Faith

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A sense of home

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

My grandma has lived in the same house for 57 years.  Fifty-seven.

She spent the entirety of her marriage there.  She raised her children there, from infancy to adulthood.  Her kids, her grandkids, and her great-grandkids have eaten in that same kitchen, swam in that same pool, and sat on that same front porch.  She has attended the same church, shopped at the same grocery stores, seen the same neighborly faces, and driven the same streets for a lifetime.

I recently sat down and made a list of how many times I have moved.  In the 12 years since I left my hometown of Montrose, Colorado, I have moved 18 times.  The longest I have lived in any one place is 2 years (a studio apartment in Seattle); almost all of my tenures have been less than a year.  A total of 13 scattered months have been spent with no address at all, squatting with friends or family for short fragments of time, all of my possessions boxed up in basements, garages, or storage units.  I am on my fourth set of friends, with countless other relationships far-flung around the world like a constellation.

Perhaps this is the norm for my generation, but at this point, the concept of home barely rings a bell.  I don’t know where my home is.  But I know that I crave it with every ounce of my being.

Last night, I went to Red Rocks for the first time ever, and heard James Taylor play “Carolina in My Mind.”  Before he began, he told the audience that he wrote the song in 1968 in London.  There he was, recording overseas, with the accolades and attention of some of his heroes (two of the Beatles, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, are actually featured on the track); by all worldly standards, he had reached “success.”  But even with his accomplishments, he explained, he had been so homesick – and that prompted him to write and record this song that so many of us now know and love.

Old or young, famous or not famous, home calls to all of us.

My grandma has lived in the same house for 57 years – but we know that her time here on earth is winding down.  Even for one with a very strong sense of home, she can’t stay.  What an ache.

But I believe that our true Home is more than just a spot on a map.  It’s more than geography and more than circumstance and more than time.  It’s where my grandma is headed, and it’s what James Taylor sings about, and it’s what my own heart longs for.  It’s absolute familiarity and comfort and permanence, a lack of insecurity and an abundance of joy – and it’s closer than we think.

In the meantime, while I’m in this life on earth, I am thankful for little reminders of Home: a cup of coffee in whatever house I wake up in, a flawed but precious lineage, and the songs of James Taylor.

After the fire

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

If you hadn’t heard, Colorado is burning.  There are at least a dozen separate fires racing across the state, some in very close proximity to major cities.  In Colorado Springs alone, 32,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. 

The images are astounding: smoke billowing from hillsides, flames licking the sky, familiar landmarks in the path of the blaze.  I hear about the “thousands of acres” that are on fire, and it’s hard to comprehend just how large an area we’re dealing with, or how long it may take to get it under control; the High Park Fire west of Fort Collins has been burning for 18 days.  Depending on which way the wind is blowing, Denver has often been enveloped in a haze.

For as stunning and alarming as the fire itself is, as I scroll through photo slideshows online, I’m more taken with the images of the aftermath: barren hillsides, burned-out tree trunks, quiet devastation.  After being ravaged, a small amount of clean-up can be done – but then, the only thing left to do is wait: for new growth, for new life, for a new season. 

And waiting can be so hard.

I’m in a season of waiting right now.  It’s tough, because my culture has conditioned me to expect quick results and instant relief – but I’ve weathered enough to know that this just can’t be the case all of the time.  If you’ve gone through a fire, it takes a long time to rebuild.

The last time I was in Nashville, I saw my friend Brynn Sanchez.  If you don’t know Brynn, you’re missing out, because she is one of the top humans on the planet.  She told me about singer/songwriter Audrey Assad, and later sent me one of her tracks.  Since then, “Show Me” has played at least 3 times a day – early in the morning, driving home from work, before bed.  As one who struggles with the concept of prayer (which is another post entirely), this song has been my heartbeat.

“Bring me back to life – but not before you show me how to die.”

My heart breaks for my state, and for the people whose homes have burned.  I am so sad for the death of dreams, and I feel for their long road ahead.

But I hope for redemption of what has been lost.

Things will feel better one day.  Things will BE better one day.  New life is on its way.  It just takes time.

After Easter

Monday, April 9th, 2012

“So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute.  Love the Lord.  Love the world… Love someone who does not deserve it… Give your approval to all you cannot understand… Ask the questions that have no answers… Be joyful though you have considered all the facts… Practice resurrection.”

