a letter of lauren.

I think I was 23 when I first discovered her.

I’d flown down to San Diego for Thanksgiving, and as Sister was working days in the naval hospital, I’d traipsed around downtown, alone and lonely, the two words’ definitions still indistinguishable to me at the time.  It was the first time I’d ever gone to the theater by myself, and holding my bag of popcorn (extra butter) and Diet Coke, I remember thinking, am I even allowed to laugh when there’s no one to laugh with?  I wanted the comfort a friend next to me, an arm to clutch, the reassurance of flesh.

Friends defined me.  I was never without.

I was so scared.

But as the day went on, I got braver.  I ate lunch, by myself, and then I went to the book store, all alone, and perused the various sections of Borders – discount, non-fiction, fiction, children’s, spirituality, in that order – until I finally stumbled upon this find:

(um, read it).
(um, read it).

I looked at the cover, and I was like, What the cheesiness, Batman?  But curious nonetheless, I sat down in the middle of the book store floor (which really, is one of the most magical places on earth, if you ask me), and began to read her words.  I read about her spiritual journey, how God had always been part and parcel of who she was, of her story.  And then, somewhere and somehow along the way, her journey morphed from Judaism to Christianity, though she held onto and maintained many cultural elements of her Jewish upbringing.  

And her words were funny and witty and poignant to me, and I remember thinking, this is me.  I too am on a spiritual journey.  I too am a girl who meets God.  I too am funny and witty and poignant!  (What I lacked in esteem of Alone, I certainly didn’t lack in confidence of my own personality).

Three chapters later, mind made up, I brought the book to the counter, awkwardly shy and ashamed of the cover.  For whatever reason, my choice of faith shamed me.  Although I taught at a Christian school and spoke at Christian camps and faithfully attended a – you guessed it – Christian church, I didn’t want to appear like I was one of those people.  No, no, I’m a liberal.  No, no, red, white and blue donkey all the way!

I held my faith at bay until I knew my beliefs were safe for disclosure.

Walking out of the bookstore, I ripped the cover off my hardback edition, throwing it in the trash.  I was now free to be me, my beliefs released for their own choosing. 

And this I realized today, after finishing a third book of this author’s: Lauren Winner has been a part of my faith journey for a good little while now.  She’s been alongside me as the girl who seeks after her God, and she’s been with me as the one who grabs hold of her cultural roots.  And now, in her book Still, she’s beside me when and as my faith journey morphs and wanes and questions and pools – and then burgeons and builds and begins anew again.  She’s with me in the Dark Night, and in that middle place, and when the whys seem to overwhelm the other question words, the ones with definitive, absolute answers.

“What you promise when you are confirmed …is not that you will believe this forever.  What you promise when you are confirmed is that this is the story you will wrestle with forever.” 

And friends, this story, this grand and magnificent and tragic and beauty-filled story, is the story I wrestled with then, and am wrestling with now, and will wrestle with until I’m laid gray in the grave – and it feels good to admit that.  There is freedom in its disclosure.

So, Ms. Winner, thank you for being on this journey with me.  I look forward to meeting you someday.

xo, c.

[Books: Girl Meets God, Mudhouse Sabbath, Still – if you click on a link and buy one of these books, you support my reading habits, and therefore this blog.  Thank you!]

What about you?  What author has been with you on your journey of life?  Don’t be a lurker, do share!

my forever and ever, amen.

Photo cred: Curious Presbyterian.
Photo cred: Curious Presbyterian.

I grew up in a small Baptist church, where learning to recite “The Lord’s Prayer” was an expected and celebrated rite of passage in and of itself.  I’d whisper Jesus’ words alongside Mom and Dad, and when it was Communion Sunday and the hallowed prayer was set to song, I’d quietly hum along, eyebrows raised triumphantly with the exultant “…Ever!” high note at the chorus’ end.

So, truth be told, when I first looked at this passage, my mind automatically went to the natural conclusion of the repetitious prayer: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).  But in the text, instead of proclaiming the powerful and strong, glory-induced Kingdom of God as I expected to read, in Matthew 6, Jesus launches into further dialogue – to us and on behalf of the Father – about forgiveness and confession.

