Hope through despair. Faith through fear.

Author: Melanie Makovsky (Page 1 of 3)

A Call to Stewardship: Find Your Why

This is my third post in my Call to Stewardship Series. If you’d like to start at the beginning, click here.

Ever since I began this blog two years ago, I have avoided it more than I’ve written for it. I feel silly for starting a blog that I never feel like writing for, and even sillier when I do write and no one reads. I’m at a stage in life when there are a good number of slow, menial tasks available to me at all times, and too often those tasks take precedence over my writing because they’re simpler and don’t make me think too hard about anything uncomfortable. The result is that I have a clean kitchen, a whole host of ideas about what I’d like to do when my husband retires from the Navy, and lots of free time, but no consistent blog posts to show for it.

It’s hard to write what no one is reading, and though there are some commonly used methods for blog writers to generate a large group of “followers,” try as I might, I can’t seem to justify most of these methods for my own use.

In other words, if you’re reading this, I appreciate you, because you’re one member of a very small audience.

In my last post from this series I wrote about our human relationships with the natural world and the aspects of creation that we feel particularly drawn to, and how they influence us to explore, and in turn to protect, these natural spaces that give us such a unique sense of peace. There are also many who, busy with family and faith and work, make the default choice to overlook the natural world around them because they simply don’t have time to dedicate to wandering through the woods or lying on the beach. If that’s you, my ideas about caring for God’s creation may seem pretty irrelevant, but give me a chance to change your mind. (By the way, not having time for nature, or anything else you aren’t involved in, is a choice, whether you make that choice through careful thought or by not thinking about it at all. Take a moment and read my post about owning your own time.)

So, if you can’t remember the last time you truly experienced the natural world beyond spraying weed killer in your yard or opening a can of peas, this is your starting point. Think back to the last time you had fun outdoors, whether that was last week or last decade. Did you ever stand still in your yard, weed killer in hand, and admire the way a tree’s leaves moved in the breeze? Did you attend an outdoor event and find that the environment changed how you experienced it? When is the last time you walked barefoot through the grass? God’s creation is one of His gifts to us, and He has created it for our use and enjoyment, so if you’re not using it or enjoying it, you’re missing out on one of the best ways to experience His presence.

              If you already have a strong affinity for nature, then you’re ready to deepen that affection and allow it to become part of your spiritual life, a way of communing with God by experiencing His goodness first hand.

Begin at the Beginning

              The natural world was God’s first creation. Before He made man and woman, He created the environment that they would inhabit. And He did so by calling it forth with His own voice from the Kingdom where He still lives:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  –Genesis 1: 1-2

              God Himself created the beginning, and in doing so, He not only created the air we breathe and the solid ground we stand on, but He also created order itself. Genesis depicts God as a powerful artist, designing the world and ourselves by the power of His own existence and by the desire to create order and bring forth life from nothingness. We can learn much about God’s character from these verses alone.

              As we read on through Genesis 1 our understanding of who God is and what He’s like is built as He builds His creation. God, by desire, created the dualities of light and darkness, water and dry land, heaven and earth, plants and animals, sun and moon, fish and birds, man and woman. Many of the things God created, even within a single day of the seven-day week of creation, represent opposing environments and foreshadow the trials to come in Genesis, and in the 21st century.

When we arrive at the creation of man and woman, there is a very distinct change that takes place. God created Heaven, earth, water, land, birds, animals and fish and placed them in an environment where they could live comfortably and sustainably. He designed these things to fulfill His purpose only, and so water is always wet, light is always light, dark is always dark, and a cow is always a cow. But when we come to the point when God creates people, He grants them a more sophisticated ability to think, choose, and plan.

Then God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1: 26-27

              These two verses have a lot of information that we can use to learn who God is, what He’s like, and how He designed us to relate to the world around us. There is so much to unpack in these verses that I’m not going to attempt to do that. But we can list how His creation of man and woman is quite different from that of the rest of the world:

  • He used His full, triune self to create us, and designed us as a reflection of His character in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
  • He gave us dominion over the fish, the birds, the animals, the insects, and every other living thing in His creation.
  • He created both man and woman in His image, intending to give full dominion and leadership, and the fullness of His image and character, to both sexes.

And so we have another book I won’t attempt to write. The vast difference between God’s provision for land, plants, and animals and His provision for man and woman speaks to us of His love for us and His desire to be not just our creator, but also our companion, our caretaker, our father, our provider, our guide, and later, our Savior. He knew what He was doing, and what He would do, from the very start.

God gave men and women dominion over the rest of His creation, and this is likely at least one reason He built us to contain His full triune self. He wants us to use the fullness of His person to carry out this responsibility, so He gives us access to it. The problem is that we can know His full person, but we can’t become like Him through our own power. We were given the fullness of God’s character, and we were given free will to choose whether we would think and act according to that character, or to choose instead to think and act in accordance with our own ideas and desires, momentary as they may be.

And, human nature being what it is, Adam and Eve made that decision for us, separating us from God physically because of our inbred sin gene, and creating  powerful compulsions toward willfulness, fear, self-focus, and doubt.

How about them apples?

Let me try to get to the point. God created us in His image so that we could be His designated caretakers, and He could guide us in that calling. He also gave us the free will to make the decision to not follow His guidance, because He wants us to choose to love Him and listen to Him, and love isn’t love when it’s forced. And with that free will, we choose not to love. When Adam and Eve made that first choice to put their momentary desires ahead of God’s calling and design, it was as if a debilitating, deadly gene mutation entered into the entire human race.

We did this, as humans, because God granted us the unique gift of self awareness and free will to choose His best for us or what we think is best for us. This sin-sickness is unique to humans – we all have it, but it can’t be passed to other species. It’s possible that we could train an animal or modify an organism to suit our own self desires, of course, but it takes human intention or neglect to corrupt any other portion of God’s creation. And boy have we done that.

When I look at birds, or trees, or worms, then, I am reminded of purity. I can’t say exactly how or when a predator/prey relationship became a part of the nature of animals, but I can say that there is no evidence that that was present at creation. So all these things around us that no human being has the true ability to create, I think, are an imperfect but accurate model of the elements God created for us from the beginning. He created and loves these plants, animals, and microorganisms, and He designed them with us in mind, like the most perfect present. And, because we’re people with a deadly gene mutation called self will run riot, we abuse these gifts to meet our own selfish demands.

