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Dear self,
Yesterday you turned the big 3-0. Thirty.  Take a deep breath. That’s right. You are officially out of your 20’s.

Your 20’s were good to you. They brought you your husband. Your kids. Your career. Your passion.

But they were rough, too. The loss of your brother, your parents. Chronic sinus problems. Back trouble. Bad feet.

You’ve had some good times – times you’ve laughed until you’ve cried, times you’ve cried until you laughed.  Sometimes those events were the same day!  There’s been lots of lessons learned.  Lots of friends made, and more than a few you’ve lost touch with over the years.  You’ve learned relationships are tough.  Sometimes really tough.  Tough just to keep going – tough to put the extra work in to keep the flame alive.  But oh, so very, very worth it.

I guess I wanted to write you this to give you some advice. Advice you probably won’t listen to, but you’ll nod and smile and say you’ll listen, and I wanted to write it out here so there were witnesses, so to speak.  So here it is. The big advice for you going into your 30s:  Do hard stuff.

Life is hard.  Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Friendships are hard. Work is hard. Faith is hard. Cleaning is hard. Downtime is hard.

Cooking is hard to find time for in light of all that other stuff.

Be kind to yourself – but also, be good at doing hard stuff, because at the end of the day that’s really what life is about.  Dig in to the moment, be present and real with people.  Acknowledge that you’re doing something hard, and then do it.  Give yourself a break when you fail, because you’re going to. Just be ready for it.  Every day you’re going to wake up with 57 things to do and you are going to fail to do most of them.

Try to do them anyways.  Don’t half-ass it, either, because who wants half-ass attention? No one. So do one thing really good. And then do another, and another, and another.  You may end up with 14 good things by the end of the day. Awesome. You did good.  You failed at 43 things, but they don’t matter because you rocked at 14 things.

When you turn 30 (if you’re me) you start to think about your legacy.  At the end of my life I want to be known as someone who was real.  Someone who had to dig her way through life with broken nails and tear stains and dirty tennis shoes who was a real person to the people she interacted with.  I don’t want people to think I’m something I’m not. I’m a mess – just like every other human being on this messy broken earth.

By the grace of God I’d like to fight against that brokenness – the brokenness that destroyed my parents, the brokenness that threatens to take others every day… I’d like to BE KIND and DO HARD STUFF because it helps fix some of that brokenness. And if on any given day I can only do 14 good things, or even just 1 good thing, it means the world is that many more things better than it was yesterday.

I just had to share this quote because, well, I think it needs to be read.  And reread.  Sarah Bessey is one of the few reasons I haven’t completely given up on reading blogs.  Some days there’s too much anger and misunderstood words on the internet, and she is a peace to me in the storm.  I love her writing, so let me share what she wrote about the Shikh Temple shooting.

Hard conversations are coming, perhaps legislation, around gun control, about hatred, racism, religion, about our culture’s glorification of violence, our nationalism, and the divisions between us, yes, those conversations need to happen, but not just now: now is the time for grieving, now is the time for loving, for burying, for mourning with those who mourn, for gathering humanity together, and for compassion.

I believe that it is precisely because of my Christian faith that I am sitting my heart down, mourning with those that mourn, grieving and honouring, loving and praying. Love casts out fear, and may the mouths of the faithful be filled with words of Love and hope and peace, never fear.

Thank you, Sarah, for your beautiful words.

(Source)

Today is my first day back to technology for almost 3 weeks.  The vacation was amazing and lovely, and I came to work with 1000+ on my Google Reader and over 600 work emails.  As I work through the deluge of information I came across one scripture listed two different places (here and here).  I really, really, really like the scripture – which is one of the types of scriptures that you’re just going to read over until someone makes you stop and see it for the first time all over again.  Here is the scripture in its entirety:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8, NIV)

There is one other part of the bible in the New Testament that sums up what we should do:

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 
 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-40, NIV)

I like how it’s worded in both portions of scripture.  The second one is much more well-referenced, and for good reason since Christ says it is the greatest commandment.  But the first – to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly – I think it sums up a lot of what we need to do now.  But when I think about how much outrage and judgement I see on a daily basis (not just from Christians, mind you) I think that the first scripture from Micah is a good reminder that we maybe should see a bit more often.  Because loving mercy is hard.  Walking humbly is difficult.  Acting justly – while loving mercy – now THAT is tough.  If we can maintain love throughout it all I think the world would be pretty amazing.

