Why I Marched

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“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.” –Zechariah 7:9-10 (The Message)

I have strong opinions; but I’m not an activist. Mostly, I just imperfectly live my life under my interpretation of how Jesus lived. However, yesterday, I marched with thousands of others–7,000 in my city of Colorado Springs. Millions across the world marched.  Some, maybe most, marched in hopes that our government will take notice of the importance of keeping civil liberties for all Americans. Some marched out of concern for health care, immigrants, social security. Some, probably most, marched because our current president scares the bejesus out of them.

Lots and lots of signs.

Some made me laugh. 

 

 

 

Some brought me joy. 

 

 

 

Some made me tear up. 

 

 

 

But the energy in the crowd was hopeful! I saw unity amidst diversity. I saw people that don’t align with some of my political, theological, and social views; but we were the United States of America in that moment.

I marched for several reasons:

  • I marched because I’ve done much soul-searching about the 1860s and 1960s over my lifetime, and I always wondered on what side I would find myself–pro-civil rights, anti-civil rights, or just plain indifferent.
  • I marched because I, and my government representatives, need reminding that I have a voice that this ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ needs to hear.
  • I marched because so many in the minority groups are scared and need to know there are those in the privileged class who are allies and willing to give up some of their privilege so that they can rise.
  • I marched because orders already have been signed, and bills already have passed the House and are going before the Senate this week that sweepingly change aspects of our country, and most of us are not paying attention.

I haven’t paid attention.

That’s really why I marched. I needed see that this beautifully flawed country is made up of people from various perspectives. I marched with socialists, people who identify along the LGBT spectrum, atheists, Jews, Christians, and every other faith tradition, moms, dads, kids, grandparents, men, women, suburbanites, urbanites, homeless people, veterans, wealthy, poor, health-care providers, health-care users, every ethnicity in our city, able-bodied, ability-challenged, and some older people who remember their mothers voting for the first time.

I have forgotten our diversity, and am guilty of looking at things through my own narrow, limited view. For me, I hope this march was not just a moment. I hope I will continue with the movement to keep our government accountable.

So for any (and I’ve seen on Facebook that there are many) who don’t understand what these marches wanted to accomplish, you’re right that they didn’t change any legislation … yet. The goal was not a sprint to help people release some pent-up angst. The goal was to begin physical therapy so that those of us who have grown complacent can train for a marathon in keeping abreast of what our representatives are doing. The goal was to begin the long, difficult process of grafting in all the diverse people into a cohesive movement.  Across the board, our dissatisfaction with Congress, the Senate, and our government leaders in general has escalated over the last 6 years. I will continue to speak with my vote. But it will not stop with just that action. I will also use my voice and my presence with the offices of my senators and representatives.

I encourage all of us to do the same. Whatever gives you passion. Whatever your perspective.

Whether or not others understand or agree, marching yesterday gave me life.

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

 

 

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Elections of the Privileged

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‘Love … does not seek its own interests … When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. ‘ (1 Corinthians 13:5, 11)

While I hope all who read this post will benefit, my focus centers on my more conservative past. I don’t often talk about my life before social justice took over my heart; but in this election I felt I had to address some of my past, and growth. Maybe, just maybe, others can hear this perspective from someone who used to be one of them.

I’ve voted across the spectrum. I’ve registered as a Democrat, Republican, Independent throughout my voting career. I’ve voted for candidates. I’ve voted against candidates. I’ve voted from a place of hope. I’ve voted from a place of cynicism. I once even handed my mail-in ballot over to my daughter who had neglected to register for her first election.

Common denominator? I vote.

However, most of the time, I vote for myself. My interests. My comfort. My beliefs. My privilege. I haven’t thought about how policies, politicians, platforms affect those not in my white, middle-class-or-above, conservative-evangelical society. After all, American society would function better if we all got on board with white-middle-class-or-above-evangelical-thought, right?

*sigh* … I’m embarrassed to even write that, or admit it out loud. But one reason I started this blog was to say things out loud, and as honestly as I could. The good, the bad, and the ugly of our humanness.

This election season, I’ve watched all the usual stumping, preening, and blustering. But, I’ve watched the candidates through a different lens. I’ve watched them through Black Lives Matter. I’ve watched them through the eyes of LGBT+ family and friends and allies. I’ve watched them through the eyes of the physically-challenged and the developmentally-challenged. I’ve watched them through the eyes of women. I’ve watched them through the eyes of a dead Muslim soldier’s family. I’ve watched them through the eyes of a 25 year old girl about to get citizenship after living here illegally, unbeknownst to her, for 23 years.

This election year, I see (what I hope is) a last stand of white, middle-class-or-above, conservative-evangelical tradition. Bullying people into a mold of that status-quo. Where white privilege rules, and we keep our power–trying to force non-white, non-middle-class-or-above, non-conservatives into our social order. A tradition where we don’t mind others, not in our group, moving up. We just don’t want to move down in the process. We’re proud, white Americans. And we’ve always had this god-given standard of living. We deserve it. America gave us this right. And we won’t be like Esau who sold it for a bowl of soup (Genesis 25).

*sigh* … I do that a lot lately …

And I hear the fear in all those statements. Fear that if we give up any of our power and privilege, then our country will no longer honor Christian traditions. We fear that our country will become less-white, and our conservative-middle-class-or-above culture will fade–which means we failed God and betrayed His call on our lives and our country’s life. We fear that our God won’t defend Himself

 … won’t defend us … 

And that’s the kicker, isn’t it? We fear losing our way of life. The way of life that we believe God mandates. We don’t want God to become bigger than our box. We don’t want God to expand. We want to keep Him static, because our view of the Bible is static. (But that’s another post for another day…)

As the first debates start this week, let us finally listen to the whole of our country, and not just our own agendas. Let us finally see the smallness of our pet issues, and begin looking at America as a true melting pot. Let us live out our beliefs, faith-traditions, and ideals by really walking in another’s shoes. Let us vote our conscience. I just pray that our conscience doesn’t only benefit the already powerful.

This year, I have determined that I will cast my vote to share my privilege … even if that means reducing my power … even if that means reducing my standard of living. If it means our country’s playing field is a little more leveled, I’m all in.

This year, I will vote for the ‘others’ in our country. I will vote for the oppressed, the marginalized, the powerless. I will vote for the non-white, non-middle-class-or-above, non-conservatives in hopes that we will begin to level our society and learn from all walks of life. I will vote my theology–the teachings of Jesus–in hopes that in living out my beliefs, my theology will lead others to ‘life and not bondage,’ as a friend once said. I finally get it that politics and voting is not just about my special group. I finally get it that if my fellow Americans can’t live without fear of discrimination and oppression, then we don’t live in a free society. I finally see through their eyes.

I finally grew up.

I welcome comments! Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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What Does God Look Like?

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The Eternal went on ahead to guide them during the day in a cloud shaped like a pillar; at night He appeared to them in a fire shaped like a pillar to light their way. So they were able to travel by day and by night. The Eternal did not remove the cloud pillar or the fire pillar; by day and by night it continued to go ahead of the people. –Exodus 13:21-22 (The Voice translation)

… I came to give life with joy and abundance. –John 10:10b (The Voice translation)

Leonard Nimoy passed from this world several days ago.  Most remember him best as Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek series.  He was raised an Orthodox Jew (and remained active in the Jewish faith).  Upon hearing of his death, I watched a video someone had posted on Facebook about how he’d created the split-fingered gesture of greeting for his Spock-character.  He spoke of his Jewish roots and Yiddish rituals.  In giving a benediction, the rabbis would spread their middle and ring fingers apart as they chanted the blessing.  The hand gesture symbolized the Hebrew letter Shin which is the first letter in Shaddai (a name of God), shalom (God’s peace, completion), and Shekhinah (the name given to the feminine aspect of God which is said to have been created to live among humans, and gives blessing).  He goes on to express the profundity that he experienced in that moment.  He wanted to add that gesture to his character’s people group as a salutation.

As I watched the video, I felt an awe wash over me.  The glory of God which rested in the Holy of Holies in the temple, and appeared as a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night to the Israelites on their way to the promised land, was, according to Jewish tradition, feminine.  The blessing of God is feminine.  The tangible presence of God among mankind is feminine. In Christian traditions, we call that glory, blessing and presence: The Holy Spirit.  Most of my life, I’ve heard God is masculine.  Rarely have I heard that God is feminine.  When I read The Shack several years ago, it was the first time I’d seen in print God portrayed as a woman.  The book revolutionized many people’s view of God.  And many others condemned the portrayal of God as a woman.

During this Lenten season, I’m trying to practice the fast in Isaiah that I referenced last week.  I’m trying to focus on how to give of myself to my ‘neighbors’ more … what sacrifices I can make for the good of others.  This week, I want to do some inner work on how I view God.  How does it sit with me to have God look differently than a white, straight, successful, male?  Can I worship a God who resembles a homeless teen, a transgendered man, a battered woman, a person of another race?  In the churches I’ve participated in throughout my life, God is seen as all-powerful, financially blessing those who live a certain way, being ‘always on my side’ (to quote a popular worship song).  I believe that perspective of God has a place for us.  We need God to rescue us.  We need to have confidence that God will provide for our needs.  But how do we continue to worship God when God seems powerless … or worse, silent … in the midst of terroristic groups like ISIS and Boko Haram, or when we only have enough money for either rent, food or medications?

What do we do with our faith when God looks like those we’ve put at the bottom of the religious power heap?  Will we give their perspective of God credibility?  In the agony of lost dreams, lost lives, lost innocence, how do we ‘keep the faith’?  How, indeed …

A friend’s husband died.  They had a strong faith that God would heal.  Healing didn’t come.  Instead, devastation, grief, and helplessness encircles a widow’s heart.

But, peace is coming.  Sometimes, only for a moment.  Sometimes, a little longer.  Sometimes, only to be flooded out by a wave of doubt and anger.  But peace is coming.  Shalom is coming.  And her view of God … of life … of death … is broadening.  And that broader perspective of God brings healing to her soul.  Peace, shalom, heals.  In evangelical churches, we’re not taught enough about the problem of suffering or powerlessness in our world.  We’re not taught how to sit with or live through chronic illnesses or disorders.  We’re taught to fight, have faith, not accept those experiences.  When we don’t get the outcome we’ve hoped for, often shame floods our hearts.  We didn’t pray correctly … we didn’t believe enough … we didn’t do the right things.

It’s our fault.

But if we can humbly acknowledge to God that we don’t understand, then we can begin to just beBe in the presence of God … Be in the presence of others … Be human ….  In that be-ing, maybe we can experience shalom and Shekinah … experience God in a way we never dreamed.  A way that makes us want to share our material goods, and that shrinks the gap between the haves and have-nots.  A way that enlightens a path to live less focussed on outer appearances and behaviors, and allows us to live in community with all of the reflections of God’s image.  An image that isn’t limited by human standards.  An image that is more than straight, white and male.  An image that exudes an abundance of joy and life.  An image where all are found in God.

A God worth worshipping.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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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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Living Christmas All Year

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Jesus speaking: ‘The thief approaches with malicious intent, looking to steal, slaughter, and destroy; I came to give life with joy and abundance’–John 10:10. 

