Christ as Cheerleader

Imagine sitting next to your sister (or anyone), turning to look her in the eye, and saying, for the first time, “You are loved by Christ.”

My Sister and Me -- Loved by Christ as are You!

My Sister and Me — Loved by Christ as are You!

Last week, I did just that while attending the session of Sharon Garlough Brown, pastor and spiritual director, at the Festival of Faith & Writing. Not only that, but on Brown’s instruction, I said out loud to myself, for the first time, “I am loved by Christ.”

Now why was this new for me? It should not have been. I was raised in a parsonage, have attended church for more than seventy years, and have known for most of those years that I am loved by Christ.

There is something about attending a festival of this kind that is truly a festival. A time of spiritual renewal as a writer and as a reader. A time to receive new understandings of old truths. And that was what Brown was helping a packed audience to do in the Covenant Fine Arts Center Auditorium on the campus of Calvin College.

Her title, Writing as the Beloved, attracted me to this session. I’ve been a nonfiction writer for only fourteen years and wondered what it meant to write as the beloved. The first sentence of the session description hooked me: “What does it mean to write as a response to the lavish and uncontainable love of God?”

I had a vague idea, but as my sister and I discussed afterward, maybe I was just jaded. I’d taken my being raised in a strong faith tradition for granted. I’ve always known I was created in God’s image, as are all people, and, in the parlance of my upbringing, that therefore we are all image bearers of Christ. But other than being able to roll that off my tongue, what did it really mean to me? Aware that I’m not addressing all of Brown’s points, this is what grabbed me most as a writer:

We write as a response to the love of God.

The apostle John says we are defined by the love of God, not by our accomplishments.

We need to practice “beholding” that love of God for us.

Beholding means “to stop and look and see and pause.” It’s like being on a beach on a sunny day soaking it up. There is enough sun for everyone. Enough of God’s love for all of us.

Our identity, as writers, is as God’s beloved, as God’s image bearers.

We do not have to fear that we are not good enough as a writer. We can pray to God to quiet our inner critic when it shows up on our shoulder. We can, using Brown’s terms, practice spiritual discipline to pause, ponder, pray, and wrestle with passages such as:

Romans 8:31-37 If God is for us, who can be against us? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors.

As a writer, I found Brown’s reminder that we are loved by Christ infuses me with encouragement, like having a cheerleader sit on my shoulder, to continue to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard…about happiness and despair, beauty and ugliness, and everything in between.

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Note: Sharon Garlough Brown is the author of Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey , “the moving story of four strangers as they embark on a journey of spiritual formation.”

Review  of Sensible Shoes from Amazon: “If you’re a spiritually inclined person, I think you’ll really love it. It’s about four women, every one of them coming from a different place spiritually. But all of them in need of a [new] fresh cup of mercy. . . . So it’s terrific. I highly recommend it.” (Kathie Lee Gifford, NBC’s Today, March 11, 2013)

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A WordPress prompt for day three of the Zero to Hero challenge in which I’m participating  is to write something about “breaking down your inner critic.” I found seeing my inner critic as a loving God fit in nicely with the piece I chose to write for today.

You are loved by Christ…

was my powerful takeaway last week from attending the three-day Faith & Writing Festival at Calvin College. Imagine attending sixteen one-hour sessions, plus two chapels, with speakers whose intentions were to explore the intersection of faith and writing.

Consider it an immersion camp on a rolling green campus where newbies quickly learn to shed dress shoes for walking shoes. Half-hour breaks between sessions show guys and gals of all ages scampering across campus with maps in their hands, possibly trying to sip coffee and take a bite of apple or cookie, supplied to keep the two-thousand attendees fortified for the races.

Organ Pipes in Calvin's Chapel

Organ Pipes in Calvin’s Chapel

I attended with one of my sisters, staying a local Comfort Inn, and then spending the day on campus, from the first session at 8:30 a. m. through the last, nearly twelve hours later. For meals, we ate at the hotel for breakfast (scrambled eggs, toasted English muffins, orange juice) and then hit one of the campus dining rooms (all you can eat for $6.00 – salad bar plus) or a fast food place near the bookstore (also less than $6.00 – chicken nuggets, anyone?) for lunch and dinner.

