It’s become clear lately that not everyone considers themselves a “podcast person”. Sorry to leave you out! Here’s the text of what I shared at church for folks that prefer to read along.
Like Jo said earlier, I’ve grown up here: in Newberg, in this church, and with many of you sitting here today. I count myself so fortunate to have grown up both in a family and a church community that love God deeply, who taught me to know and follow the voice of Christ. Your examples have shaped my understanding of an active and present God who pursues, restores, and loves me.
I’m grateful for this opportunity to share with you today about how I’ve seen God at work in my life, how God is teaching and sustaining me, and how I’ve seen the Holy Spirit moving in my community.
But to do so, I’ll need to catch you up on what’s happened between 5th grade and now. (Don’t worry, I didn’t bring slides.) J
I grew up and met Jeff, a man who was, and continues to be, amazing. We were married shortly after graduating from George Fox, and are just over 9 years into our adventure together, an adventure which now includes 3 children who came along in rapid-fire succession. (3 in under 3 years, to be exact.)
Our middle kiddo, Keian, was born with a body that worked differently than others. It was after an anaphylactic reaction to peanut dust touching his skin at 6 months old that we learned that Keain has multiple life-threatening environmental, drug and food allergies (35 foods as of today). Life changed completely as our constant battle against asthma and anaphylaxis took us to the hospital 8 times in one year.
Then, this past year, the allergic responses increased, as did the hospitalizations. Keian was diagnosed with a rare allergic syndrome and began having seizures, up to 15 times a day. He spent time in the PICU at Doernbecher.
Then things worsened still. Keian began to bang his head into walls or the floor. He would hit and bite himself trying to tear off his skin. He screamed for hours through the night, without consolation. His speech was affected by dramatic stuttering, and he suffered systemic reactions to variations in temperature of even a few degrees. He missed developmental milestones, learned of a spectrum disorder, and was diagnosed with “global developmental delays” and post traumatic stress syndrome.
To say we were overwhelmed would be the understatement of the year. And that’s before Keian’s doctors started to run tests for cancer. And brain tumors. And mitochondrial disease.
I understand Jesus’ cry at the cross as recorded in in Matthew 27:46 “My God, my GOD! Why have you forsaken me!”, for I have felt the words in my soul as well. Jesus spoke these words in the moments before his death, and I have spoken them as I’ve held Keian in my arms and watched him fight for his life, as well as several times this past year as new symptoms and diagnoses pile up.
The medical needs we faced made it impossible for me to return to teaching or continue providing in-home childcare. Our finances, previously stretched, were obliterated by the constant barage of medical expenses. I began to have anxiety attacks, and experienced debilitating depression.
At times God felt painfully far away in all the heaviness and darkness. I longed for hope, for someone to carry the Christ light for me, a task that felt daunting and impossible on my own.
It was during this season that I had several experiences within the extended Christian community that got me thinking more deeply over how we go about being salt and light.
After hearing about Keian’s medical battles, a close friend told me something that really stuck with me: “If you are faithful and trust the Lord’s power, God will heal your son”. These words were a dagger to my heart. Because, despite my deep belief in God’s power and having listened and obeyed the leading of the Spirit the best I knew how, God hadn’t swept in and healed Keian. In fact, his condition only seemed to worsen. The logical conclusions to be drawn from my friends words then was that my faith wasn’t genuine or that I didn’t really trust God, conclusions that just didn’t fit my experience. Though I’m certain my friend intended to speak encouragement to me, her words made me feel angry at and mistrustful of God.
Around the same time I found myself disagreeing with some friends over a theological issue. On its own, this wasn’t all too surprising considering the diversity within the body of Christ. What did surprise me, though, was the response of some of my friends to our disagreement.
One friend felt led to convict me of my incorrectness through daily emails sent over the course of several weeks. These emails, consisting of 21 bullet points, outlined my error as well as how my perspective completely undercut the entire gospel message and Jesus’ power. Another friend cut off contact by ‘unfriending’ me on Facebook then publicly discussing how unfriending me in the name of Jesus was what was required to stand firm in her faith. Another friend, who just days before had shared ways she saw evidence of God in my life, issued a public declaration of my wrong as well as an assertion that my perspective on this single issue invalidated my salvation.
