How Paradoxes Become Purposeful: Gleaning Wisdom From Ecclesiastes

Paradox appears around us. Even in scripture.

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 1:3-8)

Originating in the Garden of Eden, humanity has sought control over life this side of Heaven. Seemingly, tasting the full knowledge of good and evil promised security. But we are the created. Not the Creator. Thankfully.

Left to our own devices, our vision of “good” is skewed.

The passage from Ecclesiastes reminds us that God’s goodness may not resemble our expectations. Living in undefined territory feels uncomfortable How can something seen as “good” paradoxically become “not good” in a different context? Messy boundaries demand surrender to a greater understanding of creation. How about the Creator? (My ways are higher than your ways).

Currently, we struggle with “a time to refrain from embracing.” Knowing that scientific evidence points to the life-giving properties of touch and the sacred nature of our relationships with one another, refraining from touch seems to run contrary to God’s design.

But what about those paradoxes?

Perhaps, we can reframe them as purposes rather than paradoxes. Scripture attests to times when touch was life giving and when it was not. When it was life giving to weep and when it was better to laugh. When we hold onto one action for the sake of security, it becomes an idol. Letting go and embracing it’s alternative, allows us to trust that God is by our side in the midst of it all.

May we continue to seek the Holy Spirit as we navigate the messy parts of life. Knowing that what may seem purposeful for a neighbor may not be for us. As we do that, we recognize that God really does have the whole world in his hands.

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/

How Distractions Become Idols

The rabbit holes lure me.

They are everywhere. As I attempt to navigate my days around them, I wonder what I might be missing. Voice bytes of those who have descended down their openings beckon me to investigate them too.

However, delving in leads to following tunnels that may lead to nowhere. The hole morphs into a corn maze. And before I know it, I have become distracted. Large amounts of time were consumed with nothing life giving in return.

Tish Harrison Warrens’s words in her book, The Liturgy of the Ordinary, whisper, “How you spend your moments is of course how you spend your days.”

I pray for wisdom and discipline to keep my eyes focused on what’s worthy of investigation. When to recognize that I have let the quest for information become my idol. I need to focus my gaze up at Jesus rather than down into empty holes.

Changing my rhythms allows me to prioritize and discern my movements. Where are my steps leading?

Justin Earley offers these practices to help reshape the mind, soul, and body. https://www.thecommonrule.org/

“Turn you eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace…”

Alan Jackson

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Resources for Parents

Helpful Links

A. http://bipolarchild.com/
B. http://stephaniejthompson.com/home/help-that-wasnt-in-the-book/
C. http://www.tiltparenting.com/
D. https://www.drmanipavuluri.com/
E. https://childmind.org/
F. https://www.thekennedyforum.org/
G. https://www.nami.org/
H. https://www.kidsinthehouse.com/special-needs
I. www.keyministry.com
J. https://www.adhdchildhood.com/

K. https://conniejakab.com/blog/

Books

A. The Bipolar Child, Demitri Papolos, M.D. and Janice Papolos
B. What Works For Bipolar Kids: Help and Hope For Parents, Dr. Mani Pavuluri
C Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission, Amy Simpson
D Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry, Amy Simpson
E. No More Fear for Kids: A Family Devotional Jo Hannah Reardon
F. The Dark Side of Innocence Terri Cheney

G. Bring Them Closer Connie Jakab

Articles

A.The stigma of raising a mentally ill child (youtube-”60 minutes”)
B. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/09/18/you-know-that- mom-who-isnt-joining-in-the-proud-of-my-kid-conversation-yeah-ask-how-shes-doing/
C. http://mudroomblog.com/people-think-kids-apples/

D. http://www.embracingtheunexpected.com/did-god-choose-the-wrong-mom/
E. https://annvoskamp.com/2016/09/when-youre-living-a-life-you-didnt-choose/
F. https://themighty.com/2018/10/phrases-to-calm-an-angry-child/
G. https://themighty.com/2016/03/how-a-parent-can-calm-their-anxious-child/
H. https://singingthroughtherain.net/2015/10/groups-for-special-needs-families.html
I.. https://thewildword.com/normal-parents-should-know/

Class: https://www.nami.org/Videos/NAMI-Basics-OnDemand

Books for Kids: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/610484/tornado-brain-by-cat-patrick/?ref=PRHB3B3009F49&aid=33375&linkid=PRHB3B3009F49&pdivflag=1&fbclid=IwAR1xxw-ynRM4eN2Eewd8OFPg3b2Jr3ucY-B—CHADpH_qJ24JOVDm–tb8

Affiliated support: https://www.jedi-institute.com/support?fbclid=IwAR2qcS6Tot-Nd0k_adm1KdasJMpZBGMHmpO-0u7_BVsZArRM6CWRX2xiPJU

What We Learn When We Change Perspectives

Perspective matters. And sometimes we forget that there is more than one.

