Dear Adventures in Odyssey: I Love You, But It’s Complicated

“Did you know that Lizzie used to work for Focus on the Family?” he said, she said, with a gleam in their eyes.

It’s not a secret, my internship from last decade, but it doesn’t come up often. When it does, though, it’s a conversation starter, a newsworthy item for my friends to pass along. I don’t fit their picture of someone who once worked there, you see.

Even at the time, I didn’t really think of myself as working for Focus on the Family (FOTF). I was there for Adventures in Odyssey; nothing else at the organization held much appeal.

With the Odyssey crew
With the Odyssey crew at the end of my internship (2009).

Adventures in Odyssey (AIO or Odyssey for short), Focus on the Family’s seminal children’s radio drama, turns 30 this year – today, in fact. On this day in 1987, a 25-minute episode aired about a boy named Davey who feels like a failure until kindly shop owner John Avery Whittaker (“Whit”) helps him realize his worth as they invent something that goes wrong before it goes right. The story, set in the small, Midwestern town of Odyssey, is bookended by a skit with the show’s host, Chris, who tells a story about Abraham Lincoln to reinforce the theme. “Whit’s Flop,” that very first episode, aired one year and four days before I was born, and all my life the show and I have been moving in tandem toward our own milestones.

Can I say I like Odyssey but not Focus on the Family, as I would say I like Jesus but not Christianity?

No, I didn’t think so.

It’s a poor comparison anyway. Odyssey was birthed from Focus on the Family and, like it or not, is a product of its parent organization. Jesus, however, wasn’t always entangled in Christianity, especially not Christianity as we know it today. But that’s another topic for another time.

I do know that I’m not the only one who has been able to partition the two, approving the one and rejecting or ignoring the other. A college roommate was vocal about her dislike for Focus on the Family, but made an exception for AIO.

Even when I was jumping at the chance to be an intern for my beloved radio drama, back in the day when I believed what everyone I knew growing up believed, I was still taken aback by the interview question asking “what my opinions were on the five major issues most important to Focus on the Family.” I bumbled through the answers I knew they expected of me, without much thought as to whether they were really my answers.

Lately, it’s gotten harder to separate the AIO from the FOTF. But once upon a time, it was just Odyssey tapes, Odyssey at 4:30 on the radio, Odyssey before bed and on car rides, and, later, Odyssey on message boards and at events. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

From its earliest days, Adventures in Odyssey has employed some of the best and most versatile voice actors in the business. This is not hyperbole. The show’s main actors include (or have included) Hal Smith from the Andy Griffith Show, who also lent his voice to Beauty and the Beast and An American Tale; Alan Young, best known as Wilbur in Mister Ed and as Disney’s Scrooge McDuck; Will Ryan, featured on The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin; Katie Leigh of Totally Spies; Chris Anthony, the former voice of Barbie; and Jess Harnell with his hundreds of film credits, including Wakko Warner in Animaniacs. These actors and many others have or had extensive careers, spanning decades, and it still chokes me up how many of these people have passed away since I first “visited” Odyssey. I have met many of the actors as an adult, but I was too late for some of them.

Me and Will Ryan
Meeting Will Ryan, voice of Eugene Meltsner (and writer Paul McCusker, in the background), at the 20th anniversary live show (2008).
Me and Katie Leigh
Spending time with Katie Leigh, voice of Connie Kendall, when she came to speak at my college (2011). Photo by Cara Strickland.

I once joined a Facebook group that probably doesn’t exist anymore, about how “Adventures in Odyssey was the soundtrack of my childhood.” I didn’t grow up with Saturday morning cartoons or Boy Meets World or whatever else my peers were watching in the ‘90s. Odyssey was a cozy backdrop to my life, but it was just a backdrop in many ways, piping from the tape deck on the dining room windowsill while I would color and make lists and watch fat squirrels eat birdseed from the feeder in the backyard, filling my long-term memory and stealing my heart.

