Monday, October 29, 2012

When Not Everyone Will Be Your Friend

Even from half a football field away, I can see my oldest son's face crumpled in anguish, streaked cheeks catching the afternoon sunlight as he stumbles down the school bus steps and hurtles across the gravel towards me.

His every step is slower, heavier than normal, that light, carefree bounce I can't imitate if I try completely absent.  I walk more swiftly to meet him halfway, fighting a motherly urge to just run and catch all fifty pounds up in my arms, lifting him in an embrace for all to see.

Wyatt is still too young to be ashamed of tears, of running into mommy's waiting arms while a whole bus-full of children stare out of cloudy rectangle eyes.  Still, I am aware that day is coming and try to let him take the lead in how much emotion he's willing to share in public.

A couple weeks ago when this same teary scene played out, his small frame literally folded at my feet so that I, too, had to sit in the dirt, draw him onto my lap, and rock him until the worst of the storm had passed.

Today, though, our thick, puffy coats, thin bluejeans, and the fading light say it is too cold to sit on pebbles until the waterfall dams up.

When he reaches me, all he can choke out before falling into my chest is, "I really don't think he wants to be my friend." 

This.  Again.

Hand in hand, I guide him inside Oma's house where the twins are gleefully underfoot in the kitchen, supper preparations filling the air with smells of warm goodness.

Yet, even the unmistakable aroma of brownies fails to entice him as he moves down the hall to the solitude of the unheated bathroom.  I follow, turn on the room's small space heater and sit by the radiating warmth of its glowing zigzags.

Through his sobs, I make out a tale of being falsely accused by his seatmate of taking a paper, of that same boy tattling to the substitute bus driver, and of that poor, poor man fussing at Wyatt to put it back where it belonged.

While this is the present symptom, it's just one of two dozen or more that speak to a deeper hurt--that this little boy doesn't want to be Wyatt's friend.  It's something he can't comprehend, why anyone wouldn't want to be kind and friendly, why anyone wouldn't want to hear his story, look at his Scooby Doo book, or just simply talk with him.

I've tried explaining that it is impossible for everyone to be his friend.  I've shared my own stories of mean children not liking me in grade school. I've suggested ignoring him, praying for him.

He and I have brainstormed reasons why this little boy may say cruel things to Wyatt.  Perhaps he's very tired or sick.  Perhaps he doesn't know how to be friends.  Perhaps he doesn't have a mommy or a daddy.  Perhaps he doesn't have Jesus in his heart to teach him how to love others.

Logic, though, doesn't touch an injured heart. Hurt is hurt.

"It was a perfect day," he sniffles, pauses, tears starting to cease.  "Except for the bus."  And with those words, the second wave begins.

I don't tell him his feelings are wrong.  I don't tell him he is a big boy who must get over it and move on, even though this is the truth of life he will have to learn himself.  I simply sit in the soothing whir of the heater's fan blades and make shushing sounds as I rock my firstborn on the floor.

After awhile, he reaches his arms completely around me and draws me closer.  I whisper that daddy will speak with the bus driver and ask if perhaps he can move to a different assigned seat. 

This rejection--it's hard enough for adults to deal with.  I'm thirty five; both head and heart still feel the sting when I receive a negative comment on this blog or when someone is overtly rude to me because of my Southern accent, my faith, my appearance, my whatever.  But not understanding why everyone can't like you just as you are is devastating for a five year old.

I can't protect him from everything, much as I'd like to.  The comfort of returning to the safe haven that is his home won't block out the pain inflicted by the world outside the farm. It won't keep out those who would rather bully you than befriend you.

This is simply the curse of sin, the pain and division it causes to to all living under the curse.

But understanding that doesn't heal the heart of a hurting little boy.  Only God and a whole lot of love can do that.

In his own time, Wyatt unfolds himself, gives me a weak smile, then asks, "Can I have a brownie now?"

Sunshine peeks through a crack in the clouds.

Friday, October 26, 2012

What to Do When You Lose Sight of Yourself

If the calender depicted this past week as a child's see-saw, there would be a five hundred pound feed sack sitting immovable at the far end.  High up on Monday, I would be hanging on for dear life as my body slipped slowly down the board to that box marked "Saturday."

The phrase "It's all downhill from here" would apply, but not in a good way.  I can almost feel myself going downhill towards insanity, becoming that someone I don't want to be anymore.

With all three of my children's birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all falling during the last three months of the year, I find myself Spring Cleaning in the fall when rooms full of people start trickling into my house.

