Leapt into New Life

The backyard is a riot of green this week. So much so, that the library is green because of the light scattered through the leaves into the windows. I forget how green it can get while the leaves are waiting to unfurl. I forget how verdant spring can be when we are still in the barren limb days of winter.

Finally the earth has leapt into the days of new life. Finally the daylight lasts until well after dinner so that we can venture out in the cool of the evening. Finally we can celebrate.

Finally we are on the celebration side of Easter. We journeyed through a long and dark Lent and the sadness of Holy Week; now finally we have fifty days of Easter celebration. But we don’t have the end of the story. There are yet more stories to tell of the birth of the church, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the expanse of the Gospel. It’s a story we tell with our lives.

We tell the story of the Easter season with our joys and with our hardships. I’ve got friends whose daughter had open heart surgery yesterday. Their story is part of the Easter story. Another friend has an infant son with a diagnosis that no child has yet survived. Their story is part of the Easter story as they walk in the presence of God through the valley. I’ve got other friends dealing with bad news and hard days. The promise of the power that God used in raising Jesus from the dead on Easter is where we find our promise, for our days.

Even if things don’t turn out the way we hope, we still trust in the promise; we still participate in a beautiful story, we still venture into a new life together.

Denying Denial

Denying rights. Denying truth. Denying evidence. Denying facts. Denying time. Denying friendship. Denying entry. Denying access. Denying knowledge. Denying space. Denying grace. Denying sunlight. Denying air. Denying growth. Denying opportunity. Denying sovereignty. Denying safety. Denying food. Denying life.

Denial is always in opposition to something else.

Nearly every single instance of denial I can think of, it is a power in the position of privilege denying something to a person or group with less privilege. The only thing I can think of that is reversing the power dynamic is when protestors physically put their bodies in the way of something that would otherwise destroy something.

The Dakota access pipeline comes to mind. But those protestors are putting their bodies in the way of construction that could well do away with the indigenous peoples’ access to clean water. Someone will not have something in the end.

For Lent, we are called to a time of penitence and self-denial. It is a time of looking at our own needs and desires in an effort to turn them towards the desires of God. It is a holy practice, but the holiness comes from our own self-denial, not a judge that is keeping watch over us forcing us to deny what is good for us. There are no Lent police. (Or if there are, they are not doing it for holy reasons.)

Honestly, I don’t remember the last time I gave something up for Lent. The three years I was in Div school, it seemed I always gave up my health. (Though, thinking about it deeper… I probably should have had an allergy test…) Now, with a toddler, I am constantly giving up my comfort, personal space, time, and even the food off of my plate when in her presence. I have been able to take up some things, some prayer and reading that have added to my observation of this holy season, but it has been minimal at best.

As a parent, sometimes I do have to tell my daughter “no” in order to keep her safe or healthy. There is information I have that she has not learned yet. There are things I know that she cannot yet understand. I am denying her the short happiness in order that she may have a more full life.

But on a large scale, we are not each other’s parents. (Thankfully) My parents are not constantly granting me limits, keeping me from what I want to be doing. (It’d be a little hard since we live two states from each other. And that I am an adult…) As a society we trust each other to live within the bounds that we have created for safe living, but still there are ways that we seek to deny others the lives that they are seeking to live.

When we deny things from others, we rob them of good things. We rob ourselves as we make the world a poorer place. Denial is the opposite of giving. It limits, when we are invited to expand.

As Christians, I think the question we need to ask as we come to the close of this Holy Lent is what practice of denying can we seek to end?

What can we take the lead on and open up, rather than limit?

Where do we need to give of ourselves so that others can flourish?

I’m not sure what the answer is. But I do know that we have plenty of work to do.

Reminding Each Other to Breathe

I’ve picked up coloring again. Soon I may be able to color as an activity with my daughter, but for now, she wants to scribble using the exact writing instrument that I am using, regardless of how many she has at her disposal, and so I wait until she is down for her nap before I pull out my colors. Coloring as a meditative practice has become common for folks in my social circle. I find coloring helpful for stilling my mind as I focus intently on one small section of the page I am on.