I’m not sorry to say goodbye to 2014.  The last few years have seen a plethora of difficulties and life-altering events.  A friend of ours once told me that he believed I must be in God’s ‘special forces.’  He noted that I tended to do spiritual search-and-rescue missions for people’s souls and spirits.  And I don’t give up.  In some ways, he may be right.  I don’t fear hell on any of the levels I’ve experienced in my own life or the lives of others.  Oh, I ache, throw temper-tantrums, and have tremendous unbelief that I won’t heal from some of the falls I’ve taken; but I’m not afraid of what I may face in helping people see healing is possible for their hearts’ devastations.  I’ve seen depths of hell I know God never intended us to see.  But, in my own life and the lives of others, I’ve always had the confidence that God will show the way out of the maze to His light.

But, this year, I got bogged down in hell and lost my perspective of the abundant life Jesus promises us.  I became too comfortable living in the darkness searching for lost ones to embrace back into God’s presence.  And no one could find me … or maybe more truthfully–I wouldn’t let anyone know I couldn’t find my way out this time.  I’ve got the heart of a warrior when it comes to expressing who we are to God, and I go to great lengths to try and communicate God’s favor to all people.  When I think ‘church people’ are too theologically-focussed that they have begun bullying certain types of people, I want to go to war.

… And fight to the death.

… Because I know it won’t be my death….  

I’m learning that God can fight His own battles quite successfully and with significantly fewer casualties.  A gentle word … a kind act … is all I need to offer the war-effort.  No one can stand against those weapons.  And yet, no one’s spirit is crushed by them either.

So, as I reflect on 2014, I see how I viewed some of my brothers and sisters in Christ as an enemy whom I needed to destroy.  Living in the dark places with others will give that perspective.  I need to let Christ’s light shine on me again.  I need to live Christmas throughout the year.

What does that mean?

Christmas reminds us to look at the world as children–with awe, wonder, hope and expectancy.  I crave the world of childhood’s dreams, possibilities and unbridled joy.  Jesus’ birth created quite the stir; but then, Mary and Joseph had to get on with the mundane years of child-rearing.  No stars, no shepherds worshipping, no wise men giving gifts every year, no angels harking and heralding.  Just dirty diapers, skinned knees, colds and flus, temper tantrums.  (Seriously, do you think Jesus never threw a temper tantrum at age 3 or 4?)  And yet, in the mundane living, the promise remained.  In Luke 2, we are told that Mary pondered and treasured all the memories of Jesus’ birth.  I want to ponder and treasure all the memories I have of God’s presence–even when life is dull.

So for 2015, I want God to restore joy.  I want to gasp in awe at life, even if no angelic choir visits me.  I hope for a bright future, even if it takes years to grow up in me.  I choose to live expectantly, even if I continue to journey through the hellish mazes of people’s lives to offer healing and rest for their weary spirits.  I will remember to lift my eyes up more and let the warmth of Christ’s gaze envelop me, giving me strength and confidence to fight our real enemies of injustice, oppression, poverty–enemies that silence voices and create impossible standards and expectations of living.

May we all experience the joyous abundance of Christ’s presence in our lives in 2015!

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Using All The Crayons

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‘God has no favorites’–Romans 2:11.
‘Masters, hear this: act in kind to your slaves. Stop terrorizing and threatening them. Don’t forget that you have a Master in heaven who does not take sides or pick favorites’–Ephesians 6:9.
Peter speaking: ‘It is clear to me now that God plays no favorites, that God accepts every person whatever his or her culture or ethnic background, that God welcomes all who revere Him and do right’–Acts 10:34-35.
‘My brothers and sisters, I know you’ve heard this before, but stop playing favorites! Do not try to blend the genuine faith of our glorious Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, with your silly pretentiousness’–James 2:1.

“I don’t see color.  I see people.”  That’s what we’re told is the correct way to speak and think.

This post is not a judgement on police, Ferguson, Michael Brown or any other headline of how the legal system fails people of color.  I know precious little about how the legal system works in these cases, or what evidence juries hear and how attorneys spin facts and opinion.  However, as a country, we have to start listening to each other.  White people in particular need to stop trying to ‘fix’ or dismiss these situations, and we need to learn to listen to the reality that people of color live.

Without defensiveness.

With complete humility.

Admitting our shame.

Repenting of our inaction.

As a white female, I feel ashamed to bring up race relations with people of color … which I’m not supposed to acknowledge.  I know I come from a place of societal privilege; and the view I enjoy from farther up the heap gives me a comfortable perspective.  I rarely think about the people I may sit upon who afford me that view.  I read a commentary this week where a panel of 10 black mothers spoke honestly and openly to a full auditorium about the reality of how they have to raise their sons.   It’s not enough for them to teach their children to respect authority, be kind to others and work hard.  No.  They have to teach their children how to stay alive by taking extra precautions because of the color of their skin.

“I get tired of hearing all the whining about how tough their lives are.  Slavery was abolished over a hundred years ago.  They have civil rights.  Their lives are better.”  I hear these statements all the time.  I’ve probably made at least one of them in my lifetime.  I remember living in Alabama where the South has found ways to get around civil rights laws.  Exorbitantly priced private schools that offer ‘scholarships’ to acceptable families (white) keep black families from affording a better education for their children.  Some towns and neighborhoods won’t publicly list homes for sale–you find out by word of mouth who wants to sell a house–so that ‘certain elements’ can’t move into the neighborhood and drive housing prices down.  My husband and I lost over $20,000 in the sale of our home because black families had started moving into the neighborhood, making our neighborhood ‘mixed.’  We lost that money because of the color of someone’s skin.  Not because of anyone’s quality of character.  Not because drug dealers moved into the homes.  Not because crime increased and houses fell into disrepair.  Although, I would have moved out of the neighborhood if the military hadn’t transferred us to Colorado because of the white family that moved next door–sandwiching their boat between our houses, parking their truck in their front lawn, and not controlling their dog that would attack us when we tried to enter our house (it even ‘treed’ my husband Christmas morning when he went out to retrieve a gift hidden in our car).  In Arizona, some friends moved into a predominantly hispanic neighborhood.  They would not allow their sons to associate with the neighbors because the neighbors might be drug dealers, and at the very least, couldn’t be good influences with the music and gatherings they had.  Our friends found an acceptable (white) neighborhood less than a year later.  Where their son experimented with drugs and other frowned-upon activities….

*Sigh*

Yes, racism and prejudice are alive and well all over our country.  Which is the first admission we need to make.  We have to stop pretending tolerance of others ‘not like us.’  We are not tolerant.  We are racist and prejudiced.  Toward people of different colored skin.  Toward people of different colored sexual orientations.  Toward people of different colored genders.  Toward people of different colored socioeconomic backgrounds.  Toward people of different colored physical, mental and emotional capabilities.

I remember the part of the start of each elementary school year that excited me the most was opening the new crayon box.  If you were lucky enough to have the 64 color box with the built-in sharpener, whoa!  You just became popular!  Everyone wanted to use ‘Burnt Sienna’, ‘Orchid’, ‘Melon’, ‘Raw Umber.’  ‘White’ rarely got used–unless we were trying to make clouds or colors more watercolor-y.  The more colors we had available meant our imaginations could take over the picture we created.  Sometimes, we would take 5 or 6 colors and swoosh them just to see how they blended.  Glorious times!

When did we start celebrating using only a few colors in the crayon box?  Isn’t it time to remember childhood and celebrate all the colors around us?  Celebrate how the different colors create nuances and depth to our lives’ pictures.  Primary colors set a great foundation to outline a concept; but we need all of the crayons in the box to flesh out impressions to make the image real.  God made man in His image.  God’s image exists with breathing, multi-dimensional, sentient life.  So, how do we begin to take ownership of how we contribute to the inequalities in our nation?

  • Take some time in the last weeks of 2014 to observe your own prejudices.
  • Recognize them.  What is the basis for them?
  • Analyze them.  Why do you have them?
  • Then find people you normally would judge and observe the image of God in them.
  • Really listen to their experiences and what has shaped them.
  • Celebrate that facet of the Eternal you may have never recognized.
  • Let the presence of God wash over you in holy awe and wonder as you see with His eyes the beauty of His world’s colors.

And maybe … just maybe … our world will become a little less ‘white privileged’ and a little more equally privileged.  We don’t need a pyramid ‘heap’ to have a great view.  When we all are on the same level and see eye-to-eye, that’s a position that should take our breath away.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Poverty of Privilege

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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.

 
 
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The Art of Loving

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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.

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Old Habits Die Hard

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“Like a dog who goes back to his own vomit, so is a fool who always returns to his foolishness.  Have you seen a person who is wise in his own sight?  Know that there is more hope for a fool than for him” –Proverbs 26:11-12.

My daughter and I just finished a 24-day cleanse/challenge.  My nutritionist doesn’t like to call it just a cleanse, because many ‘cleanses’ are unhealthy and focus on starvation.  We could eat well–just not processed foods, gluten or dairy (but we could have eggs and plain Greek yogurt with fresh fruit).  Within 12 hours of beginning, I texted my nutritionist and exclaimed, “I MISS CHEESE!  This doesn’t bode well for me for the next 23 days, does it?”  *sigh*

I actually ended up enjoying the process.  Challenge drives me and motivates me.  To say that I’m competitive understates my inner drive.  When I played tennis in high school, I used to go out in the Phoenix summers and practice serves … at noon … when no one was on the courts … because it was 115º.  If I started losing in a match during the season, I’d deny myself water at the changeovers.  When my body would start screaming from near-dehydration, I’d converse with myself, “You thirsty?  Try winning a game.”  I’d often come back to win.  Bonus points that it freaked out my opponents most of the time.

So, this week, the competition healthy cleanse ended.  And I won … And I feel the benefits in my gut.  I stayed committed to the regulations.  I felt better than I have in years (which makes me think that I have at least some kind of gluten-sensitivity).  I swore I would continue the habits.  Until the night after the cleanse, the thought of more hummus or salmon made me a little ill, and I remembered that I could have a grilled turkey and swiss sandwich and creamy tomato soup.  Oh, it was delicious!  But, I felt the effects in my digestion and renewed my intention to maintain some of the cleanse habits.  Until the next night.  This time, white rice sushi paired with milk chocolate chips sprinkled in a tangerine yogurt (technically, it was Greek yogurt, but looking at the sugar content on the label didn’t help make it healthy).  Then, my nutritionist texted me to schedule a follow-up appointment so I don’t lose momentum.  I haven’t told her yet about my ‘iron-will’ since the cleanse….  Today, my husband took my daughter and I out to celebrate the end of the restrictions.  We had butter, biscuits, linguine, scampi and fried shrimp (yes, on one plate … per person … don’t judge me!).  At least I learned to eat only about half of what the restaurant served us.  The rest, I packaged up and brought home for my son to snack on.  He still has a metabolism.

So, now I’m learning that old habits really do die hard.  And I really do need a support system.  And a plan to keep me on track.  My iron-will isn’t so strong without competition.

