Posts Tagged ‘Fear’

When it Rains it Floods…and Makes Lightening

 

Scripture doodle art by Jennifer Clark Tinker

Scripture doodle art by Jennifer Clark Tinker

Living in Texas has had its ups and downs for me. I’ve had the joy of getting better acquainted with my in-laws, and the honor of being with my mother-in-law in her dying days. I’ve enjoyed spending time outdoors more days out of the year. But I’ve also had the worry of drought, and the terror of lightening striking my house.

Lately we’ve had massive rains and severe flooding near us and my worry and terror leftover from past calamities have crept back up on me.

We were in Houston the other night with flash-flood warnings blaring from smart phones all night. The power at my father-in-law’s house went way down low–I guess you call it a brown-out–but it never went out completely. It was an eery and restless night.

The next morning, interstates and schools were closed all over the metropolis. I was supposed to go to a conference, but I was prevented from making the trip.

We were able to return home safely, and sleep in our own beds the next night. But more rains came that night too. And there were more flash-flood warnings. And there was lightening–violent outbursts of shocking, white light filling the sky, penetrating the darkness of my bedroom.

The lightening that Tuesday night took me back to that night of the lightening striking my house. My breath felt shallow, my heart was in panic mode. I got out of bed–sleep was not even an option at that point–and tried to outsmart the flashes interrupting the darkness by lighting a candle, and I sang and played on my ukulele until the sun showed up Wednesday morning.

The next few days remained edgy for me. The next couple of nights I defied the wet of rains and floods by lighting a fire in my backyard. This was my own little way of trying to take back some measure of control over elements that are actually far beyond my reach.

Saturday came and I needed to pull myself together to prepare a sermon. I had read and re-read the Gospel appointed for Sunday, and had given some thought to my message. But I needed to get to it for real, so I sat down and read all four of the scriptures that were appointed.

[Sidebar: The Lutheran tradition of which I am a part generally uses a 3-year cycle of scripture readings called the Revised Common Lectionary. Each Sunday has four readings appointed; ordinarily these include an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a New Testament epistle (or letter), and a New Testament Gospel.]

And I tell you, I know that no cycle of readings can be perfect, but I am so grateful for the tradition of having a lectionary. It helps tremendously to stretch me to read parts of the Bible that I might otherwise overlook. I mean, favorites are favorites for a reason and worth reading and re-reading, so that’s often what I do when I approach scripture on my own.

But Saturday was a shining example of  how my faith, my life, are enhanced by having a lectionary. I would not have happened upon Psalm 29 by chance. But it was appointed for this past Sunday. And the words of that Psalm washed over me with peace and comfort.

Here are some nuggets:

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.” –Psalm 29:3-4

“The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.” –Psalm 29:7

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” –Psalm 29:10-11

These words spoke to me in my uneasiness about the weather. For all of the out-of-control I feel, God is bigger yet than those flashes of flooding and of lightening. And I laugh at myself trying to defy the elements, lighting my candles and fires, for God is even above my vanity, my folly, my fires.

I don’t know exactly what it means that God is above all these things. I shudder when some attribute vengeance to God, suggesting that God sent floods to discipline God’s created people. I don’t perceive God as working that way.

For me comfort comes from knowing that God is steadfast. God is not shaken by even the most aggressive tempests. God’s love is a constant on which I can rely–rain or shine.

I am in awe of the work of brothers and sisters in the faith who have woven together lectionaries. I am thankful for this Psalm that spoke to me in the middle of the rain. And I am relaxing into the peace that comes from knowing that God is enthroned over the floods and lightening.

Drought-Tolerant Faith?

 

Scorched trees near Bastrop, TX affected by drought-related wildfires of 2011 with dying grass affected by current drought.

Scorched trees near Bastrop, TX affected by drought-related wildfires of 2011 with dying grass affected by current drought.

I got to preach again last weekend, and although I was the one coming in to bring the word, I had an important word imparted to me about our present drought in Texas.

Now, you have to know that the summer before we moved here there was a terrible drought in the area. Livestock herds could not be maintained. Wildfires swept through the area. Even though we weren’t living here at the time, I’ve heard stories and seen pictures.

Growing up in Ohio, we had drought, but I didn’t understand the meaning of drought until I learned of what they went through down here.

