Grace and Truth

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father,

full of grace and truth. John 1:14

I have often said that my spiritual gift is truth-telling.  As a matter of fact, when my students dedicated last year’s yearbook to me, they said in the inscription that I was known for being brutally honest. It’s true.  I have a pretty quick tongue that often shoots out the truth, brutally, before I have a chance to temper it with grace.  It can be painful.  I often have to backpedal. 

The good news is that if you want to know what I think, just ask me, and I will tell you the truth.  In fact, if my words don’t tell you what I think, my face will betray me every time. 

“Mrs. Rathje, what do you think of this thesis statement?”

“Well, it doesn’t really say anything.” 

“Oh.” 

Yeah, I guess I could’ve said that more gently.  

“Mom, what do you think of this dress?”

“Well, I guess it looks ok,” (face not matching words).  

“Mom, just tell me if you don’t like it!”

So, the good news is, I don’t lie well.  I tell the truth.  But not always with grace. 

When the scripture was read at church this morning, I heard Jesus described as full of grace and truth.  I thought to myself, ‘they have to coexist’.  We cannot handle the truth unless it is partnered with grace.  

Truth: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 

Grace: God loved the word so much that He sent his one and only Son. 

Truth: I sin. 

Grace: Jesus saves. 

Jesus gets the balance right every time.  Me? Not so much. I try to say things like, “You’ve got the right format for a thesis, let’s try to make your purpose more clear.”  “This dress is fine, and the other one is even more flattering.”  But, you know, that takes a lot of energy and intentionality. And those are the easy conversations.  

Conversations get much more difficult than that, don’t they? “You can forgive and even love your father, even though what he did was very wrong.”  “God does forgive you and love you, even though you made a huge mistake.” “I am very angry with you, I no longer trust you, and I continue to love you, in spite of those facts.” 

I am very quick to point out the truth, but not so quick to add the grace.  Thankfully, when I turn to His Word, I always see both.  I always see that He is God and I am not.  I always see his perfection and my brokenness.  I always see His provision for my inadequacy. 

I heard a challenge this morning so spend more time in His truth, so that I will be more familiar with His grace.  I am up to that challenge. 

Psalm 95:7

…today if only I would hear his voice.

 

 

Advertisements

The Weed is Gone!

Remember my weed? The huge one in front of the house that I wanted to get rid of? It is gone!

Since we live on campus, the property is not ours, so we have to get permission to do things.  Well, my husband brought the groundskeeper over to our house yesterday to show him the weed and ask him if we could remove it.  This morning, the weed was plucked out while we attended a volleyball game.  Now that’s what I call service!  He did the big job, and we now can clear out the beds and prepare them for something new!

If you look at the photo, you will notice that the front of the house is not very welcoming.  In fact, several people upon hearing that we are living in this house, have looked at me with pity and said something like, “Wow, you are such a good sport.”  It is not glamorous, to be sure, but let me reiterate that this house is an answer to prayer.  

It is close (very close) to my husband’s office, which enables us to have just one car. It is all on one level, so I don’t have to do stairs.  It has a gorgeous view from every direction.  The whole thing can be cleaned top to bottom, end to end, in less than an hour.  It is simple.  It is manageable.  It is perfect.  

So, my mission is to transform that entryway into something inviting.  I want the outside of the house to reflect the fact that we are happy to be here.  We are happy to be in Michigan, happy to be at Concordia, happy to be on campus, happy to be in this house.  

I do have a small problem.  I know nothing about landscaping and nothing about what grows well in Ann Arbor. In fact, I don’t have a great track record with growing anything. So, it’s going to be an experiment.  It’s going to be trial and error. It’s going to be a process.  And it probably won’t ever be perfect.  

It’ll be a symbol of our lives here in Ann Arbor.  We will have some successes and some failures.  We will learn as we go.  Some days will look better than others.  And, we’ll keep trying.  With God’s help, something positive will happen.  In spite of us, it usually does.  

 

Hebrews 13:5

“…be content with what you have, because God has said, 

‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.’

 

 

 

Challenge Accepted

With all the bravado that’s been oozing from my blog the last couple of days, I was bound to be challenged.  A friend posted on my Facebook page ’21 Actual Analogies used by high school students in English essays’ and commented ‘any chance you can string a few together in your next blog?’  Now I realize she was probably joking, but I can’t just let a challenge pass me by, can I? 

Besides, I am due for a little fun.  Life can’t be all about battles, and transitions, and illness, and such.  We do need to laugh. 

I actually love to laugh, and I have been told on numerous occasions that I have a rather loud, obnoxious laugh, one that makes my children blush when they can hear it across a crowded room.  However, It has never been described as, a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up*. 

I have been told on several occasions, though, to quiet down; I shouldn’t laugh so loud.  But what am I supposed to do, hold my laughter in?  No can do. I love that feeling of laughing until I can’t breathe. So, I’m sorry if I am embarrassing you, or making you uncomfortable, I can’t hold it in or Joy [would fill my] heart like a silent but deadly fart fills a room with no windows*. (I am not making these up.)  My kids always said the silent-but-deadlies were the worst. 

Speaking of farts, not really, just kidding. 

I can see the assignment now, “Write a five-paragraph essay using the strategies you have learned for using similes and metaphors.  Include at least three analogies in your essay.”  I can imagine the students staring at their blank screens, scratching their heads, coming up with gems like, [I] was confused; as confused as a homeless man on house arrest*.  Or, The lamp just sat there, like an inanimate object*.  The poor teacher.  She had written her plan, crafted her assignment.  They had practiced, they had done in-class exercises.  They had seen numerous examples in that catchy YouTube video.  But still, her students were coming up with stuff like, The sun was below the horizon, like a diabetic grandma easing into a warm salt bath*. (Ok, you gotta admit, that one did create a pretty graphic mental picture.) 

Aren’t words fun?  The reason I am not a very good English teacher is because if my students wrote analogies like these, I would be laughing so hard, I would forget to teach them that the tone of their image has to match the tone of their message.  It should not create tension like this: Their love burned with the intensity of a urinary tract infection*.   I should, in the classroom, say something like, “The intensity of love has positive connotations while a urinary tract infection has negative connotations.  Using an analogy like this creates dissonance, boys and girls.   Our analogies should create consonance, agreement, harmony.”  But instead, I would be laughing as hard as someone who is about to become a spokesman for Poise pads. (Yeah, that one’s mine.)  I wouldn’t be able to pull myself together enough to give the true meat of the lesson.  

But we would have fun.  And we sure had fun.  

Job 8:21

He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, 

and your lips with shouts of joy. 

*All bold statements are lifted from the original post my friend shared with me. 

Two kinds of battle

It’s funny, I just reread my post from yesterday, about doing physical battle against illness.  I got to the scripture verse and practically laughed out loud. “Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though a war break out against me, even then will I be confident.” 

I am laughing at myself because I was thinking for a minute that the physical battle was the one I needed to be focused on.  Oh, silly me.  I forget so easily.  I stayed lost in that physical battle most of the day.  I am still not feeling great, and I had to see my new rheumatologist today, too. I was poked, prodded, examined, and x-rayed.   But that was the easy part. 

The tougher part was the spiritual/emotional battle that has been subtly building over the last several days.  There’s nothing extraordinary going on, really.  It’s just that, like everyone else who lives and breathes, I have a steady stream of stuff coming at me.  Stuff like daily details, family relationships, health information, … just stuff.  Not one piece is overwhelming on its own.  Especially not if I carefully lift each item up and release it.  But if I hang on to stuff, plot and plan and maneuver it just so, try to own it, try to solve it…then it owns me.  It’s psychological warfare.  It’s covert. I don’t even know I’m being attacked until I’ve got myself in knots.  

The first symptom is usually sarcasm.  Little snide comments start slipping out of my mouth.  At first I laugh them off, but then, I notice that they are actually painful barbs directed mostly at those closest to me.  But this one symptom doesn’t usually get my full attention.  

I usually have to progress to midnight wakefulness and fevered internet searching, trying to find the answers to my problems through information, or services, or a job (oy, vey!).  It happened again tonight. After sending several emails and searching numerous medical websites,  I almost filled out an online form to receive job notifications for Pete’s sake!  Like a job, doing more, will actually make me feel better! 

Thankfully, I woke up and closed out the screen and turned to my blog.  “Ho, hum, if I can’t sleep anyway, I might as well blog…” I read what I wrote yesterday, then I got to the scripture…”Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though a war break out against me, even then will I be confident.” 

Oh, yeah, that’s who I am. I am confident. I am the girl whose confirmation verse is Joshua 1:9 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord, your God, will be with you wherever you go.”  I am the fighter with no earrings and a ponytail who has put on the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, the sandals of peace, and the belt of truth.  I am carrying the sword of the Spirit.

Come at me. 

Emotional/spiritual warfare?  You are nothing. I’m not afraid of you.  The Lord, my God, is with me wherever I go…and He has promised to “keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in [Him]” (Isaiah 26:3).  I trust Him. 

That is all.  Goodnight. 

 

The battle is on

“Autoimmune diseases affect approximately 8% of the population, 78% of whom are women” (US Center for Disease Control and Prevention).  Among the autoimmune diseases I’ve heard of are rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, diabetes, celiac disease, lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, and more.  No one is really sure what causes them.  I have a genetic marker that is often linked with the type of disease that I have. Some people believe the diseases have links to GMOs.  The CDC suggests that they may be linked to previous infection. 

Whatever the case, autoimmune diseases are a malfunction of the little soldiers in our bodies that fight disease.  They are a bit trigger happy, you might say.  They attack when there is nothing to attack.  They are always running around fighting something in our bodies, even when there is nothing to fight.  In my body, they gather around my joints, in my skin, and in my eyes.  They gather, they shout, they fire, they fight!  

You may have noticed when you are sick, and these little soldiers are fighting their hardest, you have to go to bed and rest.  They wear you out!  You feel achey all over, you have a fever, a sore throat, you feel blah.  That is what autoimmune disease feels like most days.  

One way to treat an autoimmune disease is to take immunosuppressants — Enbrel, Humira, Remicade, etc.  These drugs tell the little fighting soldiers in your body to “be ‘at ease’, the infection you are imagining is not really an infection.  It’s a hallucination, so calm down.”  That is all well and good until there is an actual infection.  The fighting soldiers are ‘at ease’ according to their orders, so little enemies can infiltrate the system virtually undetected. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I have been infiltrated.  Last week, my dear husband had a minor cold — a little sniffle here, a little sneezing there.  I felt great.  I washed the sheets.  I washed my hands.  I kept my distance.  But, some of those little enemies abandoned him and scurried over to me.  They hid for a couple of days, scoping out the opposition.  But they could see that my soldiers were inside their tents, under orders to “be at ease”.  They decided it was safe to ‘be fruitful and multiply’.  

So, I feel a little like I’ve been hit by a truck.  

Not to worry.  Those enemies underestimated the host body.   I am not one to be messed with.  I dragged myself out of bed this morning, took some Emergen-C, some Dayquil, drank a kale-hemp-berry-almond-flax-chia smoothie, made some strong black tea, and looked those little buggers in the eyes.  “Come at me.”  

I immediately felt a scurrying and fleeing.  These little infiltrators now realize that I have had serious disease fighting training in the school of motherhood and the advanced training of teaching in a high school (with juniors — ew). Besides, I have God on my side.  I am assured a victory.  I am not going to lie down and be beaten.  I have taken out my earrings, pulled my hair back, and I am ready.  

I bet even you can hear them fleeing.  

Psalm 27:3

Though an army besiege me, I will not fear; 

though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. 

Reality

I used to get frustrated with students who sat in the writing lab staring at a blank screen.  

Guess what I have been doing for almost an hour. 

Yup. 

Busted. 

I’m sitting here in my pajamas, realizing that my cup of tea is almost empty and I have nothing to say. 

My students prayed for this moment. 

Chester is asleep under my desk.  My husband has left for work.  The remaining daughter is into her second hour of productivity. And here I sit. 

I mean, I have been a little productive.  I did send a couple of emails.  I did clear a level on Candy Crush that had been giving me trouble.  Don’t judge.  

I want to start writing about my options for ‘what’s next’, but I am committed to not discussing that at least until September.  And it’s only August 26! September 1 is Labor Day, so I can’t very well discuss career options or work on Labor Day!  So I am going to have to find something to write about between now and September 2.  That is seven whole posts!!!!!!!

Being still is hard!!!  

Of course I have to admit that I’m not just sitting in my pajamas playing Candy Crush all day.  I have managed to keep up on the laundry, cook a few meals, keep the house relatively orderly, go for walks, and meet new people every day.  