Spiritually, we need cleanses, too.  Times to assess what’s really going on inside of us; and if there are some belief systems that worked in the past, but have become unhealthy over time.  We need to work on our souls, not just our bodies, for our lives to work well with others.  I find more and more I need to evaluate how long-held doctrines affect my spirit.  Am I exhausted because I’ve too long held certain beliefs that no longer offer my spirit and soul good nutrition?  Have I lost a sense of joy and wonder because what used to satisfy my desires, my more mature system has outgrown and my needs have changed?  We need a plan for our spirit to maintain a healthy pace of growth.  We should look for a support system that will encourage us to process beliefs–and adapt or change any beliefs necessary to draw us closer to God.

Adjusting our way of handling our spirituality takes humility to admit that we can’t make those shifts on our own.  We need each other to offer grace, perspective, and support–because we will flounder, at times.  We can’t treat living like a competition where we have to ‘beat out’ someone else in the race.  Instead, we can look at life as a challenge that we train for, and try to progress beyond our last effort.  If we surround ourselves with people who have the humility to admit that they, too, need us to help them, then we can all succeed.

For now, I will contemplate how my physical and spiritual systems react to situations and sustenances; and ask for help in assessing what needs to change in me to make my whole self healthier.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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Changing Seasons–Autumn

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‘For everything that happens in life—there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven’ –Ecclesiastes 3:1.

I love autumn.  Growing up in Phoenix, autumn meant a respite from the sweltering 110º+ summer heat.  Autumn meant the beginning of gentle, warm 90º to 100º breezes during the day and breathable coolness after sunset.  It meant trips up north to Oak Creek Canyon and buying apples from the roadside vendors.  I can still smell and taste the sweetness of the crisp mountain apples that we’d eat in Coconino National Forest with our tuna sandwiches that Mama had packed.

Living in Colorado now, I love seeing the leaves change on the aspen trees and getting apples and pumpkins from The Happy Apple Farm.  Last year, my 6′ 5″ 17-year-old son asked me if we could carve pumpkins.  I found the biggest pumpkins available.  The Saturday we chose to carve happened to bring in a cold front.  Our fingers froze as we gutted the giant gourds … and I wouldn’t have changed a thing!  Probably one of the last times (if not the last) I will make that memory with one of my kids.

Autumn is a time of ending.  Not quite the finality of winter.  More of a last burst of life and color before things go dormant for another season.  We have many autumns in our lives, because we have many new beginnings as we grow and mature.  We need autumnal times to shed our old selves and celebrate the dying vivid colors of who-we-once-were.  Because who-we-once-were gives birth and creates the nutrients for our new growth to come.  I feel God bringing on that change for me.  Learning to shed my previous skin.  Learning to embrace listening to the heart of God and not having to rationalize every thought and feeling for it to be valid.  Learning to live with all the paradoxes and complexities of life.  Like with trees in autumn, I feel the life-force inside me drawing me inward for a season.

Not gonna lie.  I don’t really embrace these seasons.  As an extrovert, I crave living out loud–REALLY LOUD!  But, as I age, I’m beginning to understand the benefits of quietness and contemplation–especially when voicing my thoughts creates misunderstandings.  Thankfully, I can offer apologies sincerely and quickly.  I’ve had lots of practice (see my comment above about living out REALLY loud!).  I wish more of us would learn to apologize sincerely, humbly (and not just the ‘I’m sorry if you were offended’ style).  Not apologizing for our perspectives, but taking responsibility for how we communicate those views.  I wish more of us could be honest when something someone says or does hurts us.  The world would be a kinder place, wouldn’t it?  If we could live honestly with each other, without shame or shaming–not whining or complaining or accusing–but in gentle ownership of how our hearts process interactions.  If we could receive another’s heartfelt vulnerability and give that person dignity, honor and respect by validating what caused him/her to hear our words or actions in a certain way.

Yes, I know what I describe sounds a lot like Mr. Rogers Neighborhood or Sesame Street.  I long for community like we saw on those shows.  We should all cherish the idea that creating places with those ideals is within our grasp.  Maybe we all need to have an autumnal season to allow all that we’ve been a chance to become something bigger, broader, wiser.

For now, I will watch the aspen leaves change to translucent golden and ponder what changes God is bringing to my soul.

Mmmmm.  And I may bake some apple cake.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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What’s Your Line?

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Jesus speaking: “‘Oh Martha, Martha, you are so anxious and concerned about a million details, but really, only one thing matters. Mary has chosen that one thing, and I won’t take it away from her'” –Luke 10:41-42 (The Voice).

This week, my almost-21-year-old son (his birthday is in a few days!) told me that his friends say I’m their favorite parent of all time because I did not ‘freak out’ over his getting his eyebrow pierced.  He’s not my first child to say this to me.  I have been the go-to parent for many activities.  My kids have never asked me not to attend one of their events (although I have refused many), and my daughter’s friends have suggested me as a designated driver (when they were too young to drive) for late night TP-ing pranks for the cross-country teams or to team events.  Since I have never been in the ‘cool kids’ group, it amuses me that the next generation thinks of my middle-aged self as a kindred spirit.  What separates me from other adults in their minds?  Am I better?  Oh, that’s just laughable.  Am I wiser?  I can bluff a good game, but I know it’s smoke and mirrors.  Am I prettier or more fashionable?  Yeah, no.  There’s a reason I don’t post my photo on my blog.  I think it’s that I remember what teen and young adult years were like.  I remember that all I really wanted was for someone to believe in me.  Someone to say, ‘You’re not crazy for wanting to follow a dream.’  Someone to tell me that the world won’t come to an end if I make a mistake or do something I would regret later.  Someone who would love me unconditionally and not let me face my consequences alone.  Someone who wouldn’t draw a line in the sand over ‘a million details.’

I wanted freedom with a safety net.

So, when my son told me that many of his friends and their parents think I’m an anomaly–the friends in awe of me, the parents thinking me crazy and too tolerant–I felt the need to offer a glimpse of what I have to offer.  In no way do I believe I have parenting figured out, nor do I believe that I’ve done the raising of my children ‘right.’  This post is not meant to shame, judge or condemn anyone.  Believe me, I have had many Psycho Mom Moments and have freaked out immaturely.  You may have another piece of the puzzle that I haven’t seen.  The point is that we stop criticizing each other and start playing on the same team!  Let’s work together to equip our children so that they will have a foundation to grow stronger and wiser in equipping their next generations.

So, here are some questions to ask yourself before you ‘freak out’:

  1. Is it life-threatening?  A piercing, a tattoo, a funky hair color or cut will not bring down civilization.  If they are 18 or older and don’t need your permission, be careful about withholding your blessing. I tend to *sigh* and roll my eyes.  My kids call me on this all the time–as they smile or chuckle.  Do you really want your line in the sand to be over something like hair? A young adult will process that thought to mean, If my mom freaked over a piercing, what will happen if I ______. We can squelch communication between us by our reactions to the little things.
  2. Is it immoral, or just embarrassing for you?  This one’s tough.  Some denominations have super-strict policies on personal modesty.  I cannot tell you what’s right for your household, only that I have researched and read all the Scriptures by myself and with others and have come to my own conclusions.  I invite you to do the same–setting aside the church party-line and really process what God is saying through those Scriptures.  Often, the choices of our young adults conflict with our own insecurities of what our friends, family and church leaders will think.  As a parent, my child should never carry the weight of my insecurity on their shoulders.
  3. Am I afraid of losing control over their lives?  You already have.  … (I’ll let that sink in for a moment) …  And if you feel that you have to resort to shaming or guilting them into compliance, you may have lost more than control over them–you may have lost them.  Recognize they are adults and will make some choices you would never dream of making.  You don’t get to live their lives anymore!  I would rather have a relationship and an open channel of dialogue with my children, than children who don’t ever want to be around me.  If you would rather prove to your children that your way is best, then realize that you may not have enjoyable family times.  You have to pick your battles–and every choice they make cannot be a battle.

Every year, my daughter has a Christmas party for the high school girls she mentors and several of her close friends.  They come over for a tree-trimming, homemade soup, Christmas movie evening.  Last year, a 15 year old opened a soda bottle and it exploded all over my kitchen counter and floor.  I looked over, laughed and got out towels to mop it all up.  All the girls helped, and the embarrassed girl was able to laugh … eventually.  One girl looked over at me like I was an alien.  She solemnly said, “My mom would not be laughing at this.”  It was soda!  Just a mess.

No one should have to live anxiously about making a mess.  Lighten up with each other! Lighten up with yourselves!

Have you figured out yet that this post isn’t just about parenting, but about how we treat others?  Do you recognize yourself in the parent or child role?  If we freak out over the smaller things in life, will we have credibility with the really intense things that come our way?  I’ve had hard conversations with teens and adults.  People tell me their dark secrets all the time because they say they know I will show them compassion.  I will hold them accountable, but I won’t make them confront anything alone.  If another person is involved, I offer to go with them to have the conversation.  Most of the time, I help them see the situations as a growth curve.  It may be life-altering, but no moment has to become your life identity.

If you must have a line in the sand, let it be over abusive ways, integrity issues, ignorance and prejudice.  Because we should freak out over character flaws that determine our world’s culture.

Certainly, we all need people to watch our backs and keep us from destroying ourselves and others.  I pray that you find your security in God so that you recognize when you or others truly need wise help.  

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Prisons and Pardons

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‘Certainly Your faithful protection and loving provision will pursue me where I go, always, everywhere.  I will always be with the Eternal, in Your house forever’ –Psalm 23:6.

I love Psalm 23–especially in The Voice translation.  It’s poetic, gentle, comforting, vivid.  As I experienced trauma at young ages, I would go to passages like Psalm 23 and find comfort that God is on my side.  Somehow (over the years I’ve lost sight of when exactly this happened) I became responsible for God’s faithful protection.  I will not insult soldiers struggling with PTSD and pretend that my version of PTSD compares to the atrocities that veterans have experienced and continue to have haunt them; but counselors tell me that traumatic abuse is traumatic abuse across the board–regardless of the circumstances that create it.  When I describe the hyper-vigilance that I experience in life–my brain GPSes office buildings for escape routes, notices people in restaurants who look out-of-place and tracks their movements, and categorizes everyday items that can change to weapons at a moment’s notice–therapists say that is a trait of PTSD.  All of this is done internally while I am joking, conversing, and seemingly carefree.  This post may be the first time most (if not all) of my friends and family have heard this.  Sorry.  Love you all!!

But this post is not about abuse and PTSD.  At least not directly.

This week, Acts 29, a church-planting ministry, removed Mark Driscoll and his Seattle-based Mars Hill Church from their registry.  Why was this a big deal?  Mark Driscoll co-founded the ministry and Mars Hill is a major supporter of Acts 29.  I’m no fan of Mark Driscoll.  Many have reported his character flaws and theology that … well … doesn’t exactly call to mind Jesus and how He treated people.  You can read one of his former colleague’s concerns here.

But this post is not about Mark Driscoll and his abusive ways.  At least not directly.

I write this post because tremendous healing has taken place in my soul over the past several years.  I haven’t had flashbacks in many years, my homicidal sleep-walking events have significantly lessened, and I feel more relaxed and at peace than I remember ever feeling.  Traditional counseling, non-traditional counseling, and spiritual direction have allowed me to see what God intended and what He never intended us to experience.  It takes a village to heal a person’s brokenness.