Having one of my granddaughters a student there added enormously to the fun. She popped in and out during mealtimes and during another session time that I skipped because, “I’d like you to meet my friends, Grandma.” So on the one day it rained, she and I skidded over an elevated cross walk to the college’s upperclassmen apartments, and I met students, all smiles, cutting hair, eating breakfast after lunch time, writing papers, and generally living the somewhat disheveled and lovely life of college kids.

But back to You are loved by Christ. I plan to blog on things I learned in these sessions. I hope to infuse you with the inspiration that soaked me from these presenters, from Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird, Traveling Mercies) to James McBride (The Color of Water, The Good Lord Bird), to Daniel Taylor (Creating a Spiritual Legacy – yes, the author I wrote about recently, The Skeptical Believer) and more. Each of these and the other authors have written lots of books, enough to keep me reading for a century.

Meanwhile, I’m also participating in a blogging exercise through my host, WordPress. Today, the writing prompt was to tell my readers who I am and why I’m here. You already know I’m a retired nursing professor and author of Caring Lessons, and I’m here to write memoir pieces, so essentially any topic that suits the day.

I’m not sure yet what this exercise entails, but, along with a writing prompt, it may require daily blogging. If so, I’m inviting you to unsubscribe now, or come along for a joyous ride!

What are you willing to suffer for? Part 3 – Final Answer

As a response to Part I and Part 2 of this series about suffering, I was comforted yesterday to see the “final answer” to our earthly suffering in the form of our Prayer of Confession written in our church bulletin:

Holy God, so many times you have approached us,

and we have turned away,

You have called us to remember our relationship to one another,

And we have thought only of our own needs and desires.

You have been present in the midst of our struggles,

And we have chosen to suffer on our own.

You have set before us promises for new life,

and we have insisted upon continuing in our old ways.

Forgive us, Lord.

Set us free to rebuild the lives of ourselves and others,

To feel the possibility of the future,

To know that these bones may live. Amen.

Scripture Lesson: Ezekiel 37:1-14

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What are you willing to suffer for? Part 2

I asked this question last time based on reading Daniel Taylor’s words that he could tell what our passion was by how we answered this question.

Passion is a concept that I’ve discussed often with one of my sisters since we’ve retired. In our working years, we both knew what our passion was. Teaching. We loved being in the classroom (and, in my case, also clinicals) with our students.

After retirement, though, we had to find a new passion. What could fill our days that would give us the same fulfillment we’d had in our working lives?

For me, that has turned out to be writing. I’ve written and published a memoir of my nursing/teaching career (Caring Lesson: A Nursing Professor’s Journey of Faith and Self). But in the context of Daniel Taylor’s question of what am I willing to suffer for, I was stymied and said in my last post that I would answer later.

I had thought, of course, of things I take for granted. I’d be willing to suffer for needs of my husband, kids, and grandkids. But beyond that, I drew a blank, until fellow blogger, Pat  commented on that last post saying, “FM [fibromyalgia] impacts everything we do, but not all that we are so we forget about it in order to do what we want to do.”

Pat’s remark was right on target. Most of the time my head actively denies the limitations that having fibromyalgia play in my life. So pushing my denial aside, I reexamined the question. Given that I have fibromyalgia, and given that I have physical limitations because of it, what am I willing to suffer for?

So I think of my worst days, the days when I’m very fatigued, or in my latest manifestation, itching frantically in various parts of my body, what am I willing to suffer for?

Answering this was easy. I always love my couch, and I always love reading. So no matter how not well I feel on a given day, I can always manage to go from my bed to my couch and read, either on my Kindle or magazines or books.

Secondarily, I realized that I’m also willing to suffer for my writing. I keep a small notebook next to my reading material in which I write things that catch my attention. I never know what I might be able to use later, when I’m feeling better, in a story or an essay or a blog post.

010bc02c7b7d6f1b81102b1dc494c07722e7022822To make all this reading easily accessible, my husband, ever the handy man, has made me an end table that revolves. I only need turn it to get to the next stack of reading. I’d told him that’s what I wanted when he spotted something in Staples garbage. Staples shares the same loading dock as my high rise. He came home with a thing that has a base that revolved and was on wheels. He cut down the poles on top of the base and added the decorative top. Ingenious!

