An Unexpected Sabbatical

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“I am as good as dead,
     like a strong man with no strength left.
They have left me among the dead,
     and I lie like a corpse in a grave.
I am forgotten,
     cut off from your care.
You have thrown me into the lowest pit,
     into the darkest depths.” (Psalm 88:4-6, NLT)

I published my last post over a year ago. I didn’t expect to go silent. I fully expected to continue with a series about anger and healing. Instead, life happened and flung us into a rollercoaster that crashed into an abyss.

And I lay there.

For about a year.

In silence.

Alone.

A traumatic death brought our son and 2 large dogs back home. Months of trying to re-home 2 other dogs. Inheriting a cat from a 95-year-old friend who had to move.

Empty nesting, then full-housing. And inadequately helping our son move through grief and put some pieces of life back together.

While the puzzle of our life is starting to take shape, I am only now starting to look around the abyss for a way out.

I don’t know yet how often I’ll be writing; but I know I must write. It’s my ‘safe place.’ My processing place. My refuge. And in sharing, I find hope and community. Connections with people who feel the same, but may not have words.

I have words. It’s one of my gifts.

Then others share their gifts with me, because I gave them words.

While this short post only cracks the door as I begin to search for sunlight and slowly examine how damaged my heart is and do I have the stamina to begin the arduous journey upward, I must begin.

Will you begin again with me? 

Have you experienced levels of trauma you didn’t know existed? Has your life taken a toll on you, and you wondered if you would ever recover? Let’s explore baby steps together!

I welcome comments! Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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The First 50 Years

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With every sun’s rising, surprise us with Your love,
satisfy us with Your kindness.
Then we will sing with joy and celebrate every day we are alive. –Psalm 90:14

I turned 50 this past week.  (I know. You’d never guess it to look at me….) For the past 10 years, I’ve celebrated anniversaries of my 39th year.  This year, I ‘fessed up to my actual age.  I don’t fear aging–just kinda liked the shell-game of ‘how old am I’.

’50’ doesn’t mean much to me.  Except that I told my husband, “It just sounds so grown-up.  I guess I should act more grown-up now … But that’s probably not going to happen.”

One of the many things my mom taught me was that birthdays should be celebrated.  I don’t think she ever used words to convey that message–just the joy she exuded with every birthday.  She had ovarian cancer back in 1970, and she’s considered a medical miracle.  Ever since, she has celebrated ‘as long as people will let [her] celebrate.’  I love that she’s passed that idea down to me.  

None of us know how long we will live.  I’ve got long live-ers in my family.  Most of my immediate line have lived into their 90s.  However, with military life came realities of lives cut shorter than was natural.  I think of my husband’s best friend, Bob, who died in the first or second year of our marriage. His funeral initiated me into the gravity of military life.  Many others would follow through the years. Length of life comes with no guarantee.  However, regardless of how long or short our lives run, we can live them fully and without fear.  Which brings me back to my running theme for 2015:  the tree of life vs. the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  As I pass what very well could be the mid-point of my life, I want to continue to eat from the tree of life.  

With so much life behind me comes so much opportunity for shame and regret. How do we choose Life every day? How do we identify every day with Christ and not with shame? How do we oppose the shame–even when others tease without realizing the effect on us … on me…  I heard Nadia Bolz-Weber speak recently.  She distinguished between ‘shame’ and ‘guilt.’  She said something like, “Guilt is good.  We should feel guilty when we do something wrong or hurt another person.  Shame is an identity.”  I never want to identify myself or others with shame.  Shame is not nourishing.  Or life-giving.  Or joyful.  It sucks all the life and joy and sustenance out of us.

And shame makes it really hard to CELEBRATE ourselves!  

With living in the midst of my 51st year, I celebrate who God has made me.  I celebrate my best qualities.  I roll my eyes at some of my not-so-best-but-ever-diminishing qualities. I humbly accept the love and patience of my family and friends, and I offer them my love and patience in return.

