A Deeper Story http://deeperstory.com Tales of Christ and Culture Wed, 23 Apr 2014 14:30:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Well, you know http://deeperstory.com/well-you-know/ http://deeperstory.com/well-you-know/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 09:00:56 +0000 http://deeperstory.com/?p=17430 "Day 137: Bed Time" by Tom Small
 
Attribution-ShareAlike LicenseI. The other day I was wondering why A Deeper Story doesn’t feature more stories about sex. Not about the politics of sex, or the abuse of sex. Sex. But then I realized that stories about sex are called erotica and, well, this is the Family channel. Sex is private. We shouldn’t talk about it publicly [...]]]> "Day 137: Bed Time" by Tom Small   Attribution-ShareAlike License

“Day 137: Bed Time” by Tom Small
Attribution-ShareAlike License

I.

The other day I was wondering why A Deeper Story doesn’t feature more stories about sex. Not about the politics of sex, or the abuse of sex. Sex. But then I realized that stories about sex are called erotica and, well, this is the Family channel.

Sex is private. We shouldn’t talk about it publicly – and certainly not in the church (Song of Songs notwithstanding). It will make people uncomfortable. It will make me uncomfortable. It’s how we all came to be, yet we compulsively secret it under layers of myth and shame  -  except, of course, when it might be useful for the marketing of consumer goods. I worry that there aren’t enough true stories going around. I know there aren’t enough good stories going around.

 I’m biased, but I think my story is both true and good.

 

II.

We spent the early married years trying to figure it all out. What felt good (physically, emotionally). What hurt (physically, emotionally). We stepped into minefields we knew about and even more we didn’t. We identified where our natural boundaries fell, and pondered whether it was worth it to transgress them. We learned to live within the extraordinary intimacy of sharing our whole selves. The juxtapositions of marriage are intense: in any given day, you eat and worship and fight and – well. You know.

 

III.

We had kids.

This is a story that has been told, and told again. The body changes; parts that used to be for this were now for that. There is pain that lasts longer than those tidy six week’s she’s given to heal. Desire dies an untimely death and, upon resurrection, is rudely interrupted.

 

IV.

Our youngest is going on three now, and we’re not likely to have another. There is a slow shifting from the childbearing years to a new era- an era in which the children are still young yet no longer prevail upon my body in nearly so needy a fashion. It turns out that desire as we once knew it did die, but that this is in fact a good thing. There is a new iteration, and it’s better. It turns out that even the most extraordinary intimacies of our pre-kid days were pale in comparison. Maybe I would miss my twenty-five-year-old body if I weren’t so much more capable of being naked in my thirty-three-year-old skin.

 

V.

The other day I heard a John Legend song while I was driving back to church after lunch. I’ve never really been a love song kind of girl. This one caught me.

All of me

Loves all of you

Love your curves and all your edges

All your perfect imperfections

I couldn’t turn off the radio until it was over. I marveled at the grace of finding a new love song for a love story that’s twelve years old, a love story that has had its share of imperfections, perfect and otherwise. That night, after the girls were asleep, I turned the lights out and played the song for my husband.

And… well, you know.

 

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The 5 Stages of (Faith) Loss http://deeperstory.com/the-5-stages-of-faith-loss/ http://deeperstory.com/the-5-stages-of-faith-loss/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 09:00:05 +0000 http://deeperstory.com/?p=17481 train tracksYou were a good Christian. You memorized all the Bible verses in Sunday school. You prayed at the flagpole on the fourth Wednesday of September. You wore the t-shirts and read your Bible and you were a good, devoted “on fire” kind of Christian. How could you have seen this coming? Denial At first you [...]]]> train tracks

You were a good Christian. You memorized all the Bible verses in Sunday school. You prayed at the flagpole on the fourth Wednesday of September. You wore the t-shirts and read your Bible and you were a good, devoted “on fire” kind of Christian. How could you have seen this coming?

Denial

At first you keep going, one week after another. Maybe this church. Maybe that one. I can get through this, you think as you stand up, sit down, Greet your neighbor.

You lift your hands when everyone else lifts theirs, read the Scripture, underline the pretty words, hoping that if you just engage with the text in the same way you used to, it will come back to life for you.

In the church foyer, someone asks you how you’re doing, and you say, “Fine! Good!” because you don’t know how to tell the truth. Because you never really learned how to tell the truth in a church foyer in all of those years of in and out and Hallelujah and Amen!

Denial, denial, denial of self. You perform the same old rituals again and again to show God you’re serious, because somehow you learned that God loves a busy Christian. This is stage one.

Anger

You start tentatively saying the word shit, and before long, you’ve worked your way up to fuck. These forbidden words seem the only language sturdy enough for your anger and pain, so you use them again and again and again.

You begin to call them “Church People,” and you take a certain amount of comfort in pointing out their faults. Petty. Judgmental. Closed-minded. Sometimes you even stoop to critiquing their clothes, their personalities, their mannerisms. You’re so angry that once you start pointing out faults you can’t stop.

Somewhere, in your rational mind, you realize that this is not really about them ­– these particular people. You don’t really know them, and they don’t know you, and that makes you all the more enraged. You lump them together and focus your rage at the whole amorphous group of them. Church People. This is stage two.

Bargaining

It was because of that church, you think. It was that person who did this to me. You begin to assign blame. If only you hadn’t dated him, gone to that conference, gotten mixed up with those people or that leader or this particular brand of theology.

