On Faith

Well, our fall is almost at an end. Our magic car finally acted, turning into a life raft. We have no motor, no sail, and no oars, but we’re alive and safe. Our raft will be carried on by the currents. We will reach land, but probably not right away. Now that we’ve just about touched the water, I’ve realized how inadequately prepared I was for this part of the journey to continue. I was under the impression that this in between state would be relatively short. Caleb is talented, passionate, and hard working. We stepped out in faith, believing that God would do something, that he would take us to a place we didn’t yet know to do great things for his glory.

I didn’t expect to end up in a place with which I am very familiar that I was thrilled to leave for good last August. I didn’t expect to be living in my in-laws guest room, unsure of how I’m going to get the energy to write. I didn’t expect to be relieved by the prospect. I have to sit and wait. I won’t have to steer a motor boat or try to figure out that whole harnessing the wind thing or row with all my might. I have to sit and wait for God to lead us where we’re going. It’s more restful. It also takes a lot more faith than driving off a cliff ever did.

We like to talk about big acts of faith in the church. Abraham leaving for Canaan or sacrificing Isaac. Moving mountains. Giving up all your possessions and following Jesus. Stepping out on the water. We like to talk about the riskiness of faith, of missionaries who left everything to serve, of martyrs who stayed strong to the end. We push towards climaxes. We try to create climactic experiences in life with conferences and mission trips, altar calls and re-commitments. Even our music heads this direction. Take the song “Oceans”. The bridge, a call for the Holy Spirit to lead us to a deeper faith experience is repeated six times. Six. Times. And every time, the music gets louder and more overwhelming until the lead singer is left wailing at the top of her lungs. The official video by Hillsong lasts for nine minutes. 

But what if faith is more than that? What if faith is less of a big risk and more of a daily reliance? Abraham waited for Issac for thirty years. That means his faith was a daily occurrence. And frankly, he didn’t do it perfectly. Ishmael, the cause of family turmoil then and now, came from a lack of daily faith. There are four hundred years of silence between the Old and New Testament. That means the Jewish people had to have faith that God did exist and would send the Messiah (many are still waiting). What about the faith of the early church to steward their money well so they could give to the poor who needed it? Or dealing with the daily persecutions before outright executions? 

What if we as a church focused less on big commitments and exciting movements and more on daily life? Not, how can I do the biggest thing, but how can I be part of a series of little things? What if our music sounded less like “Oceans” but more like Godspell’s “Day by Day”, a song which repeats not to build to a climax, but to show the continuous journey? What if Caleb and I could be encouraged not with stories of all the big exciting things that will come, but what it means to wait for the slow passage of waves to lead us to where we’re meant to be?

 

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The Long Way ‘Round

When I was a kid, the house we lived in had a rambling front yard filled with desert plants. Saguaros, cholla, barrel cacti, aloe plants, creosote bushes, palo verde trees, mesquite trees, all growing in and out of each other. I climbed all the trees, but my favorite was the rambling mesquite in the middle of our yard. Most of the plants thrived in its shadow. It was the nursing tree for more than one young saguaro.

Its trunk split into three thick sections. One was inaccessible because of its proximity to a saguaro. The other two got lots of use. One section led up to a little fork. I would sit there and read. On the next branch over, dangerous because of it’s position over a large bed of cactus, I discovered a perfect place to play fighter pilot. There were branches I could use as joysticks. Jaina Solo shot down many enemy fighters here. The third section rose up high, boughs branching off parallel to the ground in three rows. The first one I loved to balance on. I did a lot of good thinking there. The second gave me a view over the jungle to the horizon. The third made a little seat where I could watch the sunset. It sat high over the path and made my fear of heights kick in.

When I was ten, I hit a bad patch of self loathing delving into self injury. Years of brutal teasing had taken their toll. The kids at school didn’t like me. I knew it was because I was different. But I knew I shouldn’t change because they didn’t like me. This caused so much tension. Different is good, but good is bad. I couldn’t handle it. There didn’t seem a way out of the situation. The only way I could see that they would like me is if they feel sorry for me. I spent hours every night developing elaborate nightmare fantasies where they would go too far, physically assaulting me until I was too beat up to move. And then they would realize what they had done. They would feel terrible. They would feel what I felt every day.

My mom pulled me out of school that spring. We did homeschooling, most of which involved reading. She would sit a lawn chair on the path, and I would scramble over the trees as she read to me about the Inca Empire. We were outside almost every day. That was where I learned to love history. My bland Social Studies textbooks had masked that all history is made of stories. This key woke so much in me. 

But as my love of learning grew, so did my isolation. I participated in a homeschool co-op. I was heavily involved with the children’s programs at church. But rejection followed me everywhere. The adults all loved me. I could talk for hours with my friends parents. I was more excited to talk to my Sunday school teachers than my classmates. My classmates liked me sometimes, but often found me too much to deal with. I felt more and more cut off.

One day, I was playing in my tree before Mom came outside. I climbed up to the high seat in the third branch and looked below at the hard path. My nightmare fantasies came to my mind. I figured I was pretty high up. If I fell on the dry, compact ground, something bad would happen. I leaned between the branches. All I had to do was let go. Then all my problems would go away. People would like me. I heard the front door open. Mom would be out soon. 

I let go.

Nothing happened. I misjudged the friction of the thick bark. It held onto my body tightly. I barely slipped or scraped myself. 

I was disappointed. I’d worked myself up for the dramatic slip, the stomach flying fall, the painful crash. Instead, I had to pretend that nothing had happened when Mom came out. I had to go back to life as normal. I had to take the long way out. I had to wake up each agonizing morning. I had to go to a new school and make new friends. I had to deal with the scary fallout of September 11, deal with the fear of moving. Somehow the pain deadened. I found the few ten-year-old girls willing to put up with me and realized friendships didn’t have to be an awkward, painful thing. One of those girls was in my wedding party last year. 

Long cuts suck. It’s rotten to get up every morning to a world that seems bent against you, where nothing seems to change. It’s miserable to go to a job where you feel lost and know that you’re probably going to feel lost for a long time. It’s frustrating to talk with friends who return to, “It will all work out.” Or even worse, “God’s the same God of the past. He doesn’t change. What he did before he can do again,” a saying that doesn’t mean the same thing to someone who remembers beating the ground in the face of a thunderstorm, screaming at a God who had surrounded her with peers who only offered rejection.

But God is faithful. Which means that long cuts work. That waking up and remembering how bleak everything is will eventually pass away like the black clouds. The wind blows. The clouds move. The storm leaves and the dawn comes. And so do good jobs, creative productivity, and that sense of being most oneself. The question is, can we last that long?