At the reading of God's Word and the Spirit's faithful persuasion, I grew into hoping that the glory of God might really be something wonderful. That hope found satisfaction at table with a sweet friend.
Funny how that happens.
While waiting for our Thai vittles, conversation, per usual, turned from “how are ya's” to matters of the kingdom, of God's coming in and through us on the earth, and especially to how that is uniquely expressed through fierce and beautiful femininity. It is really a gift to meet a friend—a sister—with whom conversations like that just happen.
It was there in the shelter of our honest discussion that I finally let it all out. I expressed my frustration with glory-talk, my annoyance with its flippant and undefined usage, and my desperate hope that it might—that it MUST—mean more than its popular understanding. I confessed my anger and fear at how this ambiguous word was being used to describe God in ways that I have not and hope to never experience as part of the Lord's character...
And then I glanced up to a friend listening, beaming with compassion, and pregnant with the truth.
She, much like the Holy Spirit, would not let me escape glory, for to do so would have been dreadfully unloving. She told me straight that God is love and is about love, but there is also an aspect of God that is got at only through a different word.
I leaned in, my heart open so far that it hurt, and tried to be patient.
"Glory has to do with God's presence, and, more specifically, with the weight of that presence. Here, imagine this. Imagine if an acquaintance of ours from college walked in. We would smile and wave, but then get back to our conversation. Now imagine if your fiancé walked in—you would have a completely different response! His presence would move you in a big way, yeah?"
I giggled. Of course it would.
"Okay, so what if the president of the United States walked in the building? We ALL would be affected. Every person would scramble to their feet and clap, salute, etc. depending on how they relate to the country's leader. By rough analogy, we would be affected by the POTUS glory. Does that make sense?"
Almost, I thought, and our food arrived. My friend offered a prayer of thanks and blessing for our meal, closing with a expression of her hope and promise of effort to "make God's glory known among the nations."
That is when it hit me.
It was like I had heard the phrase for the first time. The depth of meaning moved me and tears sprung to my eyes.
If glory is the reality of God's presence, if it is the acknowledgement of the Lord's wonderful, loving, powerful, righteous, and Life-giving presence in the world—if it is the very Reality of God being close to us—then sign me up. I DO pray that this Reality would be made known in the world. In fact, pointing others to God's presence and care and concern and love for them is the very calling of my life.
Living in the shadow of God's wings, walking streets aware that they are both of this world and under claim of God's Kingdom, experiencing communion with the Spirit at each breath, and over all moving about life as if God was in the room... that is what we are meant for.
God's glory, the wonder and weight of Emmanuel—God with us—is over all the earth. And that is something worth talking about.
I have to admit that I have had an issue with "glory." And I mean that I have struggled with it in every way. What does the word even mean? Why are so many people talking about it all the time? And how does one determine its definition when there is such a noise of conflicting ideas about it?
Growing up, there was not much said about God's glory. Now, before anyone starts hollering claims of Christian neglect, let me say that there was much said about glorifying God with our lives (i.e. Live such lives that would bless the Lord and, by sweet default, would point others to God's love). It was not until college that I started hearing "glory" used in other ways.
"Ace that test for God's glory."
"God's glory was just so powerful; there was no other choice."
"Thank you for this [academic/athletic/merit-based] award—may God have the glory."
"They'll come around when God reveals [God's] glory."
"Yeah, I didn't do it out of pride, but for the glory of God."
Huh? The word popped up everywhere—always ambiguous, always undefined. That got on my nerves.
I did manage, however, to piece together a few positions. From some, glory sounded like a kind of currency good Christians were to heap up for God's sake, almost like a spin off of the "jewel-in-my-heavenly-crown" notion. From others it sounded like one of God's super powers able to bring any sinner to their knees in an instant. More darkly, and more often than is tolerable, glory was described as something so potent and, well, glorious that a person was left stricken and stripped of autonomy in its wake.
This does not sound like God to me, and this ambiguous "glory" doesn't sound like stuff the Lord would want to keep on hand.
My angst swelled. I tried to avoid glory-talk. When folks would mention or pray about or for God's glory, seemingly tossing it to and fro like some churchy-religious punctuation mark, I felt uncomfortable at best and downright angry otherwise.
Imagine, though, my experience—read: annoyance, hurt, defensiveness, and yet, strangely disarming surprise—when I came across passages like this one:
"My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make melody.
Awake, my soul!
Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn.
I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples, and I will sing praises to You among the nations.
For Your steadfast love is higher than the heavens, and Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let Your glory be over all the earth."
The Holy Spirit, it seems, will not let me put "glory" away. Spirit keeps nagging--uh, nudging--and strangely that gives me hope for my irritation. Maybe God's glory is more than this popular noise using its name.
Maybe it is something wonderful.
To be continued.
There is a lot happening.
This morning as I was bumbling about for the coffee grinder the thought occurred suddenly that the entire world was happening. Right then. I was zapped with the realization that in the same moment that I groggily scrambled eggs and sliced bread for toasting, such tiny and mundane events, the world was bustling with life and teeming with stories.
The thought brought my morning kitchen rituals to a pause.
I was blessed in that moment. I was blessed at noticing the soft light beaming its morning hello and the green leaves waving back, hearing the neighbor's pups romp about in the dew and the many commuters buzzing by. Things simple and profound, I know, were happening here... and everywhere.
Everyone is busy. All are about something, every single human on the earth. There are thousands of stories all being told at once, and yet only one at a time.
This universal happening of the world has been lost to me of late. I have been completely absorbed in my own goings on. That is probably because there really is much ado at present.
Allow me to explain.
A month or so ago I decided that it was time to move from Birmingham to Atlanta. My fiancé Aaron, who lives in Atlanta, agreed wholeheartedly. This was decision was bolstered when our (absolutely fantastic) church there in GA offered me a wonderful position dealing in worship leadership. In exchange for planning, facilitating, and leading worship every week, I would live rent-free in the church’s hospitality suite. That suite is in the church building, which is on a farm, which is in the middle of east Atlanta, which is 12 minutes away from where Aaron lives.
Yeah. I was—am—super excited.
However, in the meantime, I have been working full-time at the farm-to-table restaurant, finishing a major writing project, chiseling away at my perfectionism, planning a wedding, and traveling every weekend this month leading worship for youth events, all the while marketing my little townhouse for sublet and packing boxes for the upcoming move.
Also, we have been in the midst of tax season here in the USA. And, just to reiterate, Aaron and I live in different time zones.
I would like to say that I have handled this well.
In some ways, I have. I have enjoyed my life, this happening story with all its goings on. I have known God through them and have been blessed by the challenges of time and deadline and responsibility. These personal happenings have been a pleasure with which to engross myself.
But, there is something I have done poorly. There is something I have looked over. It is this other happening. I have zoomed in too far, looked largely to my own affairs, and have almost forgotten the happening world around me.
The world is spinning and groaning and evolving and bustling and thriving and hurting and brimming with LIFE.
Oh, I have missed this. I have missed this conscious, intentional awareness of life. I have missed the thrill of knowing with each breath and blink life comes and goes for us all.
For the Master is made known in such breaths and blinks. The Creator is glorified in a waving branch and a dancing shadow and in our human notice of them all.
Oh, how I have missed You.
There is hope as I sit and breathe deeply, drinking in the sights and sounds of a day's closing. There is a lot happening, and I thank God for simple reminders of the profound and the large. I thank God for poking a hole in my haze of days so that I might not miss out on Divine happenings in this world...for reminding me that I am small, but important, and a chosen participant in it all.
Thanks to a sermon-swapping conversation with my mom the other day I got a whole new take on Luke 8 (verses 40-48). It's the story of one woman's double healing, a tale of both a physical and social miracle.
This has been one of my favorite stories about and around Jesus for a while, as it has been for my mom. Favorites are great and all, but sometimes familiarity breeds complacency—a phenomenon that chokes imagination at the bud. New insight, like spring rain, shapes stories to a fresh look.
Such insight was my mom's as she shared her pastor's telling of a woman loved by the Lord.
"This is my favorite character in scripture. I've always loved this story—just what Jesus did for women. They were so hard on women back then...but Jesus didn't ignore her. He pulled her forward, stopped what He was doing and pulled her forward…"
Pulled her forward. That's what caught my attention. In the past I admit to actually cringing my way through that part of the story because I heard scolding in Jesus' voice, "Who touched me?"
Like Crayolas on Da Vinci, my insecurities colored my reading. My complacent familiarity kept me from looking outside of my own experience and deeper into the text. Instead of rising to imagine Jesus' love, I, as if on autopilot, filled His face with annoyance. I was not too unlike the disciples, really, in utterly missing the point.
"Pulled her forward" makes me wonder. What if Jesus wasn't annoyed? What if this was yet another of His intentional, seemingly subliminal, absolutely subversive, and clearly Kingdom-ringing acts of the bravest Love?
This is where hope starts waking inside me.
Jesus didn't stop that crowd to embarrass or shame that woman. Heaven knows she had enough of that. Perpetual bleeding left her unclean and an utter outcast in Jewish society. By virtue of being a woman she was considered second class at best and only understood in relation to her closest male relative. This nameless and shunned woman was just that—an ignored, avoided, dirty nobody to all.
That is, except to Jesus.
Jesus stopped that crowd to say something, and not just "Who poked me?” He stopped to make this woman's voice heard, and maybe because He Himself was more than a little surprised by her fullness of being, by her courageous faith.
The story goes that the woman, at one brush with Jesus’ garment, was healed. It was quiet, and hidden, and wonderful. She was well. And she didn't even have to bother the Master. Now she could go on with life...
And there it is. That, to the King of kings, was not enough. Jesus came to set the captives free, bring the last up front, and lift the heads of the downtrodden—and not just to make them feel better. He came to free the individual and the world to a new way of being—to God’s Way, a Movement for both the individual and the community.
Because of our familiarity with Gospel stories, I think it easy to overlook their radical and dangerous nature as sweet and nice when, in actuality, Jesus was moving mountains.
When Jesus stopped that crowd and pulled that woman forward He was supporting the woman's validity as a whole person—one who had moved the very heart of God within Him—and He was standing with her in her pain and isolation.
By calling her forward and hearing her story, Jesus showed us that women's voices and faith are powerful. Jesus challenged the evil assumption that women are second class, inferior, and better left silent and controlled. The woman, called daughter, had a story to be heard, and Jesus stopped a busy and pressing crowd to listen because she mattered.
Too, in exposing the fact that the woman had touched Him, Jesus exposed Himself as untouchable, as unclean, and a lawful outcast of Jewish society. Jesus willingly stood with one of those most utterly scorned in that society.
Sometimes I get this idea that God became flesh to do expressly that: to expose our injustices by becoming the One we oppress.
This is much to contemplate. This is much to hold. In the same stroke that the God of the universe healed and lifted the head of an oppressed woman, God raised the community’s self-awareness, challenged it to grow and encompass the least of these, and diverged a new understanding of faith… of authentic, dangerous, and worthy faith.
What then shall we do? I think it all depends on where we locate ourselves in the story. Are we the woman, lonely with hands outstretched, or are we one of the crowd jostled to a stop at Jesus’ poky question?
For either position there is one thing to ponder: choice.
It is important in all of this to wholeheartedly understand that the woman had a choice. The words “pulled her forward” set me down this path because they highlighted Jesus’ agency for social change, but the very fact of the matter is that the woman was not forced forward, but invited. It is because she so chose that we even have her miracle to consider.
As one hidden in the crowd, female and male alike, we wait. We might be like her. We reach out in faith to know Jesus and then find ourselves invited—“pulled”—forward and engaged more deeply and more wholly than ever before. Jesus’ love is too deep to keep us quiet and safe at status quo in the crowd. Christ’s love calls us to new heights.
Are we willing to lift our heads and stand recognized before the world as healed by God? Will we raise our hands and say it was us; we touched Him and are made well? Will we come out from the shadows and join Jesus in His miracle work, bearing witness to the personal so that the world might be set free?
As a crowd of many, what shall we choose to do with this Jesus, the One who shatters our chain-like notions, interrupts our hustle with an albeit slow, unentertaining, yet somehow unforgettable story?
How shall we respond, especially when we find that our hands, too, have somehow risen to reach the hem of a Miracle?
Leanna prays for the strength and love to imagine and embody God’s Way more fully into this wonderful world.
This past week my fiancé and I had the opportunity to travel north unto the capital.
Aaron on the bus.
Though the main motivation for our trip was to visit some dear folks, we had to do some sightseeing. We stopped in at Monticello, spent hours wandering around a Smithsonian, negotiated the underworld of the Metro system, ate at my favorite restaurant, and took my first ride in a public autobus.
My love and crazy cousins doing what we do best, and Kelli,
my maid of honor, and her boyfriend Arthur.
I have family that live just south of the District and my maid of honor abides a mere four minutes from the Reagan National Airport.
The Cothran Gals and Guys – Can’t get enough of these sweet people!
Aaron and I went to visit these loves for the sake of it, but I came back with a pretty white dress and some pleasantly unsettling ideas.
Kelli—the MOH—and I in two of the dresses that DID NOT make the cut!
It really was a wonder of a time, a wonder and a disruption.
The sights, the people, the Metro--all of it unsettled me. Travel does that, and not necessarily in unpleasant ways. Travel bumps me from my routine and, thus, I exist for the duration of the trip in a more alert, more aware, and more mindful state of being.
It was in this state of…awake—we’ll call it a state of wakefulness—that I was blessed to encounter what was the sweetest, most challenging, and most extremely unsettling part of our travels: Eucharist at the National Cathedral.
The Cathedral is enormous. My beloved remarked that the Washington Monument could be laid down on its side and fit right down the church’s center aisle. That’s big.
It is big, but also beautiful…in an otherly way; it is almost odd and almost haunting. The tall arches house stained glass windows that tell parables, Biblical memories, and hopes for the world. The lighting and the architecture both give off a feel of ancient-but-new, always-but-coming authority…as if the important things happen there, as if Kingdom things happen there.
I hoped so. Besides the setting of a restored forest, God’s reconciled keeping company amongst trees and wildlife, I could imagine no better place to realize the Kingdom of God. I could imagine no better place that might welcome the Kingdom. This place, I thought, was just odd enough, just different and other enough to be an outpost of the Lord.
I was alert to every move of the pastors and deacons, to every note of the choir and great organ, and to the colors of the vestments signaling the time of the Church year.
Oh, and the words that were said—the WORD that was said! Word of deep peace with God and fellow humans, word of reconciliation and the blessedly hard work of serving others, word of ramming the gates of hell with the freedom of Jesus’ gospel, and the loudly declared word that we wanted to be a part of it.
At all that I…well…I started to feel…
There in the obscurity and the seeming absurdity of the ancient and holy rituals, the long congregational readings and reverberating music of the people, I felt that I belonged. And I was challenged to remember that I do belong.
It hit me that this is what church is meant to be. Through all her different expressions, from the highest of high churches to the humblest of house gatherings, she must always hold true to her oddness. In pursuit of relevance in the world, she must never lose her absurdity.
For it is there, in the seeming nonsense of repeated prayers, the age-old tradition of passing the peace, the splash of baptism, the taking of the bread and cup, and the outright conviction that God will reign, that the church is reminded that she is the Church.
It is there that we are reminded that we belong.
It is also there that we are reminded that we are sent. When I and those on my row walked forward to receive the bread and cup, at the sacred moment of tasting the symbol, I entered the mystery of God’s love all over again. And that love is not one that sits still, but goes and sends.
As Aaron and I walked up the center aisle away from the Table in that great big cathedral, I couldn’t help but feel that there was room for everybody. And I couldn’t help but feel, so bolstered from time spent on the rock, that it is my job to go invite them in and break any barrier and any chain in the way.
As we have been loved, we must so love. As we have been welcomed, been declared belonging, we must welcome and accept, bringing the world unto the rock of God’s people and the hope of the Kingdom.
Absurdity and all.
Leanna immensely enjoyed time in DC, but also those hours spent folded into blue airplane chairs and traipsing airports’ carpeted halls with the best traveling partner a woman could ask for. Here’s to you, darling, and to all our adventures. May they be as grace-full as this one. May we be able to recognize it.
Here we are at the beginning of 2013. The fireworks have crackled, the toasts were lifted, and the auld lang syne was sung. It is now time for that yearly season of resolution making. It is time for the pondering of habits, for both the making of new ones and the breaking of the bad.
As nice as it is, this season sets me up for a series of disappointments that hit, say, mid-March. And that’s if I’m lucky. As if to the rescue, NPR just recently ran a special on how to make and break habits. It merits its own listen—the researcher talks like Mr. Darcy—but the piece rustled up a deeper question for me.
What constitutes a healthy—and holy—ambition? What is a habit worth working toward?
I think a large part of the answer is hidden here (Romans 12:1-2):
These verses present a process of habit-making that every Christian is called to. This sacrificing of self and renewing of our minds is not something that happens over night, but is a part of a greater cultivated practice—the habit of praise.
The first “Christian” book I ever read was a short, lime green thing by David Crowder, Praise Habit: Finding God in Sunsets and Sushi. In my teenybopper mind Crowder was the perfect mix of cool, quirky, genius, and God, so I absorbed every word.
Though I am well past my crush, that little book stays with me through two metaphors Crowder used that expresses both the natural and intentional nature of a praise habit: breathing and the everyday habit-wearing of a Sister.
Breathing is something we learned when the nurse slapped our baby bums and our bodies remind us to do it every few seconds. Though we learned to breathe, it is our nature and is a must for our nature.
So it might be said of this spiritual act of worship, this moment by moment, breath by breath, offering of our bodies to God. It is both something we do by consequence of existing and something we are reminded to do at every turn.
As for a nun’s habit, that is something different altogether. However odd the garment may be, a nun’s habit is something these women choose to pull on every day. To them it is their personal warmth and protection, but it is also a major statement to the world. It declares Who they belong to and what they stand for. I surmise that their habit helps them remember these things, too.
Such might be said of praise if it became our habit, if we pulled it on over our heads every morning with the full intention of living up to what it means, and if we allowed it to remind us—to renew us—to what and Who we are about.
Praise, a word and deed that encompasses much more than lifting our hands in the sanctuary, is an essential habit, and I assert that it fits the top of any list of resolutions.
Praise inspires, covers, and can embody every good and perfect, just and kingdom-ringing bit of life. Perhaps resolutions fall to the wayside because they are made up of less than important things. Maybe we are meant for more than losing a few pounds or gaining a few extra dollars.
Yeah. We are meant for more. We are meant for praise—real, daring, sacrificial, servant-hearted, counter-cultural, transforming, world-changing praise.
And that’s a habit I can believe in.
Leanna also used to have a crush on Steven Curtis Chapman, but don’t tell anybody. Love and light to you here at the beginning of 2013.
The first sermon I ever preached was “Ordinary Mary.” It was about how God calls the most ordinary of folks to enact and participate in the most extraordinary of situations. I was fifteen years old, had answered the call to ministry one year prior, and I liked Mary.
The ordinary fostering the extraordinary, Mary saying yes to God, I liked all of it. The topic captivates my imagination to this day. Packaged so humbly, it is frighteningly easy to overlook the kingdom colors of Mary’s story, but once seen they are very difficult to forget.
I recently ran across an Advent interview with Enuma Okoro that roused me to those colors all over again. Enuma zoomed into the fact that Mary literally birthed God into the world.
To be honest, I too had considered the Lady’s physical experience in my teenage musings. I had made clear that the only extraordinary bit of Mary’s pregnancy was that the Lord God claimed parenthood. Bearing Jesus meant nine months of morning sickness, spotting, cramps, and who knows how many hours of excruciating delivery. On top of that, add the out-of-wedlock nature of it all and the odds of Mary actually physically surviving what God asked her to do were incredibly slim.
My focus on the physicality was to underline the fact that Mary was ordinary, as we are. My point was to show that just as Mary said yes to God, we can too.
Mary was an ordinary girl with whom God partnered to do an extraordinary thing. And that is the miracle—the invitation and the partnership. We are invited to partner with God, and the miracle is that we might say yes, that we might risk in full hope to work the extraordinary—that in saying yes to God, we might make a difference for the kingdom, a lasting difference that is real, eternal, and on a universal scale.
That understanding of this story has fueled me over the years, but to layer Okoro’s perspective adds a special depth. Okoro calls me back again to the ordinary woman on the ground in a stable working very hard to bring a Baby into the world. What does it mean to identify with Mary in her pain? In her labor? To consider what it means to hold God within us, and yet be called to the difficult labor of bringing Christ to the world?
To identify with Mary in her labor is to take things to another level, I think. Yes, another level that deserves a lot of creative thought and contemplative prayer, but in effort to swaddle these thoughts (and this post), here is my hope:
That though it is hard, though it is very hard, our answer might be Yes. That we might with Mary invite the Christ into our very existence and then turn to the labor of making Him known.
That we might risk it, countering cultural and religious norms for the sake of the best news there is: Emmanuel. God has come.
Leanna thanks the Lord there is a whole season of Christmas and not just one day of the goodness! At print, we are going on Day 6! Blessings to you and yours—may you know Emmanuel.
So, the rush is on. It’s on the packages destined for my front stoop. It’s on the hanging, setting, and arranging of decorations. It’s on the cleaning, the baking, and the Christmas card making.
The rush is everywhere. It’s at schools with exam prep, on the highways, and at church choir practice. There isn’t even a need to mention the madness at the shopping mall.
^One place you will never find me^
Most of all, though, it’s in me. The rush taunts and pushes at my very soul.
Hurry, it is Advent. That means there are only a few weeks until Christmas. Get your joy-to-the-world in gear and— You’re too slow. Feel jolly. Get happy. Do whatever you have to do to keep your dang spirit bright.
At that all goes too suddenly dull, and I become paralyzed. I freeze up at the growing heap of to-dos and the “soul-numbing because-it-simply-must-be-done” tone of it all. Traditions fall flat and gift-giving becomes a chore. December 25th seems a shadow instead of the joyful anniversary of Light’s coming.
I wonder if I can make it happen this year, the good tidings and the great joy. I wonder if Christmas will actually come at all.
The truth is that I couldn’t make it happen anyway, and that is a blessing of the Advent season. Advent is about waiting and preparation. It is about looking forward to and welcoming the One who is to come. This is not a season of making it happen, but of slowing ourselves enough to enjoy what has happened and to reorient to what is going to happen.
Advent points us to the birth of Jesus. That is what has happened. God chose to be separate no more and became human like us. Jesus dwelt with Creation and showed with his very life the Love that God is. Yep. That is what happened.
In Advent we are invited to embody the stories of those who waited for Jesus’ very human arrival. We look to the stories of Mary, who labored to bring God into the world, and of Joseph, who radically obeyed no matter how uncomfortable—and dangerous—the waiting became. We think of Elizabeth and Zechariah, and, even further, we practice identity with Abraham who from a far off distance trusted and had faith in the waiting. Advent is about remembering what has happened.
Joseph and Mary from The Nativity Story
(One of my favorite Advent and Christmas movies!)
It is also about what is yet to come, of Who is yet to come. During Advent Christians across the world look forward to Jesus’ second coming. We look forward to the Day when all is made well and every tear is wiped away. Advent helps us remember that we are not wasting time here on earth, but that in our waiting we are heralds and Kingdom-bringers. We are welcoming others to wait, too, for our wonderful Guest to come again.
The rush is on, of course. The world feels the pressure to make things happen. It just does that. However, we are called, in this time, to wait. We are invited to remember and feel giddy at what has happened and to joyfully anticipate what is to come.
Yes, there are gifts to prepare and cakes to bake, but they are not mandates for we are not responsible for making this, or anything, happen. Someone has already done that. Therefore, instead of 25 days of soulless scurrying, we are invited to a different pace. We are invited to a different season. It is Advent, and there is no rush.
Leanna hopes you’re filled with joyful excitement in your waiting!
In a flash I remember it. All over again I am my two year old self standing in that familiar hallway, the thick blue carpet tickling my toes. As my eyes adjust to the glowing yellow light of the overhead fixture, I toddle a yard or two and see him just there at the end of the corridor.
(Dad and I, less than a year old)
Daddy. My daddy. Lying on one side, the blue carpet cushioning an elbow, he is relaxed and smiling. He watches me and I feel comfort and delight as I mosey my way toward him.
I do not squirm under his gaze. Daddy loves me, and I know it.
That knowing is what propels me down the hall. It seems like a long walk, maybe because I am dragging behind something half my size. It is one of those wire-and-bead toys; the kind that people might see in kids’ waiting rooms or the nursery at church.
I plunk down the toy right in front of him and away we go pushing the beads over their swirly-twirly wires. I watch his hands and learn how to play. When I get stuck, his big, gentle fingers give mine a little nudge. And we go on like that for I do not know how long enjoying the yellow light of the hall and resting on the plush blue carpet beneath us. Playing, just me and Dad.
(Always Daddy’s girl—even when grumpy)
This is my earliest childhood memory. It is a pleasure. Most days it feels like a favorite blanket thrown round my shoulders or that first sip of just-right hot chocolate. It is warm and familiar and filled with goodness.
It is also filled with orientation. In this memory God beckons. Just as the sight of my dad at the end of the corridor sent my two year old feet a walking, the very presence of the Divine compels me closer. Like Dad and I played with the wire toy, God and I work together at the swirly-twirly essence of life before me. We work together at fostering grace and love in every twist and turn (I tend to envision the Kingdom of God to be like that, organically whirling and twirling its way over everything instead of a straight forward hard line.). Though I sometimes get frustrated at my unknowing, it is then that I might feel the nudge of the One who knows all. Other times I am allowed to figure it out myself. And that is good.
And all of that is good. It feels nice to have a symbolic memory to hold onto. However, even better is the overall Reality it invites me to step into. In some mysterious way, the Spirit engages this memory to reorient me to God’s truth—to God’s everlasting love, presence, and deep, deep care.
And that is what really gets me: that the God of the universe would think to find me even in my memories.
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
(After a dance recital sometime in the elementary years;
such a supportive pa!)
Leanna loves a good storytelling. She wonders about your own stories and memories. What is your earliest childhood memory? How is God meeting you even there?
Come next November, there is going to be a wedding. My sweet Aaron and I are officially engaged.
We decided to go public with our intentions a few weeks ago while traveling to visit my family in South Carolina (car rides can make for the best conversations). However, we have been talking, dreaming, and praying about our partnership for quite a while now.
The first inkling came back in February. Aaron and I looked at one another and he said right then, as easy as could be, “Yeah, I looked at engagement rings today.” Rejoicing ensued. I had been thinking of the same thing.
We talked about how we would want to go about engaging ourselves one day. In the past few years my dreams of engagement (and marriage) had shifted pretty drastically. No longer did I want a man on one knee, but rather a mutual kind of promising, a betrothal of sorts, in which we would both actively engage ourselves and then go public with our love. Aaron had his heart set on doing a traditional proposal, however, because “that is the only thing grooms are allowed in the whole wedding process.”
After a good chuckle, I conceded. It was important to him, and I have always been a sucker for a good surprise.
Conversations continued as we ivied our way down time’s path. It was fun to dream and scheme together about everything from wedding colors to chicken coops, seminaries to child-rearing, and just how our partnership would influence our individual callings. At each turn there was joy, and our love grew.
Though that joy ran deep, not all of our talks of partnership inspired feelings of jubilant celebration. There were straining logistical considerations (we live in two different states) and stressful we’re-really-adults-now issues. There were painful conversations brought on by insecurities and many tears in their working out. But every step of the way, every conversation and decision, was made together.
And that is precisely what my dear partner brought to my attention that day on the road somewhere in the Carolinas. He animated the highlights of our relationship. He pointed to difficulties and joys faced together. He even reminded us both of how we had done all things engagement-ish together already (i.e. We talked with both his and my parents about our dreams of partnership as a couple. There was no “asking for his/her hand.” We brought our parents into our conversation for wisdom, concerns, and blessing.).
Aaron’s point was that it was simply obvious: We have done everything else together. Why should our engagement be any different?
So we did it. We promised faithfulness in our partnership, and the deepest of loves. We promised to marry one another.
Yep. Right there, in the car. It was perfect.
Remembering that perfection in the face of befuddled friends and acquaintances has proved to be a little tricky. The mutual, egalitarian nature of our engagement throws some for a loop, but mostly folks just expect to hear a traditional proposal story and do not get one. To be honest, it is painful to watch their loving, excited eyes fade to confusion. It is also painful to encounter the questions of validity that then stir up within me.
Is our engagement real? Did we miss out on something? Should we just have a redo proposal just so everyone will be satisfied?
Those questions are answered, of course, by a remembering of who I am and the kind of way Aaron and I feel called to be in relation with each other. Everything we do is mutual because we understand love to be that way, neither forcing nor conniving, but mutually submissive and empowering. We have both discovered and made ourselves partners, and our engagement story portrays just that. I celebrate it, and thank God for the grace of such a moment.
There are other bits of grace that I question at times. Faced with the world’s confusing looks and seemingly natural stories, I am tempted to question the Story I have been called to preach and to live. The world’s neat plot lines look lovely from the tension of faith, the everyday learning of a greater Narrative not my own. Oh, but what a wonder it is to participate and embody that Story, to partner with God in its telling to the world.
Leanna thanks you for your time and interest here. May God bless you as the Story unfolds within and through you. Amen.
Leanna Coyle is a recent graduate from Samford University. She leads worship at her church and enjoys long conversations over tall glasses of sweet tea. She loves making music, traveling for missions, and scheming up ways to keep chickens in the city.