Sure, I clean, on a daily basis, as every woman must.  But, getting my house ready for family and friends to come over for an official visit brings out the absolute worst in me.  

I wonder WHO ingrained in us this obsessive burden, this crazy need to make all things appear perfect for company?

In other countries, there may be a hut and a dirt floor, which is brushed out each morning, and that's it.  There is no fretting over the dirt that swirls through the sheet in the doorway, just thanks for a roof overhead and food in the belly.

I know this and have intentionally forced myself over the past year to give those "come as you are" invites of the moment.  I have worked to grow comfortable with opening my not-your-Southern-Living house.  If there is a thick layer of dust quilting the television, folded laundry still waiting to be tucked away, a labyrinth of books at your feet, or water colored paintings wallpapering the kitchen counters, the clutter is almost excusable.

But come October, I feel the pressure.  My vision shifts to finally see the red clay hand prints on every light switch and door jamb, the gray sheen on those high shelves I hardly ever glance at, the small toys not quite invisible under the La-Z-boys. 

This normal mother who cultivates a quasi-chaotic haven for creativity suddenly develops unreasonable expectations.  Insanity sets in with the belief that this house can be whipped into streamlined perfection for just one week.

I snap at children for Lego projects left in the kitchen.  I snap at husband for not doing something to help. I snap at myself for not getting it all done faster, better, earlier.

Can't they see the dust on that chandelier? those fan blades? The tarnished finger streaks around the stainless steel canisters in the kitchen? the toothpaste on the bathroom mirror that no one but mommy can scrub off?

What is wrong with me!?  Where is the woman who learned love and hospitality were more important than perfection?

It's sad how quickly I can lose sight of her. 

Last night, I left the vacuum cleaner, floor polish, and laundry hamper to drive into the city and teach ESL to a small group six.  Five smiling men in ironed button-down shirts worked to learn their third language.

Sudan. Libya. Eritrea. Ethiopia.

A hair dresser.  A mechanic.

All five less than a week into their new life as refugees in America.

At least for a few hours, I escaped back to reality where there is no concern about dust, about what the new boyfriend in the family might think of my home, about whether I'll succeed with my fondant/butter cream/gum paste cakes for the twins.

This reality is one where five kind, intelligent men have no jobs, where before the end of the year, they will be on their own without a shred of government support.  These men's needs were simple--shampoo, laundry soap, and dish washing liquid.

If I were dishonest, I'd end here with something profound about my chiropractor God giving me a major adjustment so that suddenly, my priorities were realigned.

But that's not quite the truth.

Instead, I drove back home with two worlds trying to coexist inside my head--the one where I'm not the psychotic mother and wife obsessed by an unrealistic image of the perfect setting for people to gather together...and the other where I know deep down that stuff doesn't matter.

I don't have it all together.  All I can do is pray for the Helper to give me grace to make complete what is not, to focus on what I already know to be true, and to ask forgiveness along the way when I slip into that other person more concerned with the things of this world than with the hearts and souls of those around me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fighting for Our Little Girls

I watch my daughter stand before the full-length mirror, swaying first to the right, then the left.  She smiles, frowns, makes a dozen more faces as I get ready for the morning race to the bus stop.

Amelia's face draws so close to the glass, her breath leaves a foggy mist for just a few seconds before vanishing.  What she can be looking at eludes me.  Her face is smooth, unwrinkled by time and unscarred by the sun or a bad case of the chicken pox like her mother's face.  When I look at her, I see my deep brown eyes set in a frame that can be described as nothing but beautiful.

Still, her eyes narrow as she puts her hand to her right cheek, swipes pudgy fingers backwards towards her hairline, and frowns, displeased by what she sees.

"Mommy.  I have moles.  Why do I have moles?"

Amelia is days away from her fourth birthday.  She's too young for this sudden scrutiny of her body's appearance.

She doesn't live in a household where this mother spends hours on her appearance.  Make-up is for trips to town, date night, or looking my best for God.  Nail polish is for parties.

She's never seen me try on two or three outfits and fuss that I have nothing to wear.  While we regularly use the word "beautiful" when describing a particular outfit or extra time spent on fixing hair, appearance is not something we dwell upon mainly because I am hyper conscious of how much pressure is put on young girls to look a certain way.

I don't want her to end up like me, a woman in her mid-thirties who still can't believe her husband finds her beautiful. He can say it a thousand times, and still, I expect him to change his answer, tell me he never really meant it.

In this house, the only time I use the word "ugly" is when a child screws up his or her face into a deep frown to express disapproval over something mommy has done.  That sort of attitude is always ugly.

Somehow, though, here we are, mother and daughter having a conversation about her beauty.

I stoop to look closely at her face to see the defect she has discovered.  My fingers trace a line of Hershey brown freckled dots run from the bridge of her nose across to her ear.  Hollywood would call them "beauty marks."

She smiles and giggles at my touch.  "That tickles, mommy."

I cup her face and raise it to lift mine, tell her this is how God chose to make her unique, so there would be no one exactly like her in the whole world.  I explain that she is just like her mommy and her Grand mama, inheriting this predisposition somewhere tucked away in her double helix.

She examines my arms to confirm this fact, pointing out the tiny pinpoints not even my closest friends have probably ever noticed.

Then, I spin her around to face the mirror again.

"Look," I say counting each tiny dot.  "They make a constellation.  Remember those star pictures in the sky at night? The ones we studied last week in Sunday School when we learned about how God gave Abraham as many descendants as the stars in the sky?  God painted one of those constellations right on your face."

Her face breaks open in a wide grin.  "YEAAAAHHH!  A constellation!"

And that's it.  She runs out of the bathroom, loudly proclaiming to her brothers this exciting news.

For now, it is the right answer. But it is also a reminder that helping her understand and honestly believe that God made her beautiful inside and out is a war that has already begun.

It is a battle we mothers and fathers must fight daily for our little girls, not one where we merely sit back and wait for the questions to come but one where we are on the offense, exposing the lies before they have a chance to take root.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Unearthing More Stereotypes

A small "oh" of surprise escaped my lips as I came to an abrupt stop  in the neighborhood where we were prayer walking.

Before me in the semi-open doorway stood a rough looking young man about my age.  His three day stubble; wrinkled, sleeveless undershirt; and unkempt presence at home after 9 am instantly sounded the warning bells in my head.  Add to that extremely well muscled upper arms decorated with intricate black line tattoos arms and an unlit cigarette--he looked like one of the bad guys from one of the shoot-em-ups on television, so much so that I could actually feel the surge of adrenaline making my heart pump harder.

While I meet people all the time prayer walking, my son had run up the walk before me and had been perched for at least ten seconds on a plastic lawn chair he had found in the "shade" of this man's two-foot-wide porch.  Emerson was completely oblivious to the fact that the man was standing there or that his mama had just been frightened.

After nervously laughing at my snafu, I smiled and pushed towards him the tract and invitation to our church's Fall Festival.  I quickly spit out my explanation, that we were praying for his neighborhood today and would love for him and his children or his family's children to come to our festival on Halloween night.

Honestly? I fumbled over the words.  I used the Word of God as a defensive weapon, a piece of paper to physically separate me from him, not connect me to him.

Still, he acted like he didn't notice my reaction to his appearance, shook his head affirmatively at the mention of children, then said, "Thank you.  God bless you."

I have been prayer walking almost every Thursday morning for a little over a year now.  This is the very first time anyone has said "God bless you."

This man, the one with the huge muscles, big tattoos, and cigarette--the one who made me fearful because of stereotypes I still hold onto in my heart--he is the one who spoke God's blessing down on me when so many others whom I have unconsciously stereotyped positively have ignored me or simply given the courteous Southern thank you before racing away.

As I drove away, I felt ashamed that with all God has done to help rid my heart of discrimination of others who are of a different culture or a different social class as I am, I still continue to find other vestiges of discrimination hiding in the shadows.

With this event fresh on my mind, I picked up my oldest son, Wyatt, from a half day at school and drove the four of us into the city for a special lunch with their daddy.   After the chicken and french fries were all but gone, Wyatt pointed out the window and said, "That lady looks just like you, mommy."

I turned, scanned the entire parking lot, but still saw only one person.  Could he be speaking of the tall, slender black woman with dark curly hair.  A bit surprised, I turned to him and replied, "Yes, she has very curly, dark hair like mommy, doesn't she?  I think she does look a lot like me."

He smiled, pleased that I agreed, then said very matter-of-factly, "Yeah, except she has brown skin."

Yes.  That she did.  But she was "just like me" in every other way.

I honestly believe the Father ordained both my encounters, one to show me stereotypes I still need to work on recognizing, confronting, and overcoming...and the other to show me how far I have come in my own heart so much so that I have impacted my children to see curly hair before skin color, to see sameness before difference.

I am a work in progress. But I am thankful that my Father doesn't give up on me, that He keeps challenging me to confront a form of discrimination so I can truly love as He loves.

