blessed be The Tie that binds

Yesterday’s sermon was on the adultery commandment. (Insert twiddling thumbs, whistling, and averted eyes.)  Yipp-ee.  Lovely, I thought as I scanned the bulletin for ANY other scripture texts for my “Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday” blog post.

Not a topic I’m jazzed to write about.

I am excited to celebrate our five-year anniversary this month.  So, even though I’d rather avoid this topic, it’s certainly one that matters.  When church people talk about marriage, they often use the word covenant.  My search on this term was less than encouraging.  Words like “binding” and “compact” might have newlyweds wondering what they signed up for.

Ben Afleck got some bad press for saying “marriage is work” during his Academy Award acceptance speech, but some stood in solidarity, acknowledging the truth in the statement.  This 4th of July weekend marked four days of togetherness for my hubby and me, no childcare, no working–no “marriage is work” type stuff–just family time dotted with fireworks and lots of coleslaw.

How could I screw that up, right?

Well, by the time Sunday rolled around, I was tired and one comment really got under my skin.  Before I knew it, I was all spun up, mad over a little thing.  I’m not prone to anger, but the car ride to church had my mind swimming in a stew of not-so-churchy thoughts.  After praying for guidance and some sort of anger exit ramp, I remembered advice I heard years ago:

“You can either practice being right, or you can practice being kind.”

I would like to say this phrase beamed me back to marital bliss.  It didn’t.  I was still steamed, silently practicing phrases that I was sure would have me bouncing in the middle of the marriage spat ring with arms lifted in victory, toward roaring applause.  Even though my heart didn’t feel quiet, and I really wanted to sling some of those zingers, I bit my tongue.  When we got home, I did some yard work to clear the flowerbeds and my head.

Many wouldn’t put this in a blog post about “adultery,” but faithfulness is woven together through a tapestry of ordinary days.  Yesterday was no different.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a feminist–not biting my tongue from mis-reading the “wives submit to your husbands” verse–but no matter male or female, in our covenant, I’m thankful for prayer when I know I’m actively screwing up something that Christ held in high esteem.  He described marriage as a vision of God’s relationship with the church.  When I chew on that for a minute, my grumbling about some little comment seems just that, little.  Even though I didn’t mean it at the time, I begrudgingly repeated the words of St. Francis’s prayer, “I ask that I might seek more to understand than to be understood.”

As I turned out the lights and headed for bed that evening, I had a tangible sense of peace.  I have no clue how I got un-mad. . . or maybe I have an inkling.  Christians call it the peace that passes understanding.  And that’s just it; I don’t understand it.  I don’t get how God finds a way to leave my heart and marriage with peace after such an angry day.  Like most things God’s given, I don’t deserve it.  All I can do is lie back, close my eyes, and give thanks, singing that old hymn with new emphasis, blessed be The Tie that binds.

grumble rumble

“Sure, sounds great,” I say. . . and mean the total opposite.

If I told you to picture a complainer, you probably wouldn’t cue up a mental picture of someone smiling with her head nodding.  We grumblers can be hard to spot.  Lately, the silent grumbles are sticking to me like summer cockelburs on socks.  I find myself caught up in stickery thoughts as one builds on another until I’ve walled myself into a den of negativity–blocking out positive light.

In these negative wells, I’ve never spent much time thinking on the second commandment–not prone to F bombs or GDing anything–but this Sunday “not taking the Lord’s name in vain” stretched from a simplistic rule to a deeper plumb line for interaction.  Taking God’s name in vain can include “any time I demean or diminish another human being.”

Suddenly my grumbling doesn’t seem so silent.

I want to take the grossness of these thoughts out to the woodshed for an old fashioned rumble.  Willing myself to not grumble, I come up short, as negative thoughts tip-toe back in.  Avoidance doesn’t work, only action wiggles the wall, brick by negative brick.  Grumbling thoughts can’t stand hanging out with positive ones, so thankfulness works like a wrecking ball.

