No turning back

I haven’t got a life, she told me. I’ve been sleeping on my cousin’s sofa in the living room for four years. I have no money. Can you help me?

She was orphaned by the age of five, married off by an uncle to a man who brought her to the UK to serve his family. He never touched her, never loved her. She cooked and cleaned and slaved away for the family, until one day her auntie discovered where she was and sent someone to snatch her while the family was out.

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They helped her begin the asylum seeker process. Interviews. Paperwork. Four years later, she still awaits a verdict.

It’s taken eight months to work up the courage to share her story with me and another teacher.

She has nothing.

I have so much.

Too much.

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I’m giving it away to charity shops by the bagful. Filling up our wheelie bin. Packing it in boxes to store in someone’s shed.

That’s the stuff I don’t need.

We’re paying good money for a big van to move the stuff we want to keep. It feels so wrong when she moved across the country with only a bag on her back.

Living in community is my dream.

Living together for the sake of others.

Pooling resources and ideas and dreams and creativity to help people like her. To extend a generosity that pushes back the boundaries.

But it’s tough to do when I hang on to so much stuff.

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When will I ever be able to say…

Enough.

Christ is enough

For me.

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I’m still awaiting the verdict.

But there’s no turning back now.

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Because I have decided to follow Jesus.

And whether I’m ready to accept it or not

He is enough.

 

 

 

Pot Noodle and Faith

I’d tasted haggis, faggots, black pudding, laver bread, and even mushy peas, but in all the years of living in the U.K., I’d never feasted on the British staple known as Pot Noodle. I’d heard about the 1970s wonder. I knew that British university students survived on it. I’d even seen Heston Blumenthal recreate it using Japanese noodles and dashi broth on his weird and wonderful cooking show. But my lips had never tasted it. Until now.

Sometimes you need to dive out into the deep.

Step beyond the shores into the waves.

Live a little.

Risk it all.

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I’d agreed to walk to the local shop with my best mate. She needed ingredients for a cake. In the shop, surrounded by fresh produce and lean healthy meat, our stomachs reminded us it was already two o’clock and we hadn’t eaten lunch.

“Maybe I’ll buy a Pot Noodle,” she said, her mouth already salivating.

“I’ve never tried it,” I admitted.

Her horrified gasp filled the shop and she immediately took it upon herself to remedy the situation.

Half an hour later, I sat in my kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil, diligently studying the instructions on the Chicken and Mushroom flavour Pot Noodle container. I’d been warned to not to read the ingredients, as it might negatively influence my tasting experience. Of course, that made me want to read it even more, but I resisted—sneaking only a quick glance at the fine print which read: INGREDIENTS (After Preparation).

Weren’t the ingredients the same Before preparation too? How did they change? Magically transform? Or mutate?

It’s not rocket science was printed in bold-face type by the first step: RIP OFF THE LID. Whip out the sachet. Add boiling water to fill level. Leave alone for 2 mins.

I tore off the lid and threw it in the bin. But how exactly does one whip out the sachet? With a pronounced flick of the wrist? Or full-fledged flamenco dancing?

I carefully pulled the little soy sauce sachet out of the yellow powder and shook it off before laying it to the side. Then I poured the boiling water into the cup to the fill line and went to find a spoon. Perhaps my first mistake was not setting a timer for 2 minutes. Or not reading the full instructions before starting. Or assuming that one would eat a soup-like substance with a spoon.

We all know what happens when we assume.

Assuming things will happen sooner than they do.

Assuming we should be entitled to a safe, pain-free, grief-free life.

Assuming God doesn’t hear us. He doesn’t care. He’s asleep or indifferent.

Assuming we’re in this journey alone. No one else understands. No one else struggles with the same issues.

No wonder we trip. And fall down.

Assumptions are the stumbling blocks of faith.

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Blissfully oblivious to the fact I was making a profound error; I pulled a soup spoon from the drawer and decided it had roughly been two minutes. Step 2: STIR. Leave for another 2 mins.

