Mother’s Day: A Snapshot Of Reality

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My dear children, I feel the pains of birth upon me again, and I will continue in labor for you until the Anointed One is formed completely in you. –Galatians 4:19

If St. Paul can know what it’s like to birth and raise children from a spiritual standpoint, I think all of us can celebrate Mother’s Day without shame or regret.

Mother’s Day looks great in a greeting card.  But, real life rarely looks so functional and pretty.  A friend of mine and I privately came up with ‘honest’ Mother’s Day card sentiments.  Things like: “Happy Mother’s Day to my mom who taught me to feel so guilty in life.  My therapist thanks you!”  Or: “Thanks, Mom, for exemplifying a strong woman to me.  A woman of strong character and fashion sense.  It’s not every woman who can pull off a red flowered shower cap in a motel swimming pool.  My therapist thanks you!”

…DISCLAIMER…

NONE OF THE AFOREMENTIONED SENTIMENTS HAVE ANY BASIS IN MY OWN UPBRINGING.  

I LOVE YOU, MAMA!

And now, with my 3 adult (well, semi-adult) children, they give me some fodder for ‘honest’ sentiments.  My just-married daughter has multiple commitments today and my older son has finals that he has to study for, so I’m told we’ll celebrate later in the week.  But, my 19-year-old son will live in infamy for many years to come.  Here’s the conversation:

Son: I have to work on Mother’s Day.

Me: Seriously?!

Son: Yeah.  The restaurant expects a lot of people to come in with their moms to celebrate.

Me: REALLY? Huh! 

Son: (looks at me completely perplexed) Oh, did you want to do something?

*sigh*

Yes, Happy Mother’s Day to all who nurture, sacrifice, love, and give companionship to others.

I hope for those that feel the weight of this day, you will find comfort in this prayer I found online by Amy Young.  Often, churches overlook the many stories of the Bible’s women.  At least today, find yourself a hero in one of these women who understood whatever circumstances you walk in.  May you feel encouraged that God doesn’t overlook your story.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Life Is Good

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

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

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

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

My perspective is changing.

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

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

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

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

There, isn’t that helpful?

All clear now?

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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Traditions and Memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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A Place To Belong

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‘Instead, by truth spoken in love, we are to grow in every way into Him—the Anointed One, the head. He joins and holds together the whole body with its ligaments providing the support needed so each part works to its proper design to form a healthy, growing, and mature body that builds itself up in love’ –Ephesians 4:15-16 (The Voice).

I don’t write poetry often (and I have no delusions of greatness for my poems), and rarely share my scribblings with anyone.  However, this week, I wrote down the feelings churning inside for several months.  My grandmother had one of my favorite childhood books at her house, Douglas Saves The Day.  In it, Douglas (a bunny) looked forward to a parade; but it poured and the parade got cancelled.  The book described Douglas’ angst as ‘all elbows and knees.‘  I recalled that line often this week as I thought about the angst I have in feeling like Jud and I don’t fit in anywhere.  I’d say my reflective mood encompasses my desire to see more unity (and less uniformity) in those of us who follow Jesus.

Home 

(by maggie jusell)
Am I wrong                                                                                                  
To want to find a place where I belong?
 
 To find a place
(In time and space)
Where they need me
And I need them
Where together
We show a perfect view of Him
In all His glory
 
A place of peace
A place of joy
Where all can play
And share the toys
He has given
Where we fully live
His story
 
Do I dare believe
That place exists for me?
For us?
A place where we gasp and smile
For all He’s done and continues to pile
Blessings in our lives
And wonder in our hearts
 
A place to play
Like a child again
And run without fear
Embracing the wild again
Laughter, tumbles
Giggles, jumbles
Grass stains, tangled parts
 
A place where I fit
Without trying to fit in
Without forcing and bruising
My puzzle piece into place
But finally breathing, ‘I’m home’
Because I found the poem 
I belong in 
 
A place imperfect
But together one
In Him
A place of games
And fun
Without loss or win
Because ‘together’ is what matters
 
Am I wrong
To want to find a place where we belong?
 

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Do-Overs

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I am re-posting this one in honor of National Mental Illness Awareness Week.  If you or someone you love suffers from any mental/emotional health issues, please seek help and learn to risk opening up about the struggles.  We need to learn to support both those suffering with and those suffering with them through this hell.

‘I admit how broken I am in body and spirit, but God is my strength, and He will be mine forever’  ~~Psalm 73:26 (The Voice).

Remember, as kids, asking for a ‘do-over’ when you missed a shot or messed up a move in a game?  The older we got, the less likely requests for do-overs got positive responses.  As adults, how often would we like a do-over?  We say things we wish we hadn’t, we do things that hurt people, we don’t think far enough ahead to realize consequences.  As an extrovert, I pretty much live life out loud and wishing for do-overs.  I’ve become an expert apologizer and often internally berate myself for my words and actions.

So, when I got the news that Robin Williams died this week, I wondered what I always wonder when I hear of suicides:  Did he wish for a do-over just a little too late?  Lots of my favorite actors have died–Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland (do you see a musical trend?).  Oh, and how could I forget Cary Grant?!  But death by suicide brings a deeper sadness with life-changing and life-lasting effects for those left dealing with the aftermath.  Life becomes more real, more sober, more heavy.  Always waking from stressful dreams.

Like chasing in vain to stop something from going over a cliff.

Like wanting desperately to stop talking so you don’t say what you know will change a relationship forever and you can’t take it back.

Like when we were young and called a ‘do-over’ in a game, only to have your friends deny the request.