We need each other to remind us of our best qualities and our amazing potential.  We need each other to fiercely stand with us when all we see are (and others remind us that they see also) our short-comings. 

Before I go and savor another piece of cake, let me encourage all of us to ask God for perspective on ourselves and our lives.  God can satisfy our need for love and kindness, and give us a reason to sing and celebrate.  Choose to believe the truth about yourself.  Choose to believe that God loves you.  That God treats you with kindness–even when others are unkind in our every day lives.  Find friends who will build you up and help you to discover your value and worth.  Life’s too short, whether it’s a few hours or a hundred years, to experience without grace.  So, I offer a toast of thanks for today, yesterday, and any days to come for all of us.

And now … cake!

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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Life Is Good

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With wedding stress behind me, I’m still recuperating from the lack of sleep over the last few months.  I’m reposting this piece from January because I want to remind us all of what I started the year off pondering.  I hope to continue to examine the two trees of Eden’s garden next week.  Thank you for your patience!

Then God surveyed everything He had made, savoring its beauty and appreciating its goodness. –Genesis 1:31a (The Voice version)

Suddenly their eyes were opened to a reality previously unknown. For the first time, they sensed their vulnerability and rushed to hide their naked bodies, stitching fig leaves into crude loincloths. Then they heard the sound of the Eternal God walking in the cool misting shadows of the garden. The man and his wife took cover among the trees and hid from the Eternal God. –Genesis 3:7-8 (The Voice version)

I’ve often reflected on what the world must have looked like at the dawn of creation.  In the past, I’ve bemoaned living in a ‘fallen’ world.  A world where Evil reigns and goodness is tarnished.  A world that disappoints God.

My perspective is changing.

I don’t know why I never saw some of the things I’m now seeing in the Bible.  I hadn’t seen, for example, that no evil existed in the Garden of Eden.  God proclaimed everything good! Even the serpent is called ‘crafty’ not ‘evil.’  Peter Enns, a noted Bible scholar, tells of a conversation he had in graduate school with a Jewish friend from Israel.  You can read it here.  So, Jewish interpretation doesn’t necessarily agree with our ‘enlightened’ western-thinking minds interpretation of creation.  The Genesis creation story may not be all about how we-messed-up-the-world-and-God-got-so-angry-that-He-disowned-us?  The evangelical, protestant assertions may be … wrong?  Or, to say it more gently, at least incomplete? Huh?!

As I continue to ponder the ideas from my last post, my thoughts gravitate to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life.  If no evil existed in the Garden of Eden, why would God need to caution mankind away from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?  Maybe because our minds are pre-disposed to thinking our own way (free-will).  If we stop relating to God, we focus on pecking orders and rankings and a need to play ‘king of the hill’ to prove our worth and relevance.  In order for us to have worth, some have to be worthless.  In order for us to be good, some have to be evil or ‘not good.’  When we obsess over value-judging people, intentions, or behaviors, we hide ourselves in shame–because our personhood, intentions and behaviors are up for grabs for God and others to judge ‘not good.’  Interesting that knowledge is the tree’s focus.  Interesting that the Pharisees focussed on knowledge of the Law (good and evil).  Was their religious system the embodiment of that tree?  Their religious system certainly created shaming, judging and a desire to one-up others to be considered ‘righteous’ before men and God.  Sound familiar in the 21st century?

Interesting that Jesus never said that he was the knowledge.  Instead, he claimed he was ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’  We have equated ‘truth’ with ‘knowledge’ in our reasoned thinking.  Jesus didn’t seem to define ‘truth’ in that manner.  He challenged teachings that we could find life in behaviors, rules, choices–that if we could just figure out the formula, all would be well with us and God.

Then, where and how do we find true life?  The Sunday-school-answer is Jesus.

There, isn’t that helpful?

All clear now?