Image: This print, titled “America in My Book,” depicts a map of the good ol’ US of A based on silly stereotypes that any American is familiar with. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

One Hour at Death's Door

The lunchroom with its labyrinth of tables always seems to have the same number of people scattered around.  It always looks like less, but each time, I do a head count of twenty to twenty-five.  Never more.

Most sit alone, many sleep, their hunched over forms quiet at a round table large enough to hold a company of eight.  Yet, even those who sit two by two are alone, physically side by side though never speaking to one another.   It's as if this is not the place to make friends since most all are just passing through.

I have been going to the nursing home for several years now, one hour on the third Tuesday of every month.  One thing I have noticed is how the faces are rarely the same. While the turnover rate in such a facility has something to do with the random attendance, the truth is that most of them didn't come for a church service.

Some are waiting for coffee.  Some are waiting for their rooms to be cleaned so they can go back down the hall.  Others haven't moved since morning exercise, scheduled right before our half hour church service.

The woman who once grabbed my son Wyatt's stuffed Tigger and took off with it down the hall isn't there. Instead, a burly man sits at the far back table in front of the coffee pot.  He can't be older than my own father, a fact confirmed by the black military cap pulled down low on his brow, the word "Vietnam" embroidered in gold across the front.  Centered among the colored bars and stripes that all hold some unknown meaning is a pewter pin of a long barreled rifle.

I try to strike up a conversation, tell him that my father flew planes over there, but he isn't interested.  Although it sounds awkward, I feel compelled to speak the words, "Thank you for your service to our country."

He mumbles a thanks, and I move on.

Up front are a couple of the "regulars," those I would miss if they weren't there. 

One sports a new silver brace on her pinky finger--broken.  Last year, her arm was broken when she fell in the shower.  Today, she wears the same white silken muumuu dress as last time, the pretty one with the cardinal red paisley pattern. I give her a hug and smile, make some comment about her not being able to crochet until it heals.

She asks the twins for a hug, and they smile shyly as always before wrapping their arms around her girth.  It's like having another grandma.  She loves my small children, covets the hugs and energy found in such compact forms. 

Then, one of the wheelchair-bound men waves me over.  He tells me the same story every time I visit, as it's a story I could ever forget, the one about him having three holes in his heart when he was born.  He knows my face by now and holds his arm out, uncontrolled, until I grasp it for a firm handshake.

He is one who always wears a soiled dishcloth bib, whose peppery mustache and chin are almost always coated with remnants of his last meal of his ever-present frozen Coke

As the pastor brings the message, I watch this man spoon the oatmeal to his mouth.  He holds the spoon carefully above the bowl, patiently waiting for the brown-cinnamon goo to ooze off both sides.  Only then does he carefully lift it to his mouth.  He tries valiantly.  But with wobbly hands, he is no marksman.

Two seats by the piano are empty, those ladies likely down the hall at the Catholic service where another small group gathers to pray the rosary each morning at ten.  Of all the people I've encountered, they're the only two I've never seen separately.  One in a steel gray bun high on her head, the other with silver waves cropped above her shoulders--each visit, they claim they didn't know we were coming, and ask when we're coming back. Always the same question.  Always the same answer.

I wonder about the man who always came dressed in well-worn black slacks and a button-down long sleeve white shirt a couple sizes too small for his now-expanded waistline.  He always requested the same hymn.  I played it once.

While my children don't remember, I think of Maw Maw being in this service last November, just once as she passed through the home on her way out of this life. Even then, she didn't really remember me, although she played it off quite well.

Sometimes, I wonder if my actions make any difference.  My piano playing isn't anything worth noting unless you want to count the number of wrong notes.  My pastor is the one who does the important part by sharing the Word of God. All I do is give a few hugs, shake a few hands, offer a few words of encouragement and concern, and send my children around the room to "show Jesus' love." 

It's thirty days until my next visit....that's a long time in a place like this.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The God of Photography--Who Knew!?

As one who has been blessed the past few years to teach a full time load during the regular school year as well as the summer semester, those two to three weeks between posting that last student's grade and emailing out first day syllabi are precious.

While that time is still full of work to prepare for the following term, it is also a time for playing 'catch up' with those items I really want to do.  Putting photos in albums, crocheting, reading a book for pleasure, researching ideas for the next seasonal or birthday party, or even something as simple as shopping--those things I can never find the time for get placed on one of my infamous "between semester" bucket lists.

