Hope in Context

con·text
ˈkäntekst/
noun
  1. the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.

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About a month ago, while raking and bagging leaves for hours, I started to listen to podcasts. I happened upon an interview with a female theology professor, Jeannine K. Brown and I liked her. In the course of the conversation, she mentioned that most of her study has been focused on the book of Matthew and she had recently published a commentary in the Teach the Text Commentary Series. After a little research, I ordered the book feeling an inclination to go deeper into the Bible. I talked to a friend about possibly reading it together but did not make any specific plans.

Today I started an Advent Devotional on my YouVersion Bible app. Reading number 1: Matthew 1. (Insert one angel singing, “Gloria” here.) I pulled out my commentary reading and rejoicing, learning and musing.

Ten years ago, I would have cringed at the sight of the genealogy in Matthew 1. Skimming through the familiar and unfamiliar names, I would have rushed right to the moment the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. One of the gifts of middle age, however, is perspective, context. As I look through that list of names today I’m having a hard time gathering my thoughts to consider the riches hidden in that list of names.

That list signifies time. Do you know it was approximately 500 years between the time Isaiah prophesied about a Messiah and the time Jesus was born? I struggle to remember what happened earlier this week and cannot fathom what my life will look like in 5 years. All the people on this list of the genealogy of Jesus lived with the anticipation of the Messiah who would release them from their darkness. They lived and died under the shadow of the waiting. Generation after generation Isaac, Tamar, Ram, Salmon, Jehoram, Josiah, Zerubbabel, and Matthan lived and waited and did not see the light break upon them. They did not live to see the promise fulfilled.

They were part of the promise, though. See their names there in that list? I do not pretend to understand how that works. Some of these people have parts of their stories told in the Old Testament, but the vast majority of them do not. Yet, here they are listed in The Story. In the opening words of the New Testament, this book that has been translated into hundreds of languages, Salmon’s name is there. The guy who shares a name with a fish is in the opening credits to the greatest story of all time. Salmon had already been dead for decades. For all we know, he fished every day of his life. Maybe he never even thought about the Messiah. We don’t know.

Context. On my very best days, I feel a deep sense of assurance about this Big Context. I believe in the long and meaningful story of the Kingdom of God. I believe that my name is also on a list God continues to write. I prefer to think He is writing it in calligraphy because that seems important and appropriate. And that one day when time is full, I will stand in the full presence of God, no more “through a glass darkly” but “face to face”. (See 1 Corinthians 13.) I will know just as I am fully known and this waiting, all these years of dark and light and the crazy haze will be worth it.

On my darkest days, I try to remember this dark span of time that ultimately leads to God becoming flesh. When I cannot see past the heaviness of the hour, I will choose to trust that I am standing on a span of road that leads to another Bethlehem. I will ask God to send me a donkey to carry me forward. I will believe God knows my name and my years regardless of whether any other human being reads my words or sees my heart.

The baby Jesus was born, a promise fulfilled, the result of years of waiting by real people each of whom is somehow a part of this long, long story. Context gives me hope.

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Less Than or Greater Than

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Dearest Children,

Movies are funny things. We use them to entertain us, sometimes to help us forget our workaday world. Good storytellers beckon us from the opening scene, reel our hearts and minds in, catapult us into a world of adventure, and boldly take us where few have gone before. Then the soundtrack fades away, the houselights temporarily blind us and there we sit, legs cramped from sitting still too long, a little dizzy from the dazzling multicolor pixels, and so very grounded to this earth.

Remember that symbol you learned in math? < . Less than. Sometimes when I see a movie with a hero ten feet tall on the big, big screen, that’s how I feel at the end. < . My little, little life does not compare to the wonders of the heroes of old. Or even the achievement of the heroes of new. Already I am 40 years old and I have not discovered any cures for grave diseases, invented technology to simplify daily life or turned around the economic outlook for a community. < .

Those same 40 years of life, however, have taught me something else–a different definition of important and brave. Let me tell you a story that no one will ever make into a movie. I was a teenager once. I know. Hard to believe. Every day I drove to school and drove home. I was a good student and a generally nice kid who got along with most everyone. Every day as I drove down the street just outside that 3 story ancient brick building I saw a girl walking alone. I had met her at the beginning of the school year at an Honor Society function I think. Something inside me felt a little bad each day seeing her walking alone. Alone is a really hard place to be as a teenager. Mostly the unspoken goal during those years is to never be by yourself. Many fifteen year olds pay dearly in ways they never thought they would just to avoid being alone. And there she was, EVERY day alone.

One day it was raining. Not the light sprinkle of a daily tropical palm watering in Florida. Pouring down rain. Windshield-wipers-racing-to-the-left-and-right-and-still-losing-to the-raindrops Michigan downpour. Turning out of the parking lot cautiously, there she was. Walking home alone again, in the rain, without an umbrella. This is when the still, small voice inside spoke. “Offer her a ride.”

I waffled. “I don’t know where she lives.”

“Does it matter?”

“It is so embarrassing. I don’t know what to say.”

“Offer her a ride.”

“I can’t remember her name.”

“She doesn’t remember yours either.”

I negotiated long enough to pass right by her. But the still, small voice was right. And I knew it. I turned around at the light, turned around at the next light, and pulled up beside her.

“Can I give you a ride home?”

So began a friendship, a deep friendship, that lasted only a year before we both went away to colleges far away from each other. We wrote a couple of letters after that, then went on with our separate lives.

17 years later, I was walking through your one-story, aging brick preschool building. A mother with two young children trying to figure out how to manage little people hour after hour. Adjusting to a very small circle of people. Grieving the loss of a child not yet born who had already left us. Disappointed at how unimportant my life felt. Having a < (less than) kind of year. A familiar voice trailed down the hall. My friend.

One of the very first things she said to me that day was, “I was just telling someone about you the other day.” Really? 17 years later? Suddenly I knew, knew deep down in the most important places of my soul, what courage meant. Courage, my children, is listening to the still, small voice and following it. It is not always comfortable. It is not always exciting. Maybe “they” will make a movie about you (who are “they” anyway?), but “they” will probably never even know you exist. Courage won’t matter to all of “them” but it will matter to one of “them”.

Later on in the story, you will see that the still, small voice knows exactly what it is talking about. It has picked out a story of bravery that is made specially for you. Living that story, no matter how big or small, famous or hidden, is an adventure only you can experience. And you will realize you, and your courageous choices, and the still, small voice are > (greater than).

Love,

Mom

 

Photo of a statue in Eglise La Madeleine

Not alone

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Change comes. People scatter. The Father stays. See that tiny cross on the top of that tower? It is Jesus’ sacrifice affixed on the steadfast tower of God the Father’s love. For God so loved the world that He will never leave me or forsake me. We will weather this change and the next one and the next…together.

A tower of Sacre-Couer taken from the top of Sacre-Couer overlooking the city of Paris

The Way

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This picture taken in front of the Church of Saint-Sulpice. The first time we walked over these stones we were frantically looking for the entrance to the church. The front doors were obviously closed and the visiting hours were almost over. I thought I saw a sign of direction but pressed for time we took off around to the left looking for an entrance. After walking/jogging around almost the entire building we found the entrance on the opposite side about as far away from where we started as we could be. After our visit we walked back to see the fountain out front. I decided to run up and look at that sign. Sure enough it directed us to the right to find the entrance. How often do we rush through life finding our own way instead of looking for directions from the one who can see the whole thing? Look to Jesus, He knows the way. He is the way.

New Balances

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Once upon a time I wrote what I thought a brilliant short essay on balance being the key to life. My first essay to turn in to a new professor. It would impress her for sure. When the essay was returned, it had just one sentence at the bottom. “The key to life is not balance, it is obedience.” Twenty years later, I am a believer.

The balancing mobile pictured above represents a piece of that reality. It is a balanced piece of artwork but it bends and sways and moves with the wind. The pieces are not all the same size and shape and sometimes it dips deeply to one side or another. Life is not a static balance in which every part of my life gets equal measurements and it holds steady on both sides. The wind changes. The needs shrink and grow.

Most beautifully, I have a Guide who lives in me so that I do not need to be controlled by every wind that blows through. This guide takes all the factors into account and guides me to find the balance of this moment. I have discovered that Jesus in me is a good, good shepherd. When I follow, I find new balances, new ways of interacting with my world. I find joy.

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Artwork: Alexander Calder, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris

Take Heart

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“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

This is probably my favorite picture from Paris. Even a full on shot of this Jesus mosaic does not do it justice. This angle reminds me how Jesus often shows up in my life. I will be walking around in the alternating dimness and color of everyday life when suddenly Jesus shows up. It is not yet time for him to be fully revealed but a glimpse of his face sets my heart soaring again. Reminds me that he has been walking by my side and at the end of it all I will know even as I am fully known.

In the meantime I weep, wade, wait and sometimes even wander but I do so with the peace that passes understanding.

I go with Jesus.

Inside Eglise de Sacre-Couer, Church of the Sacred Heart

Big Picture

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This was my first bird’s eye view of the city of Paris and first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Seeing Paris first from the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral, a gargoyle by my side, still seems a bit surreal. We climbed hundreds of winding steps to get to this spot. I couldn’t help but marvel that hundreds of years of people had climbed those very stairs and touched the same rocks around me. And someone so long ago designed and built this magnificent place to worship the same God I worship today. At the end of a day, this big picture, long term view helps me take a deep breath and trust the God who never sleeps.