Robin Williams’ suicide this week spotlighted the tragedy of mental illness. Many articles and blogs detail how depression, anxiety, and other debilitating diseases and disorders leave a life in constant chaos. I’ve watched friends, loved ones, and loved ones of loved ones exist in the trenches of the mental health war.  Part of the sorrow I feel over his death is my own helplessness and inability to change lives.  I’ve known personally at least 4 people in my life who committed suicide.  I’ve watched and held countless other sobbing friends (3 in the last year) live with the shock of loved ones who died by their own hands.

While much is written on depression/anxiety disorders, I haven’t found much encouragement for those of us who have to live with and watch those we love suffering from that anguish.  Needing to process all that’s going on in my soul right now, I dedicate this post to myself and to others who need to acknowledge what they rarely, if ever, admit:

If someone we love attempts suicide, but lives through the attempt:

  • We. Thank. God. Every. Day. For. Their. Life.  But we may never sleep restfully again.  Every ring of the phone, every noise at night in a silent house becomes heart-stopping for us–even though we may appear calm, happy, or to have recovered from the shock.  The elephant in the room remains.  And we’re afraid to address it.
  • We remain vigilant of where you go, how you’re doing, and are always nervous when you don’t pick up the phone.  But we try to sound ‘breezy’ and nonchalant.
  • We feel insecure with our own limits to help, fix, empathize, support.  Some of these feelings spur us on to grow and mature.  Many times the feelings incapacitate us from intimacy with you because we’re afraid of creating waves that may drown you.  We need to recognize that it’s no one’s responsibility to make someone ‘happy.’  We can’t live well with that pressure; but accepting that we aren’t big enough to absorb your pain is equally daunting.

When someone doesn’t live through a suicide attempt:

  • Guilt, shame, questions never go away.  We constantly second-guess what we could have done, could have said, could have been to you, and relive every minute detail of every last encounter with you … for years.
  • Our questions will never have answers.  You cannot assure us that it wasn’t our fault.  And believing that your death reflects how we didn’t show enough how much we loved you, shames us.
  • We cannot erase the image of you in death.  That death image is what we remember.  Even if we didn’t find you, we know how you died and our imagination fills in the sordid picture emblazoned in our heads.  It’s the last, and therefore, strongest memory we have.
  • We cannot confront you with our anger over the hell you’ve thrust upon us.  You don’t have to see the consequences of your actions; but we have to live with them every day.

So how do we blend the two worlds of people who suffer with chronic illnesses (physical, emotional, mental) and those of us who love them?  We have to live vulnerably and without shame with each other.  We have to network and create support systems.  We must de-stigmatize chronic illnesses–especially the ones that have no physical attributes.  How often have I heard people say to friends with internal challenges, “Well, you don’t look sick.”  To the people hearing those words, they feel dismissed, because if you can’t see the challenge then it doesn’t exist.  It may not be what we’re trying to communicate; but it’s what they hear.  Instead, let’s have some open communication and address the elephant in the room.

We may not be able to ‘fix’ ____ (depression, anxiety, chronic pain, recovery, etc.); but we can sit with you in it.  We have to learn how to support those we love and cherish in the midst of their struggles–read books on what they deal with, go to counseling sessions with them, just listen … patiently … endlessly.  Does it get old?  Yes.  But it’s not about our comfort or convenience, it’s about the ones we love–remember, their lives may depend on our support.  Let us into your hell and help you fight the demons.  We may make mistakes and insensitive remarks, but tell us when we do!  Don’t close off when we fail–teach us how to love you in your language.  We want desperately to learn!

Take some time for self-care and soul-care.  Loving someone with chronic issues exhausts even the best and strongest of us.  Talk to a trusted counselor, friend, pastor or priest.  Take a vacation.  I take a personal retreat every year for 4 days in the mountains.  So refreshing and rejuvenating!  Find at least one daily activity that you can do for your own joy–paint your nails, read for 30 minutes, walk a trail, finger paint, write.  Find God within and without.  Meditate on Scripture, pray, sit in quietness and feel God’s presence.  Connect with friends for coffee, meals.  Sometimes, I make a coffee date with a long-distance friend.  Even 15 minutes can lift my spirit.

And don’t forget that people are not defined by what challenges their lives.  Don’t let the challenges define the relationship.  Remember to have fun!  Remember to laugh!  Remember to enjoy the presence of each other!

Because, we don’t ever want to stand over your grave wishing for a do-over.

If you or someone you love is struggling, please get help.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always available:  1-800-273-8255.  

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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All Are Welcome

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‘“Come!” say the Spirit and the Bride.
Whoever hears, echo, “Come!”
Is anyone thirsty? Come!
All who will, come and drink,
Drink freely of the Water of Life!’ –Revelation 22:17 (The Message)

Last Wednesday, Jud and I attended a gathering that discussed how to have a conversation between opposing viewpoints.  The 1  hour 15 minute drive took 2 hours in Denver rush-hour traffic.  Why did we go?  We feel desperate.  Desperate for spiritual nourishment.  Desperate for unity (not uniformity).  Desperate to meet at a table where others can disagree and still like each other.  At The Refuge, we found a diverse group–a lawyer who’s a pilot, ‘FedEx’ who’s a pastor of a biker church, a man who runs a ministry for homeless youth, a man and woman who are friends and co-pastor equally this group of normally unconnected people.

We felt refreshed.

We felt for the first time in a long time that we belonged.

We felt hope.

The co-pastors don’t agree on how to live out controversies over same-sex marriage; but neither of them walk away from the discussion.  Neither of them have trumped the other with hermeneutics or the-Bible-clearly-says conversation killers.  They have both put their friendship first; and out of that love and care for each other, they disagree on a few things.  I found myself tearing up often during the evening because I realize most of my more conservative friends refuse to open the conversation.  It seems that they believe that to admit there may be another way to view and interpret the Bible opens the doors to Hell.  Just the discussion becomes ‘a slippery slope’ and puts us in league with Satan.

