What Map Do You Use?

We watch a lot of Dora the Explorer in this house.  My girls are permitted 30 minutes of Tube Time daily, for their entertainment and my sanity.  Dora’s usually Sara’s selection, and since she’s the oldest, she usually gets first choice, although the older (and louder and more opinionated, if that’s even possible) that my littlest gets the more likely we’ll be watching Go Diego Go more often.

Within the first few minutes of Dora, for you unlucky folks who’ve never had the privilege of meeting her, she sets off on an exciting adventure to a fantastic destination (like a fairy-tale castle or a treehouse party) and realizes she’s lost.

“Who do we ask when we don’t know which way to go?” says Dora.

(Jesus, I usually say out loud, but of course that’s not what my girls say).

“Map!”

And out comes this rolled-up scroll of a happy map, singing it’s happy “I’m the map” song (do you have it in your head yet?).  And this happy map navigates for them the very adventurous, dangerous-but-only-in-a-toddler-friendly-way path to their destination.

Oh, if it were only so easy.

Seems to me that we are all on our own personal quest to some unknown destination, and that happy little map in Dora?  He doesn’t usually show up on our radar.  Sometimes we don’t really (seem to) need a navigator; the little boat of our lives floats us along the tranquil waters of a great career, or an easy loving, or a circle of fabulous friends.  But at other times it’s like our little boat has been thrust into tumultuous waters and we really don’t know which way to go.

The first time I white-water rafted down the Nile (doesn’t that sound smashing?) proved one of the most thrilling rides of my life.  I had triple-thick blond Amazon Woman extension-braids in my hair, a dark Ugandan tan, and a ton of courage…before I saw the white water.  Um.  Do I have to get in that little rubber dingy???  But I did, with 8 other scared passengers, and we paid excessively close attention to the instructor and his instructions before we headed downstream.  Now, white-water rafting (which may be boring to kayakers but is a wild-ride for we-who-dare-only-in-our-imaginations) on the Nile is a mighty different thing than white-water rafting on a Canadian river, largely because a Canadian river is full of rocks (that’s why the water’s so bubbly) and freezing cold.  You don’t want to fall in.  They tell you not to fall in.  But on the Nile, the white-water comes from the incredible depth of the water and the convergence of rivers, and the water is balmy and full of alligators.  Supposedly.

And the first rapid we came to, our guide said, “So, do you want to stay in the boat or fall out?”

What?  My boat of chickens voted to stay in the boat.  Which the guide honored.  The first time.

The second time, we thought the guide had listened to us when we said we wanted to stay in the boat.  He told us to paddle left.  Paddle hard!  And we did!  But those bubbly, churning, frothing waves just kept coming closer!  And suddenly our boat was vertical on the horizontal and we were flung into that mass of water.

It was like being in a washing machine.  I did not appreciate my extensions at that particular moment.

Later when we climbed into the boat, we actually thanked our guide.  It was terrifying…but enormously fun!  When it was over, that is.

Navigation of this life sometimes feels like that…like the guide knows where we’re going, and has instructed us for various situations, but we are headed in blind and don’t appreciate the ride until it’s over.

So often when we’re charting these waters we feel alone.  We know so few who have rare diseases or conditions!  Did you know that a rare disease is typically classified as one that affects less than 1 in 2000?  That means that a rare disease affects 18,000 or fewer in Canada.  Cystinosis affects approximately 50 people in Canada.  Talk about a lonely boat!  And I live in this lonely boat as a parent of a child with cystinosis, and not as a person with cystinosis myself.

There are a lot of things that make living with a rare disease/condition difficult, frustrating, frightening, and lonely, don’t get me wrong.  We struggle with questions that parents shouldn’t have to struggle with:

How will our daughter cope with foul-tasting medications?
How long will she have muscle strength?
Will she ever be able to have biological children?
Will she feel nauseated for most of her life?
How will she cope with “being different”?  Even when others don’t know she is?
Who, when so few are affected, will contribute to the research for better treatment and, dear God, please, a cure?

And others that I can’t even bring myself to write.

Eight months ago, when we boarded this lonely boat, our Guide seemed oddly silent, not giving us “fair” warning when we were tossed into the waves of heartache, disappointment, fear, and aloneness.  And yet, we had been prepared.  Words of encouragement, guidance and instruction permeate our Map.  Things like

“Be strong and of good courage, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

“Be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14).

“…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:4)

“In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)

Such words glimmer like little stars on the pages of Scripture.  Verses that speak of hope inside of despair, love destroying fear, life breaking free from death.  We have a Navigator.  He left us a Map.

It is so easy to forget.

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Things I learned this Christmas

Several years ago while I was teaching Canadian History (not nearly as dull as you might think!), I had a lesson plan that included the “Huron Carol” (which you can read here or listen to here (in Wendat, French and English – English starting at 2:13, I think).  It was written by Jesuit Priest Father Brebeuf for the Huron people, for whom he later died, and it retells the story of Christ’s birth as the Huron (who knew themselves as the Wendat) might have understood it.  I put the lyrics on an overhead for my students to read as they listened, and then asked if anyone could connect the Huron story to the Christian/Biblical account (for instance, “log of broken bark” would be the stable; hunters would be the shepherds, etc).  The student who retold it started with the virgin birth, and another student gaped and said, “You mean, people believe a virgin had a baby???”  That student’s amazement at the story of Mary and Joseph and Jesus really struck me, especially since, having heard it all my life, I often don’t see the incredibleness of Christ’s birth.

Many writers and directors have created films that retell the nativity story, but none have been as powerful or well-done as Tony Jordan’s The Nativity produced by the BBC in 2010.  It stays in detail pretty much to the biblical account, but includes some of the emotions that would have taken place in the in-betweens not talked of in the Bible – of Mary’s doubting (hard for her to doubt, eventually, as her burgeoning belly proves it’s true), of Joseph’s total betrayal, of the despair of Mary’s parents at their unmarried daughter’s pregnancy, of the rejection by family and probable loss of status and respect for Joseph, of his questions even after his dream.  In fact, the majority of the story dwells not in the miraculous but in the earthly heartache that would have been experienced by all involved.  Mary’s doubting turns to faith – but that faith still faces fear and rejection and loss and loneliness.  It is a profoundly human and beautiful rendering of the story and one I still contemplate.

Two things in particular have stood with me over these Christmas weeks and past.  The first is that that first Christmas was not necessarily lovely, serene, or joyful; that our Christmas full of joy and hope and beauty stems from the humbleness of Christ’s birth and all of the fear and despair (and hope and faith) spreading from it.  I know many people who face Christmas with tremendous grief, who see the lights and trees and hear the sentimental music and don’t live in the joy that others celebrate – and in that, feel very alone.  And I have really been struck by the fact that we are not alone, much though we may feel it – that we have a God who understands from the beginning our feelings of sadness, loss, and fear, and that the Bible is full of such stories – stories where often the human emotions aren’t expressed but were most certainly felt.

The second is that God is indeed sovereign.  I have been following, with much heartache, a family story of unimaginable trauma that started just before Christmas and still has no answers.  And in this story, I have been tremendously humbled.  I have not made it secret that my faith has foundered in these trying times of Aliyah’s diagnosis and the months since; in raw honesty I have found comfort and some hope.  But this family who is now suffering have demonstrated to me what true faith is and what true hope is.  Such a hope as they have shown, even in the unknowing, is deep, inspiring, eternal.  Sara and I pray often for the little girl in this family, and one of the things we talk about is how sometimes God’s workings don’t feel good in the moment, but He has a plan, He is being glorified, and He is still good.  I’m ashamed to admit that while I’ve taught this verbally to Sara, I have not necessarily lived it in my own thoughts, prayers, and life.

I still remember, in the hospital, those first few days and weeks after Aliyah’s diagnosis.  In spite of everything, I had a deep and abiding understanding that God had allowed this and that it would be worked for good – beautiful good – in Aliyah’s life and indeed in our whole family’s life.  And even when I questioned and doubted and feared, I had a strange gut feeling, deep down, that God was and is working something for good.  Even when I imagine the hard times ahead, I know (and I can’t explain how) that this is a part of God’s story in Aliyah and in us, and in that knowing there is a hope that I have allowed to lay dormant.  Well, no more.

I choose now to live in hope.  To walk in the hope of Aliyah’s joyful life, of Sara’s compassion, and especially of God’s plan.  Of his great and glorious plan – a plan that is to redeem and renew and refresh, that has love and eternity in mind, that carries the greatest hope we could ever imagine.  To remember that faith does not mean never doubting, fearing or suffering, but means facing doubt and fear and suffering through the eyes of hope and eternity.

That is, after all, the beauty of the nativity.  A hard now for a glorious eternity, faith in the face of doubt and fear, and a God who knows it all, loves it all,
and never stops working.

