Thursday, December 15, 2016

Refugee

At this time in history our world is going through a refugee crisis, though no one would blame you for forgetting that, since America has different complaints today. Still, I cannot help but remember it as I reflect on the season of Advent.

If you pay attention to the media you will hear the mass exodus of people from the Middle East and Africa referred to as "migrants." This is important because while all refugees are migrants, not all migrants are refugees. The word refugee is a special designation reserved for those who are fleeing the unspeakable, ungodly circumstances of their homeland for the refuge and safe haven of a new land. Officially, a refugee is defined as this:
"Owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."
-United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),1951 Refugee Convention


And the difference is this:
"Migrants, especially economic migrants, choose to move in order to improve the future prospects of themselves and their families. Refugees have to move if they are to save their lives or preserve their freedom. They have no protection from their own state - indeed it is often their own government that is threatening to persecute them."
-UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency

A refugee is basically one who is faced with a choice, haven or hell, and chooses haven.

All this is important to me here and now because, well, first off it should matter to me. Even as I write this from my cozy, American bedroom, stockpiled with pillows. The refugees of today should matter to all of us who have so much.  We should give every bit of money and mercy that we can for their cause. But it also matters because this Advent I realize and confess that this place-- this world I live in-- is not my home.

Don't get me wrong because on one hand it is my home. I am so privileged to live here where I do, in comfort and security, surrounded by love and liberty. And I receive all that with humble thanksgiving. Still, though all of our hearts are migrant, prone to wander, choosing "to move in order to improve the future prospects of [ourselves] and [our] families," I realize that is not enough for me. My heart-- my broken heart-- knows that this place is not my home and it looks heavenward for refuge.
"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country-- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." 
-Hebrews 11:13-16

Looking onward I cannot help but look back to the expectant birth of Jesus. Who was himself a refugee. Whose parents went to Judea for a census but stayed for Asylum.
O come O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
And then there is Mary. Dear Mary. Pregnant with both hope and fear. Jesus: the hope the world and the fear that would provoke the very infant genocide from which she would be forced to flee. Though not before she would be reduced to giving birth in a freaking barn.

Mary Consoles Eve, art by a Sister at Our Lady Of The Mississippi Abbey


Let us consider the waiting of this expectant mother, who chose heaven for us all, who knew more than we ever will about the miracle of Jesus' birth. Let us wait with perseverance for all that's in store for those of us who hold on to the guiding light.

May our hearts be pregnant with hope. Even though hope, like our Savior, is often born in the most undeserving of circumstances. Amen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Winning?

The other day I did one of the most dreaded things I can think of: I called customer service for my cell phone provider. You see, we use this pay-as-you-go company that is super cheap and so to compensate for these cost savings, contacting customer service once every year or two is like a modern form of torture. But alas, sometimes it has to be done. It's part of the deal. 

So I am on the phone with this delightful young lady in India and every few minutes she asks me to wait for "two to three minutes" while she does something to help me out, all of which takes more than an hour. I told my husband that I'll bet she has to be simultaneously chatting with five or six other people to help with their customer service needs while communicating with me. His theory is that she probably has extremely archaic internet access and spotty electricity. He is probably right. 

Every time I talk with this phone company's customer service I get so angry that I effectively turn into Medusa. I am coming from AMERICA in 2016, for crying out loud! You are supposed to be a tech company! My entitlements are threatened and so are my principles. I feel like I should be compensated for whatever inconveniences I suffer and I feel like it is ridiculous that they can't do more for me. Every time it goes like this. Every time I stick to my guns-- my principles-- and every time I end up feeling like I've lost. 

Then the other day I decided to play this whole thing a bit differently. I called in and Sweetheart on the other end is reiterating everything a dozen times, asking me to hold every few minutes, and casually mentioning how they've screwed up and how little they can do to fix anything. It's equally infuriating as every other time I call but I'm turning over a new leaf, here. Instead of letting the lasers fire freely from my eyes, I find my center and calmly reply to every pause and question with "okay" and "yes." For over an hour it goes on like this:

Sweetheart: We've screwed up, no apologies. We don't have this information, even though you gave it to us.
Me: Okay. 
Sweetheart: I am going to place you on a brief hold for two to three minutes while I look into this on my end, okay?
Me: Yes.