Trying to stir a lump of petrified worms with a spoon is not an easy feat. Hot yellow broth splashed on my top. The lump remained a lump. I gave up and counted down two minutes while glancing ahead to Step 3: STIR AGAIN. Find sachet, add contents.

Find sachet!? It was still sitting obediently on the kitchen counter where I’d placed it. Perhaps if I’d actually whipped it out properly in Step 1, I’d have the need to play hide and seek to find it under the cooker, or on top of the cabinet, or behind the fridge. I stirred the second time as instructed and found the solidified lump had slightly gone limp, but stirring with a spoon was still not easy.

The little brown sachet had its own instructions. I didn’t know Pot Noodle was so complicated to make. (It’s amazing students ever have time to study; all their time is taken up following Pot Noodle’s intricate instructions.) I couldn’t be bothered to read anymore, so I ripped open the sachet and dumped the entire five droplets of soy sauce into the cup. Then and only then did I read Step 4: GRAB FORK and dig in. Make sure you eat it while it’s hot. Do not reheat.

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I’d been using a spoon!! Stirring noodles with a fork certainly made more sense. If only I’d known. I grabbed a fork, stabbed into the noodles, and ingested my first ever forkful of Pot Noodle.

Sometimes grace is the lump in our throats when we come to the end of our ropes.

Sometimes grace is not what we expect.

Sometimes grace is the story we connect with.

Sometimes grace is found in the desert.

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The hot liquid seared my tongue. The noodles tasted like—well, noodles. And I saw sweetcorn. But no chicken or mushrooms. Half a pot later and I finally found a rubbery mushroom. It wasn’t the best food I’d ever tasted, but neither was it the worst. Mondungo soup in Guatemala, made with entire chicken feet was far worse. Pot Noodle was actually quite good in comparison. I continued to happily munch on the noodles. I felt a warm sense of pleasure deep within. I had joined millions of Britain’s Pot Noodle eaters. I could say I’d been there; done that; got the T-shirt!

Then I got to the bottom of the pot. The noodles were gone, but four centimetres of yellow sludge with floaty bits remained in the cup. How on earth was I supposed to eat that with a fork? I tilted the cup to double-check, but there were no further instructions.
I could go find the dirty spoon I’d erroneously used at the start, but I’d whipped it across the kitchen. I could throw the rest in the bin, but that seemed sacrilegious—I doubted Pot Noodle lovers did that. Or I could tilt the cup up to my lips and swallow the sweet nectar straight from the cup.

I opted for drinking the rest. Wrong move.

It tasted like toxic yellow mud; four parts salt, two parts aftertaste, and three parts grit. I made such a face that my husband nearly creased himself.

I whipped out an empty glass, filled it with clean Welsh water, and washed away any remainder of my Pot Noodle Adventure.

At least the pot can be recycled! That’s one saving grace!

Go on…you know you want to

…Pot Noodle

…Faith

…That tentative first step into the unknown with a rabbi called Jesus.

Be brave!

Whatever happens, he’s got your back. 

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Sunday lessons on a Monday

I was standing in the queue at one of those bargain shops where everything is cheap and cheerful. I’d already exchanged a smile with the old lady in front of me as she placed the little divider after her items so I could put mine on the conveyor belt. We were all waiting for the first customer, who was tapping her pin into the card reader.

It says card failed,’ the staff member said. The customer frantically rooted around in her purse. She searched in every pocket and unzipped the coin slot.

Everyone started to feel uncomfortable, looking anywhere but directly at the woman. She started to tap on her phone. I assumed she was phoning a friend.

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It was Monday morning.

I’d been to church the day before and heard a sermon about money and generosity. Everyone looked uncomfortable then too.

We’d been reminded that what we have to spend is not our own. It’s a gift. It’s all God’s.

I heard a voice ask the staff person, ‘How much is the bill?’

It took a moment to register that the voice was mine.

