My Obamacare Story

my child in the E.R.

My Obamacare story starts with the end of my marriage. In August 2015, my 21-year marriage ended and my then-husband lost both his jobs and his health insurance, which meant that the kids and I lost our health insurance, as well. I was a stay-at-home mom who’d worked freelance jobs from home for most of my years as a parent, so I didn’t have a job outside the home at that time.

Without warning, we had nothing.

My ex’s company was generous with giving us a little time to work out our medical coverage situation, which was good, because it took a while to get the bureaucracy going. I applied for the Affordable Care Act immediately, but was rejected — because we qualified for the Medicaid expansion that Michigan made as part of the Obamacare deal.

So we went on Medicaid.

It was a godsend. To have everything ripped away and everything in my life upended, but to know that if something were to happen, the kids and I had medical coverage, was a bone-deep relief. This system that I’d paid into, that you’d paid into, was the lifeline we needed in our desperate moment.

The system worked.

Within a year, and the finding of three part-time jobs, I was earning (just barely) too much for me to qualify for Medicaid, so I went to the Marketplace. But the kids are still covered. It is still a relief. The coverage is pretty basic, but when our doctor told me to take my daughter to the E.R. for her third bout of vomiting and diarrhea in three weeks, I could go with only the worry of her condition, not how I was going to pay for it.

There are so many more dramatic Obamacare stories, and don’t get me started on the demonizing of the poor who use Medicaid (when our love of cheap goods requires that some people make barely any money and need government assistance to get basic services, which we should really call a corporate entitlement system, because they’re the ones who are feeling entitled to not pay a living wage or supply benefits, not to mention the economy’s switch away from full-time benefits-paying work to contract non-benefits-paying work). But this is my story of a government program that helped me when I’d suddenly lost everything.

Thanks, Obama.

And thanks, Governor Snyder, for making sure Michigan did the Medicaid expansion when many of your fellow Republicans were dead-set against it.

If the current administration’s changes to the health care law go through, I don’t know that someone in my situation would get help, that the system their taxes helped pay for would be there in their temporary hour of need. I don’t even want to imagine what the stress of that would have done to me and my kids.

Writing, writing everywhere

a fountain pen sits atop an open notebook

Except here 🙂

But I will not moan about it, and I will not give you lengthy justifications and explanations. I will, however, share some of the writing I’ve done recently, everywhere but here.

Other ministries

I love talking with pastors about the work they’re doing, about the passions that drive their ministry choices–which is good, because that’s a big part of the writing I do for Gatherings of Hope, a non-profit aimed at helping pastors and congregations in Grand Rapids. It’s extra good because I recently got paid to talk with a friend who had pastored me well for 9 years.

The Gift of The Ask: Deepening Ministry by Growing Connections is my profile of Pastor Denise Evans, and her work with the Kingdom Life Ministries Community Development Corporation, in particular, about her work as the community liaison for The Deborah Project and The Deborah House. She’s the connector who finds organizations and people who want to help her church provide temporary housing and services to young single mothers and their kids. It was such a thrill to talk with her about her important and necessary work.

And to talk with one of her conspirators, Pastor Doriane Parker-Sims, the visionary behind those projects. She is doing deeply good work in Grand Rapids, and I was so glad she took the time to talk with me about it. When the Needs Are Deep, the Vision Gets Deeper: How one Grand Rapids church went from giving away backpacks to providing housing.

Favorite analogy

This isn’t terribly recent, but it’s a piece of writing I love: Leading From the Middle: Pastor as Shepherd. I got to take the research I did about shepherding for The Giant Slayer and apply it to the image of the pastor as shepherd. I highlighted how the image of the sheep streaming after the shepherd and respectfully following him in a neat line was lovely and romantic … but it doesn’t reflect the ministry reality. Rather, shepherds lead from the middle, they do intimate, one-on-one work that gets messy, but they also provide direction and take the long view. I even like my ending, mostly because I’d been trying to write an article that the quote from Khary would work in for close to a year.

So why would anyone take this on? Especially for the bi-vocational pastors who do this all-consuming work during their non-paid-work hours.

Of course, as pastors, you are called and equipped to this work by God, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. But Khary Bridgewater, Senior Program Officer for Gatherings of Hope, points out that something else is true of you:

“Let’s start with you not being normal because you like sheep and most people think sheep stink.”

You love those sheep.

That doesn’t make the job any easier or less messy, but it does help explain how you can not only keep going, but even long to be with those messy, wandering creatures. You’re not normal — and we thank God for that.

My Writer Unboxed debut

I’ve been reading Writer Unboxed in a daily basis for close to ten years. I’ve been part of their Facebook group from the beginning, I’ve gone to their two Unconferences, and I’m a moderator of the WU Breakout Novelist Book Dissection group. I admire all the writing gurus, published and unpublished, who I read there. And last week, I got to join them–not as a writing guru, but as a reporter for the novel dissection group. I got to write about a book I loved, and about a discussion I loved being part of, for a site that is a crucial part of my life as a writer. It was a big deal. Dissecting A Man Called Ove:

Don’t worry, no men called Ove will be harmed and no physical guts revealed in this post, but we will expose some of the techniques Frederik Backman used to craft his breakout novel, A Man Called Ove:
* he told a compelling “domestic” story without An Antagonist
* he made omniscient point of view feel as intimate as first person.
* he masterfully wove past and present.

Getting political without getting nasty

I’m doing something new: writing about politics. I’ve normally steered clear of that, but I am concerned about my adopted country of the U.S. of A. So I’ve joined a group blog called Letters to Trump. Once a month, I’ll write a letter directly to our current President. Here are my first two attempts at getting political without getting nasty:

Day 3

Dear Mr. President,

I am worried about you. Not for your personal safety—the Secret Service will protect your body. I am worried about you. As a person.

You seem obsessed, not with doing the best, but with being seen as The Best Ever. Those are very different things.

Needing others to laud you as The Best Ever gives them the power to determine your worth and value as a person, which is a very insecure position to be in. Even though millions of people think you are great, it’ll never be enough—your need is a swirling beast that will never be satisfied.

Day 38 — Remember what you said about Flint?

…You’re doing what you said you would. I wish you were [not], but I have to give you credit for being a man of your word.

So I’d like to remind you of something else you said on the campaign trail, in hopes that you’ll follow through on it.

On September 14, 2016, you came to Flint, Michigan, and you said this: “We will get it fixed and it will be fixed and effectively and Flint will come back. Most importantly, we’ll bring jobs back.” Later, at a rally in Canton, Ohio, you said, “I’m running to bring hope to Flint.”

Well, Flint still needs hope.

Obnoxious?

Hopefully this link-y post all about me wasn’t too obnoxious. It’s been more challenging than I’d thought to combine fiction writing, paid freelance writing and editing, two paid mini-jobs, and keeping up with my blog. But I’m working it out.

And I hope you keep working out what you need to work out, and that you don’t give up on things you enjoy doing, even if how you do it winds up changing. We’re in this together!

My to-do list. And my dilemmas.

a monkey lays on its side, clearly overwhelmed
My poor monkey brain is tired of going around and around these issues. Take pity on it.

Here are the things I need to do in order to (finally!) finish The Giant Slayer:

  1. Hire someone to do a few fussy fixes on the cover and add some things once I make decision #2.
  2. Decide what the series will be called.
  3. Finish formatting the print version (and finish making fussy little changes to the text).
  4. Transfer the final version from InDesign back into Word, and format it for the ebook.
  5. Decide on what the second book will be called (so I can insert a teaser first chapter, and include a “hey, if you want to find out when Name of Book 2 publishes, sign up here” kind of page on my website).
  6. Get another author photo done, since I look very different from the current one taken a year and a half ago.

Since two of these are decisions with no clear answers, I’m stuck. But I’m putting the list and the dilemmas out here, both for accountability and to solicit input.

2. Name of series.

My instinct is to call the series “First Kings,” so The Giant Slayer would be First Kings, Book One. But my issue is two-fold.

You can only have one First of anything. My dad was particularly nonplussed by how both Saul and David could both be a first king. My explanation is that Saul is the literal first king of Israel, but David was the first king in terms of what we think of as a king: he established a political, cultural, and religious center that wasn’t attached to any one tribe, lived in a grand place and had wealth (sometimes from conquered countries) that Saul could only have imagined, organized the military and developed Israel’s first permanent fighting force, brought back the Ark of the Covenant, and unified the country. If I explain that somewhere in the book, in a charming, sort of amusing way, is that enough to justify both the two firsts problem, and the slight confusion some readers may get that I am not, in fact using any material from the biblical book also called First Kings?

If not First Kings, then what else could it be?!? Feel free to brainstorm in the comments. I’ll give you credit if yours is chosen.

5. Name of second book.

The first book is The Giant Slayer, and the third book will be The Shepherd King. The second book is about David’s years on the run in the wilderness, building the men who come to him into a unit yet refusing to enter into any kind of fight with King Saul (who is hunting him down). He’s attempting to solidify support among the people, and he winds up as a mercenary for Israel’s arch-enemies, the Philistines. The one title I can’t let go of is The Reluctant Rebel. But that’s too many syllables compared to the other two books, and reluctant is too complicated of a word. But I like what it gets at. Yes, David became a rebel, but only because Saul treated him like one by constantly trying to kill him. So to survive, he had to act like one (although he drew the line at fighting fellow Israelites and killing Saul). So he was reluctant.

What else can I call it?!? Please brainstorm in the comments. I’ll give you the glory of a shout-out in my acknowledgments if your title is chosen.

So there you have it. My to-do list and my dilemmas. I really do hope someone who is better at names than I am can hook me up.

sometimes you are wrong

The words "I'm sorry" have been typed on paper in a typewriter

Or, more to the point, recently I was wrong.

I was talking with some friends and I said something that stereotyped a group of people, and one friend called me on it. Did I handle it well? Not in that moment. The hot flush of shame rose up my neck and I defended myself. Because I knew my intentions, and I knew my love and respect for the people I’d stereotyped. My words hadn’t been mean-spirited. So I justified my behavior. And the friend and I parted for the evening.

It took all of 10 minutes for me to realize that I’d been wrong.

I immediately sent her an apology for bungling what I’d been trying to say, but by the time I saw her the next day, I was grateful to her for calling me on my words. It would’ve been so easy to just get mad and leave the conversation and then express her frustration to other people. But she didn’t, and because of that, I was given the opportunity to hear my words from another’s point of view: I couldn’t hear the stereotyping until she revealed it to me. I asked for her forgiveness, she gave it, and our friendship deepened.

So why am I sharing this story that doesn’t put me in the best light?

I am concerned about my Christian brothers and sisters, both as individuals and as institutions: we are too concerned with justifying ourselves, our words, our actions. When other people point out how wrong, how hurtful, how against our own principles our words or actions are, we don’t get past the initial flush of shame and self-defense. We do not take the prayerful time to see whether God might be telling us something through the critic, something we need to pay attention to. We seem to have lost the inclination and ability to ask for forgiveness from people we’ve hurt and wronged. And seeing that we’ve been wrong and asking forgiveness is basic to our faith.

There is biblical precedence for God using someone else to tell us what we need to hear. There is the famous story of the prophet Nathan getting David to see the wrongness of his behavior with Bathsheba and Uriah, causing David to confess his sin (2 Samuel 12:1-13). There’s another interesting story about David. After he’d been king of Israel for some time, he chose to flee Jerusalem when his son Absalom staged a coup. This happened when they were on the run (2 Samuel 16:5-13):

As King David came to Bahurim, a man came out of the village cursing them. It was Shimei son of Gera, from the same clan as Saul’s family. He threw stones at the king and the king’s officers and all the mighty warriors who surrounded him. “Get out of here, you murderer, you scoundrel!” he shouted at David. “The Lord is paying you back for all the bloodshed in Saul’s clan. You stole his throne, and now the Lord has given it to your son Absalom. At last you will taste some of your own medicine, for you are a murderer!”

“Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king?” Abishai son of Zeruiah demanded. “Let me go over and cut off his head!”

“No!” the king said. “Who asked your opinion, you sons of Zeruiah! If the Lord has told him to curse me, who are you to stop him?”

Then David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reason to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today.” So David and his men continued down the road, and Shimei kept pace with them on a nearby hillside, cursing and throwing stones and dirt at David.

It would certainly have been within the culture of kingship to give his nephew, Abishai, the nod to cut off Shimei’s head–the man was insulting and lobbing weapons at him. It might even have satisfied a frustrated urge to lash out, since David was choosing not to fight against his son. But David didn’t choose that. He was a man after God’s own heart, and he recognized that God’s way is not always the comfortable way, that sometimes God is in the person telling you that you did wrong things. Now, David didn’t repent of taking over the kingship of Israel, but he did accept it when God told him that he wouldn’t be the one to build the Temple because he had shed much blood (1 Chronicles 28:3). Perhaps Shimei’s actions prepared him to hear that message.

And then there’s the story about David’s first attempt to bring the recovered Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. The Ark was carried on an oxen-drawn cart amid a grand parade of soldiers and people, with singing and playing of musical instruments.

But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand and steadied the Ark of God. Then the Lord’s anger was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him dead because of this. So Uzzah died right there beside the Ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:6-7)

I don’t really get this story. I don’t like it. Uzzah was just trying to make sure the Ark didn’t wind up in the dirt. Surely that was a good thing to do. But God’s earlier directions to the Israelites were clear: only certain people could carry the Ark, but even they could not touch it, and the penalty for doing so was death (Numbers 4:15).

The only way I can approach this story is to hear this message in it: our good intentions do not excuse the action. If our actions or words are wrong, that is more important to God than our intentions being right.

Our belief in our good intentions keeps us from being open to the idea that we may have said or done something wrong, something sinful. It keeps us from moving beyond the hot flush of shame and self-defense. It blocks us from the blessing of forgiveness.

It’s my prayer that we lovers of Jesus grow ever more able to move past our good intentions and towards the ability to not only see when we’ve been wrong, but also to admit it, and even to ask forgiveness for it. It would be a glorious witness.

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes you have to toss the curriculum

a little boy is stretched out on his stomach, reading a big Bible

This past Sunday was one of those days. Instead of talking about the Apostle Paul, I taught my Sunday school class (4-year-olds through 5th-graders) about lament and then we wrote our own.

Here’s what I said:

Normally in Children’s Worship and Sunday school we tell stories about great things God has done and great things people have done because they had faith in God, but there are other parts of the Bible. In some parts of the Bible people are really angry, and really sad, and they’re even angry and sad at God. And they wrote about it. There are a bunch of what we call Psalms of Lament, where people tell all their strong feelings to God.

Now, I may have made a tactical error in the psalms I read. The kids (6 boys, 1 girl) were a little too enamored with Psalm 3:7:

Arise, O Lord!
Rescue me, my God!
Slap all my enemies in the face!
Shatter the teeth of the wicked!

Not to mention Psalm 58:

Justice–do you rulers know the meaning of the word?
Do you judge the people fairly?
No, all your dealings are crooked;
you hand out violence instead of justice…
They spit poison like deadly snakes;
they are like cobras that refuse to listen…
Break off their fangs, O God!
Smash the jaws of these lions, O Lord!

I apologize to any parents who were wondering where their kids got those images from. I did attempt to point out that the writers were asking God to do these things, not giving them license to, but one never knows how much that sinks in compared to the high drama of slapping faces and breaking off fangs.

After I read a few Psalms, I unrolled a big piece of paper and told them that we’d write our own Psalm of Lament about what was going on in their lives. There is a general structure among many laments:

This is what’s going on in the world and in my life
It makes me feel
AND YET, I know this is true about you, God
BECAUSE OF THAT, I will
O God, please

We followed that structure, and amid silliness and kid squirminess, they were vulnerable and wise and dear, even those who sat quietly, watching with wide eyes. When they were answering what they would do, they got on a roll talking about what they’d eat (strawberries and sandwiches featured heavily), so I interpreted that as taking care of themselves–since we often forget to do that when we’re mad and sad. And the teacher in me couldn’t stop from contributing the last line.

Here’s what was on these kids’ minds and hearts this weekend:

PSALM OF LAMENT

This is what’s going on in the world and in my life
Donald Trump became President
Somebody got in a car accident
Cancer
My friends get me in trouble
Diseases–they are strong
Blustery winds that made trees fall down
Hurricanes
Ungrateful people

It makes me feel
mad
sad
angry
angry at people
sick
scared
like moving to Canada
not happy

AND YET, I know this is true
God be helpful
God is caring
God loves other people
God carries you
God can help people become better people
God helps people get through hard things
God has helped me learn
God has a son named Jesus

BECAUSE OF THAT, I will
Help stop cancer
Help people get through what they’re going through even though I’m going through something bad, too
Keep taking care of myself
Get out and vote
Tell my friends to stop busting me for no reason

O God, please
help stop hurricanes
convince people to go out and vote
help us to love each other better

From troubles with friends to health issues to natural disasters to troubles in our country, kids have a lot going on. It was a privilege to help them put it into words and express it to God and to each other.

Tomochichi Mico and the Georgia Trustees

 

Painting by William Verelst of Chief Tomochichi and a delegation of Native Americans with James Oglethorpe and the Georgia Trustees, London, 1734.
Painting by William Verelst of Chief Tomochichi and a delegation of Native Americans with James Oglethorpe and the Georgia Trustees, London, 1734.

[This is a story I wrote for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction competition. I had to write 1,000 words of historical fiction that took place at a book signing and involved a pumpkin. I don’t think it’s a great story, but I learned some interesting stuff about American history that I didn’t know before, so I’m sharing it and the painting that inspired the story.]

***

“Oh, they call me Tomochichi Mico, or Chief, but like they are humoring a child who has declared himself to be a rabbit for the day. There is a different tone than when they say My Lord or Your Grace to each other.”

“But you are not theirs and they are not yours.” Scenawki smoothed the ends of the deerskin cord against my chest.

As usual, my wife was right.

Her eyes crinkled with affection. “Was it only a few moons ago that Toonahowi insisted on being called Sir Hare?”

I snorted. “And now look at him, in his white stockings and blue silk coat, prancing like an English horse.”

“It’s fun to put on another’s skin.” She swished her skirts so they sounded like dry leaves.

“What do they call that color?”

“Orange.”

“It suits you. But I miss seeing your beautiful brown legs.”

She laughed. “Ever the diplomat, Tomo. Ever the diplomat.”

“Better than constant war.”

“With me or with the English?”

But I couldn’t answer her teasing, because it was time to pose for the painting. The men of the Georgia Trustees were in place, most of them on the stairs, higher than us by several heads. Oglethorpe was in the center, of course, holding my nephew’s hand, putting Toonahowi in a position of greater honor than his chief. They would never have treated their King George that way, and he would never have allowed it, but for the sake of my people, I bore it with dignity.

And a little one-upmanship.

I could see them cutting glances at our bare shoulders and legs. Jealous. Their bodies were like puffball mushrooms. It was laughable how they tried to show off their legs or square their padded coats at us. I had seen at least ninety summers, and I could’ve run them all into the ground.

Was it petty to make sure my right leg was visible up to the top of my thigh? To reach out my arm so the muscles were in relief? Yes. But I do not apologize for it. Neither do I apologize for Lamochattee, who turned his back to the painter and looked over his massive shoulder. Or Yaholo, who fanned out his eagle feather stick and turned his leg so his knee tassel showed.

None of that would derail my diplomacy. Still, Scenawki looked in the opposite direction. Whether she disapproved or was trying not to giggle, I don’t know.

I could wait in perfect stillness from sunup to sundown while hunting, but posing for the painting almost did me in. And after that, making my mark on all those books. But tonight’s event was why we came. I would suffer through anything to hold up the seedling of my dreams for my people and for theirs, and see whether it would get watered or get scorched.

**

My clothes were those the English would like: garments that covered my skin and were, themselves, covered in tassels, shell embroidery, and bone inlays. I wore sprays of feathers and quills in my hair. I was ready.

Oglethorpe brought me to the front of the room. “Esteemed Georgia Trustees, and friends of exploration and trade, thank you for coming to meet my friend, Tomochichi Mico. We have worked well together in the year since we settled southern Georgia in February of 1733, and unlike some other areas, we have peace. It is our hope that we always do. The Chief gave this speech in his language to our colleague Mary Musgrove, who translated it and taught it to him in English. I trust that you will find him as eloquent and as compelling as I do.”

“Friends of General Oglethorpe, and, I hope, friends of the Yamacraw, thank you. We are not so different, you and I.”

Oglethorpe looked back and forth between us, and the people laughed.

“I was born in the Isti nation, who you call the Creek, but I gathered together some Creek and some Yamasee and settled new land as a new people, the Yamacraw. So I understand the impulse of your people to settle new lands. We are pleased to share our mutual new home, but I do not want my people and your people to merely survive. I want us to grow in strength—together.

“We left to come here in the time you call June, and my people were planting a food that has gotten us through many a hard winter: the Pumpkin.”

My family moved through the crowd, offering them strips of roasted and dried pumpkin, and Toonahowi tossed me a whole, dried one—a deep clay colored beauty with dark green streaks. I rattled the seeds in a circle dance rhythm until I felt like myself again.

“After all your hospitality, please accept this gift. But it is more than a gift for now. I know that you have received reports of struggling crops from your settlers. Accept our offer to share the seeds and the knowledge of local growing conditions that have sustained my people for generations. In return, may I confess my deepest desire? It is for my people to learn your language and to learn to read. We can do so much more trade in goods, in knowledge, and in sustained peace when we know the same tongue. Will you help us, friends?”

Then it was Oglethorpe’s turn to convince the Trustees to buy a signed chapbook of the speech I just gave, to support what he called an Indian school.

So many wrong names they gave us, but to keep their favor I bit my tongue.

Again.

I lifted a book above my head. “It is too late for this old warrior to learn to read these chicken scratches you call words, but it is not too late for my nephew. You have grown to love him during these days. Please love his future, as well.”

**

Two summers later, we had our school. And the Yamacraw had a chance at fair trade.

 

 

#DedicateYourNoTrumpVote

The United States is my father’s fourth country. He was born in the Netherlands at the beginning of World War II. His first memory is of playing outside while an air ride siren blared and his terrified mother screamed at him from the house to come in; he was two, so he ignored her. They had to move in with two other families during the Hunger Winter. The relative who owned the house also owned a soup factory, so they had food stores, but the Nazis had commandeered all the good stuff that went into the soups. They were left with fish heads and skeletons, which they ground into a paste and mixed with whatever rotten vegetables they managed to hide. My dad ate it happily because he was so young, but the older kids and adults ate separately so the little ones wouldn’t see them gag. At least one Jewish person was hidden in plain sight in this household, and my father’s aunt would feed any itinerant person who knocked at the gate. His father was in the Resistance, so he was often gone, but if the Nazis got wind that he might be home, they’d come calling. One evening, he was there, but an aunt put him in a nightgown and a lace cap and plunked a baby in his arms. She then took the soldiers on a tour of the house: “Women and babies. Women and babies. That’s all who’s here.” They bought it (which may be as much a commentary on the hairiness of Dutch women, but I digress).

On October 23, 1953, when my dad was ten, they immigrated to Canada and he became a Canadian citizen. He came to the U.S. for college, married an American woman and brought her back to Toronto with him. We lived in Australia for three years in the mid-70s, and then in the early 90s, they moved to California, and have lived in the U.S. since then. Like all immigrants, he worked hard. Like many immigrants, he started his own companies and employed others, both in Canada and here in the States. Truly, he is one of the hardest working and most hopeful people I know. But he hasn’t become an American citizen. Even though he is oh so anti-Trump, he can’t vote.

Here's my dad driving in a small-town Memorial Day parade.
Here’s my dad driving in a small-town Memorial Day parade.

So I dedicate my No-Trump vote to my dad, Peter Hart, who grew up in a time when a politician whipped up hatred and distrust against certain segments of society; and who knows how important it is to Resist those calls to hate, to fear, to blame people who others say are “not us.” It is a family legacy I fully embrace.

***

DedicateYourNoTrumpVote is a website started by author Julianna Baggott. You can submit your own dedication there or write your own and use the hashtag #DedicateYourNoTrumpVote. Many, many authors have dedications posted there; it’s a great read.

***

My mother is also totally awesome, but since she can cast her vote in this election, she misses out on the dedication 😉

Spiritual math is weird

a math equation, written by a doctor of physics, that I cannot understand

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NLT)

Read the passage again.

Did you notice Jesus saying that all we who are weary would get to put down our heavy burdens and carry his light one instead?

I didn’t either.

Which makes this an odd passage, but also right. Because his listeners had many burdens they couldn’t put down:

  • scraping out a subsistence living
  • paying ever-increasing taxes
  • being subjects of Rome
  • if a slave or a woman, being unable to make choices to determine your fate
  • miscarriage and infertility
  • social stigma
  • illness
  • injury
  • physical disability.

As do we:

  • poverty and job insecurity
  • paying ever-increasing taxes
  • many people live in dangerous and violent situations
  • racism
  • slaves (aka victims of human trafficking) unable to make choices to determine their fate
  • miscarriage and infertility
  • social stigma
  • addiction
  • mental illness
  • although we’ve made astonishing advances in medicine, people must still live with chronic illnesses, and with the side-affects of surgeries and medicines.

Although there were and are miraculous healings, and people being cured of addictions and illnesses, and injuries disappearing, and relationships being restored, and wombs opening — not everyone who asks gets healed; justice does not always come.

And Jesus tells us to add his yoke to the burdens we already carry.

our burdens + Jesus’s yoke = rest for our souls

That’s some weird spiritual math (weirder than the actual equation in the post image). But it’s true.

Somehow, the love and comfort and strength of God makes a difference. Our burdens may still be heavy, but we can bear them, or we can bear them differently, because we can share them with Jesus and with others who also love Jesus. We can experience deep rest during prayer, or worship, or communing with God in whatever way he reaches us. And somehow we can go on, and even thrive, with our burdens.

I cannot explain it, but I’ve found it to be true. I’ve had a year of horrible and crushing burdens that I never imagined carrying and didn’t have the choice to put down, but the love of God and of those who also love God sustained me. And those burdens lightened. They are still there, but a year later, they don’t weigh me down like they did.

Happily, we don’t need to explain this weird spiritual math to trust that it’s true, and to keep choosing to add Jesus’s yoke to our burdens and thereby find rest for our souls.* 

 

 

* This passage is often interpreted as being about the heavy burdens of religious rigamarole, but Jesus usually spoke on a number of levels, so I think this works, too.

 

Dear Natalie of one year ago:

At around 2:40, on August 26, 2015, your life will utterly and irrevocably change. It will be hideous and heart-rending and be both a total shock and not a surprise.

Likewise, nothing I can tell you now can prepare you for it, yet you’ve been preparing for it for many years. I say that not only because you’ve always known something was hollow and hurtful in your marriage, but also because many things you’ve done and the ways you’ve grown have laid the groundwork for how you will get through the next year:
* your years of prayer and intimacy with God
* your years of (trying to) be there for others when they needed you
* your tendency to be open about your struggles
* your truthfulness with your kids
* your dealing with your depression and anxiety.

All these things will serve you well in the year to come. It will be worse than you have ever imagined, and that’s saying something. You will cry so hard and so much that you will not have to pee when you wake up in the morning. You will stop eating and drinking; I’d tell you to remember to drink water, but your anxiety over this upcoming one-year anniversary has gotten you not drinking enough again.

Here’s what I want to tell you, Natalie of one year ago: It will be horrible but you’ll get through it. People will help you, both practically and spiritually. You will get this message from many different directions: you are God’s beloved. Soak it up whenever you can. You will struggle to learn to rest in God’s presence, but it is a consistent refrain over the next year: trust it. Your friendships will deepen. Your relationship with your kids will get even closer. Work will find you, which is good, because your ability to get out and hustle will be impaired, but God and your friends will place work in front of you. It will be good work that uses your writing gifts. Your dream of being published will happen — As Real As It Gets, the project you officially announced with such hope just yesterday, will make its Kickstarter and the book will come out in the Spring and it will be beautiful. At the end of the year, you will even find a counselor who asks you questions you don’t have an immediate answer to, questions that really get you thinking.

It will be the worst year of your life. You will be called upon to make tough decisions, to say things to people you’d never imagined you’d have to say, to draw uncomfortable boundaries, to fill out so much paperwork, to ask for help. You will be so hurt and so angry. And also relieved. You will have compassion for your current self, but you’ll learn, right at the end of the year, that you don’t have compassion for the girl who tried so hard to make her marriage work. There is much work to do in the realm of forgiveness, both of yourself and of your ex, but don’t you dare think about that now, one-year-ago Natalie.

It will take all of the strength of your war- and poverty-surviving immigrant ancestors, all of the strength and vulnerability God will give you, to make it through the next year.

But you will make it.

love, Natalie of 8/26/16

[I’m taking a course called Making Blogging Fun Again, and “write a letter to yourself of a year ago” was one of the prompts.]

Today we will finish…

…the garage.

I’ve enjoyed my pretty-much-every-Tuesday posts, so I’m going to keep it going although this is mostly to say that I won’t have much of a post today: we’re painting my garage.

my partially painted garage and tools

Yesterday was a fun work with, my mother, my kids and I all working together.

my mother and daughter at work on the garage

my son scraping the garage

Today, it’ll be just my mother and I, and because my garage is tiny, we should finish today.

In the build-up for my mother coming and staying here two days, I cleaned the living daylights out of my house so she wouldn’t even have the impulse to take a break from painting the garage by mopping my floor. (It should be noted that she would do this with no sense of recrimination or guilt-inducing for me for having a floor that needed mopping [which she’d do on her hands and knees, of course], but just an, “Oh, I just did it quick a minute.” I hope I can be the same for my children.) But there are things one cannot control. When my daughter cleaned her room, she revealed a constellation of spots on her carpet that nobody had seen before, because of the three inches of clothes and detritus that had covered the floor for months. So my mother is upstairs right now, treating those spots with rubbing alcohol.

In the sweetest, most patient way possible, my mother will not be denied her opportunity to do a cleaning job, just quick a minute, for her children.

So here’s to summer work crews — I salute you!

me in my painting gear
It should be noted that, clearly, the most flattering angle for a photo of oneself is to position the phone at one’s stomach and aim it down, that way, one’s hips are guaranteed to be wider than the photo.

May we all get done what we need to get done!!
What nagging jobs are you tackling this summer?