Tag Archives: ordinary

Why luck’s got very little to do with it

“Your daughter is so lucky to have you as parents.”

It’s a phrase we hear quite often from kind people around us who must sense and feel how treasured our daughter, Lucia, who has special needs, is by us.  And I suppose they mean to compliment us, too, to tell us what every parent yearns to hear from time to time from his or her village–that all that work of parenting, the stuff that you do in the trenches doesn’t go unnoticed–that it’s not all for nothing, that even when you don’t feel like it, someone saw you doing a good job and took the time to notice it.

But especially when Lucia was really little, crying day in and day out from neurological and gastric distress, and even sometimes nowadays, phrases like these are often followed by a confession, something like, “I certainly couldn’t do what you do.”

When we were first learning about Lucia’s special needs, my husband confided in me how hard it was to hear words like these, well meaning though they were.  For him, especially, the notion that we were doing anything differently from other parents, or that we were different from other parents, smarted against the ordinary we knew ourselves to be.

I’ve also noticed that such ordinary phrases. not unlike “I’m sorry,” often have the power to divide rather than unite.  When I used to run off to far away places like Mexico or Puerto Rico or China and get to know Christians there, people used to tell me similar things, that they could never do what I was doing, that I was amazing, and that my life seemingly mattered more than theirs.  But that smarted against the reality I knew God to be creating: certain people are not better equipped, because it’s God who does the equipping.  I wasn’t more courageous or better or bolder, I’d had my own doubts and my own fears, and the words that conveyed that I was beyond those insecurities and inadequacies while others lived with them constructed a false reality, a world of dichotomies, a world in which some are quite extraordinary but others are not.

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Illustration by Giselle Potter that accompanied a recent article by Courtney Lund, a woman with a brother with AGS (the same condition as Lucia) in the NYT.

But here’s the thing: parents do extraordinary things for their children all the time, because love is a seeping, pervasive, unwieldy, extraordinary thing that causes us to do all sorts of things we never imagined we could or would do.  And I guess neither my husband nor I want people to forget that.  Sure, we feel encouraged to know that people see Lucia and we as a fabulous unit, but we also don’t want to exist in some weird, alternative special needs universe, where our family is abnormal or an anomaly, so much as one example among many examples of what love can do.

And that’s also what I’m learning.  I’m realizing that whereas it used to feel fundamentally uncomfortable to hear these words and these accolades, I can choose the way I respond.  And I’m beginning to love hearing them, because I get to respond by saying, “Well, we feel truly blessed to be Lucia’s parents.”  And that truth is one that I’m so blessed and compelled to say aloud–that despite the tears and the pain and the heartache, there have been just as many moments of elation, warmth, and joy.  I want people to see the joy and the delight that we have in Lucia, just as any parent has in his or her child.  Something about this response, perhaps like the response “I’m not sorry,” makes me feel that I have a bit more to contribute and to give to this world, rather than an ethos that sets me apart or above it.

Because the truth is also that my husband and I are in the trenches beside all of you, trying to sort our parenthood and do our very best, though our patience often fails us and our compassion can run dry.  But it’s our kids that keep us going.  It’s all our kids–the love that we have for them that is so much better than us–the people we become when we let that love lead us, the people that we are becoming that makes this all something more than luck that we’ve found one another, but rather grace that we get to love one another.

And that’s how I’ve begun to feel when I hear those words, “Your daughter is lucky to have you.”  I’m filled with humility and gratitude and grace, because it’s not so much true that Lucia is lucky.  But I know it to be true that it’s by the grace of God that we’ve been blessed with one another.

 

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How to embrace summer strokes

There is this thing we do, especially over in academia, but also in life, where we presume that complicated, busy, and grandiose is better.

Especially in my professional corner of the world, people often speak in belabored language and write long-winded sentences, and it’s all emperors new clothes until we realize that nobody can actually understand what we’re saying, no matter how profound it may be.

In my personal life, that version of over-complicated also takes the form of swimming upstream, presuming that every moment needs to be set to a purpose, and that things like pause and sabbath, leisurely strolls, or even hearty laughs defy the Protestant ethic in a decidedly unfaithful way.  

But surely that’s not what God intended for us…especially in the summer!

I have to admit that I once looked at offices that recognized summer hours–leaving early on Fridays–as flat out lazy.  Sure, summers are afforded teachers for restoration given the demands of the academic year, but I always felt a little guilty about that, too.  Indeed, for professors, summers are not breaks or vacations, but our best research and writing is supposed to be scrunched into these three hot summer months.

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Summer on the D&R canal.  Photo by Evan Schneider.

But I’m starting to see the wisdom in simple, summer strokes, going with the flow, and finding a rhythm in this slower season of life that embraces restoration, intention, and the sacred pause.

When my writing time was cut in half these past few weeks because of nursing vacancies, I initially panicked, but as I let my pen wander between lofty goals of articles and future plans, ordinary blog posts like these, and my book project, somehow my productivity multiplied.  Somehow in the slower strokes of summer, the steady motions of my pen, however pedantic, became productive.