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She looked at me strangely and then hesitantly told me the amount. It was less than you’d pay for a drink and meal in a restaurant. I had enough cash in my purse to easily cover the bill and still pay for my shampoo and toothpaste. I pulled out a note (that’s a bill to my US friends) and handed it over.

The staff member looked confused, not sure if she should accept it. The customer saw what was happening and explained she was transferring money online from one account to another.

I don’t like to judge people by appearance, but she looked like she probably didn’t have much in her second account either. I nodded to the staff member to proceed with the transaction. She did, handed me the change, and then mindlessly started beeping the old lady’s items through the til.

When it was my turn, the harassed customer had just finished tapping on her phone and asked where the nearest cash machine was located. I packed my items in my reusable bag and assured her not to worry about it. ‘Do the same thing for someone else when they need it,’ I said. But she was insistent on paying me back, instructed me to wait there, and grabbed the bandages she’d bought. I noticed that both of her wrists were wrapped.

I paid my own bill and left the shop, heading to my car.

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It was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.

What we have is not our own. It’s a gift. It’s all God’s.

Even my life.

We only truly live when we give it away. 

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I often forget that. Or take it for granted. But the words had hit me square between the eyes and caused them tear up on Sunday.

Perhaps because it’s so close to Easter. Perhaps because of my daily reminders from #40acts. Perhaps because I so often dance a little dance of grace and refusal.

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When we know what we are saved from,

we will understand what we are saved for.

A few minutes later as I stood in front of the next shop, putting a pound coin into the trolley to release it from the chain that bound it to the next one, the woman ran up to me waving some money.

I was serious when I said I didn’t want it back,’ I assured her. ‘I want to bless you. Have a good day and do the same for someone else someday.

We danced a little dance of grace and refusal until she shook her head in amazement, put her money in her purse, thanked me profusely and went on her way.

I’ve never done anything like that before.

But the message from Sunday had stayed with me until Monday. That in itself is a miracle.

When we know what we are saved from,

we will understand what we are saved for.

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When you don’t see eye to eye

When I was twenty I quit my job, sold my sports car and left home. My parents weren’t happy. We didn’t see eye to eye. They hoped my wanderlust was only a passing phase. But a lifetime later, I still live abroad.

I blame a bald Italian bloke.

This week I met him for the first time and had the opportunity to thank him for ‘ruining’ my life.

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I’d been working in the world of financial institutions, progressing my way up the corporate ladder. I managed a department of twenty staff and drove a cherry red Honda Prelude Si, but I wasn’t happy.

One day a friend loaned me a cassette tape of a talk given by an Italian sociologist called Tony Campolo at a student conference in the middle of Illinois’s soybean and corn fields. He was the best storyteller I’d ever heard. And he loved Jesus.

His passion was so tangible that I’d drive my car back and forth to the bank’s financial headquarters, tears streaming down my cheeks, as his message cut straight to the heart. His voice and presence filled my car.

I didn’t realise at the time that I was being broken by the things that break the heart of Jesus. I just knew I needed a change. I needed to change.

I needed to stop being religious and start loving Jesus. 

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If anything breaks the heart of Jesus, it’s when people are religious. Can’t stand each other. Don’t know how to listen or serve or love. Don’t see eye to eye. 

That’s our 21st century, post-modern, post-Christendom, post-truth, post-tolerant society in a nutshell. That’s most churches and families and marriages. That’s me. And probably you.

It wasn’t Jesus’s words that changed people’s lives. It was his actions. His presence was powerful. He wasn’t afraid to simply be with people whose lifestyles and actions and beliefs were very different from his. To be with them. To be there for them. His words simply sealed the deal after his actions had already been the life changer.

To be the best friend you can possibly be is to be present with someone even when you don’t see eye to eye.

It’s taking me a lifetime to learn. I’ve hurt people in the process. I’ve given Jesus a bad name. I’ve broken his heart.

But sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get the briefest glimpse that you’re on the right track. This fortnight was one of those fleeting moments for me. On separate occasions, four friends have shared their heart with me. Things that have happened to them. Choices they’ve made. Choices they need to make. Things they didn’t feel they could share with anyone else. Not all of them are lovers of Jesus. We don’t always see eye to eye about matters of faith or parenting or relationships.

I’ve learned three important life lessons in one fortnight. Like the talk by the Italian bloke, these truths have cut straight to the heart:

People will approach us when they know they can trust us.

To be the best friend you can possibly be is to be present with someone even when you don’t see eye to eye.

It isn’t our words that change people’s lives. It’s our actions. Our presence is powerful. Don’t be afraid to simply be with people whose lifestyles and actions and beliefs are very different from ours. To be with them. To be there for them.

Without realising it, we will change too.

TC

And sometimes. Only sometimes. Words are okay too. Use them wisely. Sparingly. Let them come from a gracious heart.

That’s why I got down on my knees in front of an 82-year-old Italian’s chair this week and thanked him.

For showing me how to love Jesus

and how to love others when you don’t see eye to eye.

 

Not for Me

I’m guilty. Of pre-judging people. Of dropping the ball on friendships. Of shooting that elastic band across the room in ninth grade and blatantly denying it when the teacher asked who did it. But more than that I’m guilty of hearing songs and sermons and other random stuff, and thinking they’re for other people. If only she could hear this….If only he was here today. Nearly always for other people.

Not for me.

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Don’t get me wrong. I know I’m not perfect.

But in a culture where we see a meme and instantly tag a friend, it’s easy to hear something in a sermon or a TED talk and immediately think of someone we can pass it on to.

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It’s easier to try to change someone else than to change me.

She needs it more than me. He could really use this.

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I heard my first sermon when I was a couple of weeks old. Going to church every Sunday was very important to my parents; you didn’t miss church unless you were giving birth, had chick pox, or you were dead.

Growing up on a farm meant we didn’t even take holidays, but there were 2 weeks every year where the flock of chickens we had were taken away, we cleaned and disinfected the buildings ready for the next flock, and sometimes had a weekend to go to a cabin in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania. But even then, my parents would find a little country church and we’d go there for Sunday worship.

I’m not quite as rigid as they were, so over the years I’ve missed a Sunday now and again for holidays or special events or even the occasional Sabbath rest…but I calculated that I’ve probably been to a Sunday morning service over 2000 times in my life. That’s a lot of sermons! A lot of talks I wish other people had heard!

Imagine if I’d actually heard all of them. Let them sink into my spirit. Let them change and mould and shape me.

Words of truth and life.
Words that build up and don’t destroy.
Words that encourage and equip and empower.

Words that challenge

me.

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Imagine if Psalm 23 was for me and not the dead guy being lowered into the ground. If I let Jesus lead me. If I let him renew my strength. If I let him stick close by even when I walk through the darkest places instead of letting anxiety shove him aside.

Imagine if Jesus was talking to me when he said, Don’t let this throw you. You trust God don’t you? Trust me.

Imagine the kind of person I’d be.

If I listened to and then lived out what I heard.

If I stopped speaking for God and let him speak to me.

 

Imagine how the world would change

if I changed.

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The best lesson from a Somali immigrant

The Best Lesson From a Somali Immigrant.

Alina* isn’t my best student. In fact, she’s probably one of the weakest in my class of sixteen students. On rare days, she’s one of the first in class, sitting at her usual seat on the table near the back. Most days however, she’ll wander into class a few minutes late, arms laden with shopping, and a smile on her face, “Sorry, I late teacher.” Her clock still ticks to the slow, meandering Somali culture where relationships are more important than time constraints. If she meets someone on the street, she’ll stop and chat. It doesn’t matter that the teacher has already started the lesson. Sometimes I get annoyed.

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Alina hasn’t got the easiest life. She’s an uneducated, single, childless Somali woman in her early 40s. That social stigma alone is enough to set her apart, though I don’t know if she’s always been single or if her husband was killed in the war. Alina doesn’t disclose much in the classroom. I do know that she has a part-time job cleaning offices in the early hours of the morning. The kind of job many immigrants take because no self-respecting Westerner would want it. Tired and distracted, Alina often finishes her homework at the start of class or copies answers from another student. Often I get annoyed.

This week Alina requested a change of class. She wanted to study closer to her home and for fewer hours a week. We found her another class that suited her needs. I confess, I wasn’t particularly sorry to see her go. Her grammatical mistakes and poor spelling could gladly be some other teacher’s headache.

Yesterday was her final class with me. She brought ginger nut biscuits to share with the class. And she brought a gift for me. It’s not unusual to receive gifts from students at the end of the year, but in seven years of teaching, it’s the first time a student has ever given a gift for simply swapping classes. I took the gift bag, thanked her for her kindness and tucked it under my desk, forgetting about it as I carried on with explaining the use of ‘can’ to make plans and arrangements.

Gifts and cards from students are often amusing. I’ve even posted pictures on social media of inappropriate cards that students have given. We’ve all had a good chuckle—at their expense.

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So it was no shock when I opened Alina’s card at home to discover she’d professed her undying love to me and that she’d spelled my name wrong. I laughed and showed my kids. Then I pulled out the gift box of perfume that Alina had given. It was a fragrance I never wore, but it was a lovely gesture. I started to think about who I could pass it on to. Whose birthday was coming up? Could I save it for a Christmas present?

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This morning my eye caught a receipt lying on the bottom of the gift bag. I was instantly hit with shame and remorse. I wanted to take back my thoughts. Swallow the laugh that had easily escaped my throat yesterday. But it was too late.

Alina had spent a full day’s wage on the perfume.

I’d given her so little. Gotten annoyed so easily. Practically rejoiced that she was going. Laughed at her mistakes. I’m one of the people Jesus warned we should watch out for. 

 

 She gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford.

(Mark 12:44 The Message)

 

Today I’m wearing the perfume. It’s a fragrant nudge of grace and generosity. Every time I put it on, I will remember the best lesson this teacher ever learned from a Somali Muslim.

*name has been changed

cover photo by Brittany Peachey (edited)

Stop talking and start living

I don’t usually cry when I preach. It can be embarrassing. For Brits who don’t know where to look when someone cries, except at the floor. For my teenage children, who want said floor to swallow them instantly. And for people with automatic tear ducts who cry whenever someone else does, if even they’re not affected by the message itself. But on Sunday I couldn’t help it.

I looked out over the auditorium of several hundred mostly Welsh and English people, with a smattering of faces from other countries, listening to this American talk about how the early church lived and loved and shared and served, and I broke.

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What would make this preacher cry?

Most of you know I’m American, I said. I am grieved by the executive orders that the American president chose to sign this week. It seems to me the complete opposite of Isaiah 61 and God’s instructions to bring good news to the poor, to tear down walls, to welcome the immigrant, stand up for the oppressed, free those in bondage and slavery. I am grieved by people who call themselves Christians who are battening down the hatches and protecting themselves. From who? From what?

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I wonder if we’re reading the same Bible, that says our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces in a realm we can’t see or touch.

I wonder if we’re worshipping the same Jesus, who quoted an old adage: “‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life.”

I wonder what the consequences will be. Because the Bible seems clear. There will be consequences when we disobey the heart of God to love the fatherless, the foreigner, and the poor.

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Those of us who love Jesus, align ourselves with his kingdom, and call ourselves the church are supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus here on earth. We are doing a good job at pointing fingers. We are doing a poor job at acknowledging our own corruption, our own lack of ethics and integrity, our me-first attitudes.

We must stop talking about the values that we claim to hold dear and start living them out in our lives, every day.

