Summer in the city

Last summer I was job hunting for the whole summer, and this summer I’ve been apartment hunting, packing, and soon moving and unpacking. Because of the nature of nannying I’ll probably be job hunting next summer since the little boy I care for will be old enough to start preschool next fall.

Facebook showed me a memory from a year ago today: It was 96 degrees, and I still didn’t have a job after months of searching. I was at Cafe Nero getting an iced coffee to help cope with the heat, and chatting with the barista.

My barista said he wished he had a sprinkler.

“I feel like it’s asking too much to wish for a pool,” he said, stamping my frequent drinker card, “but I think wishing for a sprinkler is reasonable.”

“Yes!” I said, “I bet you have enough magic in you to materialize a sprinkler!”

His eyes lit up. “I do!” he said, “I really think I do!”

Today the temps will only hit the high eighties, breaking a three-day 90+ streak. I tried to pack during the hot afternoon yesterday and got a splitting headache, so I rested and drank glass after glass of ice water — and a couple of iced coffees of course. Yesterday was my first day back home after cat-sitting for the ten days, driving between two houses every morning and evening to take care of three cats, and spending the night with one of them, an American Bobtail whose owner didn’t want him to be alone for too long. The cat, Tucker, and I, spent each night negotiating how close he could sleep to his preferred position on my face. I had cat hair all over me every morning, and the dusty ammonia smell four boxes of kitty litter clung to my clothes. I cried when I said goodbye.

This morning my head still hurts, and my long moving to-do list has been compressed to two days since I didn’t get much done yesterday. But Mark is driving up today to help. He’s still in Connecticut after going down for the weekend four months ago. His mom fell and broke her arm, then his grandmother got sick and died, then his family visited from the Middle East, and next week he’s dog-sitting himself in Connecticut for his sister’s new puppy. He hasn’t slept here since March. For three months I lived with just our third housemate who wasn’t speaking to me — no words, literally, even when I spoke directly to her — then for the past month or so it’s been just me here, filling up boxes, taping them shut, and piling them up wherever I can find space.

I went from living with one of my best friends, to living with someone whose wordless anger radiated out to me, to living with furry creatures who wanted to be as close as possible, to back alone. In two weeks the move will be over, Mark will be back to stay, and I’ll be living with one of my best friends again, in a two bedroom this time without the angry third housemate. It’s a nice apartment on the third floor of a triple-decker, so it will probably be pretty hot in August. I’ll have to make sure I have plenty of ice water and iced coffee to get me through. And God only knows what next summer will bring. But only God ever knows, whether it’s a quick weekend visit that turns into four months, or a seemingly nice housemate that turns sour overnight. God only knows, but I make my plans as best as I can without that knowledge — sign my lease and my job contracts, fall in love with the apartment and with the kids and the cats, knowing I’ll have to say goodbye one day. Still it helps to know that God knows, even if I don’t.

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Okay, back to my to-do list. How are you all doing this summer? I’d love to hear from you.

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Outside your Father’s care

I tried to rescue a baby bird the other day. There were six of us trying, actually, two adults and four children, playing in the backyard for two hours while a bird cheeped steadily every minute or so, and an anxious mother robin fluttered around the trees above us, calling to her baby to come to her. We humans wanted badly to help, but the problem was we couldn’t figure out where the little bird’s cries were coming from. When we stood next to the shed it seemed to be coming from the shed, but when we went into the shed it was clearly coming from outside. The mom and the two five year old girls tried on and off to look for it, and the toddler helped out by saying, “Birdy!” every time he heard the chirps. The three year old was mostly otherwise occupied. But me, I was obsessed. So much so that I was concerned I wasn’t doing my job as a nanny. I tried to focus on the kids, but the chirping kept calling me back to the search. My compassion and motherly instincts were working hard, but also my inability to back down from a challenge. There MUST be a way of finding that bird. I could do it, I knew I could.

Still, the kids were my priority, and I was also concerned that they not be too upset about the lost bird. I tried to reassure them, even as I was searching, that the bird was alright.

“Oh, I forgot!” said the five year old that was under my care, the bright, imaginative Louise that I wrote about here. “I can understand bird language!” She went over where the noise seemed to be and listened for a moment.

“I was right!” she said. “That’s not the sound of a bird in distress.”

