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Being Brave Together

In the moments when we wonder why we bother, when we feel futile and small and ridiculous, when we feel misunderstood and mischaracterized, when we are paying a price, it’s in those moments that we learn the truth about being brave: it doesn’t always feel good.

If, as Aristotle supposedly posited, the only way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing, well, then that’s certainly an option. And sometimes a very alluring option. Be nothing, do nothing, say nothing, watch more television, buy more stuff.

Everyone likes to talk about being fearless, about owning your truth, about standing up and being counted. We sing songs in church about being brave, we blast music in the minivan and shake shake shake it off, we hang prints up in our homes about courage, we talk about brave people or follow them on social media until we somehow make ourselves believe that we ourselves are somehow brave.

I think we like to talk a lot about being brave because the actual doing of it is so freaking terrifying. And tiring. And ordinary.

It’s my belief that true fearlessness comes from living loved. When we find our worth and our value in Christ, then, as the Psalmist wrote, what can man do to us? I don’t think we can be a people-pleaser or an approval-addict AND be brave with our lives. Perhaps that’s why fearlessness or bravery starts with our identity first, it’s the deep well from which we draw living water, enough for today.

I believe that bravery is born in the quiet and ordinary moments long before it’s seen by anyone else. Sometimes it’s as simple and devastating as the moments no one else will ever see – the moments of daring to be honest with our own self, of laying down our excuses or justifications or disguises, of asking ourselves what we really want, of forgiveness, of honesty, of choosing the hard daily work of restoration, of staying resolutely alive when every one else is just numbing themselves against life. These are why our friends matter so deeply: they are witness to the sacred secrets. Not all secrets are terrifying things, some of them are beautiful and transformative.

But then come moments – those turning point moments, when you know it matters more than anyone else would know from the outside. The “yes” you need to say, the “no” you need to enforce, the truth you need to speak, the life you dare to imagine, the risk you take, the art you create, the establishment you defy, the danger you face, the living out of what you profess, whatever. Those moments are our turning points because when we look back on them, we say and then something changed.

That is true. Usually it’s us, we’re the ones who change. We take another tentative step out onto the water, a bit further away from the boat of our safety. And we do it alongside of each other, hand in hand, never alone.

I have learned the hard way that we usually can’t be brave on our own.

The ways we connect with each other might be quite typical – Sunday morning services or school pick-ups or bible studies at church or school or work or afternoon walks. Or more typical to our generation – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, podcasts, texting. Either way, we don’t feel quite so alone in our moments of choosing brave. We feel seen, we feel heard, we feel prayer at our back and a sisterhood waiting up ahead of us on the path.

Together makes us braver.

I am surrounded by interesting and dangerous women. Sometimes this is wonderful, other times it’s exhausting, it is always challenging. Because they push me. They push me to think harder, to be more honest, to read more widely, to listen more broadly, to get my hands dirty, to stop compartmentalizing my life, to live more seamlessly. They make me examine my choices and my priorities. They question me, they pray for me. When I grow weary, they hold my arms up and growl “don’t you dare sit down.” These women have stretched my opinions, my theology, my mind, and my heart until I hardly know my own shape anymore.  The funny thing is that they do this just by getting on with it – no sermons, no programs, no big manifestos, just a company of women being brave in ordinary ways, each so different from the other.

They are being brave with their own lives and so, because I am alongside of them, I am learning to be brave, too.

Their lives are a cadence I want to carry: others first, pay attention, open heart, work well, rest radically, open doors, live prophetically, make room in your life to be inconvenienced, challenge, love well. I stumble so often, I get cranky and melodramatic and self-important. March, they say. Pick up your one small stone, they say, we’ve got a mountain to move.

It’s a risk. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. There is a price to pay, a cost to be counted. Reorienting your life around what you believe about God and what it means to be truly human and believing every small life or act of justice matters comes with a cost. We are counting that cost. And it’s worth it. Every time. Even when we’re wrong, even when we screw up, even when we sink beneath the waves and find ourselves scrambling back to the boat, licking our wounds, being brave together is worth it. It means we get to try again. Together.

