Hosea and the Truth about the Love of God

Hosea is one of my favorite hymns… and one of my least favorite books of the Bible.

The hymn, by Gregory Norbet, is a short and sweet folk song with the beautiful refrain: Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life.  When I sing those words, I imagine the Lord inviting, imploring me to return to His open arms.  

The biblical book, however, is much more complicated.  The promise of reconciliation, which the hymn highlights, is buried under a litany of psychologically and physically violent threats.  Certain passages are difficult and painful to read and process.  

This jarring juxtaposition, however, reminds us that the love of God, while unconditional, is not for the lighthearted.  He calls us not to a superficial but a serious relationship.

The Truth About the Love of God_1

The Book of Hosea centers around a rough analogy.  Hosea represents God and Hosea’s wife, Gomer, represents the people of God.  Just as Hosea and Gomer are bound by their marital vows, God and His people are bound by their vows at Sinai.  Gomer, like the people of God, commits one infidelity after another.  Gomer’s infidelities include sleeping with other men.  Our infidelities include worshiping false idols.  Hosea and God, having been betrayed, threaten various, violent punishments.  

These punishments, for all of their ugliness, stress just how deeply God desires a faithful relationship with us.  God is not the kinda-sorta boyfriend who forgets to text you, who delays meeting your parents, who dates other people.  God is the serious boyfriend who throws rocks at your window, who sends flowers to your office, who picks you up from the airport because he hates when you go away.  This is not a casual relationship.  This is a head-over-heels, Facebook-official, put-a-ring-on-it relationship.

Even in our most serious relationships, however, we have moments when we distance ourselves.  We doubt, we pull back, we question, we hesitate.  The responsibility of a serious relationship seems too demanding.  The vulnerability seems too dangerous.  

The Book of Hosea understands this.  It knows that human relationships are marked by periods of intensity and intimacy; of disinterest and distance.  Accordingly, the book does not follow a nice and neat linear structure.  It does not simply show Hosea and Gomer falling in love, falling apart, and then reconciling and recommitting.  Instead, it is a roller-coaster of highs and lows, sins and sorry’s, betrayal and reconciliation.  It’s not a straightforward story line, but it is a realistic relationship.

My own relationship with God has been similarly tumultuous.  Sometimes, I wander away and then make a beeline back.  Other times, I storm off in anger and then  return not so much out of desire but out of duty.  Each time, God welcomes me back.  Yes, with open arms.  Yes, with forgiveness.  But, not without acknowledging His disappointment in my distance, not without challenging me to come closer.

My favorite hymn is not wrong in singing: Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life.  

God is, indeed, waiting for our return.  The biblical book reminds us, however, that His wait is marked by passion, not patience.

And, God, indeed, does offers us a new life in relationship with Him.  The book reminds us, however, that relationship with God demands responsibility, vulnerability, and fidelity.

I still cringe when I read certain parts of the Book of Hosea.  Not only because some of the language is disturbing and shocking.  But, also because I am keenly aware that I have so frequently distanced myself from a God who loves me, who desires me, who cares for me.

So, in the words of Hosea, “Come, let us return to the Lord” (6:1).

 

What’s Making Me Happy This Week

What's Making Me Happy_1Each Friday I like to share some of the things that have made me happy over the past week.  Oftentimes, it is an article that gave me guidance on my spiritual journey. Sometimes, it is a new gadget that has made my journey easier.  Sometimes, it is just a fun drink or a funny card has helped me to take myself and this world less seriously.  

Today, however, what is making me happy is something much more beautiful and meaningful than anything you can find on the Internet.  Today, what’s making me happy is my mom.  She made the trip down to Tampa from DC yesterday morning, and we’ve spent the past day, talking about life, walking the pup, and eating at all the best restaurants.

Even though I am almost 30 years old, when I see my mom, my soul breathes a deep sigh of relief.  I hug her and remember: I am loved, I am cared for, I am not alone.  The world, despite all my anxious thoughts otherwise, is actually not on my shoulders.

There were other things that made me happy this week.  Some more incredible articles, some more lighthearted reminders.  And, I will return to share them next week.  For today, however, I am going to hang out with my mom.  Today is her birthday, and we’re going to celebrate with a fancy dinner at the Columbia, a local institution.  We’re going to reminisce about the past year and dream about the year ahead.  

Meanwhile, I invite you all to reflect on the relationships that have made you happy over the past year?  Consider your relationship with your partner, your siblings, your friends, your parents, your small groups. Who has lifted your spirit in times of distress?  Who has joined in your joy in times of celebration?  Who has walked with you through times of transition?  How can you express your gratitude for these relationships to them and to God?  I pray that, through these relationships, we will all learn how to better give and accept the perfect love of Christ.

Wishing you a weekend full of faith, hope, love, and wine.

2 Questions to Consider for Ash Wednesday… and Lent and Easter and Everyday

2 Questions to Consider for Ash Wednesday_2Something big is coming.

Something life-changing.

Something world-changing.

As a general rule, I hate change.  I am quick to judge and slow to warm.  Transitions are tough for me.

These days, however, I am craving a change.  My anxiety, some of it my own creation and some of it borrowed from the outside world, has left me weary.  I’m eager for a fresh start. I’m excited for the something big.

As with most things, there is good news and bad news.  I’ll start with the bad: the something big requires a lot of work.  Think of how your body feels after a run: chest heaving, shins aching, hair sticking to your hot cheeks.  Imagine if your soul felt like that. The something big demands that sort of effort, exertion.  Now, for the good news: the something big comes with countless gifts.  Think of how your body feels after a shower: skin soft, muscles relaxed, hair dripping down your bare back.  Imagine if your soul felt like that.  The something big can cleanse you, calm you, heal you.

Even I’m okay with that kind of change.

Preparations for the something big start in 7 days, on March 1, with Ash Wednesday. Christians from the Catholic and Protestant traditions will spread ashes across their foreheads in acknowledgment of their iniquity and mortality.  Just like Job, they will pray, “I despise myself,/ and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).  

For approximately 40 days thereafter, us Christians will undertake certain sacrifices and practices to grow closer to God.  We will do so in the example of Jesus, who “was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:1b-2a).

Then, on Sunday, April 16, we will celebrate the biggest something that ever was: Easter. Just as Peter did some 2,000 years ago, we will get up and run to the tomb; stoop and look in, [and] see the linen cloths by themselves.  We will return home, amazed at what has happened (see Luke 24:12).

How will you prepare to fully experience and embrace the something big?  

If you’re not sure how to prepare, reflect on the questions below.  Your preparation may involve sacrificing something (e.g., alcohol, makeup, social media, etc) for the 40 days. Or, your preparation may involve doing something new (e.g., volunteering with a local charity, reading a devotional, calling your grandma, etc).  The questions below helped me make my own Lenten commitments, and I hope they will help you prepare appropriately for Easter. I pray that, when the something big does come, it will change us and our world like never before.

Questions

  1. How can I better love and serve God?
    • What practices help me connect with God (e.g., studying the Bible, walking a labyrinth, keeping a journal, etc)?
    • Can I engage in these practices more frequently?
    • If so, how can I make time and space for these practices?
  2. How can I better love and serve my neighbor?
    • Have I demonstrated all the fruits of of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, etc)?
    • If not, how can grow in one or more of these fruits?
    • Is there a particular relationship in my personal or professional life that needs particular attention or effort right now?
    • Is there a need in my local or national community that I can address?

What’s Making Me Happy This Week

What's Making Me Happy This WeekYa’ll.  I loved Valentine’s Day this year.  Yes, my husband did surprise me with lovely tulips.  Yes, we did enjoy a steak dinner with a nice bottle of Virginia wine.  My favorite part of Valentine’s 2017, however, was the gratefulness, the tenderness, and the downright joy that flooded my social media feeds.  I loved the pictures of babies in pink onesies.  I loved the photos of couples – young and old – laughing, kissing, and cuddling.  I loved the long odes that husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends wrote to each other.  I loved that, for a blissful 24 hours, the typical anger, hostility, and hatred faded from my feeds.  Coming from DC, I appreciate and support political awareness and involvement.  The constant barrage of negative news, however, isn’t good for the soul, and much to my surprise, Valentine’s Day was just what I needed.  I hope that you also felt some love (and relief) this past week, and I hope that it continues to encourage you in the days ahead.  Here are some of the other things making me happy this week:

What’s Making Me Happy This Week

I came across Ann Voskamp’s The 1 Secret to Destroying Anxiety and Fears This Year during my own recent bout of severe anxiety.  If you’re feeling stress or sadness, please, please take a few minutes to read her reflection.  My favorite line: “the answer to anxiety is the adoration of Christ.”

I am many wonderful things, but, if I’m honest, trendsetter has never been one of them. So, I know that I am a little late to the party for the Fitbit, but I just got one, and I am obsessed.  My husband’s company is the middle of a Step Challenge (Go Team Fighting Maniscalco’s), and we’ve enjoyed some nice, long walks along the Hillsborough River and Tampa Bay.

I did not have a romantic Valentine until I met my husband, so the first 25 Valentine’s Days of my life were all about my family and friends.  As a devout Parks and Rec fan, I am forever grateful to Leslie Knope for formally establishing Galentine’s Day.  (We know that it is now an official holiday, because Google Docs marked Galentine’s as misspelled until I added an apostrophe.)  The next time you feel like celebrating your female friendships, I recommend that you check out these buttons and these cards.

As you can likely tell from my recent posts, I am a big fan and advocate of sacred silence. I’m not the only one, however, who’s been craving some quiet time.  Sarah E. Frazer’s 3 Steps for Finding Quiet Time When Life is Loud offers some practical tips for establishing (and protecting) your prayer time.  While her advice is geared specifically to mothers, it truly applies to anyone on the spiritual journey.  Aliza Latta’s If The World Feels Too Noisy from (in)courage also resonated with me.  As she writes, “In the quiet, when I meet with God, He tells me who I am, not who I should be.”  Amen.

Wishing you a weekend full of faith, hope, love, and wine!

Why You Should Schedule Some Quiet Time Today

Processed with VSCO with m2 presetShe was a doer, always moving from one task to the next.  She was a caretaker, always serving others before herself.  She was a fixer, always trying to solve problems and right wrongs.  She was an inspiration but also a caution.  She was selfless but also restless.  

She loved the idea but hated the actual practice of quiet time.  When she sat in silence, she heard her own thoughts, her own fears, her own desires.  When she knelt in prayer, she heard God’s voice asking for things she did not know how to give.  In her quiet time, she was vulnerable, and in her vulnerability, she knew she could not do everything, could not fix everyone.  It was scary, and she was afraid, and so, she put it off.

Do you know this woman?  Me too.  

Are you this woman?  Me too.

***

Why You Should Schedule Quiet Time Today_2Perhaps, as with women like us, Jesus feared his quiet time.  Often unlike me, however, he prayed anyway.  Each of the Gospels shows Jesus leaving the crowds and taking time away, apart.  Even Mark, the most straightforward and succinct of the Gospel writers, describes how “in the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed” (1:35).

When I think of Jesus, I tend to think of all the things he did.  He taught with such wisdom!  He provided miraculous food and drink!  He healed bodies and spirits!  He resurrected the dead!  He was, in some ways, the definition of an over-achiever.  He was a doer, a caretaker, a fixer.  But, as the Gospels remind us, he was also a pray-er.  No one on earth has ever had – or will ever have – more important work to do for the world than Jesus… and even he took time away, apart to pray.

Jesus, however, is not the only one speaking to women like us.  Mark describes how Jesus’ popularity grew as traveled in and around Galilee, calling disciples, teaching in the synagogues, and performing miraculous healings.  After curing a possessed man, Jesus’ “fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee” (1:28).  A little later, Jesus heals one of the disciple’s mothers and, before long, “the whole city was gathered around the door” (1:33).  When Jesus does take his quiet time, the disciples “hunt” for him.  That’s the exact word from the NRSV translation, “hunt.”  When the disciples finally find him, they say, “everyone is searching for you” (1:37).  So, Jesus continues on his tour, and by end of Mark’s first chapter, “Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter” (1:45).

These crowds beg the question: do I pursue Jesus in the same way?  With the same fervor?  With the same tenacity?  Would I go so far as to hunt him, if he went away?  Would I plead with him to return, if we were apart?  

I imagine, if these crowds could speak to women like us, they would say: Jesus teaches! He provides!  He heals!  And what we would not give to sit in silence with him and him alone at any given moment of any given day.  

***

I understand the desire to act, to do.  I understand the resistance to sit in stillness and silence.  Mark, however, reminds us – implores us – to take time away, apart, anyway. Even when we don’t want to.  Even when we fear the sound of our thoughts or the voice of God.  Even when we would rather be doing and fixing than talking and listening.  Only then will we know what the crowds knew: Jesus teaches!  He provides!  He heals!  And he does it all not out of a desire for recognition or distraction.  He does it all because he loves us.  He loves women like us.

Why You Should Schedule Some Quiet Time Today (1)

A Letter to Lorelai Gilmore: On Happiness and Holiness

I watched the scene in shock.  

A mother, in her late forties, and her daughter, in her early thirties, sit opposite each other in a hotel room.  The daughter, with her hair slipping from her bun, says she’s been sleeping with a man who is engaged to someone else.  The mother, wearing a sweatshirt that reads “HAPPY,” grimaces, scrunches her nose, and sighs.  “Well,” she tells the daughter, “that’s way sluttier than a one night stand.”  Then, the conversation moves on. Surely, I think, they’ll return to this subject shortly.  Surely, this is not the mother’s actual reaction to her daughter’s affair.  Surely.

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Late last fall, I began re-watching the first seven seasons of Gilmore Girls in preparation for the Netflix revival, A Year in the Life.  I went back to Stars Hollow for comfort.  I went back for the twinkle lights and the smell of snow.  I was in high school when the show debuted, and I watched it with a deep admiration for the mother, Lorelai. I loved her hair, her fearless fashion choices, her optimism, her volunteerism, her pop culture knowledge, her childlike spirit.  Her story inspired me.  She started her own business!  She bought her own house!  She encouraged and supported her daughter wholly and unconditionally!

During my re-watch, however, Stars Hollow struck me as less idyllic.  Lorelai struck me as less perfect.  She encouraged her daughter, but never really challenged her.  Why, in that shocking scene, did she not say, “I love you and because I love you, I need to tell you: you made some poor decisions.  You did some bad things.”  

In high school, I would have heard Lorelai’s reaction (or lack thereof) as coolness.  Some ten years later, however, I hear it as cowardice.  I hear it as a silent endorsement of a dangerous sentiment: that it is more important to get what you want than to do what is right; that it is more important to be happy than to be holy.   

I don’t point this out because I think Lorelai Gilmore is a bad person.  I point this out because I can be a bad person.  I’m wildly imperfect, and I desperately need people in my life to tell me when and where I’ve fallen short.  I need to hear the words, “I love you and because I love you, I need to tell you: you made some poor decisions.  You did some bad things.”  Those words don’t immediately make me a happy person, but they ultimately make me a better person.

I still admire Lorelai.  When I doubt my ability to start my own business, I think of her persistence.  When I doubt my intelligence, I think of her wit.  When I doubt my inner and outer beauty, I think of her self-confidence.  I will let her example encourage and challenge me.  

Unlike Lorelai, however, I refuse to treat happiness as the ultimate goal and self-sacrifice as the worst alternative.  Surely, with the help of friends, we can be good people.  Surely, with the grace of God, we can be holy people.  Surely.

What’s Making Me Happy This Week

What's Making Me Happy This Week_02.10.17When I lived further north, February was, as a general rule, my least favorite.  The abbreviated month highlighted the interminable winter.  When I moved to Tampa, where the winter temps linger in the 70’s, I assumed my frustrations with February would evaporate.  

Alas.  The start of the second month has been a rough ride for me.  I’ve been full of anxiety and low on joy.  When I first sat down to prepare this post, I felt a wave of dread.  How could I possibly say what’s making me happy when I wasn’t happy?  

As I reflected over the past few weeks, however, I realized that my life was littered with blessings.  I realized that I had read, heard, seen, and even tasted some wonderful, beautiful things.  I simply hadn’t consciously noticed or appreciated them.  In the process of forcing myself to be grateful, I began to feel gratitude.  In the process of seeking for joy, I actually found it.  So, without a trace of irony or sarcasm or falsehood, I am happy to report that the following items made me happy this week.

What’s Making Me Happy This Week

Zahra Noorbakhsh’s “After Trump’s election a non-practicing Muslim Returns to Prayer” from Fresh Air describes a spiritual journey similar to those of many young women in America.  In just 5 minutes, her story highlights the necessity (and difficulty and beauty) of spiritual formation as well as the danger of spiritual commodification.

I’m rapidly reading the Gilead in preparation for next Tuesday’s book club reflection.  I’m enjoying the novel thus far, but I still manage to put off even the things I enjoy/love/need, and I am grateful to have this blog and book club to hold me accountable.

This reflection from Denise J. Hughes perfectly summarizes the importance of reading, studying, and praying the Bible.  Read this piece if a)you’ve ever wondered why Christians always seem to be talking about the Bible, or b)you’ve been looking for some renewed motivation to spend some time with the Word.

My thoughtful husband surprised me with these snazzy sunglasses this past Christmas. These are definitely an upgrade from the pair of plastic sunglasses I got from a Bud Light rep at a local beach bar.  While originally designed for boaters, they are also perfect for anyone living (and squinting) in a region with lots of strong sunshine.

We’re celebrating my sister-in-law’s birthday this weekend, and I always love an excuse to make these birthday cake martinis.  I usually use Three Olives cake-flavored vodka (what a odd, wonderful world we live in), instead of vanilla vodka.  Despite all that sugar, these martinis still have a nice tart taste thanks to the champagne and cranberry.  Happy Birthday, indeed!

 

A Lesson in Political Discourse from Psalm 19

A Lesson in Politics from Psalm 19_1

The house is squeaky, shiny, eerily clean.  All the clothes are washed (even the scarves that required hand-washing and line-drying).  The floors are swept and the bathrooms scrubbed (even the stubborn stone in the shower).  Everything for the dog is washed and brushed (even the dog’s bed, the dog’s blanket, and, of course, the dog).    

As is to be expected these days, I blame President Trump.  

No, no, I kid.  Well, sort of.  Let me explain.  

Some of my loved ones voted for Clinton; some of my loved ones voted for Trump; some of my loved ones abstained from voting.  In the months leading up to the election, I had lots of difficult conversations.  Then, in the months following the election, I had even more difficult conversations.  Unsurprisingly, the events including and surrounding the Inauguration have filled me with a wild nervous energy.  Surprisingly, that energy has erupted into a mad cleaning frenzy.  Armed with those classic chemical weapons known as Windex, Scrubbing Bubbles, and Bona, I’ve spent full days attacking the dust, the dirt, and, of course, the dog hair.  

As I wage my war, I fret frantically about the future of our country, the future of the church, the future of my relationships, and the future of this blog.  How should I respond personally?  How should I respond professionally?  These questions ran round in my mind a few afternoons ago, as I attacked some stubborn soap scum in the shower.  Then new words wandered, unbidden, unexpected, into my mind: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

A Lesson in Politics from Psalm 19_3

I imagine I heard this concluding verse of Psalm 19 throughout my childhood.  Not until seminary, however, did it work its way deep into my memory.  Some of my peers and professors prayed the verse before every sermon, and I suppose, over time, it started to stick.  And then, on that afternoon a few days ago, as I inhaled the noxious fumes of Scrubbing Bubbles, the verse surfaced again.

Its reappearance seemed timely.  I was anxiously wondering what to feel, what to think, what to say about recent political events.  Could there be a more important time to pray that my words and thoughts and emotions “be acceptable to you, O Lord?”

When I consider this verse, I linger on that vague word “acceptable.”  Surely, it cannot mean only saying nice things in a sweet voice.  Nor can it mean only saying disruptive things in a loud voice.  It must mean saying certain words in a certain tone at a certain time.  It must mean crafting all our words with care, prayer, and charity.  It is a simple verse, but a complicated task.

Fortunately, Psalm 19 offers us more than this singular verse.  It describes how God communicates to us through creation: “Day unto day pours forth speech/ Night unto night whispers knowledge.”  It describes what God communicates to us, emphasizing the beauty and benefits of His will: “The law of the Lord is perfect,/ refreshing the soul.”  The Psalmist asks for assistance in listening to and adhering to God’s law.  The Psalmist asks for pardon when we fail to follow God’s will.  And only then does the Psalmist offer that beautiful prayer that “the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable.”  This lovely prayer, which I heard during the introduction of so many sermons, is actually a conclusion.  Only after reflecting on how and what God has communicated with us can we hope to acceptably communicate with others.

A Lesson in Politics from Psalm 19_4

There are more difficult conversations ahead.  There will be more words, more thoughts, more feelings.  Some moments will call for compromise and compassion.  Some for righteous anger and resolution.  Some for silence.  

To discern between those moments, I pray the words of the psalmist, of my peers, and of my professors.  I pray that both the content and the delivery of my words bring us closer to wisdom and peace, rather than dissension and fear.  

There are, of course, moments when I know that my words, my thoughts, and my feelings are unacceptable.  I reflect on the Republicans or Democrats or executive orders or Cabinet nominations, and I fill with bitterness, pettiness, and spite.  In those moments, my reactions and responses do not embody the radical love and law of God.  So, I grab my cleaning supplies and pull on my rubber gloves.  I scrub the shower tiles and I repeat again and again, “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of heart be acceptable to you, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

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