News travels fast (and then what?)

We wake up to the news that an earthquake has devastated Nepal.

And my day begins with a burdened feeling for people I don’t even know. I search Twitter for news. For photos. I scan Facebook for news about people I know who live/work/travel in the area. I am hungry for information and in the information age, news comes as quickly as fast food through a drive-up window.

Quick. Now. Instant. I want to know everything and I want to know it now.

On the one hand, it’s a blessing. Tragedy strikes and we can know within hours if loved ones, friends, acquaintances are safe. We can mourn in real time with those who are suffering. We are connected across oceans in ways that still astound me.

News travels fast.

Pavan Trikutam | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Pavan Trikutam | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Sometimes, though, it’s a curse. News travels so fast that it’s often just as quickly forgotten.

Today, we are focused on Nepal. And maybe tomorrow we will be, too.

But our attention will fade long before the work is done. We will move on and those who have suffered loss will remain in their pain.

We swear we’ll never forget but we do. All the time.

Remember Ebola? There are people in Liberia and other West African nations who have daily been unable to forget because they are on the ground in the midst of the outbreak, doing the work.

Or what about the university attacks in Kenya?

Or how about Hurricane Sandy? Or the Midwestern tornado that leveled an Illinois town called Fairdale? Or any other countless disasters that wreck lives on any given day?

We can’t remember them all. We’re human, aren’t we? And the world is so messed up that bad news seems to be the only news, and who needs that to drag them down day after day? Right?

I confess: it’s easier to turn off the TV, or not watch the news in the first place, or scroll past the Tweets or Facebook posts about tragedy, or scan them with a “not-another-one” attitude. I do it all the time.

I’m not proud of that.

When I was a newspaper reporter, the pressure was high to publish breaking news and follow up on that news in the days after. But every day was something new and sometimes one tragedy trumped another. We’d make it to the one-year anniversary of an event and I’d think, “Has it been a year already?”

News travels fast and time passes quickly and life goes on.

But what if it’s your tragedy?

We can blame the media, but it’s not really their fault. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine. (And yours. But I can only deal with my fault. You’ll have to deal with yours.)

As I scrolled through Twitter today, looking at pictures from Nepal, I wondered about the role of the photographers. I questioned the sanity of people tweeting while running from an avalanche on Everest. I even wondered if I should believe everything I read on the Internet.

When news travels fast, it’s not always accurate, at least not at first, but there are circumstances where some news is better than no news, even if it’s wrong. (The journalist inside me is screaming “NO” at that statement.)

It is good for us to see that people are huddling in tents in Kathmandu as night falls. And it’s good for us to be reminded that the water supply is dwindling. And it is right that we know that the death toll is climbing. Because the more we know, the more we’ll connect, and the longer we’ll remember.

At least, I hope so.

We want to help, I think. Most of us do, anyway. So we send money. We pray. Or if it’s a closer-to-home tragedy, maybe we bring food. Send a card. Take a team to help.

Maybe you respond to suffering and tragedy like I do. You want to do something NOW. You want to spring into action. Head to wherever the tragedy is, to whomever is suffering, swoop in and fix it.

The truth is that there are no quick fixes to tragedy, and lots of organizations (the Red Cross, Samaritan’s Purse) respond immediately. Even individually, we are good at clearing our consciences by helping or offering to help right away.

But what happens a month later? Or a year later? Or 10 years later?

The woman who has lost her husband unexpectedly continues to grieve well after the funeral is over. The mother who loses a child aches forever. When the camera crews go home after a hurricane or a tornado, the work continues. The rebuilding doesn’t stop. I remember standing in the moldy, water-stained house of a family in North Carolina a year after their community was destroyed by a hurricane. Almost everything they had belonged to FEMA, and our little crew from Indiana barely remembered the storm.

My heroes are first-responders of any kind. The men and women who rush in when others are fleeing. They are a special breed of human, and sometimes I think that if I am not built to be a first-responder then maybe I can’t help at all.

We need first-responders. Desperately. But we also need second-responders. And third. And tenth. We need–and need to be–people who show up not just on the day of but on the day after. And days after. Who step in when the wounds we can see have been bandaged but the wounds we can’t see are still oozing.