So, in saying all of that, hearing that an organization has the courage to stand up to a powerful bully and abuser helped me breathe a little more deeply.  We, the hyper-vigilant and self-designated protectors of all things unjust, don’t have to fight by ourselves.  God really does have others to raise up–and they really are beginning to listen to His voice–to take some of the pressure off us.  It doesn’t matter that my internal life has me believing that I’m really a super-hero–MaggieWoman–my reality knows that it’s all smoke and mirrors.  When I hear stories of people taking a stand against injustices, especially when whole organizations change policies to right wrongs, something in me heals a little deeper.  My hyper-vigilance relaxes just a little more, and I see less of the potential threats and enjoy more of the beauty around me.  I never would have guessed how much freedom I’ve missed throughout my life.  When we allow our hearts to heal and embrace freedom, it doesn’t mean we are less protected.  In many ways, I feel more protected these days because the fear of trauma has diminished.  Before, I had no control, but I had to try to control the safety around me.  Now, I know I have no control, but I’m not afraid of not being strong enough … smart enough … careful enough … enough ….

Unhealed trauma teaches us to not take risks–to not allow others to take risks.  We become our own bullies and abusers by shaming ourselves, or those we love, into our protection.  All in the name of love.  Protection born from shame is a prison.  We need a village to surround us so we learn the key is our own humility.  Humility brings safety and freedom.  Humility releases us from the emotional blackmail of lies our wounded souls use to keep the pain inside and us away from others.  Humility frees us to live our truest selves without fear of backlash–because the backlash we may experience comes from those trapped in prisons of their own making and it cannot overshadow the joy of releasing the God-designed life waiting for us … waiting for us to embrace … waiting for us to believe … waiting for us to recognize …

…Unfailingly waiting.  Just outside the unlocked prison doors.  Un-crouch from the corner shadows and look outside to the light.  Your pardon is signed and freedom is yours for the taking.  Many of us are beckoning for you to come out and play!

Please join me in praying for humility in our lives and in the lives of leaders.  I pray for Mars Hill in Seattle–for the congregants that are trying to understand all that’s going on in their church, for Acts 29 that God will bless their decision to stand for integrity, and even for Mark Driscoll that he will allow God to humble and transform him.  Statistics are not on his side; but God is on the side of his heart.  

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Living In Rest

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Jesus said, “‘Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Put My yoke upon your shoulders—it might appear heavy at first, but it is perfectly fitted to your curves. Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. When you are yoked to Me, your weary souls will find rest. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light’” –Matthew 11:28-30.

It’s August, so my 6 week sabbatical is over.  In my 49 years, I’ve never taken an extended break from church life.  What a breath of fresh air!

Jud and I met with a philosophy professor who loves Jesus and is the faculty sponsor of the Atheist Club on campus.

We went to a class that we wouldn’t have thought to attend … and didn’t like it.  So freeing to admit something wasn’t a good fit for me!  Freedom to try it … freedom to attend … freedom to not continue.

I slept in on Sunday mornings without any feeling of guilt, shame or remorse.

I finally had undistracted time to process some of what has gone on in my heart the last several years.

What did I learn that I couldn’t learn with the distractions of daily church routines?

  1. Why did it take me so long to take an extended break?  I discovered how refreshing life away from our normal work schedules can feel to the soul.  And I learned that church had become my ‘job.’  My leadership responsibilities (all volunteer and unpaid) amount to a part-time job.  All the people that come to me on a weekly basis to pour out their hearts because they know I won’t condemn them for any thoughts or actions weighed on my own spirit and started to bottle-neck emotions in my heart.  I knew I internalize others’ pain, I didn’t realize just how much it affects me physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally.
  2. It amazed and rattled me how little I missed all the meetings.  I realized how much I need relationship connections. Meetings and services had become my ‘relationships.’  I realized how little people actually know me.  I’ve invested so much into others; but I haven’t allowed others to invest in me.
  3. The loneliness that overwhelms me in services lessened in isolation.  I’m still processing this one and may for some time to come.  Often I am aware of loneliness in groups more than by myself.  But, during this 6 weeks, I realized how easily I could alleviate those feelings of irrelevancy by living away from church-the-building.  Which brings me to …
  4. I have attended church all of my life and have melded it with the Bride of Christ.  Over the last 6 weeks, I recognized how much the organism of following Jesus had blurred into the organization of church.  The two have become inseparable in my thinking.  Jesus told us to make disciples and that is done in church-the-building.  How did I ever come up with that one?!  Church-the-building has subtly (and in some cases, overtly) promoted that by giving toward and supporting the business-end of church (building funds, administrative costs, salaries, upkeep, bigger-and-better sound and lighting systems, etc.), we fulfill The Great Commission–to go and make disciples.  Instead of meeting people in their own lives like Jesus did, we expect them to come into our house, our territory, to learn about Him.  We’ve made ourselves way too comfortable!  I’m not opposed to the business-end of church–just opposed to the organization overtaking the organism and focus on relationships and people’s lives.  I believe that much of this thinking contributes to doctrine trumping how we treat people.
  5. I need more time. More time to process.  More time away from the organization.  More time to find those people who speak and live the life of Christ and less time defining another’s sin while justifying our own. More time remembering why I follow Jesus and love those who follow His ways.

I intend on learning to make rest a priority in my daily life–not waiting another 49 years for a break!  I haven’t figured out how that looks in our culture that rewards stressful living, but I now know how my heart needs time to reflect on and enjoy this journey with God.

My only regret: I didn’t read enough books. My Stephen Booth crime novels are still piling up along with many others next to my bed.  Perhaps I need another sabbatical.  This time on a beach away from technology….

I’d love to hear from you!!  What do you need to rest from?  Have you felt God tugging at your heart, but don’t think you have time in your schedule to sacrifice?  What can you do this week to unplug?

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Through The Decades Of My Life

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‘Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete’ –Romans 12:2.

This week, I turn 49 and will enter into my 50th year on this earth.  My birthday always finds me reflecting on who I’ve become and how the world is different.  In 49 years, I’ve seen technology explode our planet and make the world much smaller.  I remember the computer room my dad would take me to at the university where he worked.  That computer took up more space than my bedroom in my house.  I think it might have been bigger than my parents’ room, as well.  I remember fully embracing the risen Jesus–not just loving the Bible stories, but really and truly loving Him.

That would have been the late 1960s and early 1970s.

I remember women’s places changing from home to career.  I remember the first woman professor in my dad’s engineering department.  My dad didn’t know he taught me inclusivity by respecting her work.  He never got on a soap box; but he lived his professional life without feeling threatened by women.  I developed the belief system that as a woman, I was equal to men–even within church positions.

That was the 1970s.  

As a teenager, I remember listening more to what my parents talked about with each other.  As children, we observed more of how our parents lived than what they tried to tell us.  As a teenager, I had enough brain development to understand more of what they  talked about.  I learned how to treat people with compassion and how to live my life with integrity–mostly the same person in public as I am in private–by watching how they acted in public and at home.  I learned what to look for in a politician and what to look for in a life partner.  I remember the list I wrote before God of what I hoped He would provide.  Jud embodied that list.

That was the 1980s.

As my life progressed and my view of the world broadened, I understood more of my mom’s perspective–especially in raising children.  I found how daunting a role ‘Mother’ is.  However, I still believed that I could find answers in a book that would give me the formula on how to raise godly children.  I still believed a formula existed for most of life’s endeavors.  I still believed a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way existed for marriage, children and church.  I began to understand just how wrong my beliefs were.

That was the 1990s.

At the turn of the century/millennium, I remember knowing that I had become a farce–as a mother, a wife and a church-goer.  I had played all the games, followed all the ‘rules’, and read all the books; but none of those things made my life turn out the way the ‘teachers’ said life would become.  I no longer found the presence of God in church, I couldn’t live up to the suburban-soccor-mom stereotype that people lifted up as the godly way to live, Jud and I had to re-learn what it meant to have a ‘christian’ marriage by re-learning how to be a wife/husband to each other–not the one-size-fits-all husband/wife rules of all the ‘christian’ marriage books, classes and seminars.  God began to reveal that sometimes church can have its own ‘world’ attitudes.

That was the 2000s.

Now, in this next decade, I can take all I’ve learned from the previous decades and transform even more.  After learning some facts about Bible interpretation and scholarship, I’ve had to re-learn how to read the Bible and accept its limitations.  I’ve found that by accepting the limitations (and many months of confusion, throwing a book or two against walls, and a few screaming matches with God, followed by some not-speaking-to-Him time), the Bible has more meaning, relevancy and depth than I ever dreamed.  Frankly, the stories have become so much more interesting and passion-filled–especially stories about Jesus.  I’ve learned to welcome and embrace the humility of broken living. I’ve learned to allow churches and pastors the same broken-ness.  Transforming my mind, God has developed a deeper sense of compassion, justice and a fuller belief in His power and work in this world. I look forward to having more and more revealed to me and our world about God’s heart, thoughts and ways for us.  I look forward to the struggle, the heartache and the joys as we become more and more like Him.

These are the 2010s.

I’d love to hear from you!  How have your views of yourself, life, God changed over the decades?

 

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Figuring It Out

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[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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The ABC’s of Shame: Addictions, Bliss, Cookie Comas

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‘So eat your meals heartily, not worrying about what others say about you—you’re eating to God’s glory, after all, not to please them. As a matter of fact, do everything that way, heartily and freely to God’s glory’–1 Corinthians 10:31.

Why do we feel shame when we have joy?  Have you noticed that in our society, we tend to feel guilty, not just when we’ve done something perceived as wrong, but also when we are happiest.

I’ve got an addiction that I only succumb to once a year.  Thankfully, my addiction is only available for a few weeks out of the year; but I’ve learned to stock up so I can imbibe all year long.  Thin Mints.  Yep.  That’s my addiction.  Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies.  And I get several boxes of Samoas–they’re my daughter’s favorite.  I get enough to last through December.  Just a box every few months so that they keep their special occasion feel.  My dealer … er … ‘supplier’ … no that doesn’t sound any better … FRIEND!  That’s a great word!  My friend covertly meets me at McDonald’s, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A–wherever there’s a parking lot, really.  We make the exchange:  Me handing over a check for more money than I would ever spend on cookies, and her handing me an ungodly number of cookie boxes.  This year it qualified as a ‘case’ of cookies … That would be 12 boxes.

I’m not proud of my addiction.  I’ve realized just how much shame I feel with those boxes of cookies hidden in my room until the right amount of need-t0-cry-for-an-evening-rough-day reminds me that I can feel better–not fixed–just better.  A couple of years ago, my friend met me at McDonald’s for some coffee, then we went out to her trunk.  She opened it up revealing cases of the cookies.  I ‘shopped’ to my heart’s content; and as we said goodbye, several women came up to her looking over their shoulders and whispering, “Are you selling those?”  I laughed, left her to her other sales and drove out of town back to my home–with a sleeve of opened Thin Mints riding shotgun.

How often have I passed by a table outside of a store with adorable little girls selling their cookie wares and felt just a little self-righteous about my ability to say, ‘No, thank you’, while others just cannot help themselves.  Then, when I’ve gone out of town to purchase mine (so no one knows just how many I hoard in my home), I feel shame eating the incredible chocolatey-minty goodness that makes me so happy on my hour-long ride back home.  I’ve noticed that as I find freedom from shame, I don’t eat as many cookies in one sitting, nor do I have to do it covertly.  Which leads me to believe that shame can lead to addictions.  And, in my case, to cookie comas!

