of anger and sorrow, job searches and apartment searches, they seek reasons to remain hopeful. Another niece was recently married in Virgina. Another has a one-year-old daughter that she and her husband absolutely adore. Two nieces by marriage have gorgeous babies of their own. Such powerful women. Such commitment to mothering and working, writing and running businesses of their own. They inspire me more than they know.

They persist.

We have all been warned.
You can't do this. You shouldn't do this.
No one does this.
There is no way to do this thing that you want to do.

We have all been given explanations.
Because it's too hard.
Because other people won't like it.
Because it's dangerous.
Because women don't do things like this.
Just because...

Nevertheless we persist.
We must persist.
Because if we don't persist, the terrorists win.
If we stop speaking up,
if we stop acting up,
if we stop living the lives we have been called and created to live,
if we allow fear-mongering to silence and sideline us,
if we give in and give up and give over to despair and defeat,
then the terrorists who are taking over our government,
the haters, the thieves, the liars, the silencers,
the racists, the xenophobes, the gangsters in government,
they win.
We cannot let them win.

I refuse to be defeated. I refuse to be silenced.
I refuse to be subject to mansplaining without telling the truth as I know it.

So warn me if you want to.
Give me an explanation if you must.
But know this - nevertheless, I will persist.
Nevertheless, we will persist.