Examen

porch

I had lunch with a new friend last week. Jenna is the wife of one of my coworkers, and the two of us served on a committee together over the summer months. Both of us sensed, working together, a kinship of thinking. We shared a spiritual connection. And so, when our time on the committee was up, we made plans to reconnect, just the two of us.

This is one of the sweet surprises of being part of the body. We are one body with many members, and these members are not all the same.* And yet. Every now and again you meet someone whose journey has closely mirrored your own, and the things God has been showing her, and the things he shows you, connect somehow. It was this way with Jenna.

So the two of us met at Panera last week and we shared our stories. Jenna talked about being a first-time mom, her little daughter just nine months old. And I talked about being mom to two new sons – mine, too, these last nine months. Both Jenna and I had been seminary students prior to “birthing” our children; both put school on hold for a season, although Jenna’s season will be shorter than mine.

We talked about the stresses caused by change, the temptation to fear in the face of unknowns. We talked about seasons of anxiety. And how God shows up in our fear.

I told Jenna about the most important thing God showed me during my most anxious days. How he led me to seek him, one day at a time, paying attention to his provision, and giving thanks. Yesterday’s manna and today’s requests. Two lists written daily in my journal, so I wouldn’t forget. Jenna said, “That reminds me of the Daily Examen.” A practice that helped her get through the hard days, too.

The next day I looked it up. Daily Examen. It wasn’t at all what I expected, and I laughed out loud. It was a list. Five simple practices, compiled by a monk, 500 years ago.

  • Become aware of God’s presence.
  • Review the day with gratitude.
  • Pay attention to your emotions.
  • Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
  • Look toward tomorrow.

Five hundred years ago God showed this man Ignatius something crazy similar to the things He’s been showing me. Today.

We are his body, and its members are many. All of us together, for thousands of years. Seeking the same Father. Listening to the same Spirit. Following Jesus. Ignatius, Jenna, and me. And the rest of us, too.

So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.*

*Romans 12:4-5

Unforeseen Blessings

Revision Band

I ended the week feeling frazzled. Things had been busy, at work and at home. Too much commotion, and not enough rest. Irritability had settled in, a flashing light on my personal dashboard.

Part of my frustration had to do with weekend plans. It was the Grand Opening Sunday of Revision Church, friends and family heading to Iowa for the big celebration. But not me. I’d be staying back due to church commitments, a choice I’d made willingly. And yet.

Luke and Nils would be playing with Grant in the kickoff worship band. Like old times. Kyle was going, too, and his parents. And I’d stay at home with Felipe and Jimmy, who were opting out. And that, I guess was part of my frustration. Knowing I’d be entertaining boys at home who could be enjoying a road trip with family, but were refusing (again) to join the fun.

So all things considered, my post-weekend reflection is a pleasant surprise. Today is Monday, and I’m savoring a weekend that was really good.

It started on Friday. Kyle, sensing my need, suggested a date night. Just the two of us. And you’d think, with teenagers, we’d do this more often, but it’s been a season of intensive parenting, and not a lot of escape. So Friday after school we left boys with instructions about soccer practice and a football game, and frozen Chinese in the freezer, and we made a dash for it. We headed to the lake.

The evening was perfect. In every way. Summer temps, clear skies, the lake like glass. We put the boat in at the public landing – fishing poles, dinner, and two good books stowed away. It was just us and a couple of fishermen, also enjoying the solitude of the lake in autumn. And for two or three hours we did nothing. Just sat and savored. Ate some fried chicken. Caught a couple of fish. Talked little. And came back to life.

After the sun went down we headed back to our little rented cabin, electricity turned off till next summer. We lit candles on the mantel and a fire in the fireplace, and curled up on the couch. Listened to the crackle of birch wood burning, still relishing the quiet. And Kyle said, “I suppose you miss what you don’t have. Maybe someday we’ll miss the noise.” But not tonight.

Next morning I sat on my porch reflecting. My irritability was gone. I was ready for the next leg of the race.

And the rest of the weekend was sweet. There was a miracle win in soccer. Dinner with cousins at Chipotle. A long overdue chat with my mom on the phone. Boys willing to ride to church Sunday morning with Uncle Brian. Science homework with Jimmy, and even that turned out to be fun.

And then last night, another wow moment, with all of us outside together, watching the eclipse of the moon. It was yet another picture-perfect evening. Unseasonably warm. No mosquitos to swat. Felipe set up a lawn chair on the driveway, taking pictures and video, an extension cord charging his phone. Kyle and I snuggled on the porch loveseat, and next thing we knew Jimmy was there, too, sprawled out over both of us, all elbows and knees, and happy. Nils was inside, still finishing homework after a weekend away, but keeping his eye on the moon.

There on the porch in the dark, Kyle pulled up video on his phone from the morning service. Three boys leading worship together in Iowa. And I relished the moment. No regrets. Content to be here. Aware of God and his goodness. Unforeseen blessings abounding.

