Friday, November 25, 2005

Are you on board?

I just went to see the new 3-D version of The Polar Express. What an experience! I hadn't seen the ordinary version and now I'm spoiled for it forever. I couldn't bear to watch it again without experiencing the sensation of snowflakes falling all around me or the train skidding to a stop just short of my nose.

At the end of the movie, the little boy has a moment of crisis when he cannot hear Santa's sleigh bells. All the other children hear them, but he does not, until finally, in a moment of surrender and willing suspension of his disbelief, he says to himself, "I believe!" From that point on, the sleigh bells ring loud and clear for him, and as the movie ends we hear him saying that as the other children grew up they gradually stopped hearing the bells, but he never did.

Like the boy in the movie, not everyone is able to hear the message of hope and healing that God offers. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." Some people may stumble across this blog--or hopefully, later, my book--and find not a shred of hope in it, while others, I trust, will find a wholeness they never thought possible. What makes the difference? The difference lies in whether or not they are on board with God's plan. It's the difference that makes God's truth seem either ridiculous or profound to us.

How this all works--how the bells begin to ring bright and clear--is a profound mystery to me. Somehow the will of the sovreign God intersects our own wills and the prayers of others, and the soul's ears are opened to the beauty of God's message, His wondrous hope and overflowing grace. It is in the context of this Bermuda Triangle of belief that God heals our wounded souls.

If you're struggling to hear the bells of God's mercy, get in the middle of others who hear and work to surrender your disbelief. If you're struggling to make someone hear, remember that you can't heal the deaf--only God can do that; pray for them and let them see your joy when the bells ring in your life. If none of this makes sense to you and you want to know more, email me and let's chat about it!

Sense in Suffering

I'm sitting in my favorite chair with a Diet Coke and a leftover piece of homemade pecan pie, not exactly the epitome of suffering. I'm clearly not suffering at this moment, at least not gastronomically. But suffering becomes part of every life at some point. The question really is not whether you will endure suffering, but how you will endure suffering.

I've been reading a compilation of essays on writing edited by Washington Post Book World editor Marie Arana. In her essay, "Looking for the Spark," Joanna Trollope writes: "...we have, on the whole, so much more suffering than joy that we have resolved, out of our great surviving instinct, to insist that something worthwhile must be made of it." Sheer grit and determination can wring sense out of suffering.

In the same collection, Joyce Carol Oates writes: "One might argue that any hurt, any insult or humiliation, any horror can have an illuminating and not merely a debilitating effect upon the sufferer."

The Bible gives us several reasons for suffering. One is refinement. 1 Peter 1:6-7 says: "...for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." Job 23:10 says: "But he knows the way I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold."

I like pretty things. Yesterday for my Thanksgiving table, I brought out a silver plated bowl and ladle. I don't use my silver that often, so it gets pretty tarnished. When I pulled the bowl out from its storage place in the cupboard, it looked pretty grimy and ordinary. After a few minutes with some Wright's silver polish, it gleamed and declared itself worthy of the best table anywhere. Polishing silver requires an abrasive (albeit a very gentle one) and some elbow grease. Patiently and gently, you apply the abrasive onto the surface of the piece, rubbing just hard enough to remove the tarnish. Rub too hard and you damage the silver; not enough and you have a dull, dirty-looking piece that no one wants to look at, much less eat out of.

Can you picture God doing this to your life? He looks down and sees beyond the grime that coats and distorts your surface. He sees beneath to the beauty, the intricacy, the graceful shape and practical use. Then He gets to work. He patiently and gently rubs away the grime until we gleam. We call the rubbing "suffering."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

What really matters?

In an interview with Christianity Today, Douglas Gresham, stepson of C.S. Lewis, states: "The problem with evangelical Christianity in America today, a large majority of you have sacrificed the essential for the sake of the trivial. You concentrate on the trivialities--not smoking, not drinking, not using bad language, not dressing inappropriately in church, and so on. Jesus didn't give two hoots for that..."

Ain't that the truth! This is part of the reason that the church has remained largely silent on the issue of divorce, effectively ignoring the hurting hearts right in its midst and marginalizing divorcees and their children. We're just like the Pharisees Jesus took to task in Matthew 15:3-12. "Jesus replied, 'And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?...Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' Jesus called the crowd to him and said, 'Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean.' Then the disciples came to him and asked, 'Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?'"

