Author: Amy Green

How I’m Like the Avengers

Several years ago, I had what I call the Really Weird September. I’d gotten an offer for a dream job (without even applying)…in a time when I felt clearly called to stay where I was. I’d been extended a hopeful second chance to re-try an old relationship…and I said no. I’d met someone who quite possibly could have been a great friend and mentor…who was moving away in a few days.

It was a series of weeks that felt full of “almost”s and “what-if”s and “Am I crazy, what am I even doing?”s. Even though I felt some peace about the decisions I was making, it felt like way too many narrow misses for all the things that were supposed to make me happy.

Soon after, I listened to the song “The Wrong Year” by the Decemberists—don’t ask me to tell you what the lyrics mean, I have no idea. Except for maybe this one part: “And the rain falls on the wrong year / And it won’t leave you alone / Won’t leave you alone.”

I heard that line. Heard it again. (And again and again—it’s in the chorus, so you know, that happens.) And I thought I might know what it felt like for rain to fall on the wrong year.

One spring, we had massive flooding in my home state, road closings and school cancellations and storm after storm with no letting up…when the year before had been one of the worst droughts we’d ever seen, full of parched corn stalks and dried-up grass.

What might have been considered a blessing in a different situation was inconvenient and even damaging, because it was the wrong year.

When something like that happens, it nags at you in the back of your mind where the “why”s aimed at God gather up and sometimes fester. It won’t leave you alone.

That’s how I felt. I’d think: what if I’d gotten the job offer right out of college, or the relationship had never ended, or I’d been living here at the right time to be mentored by someone I respected? Did all of these things happen on the wrong year? If the timing had been slightly different, or I’d made tiny adjustments to my choices…what could have happened?

That’s what I thought about after watching Avengers: End Game, because time travel is one of the deepest kinds of wish fulfillment.

Haven’t you replayed a conversation in your mind, thinking of how you’d do it differently if you only had a chance? Don’t you have a collection of “what-ifs,” from silly missteps to major life decisions, that keep you up late at night, wondering? Can’t you name the regrets that still twinge in your memory?

Haven’t you ever wondered if the rain fell on the wrong year? Just slightly off, a little too late or early, too much or too little. And whether you felt like it was your fault, or someone else’s, or even God’s…it’s a hard emotion to deal with.

That’s how we relate to the Avengers at the start of End Game. So many characters have lines that mention failure, regret, and resentment:

“You could not live with your own failure, and where did that bring you? Back to me.”

“Everyone fails at who they’re supposed to be, Thor.”

“He thinks he failed, which of course he did. But you know there’s a lot of that going around, ain’t there?”

(That would be Thanos, Thor’s mother, and Rocket for those of you playing “Guess the Quote” at home.)

We also get to see how the Avengers respond to their apocalyptic-level failure. As the audience, we’re supposed to sort their reactions on a spectrum from healthy to unhealthy.

Captain America counseling others to move on? Good. Thor swigging beer and playing video games? Bad.

Natasha heading up a squad of super-peacekeepers from the survivors? Very good. Hawkeye going on a revenge spree murdering criminals? Very bad.

The Hulk trying to act like none of it is a big deal and embracing his celebrity, and Iron Man isolating himself to live his second-chance life? Sort of in-between?

Probably, everyone can see themselves in one of the Avengers. (I can picture the BuzzFeed Quiz now: “Faced with a soul-crushing regret, which Avenger would you be most like?”) But even though some had better ways of coping than others, nothing was satisfying for us as an audience…until they had a chance to go back and fix things, to undo every awful thing that had happened in the Snap.

We waited on the edge of our seat until the moment when everything was made right again, and the Avengers—all of them, even the fallen—assembled. And saved the world.

In the real world, we’re not there yet. We’ve got the regrets, sure, and plenty of failure and blame and heartache to go around. Only when we look back, the story doesn’t change. There are no Infinity Stones to capture and rearrange reality with. We have a deep need for everything wrong to become right again…but we don’t have a time machine.

So what do we do?

I’ll admit it: the reason I sometimes wish for time travel is because I want more control. I’m searching for some tiny changes I could make to settle everything back into place and make things feel the way I think they should, hoping that I can fix everything. Somehow.

It won’t work. It could never work, and it never does.

Back in the Really Weird September, I handed the decisions I made over to God, dragging all the “why now?”s and “did I do the right thing?”s and “what if no one else ever comes?” out of their dark corners and praying. It was only then that the doubt and regret finally left me alone.

Because if I really trust God, there’s no such thing as the wrong year. Not for rain. Not for the timing of the Really Weird September.

