Inclusion


One of the faith questions I’ve struggled with the most is the belief of so many that there is only one true religion. I was born into a Christian family in a Christian country, and so that is my faith. I believe in it strongly, particularly in its messages of love, inclusion, and redemption which resonate with me. But in spite of my own deep belief, I struggle with the notion of Christianity as the only path to God. I have friends of many faiths from all over the world and have adopted two girls from Buddhist China. When Megan was critically ill, prayers for her were sent up to heaven by Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus. I simply cannot accept that the God of Love that I believe in so strongly would doom my friends and billions more to separation from Him, simply because they were born in a non-Christian country…a choice that was His, and not theirs.

However, John 14:6 seems to definitively state that Jesus is the only path to God, that “No one comes to the Father except through me.” That seems pretty clear. Yet I recently read a perspective pointing out that this passage says only that Jesus is the gatekeeper to God. What the passage does not say is what filter Jesus will use to decide who will pass through to God. It’s a critical point. Neither that passage, nor the rest of the chapter, says that Jesus will only pass Christians through. Jesus as gatekeeper to God is probably a strange notion to non-Christians, but to me it reassuringly aligns to a possibility that we’re all worshipping one God after all.

I’ll never understand why human nature inherently creates ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Why must we be right and everyone else wrong? Science has proven that there are no genetic differences between races. I also see no evidence that a different God created my Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist friends…it seems to me that we all come from the same place. The Bible consistently depicts a God of Love; I believe simply that He loves all of His wonderful people from a wide variety of faith backgrounds. Including me, a Christian from America.

“I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit.”  –Khalil Gibran


Don’t Dissect Roadkill


School starts tomorrow. As always, the girls are ready, having long ago given in to end-of-summer boredom. I’m reminded this time of year of one of the best commercials ever:  a joyful parent skipping down the aisles of an office supply store to the tune of the Christmas song It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, with their sullen child in tow. It’s also got me reflecting on the teachers who left a mark on my life that still echoes today.

My 10th grade biology teacher, Mr. Pitts, didn’t look much older than we were when he began teaching at my small, rural Kansas high school. He was meant to be a teacher…passionate about both science and kids. Somehow, on what had to be a limited budget, he managed to secure frogs, earthworms, pigs, a cat, and even Moray eels for us to dissect. As we prepared for one of them, he told us a story about bringing a dead possum he’d found on the road to dissect at his last school. I’ll spare you the graphic details of what he found when he opened the critter up, but suffice it to say that I learned a memorable lesson that day. Yes, I learned not to dissect roadkill, but the real lesson that day was what it looks like when you love your job. More importantly, Mr. Pitts was the first person in my life to suggest that science and faith don’t have to be in conflict. If made today, his candid response in a public school classroom to a student’s challenge to evolution might get him fired, but I’m grateful for the permission and peace that he first gave me to believe in both. From my 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Brothers, I got my first taste of adulthood, as I learned how difficult it would be to live on $200 a week as a meter maid, the job I drew out of a hat for a budgeting exercise. I learned how to turn writing into a process from my freshman English teacher Mrs. Starnes, a skill I could not then imagine would so impact my life for so long after graduation. And I learned how special a teacher can make an awkward pre-teen feel from the Hardesty’s. I’m still in awe of how they could be so gruff and yet be so beloved by so many of their students. Though they never had children of their own, they touched the lives of thousands of children in 40 years of teaching, many of them deeply.

Teachers have a unique ability to impact the lives of others; that’s why the good ones choose to do it. But we don’t have to teach to make a difference. A hospital visit, a well-timed card to a friend going through a difficult time, even a cheery ‘hello’ and a smiling ‘thank you’ to the store checkout clerk have the power to change someone’s day. In honor of all the great teachers out there, this week I’m going to especially focus on paying forward the impact mine had on me. Watch out for kids on the street, and may all the students and teachers have a blessed school year.

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”  –Henry Adams


Questions

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I’ve always had lots of questions. How do things work the way they do? Why did you just act that way? What’s over that next hill? Why are we here? I read everything I could get my hands on as a kid:  books, magazines, at age 12 my mother’s set of childhood encyclopedias. I loved the magazine Science that we subscribed to when I was a teenager; it made me want to be a theoretical physicist. After all, what better job could there be than answering the really big question of how the universe works?

While I’m grateful to now having a world of Google answers at my fingertips, I’ve resigned myself that many of my questions won’t be answered in this life. Some of them are random:  what is the purpose of dreams, and why will we die if we’re prevented from having them? Is there life on other planets, and what is it like? Does God love dogs as much as we do, enough to have them in heaven (I’m thinking yes)? But some of my unanswerable questions are more profound:  why is there suffering? What should I be doing with my life? Why must innocent children die? It’s part of the human condition to find ourselves in circumstances which force us to wrestle with questions like these.

My deep belief is that heaven will be a place where I will get all of the answers to my questions, plus many more I didn’t think of. I don’t believe in the vision of a harp-playing heaven in the clouds. In his book Heaven, Randy Alcorn lays out a biblical case that heaven will be our own renewed Earth. While I find some of his points a bit of a stretch, the overall idea feels right. Why wouldn’t God–who made us in His image to live in this Earth home–give us a glimpse of our future home to prepare us for when we share it with Him? I believe we will work and play, and enjoy art and music and each other for all eternity. And there will be plenty of time…and patience…for me to finally get answers to all of my questions.

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”  –Voltaire


The Farm


A train whistle is a time machine for me.  My father’s parents lived on a farm when I was young, before retiring to a small mountain community in the Colorado Rockies when I was ten.  We drove the hour to the farm once a month to spend the weekend.  A city girl, I loved that farm, with endless adventures to be had.

The old, two-story farmhouse was quaint, with quirky corners and two porches to explore.  We pretended the tiny, empty milk house was a playhouse, when we could overcome our fear of spiders.  I picked at the old oak upright piano, unaware that 25 years later my grandparents would haul it 500 miles to my house in grandpa’s horse trailer.  Grandpa always kept at least two horses at a time over the years:  Penny and Lady and the two white horses, Dixie and her daughter Cookie (my favorite).  I loved riding the horses, though I paid for it with my allergies.  But the piece de resistance was the barn.  Big and red and full of hay for the horses, it was a dream-come-true playground for a city kid, with its nooks and crannies and hay loft to jump out of.  The pony sleigh, the pond, the creepy dirt cellar, and the occasional goats and geese meant that it was impossible to be bored at the farm.

Back to the train whistle.  Just across the dirt road leading to the farm driveway was a railroad crossing.  The train came by at least twice a day, but I was too young to bother learning a train schedule.  Our cousins taught us to be naughty and place a nickel on the train track.  Later, after the train had come by, we’d try to find our flattened nickel.  Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t.  But at night, tucked into one of the two upstairs bedrooms with our cousins, we heard the train whistle in the distance as we fell asleep.  It was a foreign, yet comforting sound.  I’d lay awake wondering if I’d be able to find my nickel in the morning.  To this day, the sound of a train whistle takes me back to the dark quiet in a modest Kansas farmhouse.

I drove by the farm a few years ago after grandma’s funeral.  She was laid to rest with grandpa a few miles away, in a country cemetery where you can watch the wheat grow, and the only sound is the wind.  Both the farmhouse and the barn were smaller than I remembered them from 40 years ago, and the current owners had painted that poor barn the same white as the farmhouse.  But the rest was just as I remembered it.  I was tempted to get out at the train tracks and look for nickels, but we were tired from the long day.  Instead, I contented myself with driving slowly by the old place one last time.  And in the distance, I heard the faint whistle of a train.

“What is a farm but a mute gospel?”  Ralph Waldo Emerson


Breathtaking


It felt like all of the oxygen had been sucked out of the interior of my car when I got into it one day after work this week.  I actually struggled for breath for a couple of minutes until the A/C kicked in (I realized later that I could have simply rolled down the windows for a few minutes).  The effect reminded me of a similar but opposite experience when we lived in Minnesota.  The long walk in January to the parking garage at work was also a suck-the-breath-out-of-you experience.  By the end of the seven winters we lived there, I could instantly tell you the temperature within five degrees, depending on whether it hurt to breathe or the moisture in my nose instantly froze.  It’s a skill I never want to need again.  

