Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Settling the Solitary in a Home

Two weeks ago, I delivered this testimony during worship at Calvary Baptist Church of Waco, Texas. Many of these stories and ideas have appeared elsewhere on my blog, but I think it is worth repeating in whole.

“God settles the solitary in a home.” Five years ago, these words from Psalm 68.6 were difficult for me to believe. I had just arrived in Texas to begin my graduate studies, and this cross-country move was the culmination of a disorienting year: in a matter of months, I had attended the funeral of my last grandparent, broken up with a boy I could have married, graduated from my beloved college, and now I was more than a thousand miles away from my friends and parents. An introvert and an only child, always quite happy to be alone, I suddenly found myself, at twenty-two years old, deeply and truly lonely for the first time.

The people at Calvary were kind from the first morning I visited, and when I joined a lifegroup later in the fall of 2006, I learned that God was going to use this church to teach me that the Gospel brings us into a body, a kingdom, a home. On my first visit to that lifegroup, I arrived a little late, and as I crept shyly through the front door, I could see that everyone was already seated in a circle, sharing a meal. “She’s here!” someone said. “Come in,” they called, “We’ve saved a chair for you.” When I heard those words, I felt as though I had walked into a parable.  Is this what the kingdom of God is like? I wondered.  To arrive at a stranger’s table and find they have saved a place for you?  Ephesian 6 tells us that through the Gospel, the Gentiles are co-heirs with God’s chosen people, strangers made at home in the kingdom of God. Through my experience with lifegroups, I was a witness to this mystery every Thursday night.

In so many ways, the members of that lifegroup were ministers of the Gospel to me during my first three years in Waco.  Especially during that first lonely season, they met the physical and spiritual needs that so often come with young adulthood: our lifegroup suppers were usually the only meals in a week I didn’t eat alone.  And holding hands during our prayers was the only time in a week that anyone touched me.

When school was discouraging, they assured me that my work as a teacher and scholar could serve the kingdom. When I fell in love with teaching, they rejoiced with me.

This would be a partial testimony, however, if I only gave an account of my own consolation. My lifegroup taught me to turn my own sorrow into compassion, my own joy into an invitation. Listening to my friends share their stories, I was able to step outside of my narrow fears and loneliness. Praying together, we endured illness, unexpected pregnancy, medical school applications, depression, job decisions, and family strife as one body. Celebrating together, we gave thanks for new life, acceptance letters, and reconciliation as one body. Studying and discussing together, we tested ideas, hoping to find words and actions that would bear witness to our faith.

These memories are so precious to me that I hate to admit our group’s quiet but painful dissolution. Jobs and school took many members away, leaders changed, and somewhere along the way we forgot that the Gospel demanded that we be more than a supper club and support group.  Our prayer times became brief and vague, our discussions drifted from questions about faith and practice to intellectual squabbles, and most dangerously, we forgot that we were supposed to be serving the church, Christ’s body, not ourselves.

As I prepare to step into a new lifegroup this fall, therefore, I am both eager and watchful. I have seen lifegroups wither and fade, but I have also seen them make the kingdom visible.  I have seen God use them to settle the solitary in a home. I have seen, as Pslam 84 says, that  

Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.

Beloved, we are so many sparrows perched upon the altars of our Lord. God forbid that we neglect  any good way to establish one another here, as heirs of this kingdom, as children of this home.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

And the Winner Is.....

Hear ye, hear ye!  I am happy to announce that Lauren is the winner of my first-ever book giveaway! Lauren selected one of last December's "Christmas Storytime" posts as her favorite, and now my head is full of ideas for sharing stories this Christmas.

Enjoy your copy of Living More with Less, Lauren! Thanks to all who entered. I have at least one more giveaway planned for this fall, so check back soon.

Monday, September 12, 2011

More with Less Giveaway!

This could be you!
(Cat, mask, and pleasant living room not included.)

I have truly enjoyed the responses my recent posts on learning to live "more with less" (read them here, here, and here) have inspired.  I an anticipate more entries on this theme in the coming months, and in the meantime, I would love to put a copy of Living More with Less into your hands. Few things are more delightful than receiving a book in the mail, and I'm eager to share that happiness with you. I have an extra copy of the original edition, and I would love to express my gratitude to all my faithful readers by offering this compelling book as a giveaway.  

Here's how to enter the Living More with Less drawing:

1) Look through my blog archives (I'm nearing my one-year anniversary!) and pick your favorite entry.  Post a link to this entry on facebook, tumblr, Google Connect, etc.

2) Come back to this page and leave submit your entry through the comments section (below). Tell me your first name, the name of the entry you posted and where you posted it, and an email address where I can reach you if you turn out the be the winner. 

Enter by 11:59 PM on Wednesday, September 14. I will announce the winner on Thursday.  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

You, Me, Light Inside

"You have a light," she said, pointing to the candle in my hand. "Like this, light inside. You, me, light inside. Life. Together."  The woman struggled for the right English words. She gestured to her heart, then her head, and said a word in Spanish. "A light inside," she repeated. "You a pretty girl. You, me, light inside. Some -- no light. Something wrong. They cry, need, need something. Life. Life, light, together."

Still smiling, the woman took the remaining candle and walked away. I turned, baffled. I had not expected to meet a Spanish-speaking mystic in the laundry aisle of the grocery store, but some mornings just turn out that way.

All day I have been full of such joy and such gratitude that if Waco had mountains I would climb one and shout the words I rather awkwardly called after my laundry-aisle prophet: "God bless you!"

Home should be a place that fills us with grace, and I am full, my friends, so grateful I can't go to sleep until I tell someone about this beautiful day.

Jenn and I left for the store shortly after seven this morning, blaring Mumford & Sons as we drove down Bosque Boulevard.  The fierce music rang like a prophecy for our golden Texas morning ("awake, my soul!"), and together we filled our cart full of good things: peppers, sweet potatoes, milk. We saw a mother with a small child and an elderly man, pushing his buggy in a suit and tie. His basket was filled with apples, peaches, bananas, and pears.

Returning home, I made a cup of tea, prayed, and wrote a letter to a friend. By nine I was at work on my dissertation, and I spent the rest of the morning reading, writing, pondering ideas about faith, literature, and nature. Jenn sat in the living room, hard at work on her wedding planning business. The morning was cool, and we kept the door open to the wind and the light.

This afternoon I met with my "dissertation club," which includes two fellow graduate students who are at a similar point in their writing. Steve, Jeff and I exchanged chapters last week, and we spent three hours providing questions, criticisms, suggestions, and connections for one another. Their comments for my chapter were insightful and practical, pointed and encouraging. We dwelt in one another's ideas, tested and pushed and sharpened the good we all found in each text.  What a privilege, I thought, to call these brilliant men my colleagues and friends. What a help, to receive their honest and thoughtful comments. What a comfort, to discuss the perils of the job search, the joys of our vocation, and the future of our discipline. In addition to our dissertations, we discussed job applications, cover letters, interviews, and bigger questions of higher education.  These things have driven me to stress and tears on many Friday nights, but the more we talked, the more I felt that light within me growing.

I left that good gathering for another--homemade pizza with a giddy group of friends--then went home to a house where people cared about my day and were glad to see me.

I don't know that words on a screen can communicate the deep and dazzling joy of this day--all the more dazzling because I expected none of it. I anticipated the gentle peace of an ordinary Friday, perhaps the satisfaction of a task or two completed. I did not expect a stranger to call out the light within me. I did not expect friends to name that light and to demand that I be brave because of it.

Perhaps they know that all too often, I forget.

I am writing this because I wonder if you, too, forget or do not know of such a light. I am writing because I overwhelmed by the grace of  food, music, friends, colleagues, work, rest. All today's good things have grown from my life in Christ, my participation in his body, the Church: the trip to the store with a friend-turned-housemate; the meeting with other young scholars who take their work--and mine--seriously; a dinner with friends whose laughter helps me forget myself.

I am writing this because I wonder if you, like me, have been sad and lonely. I want to tell you that lonely seasons can pass. They may linger for months or even years, but then, one day, the wind changes, the clouds scatter, and the light surprises your weary expectations.

I am writing this because I love this city and season of my life, yet I know that in the next year I may move to another city, state, or even country.  At this time next year, I may need this day to stand as an emblem of hope, a testament to grace.

This has been a good day, my friends. I pray it has been for you, too.

You, me, light inside. Life. Together.