-Wendell Berry, from Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Beauty for ashes

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

Well, well.  Happy new year, all.  And just in time – I’ve never needed a new year so badly.  I was so ready to drop-kick 2011 Beckham-style out the door and usher in 2012, fresh, hopeful, and, as of yet, untainted.  Hallelujah and amen.

You may be wondering what life has looked like since I last blogged 9 days ago.  Or maybe you’re not (likely).  Regardless, YOU ARE GOING TO KNOW.

I wrapped up my job at Emma.
I flew from Nashville to Kansas City.
I snuggled my nephews.
I read four books in seven days:
– “One Day
– “Room” (the best book I read all year)
– “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
– “Incendiary
I ate so much cheese.
I slept full nights.
I played Dance Central on the X-Box.
We made it through the first “divorced Christmas.”
Things were awkward and sometimes painful.
But we did it.
And I love my family for it.
I drove from Kansas City back to Denver with Becca.
And Greebs and Toad.
Every day I declare war against dog hair.
I bought and assembled one of these.
Zion’s adoption was made official.
He is irrevocably a Parsons.
He is the best thing that happened in 2011.
I spent multiple days cleaning and organizing our home.
Four different sets of friends got engaged (including Greta, OMG!).
I got a new phone number.
And I start my new job on Tuesday.

I rolled into the new year a burning train wreck, having spent a solid two hours of December 31st on my bed in uncontrollable tears before pulling myself up by my bootstraps, throwing my body into the shower, and willing myself to go to a few parties.  It’s been awhile since I’ve cried so hard – the honest, gasping kind of tears, the sort that leave your eyes stinging and your entire face swollen.  2011 was a kick in the gut, to say the least – and a good, long cry seemed the most appropriate way to mourn what went down, and bid the year adieu.  With a bold middle finger.

But as I stared at my puffy, snotty countenance in the mirror, wondering how I was ever going to recover enough to show my face at these parties, I remembered the part in the Bible about how those who grieve are given beauty for their ashes, and joy for their mourning, and peace for their despair.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I’m not one to go slinging around scripture insensitively – especially when it comes to the big, weighty things.  Life is too hard and people’s hearts too fragile to offer Bible verses as mere Band-Aids.

But I have to say – if it weren’t for this idea, that God takes the burning wreckage of our lives and gives us beauty instead, I would have no hope.  None.  The fact that he can take the hopeless cinder pile of my heart, and transform it into something not only worthwhile but beautiful… well, this is where I’m staking my hope.  And they say that where you place your hope, that’s where your joy will be found.

So, onward.  New year.  Same old me, but new hope.  Hopefully.

Hope floats (not the movie)

Monday, October 10th, 2011

As one who grew up in the church, I have had moments in the last several years when I have wondered, “Why am I a Christian?”  Is it just because I was raised to believe what I believe – or is there a deeper reason?  Do I have faith on my own, apart from my family and friends and community?  If I was born in another time and place, would the core of what I believe be the same?

These are big questions, especially for someone who has never had much opportunity to separate God from the American Christian church – and I, like many others, have learned that the church is not always the best representation of what the Christian faith is about.

Come to think of it, *I* am not always the best representation of what the Christian faith is about.

Personally, I have struggled with a lot of cynicism and doubt, especially in the last couple of years.  I don’t doubt that there is a God, but I have wondered if he is, indeed, involved in an intimate way in our lives.  Did he create the world, set it spinning, and then just step back?  Does he really love us – not just in a “whole world in his hands” kind of way, but in a deeply personal and specific way?  When the Bible tells us that God says, “I know the plans I have for you,” does it mean that there is, in fact, a PLAN for our lives?  Is God truly in the details?  Does he care if I choose option A or option B?  Does God care, period?

I’m supposedly a grown woman these days, free to live as I please, and no one is making me go to church.  The stable home and family that I had always known has recently crumbled beneath my feet.  While my childhood and college years were spent largely in church-centric settings, I’m out in the “big, bad world” now, surrounded by plenty of kind and intelligent people who would not necessarily align themselves with the Christian faith.  So what is it about this Jesus?

Some days, when life hits me like an avalanche and I’m pummeled by rocks and snow, left jarred and confused and not sure which way is up, I can be at a loss for answers.

But in the midst of all of my questions, here is what I know.

Regardless of what I believe, or what you believe, or what anyone believes, humans ask the eternal sorts of questions.  Where did I come from, and where am I going?  What is my purpose?  What is good and what is evil?  What will happen to me after I die?  All of us have wondered these things – they are the deep and primal questions of the soul.  Why would we long for answers if there wasn’t a supreme truth?  This makes me trust that there is a God, and that there is an ultimate answer – and that even if the details might be fuzzy and confusing now, I believe that one day we will see the truth clearly.