0108162832ad6a80e5f0f92c2a9c401d4804c9c550So now I’m set. On my not-so-good days, I can still read and get ideas for further writing. You might call these two activities my addictions. My head needs to get information. And my head needs to empty itself by writing. And my couch is a good place to get started on these things.

So, aside from the needs of my family, reading and writing are what I’m willing to suffer for. They are my passions. Daniel Taylor says it’s “no accident that the source of the word is suffering and pain.”

Have you decided yet what you’re willing to suffer for?

 

What are you willing to suffer for?

A scintillating question.  When I read this, I really had to think. I’m gearing up to attend the Calvin College Faith & Writing Festival in April, and I like to read some of the authors ahead of time. Thanks to my Kindle, I’ve downloaded a dozen samples, and I’m getting more revved up to go every day.

My stories will show I value doll!

My stories will show I value dolls even when I’m 12.

Take the question above. The author, Daniel Taylor, in Creating a Spiritual Legacy: How to Share Your Stories, Values, and Wisdom, beautifully argues for the importance for each of us to write our stories for those we leave behind. Having written a career memoir, I, too, am a firm believer that we should write our stories.  What I especially like about Taylor’s work is that he differentiates memoir from spiritual legacy, saying that in memoir we tend to report our lives to any interested reader, while in spiritual legacy we are writing with particular people in mind and sharing, via story, our “values, beliefs, insights, passions, and actions.…”  He says our passions are what energize those values, beliefs, and insights, and that passion “is a measure of caring, and it is no accident that the source of the word is suffering or pain.”

And thus, Taylor says, “I will know your passion when I see what you are willing to suffer for.”

As I read this in bed a few nights ago, I thought this is one book that I will buy, not just read the sample. I’m in the middle of writing letters to my toddler grandchildren about my experiences when they were born.  Since I know I’m writing purposely to them, I can certainly use Taylor since I think it’s important to leave a spiritual legacy too.

Which gets me to what I’m willing to suffer for.

As I lay in bed, my first thought was that I’m not willing to suffer for anything or anybody. I have enough suffering, thank you, with having fibromyalgia and however it decides to manifest itself each day. Then I got a grip on myself and said, Lois, you don’t have it bad at all. Wake up. Look around the world. No, just look out the window, way down to the streets of Chicago, and see the panhandlers who don’t have a warm bed and don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

 So, what am I willing to suffer for?  Jogging the lakefront every morning? Cleaning my house more often? Volunteering away from home?  Not so much.

 I’m still thinking about it and will get back to you soon. Meanwhile, you think about it. What are you willing to suffer for?

               


A Week of Muffins and Rain

Before I flew west a few weeks ago to teen sit my granddaughter, I set healthy goals: cut carbs, lose two pounds, climb stairs five times an hour, and walk an hour a day in their hilly green neighborhood during fifty-degree weather.

I’d been unsuccessful at home with the above activities and thought, surely, with no need to clean drawers or downsize closets, in other words, no distractions, I would be a glowing runway model by the time I got back home to snowy frigid Chicago. At my daughter-in-law’s request, I’d even given her a grocery list–including apples, melons, cottage cheese, and Greek yogurt–to help me achieve my goals.

Enter a trip to Costco and the rainy season of the Pacific Northwest.

2014-03-08 17.14.16One quick Costco trip, and I had one dozen banana chocolate chip muffins. Big ones—probably six-hundred calories apiece. Mix in the rainy season, and you have a yummy recipe to add to a comfy seat on the couch while you sip tea and savor the Greek yogurt drizzled over a warmed-up, banana chocolate chip muffin.

From there on, my goals deteriorated. I rationalized that I don’t have a Costco membership at home, so should enjoy the muffins. Likewise, I don’t have that much rain in the winter at home, so I should glue myself to the couch and watch the rain soak the grass.

2014-03-03 15.53.58So, side tracking my goals was absolutely no problem. Plus, of course, having my fun and energetic teenager drop by to ask, “Is there anything I can get for you, Grandma?”

Could there be any better week of muffins and rain than when it is sprinkled with the love and thoughtfulness of a granddaughter?

I think not. Even if I have to reset my goals.