This all probably sounds a lot more radical than it is in my life and my choices about my own relationship with the natural world. I recognize that I am created to be here, on earth as it is in 2020, for such a time as this, and while I have and do explore ideas and movements that are outside my comfort zone, I do have a comfort zone. So, for this Stewardship of the Earth series, I invite you to take what works for you, and leave the rest. If you want to grow your own vegetables but the idea of keeping a compost bin sounds too nasty and complicated, don’t do it. You can buy compost. If making your own tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes isn’t your thing or doesn’t fit in your life, that’s cool too. You can opt to purchase tomato sauce in glass jars that you can then either reuse or recycle. There are infinite options here, and my only goal is to present them as examples of ways we can make small simple choices to honor this particular aspect of God’s character and provision for us.

So if you’re ready (or just morbidly curious), stay tuned for my next post, and we’ll get into the nitty gritty of creation stewardship.

Photos by Alexis Brown, Ivana Cajina, Johannes Plenio, Allen Taylor, Maria Teneva, Antoine Giret, and Vincent Van Zalinge via Unsplash.

The Other Pandemic: A Calling to Stewardship Revisited

To view my first post in this series, click here.

When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say it is well, it is well with my soul.” —Horatio Spafford, 1873

In the midst of this unprecedented, worldwide quarantine, I hear rumors of another disease that is taking over the minds and bodies of those of us who have been confined to our home indefinitely. It is very contagious, and it knows no real boundary. It can germinate in the young and the old, human and animal, regardless of the quality of their diet, the state of their health, or the nature of their lifestyle. Shelter in place policies do not prevent its spread; in fact, such policies are known to greatly multiply those who suffer with this debilitating disease. The cure is well known, but often neglected, since many who suffer are unable to identify the source of their discomfort.

I am not talking about a virus or a mutated, deadly bacteria. This disease is so widespread that a good number of us have been carriers more than once, with different levels of severity.

I’m talking about cabin fever.

Yes, my falsely threatening description was intended to be funny, but if you’ve ever been unable to leave your home while you wait out a blizzard, a hurricane, or chicken pox, you have probably experienced the feeling. If you’ve been sheltering in place for the last 40-some days in the company of your beloved children, spouse, or pets, you’re probably fighting cabin fever right now. Symptoms vary, but for me it starts when the particular quirks and habits of my kids that I can usually let pass begin to elicit a crazy-sounding scream. Now that we’ve been at home together, 24/7, for 46 days, it’s more like an extremely itch rash that makes me want to crawl out of my own skin. And if it’s this bad for a self-proclaimed introvert and “homebody,” I feel sorry for the extroverts out there. Zoom meetings just don’t cut it for extroverts, I’m sure.

There’s nothing like a deadly virus mutation covering the entire world to make all of us appreciate the outdoors a whole lot more. So I am returning, finally, to my series A Call to Stewardship, which I began a full year ago with an introductory post and a free download offer, but failed to follow through with. With warm spring weather, bright sunshine, and singing birds returning here in southern California, there is an awakening in me as well that has made the closure of the many public parks and hiking trails in my area pretty frustrating. Springtime calls me outside and bathes me in hope, and every bone in my body yearns for more natural beauty until I become overwhelmed with the vastness of it. Of all the antidepressents I’ve tried, fresh air is my favorite.

There are a lot of different perspectives out there on how we, as first world humans, can or should relate to the natural world around us, which provide plenty of room for variation in both our how and our why. While I love a nature trail with rustling tree leaves and moist dirt under my feet, hot sand on a warm beach with the sound of waves and the smell of sunscreen might be more your style. It follows, then, that you may have strong feelings about trash left on the beach or plastics taking over our ocean and threatening ecosystems, while I am more frustrated by hiking trails taken over by ATVs and the loss of habit for forest animals, who in turn begin to forage for food in our trash cans rather than within their natural habitat. There are also many, many different ideas out there to express why the natural world is something we should take responsibility for, and, as is often the case in many areas of purposeful living, our whys are the gateways to defining our own ideas for our hows.

I would be ridiculous for me to attempt to present the entire canon of perspectives on the appropriate relationship between humans and the natural environment, and it would be just as absurd to try to describe the millions of ways that we can care for our environments and curate a more symbiotic relationship with the natural world. Furthermore, I am soooo not a scholar on this. The concept that I, as an individual, have a responsibility to care for the natural elements around me is pretty new to me, and I don’t consider myself the scientific type.

What I do know is this. When we moved to southern California in the summer of 2016, I found myself in a community that takes pride in the variety of natural environments around them. In San Diego county, if you’re willing to invest the gas money, you can watch the sun rise from the top of a secluded mountain in the forest, walk miles on a flat desert trail in the afternoon, and still make it to the beach in time to watch the sunset. The people who live here, even those who have lived here their entire lives, have a great appreciation for the nature around them, and that appreciation is an infection all its own. Of course, this makes cabin fever that much more irritating, especially when spring fever is also in the air.

In my next post I will explain how I came to my why, and explain how I became convicted that my attitude toward the natural world was self-centered and harmful. I’ll also tell you how I have set my own personal boundaries based on my convictions. No one expects me to save the world, and I don’t expect that either. The presumption that I am responsible for the natural world on that level would be debilitating. God is the Creator and Sustainer of the natural world, but He calls me to honor and care for the gift He’s given us. But as my creator, God also sets limits on my abilities and helps me see the boundaries of my own influence, while also enabling me to recognize that the service I provide within those physical and spiritual boundaries is a valuable service.

I hope you’ll be willing to take this hike with me. Like any long trek, there have been moments of regret and frustration, moments when I attempted more than was within my grasp, times when I wanted to throw in the towel, and quite a few rocks to trip over, but the view from the top is worth it. This process has also shown me that my small action to impact a problem that is infinite and truly unsolvable outside of God’s intervention, can nevertheless be an act of worship.

Photos by Oscar Keys, Albert Laurence, Gemma Evans, and Boris Smokrovic via Unsplash.

I have a special offer for my readers and followers!!

Hello, friends. There are so many blogs out there that you could have landed on, and I’m so grateful you found mine. Although I’ve been writing my thoughts and fears ever since I learned to hold a pencil, thinking of writing as a professional is a new idea for me, an idea that is still in its infancy, really. Despite that, I hear God speaking into my heart, and I know that He has given me a distinct message to communicate to anyone who reads my words or hears my thoughts.

              God has called me to speak fearlessly about illness, mourning, trauma, and hardship. Those aren’t fun topics, of course, but they need to be a part of the human conversation, for believers and non-believers alike, because heartache, illness, and pain are important parts of our stories. To gloss over the difficulties we experience, sweeping them under the rug with a smile and a Sunday morning hug does a disservice to those we serve and witness to. I’ve been a Christ-follower for 20+ years now, and in that time I haven’t just seen God’s people attempt to whitewash the sin and pain from their lives, I’ve become a victim of it too. When we shove a problem under a rug, we are always shoving the sufferer under it too.

