Holy Audacity: The Church as Christ’s Vice-Regents

Last Saturday morning I jumped in my van and pulled out of my driveway. Lately I’ve been introducing my kids to the tunes-of-choice of my college days, so Steven Curtis Chapman was cued up in our CD player. Track 4 started playing when I got in the car.

It’s all yours, God! Yours, God! Everything is yours!

I was driving toward a local shelter where I was to meet a desperate mother and her four young girls. Through Safe Families for Children, I had agreed to host two of them for a night.

I have my doubts in these moments. I am keenly aware of my privilege and my naivety. I am comparatively young, comparatively wealthy, and comparatively whole. My story reads like a fairy tale compared to the brokenness and devastation survived by many of the parents I meet through Safe Families. I imagine they must find me irritating. Maybe they groan to themselves about yet another Well-Intentioned Well-To-Do who thinks she holds the keys to hope. “As if she has a clue. As if she’ll care enough to go the distance.”

As I drove I wondered out loud: “Who do I think I am, going to get these girls like it’s just a regular Saturday morning? How is this my business? What gives me the right to waltz in offering my remedy? My relief?”

But Steven Curtis Chapman was still singing, and his worship reminded me of another lyric I sing to my kids often: “This is my Father’s world.”

This is my Father’s world.

Suddenly my heart was flooded with confidence. It wouldn’t be putting it too strongly to say I felt a sense of entitlement in that moment. “Holy audacity,” I heard myself say to the empty passenger seat beside me.

So I parked my van just a mile from my own house and walked to meet these struggling strangers. On behalf of my Father in heaven, I had work to do. In some sense, these girls belonged to me. Their mom belonged to me.

I believe that my identity in Christ (and more to the point, my identity as part of the Church, His Body) includes a right to ownership of the whole world. If “everything is Yours,” as Chapman sings, then it must be true that everything is mine, too. God has called His people to love the world on His behalf. He has called us to practice His kingdom.

I’m not saying we can achieve world peace and end world hunger by our efforts. We believe the Kingdom of Heaven is coming. Someday. But today, while we wait with hope, we enact that vision. Today we are Christ’s vice-regents, commissioned for the flourishing of His world.

I stood waiting to meet the little girls I was to take home and Meghan (our local director) began to wonder where the second host family could be. When they still hadn’t shown up fifteen minutes later Meghan called them, only to discover there’d been a mix-up and they were out of town, thinking their hosting was to be the following weekend.

Suddenly we had a situation on our hands, and any minute this mom was going to be walking through her doors with four little girls to hand off.

Steven Curtis Chapman must have gotten into my bloodstream in college, because I buckled all four of those little girls into my van twenty minutes later. I turned the key in the ignition and Track 5 began on cue:

It’s crazy when love gets ahold of you
It’s crazy things that love will make you do

I laughed.

I knew I could do anything for 30 hours, and I knew I would have support.

My husband was in the middle of painting our bathroom so I was on my own for the first few minutes as he finished up. I don’t remember much from that mayhem, but I remember playdoh on the bottom of shoes, mass-production of snacks, and six little people coloring at my dining room table. Suddenly I had seven kids, and my 5yo son was the oldest.

The other thing I remember distinctly is the number of attempts I made to send a single text message. After an hour of sheer pandemonium, I finally got it typed and sent.

And so began the unfolding of a most amazing day. The text was to Brad & Caroline Tubbesing, the directors of Reformed University Fellowship at Indiana University. I knew when I agreed to take all four girls home that I’d need help, and by the time I heard from Caroline I had little more to say than “Send back up.” I asked her to connect me with college students, and I told her I didn’t want their phone numbers, I wanted them on my doorstep ASAP.

Mike finished painting and we started suiting up to walk everyone to the park. At one point the door to the garage got opened and kids started escaping. Mike picked up one tiny person after another and set them back inside until he realized that no sooner would he reach for the next escape artist than the one he’d just retrieved would head back out the door. He called for help. “Babe, we’re hemorrhaging babies over here!”

By the time we’d set out with two kids on bikes, three kids in strollers, and a baby strapped to each of us, I’d started to get text messages from our College Student Fairies.

Elizabeth was the first responder. She was at Kroger and decided to pick up groceries for lunch. Just as we returned from the park she showed up at our door with fried chicken, watermelon, juice, cookies, and even flowers.