Instead of loathing myself for enjoying a few cookies, I can rejoice in the moments of bliss that having a couple of them give me after a stressful day.  Instead of hiding my ‘stash’, and secretly scarfing some down when no one is looking, I can savor them and enjoy the serenity of breathing in and breathing out when life throws me the curve balls.  Instead of shame, I find freedom.

Does this work for all addictions.  Absolutely NOT!  Some addictions need re-direction to healthier options.  Sex, drugs, alcohol and even sugar addictions should be overcome, not managed.  Does that mean that those who struggle with destructive addictions and unhealthy living cannot find blissful moments?  NO!  They just need to find healthier options on their road to freedom.  They still need release from the shame of their addiction; but that release should not give them justification to continue it–just as I cannot justify eating an entire sleeve of Thin Mints and throwing my body into a cookie coma.

But we all can revel in moments of joy without shame.  And one thing I have learned with Girl Scout Cookies:

Buying cookies should not feel like a drug deal.

Have you ever felt shame when you’ve done something not shameful?  Have you learned how to live in freedom?

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Old Photographs and a Bottle of Wine

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Jud and I celebrated our 26th anniversary this past week.  We spent the weekend at a cabin reminiscing the last 26 years and dreaming of anniversaries to come.  Jud had researched what the ‘theme’ for the 26th anniversary is and surprised me with boxes of photographs–the modern theme for this anniversary.  We spent a couple of evenings lazing by the fire with a glass of wine and laughing over the memories we rediscovered.  At times, we laughed because we had no idea where the pictures were taken or who the people were in the pictures.  Amazing how after 26 years events important enough to capture in photographs lose their significance.

Of course some pictures thrilled us because we saw many, many friends and relatives we haven’t seen in years.  My grandmother, Gomama, looked beautiful and I teared up a bit missing her.  The friends from Romania we met in Germany when they were refugees seeking asylum that they finally found in Canada.  Our College and Career group from the church where Jud and I met.  Me learning to hang glide.

And we saw our children.  Vacations, birthday parties and just every day outings.  The little girl face and little boy faces that I still see when I steal glances at them all grown up, but still my babies in my heart.

But then, we saw our younger selves.  And we were very young!  A couple of times I didn’t recognize myself with the big hair, more make-up than I wear now and the styles of the various decades.  I began to wonder what that woman would say to me now.  She had so much life, hope and love in her face that smiles back at me.  I miss her.  But I think she remains with me, I just have lost touch with her as I have with many of those friends in the pictures.  As I began to listen for her and reconnect our relationship, I heard her say:

  1. Don’t lose hope.  Life may throw many curve balls and you may have some game-ending injuries, but don’t stop engaging in living.  What seems like a loss and incredible pain may actually redirect you on an adventure you desperately need.
  2. God really is with you … even when your heart holds too much pain to feel His presence.  You will heal and experience His glorious love again.
  3. Remember to laugh.  A lot!
  4. It’s only hair.  Do with it what makes you happy in the moment.  It’ll grow again.  It’s only clothes.  Wear what makes you happy in the moment.  Take lots of photos so that you have fodder for #2….
  5. Remember to dream.  Oh, many of them won’t transpire in the form you originally think; but dreaming gives you something to shoot for.  In keeping the dreams open, you stay young and hopeful of the future.
  6. Keep your relationships.  Friends and family are who give you strength when life knocks the breath out of you.
  7. Be happy you grew up.  You have wisdom and maturity that keep you steady and calm when those curve balls fly at you.  You don’t have to lose innocence, but it’s good that you lost naivete.

Oh, yeah.  My younger self would also say, “Look at Jud.  He’s so handsome!  God must love you a bunch to put him in your life!”

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, Jud!  Thank you for loving all of me through the years.  You make me my best self!

Look at some of your old pictures.  Who do you see in them?  What would your younger self say to you?

 

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New Year’s Resolutions

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Last week, I reflected on 2013.  This week, 2014 lies before me.  I do love the start of a new year.  It feels so fresh and hopeful and hasn’t encountered the messiness that’s sure to ensue throughout it.

Since I was a teenager, I have adopted Bible verses as my resolutions.  Oh, I still always set a goal of exercising more, eating better and losing weight.  But, I realized quite young just how much I needed help in living out the life Jesus calls us to experience.  Last year’s theme was ‘Afraid but Brave.’  This year, ‘Risk’ and Unashamed’ are the words on my heart.  I think of Genesis 2 when we are told that the two in the Garden were ‘naked and unashamed.’  I want to live life that way–emotionally, mentally, spiritually vulnerable and not shamed by the vulnerability.

I love hearing children’s ideas about resolutions.  One article I read interviewed several 5 year olds and asked them what they wanted for 2014.  ‘Play the piano,’ ‘Hug my mommy,’ and ‘Watch a video’ were some of the responses.  Reading into the wisdom of children, I’ve come up with my list:

  • Learn at least one new thing.  A friend of mine and I are going to learn yoga this year.  We’ve found a class that will work with our schedules and as soon as her face heals from some surgery she had to have, we will begin.
  • Risk in relationships more.  Expressing how much people mean to me is not easy.  I did not grow up in an emotionally expressive family–we show love by teasing, giving and visiting.  Jud has taught me over the years how important telling friends and family what they mean in our lives is to relationships.  One person said that Jud is ’emotionally brave.’  I want to become more like that.
  • Enjoy life and laugh often.  Some who know me will find this idea surprising.  I tend to be ‘the funny friend.’  I’ve had friends call just because they needed a laugh.  I’ve had friends tell me that they want me at  home business parties because I’ll entertain the invitees.  I’ve had pastors tell Jud that he’s a ‘man of grace and of God’; and then they tell me, ‘Maggie, you’ve got that sense of humor.’  I joke that one of my superpowers is that I can make almost anyone laugh at almost anything at almost any time.  However, deep down in my truest self, I tend to take life much too seriously and have lost much of the joy I used to experience in living.  I’m hoping this year that Jud and I can get back to dancing.  I found an affordable weekly ballroom group lesson and we plan on going sometime during the year.
  • Read the 4 Gospels.  A friend of mine suggested reading them 4 times throughout the year.  Not sure I’ll do that; but I do want to focus more on what Jesus focussed on and filter more of the Bible through his life.  I’m mulling over a few blog posts that will process through how Jesus defined ‘sin’ and what ‘sin’ really is.
  • Just read more.  During my kiddos’ school years (before any of them could drive), I read voraciously.  I would get into the carpool line about 30 minutes early so that I could read.  I read War and Peace that way, as well as many Stephen Booth, Sharyn McCrumb and Tony Hillerman books (some of my favorite mystery authors).  Cross country meets, track meets and football practices and games gave me ample ‘down time’ to relax in my van with a book.  I’ve read quite a bit of non-fiction and teaching-type books; but, I’ve lost the joy of getting lost in stories.

So there you have my resolutions.  Exercise, eating healthier and going greener are also a part of what I want to see in 2014.  Last year, I lost about 30 pounds (and then gained 10 back).  Managing my thyroid does not equate to quick fixes of weight loss, but I continue to try.  In the words of Bill Philipps in Body for Life, my goal in all I do is ‘progress, not perfection.’

May we all progress in 2014 so that at the end of this year, we can say that we are better people and have helped make a better world–at least our corner of it.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions?  How will you make them happen?  What keeps you motivated?

 

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New Year’s Reflections

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Like many, I create New Year’s resolutions.  Like most, I don’t achieve all of them.  I adopt Bible verses to try and live often as my resolutions.  This year, Jud and I developed a mantra of ‘Afraid but Brave’ to live out for the year.  We have lived in the shadows of life for several years because we didn’t trust the healing in our hearts.  This year, we decided to test the scars to see if the healing held.  Jud volunteered at a hospice organization and experienced his first client’s death.  I spoke out more for people whose voices seem limited or silenced in some circles.  We initiated a few meetings as we searched to broaden our friendships.  We walked through some tough revelations of heart and soul as we dug deeper to find God’s heart and not just rules of the church.

As I look over all that 2013 offered us, I realize the difficulty navigating through it.  I started the year having finished a book that I threw at the walls more than once as I read it.  The book rocked my theology and I didn’t like it.  Now, a year later, I find that I needed the challenge to some of my beliefs about what ‘biblical’ means and how to allow the Holy Spirit to write His law on my heart and not obey rules to earn God’s acceptance.  In the messiness of learning a deeper Grace, I lost a couple of friends–and will likely lose more in the coming years as Grace and Holiness meld into my soul.

Good intentions almost ended in ugliness that would have sacrificed relationships.  I thank God that He mitigated the consequences before those intentions became reality.  I will continue to learn in the coming years how to support, encourage and celebrate friends’ life events without agenda.  While I fell on my face often, this year has taught me the value of a contemplative spirit, intuitive knowledge and merciful heart.  I paid more attention to Jesus’ way with people, and God’s ways and thoughts became clearer.

Filtering the whole Bible through the life of Jesus changed how I approach the Bible and what I expect from it.  It has become more fluid and alive.  It no longer represents a static ‘owner’s manual’ or ‘blueprint’ for life.  It now reveals a conversation God started long ago with mankind and invites us into the conversation with Him.  Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, pointed out that God spoke to Moses in his time and culture, to David in his time and culture, to Jesus in his time and culture, etc.  I am learning to hear God speak His truth in my time and culture.  When His revelations seem to contradict what the Bible ‘clearly’ says, I no longer dismiss His voice immediately.  I now sit in that uncomfortable place and ask the Holy Spirit what needs to change–context of the verses, my hearing of His voice, the church’s traditional doctrine?  I remain in discomfort with several new thoughts.

With each of my three pregnancies, my belly stretched beyond what I thought possible.  This year, my heart showed amazing elasticity.  I look forward to seeing the life begun in it grow into adulthood.  I know it may take a lifetime; but what could be more noble than transforming into the heart of Christ and seeing ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth….’

May we all reflect back on who we started this year off as, and who we end this year as.  My prayer is that we are all becoming more and more a reflection of God’s grace, the Holy Spirit’s fruit and Jesus’ life.

What growth have you seen in yourself this year?  What was the hardest lesson?

 

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Comfort and Joy

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“God sent me to announce the year of his grace—a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies—and to comfort all who mourn” ~Isaiah 61:2.

A couple of days ago, there was another shooting at another Denver-area high school.  The shooter killed himself after shooting another student.  She remains in critical condition.  And this happened almost a year to the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that took 26 lives (20 children, 6 adults).  I remember thinking about the massacre of children surrounding Jesus’ toddlerhood–a story we don’t often sermonize at Christmastime.  I nearly left the service today when we prayed for the Sandy Hook victims’ families and then for Claire Davis as she fights for survival.

When the evil of this world touches children, we all should ask, “What can I/we change that may prevent this horror in the future?”  We may not find satisfactory answers; but we need to ask the question.