So I guess the good news is that our lack of care and focus on the wrong things is not unique to our generation. It's a story as old as the ages. As old as sin, actually. Remember Adam and Eve? They sinned, broke their covenant of fellowship with God, and what were they most concerned about? Their nakedness. They went shopping for some fig leaves when nakedness was the least of their problem. They couldn't figure out the essential things. Can we?

Celibate in the City

Good news for all of us single evangelicals walking the straight and narrow. Straight out of the 11/14/05 print issue of Forbes: "Researchers puzzle over the varying maximum life spans of animals...Those that mate fast and furiously die younger than those that reproduce late in life with a long lapse between trysts." Here's to long life! I think I'll go buy an annuity.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Father Longing

An article in Sunday's Washington Post caught my attention this last weekend. The story is of a 15 year old boy who tracked down his sperm donor father through research and the help of a DNA database. The article raises questions of privacy and bioethics. The main focus of the article is on the plight of unsuspecting (really?) young men who donated sperm "as an easy way to make money" and now will be "quite perturbed" by the prospect of being found by their offspring. I have to agree with Boston University ethicist George Annas who is quoted as saying, "If you're worried about it, you shouldn't be selling your sperm."

I mean, really, these guys knew their sperm was at least potentially being used to create life, to make babies. Making babies, however impersonally it is done, carries logical and natural consequences. Why we are suddenly, with a generation of sperm and egg donor babies finally growing up, surprised by their longing to find their genetic parents is a mystery to me. Kids who are adopted, even those adopted into loving homes with a mom and a dad who surround them with security and all good things, long to know their origins. I have a friend who is adopted. When her parents were gone--to work or out with friends or shopping--she searched patiently and thoroughly through the house until she found the paperwork from her adoption. She had an insatiable need to know who her genetic parents were, how and why she was adopted, who she really was.

Isn't this a universal human quest? We want to know our beginning. We want to know where we belong, how we fit in, and our parents are an integral piece of that puzzle. It's hardwired into each of us. And this isn't by accident. As I discussed in an earlier post, the idea for fathers, for parenthood, is modeled on God's relationship with us. Pascal once said, "There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every human being." In the same way, there is a parent-shaped hole in the heart of every child. If each of the genetic parents are present in the child's life, that hole is full, fitted neatly and snugly with the proper puzzle piece. When a genetic parent is absent, however, the puzzle is incomplete.

I like puzzles. There's a great satisfaction in finding the pieces that fit properly together. In a box of hundreds of tiny, odd-shaped cardboard pictures, each one fits easily and naturally into only one spot. I can't give up until I find that one. And there's a sense of loss, of somehow being cheated, when you get down to one last piece and find that somehow it's been lost. Every other piece may be there, but the one that's missing sticks out like a sore thumb and ruins the overall effect.

Little wonder, then, that a 15 year old boy would search relentlessly for the missing piece of his own genetic puzzle. The only wonder is that we're surprised by his need to know.

The Elephant Exposed

A few weeks ago, I wrote a review of Elizabeth Marquardt's book Between Two Worlds for the BreakPoint web site. Here's a snippet:
"During my freshman year at a Christian college, my resident director—a child of divorce and a psychology major—led a discussion group for children of divorce. It was a wonderful release to talk about the elephant in the middle of the church, and it felt a little subversive talking about this secretive thing that no one wanted to acknowledge." more here...

Elizabeth posted an excerpt from an email today on the Family Scholars web site. The woman who emailed her had taken a bold step and lifted up the children of divorce as a prayer request. I'm half cheering for her and half weeping for the fact that this should be a bold step. Caring for the hurting should be our heartbeat as Christians, even the messy hurting in our midst.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Do you yearn?

My boss is a rabid Seinfeld fan. When I started working for him, I began watching reruns of the show just so I’d have something to talk with him about. Seinfeld, that show about nothing, is a treasure trove of catchphrases. One which my boss occasionally throws out at seemingly random moments is “Do you yearn?” uttered in that sarcastically earnest tone that all Seinfelders use.

I’m a great yearner, actually. I could give up amateur status right now and go pro with it, as a matter of fact. I yearn for a great many things. (At the moment, I’m yearning for a creative brain that works on an earlier time schedule or a job that works on a later one. Why do brainstorms always hit me so late at night?)

I yearn for a runner’s body, in my mirror and in my bed. The one in the mirror is getting closer by the day, the other one seems more distant by the day. I used to date a runner, thought I’d marry him, still remember how hot he looked after a good run. I’ve been yearning for him lately and assuring myself that he was truly perfect. As I pined for him over a croissant and a cup of tea at La Madeleine the other night, my good friend Lori reminded me that he dumped me and married someone else, thereby displaying an appalling lack of judgment, clearly not the mark of perfection. Good friends are essential in moments of useless yearning.

I’ve yearned for perfection from my father, too. But Dr. Kevin Leman set me straight on that one. He wrote a book called Making Sense of the Men in Your Life and there’s a great chapter in there on accepting our fathers for who they are and letting go of who we hope they’ll be. I cried my way through that chapter but knew the truth of it.

Yearning is part and parcel of being human. We know something isn’t right with the world, something is out of place, this is not perfection. God has planted in each of us a longing for the ideal, for Eden, for heaven, for Himself. Everywhere we look, we see so much that just doesn’t measure up. It can drive us to despair, or it can drive us to yearn. To look up at the sky on a late afternoon when the rays of the sun shoot brilliantly through puffy clouds and imagine the Son of Man suddenly standing there in His glory, come to take us home. To imagine the day when all the fairy tales come true, when evil is banished, the hero arrives, the beauty in everything is awakened, and we can all live happily ever after.

These are the yearnings that God has placed within us, the ones that cry out for Him. And every other yearning I have, however silly or vain, is really a mimicry of that yearning, a pale shadow of that longing for the perfection of eternity with God.

Do you yearn?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Our Father God

One of the mysteries of life is that we all, intuitively, learn about God from our earthly fathers. It is no mistake that God calls Himself our Father. He modeled the concept of earthly fathers on His own relationship with us.

Fathers are our protectors and teachers. They teach their sons how to throw a baseball, repair a car, and tie a necktie. They screen their daughters’ dates, explore strange midnight noises in the backyard, and impress all the neighborhood children with their goofy jokes and physical stunts. In the midst of all this, they teach boys what it means to be a man and teach girls what it means to be cared for and loved by a man.

When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, He taught them to begin with the words “Our Father.” For those with fathers who modeled God’s loving care, strong protection, and constant presence, this is comforting language. Too often, however, our earthly fathers fall short of that ideal, and when that happens, the biblical language of God as father can sound confusing and troubling. Elizabeth Marquardt, in her book Between Two Worlds, tells the story of a young woman who felt that a God who she couldn’t touch, hear, or see was too much like a father who was never there physically or relationally.

But Marquardt also found that those of us from divorced homes are more likely than others to think of God as the father we never had. This is the amazing grace of God—that He can make His fatherly character known through our earthly fathers and through our yearning for them when they are absent.

For those who grew up without a father or with a father who fell woefully short, our Father God is always there to comfort, protect, and teach. Need comfort? Psalm 6:8, 9 says, “…the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.” Need protection? Psalm 4:8 says, “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Need instruction? Psalm 16:7 says, “I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Whether your father was a stellar example, a horrible flop, or simply not there, God does not change. The concept of an earthly father is modeled on Him, not the other way around.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Whom will you serve?

In a report on marriage in America (“Renewing Sacred Vows”), researchers Byron Johnson and W. Bradford Wilcox found that 48% of evangelicals agree that “divorce is usually the best solution when a couple can’t seem to work out their marriage problems.” That’s stunning to me! How can nearly half of individuals in evangelical churches think this? I looked up the word “evangelical” just to make sure I wasn’t assuming a different meaning. Merriam-Webster Online defines it as “being in agreement with the Christian gospel especially as it is presented in the four Gospels” or emphasizing, among other things, the “authority of Scripture.”

Clearly, evangelicals are missing some important Scriptural teaching if half of us think that divorce is okay if you’re just not getting along with your spouse. Jesus tell us very clearly in the Gospels that divorce is just plain wrong. The only exception He makes is for adultery.

