The garage door opened early Saturday morning, and the van disappeared down the driveway and around the bend. I was left to an empty house and the cavernous silence. Ryan was taking the children to Chicago for the week so I could work without interruption on a book proposal. By Sunday night, I was falling asleep with thoughts of The Shining: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”Continue Reading
“Clumps of hair fell to the floor. I was razoring my mother’s head, making her bald and vulnerable. This was not an act I had prepared for, but neither was cancer, and we met my mother’s diagnosis six years ago with as much equanimity as possible. I took the phone call—the news—from the couch, one week before I delivered my twins, conspicuously lacking energy for tears and rage. In her year-long treatment to follow—chemotherapy, surgery—there is little I remember. When I comb through memory and look for the file marked “Cancer,” the only one I find and retrieve is “Children.”
We were separated by two states at the time, my mother and I, and I couldn’t—didn’t—care for her. The babies, the distance—they removed me from the everyday of her suffering and what should have been my diligent concern and phone calls. Between treatments, she visited us and rallied. She held the babies and it felt like business as usual. She also took naps in the afternoon, and that signaled change.”
Read the rest of my essay, “Learning (and Relearning) to Forgive My Mother at Today’s Christian Woman.
There will always be someone to forgive. And the need to be forgiven.
Forgiveness may be the greatest of our life’s work, and it is work because it requires the diligent, difficult effort of remembering, revisiting, and then releasing. But the work of forgiveness is not like ordinary work of our hands. Forgiving is not like writing an essay, carving a table, or preparing a savory soup. There is not the finished product of forgiveness from which we stand back, lean on our elbows, and admire. There is not often any real sense of completion and accomplishment for the toil involved.
I am terrified of raccoons. I suppose it began the day when one greeted me from inside my garbage can. I lifted the lid to find a masked bandit burrowing in the trash. And as is true with Toronto raccoons, they scare us far worse than we scare them.
Ryan recently relayed a story typical of their nonchalance: several weeks ago, he was outside in the late afternoon when one casually sauntered down the driveway toward the backyard. Had the raccoon been able to speak, Ryan imagined he would have announced, “Honey, I’m home!”
What has any of this to do with what I’ve been reading in the Bible recently?
Nothing except that I’d left my One Year Bible in the car several days in a row, and in order to retrieve it in the dark hours of early morning, I would have to chance an encounter with a racoon.
So I didn’t.
Clearly I’m no candidate for martyrdom.
But I did remember that I was in the book of Jeremiah and decided to continue reading there – from a Bible that was safely shelved in my family room.
God’s Word has been speaking to me through the book of Jeremiah in ways that are timely and relevant. I marvel at how this happens: that I land at a certain passage, and its providential counsel speaks directly into a situation I’m facing.
Jeremiah is a prophet asked by God to preach hellfire and brimstone. Judah is soon to be exiled, and he’s tolling the warning – except no one cares and there are a host of other prophets announcing peace and prosperity whom the people would much prefer to believe.
It isn’t as if Jeremiah is always impervious to persecution and threats and hatred. He begs for his life. He pleads for God to intervene. He commiserates that such is his task.
Jeremiah is human, not bionic man: there is real sadness and despair and fear in the midst of doing what God has clearly called him to do. But what you sense is the open dialogue he shares with God – that it is to God he always returns and finds safety and further courage to keep advancing.
“If you have raced with men on foot, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” Jeremiah 12:5
When God calls us to participation, we shouldn’t imagine that it will be easy, that our movement forward will be unobstructed, that we will feel perpetual joy and peace as we work for the kingdom. No – that is the wide road.
And that’s not the one that we travel.
Do something for God, and remember that it will always, always require of you COURAGE. And you don’t get courage handed to you in a vat, as if all you needed was to ladle it out and drink it up when the situation demanded for it. You get courage in the form of a Person, who is the Holy Spirit. He walks with us, resides within us: He’s closer than our breath.
He is always near, hemming us above and behind and around.
“I will make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls . . . they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you.” Jeremiah 1:18
There are so many forms of courage that we need as God’s people: relational courage: to forgive and be forgiven, to speak truth and to receive it back in kind; moral courage: to do what is right and defend what is right; spiritual courage: to offer to God and to others whatever breeds from our faith; vocational courage: to work as if we were working for the LORD, not for men and woman; emotional courage: to stick it out in the dark places of self-doubt.
I have no doubt that you need courage today. I do. And I have no doubt that we need it because God’s calling is usually bigger than us. God invites us into jobs that only He can do.
And faith grows in that kind of partnership.
“And without faith it is impossible to please God.” Hebrews 11:6