Category Archives: Faith

my burden is light

I love my baby. I love holding her, playing with her, talking to her, bathing her. I am one of those moms who simply cannot get enough of her little one.

With that said, when someone asks to hold her and I pass her into the arms of another, there is that moment where I straighten my back and shoulders and stretch my torso a bit. There is that feeling of release, relief, and the easing of a weight or burden, even if for only a few minutes. There is that sudden freedom to go to the bathroom by myself, or sit down and eat a plate of food unencumbered, or sit at the computer and read an email without her little hands grabbing at the mouse and shoving bills and papers onto the floor.

This week our church is hosting a group of kids and adults from my home church in Seattle, Washington. They are here this week to serve our church and our community through morning service projects at our tutoring center and at homes of church members, and through afternoon sports and dance camps for neighborhood children. It is an amazing group of people who chose to spend their spring break, many of them as families, not in Cancun or at Disneyland, but in the gritty streets of South Central.

I have been close to tears many times this week:

leaving the home of one of our church members who is widowed, wheelchair bound, and the primary caregiver for her elderly mother with Alzheimer’s disease where four members of the mission team were scrubbing walls, priming rooms for painting, scouring behind toilets, picking dropped pills up off the floor, and helping to organize the contents of a kitchen so that things could be accessed from a wheelchair;

standing in the middle of the street talking to a neighborhood woman and her son who had nothing to do with any of our camps or events but who had driven by our gathering time of singing with the kids in the park and had stopped their minivan to find out who we were and why we were doing what we were doing;

sitting in the auditorium of our local grade school watching a beautiful high school senior who is an accomplished dancer in Seattle teach dance to more than forty little girls—and remembering holding that young woman when she was the same age that my own little girl is now;

walking into the back classroom of the tutoring center I have directed for the past three years and having someone flip the light switch to reveal a brand new ceiling filled with new recessed light fixtures that fill the room with bright, warm light–no longer will young children and their tutors squint to learn new words on book pages that are barely illumined by a lone fluorescent light.

I love my life here in South Central. I love my church and the people I call neighbor and friend. I love the opportunities I have daily to wrestle with Jesus’ call to love mercy and to walk justly. There is nothing else that I would rather be doing.

But it is not always easy. And it can sometimes feel lonely. And so this week I am feeling that deep sense of a weight lifted, of responsibility shared; of partnership, companionship, and relief. I have stood on the sidelines of camp programs, free to chat with the watching moms. I have stood in the back of the group of kids singing, free to engage stopped minivans and curious neighbors in conversation. I have stood in the middle of a newly painted tutoring center, and watched others bend and sweat and cover themselves with paint so that children I love can be welcomed by cleanliness and beauty.

This week, twenty-nine people have come into our life here and humbly asked: “Can we hold your baby?”

The gospel according to Los Angeles

During a recent lecture in my Early Church History class, our professor was discussing Epicurus and his understanding of reality. According to Epicurus, life happens when a bunch of atoms bump into each other and stick together, and eventually become a complex enough clump to somehow produce life. Death is inevitable, and when it happens, the atoms return to their original source: life is therefore a very temporary experience.

Those who followed Epicirus believed in maximizing their pleasure and happiness at all times, and finding every way to make their present life as long and as happy as it could be.

Maximizing happiness and extending life: it sounds a lot like what life looks like here in L.A. From zany health trends to expensive dieticians, spas, and of course surgical procedures, Angelinos are all about making life look as good and last as long as possible.

But something doesn’t match up. My professor also discussed how, according to Epicurus, anxiety is the enemy of the pleasurable life! He would argue against going into politics, for example, because it is too anxiety-producing.

So here’s what I find intriguing in all of this: everywhere I turn, I see people scrambling after happiness. I see people terrified of death and going to extremes to prevent it! I see pleasure placed on private alters everywhere and worshiped faithfully. Yet if you were to ask me what other word could best describe the families and individuals I know, I think it would have to be anxiety. I have too many peers on too many medications; I know too many teenagers who cut, starve, or wish to die; I see too many desperately controlling people whose lives are held hostage to every kind of fear. And these are just my Christian friends…

I heard a sermon recently that reminded us that we are all yoked to something: our egos, our addictions, our stuff. I wonder if it isn’t that, for many of us, we have we chosen to yoke ourselves to happiness or pleasure or longevity. And in doing so, we have found that we have chosen our Self as our ultimate yokefellow; and that is where the anxiety comes from. For when we grow weary, our yokefellow does too. When we desperately need the strength of another to help shoulder our load, we are left with the limits of our own endurance. When we simply want to turn and see that we have a companion in our labor, we instead find our own haggard face staring back.

What does the promise of an easy yoke and a light burden look like today-and are we brave enough to proclaim it?

Requiem

“May the angels lead you into paradise: may the martyrs receive you at your coming, and lead you into the holy city, Jerusalem. May the choir of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have everlasting rest.”

faith

Last night I took out the trash from our kitchen (something I do much more often now that diapers have entered the scene). It was dark and as you walk out our back door, you have to go down the two flights of stairs to get to the driveway where the trash cans are tucked away under the trees. Usually the top flight of stairs are somewhat lit—whether it’s the moon or the generic city “light” or the lights from neighbors houses, I can always see comfortably at the top. Once I get to the bottom stretch of stairs, the visibility has almost disappeared, and I am always very anxious about tripping, missing a stair, rolling my ankle, whatever. When carrying some large item, like the baby carrier or a big box of recycle, this feels especially scary.

Our landlord who lives below us has a motion sensor light that comes on when you get to the very bottom. It lights up our back parking area quite well and I can make my way to one of our cars or to the trash cans with ease. But, it will not trigger until you have come to almost the last stair.

Every time I go out there at night I have the same experience—I walk cautiously down our steps, growing increasingly afraid as I near the bottom, until I get to the point where I feel like I cannot take another step because I just plain can’t see. And just when I think I can’t go any further, I step down into the darkness and the unknown and boom, that motion light kicks in and all is well.

Now, I do this often enough that you would think I would quit being afraid—that I would know the light is coming and that it will show me where I need to go. But every time it is the same story—anxiety, hesitation, disbelief that the light will work THIS time, even though it has always been faithful before.

I am at a funny place in my life right now. I sometimes feel like things seem a bit like the journey down my back staircase—I can’t see where I am stepping; I’m not sure that I will make it; I wonder if the Light will come on and show me where to put my feet.

the sacrifice of praise

“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them to your foreheads.” Deuteronomy 11:18

I went into H and R Block last night with much fear and trembling. We had a lot of anxiety about our taxes and our prognosis was not good. After an hour and a half, Pat (my new favorite person), pushed the little button on her screen that totals everything up and there it was: not only did we not owe, we would be getting money back!

As I walked out the door of their office toward the street where I had parked, without meaning to, I burst into song. One of the worship choruses we sing just came pouring out. As I drove to my husband’s office to share our good news with him, I found myself belting out yet another hymn we sing at church.

I was struck by the gift of song—the way that words that are not our own become our own. The way a common language of praise and petition grows in the minds and hearts of a church family, creating language for all occasion; language that speaks what is true about “what is God and what is not” for every circumstance, and for all time.

My husband is very intentional about what we as a church sing. He is big about ‘substance’ trumping ‘style.’ I think he’s right—the songs that found their way out from my spirit onto my lips yesterday did not come because of their rhythm, ethnic background, or genre. They came out because what they say described what is true about me and about God. They came out because, in my situation yesterday, they gave words to the gratitude and thanksgiving I felt toward a God who did not abandon us. They came out because I needed to testify, to say what was true in my situation, and they gave me the words to do it.

How do you do it?

I had an interesting conversation the other night about boundaries—in relationships and in life in general. I am pretty sure that I am not a person that has a very mature understanding of what it means to operate with a lot of boundaries with people.

Today my husband had taken a day off from his seven day a week work schedule so that we could spend some time together as a family. The morning quickly disappeared with playtime with the baby, getting our tax paperwork ready, and random household chores. I was really looking forward to the afternoon—to doing something frivolous and fun together.

Instead, the three of us ended up commuting out in the afternoon rain and the ensuing L.A. traffic to Pasadena to pick up microphones that some friends are kindly loaning to us for our church service this Sunday. Ours were all stolen last Saturday night, along with all of our church’s sound equipment. So, because I am the board chair, and because my husband is the worship pastor, we have a great deal vested in having sound for our service this week. And this meant taking our one rare day off and losing a bulk of it to a tiresome journey.

I wonder what it means to protect yourself and your family in ministry. Would another high-boundary person have simply not gone to get the equipment, or let someone else carry the burden of making some kind of arrangement? What does it mean for us to be pastors here when we are not paid for our time and work, thus causing us to fill our lives to overflowing so that we can fulfill our ministry calling and pay our rent?

Or am I just making a big deal about a stupid rush hour car trip out to Pasadena…

Sisters

Last night I drove to LAX to pick up an old friend, AB. She is here in L.A. for her spring break of her final year in college in the Midwest.

AB and I have a pretty special history together. In college, I was the coordinator for a big sister/big brother program in the inner city of Chicago. My job was to match college students up with kids in the neighborhood for mentoring relationships. Once a month, I would plan some fun activity for everyone to participate in together.

My “little sister” worked every Saturday at the swap meet, so she almost never made it to the planned events–she and I would get together on weekdays instead. AB was involved with the program and she was matched up with a college student, only her student was kind of lame and would often miss the events. Because I was usually “unattached” at our parties, and because AB was “big sister-less” as well, we kind of adopted each other, and became each other’s honorary big and little sister.

As AB got older, our friendship grew in depth and substance. In my years in Chicago, she became one of the dearest people in my life. I will never forget in those early years receiving my first ever mother’s day card from AB. I will never forget being the ”adult” for her birthday slumber party at her house. I will never forget her screening the boys I would date. I will never forget the hours of conversations we shared about boys, the hood, God, and family. I will never forget being there for each other when J was killed.

It’s amazing to me where friendship comes from sometimes. I’m glad that it’s like that—that you never know who will enter your life and change it forever.

and on the seventh day…

Tonight our pastor showed up at the park rec center where our Spanish language bible study meets to worship on Saturday nights. He was greeted by a few hundred members of the Bloods street gang who had gathered at our park after the funeral of one of their own. He made his way into the building and began setting up chairs but was soon interrupted by L.A.P.D. storming into the building with their guns drawn. Our pastor and a young couple who were there to help set up were forced out of the building by cops who had received a tip that the Crips might be on their way to pay the Red mourners a visit. The L.A.P.D. confiscated more than twenty-five guns from those gathered on the park grounds.

As our pastor relayed this story with me over the phone, I expected him to tell me that, as a result, the Spanish service had certainly been cancelled. But instead, he shared with me that more than thirty people had shown up for worship, and that, after some difficulty getting inside, all who gathered had experienced a great time of praise and thanksgiving. I am pretty sure that I would have sent everyone home and gotten myself out of there as quickly as possible.

The helicopters have been circling on and off here for most of the night. Meanwhile my baby sleeps peacefully in the next room—the barking dogs and the hovering aircraft don’t wake her. She is kind of like her pastor and a small band of believers who likewise were able to rest tonight in the midst of the din of fear and the agitation of violence.

I have wondered a lot lately about the Sabbath and what it means for us to rest. I think that there is a lot more to it than setting aside some time to pamper yourself, or creating space in your schedule for quiet times and prayer. I don’t think that it is ultimately something we are to do as individuals. How does the soft still face of my sleeping baby and a bunch of crazy Latinos change the way I understand this idea of Sabbath in South L.A…?