Plane Coffee Mom

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Safe Places

Safe places: places like your mother’s lap when you were young, the attic that kept you warm while out of sight, the friend who listened to your dashed dreams with tears in her eyes, the closet where you hid when a stranger knocked on the door, and the family that embraces you. For some of us, inside four walls is safe while for others a wide open field or a trail in the woods feels more secure. The one thing that is constant is that we all need safe places, and when we are in danger we look for them.

Our physical location is important and so are the people who surround us. Safe people create safe places. As I read the Gospels I see Jesus as a Safe Person for those who were broken or seeking. Even Judas was given access to walk with Jesus for several years. I think part of the Church’s calling is to be a safe place, a place of refuge for those in need and pain. Yet sometimes it is not so.

Years ago a young woman told me about a time when she was searching for God.* She was raised in a good family, but she felt abandoned and life was painful. Her questions were deep and hard. She knew God had the answers and she went on a quest to find Him. Not being part of a local Body at that point, she simply visited churches. Not during services, but when she thought she could find a quiet place to seek God on her own. A large, ornate church in the middle of town caught her attention. However, it was locked. A small, friendly-looking church on a side street called to her. Unfortunately the door was chained shut. At one church she found an open door and a place to pray. Soon someone came to question what she was doing, and she quickly left, no closer to answers than when she entered. She tried Sundays, but they were little better. The loneliness she experienced in the throng of worshipper was deeper than the pain of being alone. At another church she arrived early and sat in a pew only to be asked to move by an older gentleman because, “this is where I always sit.” At another church she was followed around as she made her way to the restroom before entering the auditorium: she had simply stopped by and wasn’t dressed for Sunday service. The man who trailed her wore a gun only partially hidden, obviously protecting the normal crowd from people like her. As she traveled, she stopped by church after church, and she couldn’t find what she was looking for.

Eventually she found solace and a connection with God in public parks, standing among the trees and wandering the lonely paths. It wasn’t church, but God seemed to be there. One day in a distant city she drove by a beautiful park. The beauty of God’s summer was on display in well-tended flower gardens and properly pruned trees and shrubs. It was beautiful. When she had some free time, she drove across town to enjoy the park and find rest and answers for her weary soul. A large gate welcomed her, and she had barely begun to walk the well-trimmed path when she was approached by a monk, “Welcome. How can I bless you today?” he said. It was a Buddhist temple, not a park after all. This was not God’s place. She left disheartened by the fact that she had been offered more blessing and welcome in this place than in the places where the God of the Bible was preached.

This story brought tears to my eyes and hot anger to my heart. Why can we not do better? What have I  locked up that should have been open, what have I carefully saved that God wanted to spend? What am I bearing arms against, either mentally or physically, that is meant to be welcomed? What do I need to lay down in order to bless the hurting with open arms?

We are the Church, and how we choose to manage our buildings and spaces communicates profoundly to a hurting world. May we be a safe people who create safe places.

*details changed to protect privacy

This House of Ours

I like our house, I really do. I can’t say I love it simply because I don’t get that attached to places. Yet it is where we live so much of our lives. The early morning tea and night snacks before we turn in. Meals around our table and chats while I’m cooking. I like it. I like the fact that we have a roof over our heads and that our space is heated.

Yet it’s struck me again this week that a house takes a lot of time. In reality, the rent I pay on this place is far more than the check I write out at the beginning of the month. It’s the small repairs Garry does and the cleaning that’s required. It’s the lawn mowing and shoveling, the sweeping and dusting and scrubbing. You see, this place doesn’t take care of itself: that is our job.

And there is a balance where the more time I spend on the house the more I like it. It’s far more comfortable to work in a clean space than a cluttered one. But that takes time. It costs energy. And sometimes I get tired of this house of ours that seems to rent me as much as I rent it. 

I realize that this is true not only of the house and yard, but of our bodies as well. These are places where the real us resides, and while the external is not as important as the internal, it does matter. Our bodies need food and rest, cleaning and exercise. And that takes time. Time that I must plan for or I begin to resent what it costs. I sometimes forget that being alive means I need this body, and I need it to function, so I better take care of it.

This reflection leads to another one, the fact that my spirit is also a place that needs care. It deals in the currencies of faith and rest, stress and worry. The real me must be cleaned and renewed by the Word. Without faith it grows weary and burdened. Without attention it begin to shrivel and focus inward.

And my pondering leads me full circle to the fact that these houses of ours are both a privilege and a responsibility.

Old while Young

I felt old as a teenager and ancient in my early twenties. My memories of pain-free days as a young mom are few and far between. Now in my forties, I feel younger than I did two decades ago. While it strikes me as strange sometimes, it shouldn’t surprise me. Until my early thirties I struggled with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Every day began with the same mantra, “I can do this. I can make it through another day.”

All that changed with a simple, faith-filled prayer late one night. There had been many simple, faith-filled prayers before that one, but that night God answered in a miraculous way. Things changed. I woke the next morning with energy and a new hope for the day. I’ve been sick, I’ve been discouraged, I’ve been weary since then, but neither the chronic fatigue nor the fibromyalgia has returned. It’s an undeserved blessing, one for which I am grateful every day.

I would hate to return to the fatigue of those years, and yet I would hate to live these years without those experiences. There are so many things I learned in that time that I need every day. God used sickness in a powerful way to dispel my independence and to teach me about prayer. I began to learn about empathy as I lay exhausted on the couch, trying to pay attention to my two-year-old. I had to say “no” more times than I can count, and yet it’s a skill that still comes hard to me. Sickness taught me to value the temple that our bodies are and to take care of myself and others in ways that have proved valuable.

Chronic illness was a school that taught me things I would have otherwise have had no interest in learning. It pushed me into places that I would not have chosen to go. It changed my perception of myself and of others. In some ways, I experienced age before my time and am now given the opportunity to live my real age.

What has caught my attention lately is how common this is. Maybe not the exact circumstances, but the reality that we experience things for a purpose. Today’s trials have every opportunity to be tomorrow’s joys. Today’s hardship is training for tomorrow’s joy, and for tomorrow’s challenges. What we do with today matters, not only for how well we’ll sleep tonight but also for how well equipped we will be for tomorrow and the days, weeks and months that follow.

Woman at War

I’ve been a woman at war. Fighting deadlines and expectations, arguing with myself, and generally conflictive. Wanting to do the right thing, so unsure what the right thing is. I want to do more, be more, see more, and rest more. I’ve been reminded that in this world we live within the constraints of time and energy.

I took a step back, or at least I tried. I decided I needed to feed different things, fill my mind with better thoughts. So I started reading The Imitation of Christ a couple of weeks ago. It has been, in fact, a different thing. There is a stark simplicity and clear direction in Kempis’s writings that is unusual today. He tells things as he sees them. He admonishes. He tells us to judge ourselves. He leaves little room for disagreement or insincerity.

Strangely enough, it is regenerative. It brings me back to places of peace and rest, the search for the eternal and the good. It reminds me that this life is very short, and what will last is often what is unseen. It takes me out of my little circle of hurry and slows my mind. And the war diminishes.

In fact, from this distance the war becomes more clear. I am not a little individual fighting a little battle. I am in the middle of a war that spans all time, the war for the hearts and lives of men and women. The war isn’t about my priorities or ideas, the war is about eternity. It’s about God’s priority in our lives and the spaces and times the enemy is trying to wrest control of. And as each of us chose priorities and worship, the battlefield is changed.

I should have known this long ago. And maybe I did. I first reacted as a baby that cried when the witch doctor next door chanted. I saw it as a young teenager who was afraid of the dark. I faced it when we were newly married and the street by our apartment was turned into a bad party scene. I experienced it living in suburbia and becoming aware of the spirits that drive us. These experiences have increasingly been realizations of the strength and power of God and the importance of prayer and obedience.

Kempis encourages us to imitate Christ in total humility. He reminds us that what matters is our hearts. He calls us to deep surrender and constant obedience. And he explains how God promises that these are the paths that lead to peace and joy. And I find that the war inside subsides when I take time to read the Word of God and ask Him how it applies to my day and how it answers my questions. Amazingly, it is always applicable, always helpful. Sometimes it replies to my questions, and sometimes it answers the questions I didn’t know to ask. But always, it stills the war inside.

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