Desert Life

Standard

“Imagine the wilderness whooping for joy, the desert’s unbridled happiness with its spring flowers.  It will happen! The deserts will come alive with new growth budding and blooming, singing and celebrating with sheer delight. The glory of Lebanon’s cedars and the majesty of Carmel and Sharon will spill over to the deserts. The glory of the Eternal One will be on full display there, and they will revel in the majestic splendor of our God” –Isaiah 35:1-2 (The Voice).

I remember long-time family friends from India visiting our family in Phoenix when their son came to the United States for college.  We took their son up to the mountains to escape the summer heat before he had to register for classes.  As we drove along the highway through the Sonoran Desert, saguaros stood as sentries along the highway, and prickly pears looked withered in the scorching heat.  Suddenly, Dev laughed out loud.  He said, “You call this a desert?!  There’s so much life!”  In his deserts, plants did not grow.  There was only sand.  Miles and miles of hot sand.  One of India’s deserts is called Marusthali, which means Land of the Dead.

Perspective.

Just as I focussed on how hot and miserable desert living felt growing up, I have focussed on how miserable my spirit has felt this year.  I have forgotten to acknowledge all the life growing in and around me–albeit prickly and somewhat withered.  However, just as the saguaros house the cactus wrens and keep them safe and the prickly pears bear fruit that makes subtle jelly particular to desert palates, so my spirit houses life and nutrients that I have taken for granted.

Thanksgiving.  It’s all about food, family and friends.  My favorite holiday.  I love gathering people around.  When people enjoy my food and are happy, I feel fulfilled.  My parents and brother made the trek to Colorado again this year.  Laughter and chatter filled my kitchen as everyone helped chop, mince, season, stir and mash our way into a turkey feast!  I allowed myself to sink into the enveloping warmth of familial ties.  I remembered the joy of togetherness.

We took a drive up to a roadside attraction, Bishop’s Castle.  During the drive through the mountains and small towns, my parents and brother basked delightedly in the unfolding landscape.  I began to see my world through their desert eyes.  Leafless aspens, mountains breaking the horizon, snow patches among the evergreens.  Yes, beauty encompasses me all around my life.  I remembered how I felt when we first moved here.  Wonder and awe awakened in my heart.  I remembered the joy of creation.

And I began to remember the beauty of the desert after a spring storm.  The flowering cacti, the soothing smell of washed-away-dustiness, the chirping of the crickets and desert birds.  Yes, even in the desert, beauty and life coexist with the painfully sharp cacti needles and parched-ness.  Living with the desert in my bones and the freshness of the mountain life in my present, I can live with the paradox within my soul.  And I can exclaim with the gratitude of hopeful longing and cautious expectation, “There is so much life here!” 

And I begin to remember God smiling.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Print this page

Poverty of Privilege

Standard
You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me!
I sing for joy because of what you have done.
O Lord, what great works you do!
And how deep are your thoughts.
–Psalm 92:4-5 (New Living Translation)

Thanksgiving.  A time of food.  A time of family.  A time of celebrating.  I haven’t felt much like celebrating this year.  I’ve lost sight of the multitude of blessings that my life holds, and I’ve grown cynical and skeptical in this wonder-filled life.  So this week, and throughout the rest of the year, I want to remember the joy and anticipation of giving.  I want to remember the goodness of God.

When I think of the poverty that surrounds me, I realize just how closed my heart has become.  Instead of my heart breaking for those who live in want, I find myself judging them …. Why do they have smart phones?  Why do they have cable?  Why don’t they act more humble?  Someone should teach them about budgeting and finances so they don’t always ask for handouts.  Yeah, it’s ugly in my heart.  I begin to see where the true poverty lies.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Aware of my heart’s poverty, I am humbled and see physically poor people the way I believe God sees them–with kindness, compassion, mercy, grace.  I begin to see the kingdom of heaven open before me and broaden my perspective.  If someone is hungry, it’s not kind to judge hard-heartedly how they spent their money.  If someone can’t pay the heating bill, it’s not compassionate to take that moment to explain how to set financial priorities and goals. Or worse.  To think they deserve the lesson of hunger or coldness.  My heart grows a little colder when I look at people in the shadow of prejudice and privilege.  And yes, I hear the voices telling me that we must live in balance.  We can’t just fix every person’s problems.  They need to learn.  Don’t forget ‘tough love.’  All of that is true; however, in order for my heart to see and experience God in this season, I need to err on the side of empathy and humility.