Brad himself showed up with his preschool-aged son to lend a hand while I escaped with my own daughter for our long-awaited ballet matinee.

At 4:00 Xinzhu showed up and helped while I started giving everyone baths. At 5:00 Matthias walked in and found me up to my elbows in shampoo. Xinzhu made rice. Matthias read stories. Luke arrived in time to help set the table. We all sat down to lentils and rice at 6:00 with four kids bathed and jammied and only three to go.

The kitchen was in quite a state. After dinner Luke ran Xinzhu home and returned to read stories, color, and generally offset the average household age. Matthias rolled up his sleeves and attacked the kitchen. He didn’t quit till it was sparkling. There wasn’t even rice under the table, and that’s saying something.

Around 9:00 Matthias and Luke left, promising to return in the morning to help caravan us to church since we’d be short on seatbelts. It was 10:00 before I’d finished settling the four sisters into our guest room. The 3yo fell asleep on my arm. The 2yo went from whirling dirvish to snoring angel in mere seconds. The baby wiggled around quietly in her crib. I told kitty stories with the 4yo in the dark and then escaped to attend to the laundry and set out seven church outfits, raiding my stash of outgrown girl clothes.

By this time three of our closest friends had gathered in our living room. This is not unusual in our house and I don’t know what their excuses were for showing up on that particular evening. But at midnight – as Tyler, Nicole, and Fr. Raymond stood in our basement folding a mountain of laundry – it was obvious to me that God hadn’t been finished chasing me down with the love of His people.

Sundays are always an ordeal for my family. My husband works as the organist at a local church. My kids and I worship with a different congregation. Mike leaves by 7:00 a.m. most Sundays and it’s my job to get the family out the door on my own. This particular week was no exception.

I have it down to a science after several years of practice. Still, it isn’t easy. And Sunday mornings are excruciating when I’m sleep-deprived.

After about three good hours of sleep I was standing in my kitchen slicing a very large collection of strawberries when it occurred to me that I was neither anxious nor stressed. If I’d had to make those breakfasts and pack those bags and dress those babies in a filthy kitchen and a house full of chaos I would’ve been a basket case. Instead I was at peace and there was only one explanation: Matthias.

Matthias cleaned my kitchen like it belonged to him. He had the holy audacity to step into my world and enact his vision of the Kingdom. While I was giving myself for the flourishing of these girls and their mom, he gave himself for my flourishing.

And it worked. I flourished.

We say often that it takes a village; but I think it’s more accurate to say it takes a church – an audacious community of vice-regents, working on Christ’s behalf for the flourishing of our Father’s world.

I understand Safe Families more now than I did before last weekend. It’s common for people in Safe Families to tag social media posts with #bethechurch. My understanding of our mission deepened as I found myself surrounded by Jesus’ hands and feet, held up by an audacious church as I ventured into My Father’s World with my own audacity.

Hopefully that single mom felt as much of Jesus on that weekend as I did while slicing strawberries in my clean kitchen. Hopefully she felt the embrace of our Heavenly Father, a whisper of the reality that (as Steven Curtis Chapman sings) He’s the Maker and Keeper, Father and Ruler of everything.

It’s all Yours.

On Kim Davis, Bullying, and the Impossibility of World Peace

I have a few things to say about Kim Davis. I know everyone does, so forgive me, but these have been burning like fire shut up in my bones, to quote the songwriter.

On Sunday I stood in church and we sang about peace. “Hope dawns in a weary world when we begin to see all people’s dignity.” It’s a nice enough song – a little on the cheeseball side – but the celebration feels premature. This week it grated on my ears and stuck in my throat.

As Christians we are all about premature celebration, coming to The Table every Sunday to engage in a feast that hasn’t happened yet. “Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!” It’s true that all the world will, in wonder, whisper ‘Shalom,” as the song concludes with promise. But this particular prematurity doesn’t feel like hope and faith. It just makes me angry.

See, Kim Davis is not unworthy of the dignity and shalom we are singing about. It’s easy for that stream of the church that comes down on the side of the gay rights movement (seeing it framed as the same sort of humanitarian question as racial equality) to start waving victory flags; this summer the gay rights movement had a big win: according to a handful of people who are allowed to judge, these relationships deserve marriage licenses just as much as the next guy (and girl).

My problem is this: The work of the gay rights movement is not done with the SCOTUS ruling. That’s not the way our country works. We have somewhere along the way lost as a people an awareness of our own governmental process. The courts (that means both SCOTUS and Kim Davis) exist to uphold the law. They don’t make the law. That’s the job of the legislature. There was a reason this system was put in place at the inception of our country.

It was to handle the problem of bullying. The law transcends the wishes and opinions of individual people, and in its transcendence it protects the magistrates (we call them judges and county clerks) from having to be the meanies. Their job is just to do as they’re told by the law. And until the actual law has gay marriage on the books, Kim Davis is not failing in her duties by refusing those marriage licenses, and consequently no one can fault her.

Unfortunately this summer we are a little blinded by our celebration of SCOTUS, thinking that now finally there is law on this issue. My message to the gay rights community is this: Your work is not done. If you want to be able to insist that Kim Davis issues you a marriage license, it’s time to lobby your actual lawmakers.

Until then, Kim Davis has a right to her grey area as a member of the judicial branch of our government, and however rude and obnoxious and generally backwards you find her behavior, you have to acknowledge that she is within her rights as a citizen of this free country.

But there’s a bigger issue. Kim Davis has been thrown in jail for her religious convictions. She’s being seen as a bully, a member of the government gone rogue. She’s an embarrassment. But the problem is, in our collective embarrassment and disgust we have turned the tables and become the bullies. If we really can’t allow her to gum up our progress, due process would look like impeachment, and perhaps administrative leave in the meantime. She is an elected official, after all. No one has any business throwing this magistrate (not to mention citizen) in jail over something that we profess to value as a country (see Caitlyn/Bruce Jenner): bravery. She is bravely standing for what she believes and I don’t care how backwards and rude you think that is: you are just as backwards and rude if your solution is to jail her and scorn her.

It’s hard for me to say that. I grew up squarely planted in the religious conservative right. As a child I didn’t really think you could be a Christian and not be socially, politically, and morally conservative all the way across the board. When I discovered a bigger world out there (you’ll find this filed under “all people’s dignity”) I was angry at the monochromatic lie I’d found my identity in. It’s hard for me to stand in solidarity with Kim Davis, because I know the warts inside the conservative, fundamentalist church and I hate them because, while not technically a fundamentalist myself, I rubbed shoulders with this sector of the Church plenty. I identified with their long hair and long skirts and long lists of siblings. I identified enough, actually, to have a really hard time calling them “the Church” now because I find their moralisms routinely distract me, them, and (worst) the watching world from the glorious gospel of Jesus. I just can’t deal with it. It makes me crazy. As a loud-mouthed conservative Christian, I find Kim Davis embarrassing and I want her to go away. I don’t want the world to think this is what the Church looks like.

But this is my confession: that I am embarrassed by her. In my best moments I am not proud of that. If you corner me I will admit that, according to my system of thought and theology, she and I stand together at the foot of the cross of Christ, which makes her my sister. Sisters don’t bully each other or stand by and let someone else bully.

On Sunday as I groaned through our reflections on Shalom I recognized my own sin in being so quick to judge this annoying sister instead of looking for the good in her. Upon looking, I see it: a clear awareness of what her position as part of our judicial branch requires and does not require of her, a jealousy to protect that system of liberty-under-the-law, an integrity that lives what she believes, and, most of all, true bravery: a willingness to put herself in the public eye where she will have to bear all of its scoffing and ridicule and angry, bullying attempts at hiding her like she’s that embarrassing relative we can’t not invite to the party.

I’m going to acknowledge that she is braver than I. In my very writing here I have made that obvious: Go ahead and try to infer from what I’ve said what I think on the underlying issues about the legitimacy and goodness of gay marriage. I’ve very intentionally not planted my flag, and I suppose in reading this your conjecture will leave you horrified that I’m not like you and comforted that I am.

See, the anguish for me, and the reason bravery feels hard (too hard, to my shame) is that “my people” are not to be found in the middle of this question, if a middle exists. My people are the ones running out this summer for their hard won marriage licenses and my people are the Kim Davises. Somehow that’s the world I live in, and it is exhausting. So go ahead and think I’m on your side. I’m not even sure I know and I’m not even sure that matters.

What I do know is that Shalom is 100% elusive, and I hope there is a large sector of the liberal church that can stop waving their festive branches over the triumph of the SCOTUS ruling long enough to recognize that there is shame here this summer. Shame, yes. Shalom, no. When jailing a woman over her views because they don’t line up with ours and those of SCOTUS is our solution and maybe even our delight, we do not get to claim Shalom.

