Monthly Archives: June 2017

The First Miracle: Why We Desperately Need Play, Especially in Pain by Lindsay Anderson

The Sacredness of Glitter

If you were to come by the counseling spaces where I work as a school-based trauma therapist, you might find the carpet liberally coated with glitter, a garbage bag full of blown-up balloons hidden in a corner, or an in-progress Lincoln Log creation waiting on a shelf.

Daily I drive home with Play-Doh beneath my fingers and sore knees from crawling around on thin carpet enacting scenes with dolls and racecars. In the past two years as a clinician, I have played Sorry at least six or seven times a week.

The walls of the rooms where I work in three spectacular public elementary schools are not exactly Pinterest-worthy, but to me, they are perfectly decorated with an ever-growing collection of wild and beautiful works of art—daily reminders of healing moments with the kids I am so lucky to know.

These playful rooms are sacred spaces.

I am, in all honesty, a very new therapist. If you know me well, you have probably seen me wearing a sweatshirt with the phrase, “I Did My Best,” screen-printed across the chest. On the days when I am certain I have failed and that I have bitten off far more than I can chew, I come home and put on this sweatshirt—because even if I had years of this work under my belt, the truth is I am not sure entering into trauma with school-age kids, their parents, their caregivers, and their teachers will always be more than I can chew.

So, I put on my tongue-and-cheek cozy sweatshirt, pop some popcorn, and take heart in the words of one of my favorite professors, “We are in this together, and together we’ll find our way.” When I get lost in the midst of the pain, confusion, and adversity that unfold at work, all I can do is turn towards these incredible kids and follow their lead.

Together we will find our way.

And more often than not, that way is through play.

Finding My Way Through Play

While I only recently added the “MA, Licensed Mental Health Counselor Associate” to my name, if there was a credential for playing I would have it (well, technically I can become a certified Play Therapist, but for the purposes of this essay, I am implying something far less formal and far more innate). Because, you see, much like the kids I work with, play was a vital outlet for me too. When I think about my own childhood play, I think of my room, another sacred space where I found my way in the midst of pain.

In this room there was cheap shag carpeting, woven in shades of brown, black, tan, and cream; thin sepia paneled walls that echoed when I tapped my knuckles against their textured surface; and glowing copper blinds to block out the ripe urban orchard below. On a dusty set of powder-pink milk crates sat my very own Sony boombox where I played Debbie Gibson tapes or waited tirelessly for my favorite singles to finally come up on 93.3 KUBE. Cabbage Patch Kids—my ‘adopted’ family—gathered on the bed and at night they would crowd around me under my folksy Mother Goose quilt and hand-me-down sheets.

Down the hall was a playroom where my brothers and I played restaurant, dress-up, and school. At Christmas time, we would squirrel away with our cousins and scheme up plays and musical revues we could perform for the grown-ups. I was often the boss, the director, or the teacher. Beyond affording me the ability to be creative, play also offered me a chance to be in charge and exert control over something when so much of what went on in our family felt out of control.

When the world around me was too much, play was a grace. Within the copper, brown, and tan box of my youth, I was able to create, imagine, move, and wonder. I had choice.

But the gift of play was all too often a brief reprieve from a world in which I felt compelled to be perfect. While alone or in the comfort of friendship with my siblings, I felt more free to engage as God created me to be, but out of that safety bubble I was exacting and afraid.

Last week at work, I assisted in an art project with one particular student who is more fond of glitter than all the rest, while he—for the third session in a row—spilled a lavish amount of it on the floor. It was flowing like very sparkly milk and honey.

“What’s going on with your face? Are you mad?” he asked me, slightly unnerved.

“Oh,” I replied, “You know what? I’m not mad at all, but ever since I was a kid, I have been afraid of getting in trouble. So, while most of me loves making these glittery creations with you, apparently my face still shows that part of me.”

My whole life, God has been drawing me—even in the middle of impossible brokenness—to himself through the gift of play.

I am still learning, and these kids are some of my best teachers.

The First Miracle

It does not surprise me then that the first miracle Jesus performs during his time walking and talking among us is to turn water into wine at the Wedding in Cana.

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11)

 

God is a creative and playful God. This passage packs so much, but when I think about the ways God has often shown up for me in the darkest of times, it has often been through experiences of delight, play, and unexpected abundance.

Healing happens even in, or rather especially in, an unexpected abundance of glitter.

Now, as I am really zoning in on the final few years of my thirties—married with two playful kids of my own—I am starting to grasp more of what it means to pause and pay attention when God invites me to play. And, I am certain that entering into my own brokenness these past few years, allowing God to journey with me to depths I did not even know were there, that I have a much greater appreciation for my need to play.

Play reminds me of the first miracle, where Jesus showed up to an epic party and made something out of nothing. Six years ago my family suffered tremendous loss, and this loss opened up something staggering within me—it knocked me flat out and completely reoriented me in ways that were both terrifying and beautiful. In the midst of this, I still showed up for weddings. People had birthday parties. There were BBQ’s, grocery shopping, school, work, bills, and all the ups and downs of normal life. I can only imagine that at the infamous Wedding at Cana, that even though folks came to celebrate, that did not mean their lives were all cheery. But, yet, in the midst of life, when we pay attention, there are moments to pause for play.

God’s creative, playful, unexpected work of making something out of nothing is the first miracle.

Jesus knows we need the unexpected. He knows we need play, and he knows when we need it the most.

What does it mean for us to engage God through moments of respite and relief, without diminishing the experience of suffering? How do we hold play without avoiding facing our pain? How does God meet you in play?

Penelope’s Pantry: a real life loaves and fish story by Willow Weston

At our last Collide gathering for women we centered around the passage in Scripture where Jesus uses one lil’ boy’s lunch to feed thousands. We were hoping to get the message across to women that God can use what we already “have” to do amazing things. We don’t have to be like other people. Our story, our experiences, our giftings, our learning lessons and our resources can be used by God to impact this world. We don’t have to go out and get more degrees, or more talent or a new body. We don’t need to get more money, a new career or a new personality. God doesn’t need us to go out and get a better lunch. God can use what we already have to pull off something big.

In an effort to communicate this, our ministry team studied this passage of Scripture and then we brainstormed how we could teach this message. We invited women in different seasons and places in life who were using what they had to do amazing things to come and share their stories. And boy did we hear amazing stories! One woman used her passion and the ability to throw a garage sale and a concert to greatly benefit refugee families. One women used her cancer to start and grow what is now an international organization called Knitted Knockers that blesses women with breast cancer all over the world. And then we had lil’ Miss Penelope…

We interviewed seven year old Penelope on the front end of the night. Her and her kindergarten teacher, Tammy, came out on stage and Penelope shared her heart to feed hungry people. She shared how one day she came to school with hand written cards inviting all her classmates to bring food for her pantry. She had started a pantry to feed people who were in need of food. Her class rallied around her dream and her family built a pantry that is now visited regularly.

Penelope shared her story but what she didn’t know was that we had a big surprise in store for her at the end of the night, and this surprise was going to take an actual miracle. Penelope’s teacher took her out for ice cream with no idea what we had planned. Meanwhile, women brought bags of food when they checked in at registration. But then we felt led to invite women to get out their phones and “phone a friend.” I challenged women to text their spouses, their roommates, their teenage drivers and their friends, asking them to empty their pantries or go to a store and then drop off as much food as they could rally at the front steps of the church we were inside of.

Now you have to know, that as the invitation was coming out of my mouth, I was actually thinking “This might be a bad idea…What if no one does this? What if we have this big surprise at the end of the night for Penelope and there is hardly any food to surprise her with?” But we believe that the same God who used the lil’ boy and his lunch in Galilee thousands of years ago is alive and well and He can use us too, so we entered into a real life loaves and fish story.

Throughout the rest of the night as an artist painted an amazing painting, as the worship team led us in worship, as women shared their stories and as women stuffed Knitted Knockers to bless women with breast cancer, bags and bags of food kept showing up and were placed on the stage. I am told that at one point there was no room for cars to stop in front of the church because there were so many cars dropping off food. Roommates were stopping by, family vans were pulling up, even a motorcycle stopped in. It was amazing just watching this little miracle unfold.

At the end of the night, after hearing how God can use anyone to do amazing things, people who doubt their abilities, people who don’t feel ultra tight with the Big Man upstairs, people in pain, people who are old and people who are young….God used nearly 500 women to make one little girl’s dream of feeding hungry kids this summer come true. We invited Penelope back on stage blindfolded and we all yelled “surprise!” To her shock, Penelope stood in front of a sea of food! I am told that she was so overwhelmed and happy that as she walked up the aisle to find her mom, with tears in her eyes she said “I can’t believe they would do that. That’s so much food!”.

That same night two women were moved so much so that they decided to start their own pantries to feed the hungry. So not only did Penelope’s pantry multiple in size, but also in number. Now more and more people who need food will have a place to get it all because the God who multiplies loaves and fish multiplies what we have . May you personally be encouraged that God can use what you “have” to do amazing things.

If you want to get involved locally in feeding those in need or find yourself in need, here are a few of the places doing this important work:

-First Baptist Church: Every Tuesday, help provide the community members a healthy and yummy meal at First Baptist

-The Food Bank: If you need food and live in Bellingham or want to volunteer to help those who need food, check out the food bank.

