Sunday, July 23, 2006


“If I had had even an hour to reflect, I believe my feelings would have been quite different. As it was, my heart froze in me and I thought, This is not my child – which I truly had never thought of any child before. I don’t know exactly what covetise is, but in my experience it is not so much desiring someone else’s virtue or happiness as rejecting it, taking offense at the beauty of it.”

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, pg. 198.

Pastor John Ames had a lost his wife and only child at a very young age. When his best friend decided to, on the spur of the moment, name is son after John, instead of receiving the honor and love intended, John is only able to react with pain and anger. This is not my child. My child is lost and gone. Nothing will replace her. Pastor Ames calls his reaction covetise. I call it the dark side of grief.

A good friend of mine and I talk often about these feelings of covetise. They arise unbidden and unexpected often in moments of celebration and rejoicing. For my friend, they arise in the presence of pregnant women and new babies, as she grieves the infertility that has left her incapable of having children of her own. For me, they arise at weddings and engagement announcements, baptisms, holidays, most occasions that emphasize family and remind me of my singleness. Waves of grief that come from nowhere and cause us to take offense at the beauty around us. Waves of grief that build upon one another as we also grieve our inability to celebrate with friends and family or provide the pastoral care called upon in both of our ministry positions. Waves of grief that isolate us and cause us to isolate ourselves. We recognize that there is some aspect of sin involved in our reactions. Scripture calls us to rejoice with those who rejoice. And we understand that in our grief we often lose sight of what God has provided as those things we lack overwhelm us.

Yet I also wonder if our grief is magnified because we fail to hold the entire verse together. The verse begins, “Weep with those who weep.” Is it possible that with all weeping there is rejoicing? With all rejoicing there is weeping? Is it possible for us hold these two together rather than assuming that one person’s grief must always give way to another’s joy?

Pastor Ames writes this having met another young woman near the end of his life and fathering a son at the age of 70. While I appreciate immensely Pastor Ames’ reflections on the years of grieving and loneliness in his life, I am also struck by the fact that the grief of singleness is different for men and women. Though the biological clock is marking time for all of us, a man in his 70’s can still father a child. As I approach 40, I approach the reality of being too old to have children. Infertility is different for men and women. In a church that so often defines women through child-bearing, highlighting is as the one unique quality that makes us female, I am faced with the reality that I may never experience that aspect of being a woman.

C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce defines hell as a place where goodness is present but the people reject it. They are pent up in their homes full of fear and unable to embrace the beauty offered to them. While my mourning causes me at times to reject the beauty of other’s happiness or virtue, I pray that it will never overwhelm me to the point of rejecting all the beauty and goodness God has to offer.

CHiC 2006

I hesitated to even put CHiC as the heading of this entry knowing that there are some out there not familiar with the term in this context. CHiC stands for Covenant Hi in Christ, the triennial high school conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church. The name has been around since the 50’s and yes, we have discussed changing it, but tradition has won out over political correctness and the name stands.

A conference like CHiC always raises a number of theological questions for me. Is it good stewardship for several thousand youth and adults to spend hundreds of dollars to attend such a conference? Is it good stewardship to spend thousands of dollars on lighting and stage equipment, big name musicians, and afternoon excursions to the mountains for river rafting, mountain biking, and paintball? What do I do when I disagree with some of the theology of the speakers or of the music?

For all the questions CHiC raises for me, I am still amazed at how God uses such an event. I know from reading application essays for North Park Theological Seminary the number of students who have made commitments to ministry at CHiC and now serve in Covenant churches today. I know that if even a fraction of the students who stood up to give their lives to Christ or to full-time ministry follow through on those commitments the world will be changed for the good. I know that God will use the $100,000 given in the offering and the 590,000 meals packaged through Feed My Starving Children to make a difference in the Sudan. I try not to think too hard about the fact that 5,000 youth and adult leaders had $100,000 to give.

I missed most of what went on at CHiC. I served on the team that ran excursions. We spent our days down at the arena loading buses with lunches and students, waiting for them to return, and tracking down those who somehow got misplaced in the process. The students are a tremendous witness to the bus drivers and those who manage the sites of our excursions. They are full of joy, deal well with unexpected delays, pick up their garbage, and make friends with the drivers. It is amazing how the little things can speak volumes about the kingdom.

In addition, though, this year we had the privilege of working with the Feed My Starving Children service project. For years CHiC has been trying to develop a service component, but the logistics and the cost had been prohibitive. This year we found FMSC and a donor graciously bought the food that the students would then pack to ship off to starving children around the world. As we arrived, huge bags of rice (think large white bean bag chair big enough for an elephant), canisters of soy, vats of dried vegetables and a vitamin mixture filled the warehouse area under the bleachers at the back of the arena. Information on the project went out late and only 75 or so students were pre-registered to help package all the food. We spent the Welcome Party sitting at a table out in the sun trying to gather names and commitments from those who would help throughout the week. We had little success and all we could do was pray. At the first session almost 300 people showed up. We had room for about 250 and found odd jobs for the rest. The next two sessions were just as full. The room was filled with the silence of purpose and a sense of God’s presence. Our mid-week sessions dropped off significantly, but when we put the word out that we might not make our goal, students came streaming in for the last session with youth groups committing to stay as long as it took to finish it all. In the end we finished almost 30 minutes early packaging over 2,000 boxes of food to feed over 1,600 children one meal a day for year. Robert, the head of event planning for UT, was so moved by the project that he donated dinner to the students who worked the late afternoon shift each day. When we decided to substitute a sample of the meals we were preparing for the cafeteria lunch one day, Aramark, the food services company decided to donate $10,000 to FMSC. In the end over a third of the students at the conference participated in the project. On an afternoon when they could be rafting, swimming in the pool, going to mall, listening to concerts, playing in basketball tournaments, or learning guitar, these students opted to bag food for hungry children in Sudan. And they did so with joy and enthusiasm. For all the questions that a conference like CHiC raises for me, I am still amazed at how God works.

For more information on CHiC 2006 go to
For more information on Feed My Starving Children go to

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Paradox of Blessing

Had I been born at in a different decade, in a different family, or in a different part of the world, I would have led a vastly different life. I may have walked the world deformed and misshapen, twisted and hunched over from the effects of scoliosis. I may have avoided the years of wearing a back brace, struggling through junior high encased in plastic.

In 6th Grade, all of the students at Santa Venetia Middle School were checked for scoliosis. One by one we went into the nurse’s office and bent over to touch our toes while the nurse ran her fingers along our spine to make sure it was straight. It was important to catch any curve in the spine before we started growing, before it would get much worse and leave us twisted or hunched over. My mom was the one who noticed the curves in my spine, two of them, an ess-curve across my back. I don’t remember much after that. A series of doctors, consultations in a rehabilitation clinic, being wrapped in plaster of paris, and coming home one day wrapped in a brace of hard white plastic that covered my entire torso. Twenty-three and a ½ hours a day I would wear this brace for the next four years… during softball and orchestra, history and math, school dances and birthday parties waking up suddenly, during my junior year in high school as a young woman.

I am grateful to have been born in the time and place I was. Had I been born earlier, even a few years earlier, my experience would have been very different. Remember Joan Cusack in Sixteen Candles? That could have been me, wrapped in a metal frame with bars extending up under my neck, cello and all. Or I could have been left with a significant deformity or with metal rods fused to my spine. Instead, I was able to partially hide my brace under baggy shirts and had enough mobility to play 2nd base on my softball team.

I also recognize that I was incredibly blessed to have been born into a family that could afford good medical help and that had access to the latest medical technology.

Blessed. Is that the right word? It is not the type of blessing that comes as some sort of reward. It wasn’t deserved. It wasn’t asked for. It just was. In fact, some of the blessing of having been born into an upper middle class family in the United States has come at the cost of others who have not been as blessed in this way. I do not believe that material wealth or the provision of such medical advances means that God was any more present with me than God was with a Mayan woman in the mountains of Guatemala who never had such benefits.

Just as I don’t believe that the young girls and boys born a few years after me were favored more by God because they didn’t have to wear a brace at all. By the time I was out of my brace in high school an electrode therapy was developed to strengthen the muscles in your back while you are sleeping. No brace. No surgery. And no curves.

Blessing. I am grateful. I was incredibly blessed. It could have been so much worse. Yet there are those who are just as, if not more deserving, young girls and boys born today who will not even have the small blessing I had. I am amazed at how often, unintentionally, I tie material blessing to worth. How I judge the love of God by what I have or don’t have. I can’t help it. It is so embedded in our culture. I am confronted with it in subtle ways almost every day through advertising, the media, and our own pop-Christian culture. Yet it is so far from the truth. And it is in the paradox of blessings that at times I can shake myself free from these assumption and look beyond them to the real meaning of Christ’s love for us.