Tag Archives: religion

Fasting and Writing

IMG_5238Our church is beginning the new year with a 21 day corporate fast.  They believe that when we humble ourselves in this manner, God is lifted up and can transform His church and His people.  The new year is always an opportunity to reflect on the trajectory of our lives, to dream about the coming opportunities, and to shift our priorities.  It makes sense to set aside the first few days of the new year to reflect on why we’re doing the things that we’re doing, to press the pause button of our life-pace and allow ourselves to reflect on something other than the urgent.

But that really isn’t what this blog post is about.  Well, kind of.

About a week before Thanksgiving, my husband (who is on staff of our church) asked me if I would write a 21 day devotional for the fasting time.  It would be a booklet that gets into the hands of our members so that we are able to share this fasting experience with each other.  That way, we’re focusing our times of prayer towards the same targets, linking our hearts towards the same needs, and receiving the same kinds of encouragement. We will all be walking through similar struggles, experiencing victories and breakthroughs, and able to lean on each other.  It will allow us to form deep bonds and stay connected as we journey.

That isn’t even really what this post is about.  Maybe a little.

What this is about for me is stepping into who I am.  It is about putting myself out there for people to see.  Blogging to a limited audience is one thing.  Never really seeing peoples’ reactions to what you write, not sitting across from them as they read what you’ve written and scrutinizing their faces, and then, realistically, being forgotten soon after they read it, has grown to be a part of my comfort level.

But stepping out in front of my church community, caring about what they think about my identity as a writer, intimately being a part of their lives for 21 days, guiding this process that is so sacred…that is a whole other level of vulnerability.

Since I was a young girl, I knew I was supposed to write.  I had all kinds of dreams, and each one of them hovered around crafting a good story.  Not verbally telling one, in which one shoots from the cuff, but writing a story, playing with the words until they evoked an emotion or a memory.  Working on the cadence of the words so that the beat of their rhythm drummed up a connection between people.  I dreamed.

And then a guidance counselor triggered an avalanche in my heart that buried those dreams.  He proclaimed over me (and in front of my classmates) that I wasn’t creative.  I believed.  I took that declaration, compared myself to others, and deemed that he was correct.

What that did for my future was to redefine my identity.  To write original works, to tell original stories, one must be creative.  And since I clearly wasn’t a creative, I must be relegated to editing.  I would still be a part of the writing community, but be the one that takes other peoples’ creativity and makes it polished.  I wouldn’t be illuminating my own ideas, I would be translating other peoples’ ideas so that they were clearly understood.

I didn’t write.  Ever.  Not even journal.  A well-crafted thank you card every now and again, but that was the extent.

And then, over time, that strongly-held belief started to crumble a little.  Very slowly.  I would hear something about the character of God that made me realize that He was creative – and if He was creative, I just might be.   A little piece of the foundation wavered.  Or I would read something that was published and realize that I just might have been able to produce something as good or better – couldn’t I?  A tiny rock of foundation dropped off.  Then, someone who loved me would challenge my belief on my creative-less-ness and call out deep reserves of hope that I might actually be able to produce creatively, well-written material.  And the foundation started swaying.

writing

It was at this point that my blog began.  I figured that I could safely experiment with writing in a forum that was quite shielded from the general public.  There are so many blogs in the cyber-universe that I knew mine would go unnoticed.  And yet, it gave me a reason to practice, a chance develop my writing style, and an opportunity to see what would come out of me when I disciplined myself to try.

We’ve now come back to the 21 day devotional.  A public expression of a private discipline.  An encouragement for a practice that I believe and hold so dearly.  And a request to create something that could be of benefit to several.  I couldn’t pass it up, and yet I couldn’t really do it.  Could I?

I said “yes”.  I told him I would give it a shot, and spent the next 3 weeks pulling away every chance I got, creating space to research and read, to outline and write.  Just this morning, I sent the finished document to our church for layout and publishing.  Holy smokes. What have I done?

I can’t adequately express what an act of faith this has been. What an act of obedience this has been.  And when the new year rolls around and this devotional is placed in the hands of my church family, you might just find me hiding under my bed.  Wherever I am, I know I’ll be a little closer to being who I was meant to be.  I’ll be a little closer to living out the expression of who I am. I’ll be one step nearer to expressing His identity in me.  And that is amazing.

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Filed under Family and faith, General thoughts, Listening

To Celebrate, or Not Celebrate – The Halloween Debate

So what do you think about Halloween?

I received an email this week from a very conservative group whose mission is to restore the Christian family culture one home at a time.  Its message was that there are 5 truly scary things that you can do this Halloween, one of them being to not skip Halloween celebrations. The opinion communicated was that Halloween was conceived in evil and has remained a celebration that uses children to promote a fascination with superstitious fear; therefore, it is our duty to skip the traditional holiday festivities.  (It does give alternatives, such as celebrating Reformation Day.)

When we moved from the south to the northeast, we came with many values to which we were very committed.  The avoidance of Halloween was one of them. We didn’t celebrate Halloween, nor did we watch much mainstream media during that time period because we knew we’d encounter all kinds of dark imagery and scary scenes.  Our kids were much younger at the time, and it was very important to guard their hearts from scary images that would trouble their minds.  It also was easy to dismiss a cultural mainstay such as Halloween by simply explaining that we don’t celebrate it.

When we moved onto our street in the northeast, we were quickly informed that this community took Halloween seriously.  It wasn’t the darkness and evil history of the holiday that they celebrated.  It wasn’t the costumes and pumpkin carving that they took seriously.

What this group of people took seriously was making this holiday an opportunity to love on the kids from the projects that are 3 blocks from our homes.

It was the opportunity to welcome kids and their parents from the neighboring streets that might not otherwise ever step foot on our properties.

It was the opportunity to take one more event to cultivate fellowship within the neighbors that sat on their front porches the whole evening, often times straying from their stoops to sit and visit with friends on other stoops.

My husband and I had to make a big decision.  Do we take part in this celebration that had been so easy to dismiss before?  It might be difficult to do because it came into conflict with our present value system – but if we didn’t, we’d miss out on an opportunity to strengthen relationships within our inner-city neighborhood and to join with our amazing neighbors as they celebrated our community.

It wasn’t that this group of people didn’t celebrate other holidays.  They equally valued and honored all cultures, and they made a habit of celebrating Easter with the larger neighborhood, having fall festivals, conducting soccer camps, sponsoring educational summer programs, etc.  All of these celebrations we quickly became a part of with them.  Halloween had just become one more opportunity to live out the values of generosity, openness to others, and community among all neighbors.

Hadn’t we moved from our home in the south to be a part of such things as these values?

The first year, we sat on our porch and shared candy with the huge traffic of kids as they passed by.  We roamed from home to home visiting with other neighbors who were out doing the same.  Our kids stayed with us, not in costume, but observing the way that a heart to love can transform something evil and make it beautiful.

As the years have gone by and our kids have gotten older, we still celebrate with our neighbors this opportunity to reach out lovingly to our fellow neighbors.  You might find our kids in costume, and you will see pumpkins carved on our stoop.  You will definitely see a huge supply of candy being distributed to the variety of kids in our area.

     


The last thing I want to do is to raise kids who blindly fall into every cultural tradition without applying thought and value to their decisions.  But along the same vein, one of the last things I want to do is to raise kids who shy away from opportunities to reach out to people because they value their traditions more than people.

To the organization I referenced earlier, Halloween is a clear-cut issue:  it is clearly evil and is to be avoided.  To me, it is an issue that should be handled with prayer and thoughtfulness.  It should be weighed with the scale of love, and within a greater context of community outreach.

So, what do you think about Halloween?

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Filed under Family and faith

The Disconnected Child

One of the hardest aspects of parenting is watching your kids suffer.  Some have had to bear watching their kids physically suffer, while others have to watch their kids emotionally suffer.

I have had four healthy kids who, other than the occasional broken bones and/or stitches, have stayed clear of hospitals.  I am so thankful for that.

But I have walked with one of my children who felt like an outsider, who didn’t really connect with other kids, and who didn’t understand why life felt so harsh to him.  He tried really hard, felt very deeply, and suffered immensely when all of his best attempts at connecting failed.

I prayed and prayed for that little guy.  One time in prayer, God gave me the phrase “circle of 3”, which represented what he was feeling with his siblings. With the exception of him, his siblings had a tight circle of friendship.  They got along well and played creatively and spontaneously.  Their relationship seemed so close and so effortless.  But to this son, it felt like their circle excluded him.

It wasn’t that they were intentionally sidelining him.  In fact, they tried endlessly to include him; but his behavior while playing – taking over, changing the rules, intensely competing – had them walking away frustrated every time.

My response was to train.  It was to show him the socially acceptable responses to interaction.  It was to give him tools with which to cope.  It was to have endless conversations about whether or not he wanted to compete and win, or simply play to have fun and have buddies.  I had him analyzing his goals with people.  I had him realizing how his actions made people respond.

My goal was to steer.  I kind of visualized my role as if I was his tour guide and I was steering him away from all of the potholes in his path.  I felt like it was my job to make his way easier, often times anticipating what his natural response would be and then redirecting him to act otherwise.  After all, I had been there.  I knew what would be received and what would be shunned.  I felt that I could help him by steering him to change his motivations and actions.

Until.  I had a conversation with an older woman about my son.  Her wise wisdom stopped me in my tracks and brought me to tears.  She said that his story was his unique story, and my job wasn’t to stand in front of him and tell him where to go.  She said that his story might include suffering, and that I wasn’t to step in to change that or him.  She counseled that if I took that posture, I would communicate to him that he wasn’t good enough as he was, and he would never learn to navigate life himself.  However, if I stood beside him, even through the hurt and pain and simply loved him with compassion and companionship, he would learn to conquer his issues himself, and he would learn to lean heavily on his God.

I had been shouldering the future of my son on myself alone.  Whether he succeeded or failed had been on me.  With this new piece of advice, I realized that the future of my son was between my son and God.  There was no child that I could force to be his friend.  There was no circumstance that I could arrange that would keep him from hurting.  There was nothing I could do to alleviate his loneliness. EXCEPT to be there with him.

I committed to quit trying to change him.  I still shared with him tools that I thought would help, and I still shared with him answers to his questions when he asked.  But more often than not, I simply stood beside him as he worked through the pain and frustration, encouraging him, praying with him, hugging him and cheering him on.  It was the hardest thing to see him fail and fall down, to see him be rejected and misunderstood – but it was his story, and I wanted my role in his story to be that of unconditional support.

I can tell you that, through his journey, he has discovered so many keys to relying on God and to connecting with others.  If you know my kids, or met them in the future, you would never guess which one this story was about. The transformation is entire and complete, with him being a magnet to young kids that look up to him, and him having a vital role in inner-city outreach. There is no longer a “circle of 3”.

In no way am I taking credit for that.  The reason that I end with that note is to give peace to those struggling with these issues as well, and to testify that sometimes the best solution is training and steering, but sometimes, the best solution is walking alongside in quiet, unconditional support.

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Filed under Family and faith, Parenting