The Breath Prayer of Salvation

The Breath Prayer of Salvation

While my knowledge of Biblical Greek has faded considerably, I do remember learning about verbs that indicate something has happened and will continue to happen. This is how it is with salvation, we are redeemed and we continue to be as we journey through the dark nights and bright days of the soul. The communion table brings us back and reminds us of the once and continual work of living as God’s adopted children.

Our little church meets in a hotel conference room, so the words spoken to each person as he or she receives communion can be heard no matter where you sit:

“The body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.”

(Pause.)

“The body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.”

(Pause.)

“The body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.”

This is the breath prayer of salvation; of community; of our human need to be forever and again reminded that we were redeemed long ago; that God can take human brutality and forge new life from it.

Matthew 7:7–8 is a well-known passage that uses this continuous tense and describes well what our faith walk is like. Jesus knew then that the answers we need for today are not the ones that will serve us tomorrow. Our faith requires us to continually go back and ask our questions, search for God, and step into the presence of the divine.

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7–8, NRSV).

In the waxing and waning of my faith journey I come back to this rhythm, this beat that goes alongside the work of my physical heart: The body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.

It is the rhythm of faith. Knowing that this long-ago action carries me into the present. And its mystery also drives me to keep moving in faith—no matter how great or how small it might be in that moment—to keep asking, keep searching, keep knocking. Those are the actions of faith. The moment we think we are done with these, we will no longer find God and see God move in our lives. We will grow stagnant and stale. I know. I’m a pro at this.

And then Sunday comes and I hear it again: The body of Christ broken for you. The  blood of Christ shed for you. And it stirs something deep within me and it moves my sometimes-concrete soul to start asking, searching, knocking again.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailby feather

Do Good.

Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good. Learning-Grace.com

This is long overdue. It’s just taken me awhile to get this one together.

2015 came to a close with the feeling that evil was running rampant. Peruse my blog a bit and you’ll see my thoughts on the goings on of the world these last few months. Then, just days after Christmas I learned from a childhood friend that her sister (also close to me in childhood) lost her battle with depression, leaving her family, her three young children bereft. In the current culture of mud slinging and blame, hate and bigotry, it certainly feels like evil is getting the upper hand. And while I know that this is not true in the end, it is easy to be overwhelmed.

Then, the other morning I read this: “Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good” (Romans 12:21, NLT).

Do good. That’s it. There’s no grand gesture required to overcome evil, just to do good. And so alongside my word for the year, discipline, this has become my prayer for this year: God, help me to do good.

As the mother of two small children I can’t just drop and volunteer, I don’t have tons of money to donate, but I can seek opportunities to do good. I can help a friend who needs childcare in a pinch, send a note of encouragement, stop and hold the door, just pay it forward. I’m not naïve. This will not bring an end to institutionalized racism. It will not bring ISIS to its knees. It will not make Donald Trump humble and speechless. It will draw me closer to my neighbor and it may help them to do likewise.

And really, that’s all we can do—seek opportunity to do good and go from there. The people who spearhead charities and start programs and ministries that make incredible impacts on their community and the world —you know, the ones featured in documentaries and movies—all began with someone looking for an opportunity to do good and then following through with it.

Visit the website of your favorite charity and check out the history and you’ll see it. Feeding America is an organization of 200 food banks, the first of which was started by a retired business man who, while volunteering at a soup kitchen in the 1960s listened to the suggestion of a woman struggling to feed her children to organize the food grocery stores throw out so that others can use it. Save the Children, which is active in 120 countries, began after World War I when Eglantyne Jebb was arrested for handing out leaflets showing how children were suffering in blockaded countries. The judge was so impressed with her mission that he paid her fine, which Jebb turned into the first donation to help starving children in Europe. And the stories could go on. These were regular people who just had their eyes open for ways they could do good for others.

Go forth and do good. It may not change the world overnight. But you won’t know until you try.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailby feather

Discipline

It’s only through discipline that things become truly fun and enjoyable. But first comes the work. Learning-Grace.com

Discipline. It’s not a fun word. In fact, discipline is not fun at all. But it is the key to a lot of life’s rewards. To be truly good at anything, it requires discipline: disciplined eating, disciplined exercise, disciplined learning, disciplined practice. It’s only through discipline that things become truly fun and enjoyable. But first comes the work.

This is why discipline is my word for 2016. There are so many things that I want to accomplish, but haven’t for lack of discipline. I’m kicking it off with disciplined eating. I’m currently on day 20 of the Whole30. If you don’t know what it is, it’s a 30-day eating plan to change your relationship with food—no grains, no dairy, no legumes, no alcohol, no sugar (even honey or maple syrup), and here’s the kicker: no snacking. And, I need to change my relationship with food. I love it a bit too much and I treat myself way too often. I’m so thankful that Ken decided to do this with me, for the most part. It’s helped a ton to have some extra support. And we’re reaping great rewards for our discipline. As we near the end of our 30 days, we’re thinking of what parts of this do we want to keep and what parts do we want to change.

In February, I’m going to work to keep the healthy eating going while adding getting up at least 30 minutes earlier (and going to bed earlier, too!) to my list. I need some time to pull myself together before the kids wake up. This is also when my creative brain is at its best, and when I do this I have a much more productive day. So, I need to make this a habit. March will be exercise. I don’t know what April will bring. This is as far as I’ve gotten.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I’m all for reflection. And as I barely survived the marathon that is December and thought about what needs to change so I can begin accomplishing all that unfinished business that I feel like is out there, I realized that my biggest stumbling block is discipline. I can excuse myself out of almost anything and it’s time for me to get it together and start making some changes. So, now that I’ve told you, you can hold me to it.

Discipline. It feels like a drag, but I know it’s going to open a door to some incredible freedom.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailby feather

Hope is Born

Hope is Born www.learning-grace.com

I honestly haven’t felt very Christmassy this year. I’ve been half-heartedly going through the motions: I put up some lights, the nativity scene, but certainly not as many decorations as normal. I baked an obligatory batch of cookies, but not the kind you cut out and decorate. Christmas cards still have not been done—they will probably be ecards this year.

The world events have got me down. I just don’t feel that “Christmas cheer” this year. I see the news and I am saddened by the hopelessness that I see. I am angered by the many who are in a place to help but do not. I am also frustrated with myself for reaching yet another year end without certain goals met.

I see the same in my neighbors and friends who are going through divorce, who are mourning the loss of loved ones, who don’t know how they are going to pay the bills, who are struggling with rifts in their beloved families.

This season puts a magnifying glass on our broken places.

And that’s okay. Christ did not come into a world full of peace and joy. He came to a place that was just as dark, if not darker, than it is today. He was born into a land that was ruled by a tyrant. Herod used fear to control his subjects. Jesus was born into a place and time in which soldiers carried out orders to exterminate young boys. It was a world filled with terror.

Advent: Coming. Christ is coming. Even if this is not a time of peace and joy and happiness, it is a time of expectation that in spite of the present moment, Christ is coming. A new hope is arriving on the scene. It’s okay to be sad, to feel the darkness closing in, but it will not always be that way. Do not lose sight of the hope that we have. The bright star in the dark sky saying, “hope is born.”

Let hope be born in you today.

“In him was life, and the life was the light of all. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” –John 1:4–5

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailby feather

On Thanksgiving and Fear

Instead of fear, let us show generosity. Learning-Grace.com

I’m sitting here at my in-law’s table where we will celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow afternoon with family piled all around. I am grateful for so much: my family near and far, my community, my church, my kids. My cup overflows.

But, at the same time I cannot shake these pictures of Syrian refugee children and where they will sleep tonight. I cannot stop the news of activists being shot in Minneapolis, of the racial divide that continues to grip our country. Of the outright xenophobia being expressed by my neighbors. I am thankful and I am deeply troubled at what I see around me.

I have some other more lighthearted blogs in the pipeline, but the current state of our world: the fear, the hate, the misdirected anger, the dividing lines happening in our nation—the world, really—has my mind on more serious matters.

Our world didn’t get this way overnight, but the fact is those attacks in Paris and the ones since have shed light on exactly how polarized we are over matters of terrorism, hospitality, fear, and blame.

I find myself wringing my hands in the face of it all. The problems feel too big and too scary and I just don’t know where to start. And then I think of the saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

I can’t solve it all, neither can you. The issues we’re facing really are too big. But we can start with our neighbor and loving that person—showing kindness and generosity to him or her. And then we can start by expanding our definition of neighbor; maybe they’re not just the people on our street, but down the block or in our cities, country, world and then extend it to our neighbor’s neighbors. Instead of fear, let us show generosity. Let us think creatively about that generosity, like the California mom who is getting baby carriers into the hands of Syrian refugees in Greece.

We are all human, after all. The people who are in the midst of all this suffering really do suffer as much as you or I would. They are not made of tougher stock nor are they just “used” to it. They want their children to have a warm place to sleep. Their children are no less cold or afraid than our children would be. I look at my kids cozy in their beds, curled up with their stuffed animals and I cannot imagine them sleeping, cold and exposed on the forest floor. But Syrian kids and kids in many other places in this world (including the United States) do so every night. I just don’t understand shutting the door on them. And where in our Christian community is our faith? Do we not believe in the same God who commands:

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:19 (NRSV)

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:33-34 (NRSV)

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:43-44 (NRSV)

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailby feather

I have no words.

I have no words. by Michelle Okabayashi www. learning-grace.com

I have no words; I have too many words. And so I have said nothing.
Parisians. Lebanese. Kenyans. Iraqis. Syrians.
All crafted by the same God.
They bleed the same blood. They weep the same tears.

While others draw lines in the sand.

Hate. Love. Fear. Intermingled, confused.
The enemy and the victim look the same—to some.

Whom do you embrace?
Whom do you shun?
Who is worth the risk?

I am grieved.
I am moved.
Plunged deep beyond an anchor’s reach.

The hate scares me most: irrational and dangerous.
A torch waving too close to the tinder.

When fear overcomes love.
When “Christians” cower and spew hate.
Is this how we were created to be? Is this our witness?

Oh God, let it be not so.
Let your truth rise above.
Let it drown out the cacophony of hate.

Let your love surround. Heal. Forgive.
Shore up those whose lives have been burst.

Send your ambassadors, the ones with your word engraved on their hearts.
Rise up the fearless ones who know your perfect love is the necessary balm.

 

 

 

© 2015 Michelle Okabayashi. All rights reserved.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailby feather

Inside Out

Inside Out

Sometimes when we’re walking, Ken and the kids run ahead and I just stop and watch the three of them, my heart beating wildly. They are pieces of me, my heart, out there in the open.

I feel inside out.

What was once on the inside, protected within me is now out, running free down the sidewalk where God knows what could happen. I didn’t know having a family could do this to me. I didn’t know it was possible to love so much that I actually do feel as if I could burst.

J and S run,  laughing and playing their sibling games. They fall down and bounce right back up. They don’t know I’m constantly scanning the driveways, watching for things that may cause them to trip, or broken glass on the sidewalk. That every time they fall I catch my breath for a second while I figure out if it’s major or minor. They just are filled with joie de vivre. I’m not all worry and woe. They make me run, laugh, and love in ways I never considered. They bring out my best parts. (And sometimes the worst ones, too—but we’re not talking about that, today.)

And this is where I have to pause and remember that we are grounded and we are raising our kids to be the same. We have roots that will tether us when hardship comes. Oh God, I hope they will.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NRSV)

This passage has been my tether in many a storm. We do have a future with a hope. And I love to see it bounding down the street.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailby feather

What I want to tell my kids about #Baltimore

What I want to tell my kids about Baltimore

My kids are too young to understand and ask questions about what’s happened in Baltimore, but know the day will come and it will be here sooner than I think.

Right now, my sphere of influence is small, but my job is big. I have these two little people who will one day be adults in the world. How can I teach them so they will be ready for it? I want them to be a part of the solution that stops this spinning wheel of oppression and violence, instead of mindlessly pushing it down the road as it has been for far too long.

I know that as biracial kids, they are going to experience the world very differently than me. These are some things I plan to tell them about injustice when the time comes, because institutional racism still prevails and it will continue for as long as sin is in the world. Sons and daughters, mothers and fathers will be misjudged, mishandled and killed for the wrong reasons. Baltimore is not the first city to burn, and unfortunately, it will not be the last. I know this will not be one conversation, but a lifetime of them.

I’m going to tell them that this is sin being played out on the world stage. We are not listening to God; we are not living as God created us to live. We have forgotten that we are all made in God’s image. We are all worthy of love and respect and dignity. The person next to you needs it as much as you do (and possibly more).

People forget that there’s enough to go around and so they instead look to put someone else down to lift themselves up. People are afraid of being less-than. They forget that we are all more-than because we are redeemed. We are God’s and we are called to a high standard.

I’m going to tell my children that when people are oppressed for a long period of time, they can be like popcorn. It just takes some heat and they explode. We don’t know what’s been going on inside that kernel, for we can’t fully know another’s experience. But it has been packed too tight for too long and in the right conditions it can’t stay that way anymore.

There are people who have been bullied because their parents were bullied and their parent’s parents were bullied. They’ve been bullied so long and so badly that they have been pushed to the margins. They can’t find jobs to feed their families. They don’t have good homes to live in and their kids don’t have nice schools. But they see people every day who have the things they have been denied. It makes them angry and sad, rightfully so.

Some people have just been bullied so long and pushed aside, that bulling them seems like the right thing to do. It’s not. Just because something has been one way for a long time does not make it right.

Sometimes the only way we think we can be heard is to yell and throw a tantrum. Sometimes it takes a lot to get the attention you want or need. There are right ways and wrong ways to get attention. We can get so frustrated that we forget about right and wrong, because we just want to be heard.

People may look and speak differently, they live in different neighborhoods or types of homes, but they are really just like you and me. They love their children. They want to provide for their families. They want to work and be productive, but it is very hard because other people keep thinking the worst of them.

That’s not how God sees them. We need to listen to God. We need to try our hardest to love like God. God made all of us: black, white, brown. And God wants the best for us. The best way for us to do this is to treat everyone with love and look out for those who are not treated as well as others. Just as we need to go out of our way to speak up for a friend who is getting bullied on the playground and show extra kindness to him or her, we need to do the same for our neighbors who may be experiencing the same thing in life.

I want to tell them that police officers are like us, too. They have a lot of power because they enforce the rules, keep our community orderly and safe, and they carry guns that should be used very rarely (if at all). There are all kinds of people who are police officers. Most are good people. They have been given an important job to protect us and keep our communities orderly and safe. They are the ones who willingly put themselves in harm’s way to serve the communities where they work. However, like with any group of people there are a few who do not do their job well or abuse their power to bully other people. They need to be held accountable for their actions, like everyone else.

I know these notes only scratch the surface. Even as I write, I struggle with the right words that give respect and love where they are due and where they have been sorely lacking for far too long. We leave a legacy to our kids—for better and for worse—let’s teach them so they don’t repeat our mistakes and so they can leave a better legacy for the generation that follows.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailby feather

It’s Easter . . . Again

Easter

Christians talk about being Easter people—living in the hope given to us through Christ’s resurrection.

Over and over again I seek to live as an Easter person—an Easter mother, wife, sister, friend. Over and over again I rise up with good intentions and I somehow fail to find my way out of the tomb. It’s like Groundhog Day.

I could probably name 100 reasons as to why I do this. But, to be honest I think I’m just afraid of what’s on the other side of that stone. I know that what’s out there—what God’s going to call me to do next—will be new, it will stretch me and I just want to rest in my comfortable space even if it is a tomb.

And so over and over I commit and recommit. I fail and I fall. And each time a hand reaches out to lift me. I bat it away, like my kids who tell me they can do so many things by themselves. I let them try and stand by for when they call for help.

This is what God does. God is there, waiting for me to stop trying to roll away the stone by myself. I’ve worn myself out.

Anne Lamott writes about shopping with her best friend, Pammy, shortly before her death. Anne was picking out a dress and worried about how it looked on her. Anne’s dying friend replied, “Anne, you don’t have that kind of time.”

Anne connects this with Easter:

And I think Easter has been about the resonance of that simple statement; and that when I stop, when I go into contemplation and meditation, when I breathe again and do the sacred action of plopping and hanging my head and being done with my own agenda, I hear that, “You don’t have that kind of time,” you have time only to cultivate presence and authenticity and service, praying against all odds to get your sense of humor back. 

I don’t have that kind of time—to hang out in that comfy tomb. Life beckons. The One who made me for a purpose filled with hope, beckons. And so once again I rise and this time I ask for help.

Just as Jesus called into his friend’s tomb, “Lazarus, come out!” He calls, “Michelle, come out!” He calls to you and to me to rise above what is holding us back. To be healed. To be restored. To overcome that which that keeps us from being Easter people, living with the knowledge and hope and love that only God can give. 

 It is Easter. Again and again it is Easter. Praise God.

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailby feather

Good Enough

O God I am so tired of not being good enough.

Not smart enough, skinny enough, rich enough, patient enough

Not spiritual enough.

O Lord, it’s so hard to be so close, yet so far from the goal.
to not make the grade, to miss the mark
be the last one picked for the team

But that’s where your spirit comes in
and fills the space between
not enough
 and
more than enough

Because I am not good enough
not enough for your love
for your perfect, eternal embrace
Yet, you hold me anyway.
With a love that cannot be erased
by my shortcomings, my falls,
the clumsy way I get around this life

You weep when I weep, rejoice when I rejoice
Calling me daughter
Naming me friend
Claiming me as your own.

For in my weakness you are strong.

And that turns, not enough
into abundance

In this cosmic equation
Your mathematics of grace
my shortcomings
my faults

Are the joints that make me move
Lubricated by the oil of your love
Held by the ligaments of grace
Powered by the fuel of your fire

You equip me to run this race.

(c) 2015 Michelle Okabayashi, all rights reserved.