When I think of my own path, and how many times I have been tempted to give up hope – for little specific things, or in an overarching way – the moment hope returns is nothing short of a miracle.  I mean it – it’s a miracle.  It’s not by my own doing – I cannot will the hope back – it’s not the “triumph of my human spirit” (because trust me, my human spirit isn’t that strong – currently, it’s shriveled up and ugly, like newborn Benjamin Button).

But hope just keeps coming back.  I can’t shake it.  And every time it returns, I think that there must be a God who loves me, Annie – and maybe he even has a plan for my life.  Maybe he’s somehow steering the course, despite my anger and doubt and fear, and all of the times that I’ve thumbed my nose at him.  Maybe I don’t have to believe that “everything happens for a reason,” but maybe I can get behind the idea that “nothing is ever wasted.”  Maybe there is a purpose and a design to the apparent chaos of my current world – maybe it’s actually getting me where I’m supposed to be.

Maybe it’s less about “being a Christian,” and more about knowing Jesus.

I may not have all of the answers, or see the truth clearly.  I know that many who read this don’t believe the same things that I do – and I’m not going to try to convince anyone of anything.  This blog is not a tent revival (yelling and sweat have never really been my thing).  But in the words of Frederick Buechner:

A Christian is one who points at Christ and says, “I can’t prove a thing, but there’s something about his eyes and his voice.  There’s something about the way he carries his head, his hands, the way he carries his cross – the way he carries me.”

That’s all I know.

Waves

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Part of the inner world of everyone is this sense of emptiness, unease, incompleteness, and I believe that this in itself is a word from God, that this is the sound that God’s voice makes in a world that has explained him away. In such a world, I suspect that maybe God speaks to us most clearly through his silence, his absence, so that we know him best through our missing him.
-Frederick Buechner

I know people who have active, vivid dialogue with God – they speak to him, and they hear his voice respond.  I am not one of those people.

When I talk to God, I am usually answered with silence.

Most of the time, it’s not that I think that God is not there – but, like Buechner says, perhaps his silence is meant to create a longing that I wouldn’t otherwise have.

And for me, these days, does that longing ever exist.

On Friday, I sat at the edge of the Caribbean, listening to the water hit the sand.  It made me think of a line in Alli Rogers‘ song “Closer to the Moon,” when she sings of listening for God’s voice:

“It’s in the aching that you know there’s something more.
I have never heard even a single spoken word,
Except the rhythm of a wave upon the shore.”

The steady pulse of ocean waves reminds me of the voice of God – it’s one of the biggest reasons I miss living in Seattle.  There is a comfort to the sound and the pattern, wordless as it is.  When I feel frustrated and anxious and doubtful that he even exists, the ocean somehow, inexplicably, brings me back around to truth, calming my heart and soothing my fears.

I’m back in a very landlocked Denver now, after 7 days in Haiti.  A mere week was not enough time to even scratch the surface of the culture, the language, the people – but sitting by the ocean on my last day was the best way to wrap up the first of what I hope will be more trips.  Listening to the waves reminded me that God is still there in Haiti, in the midst of the poverty, the devastation, and the crumbling homes – and he is still here in Colorado, in the midst of my sadness, my uncertainty, and my crumbling home.

Some thoughts on grief

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

“As long as I kept moving, my grief streamed out behind me like a swimmer’s long hair in water.  I knew the weight was there but it didn’t touch me.  Only when I stopped did the slick, dark stuff of it come floating around my face, catching my arms and throat till I began to drown.  So I just didn’t stop.

The substance of grief is not imaginary.  It’s as real as rope or the absence of air, and like both those things it can kill.  My body understood there was no safe place for me to be. (The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver)

– – – – – – – –

I love the way that this woman writes.  My body understood there was no safe place for me to be.  That is grief in its truest, most potent form.

I am finding in the most concrete way of my entire life that there is absolutely no hope apart from Jesus.

This is not a “Christian blog” in the same way that some are – I tend to write more about my hair and my bras and my couch than I do about my faith.  I know that a lot of you reading this do not believe the same things that I do, and let’s be honest – talking about pop culture and music and whatever tomfoolery I got into over the weekend is usually more fun than a bible study.

But in the midst of it all, and above it all, I believe in Jesus – in redemption, in healing, in grace.  As much as my hesitant heart fights it, I believe that God loves us and has good plans for our lives.  That is my bedrock.

So when I hit rock bottom, standing on that bedrock is a good place to be.

The grief is still there, and the substance of it is so real that I’m afraid it will strangle me – but grace is flowing downhill, and pooling in the darkest places of my life.  It is taking on the weight of my pain, lifting the burden from my head, and moving me forward.

Our only comfort

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Last week, my sister-in-law lost her dad.  My nephews lost a grandpa.  And all of the Parsons lost a man who has been family for the past 9 years.

Today, Kent McElroy will be laid to rest in a cemetery in Missouri.  A few weeks ago, he chose his plot, and bought kites to be delivered after his death, asking that Jeremy and Ashley take Micah and Tyler to fly them next to his grave.  He knew that he was leaving.  If he could have willed himself to stay, he would have – but cancer does not honor our will, our wishes, our fight.

It is cruel.  It is callous.  And in its aftermath, it tempts me to be the same.

But Kent was the opposite.  He was generous, and positive, and selfless.  In the face of terminal, inoperable cancer, his heart was continually for God, and for others.  He touched so many in his 56 years – and never so many as in his last one.

I was in Kansas City last week to say goodbye.  It’s so hard to see death up close – painful, and terribly sad.  But it’s also an enormous privilege to be invited into that precious time.  I will never forget it.

Hearts are broken today.  They will be for a long, long time – and maybe forever, because I don’t know that we ever “get over” the loss of a loved one.  I think of my sweet sister-in-law Ashley, and how the mountains of her heart have slid into the sea – how nothing will ever be the same again, how nothing COULD ever be the same again.

But, as the Heidelberg Catechism says, my only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.  I believe that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (II Cor. 5:8).  And even when I can’t see it or feel it, I have faith – and faith, no matter how small, is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).

kent

“Where?”

Monday, October 5th, 2009

I don’t feel much like writing these days.  I’m tired and sad – and those things don’t make for good fodder.

Sorry that the blog has been pretty lame for a while now.  I don’t even know why I’m apologizing – or who I’m apologizing to.  I guess it just feels like the only thing to do.  Life changes, as do the seasons, as do our hearts – and sometimes we get tired and sad.

I struggle with depression – I always have.

But I’m also a Christian.

I’m a depressed Christian.

I can be both, you know.  They are not mutually exclusive.  I can be both.  What it means is that I’m not the one in the front row singing, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart!”  Instead, more often than not, I’m the kid in the back, responding with the bewildered and suspicious echo: “Where?”

But God is bigger than the way that I feel.

Some of you may not believe that.  Sometimes, I don’t believe it either.  But I suppose that this is where Mark 9:24 comes in handy: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

Loved

Friday, August 21st, 2009

I don’t always believe that Jesus loves me – even though the bible tells me so.

Oh, I know that Jesus loves me – in a “whole world in his hands” kind of way.  But do I believe that he loves ME?  That he sees ME?  That seems impossible.

It’s this thorn in my side, this snag in my otherwise fairly confident faith – which is interesting, since the love of God is what the gospel is centered on.  When I have a hard time trusting the central truth of the Christian faith, it has a ripple effect on the other things that I believe.

I find myself swinging like a pendulum between an inflated sense of self-importance and a groveling sense of shame.  Driven by a strong need for justice, I still buy into the lie that I can earn my worth, and that if I don’t secure my merit by my own accomplishment, then I’m done for.  I miss the whole grace thing, over and over again – and then just beat myself up for being a loser.

It’s hard to believe something that I can’t feel.

But lately, I’ve been coming back to that passage in Matthew 6 where Jesus talks about the birds of the air, and how they soar and glide and don’t worry about their lives because they are provided for – and that if God loves them, how much more does he love you and me?  For some reason, that has felt like a good line of reasoning – something that I could latch on to – and so a few weeks ago, I prayed that God would help me remember that.

Specifically, I prayed for a visual reminder of that truth.

And last week, I received a birthday package in the mail.

Greta’s note was short and sweet, simply saying that she knew that this was an enormously impractical gift, but that she saw it and just wanted to send it to me.  I unwrapped it, and found a doorknob.

It took me a second to put it together – because there’s no way she could have known.  Why on earth would she have sent me a doorknob – especially when I don’t even have a bedroom door?

But when the pieces fell into place, my heart almost burst.

Because the love of God will open the door and set me free.

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