Category Archives: faith and things like it

Group Hug

“If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.” – Kathrine Switzer

What a terrible week.

Monday morning I tossed aside everything I should have been doing in the precious couple of hours alone while the bigger boys were in school and Henry was napping to watch the Internet broadcast of the Boston Marathon. I subscribe to Runners World and they’ve had a number of stories over the past few months about the Boston Marathon – specially devoted to two American female runners who were in contention to win Boston this year. So I spent two hours ironing (and not ironing) in front of my laptop in the kitchen. Boston is a special marathon – America’s meta marathon – because you either have to run a qualifying time to get in or raise a lot of money for a nonprofit to run as a charity runner.

The broadcast of the elite runners ended at noon and I went about my day. Then I popped on to Twitter three hours later and got the first news of the bombing.

It’s a terrible event in any circumstance but even more poignant for people in the running community. Whether you’ve run a 5K or a full marathon, you know what it means to have people cheering for you during a race. I’ve both cheered and been cheered during races. In 2009, I camped out just before the Mile 26 marker at the Chicago Marathon waiting for my sisters to stager up the final hill before the finish line. The next year I ran my first half marathon.

Monday I just felt dazed. And desperately in need of a good, hard run. I injured my knee two weeks before while training for my second half marathon, but later that night I got on a treadmill and ran half of an increasingly painful mile just because I could. We live in an active town as it is, but I swear I saw at least twice the normal runners out that evening.

And then West, Texas. And then more death in Boston.

And now it’s Sunday.

O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

O merciful Father, who hast taught us in your holy Word that you do not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men: Look with pity upon the sorrows of your servants for whom our prayers are offered. Remember them, O Lord, in mercy, nourish their souls with patience, comfort them with a sense of your goodness, life up your contenance upon them, and give them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Group hug, guys.

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What Was Lost

Six months ago we moved again. It was one of our most abrupt moves, executed in two and a half weeks from job offer to arrival. A combination of career choice and national economic factors have caused our family to move four times in five years. We were so fortunate that each new home brought with it new dear friends and church communities. Minnesota was one of those special places for our family, and as much as we love our new Iowa home, leaving was hard.  

I bought a beautiful wine glass at a thrift shop today. Then in the evening after the children went to bed, I opened a bottle of red that our new pastor brought over as a welcoming gift. I poured a drink for myself into the generous bowl and appreciated the elegance of the liquid in the glass.

I met April indirectly like we do these days. Michael was at a philosophy function she was attending with her husband and through them I managed to get her email address. I probably would have let the relationship develop more organically but I was seven weeks away from delivering my third baby and hundreds of miles away from even the most minor acquaintance. We had just moved to town and I didn’t know what I would do when the time came to go to the hospital. I was desperately seeking friendship.

A week or so later I waddled over to April’s house and we had tea while my boys were in school and three of her four children ran or rolled about. Her baby was only seven weeks old. I couldn’t get over how slim April already was and how together and serene she seemed.

The weeks leading up to my due date we would sometimes chat briefly on the phone. We talked rapidly and had numerous distractions in the background. We were both sorting laundry and preparing dinner while we tried to fit a 20-minute conversation into the five minutes we truly had. After my due date came and went, I told April of my despair and fear about my impending induction, and she was one of the most comforting voices I hear that week. It was then she offered to come over in the middle of the night if my uterus cooperated and decided to have a baby before my induction.

“It’s not a problem! I’ll just bring the baby and I can stay until your boys wake up and then they can just come over here,” she said reassuringly.

I felt deeply appreciative of her willingness to offer concrete help (and not “let me know if you need anything!” help) despite the fact that we would only be neighbors for the year of Michael’s fellowship. She gave generously and wholeheartedly and did so during a time when she had every reason not to.

After Henry was born, she sent over homemade vegetable soup and hallah bread and cookies within three days of my being home. I tore hunks of the bread off and wrapped them in sandwich bags to eat during the middle of night nursing sessions, sending sleep-deprived, inarticulate prayers of thanks in her direction while I stuffed my face.

We checked in with each other every other week or so via phone throughout the dark winter months. She had a health scare. I worked at overcoming my own self-centeredness by praying daily for her healing. We were all so sick – horrible viruses and pneumonia and lingering colds. For months she was a voice over the phone line that I would connect with occasionally from a non-communicable distance.

But then like the eye of the storm, we were all healthy on Epiphany so we gathered our seven children and ourselves for a celebratory tea party on a cold Friday afternoon.

Wisemen Worship

Spring came. About once a week the boys and I would walk up the street to knock on the door to see if April, her girls and baby James were available to play for an hour or so before it was time to head home to make dinner. We would talk about food since we both loved to cook. We would chat about our children; our struggles and frustrations with trying to find the best way to smooth out the rough edges of their most trying personality traits.

Inevitably we would talk about our faith. April was one of the few devout Catholics I’d ever known and I loved asking questions and learning about the church calendar and feast days and the saints and seeing what a Catholic home looked like. It was deeply refreshing to talk about something meaningful and interesting with another adult during a time when most of life revolved around little people.

Once school was out for the summer, we met at the pool with our brood and shared red and blue slushies from the gas station and occasionally our better working window air conditioning units during unseasonably hot days. One afternoon I tentatively offered April a “teeny-tiny gin and tonic” and hoped she wouldn’t think I was one of those women from the headlines who have drunken afternoon playdates. She said yes so enthusiastically like it was the best idea ever, which was one of the reasons I liked her so much.

She had tears in her eyes when I told her we were moving. We only had a week to pack our house before we left, but she and I carved out time to walk around the block to the Ole Store for a glass of wine after the kids were down for the night. We talked and talked and only left when they closed, then talked a bit more on the street in front of the Fellowship House while the ridiculous Minnesota mosquitoes bit us.

The night before we left, they had us all over for a family dinner. We shared delicious food and a pitcher of fresh margaritas and told stories of the people we were before we were the caretakers of small people while simultaneously wiping little faces and sopping up messes.

And when we left their house for the last time, April embraced our shared faith and joy in good refreshments for comfort in our parting. “We can look forward to drinking wine together in heaven!” she said.

It was one of those rare friendships where we brought out the best in each other. We were truthful and honest in a way that encouraged the other toward something better in ourselves; something nobler than what our rebellious hearts and tired bodies often felt. It was a friendship built on proximity as close neighbors who shared the same street, yet came to recognize a sisterhood grounded primarily in our faith.

It’s been a week since we left. I watched the wine falling into my glass and, for the first time since we arrived in our new home, in our new neighborhood, in our new town and state, allowed myself to think about what was lost. And wept.

For April. And Robyn. And Abby. I miss you guys.  

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We Call This Friday Good

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart. 

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse. 

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere. 

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars. 

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.


– T.S. Eliot, from Four Quartets

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Maundy Thursday

A Maundy Thursday reflection:

But the worst day of all was when it hit me that Jesus’ own most fervent prayer was refused: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” I must have read that verse or heard it a hundred times before without seeing or hearing. Maybe I didn’t want to see it. But then one day I saw it. It just knocked me in the head. This, I thought, is what is meant by “thy will be done” in the Lord’s Prayer, which I had prayed time and again without thinking about it. It means that your will and God’s will may not be the same. It means there’s a good possibility that you won’t get what you pray for. It means that in spite of your prayers you are going to suffer. It means you may be crucified.

After Jesus’ terrible prayer at Gethsemane, an angel came to Him and gave Him strength, but did not remove the cup.

Before that time I may have had my doubts about public prayers, but I had listened to them complacently enough, even when they were for the football team. I had prayed my own private prayers complacently enough, asking for things I wanted, even though I knew well already that a lot of things I wanted I was not going to get, no matter how much I prayed for them. (Though I hadn’t got around to thinking about it, I already knew that I had been glad to have some things I had got that I had never thought to want, let alone pray for.) But now I was unsure what it would be proper to pray for, or how to pray for it. After you have said “thy will be done,” what more can be said? And where do you find the strength to pray “thy will be done” after you see what it means?

– Jayber Crow, in Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow (via Ash Wednesday)

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Wash on Monday

Ten years ago I did laundry about once every three weeks (which, yes, means I had at least 20+ pairs of underwear that I wore in increasingly levels of skanky-ness as the bottom of the pile neared). Buying clothes was more of a fun day out at the mall than an exercise in organization and frugality. Today, between kid’s clothes, baby clothes, adult clothes, cloth diapers, towels and sheets, I do it almost every day. It’s far from my least favorite household chore (hello, bathroom cleaning) but not exactly infused with domestic glory. And our local children’s consignment sale is coming up in about a month, which means I need to block out about four hours (no joke) to devote to going through the clothes, shoes, jackets and swim suits that we have, and make a list of what we need for the summer.

All that to say, this struck home today.

Laundry is a work of providential care; mending is restorative or healing; ironing is an act of perfecting. Even so seemingly nontranscendent an act as putting clothing away can be a gesture of memory or of hope. We put laundry away in drawers and closets in the expectation that another day or season will come when we need these things again. We pack away baby clothes… We save articles of clothing that belonged to a loved one who has died…

Alongside all of this, of course, lies the reality of clothing as a simple necessity and the act of clothing others as a work of mercy. Pople have bodies, and our bodies need clothes. Our households thus need routines and practices that provide for these needs and for the needs of the house itself; routines rooted in the recognition that… as we do such work, we are engaged in the essentials of life in the body and life in community.

from Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life by Margaret Kim Peterson

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Ash Wednesday

Some people think that the season of Lent and the ashes of Ash Wednesday are all about reminding us that we are small. After all, we are about to put ashes and dust on our foreheads, and repeat the phrase, “remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” For some, remembering we are dust is about remembering all the ways we’ve acted like dirt, and try again to act like the spirit of God. While repentance is a good thing, and confessing our sins and receiving God’s forgiving grace is an important part of remembering that we are small, these dusty ashes upon your foreheads are not about calling you a dirtbag. They are about reminding you that you are a human being, created by God from the dust the earth. In Genesis 2, God created human beings by scooping up the rich, dark soil, adamah in Hebrew, and (whoosh) blowing life into it. You are of the earth. You are made of the stuff of this world. Like everything else in this world, you will live and you will die this one precious life, in this one fragile body, and then that lifeless body will return again to dust. Among all other creatures and lives, surrounded by all the dirt of the earth, each one of us is one tiny speck in the vast universe. We are so very small.

But that’s not all. Whenever we remember we are dust, whenever we remember that we are adamah, made of clay, we also have to remember what else we are made of. What other ingredient, apart from the earth, comprises humanity at the dawn of creation? (Whoosh) The breath of God. You are dirt and to dirt you shall return, but you are also the breath of God, and to God you shall return. Inside of you dwells the spark of the Almighty God, the power of God’s spirit animates your life. You are filled with the power to love, to give, to serve, to rejoice, to overcome, to hope, to be transformed. Even more, you can transform the world around you by your work and your love, your witness and your welcome, your peace-making and your graciousness. The eternal breath of God breathes in you. You are great.

Every Ash Wednesday, we remember what it is to be human, to be made from dust and the breath of God. The opposing contradictions of great and small, known and unknown, clarity and mystery, life and death—they all are reconciled in each and every human life. We are indeed ambassadors of reconciliation. When our lives reflect our true nature, we are simultaneously reflecting the transient beauty of the world and the eternal beauty of God.

From The Someday Book; full post here.

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The Litany of Everyday Life

The first year of our marriage I would occasionally call my paternal grandmother to chat and keep company with her from 350 miles away. Growing up Granny welcomed me into her kitchen and gave me little cooking lessons, lessons on dry mopping floors and weeding flower beds. Years later when I was a young bride she would ask in her sweet elderly voice if I was enjoying keeping house. My mind flash through the irritation over how often the bathroom was cleaned and where the kitchen trash can was kept as well as the joy over new dishes and finding the coziest way to arrange the furniture.

“Yes, I’m really enjoying it,” I told her. Because when you call it “keeping house” it somehow sounds a lot nicer than “cleaning the house,” which is a pain in the neck and, at the time, the source of a tremendous amount of marital conflict.

Recently I stumbled across a book that I wish I’d read a long time ago. Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life by Margaret Kim Peterson which looks at housekeeping from the perspective of a daily litany of duties that take on almost a spiritual dimension in the repetitiveness. Of course it’s its very repetitiveness that irritates me to the extreme – especially when it comes to tasks I don’t enjoy like heavy cleaning – but I appreciated the idea of the ritualistic aspect of working in the home.

Looking around me there are so many friends are working with programs like Food For the Hungry or Compassion International or putting in hours at local soup kitchens and homeless shelters, and I start to look at my children and my spouse and the daily duties of keeping our home running as fetters that prevented me from doing Big Things for Humanity. Perhaps the thing that spoke to me most of all in the book was this:

Jesus has very strong things to say at various points in the Gospels about the Christian duty to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless… There is a tendency, I think, on the part of those of us who are well fed, clothed, and house to imagine that the needy people to whom Jesus refers in Matthew 25 are people we don’t know — the sort of people who are served at homeless shelters and soup kitchens, at which we ought therefore to volunteer at least occasionally. But housework is all about feeding and clothing and sheltering people who, in the absence of that daily work, would otherwise be hungry and ill-clad and ill-housed.

There is undoubtedly more to the merciful service that Jesus describes in Matthew 25 than caring for the daily needs of the members of our own households. Housework is a beginning, not an end. But it is a beginning – not a sidetrack, not a distractions, but a beginning, and an essential one at that – in the properly Christian work of, among other things, meeting the everyday needs of others, whether those others be our fellow household members, our near neighbors, or people more sociologically or geographically distant from ourselves.

(Sidenote: One other thing I really appreciated about this book is the author made a point that this book isn’t a book for women only as, let’s face it, so many of these types of Christian homemaking books can be. The Her.meneutics blog had a nice, succinct discussion of this issue a few weeks back where Margaret Kim Peterson was quoted.)

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