The Hundred-and-First Letter: Personality Types & Praying in Walmart (Advent 1)

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Dear Daughters,

I have long given up pretending that I am not an introvert. I tell people all the time that though I masquerade as an extrovert—I am fine with public speaking, for example, and am friendly with strangers and crowds—the truth is that I am introverted at my core and all those extroverted outward-focused activities completely wear me out. My energy comes from being quiet. In my quiet, restful house. Writing. And drinking tea. With a stack of novels nearby. And probably some paint splatters.

What I sometimes fail to tell people, because it doesn’t come across as very polite, is that I would pretty much always prefer to stay home than go out. And I would pretty much always prefer to be alone, or with your dad, or just with you, than to have anyone else in my personal space. Even my friends. Because friends are still other people, and other people wear me out.

And so, you might be thinking, why the heck do I insist on inviting people into my personal space? And not just theoretically but actually. Why do I not just leave invitations vague instead of nailing them down or, what’s worse, keeping them open as standing invitations? These are good questions, and I’ll tell you the answer.

The Kingdom of God.

You see, I don’t think our personality types let us off the hook when it comes to the Kingdom of God. I’ve been kind of preachy about this lately.

The truth is, the Kingdom of God requires a lot of us. It requires all of us. It requires the things that are hard for us, and the things that are easy for us.

Some parts of Kingdom work are hard for extroverts. Sabbath-keeping, for example. Contemplation and introspection and a radical prayer life.

Sabbath-keeping is not so hard for me, girls. I require rest and set-aside time to function. So that part of the Ten Commandments? Easy-peasy for this INFJ.

But you know what is hard for introverts? Opening our front doors. Putting down our novels and our journals and maybe even pausing in our prayers to look someone in the eye and let her know she is valuable to the Kingdom. Or how about leading a women’s Bible study in the middle of every week that is already full? Or inviting neighbors over for a St. Nicholas Day party after your daughter’s piano recital? Or inviting your writing group in for a Christmas-card-making get-together the same week?

Or all three, because that was last Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday?

When I am in my thoughtful Advent groove, I’m all peace, joy, contemplation, isn’t the Kingdom of God wonderful, and oh that’s right I should invite people over to show them the love of Jesus, and so I do.

But then it comes down to it and I really don’t feel like having people over. I really don’t feel like showing up. Again. I really don’t feel like it because I know I will be exhausted and I don’t even care, God, that it will be fun and worthwhile and holy because these are Kingdom tasks.

So there you have it.

Advent blessings. Doing it. Not wanting to do it. Doing it anyway. Rewarding Kingdom work. Still needing a nap, please go home.

And after those three days, we had choir practice Saturday morning and then I needed to go to Walmart to finish up some Christmas shopping. (There are two parts of that errand that I resented—going to Walmart for anything, and doing my Christmas shopping when I have been in such an Advent groove.)

So I went to Walmart and wandered patiently around even though there were workers restocking in the aisles I needed in and one aisle was completely closed for cleaning purposes (and wouldn’t open for 24 hours—at Walmart! On a Saturday!). I still kept my cool and even made chitchat with other shoppers to help defuse everyone’s stress. Your dad would have totally made fun of me for being a busybody but I don’t care because I am sure God shows up when I talk to strangers.

But I couldn’t help myself, girls, and eventually the frustrations of being in a place I didn’t want to be, doing an errand I didn’t want to do, started to get the best of me. Picture this: I had a fifty-gallon Sterilite tub propped on top of my cart. I know this sounds ridiculous and unbelievable, but you’ll have to trust me. Your dad needed a giant plastic tub thing with a lid for storing firewood in the basement, and I had a 36-roll or some kind of giant number of toilet paper rolls in the cart on top of all the art supplies and blinking tooth brushes I’d grabbed you, and the 50-gallon tub is big enough for both of you to sit in it, and that was blocking my view as I pushed my cart around. Yes, this is funny, I understand. But my mood was not amused at this point. I made it to the checkout and the woman in front of me had so many items. I couldn’t see how many at first because of the tub (obviously), but she just kept loading her items on the conveyer belt. The cashier had to go and get a second cart to start loading with filled bags because even though the conveyer belt was overflowing with items—everything from baby bouncer toys to groceries—the woman’s cart was still relatively full of other items. (I kid you not, more than twenty minutes passed from the time I texted your dad to say I was checking out until I was actually checking out.) All of that to say, I kept taking deep breaths and every time I thought, I should change check-out lines, I said to myself, no, you’re fine, you’re not in a hurry, be patient. But my frustration finally, finallystarted to get the best of me, and I started to think unkind thoughts toward this person who was taking so long to check out.

