Thursday, May 17, 2018

Everybody Wants to Feel Special Sometimes

We moved a while back, which meant we left behind a number of people we had gotten to know and appreciate, and one of those was our pediatrician. Dr. Landon had seen us through a lot with both of our munchkins. He was very kind and very thorough, and he always acted happy to see us. He told jokes, which was not necessarily my favorite part of visits with him, but it was unique, at least. A visit with Dr. Landon left me feeling like he knew my kids and me and cared about us. Upon mentioning this to a friend who was also a doctor, she noted that he probably said these same things to all of his patients, that he likely treated everyone the same. This revelation left me in a quandary. It feels good to feel special. Thinking that Dr. Landon had a special interest in our family, or some kind of special connection with us, felt good.

I've been reflecting on that desire we have to feel special to people recently. I remember a long plane ride next to some guy from England, whom I thought might ignore me the whole time. When he finally did talk to me, we learned a little bit about each other. We exchanged email addresses. I wrote him a few times after that. For whatever reason, I couldn't abide the thought that he didn't have any interest in knowing who I was. Maybe it was my own issues that caused me to want that human connection, but I think there's a place in all of us that wants people to think we're unique, special, someone they need in their life--someone they should inherently be interested in.

I've thought also about a time when I did something hurtful to a friend of mine. Eventually, in remorse, I apologized. I confessed feeling like a terrible friend and not a very good person. His response was something along the lines of, "We're all terrible people. That's why we need God's grace." Those were not exactly the words I was expecting, though, considering that he was in seminary at the time and eventually became a Lutheran pastor, they seem pretty on point for him.

So many things we do make us feel not very special. It's a lot easier to feel like a real screw-up than to feel special. Maybe that's why we like it when we do feel special, and why, all to often, we make it to mean more than it does. After all, don't we practically pay people to make us feel special? Don't we like it when a server at a restaurant makes us feel like we're the best customer they've had all day? Don't we expect people in "helping" professions--doctors, teachers, pastors, social workers, etc.--to act kindly and make us feel good or better about ourselves, in some way? Yes, we have so many ways that we can feel unique, so many connections we make with others that feel special, whether they really are, or not.

What is it about us that makes us want to be told we are good people? We want to feel special...but the truth is, we're kind of a lot like everyone else. I think that's the conundrum of faith, in some ways. Knowing God has the effect of making us feel both special and minuscule at the same time. If God made all the things, then what would make me think I am a special thing among all of those? The universe sure is big. I sure am small, compared to it. But then, that's why scripture is more than just one story about God, more than the creation of all things. Scripture tells us that God is far away...but also near. We are each part of a creation whose breadth and depth we can't ever understand. AND we are beloved by the God who created all of that. We are each so special...just like everyone else.

Huh? Yeah, that's the thing about God, right? How can God love all the things so much? How can God make each and every one of us feel so special? Maybe that's one of those questions to save up for heaven. Until then, maybe it's better to think a lot about how much God loves us each, how special we all are to God, and then try really hard to remember that all of that applies to everyone else, too. That sounds like enough work to keep me busy for a while...

Saturday, May 5, 2018

What Does the Fox Say?

It's been a couple weeks since we've seen them. They were so cute and adorable, 5 little foxes running and playing in our backyard, with their beautiful mom keeping a watchful eye. It was inevitable that they would leave, of course. That's the way things go--they are wild animals, after all. Their presence in our backyard, taking up residence under our shed for two weeks, taught me a couple of lessons, though, so I share those with you now.

It was late on a Tuesday that we first heard the sound--I thought it was some dog gone hoarse, barking when we let our dog out at night. It was a very eerie sound. After we heard it for 3 or 4 nights, Brock finally saw the fox one morning as he was tracking down the dog on her trek through the backyard. Not long after that, cute little fox babies started showing up, popping out of the hole their mom had dug under our shed.

Two or three times a day they would come out and play, depending on what else was going on in the area of our backyard, their mother keeping a watchful eye, running off if any threat arrived, as the kits scampered back under the shed. She'd run far enough to be out of danger, but close enough to see when the coast was clear and then return.

I understood her concern. I wished there was a way to let her know that I wasn't really a threat to her, that I thought she was wonderful and beautiful, and that I would do anything I could to help her. I also wanted to let her know that I understood being concerned about the kids playing in that yard: I only have 2, and I get worried they're going to get hurt or fall down the hill and land in the creek/drainage ditch...stuff like that, you know. I can't imagine how it was to try to keep track of 5!

In my musings about the momma fox, it began to dawn on me that the fox was teaching me some things about God...or God was teaching me through the fox, is probably more like it. That fox was beautiful; I was thrilled just to see her roaming around the backyard, watching her kits, barking (or whatever it is) at my dog. She was this delightful, amazing gift. I felt silly about it, but I wished there was some way I could make her understand how wonderful I thought she was and how much I would love to make sure she was protected and provided for, if there were any way that I could. This all seemed slightly unreasonable, though--I mean, she was a wild fox, and she showed up in my yard, dug out a spot under our shed for her babies, and made our home her home, for a while.

I began to wonder, is this how God feels when looking at me? Does God find delight in seeing me be me, doing the things God made me to be able to do? Does God think I'm beautiful and lovely? Does God desire the best for me, long to see me safe and flourishing? Does God wish I would understand all of that? Maybe so. Maybe this is the beginning of understanding it better than I already thought I did.

As for the foxes, I'll be looking for a flash of orange in the woods all summer...maybe I'll catch of a glimpse of them in the wild, doing what God made them to do...

Oh, and if you're wondering what the fox says, watch a women's tennis match--that loud scream/grunt so many tennis players make these days is the closest we've come to finding a similar sound...

Thursday, January 4, 2018

But It's Not Fair!

In the "better late than never" category, here is my sermon from my Longest Night of the Year Service on December 21. If you've read much of this blog, you know that I post this sermon every year. Now that I'm in campus ministry, I did not have a Christmas Eve service because I had no students to have a service for! This was certainly a change for me, and I am grateful that the pastor of the church I now attend allowed me to lead a Longest Night Service in his church.

Without further ado, here are some thoughts for these long winter nights...

“But It’s Not Fair!”
Luke 1:5-25, 67-79
Longest Night Sermon 2017

As a parent of a 6-year-old, I am learning a lot about what is not fair in life. Maybe you are familiar with this…maybe not. Here are some examples: It’s time for bed…but that’s not fair! It’s time to put your video game away…but that’s not fair! No, you can’t eat dinner in front of the TV tonight…but that’s not fair! (The list goes on, as you can well imagine.)

Sometimes, I think that of all the people in the Christmas story, Zechariah had the most reason to judge the unfairness of his situation. I can’t blame him for being scared out of his mind when an angel showed up, and for asking what the angel thought were too many questions--for wanting a little more information. Who wouldn’t?!

In those 9 months that Zechariah couldn’t speak, I wonder how many times he thought to himself, “But it’s not fair!” Did he see Elizabeth struggle with her pregnancy and want to comfort and reassure her, but couldn’t because he couldn’t speak? Did he see his neighbors with questioning looks and want to say something to them…but he couldn’t speak? Did he hear the news about Elizabeth’s relative Mary and want to say something about it…but he couldn’t speak? It hardly seems fair for an old man who had been faithful all his life to go through what Zechariah went through…just because he wanted to know more. As an inquisitive person, myself, I am totally sympathetic to Zechariah’s interest in asking for more information from the angel.

As a person who thrives on order, I am sympathetic to some other ways that Zechariah may have felt things just weren’t fair. Here, he and Elizabeth had been faithful people all their lives long. He was even a priest, and yet they still had no children! Of course, they had no knowledge of biology and fertility issues…they just knew that the one blessing they most desired had not materialized, and it didn’t look in any way hopeful, before the angel showed up that day. Now, how is that fair?

