A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Page 2 of 29

On Finding the Upside of the Downside

It’s very possible I’m showing my age with this. But remember One Fine Day with George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer? He’s Jack, popular reporter and ladies’ man; she’s Melanie, overprotective single mother. Of course, they’re starting to fall in love. At one point:

Melanie: I-I realize it’s difficult what with, uh, Celia, Kristen, Elaine.

Jack (pauses, looks at her): I know your name, Mel.

This is what I like: I get that sometimes, you just want to know someone sees you. That you’re not just another name.

Maybe that’s why the words from Isaiah are whispering through my brain nearly once a day right now: See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.

I know your name, Janel.

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An Open Letter to a Mom of Young Kids

Hey.

I don’t know how you found time to read this. But then again, it’s possible you were hoping for a sliver of personal time. (The short people in your house are maybe sleeping.) Maybe you wanted to be reminded you’ll make it through this. Um, and that everything in your house will not always be sticky. That there is a REM cycle in your future.

And that you’re not alone.

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Memos from a Landing: Thoughts on a Bumpy Transition

Well—we did it.

We got on the plane.

After four months of playing some crazy game show of “Pack, Trash, Sell or Give?” with all our stuff ad nauseam, settling our respective work into trustworthy hands, and enough heartrending goodbyes that at the end my heart was twisted dry—we neatly quietly faithfully? closed the chapter of our lives that is Africa.

Well. Scratch that, too. Africa’s far too kneaded into us, far too braided into the fabric that is us. And the work continues in Uganda, even if at a distance for us.

I now find myself in that odd twilight that is having arrived, but my life still flayed open like a cardboard box. The pieces of me are finding niches, or seeking one, or temporarily cast aside, or still hiding out. I’m that inevitable bin at the end when you’re unpacking, where you dumped all the spare randomness. Where in the world should this go?

Transition can feel…bereft.

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6 Lifelines for the Season When It Feels Like God’s Against You

Recently I sat with a friend who’s undergone such remarkable suffering over short years. I should tell you: She’ll be the first one to respond with hope. But I can also tell that what she has is faith, not answers. I can see question marks curling around, pointing her year after year to the God who will, someday (and even now) reward those who earnestly seek Him. Her sinewy, muscled joy is built on what she can’t see; on decisions of trust she makes over and over again.

Since I’ve been army-crawling through my own questions lately—today I’m yanking together some of the best advice I’ve received for seasons when God seems…away.

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A Mountain of [Surprising] Reasons to Get Our Kids Outdoors this Summer (…and Maybe Follow Them)

In all honesty, with my house still lined with cardboard moving boxes, camping was not at the top of my priority. When my dad burst into a rendition of a song entitled (I kid you not) “We’re Going Camping Now!”, I admit to replying with a chipper, “Whether we like it or not!” I could barely find underwear for everyone. I’d been in some form of transitional housing for the last year. Let’s go sleep in a tent without a shower!

But as we wove through the mountains, I had to admit that maybe it was good this was blacked out on the calendar. How long had it been since I’d been able to tell everyday life “Stop. For right now, just stop”?

My sheepishness reached its hilt the next day when my kids’ skin was glittering and shivering as they picked their way through the river, counting rainbow trout and daring each other to duck beneath the current. Their courage and confidence mounted before my eyes. The spikes of pine behind them were stunning; the rock formations solid and timeless.

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What comes to mind when you think “refugee”?

For key thoughts on this important topic, make sure to check out this post on ways and reasons to welcome refugees.

“Teacha!” He loped across the pavement to me where I stood shaded beneath the tailgate of my high-clearance minivan.

At 6’5” and change, he couldn’t fit. In fact, the two of us are a caricature of opposites. His skin is the stuff of 80% cacao chocolate. Parts of mine are Cinderella-white (though Africa worked hard to darken me permanently with sun spots). Like his Sudanese ancestors, he’s built like a marionette; still, when he throws that rangy arm over my shoulder, he dwarfs my genetically Swiss shoulders and barrel chest.

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: (Relatively) Painless Ideas to Help Kids Share Their Faith

New to this series? For the thoughts behind it, start here.

It was yesterday, walking to a train, that we met her—I’ll call her Gretchen. Conversation unfolded among us in the blistering sunshine. We were all drawn in by the details of her home country; the stories of her life there. At thirty, Gretchen is pretty and successful. She vacations around the world.

Perhaps that’s why I was intrigued by both my daughter and my son after disembarking the train, when she’d warmly wished us well and waved to us out the window. Completely separately, they asked me if we could pray for her, that she’d know Jesus, too.

I could tell you this is because I’m some kind of fantastic parent, but if anything, I hope you’ve picked up through this blog that I’m muscling my way through this parenting thing like anything else. (I’m sure perfect parenting is on the next blog over from mine.)

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Freebie Friday: FREE Printable Chalkboard Art–God, Give Us Discomfort, Anger, and Foolishness

This week, I’m moving back from Africa to the U.S. Rather than writing you a half-baked post, I opted for chalkboard art–an artistic version of this challenging Franciscan benediction:

Free printable chalkboard art God discomfort anger foolishness Franciscan blessing

 

God, give us discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that instead we may live deep within our hearts.

Grant us anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may wish for justice, freedom, and peace.

Bless us with enough foolishness to believe we can make a difference in the world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.

May God encourage you wherever you’re at, changing your little corner of the world for His renown.

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How am I supposed to have joy when my world’s a wreck?

joy in sorrow

It needs to be said: I am a teeny bit of a freak show right now.

Yesterday, we moved out of our house, which was (after months of supreme effort) stripped and echoing, like a rumbling empty stomach. A half an hour before we left, we said goodbye to our dogs, who wagged their tails obliviously down the dirt road on their leashes with their new owners. (My children were in tears.) We said goodbye to our closest Ugandan friends. (My husband and I were in tears.) We prayed in a tight circle on the front lawn.

It was at least a month ago when my husband looked at me, my face pink and slimy again from tears that seemed to squeeze out at all the wrong times for months on end. He said, “I’m not frustrated you’re crying. I’m just remembering that you’re grieving, and that takes a long time.”

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I, Robot: 6 Ways to Preserve the Humanity around You

When I was young, my dad regularly mortified me at restaurants throughout the Midwest. We’d be at Hardee’s, say. And he insisted in calling the waitress—there behind the counter, awaiting my straightforward order for a chili dog—by the name on her plastic nametag. As if she were another old friend, of which he had innumerable others not just in our small town, but a substantial radius around it. She would inevitably smile beneath that brown visor. At twelve, I simply wanted to crawl beneath a Formica table next to the French fry fragments and Rorschach blots of dried ketchup and wait out my dad’s exuberant friendliness.

Nowadays–you saw this one coming: I’m the one using the Starbucks barista’s name.

Maybe my dad primed me for one of my perennial takeaways from Africa: greeting everyone, even before you, say, ask where the olives are at the supermarket. There’s even a greeting, I learned, for people you pass on the road. (When I use it, yes—I’m the one now drawing a grin from a stranger. All they need is a visor. Or a nametag.)

An African friend explained that she believes it even prevents crime. When you make a relational contact with someone, even briefly, it simply…humanizes them. As in a quote I read long ago, hatred ends when you can see yourself in the eyes of another.

I am reminded of this in the words of the communal prayer, Brother, I greet the Christ in you. And this is what I’m chewing on today: how, in an increasingly automated world, we can acknowledge God’s image in people around us in simple ways.

My home culture is full of delightful doodads like ATM’s and self-checkouts. But as efficiency rises in importance—uh, a quality falling admittedly below my expectations in Africa—the relational element shrinks, out of necessity. People can become means to an end, not unlike machines. When they don’t produce in the expected manner and timeframe, there’s more opportunity for irritation.

Once, sitting at Arby’s and admittedly shoveling people into what I deemed their appropriate mental categories, I was convicted by a quote of C.S. Lewis:

The dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare… It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal… it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.  (The Weight of Glory, 1949, emphasis added)

Obviously there’s a place for us to be task-oriented. But today, just in case you’re not the use-the-waitress’-name type: A few practical ideas to preserve the human in the imago Dei around us.

  1. Lean in.

    Someone once gave me good, simple advice about panhandlers: look them in the eyes, even if you don’t plan to give. When someone’s in pain, I can find myself in the mental equivalent of rolling up my windows and locking my doors—not just in self-protection, but simply because I don’t know what to do. Taking any form of responsibility is simply overwhelming. One of my takeaways from the Good Samaritan: He didn’t step around the guy in front of him. In Isaiah 58, God pleads, Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? No, I’m not suggesting we be the savior of the world. Africa, for one, is overwhelming if every problem is mine. In a sea of broken people, I try to see what fits within 1 Peter 5: Shepherd the flock of God that is among you. Who’s among me? Let’s start there.

  2. See people for their stories rather than their role toward us.

    Remember the impossibility that your kindergarten teacher actually went home and had a life outside of your elementary school? From the checker in Wal-Mart to the janitor at the mall, we empower people when we imagine and honor the context they’re coming from. A friend once wisely counseled me to see my mom not just as my mom, but as a woman. Somehow, this clicked in me. What are her hopes and desires outside of what I want, outside of her and I?

  3. See people for more than their labels—and let them wiggle outside of the labels we’ve stuck on.

    Labels can either be tools to understand or tools to maintain distance, right? From personality tests, to race and culture, to besetting sins—labels are only helpful so far as they help us to more accurately comprehend and compassionately respond. Be consistently hungry for stereotype-busters, even within the labels people use to define themselves.

  4. Hear the message tucked inside the words.

    This was advice given to my husband and I before we were married: In an argument, try to hear what the person’s saying rather than how they’re saying it. Ever been in a disagreement with someone who was kind enough to hear the real questions you were asking, rather than just the (irritated, misspoken, inflamed) way you actually said it? It’s a game-changer.

  5. Call rather than text or email. Visit rather than call.

    Presence matters! God’s Word became flesh and lived among us. Take time to relate with an extra degree of face-to-face time. This is especially with potentially negative information.

  6. Respect their “no’s”.

    If people are more than what they do for us, we can receive and cheer on their reasonably healthy boundaries, even if we don’t understand them. Without being overbearing, I can even dignify people and their own needs by encouraging them to set boundaries despite what I want. For us here in Africa, this meant that we declined offers for people to work at our home on Sundays, even if it meant a level of inconvenience for us. (Some of our African friends find it hard to take a Sabbath, because it’s a chance to earn much-needed money.) As Peter Scazzero suggests in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, it’s all too easy to become “human doings” rather than “human beings.” Communicate dignity by celebrating boundaries in others—and even yourself.

 

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