“For now, we can only see a dim and blurry picture of things, as when we stare into polished metal. I realize that everything I know is only part of the big picture. But one day, when Jesus arrives, we will see clearly, face-to-face. In that day, I will fully know just as I have been wholly known by God” –1Corinthians 13:12.

“We had been hoping that He was the One—you know, the One who would liberate all Israel and bring God’s promises”–Luke 24:21.

This week, many events occurred which felt like bullets hitting my soul.  Sometimes the snapshots of our lives bring us to our knees and we find God.  Sometimes we just fall to our knees with the wind knocked out of us.  Either way, we need to find the strength to get up, dust ourselves off and learn from the wounds of the soul.

  • Jud’s mom died this week.  So many emotions to process–I wish I could say the emotions evoke warm, fuzzy memories.  Not much of that going on.  Just tough processing.
  • A woman I met last week died suddenly, tragically.  My daughter talked with her daughter in a park several months ago and started mentoring her.  The woman, her daughter and the woman’s mother had started coming to church a few weeks ago and seemed to have hope, joy and renewal.  Now, Spring Break will have an ugly edge for the 16 year old who mourns her mother.  More tough processing.
  • World Vision changed their hiring policy to accomodate gay marriages.  Then a day later, under pressure, changed the policy back to the original one of not allowing committed gay relationships.  The tension and sadness overwhelmed me.  Each side felt victory and defeat.  Once again, an issue became about winning and losing instead of treating people well.  Too much tough processing.
  • Having inside information on a church’s upheaval that a friend attends weighs heavy on me.  Hearing the ‘public’ side of a person and knowing the ‘private’ side creates sadness and a cynical environment for me.  Enough of the tough processing!
  • All the world problems of Russia vs. Ukraine, the Malaysia flight, the mudslide in the state of Washington.  The processing continues.

Of course there’s more … because there always is more to every story.  But not all the ‘mores’ are meant for sharing.  I struggle to find the beauty and joy in weeks like this one.  How do we take the snapshots of ugly stories and turn them into a bright-colored collage with witty captions in a photo album of life?  Where are the pithy sayings that wash away the deep scars left in our souls?

Let us choose to not allow the story of our lives, our world, to end with the tragedies we experience.

Let us not allow discouragement and sorrow to imprison our souls.

Let us remember Easter and the message of Jesus’ resurrection–the story hasn’t ended yet!

Perhaps weeks like this one serve to remind us of the searing reality of the ‘not yet’ that Paul mentions in his letters.  Perhaps weeks like this one can serve to remind us of how the disciples felt in the last hours as all their hopes came crashing down, and they dispersed as Jesus died.  As we journey through Lent and look toward the promise of Easter, may faith, hope and love remain in us until more of Christ’s life is revealed in us.

I’d love to hear from you!  Are you weary with the heaviness of your life?  What has encouraged you when all hope seems lost?  

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The Teachings of Down Syndrome


Today is World Down Syndrome Day. I’m reposting my remembrance of a beautiful soul who taught me so much about love, joy and God.  May you be so fortunate to have someone like Mike in your life.

Many people who have never lived in the South wonder why I loved Alabama so much.  In many ways, it was my favorite place of the places we’ve lived:  Three hours from the sugar-sand beach, lush countrysides lined with mossy oaks, church potlucks with tables filled with pure yumminess, the last time I felt like I belonged in church community.

One of the people we loved at church had Down syndrome.  Mike enjoyed Diet Cokes, loved his family and cheered ‘Roll Tide’ when football season started.  He also loved babies.  I remember him holding my youngest when he was born.  He asked in his breathy, hope filled voice, “Maggie, can I hold your baby?”  He held him so gently and just smiled.  He always smiled, joked and laughed.  I remember him lifting his arms and singing the hymns wholeheartedly during church services.  He epitomized ‘wholehearted.’  He attended the children’s Sunday school classes.  When the children performed their Christmas program each year, he sat on a regal chair with a crown on his head.  He was Herod.  He was the most joyful Herod I’d ever seen!  The 4 1/2 years we lived in Montgomery, Mike incarnated the face of God to me.

When I learned that Mike died on Tuesday morning at age 52, I had just read an article about scientists who recently discovered how to ‘silence’ the chromosome causing Down syndrome in a petrie dish.  While the breakthrough is in its infancy, debate has already started about the ethics of a ‘cure’ for the disorder.  I figured that would be a no-brainer.  Of course we want to cure any birth defect, don’t we?  Then I read some of the comments and I began to understand the concern.  “[I]t’s unclear what costs there may be to shutting down the mechanism that creates people who offer lessons in patience, kindness — and what it means to be human” –JoNel Aleccia, NBC News.

Hmm.  I hadn’t considered what ‘curing’ Down syndrome may do to personality of the individual and compassion to collective humanity.  While everyone in the article would like to see the limitations and diseases common to Down syndrome eradicated, no one wants to see the beauty of heart that most who have it embody.  It’s true.  People treated Mike with compassion, patience and kindness.  Because of his gentleness, the nurturing side of people expressed itself in protectiveness.  I’m sure his family has some memories of people treating him unkindly as he grew up in the ’60s and ’70s; but from what I saw, Mike brought out the best in the rest of us.  After reflecting some and crying much over Mike’s life and death, I read the daily headlines of horror in Egypt and the Middle East.  I read articles about Congress’ inability to compromise with each other.  I read articles about injustices, prejudices and hate crimes in our nation and abroad.  Nursing a headache, I returned to Mike and dreamed that he ruled the world.  Even if someone like Mike couldn’t be president or a congressman, think of how his view could transform how we treat each other in politics and how he could influence policy if more in power would spend some time in his world.

In his world, no one would hurry.  Mike suffered from gout and ambled at his own pace.  His sister said that in the past few years, he moved more slowly.  He couldn’t keep pace with others, so we kept pace with him.  Everyone would evaluate (not judge) others based on character traits instead of appearances, orientations or theological interpretations.  Bullying wouldn’t exist.  People would live protectively, tenderly, kindly with everyone else.  I don’t know how answers to really tough questions and problems would solve themselves; but I do know there would be joy.  Unabashed, unflappable, unbridled, innocent JOY!

Do I wish Down syndrome had a cure?  I wish the limitations of  life-expectancy and life skills had a cure.  But, I wouldn’t want to sacrifice the heart, God’s heart, of someone with Down syndrome.  I  wish scientists could isolate the kindness gene in Down syndrome and create a vaccine for our mean-spirited selfishness that we consider ‘normal.’  I wish scientists could ‘silence’ the chromosome that causes us to be pigheaded and intolerant toward people different from us.  I wish scientists could find the DNA that would explain why we would rather sentence someone to eternal hellfire than listen to the life story and understand the hell a person has already lived.  More than anything, I wish we ‘normal’ people had a cure for what ails our hearts for which Down syndrome people seem to have immunity–putting our rightness over relationships, living with a cynicism and hardness toward people who believe differently than we do, forgetting how to play and enjoy the little moments in life–the sacredness of life.

So, as I say goodbye in my own way to Mike and his well-lived, well-loved life, may we all reflect on how to live kinder, gentler, slower-paced lives.  Mike, I hope you entered the embrace of God the way you embraced the rest of us … fully.  You lived valiantly and graciously.  Thank you for teaching so many of us that physical limitations like Down syndrome cannot limit the Holy Spirit from working in our hearts and through our lives.

Who has taught you most about compassion toward others?  Who would you want to ‘rule the world’?

Below is the link to the article I mentioned in this post.

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Figuring It Out


[Jesus speaking,] “You don’t realize what I am doing, but you will understand later”–John 13:7.

As we journey through Lent and reflect on the final days of Jesus, I see how much the disciples didn’t get it.  I see how often I don’t get it.  I see how many ‘its’ there are in the course of our lives.  Some are ‘its and some are ‘ITs; but they are all events or relationships in our lives that we have to figure out.

I love that Jesus finally throws His disciples a bone and doesn’t ask them to ‘get it’ at the Last Supper.  So often in the Gospels, Jesus asks the disciples something that they have no clue on how to answer.  Not here at the end.  I love that He just flat out says that they don’t get it.  I also love the hope He throws them by promising that they will eventually get it.  What ‘it’ does He refer to?  His betrayal, suffering, death, resurrection and how they will carry on His teachings.  The next few hours promise to throw them all into confusion, retreat and panic.

Most of us have experienced what the disciples experienced during Passion Week leading to the cross and resurrection.  Most of us have had days (or at least hours) of blissful running-barefoot-through-a-meadow-of-wildflowers moments, only to come crashing into a brick wall wishing-you-could-die-or-at-least-enjoy-a-coma events or relationship stress.  What do we do with the confusion and panic of ‘it’?

We self-medicate–legally and illegally.

We isolate from others–physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.

We create a false-story for others, and sometimes for ourselves, to believe.

Once the initial grip of shock releases, we may begin to look for solutions.  We say, ‘We can figure it out, if we just put our minds to it.’  Sometimes we can figure it out.  Those are usually the smaller ‘its.  The big ‘ITs rarely get figured out without help.

The disciples had each other to process through their ‘IT’ of lost expectations of political grandeur.  They hoped that Jesus would overthrow Caesar, end Roman rule, and they would hold significant positions with Jesus.  Ah, how lustrous power looks when daydreaming.  It’s a pretty dream.  But then we awaken only to find that things didn’t quite turn out the way they were supposed to in the dream.  The disciples had a traumatic awakening when their rabbi, their leader, didn’t receive quite the kudos they expected.  Their dream quickly turned into a nightmare.

Recently, Jud and I received some information that has us questioning how to live out certain relationships.  The feelings of betrayal, anger and primal vengeance, at times, consume me.  In the midst of processing through the havoc, I have prayed often, It wasn’t supposed to be like this.’ And in a perfect world, I am right.  However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and people sometimes act unbecomingly.  How do we regroup and live through the painful choices made by others that affect our lives?

I don’t know.

Neither do you.

There are no pat answers for the ‘ITs in our lives.

But while answers may elude us, perhaps we can learn to just feel the moments–feel angry, feel sad, feel confused, feel panicky.  We need each other to sit and feel with us.  BUT, we don’t want to stay there too long either.  We also need each other to coax us out of the abyss into which ‘ITs tend to plummet us.

We need to hear God’s promise that we will someday understand.

Oh, we may never understand the ‘why’ of any time in our lives.  The promise isn’t that everything that happens to us magically becomes good or just.  The promise is that we will understand the growth and development we need to mature into wisdom.  He promises that we can heal, embrace wisdom and learn how to lead others through their times of ‘IT’.

I told Jud, “I know we’ll figure it out together.  I just hate that there’s an ‘IT’ to figure out.

I’d love to hear your stories of hope and processing through life.  Have you experienced a similar feeling?  Life seemed to go along well and then took a turn you didn’t expect.  Have you ever said, “I hate there’s an ‘IT’ to figure out.”

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Sacrifices of Lent


“But Jesus replied, ‘Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me?  She has done what she could…'” –Mark 14:6, 8.

Often I feel not good enough when I see the great injustices and know that my small contributions won’t change the world.  In prayer, I often voice, “I can’t make it better!  I can’t fix it!”  This past week, I’ve had many days of crying out to God because I feel like I’ve failed to protect, advocate and gently nudge with any real success.  Other voices in my head constantly shame and mock me for speaking up without the desired results.  Far too many burdens weigh on my heart, and all I can do is pray and speak when given an opportunity.

As we entered the Lenten season this past week, the Bible study I attend took a day-retreat for Ash Wednesday.  We had a time of spiritual reflection at some stations that one of our women set up.  Sandals to remind us of Jesus’ human-ness, drops of nard (a type of expensive perfume mentioned in the Bible) on cotton balls to remind us of the woman who anointed Jesus, bread and grape juice to remind us of our communion with Him.  The gentleness, silence and slowness of the day created space in me to remember how Jesus walked this earth.

Then, we had a time of Lectio Divina–a way of absorbing Scripture by listening to what word or phrase in a passage resonates with you.  The passage we read was the woman who anoints Jesus with the expensive perfume found in Mark 14.  As I leaned into the Scripture reading, the phrase ‘she has done what she could’ hit me.  After the second reading, tears began to fill my eyes.  After the third reading, God embedded the words in my heart:  I’ve done what I can, and it is enough.

Discouragement continues as I process through some of the weighty burdens; but I whisper in the midst of the despondency, “I will do what I can.”  My resolve got a second wind:  I cannot do any more, and I won’t do any less.

Risking without shame is my theme for this year.  It sounds more noble than it feels.  One of my pastors told me that he appreciated the ‘brave conversations’ I’ve opened up with him.  I told him that I wish those conversations felt heroic. I leave some conversations humiliated, dejected, wanting to run away; but I continue to risk and fight through the feelings of shame and failure so that others may know that they do not stand alone.  I am thankful that my church leaders do not wish to shame me into silence.  I tend to be the loudest critical voice of shame to my soul.  I tend to create fear inside of me that tries to keep me from doing what I can for those who have diminished voices.  Only I can overcome those saboteurs inside myself and continue to live the life of Christ.

I offer what I can in worship of Him who released me from my shame.

If we all do what we can, what a world we would have!  What can you offer as a sacrifice for others this Lenten season?  Let me hear your stories of how you are worshipping through your talents, skills, voice and actions.

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Freedom From Religious Entitlement


Jesus, knowing that He had come from God and was going away to God, stood up from dinner and removed His outer garments. He then wrapped Himself in a towel, poured water in a basin, and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with His towel –John 13:3-5.

Can we talk about religious freedom for a minute?  I’ve heard the term bantered about for the past several months, and I believe we’ll be hearing more of it as more and more states examine the role of religious beliefs in the private and secular sector.

What does the Constitution guarantee?  We can worship whatever god in whatever religion we choose freely and without government intervention.  Unless that worship includes animal or human sacrifices, sexual abuse of children or adults, physical abuse of children or adults.  You get the idea.  We do not live in fear that we will be arrested, killed or fired from our jobs because of the church we attend.  The government cannot force a non-profit, religious organization to perform activities which go against their religious beliefs.  For example, no church or pastor is required to perform wedding ceremonies for couples with whom they disagree theologically.

However, as the tide turns toward accepting gay relationships and marriages, I’ve noticed a development in ‘religious folk.’  A determination to cry religious freedom in secular, for-profit businesses.  It takes a huge leap of logic to turn a bakery, a restaurant, or a tailor shop into a place of worship that requires protection from the government.  Most people see the obvious flaws.  Will those businesses hold a consistent standard, or will they single out one group of people?  A baker who has no problem baking a wedding cake for a couple who have lived together for years or who have children outside of marriage, cannot cry religious freedom and then deny baking a cake for a gay couple.  What about serving a Buddhist, a Muslim or another religion/denomination outside the owner’s belief system?  If the standard isn’t consistent, then the argument isn’t valid.  As the arguments of what the Bible ‘clearly says’ crumble around staunch traditionalists, many now hide illogically behind the Constitution–a sign of desperation and a tool used by people who feel threatened and, in desperation, circle the wagons.

If we follow Jesus and watch Him wash the disciples feet, heal the Centurian’s son, welcome Samaritans and eat with people on both sides of the tracks, why do we feel so entitled in our religious rights that we single out only a few of the people we believe unworthy? Because if we’re honest, there are a whole lot of people we find unworthy.  On any given day, any person we meet.  But we’re not great at honesty in Christian churches.  We excel in presuming we know how God views people whom we’ve chosen to focus on one or two aspects of their lives, all the while we diminish our own unworthiness by showcasing our donations to charities or hiding dangerous heart attitudes behind pious ‘bless their hearts’ and singing hymns on Sundays.

Jesus asks us to be His Body and come alongside those who are outcast and let them know they don’t have to face their accusers or healing alone.  Just as He protected from societal shame every outcast mentioned in the Gospels by taking the heat from the religious leaders, so we should stand in front of our societal outcasts and shield them from the religious beating or bullet of shame aimed at them.  It’s hard to teach people the abundant life of Christ while throwing stones of public shame at them.

Jesus never insisted that the disciples wash His feet.  We cannot use our power to force others  to accommodate our perceived rights.  That attitude leads to slavery and shame-based systems of worship.  Jesus set an example of humility, and He lived life free from societal shame.  The religious leaders couldn’t threaten Him with loss of reputation or social standing, because He lived under God’s acceptance of Himself.  He had nothing to lose, so no threats could harm Him.  He was free to serve all equally, because He saw people the way God sees them–not the way our human condition labels them.  Jesus gave up His rights for us and humbled Himself for others.

Then He told those who follow Him to do the same.

I’d love to hear from you!  Have you experienced religious entitlement either in yourself or in others?  How can we treat all people–even those who seem entitled–with dignity, respect and grace without compromising our beliefs?

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