Where’s my forever and ever, Amen? 

Instead, Jesus states this: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).  Could there be a connection between the heart’s temptations and the evil one’s influence on my soul because of my own forgiveness – or lack there of?

It’s a bone-chilling thought.

In Theology for the Community of God, author Stanley J. Grenz states that our experience of prayer as God’s people is intimately tied to “…the intercession of our advocate,” and it is in and through this direct imitation of Jesus that “…our prayer becomes the extension of his presence as our advocate with his Father” (355).  Because of Christ’s work on the cross, and through our Intercessory Advocate, we have access to our perfect, holy, awesome Abba.  Who then are we to deny, by conceitedly maintaining an unforgiving heart, God’s own forgiveness and spiritual provision?

I appreciate how Eugene Petersen paraphrases it in The Message: “In prayer, there is a connection between what God does and what you do.  You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others.  If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.”

Perhaps that is the root of it all: I want this connective, cyclical relationship with God, joining in with what He does, as I do what I do, back and forth, back and forth.  And then, as I continue to grow in Him and with Him, whether I’m repeating the prayer I’ve breathed since childhood, or getting to know the Father through scripture, might my heart continually desire deep reconciliation and absolute forgiveness because of what Christ first did for me.

For that, I think, is my forever and ever, Amen. 

Today’s post originally appeared on the DPC Prayer Connections blog; click here for further prayer suggestions that go along with the original text.  

Otherwise, what are your thoughts?  What is forgiveness to you?  

dear 24 year old me…

I just finished one of those epic, quintessentially beachy summertime reads, What Alice Forgot.  The plot is simple: 39 year old Alice knocks herself out at spin class, and wakes up not only with concussion in tote, but with a complete loss of memory as to the prior 10 years.  Her “29” year old mind then enters her present world, and is simultaneously appalled and amazed as to who she’s become …and as to what she’s forgotten and left behind.

Read it.  Photo cred: Mom Advice.
Read it. Photo cred: Mom Advice.

Were I then to concuss my head at spin class – okay, let’s be honest: I haven’t done spin in a year and a half …were I then to concuss my head while slipping on Cancan’s old banana peel and the mess of Cheerios all over the floor, what would I then say to my 24 year old self?  How would I react as to who I’ve become, and what I’ve forgotten and left behind?

(All credit to Leigh-friend for this intriguing question the other day regarding the book).

Dear 24 year old me,

Hello dear one.  Dear one – do you believe that about yourself?  Do you believe that you are so fully and wholly loved, just as you are, for the depths of your YOU-ness?

Embrace that.  Run with it.  Stop trying to be someone you’re not, and just be you.

You’re a high school English teacher – and I’d say that’s a pretty good fit for you, at least right now.  But without telling you what you should or shouldn’t do vocationally in the future, follow your heart and stop freaking out about the future.  Instead, be present.  Breathe deeply.  But be the best damn teacher you can be: let your youth be to your advantage, and know that it’s okay to admit that you’re not perfect, that you don’t have all the answers.  So take that scowl off your face, and quit whining about all those papers you have to grade, and stay away from the politics and drama.  It’ll be there.  It’s a permeating part of every work place environment, but you don’t need to get sucked into all of that.  And also, a head’s up: quit drinking so much Starbucks, sister.

You’re also a friend to many, and for the most part, that’s a good thing.  But you’re not defined by your friends.  You’re not defined by the number of social engagements you’re able to keep, and the amount of friends you have coffee dates with (…again, you might be a little over-caffeinated).  So if what you need is permission, permission to take a break relationally and God forbid not have something booked every afternoon and evening, that’s okay.  I give that to you.

K.  Let’s talk turkey here: boys.  You’re obsessed.  It’s like the pinnacle point of every conversation you encounter.  A surfer from the east side looks at you, and you go home and begin daydreaming about your wedding dress and bridesmaids that evening.  It’s like you’re standing at the factory line conveyor belt picking daisy petals – he loves me, he loves me not – thinking that’s your full-time job.  And more than that, you let these boys define your worth.  Friend, you are worth more than the sum of the heap of petals you’ve piled around you.  He will come, even if it’s not in the timing or the little wave-washed body you thought best.  He will come.