              I met KJ Ramsey a few years ago in an online community for Christian writers, and I latched onto her message immediately, because her words spoke to my calling as well. KJ has published articles on faith in times of suffering and trauma that have been featured in some of the most respected Christ-centered publications, like Relevant and Christianity Today. Her writing is real, deep, and unfiltered. Because chronic suffering is a burden, and anyone who tries to say otherwise needs to try it for themselves.

              KJ’s raw, honest conversation about long term suffering in a life of faith inspires my own, so I am proud to invite you to be one of the first to read her empathic words in her first published book, This Too Shall Last.

              I’m not just posting this to help out a friend, either. KJ says the things I want to say in ways that are so much more meaningful than the ways I say them. Take a look:

“The seed of sorrow must be sown to grow new life. We can’t swallow our discouragement and expect to sprout hope. We have to let ourselves speak aloud the suffering our culture says should stay private. We have to let ourselves be seen, our stories be heard, our weaknesses to be witnessed. We have to let our friends into our dirty homes and ourselves into the homes of people we might barely know just because kindness and hope could be there to discover” (Ramsey, 171).

“Part of our resistance to being devoured by suffering is being aware that suffering is the shared experience of the people of God all over the world. When our suffering is hidden behind closed doors and strained smiles, it’s difficult to remember the truth. It’s hard to remember you aren’t the only one afflicted when you can’t see anyone else’s tears. But the tears are there, waiting to be witnessed” (Ramsey, 186).

              If you can relate to the impossibility of communicating deep suffering in a community of believers who don’t have the words to respond, or if you’re ready to sit with others in their suffering, even when there is no end to it in sight, This Too Shall Last will help you see the why and the how in long term battles in our bodies and minds. If you are someone who ministers to those who carry a grief no words can heal, this book will show you the power of being present and bearing witness to pain as a portion of our inheritance from Eden that has the power to sustain our faith, with or without recovery.

              While This Too Shall Last won’t be available in stores or online until May 12th, it’s available right now for preorder. For those who want first dibs, plus a few bonus “preorder presents,” like a downloadable e-book, Poems and Prayers for Peace that Lasts, and a free presale listen to the first two chapters of This Too Shall Last, you’ve got a few options:

CLAIM YOUR PREORDER COPY OF THIS TOO SHALL LAST, PLUS YOUR PREORDER PRESENTS!

1. Go to http://kjramsey.com/book , and click the icon for your favorite place to buy books (Amazon, Audible, Christianbook, they’re all there).

2. Order your book from the online bookstore of your choice, and write down your order confirmation number.

3. Go back to http://kjramsey.com/book, click the button that says “claim your preorder bonuses,” and fill in your order confirmation number and contact information.

That’s it!

Happy reading, all.

Love in a Time of Coronavirus: Unity and Quarantine

Tucked in my deteriorating mind there is a list of grand human events during which I felt a connection and unity with complete strangers. I suspect we all have a similar list, and many of us share some of these events in common.

The Challenger space shuttle explosion.

The beginning of the first Gulf War.

Y2K.

September 11, 2001.

              Then there are the lists that are more regional, events that affected a smaller group of people, but were, nevertheless, unifying. For me, these were

The Washington D.C. Sniper scare

Preparation for an Anthrax attack (that never happened)

The “Snowmaggedeon” storm on the east coast in 2010

The east coast earthquake later that year.

Even though these frozen moments in time are often a result of devastating loss, they bring with them a brief but remarkable sense of unity with our fellowman. On September 12, 2001, people across the U.S., and the world, were meeting in prayer, some of them, I’m sure, for the first time. We went to church, we lit candles, we called distant relatives, and we hugged strangers. I wanted to buy a little American flag that day, just to have one, and found that they were sold out in every store I tried.

I’ve seen the same phenomenon on a smaller scale within small groups and families as well. A beloved parent or grandparent dies, and we receive phone calls and sympathy cards from distant relatives and old friends we haven’t seen in years. Someone becomes sick, or has a baby, or mourns, and groups of friends or fellow church members bring meals and gather to pray. Facing a new financial hardship, a family comes together to pray for the first time, and agrees to set aside some of their favorite things until the trouble has passed.

In our grief, our tragedy, and our fear, we find unity and love.

              Here, now, in this strange and surreal time, many of us are confined. We can leave our homes, but we can’t go to work, our children can’t go to school, and events that we looked forward to are cancelled. We can’t exchange many of the few common civilities we show to friends and colleagues. The moments that once seemed appropriate for hand-shaking are suddenly awkward helloes, even more uncomfortable in the absence of a common practice that accompanied our greetings. Many people are required to stay home from their work, and telework that was once viewed as a privilege for some has now become a requirement for all. Others are laid off, or unable to continue working because their business has closed, or they must care for a loved one who was previously cared for by others, who are also laid off, or caring for children whose schools and childcare centers have closed. It is another event that marks itself into memories, when there is unity in tragedy.

But this time, our unity is marked by our separation.

The only time in my life before last week that I ever encountered the word “quarantine” was in old cartoons and books that took place in earlier times. Tom is chasing Jerry, so Jerry chases Tom out of the house, slams the door, and hangs a sign that says “measles” on the doorknob. I was a kid born into an age of vaccinations, so I had to ask others what “measles” was.

              Now there are many people who are quarantined, either by doctors’ orders because they have symptoms of COVID-19, or because their immune systems are weak and they are at risk. Others are self-quarantined by fear, or by circumstance. I haven’t left my house since Friday night, and I’m still in the pajamas I put on that night. (Don’t judge!)

              Although we aren’t under quarantine orders, we are separating, staying away from others or keeping a greater distance in public. And our common areas, where we gather out of necessity or common interest, are mostly closed. But I’m here, on Monday morning, still wearing my Friday night pajamas, and I’m connecting by posting this blog essay, because I am in wonder of this paradox of unifying sickness.

By agreeing to stay apart for the sake of others, we are coming together.

              Toilet paper hoarding wars aside, there are some beautiful things happening here. Because so many families in my community rely on free and reduced-cost school breakfasts and lunches to feed their children each day, there are locations and hours set up for families to collect meals to take home each day. Our church body is generally too large to gather on a Sunday morning without breaking the rules of separation in our community, but smaller groups are meeting together to watch a live telecast of the service and fellowship with each other, giving us the opportunity to see and speak with others who we may not have met up with on a typical Sunday morning. Teachers are sending emails and online contacts to their students and their families to check on them and wish them well, but also to provide a list of websites for practicing the skills they would otherwise be learning at school, or to provide assigned topics on class discussion boards online.

              I write often about the paradoxes in this world that make it (paradoxically) difficult and wonderful. I encourage others to approach someone new or different with the idea that God may have brought that person into their life for a reason, and to ask questions and to seek both new knowledge and common ground before rushing to judgment. I want to see people seek unity because I want people to seek Jesus, and initiating a conversation about a loving God who died a horrific death for our sakes doesn’t really work when we don’t present others with the same grace He gave us. Confronting our sin and enabling or helping others confront theirs is necessary, but such conversations should happen within a loving friendship, not the first time we meet someone.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us, “Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud;  instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation” (Romans 12:16, CSB). Amidst this strange season of separation, I encourage you to come together – just not in person. Chat online, make a phone call, send a text or email, send a card. Join a Facebook group for people in your town, and offer food or prayer or a listening ear (or toilet paper). Technology has evolved to allow us to be together safely, even during a forced separation, and God has called us to connection. As His children, forgiven and adopted through Christ’s blood, we are required to serve others, even when we can’t shake hands, and no restriction or quarantine has the strength to prevent Him from reaching the lost. Do His work today. Even if you’re still in your Friday night pajamas.

Photos by: Kelly Sikkema, Dan Gold, and Macau Photo Agency via Unsplash, Tom and Jerry image originally from Hanna-Barbera.

Snooze Button: How my autistic daughter helps me see through the system

My two teens with autism have a knack for completely blowing my mind without really even trying. We certainly have a lot of “normal” days when I’m just me and they’re just them, but at least every couple of weeks or so something happens that causes a window to open, and that window allows me to get a quick glimpse of how their minds work. Most of the time I’m impressed by what I see.

           The intellectual events of my morning today are a great example. My daughter, a high school sophomore, needs me to drive her to school every day. She has an early class that many students choose not to add to their schedules, and her school district does not provide busing that early in the morning. The problem, so to speak, is that she is consistently late for this class, like every day, and this is caused by both her desire to get every last minute of sleep that she possibly can, and morning rush hour traffic.

I’ve been fighting with my own frustration about this since the school year began in mid-August. I didn’t want her to take this class, precisely because I knew I would be required to get her there, which would mean spending the first hours of my weekdays pestering her to get ready, move faster, eat breakfast, etc., so that I could get her there in time for the start of her class. (Side note: Because she is less interested in close friendships and traditional social relationships than her peers, finding a “friend” who could give her a ride proved impossible.) So every weekday, for the past six weeks, I have been begging and coercing her to get out the door on time, and then lecturing her on the importance of being on time for class during the drive.

              This past weekend the school released the “six week progress report,” encouraging parents to be aware of their children’s academic efforts. Of course, such markers as this really aren’t necessary for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that all parents have access to a “parent portal” on the school’s website, where they can view their child’s grades for every assignment in every class on every day of the school year. I could write a whole other post on my thoughts about this, but I’ll save that for another time.

              I went through and checked my kids’ grades at this point, even though I had a pretty good idea of where they were at, because as a parent with this kind of access, it seems to be expected that I do so. As I did this, I examined the grading pattern the instructor uses for my daughter’s first period geography class, the one she is always late for. In this teacher’s grading system, assignments are turned in regularly for grading and are graded in the typical fashion, while “class participation” is graded differently. The teacher allows for a certain number of participation points for each student, and then subtracts points from the number for specific behavioral infractions, including tardiness. Currently, my daughter has a C in this class, but her average grades for turned in assignments are A’s and B+’s. Her participation grade is bringing her down, and the points deducted are all a result of being late for class.

My girl has struggled with her grades since she started middle school four years ago, largely because of missing homework assignments, problems with participating in group work in class, and similar issues. It’s been mind boggling for me because in the process I’ve discovered that she has completed most of the missing homework assignments, but misplaced them or forgot to turn them in. In group work done during class, she participates as much as is required, and nothing more. And every single semester she has lost points in at least one class because of not doing something as simple as getting my signature on a class syllabus and turning it in. As a result of these little infractions, her grades simply do not reflect her understanding of the information she’s learning. Her current grade in first period geography is a case in point. But today, a new idea hit me – So what?

              Because of our children’s intellectual and social differences, along with our religious faith and our own social philosophies, we have made a consistent effort to focus on big picture issues with our children. Having children with autism who are sometimes less capable or less interested in adapting to standard social constructs has caused us, as parents, to think more deeply about the mental, emotional, and cultural implications of these constructs. Whether it’s because they’re autistic or because of their experience as our children, my kids tend to look at social behaviors and question why something is expected of them before they accept it as normal and appropriate. And so, we, as parents, find ourselves examining our own life experiences to figure out why we do what we do, even if what we do is the same as what everyone else does.

Although I’ve been known to use the phrase “because I said so” to simplify the arguments in our home, I don’t really want my kids to blindly conform to a certain behavior or mannerism simply because it’s the general custom, and our family life reflects that. Our teens, in fact, have expressed appreciation for our uniqueness as a family and our value of their individual differences as well. That doesn’t mean that we don’t want them to learn and utilize culturally accepted behaviors, but we do want them to examine whether or not those behaviors conform to their own values and beliefs about God, about themselves, and about others.

              When I considered my daughter’s geography grade this morning, my first reaction was low-grade anger. She is scamming the system. The goal she set for herself for this semester was to keep her grades at a C or higher. She’s capable of better than that academically, and when I noticed that she wasn’t aiming for an A or a B and was allowing a seemingly silly issue like being late for class to bring down what would otherwise have been an A-, I was disappointed and worried that her attitude toward school was somehow inappropriate. But then, by discussing my reactions with my husband, I forced myself to back out a few steps from the issue at hand. What is the purpose of school? Does this traditional grading system provide a good measure of my daughter’s understanding of what she’s learning? Will the information she’s learning be important in her adult life?

              Asking myself questions like this helps me understand why my children choose to do things the way they do. We’ve taught them that the purpose of both school and our parenting efforts is to teach them how to work and behave within society so that they can be independent, happy, and lead a life that they find fulfilling. My daughter’s choice to sacrifice a few points each day from her geography grade in favor of an extra thirty minutes of sleep is legitimate and somewhat intentional on her part. The consequences of consistently getting less sleep than she needs are, in terms of her happiness, behavioral abilities, and comfort, more problematic than the consequences of getting a C instead of an A in geography. And she came to this conclusion without having to overthink it like I did.