Not for when or where any of us were born, not for how the events our lives shaped us, not for the people placed around us at any given time. It’s all purposeful. Not a dice roll, not bad luck or arbitrary punishment or a random Snap.

I still can’t tell you what would have happened if I’d said yes to that guy or accepted that job or moved away from Minnesota after a year, or any of the other not-quite choices I could have made. I can tell you some of what I would have missed out on, because that’s the reality I’ve lived the past four years, but some of the whys and why nots will always be hidden from me. And that’s okay.

I made meaningful choices, but this is also the story that God put me in. The only story.

And someday—don’t forget, this part is important—the Christian faith teaches that everything will be made right again. We have that deep, aching need for a reason…it’s just that we can’t do it ourselves. With or without a time machine.

Hobbit Birthday Party, Year Four!

It’s my birthday tomorrow, which means it’s time for the longstanding tradition of…a Hobbit Birthday Party! As all you wannabe Bagginses, Boffins, Brandybucks, and Proudfoots (or Proudfeet) know, this is when the birthday celebrant gives gifts to friends and family instead of receiving them.

By this point, I’ve shared most of the fun corners of the Internet that I’ve discovered in my “presents” to all of you. Here are a few to add to the list, but be sure to check out Year One, Year Two, and Year Three if you haven’t already. (Total of 28 gifts and counting!)

The Green Dragon: Almost excessively British, and also heartwarming.

Mount Doom: Except this is a better kind of fire.

Farmer Maggot’s Garden: Amusing and…full of great smells? (It’s the best I could do.)

Rivendell: Helping you discover cool places just off the map.

Barrow-downs: Because some things are just creepy. (Except do yourself a favor and stick to the first season of this one.)

Beacons of Gondor: Because I always, *always* cheer out loud when I get to this part.

Bees, Dead Leaves, and the Gospel

When I was in first grade, I loved bees.

Keep in mind this was the same kid who avoided the scads of Book Fair covers emblazoned with big-eyed puppies, kittens, and horses like they were the actual plague, so it’s not like I was an animal-lover in general. Nope. Just bees.

I remember frolicking in the field of pale pink clover blossoms beside the playground in the spring when all the other kids fled, sometimes catching bees in my hands and naming them.

This was partly because, at age six, I’d already realized there was some power in not being afraid of something that everyone else was afraid of. Also in being just a little bit weird.

But it was also because I’d been stung only once (entirely my fault and easily cured with some sympathy and baking soda), and I’d eaten honey dozens of times, and I knew that both stings and honey came from the same place. One of my favorite reading spots, the crab apple tree in the front yard, became the #1 rated honeybee restaurant for a few weeks each May, and I’d sit with my book in the crook of the most comfortable branch, listening to the hum of bees flying around me, gathering what they needed to make something beautiful.

I remembered all that this weekend as I climbed the same tree and the blossom-filled dome above me vibrated with buzzing and flight…and I felt perfectly safe and happy. Something that has made several of my friends shudder and run inside is still my favorite sound of spring.

This is the view from my old reading spot. I haven’t found a Minnesota reading tree yet; this needs to be fixed.

When it came time to climb down and start on yardwork at my parents’ house, I realized I have a weird favorite smell of spring, too.

Picture a woodpile stacked near the porch, and raking out a wheelbarrow-full of dead maple leaves that have been trapped behind it all winter. As soon as you do, you can smell drying wood and crumble-dry decay, but also dirt and worms and fresh-sprung grass and life.

I realize that description probably doesn’t make anyone want to concoct a new scent of cologne (which I would 100% buy), but I’m telling you, it’s fantastic. You breathe in deeply and you can smell the memory of fall and the death of winter into spring, all at the same time.

Which is, I get it, kind of strange.

There are some parts of springtime we can all agree are amazing—warm breezes and opening flowers and the plop of a turtle into the ice-free creek. Others, like the bees and the dead leaf smell, are a little more…underappreciated.

While I was raking, my dad was cutting up firewood with his chainsaw in the background. I get oddly philosophical while wearing earplugs, because it removes the option of talking and forces me to just think.

This time, I thought, “All of this is kind of like the gospel.”

There are some parts of our faith that almost anyone can appreciate—the power of sacrifice, the aching poetry of certain hymns, the value of community.

But beyond that…Christians are a little bit weird. We’re not afraid of the sting of death. We see life and hope instead of decay and despair when we worship on Good Friday. We hear something beautiful in the Bible when others only hear a terrible noise. Or, like Paul puts it, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

If I had started this post saying, “You know what I love most about spring? The sound of bees and the smell of dead leaves,” you probably would have thought, “Wow, Amy is crazy.” (Maybe you still do, but go with me here.)