I get still even when the house isn’t. My mind doesn’t fiddle with each individual thought that would usually distract me. I focus on the color and the shading and the way that the green blends into the blue. I breathe.

I’m not always as present as I would like to be. I get distracted during the day after the seventh time that I have to remind my daughter that people are not for hitting. I focus more on the bright red bite mark I earned from a tantrum than the joy I saw as she walked out the door to go to the library with her daddy.

I need to breathe but it can be hard to focus on breathing when I am tending to the care of a little one. My circle of influence has shrunk considerably since staying home, but now the stakes are much higher. I’m caring for a person who depends on me while still constantly declaring her own agency.

Sometimes we need to remind each other to breathe.

New Starter

The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing. —Exodus 12:33-34 (NIV)

I’ve read the story of the Exodus at least once a year since I got my own bible in third grade. I’ve read about the Ten Plagues and the Israelites leaving after the Angel of Death visiting each home of the Egyptians while the Israelites were saved because they had the special marks on their doorways. I’d read about the feast of unleavened bread and not having yeast in their homes for a week.

This week, reading it again I noticed the people of Israel having to pack up in the middle of the night and carry their bread wrapped up in their cloaks before the bread could rise, possibly before the yeast could be added.

Yeast is a living thing that feeds on sugar and makes air bubbles. Yeast in the time of the Israelites was probably a small jug of starter that was kept alive and added to bread a little at a time, with little bits of extra added back to the jug every so often to keep it healthy.

Bread is a basic necessity, and so yeast is as well.

Imagine a people who leave in the middle of the night, carrying only what they can on their backs. These people are headed out into the desert where they will wander for forty years to learn who and whose they are.

They have left their starter yeast behind because they are going out to start a new life. 

This new life will be different down to the bread they bake. It won’t taste like the bread of Egypt because they won’t have any of Egypt’s yeast to put in their loaves. Even this incremental change will be hard to take, and they will complain about not having bread. God will provide them with bread that is sweeter than what they have ever tasted. And soon enough they will tire of that as well.

But they will learn to make new bread in a new land. They will start a new home in the land that is promised to them. And they will gather a bit of yeast from a neighbor and create a new starter jug for the bread that will sustain them through their lives.

They will become a new people. Little by little. Even down to their bread.

Laughter and Boundaries

I’m having a hard time finding joy, recently. I read a reflection today by my friend Sarah who had encountered wisdom saying that joy flows from compassion. I wonder if I am not finding enough compassion, either for myself or for others, right now. Or maybe I just see the great need for compassion and feel that the task is far too large to take on myself.

Joy is a big deal and I want to do it right.

My daughter has started a new game where she laughs and then does something that she shouldn’t do, such as hitting me in the face. I tell her no, and she does it again. Laughing again.

I love my daughter’s laugh.

I do not love being hit.

I do not want her to hit me, or learn that hitting is how we do things.

She laughs again.

I tell her not to hit. I take hold of her hand. I tell her not to hit.

I let go. She hits me again.

Still laughing.

And so I put her down out of my lap. I put space between her and me, so that she cannot reach me to hit me. She doesn’t like the space.

Nothing stops her until I do it. Saying no has not really become effective, even though she loves repeating the word.

The hitting stops.

So does the laughter.

But then she hugs me. And we are better together until she decides to try a new boundary again.

I’m wondering how she interprets the joy I share with her. Does she remember me laughing more than she remembers me teaching her a new limit?

And then, does God rejoice when I find a new game to play but is let down when I turn the game to my own destruction?

I believe God wants what is good for me, and that God wants to celebrate joy with me. I don’t believe that God is watching me to seek out an opportunity to punish me.

I am not a perfect parent. I lose my temper and get frustrated when my daughter keeps on doing what I have already asked her not to do. I have the feeling this tendency is far from over. Yay exercise of free will!

However, God is a perfect parent (among other things) and though God can and does get frustrated, God is more saddened by how I turn away from what God wants because it hurts me more than because it hurts God.

God wants what is best for me (and you) and goes out of the way to show love in whatever way possible. This is the compassion I long for in each of my relationships no matter if they are fleeting or forever.