So why did it take me so much thought, effort, and emotional energy to come to the same conclusion? The answer is, again, cultural expectations. I, like so many other children of the 1970s and 1980s who are now parents, was taught that I am responsible to shape and manage my own behavior and choices based almost exclusively on the opinions of those around me. If someone seemed angry or upset with me, I needed to change my behavior so that they would like me better, even without confirming whether or not they were truly angry or upset, or whether they were angry or upset with me or for some other reason. My default perspective, the viewpoint that I naturally accept when I don’t take the time to consider other perspectives, is to believe that, if it looks to me like someone is unhappy or angry, and there is any chance at all that I may have caused those feelings in that person, I need to make whatever changes are necessary to change their feelings about me. If someone, anyone at all, was angry or frustrated or disappointed in me, it was entirely my responsibility to change their mind. In short, if someone in my presence was unhappy, I had to behave in such a way as to fix it. Any negative feeling on someone else’s part did, in fact, constitute an emergency on my part.

              Our ability as individuals to communicate our thoughts and feelings more easily and to a much broader audience as the result of new technology has allowed everyday people living everyday lives to speak out, and has given us a voice to support or challenge societal norms and expectations as we confront them. This morning I realized that my daughter’s consistent late arrivals in geography class did not, or should not, make her a bad or irresponsible person in the eyes of others, and that even if they did, her choice to be late reflects her own choice based on her personal value. She chooses to be late, and chooses to allow her grade to be lower, because she values getting enough sleep at night. Whether her geography teacher, or even her parents, think poorly of her because of that choice, is much less important than her need for a consistent amount of sleep. As a chronically tired person, I support that decision completely, and frankly, I’m proud of her for it. So, by extension, I will choose (as much as I can anyway) to ignore my own concerns about the impressions she may be presenting to other people of both herself and myself, as her mom. I may not be able to entirely remove this worry from my mind because of my own childhood conditioning to work hard to make everyone happy, but it’s worth working on.

              What I’m not saying here is that we are amazing parents who naturally taught our kids to stand up for themselves in this way or to choose to honor their personal needs and values above the impressions that others may have about them. On the contrary, it is our two autistic children who have taught us this. How many of our guideposts, ranges of “normal” and “abnormal” behavior, or cultural practices, or body types, or decision-making factors, are built rather arbitrarily from simply determining what the “average” person does or thinks or weighs, and then assuming that we all need to orient ourselves to the average? Is using a demonstrated average ability or position as a guidepost for health or normality really a good way to measure our appropriateness or our value? Why do we so naturally assume that comparing ourselves to others, in any way, is valuable?

I suspect that, because my children have atypical minds and atypical thinking, they have taught me, and could teach others, that our tendency to focus in on a comparatively small range of behavior and consider it normal, and to use that range to determine ways to enforce that normal as the morally correct position, does not always serve humankind very well. It only works sometimes, and we only use it to control ourselves and others. A few generations ago, being Jewish, or black, or female, was considered less than ideal, and that didn’t turn out so well for anyone. While taking away all the measuring sticks could lead to anarchy pretty quickly, on an individual level, each person must consider the appropriateness of the ruler before the determining the appropriateness of its measurement. My autistic kids have taught me this, because they question such things quite naturally, and have an uncanny ability to see straight through societal structures. They ask “why?” while the rest of us jump straight to “how?”. So maybe, if we give people like my kids a voice in our culture, and stop marginalizing them because someone at some point decided that there are margins, all of us could have a lot more peace.

Photos by Jurian Huggins, Josh Felise, Jeremy Bishop, Ridham Nagralawala, Nathan Dumlao, Elen Avivali, and Kaleb Tapp, via Unsplash.

Essentials of Self Care: Rule of Life

This is the fourth post in my Essentials of Self Care series. To read more on this topic, choose one of the following posts:

Sleep

Breathe

Own Your Time

If I had to choose an adjective to describe what life feels like in 2019, I might pick busy, or hurried, or even instant. I’ve been a legal adult for twenty years now, and in that time I’ve observed a steady and alarming progression in the average person’s expectations about how long something should take. For example, twenty years ago my mom had to start her Christmas shopping in October. She had to start that early because the approach of Christmas meant squeezing in shopping trips to the mall or the outlet center, and she already had a busy schedule. If she didn’t want to make the time for one more shopping trip, her other (and sometimes favorite) option was catalog shopping. But to do that she needed to find the type of catalog she needed, find an appropriate gift within it, and then either fill out and mail an order form to the company or call a customer sales phone number and wait on hold for a live person to take her order. And no matter which option she chose, she had to wait for the item she’d order to be prepared, packaged, and shipped, which usually took several weeks.

In contrast from the 90s, I start my Christmas shopping on Black Friday. I rarely buy anything that I need to leave the house for. Most of my shopping happens in one huge Amazon Prime order. I get gifts for everyone that way, because Amazon has pretty much everything, and I don’t have to fix myself up, leave the house, or drive anywhere to get it. I even order most of the stocking stuffers I buy. On Black Friday, or shortly after, I put in one huge Amazon Prime order, click on which of the saved credit cards I want to use for the entire order, and I’m done. I order photo Christmas cards the same way every year from photo storage and gift sites, who often have an option that could allow me to input all the addresses of my Christmas card recipients, so that the company itself will print, address, stamp, and mail all of my cards for me, without me ever even having to touch one on paper.

Amazon, and similar sites that strive to challenge Amazon’s online shopping empire, have taken over so much of our shopping business that small business owners, or even franchised brick-and-mortar store owners, are struggling to survive. The fact that we even have that term, brick-and-mortar stores, speaks to our growing need for instant retail gratification. Interestingly, even though we don’t yet have our hands on the new prize, we get that instant gratification at the point that we order it. “Add to cart” is therapeutic, and when that package shows up on my front porch, its like a shopping orgasm.

Believe me, I’m not about to preach at you about buying local or supporting small businesses. I mean, you should, and so should I, but obviously I fall into the instant gratification trap too, and not just with retail therapy. Five years ago I was obese, a result of several years of bingeing on sugary, fatty, and salty foods. King-size candy bars worked better and faster than antidepressants.

As important as all these things are, I’m not going to write an entire post about things you shouldn’t do, at least not this time. If I’ve learned anything from parenting autistic kids and being a former binge eater, it’s that people eliminate unhealthy behaviors a lot more easily when they can focus on adding healthy ones. That’s where the concept of a Rule of Life comes in.