I know a number of people asking that same question this time of year—a number of clergywomen whose deepest desire is to have babies of their own, yet they find themselves preaching about Elizabeth and Mary, year after year, with no miracle child to rejoice over, themselves. It is painful…and it seems totally unfair.

We gather here tonight with a lot of “but it’s not fairs” crying out from our souls. Though this is “the most wonderful time of the year,” it doesn’t seem fair that Christmas is coming and that person we have loved for so long isn’t here to share it this year. Though every TV commercial is about giving or getting the perfect gift, the bank account balks at spending money to give those gifts, and it doesn’t seem fair. Though we want to sing “Joy to the World” with joy, our minds and our hearts are heavy with the burdens of the every day, with the weight of caring for our bodies and souls and the bodies and souls of others. We see friends struggling or grieving, and their hurt doesn’t seem fair. We know of church members who face insurmountable odds, grief too painful even to mention, and we want to know from God why things are so unfair. Though we talk about the Light of the World, we feel like people walking in darkness. It’s just not fair. Maybe we’re all there with Zechariah, and that’s why we came here tonight. We want to know how God is really going to make things right, after all that has gone wrong. We see where there is darkness that longs for light. We wish we could avoid it ourselves, and protect others from it, too. But we know we can’t. We want to know why this world is still so broken, after all this time. And we want God to fix it—and to fix us—now!

Zechariah had 9 months to wait, to see what would happen, to meet this promised child, to be able to share his thoughts aloud again. Maybe in 9 months, I will understand more how it’s going to make me stronger, or my friends, or family members, or church members, that all these unfair things have happened. Maybe in 9 more months, my friends who want so badly to have children of their own will have different news or a different understanding of how God is calling them to be parents, even if not of their own children, or a peace that they desire so much right now because of this emptiness they feel without a baby to hold. Maybe in 9 more months, my friends who grieve this Christmas will have found more strength from the journey of grief, from getting themselves out of bed each day, even though knowing it would be another day without that loved one who has died.

After 9 months, Zechariah could talk again. I bet he had a lot to say! Because it just wasn’t fair, what happened to him! But that’s not what he talked about, as the scripture tells it. He didn’t rant and rave about what he’d been through, what God had put him through, how life seemed unfair. No. He prophesied. Instead of all the “it’s not fair” thoughts, Holy Spirit words tumbled out of his mouth, proclaiming praise to God, recounting a history full of God’s goodness and mercy, and seeing into a future no one would have guessed but everyone would dream of.

Zechariah’s story reminds us of something the Bible shows us time and time again: that even from those who despair and who face what may seem unjust, for those who are righteous, there is somewhere deep inside of them the knowledge that God is good and that there will be reason to praise God again, after the silence, after the darkness, after the waiting, after the pain. We see this in the psalms—that the psalmist is willing to cry out to God and say things about what he thinks aren’t fair—things we have been told you should never say to God! And most of the time, the psalmist says the hard things, shouts out his feelings and his discontent with his situation and even with God…but then almost always ends up by recounting how good God is. Zechariah’s story ends up this same way.

It’s dark tonight. We feel a bit broken. We may feel like people who have no ability to say what needs to be said, not because an angel came and visited us but because life isn’t fair and darkness gets in there, disorients us, pours fear and anxiety into the holes in our souls where Christ’s light should be shining through. Zechariah sat mute, perhaps in a personal darkness that seemed entirely unfair. Let his words remind us that the darkness does not win, that what we are waiting for gives us the hope to face new days and even dark nights: “Because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79 CEB)

The light will come again. Life may not seem fair yet, but we wait with hope for the day that the light dawns, that justice and peace reign, that all things are redeemed, and that God’s deep compassion pours over all creation again. We wait with hope. Even when it’s not fair. Because God is good. Because God is with us. Because Christ will come again. Thanks be to God. Amen.