I find myself pondering more and more the questions of life.  I wish I could say I find creative answers in that pondering.  I remember Jo Anne Worley (a female comedienne of the 1960s and 1970s) saying that she dreamt one night that she found the answer to all the world’s problems.  She woke up long enough to write it down so that she’d remember it in the morning.  When she got up the next day, she looked at her notebook.  She had scribbled “Cottage cheese” in her dream notebook.  I laughed during that interview.  As I remember with nostalgia days where profound answers came on bumper stickers and posters, I know now that answers seldom come in sound-bytes.

As we decorate with bright lights and tinsel, bake and frost Christmas cookies, buy and wrap gifts with beautiful ribbon, maybe we can also remember to say a prayer for Claire Davis and all the others who are fighting for life or sanity during this festive time.  Praying may not seem like much; but I believe that if we all accept a dose of humility each day that we cannot solve the world’s problems with any quick, trite or simplistic phrase, then maybe in those acts of prayer we will find a simplicity of wisdom that reminds us to treat each other kindly, gently, tenderly.

I love that the prophets foretold that Jesus would announce the favor of God in our midst.  I love that God wants to communicate grace, compassion and healing.  In learning humility, I pray that we learn that our enemies are not flesh and blood–people who cut us off on the freeway or say and do insensitive things.  Our enemies lie much deeper within ourselves–arrogance, devaluing lives, emotional toxicity and indifference to suffering in others.  While I personally can’t end world hunger, I can drop a dollar in the Salvation Army bucket, make a donation to a clean water charity, volunteer at an underprivileged school, donate clothing or coats that just hang in my closet.  I can get to know my neighbors and see if together we can make a bigger dent in poverty, medical missions and companionship needs than I could individually.

Today, I pray for Claire Davis.  I will pray for her and her family while I bake my daughter’s favorite Christmas cookies.  Tomorrow and in the coming year, I can look for opportunities to set aside portions of my busy-ness and ‘to-do’ lists and proclaim God’s favor in the lives of people I meet.  A smile, a handshake, a conversation, a donation of time to a person or organization that desperately needs human contact.  Jesus interacted personally, humanly, humbly.

As the Advent season continues, may we all start to look past the shopping, the wrapping, the parties and begin to love with our lives and not just with gifts.

How can you ‘proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’ in others’ lives?  Have you volunteered for organizations that help others in need?  What have those experiences taught you?

 

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Who Are ‘The Least’?

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“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”  –Matthew 25:40

We sang a song in church today about ‘the least of these’.  Those words made me uncomfortable.  Who decides who qualifies as the least?  Do the people we decide are the least know that they are least?  Have we ever identified ourselves as the least?

I read an article about how we in the privileged groups ‘help’ the un-privileged.  The article addressed the crisis in the Philippines as they try to recover from the typhoon that recently decimated many villages and displaced countless numbers of people.  In the past, many well-meaning Americans have sent clothing items and products that actually hinder the recovery process.  Stiletto heels, breast milk, worn-out lingerie backed-up limited storage, airfields and relief workers’ time as someone had to sort through all of that stuff.  The article suggested that in times like this crisis, monetary donations to international relief organizations helped communities recover better because those organizations know the greatest needs that come with a large-scale recovery effort.  Living through the aftermath of disasters (natural and man-created), we see clearly the least.

But, in all honesty as those living in American privilege, we define the least as those in physical poverty–especially international poverty.  They are not us.  In America, we help, we save, we fix–we rarely express need.  Yet, given the mental health statistics and the plethora of counselors, therapists and psychiatrists in our country, we only bluff ourselves into believing we don’t need any help.  Vulnerability requires that we expose our weaknesses and level the playing field with whomever we consider the least.

When we lived in Alabama, I taught several Bible studies for women in our church.  Most of the women who came attended AA meetings and fought hard for their sobriety.  A couple of them asked us to go to one of their annual meetings.  Jud and I both point to that experience as what ‘church’ should look like.  When Jud and I commented to a group of people we’d just met that we felt humbled and honored to be included by our friends, they looked sheepishly at the ground.  They said that most people not in the program didn’t feel honored to be around them.  One of my friends said to me in her gravelly, southern voice, “Maggie, I know you’re not an alcoholic woman; but you’re one of us.”  Probably the highest compliment I’ve ever received.  I knew I couldn’t ‘fix’ their alcoholism; but I could walk their path alongside them.

I could learn vulnerability from them.

I could learn how much I need what they had learned–how much I needed community.

I could learn how much I am the least.

The Message paraphrase of the Bible interprets the least as ‘someone overlooked or ignored.’  I like that description, because all of us fit into it.  If we all fit into the description, perhaps we will empathize when we see someone or a group that churches or societies overlook and ignore.

The poor.

The powerless.

The judged.

I want to listen more before I jump to conclusions about what someone needs.  Before I assess how to fix someone’s situation.  I pray that people will not see me as their savior.  I pray that people will see the love of Christ in me and be drawn to Him as their savior.

Who have you considered ‘the least’?  How have you wanted to avoid being ‘the least’?  When have you identified with ‘the least’?

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Sinless Sinner

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“God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool….” (2 Timothy 2:24)

I ‘unclenched my fist’ and re-wrote the policy I didn’t like for my church leader.  I wish I felt clean and at peace, knowing I’ve helped.  But what have I helped?  Am I just sleeping with the enemy and offering gracious words to lessen the offensive message?  I want to succumb to sophomoric debate and prove myself right.  Once again, I want to resort to the methods I find unhelpful in others.  Once again, I don’t want to just make a little progress, I want to see God break their hearts and humble them–hurting them deeply–so that they see the error of their ways.  Once again….

‘Clean’ is not the word that describes how I felt writing the policy.  Dirty, sick, defeated, shamed come closer.  I felt no valiant celebration when I emailed it off to the leader.  I wanted to hide in a hole.  Bringing grace and peace into divisive subjects takes a toll on our own souls and we can wonder, “How much compromise is too much?”  

The answer I find surprises me.  I expected a ‘truth’ answer–one that integrates multiple Bible passages and gives a sound argument for the next debate I’m sure to face.  Instead, I find the answer in Jesus’ life and how he treated people.  Last week, I mentioned the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8.  Jesus doesn’t condemn her.  As so often is the case with Jesus, he speaks something that appears totally obvious in its meaning.  But knowing the heart of Jesus and observing his interactions with people in his time reminds me that very little about what he says is ‘obvious.’  He says, “Go and sin no more.”  I touched on a couple of possibilities last week of what he could have meant in that phrase.  Yes, I know that most people interpret his meaning to be that she shouldn’t sleep around anymore.  But, that explanation never sat well with me as I read and re-read the whole interaction and think on the other interactions the Gospels record.  This week, I poured over that story and a couple of other ones–the man born blind in John 9 and the lame man by the pool in John 5–to try to understand what the sinless Jesus meant by telling this adulterous woman to not sin anymore.

With the woman, she had an obvious error to correct (she was, after all, caught in adultery).  However, the lame man in John 5 had no sin that the Bible records.  And Jesus told his disciples in John 9 that neither the blind man nor his parents had sinned.  So, why did Jesus tell the woman, “Go and sin no more”?  I began thinking of the ones who wanted to stone her.  Jesus told them that whoever wasn’t guilty of sin could start the judgment.  One by one (oldest to youngest–isn’t that beautiful?  showing the wisdom of the older who get it before the brashness of youth?), they dropped their stones and went away.  Then, Jesus, the only sinless person who had a right to judge, in the mercy and grace of the Father, tells her he gives up his right to condemn her.  I tear up even now thinking of what her heart experienced in that moment.  Jesus had just reminded the others of their own sin, probably secret sin (because we in church circles are VERY good at not letting people know our own character failures–or at least not admitting them ourselves … and certainly not publicly.), and then told her to not ‘sin.’  Do we really believe that Jesus was that naive?  Did he really expect her to never sin again?  Do we really believed that she didn’t sin again?

Jesus told the lame man in John 5 something similar in Greek …. Right after the religious leaders had chastised Jesus for healing on the Sabbath ….  Probably in the man’s presence.  As I’ve mulled over these passages this week, the heart of God tells me that Jesus wasn’t addressing lifestyle or behavior, but he wanted to make a point about the religious leaders and how they viewed ‘The Law.’  Perhaps we’ve focussed on the wrong people’s sins in these stories.  Perhaps the ‘sin’ we need to not do anymore involves judging people, making them subjects of our pet ‘issues’ that need God’s condemnation, forgetting what Jesus forgave of us to make us right with God.

Perhaps, Jesus, as was so often his way, looked toward the religious leaders and said, “Don’t be like that.  Don’t shame people or put conditions on how or when God works.”

How often am I like the religious leaders?

In my arrogance, I want to fight the battle intellectually.

In my arrogance, I fool myself into believing that I ‘fight for God.’

In my arrogance, I think God needs me to defend Him.

In my arrogance….

2 Timothy reminds me of humility, once again.  Ted Kennedy reminds me of compromise and progress as we journey toward the goal.  I truly appreciate all the voices who remind me to keep looking to the heart of Jesus–because it’s only there that while I continue to ‘sin’ (in errors of attitudes and judgments), I can be sinless in dealing with people.  I don’t have to retaliate in kind with arguments and debates.  In looking to God’s heart, we can all become less argumentative and simply live and treat people the way Jesus did, when our attitudes and actions align with his.

In what ways have you sunk to the level of those with whom you disagree?  How can you begin to progress toward common ground and building credibility?

 

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WWTKD

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The tears well up and drip down my cheek.  I feel the warmth of the salty liquid begin to cool as the evening breeze dries my face.  Soon, they will not just drip.  Soon, they will flow freely. Soon, my stomach, already knotted, will convulse and breathing will become gulping gasps.  Struggling to unite both right and left sides of my brain–knowing I need to focus and work through how to write something more graciously, yet feeling the heartbreak of a group of people struggling for acceptance–two worlds collide in my soul.

When a church leader asked me this week to try to rewrite a policy that I found problematic, I told her that it would be difficult because I don’t agree with the point of view.  How do I maintain a sense of integrity and look myself in the mirror when someone asks me to bring some heart into a policy I find offensive.  Surprisingly, I found myself asking, ‘What would Ted Kennedy do?’

Raised in conservative church culture, I didn’t have a lot of respect for Ted Kennedy while he lived.  He was extreme, liberal, not-on-our-side, someone to distrust.  Amazing how much propaganda influences our young minds.  As an adult, I see him from a different perspective.  When he died, I listened to many people from various walks of life tell their stories about how he influenced them and the humanity he brought to our legislative branch.  I heard many Republicans say that if Ted Kennedy gave his word, it was as good as gold.  I heard one congressman say that after a devastating car accident with his family, Ted Kennedy and his wife stopped by the hospital to visit with him … then followed up with phone calls to learn of the progress.  Ted Kennedy was the only person of Congress to make that personal connection.  The man, a Republican, said that no other colleagues made time to visit.  Others talked about the phone calls he made to all the Massachusetts’ families of people killed in the 9/11 attacks … and he followed up with them … all 176 families … every year … with a personal and personally signed note … until his death in 2009.  Another talked about how he had negotiated with international kidnappers to get their child home.  Story after story after story talked about the unreported deeds, compassion and sacrifice of this man.  A friend who grew up in Massachusetts and lives in Boston had not heard these stories until his death.  WOW!  Most of us would have camera and crew on retainer so that all could see our acts of kindness, or at least our PR team could use clips for re-election campaigns.