And I also have to grudgingly admit that even that has worn me out.  I woke up feeling not great today, which tells me I have to take extra care to rest.  And that makes me a bit angry.  I want to be able to do things.  I had big dreams of going to quaint coffee shops to write, of exploring Ann Arbor, of going on adventures.  I was hoping for endless possibilities. 

But today, I think the reason it’s difficult to write is that reality is jumping up and down in front of me waving its arms.  “Hey, Kristin, remember me?  Reality?  I am the knowledge that you have days like today where you struggle to get out of bed, your joints ache, you are exhausted, and you want to cry.  Do you really think you can explore ‘what’s next’ with me standing right here?” 

Hey, Reality, you suck.  

But, Reality is, after all, reality.  I do have days like this.  I won’t crawl back into bed, but I will talk myself into doing Pilates, into going for a walk, into taking a break and maybe even a nap.  I will look at the people in front of me and be thankful that I have this grace period to breathe and fully evaluate reality.  

Only when I fully grasp my new reality will I be able to see what God has next for me.  

Psalm 19:21

Many are the plans in [my] heart, 

but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

 

Sent to the office

Psalm 25: 4-5

Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.

Many years ago, when the children were young and I was staying home with them, I felt a bit overwhelmed.  We had had three babies in three years, my husband was in full-time ministry, and we had one car.  Yup, one car.  So, he left in the morning and I was there with the children.  He came home in the afternoon and I was there with the children. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I wouldn’t trade those days for anything.  But any of you who have been or are stay-at-home moms know that there were moments when I felt a little trapped, exhausted, and frustrated.  My husband saw this and started encouraging some outlets.  It started with, “Here are the car keys, I have the kids, go get some lunch or coffee;  take a walk or something.”  It progressed to “I got us a membership at the YMCA.  How about you go swimming before I leave for work every morning?”  Both of those strategies helped, but it wasn’t until he said, “Go up to my office and do some writing,” that I finally felt a true release of pressure. 

I had been writing at home the whole time…I would send the kids to their rooms for ‘quiet time’ every morning at 10:00 for thirty minutes.  None of us were allowed to speak to each other for those thirty minutes…because we all (mostly mommy) needed a break from one another.  They would each play or look at books in their rooms while I would have my devotion and journaling.  But it wasn’t enough. 

When my husband ‘sent me’ to his office at the church to write for a couple of hours a couple of times a week, I had permission to really do some writing.  It was such a gift to me.  I began to write chancel dramas for our church, lyrics for worship songs, and articles for newsletters and parenting magazines.  It was life-giving writing.  It became even more powerful when the chancel dramas were used in our worship services and people commented that they had meaning.  When my lyrics became songs and the whole congregation sang them. When I saw my articles in print and people actually commented on them. I was connecting with people outside of my home, sharing my relationship with God, and it was feeding me. 

When we moved to the seminary ten years ago, I had to put a lot of that on a shelf.  My energy was diverted to teaching and parenting, period.  Both very fulfilling, to be sure.  Both very demanding also.  

Well, I am no longer teaching.  My kids are all moving on.  So, I am returning to my writing.  I have ‘sent’ myself to the office in our little home by the river.  I have given myself permission to write every day.  I am trying to connect with people outside of my home, sharing my relationship with God, and it, again, is feeding me.  

I am loving this next chapter.

 

It’ll happen, at just the right time

I’ve got this weed in the front of my house that is kind of bugging me.  I’ve got to pull it out of there, but look at it!  It’s huge!  And, once I pull it out, what am I going to put in there? Besides I haven’t really had the time or energy for a big project like that.  Remember, I’m trying to be still.  

I am being still, by the way. I mean, we haven’t even got a church yet! I know, I know, I’ve only been here four weeks.  

The first week, we missed church because we were in Indianapolis waiting for a tow truck to come and get the keys out of the locked car.  Yeah, I did that.  Sigh.  

The second week, my husband preached at a nearby congregation that is pastored by a seminary classmate.  I was welcomed to sit with the regulars and introduced around to everyone like they were my family. After service, we went to lunch with our seminary friends.  Bliss. 

The third week, we were traveling.  We were in Chicago collecting a daughter, so we worshipped at her community church.  It’s a young congregation that meets in a school auditorium — great music, great message, great people.  