You try to regain control in whatever ways you can. You go out at night and drink too much, and it’s almost like you’re daring God to intervene. If you care, show up! Come get me! Give me a sign. You shove yourself in a bathroom stall and puke…and he does.

Maybe this isn’t your exact story, but the stages are probably the same. We rage and anger and bargain in different ways – but the pattern remains. We are losing something. We are terrified, trying to talk our way out of it. This is stage three.

Depression

Maybe it looks like grief. Crying. Worry. Regret.

Maybe it looks like a dark hole, deep and lonely. Maybe you crawl in there for a while and then when you’re ready to be done, you find you can’t get out.

Maybe it lasts a few days or a few weeks. Maybe you lose a year. Maybe two.

Maybe you don’t know how to acknowledge what was going on, to verbalize it. No one told you it was okay to ask questions. Somewhere along the road, you learned that to say, “I feel like I’m losing faith,” was a sin in and of itself – a failure of eternal significance. So you keep your mouth shut tight.

Maybe the simple experience of depression turns to Clinical Depression, and you find yourself lost there for a while. This is what happened to me. Stage four.

Acceptance (Pt. I)

The therapist turns on the light machine and you begin to work through the past. “How did that make you feel?” she asks, and you try to remember.

You say that you can’t figure out how to pray anymore, and she looks at you gently. “That’s okay,” she says. “That’s okay.”

It’s impossible to tell sometimes the difference between change and loss. The two feel so much the same. You are outgrowing a version of yourself; you are moving on, and there is grief in all of its hard stages. In all of its agony.

But really, this is all part of it. You are cycling out of one thing and toward something new. You are changing. This is the hard, beautiful work of becoming. This is the nature of faith.

Acceptance (Pt. II)

You begin to sort it out, and it’s painful and it’s purposeful. Don’t mistake “acceptance” for happily every after. This is not the end of the story. This is the beginning of a new journey. This is the stage you’ll be working through for the rest of your life.

You read new books. You learn how to say things out loud. You take some medicine. You begin to work out your salvation in simple, honest ways: Eat. Sleep. Go outside. Rest.

And all acceptance really means is to receive, to take. You look again at your broken changing faith and figure out that God looks different than you once thought. But he is here. He was always here.

You open your hands, and you feel them overflow with Love.

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Why I Still Can’t Bring Myself to Leave the Church http://deeperstory.com/why-i-still-cant-bring-myself-to-leave-the-church/ http://deeperstory.com/why-i-still-cant-bring-myself-to-leave-the-church/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 00:49:01 +0000 http://deeperstory.com/?p=18359 There is some debate but the worlds largest organism, according to some brief, preliminary research on Google, is either the 200 ton blue whale, a fungus in the Blue Mountains of Oregon covering over 2,000 acres of land, or what is known as “Pando,” a single quaking aspen that covers 106 acres of land and [...]]]>

There is some debate but the worlds largest organism, according to some brief, preliminary research on Google, is either the 200 ton blue whale, a fungus in the Blue Mountains of Oregon covering over 2,000 acres of land, or what is known as “Pando,” a single quaking aspen that covers 106 acres of land and weighs an estimated 6,000 metric tons. Pando is located by Fish Lake in South-Central Utah, and, if you believe in Old Earth Creationism, could contain shoots from a clone over 80,000 years old.  Some may be asking the question, “What exactly constitutes an organism? Because trees can’t possibly count!” That’s what I first said, however, according to one definition, an organism is a set of genetically identical cells that are in communication with one another and have a common purpose or can at least organize themselves to do something, i.e., a group of tress or fungus could therefore be considered an organism because of identical cell structure and purpose.

This struck me as curious because in the orthodox Christian faith tradition we who call ourselves members belong to another organism, the Church, capital C, a network of believers gathered together with a common ideology, purpose, and, well not cell structure, but one could say a “redefined, similar interior being.” A whole made up of interdependent parts, perhaps not in very good communication with one another and perhaps at times arguing about just what exactly our common purpose is, but a family and an organism nonetheless.

Most of the time, this bugs the crap out of me. It means I am in “family” and “a part of” people and organizations that most of the time I want nothing to do with. It means that under the Church, we are all equal. None of our specific views or ideologies or beliefs are necessarily better than any other once we get out of the realm of basic Christian belief (by this I mean, basic confession of faith such as sin, grace, redemption, Jesus, etc.). There are those who might disagree, which just goes to illustrate my point further—we are very easily divided. And yet ideally, and perhaps even theologically, we are still united together in our common faith. Some of us might believe war is wrong and others that it’s necessary. Some of us might believe homosexuality is a sin and others may have come to a different conclusion through scripture. Some of us might believe in speaking in tongues and others, not so much. But we are still of the same organism.

How does this work? I’m not exactly sure. I’m sure I could whip up a fairly accurate theological supposition, and yet it seems there is still some mystery involved. Like the other day, when I found myself in church, white coffee cup in hand, eyes crusted from lack of sleep, thinking, “Is all of this even real? Is it? Is church really more than just a club or organization we seek out for belonging?”

I had a friend named Lauren in college. She was a strong Christian, a leader, and a respected woman. After college we lost touch for a year or so and when I saw her again a year later she confessed to me that she was no longer a Christian and felt like most of her faith in college was done solely out of a desire to be a part of community. I understood.