Camping was an integral part of my childhood.  We all loved the outdoors, we were never more at home than when we were in the middle of nowhere.  There was one particular spot that we found when we were pretty young that became “our” spot.  We always called it Cherry Lake.

 Jake, Jennet, Alan and Dad

That was the only year it really snowed while we were there.  I remember pulling up to the campsite and hiding in the car while Alan, Mom and Dad set up the campsite.  While we slept, snow fell across the campground and blanketed the world in white.  This picture doesn’t do it justice.

I remember waking up when we camped there.  It was always so cold in the morning, so I’d be buried deep in my sleeping bag and listen to the rustling of the tent, the songbirds, the crackle of the fire.  I could hear my parents hushed voices and the occasional laugh as they shared their morning coffee.  If I close my eyes I feel myself transport back to those moments, when the world was perfect and at peace.

As we visited and grew older we wandered further and further away.  The following picture is the “Rock Club,” a place just far enough away from the campsite to make us feel independent.  We would wander there daily, hang out on rocks and talk about life, or have adventures in between the cracks.  We would climb to the top of the rocks, and look out, terrified of falling and thrilled at the prospects ahead of us.

 

We went there every year, sometimes twice a year.  I remember being 9 years old, laying on a hot rock and contemplating the grandness of God.  I remember learning to whittle sticks, and trampling through brush to find a “walking stick.”  I remember seeing a water snake for the first time in the lake down the hill.

It was always the most beautiful place on earth.

 

I climbed up this wall once, and got all the way to the top.  On the way back down I felt myself losing my grip, but something pushed me back against the wall.  I believed in angels before, but that experience pretty much cinched the deal.

 

The last time we visited Cherry Lake it was 2002 and right before we moved to Texas. 

 

Ten years is a long time.

Since that time, my older sisters have tried in vain to find our old campsite.  They’ve combed Stanislaus Forest and driven around for hours, all to no avail.  When I visited in 2010 I tried to help them find it and we were yet again unsuccessful.  I told them I’d see what I could do in the future for my next visit.

So I contacted the Stanislaus National Forest Office in Groveland, since that was closest to where we thought the campsite was.  I spoke with a charming lady named Gail who was willing to listen to my story and my plea for help.  She gave me her email address and I sent her a bunch of pictures, and a map of the grounds (as best I could remember).  Then I waited.

She called me back just a short time ago and thanked me for giving her such a fun project.  She said she had some of her park rangers act as detectives – print up the pictures and try to match up the pictures while they were out driving around.  She thanked me for the map I had drawn, and said we had done a good job remembering.

An old ranger, one who had lived there forever, knew exactly where we were talking about when he saw the pictures.  We had always called it Cherry Lake, but the park rangers knew it as Cherry Barrow.  Gail told me if we drove to the Groveland Park Ranger station she would be able to show us exactly how to get there.

I cried when she told me.

 

I’m going back in just over a week – I’m flying to California Monday for Amy’s wedding and after the wedding I’m heading to visit my sisters.  We will go camping, hopefully at this spot, and I will once again drink in the beauty.

I can’t wait.

I don’t really even know how to start this. 

Ska music is, and always will be, a part of who I am as a person.  Growing up my parents didn’t like any “new” music, but ska music forced its way into my soul.  It was cheerful and bouncy and never fails to make me happy when listening to it.  Ska music was the catalyst that introduced me to my best friend Amy.  I am forever indebted to ska music for the friendship I have with her.  I’ll never forget the apprehension and excitedness and how hard it was for me to reach out to the pretty girl that sat behind me in class (or was it in front of me? I can’t remember now…) and tell her that I liked her backpack, I liked the FIF patch, and OHMYGOODNESSSOMEONEELSEKNOWSWHATSKAMUSICIS!!  And she liked my hair clip and the rest is history.

