Shine Like Stars

After years of dreaming about holding a “Family Camp” in our area, and finally collecting enough brave friends to take the plunge, 67 of us pulled off our first ever 3-day camp.

It was better than I had imagined it would be.

For years my husband and I have been longing to participate in a camp experience that included the parents and the children, but was more than just ‘tenting’.  However, there was nothing remotely local to fill this desire.

One night, back in the winter, we took out a notebook and started to sketch out some ideas.  (The ideas are always the fun part, because they take no commitment!)  But, once we started talking about it, we realized why these things don’t just happen… it takes a lot of work and resources to get lift off.

But, we had friends who were in on the dream too; and with so many hands on deck this thing was ready to fly.

At the camp, we lived in a little ‘neighborhood’ of cabins, our front porches turned in to a central area where the kids played tetherball and blew bubbles together.  We watched teenage young men horse around with wee ones, and gaggles of girls laugh as they walked together, and even more boys play pick-up soccer with their dads and sisters.  We sat on the decks and chatted at all hours; it was old-fashioned and perfect.

We sang songs to Jesus and heard stories about his love.  We ate together and played hard.  We endured the chaos of a noisy dining hall and the inconvenience of rain.  We got lots of bug bites and poor sleeps, but we enjoyed the campfires and the early morning pick-up soccer games covered in dew.

It was especially poignant to see the fathers able to spend lots of time with their children playing and talking, building in the sand, boating and eating, and praying and worshiping in the context of a community of other like-minded hearts.

***

A preacher recently pointed out that the Apostles presented one of the big benefits of becoming a Christian was ‘joining the body’ in this life i.e. being part of the deep-love-community of Christ.  I confess, I have often thought of this as more of a trial than a benefit (all these people who I drive crazy, and who drive me crazy too – yikes!).

Yet, I have had an unquenchable hunger for this kind of broader connectivity; though have not found it in well-meaning programs or religious activity.  This gospel kind of love-life is up close and personal, it’s organic and real and even messy and it can’t be tidily tucked into a church pew.  This kind of life, I have found in my North American pocket of the world, is not easy to do.

As much as I desire closeness, I often feel more comfortable with distance and privacy and looking good from far off.

Yet, I saw this love in action this week, this profound ‘body life’, as fellow believers looked out for the needs of others (sharing toothpaste with the family that forgot theirs –ahem), children helped with the workload, and we got to experience each other at the ugly times of day (early morning puffy eyes!) and at the weary times of exhaustion as well.

And that great-big awesome fellowship extravaganza lit a fresh spark of hope, showing me that it is possible.

Love is bigger than our isolation and it will not let us be satisfied in our tidy pockets of comfort; we were made for faith-life together, that often looks like a mess and feels like sand in your sleeping bag, but is actually the stuff of heart-knit and passion-life.

I believe there’s more to come and it’s bigger and better than we ever imagined; it’s more than just a camp experience, it’s meant to be every day.

And I believe that Jesus is taking us there.

Advertisements

When Grace Spills

I once heard a man say that a lack of patience was really a lack of love, and that rather than praying for more patience, I should ask God to fill me with more love.  I was immediately offended by this idea, because as a parent, I love my children, wildly… I just needed more patience.

But the more these words tumbled through my cells, the deeper they penetrated my heart, and I have come around to a place of full agreement.  Patience is a product of love and where the well of love is deep, so too will be the reserve of patience.  After all, patience is a fruit of the Spirit, and the Spirit is love.

Love (and any of its fruit) cannot be contrived, learned from a book, or teased out of an emotional pep-talk-to-self; trust me, I’ve tried this for years and years – if this worked, I would be an expert.  Willing there to be more love in my heart, is like waiting for my pine tree to grow dollar bills.  I can desire it, but life doesn’t work that way.

However, as I gain increasing insight into the Father’s immeasurable affection for me, my own love-tank fills and spills over into my experience with my children.  It’s like all that grace just can’t be contained in me alone and patience begins to come naturally, even when a child may bust out into unrestrained freakiness.

It’s almost like I don’t mind the ear-blowing tantrums and frustrating explosions of chaos, because grace has fitted me with new glasses and all I see is love when I look at this tense, drooling, red-faced two-year-old who desperately needs to consume the entire bottle of (ahem, real) maple syrup himself, thank you very much.

Love colors everything beautiful, even when the object of my affection is in the throes of something ugly; after all, this is how God responds to ugly: He loved me first, before I deserved it.

It was His love that made me beautiful on the inside and it is this power-love spilling over in me that will produce a spectacular harvest of Spirit-fruit in my heart towards others, regardless of how they live or behave.

When grace spills over like this it nourishes good things.

Regrets of the Dying

In the book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, apparently the number one regret at the end of people’s life is “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

I’m pretty sure I never saw a movie where I was rooting for the protagonist to submit to the doomish, narrow opinions of others who wanted to shut down the dream.  (That would make for a pretty lame movie.)

Struggling to work out the vision God has given us amidst the real-world cast of characters that surrounds us has made it clear to me that fear has been a dominant feature in my life; let’s just say I’m not exactly ready to star as a hero any time soon.

I was never scared of spiders or of getting sick or normal day to day stuff; I’m not a wimp, generally speaking.  But, the quiet background noise of fear has penetrated my thoughts over the years, especially as I have stepped out in greater and greater faith, often prompting me to overly care about what other people think about me and causing me to feel strong guilt when I fail to live up to other’s expectations for my life.

But another book I read recently (Fear No Evil) articulated what has been forming in my mind for some time now: “Behind every fear there is a lie.”

Behind every fear there is a lie.

Fear = lie.

Fear is not of God, because perfect love casts out fear.

And so, whether I’m afraid of disappointing others, or getting ‘too weird’, or being totally misunderstood, or fearfully wondering if I will even make it through the mess of this day (if I don’t, I suppose it will prove the critics right, I am in over my head), I’m learning that all that anxious thinking is at best unproductive and at worst massively destructive.

Why do I mess with fear?  Why is it so hard to punch it in the face and just get over it?

It recently occurred to me that of my closest circle of friends in elementary school, I am the only one with children.  The others are doing marvelous, meaningful and glamorous things with their lives.  Yet, it struck me afresh that what will last is the life we build.  Our ideas and art and efforts will endure a season or two or five, but children carry the spirit of life into the next generation, to a place I will never go.

This crazy work of cleaning up goobery faces, waiting out tantrums, matching 8 million socks again, and clearing mold specimens out of the containers at the back of the fridge, is all for a greater purpose: life beyond me, life beyond here.

And that’s the dream we have, essentially: Life, abundantly; life free in Jesus.

Honestly, I don’t know where our story is going, but how can I be afraid of a dream like that, a dream that is woven through scripture like a perfect golden thread?  There’s no fear in that, only victory.

A Great Work

Over the last few seasons we have had folk we love share their concerns over our choices.  Our choices are wacky and uncomfortable and seemingly unwise; though no one calls any of our choices sin, they feel a sense of gravity about the ‘direness’ of our situation.

Imagine, choosing life is now considered reckless.

Our life is too different, too full of children, too sheltered, too unconventional, too free from culture-junk.

We have had meetings and chats and conversations to address our nutty, ‘problematic’ thinking.

How can I justify to men what our upside-down God has called us to do?  We certainly aren’t walking this out perfectly, but I’m pretty sure Noah looked like an idiot too, and he was actually amazing.

I suppose I am in good company.

Nehemiah, too, refreshes me.  I love this story where he goes about the immense task of rebuilding the ancient wall around Jerusalem.  He is busy working away, filling in the gaps, all the while crammed with vision, and commissioned by God to work at this huge and thankless task.  He is all mission, all focus.

And then these guys say to him, “Come, let us meet together…”

{They don’t want him to work on the wall!}

So, I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.  Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?”

But they sent me this message four times [even a letter with false accusations]…  Then I sent to [them], saying, “No such things as you say are being done, but you invent them in your own heart.”

For they were trying to make us afraid, saying “Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done.”

Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands…

Oh, yes, I am doing a great work and I don’t have time to converse and convince others about what God has asked me to do.

These hearts that we are growing in this atmosphere of faith and hope are full of the light of their Heavenly Father; this is radical holy work.

The grueling days of hard, hot, heavy work stretch out before me like a seemingly endless wall, where I fit one humble pebble at a time into the gaps, trusting that this business is the work that God prepared in advance for me to do.

Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands!