by Jenna Pelias
My husband and I have been talking about church and ministry and all-that-stuff a fair bit lately. The conversations are not always simple and we aren’t really sure what we’re getting at most of the time. You could say we feel a tad thrown off.
copyright (c) 2018 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
We oh so casually describe a great many things as heavenly or divine or simply out of this world. Scrumptious meals, fragrant bouquets of flowers, heart stopping music, gorgeous artwork, intricate craftsmanship, a much needed back massage, or a soak in a hot tub. All of these things experienced by the five basic senses but which move us beyond the sensory and touch on the spiritual.
copyright (c) 2018 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
We tend to track our lives in numbers and milestones. Firsts and lasts, birthdays, anniversaries, miles, days, weeks, years. Until and since. Before and after. There and back again.
139 days. Our time spent in Saskatchewan spanned just 139 days, and it’s also how long we’ve been home in Alberta as of yesterday. I counted? Oh, yes. I counted some time ago and have been keeping track, until we’ve been home as long as we were gone. There and back again.
Incidentally, the 139th Psalm counters the worst fears we have about ourselves. That we are alone. That we are not known. That we are not heard. That we exist by chance or by accident. That our lives are random and count for little, if anything. That there is nothing and no one to call us or anyone else to account. That we live in a prison of chaos masquerading as independence. We like to think that we are in control. It helps with all that fear. Because we are made of dust and to it we will return. There and back again.
Where can we go to escape God?
Nowhere. Whether that incites internal relief or despair depends on the individual posture and perspective I suppose.
At the end of July we left everyone and everything that mattered to us. We threw our whole lives in to this risk of believing that God is with us wherever we go. It was beautiful and it was ugly. We encountered the holy and the profane. People changed our lives and we were part of changing some lives. It was a mission which lasted only for a moment. No sooner had we settled in there, than we had to come back again. There were unanswered questions, unfinished conversations, unresolved conflict, unmet needs, and unbelievable miracles.
139 days and we were home. Just like that.
Letting go has felt impossible some days. We aren’t wired to simply disconnect and stop caring about the people in our lives, when we felt such a call to invest ourselves in those relationships. The heart does not operate as quickly or efficiently as a light switch, although it would certainly be nice if that were the case. No. Letting go has meant tucking away our care and concern, putting it into it’s proper place here and now, believing that the call is still there even if it is no longer ours. Letting go has meant forgiveness, over and over. Forgiving others and ourselves and each other.
Something about that 139th day yesterday brought some peace. Time is fleeting and our days are numbered. We may never again take for granted that we have a say in how our time anywhere is going to play out. We do have confidence though, that our time is never wasted. Not here and not there.
Because we are not alone; God is with us. Everywhere and in all things.
Because we are known and we are heard; deeply and to our core by the One who made us.
Because we do not exist by accident or for nothing; our lives are on purpose and for a purpose, set out by Divine will and authority before we had a heartbeat or took a breath.
Because we are accountable and will be called to account; this life is too short to waste.
Because we not in control; only God can order chaos around.
If all of that is true for us, it’s true for the people and circumstances we left behind. 139 days is not a lot of days. Not a lot of days there and not a lot of days back. Circumstances can change so quickly. Plans change. People change. Dreams die. So we find new dreams and choose gratitude.
God gave me a verse when we moved away.
“Keep your eyes open, hold tight to your convictions, give it all you’ve got, be resolute, and love without stopping.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (The Message)
That verse was my anchor and mission for 139 days. Every time I felt confused, homesick, heart sick, lonely, or hurt, I rested in those words. God was not asking me to save the world because He already did that. He was asking me to do 5 simple things where He had called me to be in the world and at that time.
Keeping my eyes open, holding tight to my convictions, giving it all I had, remaining resolute, and loving without stopping are what brought me there and what carried me back again. It was how I fought that battle, because it was a mission but also a battle, for me anyway. My measuring stick was how well I measured up to that verse, one day at a time. It went better on some days than it did on others.
