Paying attention and not paying attention

I strive to pay attention in church. I thought it was hard when I was younger, when I didn’t really understand a lot of what the pastor would drone on and on about teach about. I liked the singing part because I liked singing and enjoyed hearing the people around me sing. But the sitting still and listening part was a little difficult. I drew pictures on the bulletins, sat next to friends and wrote notes back and forth, daydreamed, and thought about lunch.

I remember one time trying to bring Super Fudge by Judy Blume to church, probably because I’d seen a younger child reading a book during the service, and I thought that would be okay. It’d keep me quiet and entertained. My parents weren’t having it. I felt bad for trying to pull something like that at the age of ten, when I was completely capable of siting still. My mom made my leave it in the car, and to this day I can’t think of Judy Blume without feeling a small modicum of guilt. I knew better.

The songs were my favorite part. Even before we went to our church, where music is important and done well and given lots of attention, I knew the words to the songs and liked singing along. We went to a hymn sing at our church one night, and I desperately wanted to suggest “Shine, Jesus, Shine” when they started taking requests, but I couldn’t get up the courage to suggest it. I whispered it to my mom, kind of just so someone else would know what I wanted to sing, and she said (OUT LOUD), “Ashley wants to sing ‘Shine, Jesus, Shine’.” Thus, I was outed, but then we sang that song.

Shine, Jesus, Shine. 

Fill this land with the Father’s glory.

Blaze, Spirit, blaze. 

Set our hearts on fire.

Flow, river, flow. 

Flood the nations with grace and mercy.

Send forth your word, Lord

And let there be light.

See? It’s a good one.

The songs we sing in church are still meaningful to me. And I can now sit perfectly still during the sermon, look like I’m paying attention, and on a regular basis actually be paying attention. If I think of something I need to do later, I write it down and put it out of my mind. I try not to think about lunch or how badly I want to take a nap that afternoon or work the next day or anything.

But when the final song of the service comes, I’m pretty much done with paying attention. At my church, it’s typically a pretty short song, a chorus you sing through twice before you are dismissed. They’ve never been the songs that are most meaningful to me, mostly because I’m already mentally gone.

This week I had a stressful day, which bled into a stressful evening, for a number of reasons. I did some things this week that stretched me in numerous ways and stressed me in numerous ways, so when I went to work one day, my stomach was tied up in knots, and despair was near at hand. Not real despair but the thought that you have too much and feel too much and have too little time and ability to deal.

Out of the blue, one of those short songs we sing at the end of the service came into my mind and kept playing itself over and over. It was one I’ve never particularly liked much, maybe for lack of paying attention to what it said. The tune isn’t anything special, and I’m pretty sure we’ve never sung it in the middle of a service. I’m surprised I even knew the words.

It just kept singing to me.

Oh, let the Son of God enfold you with His Spirit and His love.

Let Him fill your heart and satisfy your soul.

Oh, let Him have the things that hold you,

And His Spirit like a dove will descend upon your heart and make you whole.

How did I miss this before? The meaning became quite clear to me as I kept hearing it in my mind on repeat. The things that hold you… not the things I’m holding but the things that keep me captive. Oh, how true that is! His Spirit like a dove will descend upon your heart and make you wholeYeah, because I feel partial when I’m stressed, partially there, partially capable. This is GOLD.

I had texted a friend earlier and told her how I was feeling. True to her record of faithful friendship, she texted me a prayer for peace that surpasses all understanding.

Somehow this short song I had never paid attention to was bringing me that peace, reminding me that God comes in the middle of stress and anxiety and burden-bearing.

It reminded me that the words of the songs we sing in church can have more to them than we think, that paying attention even when it’s rote or almost lunchtime makes all the difference and on the flip side of that I also realized that God can instill truth into my heart even when I’m not paying attention… and bring it back when I’m ready to.

Finished products

In today’s news, for the second time in two weeks I stood in front of an automatic door that wouldn’t open. Automatic doors are supposed to be like the puppies of inanimate objects – even when you feel invisible, they see you and respond. Not this time. It was the same automatic door though, both times. So I’m wondering if maybe I’m not the only one it doesn’t see.

Either way, I know my humanity isn’t determined by a door.

Speaking of humanity, I’ve been remembering lately a poster that hung in the music room at my elementary school. It was posted on the door of a cupboard at the back of the classroom by the sink, so only visible to the teacher at most times.

It had a picture of a little girl on it with a plaintive, pleading look on her face and her hands extended. In bouncy letters above her it read, “Be patient with me. God isn’t finished with me yet.”

I’m sure those teachers needed to be reminded that the raucous, distracted, squirmy kids in front of them weren’t finished becoming future contributors to society. Not that it wasn’t totally obvious that they weren’t done developing but it wasn’t obvious that we’d all end up being contributing members of society.

I’d like to make a poster of myself some days, wearing a sundress, with plastic beads around my neck and glitter and glue on my fingers, reaching out with the same saying above me.

“Be patient with me. God isn’t finished with me yet.”

Meaning, I know you’ve probably already been patient, because here I am at 22 still needing to ask you to be, but could you keep it up?

I might need to make these posters for other people in my life, too. Not like I just have to deal with so many people that require patience, but actually it’s everyone who requires patience and grace. None of us are done cooking.

I don’t know if the people who made that poster had some idea that God would be finished with that little girl pictured when she got a little older. They probably just knew how much patience can be needed with little people. I’m sure most of us who have been walking with God for any length of time could attest that we’re just getting started. There really is no finishing while we’re living this life on earth. I’ve never met a finished product. I kind of hope I never do. I’m not sure I could handle it.

I did think at one point that I would make it some day, that my insecurities and hang-ups and impatience and failure would one day take a backseat and I’d be the polished, kind, gracious, whole human being I always pictured I’d be. But I’m finding more and more that I’ve brought the same me on the whole journey that I’ve always been. The changes are small, so minute I hardly know I’ve changed til I get miles down the road.

I’d like to see that poster with an elderly person on it. Yeah, still not finished. Patience still requested. That might be a good tattoo, if I ever wanted to get one, just smack it across my forehead.

Grace and the unrepentant rapist

I know it’s probably not in good form to only blog once or twice a month then come out of nowhere with a post about what grace might look like in the case of the Stanford student who raped an unconscious woman, but it’s just been weighing on me all day.

It weighs on me for a numbers of reasons:

  1. The rapist does not acknowledge his crime of rape, rather is sorrowful that he got drunk and was “promiscuous.”
  2. The survivor of the assault’s statement shows how serious his action was. To say she has suffered would be to put it lightly (follow the link and read the statement).
  3. He got six months in jail and probation when a jury found him guilty on three counts of sexual assault. The judge was concerned that a harsher sentence would ruin his life.

The Stanford student doesn’t own up to the fact that he raped a woman.

And I can’t tell you how mad it makes me that in 2016 a judge is more concerned with the future of a kid who raped an unconscious woman while drunk than with the victim of the rape, in part because he was a star swimmer with a bright future.

In a case where justice should have been clear, where punishment should have been swift and heavy, where there should have been real remorse for his crime – he gets six months and does not apologize.

This is what the victim says about that, at the end of her statement:

“You do not get to shrug your shoulders and be confused anymore. You do not get to pretend that there were no red flags. You have been convicted of violating me, intentionally, forcibly, sexually, with malicious intent, and all you can admit to is consuming alcohol. Do not talk about the sad way your life was upturned because alcohol made you do bad things. Figure out how to take responsibility for your own conduct.”

I’m sure my rage pales in comparison to what she has felt over the past year. Really, it would be good for us all to read her letter. I think that to read her speak about what she experienced honors her courage to speak out, honors her voice in this situation where so many are voiceless.

This stupid question has been burning in the back of my mind today though, because I’ve been learning about grace in the past year and figuring out how to receive it and give it.

Oh, it’s such a stupid, dumb, irrelevant question! How do you show grace to an unrepentant rapist? You don’t, okay? You punish him hard.

I’m not asking because I’m gracious. I’m asking because I really need to know.

The question isn’t even how do you show grace to a repentant rapist, but instead one who won’t even say he did it.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.


He should have gotten a harsher sentence.

Oh, he really should have.

Grace doesn’t let us off easy. We do actually have to learn from our mistakes and grow from them. A long prison sentence might do that. I don’t know what else would.

Oh, but there’s Jesus. As cliché as it might seem, I just keep seeing Jesus on the cross, taking the sins of the world and saying, “Yep, for him, too.”

God isn’t the one who pats us on the back after we horrifically offend the dignity of another person. That isn’t the moment where he gently says, “Not like that. Try again.”

I’m grateful for those moments. But when I or anyone else dehumanize another person, God convicts us. He prods us and tells us what we did was wrong and that we need to make it right.

But he also opens a door and tells us there’s a way to live differently, not perfectly but walking alongside the One who loves so well that it rubs off on us and makes us more truly loving.

That’s grace, I think. It’s the smack that tells us we’ve got to stop what we’ve been doing and waits for us to sober up before it offers another way.

I am still so mad at that student. I’m mad at that judge. I’m mad that the justice system I live under produced such unjust results, so I’m praying through my teeth that he’ll know that what he did was wrong and that the weight of it will sink in.

And then that God will show him another way.