Am I a monkey? Part 1

Science.  Religion.  Dread enemies (or sleeping with the enemy)?  An unlikely marriage?  In direct opposition or complementary?

Scientists are the new priests of the day, I heard recently on a radio broadcast (or something).  Historically (like, way back pre-Reformation), the Bible was written only in Latin (because that was holier than Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, apparently) and priests alone could understand, interpret, and teach it.  Through a priest, the common man learned how best to get to heaven.  It was sort of an ugly situation.

Nowadays, scientists wield the same kind of clout.  That is, we see them as the way to absolute (relative) truth, through facts, observation, hypothesis and inference and proof and theories.  Religious people are viewed by many in the scientific community as blind and voluntarily ignorant at best and evil at worst (there’s irony for you).

In recent months, I’ve been engaging with a respected (atheist) cousin in debate.  Or, to be honest, in discussion – because I cannot say I was entirely certain in what I actually believed anymore.

Brief personal history:

I “asked Jesus into my heart” at about age 5
proceeded to attempt to convert my neighbours’ kids
encountered God through solitary prayer beneath the outside staircase at primary school
met Jesus again in junior high
was baptized
knelt nightly by my bed, devoured Scripture, desired missions
studied at Capernwray Bible School on the shores of Lake Constance, Germany
found challenge to my faith and yet a deeper faith while studying in university in Winnipeg
became a spiritual mentor at a Bible school explored ourselves, our world, and God – in South Africa
proceeded to “work out my salvation,” sometimes with fear and trembling, as I dated, married, began a career, and had babies
And then met Science.

Whew.  Okay, so, enter Cousin.  I already had a few questions about things.  I was eager to explore and felt I was strong enough in my faith, in spite of said questions.

And then, enter Cystinosis.  Now my questions ballooned.  Those few with whom I shared my questions wondered if I was one of those “I always trusted God but now I’m in pain so where is he?” kind of questioners, but I don’t think that was the case: I don’t wonder why us/me/Aliyah, or think it’s unfair, or any of that.  But I started seeing people in the hospital differently, and feeling skeptical about “oh your faith is so strong” comments when I saw people surviving far worse diagnoses with far less faith (there’s question numero uno in my books – still have yet to answer that one).

Over the last few months, I have started picking out library books (and losing them, which is rather costly) to explore some of my questions.  Currently, I have read a biographical account of the marriage of Charles and Emma Darwin (fascinating), selections of Dawkins’ The God Delusion (oh my word, aggressive and antagonistic much), the first three chapters of David Berlinski’s The Devil’s Delusion (which, unfortunately, hasn’t totally impressed me), A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism (Ravi Zacharias), and Am I a Monkey: Six Big Questions about Evolution (Francisco Ayala), as well as numerous websites that include Dawkins’ responses to the responses to his book and a Biologos website.

For a long time (okay, 3 or 4 months), this exploration has been somewhat emotionally and spiritually devastating.  Everything I read discredited any scientist who was a Christian (as opposed to Christian Scientists), any creationist ideas, any Intelligent Design theorists.  My biggest fears seemed to be becoming somewhat of a reality.

And yet.

The thought of no God is equally unbelievable to me.  No God equals no meaning, no hope, no future, no purpose.  It equals no world where Aliyah can live cystinosis-free.  It equals purposeless Christmases, moral relativism, total aloneness (in the universe and in our individual circumstances because, let’s face it, no one truly walks your journey with you – not even those closest to you).

This incredible conflict makes me feel, and often, like a hypocrite.  I go to church on Sundays and sing praise and worship songs.  I nod when people tell me about their experiences with God.  I teach my children to pray, read them Bible stories and sing them God-songs – in fact, I desperately want them to love God, obey him, pursue an adventurous life with him, find their solid foundation in him.

Anyway, to the point.   I was browsing (and I mean, really barely skimming) titles in the shelf – actually, only looking at the covers that actually faced me – as I looked for a Stephen Hawkings biography in the science section.  My eyes grazed over the skinniest, oldest-looking little book binding on the shelf as I headed away from that section.  A little voice (imagine that) urged me to return, and so I did and pulled Am I A Monkey off the shelf.  Francisco Ayala, an eminent scientist, prolific scientific author, and Templeton Prize winner, wrote this in 2010 to address basic questions about evolution – including chapter 6: Can One Believe in Evolution and God?.  (Because, by now, I could not deny evolution, especially in light of my new understanding of it).