Okay, maybe the following ways that I find joy and life in Christ will help you consider what brings you life:

  • Living the teachings of Jesus. I focus on how Jesus interacted with people in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  I try to filter the rest of the Bible through his example and interpret passages based on his teachings.  I fail often; but I’m beginning to recognize more quickly when my heart seeks my own ego and not Jesus’ example.
  • Learning to love God and walk with Him in all of life.  Seeing all of life and its seasons–nature’s seasons, life-cycle seasons, the soul’s seasons–as ‘good’; because all of life and its seasons reveal different facets of God’s infinite complexity, infinite wonder, infinite grace, infinite wisdom.
  • Learning to love myself–warts and all (that’s one of the hardest for me!).  Learning to love others out of the humility that comes with loving myself and the grace of loving God.
  • Sitting in silence and learning to abide in the presence of God (in prayer, meditation, contemplation)–which means turning off computers, phones, and television….
  • Listening to others and their experiences with God.  Never underestimate the profundity of life stories and how they create openings for the Holy Spirit to heal and grow our understanding of God’s ways and thoughts.
  • Looking for opportunities to make another’s life better.  Remember ‘random acts of kindness’?  Doing that–not as a fad, but as life-giving investments that may lead others to open their hearts to the magnificence of God and how they find the tree of life.
  • Savoring moments of accomplishment.  My daughter got me hooked on hiking ‘The Incline’–an extreme hiking trail which is the remains of narrow, steep railway tracks.  The first time I hiked it with her, my legs felt like Jell-O.  I had to stop every 25 steps sucking air due to low-oxygen altitude and gulping much-needed water.  About half-way up and feeling intimidated by the steep grade before me, Em stopped and told me to look behind us.  ‘Look how far we’ve come.  How small our car looks in the parking lot.  How beautiful the view of Manitou and Colorado Springs is from here.’  It took my breath away in awe (not oxygen-deprivation) to enjoy the fete of endurance we’d accomplished to that point … and it kept me going to the trail leading back to the car.  I love thinking of that seventh day as God savoring, relishing and delighting in His creation … and then telling us to do the same!

These suggestions serve as some examples of how I find the life in Christ.  You may be thinking of others that work for you.  I’d love to hear your suggestions!  This year, I’m trying to recognize when I fall into the judging habits that come from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Eventually, we will have to deal with the reality of evil, suffering, and pain in this world.  Because we see atrocities every day in the news that have nothing to do with the tree of life.  I need more time to formulate thoughts on those traumas.

For now, I want to experience more and more of the joy and freedom that come from the tree of life!  And help others find that there is another tree from which to eat.  One that enlivens and makes us unashamed of our vulnerabilities.  One that beckons us, ‘Come!’, without fear–because God’s favor rests on us!

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.us

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Celebrating Life!

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So since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us. –Hebrews 12:1 (The Voice version)

I’m not there yet, nor have I become perfect; but I am charging on to gain anything and everything the Anointed One, Jesus, has in store for me—and nothing will stand in my way because He has grabbed me and won’t let me go. –Philippians 3:12 (The Voice version)

This past week, I went to the funeral of one of my mom’s dearest friends.  I used to babysit for him and his wife before they moved out of the Phoenix area.  While my mom kept up with them–through fairly consistent weekly phone calls with his wife–I only heard bits and pieces of news from my mom through the years.  Missions trips, marriages, birth of a baby for the now-grown children; and retirement, travel and spiritual epiphanies for her friends.  Traveling to the funeral, memories from childhood to adolescence flooded my heart.

Funerals gather an interesting assortment of people–people who knew the person from all aspects of his life.  My mom’s friends had started attending a church with Messianic influences several years ago (I don’t know if it’s an official ‘Messianic Jewish’ congregation or not).  They had studied Hebrew and travelled to Israel.  I didn’t know them in this context.  As photos of them and their family scrolled on an overhead, I didn’t recognize the later pictures of their life.  Then, the earlier pictures repeated.  Ah, there was the man I knew.  There were the kids I remembered.  There was his wife whose laugh always sounded so musical.  There was the family I went to the drive-in with during a rainstorm and ate popcorn while watching The Cat From Outer Space.