Later, I would discover Odyssey’s ability to keep me on the edge of my seat, I would get up early on Saturdays to catch the new shows, I would pull out my old cassettes with stronger feelings, I would catch the pop culture references that had once eluded me. Still later, on the verge of college and the verge of leaving Odyssey behind me, I found a fan message board, and everything dormant and untapped in me found its home and sprang to life.

AIO live show
At the 20th anniversary live show (2008). Pictured from left to right (on the stage): Chuck Bolte, Will Ryan, Katie Leigh, Dave Madden, and Jess Harnell.

In 2008, my first visit to Colorado for the 20th anniversary live show became one of the best weekends of my life. I met the actors, the writers, and fellow fans, many of whom I’m still in touch with. In 2009, I spent my summer interning for Odyssey and administrating the above-mentioned message board, and then returned to college and promptly started a club for fellow fans. We made video reenactments and went on a road trip to Colorado and even brought one of the main actors to our Indiana campus to speak in chapel.

This was the zenith of my love for the show, and my nostalgia for that time of my life is matched only by my nostalgia for the show itself.

I was never on fire for Jesus, not really, but I was on fire for Adventures in Odyssey.

Life seems a simpler place when you know what you love and you have ways of expressing that love.

I wouldn’t go by “Lizzie” now if it weren’t for the show, and I might not be living in Colorado. I might not have changed my major to media communication or worked in radio or spent three months in China or done a whole host of other things. Adventures in Odyssey helped me keep my head above water in times of deep depression. It brought about friendships that never would’ve formed otherwise, leadership roles I never would’ve accepted. Directly and indirectly, I have Odyssey to thank for so much joy in my young adult life. I will never forget this. To me, Adventures in Odyssey is much more than the sum of its dialogue.

Adventures in Odyssey Club party
The Adventures in Odyssey Club at our first Christmas party (2009).
Club with AIO showrunners
The AIO Club meeting showrunners Dave Arnold and Paul McCusker (2011).

And it was a dream come true to meet the people behind the voices and the people who wrote and directed and made magic with sound, to work with them in some cases, to go behind the scenes, to know and be known. They are lovely people, thoughtful and professional and funny.

As for the episodes themselves, the writing quality ebbs and flows, as it does in any long-running production, but I’ve found a lot to appreciate: How to craft a story arc, how to tell a story with sound, how to move forward when the actor who plays the main character dies suddenly.

I haven’t listened to any new episodes for a few years. This is partly because the aura of nostalgia is missing with the newer shows. Every semi-reboot has sawed off more of the glue binding my fate to the fate of the show, which I suppose is only natural when the child grows up but the show does not. I am also skeptical about any program’s ability to carry on indefinitely and still remain a high-quality production. The longer I listen, the more déjà vu I experience.

When I was younger, I hoped Odyssey would still be producing new episodes if and when I had kids. Now, if I ever have kids, I would want them to listen to some episodes but not others.

You see, I am not only out of the target age range, I am also out of the target ideology range. The segment of Christianity that AIO is a spokesperson for is one I am no longer a spokesperson for. I used to think Odyssey was good at avoiding denominational squabbles and sticking to the basics of the faith. However, because this show and its parent organization focus on conservative evangelicals and conservative evangelicals focus on them, it’s a narrow list of squabbles that are avoided, a narrow list of “basics” that are adhered to. Christianity has many different expressions, interpretations, and practices, but you wouldn’t know that from listening to the show.

In this make-believe world, the conservative Christian worldview and its applications have no baggage, no side effects, and no viable alternatives. All the characters are so nice and well-meaning, their faith clean and tidy and straightforward. There are some episodes that show a cognizance of the things we do not know and that hold certainty loosely, but the farther I get from my “on fire” days, the fewer stories I see, past or present, that do a good job managing that tension. More often than not, it’s oversimplifications and assumptions, and even though I find it’s usually lines here and there that trouble me rather than whole storylines or episodes, those lines add up.

This is not an “open letter” or a rant. I am not going line by line through episodes to point out everything that makes me cringe now. I know everyone is doing the best they can with what they have. Odyssey has gotten better over the years at portraying more diverse characters, more diverse families, but I still see room for improvement.

I have deeper problems with Focus on the Family as a whole, of the choices they make politically and the ways they choose to engage culture and the world. Their pictures of the ideal world or family or culture are not my pictures. When I listen to AIO now, I notice things I didn’t notice before.

Sometimes, though, I am noticing good things. I recognize how a three-part mystery from the mid-90s is all about championing differently-abled people. I am moved by unflinching stories about the Underground Railroad and the Fisk Jubilee Singers. I appreciate the nuanced handling of subjects such as forgiveness, doubt, and grief. I go on everyday adventures with the characters as they take vacations and learn how to drive and fall in love. I go on extraordinary adventures with them as they solve decades-old mysteries and foil the bad guys who want to take over the world. And the best of the Bible story adaptations capture a glimmer of why Jesus is so appealing to so many people.

I can’t help it. I will always love Adventures in Odyssey, even when I have trouble liking it. Whit and Connie and Eugene, Tom and Bernard, Jack and Jason, Jimmy and Donna and George and Mary, they all feel like real people, real friends and family members, even when they fight, or maybe especially when they fight. I’ve seen the same warmth and camaraderie in the recording studios as I see in what comes out of those studios, that sense of connection that we all long for, and this is perhaps the epicenter of my nostalgia.

I would like to think that if these characters became living and breathing people, they would not fall prey to the us-versus-them polarization rampant in our country today. I would like to think that I could have a conversation with Whit or Jack, that, despite our differences, we could sit down over milkshakes for a heart-to-heart, and they would really listen, and by understanding more of the Other with our heads and our hearts, we could change the world a little at a time.

Happy birthday, Adventures in Odyssey.

 

All my Odyssey possessions
Posing with all of my Adventures in Odyssey gear for a contest (2008).

When You Miss the Darkness

dark church
Photo by n3wjack on Flickr’s creative commons

Is it strange that I miss the darkness that sucker-punched my soul?

This was four years ago. I was living overseas, six months split between two continents, saturated in Christian community that was young and fiery and expectant. I was young and fearful and depressed, but this was my chance. This could be my cure.

One day, we left our drafty English manor with its roast dinners and familiar faces and small groups for the Midlands, for Coventry, for Evangelism Week.

During the day, we threw ourselves into creative evangelism and indirect evangelism and woo-woo evangelism. At night, friends and strangers slept beside me on the carpeted church sanctuary floor, but I couldn’t sleep.

Do I really believe what I’m trying to get everyone else to believe?

The door was opened, and oh what blew in! I lay on my half of the air mattress and tried to keep my breathing steady and my body silent. For the first time ever, I was seriously considering walking away from Christianity. And my soul gaped and gasped and trembled as it realized what all that would mean. This wasn’t a drill.

At the time, I would’ve given anything to close that door.

Now, I want to open it again.

The darkness was wild and terrifying and bleak, but it also blew away illusions and assumptions and meaningless hypotheticals, at least for a time. I learned how to be honest with myself and others, how to be awake to my own soul. What I learned in the dark, I carried with me into the light. The darkness was fierce, but so was the light, and I wonder if they needed each other.

Today, I’m so tired. The darkness is not a sucker punch to my gut anymore, but rather weights on my chest that keep getting heavier and making it harder to breath.

Every so often, something breaks through the fog. Every so often, a Lenten hymn or a line in the Creed will catch in my throat, catch on something inside me, and I won’t feel quite so tired that evening. But all too soon, I’m drifting off again, and it’s getting harder and harder for anything to rouse me.

The loop starts again, that cynical loop, whenever anyone bumps the “Play” button. But by now I’m bored by the sound of my own voice. I’m dragging, dragging, dragging, and experience tells me that nothing will happen unless I can somehow make it happen. Someone asks me if it’s faith or fear that keeps me here, and I don’t know, it’s all tangled together. I’m too tired to try anymore.

This is not the darkness that blows open doors and knocks me flat, for good or ill. Rather, this is the darkness of closed doors and stale air. Maybe one day I will find good in this too, but I can’t help but think that the door needs to open again, whatever may lie behind it now, even if it scares me. Even if I die a sort of death in the process.

Who knows what the morning will bring, or the evening.

 

This post is a part of Addie Zierman’s synchroblog to celebrate the release of her new book, Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark. Read other entries here.

The Unraveling

I am unraveling.

The illusion is broken: I can’t always trust myself. Sinking deep into the beats and even the palpitations of my own heart was always my saving grace, my peace and my candle and my anchor.

Maybe it’s just that I haven’t had enough time to sift and plunge into the clamoring silence with my bare hands. Maybe I didn’t go deep enough, maybe my eyes weren’t clear enough, maybe I wanted it too little, or too much. Or maybe not. Maybe it was always going to implode, no matter what I did or didn’t do.

I’m always trying to convince everyone, myself included, that I’ve got this. I don’t need you, at least not in the way a dripping, panting person needs water, the way a purple, choking person needs the Heimlich. No, I only need you in the way the organizer of the world’s largest bake sale needs another plate of cookies: “Sure, if you want to fill that tiny corner of the table, go right ahead, but by all means don’t trouble yourself, we’re really fine with what we’ve got. But while you’re here, can I interest you in a macaroon?”

cerus scarf
“Cerus scarf” by Tony & Wayne (Flickr’s creative commons)

I am unraveling because I’m realizing that taking every feeling and sticking it under a magnifying glass, or carrying it headlong through all the corners of my mind, or simply staring it down in a confined space, sometimes muddies the waters instead of clearing them.

I’m unraveling because I’ve run out of road.

I’m unraveling because I’m considering the very real possibility that I have fewer inner resources than I thought I did to combat everything that is kicking me from the inside out. And, horror of horrors, maybe those “inner resources” are taking a few swings at me too.

What do you do when you’re afraid to lean heavy on anyone’s shoulder, but you also can’t lean on your own anymore?

This is where faith comes in, they say, I’ve said. You can lean on God’s shoulder. He will “never leave you nor forsake you.”

The tree
“L’arbre – The tree” by Gustave Deghilage (Flickr’s creative commons)

I’ve held onto the slim trunk of a water tree with one hand, straining and reaching out with the outstretched fingers of my other hand. I’ve turned full into the wind and let it flatten my face, let it sting my eyes, let it enter my lungs. I’ve cried and prayed and written thousands upon thousands of words. But after a while, my eyes dried up and my pen dried out and though I didn’t give up, exactly, I didn’t know how to sustain such desperate hope. Especially when I couldn’t hear anything certain coming back to me across the gap except my own voice, thinner on the return.

All I know to do in times like these is shut my eyes when everything else is dark, and open them again when light returns. I find ways to stay warm and I look for that which nourishes me. And I try not to spend too much or too little time with only myself for company.

How quickly light can turn to shadow. How sudden seems the unraveling.

 

 

 

 

I used to think _________, and now I think ________.

looking into the distance

I used to think in black and white.

There was nothing in the dark to be redeemed, nothing to be recognized, not even a smattering of stars to show me my own spindly hand in front of my face.

And in the white and bright and hot, I was always squinting and burning without realizing it. There was too much gauze and glare to illuminate anything of substance.

I sat in brown chairs on Sunday mornings, wearing dresses and facing a man in a suit. I memorized Bible verses word-perfect and dared to speak them aloud if it might earn me a ribbon. I wore a white gown and was dunked underwater, my ticket to start sipping grape juice from those little cups. I wrote down all the right answers in my terrible handwriting and spouted them to friends.

I had my private miseries, my looming darkness, but God was a wall of bricks, each one unmoving and painted just so and hardly attended to.

I don’t remember when the bricks started to come loose and lose their color. It happened so gradually at first, and for a while I was too sidetracked by the words I could never say and the boys who never liked me back. Then, I was too lost in a depression I could not name and fears I could not overcome.

I am 26 years old, and now I think in gray.

I read the Bible and I am confused. I wonder if we’ve been pushing the text to fit an all-encompassing Divine mold it was never meant to occupy. I wonder what Paul would think of his letters being considered Holy Scripture. And yet I still find many of these ancient words to be truth and life.

I listen to stories and I am awoken. Stories from real live people, stories told and written and photographed and adapted. Stories that break my heart and open my eyes. Stories that aren’t cleaned up or brushed off or tied up with a nice, neat bow. No longer can one narrative fit every face standing here, no longer is it “us and them,” no longer is there an implicit threat in his sexuality, in her culture. I do not know what it is like to be gay, to be poor, to be a person of color, to flee for my life. But give me ears to hear and eyes to see and a heart to understand.

I pray and I am uncertain. What – if anything – is changing because I whispered “please” and “help” into the wind? Are the words carried back to me on the breeze from God or from my subconscious? What is rumbling in the depths beyond the synapses that fire and the blood that travels through my body? I know there must be Something.

I go to a bar and see glimmers of beauty and redemption in ordinary conversations.

I hear the phrase “relationship with God” and I’m not afraid to ask, “How?”

I sit in church and sometimes I feel nothing. I stand in church to participate in the bread and wine – the Eucharist – and I usually feel something.

They speak of Jesus, and I doubt and hope and can never quite leave.

Mostly, I am in the middle and on the margins and engulfed in never-ending mystery, my old assumptions of what is dead and what is alive turned on their heads.

But in this gray, I am searching and being found in ways I never was when I lived my life in black and white. I am more alive here.

I am a boat in the middle of the ocean; I am standing in the rain without an umbrella; I am trying to make out the contours of home through the fog. But every so often, I see a rainbow start to form in the darkest cloud, and it beckons me to follow.

*****

This blog post is a part of author Sarah Bessey‘s synchroblog based around the prompt “I used to think ______, and now I think ______”. Click here to read others’ responses. In the same vein, be sure to check out Sarah’s wonderful new book, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith (you can read my review – and possibly win a copy of the book – here).

The Spiritual Practice of Reading Sarah Bessey {a book review & giveaway}

faith isn't certaintyI read the last half of Sarah Bessey’s newest book, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith, while lounging in my messy bed in my messy room. It seemed fitting.

You see, she starts her book with the analogy of a rummage sale — of laying out everything we’ve believed and inherited and carried with us, and deciding what should stay and what should go. So is what needs to happen when we reach that “out of sorts” place. And it doesn’t just happen once.

Through her writing, Sarah has been a constant companion of mine for more than two years. I’ve fallen in love with what she writes and how she writes it. And most importantly, I trust her.

Whether it’s a book or a service or a meme, it doesn’t take much for something Christian to put me on my guard. I am overly critical and overly sensitive and overly scarred, so it’s no surprise that I fold my arms across my chest more often than not, the words catching on something or bouncing off or just scratching the surface.

Not so with Sarah’s words.

Out of Sorts is, in part, her own story. It’s a tale of “happy-clappy churches” and “getting religion,” of unanswered questions and ill-fitting places, of Jesus and burnout and sorrow and hope. But woven into and over and around it are deep, thought-provoking explorations of the issues themselves that most often unravel us: the Bible, the Church, signs and wonders, and suffering, to name a few.

Sarah’s book isn’t the first I’ve read to honestly (and excellently) explore the hard questions. Some spiritual memoirs throb with the very real pain of loneliness, lies, and wounds from those who meant well … and those who didn’t. Others dig deep into my skin, putting a finger on the very nerve of my own spiritual angst. Out of Sorts does both of these things, while also — one might say first and foremost — being a book of relentless hope.

And then there’s the beauty. The gift of Sarah’s writing — in Out of Sorts as well as elsewhere — isn’t just in what she writes, but also in how she writes it. It is pictures and poetry and music wrapped up in prose. It is grace and peace. It is an invitation, and not just to those on the margins who are questioning everything. This book is for all who hunger and thirst, whether they be on the outside looking in, or the inside looking out, or somewhere in between.

If you are like me, though, you may sometimes wonder how anyone can really love Jesus. You may look into the eyes of the flesh-and-blood people standing before you, the ones who have your heart, and find that the invisible Divine is so hard to know and understand, let alone love. But if there’s one person I believe loves Jesus as much as she says she does, it’s Sarah Bessey. Her words give me hope that maybe, someday, I will too.

*****

Out of Sorts makes its way into the world on November 3 — that’s tomorrow! You can order it on Amazon here, or wherever you buy books. I received an advance copy of this book in order to review it, and I would like to give away that copy to one of you! To be entered in the giveaway, simply post a comment below (making sure to include your email address so I can contact you), and I will randomly choose one winner on Friday, November 6, to receive this book. U.S. and Canadian addresses only.

Sarah Bessey writes from Abbotsford, British Columbia, where she lives with her husband and four tinies. Her first book, Jesus Feminist, is also excellent. You can find out more about Sarah Bessey on her website.

Explore, recover delight, wrestle with the story

Day 16: Was I Ever on Fire?

When We Were On Fire synchroblogMy hands are covering my face. Or they were before I removed them to type these words.

I don’t know where to begin this story of my life in a first-generation Christian family. There is too much, and there is too little. How can I bring it all together into a coherent whole?

Honestly, I don’t like thinking about my childhood. The bad memories overshadow the good ones. Memories of hiding and oh-so-much-guilt and shattered innocence and the ugly mess of my own angry words stick around as the good ones grow dim.

But those aren’t the stories I want to tell you, not now.

This is the story of how I played the perfect little Christian girl, and how, ultimately, that didn’t work.

I memorized the Bible verses, I did all the Sunday school and Awana assignments, I was the “smart, quiet one.” At home, I shouted, I refused, I glared with my fiery firstborn eyes. At church, I was good.

“Your knowledge of the Word always showed in your sharing in class,” my 6th grade Sunday school teacher wrote in the front inside cover of What the Bible is All About (the King James Version, of course) — a prize for my diligent performance.

I “prayed the prayer” at age 3 or 4, but I don’t remember it. I was baptized young and became a church member young. It was what you did. Baptism was supposed to precede communion, I knew, so I always looked down my nose at the unsubmerged kids who helped themselves to the holy bread squares.

I wrote letters to my unsaved grandparents full of Bible verses and the plan of salvation and matter-of-fact statements that they should become Christians and go to church.

My mom had grown up smack-dab in the middle of pain and brokenness, and her modus operandi in parenting was “shelter them!”

So my sister and I wore our matching jean jumpers to our non-denominational-but-basically-Baptist church, around which our social lives were centered. We were homeschooled. We sang, “Stop! And let me tell you, what the Lord has done for me!” until we were sick of it, we listened to Adventures in Odyssey on the radio most afternoons but never got sick of it, and we were not allowed to watch Pokémon or read Harry Potter or listen to ‘N Sync. But that was okay because we believed our parents when they said those things were bad.

In high school, I left my isolated homeschooling life in the woods and transitioned to a Christian school.

Again, I distinguished myself as the “smart, quiet one”; again I tried to please everyone; again I wore a mask.

It was worse this time, though. When I was younger, I sometimes slipped up and sulked at camp or insisted on my own way during a piano lesson. But in high school, I got better and better at adding mildness to my list of accomplishments. I was the “nice, smart, quiet girl.”

Life rolled along, and I rolled with it. I was living a fully inherited faith with a fully intact mask.

When the full weight of this hit me my freshman year of college, I felt like a failure. I had never “made my faith my own.” My testimony wasn’t victorious. I couldn’t think of any real spiritual turning points.

Insecurity had always been my faithful companion, but college was the worst. I never despised or compared or isolated myself as much as I did then. I was sure that if people knew the “real me,” they would reject me. I couldn’t open up, I couldn’t take off the mask, and I was depressed. I wasn’t the person I wanted to be, and I was starting to believe I never would be.

And today?

I have hope again. I took off my mask, and nobody ran away. I asked hard questions, and I didn’t shock anyone. But even if I had shocked or they had run, that wouldn’t have changed my identity as a person of worth. I’m finally learning who I am, and I finally like myself. But God … he seems so much more confusing and uncertain than he used to, and so does, well, everything.

I want to be on fire, I want to “taste and see,” but I won’t fake it again. I won’t be the perfect little Christian girl again.

The journey continues. I am here, and I am me, and right now, that is enough.

This is day 16 of 31 Days in the Word … and this is also a synchroblog to celebrate the release of Addie Zierman’s memoir, When We Were On Fire. Click here and scroll down to read the stories of others’ faith journeys.

Day 13: The Resurrection and the Life (a Sunday blessing)

John 11:25-26 — Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Together, may we learn what it means to trust God, even in the face of death and shadows of death. May we not forget what we have seen and heard. May we remember that “trust” doesn’t mean platitudes and easy answers; it often means “I don’t know, but I’m still here.” Give your mind the freedom to think and your heart the freedom to feel and love and seek beyond. Your mind and your heart are not enemies. May you find peace in trusting God, even amidst the chaos.

Day 10: Why did he use mud?

(This is Day 10 of 31 Days in the Word)

He could’ve healed the man with a simple word or touch. People knew this. Maybe that was why the word spread … and the threats. There was no question that people were really being healed. You can’t disguise a trick in a word.

The more basic the means, the more likely people would know they were witnessing a true miracle.

So why did Jesus use saliva and dirt to heal one man’s eyes?

As he and his disciples were walking past a beggar, his disciples asked matter-of-factly, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Maybe it was for their benefit.

This poor, uneducated man is just as much my child as you are. He is just as worthy of my time and attention and love. Let me show you.

And he reached down into the dirt and singled out this man of obscurity and lifted him up. It seemed an arbitrary choice, but it was no more arbitrary than God’s decision to form man from dirt rather than speak him into life.

“He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see,” the healed man replied to the Pharisees’ questions.

Maybe it was for the benefit of the man.

He couldn’t look into Jesus’ eyes as he was being healed and see the love there. Jesus had approached him, not the other way around. Others had come in hope; he hadn’t known to come, hadn’t known that the one who could heal him was so near.

This is your chance to believe. Jesus spread the goop onto his unseeing eyes. Will you accept this gift? Will you choose faith? After all, it was up to the man to wash his eyes, to take hold of the gift.

Maybe he needed this unorthodox physical touch to convince him that Jesus was different, that this was a miracle.

Maybe the mud was the fertile soil needed for his faith to grow, as he explained himself and, even in his simplicity, staunchly defended his healer — a man he hadn’t even seen, hadn’t spoken to since he had regained his sight — to the hostile religious men. Unceremoniously and unjustly, they cast him out of the synagogue.

And there, outside the walls, Jesus met him again. The eyes of the one who knew caught the unsure, perhaps frightened, eyes of the one who didn’t know, didn’t recognize.

“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

“And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”

“You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.”

“Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

a plant sprouting up from the dirt
photo by poppet with a camera on creative commons (flickr)

Day 9: In which it all feels like too much

I feel fragile today.

Fully rested, but still fragile.

Overwhelmed by the weight of everything — including these 31 days — more focused on writing the words and doing the social media thing than on reading and absorbing the holy words to which my words are supposed to be secondary and responsive.

Too much giving, too little receiving. Too much trying to be like him or her, too little trying to find out who I really am. Too much pressure, too little grace. Too much trying-to-please, too little trying-to-trust.

I’m still reading the Bible (almost) every day. The experiment is working, one day and one chapter at a time. And yet it feels off, like I’ve turned the Bible into a means to an end that’s all about me and my writing goals.

And in addition to all that, I’m questioning many things and wondering about others and despairing of finding life in all the usual places.

Right now, there are few things I can honestly say that I know for sure, without feeling like I’m being at least a tiny bit disingenuous.

But I am still here, refusing to be consumed by the fires of my own mind and heart, seeking God in the “grit and routine of everyday life,” and in the pages of his Word.

This is day 9 of 31 Days in the Word.

Here Comes Spring?

I had known for a while that I preferred my England journal with the swirls and the pretty birds to the smaller red one, all neat and prim with the typed KJV Bible verses on each page and “Christian art gifts” stamped on the back. For the longest time, though, I thought it was mostly an aesthetic thing: The first journal does look so much better.

But it’s more than that.

I have five journals on my shelf, and each of the five tells a story that has nothing to do with its outward appearance.

Lizzie's five journalsThe first one, after all, is arguably the most beautiful of the three, with its velvety paneling and pink flowers and soft cursive. But its insides are the darkest, full of loneliness and false lights and never finding a way out. It’s my college journal. I wrote in it between 2006 and 2011, and it personifies everything I wish I could change about those years, that winter.

And then spring came in 2012. The second and third journals tell this story, of the awakening of hope. A dear friend gave me the first of the two as a going-away/Christmas present shortly before I left home for my Discipleship Training School (DTS) with YWAM. She lovingly wrote Bible verses on every other page, verses that felt warmer and closer than the staid printed ones on journal #5. (But more on that later.)

This is where it started, I think, as I look at them both … but especially at the second one, the one I picked up in Asia. It was the cheapest journal I could find, and it shows. But I think part of its bedraggled appearance has to do with the fact that I took it everywhere in all kinds of weather. In these journals, descriptions of memorable days and what the lectures were about and oh-isn’t-this-great lists gradually gave way to dialoguing with God in the deepest spiritual intimacy I had ever known. Even when I felt like I had to fight for it, I wrestled honestly through what I knew and what I felt and what I wasn’t sure about. I grew accustomed to going to God first and often — not just with the highest highs and lowest lows — and working through things with him. Even now, knowing how many questions I asked, I know there were plenty of answers too, plenty of epiphanies about him and myself and life.

Spring matured into a summer (journal #4) where the conversations continued as I returned to familiarity — but not to hopelessness! My favorite memories of those first months at home were of my prayer walks. I would talk with God about whatever was on my mind, and I reveled in the ways those walks increased the knowing, lightened my soul, and united my mind and heart in the most joyous of ways.

And then, somewhere along the way, I lost my way.

I miss spring and summer.

For most of this year, I’ve been floundering in autumn. In that fancy, soulless red journal that thinks it knows best. But that’s unkind. I can’t blame the journal for the season. As a matter of fact, I scarcely know this journal. My rate of journaling has noticeably decreased this year. I don’t want to say that how much or how little I write in these precious-or-distant books is a direct reflection of how I’m doing spiritually, but … that does seem to be the pattern.

In making the connection between my life and the seasons, I’m not saying that another winter is inevitable. Or am I? After all, people do go through seasons that, though not as evenly spaced out as the seasons of the year, involve ups and downs, ends and beginnings, and flat middles between all the extremes. Maybe another winter is inevitable, but it won’t be what last winter was. Or maybe what I’ve been calling “autumn” has actually been quite a mild winter, comparatively speaking, and spring is peeking out from behind ice-encrusted leaves and cumulonimbus clouds.

Icy leaf

It certainly feels like spring.

To be writing again feels like spring. To be stepping back into grace feels like spring. To be writing this blog post feels like spring.

I don’t know how I feel about God right now, or where we’re at, or what it will take to get back to a place of intimacy and trust. But I want that. I’m remembering what it was like before, even though it seems so long ago now, and I miss it.

But I can’t go back. This may be a new spring, but it isn’t and can’t be last year’s spring.

Bring me to a new place, and soften me for that bringing.

Sun shining in winter