Gasp

K & M Fall 2018

(Fall smiles from kianagrantphotography.com)

Today, just for fun, I’d like to share a couple of stories I didn’t write. They’re stories that have blessed me, as I hope they do you.

The first I read in Joanna Gaines’ The Magnolia Journal. The article, oddly, was about the Enneagram. The author, Chris Heuertz, writes this:

Father Larry Gillick loved to tell a story about visiting an elementary school. After he gathered with a group of students, a bright girl, just 8 or 9 years old, approached him and struck up a conversation. A few moments into their discussion, she blurted out, “You’re blind!”  

It’s true. Due to an illness, Father Gillick lost his sight when he was just a small child.  

With genuine tenderness, Father Gillick responded, “My dear, that’s not news to me.”  

But before he could say anything else, she quickly moved from shock to sorrow, sadly replying, “But you don’t know what you look like.” 

That profound statement from a child caught Father Gillick off guard, and before he could comment, she ever so softly said, almost whispering, “You’re beautiful.”  

Doesn’t this make you gasp out loud? It did me. I was sitting alone in my living room when I read it, and I wasn’t expecting such a breathtaking turn. Later reflecting on the story, all I could think is, I want to do what she did. I want to be that little girl.

A few days later I was reading Mark Batterson’s newest book, Whisper. It was one of three titles I picked up at Half Price Books in exchange for three boxes I’d cleared from my library shelves. I still regret it. (The exchange, that is.) Batterson tells a story toward the end of his book, worth the half price purchase.

Mary Ann Bird was born in Brooklyn, New York, in August 1928. A severe cleft palate required seventeen surgeries, but the psychological pain it caused was far worse. Mary Ann couldn’t do the simple things, such as blowing up a balloon or drinking from a water fountain. Worst of all, her classmates teased her mercilessly.  

Mary Ann was also deaf in one ear, so the day of the annual hearing test was her least favorite. But it was one of those least favorite days that turned in to the defining day of her life. The whisper test isn’t done in schools any longer, so let me explain what it entailed. A teacher would call each child to their desk and ask him or her to cover one ear. Then the teacher would whisper something like “The sky is blue” or “You have new shoes.” If the student repeated the phrase successfully, he or she passed the test.  

To avoid the humiliation of failing the test, Mary Ann would try to cheat by cupping her hand around her good ear so she could still hear what the teacher said. But she didn’t need to cheat the year she had Miss Leonard, the most beloved teacher in her school.  

“I waited for those words,” said Mary Ann, “which God must have put into her mouth, those seven words which changed my life.” Miss Leonard didn’t choose a random phrase. Instead, she leaned across the desk, got as close as she could to Mary Ann’s good ear, and whispered, “I wish you were my little girl.”  

Gasp again. I want to be that teacher.

 

 

Gut Love

Day 2 - #2

Bowels of mercy. That’s how Pastor Randy described it in his sermon Sunday morning. The kind of compassion you feel in the pit of your stomach. Or lower.

That same night at Special Needs Ministry two of the students could quote the whole thing. Every letter in the acronym and every point on the sermon. Every. Single. One. Matt and Elaina. And I wonder what our congregation would think if they knew the young man sitting more often than not by himself up front, sign language singing, hands raised in worship – hand extended, too, after the service, “Hi, I’m Matt” – and while our own minds wander this young man is hearing it all and forgetting nothing. I wonder. And Elaina, too, last night Kyle suggesting out loud, maybe she’s some sort of savant.

So there we are, sitting in a circle, talking about how we might BLESS the people on our FRANC list, and Matt’s doubled over, holding his stomach in demonstration. When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had COMPASSION on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). And I’m shaking my head, savoring every minute of this repeat sermon.

It’s the kind of compassion you feel in your bowels, and I caught the meaning as soon as Randy said it Sunday morning. Better than any acronym or number scale, it turns out a good word picture is my kind of motivation. Be in prayer, the B in BLESS, and it doesn’t hurt either, there’s a former youth group kid, a bit older than Luke, sitting directly in front of me. I haven’t seen him in who knows how long, he’s here with his wife, and afterwards I get up the nerve to tell him. It’s how I prayed for you when you were in high school. He remembers.

Didn’t hurt either, the video story is my friend, Brenda, and she talks about years ago, her son going through a rough patch, their finances in the tank, and she prayed every day for kids at the high school who needed Jesus. We were in a small group together right about then, and I remember, too. If ever there was someone to inspire you to love and to pray, it would be Brenda. And I start asking before the final AMEN for His from-the-gut prayer to be formed in me.