As people told stories of his influence in their lives, almost all of them (except for his children’s stories) came from people who only knew him in recent years.  They described a man who sounded bigger than life.  A great man.  An encouraging man.  A giving  and selfless man.  His daughter finally spoke and reminded everyone that he was human–with faults and insecurities.

That was the man I knew:  the human one.  Not that he wasn’t a great guy when I knew him; but he hadn’t yet matured into the man these people knew.  He still had edges that needed softening.  His God-given gifts needed some humility and training.  His life in Christ was new and uncultivated.  I recognized a piece of the man his friends described–his best qualities had been well-seasoned with humility over the years.

I thought of another death of a family friend from long ago.  I remember my mom and dad talking about his funeral.  I knew him from a child’s perspective and loved him.  He asked my mom if she would call me ‘Maggie.’  (‘No’ was the answer.  I had to wait until I moved out of the house to take on that nickname.  Another story for another time…)  He was loud, funny and wore bow ties.  At his funeral, his first wife came and said, “You all act like you really liked him.”  She knew him as an unkind alcoholic.  We knew the person he became, and he looked precious little like his former self.

I reflected that night on the conversation my parents had about their other friend’s death, and the conversations I had with family and friends at this recent funeral.  I knew the man he was becoming.  His friends from later years knew the man he became.  I got to see some of the hard-work-of-his-soul.  They experienced the fruit of his journey with Christ.  Together, our memories contained a fullness of his total person.  I began to feel so much joy from the knowledge that he continued to mature and didn’t stay static–even though in my mind he remained a young father.  That joy overflowed through my being as I realized we all have the opportunity to change.  No season of our lives, no event in our lives, no person in our lives has to define our identity.  We can grow.  We can change.  We can become our best selves.  In my belief system, we need the presence of God and the Holy Spirit to develop that identity and constantly revise our thinking to become more like Christ.  We need God to remind us what His image looks like and that all of us carry His imprint. I appreciate the reminder to once again celebrate the people we once were, the people we are now, and the people God has yet to reveal in us.

I grieve my mom’s loss of a friend, his wife’s loss of her beloved husband, his children’s loss of their honored father, his community’s loss of his wisdom and generous spirit.  I rejoice that he now stands with the cloud of witnesses, having run his race well.  I pray we can all live our lives in similar fashion–with integrity, humility, wonder, and reverence–leaving a legacy worthy of celebration!

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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Trees, Life and Death Choices … Oh, My Head!

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‘The Eternal God planted a garden in the east in Eden—a place of utter delight—and placed the man whom He had sculpted there.  In this garden, He made the ground pregnant with life—bursting forth with nourishing food and luxuriant beauty. He created trees, and in the center of this garden of delights stood the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil … God speaking: Eat freely from any and all trees in the garden; I only require that you abstain from eating the fruit of one tree—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Beware: the day you eat the fruit of this tree, you will certainly die’ –Genesis 2:8-9, 16-17.

Several times in the Bible we are encouraged to choose ‘life.’   In Genesis, we have the conundrum of the ages:  tree of life vs. tree of knowledge of good and evil.  But what did God mean when He gave us that choice?  I’ve mulled over this mystery through the years without a satisfactory conclusion.  When a friend opined that our minds are the key to understanding the Bible, and the Bible is the only reliable source for living–over experience, intuition, and traditions–I balked, cringed, and threw up a little in my mouth….  So, I decided I needed to spend some intensive time pondering in my spirit, soul, and … yes … mind … as to why I reacted so strongly to a very common thought in Protestant circles since the Enlightenment era.

First, I have to emphasize that I respect our ability to think rationally and dissect arguments logically–even when it comes to spirituality.  I come from a highly educated family that has valued education for at least 150 years.  I also respect the Bible and the wisdom it contains in learning to live out the heart of God.  I’ve studied it my entire life.  However, I learned long ago that our rational minds have limitations.  I believe in living a more integrated way with ‘checks and balances.’  When we elevate or compartmentalize the mind, we devalue intuitive knowledge and experience.  When we elevate and isolate the Bible–asking it to contain historical and scientific facts, moral and rigid conduct codes, societal and religious blueprints–we risk narrowly defining what ‘biblical’ means and putting God in a nicely ordered box.

So, when we look at the Garden of Eden in Genesis and hear God’s command to not eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because we ‘will certainly die,’ what does that really mean?  What is the difference between the two trees?  One offers life and one offers death.  We’re told in 2 Corinthians 3 that the Spirit gives life, but the letter of the law kills.  Do you see what we’ve missed?  I have heard sermons about ‘the spirit of the law.’  The verse doesn’t talk about the ‘spirit of the law’ at all–but refers to God’s Holy Spirit.  Could it be that God wanted us to forsake a rules-based system of justice in favor of a relational-based way of living?  Could it be that our minds need transforming to a more childlike development because children are more accepting, more intuitive–more like God’s kingdom?  When we use our brains to figure out the formula of someone’s spirituality, aren’t we missing the point?  Isn’t the point relationship with God–a relationship that God desires and initiates?  A relationship that Jesus embodied?

The vast majority of the books of the Bible record people’s experiences with God.  To devalue spiritual experience in favor of rational thought baffles me.  I believe Jesus encouraged all of us to integrate experience, reason, scripture, church traditions with the Holy Spirit so that we can finally celebrate unity with one another.  We may have differing perspectives on Bible passages; however, we need to allow other views to renew our minds like a breath of fresh air.  When we fight against another’s thought of how to interpret the Bible, or look to the Bible as a rule-book or owner’s manual for living, are we not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil … and choosing death over life … for ourselves … and for others?  The fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil assumes there is only one logical/rational way to interpret the library we call the Bible.  The tree of life beckons us into a messy, intangibly real relationship with an infinite and unlimited God!

So how do we eat from the tree of life?

  • We take the log out of our own eyes before removing the speck from another’s eye.  Jesus encourages us to hold ourselves accountable for our own actions without pointing the finger at others.  I don’t get to tell anyone–especially not an entire group of people–how God expects them to live–especially when the standards/rules are different than the standards/rules for myself.  I’m not the one who has to live with the consequences of those decisions, so I don’t get to force them on anyone.  That’s grace!
  • We constantly evaluate whether we are living out rules and regulations of behavior. Do we believe our worth to God is based on our choices? Do we believe that we deserve grace; but others deserve judgement? We must allow our minds to be transformed and renewed into a childlike state so that our whole being can integrate with the Holy Spirit. That’s grace!
  • We walk alongside.  Offer companionship for the journey.  Offer kindnesses like food, water, safe shelter–physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.  Earn your right to speak into others’ lives by proving you actually care for them and don’t want to change them to your way of thinking.  That’s grace!
  • We ask questions–sincere questions:  What is it like for you to hear…?  Why do you want to make this choice?  Is this decision giving you life?  Do you feel God smiling over you?  Whatever the answer, it’s their life.  If the decision turns out to be unhealthy, refrain from voicing an ‘I told you so’–just help them to get up and learn from that choice.  No shaming.  That’s grace!
  • We rejoice and ache equally for others’ successes and failures–even if our own theology is challenged.  If someone experiences a life-giving relationship that you don’t like, rejoice with him/her anyway.  If someone experiences a break-up of a relationship that you believed ungodly, weep with her/him anyway.  That’s grace!
  • We constantly guide toward life … always.  If the message you offer causes people to want to harm or kill themselves, it’s not fruit from the tree of life.  Only the tree of the knowledge of good and evil turns people away from Christ.  Let your gospel-good-news-great-joy message draw people to the life of Christ.  That’s grace!

I want to learn to live in one-ness with the Holy Spirit.  I want my whole being transformed into God’s presence!  I want to eat from the tree of life!  Here’s hoping more and more of us desire the joy and freedom of humble walking with God and each other!

That’s grace!

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

 

 

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Desert Life

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“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.

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