I don’t know how we do that except to be responsible for our own intake of information. Maybe we need to clear our Twitter feeds of celebrity gossip and TV shows (guilty) and fill it with news sources, relief agencies, charitable organizations. Maybe we need to watch the news once in a while or read a newspaper.

Maybe we need to do more. (Check out what a couple of guys from our denomination are doing to support the Ebola relief in Liberia.)

Maybe we need to read the articles and look at the pictures and sit with our grief when these things happen. We don’t need to feel good and happy all the time. We can mourn with those who mourn. (I should also say that there are times when we need to not to do this, too. Say, if a personal tragedy is still fresh and raw. We can step away for a time from situations that will cause us more grief personally. It’s just easy for that to turn into an all-out avoidance of any kind of suffering. I know this from personal experience.)

What other ideas do you have?

An inspiring book on this subject is Eugene Cho’s Overrated. What a challenge to us to stop being in love with the idea of changing the world and actually start changing the world.

And if you’ve never heard the song “Now the News” by Eli, check it out and let yourself be challenged by its message.

What do I do with the money issue?

I love money.

There, I said it.

I’m not supposed to say it, especially since I also love Jesus. You know, that whole Bible verse about not being able to love God and money at the same time. And the other one about the love of money being the root of evil. It’s not something any God-fearing, Jesus-loving, Bible-reading person should admit to.

And yet. I can’t deny it anymore. wpid-20150423_131110.jpg

I love money. I love earning money for work well done. I love having enough money to pay our bills and buy things we need/want and give to others.

But I also hate money. Especially when there’s not enough. Or someone else has what I perceive as too much money.

Then, I want to find a way to live without money. To simplify my life in such a way that I don’t need as much money just to get through the day.

I love money. I hate money. And I get so frustrated trying to find the middle ground, a place where I can be grateful for what I have without developing an insatiable desire for more.

Money has always meant security for me. If we have enough to pay the bills, then I breathe a bit easier. If we’re cutting it close, I worry. Paying bills and buying groceries and doing the checkbook math give me anxiety until the next payday. And when we come up short, I grasp at any opportunity, however slim, to fix it.

In January, I applied for a part-time work-from-home job I wasn’t qualified for because our income was unexpectedly lower. In the first part of this year, we used our credit card for the first time in years to make up the difference until our tax return came. And because our tax return was later than we expected, the weeks held more anxiety than I wanted, and I was thinking about money. All. The. Time.

Things are better now. Not great but better. And I’m still thinking about money a lot.

How much we have.

How much we need.

How much we’ll get.

It’s a tough spot. In our house, my husband makes the majority of the money and I do the bill paying and budgeting. (I’m terrible at the latter.) My husband has such a generous heart. He always wants to give. And I’m such a worried hoarder that I always want to keep what we have. Just in case. Thankfully, we don’t fight about money. Though, I’m sure we could.

But it’s a problem for me, the whole money=security thing. And I’m tired of pretending it’s not.

Tell me I’m not the only one pretending I don’t love money.

In case that’s not a shocking enough confession for you, let me also say this: I’m a sporadic tither. I used to be pretty great at it. Ten percent or more in the offering plate every time I or we got paid. I believed what they told me, that if I gave God a little, I wouldn’t miss it. And I didn’t. But there are so many weeks that the math doesn’t add up, and I can’t understand why God would want me to write Him a check if it meant I couldn’t feed my family or pay the heat. Yeah, it’s been that bad at times.

What’s the answer? Somebody tell me because I don’t know. I want to do good with what we’re given, and I know I fall short. A budget is a start. Using my talents to earn money is another step.

But what about that whole trusting in God thing?

Last week, in church, we talked about “blessed are the poor,” the words Luke uses. Not the “poor in spirit” that Matthew uses. And the prosperity gospel nonsense of belief leading to material blessing. I have seen God provide for impossible circumstances for our family, in ways we could not have imagined. But I have also seen faithful Godly people struggle to make ends meet for a very long time through no fault of their own. And let’s not even talk about global poverty and the kind of faith among the truly impoverished that puts mine to shame.