Today though is day 140. We made it there and back again in 139 days each way. Now it’s time to turn the page, and it feels good. I snapped a photo of a tree last night on a walk in the park. Spring is just barely edging out winter here, and so there is not much visible life outside. It was a long winter. It’s taking time for the leaves that were there, to grow back again. So it is sometimes with us in our little lives. New leaves grow back when the season is right, and new life is breathed into us when our time is right. It isn’t an overnight process, nor should it be. Blue skies and warm sunshine replacing all the snow and cold, aren’t hurting though. We’re coming back to life again. It only took 139 days, plus one, to get us here.
copyright (c) 2018 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
If She Had Been A Man
I was thinking yesterday about how things would have been different had the woman who attacked me at church been a man.
Had he caught me off guard shortly after we met, and forced me into a long, aggressive, and uncomfortable hug and had to be told not to hug me (or try to hug my kids) again.
Had he tried to interject himself into a separate situation involving me and had an angry, profane outburst when I told him that it wasn’t his concern.
Had he stalked me around the church for months after that, always seeming to know where I was, huffing past me, muttering, and “accidentally” bumping hard into me or my husband when he brushed past either of us.
Had he been the reason I wouldn’t go to the bathroom alone or let my kids out of my sight at church.
Had it been a man who made me feel like I had to look over my shoulder everywhere I went and keep myself visible at all times to people who knew what going on.
Had it been a man who came at me looking ready to attack, hand raised and screaming profanities in the church foyer.
Had my husband had to put himself in front of me because a man was coming at his wife. (And thank God my husband happened to be coming to check on me at the exact moment this person went off on me.)
Had it been a man who needed half a dozen people to keep him from getting near me, remove him from the building, and prevent him from coming back in, all while he screamed horrendous profanities, threats, and accusations at me (and Glenn by the end).
“But did she hurt you or did she just yell at you?” I was asked later that day.
What a ridiculous question, but it’s the one that made me see the situation for what it is. Abuse.
I have struggled with wondering how I could have handled everything differently. As a leader myself, as a staff pastor’s wife, as a mother, and as a Christian woman. It never should have gotten that bad and as I usually want to grow from experiences just in general, I have done a lot of self-reflection over the last few months to try and understand how I could have done or said anything differently to prevent it from escalating to that point. It’s kept me up at night, wondering, blaming myself, going round and round in circles chasing a way to make sense of this and have peace.
Until that question replayed in my head yesterday.
“But did she hurt you or did she just yell at you?”
Nobody would have asked me that question if she had been a man. I wouldn’t have second guessed my own responses to her if she’d been a man. A light bulb moment if ever I had one.
If she had been a man:
-The leadership of that church would have done me the courtesy of having the conversation about what happened to my face and not on Facebook messenger.
-“He” would have been talked to and dealt with long before things escalated to me being attacked in the first place.
-Nobody would have suggested that Glenn was too aggressive in stepping in front of me to block me.
-The attacker would have been dealt with more seriously after the first woman he targeted in this way. Or the second. Or…you get the idea.
-Someone would have called the police without thinking twice.
-I would not have been told to just pray for “him”, call “him” up, and try to be “his” friend moving forward, after the fact.
-Nobody would have tried to laugh it off as simply being “annoying” behavior.
-My husband would not have been asked what my problem was when I absolutely refused to put up with any more it.
-Nobody would have told me that “he” could still come to church even if I got a restraining order, which I was going to do had my husband not been fired.
-The behavior and attack would not have been minimized on the basis of a possible difference in sexual orientation, which I personally have no issue with for starters, and also find it offensive to insinuate is the kind of behavior inherent in being LGBTQ. It isn’t.
-Had she been a man targeting men in a church, instead of a woman targeting women, the response would have been very different.
-My husband would still have his job. (This is not officially why they fired him but as I’ve said before, I will believe that when hell freezes over because his job certainly wasn’t on the line before this happened and firing him 4 days later looks pretty damned shady to anyone paying attention.)
When I started to think about how everything would have been different if she’d been a man, I felt a weight lifted off of me. We’d still be there, talking about how the church had to remove a volatile person for the safety and well-being of its people, if a man had pulled that. We’d be talking about how lucky it was that Glenn stepped in right when he did and that the ushers moved to help so fast. I’d be writing about not being afraid to use your voice and how to say no to people who make you feel threatened or uncomfortable, and nobody would be arguing with me.
