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Of Yard Sales and Being Taught to Love

Lego

Yesterday, we held a yard sale.

I don’t like holding yard sales.  I’ve only done it a couple of times in my life–and only when we were preparing to move somewhere and needed to clear stuff out.  I’m no good at them.  The introvert in me wants to run–I don’t like the chaos and mess they create, and I don’t like asking people to pay for stuff that I’d rather give away.

The only reason I agreed to the yard sale idea is that the kids are trying to figure out ideas on how to save some money so that we can take one last “family” vacation together before certain ones of us begin new careers in the military, look toward marriage and/or consider moves out of the area.  They are each starting to contribute from their jobs, but they also had this “yard sale” idea that I grudgingly agreed to.  Admittedly, I had no reason to be so “grudging”.  They did the vast majority of the work–cleaning out the garage, making signs, etc.  I basically washed clothes that had gotten musty out in the garage and helped set up and monitored the event.  That’s it, actually.  They did all the work.

And, they were so excited.  They had delusions of grandeur that I tried to temper throughout the week.  They spoke in terms of making $1000–maybe even more!  Totally unrealistic–first, it’s October.  I don’t think people really “yard sale” in October.  Second—we weren’t really selling a lot of stuff that I think people would be interested in.  Third, we aren’t in a neighborhood, so we don’t get a lot of traffic.  Fourth, well, it is a yard sale.

I didn’t want them to get their hopes up, but they did.

By noon, the original time for shut down, they were discouraged.  They asked if they could hold it till 2:00 pm.  They had no other plans for the day, so I told them that was fine.  At 2:00, still discouraged, they asked if they could stay open until 4:00 pm.  At this point, I don’t know if they really were hoping to sell more junk or if they just were so tired and discouraged that they were dreading having to pick it all up and pull it back into the garage.  Either way, I told them that was fine.

I’m so glad we didn’t shut down at 2:00.

For, between 2:00 and 4:00 pm, I was taught a lesson I hope I won’t soon forget.

A neighbor walked into our driveway.  They are new to the street, having moved in recently with her brother.  I had visited with the brother a time or two–especially when I was in the process of getting my security clearance and the government interviewed all my neighbors to make sure I was who I said I was and that no nefarious goings-on were occurring at our house.  But I hadn’t met the sister until yesterday.

We got to talking, and soon she was sharing her story and her soul with me.  So many challenges.  So little hope.  I did what I could to share hope with her without sounding trite.  I was reminded in those moments what a gift it is to have hope–real hope, the hope of Romans 5:2-5:

Through him we have also obtained access by faith[a] into this grace in which we stand, and we[b] rejoice[c] in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Goodness, I love those verses.  The only way to get from suffering to hope without shame is through the love that God pours into our hearts through the Holy Spirit and in the giving of His son, Jesus.  There is no other way.

But how do you convey this in the middle of a driveway on a Saturday afternoon to someone you have just met?  How do you explain who God is and what hope exists in the midst of suffering to someone who is hurting, who doesn’t know you, without sounding hollow or preachy?  She looked at me skeptically.  I stumbled over words.

She had her middle-school aged autistic son with her and, while we talked, he explored the yard sale.  And, finding the box of Legos, he was instantly fascinated.  These were Mark’s Legos, that he agonized over selling all week long.  He loves his Legos, but he doesn’t play with them any more.  He had finally settled on selling the sets, but keeping the mini-figures–the Star Wars, Hobbit and Super Hero Lego characters.  But I could tell, he was torn between wanting to keep them and wanting to sell them.

I sort of watched the women’s son out of the corner of my eye.  He dove into that box of Legos.  Pretty soon, he had pulled out the biggest set–Mark’s most prized set–some Star Wars Battleship thing that had taken him forever to put together.  This sweet boy was fascinated with it.  He started pulling it apart, flying it through the air.  He was in heaven.  Mark was watching, too.  I wondered what he was thinking.  I didn’t ask him, not even later.  But, I do wonder.

As our conversation wound down, and she indicated she was going to go back across the street, I heard my son say “You can have that, you know.”  I turned to watch to watch this energetic, autistic child’s face light up.  Mark then dug into the box and made sure his no-longer-owned-by-him-prized-starship had all the pieces to it.  He found a missing missile and showed the boy how to attach it.  The missile really works.  The boy loved that and repeatedly shot it into the road.

The next thing I knew, my oldest son had the boy climb onto his bike that he had decided to sell.  This boy had never ridden a bike before.  He was hesitant and timid.  Tim rolled him out into the street and patiently steadied him and guided him slowly, encouraging him that “You can do it!  See, you got this!”  They picked out a helmet for the boy, and then rolled the bike over to our neighbor’s house, Tim telling him-“Hey, this bike is yours now, and I’ll help you learn to ride it.”  By this time, everyone had caught on, and my girl was helping the neighbor pick out other things she could possibly use.