I can’t undo that I live in this country. That my husband and I have college degrees. That we have two kids. That the “cost of living” is what it is where we live. (Sure, we could move. But there are always trade-offs.)

So, what can I change?

For starters, my heart. (Why does it always go back to my heart?!) I can choose to not let money be my god by trusting God no matter what. And I have to kill my pride by submitting to a system that helps me track where our money goes. I like to think we spend our money wisely, but I know better. We aren’t extravagant, I don’t think. But we aren’t disciplined, either.

Somehow, there’s a balance between being wise and being gracious. A writer friend recently said that he and his wife don’t make any decisions based on money, either earning it or spending it. And they’ve been in a place of deep debt with desperate need for income. We made that mistake once, and it cost us dearly.

Maybe to tame the money beast I have to acknowledge my fears. What is it I’m afraid of? And why do I think money keeps that fear at bay?

I don’t have any great wisdom for you today. I wish I did. I just felt like I had to put into words what I’ve been wrestling with in my heart and my mind.

Maybe you struggle this way, too. If so, just know you aren’t alone. If not, then maybe you can share your experience with us.

What do you think? How can we relate to money without loving it?

The ‘whole’ truth {a stop in the #OneWord365 journey}

Not far from our place is a house overlooking the river. A few months ago it was for sale, and it wasn’t on the market long. A ranch-style house, it wasn’t as spectacular or flashy as some of its neighbors, but its location is prime. I didn’t think much of it until we drove past one day and the house was gutted and the roof was off.

The new owners, apparently, are taking the frame of the house and turning it into something of their own. They’ve added a second story and a bay window and what the house is becoming is unrecognizable from what it was when they bought it. ow_whole

Transformation can feel like this–a tearing down and a rebuilding–and that’s the theme so far of my OneWord365 journey this year.

In becoming “whole” I’ve first become a whole lot more broken.

But Love has pitched his mansion in

The place of excrement;

For nothing can be sole or whole

That has not been rent. — Crazy Jane Talks With the Bishop, by William Butler Yeats

I’m reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Two-Part Invention, a chronicle of her marriage. She quotes this poem by Yeats, and I can’t stop thinking about it. That to become whole I must first be torn.

I’ve been seeing a therapist for a few months and that’s what this process feels like sometimes. A shredding of who I thought I was, of what I believed. A ripping apart of the falsehoods. An exposing of the inner wounds. I leave the office sometimes having shed more tears in an hour than in the weeks prior, and though I am often exhausted by the emotional and spiritual toll of the work, the days afterward are healing and I feel more like my true self. More whole.

How it works, I don’t completely understand. How healing comes from brokenness, wholeness from pieces, I don’t know. But I can feel it inside. Every time I am torn by the pain of the past, every time I bring it into the light, I am one step closer to the me I lost.

I am almost glad I didn’t know this was part of the journey. I might not have started it had I known.

Jordan McQueen | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Jordan McQueen | Creative Commons | via unsplash

This L’Engle book is convincing me that her life and words have much to say to my own. I am a late bloomer when it comes to reading her work, and this is an unconventional place to start, I would guess. A Wrinkle in Time sits on my shelf in the to-read pile but I needed her words on marriage more.

She says of the union:

And what I must learn is to love with all of me, giving all of me, and yet remain whole in myself. (103)

This, too, is a mystery. I knew when I got married that two became one and something new was created, but I didn’t understand that I could still be me, too. We are two individuals living in communion, and I do not have to give up who I am to be his wife.

The losing of me is no one’s fault except my own. For many years, I couldn’t tell you what I liked. I wouldn’t make my own decisions or form my own opinions for fear of losing friends. Even in my early Christian experiences I felt the need to conform to be part of the group. Though I might have had my own thoughts, they were masked depending on the situation.

I remember a time in college when a bunch of us were sitting around talking about movies we loved. After someone named one, I would declare, “That’s the best!” I must have said the words a dozen times for a dozen different movies until someone called me out: “They can’t all be the best.” I didn’t even know I was doing it. A few years later, a friend asked me what my favorite cake was. She was going to bake it for my birthday. I had no answer, so I told her white cake with white frosting. (How boring is that!?) No offense if that’s your favorite, but it wasn’t mine. It was just the safest choice. (For the record, the answer is Boston Cream Pie. Or ice cream cake.)