I guess some people already know this, but I did not: OC Supertones is making a new album! If they can get funded, that is.  They are one of the classic Christian ska bands from the 90s/2000s, and my personal favorite.  I’m going to be donating to their Kickstarter project, and I ask you very nicely to please do the same?  We have 18 days to come up with another $10,061 and if I had that much money I could give it to them in a heartbeat.  For just a glimpse of what this band means to me, read one of my blog posts where I wrote them a letter.  This was the first ska band I heard, and I can’t even describe how excited I am to know I’m going to get new music from them.

Seriously.

Excited. 

So, go to the Kickstarter page, listen to their new song (here’s a link to some lyrics), and give them 100 bucks. Or $50. Or $25. Or $5. Or a dollar. Just help them, please, a tiny bit, for me, and for the world.

So for lent, all the things I gave up, I failed at.  I did not increase my prayer time, I did not read my bible more.  I did not grow closer to God.  I did not stop checking facebook, I just stopped posting.  I did not cut out my sweets, I just didn’t go out of my way to eat them.  I did not stop watching TV with my son, the whole family got sick and that was all we could do.  With just two weeks left I’m calling this Lent a spectacular disaster.

I suppose, though, that if I look at it honestly – I did become more aware of my utter brokenness.  I am now, more than ever, aware that I fail at being good on my own.  So I guess it wasn’t a complete disaster.  In fact, I suppose, I kind of actually accomplished something in my failure.  Or maybe I’m just saying that to feel better. Who knows?

I guess I’ll just keep being me, and keep trying (and failing) and eventually, maybe, I’ll get the hang of this thing called faith.  If not, it will probably continue to be quite an adventure…

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing you have made
and forgive the sins of all who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts,
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1979 Book of Common Prayer (source)

My prayers are tiny and my soul weary; I look forward to Lent for the renewal of my spirit.

I think this year I will observe Lent.  I found a great set of questions on Rachel Held Evan’s blog that helped me make the decision to do so.  I really like her (and her blog), even more now that I know she agrees with one of my basic tenets I hold close to my heart: that really, everyone is broken

I had already been thinking about Lent this year, thinking about changing a behavior, thinking about the timing, thinking a lot of things.  When I saw that RHE’s feed had a post on ideas for Lent I was all ears.  The first question I read on her list almost knocked the breath out of me:

When I wake up on Resurrection Sunday morning, how will I be different?

Well.  In all the times I have observed Lent, I don’t think I ever took the time to ask myself that question.

Growing up in a Pentecostal church gave me a pretty decent grasp of the bible, but did not help me learn anything about the history of the church.  I mean that seriously.  We never learned about the differences between catholic and protestant, or about how communion is different in different churches, or why some people baptise and some sprinkle.  For the most part that stuff wasn’t even on my radar at all.

Over the past, say, 10 years or so, I have met many people who have opened my eyes to a different way of looking at my faith: a way that is steeped in history and culture.  While I find it creates for a much messier faith, I think it is also much more beautiful.  Over those ten years I have attended pentecostal churches, non-denominational churches, emerging churches, catholic churches, episcopal churches, baptist churches, and methodist churches.  Each one had its purpose to increase my education and help shape me into the person I am now.  Each church helped shape my faith in a different way.

So now, even though I attend a baptist church, I still keep in mind the little bit of education on Church traditions and history I’ve gotten over the years.  For instance, even though my current church doesn’t follow it, I love the church calendar.  I fell in love with it when I attended one of the Episcopal churches in Houston.  I love how each church season creates a new focus in your walk with Christ.  How we focus on Jesus’ sacrifice building up to Easter and we celebrate his birth in Advent.  The first time I received ashes on Ash Wednesday I spent the rest of the evening feeling like I was walking on holy ground – or better yet, as if my body was marked as holy.  I never knew there could be so much holiness in an action, but I found that there was. 

While I try to observe the church calendar I don’t always have it all figured out.  Like others, I’m sure, I am learning as I go.  I always viewed Lent as a way to put myself in Jesus’ shoes when he fasted 40 days in the wilderness.  I knew it was supposed to make me a better person and draw me closer to God, but those goals have always been pretty undefined. 

The question: “How will I be different?” makes me look at Lent as more than just the very generic “self-improvement” or “exercise in holiness.”  Suddenly I don’t want to look at Lent either of those things, or even as a time for me to give up my bad habits (I should give those up anyways) but more as a time to remove something from my life in the hope that after 40 days without it I might possibly be more Christ-like.  Suddenly my priority has shifted from looking internally in a selfish way, but looking internally in a holy way.  I like this.

