Posts Tagged ‘Choices’

Aimless Aching

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I can’t even sort out what I’m feeling or thinking right now. I don’t even know if I can sort the feeling from the thinking.

Mostly I ache. And the ache cuts through my gut. I want to vomit to get that ache out of me, but I can’t.

I want to cry again and again. Except when the tears roll, I feel the ache roll, wet, down my cheeks. I want the tears to wash the ache away, but after the tears are gone the ache lingers in my face, hot from crying.

I try to use my words to talk out the ache, but they jumble and ramble and go in circles. And I want to get my thoughts around the ache, but the ache mocks my thinking–even my best thinking.

And I can’t tell anymore if I’m choking back the ache or if the ache is choking me.

I don’t even know why I ache so hard. Mostly I’m selfish with my aching–making the pain of the world about me–about the pain that I don’t understand well enough, listen to enough, or address squarely enough.

What right have I to ache when there is pain far worse than mine? So I chastise myself for my selfishness–heaping shame upon the ache which only makes it grow.

The worst ache is when I see people create more aching with hate. I try hard not to trade hate for hate. But the hate is too much for me to process. All I know to do in the midst of the hate is to ache. I ache with the hated and I ache for the hater. I ache for the brokenness and the ache upon hate upon ache upon hate.

I want to do something–to turn the ache into action. The ache is fuel, burning up, but with no engine it is wasted. It is an endlessly renewable source of energy–because there’s always something to ache about–but the energy is wasted without a place to go.

But where am I to go? What am I to do with this hot-burning fuel?

I think words will help. Words should help. I know words. I want to help with my words. I want to use my words to do good. But all I can do today is explain the ache. But what good are even the best words about the ache when so much pain is in the world?

I want to think this aimless aching is just a phase. I hope–I pray–for a time to know better my purpose, my place, my way to use this ache–to aim this passionate-hot ache to sow love so deeply that hate will fade, fail, and fall away.

Want to Simplify this Christmas?

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The pressure is on to find the right gifts for everyone on your list, to prepare the perfect holiday meal, and to make it to every party. With all the obligations of the season though, can anyone remember what Christmas is all about? Something about a baby—Oh no! I forgot to put the Smith family’s new baby on my shopping list!

Oftentimes we lament the consumerism of the season, but we can’t quite seem to back our sleigh ride away from that slippery slope. Over the years I’ve dabbled with various ideas of simplifying my celebrations to focus on what is most important to me: faith, family, and friends.

In my latest post at Life & Liberty Online Magazine, I wrote a sampling of ideas to help you be more deliberate about how you spend your time and money this holiday season. You can read the full text of the article over there, but here is the basic list broken down by three categories, gift-giving, cooking, and celebrations…

 

Put Joy (Back) Into Gift-Giving

  1. Shorten the gift-giving list.
  2. Make gifts using a craft or skill that is truly enjoyable.
  3. Create gift baskets.
  4. Make a music mix.
  5. Give a copy of a favorite book.
  6. Give gift cards/certificates.
  7. Give a membership.
  8. Write an original story or poetry collection and give it as a gift.
  9. Give yourself permission to give the same gift to more than one person on your list.
  10. Give family gifts.

For more on any of these gift-giving ideas, read my full commentary on my post, “Tis the Season to Simplify,” at Life & Liberty.

 

Cook Up some Holiday Spirit

  1. Consider potluck.
  2. Say “yes” when someone offers to bring something.
  3. Choose simpler preparations for at least some of your dishes.
  4. Stick with what you know.

For more on any of these cooking ideas, read my full commentary on my post, “Tis the Season to Simplify,” at Life & Liberty.

 

Keep the Merry in Your Merry-Making

  1. Rethink “White Elephant” parties.
  2. Make kits to give away to charities.
  3. Enjoy the arts together.
  4. See the lights!
  5. Serve together.
  6. Make a special treat or meal together.
  7. Reschedule your celebration for a less-rushed time.

For more on any of these celebration ideas, read my full commentary on my post, “Tis the Season to Simplify,” at Life & Liberty.

 

Pick and choose from this list, take or leave what works for you and helps you have the most joy this holiday season.

The Favor of the King – Sermon for Christ the King Sunday

The Favor of the King

Christ the King sermon based on Matthew 25:31-46

Deaconess Jennifer Clark Tinker

 

On Christ the King Sunday we recognize that Jesus is the King above all kings; he is the one to whom our highest allegiance is due. And yet his kingdom is not like the typical kingdoms of this world…

 

You can listen to this sermon by clicking the link below, or scroll down to read the manuscript.

Audio for “The Favor of the King” 

http://www.spreaker.com/user/5989422/the-favor-of-the-king

 

 

“Would you do me a favor?” my mom asked me at the end of a phone call a number of years ago.

“Um…” I hesitated. I never know what a favor is going to entail, so I don’t say yes until I hear what exactly is being asked of me. But to deny my mother a favor she is asking is not cool either, so I certainly didn’t want to say no. I just hoped it wouldn’t be too difficult of a task to perform for her.