I’ve taken walks these past few weeks just to take walks.  I’ve read books just because they’re fun or because they speak to a deep but unexplored interest.  And I’m still plotting a spur of the moment (is that completely paradoxical?) trip to the beach, just me and Lucia, before the summer ends.

The less I’ve tried to fight this slower pace, the more meaningful it has become.  

And slow spirituality?  Oh yes.  

At church this past Sunday, when I had all the reason to worry about which word needed to be preached to our desperate and hurting world, the kids on our mission trip, coming off their retreat from their own realities and their own summer strokes, were spouting this wisdom about not necessarily getting to see a job completed but doing your part, or loving the person in front of you.  And that was precisely the word that God had prepared.

The second we start to believe that God can’t do anything with ordinary lives is the second we’ve lost faith in the extraordinary God we serve.  But the moment we start to trust in the slow, deep work of God, when we trust in the abundance of God’s divine work in the world, when we go with the flow, if you will, all those seemingly singular actions, persons, and moments start to add up.  We start to see them as not incidental or momentary or fleeting, but the real stuff of life and faith.  What if we treated sabbaths not as the mere moments between what we really matters, but as life-giving rhythms for our ordinary lives?

I know summer can’t last forever, but I’m aching to hold onto its cadence as long as possible.

The benediction this Sunday, reprinted below, came from Paul’s letter to the Romans, paraphrased.  May your “ordinary, sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking-around-life” slow down just a bit this week to encounter and embrace God’s extraordinary brush strokes upon it:

So here’s what I want you to do as God helps you.  Take your everyday, ordinary life–Your sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking-around-life–and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for God.  Amen.

Where is the joy?

I’m nearing the end of my Lenten devotional, Richard J. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, so besides needing another short book to fill the rest of April (any suggestions, guys?), I’m also finally starting to discover the meaning behind the curious title.

As Foster writes, “Joy is the end result of the Spiritual Disciplines’ functioning in our lives.  God brings about the transformation of our lives through the Disciplines, and we will not know genuine joy until there is transforming work within us…Celebration comes when the common ventures of life are redeemed” (Foster 193).

Plymouth, MA.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Plymouth, MA. Photo by Evan Schneider.

Foster describes how we can’t take a shortcut to experiencing and exhibiting joy, but we can certainly experience joy through seeking God in prayer, confession, service, and worship, and it is God who is the source of this great gift.

That last line, “celebration comes when the common ventures of life are redeemed,” reminds me of a reflection I read this morning from Micha Boyett where she discusses the ordinary tasks of readying her two boys for school alongside the rather extraordinary miracle that Jesus does by turning water into wine.  Boyett’s pastor described the miracle as Jesus “replacing the joy,” and then points to our own lives, saying, “Look where you’re frantic and that’s probably the place where you’re trying to find joy.”

But the challenge is that finding joy, requires little of us and so much of Jesus, that we often spend the better part of our days scouring and scrubbing only to miss the promise of the dirt, the simplicity, the ordinary holiness of our bent up, misshapen lives.

Foster goes onto discuss a spirit of carefree celebration where we rely completely on God, and experience radical joy through our trust in God’s greatness rather than ourselves.  I look at the last few weeks and this controversy over World Vision’s decision and retraction for hiring gay staff in committed relationships, and I wonder, where is the joy?  I look around me at churches working arduously and desperately to spawn last ditch ministries to save themselves, and I wonder, where is the joy?  I look at each of us going about our busy lives, failing to truly see those in front of us, to listen, to love, and to rely on God and one another, and I don’t see strength or independence or carefree celebration, but fear and greed and angst.

I certainly don’t see joy.

The Sonoran Desert.  Tucson, Arizona.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
The Sonoran Desert. Tucson, Arizona. Photo by Evan Schneider.

The Church in America is in need of God’s joyful transformation.  We need less of us and more of God, less of our will and more of God’s grace and love and mercy.  And it’s only by way of the cross, that we are found by grace, and the we experience such true, unadulterated joy.

We don’t often think of Lent and the journey to the cross as a journey toward joy.  We often place the story of Jesus turning water into wine and Jesus’ death on the cross in two completely different literary categories, but what if we are called to live out the whole of our faith as ordinary, yet joyful people?  What if the transformation God enacts on the cross and in each one of us amounts to replacing the joy of humanity, and we’ve been missing something as we try so hard to just “get things right?”

We need look no further than our ordinary lives to answer the question, “where is the joy?”, and yet we struggle against what God has done for us.  We need look no further than the cup of wine to remind us of both Jesus’ holy sacrifice and great joyous celebration.  Let us accept the joyous transformation that Jesus brings to our lives, and let us live with great reliance on God, great grace for one another, and above all, great joy.

A photo so full of joy.  Bridal party at my friend's wedding on Chesapeake Bay.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
A photo so full of joy. Bridal party at my friend’s wedding on Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Evan Schneider.

Amen.