Let me skip to the end and tell you how everything turned out. Practically speaking, it was exactly as it would have been if I had gotten pissed. The phone company did whatever they could do, no more and no less. Emotionally, however, this time was like walking on sunshine. I felt myself thinking about Sweetheart and how hard her job must be, how little she gets paid, how difficult it must be to work for a tech company with archaic internet access and spotty electricity in the scorching heat. I found myself lucky to have the world at my smartphone-enabled fingertips for less than $50 a month. I was so pleasant that my husband didn't have to watch his mouth and hide from me for the rest of the night. 

I am a very principled person and this is probably one of the best things about me. But a few years ago I realized that when I let my principle become the principle thing--when I fight vehemently for the right to be right-- the loser is usually me. Because another thing about me is that I care about people more than anything else. Often, when my principle wins, relationships suffer and people lose. 

The simple truth about holding firm to my principles is that I must do it within the context of the world in which I live, while rubbing elbows with someone as different from me as the hemispheres in which we live. Usually this means that the most right thing is to live rightly with my neighbor. To find common ground and live there, only occasionally visiting the Principle's office, so to speak.

In this situation, did shutting my mouth and giving up my right to be right change what I believe? No. Did it change the outcome? No. Did it change who I am? Well, sort of. At least in that moment, in the eye of the beholder, it made me patient and kind. And when I step back to look at that big, beautiful picture, it seems like we both won.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Vegetable of the Spirit

I don't know how familiar people really are with the term fruit of the Spirit, but I learned about it when I was a young Christian; a high school junior, I think. My Young Life leader went through that passage of Galatians with us in our Campaigners Bible study one Sunday afternoon and even though I didn't completely understand it at the time, it has stuck in my memory. It goes like this:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23.

The Bible talks a lot about fruit and trees and horticulture in general, really, and it is all very symbolic and beautiful. Fruit is the thing you see that reflects the things you can't see; things like seeds and roots and hearts. Fruit is the ah-ha moment when something that was growing has grown and is now visible and practical and delicious.

There have been several times lately when I have wondered whether anything is really growing in my life. Sometimes a lot of time goes by before anything changes very much and sometimes setbacks or conflicts make me question everything.

Then I started thinking about waiting and the fruit of the spirit. I was having a hard time making the two fit together because waiting is not the same thing as patience. Because patience is a fruit; it's the outcome. Waiting, on the other hand, is the thing you do on your way to the fruit. It's the path of most resistance, if you ask me.

I know from personal experience that waiting produces fruit, but the fruit of waiting is underground. It's underground fruit. So really, it's a vegetable.

Anyone who knows me for very long will, at some point, hear me say that waiting is not a passive thing. What I mean is that the act of waiting is far from doing nothing. Waiting is an action verb. At times it requires an active resistance and always it requires the embracing of the many unexpected things that happen in the meantime. I can look back on my life at the times when I felt like I was the most stuck, and I can see that that those are the times that I was really growing underground. That was the meantime. The place between the already and the not-yet. The in-between preparation and completion.

Not that I have ever been complete, don't get me wrong. I know that fruit is really just a beautiful, delicious seed; the beginning of something greater. What I am trying to say is that waiting is less like an orange and it is more like a turnip or beet. It's a root vegetable.

Whether the fruit of my life is high in the air, swaying in the breeze or incubating in the dirt really isn't the point. The point is that I'm growing. It may sometimes feel like I've got nowhere to go from here but up but maybe, just maybe, that's exactly where I'm supposed to be.
I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand... Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you have planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare. Psalm 40:1-2,5

This post was originally written in 2011 by a younger me. I like her stuff.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Good Grief

I'm not normally one to observe the anniversary of the death of a loved one. My mom died before I was old enough to remember her and yet I never liked the weird attention I would get on Mother's Day as a little girl with no mother, so I didn't especially like to bring up the random day of the year that marked her passing, either. I have friends who have lost loved ones who mark the day every year and wear it on their sleeve, and I always felt like that was a hard-to-navigate thing as a friend. What do I do? What do I say? What do they need? Even though I've lost more lovely, safe people than a young person should, I never really got it.