Perhaps my view from this place–where my communities feel like a frantic pendulum-swing between Kim Davis and the people she won’t marry–is a sane view. And what I’m here to report from what I can see is that Shalom is coming, but definitely not on our watch. There is no way for peace to exist before Christ comes to “judge the living and the dead” and in so doing ushers in the new heavens and the new earth. By this I mean to say that we will not, can not, ultimately, be the ones to usher this kingdom in, even though we try to live in a way that actively anticipates it. (I only wish I knew what that looked like.)

We keep sharing the peace of Christ amongst each other, but sometimes all we can see of that peace is its absence and impossibility, because as long as we have two sides seeking it, we will have two incompatible concepts of it, and Kim Davis will still be sitting in jail being the scapegoat. If she doesn’t get to be a participant in the peace, we are doing something wrong.

So Amen, Come Lord Jesus.

The Boy with Dirt on Him

My three-year old son found a flyer on the arm of our couch when he came downstairs from his quiet time this afternoon. I’d just finished a day of meetings for a new chapter of a non-profit we are investing ourselves in. Staring back at my son was a beautiful face of a boy not much older than himself. He couldn’t read the words on the flyer: “I need help.” But he read the face. I was in the kitchen and heard him remark, “This boy has dirt on him. And he sounds like he is sad.” Leave it to a three-year-old to hear the sound of a face. I asked him “Do you think we should help him if he is sad?” I was a little surprised when he responded “No, we shouldn’t” in his signature full-sentence way. “But if we don’t help him, who do you think could help him?” I replied. “His mom,” he nodded, looking at me out from under his big eyelids like he was thinking, “Mom. Obviously.”

My sweet boy doesn’t understand yet that sometimes it is more complicated than this. It made me so thankful in that moment that my kids know it’s obvious that if you’re sad, Mom can fix it. But that’s not all I want them to know. I want them to grow up living like the kingdom of heaven, and in the kingdom of heaven (here on earth) sometimes there is sadness that moms can’t fix. There are widows and orphans, and one thoughtful friend of mine suggested that single moms are the widows of our culture. These single moms, so often without a support network or a safety net of any sort, often find themselves in crisis. These orphans-of-a-fashion often have dirt on them and sound like they are sad. Jesus calls us to give ourselves to them, and I want my kids to grow up thinking that this is what Christians do. (“Mom. Obviously.”) Christians love the unloved and show mercy to the down-trodden.

Today was a whirlwind. I got up at 5:30 to prepare for a day that had been months in the making, a day when we’d finally pick up some momentum with the beginning of our town’s very own chapter of Safe Families for Children. Today I gathered a dozen people from almost a dozen churches and listened as the director of the Indianapolis chapter captured their imaginations – even their affections – for this work that she and I both care so much about. I went into this day with some misgivings and fears of my own. But from the first moments, it unfolded with that kind of perfection that God demonstrates in those times when nothing less will get the job done. To begin with, I got out of the shower and turned to Pandora to give me a few moments of worship and peace while I got ready for the day. Five songs in a row stunned me with the tender perfection of God’s watching over me, but the first one captured every bit of what my soul has looked like these last couple months as I’ve begun this work. I got out of bed this morning expecting by the end of it I may’ve come clean with the director overseeing our work that I wanted to take a step (or three) back. Twenty minutes later God might as well have looked me in the eye and said, “This is my work, and I gave it to you, and I will do it.” I’ve prayed the last few weeks that someone would come forward and catch my vision and say “Here, honey, you have your hands full enough. Let me.” The irony is, that’s what I felt God saying. But by the end of the day, half a dozen others had said as much themselves. But I had to hear it from God first to re-orient my heart: I can do this, because it is not my work.

My heart is so proud. My mind is so unfocused.
I see the things You do through me as great things I have done.
And now You gently break me, then lovingly You take me
And hold me as my father and mold me as my maker.

I ask you: “How many times will you pick me up,
When I keep on letting you down?
And each time I will fall short of Your glory,
How far will forgiveness abound?”
And You answer: “My child, I love you.
And as long as you’re seeking My face,
You’ll walk in the power of My daily sufficient grace.”

At times I may grow weak and feel a bit discouraged,
Knowing that someone, somewhere could do a better job.
For who am I to serve You? I know I don’t deserve You.
And that’s the part that burns in my heart and keeps me hanging on.

You are so patient with me, Lord.

As I walk with You, I’m learning what Your grace really means.
The price that I could never pay was paid at Calvary.
So, instead of trying to repay You, I’m learning to simply obey You
By giving up my life to you For all that You’ve given to me.

–Laura Story, “Grace”

The day unfolded from there with perfection. I told my husband tonight that it was like for months I labored in this garden, doubting, discouraged, lonely, even anxious. I was beginning to think nothing was going to poke through from the seeds I was planting and watering and watching and picking at obsessively, and perhaps it was time to try again another year. And then, today. Today the seeds sprouted and grew seven feet tall before my wondering eyes. If my work was to plant a garden here in this town, I feel like my work is done.

It’s not done, though, and there is now as much to do as there is when your garden is full of seven-foot-tall plants. But now I have a team that God has built, saying “Tell us what to do!” So we begin together. I reflected on the sheer energy and enormous number of man-hours that went into this day. Not only the scores of preliminary hours of the last few months of my life, but the dozen other people that gathered today and the two babysitters who took care of my kids and the “bestie” who met me in town to drive my second car back home since I’d left it parked there in my haste to move from one meeting to the next this morning. So many people pouring out their time and their love and we haven’t even really launched this work. We haven’t cleaned any of that dirt off that little boy or made him any less sad or even met him. But already, it takes an army of us.

It’s humbling, this work that God gives us. He gives it to us not to fix a person or save a life even, though of course that is what we are eager to see as a result of loving in Jesus’ name. He gives it to us because this is what the kingdom of heaven looks like, and we are the kingdom of heaven. It is his work, because it is his world that he wants to be this way – brokenness met by his body. So we say yes, and we busy ourselves like so many worker-bees, doing the monumental business of babysitting each other’s kids and sitting over noodles. And God is pleased. We plant and we water and suddenly there it is: a plant.

If you have never heard of Safe Families for Children, you should start here and here.

Narrative, Three Ways

Fiction.

We love Sundays. We love our church. It is a home for us, if ever there was one. Week after week we bask in deep fellowship and intimate friendship, a veritable Shakespearian “Band of brothers.” Sunday is the high point of our week. We join with our brothers and sisters, approaching the throne of grace together and letting the story we enact in worship reignite our imaginations for a new week of work, letting word and bread and wine nourish us every week to live in sure victory we’ve hardly tasted yet.

We live just down the street from our church and we are so thankful to be somewhere that feels like such a perfect fit for our family, where we can throw ourselves into its life on every level, every day. We are privileged to serve by crafting and leading worship and we love that our kids have such a good community here. We plan to stay here forever. Sunday mornings start early since we are the resident Levites, but it’s nice that we can take two cars to church if we want to, or even walk the short mile on a sunny summer morning.

Morning worship ended, we spend the whole afternoon with our dearest friends, celebrating everything good in this life and in the life to come. We feast, we toast, we pray. We sing, we laugh. We fall asleep on the couch sometimes. We rally before the day is done, gathering again to end the day doing what we were made for, and lingering with friends until a subtle deacon flips out the lights. We move the party to someone’s house or a nearby restaurant, or we go home in high spirits and spend what’s left of the evening enjoying each other’s quiet company.

Fact.

Sundays are a nightmare from start to finish. In the mornings we wake before the sun, fly through the house, nag our kids through their breakfasts, and walk out of the house with our arms full. We drive 65 intense, whiny minutes to a church that just isn’t our church, on so many levels. We thank God constantly for providing our income through this place, and for giving us a place to worship with integrity and hear the Word with clarity, but we don’t fit here.

We drop our kids off in nursery and go our separate ways. As the children’s choir director, I get 20-30 minutes with 4-12 kids, depending on how late they are and how many are busy with sports and sleepovers. Mike prepares to lead worship and rehearse the adult choir and maybe be the tenor section depending on who shows up. The kids’ good will has run out by the end of 15 minutes of announcements, and they begin to squirm as we hear the call to worship. Church is mostly about trying to do a side-run around potential temper tantrums and keep toddlers from being a spectacle while simultaneously training them to worship actively and un-self-consciously. Sometimes I think it’s working, sometimes not. The 65 minutes we spend in the car on the way home are a cocktail of any or all of the following: toddler lunch, toddler tantrums, toddler naps, toddler entertainment. (“Look at that Weeo Car!”) Those sometimes toddler naps mean no toddler naps at home, and sometimes even if they opt for tantrums or entertainment instead of naps, they’ve still passed from sleepy to hyper and there will be no naps, regardless. Meanwhile, Mike and I are needing blood pressure medication.

