On this week

I don’t personally know the families involved in last weekend’s horrible shootings, but at one point I knew what it was like to be a student at Norfolk Christian. In the wake of the tragedy, those memories have haunted me. I remember many nights driving home to the beach from school events, graduation parties, friend’s houses. I knew exactly how many minutes it took to get from the school’s neighborhood to my driveway, and what time I would have to leave to get there by 11:30. I knew there would always be a parent, half asleep on the couch waiting for me.

I wasn’t a parent yet. I didn’t realize how much praying one can do when half asleep.

I also didn’t realize that the true curriculum of Norfolk Christian would not sink in until years later, when I was far away from Thole Street and Triple R Ranch. I had spent years learning Scripture alongside the periodic table, but the revelations that shape me still are Incarnational…Jesus in the form of people – teachers, students, families that were faithful and sacrificial. Who believed though it cost them dearly.  Who loved me well, though I was a self-important, stance-taking, theology debating, cynical remark making, champion for dancing at school formals. No, I have not changed as much as I should have. Yes, I think they have dances now. Yes,  I’m sure that has improved everyone’s lives significantly.

Over the past days and nights as I’ve prayed for the Rodriguezes, I’ve been praying for parents and teachers at the school. And for those sweet students. Students who are learning, as I wish I did sooner, that faith is not like algebra or AP Chem… it is not linear and does not feel balanced. We often don’t experience it terms of  forward progression, step by step. Faith is a gift that is birthed and nurtured, sustaining when we least expect it.  It happens upside down and inside out…it comes out of the cracks when we feel on the verge of breaking, or when our hearts go right ahead and split down the middle.

In Mrs. Merkel’s 6th grade class we had to memorize Hebrews 11. The whole thing. We got a handout at the beginning of the year, photocopied straight from the Bible. We  put it in a plastic sleeve and slid it into our binders and the girls would painstakingly highlight each verse  in a different color. It looked hideous. I still remember most of it. I know most of my classmates do too.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see. This is what the Ancients were commended for. By faith…”

It then goes on to list the crazy crazy stuff people did out of faith and by faith and through faith. Great chapter for 6th graders – lots of action, swords, lion’s mouths, etc. It’s been called the “Faith Hall of Fame,” but really that’s too glamorous.  In a brief interlude, verse 13 admits the tension we  inevitably learn as we age on this journey, why the Christian life is ultimately a calling with great cost, not a commodity we can package and sell.

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”

The author of Hebrews then returns to his list, “By faith…”

Hebrews 12:1 is rarely studied, or memorized alongside its preceding chapter. Yet, it should have been highlighted away by my 12 year old hands.

“Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…”

This week has provided signficant additions to my own ever-running “By faith” list.  The peace, strength and mercy being demonstrated can only be described as other-worldly. A community gathers and is comforted by a family facing the unthinkable. Those of us watching the news reports through tears have to remind ourselves that what we see is real.

I’ve been thinking about Norfolk Christian this week ultimately because I still fight the temptation to grow my faith in a classroom. If I can just find the right book...But what taught me all those years ago, the teaching that sticks and shapes, came in the form of names, Mr. Elder, Mr. Doyle, Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Linz…It’s what  continues my true education today – the community, the cloud.

In an era when belief is statistically going out of style, the community  bears witness and reminds, and sometimes, such as in this tremendous and difficult moment, those most devastated believe for us all. 




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3 Responses to “On this week”

  1. Charlie Pittman June 4, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

    Nina: I love how you have fulfilled the last couple verses of Hebrews 11: “39-40 Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.” You have the gift of a great pinky. You help others get a grasp on truth and not let the important details slip through longer, stronger fingers.

    As you know, Meg’s little John Asher Kelsey was born a couple months ago without eyes or much of an aorta and sometimes I am privileged to get God thoughts about him and from him to his parents. Below is an excerpt from Jack’s mothers day card to Meg and Scott which ties in Hebrews 11 & 12. If it is too long to include here, feel free to email me and I’ll send you the whole thing.

    “Dear Mom & Dad:

    . . . . . So . . . big news . . . I got to meet Paul last week. He said I could call him Solly Pauli. He keeps coming up with new nicknames for me and I’ll tell you when one finally sticks. We have a lot in common. We were both given really good sight after having some visual challenges down there. There is a great pile of discarded glasses at the pearl gate and together with wheelchairs and fake limbs and such, they form a giant monument of gratitude to the One who makes us whole and gives us clear sight now.

    Anyway, Solly Pauli once described seeing things as through a veil. Before he passed over to this side permanently he had actually “seen” heaven, so when he described a great cloud of witnesses . . . He has now admits that it might actually be that he had “cloudy” eyesight of what was going on . . . . to be sure, there is a crowd. A great crowd. But the entire crowd is full of champions and conquerors. As he has shown me now, on this side of the veil, there are no passive spectators, no “non-participants”, no one who risks missing one minute of the contest by reading a smart phone, no need for seats, no quiet observation or mundane distraction at heaven’s “sports” events. If this is “the Great Crowd”, Man U fans are a quiet committee of three. Here, even the “fans” do their part with great zealous encouragement and full body animation! But know this . . . At your moments of greatest temptation, you are not alone or even getting the worst of it! Like in a great tug of war, as many of us as can get our hands on the rope are pulling our guts out for you, especially for you, dad. I really get my best workouts being part of your “cloud of witnesses”. The “Non-combatants” (an oxymoron for those who didn’t get to the rope first) are cheering for us all. Think of them like the ice sweepers in front of that puck thing in Olympic curling. The least of the participants are clearing out encumbrances and doing everything in their power to make sure we can give it our best tug. But as Solly Pauli said to tell you, given what we are doing for you, you need to: “strip off every weight that slows you down, especially the sin that so easily trips you up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”

  2. Arlene June 4, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

    So well expressed, Nina! I know the people and the context of the school and community much less than you do, but have also found myself drawn into pondering the details and the big picture of such a tragedy. You have paused to identify the sources that build a faith that can weather even such devastating circumstances.

  3. Rita June 4, 2014 at 11:28 pm #

    Nina – thank you.

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