This year the anniversary of my dad's death came and went and though I still didn't want the weird attention and I didn't want to mark it, it still haunted me and I still couldn't help but sob into my cereal that morning. Because it turns out that even though this kind of anniversary is not the same thing as a birthday or wedding anniversary or anything else to be celebrated and shared, it is something that cannot be forgotten. It's like the way we paradoxically remember the death of our Savior with Good Friday; this is my Good Grief.

Since my dad died I am different. At least I feel feel different, and long after I've stopped accidentally crying in public. I don't know if it's that I cannot imagine a world without him in it, or that I can't imagine how I'll make it without him quietly lifting me up in the shadows or if it's just because of how his dying wounded me. I also don't know why I am saying all of this now. I definitely don't want all of the weird attention, but maybe it's not so much in what my friends say or do but rather in the knowledge that they understand. And the hope that they'll get to know the new, changed me and still love me, even though I coincidentally get cranky on the days I feel sad.


My friends have mostly known me as someone "with an eternal perspective," they would say. And they were right. I really could see the forest through the trees in most situations and it was my lifeline on many days. However, when Dad died I seemed to have misplaced that. It was so hard for me to really grasp the "better place" idea and the only time I would sense it was when I was painfully standing on Jordan's Stormy Banks. Or on my knees, rather, face in the sand.
When shall I reach that happy place, 
And be forever blessed? 
When shall I see my Father's face, 
And in his bosom rest?
A couple nights ago I had a dream that Dad was alive again but it was not like I though it would be. Because although I could see the life in his face and ask him things and tell him things, he was only alive to die again. There is no hope in wishing him back here because here is where there is ugly-crying, dying and death. He has made the painful journey to the Better Place, that I know for sure. And though it is a slow, arduous process, it is for me to stop wishing him back here and to persevere in wishing myself there.
"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country-- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." -Hebrews 11:13-16
My heart is a refugee. Amen.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

the ski and boat man

It is officially summer and Father's Day is upon us. If you think you need to provide your kids with some amazing, Grizwold-quality vacation experience they will never forget, then you should read this:


When I was a kid we didn't do the fancy, destination vacation. We never flew in a plane and I didn't see the ocean until I was 21. When our family went on vacation we packed up the station wagon and went into the country.


We went on "float trips," as we call them in Missouri, where you camp outside of tiny towns and avoid encounters with snakes and spiders as you canoe down the river with your feet propped up on a cooler. And about three weekends a year we went to Pomme De Terre Lake, where my grandparents owned a trailer home and boat dock and where my dad stored his boat: a 1967 Mark Twain, which he bought new from a boat show that year.


What made summer and vacation amazing to me as a kid wasn't ticking off the boxes of the wonders of the world, it was getting away with the ones I loved and spending those long, slow, hot days outside on the water. The truth is that my dad didn't spend one day teaching me how to ski. He spent countless days over the course of a summer or two, throwing me into the lake and circling around me in the boat, with rope in tow, until long after I had broken down into a sobbing mess of failure. The reason I thought so highly of the "Ski and Boat Man" wasn't because of this rosy experience of learning to ski, it was because of his patient, persistent devotion; the price he paid to invest in me, a little girl. His little girl.

The reason my dad was like a super hero to me wasn't because he provided for his family or served his country, though he did...


...it wasn't even because he loved me, though he did.


The reason my dad is my hero is because I knew he loved me. It wasn't about how he felt about me, it was about how he showed me that I was his priority. It's because he took me outside and spent time with me. Time through excitement and past amazing to the point of boredom. Because, let's be honest, love doesn't usually happen as much in the grand gestures as it does in the mundane.

"My dad chose to share that time because he loves me."

Last year when Dad gave me his boat he told me to be careful. "A boat is a hole in the earth, surrounded by water, into which you put all of your money," he said with a smile. That's what he said but I know that's not what he believed.

Dad believed that a boat is a hole in the earth, surrounded by water, into which you put your loved ones...



your memories...


your heart.


Happy Father's Day, Ski and Boat Man.


Sunday, April 5, 2015

my offering

It has been a long time since I have posted and I don't know if that is because this has been one of the hardest years of my life, or what. I believe in the beauty of vulnerability and yet I am cautious to become too indulgent when I am feeling very deeply. Especially in internet musings.

I heard something very wise in passing on a radio interview once:

The internet doesn't really do secrets.

That phrase follows me around like a guardian angel (most of the time) and for that I am thankful. 

Still, this tiny corner of the internet I call Church House Hymns is a sanctuary for me and it is where I go to become my truest self. I've been away for what feels like too long. Part of me has felt that because we pushed the pause button on the progress of our actual Church House, there was nothing to see here. But that is a lie. Maybe it is only in looking back that I can see that but the truth is this Church House is like every authentic church: it is not the building but the believers within that makes it what it is.

So let me tell you something about this believer and this blog: try as I might I cannot just talk about my house and how it's going. I'm talking about my heart here. Most days I struggle to write because of the dark voices whispering subtly into my ear like the boys I used to date who didn't want to know too much. But every now and then I get brave enough to share. I wonder sometimes if I do it for you or for me or what and, quite frankly, I still don't know. But it is at least a little bit for me and because I am more afraid of betraying myself and my maker than I am of the voices. 

I was talking with a friend the other day and these words came out of my mouth and until that instant I didn't realize how I felt:

 I feel like I have something more unique to offer the world than to just be a bookkeeper for our tiny business.*

So let's call this my offering. For whatever it's worth. Which, as it turns out, is not so much for you to decide as it is for me to discover. 

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
Matthew 7:7-8

*Not that there is anything wrong with being a bookkeeper! If that is your God-given offering then you inspire me and I want to learn from you!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

the sound of my house being worked on

This morning my husband quietly got out of bed early and left me to sleep. An hour or so later I awoke to the sound of the hammer drill. If you don't know what that is, it is basically a hammer infused into a drill and it sounds like a combination of the two. Only louder.

Nathan then walks into the room and softly comes alongside me and says, "do you hear the sound of your house being worked on, Mrs. Thum?"  And as he leaves the room he asks, "do you want some eggs?"

Note: this was not a typical morning.

This morning's first encounter is something I would classify as romance. It's that out-of-the-ordinary gesture of love that takes me by surprise and makes my heart sing. And at this stage of life, the sound of a hammer drill is the perfect accompanist for my singing heart.

I've heard women say lately that living through a renovation has been among the more difficult things in life for them. I usually swoon when they say such things, for alas, someone gets me. Because I'm pretty sure my husband would be perfectly content living in a cardboard box full of dirty laundry, as long as it had a garage full of greasy tools and hardware.

In about a week we will have been caretakers of this church house for three years and it has, for the most part, felt like a difficult three years. So difficult, in fact, that Nathan and I started seeing a counselor. That's right, our renovation actually drove us into therapy.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining and I am definitely not ashamed. I am so thankful that I married a man who appreciates counseling as a healthy part of life and wanted it as much as I did (read: single ladies, seek this quality in a mate). I will tell anyone who will listen that we go to counseling because I hope it will encourage them to do it, too. I believe that going to counseling doesn't mean we have a bad marriage or one that is in trouble, it actually means that we have a good and healthy one. And I believe that absolutely everybody has stuff to unpack.

Fast-forward from the stressful, frustrating, divisive place that we found ourselves in as a result of living in a construction zone. Scroll through the weeks our counselor described as detox, in which things got worse before they got better. Pause on this morning, where I wanted to wake up grumpy and offended from a conversation my husband and I had last night about insurance, of all things, but couldn't in light of his sudden romance.

This morning all I could do was smile and feel utter gratitude and happiness, and I couldn't help but wonder if I was feeling that simply because things were so hard for a while. Would I take the hammer drill, sweat and sore muscles for granted if they were just expected? If I were so privileged that construction workers were always traipsing through the house and bathrooms were being efficiently constructed in less than 6 months, would I forget to stop and realize that it is happening because my husband loves me? Because I can't think of anything that feels more like love than a gladly given sacrifice.