At the end of that awful day, my friend gave me this mug as a gift, to make me laugh. Which it did. I posted it on my social media because I found it so fitting for the moment actually, but the same people who were trying to spin the events of that day to minimize what happened or blame myself or Glenn for it, did not like this mug at all. Oh no they did not. In fact, it was used as a way to deflect from what had gone on and became a kind of scapegoat for the whole disaster. Oh my beautiful mug that made the internet laugh on a very bad day, also made some leaders downright apoplectic.
UPDATED EDIT RE: THE MUG
People keep asking me if I regret the now infamous “mug-post” and I mean, obviously I do. But I regret it for the sake of my OWN integrity and because it became a point of deflection from the real issues at hand. I might find the mug funny but *usually* when I am *not* having a mental breakdown, I wouldn’t post anything like that for the entire internet to feast their eyes on. Actually, I removed the post shortly after I put it up and replaced it with an apology photo in case I had truly offended anyone. My feelings about how it exposed the hypocrisy going on remain unchanged but my desire now is for ANYTHING ELSE to have achieved that end. I won’t pretend now that it didn’t happen, but I definitely have different thoughts about it as time has gone on. I recently wrapped that mug in an old towel and took a hammer to it, because I was over people talking about it and over the physical reminder it had became of the awful things that had gone on.
The last I heard, nobody is allowed to talk to anyone else about what happened that day. It’s out of my hands whether people want to subject themselves to that, but the larger issue here is that there IS a larger issue here. This situation is minuscule compared to the landslide of stories like mine and much, much, much worse than mine which are coming to light en masse thanks to #metoo.
We are a long ways to go in our culture both in the church out, before people are believed when they say they don’t feel safe at best or have been victimized in awful ways at worst. I was lucky. People saw what happened – a lot of people. It couldn’t be denied although it was swiftly covered up and we were sent packing before we could speak up for ourselves. Now I’m home and I have a voice. I can talk about what happened. She never got to lay a hand on me that day, which was by the grace of God alone I’m sure.
I do wonder though, if maybe it would have been worse, had she been a man.
Maybe I would have been blamed for being too friendly or not friendly enough.
Questioned about what I was wearing that day or how I carried myself.
Doubted for how I interact with men in general, and had my friendships and relationships with the opposite sex scrutinized.
I probably still would have been told I was lucky he didn’t lay a hand on me.
We may still have been sent packing to minimize fallout and keep people from asking questions.
Church. I am begging you to wake up. If we aren’t willing to open our eyes and see how deep and wide the problem is, we have such a long way to go. It’s systemic and the scope of it is only just beginning to come to light. It’s time to get out of the dark, pay attention, and step up to the plate. What does that look like? I’ll have to not get kicked out of a church first to let you know the answer to that, but I think listening is a good first step. Just listen. And call the bloody cops when necessary because not everyone is as lucky as I was that day.
copyright (2018) Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
When we moved to Regina this past summer, we found ourselves in a landscape experiencing drought. Utility meter boxes were exploding and catching fire because the parched ground below was shifting due to long term lack of precipitation. Everything that grows was tinder dry and many fields and yards were brown instead of the green you’d expect in summer time. The expense of watering everything in sight would have been truly unreasonable. It never would have been enough.
The most peculiar thing though, was what I found at my kids’ school. It was a brand new facility built on the very edge of the city with a view of the open prairie from the school yard. West facing, the sunset filled the entire sky and we stopped more than once to see it. Because the school had just opened, the exterior grounds weren’t complete. All along the front and side street around the school with the beautiful view, there were trees planted lining the sidewalks in dry, open soil.
I wondered why they’d bothered to plant all of those trees in a drought. Why they bothered to have watering trucks come keep the sad little things watered. It must be costing them a small fortune. The sight of it seemed futile, if I’m being honest. Why not wait to plant them until the drought is over?
Except that the reason the school was built on the edge of the city is because that part of the city is growing. A new community will eventually be developed all around it, replacing the prairie view with sidewalks, homes, and streets. In the meantime, there’s nothing blocking the school yard from the elements. The wind blows in so hard and cold that the children stay inside for recess at warmer temperatures than the rest of the city schools. The trees can’t wait. Drought or not, they needed to be planted and watered so that they are rooted and established for the elements as well as the growth coming around them in the future. Some of those trees might not make it but they are being given a shot anyway.