That’s humility.  That’s the kind of leader I want in government.  Someone willing to negotiate with the differing points of view.  One of his colleagues said that Ted Kennedy knew where the Democrats wanted policy to go and would then work backwards to figure out what to compromise so that Republicans could sign-off on it.  His goal was progress–not soap boxes, not making a point.  Not arrogance.  Was Ted Kennedy imperfect?  I’ll answer that with these questions:  Aren’t I imperfect?  Aren’t we all?

So, as I face my own smallish soapbox compared to national policy, I find this follower of Jesus asking the question, “What would Ted Kennedy do?”  Because wars aren’t won from just one battle.  It takes many battle successes, retreats, covert spy operations and a lot of divine intervention to win wars.

And that’s when I see my problem.  I view ‘it’ as a war.

Ted Kennedy saw ‘it’ as our country, united.  Jesus, in my paraphrase, said, “Treat others how you want them to treat you.”  I don’t want anyone to treat me or my perpsective as ‘a war.’  We all have to ask ourselves if we will consider compromise a beginning to change, or if we will insist on only our way.  Do I want to be ‘right’ and battle it out until others see me as right, and I am the only one left standing?  Isn’t that what we see in the stalemate in Congress over the budget right now?  Or do we want to make a difference and pave a smoother path for the next time we butt heads?

I hope to unclench my fist, lay down my arrogance and simply bring some heart and opening for a conversation into a divisive policy.

What is your part?  Have you found yourself forcefully pushing your own soapbox?  What can you change in yourself that may create change in others; or at least open the door to discussion?

 

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The Lonely Places

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‘But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.’ (Luke 5:16, NIV)

I used to wonder … a lot… about Jesus choosing the lonely places.  As a flaming extrovert who sucks in all the energy from a room and has about 500,000 words to release on a daily basis, I could not comprehend Jesus seeking out ‘lonely’ places.  Oh, I know that in translation, the ‘lonely places’ are really just out-of-the-way, no-one-around, I-need-solitude-to-recharge-because-I’m-an-introvert places.  But, I love the Bible translations that call those wildernesses ‘the lonely places.’  Now that I’m not as much of a flaming extrovert and crowds can actually tire me out, I appreciate solitude more.  Now that I’m older and have more awareness of the bigger issues and cultures in our world, many of our debates in the political, social and religious realms leave me exhausted.  I find, more and more, that I crave solitude when my heart breaks over others’ pain.  I actually enjoy feeling lonely when the alternative involves entering the fray of treating people like issues.

I loved Pope Francis’ quote this week:  “The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives…A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality, I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person” (emphasis mine).  Pope Francis had to have come to that wisdom from time in his own ‘lonely places.’   That level of compassion and grace are forged in our loneliest times when it’s only us and God.

So this self-acknowledged extrovert begins to ask, “How do I steer conversations about gut-wrenching subjects–gut-wrenching because they involve people’s lives, souls and spirits; yet, people try to debate them at only an intellectual level–back to the humanity of people?  Back to how God views their existence?  Away from the issue and back to the person?”  I find those answers away from the noise of society and in solitude, in the lonely places.  In the lonely places, I understand that these ‘issues’ are not issues, they are people.  In the lonely places, I focus not on the intellectual arguments, but on the heart of God.  In the lonely places, my attitude and responsibility become clear:  Jesus emerges as my standard of how I relate to everyone–with respect and awe that we are all created in the image of God.

I have felt lonely often this year, and definitely haven’t appreciated it most of the time.  Now, I have a different perspective.  I may make Luke 5:16 one of my ‘life’ verses and say, “Maggie often withdraws to the lonely places and prays.”

Have you encountered God in the lonely places?  How have those experiences influenced your perspective?

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Psycho Mom Moment

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My kids say that I have a ‘crazy’ streak.  They don’t see it often.  Mostly it comes out when I’m putting our ‘fake house’ together about a half hour before company comes over.  They call it ‘cleaning mom mode.’  I go around clearing counters and the kitchen table.  Hiding piles of papers that have accumulated over the school year.  Clearing corners of shoes and other non-essentials stripped off after coming in the door.  Returning pillows and throw blankets to a casually-tossed, shabby-chic ambiance in the family room.  I create the ‘fake house’ that I want people to think is where we live.  ‘Cleaning Mom Mode’ is nowhere near ‘Psycho Mom.’

We need to establish a difference between ‘psycho moms’ and ‘psycho mom moments.’  I wouldn’t call myself a ‘psycho mom.’  I tend  to meet challenges in parenting evenly and rationally.  I tend to … at least on the surface.  However, I do have moments when my kids cross a line that infuriates me and I react–not respond.

Before my kids became grown-up (well, I could debate whether they really are grown-up….), I enjoyed the position of playing God.  That magical time ended about the time they could speak and learned ‘NO!’  But the few short years that they had to go where I went, hang out with those I let them befriend and go to bed when I determined they needed sleep were blissful.  Parenting was easy then.  Having a 22 year old, a 19 year old and a 17 year old all living at home complicates parenting boundaries.  *sigh*  I really don’t want to go back to toddlerhood, but the uncomplicated world of children who get excited over bubbles and squirt guns has its perks.

My 17 year old went out with his at-the-time-girlfriend a few weeks ago.  He had just started dating her; and while we had met her, I soon found out just how little we knew about her.  I needed to get hold of him because he didn’t know that our state curfew for teens is 10pm during the week (even during the summer) and not midnight, as I had thought.  His phone went straight to voicemail … for 2 hours.  No answer to the 372 texts I sent.  Realizing that I had no idea where he might be or who this girl really is, I went into ‘crazed mom’ mode and quickly plummeted into ‘psycho mom.’  As panic ambushed my rational soul, I took on desperate measures.  Because I read murder mysteries and watch cop shows, I consider myself a bit of an expert in detective work.  Yep, I’m one of those delusional people.  I think that because I’ve seen open-heart surgery on YouTube, I could actually perform that surgery in a crisis.  I think we should all pray that I never witness someone having a heart attack.  I looked up his girlfriend on Facebook.  She has a common last name, so I looked through about 15 pages of the online White Pages trying to figure out where she lived.  I remembered that he had told me the general area of town she lived, so I didn’t fly blind in my search.  I narrowed it down to three potential houses.  Just after midnight (now the curfew he thought he had, he busted … for the third time … the last time had been the night before … yeah, I wasn’t rational anymore) I enlisted the help of my 22 year old.

The conversation went something like:

“You busy?”

“No, whatcha need?”

“I need you to help me go get your brother.”

“Where is he?”

“I don’t know for sure, but I’ve narrowed it down.”

“Why do you need me?”

“Someone has to drive the car he’s in back home.”

“Why can’t he do that?”

“Because he’ll be coming home with me.”

That last sentence scared her because I spoke it so slowly and deeply.  I don’t think any of my kids had seen my real ‘psycho mom’ moments before that.  I never had witnesses until that night.

Thankfully, the first house on my list happened to be her house.  I knew this fact because my son pulled onto the street right behind me.  He and I had a great lecture  discussion that ended with us hugging it out and assuring him that I loved him and forgave him (there’s more to this story; but it’s already a long one).  Suffice it to say, he won’t make that mistake again.

I wonder sometimes if God ever has ‘psycho parent’ moments with us.  Oh, I know He’s ‘GOD’ and knows all and has self-control and all that; but when I read the Bible, I see evidence that we can make Him a little crazy–especially with Moses in Exodus 22 when it sounds like Moses is talking God off the ledge, or when Jesus in several Gospel accounts saying it would be better to have a millstone around your neck and drowned if we hurt one of His little ones, or Abraham negotiating with God for Sodom and Gomorrah.  I take great comfort in that thought.  He loves us that much that we can make Him almost insanely protective.  He goes to great lengths to find us and help us see healthier, wiser, better options than the choices we make.  He loves us the way I love my kids–only better and more rationally.  He doesn’t parent out of fear–which, if we’re honest, that’s what vaults us into ‘psycho’ mode.  He holds us that high … He values us that much … He fiercely fights for us … Now, if only we could believe it about ourselves and each other.  We need to remind ourselves and each other what each of us is worth!

I talked to Jud the next morning about what happened while he slept.  A lot goes on at night with older kids while parents sleep.  Which is why I’m grateful that I’m a night-owl and suffer from insomnia.  We discussed the appropriate repercussions (for our son, not me), and Jud helped me see that grounding him from ever driving a car  and dating again went a little too far.  Rationality had returned to me and the moment had passed.

Until my daughter woke up.

She asked Jud if he knew anything about the night before.  Thankfully, Jud could say he knew and she didn’t blindside him with her version of my insanity.  Her final comment tossed over her shoulder to him as she breezed out the door about what she learned from this incident:  NEVER MAKE MOM MAD!!!

Have you had ‘psycho parenting’ moments?  What have you learned about yourself in those times? 

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A Time To Build

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“A time to tear down and a time to build up” (Ecclesiastes 3:3).

“And you are living stones that God is building into His spiritual temple” (1Peter 2:5).

Almost every year, Jud faithfully strips, sands and repaints our deck.  A thankless job, he only complains a little when he has to do it again.  We would love to redo our deck with composite materials; but with our three kiddos still at home, it hasn’t fit onto the priority list or the budget list.  So, he continues to strip, sand and repaint.  I’ve had friends who have built houses.  It all starts the same:  the planning process, scoping out land, cutting trees, clearing the land, leveling the land.  Our area of Colorado has seen a couple of devastating wildfires over the past couple of years.  Last year’s fire that took out so many neighborhoods and traumatized so many lives of people we know has given a little perspective on the devastation that happens to our hearts when life turns ugly.  Even though the fire’s destruction happened over a year ago, less than half the homes have been rebuilt.  The cleaning process, the insurance claims, the processing of if or what to rebuild, flood mitigation just takes so much longer than anyone wishes.  My heart breaks for the families that lost their homes this year and are only beginning that process.

The ugly events that destroy rarely last more than moments compared to our whole lives.  If we decide not to let those moments kill us, we still have to deal with the aftermath–which can take years to disassemble, clean-up and mitigate before we can begin to build anew.  As Jud and I have processed through much of the ugly stories in our pasts (both long-ago and recent), we find ourselves ready for God to build us into something again.  Not sure yet what the plans look like, we try fitting ourselves into various projects and causes.  Sometimes we find a group that resonates strongly with us.  Sometimes we just look at each other and say, “Epic FAIL.”  Our journey won’t end once we get beyond the aftermath.  I love that Peter calls us ‘living’ stones.  Because the house that God builds from the ashes is living–it can’t stay static.  His home is constantly changing as we grow and understand more and more of His ways and thoughts.  Some will throw up Hebrews 13:8 at this point saying that God doesn’t change nor does truth change.  I agree.  God doesn’t change.  We do.

Thank God, we do.

For me, I’ve grown in how I interpret the Bible, how I identify and live out truth, how I view others in light of that truth.  I now view truth as a person, Jesus, and allow His Spirit to help me interpret what I read in the Bible.  If I held tightly to my beliefs from 30 years ago, I doubt anyone would want to be around me.  I was on the fast-track in becoming arrogant, bitter, angry and above all … right.  I wouldn’t like the me I would be if God didn’t reveal more of Himself to myself and others whom I respect.  I learn a lot about God as I see the pieces of Himself He has placed in each of us.  I’m only a stone.  So are you.  None of us have all the right answers on anything.  Together, God can make us a temple–a place of sanctuary, a place of peace, a place of worship.

As He builds us into His temple, as we begin to come together for His glory (and not our own rightness), perhaps we will finally have a relationship with Truth.

Have your attitudes changed toward ‘living by the rules’?  Have you experienced growth in areas that you thought were fixed?

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Conversations Among Friends

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“A friend loves at all times; and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).

I miss high school, college and my early twenties days.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I never want to go back to that time.  I don’t miss the insecurities, the drama or the hormones.  I miss the comraderie, the community, the relationships–even the desperate intensity, at times.  While visiting my family in Phoenix, I had lunch with my friend, Jules.  She was a bridesmaid at my wedding 25 years ago.  We had a college class together and attended our small ‘College and Career’ group at church.  She is one of the most accomplished women I know.  One thing she said resonated loudly with me:  It seemed so much easier in college–the passion, the relationships, the bonds.

What happened?

We grew up.  We moved geographically.  Our lives became busy.

In high school and college, no matter how busy or stressed, I always made time for friends.  We hung out at the mall food court, Denny’s-by-the-freeway, Appetito’s, Five Fools, the new frozen yogurt place.  My best friend, Pier, and I used to make ‘midnight runs’ to McDonald’s to get french fries or Wendy’s to get a frosty.  Pier and I went to football games and plays on the weekends, and it seemed we never ran out of things to say or got bored with each other.  If we felt profound, we’d hang at her house and listen to Simon and Garfunkel.

After getting married and having kids, I met with friends at the park, each others’ houses or at McDonald’s play area.  We craved adult interaction.  Sometimes we would run errands together, exercise together or just linger after church.

We shared life.  We wept together.  Laughed together.  Played together.  We became a true community.

Jud and I miss that community.  Life circumstances sometimes lead us to transition.  Somewhere along the way, we lost our community, and now find ourselves trying to get it back.  Problem is, we aren’t the same people we once were, and the social groups that once held great relationships for us don’t satisfy any longer.  Finding deep friendships in our middle years has proven a challenge.  Venturing outside of ourselves, outside of our opinions, outside of our interests takes effort.  Yet, outside of ourselves, deep friendships grow.  Too often, we look for sameness in people–same political views, same social justice views, same spiritual views.  But sameness never has produced the best relationships for us.  Sameness can become a rut and can prevent depth of knowing another person.  I want to enter into others’ stories again.  I believe in reconnecting with forgotten friends and openness to new friends, we will find the community we desire.

I watch my kids with their friends.  They laugh, cry, play together.  They share meals and heartaches.  They treat each other like family.  Many of their friends call me ‘Mom’ out of convenience or because they spend so much time in our home.  I love all of them.  Sometimes I eavesdrop on their conversations and find so much joy in the way they see life and the world.  Their community offers hope to my heart.

I hope that my few deep friendships can become a gathering someday.  Until then, I continue to find joy in my individual friends and know that we have many years of laughing, crying and playing together.

So how have some of you developed deep friendships in your post-child era?

 

 

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Lessons Learned

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Most of my life I’ve felt sorry for my pastors and leaders.  I tend to ponder thoughts and ideas from every angle possible; but I do all that pondering inside, then ask questions.  Lots and lots of questions.  Yep, I’m that person.  Trouble is, on the outside, I joke, laugh and have a good time.  So, it can shock leaders when my deep inner thoughts come out.  Because of ‘ugly’ times past with church or a pastor, I hesitate to reveal the deeper side of me.

One particularly painful memory of church involved a pastor who used scripture to shame people into service.  I became the person no one wanted to be.  I became the person who said ‘no.’  Jud worked his full-time job and then volunteered 20-30 hours per week at the church for this pastor.  The pastor wanted me to do more–be more like Jud.  Three children in elementary school and the demands of keeping them fed, clothed and maturing filled my plate.  At first, I deprived myself of sleep to help the church get its footing.  The pastor kept saying, “We just need to push through this immediate need.”  I asked for some time off–3 months to be exact.  He told me that I was ‘shrinking back’ and needed to stop being selfish.  After a couple of years (yes, I am that dense), I realized he would never okay time off for me–there was always one more ‘big push.’  He used scripture to shame me into service.  He compared me to Jud and said that I needed to serve so that Jud didn’t have to work so hard.  He finally told people not to be my friend or hang out with me because I was ‘dangerous’ and ‘in rebellion.’  Frankly, he may have been right.  I won’t pretend that I did everything well and didn’t make relational mistakes.  I can use my words for good or for evil.  I have no doubt that pastor felt that my words were evil toward him.  But, my voice speaks here, not his–he gets to tell his own story.

Finally, after 5 years, we left–not on good terms.  Some would say that we didn’t leave the ‘right’ way; however, we left under guidance from professionals.  Our counselor and a few close friends said we didn’t leave soon enough.

‘Ugly’ stories like that leave scars.  Jud and I got counseling, healed ourselves and our relationship.  The scars remain and surface inopportunely.  We hired a new pastor in our current church about 5 years ago.  The first sermon series he preached was on Daniel (one of our former pastor’s favorite books).  The next series, he preached The Kingdom of God (a HUGE message of our former pastor).  God and I had some angry words over that one (okay, mine were angry; His were kind, but firm).  I informed God that if the next series was Nehemiah, I would leave church–permanently.  Five years later (so it wasn’t the ‘next’ series….), guess what our pastor wants to use for a sermon series?  Yep.  Nehemiah.  I haven’t looked at that book since leaving the dysfunctional church.  I had considered ripping it out of my Bible.  God reminded me that He won’t let any part of that ‘ugly’ experience define me now.  He won’t let that pastor color how I view His words.  (By the way, at the moment I still despise Nehemiah, so I suppose God’s right to address the topic.)  Of all the sermons and shaming, Nehemiah represents how this man leveled scripture against me…often…publicly.

One lesson I’ve learned over my life:  Trust God.  Not necessarily people…but I can trust God.  When I found out about this sermon series, God spoke into my heart that I needed to ask my current pastors to pray for me as we go through the book.  Of course, my response was one of submissive repose and quick obedience.  I believe my sanitized reaction went something like, “WHAT?!  ARE YOU SERIOUS?!”  After a lengthy…um…’dialog’ that lasted several days, I grudgingly complied.  This part of the healing could be the final tote bag left to unpack of the steamer-trunk-sized baggage that I’ve carried from this trauma.  Of the lessons I’ve learned from the ‘ugly’ stories, this one is hard.  I know that God matures us through healing the ugliness in our lives.  I know that God ‘makes all things new’ and that ‘in Christ we are new creations’ and I am thankful for His creative work in our hearts and lives. I trust Him and the path He leads me.

So, I’m reading Nehemiah and hoping that at some point, I will only hear God’s voice speaking the words.

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Are We There Yet?

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My daughter and I took a road trip to Phoenix to take care of my parents’ cats and house while they went to Texas for my aunt’s funeral.  With a 12 hour drive from our house to theirs, we had lots of time to sing to Billy Joel and Beach Boys (my contributions) and Ke$ha (her contribution).  Calm moments brought out worship songs.  With boredom, we raided the food sack for trail mix, granola bars, jerky and potato chips.  A lot of nothingness greets us on I-40 through New Mexico and northern Arizona.  The scenery carried so many dust storms that my eyes burned.  Beautiful silhouettes greeted us once we hit the Arizona mountains at twilight.

Somewhere around hour 7, both of us whined, “Why is it taking so looonnnggg?!”

Sometimes, I feel like my life’s journey is trapped in a car on a road trip.  Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, where it’s hard to remember the hopeful excitement at the start of the journey and much too soon to think about journey’s end, I wonder, “How much further, Lord?  When will I see some of the results for which I thought I labored long and hard?”  Oh, I linger some places, see His hand at work and experience great joy.  But, eventually, I have to get back in my soul’s car and sojourn to unexpected locales as I find my way home to the Father’s heart.

Jud and I experienced a traumatic church situation that ended about 6 years ago.  Our spiritual road trip has taken us from valleys of desolation to God’s mountaintop of grace.  Yet, the pilgrimage is ongoing and, once again, I’m asking, “Why is it taking so looonnnggg?!”  Just when I think my heart is healed, a tried-to-forget memory invades the present and I have to get in the car of my soul to wander to more depths.  Right now, I face one of those desolate times.  I have a routine in preparing for a road trip:  I paint my toenails a favorite shade, pick out favorite music and get some fun snacks to make the long hours go by faster.  In preparing for this spiritual road trip, I’ve got some favorite worship music, some favorite Bible stories and I’ve painted my toenails a color called “Are We There Yet?”  I know some of the spiritual scenery may burn my eyes with tears and the road may not offer a variety of beautiful things to see; but I also know that a destination will emerge and God will carve out a place to ‘restore my soul.’

Holy Spirit, I trust that You know where we’re going and how to get there.

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Digging Up Bones

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I’ve watched dogs dig, dig, DIG for something they remember burying–a bone, a toy, a sock (you know, the match you can’t find to your favorite pair).  They have buried it to save for later.  They have buried it to savor for later.  They have buried it so that they can remember and be like a kid tearing into presents at Christmas.

And it is a little like Christmas when we find something we put away and forgot.  My mom bought me a little Fozzie Bear, from The Muppets, one Christmas.  It was perfect for my stocking, and she knew that Fozzie was my favorite.  Problem:  She bought it in July and put it ‘away.’  Christmas Eve, after everyone had gone to bed, she filled the stockings–but no Fozzie.  She tore through her closet (her go-to hiding place).  She looked in every cabinet (and my parents’ house has many).  Nothing.  I remember her disappointment Christmas Day.  Of course I had no idea anything was amiss, so everything in my stocking thrilled me.  Then she told me about Fozzie and how she was sure she’d find him in the next day or two.  Twelve years later  (I had graduated high school and college, had been married a few years and had a child), she found him.  Celebration ensued!!  I received a package in the mail a few days later, and all my childhood memories of The Muppets flooded me.  In that moment, I returned to Christmas Day twelve years previous.  I was a teen again and relived the magical moment of the surprises of Christmas morning.  Fozzie became a toy for our baby, and I always smiled when she would hold him and teethe on him.

Recently, growing pains have darkened my spiritual zeal.  Life events, life maturity, life revelations and reflections take a toll on our passion as we navigate, process and reinterpret things we thought unchangeable.  Our souls, thinking they were on solid bedrock, suddenly discover a sinkhole opening up and we panic our way to safety.  But in the midst of the confusion and anxiety of what the future holds, there is something long-buried in my spirit that I’m trying to dig up.  Not sure of what I will find, I keep digging, deeper and deeper, knowing that I will discover something I hid away for just this time.  I keep asking God to ‘throw me a bone’ and give me a little respite; but I believe now that He did throw me a bone long ago and I buried it, because I didn’t need it yet.

So I dig.  I dig with anticipation.  I dig with hope.  I dig with confidence.  A joyful surprise waits a little deeper.

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