Becoming whole means accepting me for who I am and who I could be. It means discovering my wants, needs and likes and not being afraid or ashamed of them. I feel like I’ve only recently begun to get to know myself. Some days I’m sad that it took so long, but I’m trying to be grateful that it’s happening at all.

A few years ago after our marriage crisis, we attended a one-day marriage workshop that my husband helped plan at his school. One of the therapists leading the workshop led us in an exercise to build a bridge or some kind of structure using uncooked spaghetti noodles and marshmallows, I think. I have no gift for envisioning a strategy but Phil immediately had a plan. We set to work and when the time was up, we hadn’t gotten as far as some of the others. I was feeling bad about our seemingly failed attempt when the therapist went around the table pointing out the positive attributes of each structure.

“Phil and Lisa’s might not be very tall, but it’s solidly built. It’s going to hold up over time.”

Those weren’t her exact words, but the thought behind them. They were perfectly timed, and she had  no idea what we’d been through. I hang onto those words, still, for me and our marriage and the path that we’re on.

I may have gotten a late start on knowing myself, but I’m building a foundation that will support something I can’t yet see. It’s not about how tall or fast or soon but how firm the foundation. How solid the frame.

I may yet discover more tearing down, more shredding that needs to be done. Maybe that’s always part of the process. But I’m looking forward to the piecing back together. The rebuilding and restoring.

Most of all, I know now that broken isn’t always bad. Nor is it the end.

Sometimes broken has to come before whole.

The difference lighting a candle makes

Sometimes I wake early when the world is still dark. I stumble, half-awake, to the kitchen, then to the living room, gathering supplies, turning on as few lights as possible. I strike a match and watch it burn, lighting a candle, turning off lights. I sit in the darkness with the glow of this small solitary flame encircling me.

I watch. And I pray.

There are many things to pray for these days. Every day, but maybe I am just more aware now than I have been before.

There is a community, several in fact, near our hometown, crushed by an epic storm that took life and property and left only destruction. It is close enough to where we grew up that I recognize towns and places. And I ache for the losses and the uphill battle of restoration that awaits.

There is a woman facing a cancer diagnosis, not her first, and it doesn’t look good. But she is fighting back, refusing to give in a single day before the fight is over. I haven’t seen her in years but I know the fight is in her. And I ache for the hard days ahead.

There is another woman fighting to get back to the life she knew. Her family is with her but they are weary, I’m sure, and the battle is long.

I ache because I can’t fix anything and all the things I could do feel so small.

What can I do?

What difference would it make?

So I end up overwhelmed, doing nothing at all.

A few years ago, my husband and I visited a Catholic shrine in the suburbs of Chicago. We are not Catholic, but we are increasingly interested in the old ways. Ancient practices. Orthodox traditions. The things that often are said with distaste in our evangelical circles because they are viewed as ritual, without meaning.

That day, though, I remember feeling surrounded by the holy. Holy can be anywhere and everywhere, and sure there was plenty of human there that day, too, but I was awed. And there were candles flaming, lit for those who needed prayer, a miracle.

I lit one that day, and now I can’t remember why, but there was something significant about lighting a candle, piercing the darkness with a flame of light.

How long the candle burns, I don’t know, and yes, I put in some money to offset the cost of the candle. Perhaps it burns, still.

I pray, yes, and sometimes I forget to pray. I care, and sometimes I forget to show I care.

I so want to pray and yet I am overwhelmed by the needs. Could I ever pray enough for all of them?

The answer, of course, is no, I couldn’t and I can’t.

But is there more to prayer? Is there more than whispers, spoken words, names on a list?

I am a tactile person in a tactile world and sometimes praying seems like not enough. Has it made any difference?

But the candle, the light in the darkness, this means something to me. It is an act I can see and when combined with my words might it make a difference?

I’m not yet sure how to make this a practice. I cannot keep candles burning in my house all the time, but could I light a candle more often?

