The Fifty-First Letter: Love vs. Fear

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Dear Daughters,

Three or four months ago, I had a conversation with friends who are a few decades older than I am. Politics came up, because it always does. I made the comment that, although I realized the political situation seemed dire with so much at stake, I was pretty confident that in the scheme of things, the turmoil of this moment too would pass. And, I continued, no matter the outcome, it wouldn’t end up being as dire as it seemed right then.

My friends disagreed.

This was dire, they said. We are in desperate times, they said. So much is at stake, they said.

They made it sound end-of-the-world apocalyptic-ish, and these are not apocalyptic-predicting folks. (Trust me, because I know some of those kind of folks, too.)

Well, girls, let me be candid. When I read Scripture, that’s not the message I read.

Recently, your children’s Bible poignantly paraphrased Jesus’ words to his disciples after he calmed the storm. Jesus asked his friends, “Why did you believe your fears instead of me?”

I heard your dad read that question out loud, and I’ve heard it dozens of times before as we’ve paraded through these stories, but for some reason it really settled into my heart that night.

Why did you believe your fears instead of me?

I’ve been trying to avoid writing anything political in any sort of public place, and though it is an impossible task, I’ve tried to avoid reading what people I love are saying about politics. Because these well-meaning, Christian people whom I love dearly are saying some very unloving things (or at least sharing links to words that are very unloving).

The thing is, I am blessed to be friends with folks of all political convictions, people who hold their convictions tightly and have well-thought out reasons to support the political parties they support. It’s good to have friends with varying perspectives and life experiences. In fact, I feel fortunate to have friends with whom I disagree, because it does help me to think more objectively about difficult issues.

But lately, in trying to be honest about their own convictions, many of my friends have said unkind things.

Girls, they are saying these unloving things because they are afraid.

They are saying these unloving things because they believe that much is at stake. Too much is at stake. It seems they think everything is at stake.

And yet I read the gospel, and I am studying the history of the early church, and I hear Jesus saying to me, “Why are you believing your fears instead of me?”

I remember being taught as a young evangelical child that the basic message at the heart of the New Testament was to love God first, neighbors second, and ourselves last. JOY was the pneumonic used to drive it home. I’ll probably teach it to you, too. Jesus. Others. Yourself. JOY.

As an adult in this season of life, raising children in my thirties, being a leader in my church, sending down roots in this place we call home, every single time I open the Gospels, I am convicted that I am not loving others enough.

I am convicted that the call to serve Jesus and serve the Kingdom of God is a radical and difficult journey of love. Love is hard. All the time.

That journey of love is one of vulnerability, not security. That journey is one of hospitality, not fear of the stranger. That journey is one of healing, not sowing division. That journey treats all life as sacred, even those we see as dangerous, those who seem threatening to our way of life.

That journey of love? Well, it challenges our way of life.

Because that’s the point. There shouldn’t be any “our” in what we are trying to protect.

This life was never “ours” to begin with.

And so I ask myself frequently, what is the way of life the Kingdom has called me to, still calls me to?

What I know is that it is pure grace that pulls me along to see in scripture, to see in my neighbor, to see in your bright eyes and compassionate souls what I know to be true even when I am tired and scared and worried about your future.

What I know to be true is the gospel.

It’s a gospel of hard, vulnerable, compassionate love.

It’s the gospel of this-world-is-not-your-home.

It’s the gospel of nothing-is-as-dire-as-it-seems.

It is the gospel of the-least-of-these are at the heart of the Kingdom.

I hope you see this radical love at the heart of the gospel message, girls.

And I hope you don’t believe your fears instead of Jesus.

You’ll have fears, girls, lots of them. I know I do. But that’s when I turn to the words of Jesus. It sounds so cheesy, but there you have it.

In the life I see him leading, I can’t find any reason to make excuses about my safety, my financial security, even the safety of my family.