Angela Maiers wields her own sledgehammer in her Ted Talk, You Matter, and her resulting foundation,  Choose2matter, in both she challenges us to see others and remind them of the fact that they matter.  What if we started noticing people mattering all around us, and not just noticing, but recognizing the action, behavior or disposition OUT LOUD.  So, “Thanks for the work you did,” becomes “Thanks for your hard work with that student.  I liked how you got down to eye level and really listened to her concerns.  You made a difference for Susie today–you mattered.”

What if we shifted from the tendency to build walls of negativity and started erecting strongholds of confidence around others–telling them how we see God’s light reflecting through them.  What if we made it our mission to daily remind others of their value?  Do you have the courage to see?  Others AND yourself–the way God sees you, no matter how wonderful it might be?   

You matter.  When it seems like everyone isn’t seeing–I SEE.  I have a special place in my heart for you.  Your contribution to this world made a difference today.  Thanks for just being YOU–the poem I created you to be.    

If the creator of galaxies, and whales, and the color magenta says this about us, just what type of words and thoughts should we use for people who seem to set our grumble wheels a spinnin’?

rocking chair thunder storm

Thunder just shook the house, and I’m sitting here rocking back and forth as rumbles hug the air.  No, I’m not scared, just gliding in the cushy chair and ottoman we bought when we were expecting Charli.

It’s been a long weekend, filled with car miles, family and fishing.  And here I am again after packing and unpacking–back in the normal–with a book mark moved a little farther along in my book club novel over the weekend.

It was nice to find myself sucked into the story, slipping pages into every free minute, regretfully closing the cover when anything else required my attention.  A story addict, I love any world that isn’t real.  I can’t wait for my next hit, zooming into conflict that I know will be somehow resolved in so many pages.

If only we could hold the remaining pages of life between a thumb and index finger, seeing just what remains, somehow knowing where the plot is going to turn, which key characters will change or leave, and what new conflict will test our courage.

What if we could know?  Would it make a difference seeing just how many pages turns were left for us or the ones we love most?  Would it help us to attune today with its proper zest?

I did not zest my life well today.

A friend called needing comfort, my help, my listening ear.  Feeling wiped from the trip, I gave the bare requirements for phone conversation, “uh huh” and “oh really,” as I tried to console my fussing daughter with my left hand and hold my phone to my ear with my right.

The conversation ended abruptly, shaking my sense of normal the way that this thunder is shaking our house.  I so often fail to recognize that life and relationships are fragile things, deserving of care.

No, life’s not always so zesty or so balanced, and we don’t know what’s on the remaining pages.   Sometimes there’s nothing to do but lean into the grace that’s always there, like the smooth glide of a rocking chair, the unshakable foundation underneath the things that rattle me like a thunderstorm.

so they may be one

Scene 1: Five summers ago as a camp counselor. . . Sixteen left feet fail to synchronize yet again as one middle school camper lifts the wrong leg and sends his whole group off balance.  They topple into a pile of giggles. . . and they get to start over with the Co-Op(eration) challenge. . . again.  Each time I would pull out the 10-foot extended-square planks, thick ropes swinging off like centipede legs, I would wonder, “Will this be the group who never gets it?  Who knows, maybe they’ll take it like a toddler to Cheetos.”  Repeated rocky attempts usually would meander through fits and starts and finally meld into a smooth group action, usually led by a group vocal chant.  The many would become one.  Smiles would seep across faces as each began to realize more with each lugging step, “We’re doing it.  We’re doing it!”

“The glory that you have given me . . . “

Scene 2: At the farm with family this afternoon. . . Spring is flambuoyant with Mother’s day tulips.  Some arrive early, some late.  Numerous mis-matched chairs and garden chotchkeys dot the gathering space bordered by the sprout-lined garden and home.  We gather, each one moving a bit slower with jovial greetings and banter.  My one-year-old is met with smiles and adult voices, sweetly high pitched.  Later, sun is bright and her giggles bounce from the trampoline.  Following my toddler at a family event can leave me drained, but today the tightness in my normal response loosed as grandmas, aunts, grandpas, uncles, and cousins stepped in, tagging one after the other for a delicious dose of one-year-old energy.  Wanting to be a good mom, my eye is always out, ready to respond when needed, but the steady and strong hand of one family lightens my load with a stamina that can outlast even the most energetic little one.  

“The glory that you have given me I have given them . . . ” 

Scene 3: This morning as an adult in my childhood church . . . I lick my finger to pinch the graying pages of the green country church hymnal.  My turning lands on the hymn: For all the Saints, a familiar title, but the eight verses line up before me like a sink filled to overflowing with dirty dishes.  I take a deep breath and ready myself for the long haul, praying for the organist to pick a fast tempo.  The familiar tune ignores my unwelcoming reception and leads me to verse after verse connected like links on a chain.  I see saints in a spiritual battle.  They take up arms.  They endure.  The battle swells, and I stop singing. . . I can’t for the lump in my throat as “the strife is fierce. . . and hearts are brave again.”  Brave hearts endure the test.  They emerge melding into a crescendo of voices, each different and yet the same, swelling to glory singing the only fitting word, Alleluia.  And my little Alleluia becomes part of one bigger voice, and it doesn’t seem little at all.

“The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one . . .”

Final Scene: The not too distant future or past . . . I scroll Facebook and Twitter and read passionate polarity growing.  I think on life experiences that have led to posts that cause me to bristle, I try–and fail–to get behind the eyes and hands that typed.  Instead, I scroll more quickly, lingering on train wrecks for all the wrong reasons.  I wonder on the possibility of a digital diet that brings together, one that nourishes.  I hesitate, hating the word “de-friend,” but I click, and somehow smile and frown all at once.

“The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.” – John 17:22 

escape artist

Getting a new puppy when you have a nine-month-old daughter is, um, not a good idea.  Don’t get me wrong, we love our new boxer, Daisy, but navigating the ever-changing movements of a toddler and the ever-moving bowels of a puppy can feel like wrangling a kindergarten class of 35 in a candy store.
Yes, having a puppy can be a challenge.  The other day I came home from work to realize I’d forgotten to latch Daisy’s kennel.  Even though she could have been gallivanting around the house all day, creating a beautiful mess, I found her with big ears perked up and tail wagging, waiting to be let out of her unlatched kennel.
This weekend’s reading from church has Peter in his own “kennel” of sorts in Acts 12:1-17.  He’s in prison during Passover–ironically, a celebration of freedom from Egyptian slavery.
Three things strike me about this story.
  1. Peter’s imprisonment was hard core.  Two chains + two soldiers at his sides + two guards at the door = no chance of escape.  
  2. The angel who comes to bust him out doesn’t mince words.  There’s no, “Oh, Peter, how are you doing?  It must be tough here in prison.”  Instead, there’s a call to fast action.  “Get up quickly.  Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.”
  3. Two people are oblivious.  While the escape commences, Peter thinks it’s a vision.  Then, when he reaches Mary’s house, Rhoda answers the door, and instead of letting him in, she runs around the house saying, “Peter is at the gate!  Peter is at the gate!” Again, oblivious, not letting him in.

My previous image of this story included a jail cell–bars and prison garb, Shawshank Redemption stuff, but Pastor Sara challenged my thinking in her sermon notes by listing all the other “prisons” that we might find ourselves in today:
  • grief
  • pain (physical or emotional)
  • abuse (physical or verbal)
  • depression
  • guilt
  • doubt and uncertainty
  • fear
  • loneliness
  • anger
  • debt
  • bullying
  •  pressure (from parents, peers, self society)
  •  expectations of success
  •  insecurities about the future
  •  drugs and alcohol
Like Daisy, Peter and Rhoda, I’m oblivious.  I’ve been in prison not seeing bars, not to mention the gate that’s been open all this time.  When Peter realizes an angel has led him out, he comes to his senses and says, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me.”  He cites it as evidence.  He’s sure.  He was beyond escape–but not beyond God’s rescue.  What prison are you in today?  Has God opened the gate?  If the next right step out of the cell seems fuzzy, lean on Peter’s evidence, his assurance of a God whose power shows up when we know there’s no chance of escape.