“It’s really simple,” she explained. “Will you please give David a hug for me and then have him hug you back for me?”

I smiled. This was one favor I could certainly take care of for my mother.

You see, for most of my married life I have lived hundreds of miles away from my mother. She visits us and we visit her, but that’s still only a few times a year that we see each other. So, we have our phone calls and since that request all those years ago, we have these hugs.

Now that we have our son, my mom regularly asks me to do this for both my husband and my son.

I admit, sometimes it seems a little awkward hugging my husband and son for someone else. I mean, the way I hug them is unique to my relationship with each of them. I figure a hug from someone else should reflect that relationship. This was even more obvious when a long-distance, good friend of the family asked me to do this at the end of a phone call. Since this friend is a man, I decided to give my husband and son sideways “guy hugs” so it would be more like it was from this guy friend.

Despite the seeming awkwardness of these hugs, it is a way that these people who care about us can be present with us even though they aren’t actually here. As my mom put it, I am doing her (and the guy friend) a favor by giving these hugs to my guys.

This idea of indirectly doing a favor for someone is a theme in our Bible reading from Matthew. The passage gives us an image of Jesus in his glory, seated on his throne with all the nations of the world gathered around. Jesus then separates the people and pronounces judgment on them.

He admits some into his kingdom saying, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

But they are puzzled, they can’t remember doing any of those things for Jesus. Surely they would remember if he was the one they fed or clothed or visited! But Jesus reveals that it wasn’t him directly that they did this favor for, but whenever they did these things for “the least of these,” they did it for Jesus.

By contrast there are others that Jesus denies admittance into the kingdom because they did not care for the “least of these” when they had the chance. This sounds pretty harsh. I imagine I miss a lot of opportunities to do favors for Jesus if feeding, clothing, or visiting “the least” means doing this for Jesus. Maybe (probably) we all miss a lot of opportunities like this if we’re honest.

But on a deeper level, I think it’s important to see that these kinds of “favors” for Jesus are entirely different than how the world ordinarily thinks of impressing kings.

It’s a bit like that first time my mom asked me to do her the “favor” of giving my husband a hug for her. I braced myself for some impossible task that I would have to do for my mother, but it turned out to be something much simpler still.

Jesus is not asking us to bend over backwards to impress him!

Give people food. Hand them a cup of cold water. Make sure folks have clothes to wear. Take care of those who are sick. Don’t give up on people when they get in trouble. These are pretty simple tasks in one way of looking at it.

This is not at all like how we usually think of impressing powerful people. The typical ways that we go about impressing powerful people are much more directly in service to the powerful. We might give them gifts to endear ourselves to them, we make an exchange that will be mutually beneficial, we perform an act of service that directly benefits them, or if all else fails, we grovel at their feet and try to kiss up to them.

But Jesus isn’t that kind of king. He isn’t that kind of king at all. Even though Jesus himself is God—you know, All Powerful, he doesn’t ask us to kiss up to him, to earn his favor by performing elaborate gestures of deference to him.
No, Jesus is the kind of king who identifies with the lowly, the least, the vulnerable. This is a very different kind of kingdom. It’s a bit upside down when you think about it.

There’s a scene earlier in the book of Matthew, in chapter 20, starting at verse 20, that makes a similar point. The mother of James and John asks that Jesus seat them at his right and left hands, in places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom.

The other disciples then get angry at James and John for them presuming to have favor with Jesus. But they are all thinking about power and glory in typical human terms. And in verse 25 Jesus shows this idea to be bankrupt saying, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.” I mean, yikes…nobody likes a tyrant. But that’s what happens when we exalt those who are already powerful. We puff them up and they wield their power and control over us.

Jesus continues in verse 26, “It will not be so among you, but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be yours slave.” See how upside-down this is? Jesus is the kind of king that cares about his people—even, or especially, to jump back to our text for today—the “least of these.”

While we may not much like to think of ourselves as weak or in need, we sometimes are the ones who need cared for. So, it can be a great comfort to us to know that no matter how low each of us may sink, Jesus still cares for us.

In fact, there is no low that we can reach that Jesus has not already sunk to in his time here on this earth. He took the lowest place of all—giving his life for our sakes. As Matthew 20, verse 28, says, “he came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Our typical ideas about impressing powerful people don’t hold up for Jesus, but the way of service is at once both very simple and very difficult. And so, Jesus took this lowest place for us—in our place. In Jesus’ death on the cross, he is the one stooping to do us the favor. And in his rising from the dead, he wins the victory over death itself.

You see, he has already won the day. His kingdom is already advancing. We do have a choice here and now—whether we will join forces with Jesus, and honor him by favoring “the least of these” or whether we will reject his victory and continue striving for power and fame in the typical human ways.

Taking care of others does require something of us. But Jesus prepares us for this work through our baptism, nourishes us for it through the bread and wine that we share, and empowers us for this work through his Spirit.

And so finally, when Jesus asks us for these favors of feeding, clothing, and coming alongside “the least of these,” we can smile and confidently say yes to Christ Our King.

How Pop Culture Saved My Marriage

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Every once in a while a film gains popularity not just for its entertainment value, but also for how it helps us grow. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002, written by Nia Vardalos) has helped me to be a better wife.

 

The Problem

Early on in my marriage I discovered something about my husband that baffled me. He used Windex to clean non-glass surfaces!

This was so foreign to me. I was raised in a home where we cleaned tables and counters with a dishrag and the Windex was strictly for cleaning windows and mirrors.

My confusion and frustration with his liberal use of Windex was not just because it wasn’t the “right” cleaner for all those jobs. It also seemed to me that using Windex added unnecessary steps.

Getting out the spray-bottle, spritzing it on the surface, and then wiping it off with a paper towel seemed like a lot of fuss to clean a surface that just needed a little wipe-down with a dishrag.

I tried to come to terms with this practice of his, but the conflict was made worse when he decided to try a different brand of glass cleaner to save money. That alternative brand was so heavily scented that I lost all sympathy with his choice to clean everything with glass cleaner.

I dubbed that off-brand, ‘The Death Spray’ and I prohibited my husband from using it in my presence.

Eventually he managed to use up The Death Spray and when he did, in my own way, I actually welcomed the return of good old Windex. We had reached a bit of a truce about this cleaning conflict.

 

Seeing Clearly

The real breakthrough for me with the Windex issue came when we saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The father in the movie used Windex for everything–including physical ailments. Anytime someone had something wrong, the father urged them to “put some Windex on it.”

Seeing this over-the-top, yet sincere insistence on using Windex put my husband’s use of it in perspective. The movie character went way beyond what my husband ever proposed doing with it!

I mean, my husband was just adding a couple of surfaces to the glass-cleaner’s usage. He wasn’t trying to pass it off as a cure-all!

And so finally, I relaxed more about my husband using Windex to clean non-glass surfaces.

 

Set-Backs

Since those days we have expanded our repertoire of surface cleaners. We have used all-purpose surface cleaning sprays and antibacterial surface wipes extensively.

In my view, Windex is still best for windows and glass only. And I even got my husband to go along with using the all-purpose sprays instead of Windex on tables and counters!

I thought we had reached a point where he no longer felt the need to use Windex for “inappropriate” cleaning scenarios.

But I was wrong.

Since moving to Texas I have favored the antibacterial wipes over all-purpose spray cleaners, so we don’t have any all-purpose spray cleaner in the house.

So…the other night I asked my husband to wipe down a table and he, by default, reached for the Windex and paper towels.

“But honey, we have the antibacterial surface wipes for that!” I insisted.

He looked at me with that deer-in-headlights look that always means I overreacted.

I paused, remembered the perspective on Windex I gained from watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and then I relented.

So, you see, that movie has made me a better wife! And that is how pop culture saved my marriage.

 

I Just Can’t Can’t

IMG_3962My mother-in-law, Elaine Marie Oslund Tinker, died on Wednesday, October 8 and I feel a bit like nothing is quite as it should be.

And yet, the rest of the world is moving on just fine. And I just can’t can’t right now. I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I’ll be honest, I don’t even want to drag myself out of bed in the morning. (Or in the afternoon if I can get away with sleeping that long.)

But somehow I do keep getting out of bed, and I made bread one day, and I’ve built backyard fires two nights in a row, and I’ve had good conversations that aren’t just all about my grief, and I’m making plans for my future, and I’m starting negotiations for a new job…

And life is going on. My life is going on.

And that’s as it should be, but it doesn’t feel like it should be.

There’s part of me that wants to just stop. To just make everything stop.

And that part of me is dragging me down. And it’s making me not want to write.

I deliberately gave myself permission to not write when I was spending so much time caring for Elaine and when we were all caring for one another in the time after her death. Those were the days–or hours–that we all just took one at a time.

Writing, though integral to who I am and what I’m doing, writing just had to wait for the most part.

And even now I’m not entirely sure what to say about those days. And part of me feels like I can’t. But I just can’t can’t. I have to say something even if I don’t know what I’m saying.

And the “have to” is not some weird pressure I’m putting on myself. I promise. I would tell you if that was what it was.

The “have to” or the “can’t can’t” is this feeling deep down that I know, know, know there is more for me in life.

I said before that I felt like everything in my life prepared me for my ability to be present with Elaine as I did–I felt that same sense throughout even the worst of her illness and even in her dying.

And it would be so gratifying if I could kick back and say, “Ah, Lord, I see my work here is done.”

But God keeps nudging me, “I’m not finished with you yet.”

And as much as I felt like all my life prepared me for what I’ve just been through, I feel as though what I’ve just been through has prepared me for more, more, more.

And so, I just can’t can’t.

And so I press on.