-Shuksan Middle School: Hot meals are served 4 nights a week to children in our community and their accompanying adults. For more details, see their website.

-Penelope’s Pantry: If you want to donate food to Penelope’s pantry,  the address is 208 S Washington, Everson 98247

Where in your community could God use what you “have” to do amazing things?  Is there something you’ve already done with your lil’ “lunch”, or want to do, and would like to tell us about it? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at info@wecollide.net!

Yoga Mat Collisions by Caroline Williams

The Your stories blogs are a place where women can bravely and authentically tell their story as it really is. We invite women to collide with Jesus and share how He is meeting them, transforming them and redeeming them. We hope this “your story” meets you in yours…

There I was, lying on a yoga mat six inches away from my sweaty Lululemon-clad neighbor, packed like a sardine into a stuffy yoga studio in Washington, DC. The cheap portable speakers played some music you would only ever hear in an overpriced spa. There we all lay, eyes closed, blissed out after stretching and twisting and backbending for an hour.

This was the part of the class called Savasana (translated from Sanskrit as Corpse Pose) where we were all supposed to lie there peacefully, not fidget, and not think about the list of errands you have to run or the first thing you’re going to eat as soon as you’re dismissed from the stuffy blissed out sardine room.

I was having a problem though.

I could not stop the tears streaming from my eyes, down my cheeks, and pooling in my ears. The snot was coming hot and heavy along with the tears, but The Rules of Savasana kept me from wiping either my nose or my ears (where the pools of tears were now overflowing down my neck and into my hair). In a yoga class where the teacher talked about how we all should be a little kinder to ourselves and each other, I felt the presence of God thicker than I ever have outside of a small handful of church services.

“DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU?! DO YOU KNOW HOW PROUD I AM OF YOU?!” the Voice both whispered and roared, over and over, its truth hitting me like the power of hurricane winds in a heart that had not heard those words or felt that Presence, in a very long time.

My body shook with the silent sobs of surrender.

I had practiced yoga on and off for years, loving the physical workout and the emphasis on being present and mindful. As a busy, ambitious, people-pleaser, I always struggled with carving out “quiet time” with God, never being able to really quiet the external and internal distractions. But I always worried a little about the statues of Ganesh or Buddha in the studios I visited. To assuage my anxiety I’d throw up a quick prayer asking God to protect my heart/forgive me if I was, in fact, doing something evil.

That moment on my yoga mat, covered in tears and snot, was not really an anomaly but was becoming a pretty regular occurrence. There was something about moving and breathing, not being able to do anything else for that hour except be present, that opened the door for the Holy Spirit to have some room to speak – “ahh,” He seemed to say, “finally…now I have your attention.” His voice broke through all the noise and Buddha statues and spoke to my weary heart.

Fast forward a few years, a couple of yoga trainings, and a career move (so long politics, hello health + wellness!). Today I practice and teach a style of yoga called Holy Yoga, a beautiful collision of the physical practice of yoga with the Truth of the Gospel woven in. In a Holy Yoga class we play worship music, infuse Scripture into the practice, and use that time moving and breathing as a worshipful experience to connect with God in our heart, soul, and body. I have the great joy to teach those classes in my community and online via my YouTube channel.

What I’ve learned through this journey, is that God doesn’t just exist in a Sunday church service or in the pages of a Bible you scroll through on the way to work. He is a living God, active in the world around us and eager to speak to us in and about every aspect of our lives. You and I and the woman next to you are made uniquely, able to hear and experience God in our own way. He’s eager to speak if only we make ourselves available to listen.

For some of us that might mean practicing yoga. Or maybe it’s running, writing, drawing, cooking, or knitting. Go and do that thing you love doing, that thing that makes you feel like YOU, and in the midst of your run or your recipe, pause for a second. Close your eyes. And just talk to God. It doesn’t have to be formal or complicated, but can be as simple as Thank You. Invite Him into the moment, acknowledge His presence, and give Him room to speak. He is always there. He hears you. And He can’t wait to tell you how in love with you He is.

On Skis by Willow Weston

Sometimes I wonder if we think God is like me on skis. The last time I went skiing, my husband took me up on a double black diamond ski run. For those of you who don’t know, that is for experienced, skilled skiers, not once-a-decade posers, like myself. I was scared out of my gourd and looked down that steep slope. I had no idea how I was going to get down to my car so I could get off that mountain as fast as possible. But I knew I couldn’t live up on that slope. So, I went for it and started screaming at the top of my lungs to protect myself and everyone I might run into,“Gettt out of mYYYYY waaaaaaay!!!! I have noooooo idea what I aaaaaam doing! I aaaaam outttttt of controlllllll!”  