Sometimes with God, we find ourselves planting things in a drought, and it costs us dearly to keep watering it and watering it and watering it. Yet we are called to plant and water anyway. We might not get to know why. We might not get to see it grow. Maybe it won’t make it. Maybe we won’t. But when there is an urgency to plant in faith, we go and we plant and we water. We give it a shot. It can’t wait because the friendships or churches or businesses or children or communities that are yet to come, need us to plant with vision now. Even if all we see is an empty, open field. Even if we find ourselves in the middle of a drought, wondering if this couldn’t just wait for healthy soil that isn’t making meter boxes explode for lack of rain. Even if it costs us everything to see it watered, knowing that healthy outcome isn’t guaranteed even then.
Moving away cost us everything but we lost nothing. We didn’t understand what God was doing or asking us to do, but there was an urgency in us that made waiting for rain out of the question. So we went. We did our best even though it ultimately wasn’t good enough. God never guaranteed us a healthy outcome and so we left when the time came, albeit too quickly and weighed down with grief. The cost of staying would have been truly unreasonable and we never would have been enough. Now we are home again and I think about those trees planted in rows on the prairie and the people we had to leave behind. Who will water them?
I’m praying for rain.
copyright (c) 2018 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
or, the time Jesus threw down at the temple
by Jenna Pelias
April 18, 2017
There was a lecture I heard once about the time that Jesus made a whip and threw down on the money changers in the temple, declaring that they’d made the house of God a “den of robbers.” I don’t remember most of the lectures I took in during college. Not like this one anyway, and it’s been on my mind almost constantly lately.
Sitting in a stacking chair at a folding table, taking notes by hand as was the custom in the early 2000’s before everyone carried laptops and Starbucks around like status symbols, I found myself unexpectedly riveted. It was a Bible class or I suppose it had to have been. Which class? Which prof? I don’t remember. I just remember the prof explaining this passage out of the Gospels in a way that made it unfold like the opening of a gift, and it’s stuck in my head forever and ever Amen.
So what was going on? It was exactly 5 minutes and 47 seconds after what Christians today know as Palm Sunday – Jesus had just arrived in Jerusalem ahead of the Passover on the back of a donkey to the streets lined with people waving palm branches and praising God. Quite the spectacle, I’m sure. The imagery of this event is similar but also unlike that of his mother Mary arriving the same way into Bethlehem about to birth God made flesh into the world just over thirty years prior. What a parallel with this Jesus arriving on a donkey first to be born with scattered and bewildering fanfare, then later arriving to the praise of the masses oblivious that He’d come to die. Jewish people from everywhere were pouring into the temple ahead of Passover to bring the required sacrifices and offerings to God. That’s where Jesus went first, too. Perhaps He was presenting Himself to the Father quietly as an offering.
This Passover pilgrimage was not taken lightly. Some would bring only the very best of their own animals after careful scrutiny, and others who were coming too far would bring the money to buy the required animals when they arrived. As the people would show their animals to be inspected by the priests to determine suitability for offering, the animals would often be refused for any imperfection the priest could find, forcing business to boom for those selling *pre-approved* animals like credit cards there in the Temple courtyard. But you couldn’t just buy your offering with the silver or gold or copper in your purse. You had to use the Temple currency. The money changers would exchange whatever coin or currency the people had for the Temple currency at such a high exchange rate that they were robbing the people of the ability to bring the appropriate, required offerings to God. Worship was made impossible. Jesus was furious.
This “den of robbers” were the religious leaders who had set up the House of God as a racket, denying the people access to God by putting too many obstacles in their way before they could even get in the door. People who were thrilled, excited, weary, who had waited and saved and brought everything they had to give, who came from near and far – denied. So Jesus braided that whip and unleashed Heaven’s fury, consumed by zeal for the House of God, throwing tables and driving out the sellers and money changers and people who were holding up this corrupt system of selling your soul to the church in order to get saved. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
What happened next is incredible. The blind and lame came to Jesus for healing, unhindered. Children sang out in worship. The chief priests and teachers of the law were indignant. (Matthew 21:14-15) A holy riot turned the temple upside down that day. The next time Jesus showed up at the temple He was questioned about who gave Him the authority, but He shut down their line of questioning faster than they could think of the next rebuttal. By the time Jesus sat down at the table for the Last Supper – the Passover meal – He had exhausted Himself teaching in parables about the second coming, holiness, and salvation. It went right over their heads. The plot against Him thickened.
Jesus knew what He was doing all that time. He called His followers to the cross long before He ended up dying on one, remember. And so as He took His last breath the curtain of the temple He’d just undone, was torn. Heaven was indignant. Worship would never be the same.
So what? Would they like a pat on the back for keeping the sinners and hypocrites and prisoners and forgotten and abused and condemned and weirdos and strays out of the pews? Let’s also not forget the faithful who are waking up to the needs and groaning and pain outside the walls of the church, but being told to sit down and shut up or lose support, credibility, and relationship. Maybe it’s time for some tables to get flipped again. Maybe it’s time for that zeal for the House of God to consume us because the Gospel isn’t getting any younger over here and people are being both actively and passively robbed of the ability to worship God. For shame.
To all of that, I know one simple thing to be true. God is good. He is never going to stop being good. Jesus didn’t die on that cross and kick death in the face to live again and make a way for us to know the Father, just for *anyone* to start putting qualifications on that kind of miracle. When the people caught up in rules and requirements are indignant while right in front of their own eyes the prisoners are being set free and the sick are being healed and the children are singing out praises to God, well maybe we need to just know them by their fruit and let the Gospel speak for itself. We can exhaust ourselves arguing with the spiritually deaf, or we can be empowered by the Holy Spirit to let zeal for the Gospel consume us. Because nobody should be required to sell their soul to the church to get saved. And maybe it’s time for a holy riot around here to remind us of that.
copyright (c) 2017 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
When hindsight breathes life into the New Year.
By Jenna Pelias
We stopped participating in formal church activity for a couple of years once. No attending services or events. Largely disconnected from people and community. Church failures of the highest degree. We were okay with that. You would think that if we were going to stop being part of church at any point in our lives it would have been when Glenn resigned from ministry to deal with issues in his personal life and rebuilding our marriage. That was in 2009. He did in fact stop going for a time, while I continued to attend solo. But it was in 2012/13 that we peaced out of the church altogether.
Rosalie was a baby. Olivier was an extremely busy toddler. Andreas was being formally assessed for autism as we prepared him to start kindergarten that fall. Mateo was 6-7 and a generally easy kid but the needs of his siblings were sometimes hard on him. Our lives were busy and full and exhausting and rewarding and never dull for a single moment ever. 2012 was actually so intense that I need to look at photos to remember what happened and when. I can’t recall most of that year on my own. #momoftheyear
We wanted to be part of church. We really did. We’d go and I would spend the whole time nursing or comforting Rosalie, being called to the nursery to deal with Olivier’s ridiculous separation anxiety, or being called to the preschool room because Andreas could not tolerate church back then – the response from teachers was often an assumption that he just needed to be disciplined more. Mateo didn’t mind Sunday school but with the entire time there spent running between the other three kids to deal with their various needs, we had all come to dread going to church.
The kids didn’t want to go. We didn’t want to take them. Everyone was miserable every time we left. Andreas cried the whole way home and melted down for the rest of the day every Sunday. I think for me one of the “last straws” was going to check on Andreas and finding him sitting in a chair in a corner because he was upset. He wasn’t misbehaving. He was upset. And the teacher couldn’t handle him so she made him go away. I hadn’t yet learned how to advocate for him or even that I needed to. I didn’t expect people to understand or know what to do, as I wasn’t even there yet myself. Why were we doing this to ourselves and our kids? We didn’t even know. So we stopped.
And it was the best thing we ever did for our family.
We started spending our Sundays taking in church services online in our living room. The pressure was off of our kids and we were able to rethink what a healthy spiritual life looks like. We weren’t sure we knew. Glenn had my blessing to do music anytime but I wasn’t dragging my kids along for the ride just to play the part of the smiling, supportive family. There are a lot of ways to support a spouse involved in ministry whether they are paid or volunteer, and for us the best way to support him was to stay home. So that he could focus on being part of the team without worrying about how I was handling the gong show that was our kids and Sunday School. I’m told there were people who had a problem with what they perceived as a “lack of support” for Glenn on my part, but not a one of them ever talked to me about where I was at or how things were going, so to hell with them all was my over-it attitude.
It wasn’t just the kids though. Glenn and I needed time to ourselves. We were still healing and working things out. Church for me had become such a burden. It felt like the walls were closing in on me every time we walked in the door. I needed that time away and to be able to just lay it all down. It was life giving. It probably saved my busted up faith.
A little bit of time passed and we were all ready to try again. We knew that being part of a faith community is important to both of us and something we want for our kids. So in 2014 we joined up with some friends who’d planted a church. Glenn jumped into doing worship with them. I focused all of my energy on getting my kids to go to Sunday School, and stay in their class. It helped that they were together. It helped that Andreas had a couple of years of school under his belt and was comfortable in a classroom. It helped that Olivier had grown out of his separation anxiety. It helped that Mateo and the pastor’s son are best friends. My little firecracker Rosalie wasn’t having one bit of Sunday School and it took a good year or more to get her to stay in that room but I was patient. The whole church was patient with my noisy girl, God bless them every one. She wasn’t used to it and that was fine. We did our best.
We spent 2 years in that church. It was like a hospital where we didn’t have to have it perfectly together and our kids didn’t have to be perfectly behaved and we just had to show up and be part of it. Leaving this past spring wasn’t easy but we had to be obedient to the Lord’s leading so we stepped out. Why? We weren’t 100% sure. It wasn’t for us to know I guess. Glenn still goes back to lead worship for them sometimes and Mateo is still best friends with the pastor’s son, who I am secretly hoping Rosalie grows up and marries one day. So I guess it’s possible to “leave” a church and still be part of it because that’s what we did and it’s weird but it’s fine, somehow.
This year was a year of devotion – to our family. I didn’t see it that way. Hard decisions don’t look or feel like devotion sometimes. When I look back though, everything that has happened and changed since 2009 has been a journey of devotion. Devotion to our marriage and family, in a way that honors God. We have failed so many times in so many ways. But we keep learning from those failures and we keep starting over, every day.
We made a commitment last New Year’s to having a daily time of devotions with our kids. I picked up a devotional book and we read one almost every night before bed. It was so simple. A resolution that actually stuck! When we settled on a church to attend this fall, the decision was based entirely on what our kids need right now for their spiritual formation. Glenn still does music for friends at different churches but our kids need something solid and consistent so we found that for them. I have never had such peace about my kids and church. Everything about our faith lives this year has centered around pouring health and life into our kids. Even when it has involved laying down our own passions and areas of ministry involvement or church preferences.
It has changed them. It has changed us. The way we think about church, ministry, and family life has been totally altered. At the start of this year I wrote down that I felt God was calling us to make hard decisions for our family, that other people wouldn’t understand. That has been more true than I could explain here.
I wonder sometimes, what the future holds. This year and even the last few years, they’ve felt foundational. What we’re laying the foundation for? I don’t know but I do know that this time of being devoted has been purposeful. Devotion is more than reading a passage from a book. Devotion is discipline. It is prioritizing. It is making hard choices that other people don’t always understand. It is not always knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing, but doing it anyway.
Most of all, devotion is worth it. People in this world are devoted to a lot of crazy things. Family is our crazy thing, as it turns out. Nothing else we do or become is worth it if our family isn’t healthy or the kids are getting our leftovers in terms of time and attention. Some years that has meant loving the Lord alone in our living room and other years it has meant showing up and serving just so that we could learn how to function in church again and this year it has meant hard choices and putting the faith of our kids first no matter the cost to us personally.
I don’t care anymore whether people understand or not. The people who do the most judging are usually doing it from afar, making assumptions without ever having a face to face conversation with us. We’ve been through hell over here and spoken about it publicly. It’s not a secret. Answering hard questions doesn’t actually phase us. We aren’t the most eloquent or polished but we are honest. We don’t have time to worry about whether other people understand or not anymore, because we are too busy living well with and for our kids, and that has been freedom.
I am one of those people who prays for a word for each new year. I’ve been doing it since forever, since before it was a ‘thing’ that I was aware of. Some years it has been an actual word. Some years it’s been a picture or metaphor. This year, my word for 2017 is everything I see in hindsight. My word for the new comes from the old. My word is devotion.
Devotion to old things and new ones. Devotion to my people. Devotion to the God who made me, saved me, and gives me grace every morning. I don’t often tell people what my word/picture/focus is from year to year. I’m not sure why I’m sharing it this year. Except that I wonder if there are others who also need to look back at how far they’ve come in order to see hope and life and freedom in whatever is coming next.
It’s a few days early, but Happy New Year. We’ve come a long way. I am willing to bet that you have too.
copyright (c) 2016 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
I felt her crawling into my bed that morning before my eyes were open. Blankets rustling as she shimmied her way 2 inches from my face, she didn’t even have time for a hello or good morning. “Mama what day is it?” she whispered at me, willing me to open my eyes. Good question. I had to think for a second on account of not being awake, before I replied that today is Wednesday. “How many days before Christmas?” she asked. Awake-enough now, I told her that we’ve got 4 more days til Christmas. She jumped off the bed and ran out of the room yelling that she had to go tell the boys how many days before Christmas. I rolled back over, smiling. Rosalie will be 5 in the New Year. She is at the most magical age for Christmas time. The wait is just about too much for her to bear.
But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.”
I imagine Zacharias and Elizabeth when they were younger. Filled with a kind of hope and joy unique to newlyweds, anticipating a life together and growing their family. When did days turn into weeks turn into months turn into years, and years and years and years? How long did they hope and pray and plead with the Lord for a child, a family? What did people say? Why was she barren? What sin had they committed for the Lord to deny them? How long did Zacharias petition the Lord on behalf of his wife? How broken was his heart as he watched her keep track of the days, a wait every month just about too much to bear?
“What day is it,” he might ask her, gently, holding her hand in his.
“Never mind love. Maybe next time,” she might respond, quietly.
And he would petition the Lord again.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
In the waiting, they did what people do and continued to live their lives. He a priest, and she his wife. Luke’s Gospel says that “they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (1:6) Why was she barren? They would never know. As they grew old together and her time of being able to conceive and carry a child had gone, perhaps they made peace with their heartsickness over this tremendous loss of something they would never have. Hope deferred, then eventually abandoned. At some point, their prayers and petitions to the Lord had ceased.
“And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
-The angel Gabriel to Mary, in Luke 1:36-37
She who was called barren. Elizabeth, a woman known for perceived emptiness; grief compounding grief. When glory replaced her grief, nobody knew for six months that forgotten longings had been fulfilled in her. She hid herself away, almost a prophetic foreshadowing of the kind of life her son would come to live later in the wilderness. Who can really blame her for choosing seclusion. A seclusion interrupted by Mary, given the news by the same angel who had come to announce Christ in her, too. Young virgin and old woman, each filled with new life. It is no wonder Mary stayed with Elizabeth until John was born. Women? We know we need each other to see life into this world. These women knew it too, because giving birth to a miracle is still giving birth, with the pain and joy and grief and glory all interwoven together.
Zacharias though, from the moment the angel told him what was to come, couldn’t believe it. How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years. (Luke 1:18) He had stopped pleading with the Lord a long time ago. And now this angel announces that the Lord has heard his petition? Now? But how? If prayers were letters handwritten to Heaven, this one had gone lost in delivery over and over again. The Lord had heard it too late. Hope had been deferred too long for Zacharias to believe in the impossible.
I have to confess that sometimes it feels like hope has been deferred too long for me too. There are prayers that have ceased for me over time. For you too I am willing to bet. Petitions for things whose time has come and gone, and so we all learn to make peace with the heartsickness over that which will never be. We think we know better. We’ve grown up, wised up, given up. We aren’t four or five years old anymore, counting down the days until Christmas with our mamas.
But maybe we should be. Maybe our letters handwritten to Heaven in heaving sobs or quiet desperation, are the ones He’s holding closest to His own heart. Awaiting the right time to breathe life into them, even long after we’re sure it’s too late. Maybe with God it’s only 4 days to Christmas and the waiting which feels too heavy and impossible for us, is wrapped up in a gift hidden away until the right time. A gift which may look nothing like what we prayed for in the beginning, but with a fullness, purpose, and beauty of its own.
There is no making light of grief here. There were lost years for Zacharias and Elizabeth before that baby rocked their world, and given their age it can only be assumed that they also lost years with their son that they would have had if he’d only come sooner. But oh the man he became, this son of humble parents who were righteous and obeyed God. His life ordained to call the attention of the Jewish people to the coming of Jesus.
A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
What if the things which are hardest to believe for, take the most time, and hurt profoundly in the waiting are the very same things which arrive all out of place but just in time to call our attention to the coming of Jesus in our lives too? The grief, barrenness, unanswered prayers, waiting, seclusion, and even the desert. Yes, especially the desert. Unlikely places as a barn in Bethlehem for the Savior of the world, God with us, to arrive. Yet there He is.
Are we finding ourselves in a wilderness this Christmas? This year? Prepare the way of the Lord. Jesus is coming. We are reminded at Christmas that God became flesh, born to suffer and die, and that He has promised to return. That God has heard our petitions, too late and just in time, and even as all creation groans for a Savior, the weary world is set to rejoice. And we fall on our knees. Angels sing. His Kingdom is coming.
Yes, Christmas is more than counting down to presents.
It is the anticipation of the fullness of joy in His presence. It is the something inside of us that leaps like a prophet in his mother’s womb when we know that Jesus is but a heartbeat away. Christmas may or may not be merry. God never promised anyone a merry Christmas but in this world we do have troubles don’t we? There is so much grief in the here and now that the world can hardly contain its own suffering. We become acutely aware of everything wrong when the season is supposed to be filled with everything right – but that might be point. There is right and there is wrong, and it will all be set right one day. Christmas reminds us that we are called to carry on and keep the faith until it is, heartsick and out of prayers to pray and all.
In Christmas is grief and glory, bringing life where none should even be able to grow, miracles manifested in the absolutely impossible. We live in this tension of now and not yet, all because God is both with us and coming back. And with the earnest faith of a little girl who believes in good things coming soon and counting down every day, may we make every single day count. Even when hope deferred is about too much to bear. Because good things are coming. Jesus is coming. Prepare the way. Amen.
Copyright © 2016 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
Blood. Not so long ago, it was common medical practice to stick people with something sharp to let the blood out. It was a go to, a cure all, for an astonishing number of conditions. Let the blood out, we have too much of it, balance the bodily humors, and maybe the sickness will go out with it. They were wrong mostly and it seems barbaric, even criminal, today to consider such a crude course of treatment. We are more likely to do the opposite and give a patient more blood when the need arises, than to take it away. And where does the blood for patients come from? Donors. From people who show up at clinics to voluntarily get stuck with something sharp, giving of their own blood to save the life of another.
Perhaps we have not come so far as we think in our current age, because it seems as though the entire world is set to bleed itself to death anyway. And on such a scale as would seem wholly barbaric to those who came before us. With explosives and guns these days rather than 18th century fleams and whatever-passed-for-needles in ancient times, we are hell bent on letting the blood out, certain that in its taking will be found justice or vengeance or righteousness or satisfaction.
We have a way to go in this bleeding, broken world. Medicine has figured out that it is in the giving of blood, not the taking, that lives are saved. It is when people line up ready to bleed for each other rather than to bleed each other out that miracles take place. Jesus said, “greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And then the God who calls us friends laid down His life, bleeding out on the cross until death came like a shadow, taking even Him.
I think His friends then must have felt something like we do now. We watch the news and wring our hands and wonder how in God’s name this world can ever be reconciled to itself. And the answer comes swiftly: it cannot. It can only be reconciled to Him. Him who bled to death and yet could not stay dead. Who calls us to do the same, for our neighbors and our enemies alike. The power of resurrection is really kind of terrible when you think about it, but it’s the best we have in the battle for flesh and blood in this world. There is a battle waging, make no mistake. Resurrection says that the dead will live, and the broken will be made well, and the lost will be found, and that justice in the end, is in the hands of God Almighty.
The human heart starts beating before it starts pumping blood. We don’t have to bleed to have a heart beat and we don’t have to bleed each other out to make our own hearts beat stronger. The heart of God has blood no longer, yet beats for us like the heart of a parent for their child.
Jesus wept for the dead once. If there is nothing else we can do, we can weep for the dead. And then love the living with the kind of greater love that is willing to give blood instead of take. Our hearts beating for another, instead ourselves. Practically speaking, I don’t know. Be nice. Have compassion. Show up with a meal. Hold the door. Hold your tongue. The latter of those being the hardest challenge of loving people for some of us. Okay. For me. Whether the world needs us to open our eyes, get our hands dirty or simply shut our mouths, if we are looking we will figure it out.
God be with those lost and those living with loss. And may the rest of us be given the almighty kick in the pants that we need, to love greater.
copyright (c) 2016 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved