Esther & Cold Tangerines

Every year our church does a church-wide fast. As much as I dislike fasting (who really likes fasting), I look forward to it with excitement. As I visualize us moving forward in force as a body to take ground in the spiritual realm, I am inspired and filled with anticipation. I love knowing that a good portion of our church is pursuing God together, cashing in our authority as believers to fight the darkness and gain a new level of freedom and blessing.

For me, the harder part is knowing what to do when it’s over. I’m good with the sticking it out in tough times and nose-to-the-grindstone parts of life. Where I struggle is in the chilling out seasons, in the ease of everyday life. Don’t get me wrong – I love easy. But as someone who over-analyzes everything, loves depth and purpose and is always looking for the big cause, I find myself floundering in times of rest. Sometimes I feel almost frantic, as though I need to find the grand purpose in a shopping trip or a chocolate croissant.

Then I heard a still small voice remind me of Esther. Esther was the Semitic queen in Persia who God used to save the Jewish people from genocide. For three days she and her palace friends fasted and prayed before she went to the king with her request to save her people. It took faith, wisdom, patience, bravery and careful planning on her part to pull it off.

That part of her story resonates with me: Challenge – danger – sacrifice. But I heard a small voice in my head say: “What about the rest of the time? Don’t you think Esther simply enjoyed being a queen?” Oh yeah. That whole fasting/praying/big deliverance bit was just a small part of her life. She probably delighted in decorating the palace, reveled in sweeping her long gowns through stone corridors and enjoyed strolling in manicured Persian gardens.

OK, point taken. Still, the idea that it’s okay to simply enjoy life felt weird to me, like I was getting away with bad behavior. Then I found a much-needed book: Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist. In the intro, Niequist muses:

I wake up at night and think about pesticides and international politics and fundamentalism and disease and roadside bombs and the fact that one day my parents will die . . .. And that is why I’m making a shameless appeal for celebration. Because I need to. I need optimism and celebration in and hope in the face of violence and despair and anxiety. . .. Before the wars are over, before the cures are found, before the wrongs are righted, Today, humble Today, presents itself to us with all the ceremony and bling of a glittering diamond ring: Wear me, it says. Wear me out. Love me, dive into me, discover me, it pleads with us. . .. To choose to celebrate in the world we live in right now might seem irresponsible. It might seem frivolous, like cotton candy and charm bracelets. But I believe it is a serious undertaking, and one that has the potential to return us to our best selves, to deliver us back to the men and women God created us to be.

Before Niequist had her revelation, she said she was always waiting for that epic moment that would officially begin her life, for real. Instead she found that life happens in the small moments, while we’re focused on waiting for the grand ones.

With Esther and Cold Tangerines in my grasp, I learned that the mystical is in the material and the seemingly frivolous. The little gold ring I admire is so much more than metal. The Saturday morning exchange over coffee with my family is more than coffee and passing time. The heirlooms, the coffee, the breeze, the morning chat, the walks in the woods and yes, the occasional drama are all more than what they appear to be. Moment by moment, the material is kissed with the spiritual and entwines into the grand story that is magical and uniquely mine. It is the braiding of mystical & physical where one is infused with the other & they become epic. That is, if I regard it.

And all of this translated into a little more freedom for me. If the small moments are epic and spiritual too, I don’t need to fret that I have so many of them. Kissing baby toes, walks in the woods & chats over coffee are often the best life has to offer and, in turn, the best God has to offer too.

Questions to consider:

1)    Think of the phrase “guilty pleasures.” Does it impart guilt to activities that would otherwise be simply enjoyable? What “guilty pleasures” do you enjoy?

2)    Do you tend to err on the side of taking life too seriously, or not taking it seriously enough?

Heroism Made Easy

On a sunny day last May, my daughter and I went outside to play. There, on our concrete patio, we found one of nature’s little tragedies: Two bug-eyed, pink baby cardinals lay helpless on the ground. They had fallen from a poorly placed nest in our arborvitae onto the unforgiving surface below. At first I assumed they both perished, but as I looked closer I saw that one was still breathing.

I picked up the survivor and handed it to my daughter, who cupped it in her hand while I retrieved a stepladder from inside. A moment later I gently redelivered the baby bird to its nest.

Later that night my husband and I attended International Justice Mission’s yearly fundraising dinner. IJM is a non-profit that works for justice around the world, rescuing people from slavery and other forms of oppression.

Dinner was served and as we ate the speaker shared photos and stories of individuals and families who had been rescued by IJM. I listened with enjoyment, but was bothered that the speaker kept referring to us (supporters of IJM) as heroes. Feeling embarrassed and guarded, I thought to call us heroes was a ridiculous exaggeration.

When I thought of a hero, I thought of someone in the trenches: bloodied, bruised, dirty and exhausted. Not once have I felt even slightly inconvenienced by the help that I give IJM. I’ve never had to skip a meal or go without. It’s almost too easy.

Then I remembered the baby bird from that morning. To my daughter and I, our little gesture took only a moment of our time and very little effort. But from the bird’s perspective, we accomplished the impossible. To one baby cardinal, we were superheroes.

And in a paradigm shift, I realized how many times I have downplayed my own role in the world because it seemed too easy. My expectation was that being a hero would be larger than life, probably life threatening and certainly dirty. But that day I realized that I shouldn’t take for granted what I am easily able to do or give–because what feels easy to me could actually be a matter of life or death for someone else.

Questions to Consider

  • Have you underestimated your own influence?
  • What are the little things you can begin to do that will add up to larger differences if we all begin to do them as well?