God is not looking down the same slope we are, screaming at everyone He passes by saying “I have no idea what I am doing! I am out of control!” While we might feel out of control and we might not know what we are doing, God knows what He is doing. He is in control.

In John 6, Jesus collides with thousands of people, and for a hot second you would think He has no idea what He is doing. This story, which is apparently the only miracle recorded in all four gospels, starts out with a huge crowd of people following Jesus because He was healing the sick. You know, sometimes I think we read the Bible like we read CNN News. Like “thousands of people were displaced from their homes”, like “6 people were shot at a mall,” like another middle schooler “committed suicide”. When the Bible says “a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick”… These were people’s mothers with cancer. These were people’s brothers with mental illness. These were people’s children with epilepsy. And Jesus was healing them. I would follow Him too. I would get a fanny pack on and throw some sunscreen and some trail mix in that puppy, and I would trek with Jesus to Timbuktoo because He healed someone I loved.

This particular day, on a mountainside, Jesus saw a great crowd coming toward him. Can you imagine the pressures He felt? Can you imagine the demands that pressed in on Jesus, the despair that begged of Him and the sad stories thrown at Him? And here they came, thousands of them. I think Jesus’ response is funny. He could have supernaturally vanished, like abracadabra, “poof”, Jesus is at an Irish pub listening to bagpipers. He could have had his disciples put on a show- you know, some kind of cheesy Christian theatrical play with live sheep and goats. He could have asked the people to break up in groups and share their happys and crappys. But He doesn’t. Instead, He says to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”

When I read this passage I am thinking, why does Jesus insist on feeding them? Can’t they go home and have nachos later? The Bible says Jesus asked Philip this to test him. Jesus’ question was to help Philip realize what Jesus already knew.

The Bible says: for He already had in mind what He was going to do.

How often are we in a scenario where we freak out thinking, “There is no way!”  meanwhile, God is sitting there confident in His plan. Maybe this can be our new mantra…

Maybe, when our kids come home from middle school lost and hurting and we have no control over making it better, maybe we can say “God already has in mind what He is going to do.” Maybe when the love of our life decides we aren’t good enough to stick around for and we go to bed every  night alone in our grief, we can remind ourselves “God already has in mind what He is going to do.” Maybe when something feels really out of our control, we can put on repeat, “God already has in mind what He is going to do.” Maybe when we are faced with an opportunity to do something amazing and we see absolutely no way it’s possible, we can say to ourselves: “Self, you have a God who already has in mind what He is going to do.”

I wonder, how would it change our mindset if we stood confidently on this belief in all the circumstances we find ourselves?

While Philip might have felt like me coming down the side of a mountain, certain there is about to be a pileup, Jesus was inviting Philip to realize, God’s got this. But Philip answered Jesus the way I think we would: “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Philip is is looking at Jesus thinking we will feed these people when pigs fly, when hell freezes over, when Satan ice skates to work. Feeding five thousand people on the side of a mountain, on the fly, with no plan, no caterer, and no money? “Oh Jesus and his pipe dreams”, Philip is probably uttering under his breath.

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Imagine this lil’ boy is following the crowd. Who knows, maybe he was intrigued by Jesus. Maybe he was drug along by his mama who needed a miracle. Maybe he was wondering what all the hullabaloo was about. Regardless of why this boy happened to find himself on the same slope as Jesus, I am almost 100% sure he didn’t think he would be called out nor did he most likely want to be.

There he was with his little lunch, an inferior lunch, no less. Barley bread was cheap. It was the bread of the poor. One commentator said barley was called the “food of beasts” and “an offering for a woman who has committed adultery.” Here this poor kid was packing “ho” bread and a few sardines in his lunch.

Getting called out would highlight just how inferior this boy felt and most likely he didn’t want to give up his lunch- it was after all, what he had to eat. And Andrew says “Here is a boy…” Out of 5,000 people, Andrew calls out the potential in this one boy and his loser lunch. Oh how we need Andrews in our life and oh how we need to be Andrews.

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). He broke bread, gave thanks and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. This is crazy! It’s off the hook. Jesus took one kid’s sack lunch and fed thousands! Jesus used what this boy had. That’s what God does.

All along, Jesus had in mind what He was going to do. We have a God who is not shredding mountains screaming at people on His way down warning them that He is out of control. No, we have a God who sits on mountains with people who need help and healing, and not only does He heal them, but He puts on a pretty great picnic and feeds them. He is a God who has in mind what He is going to do. Even if it seems impossible, unlikely, or unrealistic. Even if we can’t picture it working out. Our God can pull it off. So no matter what mountain you happen to be on, you my friend, have a God who already has in mind how He is going to pull off the unlikely and amazing in your midst. So may this be your mantra in your dreams, in your grief, in your confusion, and in the places you feel out of control: God already has in mind what He is going to do.