Increase my love. It’s a dangerous prayer, and don’t I know it. A couple of years ago I was so overwhelmed by His answer, I prayed, desperate, He’d increase my hutzpah. “Fire in the belly” – according to another youth group kid who was making it his tatoo. I’d be needing to get me some of that.

And then, just when things are starting to settle on the homefront, bowels of mercy, and I’m praying again. Awake in the night, and first thing in the morning, I’m praying through my list. Friends. Relatives. Acquaintances. Neighbors. Colleagues. Randy said we could keep it to three, and I’m at six without leaving the family.

The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few (Matthew 9:37). Elaina remembered that, too. Verbatim. (The girl is fourteen, and special. Just saying.) It’s what Jesus said to his disciples after he looked at the crowds with his gutful of mercy. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field (v 38).

Ask. As in pray.

And so I guess I’m praying for all of it, like it or not. The gut-ache love, and the hutzpah, and the harvest, too. Day and night, praying. And He’s sure to answer. He always does.

Fish & Fire

Pup & fire

It felt like a divine meeting. Phil Bjork builds houses, timber frame, from “the Great Plains to the Rockies” – is what his website states. But he lives near Cambridge, Minnesota, minutes from our Green Lake lot, and we met him at his home office on Friday. Grant tagged along, in town for a wedding with time to kill, and by the end of our visit Phil could have had a new apprentice.

I could see it in the boy the minute the door opened, the smell of woodsmoke greeting us like a hug, October temps being what they are. And we’ve been burning wood in our fireplace at home every day since, my battery-operated candles tucked out of sight behind a chair. “It’s good UV replacement,” Phil says, his smile unmistakable beneath that mountain-man mustache. Later the three of us talk about his eyes, beyond describing.

Like you’ve been with Jesus. That’s what I thought later, sitting on a concrete block down by the lake. We’d finished our tour, Phil leading the way through multiple workshops, the biggest pine grove you’ve ever seen this close to the metro. He shows us the boat he’s building, too, like a steel Noah’s ark, and Grant asks if he can climb the ladder and look inside. Later Phil asks Grant what he does in Iowa, and the sparkle in those eyes could just light up a room. There was a Bible on the shelf in his office. Grant scans the place for evidence, because you just know it’s true.

We drive the short distance from Phil’s to the lake lot, talking about house plans and career paths, and I’m afraid Grant might just put in his notice at Revision Church. The three of us tackle the remaining projects, a tent frame to disassemble, a shed to organize until next summer. The sun’s shining, at long last, low in the sky, leaving its brilliant path across the water. And I sit lakeside for a minute, wrapped in birdsong and fall color. And I think it again. Jesus. A carpenter, too, and honestly, sitting here beside the water, I think He just might show up with a catch of fish.

When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. (John 21:9) The very passage I’m reading this morning, three days later, fire still burning, consumed by these thoughts of LOVE.

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:3) 

I read them back-to-back, and there’s no doubt in my mind. No doubt whatsoever, He makes good and sure. Following scripture, the last chapter of the book I’m reading. The final Whisper: Happiness is love.*  

And if I give all I possess, but don’t have love. Nothing.

Which is why – last night, sitting on the floor in Cheryl’s living room, back against her gas fireplace, unlit (she’d said earlier how she never liked the smell of woodsmoke), and her home is so lovely. So inviting. I’m looking around at our small group gathered, friends I love. And we’re filling up the white sheets of paper on Joe’s project board with our brainstorm ideas. Ways we can serve. And I suggest we pray and then I say nothing. Nothing.

A stack of study guides for our BLESS campaign sit on the table nearby. Begin with prayer. Listen. Eat together. Serve. Share a story. And I’m thinking about a schedule full to overflowing with so many amazing good things. All I have. But if there’s no love. Nothing.

This morning, fire burning, and it’s like Jesus is here, eyes dancing, because He knows I get it. I hear His whisper. Love.

And there are boys. Two especially. Right here, under my roof. For not much longer. I think about how hard it is to feed them, but how food is love (like fish over a fire), and this is my BLESSing. To pray and to listen to a lifetime of stories whenever they’re ready to tell them. Meals together, cleaning bathrooms, doing the laundry. Sharing my own stories, too. And this house we’re building, they need to know, there’s a place for them THERE. Because if I do ALL THINGS without showing them love, I’m a noisy cymbal.

But if they look at us and they think of Jesus…

One afternoon with a carpenter and I know what He’s saying.

 

*Whisper, by Mark Batterson

Covenant Story

Cov Story

Today is a book review of sorts. Two books, actually. One I read and one I’m writing. I devoured the one over the weekend, in spite of a full schedule and busy season and not enough sleep. And the book didn’t help with any of that. Awake late, turning pages, all night long processing thoughts. But I had to do it. Had to read it straight through to see where it landed, and now I’m mulling it over the best way I can. Here. In writing.