Continue Reading · faith, fearless, journey · 67

Flutters and faith

Faith and Flutters

I have three tinies and this is my eighth pregnancy. Those kinds of odds can mess with a woman.

As I said a few weeks ago when I first told you about this baby, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster. I spent the first four months of this pregnancy convinced that it wasn’t viable, unable to muster up any hope that Tiny #4 would actually be in my arms in February.

I spent those days waiting for a sign, just one sign, to demonstrate to me that this baby had half a chance. I prayed for it. (I never had a single sign.) Then came no heartbeat and then another non-heartbeat and then finally, crazily, 173 beats a minute and the assurance that so far, so good.

I had a heartbeat confirmation. And that was it.

You name the pregnancy “symptom” of your choice – morning sickness, sore breasts, exhaustion, mood swings, food sensitivities or aversions, whatever – and I had it with the three babies I carried to term. More tellingly, I did not experience them with all of my losses. That was always my first indicator that something wasn’t quite right with the pregnancy – my body quietly returned to normal and so I quietly began to grieve.

Tiny #4 continues to defy my script.

I have longed for morning sickness in a way that must baffle and offend women who are severely struck down during pregnancy. I don’t mean to make light of those who suffer in this way. But I went through my days perfectly fine, bright and energetic – and I hated every minute of it. My body still felt, well, not pregnant.

Come on, I would bargain with my body. Let me be sick today. It would sure help my anxiety.

When I carried Anne and Joe and Evelynn, I leaned heavily on those little indicators like morning sickness or migraines, swollen feet and exhaustion because they meant that something was still happening. Someone was still there. Someone was taking up space in my body and making their presence known. With Tiny #4, I have not had those reassurances.

My last rung of the hope ladder was this one: feeling the baby move. I always feel my babies moving very early, perhaps because I’m paying such close attention. As I passed day after day of this pregnancy without a single indicator to justify any hope, I waited expectantly for week 14. (I felt Anne at 16 weeks, both Joe and Evelynn as early as 14 weeks. This is uncommonly early but it’s usual for me.) This is a sure one, I thought, soon I’ll know I can relax and just enjoy this pregnancy instead of always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Surely, surely, surely with a fourth baby, I would be feeling this one move at the same time, possibly even earlier. Then I would know what to expect, then I would be bold enough to pray with assurance.

Week 14 passed, no movement.

Week 15, then 16. I voiced some concern to my family.

Then we passed week 17, then 18, then 19 weeks.

Still no movement within me, still no flutters, still no someone making their presence known.

As Week 20 drew near, it seemed that I was even being denied this milestone. The books and my midwife all said it wasn’t time to panic yet and so I waited (not-so) patiently for my next ultrasound appointment, this deviation from my expected script sent me reeling. Even if it wasn’t a big deal to anyone else, to me it meant everything.

Every small thing that I have used to justify my faith and confidence and hope during a pregnancy has been denied to me during this pregnancy. I don’t know why.

The days are a bit long when you’re waiting without assurance.  I think I used to confuse faith with my longing for control, particularly of outcomes. Even now, it’s a lame sort of faith, mine, the kind that waits for a sign before taking the risk. Faith feels like a release to me, it’s safer to put my confidence in my abilities or in hard work or proper behaviours or whatever new thing I’m using to wrest control in my life.

Like so many aspects of my spirituality, I am still a bit in-between, figuring out what I reclaim and what I relinquish, living with a few unanswered questions while relying heavily on the few things I do know – and almost all of those can be summed up in my complete and utter confidence in Love. God is for us, who can be against us?

Over these weeks, I felt like a fragmented woman, believing and unbelieving all at once.

One old-school part of me was going all word-of-faith on this baby: praying Scripture, declaring the Word, binding and loosing all sorts of things, declaring life and not death, you name it, I’d claim it. Another part of me was already grieving and giving up. Another part of me prayed for belief even while acknowledging my own unbelief. One part of me wondered how I even dared to pray and expect God to move for me when I already had three beautiful children and there are far more important things in the world about which I should be praying, how selfish could I be? Another part of me relinquished outcomes, trusting God implicitly no matter the outcome while simultaneously raging against that very thing.