I want to push back the darkness with light, even if the light is small. And maybe that’s  just what my prayers are. Tiny little lights in the dark world, like stars in the heavens shining against a backdrop of black.

Josh Felise | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Josh Felise | Creative Commons | via unsplash

“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness,” the adage says. I believe it’s okay to curse the darkness, to grieve the losses and even ask “why, God?” but to stay there is to let the darkness overcome.

Curse the darkness, then light a candle or whatever that means for you. Send a card. Speak a life-giving word. Encourage. Lift up.

There is far too much light left in the world to let the darkness win.

Look for the light.

Be the light.

Light your candle and let it burn.

What do you think of the practice of lighting a candle for prayer?

How can you be light in the world?

For the days when hope is too hard {and a preview of A.D. The Bible Continues}

So, it’s Holy Week, and a lot of people are writing about it, and I’m not sure I have anything meaningful to say about it. In fact, sometimes, I’m not sure what to do with Holy Week. I’m still relatively new to the church calendar and its seasons and I always want Lent and Holy Week to be special and sacred and yet I often fail to plan for either one.

I find myself wondering during Holy Week why we continue to tell the story of these days. Why we commemorate Good Friday when we know how it ends on Easter. And I know there is purpose in the telling and telling again because we forget and we need to pause and remember. But there always seems to be a lot of pressure to tell the story in a new way, to host an event or draw a crowd. Easter is a BIG DEAL for Christians and churches and it lasts far beyond Sunday morning, though I forget that, too.

In the midst of regular life–school and work and grocery shopping and laundry–Holy Week breaks in.

It’s a curious story from start to finish. The shouts of “hosanna.” The washing of feet. The breaking of bread. The talk of a new covenant. The betrayal. The trial. The crucifixion and death. The hopelessness and the waiting. The miraculous resurrection. It’s an emotional roller coaster when you think about how it played out the first time.

It helps me to remember that life is like that, too. Expectations. Thrills. Disappointments. Death of dreams. Questions and doubts. Miracles. Unimaginable newness.

I have to look hard in the Gospels to find those emotions and themes. Sometimes the story is too familiar.

So, I’m grateful when creative people can take familiar stories and rethink them. I’ve mentioned this before with biblical fiction books. And we recently had the chance to visit Sight and Sound Theatre in Lancaster to see Moses on stage. I come away from these experiences with a better understanding of biblical times.

And it happened again this week when I received the chance to watch the first episode of the upcoming TV series “A.D. The Bible Continues” through a perk from Klout.

Now, I missed the previous TV series about the Bible, but I heard great things about it. This is the continuation from Mark Burnett, Roma Downey and company, and while I was a bit skeptical (because sometimes the Bible on the big screen is cheesy or overly dramatic or just terribly done), I have to say that if the first episode is an indicator, then this will be a good series. The show premieres on Sunday on NBC, which is not coincidental timing, I’m sure, being that it is Easter, but the televised story begins on Good Friday.

I almost wish you could watch it before Sunday because the horror, shame and despair of Good Friday and the following day come through. The disciples are beyond disappointed. Confused. Unable to hope even when Mary begs them to wait at least three days before giving up. It is powerful and beautiful. I love seeing historical settings as they might have been. They help me to fill in the details the Bible leaves out and give me access to a world I otherwise couldn’t enter.

Like the clothing the elite women (Pilate’s wife and the High Priest’s wife) wear. It’s colorful and extravagant, almost reminiscent of medieval clothing. I forget that the rich and powerful would dress differently than the others, even in a culture from 2,000 years ago. The diversity of characters reminds me that it was a diverse culture. Not primarily Caucasian. And not all young or old. Peter and John and mother Mary and Mary Magdalene all look different than I would have imagined them. And that’s a good thing.

And the words that aren’t recorded in the Bible give depth to the characters. One line that sticks out to me is one Peter says the day after Jesus is crucified.

What difference does any of this now make that he’s dead?

This is the question I must ask myself. What difference does Jesus’ death make? And what difference does His resurrection make? I look forward to watching the second episode because the first ends on a hopeful note but doesn’t take us all the way there.