The passage that “got me”:

Science is a way of knowing, but it is not the only way.  Knowledge also derives from other sources.  Common experience, imaginative literature, art, and history provide valid knowledge about the world, and so do revelation and religion for people of faith.  The significance of the world and human life, as well as matters concerning moral or religious values, transcend science.  Yet these matters are important; for most of us, they are at least as important as scientific knowledge per se (Ayala, 74).

He said a lot more than that.  He explained evolution (no, evolution does not say we came from monkeys but rather from a common ancestor) and discussed, of all things, its compatibility with a deity (specifically the Christian God).  I do realize that a lot of writing has been done about how evolution is incompatible with the need for salvation, among many other things, and I haven’t read those things at length (I do intend to some day in the near future, hopefully), but Ayala’s arguments were very compelling.

With all of those things said (and really, it’s only barely touching all of my thinking and reading on the topic), I have come to agree with the above quote, that science does not address all of the questions we have, and therefore Something else is needed for the discussion.  We have questions not just of origins but also of meaning and purpose – the why are we here anyway question that, if it has indeed pervaded so much of historical philosophical thought, must indeed be a valid question.  Science that denies the purpose of faith/spirituality/religion is equally as ignorant and arrogant as the faith that ignores the findings of science.

There is so much to say on this subject.  I am still so incredibly ignorant of all of the thinking out there.  But I am so hopeful that we are not alone in the universe, that there is a purpose beyond just daily life, and that we have a future beyond this desperately painful and endlessly beautiful earth on which we dwell together.

More another day.  If you read this, kudos to you, I’m sure it was confusing and unresolved, much like our lives often are.  Bear with me.  As a friend says,  “I am but dirt – and sometimes I do (say) something good.”  Hopefully there was something good in here.

Slamming “the church”

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.
Questioning.
Analyzing.

Not a lot of praying, I’m (not totally) ashamed to admit.  Neither Scripture reading.  I’m afraid I haven’t really been seeking answers to some of my questions, only venting them (or letting them roll around in my brain).  Truth be told, I am not yet completely interested in exploring some of the questions because I’ve grown up with ready-made answers and those ready-made answers don’t fit.

In all honesty, I have a gut feeling about God.  About his love.  About his grace.  About how he is big enough for these questions.  And about how everything I have always believed makes sense.  It’s just that, at the moment, I’m in a bit of a faith funk.  And I’m thankful for all the people who are praying for me because, like the kids’ Bible song (there’s a lot of those in my house these days), “It’s me, it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer,” and because I’m not the one doing it at the moment.

But that’s not actually the point of this particular vent.

I’ve been reading a lot of mommy blogs lately (only yesterday I realized what a trend I am joining.  It’s kind of embarrassing, really).  So many of them have challenged my thinking, inspired my actions, and increased my hope in humanity.  (And made me realize how many totally incredible writers are out there in the world.  Sheesh).  I’m starting to notice a pattern of thinking, however, that really bugs me.

A lot of people are totally slamming the modern church and Christianity in general.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I know about the Crusades and other evils done in the name of Christ.  I am fully aware of the judgemental hypocracy that exists and has existed in the church.  But hasn’t the church also done tremendous good in the name of Christ?  (We are beneficiaries of said good; see my “gratitude” post).  Doesn’t such judgemental hypocracy exist in other, for instance political, arenas?   Haven’t the theology and interpretations of the modern church been the roots of growth, change, and new forms of thought?  What kind of arrogant are we if we decide to berate the church and Christianity on the basis of believing we know better?  Are we not also judgemental, then?  I’m not saying I agree with all the methods of the modern church and I definitely think we should be seeking ways of cultural relevance (not compromise) in our method (not message); I do think historic “sit-in-the-pews-and-listen” doesn’t fit with my generation of learners (there’s my “educated” pc coming out).

I also say the church is still people and not a building (not a new thought by any means, obviously), and by discarding what has gone before us, we are invalidating our own “new” positions (emerging, post-emerging, whatever we call them).

AND, if the church is full of people who think this way and are silently pouting on our blog soapboxes rather than prayerfully and actively pursing a new way of doing church among our church, then who, really, is to blame for a stagnant and judgemental church?

It’s a vent, I know.  And as my eyes blur together this midnight hour I realize it may not make much sense.  But I’m kind of tired of the trendy “I’m sick of church” mentality.  I have no stats to back it up.  These are just my thoughts, such as they are.