“Oh good!” I said, pretending to believe her, and she and her neighbor-friend went back to their game. The mom went around the corner to work in her garden, the toddler and the three year old played in the sandbox, and I tried to focus on them, to pay attention for my own sake as well as theirs. One of the main reasons I’ve been nannying for the past eight years since my ministry job fell apart is because being present with small children is so therapeutic for me. Watching a one year old play in the sunshine while the breeze ruffles my hair is as good to me as an anti-anxiety medication. There was my health, my centeredness, right there in the sandbox. Pay attention, Jessica, I told myself. But:

Chirp chirp!

That was a bird in distress, no matter what Louise said. It was almost time for us to go inside. The kids’ dad would be home soon and I wanted to give them a snack. I checked to make sure all the kids were safe and occupied, and then I went over to that corner of the yard, closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and listened.

Chirp chirp!

I peeked at the kids again, then resumed my breathing and listening. I took a step forward.

Chirp chirp!

To the left, I thought, and took another step. I squatted down. Then I opened my eyes and I was in front of a blue bin, full of balls and other outside toys. Could it be?

Chirp chirp!

I slowly, carefully began to remove the toys from the bin. Suddenly I heard a fluttering sound from the bottom. My heart skipped a beat. I’d done it! I was about to rescue it! I kept removing toys, even more slowly and carefully, my head full of visions of the bird flying away free, of a joyful reunion with its mother. Then, finally, I removed the last toy, a frisbee leaning against the side of the bin, and under it was the terrified little bird. I gently tipped the bin over and called to the kids:

“I found it! I found the bird!” And then my heart sank. Instead of flying out of the bin, the bird hopped out, and I saw that all of its tail feathers were missing, and some of its wing feathers as well. It hopped around to the side of the house and I blinked back tears.

“Okay, Louise and Manny,” I said, “Time to go inside.”

From the dining room as we ate our snack we could see the baby bird, still on the side of the house.

“Look!” said Louise, “Its mother came to find it!” Its mother was there, indeed, chirping at it, and feeding it. I tried to be enthusiastic about it for Louise’s sake, but I wondered if the baby had any chance of making it. The mom could feed it on the ground, but she couldn’t protect it from predators. I had worked so hard to locate and rescue the little bird, but it seemed like that rescue had been in vain. It all seemed deeply unfair. Many baby birds die, I know. But this was my baby bird. This was the one I’d left my baby humans to save. This was the one I’d used all my powers of centering and quieting myself and listening to search for. This was the one I’d found.

To be honest, I don’t want to write the second half of this blog post. I don’t want to look for deeper meaning, for reassurances, for the presence of God. I just want the bird to be okay. I want to write another story like the one where Louise and I rescued a little dog, and brought him safely back to his warm home and loving owner. I want to write about a joyful reunion, not a tragic one.

I don’t want to, but I’m going to anyway, because I do believe that God is present in everything, the good and the bad, and I am committed to paying attention to that Presence. In Matthew 10:29 Jesus speaks about a sparrow falling to the ground. Some translations say something like, “Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent” or “your Father’s permission.” This makes it sound God has been asked by someone — maybe Satan? — if it’s okay to kill the bird, and God has said yes. But the New Living Translation has it as, “without your Father knowing it,” and the New International Version says, “outside your Father’s care.” I like this idea much better. The sparrow never stops being within God’s knowledge and loving care, even when the time comes for it to die. It is held in love, in life and in death. And so are we.

Jesus goes on to say, “And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” How intimate a way to express God’s love and knowledge of us. We are under the care of someone who has held us, who has touched our body with gentleness and attention, separating each strand of hair to count them one by one. God holds us with this same gentle attention in death as well as in life.

And there’s another story from the Bible that comes to my mind. Many people know the part of the story where Jonah is swallowed by a whale (or big fish) when he refuses to preach God’s warning to Nineveh. As the story goes, Jonah prays inside the whale, God saves him, and he then goes to preach to the people of Nineveh, who listen to him and repent of their evil ways. But there is an epilogue to the story, a follow-up to Jonah’s role in the drama. Jonah is angry with God for forgiving the Ninevites, and God feels that Jonah needs one more lesson to understand God’s compassion. So God makes a plant grow, which shelters Jonah from the hot, Middle Eastern sun. Then, the next day, the plant dies, and Jonah is so hot and miserable and angry that he wants to die. Then God says to him:

“You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

The story ends there, and we never know whether Jonah understood what God was trying to say. But I thought of it when my heart broke over the injured baby robin. It is easy to have compassion for a creature who cannot speak, cannot insult me or offend me, cannot honk at me in traffic or be mean or inconsiderate. But how much compassion do I have for those people in my life who have hurt me, or angered me, or just made my life harder than it has to be? How much concern do I have for the messy, smelly, frustrating, broken people who are worth more to God than many sparrows? How much time am I willing to spend — listening for them, eyes closed, breathing deeply, then slowly and gently moving things out of their way until they are free?