Once I described it, maybe you changed your mind at least a little, to the point where you could see why I might enjoy those things.

But unless you’ve experienced them yourself, you won’t really know.

Same thing with Christianity. If you don’t know my Jesus, I can tell you facts about him that will sound pretty crazy. And maybe, on a good day, I can describe the experiences in my life that have convinced me that he’s real, and you might think, “Sure, I can understand why faith is important to her.” But until you know him, until you really understand the gospel…it’s not going to fully make sense.

But when you finally do, I promise, it’s like spring after a long, long winter.

Why It’s Okay to Cry When Notre Dame Burns

In response to the recent fire at the Notre Dame cathedral, most people I know fell into two camps: the ones talking about how tragic the event was…and those who felt those people had their priorities wrong. “Why all of the sadness about a cathedral when innocent people die every day from preventable causes?” they ask. “We have no right call this a tragedy compared to that.”

I understand the heart behind what they’re saying. Most of the people voicing those opinions care deeply about other issues—human trafficking, abuse, malnutrition, and every other evil that directly affects human lives. Many of them, like me, are Christians who are acting out their belief that physical things—even a thing as full of art and history and beauty as Notre Dame—will not ultimately last, while our own souls are eternal.

So…isn’t it right, even biblical, to set aside sadness for Notre Dame and replace it with better priorities?

Not necessarily. Come along with me to Ezra 3, where the exiled people of Israel are back in their ruined city, rebuilding the walls and the temple, dedicating back to the Lord what they’d built back from the ruins.

“And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.”

Joy and sorrow, crammed together in the same verses. They weren’t mourning the loss of human life. They were crying over the diminished glory of a place of worship, comparing it to Solomon’s temple and remembering its splendor.

It’s just a building.

Oh, but it’s all right to mourn for it. There’s a reason God left that aching contrast in the Bible, I think. We can let it remind us of the paradoxical reality of living in a world where nothing beautiful lasts. When we mourn Notre Dame, we might not know it, but it becomes a symbol for every broken promise and every stolen innocence and every child’s gravestone, for every injustice and suffering and pain.

“Not again,” we are saying together, watching the footage of smoke and flame. “Please, no. Just let one beautiful thing survive, this once.”

But it, like everything else, goes from ashes to ashes, from dust to dust. Just like we will.

I had the chance to tell the Ezra 3 story to the kids at our church a few months ago. It had been a particularly difficult week for me, and as I explained the passage, I told them, “It’s all right to come to church feeling deeply sad and bring that sadness to God. Sometimes our grief can be worship too.”

You could see understanding dawning on them. I know their families. Many of them have had hard years, filled with loss and setbacks and disappointments.

I hope they made the connection between this passage and why it’s okay to grieve at funeral and why Mom sometimes cries while singing “It is Well with My Soul” and why we can’t help but feel deeply sad when we see hurt and heartbreak and destruction in the world around us.

We weren’t meant for this. That’s the gospel, backed out from our individual lives to include all of history.

The world was good, the world is fallen, the world will be redeemed.

Good Friday comes before Easter, and we’re in the shadowy in-between of Easter and the Final Redemption. It’s all right to mourn for what’s broken and corrupted and silent and hard until that day. That includes the fiery destruction of a cathedral, but of course, it shouldn’t stop there.

We should be shocked and horrified by every account of evil and suffering we hear about, especially the kind that takes human life. It’s hard. We see a scrolling litany of it in our news, and it’s easy to know too much and feel too little.

We are, all of us, cathedrals, created to reflect the glory of God, every tiny, beautiful detail of our lives arranged to point to truth about him.

But it wasn’t just the world, generically, that is fallen. I wasn’t at that first Fall, but I’ve been present at thousands of miniature ones since then, where I deliberately reject the glory I’m supposed to bear. I break the law and turn away from good, I fear instead of trusting, lie instead of seeking truth, hurt instead of healing.

Sometimes I feel like a charred building, gutted out by flames with only remnants of good left behind. Sometimes I look around at this mess of a world and see a smoldering ruin. Something that once was—and could still be—heartbreakingly beautiful. But it has been destroyed beyond recognition.

That’s always my mindset going into Good Friday. That’s why I always cry for Judas, every single year, because in his failure and fall, I see my own, and all of humanity’s. I see, in his story, a thousand headlines about burning cathedrals, and it is a tragedy beyond words. I see myself, too, in the choices he made. Except for the last one.

I have fallen. But I have been and I am and I will be redeemed.

Notre Dame burned on Holy Week. That is sad, and it is good for our souls, I think, to be sad about every violent act that reminds us that this isn’t the way things are supposed to be.

