Old-Fashioned American Stone-Throwing

I haven’t blogged lately, especially about anything political. I don’t believe in mixing politics with religion/spirituality, and this is a rule to which I try hard to adhere. Yet given the fact that this boundary has been trespassed repeatedly by others lately, it seems that now is the time to speak up.

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way. There is no religion on earth, Christianity included, which believes that abortion is anything other than a tragedy. (Although one could easily think otherwise when they read Biblical stories about babies and children who are killed in carrying out God’s purpose, such as Genesis 11 and Matthew 2, but that is a topic for another time.) But I think it’s clear from numerous other passages that Jesus valued life, all life, and God calls Christians to value it as well. Pope John Paul II was correct when he said, “A nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope.” And here in the U.S., have never been more hopeless. We find all kinds of creative ways to kill off our children. If we don’t kill them quickly and mercifully with abortion, we subject them to the slow, crushing death of the intolerable world we have created for them. (Check out recent statistics on climate change, mental health and drug addiction/overdose and you’ll understand what I mean.)

I often hear other believers talk about how we should go back to being a Christian nation. To be honest, I’m not sure we ever were. There was a brief period in history when we were really good at pretending to be a Christian nation, but history has revealed the hypocrisy behind that pretense. In any case, it seems like the height of delusion to refer to America as a “Christian nation” now.  According to the Pew Research Center the number of Americans who identify as Christian has dropped 75% just in the last decade. And 36% of Americans between the ages of 18-29 have no religious affiliation, as compared to only 14% of those over the age of 65.  It doesn’t take the gift of prophecy to see that if this trend continues, the Christian church as we know it will be non-existent thirty years from now.

Why is that?

I think the answer can be found in this passionate speech by Ana Kasparian which recently went viral. “I don’t believe in Christianity, which means that you do not get to dictate the way I live my life based on your religion. I don’t care what the Bible says…It’s a clown show trying to decipher what your mythical little book has to say about these very real political issues.”

I’ll be truthful; her words hurt. It hurts to hear my Christian faith, which has been such an unfailing source of joy and comfort in many hard times throughout my life, referred to as “a clown show” with a “mythical little book.” But once I got over the hurt feelings, I realized there was a reason that this video went viral. Because it was like having a mirror held up to Christianity, revealing exactly how we appear to the world outside. To them, we are just some weird cult intent on spreading hatred. And it’s not a good look. At all. 

And we are incapacitated in any evangelization efforts because of this terrible (and sorry to say it, but also deserved) reputation.

Jesus demonstrated clearly how to address this issue, in John 7 when the men were about to stone a woman caught in adultery. The interesting thing about this story is that adultery (like pregnancy) requires the cooperation of two people. And yet, in neither case is there any consequence for the man who is equally guilty. In fact, men are almost always the first in line to throw stones, just like they’re doing in this story. I can’t help but wonder if men are so vocal in accusing women because they hope to take attention away from their own misdeeds.

But Jesus called them out on that. It’s true, he told the woman to “go and sin no more,” but he did so from a place of genuine love and care.

But instead of following Jesus’ example, we have been throwing stones. Lots of stones. At everyone. In fact, we have driven away an entire generation (possibly several generations) simply by throwing stones at them.

I would absolutely love for America to be a Christian nation. Not the pretend Christianity that so many are remembering with fondness…but real Christiantiy, as Jesus taught it. 

That is the kind of Christian nation that anyone could get behind.

My Love-Hate Relationship With Love Stories

Happy Valentine’s Day! 

Today it struck me that this friendly holiday greeting holds almost as much tension and uncertainty as the old “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” controversy.

Truthfully, I have never cared much for Valentine’s Day. It’s always seemed like this holiday exists for the sole purpose of shaming single people. If we are presently happily coupled, we are (one assumes) happily coupled every day, and free to celebrate that on a daily basis. Even now that I am no longer among the ranks of the single, this holiday feels unnecessary. My significant other cooks dinner for me almost every night, and frequently gives me flowers or chocolates just because it’s Tuesday or Wednesday. I’m not one to create elaborate “Happy Valentine’s Day to My Boyfriend” posts on social media, because I have always felt that one’s feelings about private relationships are meant to be private. And to amplify my romantic expectations beyond what I get every day feels redundant and silly. 