Say we respect women? Marching is okay; it gives us a voice. Better yet, stop watching porn and reading trash that disrespects women and start treating our sisters or wives or colleagues with respect.

Say we care about the poor? Then sell a prize possession or clear out all that clutter hidden in houses behind locked doors and give the money to a homeless shelter or help resettle refugees. Better yet, use precious time to drive them to appointments or teach them English or invite them around the table for a cup of tea.

Say we value diversity? Then make a friend, a close friend—someone you’d trust your life to, who doesn’t look like you or sound like you, or believe the same things you do.

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I want to be part of a movement. A revolutionary movement. Of grace.

One that is not simply another social service, meeting the felt-needs of our communities, although we as the church do that…through bread baking and choirs and youth clubs and soccer schools and homeless shelters and food banks and debt advice. I want to be part of a distinctive movement that meets those needs while carrying the presence of Jesus. Yet acknowledges at the same time that we are as broken as the ones we are serving. We are just as much in need of God’s grace. We do it not because we are holier than thou, but because his holiness bleeds from us.

That’s how I want to live and love and share and serve.

That’s how I want to be remembered.

And if I break in the process, so be it.

 

Call it what it is

Sometimes you don’t want to embrace the pain. Or acknowledge that you’re not who you want to be. When others speak truth that cuts to the core.

Sometimes it’s easier to point fingers at others. To acknowledge their weaknesses. To flaunt their failures.

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Last night we sat at the table, feasting on the results of the cute one’s Food Technology class. We laughed. Told stories. Reminisced. Sometimes the thoughts spilled out so fast the chicken stir fry was still in our mouths. I heard my voice coming from the tall one’s lips. Stop talking with food in your mouth.

Stop telling me what to do.
Stop shouting. I’M NOT SHOUTING!
Stop hitting me. I’m not hitting you. I just touched you.

The carpenter and I sat and watched in silence.

Soon everything stopped. We stopped laughing. We stopped listening. We stopped talking.
Our bodies were the only part of us still present at the table.

Two of the teenagers propped an elbow on the table, head in hand, attitude shouting, I’m here but I don’t want to be.

[This is the point where a wise mother says something that eases the tension. Or a young boy breaks wind and everyone collapses in laughter. But there was no wisdom. No wind.]

And I’m not that wise mother. I’m that mother who piously I piped up, At least I’m mature enough not to have my head in my hand. Even the bodies left the table.

I’m not who I want to be.

I’m not who I should be.

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***
Regret is the first step to healing.
Or the first step to despair.
It is what it is.
It all depends which way you run.
***

This week I ran with my friend. I hate running. I detest people who accumulate marathon medals with smiles on their faces, the pure pleasure of life and limb oozing from every pore, when all the while my lungs burn, my knees ache, and my mind screams to give up. Pain in every step.

But something draws me back. My heartbeat throbbing in my ears. My best friend’s feet pounding the pavement beside me. Finding a rhythm. Doing live together. Tackling the inclines and the descents. Her words driving me on—in running and in life—when I want to give up.

I didn’t want to embrace the pain. Hear her words. Acknowledge that I’m not who I want to be. Who I should be.

So I kept running. Away from the truth that burned my lungs and put a stitch in my side.

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But sometimes it’s only in the silence, when we stop. Pause. Catch our breath. That we accept who we truly are.

It’s not easy. In a world of targets, goals and constant striving to pause. It’s not easy in a world where we become insecure if a friend doesn’t text back within the hour, or we become frustrated if a work email doesn’t garner a response within 24 hours to accept that the best things take time. And space. And silence.

 

How do we take the first step? Embrace the silence? Wrap our arms around the angst of the unknown? Give ourselves the grace to fail. The space to know.

That he is God. That he is good.

How can we learn to embrace our mistakes?  Know his presence, let alone rest in it?

Even in the silence.

Unless we call it what it is.