This is not a big deal, obviously. Except for this: it is a big deal.

What I mean is, it’s totally normally to get frustrated and judgey at the person in front of you in the checkout at Walmart.

We’ve all been there, done that.

But that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. Not Kingdom-of-God acceptable. Not all-people-are-made-in-the-image-of-God acceptable. Not as-much-as-you-have-done-it-to-the-least-of-these acceptable.

And as I was standing there and thinking about how this woman was intruding on my time to be all thoughtful and Adventy and taking me away from my family and making me feel bitterness about Christmas shopping and Walmart when I was having such a good, full, loving-others week, well, I knew I was in dire straights.

So I started praying for her.

Your dad teased me about this later when I told him I had no other choice but to pray for her. But whatever.

Of course, I didn’t know that woman’s story. Without knowing her, I prayed for her to have peace, and to know the fullness of this season, the beauty of Jesus. I prayed for her to know what it was to be loved, and for her not to feel the stress of Christmas. But I mostly just prayed for her heart.

Girls, I still don’t know her. I didn’t suddenly meet her and find out her life changed because I prayed for her. There’s no miracle here. I will probably never see her again.

But that time (more than twenty minutes!) I spent waiting in the Walmart check-out line? It was Kingdom work, girls. I promise. It was Advent work.

It changed me and my little INFJ heart.

And that’s what I wanted to tell you this first week of Advent.

Love,

Your Momma

The Eighty-Ninth Letter: Juice & Crackers

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Dear Daughters,

One of my favorite vignettes from Anne Lamott’s memoir Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith is this passage:

Our preacher Veronica said recently that this is life’s nature: that lives and hearts get broken—those of people we love, those of people we’ll never meet. She said that the world sometimes feels like the waiting room of the emergency ward and that we who are more or less OK for now need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room, until the healer comes. You sit with people, she said, you bring them juice and graham crackers.

You bring them juice and graham crackers.

I was thinking about the life-as-trauma-unit-waiting-room again this morning as I wrote a letter to God, working through the weight of the world I was feeling. I wrote about my friends who are in dark seasons, in despair and crisis, illness and loss, sadness and frustration.

When I make prayer lists, there is no shortage of concerns to jot down. Everywhere I look, it seems, every time I pick up my phone to catch up with a texting conversation, there is a burden to help shoulder, to help lift, to come alongside.

And in striking contrast to those struggles and suffering is my life of relative ease.

That’s what I was writing about this morning: life isn’t fair.

My day was bursting with accomplishment yesterday because I crossed off myriad items from my to-do list and even did a few extra things I’d been wanting to make space for but hadn’t managed to in weeks. I was light and joyful and grateful. But my phone buzzes every hour to remind me to pray for my loved ones. And, in addition to those interruptions, my mind kept drifting to the news I’d received yesterday morning of a close friend’s loss and sorrow.

So my day kept swinging back and forth between helium balloons floating into the sky and boulders rolling off the edge of a cliff.

Those are strange metaphors, I guess, but that’s kind of the point. I struggled to process the paradox of life and grace in this broken and beat-up world. And I was still processing it this morning when the juice and crackers quote came to mind.

It doesn’t seem fair that my life is full of good things and opportunities to use my vocation and glimpses of the holy in the ordinary while my friends are struggling to put one foot in front of the other.

It doesn’t seem fair that I can write about beauty in this life and seeing grace in the clutter of childrearing and homeschooling and writing creatively—and really see it and feel it and know it—while my friends are processing death and illness and the NICU and hospice.

I am not more deserving of grace.

They are not more deserving of suffering.

This I know for sure.

So how am I to live in this tension of grace and suffering, being attentive to beauty while also coming alongside dark and difficult journeys? What right do I have to speak life into seasons of death when my commitment to writing about the sacred butts up against the lived reality of so many of my friends?

Well, girls, this morning as I remembered Lamott’s trauma unit metaphor and jotted it down in my notebook again to try to inspire myself to be one of those “more or less OK” people who shows up to “sit with people,” who brings “them juice and graham crackers,” I thought of something I’d never noticed before.

Juice and crackers are communion.

The body and blood of Jesus.

When we show up, we don’t just bring ourselves.

We don’t just bring snacks.

We bring Jesus.

How have I never noticed that before in all the times I’ve referenced this quote?

