"before we turn to stone"

Well, I feel exhausted.


I did a video last night with my cat Madeleine L’Engle.
I have a mild allergy to Madeleine L’Engle (the cat).
When I hold her next to my face while singing a song, I apparently end up looking like this:





In my Benadryl induced haze, I am having a little trouble thinking theologically, so please bear with me.


Last night we had an amazing Bible Study/Prayer Service.
Generally the focus in the first week of Advent is Hope and the second week it is Peace. It is in this perspective we came to our Gospel lesson, Mark 1:1-8.


 1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,[a]the Son of God,[b] 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

   “I will send my messenger ahead of you,
   who will prepare your way”[c]
3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
   make straight paths for him.’”[d]
 4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with[e] water, but he will baptize you with[f] the Holy Spirit.”



We were struck that the whole Judean countryside came because they heard his message of repentance and therefore came to confess. We started talking about repentance and how that is a part of waiting actively in anticipation.

This has resonated with me so deeply in this season of Advent and the times of transition I find myself in. It would seem that the Gospel on a whole, and Mark in part, makes it clear that repentance, the willingness to say “I was wrong, I’m sorry” is essential for a life of peace. 

I see this over and over again in my life. If I am unwilling to  humble myself and ask for forgiveness for the wrongs I have done, it is impossible for me to have peace. Completely impossible. It happens quickly. When I have done something that has caused offense to someone the immediate reaction more often than not is to find a way to defend myself and my decisions. And if I don’t get myself in check, it becomes defending myself at all costs, causing further offense and hurt. But that isn’t even the beginning. 

It begins to eat at your insides. Eat them and at the same time disable them. It makes them hard so that the next time you hurt someone, and don’t humble yourself and ask for forgiveness, you don’t feel it as much. It becomes duller, so it can happen more and more and more.

I’ve found (by trial and error) that most of the “instructions” in the Bible aren’t just for the heck of it.
Not just for kicks, because God “can”.


It really is in our best interest for ourselves and our relationships to freely give and seek forgiveness. It’s the only way we can truly have peace.


It’s hard to humble yourself. It’s like dying to yourself. A little death that comes before a whole lot of life. There is so much freedom when you humble yourself and ask for forgiveness. A huge weight is lifted off of you and you can feel again. I’m not going to try and fool you, that it doesn’t open you up again and again to the possibility to be hurt again and again. But that is the danger with truly living isn’t it? The danger when we choose to fully participate in humanity.


In my short experience on this earth, the peace that can be experienced is far greater than the turmoil.  The possibility of deepening relationship, of showing true love, it can be amazing.


I couldn’t get this song out of my head with the Gospel lesson from yesterday.







To me it speaks beautifully about looking beyond ourselves at the world around us, and the importance of taking responsibility for our actions “and not waiting for someone else’s hand”. The specific line that keeps speaking to my soul is:


“but brother how we must atone, before we turn to stone”


It is a simple truth.


If we aren’t vulnerable to one another, and are incapable of humbling ourselves, we will turn to stone.


The further we separate ourselves from humanity the less human we become.


Let us all take this Advent season as an opportunity to seek forgiveness where it is needed and to freely give forgiveness as it is asked of us. Not many better ways I can think of to honor the coming of Christ who came to us in a humble vulnerable human form so that he could grant us ultimate forgiveness and redemption.


peace to you,
meredith










Back to Decatur

Today was an exciting whirlwind of an adventure.

Deb asked if Eleonore and I wanted to join her and Wolfie on a thrifting jaunt to Clinton.

I figured we should just go crazy, and go all the way to Decatur.
(All the pictures are courtesy of her and her artistic self! )

You see, I have this odd love affair with Decatur. I lived there from the time I was four to third grade and for my freshman year of college. Those are pretty pivotal years in the development of a memory, of a personhood, at least they were for me.

It was hard as we made every turn, and drove past every place to not share with Deb the story that accompanied the particular place or street. We did some pretty great thrifting, and the kiddos behaved quite well.