How did the conversation become so ‘evil’?  When did people decide to shut down discussion at all costs, because to entertain another viewpoint means we affirm it?  When did our integrity become so fragile that we will only associate with those of homogenous thinking for fear of someone labeling us ‘guilty by association’?  When did the ‘issues’ become the line in the sand that we will not cross?

In talking with a friend the day after the event, it dawned on me how difficult it is to find people in the conservative camp willing to dialogue in a respectful way (and I am sure there are many in the conservative camp that feel the same way about the progressive camp).  The ones I know believe that just the dialogue compromises their beliefs.  One thing that sticks with me from the gathering on Wednesday is that we define ‘unity’ as black and white meeting in the middle and both becoming gray.  In reality, one of the co-pastors said that it’s more like polka dots on a solid background.

How do we learn to co-habitate with one another without fearing our polka dot will dissolve into the background color?

We can focus on God–Father, Christ, Holy Spirit.  He is the background color (which probably is gray).  All our black and white polka dots (and every other color in the spectrum) are found in Him.  We all, no matter our views on ‘issues’, carry a piece of His perspective.  Every time I want to yell IDIOT! because I think some policy unjust or unfair in the Christian world, I can breathe and remember that the person who created the policy or procedure comes from a sincere belief.  I can remember to respect the person’s heart–as I’ve wanted others to respect mine in my growth.

Regardless of what some Christian leaders proclaim, I do believe that we can find a ‘third way’ of unity.  A way where all are welcome, respected, given dignity.  The co-pastor that represented the more evangelical thought said that policies are conversation killers.  As soon as a church forms an official policy, how can there be open dialogue?  Yet, in our institutional, systematic approach to church, how can we not have policies to help people decide if they can live with the beliefs of the particular church.  Ideally, I’d love to see more churches and pastors able to set policies and personal beliefs aside in order to have messy, potentially-offending, learning-humilty-and-other-focussed-living congregations.  Maybe it’s a Sesame Street dream; but I choose to dream.

I don’t believe that all churches can become ‘third way’ churches.  I’m not sure it would be healthy.  If we really believe that following Jesus is a journey, we need all sorts of gathering places to accommodate all sorts of belief systems.  How can a person with strong conservative beliefs suddenly be expected to worship alongside a gay couple (without malice, distraction and a hardening heart)?  How can a person passionate and committed to advocating marriage equality suddenly be expected to worship in a community that denies church membership to gay people who are in relationships (without malice, distraction and a hardening of heart)?  I may be romantic in my thinking; but I’m also pragmatic.

Many need to know the stability of boundaries with controversial issues; but some of us need the messiness of ‘third way’ gatherings.  We need the opposing views, because we believe what makes us different, makes us interesting.  We find safety in seeing unity in the midst of disagreement; because if God isn’t threatened by our humble questioning, then why are we so threatened by opposing thoughts?  We want to truly believe that all are welcome without shame and without restrictions.  We want to believe that we are one, just as Jesus and the Father are one.  We want to believe that opposing views don’t eject us from the faith, and that brothers and sisters really do live in unity.

Or, at least, that it’s possible.

I’d love to hear from you!  What do you think of the growing ‘third way’ gathering?  Is it possible to live in unity with opposing viewpoints?  

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Fake Clothes

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Suddenly their eyes were opened to a reality previously unknown. For the first time, they sensed their vulnerability and rushed to hide their naked bodies, stitching fig leaves into crude loincloths’ –Genesis 3:7 (The Voice).

My son likes to kid me about the ‘fake’ jackets that I wear.  I am almost always hot–especially since hitting my late 40s–but because people look at me oddly when I got out in the dead of winter in a tank top, I wear what I consider ‘light’ jackets.  My son calls them ‘fake clothes.’  You see, they are the thinnest cotton material I can find.  And I wear tank tops underneath them, so that when I’m finished at the store, I can remove said jacket and drive home in comfort.  Wearing my ‘fake clothes’ gives me the appearance of conforming to what everyone else expects anyone to wear in winter without having to answer many questions about “Aren’t you COLD?!  Unless someone looks a little closer.  Then I do have to answer why I’m not wearing something warmer.

My ‘fake’ clothes give me a way of feeling protected from social scorn.  I feel less vulnerable out in public if I have on a hoodie-like covering.  I feel less judged.  I feel less shame of not conforming.

I wonder if Adam and Eve felt a little like that when ‘their eyes were opened’?  If you take the story literally, why were they ashamed of their nakedness?  It was just the two of them, after all.  Or is there a broader meaning to the story than just the literal facts that we were taught to believe in Sunday School?  A meaning that reveals the heart of man and the wounds we carry?

The fig leaf clothes that Adam and Eve chose for themselves to protect, hide and create a barrier between themselves, only create an illusion of protection.  The more we believe in the illusion that these proverbial ‘fig leaves’ cover our emotions, secret thoughts and belief systems, and protect us from further wounding, the more we isolate ourselves in a hellish trap where the wounds fester and infect our souls and spirits.

However, what if we don’t believe the illusion?  What if we admit to our masks–even if we still wear them?  Are we still trapped?  In my desire to live without shame, can I actually make myself more vulnerable to shame?

Yes.

