Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Trying to go the extra mile-possible new adventures in loving our neighbor

The law of Jesus' day said that if a Roman soldier asked you to carry his stuff, you had to drop what you were doing,and carry his stuff for a mile. He was one of your oppressors, he was a stranger, and yet you had to leave your life and help his. Jesus said that you weren't just supposed to carry it one mile. He told the people they had to carry the pack two miles. You are supposed to go out of your way, way out of your way to help others, friends, neighbors, strangers, enemies if you follow Jesus. The Bible also talks about the gifts, talents and abilities we have been given, and using those all to the glory of God, working not just for man, but for God himself. We have a responsibility to serve and to sacrifice.

Sometimes when I look at all the blessings around me, I wonder, am I sacrificing enough, am I doing enough? I don't mean so that Jesus will love me, his love for me is not limited to what I can do for him. I just think of the things that have come so easily to me, the blessing I have. Many came with work, but a work that was ultimately very fulfilling, very satisfying. Have I challenged myself enough? Is there more I can give.

Have I squandered my blessings? Is there a way I can atone for those things too? I mishandled God's gifts, I got into debt, I took things for granted. God's forgiveness provides atonement, I'm not worried about being shut out of heaven, but can I make up for those things somehow, ease my conscience appease my own guilt? Climb out of the holes I have created and find freedom to move on, and leave them behind?

All these things swim around my head, as I ponder another great adventure. Something on someone else's bucket list, that maybe I can be a part of. I have finished my list, can I help others complete theirs? What do I have to give?

There is something simple I can give, although it's complex, it's challenging, it's full of sacrifice, and stretching myself, but I was made for such work. I could give a family a gift of a baby. Now hang on, stay with me, it's not my baby, nor is it Valentine's.  It has no genetic link to us or our children. I could be a gestational surrogate. I could carry someone else's baby from embryo to birth.

I know it sounds nuts. I know there are risks. There are things I worry about. Vain things like what will become of my middle aged body. There are family things like what will this mean for my kids, my husband. How tired and grumpy will I be? How awkward will it be for them to answer questions about the baby? We always have something happening, something going on, isn't our life busy enough? There are so many reasons not to do this.

But there are so many reasons to do this. This couple who we don't even know yet, who we have yet to choose and be chosen by, they can't have a child of their own, they are at the end of their rope, they have a string of failures. I have two shining successes. I have two easy birth stories. We are talking scheduled inductions, very short labors, laughing in the delivery room type births. I have this body that handled pregnancy and birth well. I have the most supportive family and friends. I am able, I am willing. I can be trusted. Parents entrust their kids to me all the time and I take that very seriously. I have a drug free body, and except for maybe twice a year, alcohol free too. I eat well. On paper, I am a perfect candidate for a family in need of a womb. Mentally I am blessed with experience to handle this. I know what it's like to bond and have to let go. I care very deeply for my students I share life with them, and then they grow up and move on, and we have limited contact. I understand that bond and distance, the struggles and the joys of that life. I am well prepared. My family is well prepared as they have bonded and loved those students too. My kids understand a broader meaning of family, and they know what it means to love and cherish those that are far away. We have so much we can give, by sharing our lives with a family for a year, as I share my body.

It's also not without rewards. While it comes down to $3 and hour in compensation for pain and suffering, it still is something. It's something to help atone for those mistakes. To help free us to give more, to allow our kids to kick some things off of their bucket lists. We also get to enjoy being a part of someone else's' story, giving them a family. Making their dreams come true. There is much that we will gain. Maybe it's not such a sacrifice after all. Well, no, I remember the sleepless nights, the painful muscles, the vomiting, the fatigue.

So we are pondering, we are interviewing, we are testing. We are leaning into the possibility and the opportunity. Who knows what will come of it. Maybe nothing. Perhaps the doctors will discover my body cannot do this anymore. Maybe we won't find a family we clique with. Maybe the pregnancy attempts won't take. God can shut the door so easily in so many ways. We are working with an agency. We are in process, though nothing medically would happen until at least August. We haven't started the matching process either.

If it doesn't work out, maybe there is another mile for me to walk, a different sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving and atonement I can walk. Something else to challenge myself with, something else to give and make others dreams come true, some other way to love my neighbors more fully.

We don't share this to ask for permission, or to say look at us, look at what we can do. We share because we value our community of friends, the broad group of people that have been such a wonderful part of our lives. We value your ideas, experiences and opinions. We know that your support has been vital to our family. We have been testing the waters a bit, sharing this idea with people here and there, but as we are getting further in the process, we wanted to inform more people. So as we step foot on this path and check it out, we ask for your prayers. If you have any worries, fears, doubts, negativity, you can talk to me about it, but talk now before we have traveled far enough down the road that we can't turn back. Before I potentially get knocked up ;) And if nothing else, let this be a reminder not to take your blessings for granted, and to use whatever gifts and abilities you have to be a blessing to others.

Monday, April 21, 2014

moving past Saturday to empty eggs and resurrection life

It's always the Saturday part of the Easter story that fascinates me. Good Friday always creeped me out growing up, as it was full of dark tales of Jesus's death, and warbling voices of old men singing trembling songs. Easter while victorious was always a blur of busy activity, and exhausting work, especially as I transitioned into children's ministry, and it became a blur of crafts, candy, and trying to explain the most marvelous but scary story ever. Tony Campolo made, "It's Friday but Sunday's coming" so famous, but what about Saturday? Saturday always haunted me in a different way. Saturday seemed liked the longest, hardest, most hopeless day, and that Saturday seems to have enveloped me as of late, taken over my take on the world. I know Sunday is coming, but I just can't get through Saturday.

What must it have been like for those disciples, for those friends of Jesus on Saturday. After a very long, emotional week, their friend, mentor, lord, died a horrible death. They themselves were on the run from impending doom and persecution. Things had gone from bad to so, so much worse. They knew God's promises, but they were seeing such awfulness. Their fears were coming true. It was one bad thing after another. They weren't sitting around waiting for Jesus to come back. They were waiting, to be killed, they were hiding from persecution. They couldn't see the hope in Jesus's promises, all they could see was anxiety, the fear, the waiting for the next bad thing to happen. 

That's where I have been. I have been stuck in Saturday for a while now. Let me say, that things haven't been catastrophic, the catastrophe has happened though, in the lives of others, and that too has made my heart heavy, unbearably heavy with worry, fear and doubt. In my own life it has been smaller things, things that come in the midst of great blessing of family and friends but things which when added to the pain of those around me, and the incredible, awful things happening in the world, have me fixed in those holy Saturdays, trapped in fear and worry. One small thing would pass, get repaired, be better, and another would pop up. For the last three years it has gone that way. There have been breaks, amazing rays of sunshine in the midst of the storm, but the storm clouds always seem to be on the horizon. I think what finally sealed the deal was when my own body failed me, and it's all been down hill from there. In the past, Valentine was the one with health issues, the kids got sick, but my body for the most part stayed strong, kept the family going, could work long into the night. Then a couple pebbles in my kidney forced me into two surgeries and two months of procedures and pain. I know, in the face of cancer, altheizmers, etc, what I went through wasn't a big deal, but it was a big dose of reality. My body couldn't keep things going. Then my house couldn't keep us safe, no amount of money could come to take care of everything, every debt, every bill, because there was always another around the corner, another water leak, another big repair. And Valentine, just seemed to have one big struggle with anxiety and depression after another. I realize how ridiculously first world all of my problems are. My kidneys failed me because I didn't drink the abundance of clean water, literally bursting in my house. My house was built by careless workers, but I have a house. My husband struggles with illness, but I have a husband that loves me, and access to medical care. The privilege I have is not taken for granted, but things just kept coming, and that was after two years of other bad things. the anxiety of it all became a constant, the fear ingrained in everything. What was going to happen next, how bad would it be?

And I just kept expecting them. I could almost predict the next one. It was as if a fear would materialize in my head and then manifest itself in the world. I did manage to enjoy some of the good around me. I could see the beauty in the trees as the seasons changed, see the smiles on my kids faces, take pride in the people they were becoming. I couldn't, however, expect those things. I couldn't anticipate them. I quit looking for the good, expecting the awesome. Instead I anticipated the next disaster. In my job it's hard to live in the now, there is always another big event, big project that has to be worked on, now. I have to get in front of the next month, and so I started trying to get in front of the next disaster. I worried my way into plans and anticipation, and worst case scenarios. 

The disciples story didn't end on Saturday though, and neither does mine. Easter has come, Jesus has risen. He conquered the worst for all of us. He gave his life, and because he was more than just a man, he blew through death. He is alive. We can hope, we can anticipate the good. Good will come, it already has.

Yesterday I had the responsibility of the children's lesson in the worship service. In the midst of the flowers and the songs of "He Is Risen", I backed it up a little. With three extra large nesting plastic Easter eggs, I reminded them that the egg has to be broken to get to the good inside. We opened the first egg, and inside was a cross, we remembered the scary death. In the next egg, there were tissues, we remembered the sadness of Jesus friends on Saturday. We talked about how life is lonely and scary and sad sometimes. Then we opened the last egg, and it was empty, like Jesus' tomb. It was empty, but now it could be filled with candy and good things. There was brokenness, there was sadness, but then there was life, and happiness.  Life is scary, and sad and lonely, but it's also beautiful and good, and full of wonder. 

I want to hold up my empty egg and wait expectantly with anticipation for good things. I want to be filled with the excitement and wonder of a kid waiting for an Easter basket. I want to start living like that again. I want to live in eager anticipation of the amazing things God will do, and not live waiting for more things to break, more to go bad. I'm not stupid, or deceived by some prosperity gospel message. I know bad things will still happen, but I am going to quit anticipating them. It doesn't help. Jesus said what difference does worrying about tomorrow make. So I am going to try, so hard to look forward, to look and hope and anticipate the best. Because that, that could help. I'm going to dream, and wonder. I am going to revel in the miracles around me everyday, and wait for more, or at least I'm going to try.

We sang all weekend about the chains being gone, death being conquered, hope and freedom being restored. I want to live on Sunday, I want to live in a resurrected life, out of the ashes of anxiety and into the hope and joy of love, life and grace. What chains do you need to throw off? What fears need to die to hope in your life? Will you join me in this resurrection life?