But a casual remark from a friend who dropped by the other day has opened a window to me on a new way to think about Valentine’s Day. We were talking about the Bible, of all things. “The Bible is really just a love story,” he said.

Wow. He’s right. And I’m amazed that I never thought deeply of that before.

Because I must admit, I have always been a sucker for a good love story. You would think that as a divorced person, I would be appropriately cynical about love stories, but I still can’t resist their timeless allure. Their plots are so predictable and formulaic, yet always wonderful. The beginning, light and optimistic, yet with a quiet touch of longing. The meet-cute and all the fun that follows. The tragic misunderstanding. The separation. The grand gesture. The happy ending.

Of course, the grand gesture is always the best part of all. It’s the part where our heroine discovers that the hero has secretly loved her all the time. The moment when Colin Firth’s character buys Bridget Jones a new diary so they can start all over with a blank page. The moment when Elizabeth Bennet discovers that Mr. Darcy secretly saved her family’s honor at great cost to himself, even though he appeared to dislike them all. The moment when Captain von Trapp tells Maria there isn’t going to be any Baroness and that he has loved Maria ever since she sat on that silly pinecone.

All misunderstanding cleared away, and our hero and heroine are free to live happily ever after. It gives me chills every time. And if I’m honest, I’ve probably gotten myself into many situations where I shouldn’t have been because I was chasing grand gestures from my own idea of a Mr. Darcy or a Captain von Trapp. (Spoiler alert: these characters are fictional and do not exist in real life.)

But in fact, all these imaginary love stories are just pale shadows of the very real love story presented in the Bible, the story of God loving each one of us, and pursuing us with sacrificial love, undaunted by painful misunderstandings and separations. And Bridget Jones’ new diary or the Bennet family’s renewed honor are nothing in comparison to the sacrifice that God made for His beloved people by dying on the cross for them. That is the ultimate grand gesture. It is a grand gesture that puts all other grand gestures, real or fictional, to shame.

And the best part about this love story is that it isn’t finished. Each one of us exists suspended in that magical, breathless space in between the grand gesture and the happy ending. And whether or not we get that happy ending depends on our own individual decision. Will we reject our devoted lover? Or will we joyfully throw our arms around Him in recognition of the love He has so dramatically revealed to us…and then live happily ever after?

The best thing about this love story is that you can wholeheartedly celebrate it whether you are single, happily married, unhappily married, widowed, divorced, or exist in the complicated spaces on the edges of any of these stages. You are still a major participant in this very real and touching love story. And the ending, to some degree, depends on you.

This love story puts all others to shame. It is the only one big enough to overflow our hearts and spill out onto our social media statuses. It is the one great love that makes all other love possible. Without it, there is nothing to celebrate, on Valentine’s Day or any other day. With it, every day from New Year’s to Boxing Day is equally worthy of celebration.

So once again I’ll say it: Happy Valentine’s Day. And Happy Every Day. May you be ready to embrace your own love story, wherever you may find it.

How Christian Is Christmas?

It’s December. We’ve hung up our decorations, done slightly more than half of our shopping and put up the tree. I’ve lovingly assembled my two Nativity sets, the decorations that always carry the most meaning and significance for me.

And of course, with December comes the quarreling and controversy. Some people say there’s a “War On Christmas” (though personally, I have never encountered anything like this.) People argue about whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” Christians are fond of demanding that everyone “put Christ back in Christmas.” One witty response that I saw insisted they would prefer to see us “put Christ back in Christianity” first.

As with most controversies, I can see both sides of the issue. The commercialism of Christmas has always bothered me. It has always felt like a rude slap in the face to see this (for me) deeply sacred holiday twisted in the service of commercialism. It hurts to see the name of Christ used as a reason to rush into the stores in an orgy of greed by people who do not know Christ at all and have no interest in knowing Him. 

Yet on the other side of the argument, how Christian is Christmas really?

Historians agree that Jesus was probably not born in December at all. His birth was more likely to have occurred in the months between spring and fall.