Sometimes I find myself sitting in church, feeling nothing, and can’t help but think that surely this isn’t God’s way of saving the world. Surely there must be some other plan, something more exciting in store. And yet faith and scripture tell us otherwise. It can be hard to believe in faith and scripture above one’s own feelings. If I were going off feelings alone I’d probably never go to church. This week especially (post-World Vision frenzy) it’s hard to look at either the Church or the world and not think we’re all doomed. I look at the world and I see despair. I want to look at the church and God for redemption but lately I find my belief in both wavering.

A song that’s always haunted me is, “Secret of the Easy Yoke” by Pedro the Lion. The first stanza goes like this:

 
I could hear the church bells ringing
they pealed aloud your praise
the member’s faces were smiling
with their hands outstretched to shake
it’s true they did not move me
my heart was hard and tired
their perfect fire annoyed me
I could not find you anywhere
could someone please tell me the story
of sinners ransomed from the fall
I still have never seen you, and somedays
I don’t love you at all

 

It’s pretty rough stuff. It’s basically how I feel every Sunday. Each day at church spins me out because I feel like I should have more faith, more resolve, more feeling. And yet I guess that’s why they call it faith. Because it does not hinge on what you feel for the day. I’m not talking about blind submission to religion; I’m talking about belief in something that is good and bigger than yourself. This is faith. It’s what I try to believe in. And why I need a community of believers around me, i.e., the “Church” to help me regain vision when the fog and blindness descend. It’s not much but I guess it’s why I haven’t left yet, even though I feel like I should have by now.

 

 

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A Stroke of Bad Luck that looked more like Selfishness. http://deeperstory.com/a-stroke-of-bad-luck-that-looked-more-like-selfishness/ http://deeperstory.com/a-stroke-of-bad-luck-that-looked-more-like-selfishness/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 09:00:11 +0000 http://deeperstory.com/?p=17768 stormhouseThe words we held spoke clearer then, on the couch miles apart.  Our eyes turned inward unable to see the bliss which so enraptured us in the months before when valiantly broad words such as ‘forever’ and ‘love’ and ‘I do’ rang joyously from our ready to speak mouths.  But then on the couch, as [...]]]> stormhouse

The words we held spoke clearer then, on the couch miles apart.  Our eyes turned inward unable to see the bliss which so enraptured us in the months before when valiantly broad words such as ‘forever’ and ‘love’ and ‘I do’ rang joyously from our ready to speak mouths.  But then on the couch, as far apart as strangers strangely aware of intimate knowledge of each other, then encased in silent defiance, not so much.  The both of us there in the moment okay with undoing the sacred us.  We’ve been married nearly five months.

She’d never been a wife or mother before.  I’d never been married again before.

Independence dies slowly at the hand of a hesitant love.

I couldn’t understand her frustration with me and my lack of initiative in areas that I didn’t value in the same way she did.  After all, I was busy with a growing to-do list at work, a book being readied to release, managing the projected idea of me always being okay, friends that I couldn’t keep up with and daughters still wrestling with too much change in too little time.  I am a freight train rushing headlong into dreams pushing against the rails that hold me on course, and she can’t understand that?  She can’t empathize with the pressure I put on myself and my lack of time to get some things done?

She’s a strong woman whose chest houses a heart burning to love and unafraid of taking on too much.  Her shoulders are stronger than they should be.  With a delicate touch she came into us caught up in our own little adventure just as she always belonged.  No one small could’ve done so.  She’s not small at all; her heart swallows it all – love and pain.

Most days then, just a few months into us, we basked in the happiness, amazed that the pieces fit so well.  We were a family that fit but felt the sutures pull in the strain.

Each day approximately 1300 new blended families join together in our country – pieces broken that break more to fit together.  A staggering 60-70% of those new blended families end in failure breaking again.  Deficient communication and a lackluster love are the culprits pushing the majority of blended families over the edge to another ending.  One thing’s for sure, blended families are not for the faint of heart, or stubborn, or independent.  Blending a family is much like learning to love a person well with an interactive audience giving applause and blame.  In some scenes we bow as one and in others one of us walks off early.  Time will always give space for love to mature and everything to settle strongly, but most blended families end within a year, not allowing time to age love appropriately.  Our commitment was one shorter than forever, for we knew forever would come if we unquestionably held tight in the beginning.

My inability to understand her frustration made for a clumsy love of me pulling her close to me rather than me meeting her and loving her in a place of us.  What resembled a stroke of bad luck in forgotten commitments and lack of initiative in getting things done important to strengthening of us was nothing more than a selfishness protected by me.  Instead of admitting fault – that would be loving us well – I recoiled and lashed back that she was insensitive to me.  As it turns out, she was being insensitive to me in the name of loving us more than me.  There are her strong shoulders.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,… In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,” (Eph. 5:25)

So just as my selfishness served to protect only me, an always giving love will build us shelter protecting us from the storms that too often undo blended families.

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One Last Stop http://deeperstory.com/one-last-stop/ http://deeperstory.com/one-last-stop/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 19:15:10 +0000 http://deeperstory.com/?p=17663 250x250-Square-SW-20130731by Chris Marlow Chris Marlow is the founder of Help One Now and has dedicated his life to seeking justice by empowering leaders and organizing tribes to launch global movements that do good. He currently lives in downtown Raleigh, NC with his wife and two daughters. www.chrismarlow.me | Twitter | Facebook.   Back in 2007, [...]]]> by Chris Marlow

Marlow-65

Chris Marlow is the founder of Help One Now and has dedicated his life to seeking justice by empowering leaders and organizing tribes to launch global movements that do good. He currently lives in downtown Raleigh, NC with his wife and two daughters.

www.chrismarlow.me | Twitter | Facebook.