It has had me scared, really. We’ve been behind on precipitation and have been under “burn bans” a good deal of the time we’ve lived here.

I’ve worried and wondered, what if it gets like it was back before we moved here?

Things were looking up over the summer. No burn bans meant I’ve had lots of my backyard campfires which I love. (Apparently according to a quiz I took online, my subconscious is obsessed with nature, so my urge for backyard campfires makes sense.)

But rain has not been coming and we are back under a burn ban…and inconveniently that means no more backyard fires…but more seriously, it has rekindled my worry.

When I was at church on Sunday (one of two churches I preached at that day), I made small talk before the service, “Have y’all gotten any rain yet up this way?” (I mean, the weather is always a good topic for small talk, right?)

But no, there hadn’t been much to speak of up that way. The next statement schooled me, “I guess we don’t need it. We think we do but I guess we really don’t.”

What could I say?

I wasn’t personally convinced, but I learned a long time ago not to argue with other people in how they size up a crisis they’re experiencing firsthand.

But then, after the service was over, I had a similar conversation with another person who said nearly the same thing: We think we need the rain. But we must not need it.

And I’m a little slow, so it took me hearing it twice over the course of that morning for it to have its full impact.

If it would have just been the one person who said it, I could have dismissed it. I mean, we need the rain because life and crops and all rely on it! And what is God thinking not providing rain when we need it? That’s sweet to let God off the hook like all that, but I expect a bit more from The Almighty!

But when the same sentiment was spoken twice, and both times it was spoken by people who lived through the major drought what with livestock and forests in danger and all…

Perhaps they knew something, they discerned something that I was missing.

In my fear and worry about the devastation I knew the last drought caused…and I had to face it, with my irritation about not being able to have my backyard fires…well, I was missing the really big picture.

But they knew better.

They knew to wait patiently, to trust that what we really need isn’t always what we think we need or what we fret about.

And my own worry and fear were once again exposed. Oh Lord, how many times must I need reminded of your provision? Of your goodness? Of your faithfulness despite what seems impossible?

In this way, I was among those who received a word that day I preached. Oh Lord, give me a drought-tolerant faith like theirs.

How Fretting Works Against Me

One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.

–“Master Oogway” in Kung Fu Panda

I’m gleaning wisdom on my travels. Today I’m reflecting on how fretting rarely gets me what I want and often gets me the total opposite.

On this road trip I’m sleeping in new places every night or two. Each place takes some getting used to–you know, figuring out where to place my duffle bag for easy access, keeping track of light switches, and, of course, making certain to have a good place to charge my cell phone.

The hotel we’re in now has a plug by my side of the bed, but no bedside table. I figured out though that I can plug the phone in and then balance it on the headboard.

This system was working fine for me. But at one point I wanted to take my phone off the charger to check messages. I thought to myself, “I better be careful not to let it slip behind the headboard.”

FrettingPhone

Then with exaggerated care, I started to remove the phone from the charger. Somehow my ginger touch was just what it took to nudge the phone right behind the headboard. I grabbed for it and succeeded only in wedging it further down between the headboard and the wall to which it is attached.

The eventuality I was trying to avoid became my reality.

And really, isn’t that just the way of things?

It’s so annoying. Because really, it would be so much nicer if my excessive caution actually paid off. I mean, for all the energy I put into fretting, you would think it would have a better return on investment.

But that’s the thing with fretting–I can invest all I want in it, but it’s always a gamble and ultimately the house always wins.

I lose out on so much with a preoccupation on everything that can go wrong. I know I can take reasonable precautions, but fear-based control just doesn’t ever, ever pay off in the way I want it to.

Plus, as with my cellphone & headboard incident, all too often my fretting only makes my problems worse.

Maybe it’s what they call a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or the old “what you think about you bring about” adage applies. Or it’s a Murphy’s Law thing. I don’t know what you want to call it.

I just know that most of what’s good in my life has happened because I somehow got past my fretting to take a chance.

I can worry myself right into shutting down and end up shutting out the wonderful opportunities that await me. Or I can take a deep breath and relax into something beyond my wildest imagination.

I’m against the effects of fear and fretting in my life; I want more often to see how that breathing and relaxing bit can work for me instead.

On Letting My Son Fly

JetPlane

My son was on this plane earlier today for his first flight as an “unaccompanied minor.”

 

In the nest that is parenting, it’s not easy to know when to tuck my kid under my wing and when to let him fly. The older he gets, of course, the more freedom I give him because by letting him try his wings, he gets to become who he was created to be.

But, see, the more he becomes that guy–the more I want to have him around!

This week has been a text book case of exactly what I’m talking about…

 

Mother Nature

We had a bit of a trauma at our house on Monday. Before you get too worried, I will tell you we are all safe and no one was physically harmed. But lightening struck our phone line causing an explosion inside the house within 20 feet of where I was sitting.

Fortunately my husband and son did not witness what I did because the pop and flash made me jump and scream. I went into a panic and ran to the front room where my guys were and hopped onto my husband’s lap.

When my husband went to investigate the extent of the damage, I huddled up with my son on the sofa. It was already clear to me at that point that, since I had been closest to the explosion, I was more upset by the whole thing than my son was. Our cozying up on the sofa, then, was clearly more for me than for him.

My husband came back and reported that the jolt fried our phone and its cord and it blew up our wireless internet router–the router literally popping open when it exploded.

 

Creature Comforts

Even as the storm raged on, my curiosity drove me to examine the fried equipment and the charred spots on the wall. Then the reality sank in about what I had witnessed.

And I panicked some more.

You know how if there’s a tornado, you’re supposed to find an inside wall or a closet to take shelter? Well, that was what I did. I found an inside wall right by my bedroom closet and I sat myself down there, hugged my knees, and rocked back and forth.

By this time even my son was wise to the fact that mommy was way more scared than he was. As I sat there all curled up in myself, my son brought me one stuffed animal and then another and another.

“Lamby wants to give you love-comfort,” he would offer.

And then, “Here’s Danielle-Bear to comfort you.”

Before I knew it, I wasn’t just hugging myself, I was clutching a dozen plush friends to my chest.

 

Story Time

“Mommy, maybe it would help if I told you a story?”

“Oh, I don’t know if mommy can handle listening to a story right now.”

I pondered the import of what my son had offered. I know my son is a great storyteller, but any time I ask him to tell me a story he seems annoyed by my request, and if he does tell me a story it is usually just a sentence or two. When I ask for it, he gives me something far beneath his ability as a storyteller.

But this time, he offered to create a story just for me!

I took a few deep breaths and said finally, “You know sweetie, I think I’m ready for that story now.”

It was a sweet story of a boy named Bob who was an only child. Bob and his parents went on a picnic and Bob made friends with some ants. Because, apparently, a story where the ants ruin the picnic is just way too predictable. No, these ants were friends with whom Bob willingly shared some crumbs from the picnic.

By the end of the story, I was feeling a bit better. I held tight to the stuffed animals and brought them to my bed to sit and try to calm down some more.

 

Nesting Instinct

Oh, to have been so needy to have caused this role-reversal between my son and me…I am the one who is supposed to build the nest, to shelter my baby bird and there he was flitting about to provide my comfort.

And in the way that I get to fretting sometimes about whether I’m a good enough mom, I began to feel guilty. It wasn’t  just for having a melt down that night, it was also for all the times that I have not listened well enough to my son, all the times I have gotten irritable with him, and all the times I have not done (or not done well enough) something for him that I felt like I should’ve done (or done better).

But then, all birds must leave the nest at some point. And I found comfort not only in what my son had done for me, but also in the knowledge that he was growing into the kind of young man that could be so kind, gentle, and caring.

And I thought ahead to later in the week when my son was scheduled to board a jet plane and fly as an “unaccompanied minor” for the first time in his life to visit my mother in Ohio. And I thought how much I did not want to let him go–not because I didn’t think he was ready, but because I just love that kid to bits and I love spending time with him!

All these feelings mixed and interplayed in my brain when I went to sleep for the night with many of the stuffed animals still nestled with me in my bed.

 

Mending

The next morning–mornings are always my slowest times of day–my son had gotten himself breakfast and came back into my room where I was sitting up in bed. The stuff animals who had stayed the night with me were still about me as I sat there.

My son picked up the big purple bear. Sometimes we call him Lotso, like the bear in Toy Story III, but sometimes not because that Lotso was kind-of a meanie. But since saying “the big purple bear” is a bit wordy, I will just call him Lotso. As my son turned Lotso over in his hands he rediscovered a seam that had burst on Lotso’s belly.

“Mom, when are you going to fix him?” My son asked in that irritating way kids do when they themselves are rather irritated.

I took a big, deep breath. It was time for me to get to do something motherly, responsible–even if this particular task was long overdue. “Bring me my sewing box. And where’s Lamby? I still need to mend Lamby too.”

In all, I mended three friends that day. It was the least I could do after they–and my son–had given me so much comfort the night before.

 

Another Fine Nest

Today was the day my son flew to Ohio. And it was stressful and exciting and sad and wonderful and I’m so proud and I miss him so much already. But I know he is going to have a blast with my mom and step-dad. At their nest in Ohio they will take good care of him and he will care right back and they will all be such a blessing to each other.

The three of them always have such a great time together. They go on wonderful adventures and they play hard and they eat ice cream every day. And my son and my mother are well-matched in their energy levels–I can never quite keep up with either of them!

So, this is good, very good that they get to have this time. As hard as it feels to me to let go, I celebrate my son’s chance to perch for a while at another fine nest.

 

Taking Flight

Right before my son left I gave him something of mine. You see, there is this one stuffed bear–Arty the Arctic Bear–that I got a few years ago in a gift basket with some bath & body products. Even though my son begged for me to let him have that bear, I kept it for myself–after all the gift basket was given to me! I love that bear and my son respects that it is mine.

As we were about to leave for the airport, I thought of Arty and I thought if there was one way I could show my love to my son it would be to send Arty along with him–for love-comfort on his trip. And I don’t really know if it is helping him, but somehow it brought me comfort to let go of Arty as my son took flight.

My Review of Mediating Faith by Clint Schnekloth

Jen&Clint

I got to see Clint Schnekloth, author of Mediating Faith, in person for the first time in Houston last Thursday when he came to talk about his book. He even let me interview him for the Life & Liberty podcast! Click the photo to go to Life & Liberty for our audio interview which is about 30 minutes.

Let it be stated for the record that I am friends with Clint Schnekloth, the author of Mediating Faith: Faith Formation in a Trans-Media Era, but I did buy my own copy of the book. I originally met Schnekloth on Facebook when I joined the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Clergy Facebook group upon the recommendation of my local bishop, Michael Rinehart. Schnekloth has been a big help to me in my writing in several ways and it is my honor to help get the word out about his new book.

MediatingFaith

Click the book cover for ordering information.

The first thing I need to let you know about Mediating Faith is that if you think this is just a book about how particular types of media can be tools for ministry, you’re thinking too small. This book is way more than that. In fact, Schnekloth suggests that “all of life is mediated, and much more is media than we are often aware.”

To be frank, that suggestion both frightens and intrigues me all at once. I mean, I want so much to be “real” with people, to be honest in my writing, to have an authentic voice. To consider that everything I do is “mediated” made me squirm a little. But Schnekloth points out in a footnote that even the Bible itself is media–we are just so used to it that we forget to think of it as such.

It is just this kind of revelation about how media is integrated into our lives such that we forget it is even there to which Schnekloth invites us. Furthermore, if media is so integral to who we are, how best can we as people of faith be stewards of the wide range of media available to us to help pass on the faith?

And speaking of the wide range of media available to us, Schnekloth truly covers the spectrum from faith-formation practices based on historic texts to the mysterious world of massively multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs).

Once again, I admit I felt frightened at the mention of MMORPGs because this is a world that I don’t understand and have been reluctant to enter. So, imagine my surprise then when the part of the book that most delighted me came in insights derived from gaming!

After reading Mediating Faith, I am able to recognize my discomfort with MMORPGs is rather similar to the way I once was and many people I know still are reticent about joining Facebook. Whereas now, my Facebook, my own Facebook, my own most precious Facebook has become very much an extension of who I am. I mean, after all I met Schnekloth on Facebook!

The final thing I want to let you know about Mediating Faith is that you will want to have your dictionary.com handy while you’re reading, and maybe even Wikipedia. Schnekloth is not ascared of big words, but I promise you that every one he uses is worth looking up to get his full meaning.

I do recommend this book to those interested in stewarding the range of media available for the purposes of faith-formation. It is dense, but rich and worth your time. And I look forward to future works from Schnekloth and however else he finds to frighten me because just when his writing gets scary is when it gets really good.

P.S. Don’t forget to click the photo above to listen to our interview at Life & Liberty!