Sometimes I forget the wisdom of opening up to only a few trusted companions.  Not everyone needs to know the circumstances that make life hard or why invitations get declined.  In 2 Kings 4, a woman’s son dies.  She knows that Elisha the prophet can raise him.  She tells her husband … nothing.  She tells Elisha’s servant that everything is fine.  Finally, she breaks down at the feet of Elisha.  Everything was never fine; but she chose to put on her game face until she faced the one who could offer help.  (As an aside, in the end, her son lives.)

Where was her confidence?  In her mask?  No.  It was in God–or at the very least, in the man of God.  That’s the difference between ‘fig leaves’ and reserving information.  As I process my own private woundings and circumstances, I want to learn how to live authentically without over-sharing.  Most of my struggle, though, is in actually sharing my heart–especially my fears and sadnesses–with my few trusted friends.  I want to learn the difference between ‘fake clothes’ that just make life less complicated with people who haven’t invested in my life and ‘fig leaves’ that I trust to protect my identity and my heart, but only create a barrier between me and those who love me.

I’d love to hear from you!  Have you trusted in some ‘fig leaves’?  How can you distinguish between wisely vulnerable living and insulating to the point of heart-isolation?

 

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Remembering The Fallen

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‘Come, gaze, fix your eyes on what the Eternal can do.  Amazing, He has worked desolation here on this battlefield, earth.  God can stop wars anywhere in the world.  He can make scrap of all weapons: snap bows, shatter spears, and burn shields.  “Be still, be calm, see, and understand I am the True God”‘  –Psalm 46:8-10.

Having lived the military life for most of our marriage, we have seen our share of people and families who ‘paid the ultimate price.’  I think on a few of them during Memorial Day weekend.

Bob, and a couple of others, introduced Jud to Jesus and discipled him during his Air Force Academy days.  Jud asked him to be his best man at our wedding; but Bob had commitments overseas and couldn’t make it.  Shortly after we married, we got word that Bob had the honor of going to Red Flag (an elite air-to-air combat training).  His plane hit a ridge on a blind turn.  His funeral introduced me to the reality of military service.  Seeing the folding of our nation’s flag that had rested on his coffin in slow-motion tenderness and honor by other Air Force men took my breath away and reduced me to sobbing.  I prayed for his girlfriend for years, knowing from Jud that Bob would have probably proposed to her had he lived.

Mark, the son of a general, married his Air Force Academy sweetheart right after graduation.  Both he and his wife graduated with Jud.  I got to meet them in Germany when we all attended the same home fellowship for church.  His wife and I forged a friendship while our children played at parks or in our homes together.  We prayed for her and through her house when Mark was away on a mission and she had some odd happenings.  We found that in countries with long histories and longer memories, many odd occurrences disrupted daily routines.  Sometimes I think the liminal space between earthly and spiritual realms is thinner in places like that.  When they moved to Italy and we to Alabama, all of us had hopes of the future!  When I got the phone call from another friend that Mark’s plane had gone down in a fireball over the Adriatic Sea, I prayed through my sobbing that God would send a miracle and allow Mark to actually live.  When no miracle came, I mourned with his widow and children.

We know others who didn’t physically die, but have emotionally and mentally paid the highest price.  My cousin who fought in Vietnam and kept the nightmares and horrors to himself with more prescriptions and pill bottles than my mom had ever seen, until he couldn’t keep his demons at bay any longer and eventually took his life.  Others who suffer from PTSD, amputated limbs, memories of comrades who died, and prayed for death themselves.  I think of my grandfather who fought in WWI.  He lived through the war; but he was gassed in the trenches and developed stomach cancer when he returned home.  He died when my father was a child.

I don’t want this post to make anyone depressed; but I do hope you will take a sober moment this weekend as we bar-b-que and enjoy camping, time with family or great shopping deals to remember the price paid by many in the military and their families for our county’s freedom and standing in our world.

Pray for them.  Ask God to lead you to families who have lost through death or damage husbands/wives/fathers/mothers and offer your service to them in yard work, childcare or just a listening ear of friendship.

Pray for our world.  Ask God to raise up nation leaders who will commit to diplomacy and broader thinking than their own selfish desires.

Pray that we will figure out a way to live peacefully with others and we won’t have to remember new names on the white headstones in the national cemeteries in the coming years.

I’d love to hear from you!!  Who do you remember on Memorial Day? 

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The Teachings of Down Syndrome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.nbcnews.com/health/could-it-be-cure-breakthrough-prompts-down-syndrome-soul-searching-6C10879213

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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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Of Course They Know …

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‘By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends”’ –Luke 15:1-3.

“I, myself, have several gay friends,” he started.  Then hurriedly added, “Of course they know where I stand on that issue.”

My blood went cold and I felt shame wash all over me.  Because I had said those very same words.  In that same context and in other contexts over the years.  But when I heard him say it, I heard it for the first time through the hearts of the minority, the voiceless and the powerless.  Perhaps I felt more connection with people outside the accepted church population because I had read that week about Jesus dining with notorious sinners–tax collectors and other social outcasts’ (Luke 15:1, The Voice) and the scandal he raised with religious leaders.  In my shock, I got the impression that God asked me, ‘Why does it matter if they know where you stand on the issue of their lives?’

With time-elapse speed, I went through the life of Jesus and couldn’t come up with one time that he said to his disciples or anyone he ministered to, “I offer you grace, mercy and unconditional love of the Father.  BUT … Of course you know where I stand on your behavior.”  Not once.  So why do we?

I’m growing to believe that the answer lies in the word grace.  We don’t really know what to do with that concept.  It offends our sense of justice and order.  If we’re honest, we probably don’t believe that God got it right.  We think we need to speak truth (as long as we throw in an I’m-only-saying-this-because-I-love-you line) about what we think of someone’s life so that people know that grace, mercy and unconditional love have rules.  I’ve heard people say things like, “We can’t let this grace thing get out of hand, or people will take advantage.”  Probably true.  But should that be our primary focus?

