I need you to hear something

cracked ground

Photo credit: roujo on Flickr

I need you to hear something.

You, the parents of the college student about to flunk out. Who know he’s drinking too much and going to class way too little and wonder: if he fails, what will happen to him? Who monitor his assignments, his whereabouts and his bank account electronically, texting to make sure he makes the due date, makes it to class. Calling daily so that he has just as much of your supervision as you can get to him through a cell phone.

You, the mother of two in her third bout with cancer. Now it can’t even be called “breast cancer” because it’s spread so wide none of us knows what to call it any more, except evil. And terribly sad. You who are worried and anxious: what if they don’t remember me? Who will be there when someone breaks their heart, when they graduate, when they walk down the aisle? How will they find themselves if they lose me?

You, the daughter in the sandwich generation, who is caring for her aging mother and her grandchildren on alternating days. You who are exhausted being the caregiver everyone needs and wondering: who will take care of me? Who is thankful but tired at the prospect of moving your mother into full-time care. Who is sad at the possibility your grandchildren may be moving several states away. Who wonders: who will need me then?

I’ve talked with all of you this week. All in this one little week. I’ve carried all of your burdens to God in prayer. I know you asked me to pray because you think there’s something special, something magical about the prayers a pastor offers up. In truth He heard your prayers long before mine, and He doesn’t care about whether those prayers come from a professional or not.

He heard you. He heard me, but now I need you to hear something.

I need you to hear about Hagar.

She was a parent, caring for a child. She cried out to God too. Kicked out of the house where she had been a maid, then a surrogate mother, then a liability. Sent to the desert, disposable as a Chinet plate, thrown away to die with her son.

She wailed and cried and petitioned God for this child she loved more than life itself, the one she left lying under a bush near death because she couldn’t bear to watch him leave this world when she was the one who watched him enter.

She cried out to God, and God heard.

But he didn’t hear her. God very specifically let her know it wasn’t her voice he heard – it was the voice of her son. She cried out and an angel from God showed up, the rescue she had been praying for. But he didn’t say God heard her prayers – he said God heard the boy.

Hagar screamed to God. But God’s ears were tuned to the whimpers of her son.

God wasn’t slighting Hagar by letting her know that he showed up – not for her – but because of the boy’s quiet plea. He wanted her to know that she was not the only one paying attention, not the only one who cared that he had a hope and a future. He wanted her to hear loud and clear that she was not the only one responsible for her boy’s life. That she may be his mother, but that she could never be his God.  God wanted her to know that He would be listening to her beloved son, so that she wouldn’t have to carry that burden alone.

None of us do. None of us is fully responsible for the fate of another person. You may feel like without your striving, your help, your support, someone else will fall through the cracks. But God hears them. God sees them. And His notice, His hearing,  His help are the only things that will get them through.

Instead of taking Hagar and her boy from the desert to more cushy surroundings, God made a home for them there in the desert.  Instead of moving them out of danger, God moved in, and made His home there with them. Sometimes God rescues us from the desert, but sometimes He brings His presence right there with the one we love, the one who is so fragile, so desperate. When God moves in with us in the desert, it’s more than just a bearable place. God can make the desert bloom.

You, in the desert, I need you to hear something.

You who are desperate, crying out, loving someone so hard that it hurts.

I need you to hear this now.

God hears. God sees. God loves.

As much as you love that person He’s given you to care for – He loves them even more. You alone are not solely responsible to make their future bright, or even bearable.  You can love them all you want, but you will never be their God.

That job has already been taken care of. They will be taken care of too.

Jessica LaGrone’s new Bible Study, Broken and Blessed, is a study of the family stories of Genesis. It can be found at here.

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Catching Sight – a guest post on the Bare Tribe blog

faith firework

It’s the Fourth of July 2009, a day that usually finds me giddy with the freedom of a couple of days off, barbecuing with friends, watching fireworks explode late into the night. Instead I’m miserable. Unhappy in the midst of celebration. Sick with ambiguity and grief and stuffing down the hope I refuse to let myself feel.

I’m standing at the counter a friend’s kitchen, chopping onions to go into the potato salad. She has enough going on without having to worry about me – her boys running in and out of the kitchen, her in-laws nearby setting the dining room table, the dessert in the oven and the sauce on the stove. But she keeps glancing my way with concerned eyes. Are you sure you’re OK? She asks again – and I realize I’ve pulverized the onions, chopping them into a soup of tiny bits both out of distraction and the need for an excuse for my tears…

Read the rest HERE on the Bare Tribe blog. I’m guest posting this week in their After His Heart series.

after his heart2 copy

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Kate’s baptism

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Drew photographer

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A huge thank you to Patrick Fore Photography http://patrickforephotography.com

 

 

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Why I’m not baptizing my daughter

This Sunday at the 11:00 service our church will celebrate Kate’s baptism.  When I realized that this Sunday also happens to be St. Patrick’s Day, I remembered that we baptized Drew on Halloween.  Though neither of those was an intentional choice, both are holidays with sacred roots being held hostage as secular celebrations.  Somehow I see our accidental planning of baptisms on those days as a providential way to reclaim their sacred nature.  It’s also a great way for the kids to remember the anniversary of their baptism every year.

