On trust, doubt, and loss.

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On Saturday, like many, I felt incredibly sad to hear that Rachel Held Evans had died

I mostly knew her through Twitter. We didn’t really interact there, but whenever I was wrestling with some injustice, I would see her comments on whatever had happened (a shooting, an anti-refugee statement, racism)  and always felt deeply thankful for her voice in the mix of all the other voices. She was always quick to respond with the love of Jesus. She reflected love in action. 

One thing she was known for was making space for people who wrestle with their faith. It’s important. It’s foolish to turn a blind eye to the need for making room for those who are in a chrysalis of doubt.

Tim Keller says, “A faith without some doubts is like a human body with no antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask the hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person's faith can collapse almost overnight if she failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.”

Studies show that “of America's major faiths, mainline Protestants have the worst retention rate among millennials, with just 37% staying in the fold.”

The truth is that Christians need a clear, sacred space to wrestle with doubt and belief without feeling outcast from the communal space of believers. If questioning faith is off-limits, we risk losing the beautiful creation that is formed by a community of believers who have gone deep, seen the mystery, and chosen to continue on the path of Jesus.

Writers like Rachel put words and validity to questions that many people have, and yesterday and today I have seen hundreds of people telling their stories of wrestling with doubt, saying that Rachel’s writings helped them to the other side- through the cloud to something beautiful and new on the other side.

Faith is not a static thing that you hold or put in a box to keep precious and untouched. In fact, if you change the word faith to trust, you see that it always needs to be tethered to something out there. The massive, incredible presence that my trust is tethered to is God. But this line can be stretched or flown through thin air, it can go through flames, it can drag me through deep waters. 

In my life I wrestle, and in my belief I have moved through many stages, coming through painful processes into something deeper and more real each time. I have buried illusions I had about the perfection of community, what unity actually looks like, what is actually promised in Scripture. (Hint: You can follow Jesus and still have your friends die, your loved ones or yourself racially profiled, have a mental illness or neurological difference, get sick, or struggle with money.)

My journey is of mental illness and anxiety disorder. I have learned what it means to have faith when I don’t have a mind I can trust to be safe for me when I need it. How to have faith when what I see is not always actually there.

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Strong voices who offer sacred space for those in the margins, for those who struggle, voices who ask hard questions and wrestle with the answers are an essential part of the community of Christians. I also feel passionate about a diverse body of believers. I was charismatic growing up, I moved into a more contemplative faith. Now I’m some mix of the two who no longer knows how to worship in a room without windows because I’m so used to sitting where I can see the sky. I live life with people who come from different Christian backgrounds. And I know many more. Each one teaches me something different. Who would we be without the large body of believers? Without all the different flavors of who God is? He is reflected in a lovely way through all of us, even those who are struggling with doubt. Rachel asked hard questions and she wrestled on the behalf of those who needed someone to speak up for them. This is no small thing. It’s quite a legacy in a time when we are unbelievably polarized.

Rest in Peace, dear RHE.

River thoughts.

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It was forty degrees and we were baking, so I took Solo and Isaac to the river.

Don’t forget this, I whispered to myself.

The river was warm, shallow, and full of algae in the late hot season. I trusted in our well developed immune systems. Flowers from nearby trees floated along, and the only other people there were a bunch of kids; the children of parents who work at the guesthouses along the river.

I was there with my boys, who took turns curling into me while I sat on the floor of the river. Every so often I climbed the bank and ran over to the garden to move the sprinklers. (I burned the bottoms of my feet on the hot pavement, not discovering this until later when I found it hard to walk.)

The river, the boys. Isaac attempting to skip rocks. Solo floating and diving down. These are the stories we will tell about our lives. I drive the chariot through town, we walk along swaying bridges. A man walks along the river with a snorkel mask and a spear gun, looking for his dinner.

Back at home, I went to the afternoon market and picked up some chopped pumpkin and made what we call Pumpkin The Egg, after a Thai menu board we saw ages ago. I made carrot juice and we were all tired after too much sun. Isaac lost his first tooth. After dinner, Solo practiced trumpet with Chinua and I practiced my neglected clarinet. Isaac tried to play the clarinet for a while, he’s fascinated with it.

We read together and then prayed for our friends, near and far. Every single thing we did was interrupted. Every thing I planned was edited with some other need. My teenagers are going through hard times. (Not Leafy! Ah, hormones come for all.)

Every time I tried to read or pray, Isaac would suddenly have a thought and HAVE to share it and it drove me crazy. Solo had a rough day in many ways.

But the river, the long hot afternoon, reminiscent of so many hot season afternoons through the years, the little tiny beautiful moments. The sun finally bright again after the smoke. The hope of rain. Change on the horizon. It is such a beautiful life, more intense with joy because it is so fleeting.

An easier way.

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I’m on a solitary writing retreat, thinking about my daily rhythms of life and what helps me versus what hurts me. This morning I meditated, prayed, exercised, showered, and read a chapter in a helpful book. It is now five minutes to 7:00. I feel like I’ve cared for myself. I feel like I’m ready to work. Normally I’ve already tried to get an hour of writing into this time, so it makes sense that I don’t do this every day, or does it?

I don’t do it because of the feeling of walls around me in my life.

There is so much that we don’t do because of the feeling of being fenced in. There are these cramped boundaries we give ourselves. I don’t have enough time. Twenty minutes is all I or you need to do the next thing, so we kinda do have time.

We do have natural limits. I’ve learned this in the past year, as I moved closer to burnout more than I ever have before. However, because the day feels wide and free today, because I am on a retreat, I managed to take care of myself fully, and still end up at the page earlier than I might normally, if I was overwhelmed and procrastinating or avoiding my work. And that means that the time limits are sometimes in my head.

I’m thinking about an easier way to live.

I think it connects well with my faith, with Jesus, who said, “Do not worry about anything, for which of you by worrying can add a single day to her life?”

Or which of you by procrastinating and anxiety can eke another hour out the day?

Or which of you by not playing or taking care of yourself can save up enough for what your children need?

Or which of you by obsessing can control the world and take care of all the needs around you?

Where is this easier way?

Actually, every day is wide and free. Tasks don’t close me in. My thoughts close me in. Thoughts that say, don’t exercise or work on your writing right now because you have a meeting in six hours and its probably better to walk in circles and think about all the things you have ever done wrong.

Work is not the problem. Work can always be holy in a trusting heart. Each day is full of possibility, of walking in the glittering shadow of God, who creates as easily as he breathes. The Creative Wild Spirit of God, ready for me to give her enough room to turn every conversation into a sanctuary for kindness. I am not in some godless boring world where every act is doled out by me in a scarce approximation of building a house, brick by brick.

Jesus invites me to create with him. To continue what has already been done for eons, this continuing creation in love that floods the devastated places.

I can admit that I don’t come to peace naturally, but perhaps a hard won peace is still precious.

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Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I really really appreciate your support, it helps me to keep going with writing and publishing my work. A new Patron only post (An Illustrated List of Good and Inspiring Things) is up now.

A Tangle of Cousins

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It’s a tangle of people, a pile of cousins. It’s beautiful and sad, because we live far away from one another. Distance heightens our happiness at being close to one another, and brings a sadness that a goodbye is coming.

Nieces are: help in the kitchen, talks about books, Harry Potter trivia, warm squishy hugs, a little hand pulling mine, being called “Auntie Becca” (not my real name), making big batches of mango shake, imaginary land rules (Dragon only breathes fire and ice, not water), quirk for days, and a lot of laughing. I love watching the cousins together, the older ones being great older cousins to the younger ones. It’s a mishy mashy pile of love.

Time with my brother and sister-in-law is: quickwitted jokes, quips and laughs and their very generous hearts. Lara looking out for me, my brother equal parts wisdom and stupidity (little brother forever). Chinua and Matty wrestling, a more even match than they have ever been. Game nights of wink murder and charades, Seven Wonders and Monopoly. Street food and water play for Song Kran.

We cram every possible moment in, because we only have two weeks. We lose sleep, the kids get grumpy, we keep them up too late and eat under the fairy lights strung in my tree. We invite our friends over to show each other off. (These are our amazing friends- this is our amazing family.) We swim nearly every day, because the heat is incredible.

Sometimes the joking or sarcasm becomes too much and then we return to softness. We check in with each other and reassure each other.

I love them so much I feel like my heart will burst with it. Love touched with sadness.

Thanks for coming, beautiful family. 

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Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I really really appreciate your support, it helps me to keep going with writing and publishing my work. A new Patron only post (An Illustrated List of Good and Inspiring Things) is up now.

Sale at The Painted Stork.

Just a quick post today to mention that we are having a week-long Spring Sale at The Painted Stork! Everything in the store is 20% off, including card sets, prints, and original paintings.

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It’s a good time to order for Mother’s Day, with plenty of time to get your artwork delivered.

And while I’m linking to other things, have you checked out the Shekina Meditation Podcast yet?

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You can find the most recent episode here.

Much love to you all,

Rae