I first encountered the idea of a Rule of Life in Ruth Haley Barton’s book Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, but Barton didn’t invent the term. A Rule of Life originally referred to a set of guidelines for monastic life. The C.S. Lewis institute describes Rule of Life as “an intentional pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness.” In other words, it’s a commitment to engage regularly in a routine of spiritual disciplines with the goal of growing closer and closer to God.

In a previous post in my Essentials of Self Care series I suggested that we can better ensure that we are living according to our personal values and priorities by analyzing our day-to-day schedules and routines and then adjusting them until the things we spend the most time on are a reflection of those values. It’s a simple concept, but it isn’t easy to achieve because there are countless sources of stimulation that fight for our attention all day long. A Rule of Life can be one way to adapt our lives toward our values, or more specifically, toward a continually deepening relationship with our Creator God. No matter how much we do to practice Christian values, no matter how many ministries we volunteer for, no matter how many times we talk to someone about Jesus, if we don’t build a deeply personal connection with God, our faith is at risk. So yes, I’m talking about reading your Bible, about praying, about your “quiet time”. You can go to Bible studies and prayer meetings (please do!), but no group event or ministry can serve as a substitute for a daily personal connection with our Lord.

There are roughly a bajillion Bible verses that describe the importance of a personal relationship with God. (For starters, try John 1:10-13, Jeremiah 29:11, Revelation 3:20, and Hebrews 11:6.) Believers tend to throw around that term, “a personal relationship with God,” without clearly defining it, but you can get a better idea of what a personal relationship with God looks like if you replace “God” with a flesh and blood person’s name. For example, I know for sure that I want to have a personal relationship with my husband. Although Eric definitely isn’t God, I love him, I want to continue loving him, and I want to do things that build up our love for each other and the relationship we’ve built for the last twenty years. That describes, vaguely anyway, what I see as the goal of a continually deepening personal relationship with Eric. The next question I can ask myself is “What can I do on a regular basis to make our love for each other last and to continually grow in closeness and love with each other?”

The answers to that question would depend on Eric’s individual characteristics, along with my own, and actions and words that I know from our past together can bring us closer together. The things on this list, and the commitment to practice them on a regular and frequent basis, would be a “rule of life” for my marriage.

Just as my list of practices that deepen my relationship with my husband are likely different than yours, our Rules of Life that guide our committed daily connection with God will differ as well. But there are some essential qualities that define a rule of life, as well as essential practices that God teaches us to use as we walk with Him everyday.

To begin with, the concept of a Rule of Life implies a commitment to practice a set of spiritual disciplines, or to do certain relationship-building things, on a daily basis. In her book Barton provides her own Rule of Life as an example, but not an exact model. Barton’s Rule of Life consists of a daily routine of “quiet time” with God, but also includes weekly and monthly commitments for longer periods of focused time alone with God. So, while your daily Rule of Life practice might consist of Bible reading, devotional reading, and prayer every morning, it’s also a good idea to include actions like Sabbath practice, personal retreats, and periods of quiet, that can connect you more deeply and for longer periods of time with our Father.

My Rule of Life includes daily Bible reading, both in the context of a topical study and a Bible-in-a-year reading plan.  The Bible isn’t a history textbook, a poetry collection, or a good novel, and God never intended us to read it once and put it back on the shelf. Unlike any other book, the Bible is God’s revelation to us of who He is. Just as you wouldn’t expect to remain close to a friend without listening to his words, you can’t stop reading God’s Word to you. No matter how many times you’ve read it, even every word, spending time reading your Bible everyday will never be a waste (Isaiah 55:11). So make daily Bible reading not just a goal, but a unwavering commitment.

I do take advantage of daily devotional books, and for the last years I have found that reading through certain devotional writings by calendar day every year helps to connect me with God’s story in my own life. I’ve been reading Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening every year for about ten years now, and I continue to gain insight and awe from his reflections. If you want to use a devotional but don’t know what to pick, I would suggest starting with a well-loved classic like Spurgeon’s or My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers. Then, in addition to a classic devotion book, find a newer book that appeals to you by its topic, intended audience, goal, or writing style.

Prayer, meditation, and writing are also essentials for me, because they engage not just my eyes on the page and my knowledge of God’s character, but my own response to what He has shown me, both by His Word and by my relentless daily connection with Him. Both prayer and meditation open my heart and mind to God, and just as significantly, close my mind to outside distractions. That’s easier said than done, of course. There are many days when my daily time with God is interrupted by children, pets, a to-do list, an oven timer, or a phone notification. Eliminate and reduce distractions as much as you can – turn off your phone, close the door, find something to keep the kids busy, and let the people around you know that this part of your time is for God alone. But know also that God recognizes that you aren’t in control of what is going on around you, and in this too there is forgiveness. The more often you practice this time of quiet, mindful prayer the more those around you will see its value in your life, and the better you’ll get at reducing any interference.

For now anyway, I’m not going to attempt to tell you how to pray, how to meditate, or how and what to write during your time with God. These practices are deeply personal, deeply emotional, and deeply individual. Who am I to say that what I get out of prayer journaling is any better than what you get out of, say, praying the rosary? I can’t, because God knows us so well that not only does He listen to any type of dedicated prayer, but I believe He actually wants you to pray in the way that is most meaningful and connected for you. God isn’t limited to only certain types of communication.

If you’re at a loss and simply can’t find a method of prayer that connects you to God, know that I’ve been there too, more than once. There have been periods of dryness in my connection with God when prayer feels like talking to the ceiling. In hindsight I’ve realized that this often happens when I am withholding something about myself that God wants to change, but that may not be the case for you. So if you need me to tell you what to do, try this: silence. Schedule your prayer time for a time when you can be completely alone, with as little noise and distraction as possible. Get up at 2AM, pray, and go back to sleep if that’s all that works for you. Find your silence, set yourself up to stay both comfortable and alert, and then close your eyes, asking God to speak to you. Breathe deep and wait for a while. See what happens. It’s not easy.

Above all, a Rule of Life is a commitment to learn and grow with intentional action and thought. If you’ve ever learned a skill by hand – playing an instrument, running a marathon, riding a bike, or fixing a car – you know that commitment, attention, and routine can come together to give you a deeper understanding and a closer relationship, even with an action or object. A Rule of Life connects us with God in a similar way, but unlike a bike or a trail or a violin, God is waiting to connect with us in a love relationship that can grow infinitely deeper and more beautiful.

Photos by Clark Young, Jan Kolar, Luisa Scheting, Ben White, Heather Mount, Samantha Sofia, and Aaron Burde via Unsplash.

Just Before Dawn

(a poem)

How good it is when people praise

with grasses green and sunny days,

when all is calm and all is bright

there is no fear of darker nights.

But when heaven’s comforts are on earth

what value has the Savior’s birth?

If from earthly burdens freed

what more of heaven would we need?

How good it is when people groan

longing for a joy unknown,

when life is pain and bodies weak,

the present dark, the future bleak.

For without hurt and fear and loss

what value is the Savior’s cross?

If there were no reason for His death

singing praise would be a waste of breath.

Perhaps the darkness on this earth

can show us what the light is worth.

Hatred, poverty, disease, and sin

can mark the spot where the light begins.

When pain is constant and grief profound,

when our feet are tired, and we hit the ground,

then on our knees, we look up and find

Love excelling, Love divine.

  • May 1, 2019

Photos by Ryan Hutton and Solaiman Hossen via Unsplash

Shifting Gears

When I turned 16, my parents planned to purchase a used car from a friend of my dad’s and have me pay for a portion of it, so that I would have my own car to drive myself to and from school, band practice, voice lessons, and all the other countless things I spent my time on. But I only ended up driving that car once, and it wasn’t on the road.

The problem was that the car didn’t have an automatic transmission, which meant that I had to learn to drive with a stick shift. I was daunted by the idea, but my dad assured me that it would just take practice and eventually it would become second nature. So one summer day I let my dad take me in the car up to one of our farm fields for my first lesson on manual shift driving.

It didn’t go well. In short, I tried it, but I had trouble with the timing of hitting the floor-pedal clutch while also shifting the gears with my hand, and watching the road, and knowing that an automatic vehicle wouldn’t require this of me, I wasn’t willing to practice. After only a few attempts, I gave up, arguing that it was a useless skill for me, since I couldn’t foresee any need for me to learn to shift gears manually.

I’ve been gone from the blog for a while. I did a little writing here and there, but mostly I just got consumed by other things going on around me. Life, for me anyway, has an automatic transmission. God knows when the gears will shift, but for me it comes as a total surprise, and usually with a pretty big jolt.

At the end of April of this year, the gears shifted, and I received one of the biggest jolts of my life.

My father’s side of my family carries a genetic mutation that leads to Early Onset Alzheimers Disease. I’ve known this definitively since March of 2006, when my father received the results of a genetic test after his own Alzheimers diagnosis at age 50. But, in a lot of other ways, I’ve known this since I was seven years old.

I remember my grandfather, my father’s father, better than my younger brother and cousins, but what I remember is that he was different, and I could tell. I remember a distinct memory of sitting in his lap and asking him to read me a book, one I knew well. But instead of reading the words, he made up a story based on the pictures, and I recognized then that he couldn’t read. There are other moments that stick out too – my grandmother getting frustrated with him when he put on two different shoes and refused to change them, some oddly placed comments and outbursts at holiday gatherings, and eventually, his inability to talk or even look at me, as he sat in a “jerry chair” at a nursing home where he received little to no care.

I also remember a night in November. My younger brother and I were both trying to squeeze into my dad’s armchair, and play-wrestling in the process, and he managed to knock out one of my loose teeth. We were laughing about this, and then the phone rang.

My grandmother was at our house as well, though I don’t remember why. My father answered the phone, but the caller evidently asked to speak with my grandmother. When my grandmother took the phone, she burst into tears, and I knew Grandpa had died. He was 56.

I saw and even touched my grandfather several more times after that, which I will describe in greater detail in my upcoming book (more on that another time). But even though I remembered so little about him, I saw his disease and his death as something that wasn’t really over. Later, when I learned that his younger sister was also inflicted with Alzheimers, I knew that this was pretty accurate, and upon my father’s diagnosis, when I was already in my early 20s and had two small children, I knew that God had been preparing me all along.

My grandfather’s death promoted my first attempt at prayer. We weren’t a church going family then, and I knew little about the Bible or about Jesus Christ, but I wanted to talk to God because then maybe Grandpa would still be listening to me. My father’s illness, though, came at a time when I had a strong faith and had received the grace of Christ into my life, but I was also struggling. My two babies, then one and two years old, were challenging me, my husband was gone about twelve hours a day for work, and I had no one nearby to talk to. The babies consumed my energy, and my depression and anxiety were just barely in check.

The news, that time, came as a confirmation of something that I already knew – my grandfather’s disease had also been his sister’s disease, his father’s disease, and it was now my father’s disease. I realized that, over time, I had come to believe that it was a genetic disease, even before I knew anything about genetics. I believe now that God allowed me to know, even as a young child, that my father would get this disease.

I also believe that the news I received at the end of this past April was also something I’ve known since I was a young child.

I am a carrier of a genetic mutation on the 14th chromosome, called the PSEN1 mutation. While there are some genetic conditions that only make a person more likely to develop Alzheimers, PSEN1 is definitive. I will have Alzheimers Disease, and I do have Alzheimers Disease.

I am 38. I will likely die in less than twenty years.

Yes, of course I know that God can miraculously heal me, either through the brilliant scientists who are desperately searching for a cure, or by simply touching my body Himself. Yes, I pray for that. But there is a line that I need to draw between praying for a miracle and expecting one. God hates that I’m carrying this disease, that I have symptoms now, even while I’m still raising my children. Yet disease, it seems, is a part of the curse of humanity, a curse that we chose ourselves.

My disease was there from the beginning, embodied as a snake in the Garden of Eden. When Eve, and then Adam, chose to accept the idea that God may have lied to them, they also accepted a curse on behalf of all humankind. Genesis says that this first sin committed by the first woman and man, unleashed all sin, and humanity’s propensity for it (Gen. 3:22-24). From this beginning, women were cursed with painful childbirth and a longing to be loved and cared for by another (3:16), and men were called to work, to toil, and to put forth great effort and strength, to produce food for themselves and their families, sometimes with little or no results (3:17-19). And, in verse 19, God throws in one last promise that is true for every single person who ever lived, including me:

“You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it. For you are dust, and you will return to dust” (Gen. 3:19).

To quote Kansas, “all we are is dust in the wind.”

I have no doubts of God’s love for me, or for my father or grandfather, and I have no doubts in his ability and desire to miraculously heal me. But I also know that I’m a sinner. I know that that, like PSEN1, I was born with genetics that guaranteed that I would be a sinner. I know that Jesus Christ died and rose to take away the consequences of my sin, and I love Him more than ever now as I anticipate the time when I will meet Him face to face. But, even though my sins are forgiven, as a human person I still face consequences for them. Short of a God-given miracle, I, like everyone else living in this time, will die.