Fellow evangelicals, we need to stop fooling ourselves. We have to either stop calling ourselves evangelical, change the definition of evangelical, or take Scripture seriously. We can’t have it both ways. “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Several people have emailed me recently wanting to know how they can help their children or other children in their lives in the aftermath of a divorce. I’ll have a lot more to say on that as time goes on, but for starters how about letting them be kids? Does childhood even exist anymore? I wonder that sometimes when I hear about parents running Bobby or Susie from one after school enrichment activity to another, most of which are designed more to further the child’s marketability to colleges than to have fun. And I’m talking about 5 year olds! Whatever happened to lemonade stands as an introduction to business principles or riding a bike with no hands as a way to develop athletic skill?

For many children of divorce, childhood is cut woefully short when kids have to take on real adult-sized responsibility. Here are two examples from an article on CBN’s web site:

" 'My father was there one day, and he was gone the next,' Jeff said, 'leaving a lawn mower in the garage saying, 'I guess this will be your responsibility now.’ I remember him calling home from trips -- 'We're visiting castles.' I'm mowing the grass...' ”
"Laura also remembers extra responsibility. 'My mom showed me how to do the laundry,' she said. 'and from then on I did my laundry. What 7-year-old does their own laundry? I suppose it's common now, but none of my friends did that.' "

(Laura, I don't know any 7-year-olds who do their own laundry.)

Meanwhile, some “adults” (and here I can only use that term loosely) are making light of divorce. An article in National Review Online says: " 'divorce parties' are all the rage. Was your marriage on the rocks? Well, the divorce papers are signed and it's now time to play 'pin the blame on the ex' and 'throw the wedding ring in the toilet' games — or so it is if you talk to the likes of the author of The Woman's Book of Divorce: 101 Ways to Make Him Suffer Forever and Ever"

Talk about role reversals! The kids are taking on mom’s and dad’s chores while mom and dad are playing kids’ games. Yeah, it’s an extreme example, but it happens in more subtle ways, as well.

So, my advice for the day: Let kids be kids! If you know some kids (even your own) whose parents are divorced take them to Chuck E. Cheese tonight. Laugh with them, let them beat you at skee ball, feed them more pizza than is good for them. If you know someone who is divorced and has kids, offer to mow the grass or ask how else you can help out. If the adults step up to the plate, maybe the kids can go play ball.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

I had a mad fit of manic "need to change everything" this weekend. After rearranging all the artwork in my house, including enlarging and hanging some photos I've taken over the last year, I decided it was time for a haircut. My super friend Meaghan asked me if I was doing Locks for Love, which honestly I hadn't even thought of. But I checked out the web site and, after being assured that I could still go to my trusted Robin at the Christie Adam salon in Reston, I took the plunge. That's my 14" ponytail in the picture. It's on its way to Locks of Love. I owe Meaghan lunch now--my haircut was free since I was donating my hair.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A Fable

Once upon a time there was a watchmaker. He made watches of incomparable quality and beauty. No other watches ran more smoothly, kept better time, or adorned the wrist more elegantly than his. He took pride in his work, as well he should. His trade required equal parts of delicate skill and inspired art. Others followed the latest trends, producing mass quantities of watches for as little money and as high a profit as possible. Not the watchmaker. Each watch he made was handcrafted, a work of love, and required considerable investment of time and talent. Because of his fine work, people came from all over the country, indeed all over the world, to purchase his watches. The watchmaker loved selling his watches, not because of the money they earned him. For in truth, the watchmaker put far more into his watches than he ever got out of them. But he loved to imagine his watches being used by the people who bought them. He imagined them at work—keeping an important businessman on schedule, perfectly timing a housekeeper’s apple pie, delighting the recipient of a special box under the Christmas tree, or counting the hours and minutes until lovers should meet again.

That’s how he meant for his watches to be used. But once they were sold, their use was decided by the wearer. Some served far less noble purposes than the watchmaker ever intended or imagined. The watchmaker’s beautiful, precise workmanship sometimes even found itself serving as the timepiece for a bomb. It happened from time to time, simply because his watches were the best to be had. Each time it happened, the watchmaker wept bitter tears of anger and sorrow at how his labor of love had been used for destructive and evil intent.

