Like the Little Boys We Are

As a weight loss counselor, I see a wide variety of people during the course of my work day. You have the graduates: the people who have achieved their goals and walk into the center with smiles on their faces and skinny jeans on their hips. Then you have the people who are struggling to lose their weight. They had a rough weekend or they simply haven’t been trying hard enough. They are defeated. It is truly heartbreaking.

My favorite clients to sit with are the ones who bring in their children. It’s always an adventure trying to have a counseling session with small boys running around at top speed shouting war cries! Anyone who’s ever had a conversation with me knows that I absolutely love the warrior spirit that boyhood is so bent on celebrating.

The other day, I had a father come into the center with his three children. He had a daughter of probably seven, a young son who couldn’t have been more than three, and an infant of no more than eight months. The father sat down and began his session with one of my co-workers, and the girl and boy proceeded to do their laps. After only a few minutes, as you might expect, there was a slight bump, and the sound of a small child crying issued forth from the other side of the center. Immediately, without a single word or even a look of frustration, the father jumped from his chair and sought out his injured child. There was no anger in his face, but a solid, daring determination. He sought out his son, picked him up his arms, took him back to his seat, and kissed his forehead and simply asked, “What happened?”

Meanwhile, I’m sitting at my own desk practically in tears. You see, dear friends, this is the father heart of God! He chases after us the moment we cry out to Him, wraps us up in His arms, kisses our forehead, and simply asks, “What happened?” This is not to say that He does not know what we’ve been up to. He is fully aware of our metaphorical (and perhaps literal) laps around the room. However, He is patient with us. He asks us because we are designed to be comforted by His voice. The voice of our Father is the voice of the One who loves us. In that moment, that young boy’s tears began to fade as he felt his father’s arms around him. The father was not angry. He did not strike his son or berate the little one for running around like the boy he was. He was merely patient with his son, and comforted him.

How much more does our Father in heaven love to wrap His arms around us? And how much more grace does He have for us when, like the little boys we are, we injure ourselves simply by running around the room? Ultimately, as Karl Barth would say (in far less words), God’s “Yes” to us far outweighs His “No.” It is this “Yes” that we hear when we cry out in pain, needing comfort. And my, what a comfort He is!

Perhaps the best part of unconditional love is the complete and utter lack of I-told-you-so’s. Unconditional love doesn’t keep score or lose its patience. Rather, “…It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:7, NIV) If Jon Foreman is right, and love is a verb, then love sounds a lot like grace and looks a lot like comfort. It is this crazy notion that a person is worth more than the ways that they hurt themselves and make themselves cry. Love is this huge, resplendent, lion of a Father who couldn’t even dream of letting His children cry forever.

Friends, let us take comfort in this image of our Father: the one who, at the sound of our voice crying out, immediately leaves His throne, wraps us up in His arms, kisses our forehead…and shows us the Love that we could never deserve or earn, but that Love that has found us.

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Creatures of Contact: First, Do No Harm.

“Is there some lesson on how to be friends?

I think what it means is that central to living

A life that is good is a life that’s forgiving. 

We’re creatures of contact, regardless of whether

to kiss or to wound, we still must come together.”

Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish

By David Rakoff

St. Francis reputedly moved snails from his path. St. Sebastian died twice for God’s glory. A poet in my grad classes scoops spiders up, and drops them outside. Perhaps it’s my pride, or perhaps because I’m human, but I find it particularly difficult to let someone slap me, then turn the other cheek, never even mind the inconsequential spiders that make the fateful error of spinning webs in my domicile.

It’s not a literal slapping that wounds me; I teach college freshmen, and there are zero toddlers within a ten-mile radius. Still, I’m in a grad fiction workshop, and I’m sure you can imagine the angst that involves. And even when considering the past, and former friends who snubbed, hurt, or angered me, I can sometimes sense frustration bubbling inside. Not hurt so much as irritation. To think that I once gave them the power of intimacy! How annoying, that they may still believe their arrows rankle! These feelings are simultaneous with a desire to stab a bit at their pride with well-wrought pokers of disdain. I may imagine a cool encounter in the grocery store: “I’ve got to run, the Guild of Impressive People is waiting for me! Toodle-oo!” Or perhaps a story in which the despicable main character bears an unfortunate resemblance to the one person who reamed my work so harshly the month before.

A dear friend expressed a similar feeling a few months ago–the frustration of never having “got back her own” after a suddenly cancelled marriage. I was angry, too. Her ex-fiance had no business carrying on in life, I fumed to myself, and he probably thought his actions were so all-fired powerful. I imagined that he remembered, with a certain amount of satisfaction, how he had been so cool and strong, whereas she was mystified, crushed.

Of course, I don’t really know. And if he does strut about, self-satisfied with his power to woo and slay, woo and slay, ad nauseum, then he destroys himself. When gazing wholly upon ourselves, whether in self-loathing or self-satisfaction, we miss the wonder of the world that streams beyond our clouded eyes.

I know sometimes we think the first one to act possesses the most agency, believing the strong are those who lash out, break up, snap at, mock. My friend gave a man the emotional space to wound her, and he chose to do so. But she is the one wreathed in glory. For she, even stumbling from hurt and surprise, refused to hit back.

As the Hippocratic Oath famously states, “First, do no harm.” Our bodies are spirit and flesh bound together, and though I’m not a physician, Christ, the greatest healer, resides in me. If we Christians were to claim an oath, swear to it with our hands shaping the cross over our hearts, then surely we should speak the greatest commandments: love God, love others.