Today, the fourth week, we are going to worship with students at the Concordia Chapel before we join them on their annual service day.   

I have no idea what is happening next week. 

It’s ok, really.  It’s just weird.  

We’ve been church workers for as long as we’ve known each other, so we have rarely been without a church.  We were married in a church where my husband was on staff.  When he went to graduate school, we moved to a small town, he introduced himself to the pastor, and before we knew it, we were doing youth work. We moved again for his internship, he introduced himself to a pastor, and before we knew it, he was on staff — for twelve years.   We went to seminary and were assigned to a congregation.  Then, for his pastoral internship, we moved to the church that would become his first call.  We were there eight years altogether.  

Last year, when he moved here, and I stayed there.  I was in a strange place.  My husband, the pastor, was no longer the pastor of the church where I belonged.  I worshipped there sometimes, and the people were great, but it just felt weird.  I found a few other congregations to visit, and even frequent, but I knew I wasn’t going to really invest because of the pending move. 

Now I have moved, but I think it’s going to be a while before we really connect to a congregation.  There’s no rush, really. It’s ok to take a minute to breathe.  

God has kind of designed it that way.  He has my husband preaching at area churches to promote Concordia once or twice a month.  We still have a bit of traveling to do.  And, He knows us.  He knows that once we commit, we will really commit, and I sense that this period of not having a church home is part of the being still portion of this journey.  

Have I mentioned that I am not accustomed to being still? I’m not accustomed to not knowing.  I’m not accustomed to unfinished business.  I’m not accustomed to having a gigantic weed in the front of my house. 

But, I am learning to just chill.  Be patient.  Wait on the Lord.  Be still.  

I’m pretty sure that I will one day pull that weed out of the ground, it may take some help from some passing football players.  Maybe they will also help me plant some flowers and spread some mulch. 

And, I’m pretty sure that we will find a church home.  At just the right time.  When we’re ready.  He knows when that is. 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

 

A psalm of Kristin

Psalm 23 (Rathje Revised Version, rrv)

A psalm of Kristin

The Lord is my owner/manager, I have everything I need.
 He provides me with a new pillow-top bed,
he gives me a sweet little house beside the Huron,
    he refreshes my soul.
He plans my itinerary to put me in places where I meet the best people at just the right time.
Even though He sometimes sends me to places that others consider scary, 
 I have not been afraid,
    because He goes ahead of me and prepares the way, providing resources and assistance at every turn;
His Word and His people comfort me.

You shower me with blessings and make me oblivious to any enemies.
You fill my fridge with food and my glass with nice red wine, until it overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life (I don’t know why I would ever doubt that after all your faithfulness to me)
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever (with some pretty amazing people that have gone before and beside me).

They’re He-re!

When I moved in almost three weeks ago, the campus was virtually empty. A few summer workers were maintaining the buildings and grounds, but the residence halls were abandoned. The trickle began a couple of weeks ago with resident assistants and fall athletes. Yesterday was move-in day. Cars filled every parking spot as parents helped their kids cram way too much stuff into their new dwellings.

Last night a few of us decided to make an appearance at an orientation event. I got just a glimpse of what I am in for. We were in the black box theater on campus where several student leaders did skits to share the nuances of campus life–eating in the cafeteria, visiting the mail room, and the like. In the room with us were (at least) four children of classmates of mine from when I attended this university!

The stages in the life of a Concordia student paraded in front of me –brand new freshmen, student leaders, alumni turned resident staff, and alumna turned Dean’s wife. That’s what I am in for. I get the privilege of a court side seat to watch awkward freshmen become confident leaders become invested adults. Seriously? And some of them are kids of my friends?

Who gets to do this? I do!

Later today, one of my classmates, who dropped off her freshman daughter here yesterday, is picking me up for lunch. This woman was once an unsure freshman at this very college herself. When I met her, she was a ‘seasoned’ junior who had already overcome many extraordinary obstacles. (That’s her story to tell.) Because of her growth through those obstacles, she was able to be part of the team that held me through my obstacles.

We are both launching freshmen daughters this year. We are both becoming grandmothers this year. Today we will share hugs and swap stories and remember the ‘good old days’ at Concordia and thank God for his faithfulness in providing each of us a place like this, and people like us, to walk through the stages of life with.

Deuteronomy 7:9
Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations…