It’s all over the Old Testament:  the people of God are hardhearted, and it’s a big problem.

This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and Jerusalem: “Plow up the hard ground of your hearts! Do not waste your good seed among thorns.” Jeremiah 4:3

I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.’ Hosea 10:12

They made their hearts as hard as stone, so they could not hear the instructions or the messages that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies had sent them by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. That is why the Lord of Heaven’s Armies was so angry with them. Zechariah 7:12

It leaks over into the New Testament, too.

For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes— so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.’ Matthew 13:15

Hard hearts are associated with empty worship, allowing or perpetrating injustice for the oppressed, and lack of mercy in business and other interpersonal dealings. It doesn’t have to do with whether emotions are sufficiently mushy. It’s a spiritual condition.

I bring this up because this is what I’m working on in the new year: the stubborn nub of hard heartedness in me. That part of me that not only needs to be right, but needs for you to acknowledge my rightness and punish yourself accordingly. This is not a helpful need. It has blocked progress in our attempts at beating back our marital Big Nagging Issue. Not to mention the stupid bickering about some nothing item.

That part of me that keeps me safe in my pharisaical bubble of sureness that “I’d never do that,” whenever I see some that that annoys me.

The part of me that retreats into hermit-ness way, way too often.

The part of me that became so disappointed at the struggle of life this past year that it interrupted my spiritual habits, my gratitude for what I have, my ability to recognize solutions. I wasted way too much time in “It wasn’t supposed to be like this” land.

So there it is. I’ll be working on becoming more spiritually soft hearted, which encompasses listening better, watching deeper, loosening the packed soil of my heart for God to work in. Other than praying for it (and being on the lookout for what God will show me), one of the practical things I’m doing is getting help for my depression — I’ve been clutching it to me like a bad friend for too long.

I have a feeling this year is going to be a doozy.

an odd both/and: gratitude/grief

It started Thanksgiving 2012. My parents-in-law’s best friend was dying; he died, too soon, shortly thereafter. My father was diagnosed with cancer on my birthday. My daughter had a mysterious hand infection that puffed her hand way out no matter what medication we gave her, and we wound up in the E.R. for overnight antibiotics, while one of my dear friends was in the hospital next door struggling for breath. She died a month later, way, way, way too soon. And that was only early January.

There were 3 more E.R. visits for my daughter. Two back surgeries and resulting recovery times before my father could get treatment for his cancer. Both are doing well now, but there was persistent worry in a corner of my mind all year.

There was complete lack of movement in getting my David and Saul novel closer to being published: no requests for a full manuscript from any agent I queried. None. No professional interest in the picture book project I’m working on with a friend. I was turned down for a job I would’ve been really good at. I didn’t get enough volunteers for a church thing, so had to scrap some plans that would’ve been good for the kids. I’ve never been rejected so many times for so many things in my life.

My children each had struggles where they haven’t before, some of which are ongoing. My husband’s heavy work schedule continues to wear us down. I’ve read maybe half the number of books I normally do; after my friend died, I just didn’t have the urge. Insomnia. Anxiety. As the year went on, my hermit tendencies have become even more entrenched.

But this has also been a great year.

When you’ve cried with people, and you’ve shared grief, you’re closer to them, so I’m closer to a lot more people than I was a year ago, even some I’ve known for a long time. We made some real friends at the new church. I’ve given some good encouragement to dear friends. I got through the Old Testament in my devotional reading (finally!) and done some good struggling with and resting in God’s promises. My faith is deeper than it was a year ago.

My children have had also triumphed, and I’ve gotten to stand up and cheer for them. My husband is doing really good work, both for pay and for fun — and he’s writing songs again! I’m taking a dance class again. A class for which I will get to perform in a recital (a phrase that makes me giggle).

The fine folks at One Faith Many Faces gave me paid work and thought enough of my writing here to want to rerun it on their site. I went to a small writer’s retreat, where I met some fine writers, reconnected with an old friend, and got some much-needed encouragement. There has been some other paid work, some guest posts on other blogs (on prayer and dance), and some wonderful conversations here. I am grateful for every person who’s read my writing — that means you. Thank you.

I’m grateful, but also deeply frustrated and sad, often about the same things. So I wrote something about Thanksgiving for my friends at One Faith Many Faces (they’re the ones who gave the post it’s awesome title) that I needed to hear — something all of us who are feeling both gratitude and grief this year.

Some years, you’re so full of gratitude that it seeps out of your pores and suffuses everything you do.

Other years, the idea of spouting words of gratitude seems so wrong as to almost feel offensive.

Sometimes, those are the same year.

A tough year can bring out your gratitude to God for being with you through it all – but lurking behind every item of thanksgiving is a great big but. The Psalmist knows what that’s like:

Please continue here to read the rest of Thanksgiving is a great big but.



we are all struggling children

I am gaining new appreciation for how painful it is to be my heavenly parent.

The vast majority of the time, it is truly not that difficult to make righteous choices. Yet, so often I choose my own vortex of fears, needs, obsessions, shames, distractions, and irritations over the peace, love, comfort, and challenge my heavenly parent offers and promises. Mine is not an utterly hopeless case. I often manage to act in accord with that peace and love. I do. But the chaos of my vortex is always spinning, beckoning me. I’m always fighting the pull. With varying degrees of success.

I’m appreciating how difficult this is for my heavenly parent to watch because I’m an earthly parent who is watching one of her children struggling. Making the same mistakes. Over and over. Getting it together in fits and starts, only to lose the thread again. It hurts. Physically and emotionally. Partially because I sense my child’s frustration, lostness, confusion. Partially because I can’t snap my fingers and make it all better. Partially because it isn’t all that hard to do what needs to be done. I am doing everything I can to point in the right direction. In every way I know how, I’m letting the child know I will give whatever support and encouragement necessary. But I can’t make change happen. As hard as I try, and as many systems as I might set up, and as loving and accepting as I may be, it’s not up to me: it’s up to my child.

Do I cause this much anguish in my heavenly parent?

Oh, how deaf and blind you are to me! Why won’t you listen? Why do you refuse to see? Who in all the world is as blind as my own people, my servant? Who is as blind as my chosen people, the servant of the Lord? You see and understand what is right but refuse to act on it. You hear, but you don’t really listen….Will not even one of you apply these lessons from the past and see the ruin that awaits you?    (Isaiah 42:18-20, 23)

The prophets are full of God’s frustration with his people: he’s given them everything, yet they still cheat their neighbors and break their vows. They do not give justice to the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the debtor, let alone give them mercy. All this while they continue with their feasts and sacrifices as if that’s all that was required.  Which are all symptoms of the real problem: their hearts are hard. They are stiff-necked, refusing to turn their head to see that they’re on the wrong path.

Even so, and in almost the same breath (Is. 43:1-2):

But now, O Israel, the Lord who created you says: “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”

They are God’s beloved, his special treasure who he delights to show mercy to.

We are hard-hearted, stiff-necked people, God’s beloved, his special treasure who he delights to show mercy to.

We are God’s children.

They say, “Who does the Lord think we are? Why does he speak to us like this? Are we little children, barely old enough to talk? He tells us everything over and over again, a line at a time, in very simple words!” … God’s people could have rest in their own land if they would only obey him, but they will not listen. So the Lord will spell out his message for them again, repeating it over and over, a line at a time, in very simple words. Yet they will stumble over this simple, straightforward message. (Isaiah 23: 9-10, 12-13)

Yes. I’d say God gets the anguish of watching a child struggle with the same things over and over.

Speaking of which, did I somehow think that my own fabulous/dubious parenting of my children would somehow exempt them from having a set of issues (based on personality and brain chemistry) they’d struggle against repeatedly, possibly their whole lives?

You know, like I do.

Not even God gets that deal, and he offers perfect love and redemption.

So what do I do with this reminder that God is my anguished parent?

Apologize more often and more easily, to God and to others.

Take the long view. My job is not necessarily to help my children overcome their various tendencies once and for all. It’s to work with them to find tools that will help them identify and deal with their personality and brain chemistry issues, to hold them accountable for their choices, to embrace them through both failure and success, to let them know how deeply loved they are. As is.

Waste less time and emotional energy on “we have to deal with this … again!?!” Of course we do.

Have more compassion — for myself, my children, the others in my sphere. I am not the Expert on Overcoming. I am not the Maker of Pronouncements of What Must Be Done. We are strugglers together, helping each other, figuring this out as we go, loving each other through it all.

At least that’s my hope. After all, thinking I know What Must Be Done is one of my perennial issues.


Travel By Map

I was watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade night on TV. At one point, they document a long plane ride by showing the red line of their journey across a map. They did this in the most recent Muppet Movie, too. When faced with a long trip and not much time to do it in, they decide to “travel by map” so it’ll go faster.

I find myself wishing I could travel by map — not location, but time. My church is in a tough spot. People are drifting away. Those who already worked hard, are working even harder. We’ve gone through this before, and we rallied. Twice. But it’s not clear that we’ll be able to rally this time. I want to travel by map so I can just find out the endpoint.

But there’s no such thing.

In my head, I know that the journey is important. My faithfulness, my trust in the Lord, my patience will be exercised and built up. (And between you and me, my patience can do with some building up.) I have the chance to be obedient, to continue to serve the Lord in the ministries I’m passionate about. Those things can only be good for me.

The unanswered/unanswerable questions still nag me, though. Will we close? If so, when? If not, how will we continue? Who will remain to continue? Will I remain to continue? What will we tell the kids? Where would we go?

I know it’s silly to be made so sad by that speedy line of travel in those movies. But I really want to travel by map.

Anyone else in a situation they want to rush to the end of?