Rediscovering Love

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I want to know what love is.

It’s the age-old question, and the theme of a gazillion love songs, and it’s the mystery I’m pondering most right now. What – really – is love?

We read something a few weeks ago during our staff prayer time at church, which led to a sort of epiphany for me. It was a piece by John Piper with the elaborate title, “The Incalculable Wonder of Being a Christian.” And I’ve been wondering about it ever since.

He starts out with this – Being a Christian means experiencing the supernatural every day. Living as new creatures in Christ is amazing beyond calculation. And then he explains – The reason I said that this is amazing beyond calculation is that our life and its affections are not merely gifts of Christ but acts of Christ. That is, our love and joy and peace and strength are not merely gifts from Christ. They are the very love and joy and peace and strength of Christ himself. 

Here’s the thing. I already knew three-fourths of this was true. I’ve been living in the supernatural understanding of three quarters of this incalculable wonder. But missing out on one amazing chunk.

I’ve been missing love.

Let me back up to explain.

I get joy. Joy comes from Jesus. His joy is boundless, and it is His delight to share this joy with me. Even when life sucks, as it sometimes does, Jesus is my joy. Joy I get.

And peace. Incredible peace, that passes all understanding. This, too, is from Him. There’s no explaining how I can have it otherwise. He is peace. In me.

Strength, the same. In my weakness, He is strong. It’s His strength, not mine. I take no credit. I’m aware of my limits. I come dependent. I need His strength.

But love is different. At least for me. And I’m still trying to figure this out.

I am responsible for love. To love Him. To love others. It’s the great command. To love Him, with heart soul and mind. To love my neighbor as myself.

It’s up to me, right?

And the epiphany of the wonder has me spinning still.

What if it’s not up to me at all?

Every day since then I’ve been on a journey of sorts, re-discovering love. Wondering and searching. Asking. What does it mean? And I have a hunch love is one of those mysteries I’ll spend a lifetime uncovering. Like prayer. I know enough about it to know I don’t know the half of it. And I think love is probably like that.

What is love? Ask the question and you’ll get a hundred answers. Love is commitment. Love is passion. Love is a feeling. Love is emotion. Love is action. Love is romance. Love is sacrifice.

So I’m on a quest of sorts, to find it. I want to know what love is. This love. His love. This incalculable wonder of His love through me – my life and affections the very acts of Him. Not my love at all, but His love in me.

And here I am spinning in the wonder of it all.

By Heart

Love in actionI love to memorize scripture. It’s my favorite way to savor the Word, absorbing passages, a book or a chapter at a time.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord… (Romans 12:9-11)

This week’s text, and it never fails to be exactly what I need, exactly when I need it. Seriously, it’s a little weird sometimes.

Lately I’ve been asking this question. A lot. Am I loving? Really? How do I know? If my love is real?

And here it is in black and white. In a list, and goodness knows how I love a list.

  • Hate what is evil
  • Cling to what’s good
  • Be devoted
  • Honor… above self
  • And never lack zeal; keep spiritual fervor; serving Jesus

The list goes on in the next few verses, and this morning I memorize them, too. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality (verse 12-13).

I ask myself again – and I ask God, too – How am doing? Is my love sincere?

One of the things I pray most often is for a home that is whole and holy. It would be hard to express, even in writing, how much this means to me. This holiness craving is at the core of my being. Clinging each day to what’s good.

And while I wait for boys to cling to it, too, I devote myself to love. Showing them holiness by choosing to honor them above myself.

Which is ridiculously hard. Impossible, really. And this is the very thing Paul was saying, just a few verses before, and I know it by heart, as well.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. (Romans 12:3)

In accordance with the faith, and make no mistake, I know just exactly what this means. Not more than a month ago, I took that test on spiritual gifts. Faith at the top. Number one. The Spirit’s gift, in abundance. And in accordance with this faith comes sober judgment. Right.

Do you see what I mean? How this scripture and this season are so undeniably woven together?

And then there’s this. Never lack zeal. The context is serving, and the irony makes me laugh out loud. How my zeal for serving and my spiritual fervor are somehow intertwined. So I’d better confess this right now, too. I lack sometimes. If serving boys and serving the Lord are part and parcel, and I’m pretty sure it’s true, my fervor could use some spiritual boosting every now and again.

Ah, yes. This Word is good. So good. Just the boost I need when I needed it most.

Unfolding

Work

A lot has happened in three years. I was just thinking about this today. Three years ago, in the fall, I was pursuing a life goal. I was a seminary student at Bethel. Finally. Well over twenty years since college graduation, and a dozen or so years of holding out hope for a Sem degree. And finally, here I was. Back on the old campus. Walking down Sem Road past the little white chapel. My own son’s dorm just up the hill, and him a college sophomore. Me, forty-something and full of anticipation. A student, again.