These painful experiences remind me of a time that my kids and I baked chocolate chip cookies. My bigs were taking turns adding ingredients to the dough and mixing as I split my time between managing the two budding bakers and the needs of my littlest one. Though I thought I was providing hawk-like supervision, I must have missed a few stealth additions to the dough along the way. I was none the wiser until I sat down to enjoy a fresh-from-the-oven cookie, only to have my taste buds assaulted by the most overwhelming, foul taste. Salt licks looked pretty bland next to these cookies! They were completely inedible. Dumping to much salt into the mix had taken a good thing (the perfect salty/sweet balance) and turned it into something completely unpalateable and useless.
Much like the salt-dump cookies, my experiences with these friends left a bad taste in my mouth. It was too much, unpleasant, and soured my own well-seasoned experience of faith in community, and to some extent, my perception of Jesus.
Looking back now, I believe that these friends were well-intentioned. I believe that they were working to honor their understanding of the verses Jo read in Matthew 5:13 about what it means to be the “salt of the earth and light of the world” by being careful to not “lose their saltiness” and to “let their light shine”.
In some ways, even though I don’t agree with them, I feel like I understand where these friends might have been coming from. Having grown up in the Church, I’m no stranger to Jesus’ sermon on the mount. I’ve always read the verses about salt being worthless if it lost its saltiness as a strong reminder to stand firm in my faith by speaking for what I thought was right and true, not allowing myself to be ‘watered down’ by other perspectives, always being willing to ‘give an answer’, and to have my answer be correct. The way I had always understood the verses, it seemed like it was my words and my theology that had to be the salt. I read into these verses what I now understand to be a lie: that all the pressure is ‘on me’ to communicate and declare God’s Truth.
Then this year, for the first time (probably because I’m a very slow learner), I read the passage a little differently. I felt God nudging me to look a bit further, pay attention to what I’d jumped over before. It felt as if I had been looking at a Magic Eye poster, staring at blurry, incomprehensble geometric images and colors that were supposed to all of a sudden shift into focus and reveal a hidden image. It was verse 16 that blew me away when I paid more close attention: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.” The simplicity takes my breath away still. The salt described in this verse isn’t words, well-developed theology, or clearly worded statements of faith. It’s not what we say, but instead it’s how we live.
At the same time I felt my understanding of these verses broaden/shift, I became aware of the sustaining presence of God in my life, a goodness I experienced through the actions of my community. Friends spent time with my little ones, freeing me to tackle myriad outstanding phone calls and emails. Another friend, who understands too well the pain of watching her child suffer, delivered a beautiful African violet with a hug and a note of her prayers for us—a sweet gift that encourages me and reminds me that I’m not alone each time see the plant through the day. Some friends brought over their extra barkdust and spread it in our front flowerbeds—the exact amount we needed. A school counselor drove to Doernbecher after working a full day to give his time playing with Keian and provide me much needed respite. Bags of clothes were gifted when growth spurts hit and we had no bandwidth for shopping. Friends listened to and cried with me, lightening my heaviness as they walked with me through pain and fear. Newberg Friends supported us through the compassionate care fund, a gift that bridged a financial gap and allowed us space to breathe and regroup in a tough season. We were referred to Love INC for yardwork help from people wanting to lend a hand families with kids with special needs. And were blessed twice by crews beautified our yard. Every interaction with the folks of Love INC was steeped in kindness, compassion and love.
We also received help with our yard on Neighbor to Neighbor day. I remember it as if it were yesterday, not only because of the amazing amount of work done, but because all that hard work happened at the same time I was throwing a birthday party.
I still remember the shame and embarassment that washed over me as it fully sunk in —I would be serving cupcakes to family while a crew of generous volunteers were doing MY hard and dirty work.
What had happened, of course, was that I had made a complete mess of things. At the lowest of my lows fighting depression, barely keeping my head above water, I was just trying to make it through each day. I had no recollection that this particular Saturday was “Neighbor to Neighbor Day”, or that I had been contacted months before about receiving help. I had only realized the night before that my 2 year old son had a birthday the following day, and that I had completely forgotten it with everything else going on. In an attempt to rectify my oversight and failure as a mother, I called grandparents, aunts and uncles and the cousins last minute and invited them to a party the next morning. A party which consisted only of eating cupcakes, which I threw together late the night before.
As much as I remember my shame and embarassment, I remember even more how I was treated by this crew of volunteers. My fumbling over words, awkwardly trying to explain my lack of tact, was met with a hug and an assurance that it was okay. That they were okay. And that, despite making a complete mess of things, I was okay. It didn’t matter what happened, they knew my hurt and need and were happy to help. Even if that meant sweating it out in my yard while I served cupcakes.
They had every reason to be angry at me. To feel disrespected and unappreciated. Every right to judge and condemn. But they didn’t. They drew me in, told me that they loved me, and showed me by their actions.
Their actions that day were as Christ to me. No condemnation or shame. Only mercy, kindness, and love. Just like my Jesus.
Then something crazy happened. Elizabeth called one afternoon and told me she had something to drop by from some friend at church. This seemed unusual, but I didn’t think too much about it. We chatted a bit when she gave me an envelope that I assummed was a note of encouragement. Imagine my bewilderment when I opened the envelope and found no note, but cash. $1000 just showed up at my front door, with no strings attached. No note, no conditions, no terms to agree to. First I couldn’t breathe, and then I cried. And then I laughed—because, as crazy as it is to to have $1000 from an annonymous person just show up at your home right when you need it most, it is SO like Jesus to know our needs, and then not just meet them but to go above beyond, lavishing us with crazy extravagant grace.
Some sneaky annonymous person, maybe sitting here today, was willing to carry a burden not their own, and to do so quietly and without condition. The overwhelming generosity poured out, powerful love so quietly given, hope created and unmerited grace received,….all actions that reflect my experience of Jesus. Sneaky Friend, if you are here today: thank you. You have been as Christ to me.
These poewerful acts of love and service also remind me of chocolate chip cookies. (Apparently, it doesn’t take much to remind me of chocolate chip cookies.) 😉 Unlike the salt-lick cookies I made with my kiddos, though, these experiences remind me of the ideal ooey-gooey cookie: perfectly capturing the delicate salty-sweet balance with a flavor that draws me in, gives a sense of comfort, and leaves me wanting more. (Or 10 more.) 😉
I realize that God doesn’t always just ‘show up’ in magical, mysterious ways like my story might suggest. But God shows up through you, through me. God has extended us the amazing grace of being involved in the holy work of being light, being salt, bringing hope. When we love as God loves us, with agape love, the love we’ve experienced already in Christ, we join God in bringing about the Kingdom now. God, through our actions, breathes hope.
I’d like to share a quote from one of my favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle. Her words capture so beautifully the idea that I’ve been increasingly drawn toward the past few months as I wrestle with what it looks like to lean into God’s call to be salt and light .
“We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, or telling them how wrong they are and how right we are…but by showing them a light so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
Less telling, more showing. Less condescension, more grace. Less talk, more action.
Imagine how things might unfold if we took Matthew 5:16, as well as Madeleine L’Engle’s words, to heart. What if we expressed our ‘saltiness’ through actions of service and sacrifice rather than word? What if we shift our focus to a pursuit of living Christ’s joy so fully and vibrantly that it becomes palpable to everyone with whom we’re in relationship? What if we lived in a manner that reflected trust that God is able to connect with people even without, and in many cases in spite of, our words?
I suspect that if we take these words to heart and join this sacred work, we’ll begin to see what I’ve experienced: God’s Kingdom brought about now, on earth as it is in heaven.
As we close our time together, we’ll sing a well-known Children’s song. As we do, I invite you to soak in the simple and profound words of the song, as well as the truth found in the words of Madeleine L’Engle and Matthew 5:16.
SONG: “They’ll know we are Christians by our love”
Jesus give us grace that others may know we are Christians by our love. Amen.
And as we go today, let’s lean into the challenge to live as the verses in Matthew and L’Engle describe. May we be salt and light like singer Toby Keith’s lyrics (though I’m certain they were never intended them in this way): ” a little less talk and a lot more action”.