 

Back in 2007, I was driving down a one lane road in Zimbabwe, then a country on the verge of a total collapse. This was my first visit to Africa. My Zimbabwean friend asked a simple question: “May we make one last stop to see some kids at this gas station down the road?”

Now, we had just driven over 20 hours. It was 4:00 in the morning and I did not want to make “one last stop.”

But God did. He needed to pluck me from the comforts of my American Christianity and drop me in the middle of reality, slap me the face, and say, “Wake up! Don’t you see the world around you?”

“Sure. One last stop.”

At the gas station, there were dozens of kids sleeping together on the ground, cuddled close to stay warm. This gas station was their makeshift home. We got out of the van and I was immediately surrounded. These kids were desperate – for love and attention, for food and clothing, for hope and a future.

One boy grabbed my hand in a tight grip and said, “Sir, thank you for visiting my country. I’m so sorry it’s in the shape that it’s in. I don’t want to beg you for food, but I’ve had nothing to eat for days. Is there any work I can do for you, so I can get something to eat?”

“No, I have nothing for you. No.”

That was my response to an 8-year-old orphan’s desperate request for help. I turned away.

DS-001-5521

 

photo credit: Scott Wade

I spent the next few days in a constant state of repentance, telling God that I was sorry for my lack of action. I was overwhelmed with emotion, heartbroken by my own apathy and ignorance.

Thankfully, we serve a God who has explosive grace that is so wide and deep, and so far beyond our human imagination.

We also serve a God who is on a mission, and he uses His people to fulfill that mission. He will do what is necessary, to get each of us to live a live that goes beyond our own comforts, desires and needs. You have gifts, passions, resources and time to make a difference.

A year later, we started Help One Now, and we’re committed to to empowering local leaders to serve orphans and transform their community through holistic development work. Including Zimbabwe. It’s been amazing to see how much work we’ve been able to accomplish.

How Do We Solve The Problem?

I ask myself that question all the time–and I’m not sure I have all the answers–but here is what I know.

We need to empower the church to do good, and we need to ensure that we don’t try and do good and change the world by our own strength and wisdom.

That is a recipe for burnout. We’re not sprinting; we’re running a marathon.

We need to lean into God’s strength and wisdom. We must cast our burdens on Him. We need to pray, hope, rally together and serve our neighbors who are in need and suffering from extreme poverty.

What If Doing Good Was Simple?

I’ve come to realize that most of us are terribly busy. Our society and our own brokenness causes us to constantly be moving forward. This can be good and bad.

I also know that it’s simply impossible to write a check every time you hear a story of suffering. Being generous is amazing and necessary, but we can’t just ask people to give over and over.

If we do, it will cause damage and an unhealthy culture. Scripture reminds us not to become weary in doing good.

Of course, the harsh reality is this: money moves the mission forward. Money creates the foundation to establish long-term, sustainable change in communities that are suffering from extreme poverty.

250x250-Square-SW-20130731

So, a few years ago, we had an idea – Garage Sale For Orphans. It was simple. What if families, friends, neighbors, small groups, churches, businesses and students rallied together and hosted a Garage Sale for Orphans party? Each party raised money for a specific project that they’re passionate about.

The idea spread like a wild fire. Soon, we had people hosting parties all via word-of-mouth all over the country.

In the last 2 years, we’ve raised over $300,000. Those funds have rescued 25 kids from trafficking in Haiti, provided clean water for orphans in Zimbabwe, and helped move families out of tents and into homes in Haiti.

We now have a goal to raise $1,000,000 in the next two years. We need 1000 people to say “yes; I will do that! I will rally my friends together and throw a garage sale party.”

So, will you join us and throw a garage sale party in 2014?

Make one last stop, friend.

P.S. Several of the writers from A Deeper Story – Sarah Bessey, Erika Morrison, and Amber Haines – are with us in Haiti right now! Click here to follow along with their trip.

http://vimeo.com/69480472

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God Has A Body http://deeperstory.com/god-has-a-body/ http://deeperstory.com/god-has-a-body/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 09:00:43 +0000 http://deeperstory.com/?p=17351 9854925446_a744f87b8d_bGod has a body, they said. God walked on the earth and blew dust out of his nose and laughed with his friends. God took on human flesh so we, human flesh, could be with God. God had to become a body, they said. And I believed it. I saw the pictures, growing up; I [...]]]> 9854925446_a744f87b8d_b

God has a body, they said.

God walked on the earth and blew dust out of his nose and laughed with his friends. God took on human flesh so we, human flesh, could be with God. God had to become a body, they said. And I believed it.

I saw the pictures, growing up; I saw the pictures of God on flannel graphs and coloring pages and in the Jesus storybooks and on TV. I liked God.

God had a body, but it wasn’t a body like mine.

It wasn’t a body with breasts that grew, with hips that expanded, with a uterus that bled regularly, with cramps that made him throw up every month. It wasn’t a body that was warned against, and called a stumbling block.

It wasn’t a body that was called unclean and prevented from participating in community and worship. It wasn’t a body that kept him on the edge of society, that made him property, or that made him less than other human bodies in public because of his private parts. It wasn’t a body that was silenced, just for being a certain gender of body.

It wasn’t a body like mine.

*****

There were eight people in my house growing up, and the bathroom was the only door that locked. And even though it offered peace to lock the door and turn on the shower, it was only a matter of time before someone else came pounding, letting you know that they wanted in and your time was up.

Our bodies are like that, too. Sometimes I can hear mine creaking already: Your time is running out.

You’re just a body.

The water encourages the crisis as it pounds down on my skin. It’s terribly vulnerable to be just me and my body and soap. Even as I scrub away the old skin cells to release the new, I am losing parts of myself. I am growing older. Bits of me run down the drain, and they are not me anymore.

I’ve heard people say that they sing in the shower because of the acoustics; the mix of steam and glass and high ceiling cushions the pitch of the song. But my shower is ripe with existential crisis, and I sing so I don’t cry.

*****

God had a body, they say.

But it’s not a woman’s body.

It’s not a body that is feared and controlled and abused and abandoned and coerced, like the bodies of women all over the world. It’s not a body that is passed over for promotions and speaking platforms, equality and the ability to make decisions for the intimate parts of that body. It’s not a body that is too fat, too old, too loud, too young, too angry, too independent, too ugly, or too weak to be valued.

It’s not a body that is raped, like one in six women’s bodies are raped in this epidemic in America right now.

God’s body doesn’t make God unacceptable in church. It doesn’t disqualify God from teaching, praying, leading, or giving without restrictions, the way that women’s bodies are banned from serving. God’s body is poured out in wine and broken in bread, but it’s not a body like mine.

*****

Despite what I’ve said about Jesus living in my heart, God has never inhabited my body. It’s mine; sometimes it cannot feel further from God’s.

I used to be jealous of Catholics, because they had Mary. She at least, had God in her own body for a while, and is honored for that still.

Growing up Evangelical, we sidestepped Mary, lest we worshipped her God-bearing female body. The only mother we had was Eve, and she was deceived. The pastor said she was deceived, because that’s what Paul wrote to Timothy, but I understood that he believed she was a bit of the Deceiver, too.

After all, when she gave Adam the forbidden fruit, she was playing the part of the serpent to him. After all, when she bore children in her body, she did pass on sin through her cursed womb.

After all, she had a woman’s body.

I guess, though, we also had the Proverbs 31 woman. She was welcome, lauded, and strong in her home sphere. But even she had a husband and an estate to keep, and all I had was a growing collection of half-filled, hand-scrawled journals that I stashed underneath my mattress on the lower bunk.

When I flung myself onto my bed and pulled out the journal and a pen, I wrote out prayers that my body, please, wouldn’t be so sinful.

*****

One time I heard a woman take a deep breath and close her eyes and lift up her hands and pray: Father, Mother, Brother, Sister God, be with us.

I cringed; my body tensed up. God couldn’t be like that. God was Jesus, was man, was male, was Father, was Lord, was King, was God.

I couldn’t handle a prayer like that. To use feminine names or references for God was disrespectful, liberal, unbiblical, and wrong. It was making God in my own image to use a feminine pronoun. God wouldn’t be like that, like a woman, like me, like Emily.

Right?

image source

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Go! Tell Them. http://deeperstory.com/go-tell-them/ http://deeperstory.com/go-tell-them/#comments Sun, 20 Apr 2014 09:11:08 +0000 http://deeperstory.com/?p=18299 GoHe rose, He rose, He rose from the dead; He rose, He rose, He rose from the dead; He rose, He rose, He rose from the dead; He rose, He rose, He rose from the dead; And the Lord shall bear my spirit home. Standing in full Easter-glory, white gloved, satin ribbon tied, afro locks [...]]]> Go

He rose, He rose, He rose from the dead;

He rose, He rose, He rose from the dead;

He rose, He rose, He rose from the dead;

He rose, He rose, He rose from the dead;

And the Lord shall bear my spirit home.

Standing in full Easter-glory, white gloved, satin ribbon tied, afro locks pressed straight — I belted the next verse to this Easter hymn with pride, conviction and certainty.

Sister Mary she came running a looking for my Lord;

Sister Mary she came running a looking for my Lord;

Sister Mary she came running a looking for my Lord;

Mary was a girl.

Singing the words to this chorus made me proud to be a girl. Sister Mary, in my nine-year-old soul, was a role model. I found the fact that she made it into the Hall of Fame of Easter Hymnals very impressive. In my Baptist upbringing, only men got to wear fancy-preaching robes and have the privilege to proclaim the “Good News.”

Mary was a runner.

I, too, was the fastest on my neighborhood block and the only girl. I could relate to a running Sister! Throughout Jesus’ ministry here on earth, Mary Magdalene was busy making meals, serving Jesus and the disciples well. She had some stamina. She kept pace, next to Jesus’ side throughout the crucifixion journey — carrying from a distance what she could of his pain and trauma. She persevered, following him all the way to the cross.

Mary was a doer.

I have always appreciated a woman who knows how to take charge. Ummhumm, ain’t nobody got time to wait around for things to be done. She led a group of women who provided for Jesus and his followers from their own financial resources.

Nobody else had discovered the buried Jesus was missing, and she was determined to find him, even if it meant pleading with Angels and questioning a gardener to get what she needed.

Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” John 20:16

***

As a little girl, I didn’t understand the journey Sister Mary had endured that gave her the courage to stand in her Holy Savior’s tomb. My childhood faith had no way of comprehending Mary’s past and the Power she had encountered that transformed her. But my innocence would too soon be shattered. Sin and shame would have a grip on my life-sooner than it ever should. As I grew older, Mary Magdalene, in more ways than one, would play a powerful role in my own redemptive path to the cross.

I understand Mary’s tears.

Mary wept as she bent over to look again into the empty tomb. She had given everything to serving this man, and now he was gone. Who would she be now?

I’ve always been a crier. I was teased and mocked for always being “too sensitive.” That stupid childhood rhyme, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”-IS A STRAIGHT UP LIE.

Words hurt. Words sting. Words kill. Don’t matter if the calculated vocal dart or bold, inhuman mistreatment is directed at me, a friend, or a stranger — I know learned to carry other people’s pain.

On auto-pilot, I have jumped headfirst into fights, getting bruised in the battle to defend a battered lover or bullied child. And when the offence is too much for me to carry or too far away for me to embrace, I have freely unleashed my tears.

I understand Mary’s desperation.

It’s easy to get stuck in our last place with God, desperately holding on to our last tangible, physical Jesus encounter. Paralyzed, unable to develop and spreading out wide, new faith wings.

I know I am weak. I know I am nothing. I remain desperate for his closeness because without him-I know I don’t know who I am or where to go.

If I were Mary, dropped, face down at that empty tomb, I, too, would have panicked. That tomb held the only man that every truly loved every broken and restored part of her-and me.

For years I had tried to fill the emptiness of my desperate heart with the love of another. But when I found the True Lover — the Lover of my heart, mind, body and soul — how could I let him go? I would have lingered at the tomb too.

It had been devastating enough to watch Jesus be buried, but at least there was a small amount of peace knowing his body was secure and could be visited often. Having a physical place to frequent-where one could grieve, honor, and remember life together would have been enough to carry on. But this too was taken from Mary-or so it appeared in the dawn of that first Easter day.

Mary must have imagined that returning to the place of Jesus’ burial would provide some comfort, a place to carry her loss. And having  grieved, honored and remembered her life together with Jesus-she’d be able to carry on.

I understand Mary’s grip.

And then the miraculous.

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

An embrace. Mary can hardly contain her delight. But then the crushing words.

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.”

It’s so much easier when it’s just me and Jesus. Don’t get me wrong. I love people — I really do. I love ministry and the call of wife, mother, servant and writer – these roles are what get me up in the morning.

But sometimes I don’t want to have a job to do-I just want to grab a hold of my Jesus. Want to stay all day, un-made-up-face, pajama pants, fuzzy socks, curled up in his arms. Can I get an amen?

I’m not sure how long Jesus held on to his ride-or-die chick, but I imagine he let her linger a while. She needed his wrap-around-Glory to once again hold her fragile worth and stitch back together her unhemmed faith. To nestle tightly- one last time-his relentless love.

Sister Mary, I would’ve held on tight, too.

I understand Mary’s joy.

I imagine it may have taken Mary moments to collect herself after seeing Jesus resurrected. It probably had taken her awhile to gather up the courage and the message she was told by her Savior to deliver. But deliver it she did.

“I have seen the Lord!”

In my own life, I have experienced supernatural encounters that, if I were to tell you, might have you questioning my sanity and my salvation. Unexpected places and spaces where God has come and rescued me from darkness, demons and doubts. Dangling over the edge of cliffs, my only rope the faint whisper, “Jesus, help!”

And I wait.

I cry.

I scream.

I beg.

(And sometimes if it’s really, really bad, I even cuss).

“Jesus, please come for me again.”

In my mess, He comes.

In my obedience, He comes.

In my brokenness, He comes.

In this offering right now, He comes.

And his showing up, over and over again in my life brings me great joy!

***

Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!

Like Mary, let us keep on running, no longer mourning a dead Savior. Let us run instead to proclaim our resurrection stories, the stories the Lord has given us to share.

“Go.”

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Easy Easter Girl http://deeperstory.com/easy-easter-girl/ http://deeperstory.com/easy-easter-girl/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 09:00:40 +0000 http://deeperstory.com/?p=17525 I grew up an easy-Easter girl / now I spend all year in Good Friday – Beth Malena When I was nine, my family joined a Christian mission organization and went to Mexico for a few months, doing songs and dramas around various villages. At one point we found ourselves in some nondescript village marketplace, [...]]]> I grew up an easy-Easter girl / now I spend all year in Good Friday

– Beth Malena

When I was nine, my family joined a Christian mission organization and went to Mexico for a few months, doing songs and dramas around various villages. At one point we found ourselves in some nondescript village marketplace, vendors selling sweets and fruits and vegetables and meat on the cobblestone streets, flies buzzing thick in the air. Trying to escape the heat and the flies, I ducked into the largest building on the street: the dark, severe Catholic church. I smelled the incense, the moisture of a the cool, damp stone walls. I saw the flickering candles off to the side, the walls adorned with statues and icons, gaudy plastic flowers sprouting out of vases. But off to the sides of the auditorium, to the far right of the pews, was a large, enclosed glass box. I crept over to look at the glass case, pushing my thick blond bangs out of my eye. I gasped, stepping backwards, panic pounding like I had done something wrong. Because there, in front of me, was Jesus, lying dead in a box in a church. His body was green and purple, covered with cuts and bruises, his eyes closed. His wounds, garish and a dark-burnt red, were life-sized and immediate, their effect visceral.