All of a sudden, it hit me.  They were sharing hope in ways that my words never could.  I’m not saying that my neighbor doesn’t need to hear words.  She does.  Without words, she will never know the source of hope.  And, I was able to share some words with her in our driveway about who God is.  But my words were so inadequate–so pale in comparison to the very practical hope my crew provided this hurting mom and her child.

That night, as I put my pajamas on and thought back over the day, I was suddenly overwhelmed.  I love words.  I do.  But words without actions are hollow.  Hollow.  Here I stood in a driveway full of stuff that I had deemed unnecessary in our life and was ready to sell, and it never even occurred to me to grab a box and start filling it up.

No, that Lego set and bike won’t solve her challenges.  And, maybe her challenges don’t need to be “solved”, even.  But, maybe that bike and Lego set will open the door to conversations out by the mailbox in the future.  And, my kids are leading the way on this one.  Mark has already told me “Mom, so many people have helped us out at Christmas.  Maybe we can help this kid out this year.”

And he is right.  They have.  And maybe we can.

Don’t think my kids are self-less.   They are far from it.  Oh, my, they can be so incredibly self-focused so easily, just like their mom can.  But they taught me something yesterday afternoon:

Love, practically.  Love, fully.  Therein lies the opportunity to share the only real hope; Jesus.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  Galatians 6:2

 

The Romantic Rationalist: A Strange Juxtaposition

Christianity-if-false-is

An interesting title for a book.  An interesting juxtaposition of terms to describe a person.  Yet I can think of no better description to fit the persona of C.S. Lewis.  Sure, he was many other things–a Christ-follower, an author, a professor, a friend–but all of those titles can be summed up in the way he approached life, in general.  And that was as both a romantic and a rationalist.

This compendium of sorts contains essays centered around ideas that C.S. Lewis espoused.  Or, rather, his thoughts on those ideas.  Not a history book, not an biography, but rather more a theological examination of the air that surrounds the words of Lewis.

The writings of C.S. Lewis had an integral impact on my mind and the process of coming to belief in God.  Opening “Surprised by Joy” was like reading my life.  Pouring over “Mere Christianity” was like coming home.  It would be fair to say that I would like to read pretty much anything that Lewis has written.  In fact, in The Romantic Rationalist, John Piper alludes to a collection of Lewis’ essays that I’d never heard of before.  Yes, I put it into my Amazon Wish List.  Yes, it is out-of-print and is selling, used for $263.15.  Yes, I contemplated selling platelets to get it.

So, I guess you could say that I kind of respect the guy.

Even with that enormous respect, though, there are a handful of times that I’ve read Lewis and thought “Hmmm.  I wonder why he says that?”.  The Romantic Rationalist helped me to sort out some of those instances.  For example, Lewis’ views on the inspiration and authority of Scripture.  This is a topic I’ve given much thought to.  And, if one thinks about it too much, it can become down-right baffling.  So I have to guard my mind against dwelling there for too long, because I can become spun up on it fairly quickly.  Meaning, I can give sway to doubts.  Too often, too quickly, too easily.  I have to fight doubt, consistently.  And, this is one area that fighting doubt plays a strong role, at least, in my mind.

Most evangelicals shy away from Lewis when it comes to discussing this topic.  I’ll invite you to read the book to find out why.  But I appreciate the authors of The Romantic Rationalist diving neck-deep into this and other areas where questions arise in regards to the theology of C.S. Lewis.  Theology is important.  Extremely so.  And, it bothers me to not get it “right”.  I want to practice sound theology.  I want to adhere to solid doctrine.  I want to participate in correct disciplines.  But, I am not always going to get it “right”.  Neither, necessarily, did C.S. Lewis, one of the most revered “thinkers” of our time.

There is some comfort in that.  For one, it reminds me that Lewis, like all men, are just that–men.  Fallible creatures.  I need not put him on a pedestal, any more than I should put any person on a pedestal.  Only God holds that status.  And, while the writings of C.S. Lewis are and always will be of extreme importance to me, the writings of Scripture can never be replaced.  No commentary, no essay, no brilliant work should ever overshadow God’s word.  And, all things must be checked through scripture.  Show me scripture.

Secondly, there is hope for me.  I am not going to get everything right, but I can’t stop striving to learn.  But we all must continually ask the questions that need to be asked.  We must continually present our thoughts before God and shine the light of truth upon them so that we can make adjustments where needed.  I think that is what C.S. Lewis strove to do; and, in doing so, we are privy to his honest thoughts, struggles, and wrestlings.  He has given us a front row seat, through his writings, and we are richer for it.

The Romantic Rationalist is not solely about issues of questions that arise in regards to Lewis’ theology–not by a long shot.  But, those sections that dealt with that were what stood out the most to me.  Why, I think an entire book could be written on each of the chapters presented in this volume.  There is even a chapter on food.  Well-played.

This is a book that I think I will turn to repeatedly.  An excellent book to have in one’s library–it opens up the discussion on key ideas and provides much fodder for further exploration and thinking.

*I received a review copy of this book from Crossway Publishers.

*Be sure to read the interview panel discourse at the end of the book, located in Appendix 2.

15 (Some Serious, Some Not-So-Serious) Things I Learned in D.C.

WashingtonDC

I’m back home in York County after a weekend trip to Washington, D.C.  It was a great time….a time to spend with dear friends, a time to speak to educators about children with incarcerated parents, a time to visit new places and worship with fellow Christ-followers, and a time to learn.

Because I process best by writing, and because I’m eager to share some of what I learned over the last 4 days, I’ve decided to write them out here in what I’m calling, well, “15 Things I Learned in D.C.”

1.  Friendships are precious things.  It was so great to sit down with my friends Lydia, DaNa and Dia Carlis and to pick up right where we had left off.  This family is incredible.  We laughed, much.  We talked a great deal.  We ate much.  I was hugely spoiled.  And I was reminded all over again how incredibly grateful I am for all of my friends.  Good gracious.  It’s nearly overwhelming, the gratitude I have for each of you.

2.  I am also so grateful for the invention of GPS technology that is portable and usable in the car.  I could certainly survive without it, but I may never make it to any destination goal.  No sense of direction.  Whatsoever.  Even with the GPS, I managed to get lost.  Three different times.  “Re-Calculating” is still echoing in my mind today.

3.  There are incredibly passionate and compassionate people in the field of education.  Friday, when I spoke with the ECR team of Apple Tree Institute about the role of literature in the lives of children with incarcerated parents, I was nearly wrecked by their wrecked-ness.  And then I was nearly wrecked again when I received a donation of 172 books totaling over $1200 that will be used by The Messages Project.  We will now take those books into prisons, film parents reading those books to their children, and then we will mail those books and that DVD to the children as a gift from their parent.  Another thing I am grateful for.

4.  Ping Pong Dim Sum has the best Dim Sum I have ever tasted.  Ever.

5.  Movie adaptations continue to fall short consistently in comparison to books.  I still have hopes that Unbroken will do the book by the same title justice this winter though.

6.  I love breakfast.  I always love breakfast.  Oh. My. Goodness.  I love breakfast.  And I love brunch buffets.  And Farmers Fishers Bakers in Washington, D.C. does brunch right.  Fantastic food, fantastic service, fantastic atmosphere and fantastic company.  Spoiled, I tell you–I was truly spoiled.

7.  There is something fantastic about getting good feedback on your ideas and goals.  There is also something fantastic about getting good direction on how to accomplish those goals and implement those ideas.  I am back home with a mind that is filled to the brim with actions to take.  Love that.  Grateful for that.  Excited about that.

8.  I still cannot parallel park.

9.  My friend Lydia completely indulged me nerd-ing out Saturday.  There is something very cool about seeing things you’ve read about in books.  Such as embassies.  It’s fascinating to me that countries hold sovereignty over small parcels of land in other countries.  That’s just very cool to me, and I’ve read many books that have referenced embassies.  Getting to drive down embassy row was awesome.  So many countries; so many different flags; so many different styles of buildings.  I wanted to stop at each of them and ask them to stamp my Passport, but I don’t think they would do that.

10.  The reason for monuments:  We visited the MLK monument, walked near the Jefferson Memorial, and saw the Washington Monument and the World War II monument.  So, what are monuments?  They are used to help us remember important things–things we would be wise not to forget.  Even in scripture we see where people erected Monuments or altars (take a look at Joshua 4:4-7)  There’s nothing magical about these monuments, but, they are important because of what they point to.  The monuments in D.C. point to things we would do well to remember–lives given to service or lost in wars, principles and ideas that are the bedrock of what we stand on today as Americans.  This is what communion is for those of us who are Christ-followers.  Communion points to Christ.  It is done “In remembrance”.  We should not take it lightly, any more than we take lightly the names upon names upon names that are etched into the dark granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  These are the thoughts that came to me as I remembered during communion Sunday morning.

11.  When you drive over medians, it makes a very loud noise, and an extremely huge bump and scares your passengers half to death.  Sorry.

12.  I love worship, whether it is with my current church family or with people I’ve never met before.  And I love visiting other churches.  I so enjoyed worshipping with “family” Sunday at the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church.