Among the usual entries for this time of year was a long-growing desire I'd finally felt certain enough was God-given to voice in print.

 See @ photography class.

Unlike some pipe dreams that I didn't have a chance of accomplishing within a two week time frame (like crocheting a whole boy Pilgrim doll), this was actually possible.  The problem was I had no idea how to make it happen and even less of an idea of who I could contact for advice.  The only photography class I knew existed was at our State's flagship university, and that wasn't going to happen--financially or time wise.

And so, that line sat untouched while I plowed through the list, crossing out some and conceding others for the next inter-semester break at Christmas.

Then, five days before the semester started, I received an email from a friend of a friend--the online deal service Groupon was offering a one night 3 1/2 hour introduction to photography for a third of the normal price.

One night? Forty dollars?  I had goosebumps from seeing His fingerprints all over this desire in my soul and then fulfilling it when I could not.

A few weeks and one crazy drive into the city later, I dropped off the children with husband to sit in a large hotel conference room with fifty others who all wanted to understand how to take better photographs, how to use those buttons on their fancy SLR cameras...and how to decipher a foreign vocabulary of words like ISO, F stop, exposure compensation, metering, and aperture priority.

Two male teachers walked to the front of the room and began introducing themselves.  Instantly, the one named Randy left no doubt I was in the right place.

"Photography is all about light," he began.  "All you see is light.  You don't see the tree.  You only see the tree if light bounces off it."

With those words, I was back in my small college philosophy class of six studying Plato, listening to my professor say, "What surrounds us are not really trees.  They're just shadows, feeble representations of 'tree-ness' that stem from the realm of ideal where the perfect, true idea of a tree exists."

Even back then, I couldn't understand how my peers couldn't make the leap from this philosophy to a concept of God.  And here it was again--nothing exists in its fullness unless God shines His light on it. He is the author and finisher of all that surrounds us.

As I sat there dumbfounded at this sudden lesson on God's daily presence, the teacher continued, "Light's job is to move from its source.  It goes to the darkness and wakes it up.  Light is always moving from its source toward the darkness."

Yes.  His light is all about awakening our souls.  His light reflects off those who are His so that the world sees the light, not the individual. Although I didn't know it, this was the lesson I really came to hear.

A month later, every time I pick up my camera, I can't help to look for Him, for the light that has the power to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.

This is my lifelong desire, and not just in terms of photography.  I am a seeker of light, not for my own glory but for His alone.  May others look at me and see nothing but the Son.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Nemo Approach to Faith

When my oldest son, Wyatt, steps off the bus each afternoon, his face lights up like only a child's can. Hazel eyes lift from the asphalt ribbon separating us to search for me in the shadows of a broad gravel driveway.

Like always, he looks past the cluster of animated black labs, two excited siblings, and even Opa. Only my face can elicit that face-splitting grin.

Then, he yells out a single word, "Mommy!!!", and takes off running like a wobbly turtle with its too-heavy shell.

Some days like today, that sprint ends with a tight, long-armed hug. Most times, though, he merely shoves his purple and gold book sack my direction and rushes into Oma's house for a glass of cold water and a homemade brownie.

In these moments, it wouldn't matter if earlier that morning, he had melted crayons all over the sofa or given my vintage dolls a crew cut.

I love and know I am loved.

The hours that follow before supper and bedtime are always an exhausting mixture of chaos, gratitude, re-adjustment to being together as a family again, sofa snuggle time with a stack of books, sharing about our day, more learning, and even more questioning. 

It often feels like I'm trying to squeeze in a day's worth of love and attention into just four short hours.

Lately, part of the afternoon ritual has included Wyatt presenting me with questions I just can't answer.

Apple in one hand, string cheese in the other, he throws me a curve ball.  

"How was God born?"

The words haven't left my lips, but I know I'm about to strike out.

"He wasn't.  The Bible tells us God was here before the creation of the world, before time, itself.  He always has been and always will be."

Even a six year old knows that this answer doesn't line up with his understanding of a world where God's creations share two things in common--birth and death.

And so, he argues with me.

Strike one.  All I can do is shake my head, shrug my shoulders in response.

"I don't understand it, son.  I don't know how God has always been. It doesn't make sense. But I believe the Bible is true, and that's what it says....maybe you can ask God one day when you get to heaven."

That only leads to other questions I can't answer about heaven, other things he's going to ask God when he gets up there.

Soon, Amelia is back at the table where we two sit, her outside voice rising to be heard.

"I don't want to go to heaven!" she frowns.

No amount of being told that she would be with Jesus is enough to convince her.  She vividly remembers last December when we buried Maw Maw under the live oak tree by the hay field.  To her, death means someone going away, means being put in the ground.   

"They put the chairs out there," she remembers.  "I didn't get to sit in them."

I sigh.  Strike two.

Wednesday night, Wyatt again brought up the subject of God being born.  Mommy might not have had all the answers, but he had obviously been busy thinking up answers of his own.

"Maybe there was just a tiny spot of light in the darkness, and then it kept growing and growing until God was born."

"No, son..." I began.

Faith doesn't have all the answers or it wouldn't be faith. 

Still, I feel so ill equipped to lead my three little ones to understand God when He is a mystery that only grows deeper and higher and wider the further I swim out into His depths.

When my children don't understand, when they are given the choice to believe God in faith and swim further into His Word or turn back in disbelief, mom repeating the words of my their favorite movie, Finding Nemo, may be the best way to communicate what their life-long attitude to God's mystery should be.

"Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming."

The child who does not seek is the child who will never find.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What's In YOUR Inbox?

Perhaps you're a convert to the new generation of books, the kind that don't need a licked finger to turn the page, that don't emit a distinctive crackle when you first expose their words to daylight, that don't smell when you burrow your nose amidst the pages.

Obviously, I am not a charter member of the Kindle or Nook book club.

While I may salivate at the thought of having that many books at my fingertips no matter my GPS coordinates, reading by the light of a back-lit flat screen just isn't my image of "curling up with a good book."

In my estimation, a book shouldn't get hot the longer I read it, not in the physical sense at least.  Instead, I should be able to pluck it from my shelves years later for a trip down memory lane as I read my marginal comments, skim the highlighted sections that spoke to that era of my life, all accomplished by a mere fanning through the pages.

A good book should be laden with dog-eared pages and, if becomes part of our family, should require a full role of clear packing tape by the time my children have gone on to heavier tomes.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned I had agreed to review an electronic book.

Surely, this was a mistake. I even contacted the publisher to make sure the email reminder was a mistake, thinking perhaps the postal service had simply lost my print copy in transit.  

But no.  Their reps politely told me the book was only available in an electronic version.  A further trip to their website confirmed just that.

How had I missed this!?  I don't read e-books!

The publisher kindly re-emailed me the link to the book, but I let it sit in my inbox a few weeks more, absolutely dreading the thought of staring at the computer screen for another hour after I finished teaching online.

Last Saturday, though, I decided to bite the bullet.  With my schoolwork done for the weekend and husband outside pounding nails into the ceiling joists of his soon-to-be home office, I installed an e-reader on my computer's desktop and sighed, submitted myself to the dread to come.

By page ten, I knew God in all His sovereignty had ordained this "accident."  Here in these pages was an answer to prayer, one I had asked for earlier in August about the same time I had initially agreed to review this text.
Leonard Sweet's Real Church in a Social-Network World: From Facebook to Face-to-Face Faith is a brief, sixty-page e-book that seeks to answer the question of why Christianity is losing its impact in our world.  

His answer is simple--we've lost the interest in creating relationships.  Sweet argues, "No other generation has had as much access to so much Christian teaching…We’re practically buried in Christian ‘information.’ Yet, at the same time, our society is less enamored of Christian orthodoxy today than ever before.  What’s missing is the right relationship, a deepening relationship with God” (16).

Relationship with God and with others is the key to being a better disciple of Christ and to reaching a lost world.

Sweet describes the underlying theme of Scripture as a story of God's relationship with man.  Our modern generation, however, is so concerned about being doctrinally correct that Christianity has turned into a game of who's right and who's wrong. 

He asks, "Does the church lack credibility with the culture because Christians would rather be right than be in a relationship with one another? We’d rather be right about our positions, right about our condemnations, right about having the ‘right’ interpretation of Scripture.  We’d rather score points than secure relationships with others who share the Christian faith” (40-41).

The result? As Sweet says, "We may be doctrinally correct, but we have become spiritual cadavers” (21).  Ouch.  But quite poignant.

While I was disappointed that this book was actually a collection drawn from three of his other books (What Matters Most, The Three Hardest Words, and The Gospel According to Starbucks), it was well worth reading and whetted my appetite for those other books, although I'm hoping they're available in print!

I still reel to think God's response to my request prayed in teary anguish had been sitting in my inbox all this time, had I only accepted the format in which the answer came instead of arguing that this wasn't meant for me and seeking something different.