So, this week, I’m humbled that I believe my blessings are deserved and another’s depravity is their own making.  In breaking that shameful thinking, I chose to do some random, anonymous acts of kindness.  I gave when I thought someone was undeserving.  I gave when I didn’t want to sacrifice.  I gave when I wanted to turn the other way.  Not all my giving was financial.  I gave time, patience, and empathy too–never letting on how poor I felt to offer anything.  I began to see a different view from the miserly perspective that held my heart for so long this year.  I began to see hope … wonder … God.

I wish I could tell you that I feel all giddy with anticipation.  I don’t.  But, I see a flicker of joy coming.  Because in empathizing with the poverty around me, I see the goodness and faithfulness of God to whom I’ve devoted myself.  In offering companionship to a lonely person, I see the relationships that I enjoy with my children and husband.  In giving a few dollars to a family so they can celebrate Thanksgiving, I see God’s provision around my own table.

How have I wanted others to treat me while in the throws of my angst?  Have I wanted instruction?  Have I welcomed advice?  Honestly, only from those who first treated me with compassion and tenderness.  I thank God for those people.  May we all begin to treat others with the grace and mercy we, ourselves, wish others would offer us.  The more we do, the more we understand God expresses great works and deep thoughts through us–we get to be the vessel of the Lord’s work in this world!  I encourage each of us to look for ways to rejoice in God through the rest of the year–whether by giving or allowing someone to give in our lives.  If we begin to live with this perspective, we will express a life of thankfulness!

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 
 
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Print this page

Living To Tell The Tale

Standard

‘I’ve been broken, lost, depressed, oppressed, and weak that I might find favor and gain the weak. I’m flexible, adaptable, and able to do and be whatever is needed for all kinds of people so that in the end I can use every means at my disposal to offer them salvation.  I do it all for the gospel and for the hope that I may participate with everyone who is blessed by the proclamation of the good news’ –1 Corinthians 9:22-23 (The Voice)

This week, Jud and I attended a gathering in Colorado Springs designed to encourage those of us who have undergone a radical change in faith perspective, are undergoing a radical change in faith perspective, or know someone in those categories.  Colorado Springs has a reputation of being a mecca for conservative faith organizations.  We haven’t found it easy to find cohesive groups of more open- or progressive-minded people.  Certainly, we struggle to find anyone who has wrestled with long-held, conservative beliefs and have lived to tell the tale.  Even finding a church that will have open discussions between opposing scriptural views on relevant subjects like how to embrace people who follow Jesus wholeheartedly but don’t belong to the privileged power class, did Jesus promote non-violence and how do we embrace His teachings in a violent world, or how do we ‘go into all the world and make disciples’ when we don’t want to admit we’ve judged a majority of people in ‘the world’, or how do we find communities of faith when traditional church services don’t fill the needs of relationship and worship?  Tough questions.  Tougher discussions.  Because there is no Sunday school or pat answer for any of them.

So, through word of mouth, we gathered to hear pastor and author Kathy Escobar, who has just released Faith Shift, give words of perspective to all the churning in our souls.  Between 30-40 people came, from all walks of life, from various degrees of ‘faith shifting’.  We came:  bikers, single moms, worship leaders, college professors, artists.  Devastated ones, healing ones, healed ones, faith-less ones.  All of us with our own church stories.  All of us desperate to believe we aren’t alone.  All of us ordinary.  I talked with people who had come through to the other side and stood victorious.  I talked with many who, like me, had stumbled up from falling off a cliff, assessed their injuries, and started to reorient themselves to their new surroundings.  I talked with one who broke my heart, because I saw the deer-in-headlights look that I had not too long ago.