It’s reassuring to me to know that you won’t read these letters for at least another decade. By that time the crazy political season of 2016 will just be a blip in the history of our country. You might not even be able to remember who the candidate was that lost the election. (This is hard for me to imagine, but I’ve been amazed at how little the current college students know or remember about events that seem so pivotal in my own memories. Then again, they were your age when the Towers fell in 2001.)

Yes, I am confident this election’s anger and hostility and everything-is-at-stake chaos will fade.

But you know what won’t fade?

The way of love you are called to. The way of life I am called to.

And if you hear me in ten or twenty years making excuses about why I can’t love my neighbor as myself, you can remind me of that question Jesus asked his disciples, these friends who had already seen him feed the 5000, cast out demons, and heal the sick: “Why did you believe your fears instead of me?”

You can ask me that, girls. I will need to hear it.

Love,

Your Momma

The Thirty-Third Letter: On Being (Not) Afraid

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Dear Daughters,

The truth is, it is easy to be afraid.

A little over a year ago, a talented, vibrant young woman who graduated from our local college was brutally murdered while serving overseas. It was an absolute tragedy that shook the community. An incident like that is like a weight on your chest that you can’t shake off.

In the wake of that tragedy, I tried to write a letter to you about how fear feels different as a parent. I thought about your futures, all the things I can’t control, and wanting to keep you safe. But I couldn’t write it. I couldn’t get beyond the notes I’d jotted down quickly, a list of things that seemed worthy of parental fear: diseases, child predators, kidnapping. Social media, bullying, pornography. Rape, domestic violence, rampant drug use in our community. The list went on and on. There were too many what-ifs, too many potential tragedies, too many sadnesses and risks.

It’s so easy to be afraid.

The other day, I couldn’t see the toddler in the yard and the preschooler didn’t know where she was, so I began to search frantically. The driveway. The front of the house. The side of the house. Looking down the street. Hollering her name. Within a minute or two, I found her, happily in the corner, behind a bush. She was fine. I was sobbing. Why, oh why, was my first instinct that she had been kidnapped?

It doesn’t make sense, except that I was operating out of worst-case-scenario, TV-drama fear.

Listen to me. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s a smart instinct, this fear, that it’s protective, that those gut reactions to distrust others or suspect the worst in others are good because they keep us safe.

I’m sorry, but noI do not believe that.

I stopped watching crime drama many years ago because I found that it was making me see every stranger as a potential predator. That is not hospitality, girls. That is not “welcoming the stranger.”

We have become too afraid.

I hear it in my friends’ voices. I hear it in news reports. I hear it, perhaps especially, tossed about by our political leaders.

Fear people who are different than you.

Be afraid.  

There is not enough. Save your money. Stock the pantry. 

Protect your own. Build walls. Close your blinds.

“Stranger danger.”

I’m so tired of these messages. So tired of the politicians’ preying on our fears. So tired of hearing people I know acting as if these fears are natural and good and help to keep us safe.

No.

Sigh.

I guess what is prompting all of this is just how frustrated I’m feeling about the underlying message of political conversation these days. Normally, I ignore politics as much as possible and, because we don’t watch television, I never even see campaign ads. But the primaries of 2016 have been over-the-top attention-worthy–I can only imagine what your history books will say someday–and I’ve felt compelled to read about what is happening, what is being said, what is being believed.

The bad news is that much of what I hear and read is based on fear. Ill-informed, selfishly motivated, circle-the-wagons fear.

The good news is that this fear is so over-the-top, so exaggerated and obvious, that it has helped me to put my own fears in perspective. I’m serious. When I inwardly accuse politicians (or would-be politicians) of fear-mongering, I feel compelled to consider whether I myself operate out of fear.

And I’m afraid I do.

Sunday is Palm Sunday. Next week is Holy Week.

Do you know what the message of our faith is, girls?

It’s so different from the message of the politicians. It is so different from the message of the 24-hour news cycle. So different from a message of fear.