I’ve been thinking for the last week or so—since my Grandpa died—about death and about how God must feel about it. He who is called the Life, the Bread of Life, the Living Water, who created life and called it good, how must he feel when life is destroyed? I think we get a glimpse in Jesus’ reaction to death. He was a great guy to have at funerals—the only times we see him at a funeral in Scripture, he’s raising the dead to life. Still, he didn’t approach them with a cavalier “everything will be all right” attitude. When he arrived at his friend Lazarus’s funeral, he wept. Faced with the antithesis of his very self, the God of the Universe cried.

He cried another time, in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the eve of his own death. As he contemplated the cross and the agony that lay ahead of him, he cried with such anguish that drops of blood oozed through his pores. How could he who had always lived suddenly die?

How indeed. He created us, created the world, even created the angels in heaven, and then gave us the will and the power to choose to serve him or to serve ourselves. And every last one of us has chosen to serve ourselves. We turned our backs on the one to whom we owe our very existence. And because of that choice, his beautiful work is twisted into unspeakable horror. Life becomes death, truth becomes lies, marriage becomes divorce, perfection becomes rubbish. Sin, and its necessary companion Death, rule this world, hold it—and us—in bondage. And our only hope was for the Life-Giver to intervene, to die in our place, to give his life that we might escape certain death.

“Everyone dies because all of us are related to Adam, the first man. But all who are related to Christ, the other man, will be given new life…then at last the Scriptures will come true, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ For sin is the sting that results in death…How we thank God, who gives us victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (1 Corinthians 15: 22, 54-57)

Friday, November 04, 2005

Between Two Worlds Review

In my very first post to this blog, I promised a forthcoming review of Elizabeth Marquardt's book, Between Two Worlds. You can read my review on the BreakPoint web site.


In case you didn't pick up on the irony, I wrote a post a week ago Saturday after seeing the movie Elizabethtown. In that post, I talked about going to small town Illinois for too many funerals. Just a few days later, I was headed back to Illinois for... a funeral. Next time, I plan to write about jubilant weddings--whichever single friend gets married as a result can thank me by introducing me to her new husband's eligible bachelor buddies (emphasis on the word "eligible," please).

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Worlds United

My maternal grandfather passed away last week. We drove back to Illinois for the funeral services, a beautiful display of fall color marking our route through the mountains and over the prairie. (Can you hear the strains of “God Bless America”?) Visiting the small Midwestern town where he and Grandma lived their whole lives, I thought seriously for the first time about moving back there.

I’ve considered moving to Illinois before, but never for more than a minute or two. The very idea stressed me out. I loved my childhood summer vacations in central Illinois. The small town coziness of waitresses who know your name and how you take your coffee, the rows of corn (knee-high by 4th of July) or soybeans, seeing storms approach from miles away. But as I got older, my visits back to Illinois became stressful. Dad’s and Mom’s parents lived in small towns less than two hours’ drive apart. As a kid, I lived with Mom and my stepdad, so Mom’s parents would visit us occasionally. My only time with Dad’s parents was during those summer visits. When I became an adult, planning my own vacation time, no longer living at home, I tried to visit both sets of grandparents. This made for some pretty exhausting “vacations.” Like the time Mom and I drove out to see her folks, a two day drive from Virginia with a stopover in southern Ohio. We were there for less than a week, during which I drove back and forth between grandparents, before making the two day drive back home. Talk about needing a vacation from your vacation!

And it wasn’t just my over-zealous desire to keep everyone happy. I loved my Dad’s mom, Ponci. I was her only grandchild and we shared a lot of fun times during those summer visits. As I got older and began to share my visit time between my two sets of grandparents, I knew Ponci didn’t like having to share me. Her disapproval was subtle but impossible to miss.

This time, driving back to Illinois, I stayed at one house, in one town. My dad’s parents are both gone—Ponci died in 2001 and Grandpa passed away just over a year ago. For the first time I can remember, a visit to Illinois was not a guilt-ridden balancing act between two families.

Even sweeter was the vision I had over and over again throughout the visit, a vision of my two grandfathers, arm in arm, looking down on me with love, pride, and encouragement from Heaven. “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)