It was not until the fourth century that Christians began celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25. While no one knows for sure, most historians believe that the date was chosen by the early Christians out of deference to the pagan holiday of Yule which occurs at the winter solstice. And that makes sense. After all, regardless of what we believe, we all need something to celebrate during the darkest time of the year. 

Yet despite these logical arguments against Christmas as a Christian holiday, it can’t be denied that something magical happens around Christmas time.

The celebration of God coming to earth to reside in the hearts of fallen humanity has resonance for everyone.

After all, what was it the angel said? “I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be for all people.”

Not just the Jewish people. Not just Christians. Not just churchgoers. All people.

At it seems for just a little while during that month of December, that feeling popularly known as “the Christmas spirit” does come upon us without discrimination.

Fred Holywell said it best in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: “I’ve always thought of Christmas as a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely,… though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

For this moment in the long calendar of the year, God allows each person to feel his presence within our hearts.  And the joy is so great that we can’t help but let it overflow with showy light displays, piles of wrapped gifts, the most gorgeous Christmas tree. And I must admit that’s pretty amazing.

It really is true that the news of Jesus’ birth, as described in Luke, still represents “good tidings of great joy that shall be to all people.” All people everywhere, no matter where they live, how much money they have, or even their relationship with Jesus the rest of the year. 

We get this brief moment in time when the whole world feels the pull of the Holy Spirit on all of our hearts.

And I say…God bless it.

The Honor of Being God’s Co-Parent

Parenting is nothing like I always imagined it would be.

It would probably take an entire book to list all the preconceived notions about parenting which have been shattered for me over the years. But in this blog post, I’m only going to talk about one of them.

I always imagined that my children would grow up to be exactly like me.

I pictured two socially awkward, bookish children who were terrible at sports but could learn foreigh languages with ease.

I imagined them simply as satellites of myself, enjoyable little mini-me’s.

I envisioned coaching them on how to navigate the awkwardness of social occasions when all you really want is to be alone in your room with a good book. I daydreamed about having constant companions who would love wandering in the mountains discussing poetry with me. 

In short, I was euphoric about the possibility of having younger versions of myself available to hang out with me whenever I wanted. 

But as you can probably guess by now, the reality is very different.

My children could not be more different from me. Neither one likes to read. They both enjoy playing sports, and are at least tolerably good at them. Neither suffers the pain of pervasive social awkwardness (which is wonderful for them, but it does put another layer of distance between us.) They both believe in God, but neither shows any interest in church involvement.

To sum it up, my children are not, nor ever have been, my satellites or mini-me’s. They are separate human beings, with their own interests, values and beliefs.

And this shouldn’t be surprising. Because even though I had the honor of bringing them into the world and raising them, even though I love them more than life itself, the truth is they are not really my children. 

It’s true. My children aren’t really mine. They belong to God.

When you think of it that way, having these children in my life to nurture, teach and care for is a tremendous honor. As human parents, we are the people that God has trusted with His most valued possession. He has invited us to share in this sacred task of nurturing and creating a strong human soul. There can be no greater honor than that.

However, it is an honor that is temporary. It’s only a loan. Eventually these children will leave us and go out to do the tasks that God calls them to do in the world. They may share our values, likes, and dislikes…or they may not. They may make choices we agree with; they may not. They may be people that we enjoy spending time with and would choose as our friends…or they may not. At the end of the day, these things don’t really matter. What matters is that we carried out our sacred task as God’s co-parent faithfully and honorably.

My oldest child is approaching the age of 20 now and no longer lives with me. He does come by to visit once in a while. I try to share some of my hard-earned wisdom with him when I can. But the truth is, he will have to earn his own wisdom, which will be different from my wisdom. God has different lessons for him to learn, because we are different people. My lessons are not lessons. In God’s eyes, my son and I are equals. I am not superior or smarter simply because I have lived longer. We are on the same footing.

My daughter is almost fourteen. The other day at dinner we had a conversation entirely in Spanish. She works hard at Spanish, at least partly because she knows how much I love languages, and she desires that connection with me. She will have her own path in life, but her loving nature will always create such connections for the people she cares about. Sometimes she asks me to intervene in difficult situations with her friends, but I resist the temptation to do so. I want her friendships and relationships to be completely her own. 