It’s this:

Love.

Do not be afraid.

There is enough.

Give your lives away. Be vulnerable. Welcome the exile, the widow, the orphan.

The stranger might be Christ.

I’ll confess, these truths don’t typically guide my days. My days are, more often than not, too full of anxiety and discontent and worry. More than I’d like to admit.

But, still, I want my instinct to be fear not.

I want my instinct to be yes, there is enough.

I want my instinct to be the stranger is Christ.

I want my instinct to be love.

That’s Holy Week, girls.

Love,

Your Momma

The Twenty-Fifth Letter: Boom Boxes & What I Can’t Imagine

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Dear Daughters,

One of your lift-the-flap children’s books features a boom box hidden behind two cabinet doors. I honestly don’t know why. The book is nonsensical: under the pillow flap is a banana, for example. It’s silly.

When we lift those flaps to reveal the boom box, I’m never quite sure what to say. “There’s the boom box…radio…music-playing thing,” I trail off.

You don’t know what a boom box is. Obviously.

Though we are hipster enough to play music on a record player occasionally, we primarily stream it on our “devices.”

Back in the 90s, I had a boom box in my bedroom as a teenager. It had a double cassette player and a CD player. I used it to make mix tapes for your dad when we dated in college.

Believe it or not, our 1999 Volvo station wagon has a working cassette player in it. That feels comforting to me. We still have those mix tapes.

My point is this: I’m not very old.

This was not very long ago.

I wrote a poem once about saving a set of encyclopedias for you, despite their obsolescence. Because I loved encyclopedias growing up, loved their pictures, loved the feeling of research. I still do.

In seventh grade, we learned how to write a research paper. It involved reference books and card catalogs and hand-written notecards.

We couldn’t even imagine a world of the Internet.

This was not very long ago.

I was the first of my friends to have a cell phone in high school, and all it did was make calls. I remember my dad’s first car phone, with a huge bag of cords inside on the floor and a giant magnetic antennae outside.

We couldn’t even imagine a world of tweeting and texting, weather apps and Amazon video, Facetiming and asking Siri how to roast pumpkin seeds–all on our phones.

This was not very long ago.

My high school graduation present was a 35 mm camera.

The learn-to-type games we played as kids came on floppy disks. The actual bendy kind.

I was incredulous that wi-fi was a thing when I first heard about it, was confused when USB drives came around, and thought “Twitter” was one of the lamest words I’d ever heard.

This was not very long ago.

It’s not like I lived through the transition to automobiles from the horse-drawn carriage, girls. Nothing that drastic.

Except maybe more drastic.

Because the world has gotten so much smaller in the last thirty years. And also bigger.

Our lives are more public and we’re also more capable of keeping our real selves hidden. We’ve gotten more vulnerable and also more equipped to rally and proclaim. We’ve gotten stronger voices and also more polarizing discourse. We’ve come to expect a diversity of choices and are also more dependent on a global economy. We have so much knowledge at our fingertips and also learn about news instantaneously, errors in reporting and all.

It’s inspiring and frightening, these changes.

I can’t imagine the next thirty years. How can I?

I can’t imagine what life will be like for you. How can I?

In the 1990s, a boom box was pretty amazing.

As I type this, the two of you are watching a PBS show on the iPad about dinosaurs. (For the record, even the dinosaur names have changed since I was a child.) The toddler already knows how to turn off the iPad and begins to swipe the screen. You know which icon gets you to look at pictures, know that the little triangle in the middle of a screen means that a movie can play if you press it, know that talking to faraway grandparents means you get to see them. You even pretend to “text” with your phone toys.

What will life be like for you, girls?

I wonder about it, and I’ll be honest:

It frightens me sometimes.

It gives me hope sometimes.

Sometimes even at the same time.

But I try to focus on the hope part.

You are watching PBS, after all, not princesses. That’s hopeful.

Love,

Your Momma