The Ministry of The Happy Chicken

Not long ago, I met with a vivacious young woman who is just entering into vocational ministry. We shared parts of our stories as the ice clinked encouragingly in our lemonade glasses. Towards the end of our time together—which had started out with the awkwardness of strangers but then blended into story-telling and a host of “me too” moments—she seemed to remember herself and why she was here and, squaring her shoulders and getting back into “ministry-mode”, she asked me how I’d seen God at work through me recently.

It wasn’t so much the wording of the question as the timing and the tone of it, but I laughed (I can be rude that way). I told her that it had been a long time since I felt like I needed to give an accounting for my ministry. There was a time when I sat down at a computer and labored over a monthly report back to those who were supporting me financially and in prayer, and while I know none of them expected a graph chart with numbers of students converted and bibles distributed, in truth I did feel that I needed to give an account. Which sometimes might include numbers.

These days, I told her, when it comes to seeing God at work, I’m taking a longer view. Like moving from the narrative arc of a Pixar short movie to epic full-length features. “I have no idea whether what I’m doing is successful or fruitful,” I confessed, “it’s really hard to take an account of that when you’re in the day-in and day-out of it with kids, and when you have no idea who reads your stuff and whether it makes any difference. So I’m aiming for faithfulness. To be kind today. To tell the truth today. To show my neighbor the gospel today, perhaps by taking their trash bin in or watching someone’s kids while they are at the doctor. That’s about all. I really wouldn’t have much to put in a monthly ministry newsletter.”

Friends, even to me this answer sounds a little like a cop-out: should I not be more strategic? intentional? make the most of every opportunity? Maybe. I have certainly trained others in ministry to be strategic in their goals over the years. But then again: I myself have been under the tutelage of the Happy Chicken.the ministry of the

Meet my Happy Chicken.

This hot water bottle was a gift from my sister nearly twenty years ago. I think it was a birthday present, but I can’t be sure. But I remember thinking it was hilarious. My sister and I had joked for years about a Far Side Cartoon in which a forlorn man sits on a bed while a chicken looks on from the window sill. The caption read: “the bluebird of happiness long absent from his life, Ned is visited by the chicken of depression.”

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Of COURSE when my sister saw the hot water bottle chicken, she had to have it. (She’s always been one excellent gift-giver.) And so, the chicken of depression made its way into my home. Within a few years, I was finding my way into ministry, and found an increasing number of people sitting on my couch sharing their stories with me. Some were very, very sad; and armed as I was my newly-minted-theological-education, sometimes I tried to help with comforting explanations. But as we all know, this was almost never the right thing to say or do. For even if the hurting person’s lips are asking why did this happen, their hearts are asking who will be with me in this? And so, slowly, I learned to shut up and listen. It became something of a formula: tears would spring up, and I would offer tea, a pair of socks, and the chicken… because it helps to have something warm to hold, and the kettle was boiled anyway. (It didn’t seem appropriate, somehow to tell people that this was the Chicken of Depression, after all.)serious_chicken_by_sandra_boynton_canvas_print-r1f5f44ee6a7b480d9bf43daad7546afa_wt7_8byvr_324

Over time, friends who got to know my chicken re-named it: the Happy Chicken. And years later, when I discovered the wonder of all things Sandra Boynton and met her happy chicken characters who bore a striking resemblance to mine, the name was formalized.

I think, in some in-my-bones kind of way, the Happy Chicken taught me that the simplicity of listening and welcome offers Christian comfort in a way that even my best theology does not. Jesus did teach many truths about God, and God had been speaking comforting, true words for a long, long time before that. But Jesus came. He sat in the mess. He touched the unlovely. He listened. He ate with people. He ate dinner with the heartbroken and received their tears without needing to fix it right there and then.

But still, sitting quietly while people weep and marriages end and children starve and girls are sold and refugees drown in the Mediterranean feels desperately ineffective. And despite the fact that the quiet ministry of neighbors has brought me comfort more times than I can count, I still occasionally panic and think I should be doing more. We should have a plan here. If, after all, I was still writing a hypothetical newsletter updating people on God’s activity in and through my life, what on earth what I say? And if all I had to say was “I made tea and introduced people to the Happy Chicken”, would it make God look bad? Or Christianity insipid?