In an age of virtual non-stop, often one-way communication, the competition to win disagreements is fierce. Unfortunately, the temptation to participate in group think social clusters makes hearing other points of view limited. The trade off of comfort for knowledge results is damaging. We decrease our understanding of God’s character and weaken our connections to one another. There is beauty in diversity.

Author Michael Kimpan shares his observations on the ways he sees Christians communicating with others who think differently than us. He calls these people the “others”. He writes, “We struggle to “put skin” on the words and message of Christ with anyone who thinks differently than us. Too often, we demand conformity prior to connection. When we approach one another as brothers and sisters—image bearers of the God we claim to serve—and celebrate what we have in common, we better position ourselves to participate in helpful dialogue in the midst of disagreement. ” https://relevantmagazine.com/current16/being-holy-age-being-right/

We naturally begin discussions out of our own narratives. It’s what we know. But what if we come to conversations in a posture of listening for the unknown? How would that action not only expand our view of our world but our own identity?

Listening does not require agreement. But it does require submission to pride, presumptions, time. We may walk away with unchanged minds but we also may recognize that we only saw part of a picture.

The photo up above? What’s your first guess? It’s actually an image of snow covered pine trees captured from above. But if your view of pine trees is usually ground level and in warmer temperatures, pine trees may look differently. Both images are accurate. Yet, awareness of landscapes outside of yours is necessary to see both.

We live in a vast world, with different landscapes, cultures, and experiences. May we open ourselves up rather than shutting others out. There’s much to learn if we change perspectives.

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/

Sacred Connections Amidst Mental Health

As I scan across the byte-sized headlines filling my social media accounts, an increasingly common phrase beckons my attention. “Mental Health” is finally gaining a common place in our cultural vernacular. In the midst of strong opinions regarding the current ills of the American  narrative, “Mental Health” becomes a tossed-around phrase connected to resolutions. But, as I begin to read the articles, tweets, or memes, I pause in frustration. The voice in my head screams, “Does anyone really understand  the implications of those two words?” I do. Our family has encountered them.

On the one hand, I am glad that mental health is finally gaining recognition as a viable element of wholeness. On the other hand, the use of the phrase often becomes a quick way of fixing a problem. Living in uncertainty leaves us restless. If a solution to the horrifying events in our news feeds can be identified then maybe the crisis won’t hit home. It’s even easier if the solution is left to others to implement. But I know first hand that it takes a village to bring about changes that transform the lives of our neighbors.  Read more here: https://redbudwritersguild.com/sacred-connections-amidst-mental-health/

Re-imagining the Church in an Age of Quarantine

What does church look like?

This crisis has challenged all of us to reflect on the framework of our lives. And, in some cases, begin the process of deconstructing of previously held world views. Being stripped of familiarity has a way of catapulting us into figuring out where we find security, identity and purpose. Maybe it looks different than we thought.

In a season of quarantine, “Church” as we define it has been altered. Sure, we are aware that Church is not defined by a building. Of course, we recognize that Church knows no borders. Yet, our rhythms and definitions are often informed by culture not necessarily scripture. Suddenly, our Church nuances became disrupted. What does it mean to be in community with each other when we can’t be together in one place?

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:23-25.

My friend Michelle Van Loon, in her book Becoming Sage, takes us “out of the box” when understanding these verses. “We remember that commitment to a local body of believers is the primary way in which these relationships are formed, as well as the place in which we share together in corporate worship, learning, communion, and service. But we must also remember that Hebrews 10:24-25 isn’t a goad to get us to attend church. It describes the nature of our lives together, whether we meet at church or run into another believer in the frozen food aisle at the grocery store.” And I would add: on a zoom call, an online worship service, through a letter, text, or a social media interaction.

Because our “church” experience has been transformed, we have the opportunities to create new ways of connecting. For me, I have been blessed to watch other congregations’ services online. I also have been able to share time and resources through joining other members of the body of Christ.

The “Church” has always had to learn to be flexible and hold together in challenging circumstances. Christians living in other countries and/or through previous generations and even in certain parts of our country are well aware of this truth. Most of us have held onto familiar rhythms with other believers and security in a culturally informed view of the church. Change becomes the pathway to which we can reflect where our identities and purpose lie. Thankfully, the good news is that following Jesus and bearing witness to our passion for building his kingdom here on earth knows no boundaries.

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Why I Need To Clothe Myself with Jesus

Facing difficult circumstances is nothing new. Illness, political upheaval, death, and devastation unfold because we live in a world in process of restoration. Earth groans and so do we.

How we respond bears witness of where we place our hope.

I’ll admit that this week, I have struggled to show it. Long lines at the grocery store, , not finding items in stock that I seek, and having my rhythms interrupted have all pressed in upon me. The temptation to react with impatience creeps in. But I remember:

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12

Lauren Winner, in her book Clothed in God, writes about wearing Jesus. “He is the school uniform that erases boundaries between people. Or at least that is the kind of clothing Jesus wants to be. When those of us clothed in Him trespass boundaries in His name, we allow Him to be that school uniform; when we put up walls in the name of Jesus, we are turning the Lord into an expensive designer dress.”

Yikes! The last thing I want to do is be portraying that Jesus to others. So, I surrender to Jesus all that I can’t control and pray that Jesus is seen as my garment when: I stand in the grocery line. Look for a parking spot. Wait for someone six feet from me to decide what they need from the shelf. Because Maybe they will realize there is more to this Earthly life than they are experiencing. And what I’m wearing becomes a residence of the Holy Spirit.

So I am trying hard to empty myself and “wear” Jesus. All his beautiful non-cultural conforming design. Because others need to see more of Him and less of me.

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/


Embracing the Opportunity the Church Has Right Now

Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:15

We, as the Church, have an opportunity. A glorious one.

As the world stumbles through its days, weariness sets in. Darkness looms. We live in unpredictable times. All that seemingly appeared to secure our feet in this earthly realm is falling away. Though everyone’s loss is different, we feel the weight of grief. We are in this together.

Recognizing our obligations to one another has been a characteristic of God’s people since the beginning. Sharing about my experience last year reading through the Old Testament, “… as I read the Old Testament again, so much stood out for me that didn’t in previous studies. The themes of welcoming the foreigner, and the counter-cultural ways in which we should treat each other, spoke to me in verses that I had previously glossed over. The more I come back to these passages, the more I see how much we, as the church, still have to learn about loving others. The question is: How will we respond?”(http://www.theartoftaleh.com/how-can-the-church-do-better-at-loving-others/)

In this crisis, we have an opportunity to not just wash our hands but other’s “feet.” To be the Church is to offer ourselves to serve others with the skin of Jesus. However that looks: sewing masks, working as medical personnel, calling on neighbors, acknowledging others’ fears and grief, advocating for the marginalized falling through systemic loops, and calming our children.

So as people prepare to celebrate Easter in a way that didn’t fit expectations, let us hold out the hope. Show others why we embrace a kingdom that seems upside down. As Ann Vos Kamp writes in The Broken Way, “A Christ-shaped life is not a comfortably shaped life, but a cross-shaped life.” May we all squint from the glory that radiates.

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Remembering that Kingdom Living is About Being “Forgiveness People”

The anger simmers. I’m trying to keep it from reaching a full on boil. Someone stole my bank card number for the second time in two weeks. In addition, it happened a few times in recent years. But the timing of it all really struck me. We are all dealing with so much right now. Who would do this?

The impact of the violation permeates through my mind. I am aware of the broken state of a relationship with someone I don’t know. But their actions hurt me. A growing sense of distrust of my companions in this world enters in.

The impact of the violation permeates through my body. Once again, I must invest time and energy making phone calls, getting a new card and reconnecting all my online bill payments.

The impact of the violation permeates through my soul. I feel the wound of brokenness. Although I recognize we live in a sinful world, the consequences of trespassing on my being cannot be dismissed or ignored.

And despite my anger at being trespassed against, I am forced to reconcile a truth: I have trespassed against others. That fact also permeates my mind, body, and soul. I can feel the pain I have inflicted on others. Who would do this? Someone who feels desperate. Someone who has relied on their own devices to fix a problem. Someone susceptible to the deceitful whispers of evil. Someone ……. like… me. While I have never stolen a bank card, my actions at times have “stolen” from others. Peace. Time. Energy.

Our sins may vary in degree of earthly consequences but they share one thing in common: alienation from God and each other. Recognizing our common humanity opens us up to the truth that we all need Jesus. As we approach Easter, I am especially mindful of his radical message of forgiveness. He spoke it through words and actions. It was met with the same resistance then as it is now because humility, surrender, and compassion don’t flow easily out of a broken humanity. One that feasts on pride and control.

But when we fail to recognize the beauty of Jesus’ message, we miss out on being full participants in the unfolding of his new kingdom. N.T. Wright, in his book, The Lord and His Prayer, writes about Jesus’ original followers as “forgiveness people. “Failure to forgive one another wasn’t a matter of failing to live up to a new bit of moral teaching. It was cutting off the branch you were sitting on. The only reason for being Kingdom -people, for being Jesus’ people, was that forgiveness of sins was happening; so if you didn’t live forgiveness, you were denying the very basis of your own existence.”

Praying the Lord’s prayer demands living into the words. It means being like the one who taught it. There is a reason many turned away from Jesus’s offer to become “apprentices.” It’s hard.”

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
10     Your kingdom come.
    Your will be done,
        on earth as it is in heaven.
11     Give us this day our daily bread.[c]
12     And forgive us our debts,
        as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13     And do not bring us to the time of trial,[d]
        but rescue us from the evil one.[e]
Matthew 6:7-13.

Trespasses. Sins. Debts. Regardless of the semantics, the nuances are the same: broken relationship.

“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.” Matthew 6:14

The Kingdom vision compels me to reach toward the hard act of forgiveness. Of acknowledging the common struggle of the flesh that my offender and I share. Jesus took on the pain necessary for restoration. May I embrace the same because he made it possible.