The most gracious among us live in the wake of other people’s needs, and continue to give despite cruelty, or ingratitude. Often, they give invisibly. Mothers packing school lunches with apples and napkin-notes before morning light cracks the night sky. Fathers coming home exhausted to sooth the squabbles of teenage children. The single men and women who prop up churches with book-keeping, nursery-cleaning, and prayer. The physically and mentally disabled who struggle through the social context we create everyday–the context that resists their comfort and inclusion. The stray puppies with paws on the chain-link cage doors at the animal shelter.

“The least of these” are those who have power to harm, yet temper its use through wisdom and love.

“The least of these” are those without power, who thus live in the glory of grace.

Instead of seeking to always raise our own stature, let’s delight in the least of these.

Stuff

As I wandered through the large, extravagant rooms and hallways, I found myself surrounded by thousands of relics and jewels glistening through glass displays, and I couldn’t help but think…

this is a lot of stuff.

(Now, before you start thinking this is yet another rant on how materialism-is-bad-and-everything-is-dust-so-we-should-stop-loving-pretty-things, please, keep reading.)

My family and I were touring the Hillwood Estate in Washington, D.C., one of the homes of the late Marjorie Merriweather Post, the only daughter and heiress of C.W. Post, the founder of the Post Cereal company.

Marjorie was renowned for her fine taste, her love for all things elegant, and her enormous art collection. Paintings, fine china, jewelry, furniture, chalices, and silver-covered icons filled her Virginia home. She had turned her mansion into a museum.

And it was beautiful.

I’ve seen my fair share of museums and art galleries, so I couldn’t wrap my mind around how a single person could collect and own so much art.

But then a semi-morbid thought came to me.

Marjorie Merriweather Post is dead. She doesn’t own any of it.

We’ve all heard those tired sayings about hearses that don’t pull trailers and how “you can’t take it with you when you go,” and that one of the great ironies of life is that we live and work and struggle to accumulate things that we can only own and enjoy for a short period of time.

But perhaps an even greater irony is that we never truly own anything at all. Nothing we “possess” is really ours. Our time. Our toys. Our talents. They all belong, ultimately, to God. He’s just letting us borrow his stuff for a while.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that “everything belongs to God.” The psalmist writes, “The earth belongs to the Lord, and everything in it.” Paul teaches the Romans that “from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.”

This reality hit me even harder when I realized that my soon-to-arrive first-born child (baby Max is due Oct. 2nd!) will not really, ultimately be mine. He, too, belongs to God.

And to say we don’t really own anything doesn’t mean we don’t have to take care of it. It actually means just the opposite. It’s when you’re borrowing someone else’s stuff that you really feel the pressure and duty to keep it safe.

In Genesis, one of God’s first instructions to Adam and Eve was to take care of his creation. They were the gardeners, but the garden was all his.

It’s the same with everything else we “own.” Because God is entrusting me with one of his kids, I have all the more responsibility to love, protect, and take care of him.

And just because everything ultimately belongs to God doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy stuff. It actually means we can enjoy it more. It’s only those who aren’t owned by their things that are free to experience the pleasures they offer.

It’s only the parents who refuse to worship or control or cling to their children that can actually enjoy watching them grow up and mature and come into their own unique personalities.

I think seeing our stuff as God’s stuff helps us hold things a little more loosely, to share them with others, and to eventually experience the great joy of giving God’s stuff away.

So if you ever live in a house full of art, great. I’ll come visit. Just remember you won’t always own it. In fact, you never really will.

Through the Storm

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storm is all about.” –Haruki Murakami

I saw the storm coming from miles away. Bolts of lightning danced in the distance, a stark contrast against the blackened sky.

I was several days into my roadtrip across the country, having just entered into Colorado after a long, grueling day driving through flat, dull Kansas. The mountains ahead were a welcomed change of scenery, but to get to them I knew that I would be driving directly into rain.

In order to avoid the tempest that loomed ahead of me I thought about turning around . . . but nothing was behind me except for miles and miles of corn. And let’s be honest, there was no way I was going to willingly subject myself to that torture again.

No, my destination lay ahead . . . through the storm.

With each passing mile the ominous clouds got closer. The lightning continued to put on a show, joined now by claps of thunder so loud that they shook my car.

And then the rain came.

It started sporadically at first, just a few drops at a time. Within seconds the skies opened up and I found myself in the midst of a complete downpour.  My vision was limited and it was all that I could do to see enough of what was in front of me so that I didn’t run off the road.

But almost as quickly as it came, the storm dissipated. The skies opened up and the sun reappeared. And directly in front of me was a double rainbow.

After about 15 references to this Youtube video played through my mind, I smiled. What a beautiful reminder of God’s promises. Not only His promise that He will never flood the earth again (Genesis 9:11), but His promise that He goes before us and is with us (Deut. 31:8), that He is our hiding place (Psalm 32:7), and that His anger lasts only for a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime (Psalm 30:5).

As I thought about the storms I have faced in my own life, I saw evidence of each of these promises. And I realized that although God allowed storms in my life to help me better know myself and become shaped into the woman He wants me to be, I also believe that He allowed storms to help me to better know HIM and to see firsthand His promises in my own life.

I pulled over onto the side of the road to snap a picture, not so much to capture the beauty of the rainbow itself, but rather to have a reminder of the truth that God had impressed upon my heart in that moment.

I came out of the storm that day different than when I entered it. But then again, isn’t that what the storm is all about?

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