As we processed our faith journeys in the larger group and in our smaller table groups, I found myself fighting tears most of the evening. Taking in the collective emotions in the room and trying to filter those from my own, nearly overwhelmed my already frazzled system. Hearing others tell how they became outcasts in church communities through changing perspectives on Scripture interpretations, I felt a kinship. Like I wasn’t losing my faith in God or Jesus–just in some of the systems that promote a version of Him. Because my entire life has involved traditional church services, my entire identity feels like it’s unravelling. Hearing from others who have travelled longer down this road and have learned to re-braid or re-weave their lives with beauty and peace, gave me a seed of hope that I may learn to love my spiritual scars. But seeds need nurturing. I must learn to love myself and cherish the image of God I project.

But Kathy didn’t let us wallow in our current state. Her emphasis was on rebuilding, empowering our spirits to find even one truth about God that we hadn’t lost. Encouraging us to allow the process to pace our healing. We don’t have to fight against or stress toward healing.  And we need each other along the way.  I’ve pondered often, since that night, how our current church culture could change, what it would mean if more churches allowed people to express openly doubts, fear, anger, loss in their faith?  If more church leaders risked vulnerability and expressed honestly and publicly their own faith journeys?  Would more people feel less alone?  Less not-good-enough?  More connected?  I know I would.  Because all of life needs expression and celebration of beauty–even the ugly parts … maybe especially the ugly parts.

Training is rarely fun–if you take it seriously.  However, when you feel your body, soul and mind automatically working in unison during a competition, the experience cannot compare to anything else.  The oneness you feel within yourself creates a power, a synergy, that propels you to complete the game regardless of the outcome.  If I can keep my mind and heart on that prize–not the prize of winning, but the prize of competing–I can continue the journey, no matter how jagged the terrain.  And I look forward to discovering who else is on the trail … those who will encourage me and those I can encourage.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Print this page

The Art of Loving

Standard

Jesus speaking:  “’Love the Eternal One your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is nearly as important, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The rest of the law, and all the teachings of the prophets, are but variations on these themes” –Matthew 22:37-40 (The Voice).

Wow!  I kinda wish Jesus had stopped at loving God.  It’s easier to think I love Someone who is ethereal and theoretical and defies definition.  A Person who is nebulous that I can conform to my own ideal.  A Person who says over and over how much I am loved, accepted and cherished.  Why did Jesus have to add that last bit?  It’s not part of the Deuteronomy passage of Moses telling us how to love God.  It’s mired in a rather obscure Leviticus passage.  Why did Jesus juxtapose these two passages?  Why do we shorten His thoughts to ‘Love God and love others’, omitting the ‘as yourself’ part?  I’m growing to believe that the ‘as yourself’ part is key to how we love God and love others.

Most women understand a love/hate relationship with body image.  Some of us struggle more than others; but society has taught us well that some body types are better than others.  Every generation can look at the fashion and determine which body type is in style for each particular decade.  Women (and some men, too) tend to internalize that how we look on the outside determines our internal worth.  I believe that Jesus communicated that to the degree we love and accept ourselves correlates to how deeply we can love and accept God and others.

I find that when I dwell on my shortcomings, my view of God becomes more and more distant and judging of who I am to Him.  I begin to listen to all the negative voices in my head telling me that I am not smart enough … pretty enough … strong enough …

I am not enough.

Self-shame begins to fill my thoughts and heart.  And through that shame and loathing, I look at God and others.  I am judged by God, so I judge others by the same standard I believe He judges me.  God is distant because I am not good enough for His time and energy, so I grow distant from others to protect myself from their rejection.  I wouldn’t want them to see the truth about me.

That I am condemned by God.

Comparisons breed insecurities.  Insecurities breed shame.  Shame breeds isolation.  Isolation spirals to very dark places of our souls.  In the loneliness of isolation, we may find it difficult to crawl and scrape our way up from the rabbit hole we’ve fallen into.  Some never recover, as we see in many headlines of suicides and violence throughout the world.  I can make a case that much of the world’s horrors stem from people not knowing how to love themselves so they lash out at others.  When those people unite (as in the cases of Boko Haram, ISIS, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups), the damage becomes globally felt.

So how do I (we) learn to love ourselves and reverse some of the damage we inflict on others?  I believe Jesus understood the cycle well:  Love God with everything in you.  How do we love anyone fully?  1 Corinthians 13 tells us how God loves us.  I love verse 12 which tells me that I am intimately known by God.  When looked at with the rest of the chapter, I discover that being so deeply known, I am loved.

I am accepted.

But not just accepted, I am cherished.

Let those thoughts sink in to your soul for a moment.  Bask in the presence of the One who looks at you as in a mirror.  You reflect His image.  Let the shame of all your perceived shortcomings melt away as God exposes you for your true self–beloved … adored … created to look like God.

Out of that knowing, my confidence rises.  But confidence that humbles me.  In that humility, I begin to see others in the same light.  They are loved.  They are accepted.  They are cherished.  Because I know the God who loves me and teaches me to love Him back, I can love well those He loves.

Quiet the voices that say you are not enough.  Let the voice of God speak louder for a moment each day.  Hear Him say that you are loved.  You are accepted.  You are cherished.  

And as we all learn to love ourselves more, perhaps we will begin to see a change in the world around us.  Perhaps others will begin to hate less.  Perhaps the world really can become a kinder place.  But, only if it starts with me.  With you.  With us.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Print this page

Traditions and Memories

Standard

Jesus speaking:  ‘I want you to know the delight I experience, to find ultimate satisfaction, which is why I am telling you all of this’ –John 15:11 (The Voice).

My youngest son (who is 19) and I have developed a Hallowe’en tradition (okay, it’s been twice) of carving pumpkins and watching Psych reruns.  We laugh and get ourselves all gooey with the pumpkin guts, I leave the guts and seeds out for the squirrels, and then we light candles in the carved pumpkins as we continue watching Psych and grab some dinner from the raided fridge.  Usually, my other two kids will join us for the marathon viewing, all the while making comments and laughing.  I love these times of togetherness and recognize how soon they may end with my daughter getting married in the Spring.

So many traditions seem to move on as we grow older.  Last year, my middle child said that Christmas Eve church services didn’t mean anything because it was all showmanship and performance.  He’s right (Don’t tell him.  He doesn’t need any encouragement); but I love the showmanship.  Does it have much (if anything) to do with Christ?  Not really.  But part of the celebration of the season for me are the 3 Cs–children, candles, and carols.  I need those three things for Christmas Eve to feel … well … Christmassy.  I love the twinkling lights and the festive decorations.  I love the cold noses, hot chocolates with peppermint sticks, and fragrant soups simmering on the stove.  Watching the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, Miracle on 34th Street (1947 version) Thanksgiving evening, and The Bishop’s Wife while wrapping presents create warm feelings in my soul.  When he announced that he would go to Christmas Eve service as long as we admitted that it has nothing to do with Jesus, a piece of my joy died.

I know I should be able to dismiss his thoughts and just embrace what I love about traditions; but on the enneagram personality chart, I’m a 9–which means that I live vicariously through other identities.  It’s hard, not impossible, for me to enjoy events if the ones I love don’t enjoy them.  I have discovered how much I let go of treasured memories because others don’t find value in the traditions.  As an extrovert, I don’t enjoy doing things alone.  I will make myself go places alone; but experiencing events without family or friends to create a memory leaves me a little cold.  If I can’t feed off their joy and share my own with them, the fun never ignites in my heart.

Sunday church services have become reminders of my lost connections with childhood traditions.  By choice, I usually sit alone in a corner of the sanctuary.  Because of my empathetic nature, I tend to get distracted by the people around me and their emotions.  When I sit with Jud, I find it easier to filter other people’s heart burdens; but he has learned that smaller gatherings inspire his spirit and fill his soul.  We have both given each other freedom to experience Christ where we see His life exhibited.  He and I both are learning to express our needs without shame, and humbly accept our limitations.  However, in the freedom comes a sacrifice, and I haven’t learned how to experience joy in church traditions without company … yet.

So these days, I ponder how to fuel my joy without expecting help from others.  I haven’t figured out any answers to those musings yet; but my confidence is expanding that God will help me tap into His joy without sacrificing the relationship connections in traditions that I believe important.  Embracing the journey without knowing the destination doesn’t come naturally to me.  But, I do look forward to experiencing the delight of God along the way!  For now, I will light a candle in my pumpkin and watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown with whomever happens to wander in the room and content myself with enjoying today’s moment.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Print this page