As it turns out, despite our differences, my children are people that I enjoy spending time with. They are people that I would choose as friends. But more importantly, they are unafraid to chart their own course and seek out what God has in store for them.

And as I near the end of my years as God’s co-parent, I can’t ask for much more than that.

Freedom to Grow and Hypocrisy: Are They the Same Thing?

I am a firm believer in lifetime growth.

The moment we stop growing, learning, and changing, we are as good as dead. Our sense of curiosity and wonder, our openness to change, these are the things that keep life (and faith) fluid, flexible and strong. Able to bend without breaking.

I have known people in their eighties and nineties who had the same sense of wonder and excitement as a young child. And I’ve known teenagers who carried all the jaded inflexibility of early rigor mortis.

I’d prefer to be in the first group. Wouldn’t you?

Of course, change and growth are difficult for many reasons. To continuously learn, to continuously grow, it’s a lot of work. You must constantly engage in the hard work of reevaluating the things about yourself and about the world that you once knew to be true. You are constantly absorbing and integrating different experiences and viewpoints, some of them painfully jarring, into your perception of how the world works. It’s overwhelming and humbling. 

But to have faith and hope that stands up to questioning is a payoff that’s more than worth the effort, in my mind at least.

The problem is that besides these natural and internal obstacles to growth, we also get plenty of obstacles thrown at us from outside sources.

Sadly, it seems that the greatest obstacles to change and growth often come from our family and friends.

Why don’t you like to do xyz anymore?

That’s not what you said about that last year.

You can say whatever you want. But I know the real you.

Gently, and with the best of intentions, our friends and loved ones hem us in with walls of expectation. We have always been this way. As with their favorite restaurant, they have come to depend upon a consistent experience. They want us to be the selves they have always known. Our real selves. 

We can’t really blame them. After all, who doesn’t want consistency in life? It’s a relief to have something to depend on in this chaotic, unpredictable world of ours.

But sometimes, God calls us to move in unexpected directions. He asks us to open ourselves to become something stronger, something deeper, something different from what we have been in the past. He calls us to explore new pathways, embrace new ideas, open ourselves up to new friendships.

And in doing so, we often end up leaving some of our cherished traditions and relationships behind.

We can always be sure that the people who God intends to remain in our lives will remain there. And perhaps they might see in our new path a calling to new paths of their own.

But sadly, there are many who are content to remain locked in the rigid walls of their old selves, never leaving, never changing.

They see our new growth, our changed selves, and they feel affronted. They take it personally. When we change our viewpoint or lifestyle, it’s often seen as hypocrisy. How can anyone trust what you say when your point of view keeps changing?

But in my mind, changes, revolutions, revisions, bring us closer to the truth. 

So the more you’ve changed, the more you’ve learned, the more you’ve grown…it makes you more trustworthy. Because you have done (and continue to do) the hard work of reevaluating what you once knew.

And to me, that is the very opposite of hypocrisy. It is real faith.

What About This Weather?

Hot enough for you? Cold enough for you? Ready for winter yet? What about that snow last night? What about that rain yesterday?

Ah, weather. As a conversation topic, it’s hard to imagine anything more solid and trustworthy. Our family lives are often too personal and involve sharing stories that belong partially to other people. Our religious and political convictions, too divisive. Our hobbies and interests (sports, books, movies, etc.) are not always appreciated by others.

But there’s one thing we all share: the weather.

You might not be able to talk to your next-door neighbor about heaven and hell, but you can certainly share stories of the most recent heatwave.  Your cousin at Thanksgiving dinner might not care about the fascinating book you’ve been reading, but you can definitely trade battle stories about last week’s big snowstorm.

It’s fashionable to scorn weather as a topic for conversation that’s too mundane and banal to truly spark anyone’s interest. And yet weather is one of the few things in life that we all share. The sun shines on everyone; the rain falls on us all, regardless of race, creed, conviction, or interests.

In some ways, you could consider weather the great unifier. It’s the one thing we all have in common.

