In my little mountain village in Afghanistan, this was one of a handful of photos that I straight-pinned to a long piece of fabric hung on my bedroom wall, my local version of a bulletin board keeping family and beauty (and beautiful family) where I could see them as I entered and left my room. I love how my not-yet-three-year-old niece is enfolded in my Dad’s arms, the two of them enjoying each other’s company. Books and puzzles are forgotten, toys left for later.
I lost track of the photo when I left Afghanistan, but it has been the only one of the photos on that wall that I’ve remembered. And that’s not because of the people in it, though I love them both dearly. It’s because of the joy in it, and the peace, and the way that photo invites me to set aside for a while everything else—even my favorite books and the things I’m puzzling over—and come and curl up and delight in the smile of the One who delights in me too.
This week Mom found the photo and sent it to me again. I still love it. And the timing was perfect to be reminded of it again. (For that matter, is any time not perfect to be reminded to pause and delight in the One who delights in us?)
This summer is different than any that have gone before. Every summer is different, of course, but this summer is different in a different way. For me, Covid means that though I'll still be taking time away from my usual work in August, I won’t be travelling home to see my family. I'll miss them. And since my summer vacation rhythms have been built around being with them, I'm not sure how to help these weeks off feel like vacation without the ability to be with the family I love and who love me.
But into that uncertainty comes this photo and the reminder that even when I can't be with my earthly family, I am, and always will be, with the One in whose arms I am safely held—the One who invites me into the joy of being His.
As I step away from this blog for a few weeks of rest, this is my prayer for you and me both—that whatever our lives hold these days, we would be aware of the One who holds us, and be given the grace to see the Father’s face smiling on us. And, even for a few moments, to forget what lies around and relax into His joy and smile back.
“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”
Like some extra help looking into your Father’s face during August? Here are a few places that God has been meeting me lately, and a quote from each:
Mental Health, Faith, and Covid 19 - A Sanctuary Mental Health podcast episode in which UK-based writer, Amy-Louisa Robinson, shares candidly about living with lupus and its impacts on her mental health. She charts the turning points of her journey in seeking God for healing, and articulates the importance of living with vulnerability and honesty amidst deep, long-term suffering.
"It looked like weakness to engage and embrace the reality of my life. It looked like failure. . . .[But] when I chose to show up, God was there already."
Julie Canlis, A Theology of the Ordinary. A short, profound, easy to read theology of the ordinary. I read it through and am rereading it, a few pages over breakfast each day. The first time through I marked about half the lines. This time through I'm having a hard time not marking the rest of them!
"In Genesis, we discover critical things for a theology of the ordinary: the world is God's temple. Humans are created with limitations and this is part of their glory. Adam and Eve are not required to be super-human, super-virtuous, super-powerful. Their only 'requirement' is their ordinary existence, offered to their creator with gratitude and dependence. This is their daily worship. This is indeed good news." (p. 20)
Corella Roberts, Colliding with the Call: When Following God Takes You to the Wilderness. I'm half-way through this story of a young woman asking the questions, "I've surrendered to following God's will, but this is not what I expected. Where's the peace? The joy? The fruit? Did I somehow miss the call, God?" This would be a good choice for a summer read if you're looking for a book combining an interesting story and honest wrestling with thought-provoking questions provided after each short chapter to help you think through the unresolved places in your own story.
"The hero facade that I had worn as we walked into our village over a year ago had been stripped away, and I was learning to be thankful for that" (p. 104).
Jen Pollock Michel, Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of And in an Either-Or World. I loved Jen Pollock Michel's earlier book, Keeping Place, and this one is another winner. In all the confusion and unsettledness in the world, it's good to be reminded that our God specializes in the grace that is found in surprises and paradox.
“Preceding this forbiddance [to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] is a grand and glorious invitation: indulge yourselves! “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden!” (Gen 2:16). Grace is the gravity of our God-breathed world. Out of his own surprising goodness, God made a world and invited us to be his honored guests in it. He set the table. He made the meal. And even more surprising, when we abruptly left that table to heed another dinner invitation, he cleaned up the mess.” (p. 110)