Happy Halloween! (Remember your baptism and be thankful!)

Recently a good friend of mine, a fellow pastor, told me that baptizing his own children was an incredible experience for him – the chance to reach into the water and mark them with the symbol of the cross, claiming them for God’s family.

When he asked me if I was going to baptize Kate myself, I think I surprised him with how quickly and forcefully I answered: “No!”  It definitely surprised me.  Up until that moment the decision had just been a gut reaction, so I had to stop and clarify – even for myself – my strong feelings on the subject.

As a pastor I get to participate in a lot of baptisms.  I get to stand in the pastor’s designated spot next to our church’s huge baptismal font (it’s rumored to have been custom made from an outdoor fire pit – a story that deserves its own theological reflection to say the least!) and invite families to come forward.  I watch them step up on the other side of the kneeling rail as they bring their babies forward.

Baptizing Hunter (I'm 6 months pregnant with Drew here)

Baptizing Hunter
(I’m 6 months pregnant with Drew here)

For years before I was a parent myself I watched the mothers’ faces as they held out their squirmy bundles.  Their mouths smiled, but the fear in their eyes communicated wordlessly: Please. Please don’t squirm so hard that I almost drop you as I hand you to the pastor. Please don’t scream and cry in front of the whole congregation. Please don’t spit up on the pastor’s stole or try to eat the microphone on her robe or belch loudly into that microphone. (I’ve had babies do all of these things at their baptisms!)

Baptizing Libby

Baptizing Libby

I’ve stood on the other side of the altar rail so many times, trying my best to reassure those mothers with my calm smile.  But inside I’m praying right along with for the mercy of a calm baby.  It’s been one of the greatest privileges of my role as a pastor to receive those babies into my arms, representing both the arms of the Church and the arms of God, and to speak those holy words over them: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” To speak God’s love over them and to seal their adoption into His family.

Baptizing Ella (I'm 6 months pregnant with Kate here)

Baptizing Ella (I’m 6 months pregnant with Kate here)

In the best of scenarios the tiny baby sleeps through the whole thing, not even waking when a splash of cold water crosses their brow.  Those are my favorite moments. Not just because all possible baptismal foibles have been averted, but because I see in my arms the perfect picture of how we all receive God’s grace – so unaware of its depths that we mostly sleepwalk through it all.

It wasn’t until the dark years of infertility and miscarriage that I realized how I longed to stand on the other side of the rail.  The babies we lost never had a chance at baptism. They were God’s children nevertheless, sent the express route straight back to Him, too early for us to name them or claim their place here in the Church that I love.  It was hard to hand the dream of those children back over to God.  It wasn’t until the day I finally got to officially claim the title “mother” that I realized that this is the ultimate vocation of mothers – handing our children over to God.

Baptizing Hannah

Baptizing Hannah

It was then I finally understood the look in those mothers’ eyes at the baptismal rail. Their slight hesitation as they passed babies to me draped in slippery white gowns.  That in that act of handing them over they were formally saying what all parents who trust Christ must say: “This is not my child. This is God’s child. I will use every last ounce of my energy and resources to care for them for a time. I will raise them in faith and sing to them about God and whisper Jesus’ love in their sleepy ears, but ultimately they are not mine. Someday they will return to Him. This is God’s child.”

I need to hand my baby over the rail this Sunday because I need to say it again:
“This is God’s child.”

I need pictures of that moment hung in our house to remind me of that every time I’m tempted to plan her life out for her. Every time I’m tempted to control her with my disapproval or direct her future with my worry.  Every time I want so badly to be god in her life I need to remember that I officially gave up that job on St. Patrick’s Day 2013.  The Church will remind me of that too.  She will be their baby now, theirs officially to love and raise on God’s behalf as well.

So I won’t be baptizing Kate this Sunday.  I won’t be able to stand in the place of pastor –  some wonderful men that I admire and serve with are going to stand there instead.  But there’s only one person who can stand in the place of her mother.

This Sunday I will sit in a pew I’ve only sat in once before – at Drew’s baptism on October 31, 2010 – the pew reserved for families with babies being baptized.  Though it was Halloween I had removed my clerical costume and come as myself.  Just a mom.  Holding a baby.  Handing him over to God and His family.

Dr. Robb baptizing Drew October 31, 2010

Dr. Robb baptizing Drew
October 31, 2010

Rob Renfroe blessing Drew at his baptism

Rob Renfroe blessing Drew at his baptism

This Sunday is my last chance to do that again.

I hope I remember my line.

Pastor: “What name is given this child?”
Parents: “Katherine Juliet LaGrone.”

This is God’s child.

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Disappointing God

As part of Namesake Launch Week I’ll be sharing excerpts from the daily reading in the study. Here’s a little of the text from the week on Simon Peter. We have more stories on record of Peter disappointing Jesus than any other person.  How does God respond when we disappoint Him?Namesake Bible Study cover

Disappointing God

A while back I had an encounter with a friend that left me feeling hurt and betrayed. For several years we had enjoyed a close friendship that was a fun mix of personal and professional. We could easily shift back and forth from working together on a large project to laughing over lunch to spending time with each other’s families. Then one day my friend came in, red in the face, upset about some differences we had. He let me know that our friendship was over. The professional relationship would still be there, he said, but he was “backing off” from any contact we had beyond that. I was stunned, apologized for my part of the rift, and tried to offer a way to rebuild our friendship. His cold response let me know that wasn’t an option. I was hurt—and deeply disappointed.

I hate it when people I rely on disappoint me: when a friend promises to help me with something and then blows it off; when a babysitter backs out at the last minute; when someone’s attitude or reaction is far beneath what I had come to expect from him or her. Even worse than being disappointed is the feeling of disappointing someone else: when I realize an e-mail has gone unanswered or a call has gone unreturned for so long that someone assumes I just don’t care; when I forget someone’s special day because my life is running so fast I lose track of anyone else’s concerns but my own. I hate letting people down. And I really hate the feeling of being disappointed in myself.

In a perfect world there would be no disappointment.

There would also be no mosquitoes. No taxes. No rush-hour traffic. In a perfect world there would be no fights to get teenagers to do their homework, since there definitely would be no homework! (And possibly no teenagers.)  In a perfect world our bodies wouldn’t fall apart as we get older. We wouldn’t have to say goodbye to the ones we love. Our hearts wouldn’t sting from the disappointment of broken relationships.

But we don’t live in a perfect world, do we?

We could, you know, if it weren’t for those infamous ancestors of ours: Adam and Eve. They had the perfect world, Eden, and they traded it all away for a snack that they believed would benefit them. (And it wasn’t even chocolate!)They handed over the keys to Eden because of a piece of fruit.

Genesis describes Eden as a place of wholeness, where relationships between people were without flaw. Adam and Eve are described as “naked and unashamed,” which among other things means that they had nothing to hide from one another or from God. Before they messed up, they never hurt or disappointed each other. They never experienced shame or guilt.

The moments when I long for Eden the most are the ones when brokenness is the most obvious—when sickness, pain, death, divorce, destruction, war, and even disappointment mar the landscape of this once perfect world. Sometimes I think about all that we’re missing out on because Adam and Eve felt the need to have a little bite.

But I also wonder if there’s anything we do have in this post- Eden world that we never would have known had the human race always existed inside the garden of perfection. Is there any benefit of living in this imperfect world? 
I think it’s this: we get to see how God deals with disappointment. If Adam and Eve had never touched that forbidden fruit (and, let’s face it, if they hadn’t, someone to come in their family line would have), then we never would have seen how God handles less than perfect lives, messy relationships, and disobedient children.

When God discovered that His children had done exactly what He told them not to do, I’m sure He experienced an immediate sinking feeling of disappointment. I mean, there were a million good choices available, but they picked the one thing that would hurt the Father who had given them everything. God’s disappointment is not like our own. Our disappointment is usually self- centered, focused on our unrealized expectations. God’s disappointment is always selfless, focused on the damage we cause to our own lives and to our relationship with Him. When God is disappointed with our actions, it is because He wants the absolute best for us. God loves us too much to let anything stand in the way of the wonderful future He envisions for us, even if that thing is something of our own choosing. God’s disappointment in Eden was with a choice that would now shift the entire future of humanity.

But I wonder if, alongside that feeling of disappointment, there was a little bit of excitement in God’s heart—a feeling of joy that He would get to show us a part of Himself we never would have known had we stuck to the straight and narrow. I wonder if God rolled up His sleeves and thought: “All right. Now I get to show them what I’m really made of.” And this is what God is made of: Grace.

When Adam and Eve rocked our world by defying God, when they tried to dethrone God and put themselves in His place as the One whose plans are best for the universe, God was deeply disappointed. And yet God responded with grace.

We call that first story of sin “the Fall” of humanity, but every generation since has fallen again on its own. If we’re honest, we must admit that we don’t usually fall into sin; we willfully throw ourselves headlong into it. Each generation has its own experience of disappointing God. And in each generation God responds with grace. He reaches out, offering Himself again and again. Even when He knows we will grieve His heart again, God still shows up full of grace.

I John 2:12 says “I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name.”

Some translations say that we have been forgiven “for His name’s sake.” In other words, the purpose of forgiveness is to make a name for God, to advertise that God is gracious and merciful, even when our actions are crushing. Eden may have been a perfect world, but the one thing it didn’t have was forgiveness—the ability to meet disappointment not by recoiling or lashing out but by offering grace.

I long for that perfect world sometimes. But if humanity had stayed there, we never would have known how God deals with disappointment. Just as we have a choice, God has a choice. He could choose to reject us or to offer us a cold shoulder. Instead, I believe God rolls up His sleeves with a sense of excitement: “Now I get to show them what I’m really made of.”

When my friend hurt me, I had a choice. I have to admit that it was tempting to withdraw, to lick my wounds, to pretend that our friendship never mattered to me in the first place. Instead, I am choosing daily to respond to disappointment with the same enthusiasm as Jesus. If my friend had never hurt me, I never would have had a chance to show what I’m truly made of as a child of God: grace.

When have you been deeply disappointed by someone? How did you react?

 

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