Here’s my last little nugget for you: you are worth more than your performance.  You really, really love Jesus right now, and people really, really see that in you (and you really, really like that they notice this about you).  You speak at camps and you lead worship and you serve coffee and you give announcements at church, and frankly, you’re pretty good at loving Jesus.  But I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: he doesn’t care.  He doesn’t give a lick.  In fact – Christian cuss alert – Jesus doesn’t give a rat’s ass about any of these things, because your worth and your value are not defined by how well you perform for him.  To him, you are loved for simply being you.  That’s it.  That’s all it is.

So I’ll reiterate the main message of this letter to you, one more time: Cara, you are loved.  You are loved – again and again and again – not for who you aren’t, but for who you are.  So go.  Go and rest, go and love, go and be.  

You got this.

xo, your 34 year old me.

What about you?  What would you say to your 10-years-ago self?  What advice would you give?

pilate believed.

Obviously I’ve been a bit silent this week – writing a 4000 word essay will do that to a girl. For now, as Easter is soon upon us, take a look at the following article I wrote for our church community about Pilate believing…

Poetry or Journal Contribution – Week 3 (Mar. 17): Crown of thorns, lashes: John 19: 1-24

I’ve spent the morning writing, holed up at Woodside Bakery, a cozy little coffee and pastry shop 17 miles south of the city. Fresh fruit tarts, glazed to perfection, and crunchy-topped Dutch apple pies stare at me from the right, while coconut-chocolate macaroons and mini bran muffins keep whispering my name, louder and louder, from the display case eight feet in front of me. Meanwhile, distant chatter fills the air while I try to make sense of this passage found at the end of John’s account of the Christ’s life.

The truth is this: I believe in Jesus. I love Jesus. I celebrate and I worship Jesus, and I try my best to be a salt of the earth follower of His. But when the Lenten season comes around, and I’m forced to remember the crown of thorns placed on his head, and the purple robe mockingly thrown over his shoulders, and the 39 lashes just short of death He received – for me – I’d much rather stare at mouthwatering pastries than dwell on the depressive.

I’d rather be distracted than thank Him for His gift.

I’d rather breathe in deeply the aroma of sugar and vanilla and just-roasted coffee beans than sit and let myself feel the emotion of this dark breath of beauty.

I’d even rather sing a peppy, celebratory “He is risen, He is risen, indeed!” Easter song than take the time to reflect on the Light that came out darkness, out of the darkest of hours.

But today I do. Today as I let myself be, in this passage and in the gloom, with my Jesus – I find that I’m drawn to Pilate.

I think about Pilate’s journey over the course of these 24 verses (and whose real journey held so much more): he who had Jesus flogged, presenting Him to the people, while he found no case against Him. I think about how Pilate’s heart thumped in his chest when the verdict of death was clearly given, and about how he pleaded with Jesus to give in to his supposed power. I imagine the tears in Pilate’s eyes, and I wonder when he realized his own powerlessness next to the true King’s power.

I think about how in Christianity we often label Pilate a people-pleaser, saying that he gave into the demands of the people, and while there is truth in that statement, I bet he racked his mind for another way, the wheels in his head churning for the man he knew to be King. I wonder if they sat on the judge’s bench at Gabbatha together, and if more words and feelings and emotions were exchanged than what we see in the text.

And as I sit here with these ancient words, I’m struck by his final declaration of belief, which he had inscribed and put on the cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Write that it’s just a claim, that it’s not the truth, the people shouted – that he just said he was king of the Jews! But this inscription was Pilate’s declaration of belief, despite the screams and the jeers and the yells.

Even in the darkness Pilate believed. Pilate believed.

That I hold in my heart today, for I have to believe that Jesus’ response to Pilate was just the same as it is to you and me today: I love you even when you’re a people-pleaser. I love you even when it takes you a while to figure out Truth. I love you even when fear seems to lump up in your throat, rendering breath. I love you.

