Remain…

I asked my daughter yesterday on the way home from school if her friend had been there in school. Yes, why? Well, I had seen her friend’s beautiful face posted on Facebook with a lanyard and Katy Perry ticket dangling from her neck. Sweet little 11 year old so excited to go to her first concert. It would have been a late night for a school night, but if it’s important, than it’s important.

I had asked the question innocently enough but I’m glad I asked it because the yearning that came through my daughter’s next comment blind-sided me. “Lucky!” she muttered.

We don’t listen to Katy Perry. I can’t even name any of her songs, so this isn’t about Katy Perry.

Yes, we choose differently what we fill our ears and hearts with musically. We can sing the lyrics to nearly every Newsboy song and we even play name that artist around the dinner table sometimes, but our artists of choice are people like Laura Story, Jeremy Camp, Casting Crowns, Natalie Grant. Because singing scripture, singing praise, singing our prayers grafts us ever more strongly onto the one and only true vine.

So, this is more about this… “My daughter is choosing the ways of the world over godly ways lately,” a mom told me just the other day. And after little miss’s “lucky” comment, I wonder if I need to be nodding in agreement.

This is a tension I knew would get stronger before it gets weaker. The flash and pomp and allure of the world is going to look ever more appealing… perhaps. And that’s a bad thing? The world? Yes. Because the world says God is dead, that the soul is the omnipotent, that the individual is god, that all is chance and you only live once so you better make the most of it by having as much fun as possible. Are these the voices by which we want to make decisions?

As my conversation continued with my daughter, I shared with her a time in my middle school days when Amy Grant came in concert to a nearby city and I wanted desperately to go. I was too young and therefore I wasn’t allowed. It didn’t leave that big of a scar; it’s just a story to share to suggest that I’m not the only “mean mom” out there. Then, Little Miss asked, “Are you going to be like that? Are you never going to let me go to a concert?”

Never is not a word I use lightly. So, no. Not never. But the conditions and circumstances have to be right. We’ll cross that bridge when the time is right.

On my hike this morning, I went further than normal and ended up at a bench overlooking the valley from a new perspective. Looking down, I saw an old bridge. It took me several seconds to discern that that was the very bridge I cross daily. It looked so old and out-of-place surrounded by our growing city and the modern amenities sprouting all around it. And then I wondered if our way of life, our focus on God looks like that sturdy but old-fashioned steel bridge. Unlike the soaring bridges that span the bay, their masses of concrete seemingly suspended in thin air, this bridge is set, its steel arms surrounding the car. You almost feel like ducking as you go across.

I like that old bridge. It feels stable and secure, like if an earthquake should hit, this one will stand. I don’t have the same faith in the flying concrete that marks so much of the Bay Area highways and byways.

But do my kids? Do they like the less-glitzy, the more stable, the “no” when it comes to things Mom and Dad view as tempting and tantalizing and off God’s path? I think I’m asking the wrong question!

On the one hand, I ask, “How can I make sure my kids aren’t complete outcasts because we shelter them so much?” and on the other I ask, “How can I make sure that my kids make wise decisions as they grow up?”

It’s really simple actually. Pray this verse over them!

John 15: 5-8 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Asking God to hold my children so that they continue to abide in Him? If we can weigh every decision against that framework, we probably won’t go terribly awry!

And then I’m looking at this problem with eyes from Africa and thinking what a first world problem this is. Worrying about my kids living for the world… for Katy Perry and Minecraft and Disney and “your way right away” and “make it a great day or not the CHOICE is yours”… those are worries that are indicative of the first world.

Because there are kids in other parts of the world who are worried about where they are going to find the day’s food and water, who will go to bed tonight on the ground, with an empty belly, and with wailing younger siblings who depend on them. There are child-headed households throughout the world where there is no adult to direct and provide and sustain and hold. The full brunt of holding the family together falls on 11 year old shoulders. There are children around the world for whom the dark isn’t just scary because of a movie they saw or because their imaginations are playing with them. No, these kids have seen with their own eyes things unspeakable, horrors one can’t even imagine. Like the kiddos at Village of Hope, Uganda. For them, the world has proven itself to be the dark mirage that it really is. For them, turning to God feels like living in light. The old bridge is comfort.

Because when we see enough of the world, we recognize that it is all cotton candy… sugary lightness that promises much but that melts and hardens and crusts and doesn’t fulfill.

So, I shared these thoughts with a mommy friend after school and found myself saying., “You know, as they get older, the friends have more influence than Mommy and Daddy.” My friend nearly choked. I nearly sat down and wept. But I’ll keep praying that Little Miss abides in Jesus and He in her.

And when Little Man is scared of the dark and afraid to move into a room by himself and when I’m tired and frustrated and just want to go to bed and to stop singing him to sleep… well. There’s a voice that says someday soon he’s not going to need me for any of this and the bedtime cuddles and the squirming on the lap and the sloppy whispers of “I love you” in my ear… it’s all going to stop.

We spend so much time hurrying our kids toward independence and big-people things. And then they grow up and do what we’ve taught them to do… be independent and self-reliant.

“Remain in me”… just keep praying that the old comfortable bridge will serve them well and that they’ll remember to come back to it when they need it. It’s a much better crutch than anything the world can offer.

Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!

Just yesterday I was driving to an event. My heart started racing. As I become more aware of how this kind of thing gets going in my body and may or may not send me into a full on panic attack, I stop to ask myself why. Why, little heart, is the approach of this event, sending you into spasms. The answer? Because I’d rather be at home writing.

“The Introverted are the people who live in the constant tension between the desire to communicate… and the desire to hide.”
This from Ann Voskamp, another “I’d rather stay home and write” kinda gal. So she wrote it out, her story, and it has launched her into comfort zones far beyond staying home. She says, “…well, when you’ve been revived from the dead, you keep mustering the courage up to communicate this story because maybe it will help just even one other person?”

And today Maya Angelou died and I’m thinking about how her voice was my first experience with poetry that licked my heart as it sang to my brain, how her words opened new doors and suggested to me that form in poetry could be more organic, subtle, sensuous, slithering up the backside. Her voice, husky, grandmotherly, wise, pooled around my high school self and flung wide doors of language.

And I think back to three days ago when I was watching my daughter perform with her choir during a church service and how words, lifting in song, touched people. The choir cast the words of The Battle Hymn of the Republic into air, and I watched as the grey haired ladies in their own special pew popped above the surface to nip at them. Joy spread across their faces and their lips moved uncontrollably, lipping the words, eyes bright. I had glimpses of young girls in those wizened faces. Young, smooth skin under the wrinkles, tossing curls under the white and grey. Age remembering youthful prayer meetings and days spent with beaus and a patriotism that is no longer politically correct. And I thought, “Oh how God loves you, ladies.” More than me, they have seen Him marching on.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His day is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free;
[originally …let us die to make men free]
While God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! While God is marching on.

It was here, at this verse, that my own tears started, flowing fast, joy … joy that my daughter was in a choir that was teaching and challenging and training her voice and that that voice was singing one of my favorite hymns… a hymn for crying out loud. On the cusp of Memorial Day, it had meaning.
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free…
There are men and women who stood up, left their comfort zones, their homes, their cozy and with racing hearts faced the enemy, the freedom takers. Their voices, their stories were shortened, heroic, often unsung, unheard. But their acts made differences, changed tides of battles, changed lives. Their passing may have seemed a blip on the map of strategy, but in God’s great economy, not a drop of blood was wasted.

These words of march and fight and triumph are reserved for Memorial Day, for funerals, for times of passing. But we need them every day. Because every day is a battle. We need to know that there is purpose, a strategy, a plan in place, a plan for victory, and an exit plan, even before we move from our beds in the morning. God’s plan, God’s march, God’s victory.

Plan enacted, sweet son sent. Holy oneness broken for a bit so that holy becomes human. Holy takes on skin but not the depravity of human. Holy walks soil, holy sleeps and eats and touches and feeds and speaks words of love and healing and dangerous words that turn thousands of years of “God says” into “but now.” Holy from the beginning, there in the beginning, there in the early sacrifices that will herald and explain and ready hearts.

Yes, oh sinner. God spent those years teaching his children that certain actions are sin, the most offensive of which is turning away from God.

There must be retribution.

Retribution taken by himself on himself for me so that the swift sword loosed is not for me deserving though I be. Oh be swift my soul to answer Him, be jubilant my feet!

It makes me want to stand at attention, eager along the parade route, listening for the trumpet that shall never sound retreat, butterflies in my stomach anticipating the display that is about to pass. Glory, Glory, Hallelujah! Drips from lips like so much honey.

Can I stand at the parade route and stay home and write too? Can they be one and the same? Can my voice raised in writing be loud and cheering? Can yours?

So, I’m writing and I’m crying, my soul purging. And my daughter comes in and says, “Why? Why are you crying?” Crying and writing, writing and crying? Isn’t that normal? Because it is in the writing that I feel the hand of God, like He is pouring His voice into me, filling me. In the preaching gospel to myself, I touch God, spend an hour at His feet, rest in the beauty of the lilies, glory in His glory. Voice my own hallelujah. Cast it out into air. It’s the introvert way, the God way for me. For now.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is wisdom to the mighty, He is honor to the brave;
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of wrong His slave,
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.

Hunger Games

Tis the season of the curveball. Okay, not so much for my little guy who is just getting the hang of the whole hitting off of pitches rather than a tee. But baseball is in full swing!

And so are the springtime distractions. There are gardens to till, flowers to plant, vegetables to start, leaves to rake, fertilizer to be spread, and plants to be loved. The activities at school are racheting up as are the after-school activities. Getting ready for concerts, performances, games, the culmination of weeks of practice. Fundraising events, spring parties… it’s like the world is awakening from its winter hibernation and the perennial quest for … what?… has begun.

Heading into this weekend, I was feeling pretty good about life. Like maybe just maybe I’d have some quiet time to pull aspects of life together, get things done, relax and enjoy my family.

Yeah. Not so much.

Clara brought home The Hunger Games (book one) with the intent of reading it over the weekend. I’m enough in the loop to know that this series has caused controversy and many debates over its appropriateness for certain age levels. So red lights started going off all over my body when she presented her plan for the weekend. Nope. Not until I read it first. Which I did. Cover to cover in 24 hours time… in between a ceramics painting party, a work event for hubby, and the required meals of my family. I felt like I’d been hit by a train by the time I was through.

And the verdict was that this weekend was not the right time for my 10 year old to read this book.

The grand debate here is how much do we shield our children from and to how much do we expose them? When is the right time for them to start to learn about lust (because Katniss is developing lustful feelings for Peeta), the political power games people play, the insidiousness of the entertainment industry, the vacuousness of certain people, and the pure evil that the human heart can harbor.

I thought I was being generous by letting her read the Harry Potter series!

But seriously, there is a vivid difference between the Hunger Games and Harry Potter. (Caveat… I haven’t read books 2 and 3 so I’m operating solely on my knowledge of book 1). In Harry Potter, Harry is battling in an epic way the physical manifestation of evil in the person of Voldemort. Harry is a loveable, laughable endearing teenage boy, full of foibles and questions about his past and his future. But even when he goes half-heartedly, he goes out to fight evil marked with the lightning bolt of love and armed with loving friends. Katniss has glimpses of humanity, but for the most part, her actions and emotions are primeval, instinct-driven, and she is motivated not to right the world but to survive by playing the game better than anyone else. She is a product of her society and that is the only reason I can find to feel any sympathy for her. When she flaunts the Gamemasters, she does so not out of any great understanding of the system, but out of a survival instinct and intense hatred for the way the system has robbed her.

Philippians 4:8 kept coming to mind as I read: And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

And my years of teaching English and the debate over what is the purpose of literature reared up. Is literature to hold a mirror up to our faces and show us what we are? Or is it to lift man out of the muck and give him hope for humanity? William Faulkner in his 1949 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech says it this way, “Ladies and gentlemen,
I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work – a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.
I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”

I tend to agree. We need all the props and pillars we can gather to shore us up here in this shaky ground we call life.

Does Hunger Games do this? Not in book one. I walked away disgusted. I wanted open, knowledged rebellion. I got backtracking and backstabbing. Like the Ancient Booer in The Princess Bride, I felt like saying to Katniss, “Your true love lives…. True Love saved her in the Fire Swamp, and she treated it like garbage. And that’s what she is, the Queen of Refuse. So bow down to her if you want, bow to her. Bow to the Queen of Slime, the Queen of Filth, the Queen of Putrescence. Boo. Boo. Rubbish. Filth. Slime. Muck. Boo. Boo. Boo.”

I wanted redemption, a character I could cheer for, the savage from Brave New World, ideas that were lofty and worthy and selfless. What I saw was a character motivated by survival and her burgeoning sensuality. Period.

But I’m having trouble leaving it at that. It’s difficult to walk away and completely dismiss this book, this character.

Because there are so many people in the world like Katniss who have no moral compass, who operate out of the need to survive and the need to meet the ever-increasing demands of their sensuality. Which is probably where Suzanne Collins is going with this.

And there’s this desire to wrap them in loving arms and say to them, “There is healing for this.” It isn’t a skin buff, shower, and manicure. It’s a soul garden replant, weeding and tilling and watering and feeding that looks and feels like redemption.

Sometimes I think I’m getting to be an old fuddy-duddy. But I’m seeing things in new lights these days. I remember a day when I moved in the world much like Katniss, not with 23 other children hunting me down per say, but moving through the world meeting the body’s needs and not much else. I believed in God and claimed to believe in the redeeming power of the cross and of Jesus on that cross. I developed strong head knowledge of parts of the Bible because that is what a good church-goer does. I even supported the missional work of the church, not necessarily because I thought it was a good idea for people in third worlds to know about Christ as much as I thought they needed a good meal or maybe a shot at some medicine or education typically not available to them.

But joy? Me sharing the gospel? Jesus dying on the cross for me personally? Yeah, none of that was mine to claim. Just get through another day.

Heck, I still have days like that. Where busyness crowds out the stillness and communion I need to connect with my God.

But somewhere along the way, God’s knocking finally resonated. And He said to me, “You are my princess. I love you the way you are. I would have died just for you, just like I promised Abraham I wouldn’t destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of 10 righteous.” He released me from the labels of the world, gave me new purpose and direction, and gratitude is becoming a way of life. I’m beginning to understand what it means to crave reading Scripture. This is the healing I needed and the healing that God offers all the children/people of the world. It is a feeding of the hungry soul.

You know, Jesus talked a lot about being the bread of life, the living water that quenches the soul thirst. I used to think that was a clever little metaphor he had going on. We all need bread and water, so of course we all need him.

But it’s more than that. It speaks to our need to find meaning and peace and resolution. The world is constantly offering us ways to fill those needs. If you eat at this restaurant, buy these clothes, use this fabric softener, own this car, view these shows, listen to this music, wear these jewels, shop at this store, if… then… amazing happiness will follow you all the days of your life.

And we “buy” into it only to find that we’re craving more and more of the world’s “food” because what we just bought… the clothes, the food, the car, the house, the floor cleaner… lacks the protein, the sticking power to stay our hunger pangs for very long. Like gluttons, we gorge on more and more of the sugary stuff of life, the fake, processed, unnatural. When what we really need is the word of God. This fills the belly with meaning and purpose, a life driven by gratitude, reacting out of joy, overflowing with generosity. And it lasts.

Wanna talk about Hunger Games? We’re all playing the hunger games… searching for ways to game our hunger. When the food we really need has already been gifted in the silver parachute of Christ on a cross. Eat and be filled.