Lunch is often leftovers in a house that often looks like the remains of a tornado. We pass the afternoon alone, with maybe a nap or an essay or an overdue conversation or composition project, or maybe we just play play-dough. After feeding the kids a quick dinner, we drive the mile to our other church, the other church that just isn’t our church, on so many levels. Somehow we are semi-citizens of two churches at the two far ends of a spectrum on which, bafflingly, we find ourselves at the same time squarely in the middle and, well, not even on that particular spectrum, really. We just don’t belong here. But we are here, and we anticipate being here for five more years. And after that… We don’t think about that much these days, we just try not to doubt and despair. So we close our Sundays homesick for who-knows-what, whisking our kids into bed late, and proposing a toast (to who-knows-what) with steaming mugs of Kraft mac-n-cheese, which somehow feels like the best part of this tumultuous day.

Faith.

We live for Sunday. We craft our whole week around Sunday. We speak well of it. We speak of it with enthusiasm. Our kids do, too, and Jacob always grins and asks “Is it Sunday!?” when we sneak into their bedroom together already dressed for church, waking them far too early. We prepare for the day by our own morning and evening worship on Saturdays and a special dessert after worship before bedtime. We want our kids to know what we know: Sunday is about delight. It is about the good things of life.

This feels like a sick irony to me sometimes, if for no other reason than that our best celebrating happens on Saturday night because Sunday barely has room for it in all its surviving. But we prize Sunday’s business – the business of worship, of tasting heaven in tiny sips, seeing it in flitting shadows. We prize it objectively, practically, actively, willfully. We prize it by our carefully chosen smiles and our carefully chosen (or not chosen) words. We prize it by playing play-dough and reading stories. On one level these are hard, sometimes miserable days. But on a deeper level, we live for these days.

Faith, I’ve been told, sees more than what the world sees.

Truth.

Sunday is the best day of the week, whether it feels good or not. This is the truth. So week after week we choose naivety. We lift up our hearts as if we aren’t expecting the tantrums or the homesickness. We approach Sunday knowing that often in this fallen world truth transcends fact. The fact is that Sundays are impossibly, impossibly burdensome these days, and in an honest moment I’ll confess to a private passion for Monday mornings.

But we look beyond this. We do our best to see with eyes of faith, because we want our children to learn truth, and sometimes truth is best taught by disguising fact. And the truth is that Sundays are for joy. So we smile and sing and shrug it off and try to get to bed a little earlier next Saturday night so we can hide the hard a little better next week.

Two Prayers

Over and over I am made thankful again for the prayers that thousands of Christians say, thousands of times. I am thankful for their words, so meticulously chosen that you could speak of them as having been crafted. They are prayers like the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis, the Lord’s Prayer and the others derived directly from Scripture. But there are others, too, that give me words when I have none, and prove deeper and of more dimensions than I can appreciate in one use. I’ve found this twice now in about a month.

At the beginning of September Mike and I had the opportunity to make a little pilgrimage of sorts back to the town where we met and the chapel where we worshiped side by side, daily, as we traveled the road from strangers to friends to lovers and eventually stood their making our marriage vows. It was such a plain moment, that Friday morning, gathering for the customary service of Morning Prayer amongst students we no longer knew, on a tight schedule and cumbered with our two children. It was surreal, though, having those children on our laps. By comparison it was as though all our life had been made already. We didn’t even see it coming, that prayer we’d prayed fiercely through the first months we knew each other. Then it was our lifeboat – the discipline of regularly acknowledging that we couldn’t see ahead except to see that God’s hand would sustain. Now it was our trophy. God was true to Himself, and here we were. We looked at each other and grinned ear to ear at the delight of speaking those words again, and the way their meaning for us had unfolded, making it a perfect summary of the road we’d walked, the road we’re still walking.