With all this in mind, I’ll spend the next few days praying and trying to decide what to “give up.”  I think I’m going to go to one of the local churches that has a Ash Wednesday service, too, since I don’t think mine will have one.  I don’t know that I necessarily “look forward” to the next few weeks, but I do hope they are helpful to me in the long run.  We shall see.

She is running
A hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction

I would like someone to write a song, please.  I don’t have the skill for songwriting.  I would like you to model it after “Does Anybody Hear Her?” by Casting Crowns.  I would like you to tell a different side of the story.

She is trying but the canyon’s ever widening
In the depths of her cold heart

The song is about a broken woman who wants love and acceptance and help from the people of the church but does not get the help she needs.  I would like you to write a song about the people who offer love and acceptance and help to a broken person… to no avail. 

So she sets out on another misadventure just to find
She’s another two years older
And she’s three more steps behind

I would like you to talk about how heartbreaking it is to sit beside them and watch them run in the wrong direction.

Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?
Or does anybody even know she’s going down today?

I would like you to talk about having an opportunity to help them.  About how scary it is when they move in to your world and how happy and hopeful you are that this time, this time it will be different.

Under the shadow of our steeple
With all the lost and lonely people
Searching for the hope that’s tucked away in you and me
Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?

Sometimes we do see.  Sometimes we see the hurting, and the broken, and the bruised.  Sometimes we say to ourselves: Hey, we should be like Jesus and try to help them.  Sometimes they ask for help and you see an opportunity.

 She is yearning for shelter and affection
That she never found at home

So we invite them into our world.  We take them to church.  We hug them and cry with them.  We feed them and clothe them and pray for them and with them.  Sometimes it works for a while. 

She is searching for a hero to ride in
To ride in and save the day

Sometimes you tell them their worth and they nod, and they smile, but they don’t believe it.  You tell them to have faith in their own worth.  You tell them that they are God’s precious and loved child, and their lips say “I know” while their heart can’t believe it yet.

You pray for them.  You kneel at your bed and you cry for their soul.  You pray that God will give you the words you need to reach them in the midst of their brokenness. 

And in walks her prince charming
And he knows just what to say
Momentary lapse of reason
And she gives herself away

And then… then they tell you that they’re leaving.  That they’ve found another path, another way out, one that doesn’t involve the hard work of facing the pain.  They’re leaving so they don’t have to deal with someone loving them, but telling them that they need to make better (and admittedly more difficult) choices.

If judgment looms under every steeple
If lofty glances from lofty people
Can’t see past her scarlet letter
And we’ve never even met her

You watch them go.  Despite the sacrifice of time and energy you watch them leave.  You know it’s fruitless.  You know they’re not ready to change.  You’ve seen for some time now that your argument was ineffective. 

One of the worst parts about this, in my opinion, is that when it’s all said and done there is a small part of you that is relieved it’s over.  Don’t get me wrong: the overwhelming emotion is grief and sadness.  But there is also relief tinged with guilt – relief that your time of sacrifice is over, and guilt at being relieved.  How can you be relieved they’re going back to their broken life?  But you’re human, and you’re glad that this means less stress and sacrifice to you and your family.

And there’s a bit of doubt.  Did I try hard enough? Did I show them enough love? Could I have changed the situation a bit and had more success?

The important thing to remember here, and the thing I have to remind myself, is that I can’t fix anyone.  I can’t make them better.  Only God can.   That is what I hold on to.  When I feel all these emotions so strongly, I remind myself that God is the great physician and we are his broken church.  Ultimately, He is the one who heals.  We just point people in His direction.    

So, dear reader, if you decide to write a song about one of the other sides of “Does Anybody Hear Her” then please make sure you talk about how in the end, God is the great transformer…not us.  I know I’m asking a lot, and I know you probably won’t write a song about such a sad and helpless place, but my request has been made. 

I’d like a song that reminds me that sometimes we fail, but at least we tried.

(all italicized words from “Does Anybody Hear Her” by Casting Crowns from their album Lifesong.)

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