13.  I was also reminded  of a truth in Psalm 103:1-5.  I must continuously preach to my soul.  I must continuously command my soul to bless the Lord.  Martin Lloyd-Jones said it best here in Spiritual Depression, Its Causes and Cures (a book that is immensely helpful, but not for those who do not want to hear truth):

The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’–what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’–instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: ‘I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God’.

14.  Traffic on the I-95 Corridor is insane on Sunday afternoons, and I have no idea why that is.  You would think it wouldn’t be.

15.  Even after the most wonderful trips, such as this past weekend, it is always so good to return to my crew.  I am so proud of them, and there is nothing like pulling into the driveway and having all 4 of them plus Biscuit, the dog, run out for hugs and to help with your suitcase.  Nothing like it.  I am so blessed.

 

 

Return, O My Soul, to Your Rest

Return

I awoke this morning, and my mind was not well.

It was early, around 3 am.  Awakened out of my sleep by a harsh nightmare, I struggled to gain my bearings.  And could not; at least, I could not for several hours.

And in those hours, while I did not question what I knew to be truth, I did question the truthiness of that truth.  That probably makes no sense to anyone except me.  I guess what I mean by the “truthiness of truth” is this:  I knew what was truth in a purely academic way, but not in a way that caused me to cling to the “truthiness” of that truth so as to make that truth the foundation of reality regardless of the condition of my mind.

In other words, I floundered.

A walk outside to breathe fresh air did not calm my thoughts.  A shower and a change out of sweat-soaked pajamas did nothing to still the trembling.  It was too late; I was shaken to the core of my being.

Habit ingrained over quite a few years now is the only thing that drew me to open my study materials this morning.  I am grateful for habit.  For routine, actually.  I derive a great deal of comfort in orderliness in the midst of chaos.  Not all habits are good, granted.  But some are, and some are necessary.  Study, which often (not always) leads to prayer is necessary to my existence and well-being.

When I am most unsettled, the Psalms are where I go.  They are more than poetry; more than a collection of well-turned phrases.  No, instead, they are an invitation to peer over the shoulders of people like me, who best communicate via putting ink to parchment.  Who found solace in language and words.  Who invite me to use their words when I cannot find words myself.  And this morning, I had no words.

Psalm 116 is a Psalm I studied in-depth a few years ago.  It has become a settling Psalm for me….a place that I have gone to frequently enough that some of the words written there are committed to my memory.  Not intentionally, no.  I wish I had the discipline to memorize scripture as a part of the habits I mentioned above.  But, so far, I do not, so instead, some of the words of Psalm 116 are etched upon my mind simply because I have seen them often.  Read them often.  And that is where I went this morning.

Over and over and over again this morning, I typed the words of verse 4: “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”  And each time I reached the end of that sentence, I added that exclamation point.  I already type loudly–pounding the keyboard.  This morning I typed ferociously….until the words I was typing became more than just repetitive keystrokes and instead became earnest prayer.  Real prayer.  The typing eventually slowed, and I was ready to do work.

I studied–I worked–using additional scripture alongside recounting facts, to see the truth of verse 6; or, rather, to admit the reality of the truth of verse 6, which says:

For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling;

He has.

And continues to.

He has delivered my soul from death.  He has delivered my eyes from tears.  He has delivered my feet from stumbling.  And does.  Even in the midst of the night, like the early mornings of this day.  And, will He not continue?  Has He not proven His faithfulness?

He has.

Only then, once I had re-established this truth in the depths of my mind, was I able to deal with my soul.  Only then, was I able to address the truth located in verse 10:

I believed, even when I spoke:
“I am greatly afflicted”

Based on the truth of who I know God to be, I was then able to say to Him “I am greatly afflicted”.  I was able to tell Him–to write out–the condition of my mind and my soul in the wake of that nightmare.  In the wake of tremendous grief over much.  Had I taken those things to Him without re-establishing the truth that He sees and knows and is who He says He is, I would have never trusted Him with the words “I am greatly afflicted.”–I would not have been able to utter them. I would not have been able to say with the Psalmist, “I believed, even when I spoke:”  Others may be able to.  I wish I was that way.  I am not.  My soul’s default setting is cynicism and hardness.  O, to trust.  O, my soul.

I password-protected my words and filed them away.  I’ll probably never read them again.  That document is closed, as it should be. I opened a new document and wrote out verses 5-7 of Psalm 116:

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
The Lord preserves the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

Gracious.  Righteous.  Merciful.

Truth.  Truthiness of truth.  Those words are the very essence of God.

I have been brought low.  He has saved me.  I will be brought low again.  He will save me.  One day, He will save me to see Him face-to-face.  Where there are no more tears.  No more pain.  No more nightmares.

But, for now, I will speak to my soul.  I will tell my soul to return to its rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with me.

He has.