Lord God, you have called your servants
to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with good courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love supporting us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tonight I was afforded the luxury of participating in the age-old Evensong liturgy at a local church. The anthem text was derived from one of the collects of the Book of Common Prayer, freshly set by the man who led the choir. I’ve known it long, but tonight three words were a siren to me. The whole prayer spoke my deepest groans, but the words “as thou wilt” were an explicit statement of submission that captured my deepest needs these days, as I am facing fresh the kind of season that brought Mike and me to pray of “ventures of which we cannot see the ending.” I, in my *ahem* infinite wisdom, want to know the ending; I want to decide it, actually. I cannot, and so I find myself cast on the mercy and wisdom of God once again, articulating a familiar prayer, one that has long summed up all I’ve ever cared for in life, but now acknowledging in a new way that none of it can be of my devising.

Almighty and eternal God,
so draw our hearts to thee,
so guide our minds,
so fill our imaginations,
so control our wills,
that we may be wholly thine,
utterly dedicated unto thee;
and then use us, we pray thee,
as thou wilt,
and always to thy glory
and the welfare of thy people;
through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Doxology Dance

Every morning I sit on the floor in the kids’ room and get them dressed one after the other. Then Jacob sits on my lap and we pray, always ending with the Lord’s Prayer. Then he gets this twinkle in his eyes and his hands start to jitter as I reach for Meredith. He takes her hands and I hold her under her shoulders and they dance while I sing the Doxology.

There is nothing sophisticated happening but it’s so plain to me as I watch their babyish delight in it and in each other that it is baby worship: babies doing what they were made to do.

Mike & I believe it’s our job as parents to set a tone in our home that models the unity and love demanded of all Christ’s people in fellowship with each other. We believe being brothers and sisters through the cross of Christ is a tighter bond with a deeper obligation than blood relationships, so ultimately we want to see our children loyal to the church even beyond their loyalty to their family name.

This was a topic that my husband and I discussed at length some time ago. What’s so special about siblings? What reason do we give them for our demand that they live with each other in love and not selfishness? We came to the conclusion that it’s nothing more than the simple fact that they are growing up to be brothers and sisters in Christ and our home is the context in which they will learn it. If they were, say, in college renting an apartment with a random collection of friends, we would expect them to live the same way toward each other.

Home life, our most basic organization of community, where we’re involuntarily thrust together and constantly forced to deal with our hearts through a million little scrapes and bumps each day, is just the obvious place where we learn what it means to live Christ’s love to each other. It’s is a pressure cooker, and that’s what we want to be the cause of our kids growing up to be closely bound to each other: not so much a family identity, just that they are the particular Christians God happened to assign them to live closest with.

(The added bonus is that we want them to learn to love the church where they are and the neighbors where they live, not look around endlessly like a shopper for a place where they think they’ll meet the most agreeable people and fit in the best. You don’t pick your siblings and really, you don’t pick our Christian family either: God calls all sorts of people and they won’t always be your favorites.)

It’s our responsibility to make our home function like a little church. We are raising little Christians and that is why we will insist that they strive for unbroken fellowship with each other, since Jesus taught that this would be the identifying mark of His followers. It goes without saying that it has to begin with worship together, orienting ourselves rightly toward God so we can turn to each other, and for now in our house it looks like our silly little Doxology Dance.

Football in Babylon

It’s homecoming in this college town. The air is crisp, to put it politely, and the leaves are already near their peak. At 1:15 I was whizzing down the highway with my sunroof open and Switchfoot singing loud about living in Babylon. Looking for a home where I belong and all that good stuff.

I passed the stadium where the homecoming football game was in full swing. I’ve always noticed how palatial, commanding, inspiring its architecture is as it comes into view when you first drive into town. Today it struck me how much like a temple it looked, maybe because of the endless sprawl of the worshipers’ parked cars. Everyone gathering as if for a festival.

I’m not the only one to whine out an analogy between football and religion, but what captured my imagination today was more positive than that complaint. I thought of all the delight, perhaps even joy, certainly fun, collected inside those towering walls and I saw its tokens on smiling faces walking the sidewalks. Then began my fantasy of that stadium a true temple and all those celebrators there for true temple business. This vista is the closest we come these days to seeing what a temple festival would’ve looked like in the days of King Solomon or even Josiah or Nehemiah.

For now it’s 21st-century America and I am only driving past a football game, but I am allowed to imagine those swarms of people busy with the happiest business of all, and what I know and what my children will know with me is that it’s more than mere imagination, it’s hope for a certain future.

Until I die I’ll sing these songs
On the shores of Babylon
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong

(Switchfoot)