We are Jesus in those moments, those moments when he seems the most far away, when we feel like all we are doing is showing up and waiting, the body of Christ is there already.

And it is sufficient.

And as if that weren’t enough of an epiphany for one day, girls, you helped me connect it back to my sacred ordinary life, outside of metaphor, a few hours later.

You asked for graham crackers for your snack this morning during read aloud.

You called them the “yummy crackers.”

But I knew what you meant, even if you didn’t.

You meant Jesus.

Because he’s here, too.

Love,

Your Momma

The Eleventh Letter: Unbelievable Things

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Dear Daughters,

I remember praying for my grandmother to be healed from cancer and really, truly believing she would be. Believing it. Knowing it.

I was away at a summer leadership camp the summer before my senior year of high school when I got a phone message to call home. I remember my stepdad crying on the phone when he answered and told me she was gone.

I don’t know when I stopped praying for unbelievable things.

As a teenager, someone once was praying “over” me–that is the lingo I would have used a lot back then–and he touched my hands and told me that my hands would be used to heal people some day.

He really said that. My hands.

I hear people pray a lot. We’ve got prayer lists in the bulletin, prayer meeting on Wednesday nights. So many meetings and occasions when we gather and “open in prayer.” It is such a normal thing.

I pray a lot.

We are already teaching you to pray. Before meals. When we’re sick. When the booboos need healing. For our friends and family.

But rarely do I hear any of us pray for unbelievable, miraculous, specific things, and rarely do I expect them to happen. Most of what I hear when I gather with other Christians are prayers for God’s peace and comfort, that God would be felt within tragic circumstances. We might pray for a medical treatment to work or for wisdom for doctors. Of if we do pray for healing of the physical body, we usually throw in a “if it is God’s will” or “in God’s perfect time.”

I’ve even fallen into the habit of simply praying for God to have mercy on so-and-so, and leaving it at that. God knows, right? God’s got it covered.

But I’ve been wondering recently whether we are afraid to pray for healing–real, miraculous, crazy healing–because we know it might not happen. Because our faith will be judged according to the success of those prayers.

And so we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that in the unanswered prayer, too, God is still working behind the scenes, in unseen ways, knowing the good better than we do.

Okay.

One of my best friends has multiple sclerosis.

I went to a women’s’ conference recently and during the first session, I thought–and I don’t say this lightly–that God was telling me to pray for her to be healed. Healed. Not for her treatments to work to suppress the disease’s progression, but healing. I felt like I was also supposed to tell her that I would pray for her.

I didn’t.

The following morning, a different speaker at the conference shared about having cancer and how she knew God had called her to pray for miraculous healing–to believe the unbelievable, even while seeking treatment. I knew again that God was telling me to pray and believe the unbelievable.

But what is strange is that in the midst of this conviction, I knew that it didn’t matter whether the healing took place–that the efficacy of my prayer was not to be judged on the outcome of the prayer–but that the important thing was for me to believe that healing could happen. God wasn’t saying, If you pray for her, I will heal her. But rather, Why don’t you believe she could be healed?

That was over two months ago.

I have a reminder on my phone that buzzes at noon every day to tell me to pray for her to be healed. You, my toddler bean, even know to pray for her now, and it really does give me the warm tinglies when I hear your little voice ask God for such a big thing. And you don’t even know it is a big thing.

The truth is, I don’t know what it would look like to be healed of multiple sclerosis. No more relapses? No progress in the disease? No more secondary issues of energy levels and depression?

But what does the unbelievable look like in any situation? What is the miraculous?

Of course it seems ridiculous to pray for cancer to just disappear, for broken marriages to be healed. Those are impossible things. And that’s not even touching on the biggies of our broken world, the structural inequalities and injustices that are hurting so many people. It may not seem crazy to pray for them in general ways, but it sure is crazy to believe a miracle that big, that impossible, can happen.

Why bother praying at all, girls, if we aren’t going to pray and believe the unbelievable things?

This is a strange letter for me, because I don’t often get preachy.

I’ve been slowly adding more reminders to my calendar to pray for people I know, people with real hurts and pain and brokenness, so now my phone buzzes or dings at us multiple times a day. Sprinkling it in is the only way I’ve found to add prayer in at all and, at the very least, it pulls me out of the four walls of our home every few hours, out into the world of real, hard struggles, and gives me some perspective.

And, of course, it teaches you to pray, too.

You don’t know what miracles are yet, but I want you to pray for them. I want you to believe in them.

I want it to be normal.

Love,

Your Momma