Category Archives: Living in community

compassion faith justice Living in community

Lying in Green Pastures With a Heart that Will Not Sit Down

I write to teach myself, and with the hope that someone else might be able to glean encouragement or exhortation from it as well. Still, usually when I sit down to write a blog, I have a somewhat solid idea of what I want to say. Not this time. I am restless. My heart is heavy. But I need this ritual of thinking and praying through typing so I can learn how to rest.

My heart is heavy because of turmoil in the world, in my country, and in my personal life. I see injustice. I see people being hateful to each other and drawing lines in the sand over politics and beliefs. Many of these people claim Christ. It is disheartening to see people who follow the same Savior become venomous toward each other over differences of opinion. And I’m not saying these opinions or issues are not important. They are vital. And that is what makes them so volatile. Still, the lack of peace and grace is hard. I admit that I participate in this. It is hard for all of us when we think we see something so clearly and others can’t or won’t see it the same way. I know I have the same difficulty seeing things from the other side. But every time I get on Facebook I am overcome with a heaviness of spirit. That is largely because what is going on in our country and the world is truly heavy and in some ways quite frightening. It is right to feel sorrow and grief and a sense of unrest with the ways in which people are being devalued and the truth is being twisted. But at the same time, to live under the oppression of fear cannot be the right thing. We have not been given a spirit of fear.

Even without the relational aspect of the climate of our country and world right now, there is just the unrest of seeing things happen that grieve me and the unrest of feeling like there is no way to even know what is really going on. News outlets seems either biased toward one side or the other, or just plain fake. I feel a new urgency to be informed, while at the same time feeling powerless to even know what’s true.

And then there is the unrest in my personal life. People I’ve known and loved for many years — the people closest to me in the world — who suddenly (or maybe not so suddenly) are not on the same page as I am on the things that are the core of who I am. People I love letting go of their faith at the same time that I’m finding myself grasping it more and more tightly. I am not standing in judgment. In some ways their response makes complete sense. My love is not altered. But there is fear in this, too. There is grief. It’s the loss of something I once had, or hoped I had, as a common foundation.

Recently, my mom told me about a children’s book called My Heart Will Not Sit Down. The title is an African saying meant to express the feeling we have when we are moved with deep compassion for others that demands action. Oh, this describes my heart so perfectly. My heart will not sit down in response to the knowledge that there are people who are living in fear and real persecution as a result of the decisions of world leaders. My heart will not sit down in response to knowing that there are parents and children who are separated by oceans. My heart will not sit down knowing that millions of unborn babies are killed each year. My heart will not sit down knowing that there are parents who feel so hopeless for one reason or another that they feel that abortion is their best option. My heart will not sit down knowing that there are women who give birth while incarcerated who are not given the human dignity to labor without shackles.

This phrase also describes the restlessness I feel. I have a heart that is burdened and without peace. It cannot sit down. It cannot sit still. It is anxious and fearful and sad. But that is not what I am called to. I am called to let peace reign in my heart. But how?

Colossians 3:15 tells us to “Let the peace of Christ reign in [our] hearts.” This is not a passive thing. This is not wishing for peace or hoping for peace. It is putting the peace of Christ on the throne. Letting it reign. If we have the Holy Spirit, we have access to His peace. We have to grab ahold of it and put it in charge. All of this is very vague. I don’t exactly know what it looks like practically, but I know that there are times when I am tempted to fear and I remember to let peace reign — to remember that when all seems hopeless there is a God who is not surprised by it and who is good and holy and who will be glorified in the end. When I fear for those in my life who might be deciding they don’t believe in Him, I remember that Christ loves them more than I do. Which doesn’t make the journey less lonely, but it does bring comfort. Preaching to our own hearts when anxiety and fear loom can help put things into perspective. It doesn’t always take away the immediate pain and difficulty, but it can strengthen us to bear it.

Something I am grateful for in the midst of all this unrest is that it has upset my complacency. For years and years I “knew” that spending time in the Word was important, and something I needed to do consistently. I “knew” that praying and listening to God was vital. But somehow it felt like knowing that was enough. It felt like enough to feel bad about not doing what I knew I should do, without actually doing it. Similarly with working for justice in the world and helping others in practical ways, it had felt like enough to just think the “right” thing or have the “right opinion” — even better if I shared that opinion on Facebook. Now I can see that an intimacy with Christ and really walking in the Spirit is vital. It is not something I can pursue tomorrow. It is something I need right now. Delayed obedience is disobedience — at least that’s what my mom used to tell me. And the people who are terrified — the people who are hungry and displaced and left without the hope of Christ — they cannot wait either. They need me to do the next thing. They need me to do what my conscience has been prodding me to do for years. And this brings a certain peace, as well. Having a heart that will not sit down prompts us to move. Like when you wake up at 4am and can’t get back to sleep. You might as well get up and get something done.

I also feel the need for discernment in what I take in and entertain more than ever. If my spirit is heavy every time I log on to Facebook, maybe I shouldn’t log on as much. Maybe I should protect myself from the confusion and clamor. This is not to say that we should bury our heads in the sand and disengage. I just said that actively working for and seeking justice is one of the ways to respond to this lack of peace. But for me, and I suspect for many people, social media is something that either leaves us feeling hopeless and helpless or just angry or even feeling like we’ve done something when we’ve really just stated an opinion. Of course, letting people know where you stand and what you see as important is valuable. But we often stop there; at least I do. I think one way to pursue peace and let it reign can be to get away from the constant tumult of social media and seek out reliable sources of news and information, and take action based on that. Even as I type that I think to myself, “But does reliable news exist?” But I do believe there are journalists out there seeking real truth. We just have to do the work of finding them. And then we can talk to people in person and come together and support each other in taking action.

When I first heard the phrase, “My heart will not sit down,” the next thing I thought of was the 23rd Psalm. The psalmist says God makes him lie down in green pastures. He prepares a table for him in the presence of his enemies. David says he walks through the valley of the shadow of death, yet fears not evil. The psalm is a peaceful one, but it is not without turmoil. There are enemies. There is death. But David doesn’t fear because his Shepherd is with him. He is near to the One who sees and cares for him. The way to lie down in green pastures with a heart that will not sit down is in intimacy with and obedience to Christ.

We need to let peace reign in our hearts — acknowledge that the other feelings are there and there for a reason, but put peace in charge. Let peace and faith make the decisions because fear and anxiety and anger are really bad at making good choices. Stay close to the Shepherd. Listen to Him and let Him lead you into the actions He has for you to take. And then you can lie down in green pastures, even with a heart that will not sit down.

compassion faith justice Living in community

Hope for the Monsters

blakeultrasoundIn Albuquerque this past month, there was a vote on a proposed ban on late-term abortions. People have travelled from all over the country to my home city in order to obtain legal abortions at up to 35 weeks gestation. And as a result of the vote on November 19th, this tragic pilgrimage will continue. The ban on abortions after 20 weeks was voted down.

In the days after the decision, I scrolled through my facebook newsfeed and noticed reactions from both sides of the issue. Many people were grieved, as I am, that the murder of these babies right up until they are full-term is going to be allowed to continue. And there were others who expressed gratitude that they would still have the freedom to decide what to do with their own bodies. Some people used words like “disgusting” and “sickening” to describe the decision. I agree that the killing of babies is disgusting and infuriating, but I’m not sure this language is productive.

While I am deeply grieved to think of babies in the womb being injected with a poison and struggling until their hearts stop beating — a safe little world suddenly invaded by sharp pain, the sound of their mothers’ hearts fading, and muffled voices from the outside disappearing — I can’t help but to also grieve for the mothers. What kind of desperation would lead to this decision?

I want to encourage us to advocate, not only for the babies, but for the mothers. I don’t know the stories each of these women carry. But I do know they carry stories. I know that whatever the circumstances are that lead them to decide to have their babies killed before they are born, they must feel hopeless. It must feel like there’s no other way out. Because I don’t think that these women are monsters any more than I am a monster. I make selfish, cowardly decisions daily that are based in fear or doubt or in forgetting that I’m not longer a slave to sin. I don’t think these women are evil. I think they are lost. I think they live in a fallen and broken world that has sold them the lie that the only possible way to deal with their situation is to run away from it and try to convince themselves that it’s for the best. Maybe they are told that their babies are too damaged to have a good “quality of life.” Maybe they think they are being humane. Maybe they are so deceived that they think the life they are carrying truly isn’t a life. Whatever their reasons, they are victims of their choices.

I know there are many, many people longing to be parents. I know there are many whose empty arms ache to hold those discarded children. And that grief and longing are real and deep. There are many who suffer in many ways. And Satan and sin and lies are at the root of it all. But remember, these mothers once felt their children kick and flip and hiccup inside them. And, even if they somehow didn’t realize what they were doing at first, they allowed their babies to be injected with poison, and eventually, they felt the movement stop. And then, days after the injection, they labored and delivered their babies, fully formed, but lifeless. Their decision will haunt them. They have endured and will endure great physical, emotional, and spiritual pain.

So in our efforts to uphold the sanctity of human life, let us not dehumanize the women who were so hopeless and frantic to be free of the people growing inside them that they are now imprisoned by their own desperate choice. We need to think about the words we use because we never know who is listening, especially on social media. Be careful, Church, how you speak about and to those who may be suffering, whether it is as a result of their sin or not. Instead of labeling them “monsters” and causing them to retreat into their shame, let’s offer forgiveness, hope, and freedom. Let’s offer Christ.

Fellowship Living in community Motherhood

How Should We Talk to Young Parents?

IMG_4373 This past week I have had several conversations with people that have made me really think about how we should talk to each other as parents. As a young mother, I have experienced two prevailing attitudes from older parents. There are the “just-you-wait” people, who can unintentionally rob you of the joy you may feel in one stage of parenting by telling you all about the hard stage that is coming up. “Just wait until he starts teething. Just wait until he drops his nap. Just wait until he’s a teenager.” And then there are the “rose colored glasses” people, who can unintentionally make you feel like you are being ungrateful or even weak if you acknowledge the struggles (and there are real struggles) of parenthood.

As more and more of my friends start getting married and having babies, I realize that I’m moving to a place of being a little bit of an older parent, even though my oldest is only three. Recently a friend was telling my husband and I about plans to start a family, and I caught myself being a “just-you-waiter.” That kind of attitude not only robs people of joy, but it also can make them feel that they are somehow foolish or naive to be excited or happy about whatever stage they are in. I don’t want to be that kind of person to someone else. I want to acknowledge the good and fun things — the value of pressing your cheek against your infant’s fuzzy head, the sweet smell of babies’ milky breath, the joy of seeing your kids delighting in finding beetles outside, the challenging theological conversations that a thoughtful preschooler can bring up. I want to be the kind of parent who listens to someone else and says, “Yes! I remember that. Isn’t it fun?” instead of saying, “That’s nice, but it doesn’t last. Just wait until…”

But I also see the value in acknowledging the difficulties. A friend this week was telling me that she doesn’t feel like anybody ever talks about how hard it really is — the day to day business of raising little people and nurturing little hearts and bodies. And I feel like this is also true. When I had my first baby, Marshall, I struggled with post-partum depression for a couple months after he was born. I think it was mainly due to a traumatic experience immediately after labor, which made me unable to hold him and bond with him right away. But I remember thinking, while the doctors were trying to stop me from bleeding, “I’m not supposed to care about this pain anymore. I’m supposed to feel a huge wave of love and joy, but I don’t. I don’t know this baby. What is wrong with me?” People would ask me questions like, “Aren’t you just so in love?” or “Do you love nursing? I just loved nursing my babies.” For the first few months for me, I didn’t feel any special connection while nursing. I didn’t feel like I loved my baby the way other mothers talked about loving their newborns. Later, when I was open about my experience, other mothers admitted they had felt the same way, and it was so freeing. It took away the shame and false guilt to know that other women had experienced the same struggle, and that it was okay. And now, as I find myself having days in which I feel like I literally can not do it another minute — days in which I’m sure I’ve already ruined my children, and I will never know how to fix it — I want to tell other mothers that I feel this way, and I’m sure they do to. I want to let them know that they are not alone in feeling alone and inadequate, and that part of being in the Body of Christ is sharing the burden and praying for one another.

What would happen if we admitted to each other that it is lonely to be surrounded by little people all day? What would happen if we admitted to each other that we don’t always love being mothers? What if there was no shame in saying, “This is really, really hard, and I have no idea how to do it?” What kind of freedom might be released? I think that if we allowed this kind of honesty, we would be able to more effectively bear one another’s burdens. It reminds me of a quote from The Yearling, one of my favorite books. In a scene where Penny, the main character’s father, is comforting a neighboring family in great grief, he shares his own experiences. There is healing in the knowledge that “what all have borne, each can bear.”

I know it sounds like I am saying opposite things, but I believe there is a balance that we can and must find. I think the secret lies in looking to what the other person needs in the particular situation, and not having our own agenda when talking to other parents, especially when they are “newer” parents. The Bible says to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. So that means that if someone is rejoicing, we don’t dampen their joy. And when someone is struggling, we recognize the pain and difficulty of their situation. We say, “I know. It’s hard. I’ve been there, too. And I don’t really know what to do, but let’s pray about it.”

When we genuinely listen to what people are saying and think about how real their feelings are, when we pray for each other and encourage each other and say, “I hear you, and I realize that your pain or frustration or excitement or joy are real, and I want to weep or rejoice with you,” it changes not only our impact, but also our own attitudes about our struggles and triumphs.