we’re all going to the same place anyway

It’s never wise to grocery shop without a list 20 minutes before the store closes. And yet there I was, throwing acorn squash and chili beans in my cart in a mad dash to the only cashier left in Aldi.

As I rushed up to the check-out line at three minutes until 7:00 p.m., an older gentleman and his wife were also attempting to get into line. He was a small man with a loud plaid suit coat, a fedora, no front teeth and a neck that desperately needed a shave. His wife’s cart was relatively empty and so, as you do at Aldi, I told him, “You go ahead,” gesturing toward the cashier.

“Are you sure?” he asked in a thick New York accent.

“Of course,” I responded.

Then I said eight fateful words: “We’re all going to the same place anyway.”

His wife started unloading their cart. She probably knew what was about to happen next.

He gave me a sideways look.

“Are we?” he asked me, stepping closer.

As with most things in life (especially my ability to hit birdies in badminton), I figured it out a second too late. And then, because this is what I do, I got mad. Of course, I thought. Here I’m trying to be nice and this guy has to get goofy. He knew what I meant by “place.” I meant the . . . the check-out line, or the car, or the parking lot, or home. I meant we’re all trying to get out of the ding dang store!

Then he leaned in again. “That depends on something.”

“What’s that?” I sighed, pushing my cart forward to keep him moving and putting my husband’s six quarts of yogurt on the conveyor belt.

This presented a new problem. Now I was penned in by Mr. Brooklyn on one side and a mom with kids who were wailing from being out past their bedtime  on the other. As a person who doesn’t like tight spaces or people getting too close, I was not in a good place.

Literally.

And figuratively.

Pretty much in every way.

“It depends on if you’ve chosen Jesus,” he said, wiggling hairy eyebrows at me.

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I didn’t respond with a huge amount of grace.

“I haven’t,” I said sweetly, trying to keep a smile on my face. “But here’s the good news: He chose me in my Baptism. So I think we’re all good here.”

He didn’t take my hint. “I’m a minister. Name’s Frank,” he said. “I’m from New York. Moved here a few years ago. Have you ever heard of Faith Christian Mission Fellowship?” (Or something along those lines.)

“Nope.”

He rattled off two other names. “Ever heard of them?”

“Nope.”

He looked at me skeptically. “But you do believe in Jesus?”

“Yeah, I do,” I said, hauling bags of apples out of the cart. “I’m a Missouri Synod Lutheran.”

DSC_0412“Never heard of them,” he said.

By now, his wife had paid and the cashier was waiting for him to scoot along. “Here’s what I know,” I said, probably with a hip shoved out to one side and an unhelpful attitude in my voice. “Jesus loves to forgive sinners, and I am . . . most definitely . . . a sinner.”

I stopped right before, “And you standing in my way while I’m trying to buy craisins is not helping my sanctification!” Complete with exclamation point.

See?

Proof.

Me = sinner.

{For more examples, please refer to my husband.}

He finally shook my hand and headed off to help his wife bag their groceries, but not before telling me that the boys at the local Lutheran high school were tall and good basketball players.

So that’s something.

When I left the store, he was chatting with another woman my age, filling her in on the “community of all believers.” He stopped long enough to wave at me. And then wave again when I put my cart in the carrel. And then again as I floored it out of the parking lot.

My old Adam doesn’t dig encounters like that.

I’d been gone all weekend for work. I was tired. I wanted to see my husband. I just wanted to buy some bananas and get home.

But the longer I thought about Frank the minister from New York, the more respect I had to give him. Sure his theology was . . . unique. Sure his inability to read the appropriateness of space bubbles was . . .  unhelpful. Sure his memorized one-liners were a little different.

But I’ll give him this: He wasn’t afraid to bring up Jesus.

TO ANYBODY.

A hair stylist once told me she was taught only to talk about the weather and sports with her clients. Making conversation about religion or politics or sex was a no-no. That’s what polite society teaches too.

But that’s also pretty lame. I don’t actually want to talk about the weather. We can all see it’s raining outside.

And I don’t really want to spend an entire evening at a party talking about sports, because I couldn’t tell you the difference between the Royals and the Rams other than the fact that . . . . yeah. Nope. I got nothin’.

Being brave enough to talk about politics though — about the way in which Christianity is being pushed and dragged out of the public square, about the intrusions of the government in the realm of the Church, about the freedom to worship — that’s something.