517SjSiMdxLIt was this taproot of fear that made D.L. Mayfield’s new book Assimilate or Go Home: Notes From a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith such a gift to me. Mayfield has such a writing gift: she crafts simple sentences with simple words—so easy to read—and yet the result is breathtaking. Reading her is like marveling at Leonardo daVinci’s finest work done on an etch-a-sketch.

But more than her beautiful writing, the message of this book spoke to me, and will speak to anyone who’s earnestly wanted to do great and beautiful things for God but then floundered when real life and messy relationships happened, making the monthly newsletter which was meant to sing of all God’s glory seemed so hard to write.

In a series of short, highly readable essays, Mayfield tells of her teenage zeal—holiday clubs! short term missions! seminary!—and her deep love for the displaced refugee communities in North America. And then she writes about what really happened next. She writes about failure: her awkward attempts to Jesus-ify conversations, and the skepticism with which her goodwill was sometimes (rightfully) regarded. She writes about the deep humbling of realizing people don’t change on our timeline or according to our well-intentioned western ways, and of learning that God has made something beautiful in every person and every culture – no matter how different and broken- and she tells of how, after all was said and done, she re-found (is re-finding!) faith in learning to sit and be a witness to all that God is doing, and to just love as she has an opportunity. She writes:

“I used to want to witness to people, to tell them the story of God in digestible pieces, to win them over to my side. But more and more I am hearing the still small voice calling me to be the witness. To live in proximity to pain and suffering and injustice instead of high-tailing it to a more calm and isolated life… To plant myself in a place where I am forced to confront the fact that my reality is not the reality of my neighbors. And to realize that nothing is how it should be, the ultimate true reality of what God’s dream for the world is.

Being a witness is harder than anything I have ever done. And he is asking all of us to do this task, to simultaneously see the realities of our broken world and testify to the truth that all is not well. To be a witness to the tragedy, to be a witness to the beauty. Jesus, the ultimate witness of the love of the Father heart of God, shows us the way…

He is asking us to drop everything and run, run in the direction of the world’s brokenness. And he is asking us to bring cake.”

He is asking us to bring cake. Mayfield’s love language is cake. And I’m thinking mine might be the Happy Chicken. Today I’m facing the broken world with eyes wide open and ears perked up. Who will God send my way today? I’m ready. The Happy Chicken and I are as ready as we can be.

 

And I Would Walk 10,000 Steps (A Fitbit parody)

Fitbit 500 miles parody

I am one of the 18 million people (!!!) who got a Fitbit last year: a little device on my arm that functions not only as a watch, but also counts my steps, and tracks my heart rate, sleep, exercise and a host of other things. Apparently 10,000 steps is the goal we should be aiming for in our daily activity levels, and I can’t thinking of that old Proclaimers song “500 miles”. So I thought I’d share with you the crazy ditty that’s been floating around my head the past two weeks:

“I’m Gonna Be (Ten Thousand Steps)”

When I wake up, well, I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the one who slept more thanks to you
When I go out, yeah, I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the one whose heart rate gets tracked too
If I eat out, well, I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the gal who’s counting cals with you
And if I make goals, hey, I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the one who’s watching stars accrue But I would walk five thousand steps
And I would walk five thousand more
Just to be the one who walked ten thousand steps
To earn one green star more

When I work out, yes, I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the one with calories burning fuel
And when the bar charts come in for each work out new
I’ll tweet every single sessions’ stats, its true
When I come home (When I come home), oh, I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the one who’ll step home wearing you

And if I’m still short, well, I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the one who’s stepping to Hulu.
But I would walk five thousand steps
And I would walk five thousand more
Just to be the one who walked ten thousand steps
To earn one green star more
Da lat da (Da lat da), da lat da (Da lat da)
Da-da-da dun-diddle un-diddle un-diddle uh da-da
Da lat da (Da lat da), da lat da (Da lat da)
Da-da-da dun-diddle un-diddle un-diddle uh da-da
But I would walk five thousand steps
And I would walk five thousand more
Just to be the one who walked ten thousand steps
To be a Fitbit bore
Da lat da (Da lat da), da lat da (Da lat da)
Da-da-da dun-diddle un-diddle un-diddle uh da-da
Da lat da (Da lat da), da lat da (Da lat da)
Da-da-da dun-diddle un-diddle un-diddle uh da-da
But I would walk five thousand steps
And I would walk five thousand more
Just to be the one who walked ten thousand steps
To be a Fitbit bore
Image Credit: Julien Doclot/Fitbit Charge HR from Flickr Creative Commons/edited by moi on canvas.com.

Adventures of Isabel (Ogden Nash)

isabel-1

Adventures of Isabel

Isabel met an enormous bear,
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t care;
The bear was hungry, the bear was ravenous,
The bear’s big mouth was cruel and cavernous.
The bear said, Isabel, glad to meet you,
How do, Isabel, now I’ll eat you!
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t worry.
Isabel didn’t scream or scurry.
She washed her hands and she straightened her hair up,
Then Isabel quietly ate the bear up.
Once in a night as black as pitch
Isabel met a wicked old witch.
the witch’s face was cross and wrinkled,
The witch’s gums with teeth were sprinkled.
Ho, ho, Isabel! the old witch crowed,
I’ll turn you into an ugly toad!
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t worry,
Isabel didn’t scream or scurry,
She showed no rage and she showed no rancor,
But she turned the witch into milk and drank her.
Isabel met a hideous giant,
Isabel continued self reliant.
The giant was hairy, the giant was horrid,
He had one eye in the middle of his forhead.
Good morning, Isabel, the giant said,
I’ll grind your bones to make my bread.
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t worry,
Isabel didn’t scream or scurry.
She nibled the zwieback that she always fed off,
And when it was gone, she cut the giant’s head off.
Isabel met a troublesome doctor,
He punched and he poked till he really shocked her.
The doctor’s talk was of coughs and chills
And the doctor’s satchel bulged with pills.
The doctor said unto Isabel,
Swallow this, it will make you well.
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t worry,
Isabel didn’t scream or scurry.
She took those pills from the pill concocter,
And Isabel calmly cured the doctor. 

Poem by Ogden Nash
Illustration by Corrie Haffly

****************

Remember my childhood memorized poem, I Had a Hippopotamus? Today’s choice was the poem our artist, Corrie, memorized as a child. And her illustration is extra delightful (with the Oliver Jeffers-esque lettering)…

… but just one question: how do you quietly eat a bear???

Your Laughter (Pablo Neruda)

Your Laughter Pablo Neruda

Your Laughter

Take bread away from me, if you wish,
take air away, but
do not take from me your laughter.

Do not take away the rose,
the lance flower that you pluck,
the water that suddenly
bursts forth in joy,
the sudden wave
of silver born in you.

My struggle is harsh and I come back
with eyes tired
at times from having seen
the unchanging earth,
but when your laughter enters
it rises to the sky seeking me
and it opens for me all
the doors of life.

My love, in the darkest
hour your laughter
opens, and if suddenly
you see my blood staining
the stones of the street,
laugh, because your laughter
will be for my hands
like a fresh sword.

Next to the sea in the autumn,
your laughter must raise
its foamy cascade,
and in the spring, love,
I want your laughter like
the flower I was waiting for,
the blue flower, the rose
of my echoing country.

Laugh at the night,
at the day, at the moon,
laugh at the twisted
streets of the island,
laugh at this clumsy
boy who loves you,
but when I open
my eyes and close them,
when my steps go,
when my steps return,
deny me bread, air,
light, spring,
but never your laughter
for I would die. 

Illustration by Corrie Haffly || Made with Paper/fiftythree.com

************

How have I never read Pablo Neruda before? I don’t even know.

But this poem—Oh this poem!—undid me as I read it and I wasn’t half way through before I had a lump in my throat and tears welling. For it reminded me of a time, years ago, when I walked into a coffee shop tucked away next to our bible-college-on-sea, and tucked myself away in a corner: a cove within a cove. Usually I came with a friend, but on that day I was alone. Someone new came over and welcomed me as a first-timer. Just then, the older waiter called over: “oh, she’s a regular. She’s the one who laughs.”

The thought that this wild, untamed, often-inappropriate laughing habit of mine could be not just a hallmark, but a beloved one, leaves me breathless.

Ugh. All TMI. You see what reading poetry is doing to me, friends? I’m a WRECK.

I had a hippopotamus (Patrick Barrington)

hippo

I had a Hippopotamus

I had a Hippopotamus, I kept him in a shed
And fed him upon vitamins and vegetable bread
I made him my companion on many cheery walks
And had his portrait done by a celebrity in chalk

His charming eccentricities were known on every side
The creatures’ popularity was wonderfully wide
He frolicked with the Rector in a dozen friendly tussles
Who could not but remark on his hippopotamuscles

If he should be affected by depression or the dumps
By hippopotameasles or the hippopotamumps
I never knew a particle of peace ’till it was plain
He was hippopotamasticating properly again

I had a Hippopotamus, I loved him as a friend
But beautiful relationships are bound to have an end
Time takes alas! our joys from us and robs us of our blisses
My hippopotamus turned out to be a hippopotamisses

My house keeper regarded him with jaundice in her eye
She did not want a colony of hippopotami
She borrowed a machine gun from from her soldier nephew, Percy
And showed my hippopotamus no hippopotamercy

My house now lacks that glamour that the charming creature gave
The garage where I kept him is now silent as the grave
No longer he displays among the motor tyres and spanners
His hippopomastery of hippopotamanners

No longer now he gambols in the orchards in the spring
No longer do I lead him through the village on a string
No longer in the morning does the neighbourhood rejoice
To his hippopotamusically-modulated voice.

I had a hippopotamus but nothing upon earth
Is constant in its happines or lasting in its mirth
No joy that life can give me can be strong enough to smother
My sorrow for what might-have-been a hippopotamother.

By Patrick Barrington
Illustration by Corrie Haffly.
***********

I learned this poem for a talent show when I was 9, and have loved it ever since. I chose it as an excuse to revisit all its delightful humor with my kids, and also because I couldn’t wait to see Corrie’s hippo illustration 🙂

Pick of the Clicks 10/23/2015

Happy weekend, friends! Just a few this week, but they’re GO-OO-OO-OO-D: enjoy!

PofClicks

This is so awesome: Sesame Street introduced their first character with Autism—Meet Julia. I watched Sesame Street for the first time in my 30s, and loved it straight away (the Count is my favorite! Von. Too. Tree. ah ah ah ah.) I didn’t think I could love it more… but now I do: what a huge contribution it makes to have beloved muppets teach us how to love kids of all kinds.

Excellent thoughts from Russell Moore: How Confidence Makes Us Kind.

But we are not the voice of the past, of the Bible Belt to a post-Christian culture of how good things used to be. We are the voice of the future, of the coming kingdom of God. The message of the kingdom isn’t “You kids, get off our lawn.” The message of the kingdom, is, “Make way for the coming of the Lord.”

“The arc of history may be long, but it bends towards Jesus.”

This is extraordinary story-telling and journalism from Sophia Jones following Syrian Refugees from country to country: 1000 Miles In Their Shoes.

Truth: I don’t like to link to the same people two weeks in a row on Pick of the Clicks… I try to keep things broad. But I can’t help it this week, because this article from Jessica Mesman Griffiths is truly EXCELLENT. So thought-provoking, so important. READ THIS: The Spiritual Child – The Next Big Idea in Parenting.

 I was a normal teenager struggling on the path of individuation under a mountain of grief. I needed someone, anyone, really, to stand by my side, to say “I’m not leaving,” to say “I see your suffering”—and our loving God sees your suffering. To say, as Miller says, “your pain is real—I know it.”

Also, since I’m repeating honors, Alexandra Petri KILLS it with this one: Famous Quotes, the way a woman would have to say them in a meeting.