***

For those of you who read my post about apartment hunting — good news! We found an place! It’s not perfect, but it has many good things about it, and I look forward to turning our pros and cons list into prose and poetry.

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And three books that I’ve read recently and highly recommend:

Flee, Be Silent, Pray is an excellent introduction to contemplative prayer for Evangelicals and others. Cyzewski vulnerably shares his own stories and struggles with spiritual anxiety within Evangelicalism, and describes how silence, contemplative prayer, and other practices like the Examen, and canonical prayers helped to calm his anxiety and reconnect him with himself and with God. He draws on the writings of Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, Richard Rohr, and others to describe the benefits of contemplative practices contrasted with the activity-based and results-based practices of the Evangelical world. As someone already familiar with the subject I wondered if the book would have anything to offer me, but I found Cyzewski’s story to be personal and compelling, and I enjoyed rereading some of my favorite quotes and stories from Merton, Nouwen, and Manning. I definitely recommend this book for those interested in learning about contemplative prayer, and I think it will be an enjoyable read even to those already familiar with the practice.
I was given an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

The Light is Winning is a fascinating read about a man who has overcome spiritual trauma as both a child and an adult, worked through bad theology, and come to a place of deep faith and hope. Hoag tells his story with compassion and humor, making space for the reader’s experience and perspective. My favorite part was chapter 3: A Problem With Authority, especially Hoag’s discussion of sociology professor Josh Packard’s research into those who he calls the “dones” who have poured years of energy into the church and have finally given up, exhausted. I found much to relate to in this book, and I think many struggling Evangelicals and post-Evangelicals will, too. I will definitely be recommending it to friends!

If you like social justice and want to see the veil pulled back on capitalism, then this book is for you. If you like The Hitchkiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books and have always wished that someone would write a guide to economics theory with the same wit and ease, then DON’T PANIC, this book is for you! Seriously, this is one of best books I’ve read in a long time, and well worth the price, especially when you consider, as the book will reveal, that MONEY IS JUST A LIE WE ALL BELIEVE.

Click on the images to see the books on Amazon.

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On moving and moving on

A couple of months ago Mark and I had a falling out with our third housemate, and decided to look for a two bedroom apartment. For those of you who don’t know, Mark is my good friend and long-time housemate. We lived in an intentional Christian community together for several years, and four years ago moved into a three-bedroom apartment and have been renting out the third bedroom. It was a good plan, I think. We needed to leave the community, and our incomes are both on the low side, and this way we’ve been able to rent out the larger bedroom and pay a little bit less.

I was in the Christian community for seven years, and it was a hard seven years. In many ways it was a toxic environment for me, though despite that (and maybe a little bit because of it) those were years of a lot of inner growth. But it was a community, a family, and hard as it was I was scared to leave, to go off on my own. I was so scared I kept putting it off, year after year, crisis after crisis, until the time came when the decision was taken out of my hands and I had to leave. Mark and I started looking for three bedrooms. We trekked around Boston with realtor after realtor and saw some awful places. Tiny apartments, filthy apartments, bizarrely shaped apartments. It was extremely demoralizing, and the days until we had to move were ticking down. Then we found this place.

This house, where we’ve been for the past four years — it’s gorgeous. It’s spacious and sunny, up on a hill on a tree-lined street, with two porches, a great view, and rabbits living in the back yard for crying out loud. The third bedroom is actually two rooms spanning the whole third floor, so we were able to rent that out at a higher rate than we paid for our bedrooms. I have no idea how it was in our price range, or how we were the only viable applicants. Just to add to the drama and the miraculousness of it all, the landlords didn’t accept our application at first but decided to have another open house — and no one showed up! So at the eleventh hour, just days before we had to leave the community, we signed a lease for Primrose Street.

