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kingdom of heaven

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Wake up!

Last fall, the political atmosphere woke me up. I’ll stay awake, I promised. I’ll fight myopia; I’ll read the news; I’ll care about the welfare of people outside my immediate circle (and more than just theoretically).

I subscribed to a news magazine. I read a book or two. I joined a group of people committed to one small action for the good of the world every week.

And then I fell asleep.

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said.

“Stay here and watch,” he said.

“Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray,” he said.

“Are you still sleeping? Enough! The hour has come. Rise! Let us go! Here comes by betrayer!”

I have always looked down on Jesus’ closest friends because of this moment. It is the night before his death, and Jesus is crying out to God in desperation, sweating blood into the ground, about to be tortured and killed. He asks his friends to wait with him. To watch, to pray, to wait with him in this moment of near despair. And they fall asleep! As he cries out, they nod off. He wakes them with grace (“the spirit is willing, but the body is weak”), and again they return to slumber.  How could they do this? How could they forsake their friend on the eve of this ultimate forsaking?

I was convicted absolutely last night by what Dave Kludt said at Open Door. I was woken up once again. Keep watch! Witness the brokenness in this world. Stay awake! See how God is moving and join in the renewal of all things! I, too, have fallen asleep, as I always do. But I am invited to be restlessly attentive to how God is moving in the world.

Jesus understood his vocation, absolutely. He came to die. He came to triumph through death, through what looked like failure. And this story is the hope of the world.

So what does it look like to stay awake? To witness suffering and actively bring love and goodness to a world desperately in need of it? To be honest, I’m not certain.

I had a friend in college who regularly worked himself to the point of exhaustion. When he couldn’t go on, he would take a “nap” by sitting in a chair with his keys in one hand, hanging over the arm. He’d close his eyes, and the moment he fell asleep the keys would fall and the noise jolted him back awake. That was all the nap he needed to keep going.

I’m not condoning this nap method, nor working to the point of exhaustion. But what I wonder is this: What are the keys in my hand? What can I set in motion to wake myself up when I (inevitably) fall asleep again? 

Here are a few ideas:

  • Have a few people in my life committed to being my wake-up call.

  • Pay for a news subscription so I’ll actually read it.

  • Light a candle in my kitchen to remind me to pray (as my grandmother used to).

  • Write reminders in my calendar for a month from now and six months from now to stay awake.

  • Sell what I have and give to the poor—find creative ways of giving to people on the ground. (I keep hearing good things about Preemptive Love Coalition.)

  • Pray:

God, forgive me for falling asleep.

Jesus, go before me.

Spirit, wake me up!

I would love, just love, to hear your ideas. 

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Kids Again: A Week at the Lake with my Grandfather

Big Pine Lake
Big Pine Lake

Going to the cabin is like being transported back in time. My grandparents bought the little red house  in 1972 and have come up every summer since.  I haven't been here in six years, and yet everything is the same - the same games, the same 1969 rambler speed boat, the same shelf full of expired sunscreen. Even the same menu: fried fish, Cole slaw, and grandma's cornbread casserole for dinner; root beer floats for dessert.  Walking in the door four days ago, I was transported back twenty years.

Even I am the same here. Suddenly I'm a girl again, despite my two-and-a--half-year-old son and the baby in my belly. Last night I caught five rock bass on a kiddie pole because there weren't enough grown-up poles to go around, and this week I'm the youngest grown up. I still sit in the middle of the boat, still fish over Grandpa's right shoulder.

But there is one difference that has hit me this week: it is a rare gift for my soul to be a kid again.

In Matthew 18, Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."  The kingdom of heaven belongs to the childlike.  The last few weeks at Open Door we've been talking about this verse, and about play, and so they've been on my mind.  This week I am struck again by this thought: the kingdom of heaven belongs to the childlike; not some far-off-future heaven, but the kingdom of heaven that is breaking into this world here and now, every day.  Kids are the key to the kind of world God imagines.

Becoming a child again this week is good for my soul.  I play at the cabin, just as I've always played.  My mom and I spent an evening coloring and painting rocks, and I got up early one morning to paint the sunrise.  Other evenings we spend on the lake, fishing as an excuse to watch the sky and the water slowly change color together.  I still swim and play in the sand, though now the added blessing is that I get to do it with my little boy.  We get messy together.  My dad, the entomologist, brought two monarch chrysalides so we could watch them hatch.  Last night we released the first, marveling at the silent, profound act of its first flight.

What does play look like for you?  For my dad, it is fly fishing.  For my husband, it's being in the water.  Play is what you do for fun, but it is more than that: it brings intense focus, a sense of timelessness, and the reintegration of body, mind, and soul.

I'm also being taken care of again.  Everett has wonderful grandparents and great grandparents, all of whom love to play with him and watch him play.  Here, I get to play myself because he has all these grown ups loving him so well.  At home I spend my days caring for other people - I am home with Everett, and I'm the primary chef/homemaker, a role that I love and that I balance with writing and friendship and time out of the house.  But to step out of that role for a week, to let my mom cook for me and my dad do the dishes while I sit at the table growing a baby is quite wonderful.  Becoming a kid again means accepting help, love, and care.

My grandfather is ninety-one today. In many ways, he is showing me how to be a kid again. He asks for help more often. Last night he said, "I think anyone on this beach would do anything for me," and it's true - decades of trust and affection, of summer sun and fish fries, have built a family here.  After decades of taking care of everyone else, Grandpa now needs a little more taking care of, and his neighbors look out for him. But he still catches more fish than anyone on the beach.

Grandpa does what he loves best - fishing - all day, every day, weather permitting.  He invites everyone he knows into the fun - he has a full calendar each summer of family and friends and neighbors coming up to share in his joy.  He delights in simple things, like in watching Everett or eating a good piece of French toast.

Grandpa naps when he needs to, where he needs to - on the couch, in a beach chair, occasionally at the table.

And wow, does he laugh. When you get him going, he laughs till tears run down his face. It's contagious.

If, at ninety-one, Grandpa is becoming a kid again, then so can I.  I am learning to delight, to rest, to play.  I remember that I like myself, in the same way that Everett does in the moments when he cracks himself up playing all alone in his room.  I do the things I love for the joy of doing them.  I ask for help when I need it.  I want to risk more, to do things that are hard for me, to try and try until I learn something new.

The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

You can find an audio version of this story on Open Door's blog.

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