Saturday, September 28, 2013


This prompted an interesting discussion with a friend, whom I’ll call Ruth.  For her, the idea that a loving God would label anxiety as “sin” made her uncomfortable.   She doesn’t believe God is that harsh.

I can understand her perspective:  A tendency towards anxiety seems so innocuous.  After all, it could be argued that one person’s anxiety isn’t hurting anyone else (although I’m not sure I would support that particular perspective).  So I can certainly see how using a loaded term like “sin” in reference to anxiety seems not only severe, but maybe inaccurate. 

Ruth may very well be right on target.

But for months now, I’ve been revisiting that conversation in my mind.

I think I get her point:  we don’t like the word “sin.”  We’re understandably hesitant to use it in reference to someone else’s behavior.  And I suppose this is as it should be.  Being judgmental isn’t only frowned on by our culture; it’s also frowned on by God.

But Ruth’s response also made me wonder: do Christians today have an aversion to using the term “sin” as a label for our own actions?  Has our culture’s fear of being judgmental / intolerant / bigoted / dogmatic / narrow-minded somehow created in us an unwillingness to honestly assess our own behaviors and attitudes?  Are we willing to tell the truth—even just to ourselves—about what we do, what we say, what we think?

If it’s true that we’re not always inclined to be honest with ourselves, then what is behind that hesitancy?  

Maybe this deserves further investigation.

Friday, September 20, 2013


We sat by each other at Floyd Casey Football Stadium—probably about this time of year.  But the unmerciful Waco autumn weather felt more like July.  At least the sun had set, granting some relief.

I can’t remember what we talked about over our popcorn and Dr. Peppers.  Maybe we mocked the Milli Vanilli songs we’d listened to countless times that summer, or laughed (again) about the Caddo “C” Julie Caldwell and I mistakenly finger-painted on a camper’s sleeping face in our midnight attempt to aggravate our Osage friend.  We probably tried (unsuccessfully) to make sense of the strangeness we’d encountered in our James Joyce class.  Whatever was said, I’m certain it included laughter—Troy’s specialty.

Partway through the game, the Flash photography girl appeared, so we called her over to take our picture.  Laughing, I mentioned that my eyes would probably be closed like usual.  But just before she snapped the shot, Troy reached around from behind me and, with his fingers, he propped open my eyes.   A few days later, I bought the picture.  Troy’s trick had worked.

We finished our graduate studies, and Troy and I didn’t communicate as often.  Soon, our lives went in different directions.  After many adventures with Camp Ozark (which many of us envied fiercely), he landed a teaching job in Seattle and settled in.  In some ways, his life’s trajectory seemed to change by a few degrees.  Yet in other ways, it seems to have been steady, sure.

The path I chose included some years of sharp, rocky terrain, and my steps grew uncertain.  Disoriented, I stumbled often and with no small consequence.  Those years chipped away at my courage and came frighteningly close to stealing my hope altogether.   Had I been willing to admit my struggles, I know I would have benefited from the encouragement Troy and other friends would have offered.  But I was afraid:  I didn’t really believe anyone could offer answers that would actually feel like answers.  So I hiked on, plodding and blundering.

Somehow, I managed to arrive at the end of that stretch.  There, I was simultaneously stunned and grateful to be met by Mercy.  It was embodied in so many forms:  a family’s unflinching acceptance, a loving marriage, amazing children, and—more recently—an opportunity to use the degree I’d worked so hard to earn.   An opportunity to teach English to community college students here in Tennessee.

Which, of course, reminded me of Troy.   So I messaged him, sharing my excitement about the job and asking his advice about managing the workload.   Troy’s response was another embodiment of that Mercy.  My misguided stumbling didn’t matter.  Instead, our last exchange ended with his reply, which resonated with his characteristic and kind combination of wit, wisdom, and encouragement.

I spent hours on Saturday sifting through a box of college memorabilia, looking for that particular picture.  So far, the search has been unsuccessful.  But it doesn’t really seem to matter:  I won’t be forgetting it anytime soon.  But I’m newly resolved to open my eyes wide, to watch for opportunities to laugh, to talk, to receive Mercy.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Again you ask to play the ipod while we drive to school.    
Again I say “No,” suppressing the familiar stone of self-doubt, heavy in my stomach.
Again you say—slowly—“Yes ma’am,” face mirroring the morning clouds.
Your quietly reluctant obedience is likely fueled by a hope: 
cooperating now might earn an opportunity later. 
Not my favorite motivator.
It will have to do. 
I am longing for ten minutes of together.

I ask:  “What’s happening at school today?”
At first, a forced “Nothing.” 
Then, from the back seat: “I have three tests.” 
Followed by: “Want me to help you review while we drive?”
Your offer is declined.  
But your kindness lends light.
Soon:  “Josh is so funny, Mom.  And Mrs. Phillips is the best.”
Another voice joins in: “You wouldn’t believe what happened yesterday . . . .“
Stories are shared.
The half-risen sun blazes orange on the horizon.
And your eyes, smiling, meet mine.