31 March, 2015

Morning Prayer: Placing a Bookmark

A few years ago I taught at a small Christian school where each day began with a brief devotional time called Morning Prayer.  Over the two weeks leading up to Easter I'm publishing posts derived from devotionals I shared or experiences I had during that year, all having to do with presence and absence, generosity and loss.

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“But all the fulfillments were somehow, it seemed to me, incomplete, temporary, HURRIED.  We wished to know, to savor, to sink in – into the heart of the experience – to possess it wholly.  But there was never enough time; something still eluded us.” 

Sheldon van Auken, A Severe Mercy

When I was a little girl my family had a very good friend named Margaret.  Margaret was from England.  I hadn’t really been anywhere other than small-town Maryland, so Margaret was the most exotic person I knew. She was FROM the country where so many of my favorite stories were set.  When she told us that she used to travel through Sherwood Forest to go visit her grandmother, I just about died from the romance of it all! 

29 March, 2015

Morning Prayer: The Gift of Presence

A few years ago I taught at a small Christian school where each day began with a brief devotional time called Morning Prayer.  Over the two weeks leading up to Easter I'm publishing posts derived from devotionals I shared or experiences I had during that year, all having to do with presence and absence, generosity and loss.

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My older sister Emily and I went to the same college.  This was really fun for me, but really confusing for everyone else on campus; it took some people an entire year to figure out that we weren't twins or a single person who popped up everywhere.  One friend remembered passing one of us on the sidewalk one afternoon, saying hello, and then ten minutes later passing the other one of us and thinking, "Wow, she changed clothes really fast!"

To help eliminate the confusion Emily and I lived on opposite ends of campus during our sophomore year.  I was having the hardest year of my life up to that point; not only was my workload overwhelming, but I was also beleaguered by some emotional battles and deep spiritual confusion. I was ashamed of some of the questions I had and didn't know who I could trust enough to voice them to.  My loneliness was compounded by living in my own room with no roommate for the first time in my life and hardly ever seeing my big sister due to our schedules.  

On one particularly bad night Emily happened to call my room.  As we talked she noticed the weariness in my voice.  She said, "Ginny, do you want to come sleep over in my room?"
Vintage Emily & Ginny


I couldn't have articulated to her everything that was on my heart, but I could pack my things in a backpack and trot across campus to her dorm.  We put on a movie, she worked on a drawing, and I just sat quietly.  We didn't have an epic conversation solving all my problems, but I experienced the first true rest that I had known in a long time.  Not just physical rest - which I needed - but the emotional rest in the presence of another person who loved me enough to give me some of her limited time and space.  She couldn't answer all of my questions or eradicate all of my doubts, but she could give me the significant gift of human presence when I needed it most, presence to take away loneliness.

Presence is a gift that is easy to overlook or forget, but it is profoundly powerful.  If you've read The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe you might remember how one night Aslan sets out for the Stone Table to give up his life for his friends' sake.  On the way he is overtaken by two of them, Susan and Lucy.  They know nothing of what he is about to do, but he is bolstered by their momentary company.  

"Are you ill, dear Aslan?" asked Susan.
"No," said Aslan. "I am sad and lonely. Lay your hands on my mane so that I can feel you are there and let us walk like that."

A few days from now we will remember the night of Jesus's betrayal and arrest.  We are told that after supper Jesus and His disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.  Jesus knew what was in God's plan for Him that night.  He knew that great sadness and pain were coming.  He was about to experience utter rejection, utter loneliness.  He knew that the disciples couldn't change or ease any of that - He just wanted them to stay awake with Him through those hours of agonized prayer.  

I can attest to the power of companionship, having been a grateful recipient of it during trials.  But I have also found this to be encouraging as the one standing on the side, wishing so much that I could do something to relieve a friend of his or her suffering.  It is easy to think that if I lack the "perfect" words or just the right resources to immediately solve the situation, I'm not able to help at all.  I hold on to the hope that despite my deficit of wisdom or resources, the ability to serve as a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, or a companion in the silence of grief-filled moments will nonetheless weave something a lifeline of grace. 

26 March, 2015

Morning Prayer: Nothing in Parentheses

A few years ago I taught at a small Christian school where each day began with a brief devotional time called Morning Prayer.  Over the two weeks leading up to Easter I'm publishing posts derived from devotionals I shared or experiences I had during that year, all having to do with presence and absence, generosity and loss.

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During the 6 months that I lived in London I took a few days to visit my brother-in-law's family in Sweden.  Just a few days before visiting them I had been blindsided by a heartbreaking disappointment that was making me question a lot of decisions I had made in the past. I feared that I had made so many mistakes that I had ruined my future and now the rest of my life would have to be Plan B, or C or D... (So dramatic)  I also had a big decision looming on the horizon, and my distress over the past paralyzed me so much that I feared making that decision. 
My brother-in-law's mother, Karin, picked me up at the train station.  On the drive back to her house she asked me how I was doing, and I opened up to her.  I began describing some of my discouragement over the past.  I couldn't make sense of some of the things that had happened to me -- some of the careful decisions I had made seemed to have been complete dead ends.  I thought that I had wasted time, squandered opportunities, and probably disappointed God.    

Karin is very gentle but also very strong, qualities born of a life filled with adventure and some unexpected sadness.  Some things will probably never be explained or make sense until heaven.  But she has learned to lean very heavily on the Lord, and when you speak with her you know without a doubt that this is a woman who trusts in His goodness and His plan.  She listened patiently (which was amazing because I was an emotional nightmare), and then she said just enough to remind me to keep a perspective on this situation that was truer and further-reaching than just my immediate emotions.  She looked at me and said, "For the Christian, nothing in life is in parentheses."  Nothing in life is in parentheses.  

How do we use parentheses?  When we write, we use parentheses to include thoughts or information that aren't essential to the whole.  They are peripheral, you might say.  I was treating some of my decisions -- or their consequences -- as parenthetical, things that in the end didn't seem to make any sense in the narrative of my life.  Some of them even seemed to have impeded or derailed the course of my life.  Karin's words reminded me of the fundamental difference in God's perspective; to God, my decisions and experiences matter, and they are each a part of His complete plan for me.  With a few years' hindsight I can look back and see that some of those things that seemed like dead ends or detours actually were the richest sources of new knowledge of God, new ways of learning through experience that He is patient and powerful and generous and surprising.  Even small or "pointless" situations were His intense pursuit -- how on earth could I put them in parentheses?  

Writing this now is deeply convicting, challenging, as I face circumstances at work that tempt me to a despairing attitude about the story that God is writing in my life.  Let me remember...Let me trust that whichever direction this story goes, the path is not outside of God's power.  No decision I make -- or the impact of others' decisions -- is parenthetical to His plan or can lessen His love for me.  Nothing is in parentheses.  There is always, only Plan A.

24 March, 2015

Morning Prayer: Intense Pursuit

A few years ago I taught at a small Christian school where each day began with a brief devotional time called Morning Prayer.  Over the two weeks leading up to Easter I'm publishing posts derived from devotionals I shared or experiences I had during that year, all having to do with presence and absence, generosity and loss.

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I harbor a cautious favoritism toward this fact of life: that words possess profound power.  I cherish that fact because that power can be richly life-giving, and I am cautious because that power can be utterly destructive.  I want to tell you about one constructively powerful statement that someone unknowingly spoke into my life during my first semester of college.