“Let my people go.”
Woman in a Meeting: “Pharaoh, listen, I totally hear where you’re coming from on this. I totally do. And I don’t want to butt in if you’ve come to a decision here, but, just, I have to say, would you consider that an argument for maybe releasing these people could conceivably have merit? Or is that already off the table?”

Cindy Brandt always makes me think, and this post is no exception: Three Reasons Why We Don’t Pray The Sinner’s Prayer With Our Children. I think her third point (belonging > believing) resonates deeply with me, especially after my month-long thought experiment on what it means to belong.

Halloween is coming up, and a few people have asked me what I think: so here’s this from me at Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics last year on finding cultural nuance in the Halloween debate: My First American Halloween. (Hint: the holiday is really more American than religious or irreligious)

This old clip came to mind this week, so funny that I thought I’d share it this week for old times’ sake:

Haha. Gotta love Ross.

And from me this week:

When it’s time to hang up the super-mom cape (and put on pajamas),

and an older post which got a lot of love this week: On raising beautiful girls.

Also, I’m giving away a copy of the gorgeous new NIV Bible for Women (which includes devotions from yours truly – EEEK!) You can enter up to four times, and entries close Wednesday. Best of luck.

 

The Sniff Test

Who knew parenting would smell so bad?

Of all the indignities which are visited on us by motherhood, I vote that the sniff test is the worst.

You know: that horrid and humiliating practice we moms have of putting our noses way up close to the most gut-lurchingly awful things in order to correctly diagnose a predicament.

I have become one of those people. 

I remember being pregnant with my eldest and attending a baby shower where one of the ice-breaker games involved a number of diapers with various types of chocolate smeared inside them. Bending low, we took deep sniffs and giggled as we scribbled: “milky way”, “reeses”, “junior mints”. Imagine eating that, we thought. Hardy har har.

My newborn smelled nothing like that chocolatey mess. Her head was pure heaven: baby and angel and natural and breathtaking. I sniffed her head like a hormone-addled addict. I tried not to think about where she’d just come from and why she might smell so good… but there was just nothing like the smell of her newborn head.

Input leads to output, as the lactation consultant euphemistically quipped, and pretty soon our sweet-smelling newborn was producing plenty of regular ‘output’. I took mental notes watching my adept-with-infants mom whose babies had all used cloth diapers: to check if a baby was wet, she would hold the baby up to her chest and gently feel inside the leg hold of the diaper to check the moisture level. Was baby wet? Yes? Grandma was quick to supply a dry outfit.

I followed my mom’s trick once, twice, three times. With the “stay dry” diaper technology, my baby always seemed dry enough. And then there was that paradigm-shifting fourth time – when I reached my finger into her little diaper to check for wetness, and was met with an immediate and sickening squelch. I pulled a bright yellow finger out, yowling for SOMEBODY TO GET ME A WIPE!

That was the day I started the sniff test.

It was cumbersome to get a winter-born baby sufficiently unbundled to see what was happening in their diaper, and far too dangerous to feel  what was going on down there – so I became one of those people I had always silently judged for their Public Acts of Grossness. When I suspected that there was some output activity (<— see how tactful that was?), I would lift my baby high in the air and press my nose to her cushy tush. Relying on the science of olfactory sensitivity – it never took long to diagnose disaster.

Quick. Clean. Efficient. And still: totally gross.

I think what surprises me, though, is that seven years later, I am still doing the sniff test, and it just gets grosser. 

Has this shirt been worn? (Let me smell)

Have these underpants been worn? (Let me smell)

What are you drinking? (Let me smell)

Did you make it to the potty on time or did you drip just enough to make you smell like a truckstop urinal? (Let me smell)

How long have you had milk in that cup? (Let me smell)

“Oh…. that’s what that smell is. Let Mommy get that moldy apple/old yogurt/soiled pair of shorts/dead mouse out of here…”

Ew. ew. ew.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. A friend and I were lamenting recently that we preferred the old Bible translations renditions of ‘patience’ as ‘long-suffering’ – because at least the latter admitted that what we were enduring was both suffering, and it was taking loooong. Parenting requires long-suffering. And encouragement. And a sense of humor. And lots of deep breaths.

Just don’t make them too deep.