So prayers for a miracle and for a cure (which is a miracle) are happening, and being actively worked for, but they are secondary for me. I am hoping for a miracle, but I am not expecting one. Instead, I am preparing to invest my life in my faith, to make sure that my actions and words serve as an accurate witness,  that I fill my children with my love while reminding them that I can only love because God loved me first (1 John 4:19), and, gosh darn it, I’m going to enjoy every flippin’ minute of the time I have.

Plans are being made, and actions are being taken that were once only ideas. We adopted a dog. We looked at real estate in Colorado. My husband told his Naval command that his next tour would be his last (four years to go!). I quit my job. We’re planning vacations and tattoos (they’re usually equally exciting to me). I’m redesigning our home’s interior to my liking, just because I want to. And I’m writing a book.

I am not the skydiving type, but I am diving into everything I can of God’s creation, His people, and His plans for me. Having a finish line has narrowed the course of my race.

Please stay with me through this. I want to know that my words are helping people think and dream and love. I want a way to express the emotions that will come up as I feel myself forgetting, deteriorating. I am putting myself out there, the real me who God intended, so that when I’m gone, my words will still be here. I’m not abandoning the other topics and series that I’ve begun here; in fact they may be even more significant to me now. But my true desire, now, is to be an advocate. My kids, now, have just as much a chance of carrying this disease as I did and do. But, if we speak out about the pain it causes, the lives it changes, and the damage it does, the efforts to find a cure will receive more funding for greater levels of research for a cure.

Thank you.

Photos by Dylan Gillis, Tom Doerfler, Alexander Andrews, Mat Reding, Veeterzy (with Adobe Spark), Deanna Ritchie, and Pedro Lima.

A Calling to Stewardship: We’ve paved paradise and filled it with trash.

As a kid, I took for granted the idea that our food, in some way or another, came from the land. I grew up on a farm that my family owned for three generations, so food, and the land that produced it, was literally all around me. It was a long time before I really thought about the fact that not everyone could pick a peach off a tree and eat it in August, or an apple in September, or a pumpkin in October. That was everyday reality for me.

I also learned pretty quickly that just because my dad knew how to coax a plant or tree to produce berries or fruit didn’t mean he had complete control. Peach trees would blossom in the early spring, but a shift to colder weather could bring frost in April, killing the blossoms and the fruit that would have grown from them.

God created the earth and its fruit for our use (Gen. 2:15), and mankind’s very first sin was to abuse that gift through disobedience. But instead of taking back the land He’d created from nothing, God instead put it into our hands to care for and toil over. The land is still our food, whether we grow a tomato ourselves or buy sauce in a can at the grocery store. Yet, with each generation and advancement in agriculture, food production and packaging, distribution, and availability we’ve become more physically separated from the land itself. We haven’t just stopped visiting farms. Most of the time we don’t even know where to find one.

It’s the same with the untamed land around us. Wilderness is hard to even imagine sometimes. As our population grows, so does our need for homes, schools, stores, and businesses. We’ve set nature aside so that what land we have that isn’t consumed by the needs of people is segregated into public parks and preserves, many of which are tamed to meet our needs as well. We take out the nature to add parking lots, bathrooms, souvenir shops. We pave walking trails so that they’re easier on our feet.

None of this is wrong, but it is unsustainable.

When I give one of my kids a gift, particularly one that costs me valuable time and money, I’m hurt when they don’t treat it as a valuable possession. My youngest son loves stuffed animals and values them more than his other toys. He wakes up with back or neck pain some mornings because he sleeps with so many that he runs out of room to lay down comfortably. So when I find one of his stuffies dirty, left out in the rain, or lost altogether, it hurts my feelings a bit. He says he loves it, he plays with it, and he uses it, but despite that he has failed to properly care for it and protect it.

In recent years God has opened my eyes to see that, like my son and his stuffed animals, we tend to use His gifts to us to satisfy our own desires without also taking responsibility to ensure that they are properly cared for. I am annoyed when I go to an amusement park or outdoor eating area and find the trash can overflowing, spilling dirty paper cups and plastic spoons onto the ground, but I don’t take the time to connect that thought to where all this trash will go after someone cleans it up — to a landfill that covers acres of ground, and is itself overflowing.

When I finish eating I go to a big box store. I buy myself a t-shirt because it’s cute and only costs $5. I don’t think about the other 20 cute t-shirts I already own, how easily the thin fabric will tear, leading me to throw this t-shirt in the trash bin, then the garbage truck, then the landfill. I don’t consider whether or not this t-shirt may have been sewn by a child younger than my own, working in a sweatshop, who may never be able to afford the $5 t-shirt that I’ll only wear twice.

It’s big, this problem. It’s everywhere. It hurts to think about it. It makes me want to plug my ears, close my eyes, and pretend I don’t know it’s there.

Which is exactly what we’ve been doing for about the last six generations.

It’s time to stop.

*This is the first post of my new series, A Calling to Stewardship. I invite you to help me treasure the world God created for use and commanded us to work (Gen. 3:19). Let me open your eyes so that you too can see the love of your Creator in every rock, every tree, every animal, and every person.*

Art based on The Lion King produced by tigon at DeviantArt, with my words added.

In Dreams I Rise

(a poem)

In dreams I rise.

Not fly. Not soar.

Just rise.

Suddenly, magically,

By no effort of my own,

I am taken up. Weightless.

But I can still see the ground.

I float out of a busy church,

Then down a city street, three stories up.

No one sees. No one cares.

Their lives continue on the ground,

But I am free.

In the sky I am never weary.

I don’t need to analyze every thought or feeling.

There is no need to think of sorrows,

Of imperfect relationships,

Of pain.

When I float I have no fear of dementia,

Or addiction, or mental illness.

I am alone in the sky; there is no expectation of sanity.

In rising my muscles will never grow sore,

My head won’t ache, I won’t grow dizzy.

I will never wake up in the dark, scared and upset,

Coated in sweat like paint, yet frozen in a coldness that comes from fear.

There’s no need for sleep in the sky.

On earth I am heavy, hurt, weak, and afraid.

When I rise I am carried in graceful hands.

On the ground I toil, carrying my burdens in my mind and body.

I carry rocks for people who can’t carry their own,

And the fight, and the weight of expectations and responsibility grind me slowly and painfully into the ground.

Gravity itself is my sorrow.

The sky, you see, is where I belong,

And my cells are homesick.

Someday I will rise and never come down.

Until then I will walk.

Written by Melanie Makovsky

Photos by Bryan Minear, Ankush Minda, Palash Jain, and Alessio Lin.

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