I ran out of the cathedral as quick as I could, finding my mom studying native handicrafts in the street. I tugged at her shirt, trying hard to keep it together. Mom, I said, feeling the tears starting to come. Mom, mom, Jesus died.

She didn’t understand, until I pulled her by the hand inside the cathedral, over to the box. Once there, she pursed her lips and looked around the cathedral. I didn’t know back then that she had grown up in similar cathedrals, that she had seen more icons and incense holders and statues of mother Mary than I in my evangelical little life could ever dream of. Don’t remember him like this, she whispered to me as we walked back into the sun. We don’t think of him like this. We remember that he came back to life.

I nodded, heart calming, watching the flies crawl over the sticky sugarcane treats. Of course that’s how I remember him, straight from the pages of my Sunday School coloring book: white robe, light blue sash, brown hair with blonde highlights, perfect, smiling, resurrected Jesus.

It would be years later that I would realize what a comfort wounds can be. Of looking at a savior who had experienced what so many had: torture, abuse, persecution; spittle, sharp irons, cutting words, even death. For people to whom life has been hard, there is a form of solace in praying to a God who does not look spotless, shining like the sun. For many, love is the very wounds of Christ, the greenish-purple skin tones, the bruised and battered life. By his wounds we are healed, the scriptures say. I didn’t realize another way to read it is like this: only the wounded can truly experience a savior.

Because now I know more than ever: we live in a Good Friday world.

Every day is bruised; every day is resurrected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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He Was A Customer, Part 1 http://deeperstory.com/he-was-a-customer-part-1/ http://deeperstory.com/he-was-a-customer-part-1/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 09:00:34 +0000 http://deeperstory.com/?p=17407 12661854024_ba1fdab4b7I wish I could forget Phil. A week after my 17th birthday, I started working at a local pharmacy. A pharmacist and clerk covered the back of the store, while I ruled over the Lotto machine and front register. If I worked in the morning, I’d make popcorn, coffee, and hot dogs. If I worked [...]]]> 12661854024_ba1fdab4b7

I wish I could forget Phil. A week after my 17th birthday, I started working at a local pharmacy. A pharmacist and clerk covered the back of the store, while I ruled over the Lotto machine and front register. If I worked in the morning, I’d make popcorn, coffee, and hot dogs. If I worked in the evening, I’d clean it all up. Not very glamorous but it was a paycheck. For me, the highlight was the customers. Most of them, at least.

We were encouraged to talk with our customers, the regulars becoming like family. We teased and advised one another. I knew who preferred which brand of cigarettes and the latest happenings at their jobs. They learned about how my junior year of high school was shaping up. Everything a first job should be, but for Phil.

The first night I met him, he sauntered in with panache. This was someone to notice. He introduced himself immediately, reaching to shake my hand, and barely letting me respond before he launched in to a story about his day. Phil’s belly hung over his camo pants, his posture stooped. He appeared to be in his mid-50s but I couldn’t say for sure. Greasy hair stuck out from under a baseball cap, contrasting his manic pace. As he continued talking, I noticed part of his front tooth was missing. A perfect triangle gap. I didn’t want to know how it happened.

Under any other circumstances, Phil would be labeled as “scary.” I would have avoided him. But he was here at the pharmacy, demanding my attention, and somehow setting me at ease. He left after about 10 minutes, long enough to buy cigarettes and Lotto tickets.

A couple of months passed and I forgot about Phil until he walked back in to the store. He launched in to an explanation as soon as I came to the counter.

“I’ve been away for a while but I haven’t forgotten about you or how great you are.”

Strange, yes, but I brushed my reservations aside. He was a customer. He was probably lonely. Not a big deal.

Phil came in more frequently after that. As we chatted, I gathered he did not have the happiest of lives. Whenever he stopped in on Saturday mornings, the alcohol on his breath permeated the air. I felt sorry for him.

Four months after I started working at the pharmacy, Memorial Day rolled around and I was the lucky one working that day. Sounds from the town’s passing parade called to me; it was the first time I hadn’t witnessed it. I buzzed through the opening chores and tackled the list of jobs the manager left for me. Few customers stopped in and soon there was nothing to do but read magazines for the rest of the day. I grabbed a few copies and nestled them between the popcorn machine and coffee maker, leaning over the counter as I flipped pages.

And then I sensed someone watching me, their gaze hot against my head. Don’t be ridiculous, I told myself. There was a window behind the counter but you’d have to look past the sunshade and cigarette cases to see anything. I brushed the feeling aside but the sensation lingered. My head fairly buzzed. Someone was watching me.

I slowly turned around, expecting to laugh at myself when no one was there. To my shock, Phil stood before me on the other side of the glass, his hands cupped around his eyes. Eyes staring straight at me.

He shot straight up and hollered excuses through the thick glass.

My heart thudded as wild as my racing thoughts. Please don’t come in, please don’t come in. I prayed to no avail. He walked in and tried to apologize.

“Oh, sorry…didn’t mean to be looking in on you. I was just trying to figure out who was working in here. That window makes everything look darker. I thought you were a black girl until you turned around,” he blundered, ignoring my telepathic plea for him to stoptalkingstoptalkingstoptalking.

I didn’t know what to say. What could I say? My face turned blank, as did my mind. What could I possibly do? I willed him to leave the store, to leave me alone but he took longer than usual. He couldn’t decide between Camels and Winstons. He didn’t know if he wanted to buy a cigar or a Little Lotto ticket. Never one to linger, he wandered down the magazine aisle after making his purchases. I caught him using the storefront security mirror to spy on me several times. But I didn’t say anything. He was a customer. Surely, he was harmless. Surely.

I pushed the incident aside, until a few weekends later.

Next month, part two.

image source

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On Cigarette Ashes, Magnolia Blossoms, and Driver-Side Doors http://deeperstory.com/on-cigarette-ashes-magnolia-blossoms-and-drivers-side-doors/ http://deeperstory.com/on-cigarette-ashes-magnolia-blossoms-and-drivers-side-doors/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 09:00:14 +0000 http://deeperstory.com/?p=17549 3363208195_dfa8152dba_zI. This is not so much a piece about marriage as it is about certainty, about propositional truth. In a certain sense, this is a piece about driver-side doors. II. At the wise old age of eighteen, I laid on a bed sheet under the midnight stars with a God-fearing girl; we flung dreams into [...]]]> 3363208195_dfa8152dba_z

I.

This is not so much a piece about marriage as it is about certainty, about propositional truth. In a certain sense, this is a piece about driver-side doors.

II.

At the wise old age of eighteen, I laid on a bed sheet under the midnight stars with a God-fearing girl; we flung dreams into the river of hot summer wind. She was supposed to be my first love. She was not–not really. She was, instead, the girl I was supposed to love, I being the youth group preacher-to-be, and she being the daughter of an upright minister.

We had a First Baptist kind of relationship, one that was more of a profession of faith than a profession of passion. The truth was–and boy, did we ever know the Truth–passion is a fleeting thing and decided love is lasting love. So, as was the way of relational propositional truth, we cultivated the easy way of close friends, or kissing cousins, except we had decided not to kiss until marriage.

Here’s to the kissing virgins.

To the simple all things are simple, I suppose, and we were among the world’s simplest. We were young’uns who’d bought into worldviews without nuance. We’d measured all variables, concluded that the decisions to follow Jesus,  enter the ministry, and marry were not all that different.

We talked, and talked, and talked ad nauseum, under the star-flecked ebony sky. We opined in the presence of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–the God of sun worshipers, jesters, and scoundrels–that matters of life and lvoe were decisional. We would love each other, have and to hold, etcetera, etcetera.

Several years into our propositional relationship, we split the relational sheets (so to speak) because she refused to unlock my door after I opened hers. Allow me to describe my perpetual frustration: time after time, I’d open the door, allow her to enter, close the door behind her and walk to the other side of the car while she sat with her hands folded neatly in her lap; as I fumbled with the keys, I’d Christian-curse her lack of common courtesy. Couldn’t a sister reach across the seat and flip a latch? At first, this was a mere inconvenience, but it time, it turned into an abhorrent annoyance.

Yes, it really is as petty as it sounds.

III.

I met Amber in the fall of 1998, just four months removed from my logical love. She had me at “hello,” as they say, mostly on account of the fact that her thick southern drawl seemed to elongate the word by ten seconds. As it turns out, a fine female fisher can set the love hook in ten seconds. She reeled me in, this riddle of a woman.

In the days of early love, she told me that she was equal parts cigarette ash and magnolia blossom. Her jeans were ripped at the knees and at the  mid-thigh. She broke darn-near every rule in the book. She was anything but Baptist, and she always unlocked the driver-side door, courteous lover that she was.

Amber was a woman of few pat answers, one who was wild in spirit and quick to shake her hips. She was an impassioned woman, a fiery Irish wick. A bamboozler, she was hell-bent on undoing my spiritual assumptions, always asking me “where’s that in the bible?” She forced every issue, asked me to live less by the rules and more by the answer.

And in case you’re wondering, there is an answer.

No, it isn’t really as simple as it sounds.

IV.

In the spring of 2012–two years ago now–our youngest baby, Titus, fell ill. He’d not gained weight in some time, and we began a long descent into a dark season of the soul. Titus declined until we landed in a hospital room in Little Rock, he attached to a feeding tube, an IV, and a heart monitor. He was throwing up every meal, and what little fat stores he had were depleted.

He was in a death spiral.

Amber was a gentle spirit in that time, a woman who clung close to my side and didn’t struggle for any theological epiphanies. She forced no prayers, though she prayed. She required no convincing answers from me, but gave me space to ask questions. Amber was comfortable in the tension of the present reality and the future unknown–what the mystics call “the mystery,”–and she unlocked the door for me to share in her comfort and discomfort.

I don’t suppose my eighteen year old self wouldn’t have given the two of us a Titan’s shot in Tartarus, we with all questions and no systematized answers for the failing health of our little boy. But then again, my eighteen year old self didn’t know Amber. She was every pat answer gone awry; she was the enigmatic beauty of cigarette ashes and magnolia blossoms.

V.

Regarding Christian answers: they’re rarely pat, and often not answers at all. There’s no explanation for why some relationships are destined for failure. There’s no way to sum up either the sickness of a child, or how a struggling marriage can hold under its weight. There’s no rubric for understanding the tight-knit fabric of any surviving or failing relationship–whether marriage, friendship, church, or otherwise.

There is, instead, only mystery, Spirit, grit, grace, prayer, love, and maybe a little bit of luck. (Yes, I said it–luck. Make of it what you will.)

There are only these things, it’s true. These things, and maybe the common courtesy of unlocking driver-side doors or two.

Featured image credit: “Magnolia” by THOR.

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