Like Pilate, I rest in Truth today.

For more, visit DPC Prayer Connections.

elevators, make-up, digital media …and Lent.

Elevator-Buttons

When I was 19, it was elevators.

Around 26 or so, it was make-up.

This year it’s setting further boundaries around digital media, primarily that on my phone and therefore at my fingertips.

You’d think I’d be cured of it by now – I mean, I’ve been writing about it just about every other day since declaring 2013 the year of (the) BE.

I’m talking about Lent, of course. I didn’t grow up a religious tradition that participated in Lent, and only saw it from an outsider’s perspective as my Catholic friends gave up chocolate for 40 days, sometimes coming to school with a smudge of ashy charcoal on their foreheads. It wasn’t until I went to a historically Lutheran school that the actually idea of Lent began to take root in my life.

Granted, it started out as more of a weight-loss scheme than as a way to commemorate the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Give up sweets for Lent? Fine, if I have to… (while high-fiving myself internally: I’ll lose my freshman 15 – yes!). But really, even that didn’t hold any bearings – or help me lose the weight gained fall semester, for that matter – as sweets weren’t exactly the biggest stronghold in my life. Temptation surely would have come my way had a bowl of chips with accompanying guacamole been placed in front of me, but I digress.

So my sophomore year of college, I was determined to actually give up something really, really meaningful, and living on the 4th floor of my college dorm, elevators became the declared answer.

I trudged up and down the four flights of stairs, back pack heavy with books and my spiral binder – these were the days before laptops entered collegiate classrooms, and I found myself grateful for shorthand note-taking skills. Thank you, Mr. Pauley and AP Euro.

But still, I don’t know if I really got the meaning of Lent, or if I was just participating in said elevator fast because I thought I was supposed to, because everyone else was doing it.

Ugh.

Fast-forward a few years, and I had just moved back to California from a two-year stint in Washington state; living on the Peninsula certainly had its perks, but I was far from the hippie-esque culture of my Santa Cruz days. Although sporting our Nor-cal pride with its lack of plastic surgery and love of big dogs alike, we snuffed our LA counterparts, quickly pointing out that we were so much more organic and natural up here, we were one with the earth.

I was so organic that I had a dependence on painting my face every morning. I fixed my confidence and therefore my beauty on my daily regime of mascara and lip gloss and whatever other free Sephora sample found its way to my make-up bag.

So I gave up make-up for 40 days – and never felt so naked.

Or so ugly.

But I made it through the Lenten season, one hopes with a renewed sense of inner beauty, independent of what the world says makes me more – or less – beautiful. [Of course, this could have just been cured by pregnancy and staying home with a little one, as these days I’m lucky to get a daily shower, let alone a touch of mascara on my eyeballs.]

Yet even as I reflect on these Lenten pursuits, and think about my own goals towards digital media this year – turning off altogether on Sundays, shutting the laptop and iPad shut at 9 pm (great idea, Micha-friend), keeping the phone on “silent” throughout the day, and refraining from mindless browsing – I have to ask myself: where’s Jesus in this Lent of mine?

The point of Lent is to sacrifice, as Jesus sacrificed for us.

To give something up for him, as He gave something up for us.

And in the midst of elevators and make-up and even digital media alike, if I’m not finding Him at the end of the day, has Lent lost its purpose and just become another legalistic Christian activity, one that points to my own strengths and abilities to refrain instead of leading me to Christ?

Or – if, theologically speaking – the tables are turned, does God still find us (and our according sacrifices) good and pleasing, therefore leading us closer to Him?

I suppose the latter is what I hope for: I hope that Christ might find me as I do my part to sacrifice for him …because, truth be told, I’m not very good at thinking about ol’ Jesus when I slam the laptop shut at 9.01 pm.

What about you? Do you practice Lent? Where do you find yourself in the midst of this conversation?

sabbath, bacon and triple-point words.

This morning I sat around with a group of mamas from around the city; some kind ladies were watching our babies, and we then had a couple of hours to eat biscuits and drink tea and just breathe. We’re reading and discussing this book together, and as we talked through the stories and laws of 1st century Judaism, we also then applied a question to our own lives: what laws of love and of justice and of truth could be applied to our context and culture today?

It’s a tough question to answer, but as we wove our way around various themes and ideas, we soon landed on the theme of Sabbath. Biblically, Sabbath represented the Israelites taking a day to rest and (essentially) be with each other and with the Lord.

Does that mean that we too begin to eat Kosher, like our Jewish brothers and sisters, observing and taking the blessed bacon out of our diets? (Not the bacon, no!)

Does it mean turning off our lights and vowing to not use electricity, as to then truly know and honor all the Lord’s given to us?

We realized that for us, in San Francisco, California, in the year 2013, the greatest thing we could do is turn away from technology for 24 hours a week.

Say it ain’t so, puh-lease.

No Facebook.

No Twitter.

No WordPress, no e-mail and no Pinterest.

And – dear God – no Words With Friends.

Please join me for a moment of silence.

This isn’t a new concept for me, so you’d think by now that I’d get it. You’d think – especially just once a week – that I’d learned how to fully be present with my husband and my son, that I’d stopped brainlessly thumbing my way through Facebook to pass time, and that’d I’d given myself permission to stop staring at the computer screen for 24 short hours. You’d think that I’d be so, so excited to read that stack of books and magazines that continue to pile up, despite my best efforts, because true to my own mantra, better readers make better writers.

But nope, nada, zip. I’m not there yet.

And knowing full well that I have to give myself grace – heaps and heaps of grace, as I’m prone to dishing out this year – I want it and I need it. For my identity is not in the number of Facebook comments or Instagram “likes” I receive; it’s not in the traffic log of visitors to this ol’ WordPress site, nor in the absolute domination I might experience in a triple-worded, double-letter Words With Friends game. (Ugh, that one still hurts).

Our identity, my identity is far, far from that – even if I have to be reminded sometimes again and again and again.

Join me, will you?

epiphany & christmas decor in january.

Confession: our Christmas decorations are still up. And I’m totally okay with it.

Usually, by the time New Year’s rolls around, it’s out with the old and in with the new; the red and green, the glitter and glow are put away, stuffed in the basement anticipating the next December. But this year the Target clearance section Christmas bargains I just found for 75% off have proudly been on display for the past six days, and the silver glittered words “peace” and “joy” still rest gently against the fireplace. Granted, we didn’t have but a two foot Charlie Brown Christmas tree, since the holidays were celebrated in festive faire up in Oregon, but the rest of the decorations -including all the ornaments, hung on the wine rack with care – remain.

I suppose I’m still chewing on this season, sucking all the marrow I can out of Canon’s first Christmas, along with all the recent changes to our little family.

I still sing “Silent Night” to him before he goes to bed, and might just keep it up until March or April.

I just made Betty Crocker’s peanut butter cookies for our neighbors – Irina and Kim, Mary and Sophia, Lisa and Patrick – yesterday, with attached Christmas cards. Tis the season, I say, and who’s going to turn down free cookies anyway, even if they’re two weeks late?

And maybe I’m simply caught up in the moment, in being with thoughts of Christ’s Incarnation, and now, 12 days later, with Epiphany.

To me, it’s a fascinating and forgotten celebration for much of the Church today; still celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox Church in particular, the Day (or Feast) of Epiphany follows 12 days after Jesus’ birth. Some say it marks the day of his baptism, while others include it within the gift-giving tradition as the day the wise men arrived in Bethlehem. Writes Emilie Griffin in God With Us,

Epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphaneia, which is translated both as “coming” and as “manifestation” or “appearing.” While Christmas celebrates Christ’s coming in the Incarnation event, Epiphany celebrates manifestation – the ways in which the Incarnation is revealed to us.”

Christ made manifest, this, this is what we celebrate and this is who we celebrate. Might mine eyes be opened to seeing the many ways in which Light and Beauty and Truth is being revealed in this very moment.

And so, if leaving the decorations up for just a few more days means seeing a little teeny bit more of Christ revealed, then I’m in.

Happy Epiphany, ya’ll.