Irresistible by Andy Stanley. I listened first to his podcast interview with Carey Nieuwhof, the Canadian pastor who keeps showing up in our staff devotions, and parenting classes, and now here, too. But I digress. It’s the book by Andy that’s had my attention for the past several days, still sorting it out, now with you.

So. I wrote (or I’m writing) a book of my own. The Covenant Story. Originally written (for my family, I said) several years ago during my “God’s Seminary” season. There in God’s classroom when He was my teacher, He gave me THIS. This Covenant Story, and I wrote it all down.

Fast-forward. Three summers ago I pulled out the Story to share with my neighbors for Bible study. They asked, Why don’t you publish? So by the next spring I’d written my first proposal. An illustrated family read-aloud. I worked with an artist, met friends who published, attended conferences, got my own business card. And learned a lot. But. After a year of minimal interest, I sensed God saying set it down. This treasure He’d given, I hadn’t buried, tried to be faithful, and I heard His whisper, Well done.

So what now? I wait. And I write. Posts on a blog, a bit of this-and-that. I start asking God for another project. And then, last week, Elaina asks her question. So have you published that book? Her twin, Andrew, and younger brother Nathan, were my read-aloud audience early this summer. I tell her, no, and try to explain. I’m not sure it’s for kids. And then, in the same conversation, Elaina’s mom said something that got me thinking. Something Andrew had said. “Mrs. Anderson sure loves The Covenant Story.

Two days later Andy Stanley’s book arrives in the mail.

Irresistible is Andy’s covenant story of sorts. Maybe he’s been in God’s Seminary, too. We have things in common. And some things not. Andy and I need each other. It’s the way I described it to Luke after reading. What God showed me, and what He showed Andy, are the same, but different. Old Covenant to New. From law to grace. A theme of love.

I read the first several chapters on a sunny Friday afternoon, curled up in a blanket on my porch swing. It was the sweetest gift. The sun and the book both, and I wept on and off, happy tears of confirmation. These are the things God showed me, too. All those years in His seminary, seeing the story for the very first time. An old covenant, a tent and a temple, a law. Temporary provision, a guardian of sorts. Promises made. First God, then his people. We will do it. They said. But in the end, they couldn’t. The whole thing pointing to something better. And of course, this was Jesus. But first, there was a story.

All weekend long I read Andy’s book. He talks about new. A new covenant, a new law, and a new way of reading this book. The Bible. He talks about the resurrection, and how it was a Person. An Event. Starting a movement we now call Church. And I remember this precious discovery of resurrection life. He came to make us fully alive. I believe this, too.

But there are other things he says. I have to pause. Shake my head. Not sure I agree with all I’m reading. He talks about the violent God of the Old Testament. Like he’s someone different. And I think of Greg Boyd (another book I read). Cross Vision, and how those OT stories give a distorted version, but in the person of Jesus we have a true picture of God. And I’m no scholar. Halfway through a seminary master, at church part-time. Is it arrogant to think I’ve found something better? My Covenant Story. Because I believe, even this OLD is a story of love.

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m reading about violence to the tune of gun-fire under the roof of my own home. A video game turned up full volume, I shut bedroom door and turn up white noise. I need concentration. The new command for the new covenant, Andy and I agree on this. Love God. Love people. It’s just that simple. But I know, because I’ve lived it. It’s also HARD.

My word, hesed, is covenant love, and it tells a story. A faithful God who fights to the death for the ones He loves. We couldn’t. We can’t. But He can, and He did. We broke our promise, but He kept His. And it’s this Good News – this is Gospel. My Covenant Story.

Through the blood of Jesus. Through His Spirit. He keeps His side of the covenant – and He keeps our side, too. 

It’s Monday afternoon, I’m home from work, just a couple more chapters. I know something’s missing, hoping he’ll say it. Andy’s Irresistible, horizontal love. He tells it like this. How the old covenant was vertical – between a people and their God. But an unbelieving world (he calls it post-Christian) will only know Jesus when we love one-another.

And this, too, is a part of my story. I’m becoming love. The flesh can’t, but the Spirit can, and I know this is true. What I once wrote in a book is transforming my life. But make no mistake. People who say We will do it. Can’t. We’re vertical desperate if we’re to be horizontal, and my Covenant Story tells it this way. We can’t, but He can. Jesus in us is new covenant love.

And so. Andrew and Elaina, you were right. Mrs. Anderson really does love The Covenant Story. And it’s not just for kids. It’s for me, and you, and Andy, too. I’m holding this treasure, and I think, for now, I know what to do.