Hope is hard sometimes, especially when all we see is death and chaos. I can hardly read news stories or scroll through Facebook without feeling like the world is one super messed up place and what does my faith matter anyway? What difference does it make?

Holy Week reminds me that despair is not the end of the story. That hope is hard when you don’t know the ending. But hope and love and life are coming and I can be a part of that story.

I don’t know where this series is going to go, but I know from reading the New Testament that the resurrection doesn’t mean happily ever after, either. If anything, the disciples’ lives become more difficult. But because they have a reason, because they see the difference Jesus’ life and death and resurrection make, they no longer live without hope.

That is why we tell and retell the story. Because we live in a world without a lot of hope. And we who believe Christ died and Christ is risen are hope-bearers in this world.

Hope, even when it’s hard, makes all the difference.

For more about the TV series, go to http://www.nbc.com/ad-the-bible-continues.

Two things I learned from journalism that help me navigate life

If we haven’t known each other for 8 or more years, you might not know that once upon a time I was a journalist–a newspaper reporter (later a copy editor and page designer) for daily publications in small towns in Illinois. I gave all that up when we moved to Pennsylvania and I became a stay-at-home mom, so sometimes it feels like a different life entirely.

A funny thing happened last week–my name and picture made it into the local paper where I live now. It was a brief mention because I’m co-teaching a workshop at a writers conference with a talented writing friend. I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was until people started telling me they saw my picture in the paper. I guess I haven’t been as vocal about being a writer as I could have been.

A decade ago, in my hometown, it was normal (and sometimes creepy) for random people to say to me, “Aren’t you that girl that writes for the paper?” or something similar. My picture was in the paper weekly. My name, almost daily. I had forgotten what that was like. (Not that I’m looking for a repeat of that experience!)

Journalism was a difficult career for me. I’m an introvert (though I don’t know that I would have known to call it that at the time). I was fresh out of college and not particularly happy about being back in my hometown. I hated conflict and sometimes had to create it because sources or public officials were not cooperating. There were painful times when something I wrote ticked off an entire community and I became their target for hateful words. (One time I couldn’t answer my phone for a whole day because every time it rang, someone was yelling at me.) There was also one embarrassing time when I misidentified a girl as a boy. (It’s a long story but one I’ll never forget.)

Yet when I look back on my somewhat brief career in journalism (Is 8 years brief? I don’t know. It was longer than I expected to stay in the business.) I’m almost nostalgic. (But I could not do the same job today in our social media saturated world. No, thank you.) I can see how beneficial it was for me, not only as a writer but as a person living life.

Alejandro Escamilla | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Alejandro Escamilla | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Two things stand out to me, especially on days when all I see is an overwhelmingly long list of things to do in a variety of life’s arenas. (P.S. Not my real workstation pictured. I would love to return to my Mac ways.)

The first is that there is always work to do, so do something.

I can’t ever remember a time I was bored while working in journalism. Well, maybe once or twice. It was not a large city, after all. But my work was almost never done. There was always another call to make, another story to write, another idea to pursue. I hated Mondays because all I could see was the long list of unfinished work, and by Friday, I might have accomplished most of it but I could always get a jump on the next thing. Breaking news happens fast but follow-ups take longer. Feature articles are always planned ahead of time so the designers can work their magic. “Done” was a dirty word because then an editor would find something else for you to do.

It could have been so overwhelming that I just did nothing until I needed to. But I was constantly switching from one activity to the next. I would write a bit of this story then answer a phone call from a source for another story before leaving my desk to go to an interview with a source for yet a third story. Maybe I’d get back to that first story later, but I might have to take a few hours off before heading to a government meeting later that night.

Yes, I got paid and it was part of the job, but it was still stressful. I couldn’t afford to waste five minutes doing nothing if I could use that five minutes to make a call or send an e-mail.

Now, I’m not saying that being constantly busy is a good thing. It’s not. But too often I think something like this: “Well, I don’t have time to finish the dishes or do all the laundry, so I’ll just do that later.” In truth, I generally have time to start the dishes or laundry, even if I can’t finish it. And then I feel better about taking time for leisure later.