What if we focussed primarily on the hearts of the people Jesus spent time with–the social outcasts and those labelled ‘sinner’?  Are we willing to allow others to tarnish our reputations?  Are we willing to become fodder for church gossip because we associate with people on the fringe?  Are we willing to admit that maybe we’ve got it wrong, and some things that we label as ‘sinful’ are not viewed that way by God?  Are we willing to invest more of ourselves in the stories of others, joining their life journey and allowing them to join ours–without offering our opinion of their lives unless asked?

Paul addresses unfettered grace in the book of Romans.  He does not say that grace needs tempering by the Law.  However, he does say in chapter 6, ‘Shall we sin to our heart’s content and see how far we can exploit the grace of God? What a ghastly thought!’  Oh, that churches could have the problem of people asking that question about exploiting grace!  If only we preached a gospel that forces that question!  Perhaps if we focussed on the life Christ offers us and let others unite with us in that life, we would find that our nit-picking on ‘sin’ (which no one asked our thoughts on in their lives) would disappear like mist in the sun.  Perhaps then we could cover the shame that separates so many from believing the grace of Christ is real.  Perhaps in covering others’ shame, we would grow in humility and allow them to cover our shame.

In the shame I felt when my friend’s words haunted my memory of words I had spoken, I remembered grace and forgiveness.  I thanked God that I am no longer that girl who uttered those words in years past.  I thanked Him for forgiving me and continuing to challenge me.

Thank you, Father, for loving us unconditionally.  Thank you, Spirit, for continuing to speak wisdom into my life.  Thank you, Jesus, for exemplifying grace.

Thank you so much, God, for letting ‘this grace thing get out of control.’

Have you begun to hear words and phrases differently than when you were younger?  What are some of the lessons you’re learning about grace in your life?

 

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The Power of Humility

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“Take my yoke upon you.  Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” –Matthew 11:29

This week, I discovered that a friend ‘unfriended’ me on Facebook.  Oh, it didn’t surprise me.  Not really.  While we knew and liked each other years ago, geographical distance had taken its toll on our lives.  We rarely had seen each other outside of church when we lived in the same state; but I truly had thought of her as a kindred spirit when it came to family and passion for God.  I knew we didn’t agree on much politically, and perhaps interpreted certain Bible verses from different angles; however, none of that mattered to me, because those differences didn’t define who she is to me.  She has gone toe to toe with me on some of my more political comments.  She challenged and engaged me with scripture.  She encouraged me to use my writing for good and not evil.  It appears that I crossed a line in my views that she could no longer tolerate.  Apparently, she didn’t share the same attitude that what makes us different makes us interesting.

So, she did what has become the schoolyard snub and ‘unfriended’ me.

I don’t know that she hates me (that would be un-Christian); but if she secretly reviles me for my views, I’m not offended.  I’ve been hated and reviled before–at times, even I can admit it was justified.  Because I’ve always loved words, and especially creating them on blank canvasses, words tend to get me into trouble.  Being an extrovert, words flow out of my mouth, often before I think through the thoughts.  So, I have apologized time and again and will continue to apologize, I’m sure.  However, I don’t ask anyone to apologize for their opinions and I offer no apology for mine.  I do offer a seat in my home for discussion–even heated discussion–without fear of shame or rejection.  Don’t put me up on a pedestal.  I can be more sophomoric than the next person (and I have a few friends who can attest to the lengths of my immaturity); but in situations of differing philosophies, ideologies and interpretations, I am broad-minded and tough-skinned.  I don’t think my friend will invite me to share her table any time soon.  Too bad, because I still make her mother-in-law’s sweet potato casserole for Thanksgiving every year–delicious!

In reflecting on my friend’s snub, I wondered why it bothered me so much.  I don’t often get caught up in rejection–not that it doesn’t bother me at all; but rejection isn’t one of my prominent insecurities or issues.  So, as I sat with my feelings of loneliness, my thoughts turned to Syria, Egypt, Israel/Palestine, America and all the dead-in-the-water negotiations our world has tried to garner diplomatically.  If ‘friends’ can’t get along with differing views, is it possible to expect national leaders to act reasonably?  If only ‘they’ could see ‘our’ point rationally.  Surely, we can talk it out and break the cycles of tyranny, oppression and revenge.  Surely, people (especially leaders) want good for their people and the rest of the world.  Surely, national leaders envision the consequences of their actions.  Surely, people want to eradicate evil in our world.  Except that most people don’t admit we have to eradicate that evil from within ourselves, and not others, first.  Part of the problem we face is that we want to see humility in the person we face, while we keep our own pride.  Do you see that in leaders like Assad who defiantly assert their power regardless of whether their actions are humane or sane?

I remember conversations in our last presidential election and all the issues debated privately and publicly.  At one point, I stopped caring about the issues and said that I was tired of arrogant men.  I would vote for a person with some humility.  My candidate didn’t come close to winning.  In our schoolyard tussles, aren’t pride, arrogance, superiority and power the driving forces?  If we can’t stop our own selfishness, how can we hope to eradicate global selfishness?  It always begins with us.

As I follow-up with Pope Francis’ encouragement for people of all faiths to fast and pray this weekend for Syria, the Middle East and the rest of the world, my heart prays for humility in our global leaders, humility in our spiritual leaders, humility in my own heart.  Humility is the foundation for understanding another point of view.  Humility creates an atmosphere of negotiation.  Humility begets flexibility, kindness and reasonableness.  Humility won’t allow one-upmanship and doesn’t do anything to teach “them” a lesson.