I am a woman of prayer. It sounds bold-faced to write it down, but there it is. I write it anyway. Prayer comes easily to my spirit – perhaps it is because a former pastor of ours once told us that the same part of us that worries is the part of us that prays. I knew I could worry constantly, so that meant I could pray constantly.

And so I do. I always have. I move through my day with an awareness of my companionship with the Spirit and we talk always, sometimes even with words. I pray, this is what I do. It feels small, so small, in the face of great pain or sorrow or injustice or uncertainty or even joy, but I pray anyway. I carry people and movements, requests and hearts within me like candlelight that I revisit often to hold in my hands and breathe over in prayer.

I don’t believe I can control God through prayer or through faith, I don’t believe God is waiting for me to “prove” that I have enough faith or know enough Bible verses to argue the points. In fact, I don’t believe in praying with an agenda most of the time. Yet as the days of my waiting for this baby to just move already went by, I prayed to or wondered at God, grappling with my questions and my doubt, with my beliefs about the nature and character and heart of our God and the very real reality of our fallen world.

Fearlessly, fearfully, I prayed for life.

And I prayed for faith. I prayed for faith to believe for life and for health for a small person. I prayed because who else was going to keep praying? who else was going to stand guard over this small one and hang on for dear life, who else but her mother? this is what we do, we stay even when it would make more sense to give up. I prayed because I wasn’t going to give up. I wasn’t going to be the one to back down from a fight over my child.

I felt more like the annoying woman of persistence from one of Jesus’ parables, she who stood outside the door of a judge pestering his life out until he gave in with bad grace. Jesus called her a woman of great faith, I call her my only hope.

I couldn’t muster up my old definitions of faith but I could keep relentlessly hope-knocking as my radical act of faith.

Two weeks ago on a Saturday morning, I was laying in bed alone (a rarity) when the baby finally made her presence known: I’m here. She shifted and moved within my womb with a small whoosh, and my heart throbbed. There you are, I breathed. There you are. I’ve been waiting for you.

Then she moved like a fish in water, a rolling and a stretching with natural ease that seemed to say, what? you were worried?

I stayed in bed, silent, feeling her move within me, like faith, a flutter of a presence, growing. There was plenty of time to tell my husband, my mother, my sister, my friends. Right then, it was time to pray and every word in my mind and mouth, every flutter was thank you thank you thank you thankyouthankyouthankyou.

Still I wonder about faith and the nature of prayer, I still hold my understandings loosely. Faith isn’t certainty, I know that by now. If I was certain, I wouldn’t need faith. I think it’s a gift and a choice, sometimes at the same time. I think it’s a confidence in the midst of doubt, it’s work and it’s rest. Faith is a risk and it’s gorgeous to let go into the free fall.

Barbara Kingsolver wrote in her book, Animal Dreams, “The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”

These days, that sounds a lot like Hebrews 11 to me. So right now I think faith is figuring out what I hope for – redemption, wholeness, shalom, justice, love, life, one small baby to live and not die, all of it – and then fearlessly living under that roof.

It’s been a couple of weeks since that Saturday. As I write these words, this baby within me moves and kicks and pokes mercilessly, stretching and growing, I still nearly exhale with relief every time. Our baby is alive and well and growing stronger still – I take no credit and I am still wary of proclaiming anything definitive.

After all, if I say that God performed a miracle this time, what does that mean for my other babies, the ones I never got to hold except in my folded-up tea towels? I can’t forget them. Yet if I say that it’s just a happy coincidence, am I taking away from the miracle and the glory for God’s mighty act for a seemingly small and ordinary woman and her unborn child? It’s both and it’s neither, it’s holy ground for that very reason, for the uncertainty and the praise, one in each hand. I can only say that fearless prayer did what it always does: it changed me.

I still pray and will always pray like that one thing is true: God is for us. And it’s worthwhile to keep knocking.

That’s about all I know about faith for sure.

Just a couple of days later, we had our ultrasounds. It confirmed what I already knew well by now: our wee one is healthy and whole, all is well. The technician might as well have hung a big neon sign up that said: Chill Out, Sarah. And Congratulations.

Because, didn’t I mention? …. we’re having a girl.

photo by Rachel Barkman Photography (from back when I was VERY pregnant with Evelynn) 

Continue Reading · baby, faith, fearless, journey · 65

More than metaphors: on bearing witness to baptism

On Sunday, four people climbed the ladder into the tiny plastic six-foot wide tank set up for our sacred purposes at the school gym. Standing in waist-deep warm water, our pastor stood with an arm around each person in turn: tell us your story, he said. And they did.

Someone had typed up a few pages to read aloud, another two spoke from the heart, another had written out her story long-hand onto lined papers that she dropped one after another onto the gym floor as she finished another page, a fluttering of falling, stained with tears.

And every time after they had finished speaking their truth and their journey, they wept at the ways that Jesus had met him in their darkness, at how he had given them friends and community to walk alongside of them, at how even the most lost moments or people of their lives had been restored.

They cried and we cried right along with them: we know, we know, we know, our hearts sang. It was that way for us, too. We remember.

We were dead and now we are alive.

Our pastor asked them a few of the important questions, just to make it official perhaps. Marriages require certain words in the church tradition, baptism is another sort of wedding so we need to hear you say it out loud: Yes, I profess Jesus Christ as my Saviour and I will spend my days following him wherever he leads me.

And into their lives and over their lives, the spoken words: In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, I baptize you. A gentle hand at your back, your eyes screwed shut, and you sink backwards in trust, here it all goes. Then with the hand of your pastor or your friends, sometimes both, at your back your face breaks the surface of the water and you breathe in new life.

Watching ordinary people sink into an ordinary plastic tub in an ordinary school gym in an ordinary small city in western Canada is one of the most extraordinary and sacred moments of my life.

Witness it: dying to the old life, raised in the newness of life. What once was dead, now lives. What once was has passed away and the new creation has come.

I stood on my feet and howled with praise. We all clapped and cheered, this is a moment for celebration! We cry and we clasp our hands over our hearts, our smiles are impossible to wipe off. Look! It still happens! Miracles! Imperfect, a bit of a mess, stumbling and so regular but here we are transcendent.

I don’t even know entirely what I believe or think actually happens when we’re baptized. I don’t think it’s required to be part of the family of God at all yet it’s beautiful and prophetic and holy. I don’t think this act is a simple metaphor or even a public declaration or a personal decision but I don’t think it’s a moment of salvation either. I think it’s a foretaste of one thing and a throw-back to another and a miracle besides. An act of obedience and a declaration, absolutely, a joining to a community, and a glimpse of resurrection all at once.

Really, what I’m saying is that I have no systematic theological step-by-step delineation about baptism but I know I love the very mystery of it, the resurrection of it, the belonging of it, and yes, wait for it, the power of it.  The sheer gob smacking dead-raising power of God, uprooting and planting together. The very air is charged with the the Spirit, snapping and electrifying, separating and renewing.

Baptism has always been the sacrament that I hold most gingerly, the one I understand too little and yet love most ferociously. These days there is a lot reclaiming of Eucharist or Communion for which I’m glad. But the sopping wet part of me still clings to baptism as my sacrament of transformation, it’s my own place of both mystery and equality, of welcome and embrace. I feel most like the mystic I might have been a thousand years ago at those moments of bearing witness to baptism.

Let me draw close and put my hands on you, let me pray for you quietly even if you never know. Today you saved something in us all. We remembered that it’s real – it’s all real – today. The Spirit met us here at a metaphorical River Jordan, this is the border land, the place of transition.

Whenever I feel restless about Church – both the universal Church and my own local church – and most particularly my place in her, whenever I feel wander-y and misfit-ish and even just plain tired of trying, when I wonder why even bother, I remember these exact moments. From the outside, it’s a rather stripped down version of a baptism perhaps but still a thin place between earth and heaven, rich in depth and marked as holy ground. I remember my own baptism and the power of it. Sinking and rising, metaphors for all.

And this life we live locks back into place again: we were dead and now we’re alive. We’re climbing a ladder while people cheer, we’re being wrapped in worn-out bath towels and we’re weeping with the biggest smile on our faces we’ve ever worn, sopping wet and alive as birth.

 Photo courtesy of Lightstock, used with permission

Continue Reading · faith · 14

A Memory of our True Home

Once I read a book about a child who was kidnapped (I can’t read those kinds of books anymore, so this must have been many years ago). The boy was kidnapped as a toddler, and they brainwashed him. They gave him a new name, they called themselves his Mum and Dad, they created an entire life for him. From the outside, it was so normal – school, baseball, family suppers – and they were satisfied that he had forgotten his old life and that this was their happily ever after.

But there was still something there, buried deep in his heart, he knew that something wasn’t right. He had dreams of his old life, recurring dreams of his mother and his father, his old room. And even though he was happy and his kidnappers were rather good to him, he wasn’t surprised, not one bit, to eventually discover that he had been kidnapped and that his entire life was a lie. When he finally was restored to his real home, every one worried about how it would go because, really, they were all strangers to him. But he saw his real mother, his real father, and he saw his home and he wept and simply said that he always knew, he always knew, the truth was there in his heart the whole time.

I sometimes feel that way about us and God. I feel like maybe we’re all exiles. 

We think we’re in our regular life, our real life, but there is this thing, this sense, this memory of something better, something more, something that is everything good and perfect still stuck in our hearts.

And even when everything is good or we’ve achieved everything we ever wrote on our Bucket List or pinned onto Pinterest boards or we accomplish some long list of the world’s version of success and we achieve celebrity or money or the house with the kids and the dog, we still know, deep in our hearts, we’re exiles and something, something isn’t right here.

It’s not enough. All of the stuff, all of the things, all of the experiences, all of the good or the thrilling or sexy stuff in the world is a smokescreen of goodness. It’s an approximation of something real to convince every one else that we’re fine, we’re normal but really we’re walking around and we know the whole time that we don’t quite fit, we know something is off, we know we’re not where we belong.

The memory of God’s kingdom is there. 

It’s there in the stuff of the soul, the tendrils of the spirit. Like the Psalmist sang, we’re like those that dream of home. It’s submerged somewhere in our brain or our soul perhaps, but we know, we know, the truth is there, in your heart, the whole time.

We see glimpses of it, we’re reminded, we have a hunch or a memory we can’t quite grasp if we try to look at it full on. It drifts like smoke or storms in like flashes of lightening-insight or takes our breath: we make love, we learn, we sing, we watch the stars come out, we care, we connect, we labour, we carry, we nurse, we cry, we dance, we witness restoration in a million tiny ways.

We have these moments of transcendence, like the veil between heaven and earth is fluttering, we can’t breathe for the loveliness of the world and each other, and just like that, we remember something. 

Our skin is made of dust and we often catch the perfumed scent of the Garden in the cool of the evening, and we know, somewhere inside, we’re supposed to be walking with God, unashamed still.

I wonder if that’s really what happens when we meet Jesus. It’s not that we meet him, or that we believe in him, or that we “invite him into our hearts” or that we mentally assent to some non-negotiable truths that will govern your best life now.

No, I think it’s that we recognise him. 

I think that part of soul, our spirit, our bodies, our minds, locks into focus. It wasn’t a dream, no, that is what is real. When we cross the threshold of faith, we enter into an awareness that the Kingdom of God has already come.

And we realise, Oh, my God, I always knew, I always knew, the truth was there, in my heart, the whole time. We couldn’t articulate it, if we tried to say it out loud it sounded foolish. So instead the inexplicable longing resides until it is fulfilled: the Kingdom of God. Love, hope, joy, peace, kindness, all of it. This is what God intended for us. This is what we are moving towards, every day, the restoration of this beautiful home, the redemption of all of us, the rescue of all of us from the false life that we think is real. We were made for this life instead. We’re home.

edited from the archives

 

Continue Reading · faith · 32