As a stay-at-home mom who also blogs and does freelance writing and serves in leadership at church, there is always work to be done. This week’s to-do list includes housework, grocery shopping, writing, buying supplies for the church kitchen, catching up on book club reading so I can lead the discussion while our pastor’s wife is out of the country and I don’t even know what else! (I recently heard this called a portfolio life. It’s an interesting concept.)

Which brings me to my second lesson from journalism: expect the unexpected.

Oh, how I hate this one! I’m a planner, and I like when things go according to (my) plan. I’m not sure how I survived journalism. Even in a small town, news breaks at the most inconvenient of times.

Like at 5 p.m. on a Friday when a fax comes into the office announcing the closure of the town’s steel mill, the major employer in town, and practically no one is available for comment but you can’t go home because you have to try everyone and the story will run the next day.

Or when you’re just doing your usual police rounds on a Saturday afternoon weekend duty and you discover a news release about a family of four who drowned when their van went into the river and you have to spend the rest of the day talking to people who are grieving.

Or on another Saturday when the president who grew up in your hometown (Ronald Reagan) finally succumbs to Alzheimer’s and the stories you’ve been holding and writing and planning for months finally see the light of day.

Sometimes all my plans got pushed aside for something else that was going on. It was the nature of the business and it’s the nature of life.

I still have a hard time with this. I look at the week ahead and think about how calm and peaceful it will be and then 3 out of 4 us end up sick or there are two snow days and three school delays and everything I thought I would get done gets pushed back another week.

Some weeks will go as planned and some won’t. Sometimes I’ll get through my to-do list and sometimes I won’t. What I’m (slowly) learning is that I can trust the Spirit to lead me through the day. As I’m writing this blog post, I could also be cleaning the house, but at this moment, blogging is helping to clear my head for the rest of the day, which will certainly have its stressful moments. Another day might lead me to tackle the organizing projects I need.

I’m good at procrastinating the work I don’t want to do but I’m learning that if I take small steps or knock off a few smaller items on my list, then I’m less overwhelmed. (I also probably need a few less hats, but I’m working on that, too.)

How do you do it? Are you able to find balance in all the tasks of your life? Have you learned something from a job or a role that was surprising to you?

How close is too close? {The Proximity of Pain}

“I can’t imagine.”

I saw the words again recently in response to someone’s pain.

I don’t think anyone means to offend or hurt when they say those three simple words. The heart behind them is often “I have no idea what that’s like or how to comfort you.” But sometimes they come out sounding more like “I don’t want to think about what that would be like. I can’t–and won’t–identify with your pain.”

I’m guilty of it. Thinking that the words will soften the situation because if I can’t imagine then whatever it is must be tragic.

But I’ve used the words to distance myself from tragedies. (The greater tragedy is that the words have been spoken to me in the midst of personal crisis. Shouldn’t I know better?) I’ve given myself permission to go about my life without thinking about those who suffer. (Until I, myself, suffer.)

I can’t imagine. Or I won’t.

The difference is slim.

I’m not a great conversationalist, at least not when I’m on a mission to complete a task. I’m not likely to chitchat on the phone if I have a specific reason for calling. I usually try to get to the point quickly because I’m wired to value tasks more than people, I guess. Give me a to-do list, and I’m on it with enthusiasm. Ask me to manage relationships with the same enthusiasm and I’m overwhelmed to the point of inaction.

But God is working on me.

A few months ago, I delivered a meal to a couple who are battling the wife’s cancer. I don’t know them well, but I’m generally eager to make food and take it to those who are in need of some relief. I was ready to drop off the food and leave, but the husband kept me at the door, talking about his wife’s progress and the treatment schedule. It’s not that I wasn’t interested; it’s just that I don’t like to pry. I figure people get asked the same questions all the time and maybe they get tired of talking about it.

I listened. Maybe that’s all he needed.

A month or so later this would happen to me again. I was planning a funeral meal for another family in the church. I had a question for the daughter about meat and cheese. She ended up talking to me about the shock and pain of losing her mother unexpectedly. It was another of those situations where I didn’t know the family well. I listened, having no intelligent response.

I have little firsthand experience with things like cancer and death, so I think my questions will somehow be offensive or silly.

Maybe I don’t need better questions. Maybe all I need is to know how to listen.

We’ve been watching the TV show “About a Boy” which is about a boy, yes, but also about a man, Will Freeman, who lives a pretty self-centered lifestyle until he meets the boy, Marcus. Until recently, I didn’t know this was also a book. So, I read the story, and one passage in particular grabbed my attention. Marcus, a 12-year-old with problems at home and school, starts hanging out at Will’s bachelor pad, and this is what Will is thinking:

Will had spent his whole life avoiding real stuff. He liked watching real stuff and he liked listening to (songwriters) singing about real stuff but he’d never had real stuff sitting on his sofa before. (p. 117)

Real stuff is easy to read about or listen to or watch, but when it sits in your living room crying or talks to you over a cup of coffee, it’s hard. And uncomfortable. I’m not always ready to invite the real stuff into my real life. Because real stuff is messy and I have a hard enough time keeping my own space tidy.

What would have happened, though, if no one had let me in when I was a mess?

That, I can’t imagine.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted,” the psalmist writes, and I begin to see the error of my ways.

I keep distance between me and those whose hearts are breaking out of fear that my heart might break, too. It’s not as if tragedy is contagious, so why would I rather not immerse myself in someone else’s trouble? Am I afraid to get too close to cancer or death or loss or sadness because it might rub off? I do tend to be swayed by the emotions of others, and there are days my emotional cup is already too full.

Elisabetta Foco | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Elisabetta Foco | Creative Commons | via unsplash

But what if I’m doing myself a disservice? What if by closing my eyes to tragedy, by holding suffering at arm’s length, I’m distancing myself from God?

If the Lord is close to the brokenhearted, is it possible that I might get a glimpse of God if I would take a step closer?

For too many years, Phil and I kept others out of our pain. Not everyone, but most people. So it’s different to be letting people in again. The wounds we’ve covered over are open again and healing this time, and sometimes that means I’m raw with my feelings, emotions, and reactions. But the difference is: I’m letting people in to those painful spots. Instead of covering them up, I’m exposing them. And it’s not always pretty.

There are days I think it would be easier to live independently. To avoid the hurt that comes from being in community. In marriage, in friendships, in church, hurts are inevitable because all of those relationships involve people. And people are messy. (Guilty as charged.)

But there’s a kind of pain that wounds further and a kind of pain that heals, and I’m starting to learn the difference.

We are grateful to be in community with people who care enough about us to challenge us to do things we don’t always want to do, to help us heal and become better people. Is it painful to hear someone you care about say, “You know, you might want to think about that differently” or “Maybe that wasn’t the best decision”? Yes, it is.

But it is pain that heals if I let it.

What if Jesus had decided to keep his distance?

Our sermon series at church is in the book of Luke right now and it is hard not to notice how close to everyone Jesus is. He sits and talks and touches and listens and people are always crowding around him. He could have healed people from afar, and sometimes He did, but sometimes He purposely touches people to heal them.

Sometimes I wonder if He could have saved us if He’d never left heaven. Did He have to become human and live in our dirty, messy world? I don’t know if He had to but I know that He did.

communion

And He didn’t keep His distance from those in pain and suffering. He became our pain and suffering. He gave His whole self for our salvation. He entered our world and identified with our pain. He embraced us when we were unworthy. He brought healing and restoration.

But it cost Jesus His life.

It was painful, yes, but it was pain that heals.

And I forget that when I hold the bread in my hands–His body broken for me, and drink of the cup–His blood shed for me.

Broken body. Shed blood. Is there ever an instance when those actions don’t hurt?

I am human. (Shocking, right?) So my capacity to enter someone else’s pain, to identify with suffering and draw near to tragedy is limited.

But it’s not impossible.

And instead of avoiding suffering and tragedy and pain, I want to see Jesus in it.

If the Lord is near to the brokenhearted, then this is what I know: He is near to me in my pain and I can see Him in it. And I just might see a different side of Him when I embrace the brokenhearted, too.

Will I dare to imagine?