God Made You Special….Remember That.

Thirteen Reasons Why.

 

This title kept popping up on my FB feed, or on suggested lists on Netflix. Maybe because I watch lots of detective shows? I’m not sure. Maybe because one of my kids watched it before I was aware of the heaviness of the show and the starkness of the subject matter.

 

I watched this last week, primarily to discuss with the kiddo. We’ve had some good discussions as a result, with two main aspects I keep thinking about. I would not suggest our kids watch the show, to be honest, but I would guess many of our kids have watched or at the very least have discussed the show with their friends. The age of viral topics is deeply upon us.

 

The show, in case you have not watched or heard about or read about it, follows the story of a high school girl, Hannah, who commits suicide. She leaves behind thirteen tapes, each focused on primarily one person, explaining why she took her life. The tapes are passed from person to person on the tapes, and we follow the character of Clay as he listens to the tapes. He is number nine. The story of why Hannah takes her life is filled with sex, betrayals, false relationships and fear. Loneliness. There are graphic episodes, and the scene of her actual suicide is quite graphic and stark. (Apparently in the book Hannah takes her life with pills, while in the show she slits her wrists in the bathtub).

 

I am not interested in giving a point by point retelling of the show. Two things, however, have struck me, and these I wanted to share.

 

First. There is no mention of God, no awareness of God, no exposure to God, no calling out to God, no reference to God in these episodes. Ok…maybe a reference or two. There is no one in these characters who has a relationship with God. There is no one in these characters who tells Hannah that she is loved by the Creator with a deep and tender and true love. There is no one who tells her she is an image bearer of the One who can love her purely.

 

How utterly different could this story be if someone had spoken Gospel to her. If someone had told her of the redeeming love, the pursuing love of the great God?

 

We have to tell those around us that they are loved. We have to speak and not simply hope others will. We have to watch for those in our midst who need to hear the reality that they are loved and not forgotten, and there is a God who changes everything. The absolute vacuum of anything spiritual in the lives of the kids on this show was stark to me.

 

“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” – Brennan Manning

 

 

Second. Sex. This is at the root of so many of the problems in the show. There is a reason sex is dealt with in Scripture. There is a reason we are given guidelines. Sex is not something to be treated cheaply, or to be toyed with. Especially in the volatile emotional teen years. Sex has such a deep impact on our psyche, on our identity. The bonding of one human to another so intimately….changes things.

When our identity is void of the reality of God, sex holds even more weight. When sex becomes common place in our relationships, when it becomes so casual, the weight of its implications may not be felt until later. The identity of these kids, and they are still kids, is marked by the impact of sex, of rape and of alcohol. They are tailspin. That is too much to carry in the season of life when they are beginning to find their identity as more than children. When that is even more amplified by gossip and rumors…it is no wonder despair results.

Sex should be a beautiful, life giving, wonderous act. Sex should fulfill and deepen a relationship, but when it is shared with so little commitment, or when it is taken forcibly, it shatters the person.

 

When I was in high school I was an awkward kid. I desperately wanted attention and I was too emotional and dramatic for my own good. I was a mess. I also got plugged in to a church early on and it probably saved me. I had a good home life and a good life overall…but that doesn’t always matter. In the midst of things it can seem like your life is the worst ever. In high school everything is amplified. Every insult, every slight, every hurt…it plays again and again in our minds and we can turn nothing into something life shattering.

 

I also got involved with an older guy. We never had sex, but he pushed me beyond my comfort level. It changed me. Thankfully, I had others around me who spoke life, and who spoke of God. Others who reminded me of my identity in Christ.

 

I struggled with thoughts of suicide. I never came to place where I was willing to follow through…never made plans. One night I was the closest as I drove home from church, and I don’t remember what had caused me to be so upset, but as I drove home my thoughts of suicide were interrupted by a car accident. My own.

 

The point is…suicide has been an option and a thought for a very long time. Thirteen Reasons Why is not new.  Teen years are tough, and they have been for a long time. It is the season of figuring things out, the season of finding out friendships are not always what we think, and relationships are exciting and terrifying. The one thing that is new is how quickly rumors can be spread and images or gossip shared. That is part of Hannah’s story in the show, and the impact of rumors and gossip is validly given exposure.