And I find that as I exercise these ancient traditions of prayer and fasting, my own heart softens toward my friend.  My knee-jerk reaction to reject her at a higher level and ‘block’ her on Facebook (because that would really show her) loses its power and I can let go of the hurt.  I begin to realize that if all of us would take time to regularly humble ourselves, we really can affect change in our world–end hunger, global warming, genocides, sex-trades, prejudice and hate crimes–because the problems our world faces are problems in our own hearts.  The more we find our own selfishness unacceptable, the better chance we have of electing officials who have done the same, the better the chance that we will work together to find answers that don’t include weapons of mass destruction.

For my part, I humbly offer a seat at the table for my friend’s point of view.  Because I still believe that our differences make us interesting, and we need those differences to help us see the whole picture–and not just our own little corner.

Have you experienced the power of humility either in yourself or through a leader?  What are some other traits that you appreciate in relationships?

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Back To School

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My youngest started his senior year last week.  He’s taking a few college classes and his final few high school classes.  As I reflect on my final time graduating from high school (when he graduates, I will have graduated 4 times total), I remember all the back-to-school shoppings, disagreements over uniforms and the bags upon bags of well-ordered supplies for the individual teachers’ classrooms.  I will NOT miss the ‘midnight runs’ to Walmart in search of the ever elusive items on the supply lists.

As a microcosm for the world, school serves as a great analogy.  Sadly, enough of us don’t learn the lessons that recess and lunch time should teach us.  We focus on academics–which are important (VERY important, if my kids are reading this post).  But can we all agree that navigating the awkward and painful social setting of school can make or break us as adults?  I remember schoolyard posturing: A couple of people (usually guys, but the girls could get into the cat fights too) would disagree about something–usually territory which included girlfriends/boyfriends, sports team positions, clothes, opinions, sports equipment, hairstyles.  Really, anything except academics.  The disagreement would escalate into a heated argument where said people would amass their ‘armies’ (everyone at the school could pick a side and if you didn’t, one was picked for you) by overblowing the offense, then they would puff out their chests like a rooster and start the trash talk which usually ended with, “I’m going to mess you up.”  I actually never saw a real-life fist fight.  I know they happened because I did see the black eyes and the bruised knuckles.  Many times, it all ended with the trash talk.

*SIGH*

Not much has changed in our world and it seems that these schoolyard tussles are universal to all cultures.  As I watch our country on the cusp of another war, a war many political pundits say could become a WWIII, I wonder what lessons we didn’t learn in school?  How do we avoid war when grown-up bullies have so many more dangerous weapons at their disposal than fists, knives and even guns?  When a leader like Assad doesn’t care about what happens to his own people, callously uses chemical weapons on a school and arrogantly defies the Geneva Convention, how do we stop him without stooping to his level?  Why has it taken 2 years for the world to do more than pontificate and threaten Syria with action?

As a parent, I know I learned to use my children’s ‘currency’ to shape their behavior and help them learn civility.  What is Assad’s currency?  Power?  Ego?  How do we make bullies back down on the schoolyard?  We call their bluff, we don’t engage in their antics or we fight and overpower them.  I have to ask again:  How do we stop him without stooping to his level?  Because, ultimately, this question separates us from terrorist inhumanity.

I wish I had sane answers.  Hindsight is 20/20 and if the world had executed a plan before now, perhaps we would not face war. Perhaps if we had learned our lessons from the Hitlers, Stalins, bin Ladens or Gadhafis, we would have acted sooner and more diplomatic solutions may have worked–or at least lessened the severity of the situation we now face.  But, we didn’t execute a plan  and haven’t learned our lessons and now Assad has crossed a line that the world should not ignore.  He has bullied his people and will soon bully the world.  We know he will not act reasonably.

 I’ve heard so many analysts say that our country is war-weary.  I agree, and we have not had to deal with it up close and personal–except for our military who have the external and internal scars to prove their sacrifice.  However, weariness is not a reason to let victims stand alone.  Weariness will not excuse us of turning a blind eye.  Weariness cannot be a decision-maker.
So, while I don’t have any answers (and I’m glad I’m not making the decisions), I watch with a sober spirit as this chapter of our world’s history unfolds.  I shed tears thinking of the loss of life that has happened and that will happen–regardless of our response.  I pray that God remains in control of history and will look compassionately on the innocent people caught in the crossfire.  I pray that peace will come and that cooler heads will prevail.  I pray that all sides will listen to reason and want to work toward a humane solution.  If nothing else, I pray a swift end to war.
Will you pray with me for peace in the Middle East?  What are some solutions to world  or personal conflicts that you have employed?

 

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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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HAPPY MANHOOD DAY!!

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Since I did a post celebrating all women and how we ‘parent’ regardless of our biological child status, it seems only fair to do the same for men.  I’ve had many men in my life who represent true manhood.  Let me define ‘true manhood.’

My father grew up in Manchester, England, with a father who typified Northern English manhood.  He was stern, distant and unemotional.  He died when my dad was 8.  My dad lived through WWII in England and survived the aftermath before immigrating to the United States.  He could have become a stern, distant man.  Instead, he embodied compassion to me when we visited relatives in Texas one year.  We always stopped in my mom’s childhood town to visit Elizabeth who cleaned and cooked for my mom’s family.  This one year, Elizabeth wanted to buy a used car and asked my dad to check it out for her.  Elizabeth needed a better car to take her ailing mother to doctor’s appointments.  My dad gave his ‘okay’ after looking over the car, then before we left Elizabeth, he gave her the rest of the money she needed to buy it.  When he and my mom discussed it, he said that he didn’t want Elizabeth to wait until she could save up the rest of the money–she had already made a couple of payments to ‘hold’ the car from the woman selling it.  My father embodies ‘true manhood’ with his compassion.