This house has been such a place of healing for me. After years of struggling in the community and being afraid to leave I found myself spending glorious solitary hours sitting on my porch watching the sun set over the hills as the birds sang in the trees all around me. I rolled out my yoga mat in the large, wood-paneled living room, in front of the working fireplace, and felt my body healing as I stretched. In the winter I chopped garlic and onions, potatoes and carrots in the kitchen and filled the house with the smell of hearty soups. I bought viney plants and watched them slowly take over mantles and bookshelves. I chatted with Mark in the evening, grateful to have a friend to talk to and grateful when we went to our separate corners of the house, introverts respectful of each other’s need for solitude. I’d been so scared to leave, and look where I’d landed. My heart rose up with the words of the Psalms:

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.

I felt God’s message to me in my very bones: “Don’t be afraid.” As Frederick Buechner has so beautifully expressed it in his definition of grace: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

But almost as soon as we’d moved in here I knew there would come a time when we’d have to leave, and I knew it would be really hard. I thought that time would be when our landlords decided to move into the house themselves, since that was their long term plan for the place. But after this last experience of disagreements and miscommunication with the third housemate, Mark and I both agree that we don’t want to have to keep finding and coping with a third person. For even as the house has been such a wonderful place of quiet and healing, there have been conflicts and struggles with our various third housemates. Beautiful and terrible things seem to always come together, don’t they?

It was a hard decision, but I know it is the right one. And I don’t want to be afraid of moving on to the next thing. I was afraid for so long before, and then when I wouldn’t take the leap of faith myself I was pushed, and landed somewhere wonderful. I don’t want to be afraid again. I want to trust that the same Spirit that led me here will lead me to the next place.

And now, right now as I type, we are in the eleventh hour again. We’ve given notice here for June 30th and we haven’t found a new place yet. We thought we found something but it fell through yesterday afternoon. Today is June 16th, officially less than half a month till we have to be out of here. Two weeks, if you prefer things in tidy sets of seven. Mark is in Connecticut helping with his grandmother’s funeral preparations. Right when things got crazy here with our housemate Mark’s mom broke her arm and his grandmother started failing, so he’s been down there for three months now while I try to handle things up here. We’re both struggling with health issues both chronic and acute. Everything seems to be happening at once.

Last night, in the midst of all of this, some good friends from my days in the community came to visit. They are a family of five and one of the things that made it so hard to leave the community, and I’ve greatly missed popping next door to hang out in their kitchen, or Shima stopping by for some of the iced coffee I always had on hand, or the kids knocking on my bedroom door to tell me about their adventures. They sat in my kitchen last night, amidst the moving boxes, and we caught up. They had just bought a house in Atlanta, and Steven shared with me how impossible everything had seemed. He’d applied for a promotion with a pay raise that he wasn’t sure he’d get, they’d been living in a rented house far too small for them, and buying a house seemed out of the question.

“All these pieces had to come together and it seemed impossible,” Steven said, “And I prayed and said, ‘God, you’ve got to make this happen, because it’s not something I can do. It’s all in your hands.'” And they did come together, all of them.

“Yeah!” I said. “That’s how it is for us, now. But you know, it’s better this way, because we see the reality of the situation. Everything is in God’s hands, but the people with all the money and resources don’t realize it. They think they’re in control, but that’s just an illusion.”

“Right,” said Steven, “Exactly.”

I’d been stressed out when they said they’d texted to say they were coming by last night, because everything was happening at once: We’d gotten word of that one apartment falling through just as I was loading the toddler I nanny into the car to pick up his sister from kindergarten, and Mark and I were trying to communicate about maybe appealing the decision and next steps if that didn’t happen. But what a blessing to spend time with old friends from the community I’d been so scared to leave, to hear how God had provided for them, and to exchange words of encouragement and hope. Shima said she’d pray for me, and I felt confident that God would hear her.

And how wonderful to have evidence of God’s redemption in the flesh, old friends who had been through the hard times with me, who have had hard times themselves, to embrace each other with forgiveness and love. Turns out I hadn’t left community behind — it came with me, and it will come with me on this move, too. I will set my viney plants on other mantles, roll my yoga mat out on other floors, and other birds will sing on other trees outside of other windows. There will be beauty, and there will be pain, because life always has both mixed together. I don’t want to be afraid.

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On women (bloggers) and authority

“Look! Look! Look!” cried Lucy.

“Where? What?” asked everyone.

“The Lion,” said Lucy. “Aslan himself. Didn’t you see?” Her face had changed completely and her eyes shone.

“Do you really mean——” began Peter.

“Where did you think you saw him?” asked Susan.

“Don’t talk like a grown-up,” said Lucy, stamping her foot. “I didn’t think I saw him. I saw him.”

“Where, Lu?” asked Peter.

“Right up there between those mountain ashes. No, this side of the gorge. And up, not down. Just the opposite of the way you want to go. And he wanted us to go where he was—up there.”

“How do you know that was what he wanted?” asked Edmund.

“He—I—I just know,” said Lucy, “by his face.”

The others all looked at each other in puzzled silence.

A few weeks ago Christianity Today published an article by Tish Harrison Warren entitled Who’s In Charge of the Christian Blogosphere. The article suggested that there was a crisis in the church because women bloggers were writing and teaching without clear ecclesiastical (church) authority. It engendered a lot of discussion on Twitter, which I spent quite a bit of time reading. There was the usual hyperbole, anger, and miscommunication that happens in online discussions, but amidst that were women of various backgrounds and perspectives engaging in genuine dialogue, wanting to understand as well as be understood.

The issue, in some ways, is very complex, and it is not my intention to dive into it all here. There is, for example, the whole 2000 years of church history, with debates about who is in charge beginning almost as soon as there was a church — Paul challenging Peter, Apollos challenging Paul — and continuing with Rome breaking with the Eastern Orthodox church in 1054, the Protestant reformation in the 16th century, and the church I currently attend leaving its denomination a few years ago for doctrinal reasons — and tens of thousands of breaks and schisms in between, resulting in an almost uncountable number of current Christian denominations. Then there is the issue of women being in leadership at all, which is still, sadly, debated.

But I am not here to discuss church history or ecclesiastical structure. I am here today to tell you a little of my own story. And here it is:

As a Christian, woman, blogger, I am not under anyone’s authority. I tried it: It didn’t take.

“Her Majesty may well have seen a lion,” put in Trumpkin. “There are lions in these woods, I’ve been told. But it needn’t have been a friendly and talking lion any more than the bear was a friendly and talking bear.”

“Oh, don’t be so stupid,” said Lucy. “Do you think I don’t know Aslan when I see him?”

“He’d be a pretty elderly lion by now,” said Trumpkin, “if he’s one you knew when you were here before! And if it could be the same one, what’s to prevent him having gone wild and witless like so many others?”

Lucy turned crimson and I think she would have flown at Trumpkin, if Peter had not laid his hand on her arm. “The D.L.F. doesn’t understand. How could he? You must just take it, Trumpkin, that we do really know about Aslan; a little bit about him, I mean. And you mustn’t talk about him like that again. It isn’t lucky for one thing: and it’s all nonsense for another. The only question is whether Aslan was really there.”

“But I know he was,” said Lucy, her eyes filling with tears.

“Yes, Lu, but we don’t, you see,” said Peter.

“There’s nothing for it but a vote,” said Edmund.

“All right,” replied Peter. “You’re the eldest, D.L.F. What do you vote for? Up or down?”

“Down,” said the Dwarf. “I know nothing about Aslan. But I do know that if we turn left and follow the gorge up, it might lead us all day before we found a place where we could cross it. Whereas if we turn right and go down, we’re bound to reach the Great River in about a couple of hours. And if there are any real lions about, we want to go away from them, not towards them.”

“What do you say, Susan?”

“Don’t be angry, Lu,” said Susan, “but I do think we should go down. I’m dead tired. Do let’s get out of this wretched wood into the open as quick as we can. And none of us except you saw anything.”

“Edmund?” said Peter.

“Well, there’s just this,” said Edmund, speaking quickly and turning a little red. “When we first discovered Narnia a year ago—or a thousand years ago, whichever it is—it was Lucy who discovered it first and none of us would believe her. I was the worst of the lot, I know. Yet she was right after all. Wouldn’t it be fair to believe her this time? I vote for going up.”

“Oh, Ed!” said Lucy and seized his hand.

“And now it’s your turn, Peter,” said Susan, “and I do hope——”

“Oh, shut up, shut up and let a chap think,” interrupted Peter. “I’d much rather not have to vote.”

“You’re the High King,” said Trumpkin sternly.

“Down,” said Peter after a long pause. “I know Lucy may be right after all, but I can’t help it. We must do one or the other.”

So they set off to their right along the edge, downstream. And Lucy came last of the party, crying bitterly.

When I say I tried being under authority, what I means is that I tried it for decades, with many different churches, pastors, supervisors, “house parents” and vaguely defined “community leaders.” By “didn’t take” I mean it made me seriously ill physically, emotionally and spiritually. It took me years to recover, and in some ways I am still recovering.

Not all the relationships of authority were bad. I’ve had great mentors, employers, and teachers. I studied under many amazing professors at seminary, did internships under wonderful pastors and lay leaders. The difference, I’ve found, besides the people themselves, is that in the great relationships the authority was clearly defined and limited. In the bad ones, the ones that did the damage, the authority over me was broad and poorly defined. Employers in Christian organizations gave me advice/instructions on my living situation, friendships, healthcare. People claimed authority over me I had never agreed to by virtue of their age and gender.

They dropped off to sleep one by one, but all pretty quickly.

Lucy woke out of the deepest sleep you can imagine, with the feeling that the voice she liked best in the world had been calling her name. She thought at first it was her father’s voice, but that did not seem quite right. Then she thought it was Peter’s voice, but that did not seem to fit either. She did not want to get up; not because she was still tired—on the contrary she was wonderfully rested and all the aches had gone from her bones—but because she felt so extremely happy and comfortable. She was looking straight up at the Narnian moon, which is larger than ours, and at the starry sky, for the place where they had bivouacked was comparatively open.

“Lucy,” came the call again, neither her father’s voice nor Peter’s. She sat up, trembling with excitement but not with fear. The moon was so bright that the whole forest landscape around her was almost as clear as day, though it looked wilder. Behind her was the fir wood; away to her right the jagged cliff-tops on the far side of the gorge; straight ahead, open grass to where a glade of trees began about a bow-shot away. Lucy looked very hard at the trees of that glade.

“Why, I do believe they’re moving,” she said to her self. “They’re walking about.”

She got up, her heart beating wildly, and walked towards them. There was certainly a noise in the glade, a noise such as trees make in a high wind, though there was no wind to-night. Yet it was not exactly an ordinary tree-noise either. Lucy felt there was a tune in it, but she could not catch the tune any more than she had been able to catch the words when the trees had so nearly talked to her the night before. But there was, at least, a lilt; she felt her own feet wanting to dance as she got nearer. And now there was no doubt that the trees were really moving—moving in and out through one another as if in a complicated country dance. (“And I suppose,” thought Lucy, “when trees dance, it must be a very, very country dance indeed.”) She was almost among them now.

The first tree she looked at seemed at first glance to be not a tree at all but a huge man with a shaggy beard and great bushes of hair. She was not frightened: she had seen such things before. But when she looked again he was only a tree, though he was still moving. You couldn’t see whether he had feet or roots, of course, because when trees move they don’t walk on the surface of the earth; they wade in it as we do in water. The same thing happened with every tree she looked at. At one moment they seemed to be the friendly, lovely giant and giantess forms which the tree-people put on when some good magic has called them into full life: next moment they all looked like trees again. But when they looked like trees, it was like strangely human trees, and when they looked like people, it was like strangely branchy and leafy people—and all the time that queer lilting, rustling, cool, merry noise.

“They are almost awake, not quite,” said Lucy. She knew she herself was wide awake, wider than anyone usually is.

She went fearlessly in among them, dancing herself at, she leaped this way and that to avoid being run into by these huge partners. But she was only half interested in them. She wanted to get beyond them to something else; it was from beyond them that the dear voice had called.

She soon got through them (half wondering whether she had been using her arms to push branches aside, or to take hands in a Great Chain with big dancers who stooped to reach her) for they were really a ring of trees round a central open place. She stepped out from among their shifting confusion of lovely lights and shadows.

A circle of grass, smooth as a lawn, met her eyes, with dark trees dancing all round it. And then—oh joy! For he was there: the huge Lion, shining white in the moonlight, with his huge black shadow underneath him.

But for the movement of his tail he might have been a stone lion, but Lucy never thought of that. She never stopped to think whether he was a friendly lion or not. She rushed to him. She felt her heart would burst if she lost a moment. And the next thing she knew was that she was kissing him and putting her arms as far round his neck as she could and burying her face in the beautiful rich silkiness of his mane.

“Aslan, Aslan. Dear Aslan,” sobbed Lucy. “At last.”

So as a writer, as a blogger, I am not under anyone’s authority. But I do have a lot of really smart, wise, loving friends and family, old and young, Christian and not. I listen to their advice. They listen to mine. Sometimes they’re right. And sometimes what they tell me doesn’t jive with my own experience or what I feel God is speaking to my heart. Then I’m so glad they’re not my pastor or supervisor, because I am free to say, thank you, but God is calling me in a different direction.

The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her. She gazed up into the large wise face.

“Welcome, child,” he said.

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”

“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.

“Not because you are?”

“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

For a time she was so happy that she did not want to speak. But Aslan spoke.

“Lucy,” he said, “we must not lie here for long. You have work in hand, and much time has been lost to-day.”

“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. “I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so——”

From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.

“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I—I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that … oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”

Aslan said nothing.

“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right—somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?”

“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”

“Oh dear,” said Lucy.

“But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan. “If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me—what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.”

“Do you mean that is what you want me to do?” gasped Lucy.

“Yes, little one,” said Aslan.

“Will the others see you too?” asked Lucy.

“Certainly not at first,” said Aslan. “Later on, it depends.”

“But they won’t believe me!” said Lucy.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Aslan.

My authority to write, to speak, to tell my story, does not come from having a pastor or a bishop or a priest overseeing me. My authority comes from Jesus who said, “Talitha koum” — “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” My authority comes from the angel at the tomb who said to the women, “Jesus is risen — go tell his disciples.” My authority comes from Jesus who spoke alone to the Samaritan woman at the well, and in whom many believed because of her testimony. My authority comes from the book of Revelation where John wrote, “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” My authority comes from Peter and the prophet Joel, who said, “”In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” My authority comes from Jesus’ last words to his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.” My authority comes from the Spirit within me, from the fire in my belly that compels me to write.

Friends, do you have something to say? I believe so strongly that if you have something inside you longing to be expressed, there is a good change that it is something someone else needs to hear. Have you been waiting for permission to speak? Good news! You are free! We have been waiting around for someone to unlock our chains, but it turns out the chains have been loose the whole time. All we have to do is stand up straight and step forward in faith, and they will fall off of us.

Love,
Jessica

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As always, I have more to say but I am running late. Come follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and join in the conversation! (I’ll tell you a secret: I’m feistiest on Twitter!)

And if you haven’t had a chance, stop over at my birthday post and take part in my self-love project, going on the whole month of May.

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As you love yourself, a birthday project

Good morning, friends! It’s my birthday today, and I have a (hopefully) fun project I’d love for you to take part in. Earlier this week I wrote about a photograph of people in London clasping the body of a man to prevent him from taking his life, and asked you to study the photo and think about who you identified with. I then shared a passage from Matthew where Jesus answers the question, “Which is the greatest commandment?” Jesus’ answer was, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” I asked you to notice that there are actually three people God is calling us to love in those commandments: God, our neighbor, and ourselves.

How can we love our neighbor as ourselves if we don’t love ourselves? How can we treat people as we would want to be treated when we often can’t even treat ourselves with kindness and respect? In a culture where women and femmes especially are taught to examine our every flaw, outward and inward, to apologize for everything even when it’s not our fault, to be meek and submissive, to be beautiful but not vain, and to view our own emotions as unreasonable and manipulative, it can be hard to know how to simply love ourselves. (Not to leave out the men-folk — I know you can struggle with this, too.) Self-love is viewed as narcissistic, vain, selfish, or overly-indulgent. But, guess what! There’s a loophole! There’s one time when it’s okay to be self-focused, to pamper yourself and accept pampering from others, and to accept compliments about your appearance — it’s your birthday! So since my birthday is today, I’d like to share that dispensation with you. And since I don’t want to put too much pressure on one day (and since it is going to rain all day today in Boston) I’m claiming the whole month of May as my birthday and ours. Hey la! It’s our birthday month! Let’s celebrate!!!