 

Does the show glorify suicide? I agree with Russell Moore, the show does not glamorize suicide, but it makes it an option:

 

“In order to provoke tragedy in a hurting teens life, no one needs to make suicide glamorous; one only needs to make suicide plausible.”

 

The show makes much of what happens in the wake of Hannah’s suicide, and in some ways makes an argument that there is redemption in the characters as a result. Things change. Her death is a catalyst for honesty and even for repair of some relationships, while others end tragically themselves. Apparently, after reading a summary of the novel the show is based on, the show moves far beyond the book. The suicide scene in the show is stark and tragic. Hannah slits her wrists in the bathtub. The book has her take pills.

 

The point is that suicide does not have to be glamorized…it only has to be an option. The show absolutely makes it an option. For those kids who are struggling, who are feeling lost, it would absolutely not be a good show for them to watch. Those of us who are far from the teen years and all the angst, it might be worth watching at least parts as a reminder of all the emotional stress these kids are facing. Hannah’s story may be amplified and sensationalized, but it was a good reminder to me that the kids walking around with their heads hung down and even the kids who are outwardly over cheerful..they need to be seen. They need to not be invisible. They need to be reminded they are loved. They are special.

 

And our kids…they need to hear it from the start, and they need it repeated throughout their lives.

 

 

 

 

You are loved. Life can be terribly hard, and it can be incredibly wonderful. Learn to find that wonder…seek it out and hold on to it because there are times you need to remember the good.  They need to hear as they are older the realities about sex…and why it is not something to be treated cheaply because it is so intimate and precious.

 

 

Life is precious. Life is tenuous. Let’s be gracious with these kids around us, and with the adults as well. Let’s remember what a story can look like when it is completely void of God…the hopelessness and the thinking that there is only one solution. Let’s remember that in God is eternal life is in His Son. (1 John 5:11) Let’s be quick to listen, and quick to share the hope we have.

 

The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. – Buechner

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Listen: This Is Not Just Sweet Baby Jesus in a Manger

Nate read a story the other day about a little girl turning eleven who realizes she is not simply eleven, but all the ages she has been.

I have this feeling, especially at Christmas. I am this nearly 47 year old mother of four, wife, and daughter. I am immersed in the memories we are creating in our home. I am present as we bake cookies and hide elves. I am fully immersed in watching Maddie absolutely squeal in delight at a surprise letter from Santa the elves brought her. The excitement of Nate in helping to decorate and transform our house is contagious.

The sights and sounds of the season draw me in every year.

And yet…as I sit in the coffee shop for a few minutes, memories strike me and suddenly I am a child again. Listening to Christmas playlists, I am taken back to the house of my childhood. The sights and sounds of New Mexico fill me with a mixture of delight, sentimentality and sadness. A yearning for what is just not quite right now.

My Mom amazed me in her ability to create an atmosphere. She loved to say that the house came alive every Christmas; it puffed itself up and delighted in all the trimmings. She created a wonder-filled home. The culmination came on Christmas Eve as we gathered around an enormous table filled with a meal we only ate once a year. Tiny cinnamon rolls, potatoes au gratin, asparagus, and a beef tenderloin which melted in your mouth.  Shrimp cocktails and cheese sticks and egg nog and other treats started the evening.


We talked.

My grandparents would arrive and we would sit around munching on cheese sticks and talk. I wish I could remember more clearly the conversations. I simply remember the atmosphere. Everyone dressed up in Christmas sweaters and my velvet dress. Shoes shined. Eventually we would move from couches to the table and have a long dinner. There was no rush, and even as a child I don’t remember wanting to rush away from the table. There was something magical about the table and the conversation.

Eventually we would move back to the couches and sometimes act out the story of Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus. In our bathrobes with towels on our heads, held tight with belts. Some years Dad would simply read the story.

We were waiting for the culmination of the evening. We would wander outside and watch the cars slowly creeping by, only parking lights lit, seeking out the luminaries through the neighborhood. Before the dinner and the cheese sticks, before the dinner preparations shifted into high gear, we would have lit hundreds of luminaries. On the roof of the house, lining both sides of the sidewalk. Our neighbors had done the same. There were no electric lanterns…we lit every tea light in those paper sacks.


Christmas was filled with the feel of crisp, cold air and the smells of candles and meat roasting, of cinnamon and nutmeg topping egg nog.

Still…the culmination was loading up in the car late in the evening and heading to the midnight mass at St John’s Episcopal church. Walking in with only whispers, trying so hard to stay awake. The room filling with more and more people dressed in velvets and reds and greens, and then suddenly the music beginning and the room filling even more with sounds and voices. Filling with the word proclaimed.

“Unto us is born…”

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!”

“God has come. He is among us!”

I don’t remember if I ever fell asleep on the drive home. I remember getting to open one present on Christmas Eve. I remember strict instructions not to come down by myself, but wait until Dad came and brought me to he and Mom’s room to wait for my brothers so we could all come down together. I remember the anticipation. We didn’t have Santa Trackers, although I do think there was some type of tracker on television.

Laying in my bed. Trying so hard to fall asleep, and finding it so difficult. After midnight service, it had to be well after 1am.  Then….waiting….hearing footsteps on the roof and maybe bells? This didn’t happen every year, I don’t believe, but I know it happened at least once because it is firmly in my imagination of those days.

All of these memories, filling my mind as I sit here in a coffee shop, taking me through the events of the evening and on into Christmas morning with egg casserole for breakfast and presents opened, all of these memories bring me joy. Delight.
And yet, as I follow them, eventually they bring me to a deep sadness.

These memories are filled with a woman who absolutely filled a room with her presence. Dad somehow brought to life what she designed, and they were a great team. Dad was content, though, to stomp on the roof and jingle bells, to create the egg nog delights and enable the lighting of hundreds of luminarias. He was happy to quietly make it all happen….but

Mom orchestrated the whole event. And it was an event.

And now she has no idea. She has no delight in the music and the sounds and the sights. She no longer orchestrates. She trusts like a child in my Dad who helps her to know how to sit and stand and eat. She grasps tightly to his hand and she hums or whistles. She speaks, but the words have no cohesion or meaning.

She, who would greet the guests at the door with a smile and warmth which immediately set the tone, now is unaware when people come to visit. She no longer knows us. She cannot delight in the the grandchildren who carry so much of her character and strength and humor with them. And they cannot know the strength of this woman who directed and orchestrated so much of my history.

And so, in the midst of delight in the laughter of Maddie and the anticipation of all the kids for Christmas morning, in the midst of the sounds and sights and tastes of our Christmas, there is a deep sorrow and longing for something more whole. There is a longing for the true peace of Christmas, for a world ruled with truth and grace.

There is alongside the joy and hope, deep awareness of brokenness. And that brokenness and loss does not detract from the joy and hope: it amplifies them. That longing for all to be made whole is there because joy and hope have been tasted. I wouldn’t know to long for a woman filled with grace and elegance and wisdom if I only knew her in her Dementia and confusion.

We are marked by Eternity. The reality of Christmas moves us deeply because we have tasted of hope and joy. Some years Christmas  may be difficult because the sorrow is more present, and the longing fills us to the point we have to fight back tears sitting in the coffee shop…but that longing is holy. That longing is the mark that we are created for something more than just what is in front of us.

Christmas is the proclamation that there will be healing and restoration. So, if you sit next to a parent who no longer knows you. If you sit next to an empty seat of someone no longer with you. If you sit in a home where stress and sorrow demand your attention more than joy and hope. If you simply do not know what tomorrow holds, and the stress of a very confused and chaotic world has exhausted you…listen to that longing for something true. And hear:


And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,


“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  Luke 2



Listen: that is not some quaint story of the baby Jesus, cute and tame. That is the story of God wrenching open our reality and stepping. This is what we wait with held breath for, this is what we seek in this Advent season filled with chaos in our world and brokenness as far away as those we love. This is God stepping in to our brokenness and promising healing and hope.

Sing the songs this Christmas. Bake the cookies. Let your children delight in all the wonder of the season…and hold tight the truth that this is the story that changes everything. Do not miss the enormity of this truth: God became man. Take all your sorrow and longing, all your delight and joy and remember that you are remembered and loved by. God willing to become man to save you.

Buechner:

“Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one. But if the Christmas event in itself is indeed – as a matter of cold, hard fact – all it’s cracked up to be, then even at best our efforts are misleading.

The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space, time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God… who for us and for our salvation,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, “came down from heaven.”

Came down. Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see. It is the Resurrection and the Life she holds in her arms. It is the bitterness of death he takes at her breast.”

Holding The Beautiful in the Midst of the Terrible

She had done this just the other day; falling out of bed only to roll under the bed and sleep the rest of the night there. I heard her moaning a bit, dreaming, so I gently pulled her out from under the bed and brought her in to my bed.

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It was time to get up. Time to begin another day, focused on homeschool and laundry and cooking. Time to wake and see what conversations were taking place on FB, time to listen and hear more of the state of our world.

 

I didn’t.

 

I actually didn’t have much of a choice: as I went to lay her in the bed she wrapped her arms around my neck, clasping her hands. She did not let go. I lay there, firmly grasped by the hands of a four year old.

 

The innocent, trusting and loving arms of a child.

 

And I thought about our news. I thought about the terrors all around. I thought about Syrian mothers and wondered if they lay by their child, firmly in their grasp, and smelled their hair. If they just waited and listened to the breathing, feeling that little one beside them.

 

I am sure their hair does not smell like strawberries, and their embrace is more determined because there is so much to fear.

 

I wondered about the mother near us who had her daughter, just a little older than mine, killed at a football game. One moment she was there and cheering on her brothers, and within moments she was gone.

 

I didn’t move. I inhaled the fragrance of this innocent little one, and swallowed down the fear which is so near. I thought of our sermons lately on the book of Ruth, especially this:

May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.   – Ruth 2:21b

I wondered about the refugees and I wondered about so many who face immeasurable fear. Do they find the God of Israel to give them refuge? Through servants like Boaz? Like us?

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I found it interesting when I was looking at images with the above quote that none of them showed the terrible things. The quote was written across beaches and sunsets, pictures of stars and Northern Lights, in a variety of pleasing fonts.

 

Maybe it needs to be written across images of terror, because the encouragement to not be afraid rarely comes when things are beautiful.

 

Or, maybe….

 

Maybe in those moments when things truly are beautiful – like being held in the embrace of a child while the rain falls outside and all is quiet – reminds us of the starkness of terror. The sun still rose in a sunrise in Paris Saturday morning. There was still beauty, but it was all the more fragile because of the horrors.

 

I know, I am rambling. I have read several posts this morning from others sorting through these things as well. I am one of many. All of us. Trying to sort through our lives in seeming disparity from evil that is rampant. Still attempting to get the laundry done and cook dinner, teach the children and sing songs while things seem to be falling apart.

 

There is a fine line between discernment and fear. I do not want to let evil near my children. I do not want to turn away those who are without hope and who we can help. I do not want to tell my children about the terrors that exist across the ocean, across the country. Right next to their summer camp…where the little girl was killed just a few days ago.

 

The thing I am beginning to settle more and more with is this: we simply fall apart when we give ourselves completely over to fear. There are still beautiful things. There is still good. And we have been called to not be afraid.

 

Called by One Who is able. Able to be our refuge, or use us to be another’s refuge. We…I…so need the beautiful to give me strength to face the fearful and terrible.

 

Like little children sleeping under their beds and holding on in embraces with locked hands and innocent hearts. Like the sound of the rain, or the taste of chocolate.

 

Like the realization that God came here to this mess. And it matters. I wish His justice and His refuge was more immediate and clear…but I trust that one day it will be. There is strength in that, strength to face the evil and say no, strength to comfort the refugee and the wounded. Strength to embrace the beautiful even when there are terrible things around.

 

 

 

The Lingering Gaze that finds Hope

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This picture is on my street. Sunrise. Non-filtered.

I sit outside early in the mornings and read. Lately a lot of George MacDonald and Frederick Buechner.  I love the morning light, and love watching the day begin. The morning I walked outside and saw this sunrise, just a few weeks ago, I had to run back inside and grab my good camera. Not the phone. I needed something able to look a little more deeply, something that could be more true to what I was seeing. The camera phones are great for the quick snaps…but sometimes we need something sturdier. Something that shows depth.

Sometimes life is that way. The wonder around us requires us to look more deeply and not just glance. Requires us to hold our gaze long enough to see that there is hope in the midst of whatever circumstances we have.

Other times, the wonder takes our breath away and we have no choice but to recognize that something remarkable has happened. The birth of children…staggering.  Music that moves you beyond yourself and elevates your gaze, makes you yearn for something more. Paintings and art that capture the Creation in a way that moves your soul immediately, reflexively.

Hope. For me, it is tied to wonder. The fact that God created in a way that inspires us, in a way that stirs us and catches our breath, tells me that He is concerned with more than just practicality. He is concerned with more than efficiency. That means that sometimes He be will hard to figure out. Sometimes it will seem He is not being efficient in solving the issues that plague me.

Sometimes I have to look a little harder to find the hope. Sometimes hope requires faith that there is more happening than what we see.

“For Christians, hope is ultimately hope in Christ. The hope that he really is what for centuries we have been claiming he is. The hope that despite the fact that sin and death still rule the world, he somehow conquered them. The hope that in him and through him all of us stand a chance of somehow conquering them too. The hope that at some unforeseeable time and in some unimaginable way he will return with healing in his wings.” 

Frederick Buechner

He came once. There is promise in that…the fact that He came secures our hope. He came and He made Himself known to us. He humbled Himself…came in a way that we could grasp with even a glance. A baby. Understanding the implications takes a look that finds the depth and all the nuances.

He came, and brought hope and the promise that healing will come.

“Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
    his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
    as the spring rains that water the earth.”

Micah 6:3

Advent. The perfect time for seeing a little more deeply, for looking with a lens that allows more color and more reality to come through. Not the glances of business as usual. The lingering gaze that is caught up in wonder. Hope tends to find its way through in those moments.

Malcolm Guite provides wonderful poetry through the Advent season, paired with images and audio. Take some time, if you have not discovered him, to read through his pages. For now, here is one of his sonnets:

O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought,

Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.

I cannot teach except as I am taught,

Or break the bread except as I am broken.

O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,

O Light within the light by which I see,

O Word beneath the words with which I speak,

O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,

O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,

O Memory of time, reminding me,

My Ground of Being, always grounding me,

My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,

Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,

Come to me now, disguised as everything.

Glimpses of Home

It finally happened.

Throughout this month I have pondered Bethlehem. We’ve looked at poems and listened to music. Suggestions have been made about how to silence the noise and focus on the reality of Incarnation. The Word made Flesh. And…walls have been hit. Sickness has completely thrown schedules askew. Unexpected expenses have added stress.

Oh, and of course, there was hiding out in the bathroom for the tornado warning. In December.

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In the midst, though, the groundwork was laid. Reminders in twinkling lights and candles. Reminders in choruses sung in the assembly of friends and strangers…in an old, old building that seems to hold the echoes of other choruses raised.

The old, old, story. It was laced in between the sickness and the walls, the unexpected expenses and the noise. The old story is strong and does not demand, but when the moment is right it resonates with our hearts.

Then it looked a little more like this:

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Sodas at dinner, which is a rare treat. Candlelight and twinkling lights. Delight. We didn’t do the Advent readings I had hoped for, although we’ll try to finish  the one book we have been working through. We did not do all the things I envisioned, but we had a moment in the midst of the clamor where we all sat around the table and laughed and talked and were present. For a lengthy, healthy time.

We were home. That is what we long for, and that, my friends is what Advent whispers to us. We have a home, and it is not what we expected. God became homeless to bring us home…

“For outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning – not home but the place through which we must pass if ever we are to reach home at last.” -Frederick Buechner

 

The House of Christmas

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

-G. K. Chesterton