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Helping Millennials Face Death and 2017

Helping Millennials Face Death and 2017

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We were visiting family in America one summer when my husband’s uncle Wilmer died. Our son was only three, but we took him along to the funeral. It was a small affair, in a little rural funeral parlour with only a handful of family and friends. We didn’t bother to get a babysitter. We knew the service would be brief.

What we didn’t anticipate was that the coffin would be open during the entire service.
Uncle Wilmer’s body lay less than fifteen feet from us. Our little man strained to see over the heads in front of him. He was still in that inquisitive toddler stage: “Why is the man sleeping? When will he wake up?”

He’d never been to a church service where someone slept in a bed by the pulpit, though he had sometimes been to services where people nodded off in their seats.

“He won’t wake up,” we whispered, “He’s gone to heaven, to be with Jesus.” We naively thought that would settle things until the service finished.

But our little man’s mind kept working it all out. His next question took us by surprise: “So he’ll never eat burgers again?” Alan and I looked at each other, bursting into laughter. Two elderly aunts gave us a stern glare, but the little man’s questions kept coming.

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If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that an entire generation is growing up in a culture where death is not viewed as part of life. More than fifty celebrities have died already in 2016, and the year isn’t over yet. The number may still climb. Millennials and post-millennials are freaking out.

Even more shocking than some of their favourite icons dying of heart problems or cancer or even old age is the tragic news of those like Debbie Reynolds, who die of a broken heart over the grief of losing a daughter.

Not knowing how to face death, some millennials are angry. Angry at 2016, as if a collection of dates can be personified and vilified. Some are accusing 2016 of killing off people, like a mob hit man. Many are voicing their anger and horror on social media. One millennial friend recently posted, “Oh do f*** off 2016. Completely and absolutely f*** the f***off.” Her sentiment echoes others I’ve seen. How dare one year take away so many of their childhood idols, take away their innocence, take away their illusion that life goes on forever?

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Some people are quick to point out that many more lives died this year in Aleppo or drowned in the Mediterranean or were aborted before they could meet the world. Others are quick to point out that the arrival of televisions in people’s homes in the 1950s and the rise of the pop music industry in the 1960s significantly increased the number of celebrities in our midst and many of them are now approaching the age where most people naturally die.

The truth is many millennials and post-millennials have never stared death in the eye. Have never lost a loved one. Have never seen a body in a coffin.

Many have never experienced loss in any form. They’ve been coddled and cocooned. They’ve gotten whatever they wanted. Been told they can achieve anything. Their parents yell at the teacher if their grades aren’t good enough. They get medals for losing and are given presents when their siblings have birthdays so they don’t feel left out.

They don’t know how to give. Let go. Sacrifice. Experience pain and loss and grief. They are more medicated than any generation past.

How can we help millennials and post-millennials face death, and whatever 2017 will throw at them, if we don’t know how to help them face life?

If we don’t teach them No.

Or Wait.

Or show them that losing is part of life.

That tears are not a sign of weakness.

That empathy shows strength.

And getting it wrong helps us to get it right.

That dying is sometimes the first step to living.

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces a great harvest. John 12:24

And that the greatest sign of character is the ability to be completely present with those we love.

How can we help millennials and post-millennials face life unless we stop posting pictures of food, and start eating it with those sitting across the table from us? Unless we stop checking Snapchat, and chat with the people who gave birth to us and work their fingers to the bone for us. Unless we stop looking at how many Likes we have, and like spending time face-to-face with friends, laughing and talking and arguing and making up and asking questions.

How can we help millennials and post-millennials face life and death if we don’t give them heroes to look up to? Not fictional ones. But folks like Martin Luther King Junior, or Oskar Schindler or Jesus Christ–who looked death square in the face and lived life to the fullest.

So put down your phones and iPpads and gadgets. Be wholly and completely present with those you love before you lose them. Go for a walk. Play a board game. So what if you lose.

Because losing is part of life.

Tears are not a sign of weakness.

Empathy shows strength.

Getting it wrong helps us to get it right.

And dying to self is the first step to living.

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