Faith, Family, & Focaccia

A faith and culture Mommy blog, because real life gets all mixed together like that.

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Fresh Start vs. Renewal

College drop-offs and back-to-school photos are flooding social media streams. End-of-Summer-Sale ads are popping up. Rally Day is drawing close. Everywhere we see reminders that we are drawing close to a new season in the world and in the church year, as summer relaxation gives way to fall activity. This shift holds expectations for excitement and new energy, expectations that we want to embrace. And, because we so deeply want a fresh start, the roadblocks sent up by a resurgent pandemic, filling ICU beds and increasingly impacting children, have the potential to elicit in us more frustration than fear.

We are so tired of this endless pandemic. We are so ready for what comes next. We want the new school year/program year to coincide with a new start for church and for life. Of course, we do. Of course, we can resent anything that gets in the way of the fresh start we want (even if those things are reasonable safety precautions).

I know a little about frustrated expectations. I am writing this article from my week at Family Camp – a week intended to be about a combination of quality time with my family, rest, and spiritual study. But I am writing this article with my laptop balanced on my stomach while I elevate and ice the knee that I injured the second morning here. (By the time you read this I hope to have answers about what is wrong, but right now I only know that it is swollen, painful, and cannot hold my weight). Needless to say, this is not how I had planned for my week to go. And when I think about the sudden question marks surrounding activities for the rest of this month and the start of the school year, I get both anxious and frustrated.

But my frustration won’t do me any good. I cannot just start walking on a knee that buckles when I try to put weight on in. Just like we cannot just start living like our nation is not still in the middle of a deadly pandemic. If we do, we will fall flat on our face and make the pain even worse.

That’s the hard part of the lesson that this week is forcing on my attention, but there is a much more life-giving lesson as well. The still, small voice of God’s Spirit is telling me there is something better than a fresh start: there is renewal. Renewal is about reconnecting to what gives me life, regardless of my circumstances. A fresh start is situational – it requires things around me to change. But renewal starts in my spirit, with remembering the well-spring of joy, and love, and meaning that God is always feeding if I will only dip my bucket down to draw from it. Renewal is the change inside of me that changes how I experience the circumstances that have NOT changed. It’s the shift of focus that allows me to enter into worship even when my knee is throbbing. It’s the gratitude for a meditation that focuses me on something as simple as my own heartbeat and touches me with the miracle of my life. It’s what I came here for and, as it turns out, a busted knee doesn’t stop this renewal unless I let it.

Renewal might not be what we were all looking for this Fall, but I promise you, it’s better than a fresh start. Because renewal can’t be stopped by frustrating circumstances. It can only change the way we experience those circumstances, and that change is all for the better.

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A Modern Magnificat

A few weeks ago I got to preach on Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) for the first time. This has long been one of my favorite passages of scripture, with its swelling sense of praise for the way that God works in the world – by elevating the people who are most rejected and stepped on by the powerful.

As part of the sermon, I wrote an updated poem of praise based on the structure and themes of the Magnificat. I share it here because Mary’s message is a message that we all need to hear, in words that can penetrate our lives and our hearts. May it sing in your heart today.

The deepest part of us echoes with the truth that God is great, and our deepest source of joy is that God has claimed us as God’s own beloved people.

For God has seen us – really seen us – in all the ordinary smallness of our lives, in all the ways that we feel less-than, or ignored, or rejected, or even stepped on;

And God has changed our identity: instead of unimportant nobodies, serving the interests of more important people, we are God’s chosen and blessed witnesses who get to bring Jesus into the world!

God did not do this because we did anything to earn God’s special attention, but because this is who God is: God, the Holy One – the One who is completely above and beyond – chooses to call and to bless the unexpected people.

This is who God has always been, from generation to generation, from Abraham to David to Mary to us.

God has always been the true source of power, disrupting the plans of the people who are impressed by their own strength. God has a pattern of siding against the people who want to set themselves up as the ones in charge, and instead God lifts up the people on the margins – saying that their voices matter.

God’s way of working in the world is to notice the people who are hungry and poor, the ones who have been crushed under the feet of important people and powerful interests, and to invite the destitute and rejected people to eat at God’s table, where their physical and spiritual hunger can be satisfied.

But the people who did the crushing and already have more than they need? God has nothing for them.

This is the pattern God has followed all along, because every time the world rejects God’s plan, God remembers the promise made to those who came before. God remembers that God’s way is the way of mercy. It was true for Abraham, and for those who went before us in the faith, and it will be true for us and for our descendants. Forever and ever.