Fast forward, a year-and-a-half. Halfway through, and I was rockin it. A bit arrogant, I’ll admit. One of the only women in a cohort of young men, making the grades even for the toughest profs. I was doing it. I’m going to finish this thing.

And then, just before the semester break. December. Everything changed.

We met two boys from Colombia. Prayed a lot. Put seminary dreams on hold. Said yes to an unexpected dream, instead. And nothing has been the same since.

The question came up often during those years I was in school. What do you hope to accomplish? What’s your vision, post-sem? And I’d talk about how I was working at church. A teaching background, and teaching gifts. And I don’t know, really. I was here to find out.

But then – I left before I could.

Except. It’s crazy to look back from this angle. Because every day since I walked away, life’s been unfolding, and something’s been happening. And somehow my calling seems closer now than I ever thought it would be.

I said it out loud earlier this week. To a friend over coffee. Repeated it to Kyle, and then wrote it down. I love what I’m doing. Right now.

A few weeks after leaving the seminary, a month or so after saying yes to two boys, a new door opened. A new job, still at church, but uncharted ministry, a fresh opportunity, and it seemed like a good fit.

Good enough. That’s what I thought at first. Good enough use of gifts and experience. Good flexibility for a year of adoption. Good enough for now. But now, a year later, and I’m beginning to wonder. Maybe this plan was God’s all along. And maybe his good is better than enough.

It’s crazy, how many things I’m doing that I love. Creating. Writing. Teaching. Recommending books (and just how cool is that?) Getting to know families. Making new friends. And I couldn’t have come up with this job description myself. Only God.

This blog started a year ago, too. Inspired by ministry and my own family story, and this, from the beginning, has felt like God’s smile.

See. What I had. For you.

I thought I’d find it at school, but I didn’t. And even if I’d stayed to the end, I don’t think this is where I’d have landed. This is God’s genius. A journey, unfolding. The delightful surprise of His generous grace.

The pastor I work with has a saying. Let’s wait and see how this unfolds. Maybe he knew, better than I, months ago when I was still searching. How God unfolds his plan. And how it’s always better than good enough.

Seasons

Sunset

Last week we had our first taste of fall. It didn’t last, but it was enough to stir something. Does anyone know this feeling? Every fall, without fail, I can feel it. Something of a heartache, not sad, but not light either. The seasons are changing and my soul is responding, and I’m not sure I can explain it other than that.

We Andersons are changing seasons, too. That’s for sure. A wedding and a move to Iowa. And then this week a move for Luke, back to school and an apartment in Dinkytown. He was ready to go. I knew it was true and I didn’t blame him. Both his dad and I made the same comment at different times. Kind of wish I was going to college. Not for scholarship so much as for quiet. And I guess if we’re equating quiet with a university campus, it ought to tell you something about our home sweet home.

We’ll be five of us now, the new face of family. So different. In so many ways. Crazy.

Just in time our three teens seem to have become brothers in a truer sense. And that’s good. Very good. Timely provision, and we’re thanking God. Giving Him full credit, and He might have used soccer to get the job done. This was our prayer all along. That soccer would be the glue. Three boys playing together. Teammates, not against, but for. United. And the Psalmist was right – Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! (Psalm 133:1) 

This summer has been hard, but good. Nonstop parenting, a lot like it was back in the day when our kids were young. Taking turns at stay-at-home. Playmate, cook, and companion, and counting the days till school starts up. Yet knowing there’s a price to pay there, as well.

And yet. A lot of things are easier. We’re lighter. Less anxious. All of us. Fewer emotional triggers, less fear about getting it wrong. Breathing easier, talking freer. Our teen who tends to withdrawal is smiling more, and hiding less. Asking for trips to the lake, especially if we can bring cousins. Choosing to hang with family whenever he can. A few friends, too. And his polar opposite brother still prefers friends over family, but he yells in my ear – Mom, you’re amazing. And he asks me why I’m so pretty. And even with ears ringing, I’m hearing this ring of love.

Earlier this week we went to the fair. And it was grueling. No kidding. Too many personalities with varying tastes, and you’d think a State Fair smorgasbord could get it done. But we’re still in a season of all-about-me, and we had to work like crazy to make it fun. And we did, almost. Even though boys would say it sucked.

Last night at supper was a little rough, too. A short verse of scripture after we’ve eaten, and hearts seize up like rocks. So here’s where I make my veiled request. For those of you who are praying. We could still use some prayer for softening hearts.

Life is different. Seasons changing. So much good amidst the hard. And you breathe it in like the scent of autumn. Sweet, soul-stirring. A little ache, but not sadness. What is it? Longing, I think. For something not quite here. Like creation. Waiting. That might be it.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. (Romans 8:19) 

And you can pray for that, too.