And being bold enough to talk about sex — how the culture attempts to redefine marriage, why same-sex couples are sadly no longer seen as those for whom we pray and to whom we speak the truth in love, why sex outside of marriage is harmful and something to be repented of — well, that’s something too.

And being sure enough to talk about religion — about how Jesus Christ came to save sinners, about the way in which He comes to us in His own Word and in His own Body and Blood, about the peace and comfort and forgiveness He loves to give — well, that’s the best of all.

There may be times and places other than 15 minutes before Aldi closes for Frank Brooklyn to talk theology.

But I’ll give him this: He was willing to talk about Jesus, the one who made yogurt and apples and chili beans.

And in this day and age?

That’s something.

The Suffering to Come

If “it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” then it’s just as true that willingly reading the comment section of an online article universally acknowledges . . . that you are likely to end up sad or mad. Or smad.

The story of Brittany Maynard is all over social media. Brittany’s a young woman suffering from brain cancer. She’s also made the choice to end her life two days after her husband’s birthday in November. She doesn’t want to endure the suffering that is sure to come. Instead, she’ll die at home, in her bedroom, with her parents and husband and best friend beside her before the pain becomes unbearable.

Brittany’s story kicks you right in the shins. It’s a different kind of painful to watch a young woman, full of life and adventure, struggle with a body that is broken and breaking more by the moment. (The issue of “death with dignity” warrants a whole conversation on its own.)

It’s also hard to read the comments, the ones that offer no hope in Christ, no comfort of the Resurrection, no assurance that because Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave, salvation is free and life is everlasting, the ones that encourage her to go ahead and die.

And then it is harder still to hear one of Brittany’s statements: “The reason to consider life, and what’s of value, is to make sure you’re not missing out. Seize the day.”

Carpe diem.

But what do you do when the days ahead, the few you have left, are ones you don’t want to seize? When the days that are to follow are filled with pain and hurt, despair and frustration? What if you don’t want to seize those days? What if the days you want are the days that are no longer yours to have? How does “carpe diem” offer any reassurance to a woman facing death, knowing it’s coming, feeling it creep steadily closer and closer?

It doesn’t.

The answer, of course, is Christ.

In the midst of the brain tumors and lost babies and freak accidents, Christ speaks words of life. And not a life that only lasts until we’ve traveled all the places we want to go or said our goodbyes to all our loved ones. No, He speaks forgiveness, life and salvation that last for eternity.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have LIFE and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). 

Carpe THAT, Satan!

And when He says “abundantly,” He means it.

In Baptism, He gives life.

In the Holy Communion, He gives life.

And He doesn’t stop there. To comfort you in  your distress and your pain, He gives you a pastor. And from the mouth of your pastor, He speaks forgiveness and a peace that is so big our brains can hardly fathom it.

He gives you the fellowship of the saints, the mutual consolation of those who have known pain and angst and fear and cancer and ebola and miscarriages.

He gives you His Word: on your iPad, in your hand, on your lips, in your heart.

All of it: life.

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Both of my grandmothers, baptized into Christ, now rest from their labors and await the day of the Resurrection. “Behold a host, arrayed in white, Like thousand snow clad mountains bright! With palms they stand; Who is this band Before the throne of light? These are the saints of glorious fame, Who from the great affliction came And in the flood Of Jesus’ blood Are cleansed from guilt and shame. They now serve God both day and night; They sing their songs in endless light. Their anthems ring As they all sing With angels shining bright” (LSB).

And so baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, we face death head on. It doesn’t mean it won’t hurt. Or that we won’t be scared. Or that we won’t wish it would just go away.

“Dying,” one of my deaconess friends once told me, “is hard work.”

But because of, on account of Christ’s own suffering on the cross, His own agony and death, we can confess with Job: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

So we pray for the Brittanys of the world, for the men and women and children who are seeing — in their own bodies — the brokenness that resulted from the Fall, for those who see little value in a life that begins at conception and ends at natural death, for those who struggle to understand life under the cross, for the ones who would try to finagle with God’s good plan and will for their lives, even when it doesn’t appear to be that good at all.

And we confess, even in the midst of our suffering and our tears, that Jesus lives and that we belong to Him. And because He lives, we live. We live now, and we will live with Him in eternity, even after our bodies give out and our brains give up and our hearts fail.

He’s the reason to consider life, to ponder what’s of value.

Him and nothing, no one, else.

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Heb. 12:22-24).

 

For more on life issues, specifically a biblical view that supports life from conception to natural death, please visit LCMS Life Ministries.

you don’t have to be perfect to be content {or #ydhtbptbc}

There are a lot of unhappy women in the world.

{According to the culture, I’m probably not allowed to have that opinion . . . what with the fact I’m a woman and all. The good news is that my family has a deeply ingrained “Phooey to you” gene that runs rampant pretty much whenever it’s conducive to us. So, like, always.}

Check out Instagram. Read a few blogs. Peruse Facebook. They’re covered with women who are frustrated with how their house looks, panicking about how their children behave, worried about what they feed their family, anxious over being too busy, and to quote the King of Siam in “The King and I” . . .

Today’s woman wants an answer to all this distress, and to quote an LCMS gal, murky theology has taught her to assume that the answer to this self-imposed chaos is “to live ‘a purposeful life,’ one that is ‘authentic’ and ‘fully integrated with her faith and family.'”

“An intentional life, huh?” said gal continues. ” I’m pretty sure a woman intentionally gets up and showers, feeds her family, cares for them, goes to church, cleans her home, supports her husband. I’d say that’s a pretty good life. What’s unintentional about that? What about that isn’t full of purpose? I’d say she has a pretty big purpose and a lot of people depending on her to care for them. If that’s what her day looks like is she somehow being fake and unauthentic? I’m so confused.”

Get it, girl.

It’s an odd in-balance. On the one hand, we women all want vacuum lines in our carpet and tidy children with perky pigtails. On the other, we know full well that the sink is full of dishes and that the dust needs to be, well, dusted.

What are we to do? Clean the dishes and discipline our kids, or panic and freak out?

And so we have two options, two routes to take when getting all verklempt with the pictures on Instagram of carefully groomed dogs laying calmly on white rugs in front of roaring fireplaces while little ones cheerfully play checkers nearby.

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I don’t have a fireplace or checkers. What I do have is house that smells like drying cow horn peppers, an odor that pretty much singes your nose hairs.

We can either:

  • Glom onto the evangelical Instagram #idhtbptbb (it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful) to try to make sense of our fears and insecurities while simultaneously slamming “your bravery wins a thousand battles you can’t see because your bravery fuels a 1000 others to win their battles too” printables up on every free space on our walls. (Who’s kidding who here? Bravery? I threw an embroidery pattern across the room the other night when I couldn’t figure out how to make a French knot. Pretty sure there is nothing remotely brave about THAT.)
  • Repent.

{I’m advocating for the second option, just in case anyone’s wondering.}

We can repent: for not being content, for worrying, for panicking, for doubting, for thinking we can have it all when we can’t, for coveting, for being lazy, for convincing ourselves that everything would be better if our Lord would just reveal His will for our lives to us {He has, btw. It’s the Ten Commandments.}.

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You want purposeful? Well, sorry. There’s no purpose to this picture.

We are already living purposeful lives. We are already authentic. We are already fully integrated with our faith and family. But not in the way that gooshy theology claims.

We have purpose only because of Christ. We have value because when God sees us, He sees a watery cross on our foreheads and on our hearts, marking us as His children.

We are already authentic because our Lord is at work through our vocations of sister, mother, wife, serving those around us: wiping drippy noses, serving slightly burned corners of lasagna to our friends, praying for our pastor.

We are already fully integrated with our faith and our family because that is simply how we live as Lutherans. We are who are because of our Baptism, because God desires to give blessings to us and to our families, because we are in the Divine Service, because our pastors delight to pronounce Christ’s forgiveness on and to us.

Our houses can be relatively clean even as our dishes can go undone for an hour to spend time with our sisters. Our children can be well behaved, even if we are freaking out that the dinner guests are arriving and we forgot to clean the bathroom. Our friends can sympathize when our husbands have to work late, and our moms can remind us that we’re not the first ones whose green pepper plants refuse to produce even one LOUSY TINY PEPPER.

Ahem. Not that I would know about that.

Let’s repent: of our belief that we can do it all and our lack of will to even try, of our grasping for purpose when God has already given it to us and our laziness in believing He means what He says.

And then let’s pray, asking for God’s grace, not to be perfect and beautiful and brave, but to be His baptized children, “content with what you have, for He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5).

Or should I say . . . #iwnlynfy

Now that’s more like it.

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My calzones are proof that #idhtbptbb but they did make my husband laugh. Does that count?