Monday, December 21, 2009

Target, Goody-Two-Shoes and the Pharisees

Today, a man walked in the "OUT" door at Target and for a good hour afterwards I was grumpy about it. He did not impede anyone else's safe exit from the store, nor did he have a particularly mischievous or diabolical look on his face. To all appearances, he was just closer to the "OUT" door and didn't feel like sliding the 10 feet to the left that would put him through the "IN" door. Man, though, was I mad.

Why did this bother me so much? Well, to put it simply, I love rules. I particularly love when people follow rules, myself included. It just makes life easier. Go in the "IN" door, don't make a left turn from the center lane...these are easy things to do, in my humble opinion.

As a child, my mom says that I was pretty much always obedient. If I was told to do something, I generally did it. This hit a climax in high school. I can actually remember a Friday night when my nerdy self was studying in my room, no doubt enjoying myself and feeling generally in control of life. My parents actually called me out of my room and begged me to go to a party. "You can even drink. We'll pick you up, no matter how late. Just go act like a teenager!" This was a bit of a watershed moment for me. Was I so over the top in my obedience that my parents actually wanted me to rebel? I suspect moments like that are largely why my brother thought I was a goody-two shoes.

Perhaps this is why grace and freedom are such difficult concepts for me. I like the Ten Commandments; they are very straightforward. Obey and live. Simple. But throw in a crazy God who sacrificed himself not because of anything I've done to earn it and my whole understanding of how to function in life is thrown upside down. I know in my heart of hearts that I'm a Pharisee. I always relate to what those dudes were angry about with Jesus and often wish that He could've given us just a few more rules to keep. Just accepting grace, accepting the love that He gives unconditionally, without a little religious checklist, feels a little too simplistic sometimes. Don't I have to do something here? Write a treatise on justification? Maybe pray a specific number of times a day? But just recognizing that all I need is that grace and love to cover my sin and how radically its acceptance changes me is actually hard work. Harder even, than not being mad at the guy who goes in the "OUT" door at Target.

I'm hoping there'll come a day when rules don't matter so much to me. When people can go in and out of doors freely without incurring my wrath. When I can fully grasp that nothing I do matters except the amazing reality of Christ in me living. When grace and truth have finally set me free from the tyranny of the rule-book.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Boughs of Collies

We do a lot of singing around our house. And banging on pots, blowing into the recorder, strumming on guitars, tinkering on the piano...bottom line, it's a musical place to be. One of my favorite things about it is how often my son mistranslates the line of a song into something sweet, but not quite right.

Christmas brings a whole new genre of music to choose from in this area and at least once a day we're asked to participate in a sing-along. Tonight? "Can we sing "Boughs of Collies" please, Mommy?" For my husband, this immediately brings to mind a vision of festively decorated dogs standing in groups around the house. But, we plunge in, sing the song and move onto something else. Boy does my little man sing with gusto!

Of course, I think most of us can relate to having wrongly sung a line or two in our lives, and probably much later than as a three year old. I vividly remember the day I found out that Bush was NOT singing about a religious epiphany in their song "Come Down". I was not only convinced that the words were "I don't want to come back down from Islam," but I also sang them embarassingly loudly. Ahem, apparently it was "this cloud", not Islam. Oh well. I'm sure there were a few people who enjoyed a good laugh on the bus ride to school over it. Certainly my friends did when I finally figured it out, so it wasn't a total waste.

The thing I love is that when a song gets hold of you, it doesn't always matter if you get the words right and, as a three year old, I'm not sure he'd know what "boughs of holly" really are anyway. He sings it with abandon and without a care in the world as to what he sounds like or if he's "right." He's happily and unashamedly him. What a beautiful picture of living in freedom- just happy to be who God has made him to be and enjoying life each moment at a time. Another lesson straight from God through the mouth of a three-year-old to my soul.

So, as I continue to sing about "boughs of collies" and "drops of rain roses" in the coming days, I might just fish out my old Bush cd and sing along, wrong words and all. It was more fun the wrong way anyway!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Like a Child

I'm sure most parents have said this at one time or another, but having a kid has definitely taught me more about having a childlike faith than any sermon ever could. For those who have read between the blog lines, you might suspect that we've been hoping to have a baby for a long time now. Much longer than we ever expected to. And waiting on a pregnancy is like nothing I've ever had to wait on before.

Last week, in the midst of disappointment, my son and I were on our way to run some errands. As the tears ran down my cheeks, he could tell from his seat in the back of the car that things weren't quite right.

J: "Mommy, are you sad?"
C: "Yes, sweetie, I am sad."
J: "Why are you crying?"
C: "Well, I want a baby and I'm just a little disappointed right now."
J: "Well, Mommy, stop crying, then. God will give you one. And I'll give you a kiss and a hug...when we stop, because I can't reach you right now."

"God will give you one". I've asked, right? Probably every day for a year now I've asked, but I don't know if even one of those days I displayed as much faith as this little boy did in that moment. He wants a baby brother and we've prayed for it. So, it'll happen, case closed. No tears, Mommy, God's on top of it.

For a few days after that, my son would ask me if I was sad anymore, but after my decision last month to stop expecting disappointment and live in expectation, my sadness only lasted a few moments. That day I had a good cry, a concept I've only really recently discovered. That night, a glass of wine. The next day, I moved forward in hope once more and my son happily relinquished his role as comforter. I know that God might not answer this prayer the way that I want Him to and that if He doesn't there will be some hard questions and decisions ahead. I'm alright with that. I'm thankful that no matter what, I've got this little person reminding me that God is faithful and will answer my prayer in the way that I need, even if it's not exactly what I want.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Land of No Control

Long ago I decided that whoever designed pantyhose was either (a) sadistic or (b) had no nerve endings between her knees and her waist and was hoping the rest of the female population would follow suit. More likely, it was actually a man who designed them and never even put a pair on to see the outcome of his folly. Consequently, I stopped wearing them, even when I have to go to weddings in the middle of January and I know it's totally socially inappropriate. I just don't care. The seductive promises of control-top don't tempt me, nor does the lure of a smooth looking leg. I wear my scars proudly, even when covered with goose bumps, because the freedom is worth it.

I wish I could say that pantyhose were not the only methods of control I rejected at an earlier age, but I'd be lying. I think I've lived my whole life in the land of "Control Freak." Maybe if I plan for every possible outcome and have a million hypothetical conversations in my head, then I can be sure of the outcomes, right? How much time have I wasted on the "what-ifs"? How many lists have I created, with their neat little boxes just ready for my satisfied check mark, finding my identity in the fact that so much of my world was ordered? I was nothing more than a slave to fear.

I've hit that point in my sabbatical when people are starting to ask those questions that are calling me to a summary of what I've learned. As I've tried to put this amazing experience into words, one word has dominated: Freedom. Freedom from fear, freedom from performance, from the tyranny of busy-ness and self-importance, from low expectations, from self-limiting boxes shaped like other people and not myself and, mostly, the freedom to actually trust God. Not just in word, but in deed. I may not be buying pantyhose, but what I am buying only comes in two sizes: all or nothing. I'm either free or I'm not, there's no halfway or almost. I'm either free or I'm a slave.

God has been breaking me of this control in so many ways; through unanswered questions, through different opinions on the timing of events in my life and through victorious glimpses into what a day feels like when it's approached with openness, flexibility and a deep sense of adventure and expectation. Just today I had a meeting with a man who has a great say on what is next for me in my career. Rather than preparing a 3 page, double-spaced treatise on all the options I saw, I just prayed a whole lot and showed the heck up, trusting that God would work through him to give me direction. And you know what? He did, in amazing and life-giving ways that have already, just hours later, gotten me so excited for this post-sabbatical phase of my life that it's hard not to start planning it right now! But I won't, because this life is a life I hope to live with much margin, joyful spontaneity, fewer lists and no pantyhose. Particularly not control-top. Sure, I gave them up years ago but it never hurts to reaffirm such an important commitment.