But we’re on the other side of Easter, the first act of redemption that promises and makes possible the Great Restoration.

The world—in all its evil and chaos and hopelessness—has fallen. But redemption has come, is here, and will one day come in fullness. And that’s a reason to shout for joy.

(Every year, around Good Friday, I write about Judas, either directly or indirectly. Here are the archives for anyone who’s interested: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.)

To All the Brave Ones

Ever since I was Little-Overly-Enthusiastic-Bowl-Cut-Amy, I’ve always dreamed of being brave, and I had a very specific image of what that meant. I remember daydreaming as a first grader about how, if the McDonalds PlayPlace in front of me were to spontaneously burst into flames, I would heroically march up those weird climbing platforms while everyone else was fleeing and drag the other kids to safety.

Yes, really.

Those were the days.

Years went by. I would like to tell you that I’ve abandoned all dramatic dreams of heroics, but that’s not quite true.

That said, I’ve realized something really important: courage doesn’t always look like what I thought it would.

Sometimes it’s quiet and simple and not accompanied by sirens, breaking news updates, or a dramatic, fiery sacrifice. Every time I look around me, I see men and women who are the heroes I always wanted to imitate.

I’ve learned it takes courage to let go of offenses and resentment and the need to be right. To apologize first and linger a little longer than others when it’s hard. To—even when you do walk away from something or someone—seek peace and decide to live graciously. It might be a teeth-gritted, deliberately-chosen graciousness, but that doesn’t make it any less courageous.

It takes bravery to dream small and choose priorities that others don’t understand. To give to those who can’t give back and dispense kindness with every step like a leaky watering can, without looking back to decide if the flowers or weeds drinking it in deserve it.

It takes a long and faithful strength to go unseen and unapplauded through a daily routine of sacrifice—whether as a parent or a caregiver or someone in ministry. To work hard in a boring job or step in as peacemaker over and over again or endure unjust criticism without becoming bitter.

I’ve seen you. I want to be like you.

And I know what’s holding me back. (more…)

Songs of Spring

Yesterday I read in Isaiah 50 that God’s servant knows “how to sustain with a word him who is weary.” And I thought to myself: what one word would be enough to do all that?

There are many, but since I was looking out the window at a snow-slush mix of despair, only one came to mind: spring.

Here’s where I pity you poor folks who live in temperate climates where only the change of a few degrees and the Walmart holiday displays show a change in seasons. In Minnesota, you notice the arrival of spring. You wait for it, long for it, plead for it to show up sooner while you’re hazarding icy driveways to scrape frosty car windows in the bitter wind to get into a car that may or may not start in the -30 degree temperatures.

Maybe you can tell: it’s been a long winter for me, inside and out. And I am weary.

If you are too, here are a few songs of spring to remind you that, like C.S. Lewis wrote in his Narnia series, Aslan is on the move, even if we can’t see it quite yet by looking at our thermometers (or our life circumstances).

Ever since sixth grade, I would sing Nichole Nordeman’s “Every Season” out in the neighbor’s field on sunny days, sometimes running down a hill and twirling around when no one was watching like that one scene in The Sound of Music. I loved that song, because it sounded just like Ecclesiastes, but with a little more Jesus.

“Even now in death you open doors for life to enter.”

In college, I would fairly regularly explore the woods alone and/or climb a tree to read a book. After I attended a production of the musical The Secret Garden, I spent most of the next February and March wandering around with a large stick and belting out “Winter’s on the Wing,” charming all of the area squirrels with my terrible Yorkshire accent. (I really hope only the squirrels were in hearing range.)

“I say, be gone, ye howlin’ gales / Be off, ye frosty morns / All ye solid streams begin to thaw / Melt, ye waterfalls / Part ye frozen winter walls / See, see now it’s startin.’”

I was going to add a disclaimer here that you shouldn’t think of me as some crazy hippie who spends most of her time wandering barefoot in the woods while singing to herself. Except that’s actually reasonably accurate, so whatever. I’m just going to embrace it. (Believe me, I have no other Disney Princess-esque qualities.)

Lately, I’ve been looping Andrew Peterson’s “The Sower’s Song,” because I appreciate the hard-fought reality to his spring. Where it lands in the album, it’s at the end of a long, dark winter of the soul, and I love the promises repeated again and again. They give a sense of faith when you can’t see the first signs of spring yet, but you know they’re coming. That’s where I am right now.

Usually, I play this song on headphones and occasionally hum along in the quiet of my room. But tonight, for old times’ sake, I jammed on my paisley rainboots—because I’m defiant and I like metaphors and one of my snowboots has a hole in it—and made my way to the trail in the woods near my apartment.

Someone else with larger feet had stomped out a trail before me on the packed-down snow, high above the tree roots usually level with the path, and I followed their footprints. After I was surrounded by bare branches that look dead but are really only dormant and I had checked both ways for stray joggers willing to brave the weather…I sang.

Snow Shadow Selfie

“So I kneel / At the bright edge of the garden / At the golden edge of dawn / At the glowing edge of spring / When the winter’s edge is gone / And I can see the color green / I can hear the sower’s song / Abide in me.”

Once I was done, I breathed in the fresh air and wrote in the snow with a mismatched glove whose twin is buried somewhere underneath a February snowdrift.

And I listened very, very carefully. I heard the song of a hardy chickadee instead of a robin, and the one time I thought I might be hearing the drip-drip-dripping of an early thaw, it was only the wind. But that’s okay. I’ll be back in a few weeks, and the green hiding, waiting, will be come out again. It always does, and that’s the beauty of the promise of spring.

On the way back, I launched into another round of the song. And it sounded like hope.

If God Has Given You More Than You Can Handle

If you’ve ever wandered around the gift section of a Christian bookstore, Googled the most popular inspirational Instagram posts, or been #blessed with a prayer journal, you’ve probably seen slogans like this making the rounds:

Handle.jpg

And if you run in the gospel-centered (*cough*, slightly nerdy, *cough*) circles that I do, you’ve also seen people talking and writing about how this idea is 100% feel-good nonsense.

Read those articles and you get the general picture. Many of them get a little snarky, because being snarky is cool. They tell us somebody who likes to paint the world with rainbows and fluffy kitties hijacked verses like 1 Corinthians 10:13, “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it,” and infused it with an upbeat, you-can-do-it mantra.

They, very correctly, point out that if we only had what we could “handle,” we wouldn’t need Jesus or faith or any of those other things that are kinda foundational to Christianity. Along with that true statement, though, I at least picked up on a tough-love, drill-sergeant mentality from that crowd. You know…

“Life is pain, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something—probably floral hand-lettered pallet art of Jeremiah 29:11 infused with essential oils. Jesus promised we would suffer for our faith. That’s right, SUFFER. So don’t you Philippians 4:8 your way out of this one. It’s about our holiness, not our happiness…so stop being so happy.”

That sort of thing.

Okay, that’s exaggerated, but you know what I mean. There’s something a little bit fun about pouring the cold water of reality and exegesis on someone’s overly-cheery, Bible-lite parade. I’ve been there, rolling my eyes at the “Never Too Much to Handle” crowd and their me-focused, repetitive worship choruses.

So…I get it. But take a look at that verse again. Especially how it starts. There might be something else we could talk about here.

“And God is faithful.”

That hit me recently, because it means that the Corinthians were doubting God’s faithfulness. When life got hard and the pull of the world felt too strong, they felt God wasn’t being fair in holding them accountable. Probably, they even felt confused and abandoned, just like many of us.

So before Paul gave them specific teaching about their specific situation (temptation), he told them something that is generally true, for all of us, in all times, and in all situations: God is faithful.

Always. No matter what. We can build all the rest of our theology on that one truth.

And guess what? That’s a very comforting thought, a rock-solid, never-changing, dare-I-say-inspirational promise, especially when you are facing what feels like a lot more than you can handle. It’s a reminder that even then, even when you’re stressed or exhausted or waking up at 3 AM every morning with the same nagging fear, even when there’s no money left in the bank account or someone you loved is no longer around or you don’t know what to do next and your prayers are met with silence…even then, God is faithful.

So yes, remind people to give Bible verses proper context. Don’t turn Christianity into a bunch of happy slogans that can’t stand up to our difficult and broken world where we’re supposed to be taking up our cross like Jesus. Talk about hard truths and passages that don’t make us feel good, because that’s not the point.

But also…don’t cling so tightly to anti-prosperity-Gospel annoyance that you start criticizing simple faith. Don’t treat Scriptures merely as texts to be interpreted and forget that they’re also promises to build our faith. Don’t become too cool for hope.

And if you’re stuck in one of those hard times, the most inspirational thing I can tell you is: God is faithful. Even if you can’t see it now where you are, you can see it in Jesus’ sacrifice and in the Bible and in the answered prayers of the past and in the thousands of tiny kindnesses around you. And, by faith, you can see it in the end of the story too.

So hold on, with me, with the Corinthians, with Christians who post hand-lettered Bible verses and the ones who post snarky satire articles making fun of them. Let’s grow in faithfulness to a faithful God.