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to give you five suggestions of ways to treat yourself, to celebrate your life and practice some self-love this May. For each of you that does one and leaves a comment about it, I will donate $2 to Together Rising. I’m poor right now, so I’ll have to limit it to 15 commenters, but I really want to get up to 15 so please play along. It’s my birthday, after all, and this is what I want for my present. Here are your choices:

  1. Have a selfie photo session! You can put on your favorite clothes, jewelry, and make-up, or snap a picture after a work-out — whenever you feel most lovely and most like yourself. Find your light and your favorite angle, snap several photos and choose your favorite one. Then study it for a moment and tell me two or three things that you like about your face. My selfie is the one at the top of this post. I turned toward the morning sun and took a photo from above. I’m not wearing any make-up, but I love my freckles and rosy cheeks, rightfully earned at playground and parks, and the friendly crinkles of my crow’s feet. You can read more of my thoughts on selfies here.
  2. Eat or drink something that you usually deny yourself. This can be as simple as cream in your coffee when you usually have skim milk, or as decadent as an ice cream sundae (it’s our birthday!). And — this is a two-parter — don’t beat yourself up about it. You don’t have to punish yourself with thoughts of shame and disgust every time (or any time) you eat something the diet magazines tell you you shouldn’t. They don’t know you or your body (and, frankly, their science is pretty shoddy). Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves (thank you, Mary Oliver!). You can read more of my thoughts on eating here.
  3. Take a 20 minute vacation. Leave the dishes in the sink and the emails unanswered and go for a walk, or read a book, or sit on your porch and watch the sunset. Sleep in an extra 20 minutes, or get up 20 minutes early and do some yoga — whatever would make you feel loved and cared for. If you need your significant other’s help to make that happen, ask for it.
  4. Buy yourself flowers, or a house plant, or — what else do people get for themselves for treats? I mostly get plants. If you can’t think of anything else, I recommend getting a tiny mint plant and putting it outside in the biggest pot you have. By mid-June the pot will be overflowing with mint. If you don’t like plants, feel free to substitute your own favorite treat here.
  5. Notice your negative self-talk and replace it with a truth. If we talked to our friends the way we talk to ourselves we wouldn’t have any friends left. Notice if you are saying things in your head to put yourself down. I had a friend who constantly called herself stupid. I tend to say, “What is wrong with me?” when I do simple things like forget why I came into a room. (There’s a scientific explanation for that, by the way.) Think of a truth you can replace it with. I have gotten in the habit of saying, “I’m doing my best, and that’s enough,” to which I often add, “and so are most people.” You might also try, “I am God’s beloved child, made in the divine image” or even Stuart Smalley’s “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”

Okay, I have to go pack for a quick, fun, last minute birthday trip to New York City to see some friends. Happy birthday, everyone, and I can’t wait to hear what you got yourselves!

Love,
Jessica

Come follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and join in the conversation! (I’ll tell you a secret: I’m feistiest on Twitter!)

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Love your neighbor as yourself

Four days ago in London a man climbed onto a bridge to end his life, and passersby gathered around him and held onto him for two hours to keep him safe until help arrived. (Thanks to James Rhodes for sharing this on Twitter.)

Meanwhile, I spent several hours last week reading endless Twitter arguments about whether women bloggers ought to be under ecclesiastical (church) authority. Listen: Those discussions are necessary. Amidst the frustration and vehement disagreement, wise, loving people shared their perspective vulnerably and listened well to each other. But I am afraid that we have mistaken the calling of the church. It’s good to have theological discussions. But they should not be where most of our energy and resources go.

This picture, those arms stretched out through the bars of the railing — this is what church should look like. Study it for a minute. Actually, study it for several minutes. Look at the bodies in the picture. Look at the tension in the muscles, the pain and struggle in the faces, the wrinkles in the clothing. Look at the person whose arms are wrapped around the man’s neck, whose face is so intimately close to his own. Look at the person who squats near the man’s feet, whose arms clutch his legs, whose face we cannot see because he has chosen a position of discomfort and service over one of glory. Who do you identify with in the photo? The man whose desperation led him to climb over the railing of the bridge? See how he is held, how much even these strangers value his life. Do you identify with the helpers? Can you feel the man’s calves under your arms, shaking with the fear of death and the fear of hope?

Now read this passage from Matthew 22:

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Who are the people in this passage? Who are the people we are told to love? I have to run off to work now, but I’ll write more about this later this week. (And I do have some things to say about women bloggers and authority, too.) In the meantime, please consider: What does it mean to love God with all your heart and soul and mind? What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? What does it mean to love yourself?

Love,
Jessica

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P.S. I just realized what the photograph reminded me of: Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son.


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