John Mark pastored a church in Alabama.  I’ve mentioned the congregation in a previous post–‘holiness’ people on one side of the aisle, AA people on the other side.  I can’t imagine how John Mark walked that tightrope and led such differing people!  He tempered the ‘holiness’ people with grace and gave the AA people boundaries.  Two pastors remind my heart that God really does make His home with us.  Tom, who married Jud and I, and John Mark.  Having the ability to make both ‘holiness’ and AA people feel accepted and at home while defending truth and grace, John Mark embodied ‘true manhood.’

My sons remind me that youth, also, man-up.  Both J and Jon have hearts that break for injustice.  I’ve watched them both stand up in different ways for people that society disapproves.  My heart swells with pride when I hear their stories and they don’t know how much their efforts mean.  Their hearts make their actions natural and without arrogance.  Their humility and natural way of living embodies ‘true manhood.’

And, of course, Jud.  His respect of all people and cultures, his openness to new thoughts and his desire to always grow in character, knowledge and wisdom makes me want to be a better person.  His ability to speak kindly and steadily has helped my impetuous nature become a little more intentional (no small task on his part!).  I remember one time, a friend asked several of us to offer counsel on a job opportunity he was considering.  All of us had vocal opinions.  Except Jud.  For about an hour, we all dissected the options from every angle.  It reminds me of putting a puzzle together.  We all had our pieces, but didn’t know where to put them–or even what the puzzle picture looked like.  Jud listened.  Especially to our friend.  After the lengthy discussion where nothing showed our friend clarity, we needed to leave.  But, before we left, Jud spoke amazing wisdom to our friend’s character and then proceeded to put all the puzzle pieces from the discussion together.  The rest of us, our mouths gaping, sat in silence and awe until he finished.  His ability to assess situations and speak wisdom into them embodies ‘true manhood.’

So, for all the men out there who have ‘fathered’ others–biological children, step-children, adopted children, teens, adults, and those of us who have yet to outgrow the sophomoric phases–I honor you!  Those of you who are unsung because you live your life quietly, with integrity and compassion, I applaud you.  Those of you who don’t fit into the ‘stereotypical’ mold of what a manly man is and haven’t always felt respected, yet you keep living your life by respecting others, I weep in gratitude.  For all the unsung men and all the sung men who strive to make our world a more just, kind, generous place for the coming generations, today is your day!  May you feel CELEBRATED!!

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HAPPY WOMANHOOD DAY!!!

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To all women who have influenced lives and helped shape the next generation, HATS OFF TO YOU!!  Today, may be called ‘Mother’s Day,’ but all women should be CELEBRATED (whether they conceived a child physically, through fostering or adopting, or mentored someone and helped the journey through life)!!  If we are friends, family, teachers or leaders in youth organizations, we have all ‘mothered’ children, teens and adults.

Thank you to all the women in my life who have made me the person I am today.  Thank you for your wisdom, your nurturing, your ability to challenge my thinking.  Thank you for your courage, your character and your depth of soul.  Thank you for showing those you influence how to have grace under pressure, how to grieve loss, how to rejoice with others and how to live every season of life with joy.

‘Mother’s Day’ doesn’t begin to encompass my wonderfully varied gender.  So I am changing the name to include all the ones who have mothered people in generations past and present, given a legacy to future generations of what it means to be a woman and have gone unsung and unnoticed by society.

YOU ARE NOTICED!  YOU ARE WORTHY!  YOU ARE LOVED!  ALL Y’ALL HAVE EARNED THE TITLE ‘MOTHER’!!  I CELEBRATE YOU!!

 

 

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Paths of Righteousness

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Recently, some friends accused me of compromising the gospel because of how I relate to people’s experiences and their stories.  I don’t often call-out ‘sin’ in people’s lives, but instead, I walk with them and offer counsel as they ask.  My philosophy is that I earn the right to speak into their lives as they see I sincerely care for them and am on their side.  Psalm 23 resonates on many levels for me.   “He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3) is my favorite line.  Do you see its beauty?  Paths.  Plural.  More than one.  In my belief system, for me, there is only one way to God and that is believing Jesus.  BUT, that’s not the sum of the beautiful, wondrous story of salvation.  So much more awaits us as we journey into oneness with each other and with God.  No one story will look alike.  Snowflakes, all of us, unique and yet appearing the same on the surface.  Yet, no one path contains the full mystery of God’s grace, God’s righteousness, God’s kingdom!  Many paths lead us to Jesus.

Sometimes I want my path to be the path where everyone finds God’s glorious treasures.  Surely, my tailor-made blessings from God would fit anyone.  How many of us have seen The Grand Canyon and gasped at its breathtaking grandeur?  I talked with a long-time family friend who visited that majestic tapestry of God’s handiwork and thought, “Eh, it’s just a big hole in the ground.”  Seriously?!  Someone experienced that divine creation differently than I do?!  A neighbor of my parents is an entomologist.  She has bug specimens all over her house (EEEEWWWWW!!).  Now, I have three kryptonite-level phobias.  Fear of bugs tops that list.  I even created a theology, of sorts, about bugs–they are a result of The Fall and epitomize sin entering the world.  They are NOT found in heaven (and we need to be quite clear on that point–except maybe butterflies, fireflies and ladybugs).  However, the neighbor sees God in the world of bugs and can actually worship Him in thinking about their creation.  Puzzling to me, but it’s not my path.  Could paths leading to our heart’s refinement be just as diverse?  Could God actually use His gift of mercy in me to lead someone else on a path to His righteousness which wouldn’t be found by overt ‘evangelism’?  Am I willing to admit that my ‘witness’ is flawed and not a one-size-fits-all for God to use in everyone’s life?

A few weeks ago, I went to a store looking for some art supplies for my son to finish his art project.  Because the store is large and poorly laid out (or brilliantly laid out to get people to buy more–depends on perspective), I traversed for 15 minutes before giving up and finding an employee to ask directions.  While the woman answered my question, she seemed to have a heavy heart.  I asked her if she was okay before going on with my agenda.  Her son, a security guard for an apartment complex in a rough part of town, had been shot early that morning and the store wouldn’t let her leave work.  Thankfully, the bullet hit his bullet-proof vest; but, naturally, the woman wanted to see her son.  After empathizing with her for about 10 minutes, I hurried to finish my original art supply errand.  Driving home, the shame began to creep up behind me.  I should have prayed with her.  I should have mentioned Jesus.  I should have witnessed more…better…overtly.  That evening, still beating myself up for missing an evangelism opportunity once again, I believe God spoke peace into my spirit.  She needed to vent and process.  She needed someone to enter her world of concern and worry.  She needed someone to soothe her soul in that moment.  In that moment, my gifting became God’s presence for her.  In that moment, God met her.  If God needs her to hear more overt evangelism, He’ll send someone else down her path.  Someone He’s trained with that gift.

What if God wants me to just lay the groundwork for another to ‘harvest’?  What if a person needs to learn to trust in the unconditional love of God before he or she can hear correction?  What if someone’s perceived ‘sin’ by us is not God’s definition of ‘sin’ or biggest concern in that person’s life?  Can we hear Jesus’ words to Peter when he hears what his future will hold and asks Jesus about John’s future, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?  As for you, follow Me.”  (John 21:22)  Are we willing to follow where we see or hear Jesus leading us regardless of how someone else’s path looks or to whom another is called to minister?

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Memorials

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In about a month, I will go cat-sit for my parents while they travel to Texas for my aunt’s memorial service.  Aunt Vivienne grew up in northern England.  Being 11 years older, she treated my dad more like a doll or plaything.  My dad remembers as a small child his sister and her friend sticking pins in him–they wanted to be nurses and practiced giving shots on my dad.  Ah, youth….

My dad remembers charmingly fun times in his town outside of Manchester.  He has always declared that there is no finer place to be than England at Christmastime.  After living in Germany for 3 years, I have to admit that European Christmases  transported me back to childhood.  But, those idyllic times intersperse with surreal ugly times.  My grandfather died when my dad was about 8.  He had been gassed in the trenches during WWI and doctors believe that’s where his stomach cancer originated.  The men of the town spoke to my dad in reverence about my grandfather.  Whatever my grandfather did during WWI to evoke that respect will never come to light.  Then WWII came and Manchester received the second most bombings next to London.

My dad remembers ‘double-daylight-savings’.  The factory workers needed light when they got off work to tend their gardens–without that produce, they would have starved.  He remembers bombs exploding and air raid sirens.  He remembers being thrown from his bed when a bomb exploded about 2 blocks from his house–he has tinnitus in his ears from that event.  He remembers after the trauma of war, being sent away to boarding school because my grandma didn’t have enough food for him and figured if there was food in England, the government would see to it that the children got it.  He remembers and the memory haunts his sleep with nightmares that he doesn’t share.

Aunt Vivienne married an American soldier whom she met at a USO dance, and she moved to Texas with my Uncle Harry.  Devastated in England, my dad and grandma eventually emigrated to America and joined Aunt Vivienne and Uncle Harry in Texas.  My dad was 17.  He’s never been back to England.  But his gratitude for my aunt and uncle, my uncle’s family who gave him a job and took him in as their own family and all the people who made his transition to America joy-filled and community-loving remains constantly in his heart and life toward others–part of my heritage.

So with the passing of my 91 year old aunt, I reflect on legacy and lifespans.  She saw so much history in her life.  She kept so many thoughts on those events sealed in her heart.

All of us do.  We have life events that many may know; but how we process through those things, very few experience with us.  Part of my dad’s grief is that Aunt Vivienne’s death closes a chapter of my dad’s childhood.  The last person who experienced (or was allowed to experience through memory and sharing) that part of his life is gone, and she took with her the piece of my dad’s memory that she shared with him.  He lost his sister and his last connection to his childhood in England.

The three years that Jesus spent with his disciples must have felt so full of life.  Good times, bad times, mundane times as they walked all over and lived life together.  And not just any life–Kingdom Life.  God’s life coming down.  The glorious entry into Jerusalem.  Shared story.  WOW!  And then he was gone.  Yes, he resurrected, but then he ascended.  As they waited for the Holy Spirit to come to them, I wonder if they grieved Jesus not being with them physically?  They remembered.  They had each other.  They remembered together–and perhaps the remembering sustained them. Then, the Holy Spirit came, they finally got Jesus’ message and the world changed forever.  Now that’s a legacy!!  But what if they had kept all that memory sealed up in their hearts or only shared amongst themselves?  What if they hadn’t understood that sharing the remembrances would propel faith in others and light a fire of expectation that the kingdom of God really could be here and now?

I take my friends for granted…often.  I don’t always fully appreciate sharing life with each other.  I overlook opportunities to reveal my heart.  I don’t want to remember times past when that sharing took place.  I want to learn by failure and success how to open up more of myself–thus starting the blog.  I don’t want to memorialize around a grave.  I want today to celebrate life, love, relationship and shared stories of God at work in our lives!

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