Eleonore & Wolfgang holding hands in the backseat! 

What was more valuable than any physical treasure, was the remembering. Remembering where I was when I first heard of the Iraq war starting on the radio in the car. Remembering the thrift store that my mother would buy me clothes from that I would despise because a peer had told me “only poor people wear thrift store clothes” and I had an incessant need to tell people where my clothing was from, so if I wore it, everyone was going to know it was second-hand. I was going to tell them.

The thing that stood out to me most about my time in Decatur were all my different “educational” experiences.

I was home schooled for Pre-School, went to Northwest Christian Academy for Kindergarten, and first grade, was home schooled for second grade and went back to Northwest Christian Academy for the first half of third grade, transferring to Glad Tidings Christian Academy after Christmas.

I kept harkening back to my first experience at Glad Tidings in 1993. I was excited about the change, I thought I had a good handle on things.

Little did I know.
I arrived to school in a hot pink corduroy jumper with a peter pan white blouse underneath. But here is the kicker. I had on Troll Santa Claus earrings, which were highlighted since I had a boy bowl haircut at the time. What went through my third grade mind that morning when I woke up? Perhaps I had a bit of a C’est La Vie attitude about the Santa Claus troll earrings. Or perhaps they were the one thing I had that I felt transcended into popular culture. I might have ridden in the Silhouette Spaceship Van to school thinking, “I’m the freaking s@#t, I have on troll earrings, you will all bow to my prowess”. Because who is ballsy enough to wear troll earrings to a Christian school? No one I had encountered in my short time on earth. . .
Everyone else was much cooler (ballsier) than I. I had failed miserably. At recess, Jaclyn Dick and Jessica Dixson came over and started talking to me. They were unmistakably the Queen Bee’s. And if I remember correctly, they had their ears pierced twice, and long hair down to their mid backs, GUESS sweatshirts with leggings and keds with scrunchy socks.
WHAT ARE SANTA CLAUS TROLL EARRINGS WHEN COMPARED TO THAT!?!
As they approached they began to probe.
“Do you like Grease?”
All possibilities began to run through my mind. Grease. . .food grease? My father saves bacon grease to pop his popcorn that he gets in a tub from the boyscouts in.
I gingerly raised my eyebrows and stated what I could muster as calmly as possible:
“Like in a frying pan?”
They could have been cruel at this point. I think they only giggled a little bit.
“No, the movie Grease! You will have to come over and watch it.”
“Oh yeah, that, sure. I’ve been meaning to see it. Just haven’t gotten around to it.”
I immediately boiled with seething rage at my parents. What was this travesty they had committed against me, that I didn’t know what this mysterious Grease Movie was?
I knew plenty about Star Wars, I knew plenty about anything Jim Henson had done. I knew the set list that the Moody Blues played at their Live at Red Rocks PBS special that I had been allowed to stay up for so I could “dance” behind the couch to “Nights in White Satin”.
None of these things could serve me now. I was like an Israelite who was ungrateful for her manna.
When I got older I would look back on this again and think, “you let your eight year old twirl to a song clearly about SEX but didn’t show her GREASE!?!?!?” For the love of God people!

When I did make the trek to Jaclyn Dick’s house, she enlightened me on such things as Nancy Drew Mysteries, Guns and Roses, and Madonna. I truly felt that I might go to hell for listening to Guns and Roses. Something about it seemed sacrilegious probably the skulls on the cassette tape cover. But Madonna’s Poppa Don’t Preach made sense to me.
I could justify that. My father was a pastor, and all of a sudden I had a song if I ever got pregnant and wanted to keep my baby.
Always a good thing for a third grader to hold in her back pocket.
I think I remember sharing that with my Father soon after I got home from Jaclyn’s for the first time. 
He was calm and sensical enough to not bar me from hanging out with her ever again.
I became one of the “popular” girls at Glad Tidings, despite my boy hair bowl cut and faux pas first day outfit. The way I did this? By telling everyone what sex was. 
Yep. 
In detail.
When I was in second grade, on a ride home from Champaign where my mother was working at the time, I had turned to her and nonchalantly asked:
“So what is this sex thing everyone is talking about?”
Being a nurse, the practical answer was to tell me what this sex thing was, in scientific and biological actuality. 
It was like social gold, this information. Everyone else was still getting the birds and the bees junk from their parents. But I, as I sat atop the jungle gym with my captivated audience shared terms, and procedures like a 10th grade gym teacher reluctantly does in required Sex-Ed. If memory serves me, I shared with much more vigor and tenacity, punctuating certain terms with added thrill and rising intonation.
But, every time I did this, I had to pay my penance. Remember that United Methodist guilt I talked about? Yeah, like being born into sin, I was born into that, and I confessed to my mother every day after school. 
Mid spring we found out we were moving to Arthur, Illinois.
 (That process is a different story for a different time.)
I remember going to my mother as a third grader, and saying:
“This is my chance, I will be able to have a fresh start and begin again. I won’t have to be known as the “Girl who always talks about sex”.”
The first day of fourth grade in Arthur came with great anticipation. To my credit, I think I made it to the second day of recess before I blurted out my wealth of information. It worked it’s charm, and I was a “popular” girl again.
As we’ve moved back to Bloomington, I haven’t had any instances where I have felt insecure to the point of needing to talk incessantly about sex in correct biological terms. I think with the presence of Eleonore it is pretty clear I hold that information.
But just in case you are with me, in a coffee shop, or at dinner, or at the mall and I suddenly start saying things like “COPULATION” or “GONAD”, simply calm me down, and reassure me that my identity is not found in my sexual knowledge, rather my identity is in Christ. 
As Henri Nouwen says:

The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity and held safe in an everlasting embrace… We must dare to opt consciously for our chosenness and not allow our emotions, feelings, or passions to seduce us into self-rejection. 

This wasn’t something I was able to grasp as a second grader, or third grader, or fourth grader, or. . .ok, you get it.
But I think I am beginning to get it.
And it is one of the things that makes coming “Back to Bloomington” possible at all. 
peace to you,
meredith

Among our finds? 
This beauty for $1.00 which came with a polaroid camera and a leather case!
Perfect to capture new memories with.

Wedding Week Day 5-"Theology" of a Marriage

After six years if there is one thing I have learned, it is that you cannot label your marriage, and you can’t define it.

You might have an understanding of your Faith, that there are non-negotiables, and the rest is up for discussion. I think Marriage (as we are told it should be) when modeled after our relationship with God has to look like that.

When we were married we had our good friend Miles (also the man who hired us both that fateful first summer at East Bay, pretty integral person!) read an excerpt from who else? Madeleine L’Engle!

This was it:
“Ultimately there comes a time when a decision must be made. Ultimately two people who love each other must ask themselves how much they hope for as their love grows and deepens, and how much risk they are willing to take. It is indeed a fearful gamble. Because it is the nature of love to create, a marriage itself is something which has to be created. To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take. If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession, but participation. It takes a lifetime to learn another person. When love is not possession, but participation, then it is part of that co-creation which is our human calling.”


We still aspire to this vision of a marriage today, EVERY day. It’s a choice. The choice isn’t always easy, the choice isn’t always fun. But you choose, because you have made a commitment before God to that other person. And when you don’t make the right decision, you look to that person, and are amazed when they have the strength to give you the grace you don’t deserve, and equally amazed when you have grace to give to them. There is so much freedom, as Madeleine says, in those choices. 


For freedom Christ has set us free. 


Such a responsibility in this freedom. And not just in the confines of a marriage or romantic relationship. In each friendship, each family member, each stranger, each enemy. 


It’s exhausting, but we are called to be in community for a reason.
Because it’s still going to be exhausting, but when others can help hold up our hands it makes it easier to love others as we start to get tired.

I love you Nathanial Ryan Hopping, and look forward to six-TY more years of holding each others hands up to love each other and the world around us.

peace to you,
meredith












Did I give birth to Mike Tyson’s Vampire Spawn?

It happened.

Eleonore bit someone.

REALLY hard.

And she drew blood.

And it was traumatizing.

Probably the most for me.

I knew it was coming. Like a snarky little shadow that lingers a few feet behind Eleonore and I wherever we go, tiptoeing along is “The Possibility My Child Will Do Something Out of MY Control That Can Upset and/or Hurt Someone Else”.

If you aren’t familiar with the TPMCWDSOOMCTCUAOHSE (pronounced tee-pee-mick-wood-soom-mic-tic-wah-o-see) Monster, thank your lucky stars. It is a nasty little booger, and it will get you when you least expect it.

Perhaps I was getting too prideful. Eleonore loves other people. She loves to smile at them, and wave, and brighten their days. She is quite adorable, biased or not, it’s true.

But. . .

there are these teeth that most of her peers don’t have yet, or if they do, not as many.

A woman from my father’s church said it was a sign of intelligence that she has so many teeth, probably COMPLETELY false, but at the same time, like all of you Mother’s and Father’s out there, I decided in my head, “well yeah, probably, makes sense. makes sense to me”. It’s just what you do when someone validates what you think about your child, you decide it’s true. 


In retrospect, if the TPMCWDSOOMCTCUAOHSE Monster feeds on pride and a puffed up Mother’s chest like I think it does, it was getting to be a chubby TPMCWDSOOMCTCUAOHSE Monster, and had more than enough energy built up to attack.

It had taken a little trial run a week ago, when Eleonore bit my good friend Kelly’s baby Kinley. Luckily no blood was drawn, and Kelly and Kinley both took it in stride.

The next time it went full fledged and it was poor Wolfie as Eleonore got her first taste of blood. With a little “milkies”, his blankie, and some snuggles with his Mama Deb, he was up and playing with Eleonore once again.

Deb was EXTREMELY gracious. It didn’t phase her at all. I was in awe, and shocked that I wasn’t getting yelled at, or cursed at, or thrown out by my collar.

Wolfie was fine, Eleonore was fine, Deb was fine.

I wasn’t.

I felt completely, and utterly, powerless.

Seeking others advice on the matter for the most part made it worse, and I went to bed feeling like my baby had major psychological issues that I had spurned on by some sort of majorly inadequate parenting technique that had been put into place by my “style” of parenting.

I didn’t sleep a lot. Visions of being “the biters” Mom kept dancing through my dreams.

The next morning, Nate, Eleonore and I were sitting on the couch laughing and playing. Nate was tickling Eleonore and we were all giggling, then he started to nibble on her ear. . .
he looked up and we had both made the connection at the same time.

He nibbles on Eleonore’s ear when they are playing, she equates this with happiness, and love, so she OBVIOUSLY WANTS TO BITE EVERYONE’S EAR.

I felt such a sense of freedom in that moment, but at the same time my heart was filled with an extreme weight of responsibility.We learn how to love. There is no question. We can’t know how to love, unless we see how to love. It’s pretty straightforward and simple.If we learn to love from those who love abusively, we abuse, if gracefully, then gracefully, if passively then passively, and the list goes on and on.

This time it will be a relatively easy fix and the TPMCWDSOOMCTCUAOHSE Monster will be thwarted by no more ear nibbles for Dad! It is not always so easy, for many children, the way they have learned to love has done irrevocable damage to themselves, and to the world around them. The vicious cycle continues, because no one gave them grace. Because no one thought fit to name them, like I talk about in this previous post.

I myself am learning to live with the TPMCWDSOOMCTCUAOHSE Monster. They are always there, and always will be. I invite the TPMCWDSOOMCTCUAOHSE Monster to walk alongside me. I am not afraid. I will learn to handle each situation they throw at me with grace. Grace is what slays TPMCWDSOOMCTCUAOHSE Monsters, didn’t you know?

It gets most of the other Monsters out there too.

Try it, and you’ll see.

Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.



peace to you,
meredith

What on earth am I(we) doing here?-Part 2

Soon after moving to Bloomington, we were confirmed in the Anglican Mission. It was a wonderful day, and it happened immediately prior to our friend Fr. Greg Lynn’s ordination to the priesthood.
We have a wonderful long-distance community in Peoria’s AMiA plant, Epiphany. Chris and Elisa Marchand, dear friends from the Chicago area are co-planting a missional community there with Greg and his wife Alicia.
What a wonderful gift to have kindred spirits embarking upon the same journey so close!
Chris, Elisa, Father Greg, Alicia, Nate & Me
at our confirmation/Greg’s ordination!
Nate and I with a lot of prayer have wanted to take a VERY slow approach to this whole church planting-thing. We want to be able to give the community what they need and what can bring them closer to Christ, not impose our idea of what the church plant will look like on a community that we have been detached from for five years. This is a problem I think the Christian church gets stuck in a lot. Telling a community what they need before hearing what that community has to say/where they are.
(Before I get bombarded by Christians telling me the community needs Christ, let’s have that just be a given. We all do, or Nate and I wouldn’t be giving our life to this calling).
So right now what this looks like is a foundational group of people meeting twice a month, (soon to move to every week) at our apartment, discussing the word, our relationships with Christ, uplifting each other, and brainstorming on how we can bring Christ to this community and be Christ to this community. Very soon we will be embarking upon community outreach and eventually we will start meeting at a space, (as we are growing out of our dining room quite quickly. Intimacy is great within a missional community, but I don’t want anybody to be able to tell that I wasn’t able to shower that day, as being a Mommy doesn’t always warrant a shower! :o) ) and having a full service as well as a weekly community group/bible study.
Exciting, scary, and an impossible environment to not be completely dependent upon Christ.
One thing we are praying for is that God would put on someone’s heart to come alongside us in ministry here in Bloomington-Normal, in a co-leadership role. It is exciting to be patiently waiting for that, not knowing who that person will be or what specific gifts they will offer. But as God has proven so clearly over and over again, He will be faithful.
This church thing if you have never been a part of it (or if you have), is intended to be this beautiful, messy group of people, growing together, leaning on each other and loving each other so much that they can’t let each other stay where they are at, they must propel each other further on in betterment, in hope and beauty and love, to become what we were created to be.
In propelling each other it should catch onto someone else, and someone else, and someone else.
And then our world theoretically shouldn’t look the way it does.
But there is something in me that won’t allow me to stop looking at what this world can be if we allow the Hope of the Risen Christ to permeate itself through us and to others.
I think the Church (which I claim to be a part of, I still believe in the Christian Church despite it’s faults and it’s NUMEROUS injustices, I apologize for these, and for the part I may play in them, but I still identify myself with it) forgets about this leaning, and dependence on one another, that we were created to be in community, to need one another, to change the world together.
Scoff if you must, but I adore So You Think You Can Dance (this is not as much of a change of subject as you might think, stick with me). This dance to Coldplay’s Fix You really hits home for me, especially where I am at in my Faith journey right now.
*I am not about to get into what the words to that song mean, I have my thoughts, but that isn’t really what this is about.
I think this is how we are supposed to look in the church relationally.
We move in sync at certain times, and at others we show our individual gifts for the community.
And sometimes we are utterly unable to move, unless we are lifted by one another.
I am quite fond of the 45 second mark where the “jumping” begins.
Sometimes it feels like in the church or in our relationship with Christ that we are doing such futile things in a season of waiting, that we might as well just be jumping up and down.
But that jumping up and down is leading to something amazing, and may we all jump with such vigor and intensity. . .
watch and see what I mean.
peace to you,
meredith