And here in NH, the weather is so unpredictable that it’s always good fuel for a conversation. This year, we had a weird summer in which it rained almost the entire month of July. We’ve had 90-degree days in April that were followed by a snowstorm one month later. We’ve had days that begin with Arctic frigidity that melts into mellow summer-like warmth within a few hours. If we prepare to go for a hike any time between October and May, we must bring winter gear with us and prepare for the possibility of a raging blizzard above treeline.

While the topic of weather might seem mundane, it is a force that definitely affects our lives. 

For example, I have always found the weather of November and December especially challenging. It’s my least favorite kind of weather. The lack of sunlight makes the days feel shorter and makes me feel like I’m not accomplishing anything. The weather gives my body a subtle hint that the year is dying, and any missed opportunities that the past year might have held are about to die with it. It also warns me that I must prepare for a long period of darkness, cold, and snow before I can enjoy sunshine and warmth again.

Far from being banal and trivial, the weather is a powerful representation of the life of the spirit. It gives a concrete and physical form to the challenges and joys we experience throughout the year and throughout our lives.

Cataclysmic weather events used to be known as “acts of God.” Like God, the weather is a powerful force over which we have no control. Like life itself, the weather brings good and evil experiences which we cannot influence or predict, not even if you’re a Christian and especially not if you’re a weather forecaster. All we can do is prepare. 

And when bad weather comes our way, we have to trust that we have enough resilience within us to get through the storm without losing our joy.

Most of all, we have to keep our faith and hope that the storm will eventually stop and that spring and summer will show up once more, bringing back sunshine and pleasant long days.

The faith and hope that we need to endure bad weather in New Hampshire is the same hope and faith that we need to get through life.

There’s an old saying: If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute.

And that’s true about every experience we have. If you’re depressed or grieving, just wait a minute. If you are enjoying a period of happiness, store up every moment in your memory bank because….just wait a minute. No matter what you’re going through, good or bad, whether a snowstorm or a breakup, whether a hot summer day or a dinner with friends, just wait a minute.

And most of all, be prepared. 

Never go into the mountains in the winter without microspikes and warm layers.

And never embark on the treacherous journey of life without a strong faith to warm and strengthen you.

And then you’ll be prepared for anything.

The Truth About Life After Death

Are you ready? I know the truth about life after death. I know what really happens.

Just kidding. I don’t know. And you know what? If anyone pretends to know, they’re either lying or deceiving themselves.

It’s true that as Christians we all believe in the reality of life after death. The Bible tells us, unequivocally, that both heaven (and hell) are real.

But it’s hazy on the details. Here are a few of the scattered and vague hints we get about what happens after death.

And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” –Ecclesiastes 12

We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” – I Corinthians 15

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” -Revelation 21

It’s all vague, symbolic, and I think that it’s written that way by design. Because we are not supposed to know exactly what happens to our souls after death. It’s supposed to be a matter of faith.

And yet that’s hard. Really hard.

I think the scariest thing about death for most of us is the fear that our selves, our identities as we know them, might disappear entirely.

All our emotions, our memories, our relationships, everything that makes us individuals, could cease to exist. These are the products of our brains. And the brain eventually dies, like every organ in our bodies. This is one of the few things about death that we know for certain.

In our Western culture, we’re very attached to our selves and our identities. In fact, they are everything. We are entirely defined by them. Our unique personalities, experiences, likes and dislikes completely encompass all that matters in this world. Without them, there is nothing else. And that makes the idea of death sickening and terrifying in its intensity.

In some ways, I think the Eastern religions have a saner approach to death than us Westerners do.  Buddhism, Taoism, any of those Eastern religions and philosophies teach you to transcend the self, to let go of it, to release our attachments and memories so as to prepare our spirits for something much greater. But Western culture doesn’t really know how to do that. The individual self is our god, and the demise of that individual self is the ultimate tragedy.

But is that what the Bible really teaches us?

In regards to life after death, it seems to me that Christianity is much closer to Buddhism and Taoism than we want to admit.

The Bible teaches that God is love. It teaches us that our spirits come from God and then return to Him. It teaches that all memory of our past tears will be wiped away.

That means all our fears, all our regrets, all our pain will disappear, along with our dying brains which produced them. And I don’t know about you, but I find the thought of such a blessed release as delicious as the moment when you lie down in bed at the end of a long day.

Back in February 2018, my children’s father passed away unexpectedly. His love for his children, his passion, his joy was larger than life, and his sudden loss left a huge void. Most of all, when we lose someone like that, the biggest hole left behind is where love used to be. Where does that love go? That is the most painful question surrounding death. 

I drove my son to a basketball game out-of-state a couple weeks after his father’s death. On the way home, I stopped to fill up my tank. I remember feeling sad because Bill had often filled my tank for me when he happened to see me pulled up to a gas tank. I went in to pay for the gas ahead of time. I asked for $20 worth. The attendant told me that there was already exactly $20 worth of gas, bought and paid for, on the tank where I was parked. 

Was there a reasonable, logical explanation? Of course. There had been a mistake. The person who used the tank before me had overpaid, or perhaps purposefully paid for an extra $20 in a kind “pay it forward” type of gesture.

Naturally, it wasn’t that the spirit of an undead Bill rose from the grave, showed up at the gas pump, and bought $20 worth of gas for me.

But God used that mistake or that gesture to send me a message that day. He was letting me know that the love we feel when we’re alive never really goes away. The love Bill felt for his children was still there. It hadn’t died. Once Bill’s body became too frail to contain this love, it expanded to fill the universe, offering its kindly and paternal care and protection.

Often, when we talk about life after death, we put it in simplistic terms to suit our frail human understanding. It soothes us to imagine our deceased loved ones watching over us from above. We find comfort in images of people running to meet Jesus in the clouds, looking exactly the way they did when they were alive. But these images are colored by our limited human understanding and experience. The reality of life after death is so vast that we cannot possibly comprehend it.

We will all be changed. Our tears will be wiped away. Our precious identities, memories, experiences, everything that we imagine makes us who we are will be gone forever. 

And this shouldn’t be cause for terror. It is cause for peace. What a relief to let go of the burden of the self, to embrace the eternal, to reach a place where our individuality no longer weighs heavily upon us.

It’s love that remains. God is love. That is one thing we all can agree on. And it’s a love too vast, too incomprehensible, to be contained within our frail bodies, our fragile and brief lifespan. It is so great that it bursts the bonds of individual experience to encompass everything. 

Was it arrogance for me to think that God cared enough about my sadness in that particular moment in time to reach out in a special way that only I could understand?

Yes. But that’s exactly what we believe about God.

He is vast enough to exist outside of the confines of human life, and yet personal enough to care about our intimate struggles.

These struggles will be wiped away. Our cherished self, our individuality, will disappear to be absorbed by God, by the vast and eternal love of the divine.

Confined by our frail selves, we cannot possibly explain or understand the reality of life after death. Even the words “life after death” are meaningless, because life as we know it and death as we know it will someday no longer exist. Only love will.

And what a blessed and joyous release that will be.

Grumpy Old People and Dreams Deferred

Remember when we were teenagers and we used to complain about grumpy old men and grouchy old ladies?

Then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, we woke up to find that we had become them.

In a surreal and startling role reversal, we are no longer the kids who feel judged by the elderly lady sitting behind us in church. Now we are the old ladies doing the judging.

We are no longer the young person rolling our eyes as Grandpa complains yet once more about “kids these days.” Now, we are scratching our heads over kids these days, just like he did back then.

How does this happen?

The obvious answer is very simple. We get older. It’s part of life, just nature taking its course.

But is that really all it is? I actually think there might be something else going on, something that is described very vividly in this famous poem by Langston Hughes:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

 like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

When we’re young, we have this marvelous sensation that every door is open to us. We have plenty of time to open every possible door, explore each one of them, pursue our dreams wherever they might take us.

Then as we get older, we feel like our choices get ever narrower. Doors that were open are now closed. In less time than it takes to blow out a few birthday candles, the many open doors seem to have faded into one narrow passage with one clear and definitive endpoint.

And that makes us bitter and grumpy.

Did you once dream of writing and publishing a book? Of traveling? Of starting your own business? Of going back to college and starting a new career?

Sorry, you can’t. You’re running out of time.

And when we realize this, we begin to play the blame game. If only we hadn’t been forced to work so hard every day of our lives at this dead-end job just to survive. If only we hadn’t sunk all our savings into a nice house for our kids to grow up in.  If only we hadn’t wasted so much of our time worrying about what other people thought of us.

The list of if onlys just goes on and on.

And as always happens when we play the “if only” game, we become resentful of those who are not following the rules we forced ourselves to adhere to.

After all, we had to work every day of our lives at a dead-end job. So the younger generation needs to pay its dues too. That’s only fair.

We sacrificed our dreams and hopes and wishes to follow society’s arbitrary rules of behavior. So why can’t they?

As with any kind of pain or regret, we feel compelled to invite others to share it.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if all of us, young and old, male and female, rich and poor, decided that dreams must no longer be deferred? What if we all decided together that our dreams, our health, our happiness, deserve something better than shrivelling in the sun or festering like a sore?

Then maybe old age would find us beaming with gentle and fruitful happiness rather than exploding or sagging with the weight of dreams deferred.

After all, didn’t God create us for a purpose? Didn’t he put those dreams inside of us for a reason?

And if we think of it that way, deferring our dreams isn’t just painful, but sinful, too.

If you feel like you’re becoming a grumpy old person, ask yourself what dream you’ve deferred. And as long as you have breath in you to do it, keep pursuing it.

While it may be risky, go back and open some of those closed doors again.

Maybe old age doesn’t have to be a narrow passageway to one clear endpoint. Maybe it’s an opportunity to breathe new life into old dreams.

Worn-Out Filters and the Abundance Of the Heart


I don’t have much of a filter anymore.

And I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way.

It seems that as we get older, we become less and less interested in censoring our opinions, thoughts and feelings.

It seems that many of us (especially women) over the age of 40 started out life with an excellent filter. We brutally censored ourselves to make our persona more acceptable to others.

If you grew up in the church, your filter probably worked overtime. There are certain things one does not discuss in church. There are certain words, mannerisms, and conversation topics that are just off-limits.

But around middle age, it seems our filters wear out. Permanently.

Why?

Maybe as life goes along, we discover that our filters cause more harm than good. Because of our filters, our true self becomes unknowable, facilitating false relationships and putting up a barrier against real ones.

Maybe we feel that it’s too much work to keep that filter in place day after day, and it doesn’t bring us the reward of admiration and love that we had hoped it would.

Above all, I think that middle age brings a stark realization of how brief our time on earth is. We understand with painful clarity that our filters have prevented us from loving our real selves, just as we are, during the short time we have before that self is permanently absorbed by Eternity.

Unfortunately, the disappearance of our filter, while it brings the same delicious relief as removing your bra or pants at the end of a workday, also brings with it some problems.

Problems like false rumors. Malicious gossip. Hatefulness. Just plain old-fashioned meanness.

We’ve all known at least one elderly person that no one wants to be around because they are grumpy, or vindictive, or just plain mean. While part of us envies their freedom in saying whatever they want whenever they want, in our hearts we know that God did not create us to live that way. He wants us to live in freedom, but also in love.

So what’s the answer? Do we need to go through the laborious and painful task of reconstructing a filter in order to be a good Christian?

I don’t believe so.

In Matthew 12, Jesus says, “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

“Out of the abundance of the heart.” In other words, those opinions, thoughts and feelings that spill out of you once your filter is gone, they emerge because your heart is too full to hold them inside anymore. The problem is not the absence of a filter. The problem is what is going on inside our hearts.

If we are full of love, then love is what spills out of us when our filters wear out.

If we are full of anger and hatred, then again, anger and hatred are the things that spill out.

I don’t believe that the Lord intended us to have filters at all. He intended us to pay attention to what was happening in our hearts so that we would not need them.

When we feel angry, when we feel judgmental statements or attitudes forming inside us, we are not supposed to just stuff them down, ignore them, or pretend they don’t exist. Because eventually, out of the abundance of the heart, these feelings will spill out of us before we can stop them.

Instead of ignoring these feelings, God calls us to resolve them. Maybe that means talking to someone about what they did to hurt or anger you. Maybe that means praying for others at the moment you feel angry with them. Maybe it means writing our frustrations down in a journal and debriefing them with a trusted friend. Or it could simply mean recognizing that these bad feelings exist and trying to understand why.

How freeing, how glorious, to not have to use a filter anymore or to have to worry about the consequences.

If the abundance of all our hearts brought up only good treasure, imagine how different the world would be.

Confessions of a Reluctant Sports Parent

This week, my 13-year-old daughter played in her last soccer game ever in her small K-8 school. Next year, if there are any sports, they will be high school sports.

I have been a sports parent for a long, long time. Ever since around 2007 or so when my oldest made his first foray into community tee-ball, in a long yellow team shirt and a helmet that looked much too big for his tiny face.

I remember being shocked at the time at how much was expected of sports parents. Sitting out in the rain and wind for hours and hours, day after day. Never sitting down around the dinner table for a quiet family meal, because practice was always at dinner time. And worst of all, never being able to make any weekend plans, because you would never know how sports events and practices would swoop in to change these plans without warning.

And that was only the beginning. Later there was the agony of watching your child continue to play even though you knew he was hurt. Sitting through entire innings on the bench without going up to bat once. Trying to find unfamiliar playing fields with a non-existent sense of direction which plunged me into aimless driving Saturday after Saturday.

The truth is, as I had never played sports myself, I really didn’t understand what parenting a child who plays them would entail. And I was shocked that everyone just accepted this lifestyle as if it was no big deal.

It was a big deal to me, though. And I resented it.

I dreaded every practice, every game. I sat through each one desperately wondering when it would be over. None of the rules made any sense to me. It seemed that the weather was always horrible. Even when the game or practice was over, it really wasn’t. The coach would often keep the team for a long pep talk before going home. I remember sitting on a dark, cold football field  lit by car headlights, waiting for the coaches to finish their long dissertation to the young boys kneeling around them in a reverent group.

Since those days, I’ve learned survival tactics. I always bring at least five extra layers, including a winter hat, coat and mittens. Even on the warmest, balmiest days, an athletic field will remain an Arctic, windswept tundra. Umbrellas are omnipresent during sports seasons, too. The slow cooker and the nearby pizza shop are my best friends during sports season. And a good book or a good friend must always travel along with me as a safeguard against hours of boredom during lengthy coach pep talks.

I came across a photo in my Facebook memories the other day. It was my son as a nine-year-old, attired in his football uniform. His green eyes were serious and intense, his face, still with a hint of baby pudge, tense with concentration. 

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With a pang, I realized how much I missed the little athlete in that photo. It was such a critical and beautiful moment in his development as a person. And somehow I missed it in a welter of resentment.

It got me wondering, what other important moments have I missed because I was grumpy, or tired, or stressed out?

The moments of childhood, whether sports games, holidays, play dates with young friends, or school plays and parties, streak across our lives like a comet. While we are distracted by temper tantrums (either our children’s or our own), dinner arrangements, and packing the right snacks, the moments explode and disappear in our horizon. There is never a voice reminding us: “This moment is important. Remember it.”

That little football player is long gone, replaced by a tall young man who lives on his own and needs me for nothing. My gangly teen daughter will soon be gone, too, to be replaced by yet another version of herself. 

And versions of my former self appear and disappear continually. Myself as a young wife and mother. Myself as a teacher. Myself as a newly divorced single woman enjoying her freedom. These versions of myself have come and gone without my awareness of them.

What moments will I miss in the future? Will I miss my body’s ability to go for long hikes on warm fall days? Will I miss the thrill of early-relationship bliss? Will I miss my patched-together career of picking and choosing exactly what I want to do every day? 

I don’t know what the future holds or what aspects of my present life will leave an aching void in that future. If past experience is any indication, it’s probably something that I complain about now, even resent.

Whether joy or pain, everything passes away eventually. We can’t live in the past. But we can remind ourselves that the present moment is a future memory, and cherish it as such. Resentment and all.

Because soon it will be gone.