Ironically, I hated the first day of summer in Minnesota, as that’s when the days started getting shorter…it was a tangible reminder of what was to come.  I no longer hate the first day of summer or any other day.  We’re back to four seasons from barely more than two, and I don’t mind any of them.  They each have their merits:  spring’s reawakening of life; summer’s outdoor memories and garden goodies; fall’s melancholy beauty; even winter’s chill is necessary to set a proper holiday mood.  I have the strange feeling that God has given us the rhythm of the seasons for more than just their natural outcome of the Earth’s orbit and tilt.  Something about a cycle of growth and rest seems to have a lesson in it.  Heaven knows the parallel to our own life cycle is uncanny.  But I enjoy the change and blessings the seasons bring, even without their deeper meaning.  Even when the heat takes my breath away–it’s a reassuring reminder that things always plow on.

“When the seasons shift, even the subtle beginning, the scent of a promised change, I feel something stir inside of me.  Hopefulness?  Gratitude?  Openness?  Whatever it is, it’s welcome.”  –Kristin Armstrong


Selfish


I once participated in a team building exercise where we drew pictures of our lives and then explained briefly how each picture described who we were and what mattered to us. New to the team, I knew one of my co-workers was talkative, but was unprepared to be taken blow by blow through his life for over an hour. I remember none of the details except hearing about every decision and unfortunate twist which landed him with us, instead of a bigger, more important job like his classmates from whatever Ivy League MBA school he’d attended. I otherwise enjoyed the exercise; it was a great way to get to know my new team mates, including learning to avoid the Ivy Leaguer.

Someone wise recently oberved to me that all people are selfish to some extent. It’s true, we can’t help it…it’s Darwinian to focus on our needs. Besides, who feels what happens to us more than we do? If it’s good, we want more; if it’s bad, we want it to stop. And yet…I ran to the neighborhood store this weekend to pick up a single ingredient for dinner. I was in such a hurry, that only halfway to the car did I remember that I’d asked for $20 cash back with my $2 purchase. Just as I turned around, the kid who was in line behind me was there in the parking lot, handing me my money. He was maybe 20 and looked to be someone all this talk about building a wall might have kept out. I hadn’t even looked his way when he came up behind me in line…it would have been easy for him to take that bill and disappear. Instead, he left his place in line and followed me outside the store to return it. He was back in the store before I could do anything more than say ‘thank you’.

So, yes, we’re all selfish. But we’re also all human…kind and honest and caring. Genetics has scientifically disproved race as a legitimate difference between us. We must call out the examples which prove this, to balance against the stories we see in the evening news. Just as important as fighting our individual selfish nature, it is crucial to fight against the selfishness of the mob mentality. We are all in this world and this thing called life together.

“Moral evil is the immorality and pain and suffering and tragedy that come because we choose to be selfish, arrogant, uncaring, hateful and abusive.”  –Lee Strobel


Fifty


I celebrated a milestone birthday this week. It was a great day, in the middle of a ten day vacation in Florida visiting our son. We miss him a lot since he moved a thousand miles away. On the trip, we hit a couple of theme parks, swam (a lot), and just enjoyed time together as a family. I had originally planned to let the milestone slip by as quietly as I could, having snuck out of town for it. But as the family time and friends’ birthday wishes made me reflect, I decided to go public.

None of my other milestone birthdays have bothered me, but as this one approached, I found myself wanting to hide my age. As a logical person, that makes no sense…fifty is only one more than forty nine, and I was fine with that one. The illogic of my reaction made me decide to face it, because something’s obviously bothering me about it.

I don’t fully understand what it is. We hear (and say to ourselves) that age is just a number, and that we’re only as old as we feel. I’m not scared of dying, and my genetics say I’m barely over the halfway mark. I don’t have many regrets. My best guess is that, even with a lot of life likely left, I still feel like I’m somehow close to done. Of course that’s ridiculous, because the only thing I’m remotely close to done with is work, and I am looking forward to that. I just have no idea what I plan to do next, though I know I will do something. Perhaps this is just another example of my bad habit of trying to look forward too far, to plan too much. Since I can’t see around the next big corner, I shouldn’t even try. Instead, I’ll just have to keep working at living in this moment of my life. It is, after all, a pretty good one.

“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”  –George Burns


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