Life Is Good

Standard

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

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

Waiting For Resurrection

Standard

After the Sabbath, as the light of the next day, the first day of the week, crept over Palestine, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the tomb to keep vigil. Earlier there had been an earthquake. A messenger of the Lord had come down from heaven and had gone to the grave. He rolled away the stone and sat down on top of it. He veritably glowed. He was vibrating with light. His clothes were light, white like transfiguration, like fresh snow. The soldiers guarding the tomb were terrified. They froze like stone. –Matthew 28:1-4

I used to love Easter sunrise services in Arizona.  As a teenager, many from our youth group would gather in the church parking lot and climb ‘A’ Mountain (the little hill with a giant ‘A’ embedded in it for ASU–Arizona State University).  We would sit in silence facing east, waiting for the sun to rise.  We each reflected on our own thoughts.  I’m sure some thought, ‘Why did I get up so freakin’ early?!’  I’m sure I thought that at least one year.

But most of the time, my thoughts on Easter reflected how much I knew God loved us.  The gratitude inside me would well up to almost bursting and coincided with the sunrise.

I miss those Easter sunrises.  Here in Colorado, the warmth of the blankets usually keeps me snuggled and asleep at dawn.  I miss the camaraderie, the community, the connection between ‘us’ and God.  In recent years, I haven’t felt very ‘together’ with other church-goers.  Instead, I’ve felt disconnected, and at times betrayed.

Isolated and ignored. 

Dead and buried.

Our American evangelical church-system hasn’t figured out yet how to encourage once-mighty-leaders and allow us to question and expand our Sunday-school-answer view of God.  We haven’t learned how to walk alongside people and keep them company as they live their journey of faith.  In my experience, our best solution has involved putting people in their own corners and telling them that ‘we’ll be over here when you’re done with your time-out.’  

*sigh*

The disciples must have felt similarly.  When Jesus died, they must have felt a part of them died.  The part that believed like children believe in magical endings.  The part that hoped for a fulfillment of all the stories they’d heard in their childhood about God and saviors and finally putting the world right (with them on top).  The part that believed all things were possible, like Jesus told them.  The part that kept them connected to each other.

It took them less than a day to disperse and disconnect from each other.  Only the women remained together, united at the tomb, sharing their grief.  

Then, the angel at the tomb said, “He is risen.  Just as He said.”  And in a moment’s flash, hope was restored.  Mary encounters Jesus, and He tells her to gather all the disciples.  They experience Christ’s resurrection, and their own resurrection of soul.  They spend many days together before Christ’s ascension.  It’s a glorious ending to the Gospel accounts!

An ending worthy of celebration!

I didn’t go to church this Easter morning.  The thought of celebrating resurrection weighed heavy on my heart when I feel like my spirit is still waiting for the stone to be rolled away.  Faith growing-pains are arduous and take more than a few days to complete.  I see glimpses that resurrection will come.  And I wait with anticipation in the midst of fear and grieving that the poignancy of the old ways have tarnished and rusted.  Because they need to give way to a faith that’s deeper than youth’s naive heart.  Because they don’t contain the profound wisdom that comes with growing older with God.  Because Christ’s resurrection gives us maturity to be peers with Him instead of constantly expecting Him to take sole responsibility for our spiritual hunger and entertainment.

The benefits of growing up definitely outweigh the benefits of remaining as a child.  The more we choose to accept the process, the more freedom we experience.  Children think they have freedom; but their parents (if they are wise and good) keep strong boundaries so that when the children are old, they will know how and when to expand those boundaries.  

So, I wait by the tomb.

I wait for my spirit to expand enough to contain Christ’s resurrection for this season of my life.

I wait with those who no longer find their childhood church systems fulfilling.

I wait in expectation to hear ‘just as He said’ and receive the fulfilled-promise of new life, renewed joy, restored equality in Christ for everyone.

I wait for Easter morning to come.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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

What Does God Look Like?

Standard

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.

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

Living Christmas All Year

Standard

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

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

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

… And fight to the death.

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

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

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

What does that mean?

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

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

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

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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

Angelic Hosts Proclaim

Standard
“At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
‘Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him'” –Luke 2:13-14.
 

The heavenly host singing is my daughter’s favorite part of  the story of Jesus’ birth.  I imagine what the shepherds may have seen.  Did it appear that the stars all came to life?  Did angels materialize?  Did their song sound like Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus?  I imagine the whole incident taking moments but seeming like hours.  I imagine breathlessness and hyperventilations as the shepherds gasped in awe, reverence … and fear.  Often, when angels appear in the Bible, the first words out of their mouths are, ‘Fear not.’  Often, I have put myself in the place of the person receiving an angelic visitor, and I doubt seriously that being told not to fear would calm my heart beating out of my chest.

We find angel figurines everywhere in Christmas decorations.  There’s a house not too far from mine that goes over-the-top decorating with nativity scenes, ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ banners, and angels galore.  Lighted angels ‘flying’ on every fence post.  Statues of bigger-than-life angels.  Angels ‘keeping watch’ over manger scenes.  Angels trumpeting.  Angels harping.  Angels … angels … everywhere.

It’s ridiculous in it’s gaudy, tacky, in-your-face-Jesus-is-the-reason-for-the-season showmanship.  After seeing it every year (and every year, the owners add to the display–making it so much more than the last year’s display), I feel the need to go home and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas because I need Linus in his simplicity to remind me what Christmas is truly about.  I love to hear the Peanuts crew sing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing in childlike purity.  Because with all the grandiosity of a heavenly host, a baby was born in a lowly, smelly, dirty stable.  Only heaven understood the royalty of Jesus’ birth.  Because only heaven recognized their king despite the humble setting.  The angels saw no shame in the feeding trough.  They saw only God.  The angels saw no shame in this poor, unwed mother.  They only saw one upon whom God rested His favor.

Makes me wonder what the angels see in the events of our lives that we find shameful.

What does Jesus’ birth mean to you?  To us?  I see in His birth a blending of lowly (shepherds) and mighty (wise men).  A blending of the irrelevant (shepherds) and the learned (wise men).  A blending of the chosen (the shepherds were Jewish) and the pagan (wise men were not Jewish).  A blending of the holy people of God (shepherds) and the secular people forsaken by God (wise men, because they weren’t ‘chosen’ in the Jewish sense).  I see God giving honor to unexpected guests.  He invited the most unlikely people to weave into His story of redemption.  He used what the Jews would have considered foolish to herald His coming–confounding their logical wisdom.  I see God leveling the playing field by not showing a bias of whom He invited.

A heavenly host heralded the shepherds to Jesus. A sign in the heavens led the wise men to Jesus. Do we look up enough to see what lowly, overlooked, insignificant person or circumstance might invite us to Jesus? God issued an invitation those shepherds would never forget–one that compelled them to go see a baby in a feeding trough and worship there.  Another heavenly invitation issued to wise men in Eastern lands that compelled them to give their wealth to a humble carpenter, his wife and child–and they worshipped there.

As we reflect on who Christ is, what He promoted, whom He honors, may we hear an angelic host invite us into the life He offers in abundance.

And may we see and experience God in the most humble of places … and worship there.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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

Living To Tell The Tale

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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

The Art of Loving

Standard

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

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

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

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

I am not enough.

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

That I am condemned by God.

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

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

I am accepted.

But not just accepted, I am cherished.

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

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

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

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

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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

Do-Overs

Standard

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.

 

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

Old Habits Die Hard

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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

Prisons and Pardons

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living In Rest

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stripping Wallpaper and Finding Christ

Standard

Jesus said, ‘Remember this: …if two or three of you come together as a community and discern clearly about anything, My Father in heaven will bless that discernment. For when two or three gather together in My name, I am there in the midst of them’ –Matthew 18:19-20.

I almost vetoed the house we own because of all the wallpaper in every bathroom and the master suite. The wallpaper and all the white flooring made me queasy as I watched our then young children exploring their new digs.  This summer, we’ve finally taken down the floor-to-ceiling wallpaper in our master bedroom and bathroom (the other bathrooms lost the wallpaper a few years ago).  The 1980s mauve and blue English victorian garden that covered the walls when we moved in 15 years ago finally had to go.  I say ‘we’; but in reality, Jud stripped all the wallpaper, and I will do the painting (at least most of it) this Fall.  In stripping the wallpaper, I contributed to the work by networking with friends to figure out the most expedient way to bring it down.  Most of our friends had stripped wallpaper in their lives.  The suggestions ranged from getting a steamer to Downy or vinegar mixed with water in a spray bottle.  Because of the size of the walls, we opted for the steamer (although Jud also used the spray bottle, at times).  Regardless of the method, stripping wallpaper is messy, time-consuming and exhausting.  I’m not a visual person, so I’ve enlisted the help of a friend to tell me what I like for style and paint color.  The enormity of the space intimidates me.  If left to my own devices, the room would end up looking like the Partridge Family’s psychedelic van.  Thus, the call to my friend.  I need someone to reign me in and give me a sanity check.

We need people like that in our ‘church’ lives too.  People who will allow us to question long-held beliefs.  People who will help us figure out what’s working and what’s not in our lives.  People who know us and know God deeply.  People who can help us strip away the old, tired, dated thinking that no longer serves our lives well.  Then, when all is stripped away, help us figure out what to do with the blank walls of our hearts.  The foundational structure of our spirits, hopefully, remains solid; but often we hold onto old ways of thinking like avocado green appliances and burnt-umber shag carpeting because they remind us of our heritage–not because they bring us closer to God.  ‘Church’ friends can help us through the messy, exhausting remodeling stages of our spiritual lives.

What do I mean by ‘church’ friends?  A friend asked the question this week, ‘How do we celebrate church in our lives?’  He feels discouraged that so many articles and blog posts express negative things about Christ’s Bride.  I believe we have to distinguish between church-the-building and Church-The-Bride-of-Christ.  I hope people continue to write about the ways that the structure of church-the-building needs to morph so that people experience less abuse there–so that more and more can see Church-The-Bride-of-Christ.

Church happens when two men meet for breakfast or yard work and weep for one another because they have found a place to share vulnerably the tough circumstances of life.  They feel no shame in their tears because here, in this sacred friendship, Christ is present.

Church occurs when brothers come together to help children and their families find hope.  Researching and developing, not fearing backlash, medical hemp strains that diminish seizures in children–hoping to find other hemp treatments for more diseases and disorders.  When we feel no shame in finding creative solutions that better our world, heaven comes to earth … and Christ is present.

Church shines when groups of people come together and pray for their community.  When out of that prayer, God gives glimpses of action that can change homelessness, sex-trafficking, addictions, child neglect/abuse … and we act on those God-given ideas … our world becomes kinder, more compassionate and hopeful.  When we feel no shame in our humility of needing others, we have a chance to experience the kingdom of God on earth … and Christ is present.

Church awakens when people can disagree on how to live out Christ’s life, but still remain friends.  When a friend can say, ‘I have a new perspective on this because it’s no longer an issue, it’s flesh and blood.’  When people grow into a new perspective on the heart of God, but have no idea how to live out all the implications.  In voicing without shame those conversations and not-having-all-the-answers, Christ is present.

The presence of Christ is not found in shared theology, but in shared lives … shared brokenness … shared joy … shared love.  May we all enjoy ‘church’ this week.

I’d love to hear from you!  How do you experience Christ’s presence?  How do you define ‘church’?

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

Just As He Said

Standard

“After the Sabbath, as the light of the next day, the first day of the week, crept over Palestine, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the tomb to keep vigil. … A messenger of the Lord had come down from heaven and had gone to the grave. He rolled away the stone and sat down on top of it. … The soldiers guarding the tomb were terrified. They froze like stone.  The messenger spoke to the women, to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, ‘Don’t be afraid. I know you are here keeping watch for Jesus who was crucified. But Jesus is not here. He was raised, just as He said He would be’“–Matthew 28:1-2, 4-6 (emphasis mine).

CHRIST IS RISEN!  How can we not feel the thrill through our hearts?  As I reflect on the heart-stopping awe that all the Marys in the various resurrection accounts must have felt, I rejoice with them and all the others that paved the way for me to celebrate today!

For many years (and probably decades) I have reveled in the angel’s words, ‘just as He said.’  Because Jesus told all the disciples outright that God would resurrect Him.  None of them believed it at the time He said it, let alone once He died.  The women watched and remembered at the tomb; but they seemed to believe that He would stay physically dead.  The whole exchange between the women and the angel fascinates me.  In that culture, women were not considered credible eye-witnesses.  Yet, the angel does not address the soldiers; the angel addresses the women.

The women who worshipped.  The women who financed Jesus’ work.  The women who waited.

The women who believed what Jesus said.  

Yes, God gave one of the highest honors in history–proclaiming the resurrection of Christ–to the least valued voices of the culture.

Humbling.  Validating.  Awe-inspiring.

In life, Jesus brought honor to women and other less-than people in His society.  In death, the Gospel writers honor the oft-forgotten women.  In resurrection, the angel commissions the lowly women to proclaim Christ’s new life!  A beautiful picture of healing the power struggle between genders.

In the beginning, when the world was innocent, God created all humanity in His image.  A balance of power.  We created the power hierarchy.  We needed Someone to free us from the shame environments that hierarchy created.  Only He could show us how to embrace that image once again.  Only He could rescue us from ourselves.  Only He could invite us to join His way of life.  Only He could teach us how to risk without shame and live bravely, even when others don’t approve of the freedom we gratefully receive from the unconditional love and grace of God.  Only He could show us how to die to the facades we’re told we have to exhibit so that our truest parts can resurrect and bloom!

Christ’s resurrection life created a better way–one where everyone gets to play.  Just as He said from the beginning.

I’d love to hear from you!!  How can use your voice to proclaim freedom in Christ to others?

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

The Teachings of Down Syndrome

Standard

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

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

Super Sunday!

Standard

I’ve told Jud that he married one of the last perfect women in America.  I hate to shop.  I love to cook.  And I love sports.  I married a Minnesota Viking fan.  For some insane reason, we got married during the playoffs.  Those were the days when Minnesota was winning….

Yesterday, I totally expected the Broncos to win–and not just because we live in Colorado.  Secretly (although not secret anymore), I always root for the NFC team; but I really thought the Seahawks were the underdogs.  I just hoped they’d make a game of it.  I was as shocked as everyone else in my state when Seattle blew-out Denver.  However, the snacks I made saved the day!!  Homemade guacamole, taco dip, Irish nachos (made with the healthier alternative sweet potatoes).  Snacks definitely salvage a dreary game!

So, today as I look over all the disappointed Facebook posts of my neighbors and work on the Bible study on Romans that I’m doing, I see a correlation of what Paul communicated.  The Jews of Paul’s day felt betrayed by God when the Gentiles were welcomed in to the promises they thought were only for them.  According to Facebook, Bronco fans believed winning the Super Bowl was their destiny.  Someone had to lose and when it was us, we feel the sad let-down.  The shame of the team spreads to the whole state.  For better or worse, we take on the identity of our team.

How often have I believed myself invincible … Believed that I could do no wrong … Believed that ‘if God is for us, who could be against us?’ … Believed that ‘The God of angel armies is always by my side’ (Chris Tomlin song).  I think my focus is wrong–just as falsely believing who wins or loses a football game has spiritual implications of the worthiness before God of a particular team.

Studying Romans for the first time in many years reminds me that God is the center of the universe.  He’s not always by my side; I (hopefully) am on His.  Often, I take the ball and run with it; essentially saying, ‘God, I’ve got it from here.’  Then when the play doesn’t work out, I turn to God, perplexed.  How could the plan fail?  I thought it through and it made sense!  The Jews in Paul’s day seem to wonder the same thing.  They thought they had God’s plan all worked out, and they win.  They had lived hundreds of years in that belief.

Then God goes and welcomes the Gentiles into the fold.

Their fold.

Their covenant fold.

Their exclusive fold.

Now, as part of the ‘Gentile’ group, I’m grateful.  But, I also relate to the feelings of the Jews.  I’m part of the church group too.  The modern day ‘chosen people’ group.  And we haven’t changed much from Paul’s day.  Once we understand our privilege, we don’t want to share with outsiders–unless they look like, act like or think like us.  Or unless they know their place … beneath us.  Paul, in Romans, tries to unite the two camps.  He tries to show the Jews that God’s plan never changed.  He quotes all the prophets and Moses to show them.  And not just in Romans.  He threads that theme all through his letters.  God foretold it all, but the Israelites didn’t want to see the weaknesses within themselves that God also foretold.

We don’t want to look at those weaknesses either.   Sometimes, just like in football, we underestimate our opponents.  Sometimes we believe too confidently in our ‘golden child’ status.  Sometimes it’s just time for another to win.  Can we let that happen without feeling betrayed?  Can we let that happen without making excuses?  Can we let that happen and still believe we are ‘chosen’?  Can we let that happen, still believe we are ‘chosen’; but at the same time believe the other is ‘chosen’ too?

Some heady Monday morning quarterback thoughts.  I think I’ll ponder those things as I eat some leftover guacamole.

Have you felt betrayed by God?  Have you seen God bless people you thought unworthy?  How can you expand your view of God’s fold to allow others equal footing?

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

Naked and Unashamed

Standard

“The two of them, the Man and his Wife, were naked, but they felt no shame” –Genesis 2:25.

I know many people who look at Genesis 1-2 as proof that God only sanctions heterosexual relationships.  Not going to lie.  I used to be one of them many, many years ago.  Until I began looking through another interpretive lens when I was in college because the literal view of Adam and Eve created too many intuitive problems of logic.  So, I tweaked my beliefs to include grace for gay relationships; but I still hadn’t made the leap (what I considered, across a scandalous chasm) to believe that gay relationships just may be God’s best for some.  Until I began to live life more vulnerably and more openly about my own inability to measure up to church standards.  Once you realize the energy it takes to keep up the facade of presenting your life as ‘holy’ to other church goers as well as the ‘unsaved,’ you live much more humbly, graciously and less reactionary.  Other people’s ‘sin’ no longer concerns you–because you know the only people who ‘fit in’ with the church standards are the ones who create enough emotional/spiritual  ‘clothing’ to hide their shame–and those garments will not last forever….  It takes a lot of time and energy to patch up the holes in those garments, so we tend to divert attention to other people’s worn out garments while we scurry to make ours look less unseemly again.

Except we don’t hide well.  In Genesis 3-4, the man and his wife sew fig leaves together trying to hide their shame.  Not an opaque, very protective or lasting covering.  God creates clothing made from animal hide for them–lasting, protecting and fully covering their shame.  Mankind’s first protective covering comes from another creature’s sacrifice.  See, it takes sacrifice to free someone from shame.

What makes these thoughts  important?  Why haven’t I mentioned eating fruit, talking serpents or banishment from a perfect garden?  Because I believe we have missed the point of the story.  Because we define ‘sin’ as actions or behaviors.  According to the Genesis creation chapters, God describes a life without ‘sin’ as one lived in His presence, without covering up or shame.  Man tells God that the reason he hid and covered himself is that he was ‘afraid because I was naked.’  Not because his actions were wrong–but because he realized how exposed he had become.  In the life of Jesus, He seems to bring people who have lived in shame by society’s standards back into a place of security and confidence.  Their shamefulness no longer has power over how they see themselves or how they believe God sees them.

People living with shame do not believe God can love them unconditionally; therefore, they live separated from God.  Jesus’ sacrifice offers us freedom from that shame and full access to God’s presence and unconditional love.  Not based on our actions.  Not based on how well we behave.  Not based on if we live up to the rules.  Just unadulterated, without ulterior motive, forgiveness and union with God.  That’s GRACE!

I no longer view Genesis 1-4 as God’s verdict about relationships and heterosexual marriage.  I view those chapters as God opening the conversation with mankind that we have all fallen; but He gave us hope that He planned all along a strategy that would remove the chains of shame and allow us to live with Him in freedom.

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.  And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death” –Romans 8:1-2.

May we all learn to live in the freedom from shame that God offers us by the Holy Spirit’s revelation to us of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  HALLELUJAH!!

How have you allowed shame to dictate what others see of your life?  Do you let shame keep you from experiencing God’s presence?  Have you hidden yourself to fit in and feel accepted?  Are you weary of living under the constraints of shame?

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

Christians Running Amok and A-Fowl–Again

Standard

I love Jesus, but sometimes I curse a little when others who follow the Bible open their mouths.  I tried to avoid the Duck Dynasty controversy.  It’s Christmas.  I want to celebrate Jesus’ birth with cookies, carols, children and cheesy Christmas movies.  I don’t want to enter into yet another stressful discussion on what the Bible is and isn’t ‘clearly’ against.  But, I’m so appalled by the knee-jerk reactions I see in my own kind that I can’t sleep and can’t keep silent.

First of all, while I have heard of Duck Dynasty, I have never seen it.  Oh, no high-horse, holier-than-thou reason.  We don’t have cable/satellite.  I also have only read the articles about the GQ article that has created so much diatribe on both sides.  Honestly, I don’t care what Phil Robertson said.  He gets to have his beliefs.  I’m more concerned with the vehemence that christians seem to defend him–at the expense of those whom they claim need to turn from wickedness.

So, here are just a few of the things that (once again) we christians have missed:

  1. Homosexuality is unnatural.  *sigh*  Will we ever get over ourselves?  The vast majority of the people who say that being gay isn’t ‘natural’ are heterosexuals.  According to Medical Science News, homosexuality occurs in more than 1500 species.  Apparently, dwarf chimpanzees (which are considered close relatives to humans) are all bisexual.  The entire species.  So, perhaps we can say that homosexuality isn’t ‘common’ in human beings.  Statistically, that’s true and doesn’t carry the same connotation that ‘unnatural’ does.  For those that insist that we continue to call out ‘unnatural’ behaviors, please remember that Jesus lived his life, and taught us to live ours, quite un-naturally.  Living sacrificially, loving our enemies, the whole concept of grace, living selflessly, turning the other cheek, the Sermon on the Mount, forgiving those who oppress all run against human nature.
  2. Only christians are oppressed.  *sigh*  We do have a persecution complex.  We find persecution behind every corner.  We rarely take responsibility for what we say or do that has more to do with us acting unkindly or saying offensive things.  We often claim persecution as a badge of honor, so we proclaim things in the name of ‘truth’ that have little to do with anything of God’s heart.  We want to live as martyrs (of course, we don’t admit that publicly).  We want the glory that God promises to those who suffer for their faith, so we often create our own ‘persecution’, when we’re really just being Pharisees.  Christianity has enjoyed privilege and power in this country.  We abused that privilege and power by trying to force all others into our interpretation of the Bible (which, by the way, ensured our privilege and power).  What we experience now is closer to the American Revolution, Civil War, Women’s Rights or Civil Rights Movement–the powerless and under-privileged saying, ‘ENOUGH.’
  3. The Bible clearly states….  *sigh*  6 verses.  Only 6.  The whole Bible contains over 31,000 verses.  We focus on the 6 that, taken in historical and cultural context, are anything but clear.  I know very few people who claim to be christians that volunteer at soup kitchens, take in orphans, advocate for domestic abuse victims, visit prisoners and AIDS patients.  There are over 300 verses on poverty.  According to well-known financial speaker, Dave Ramsey, there are 800 verses that tell us how to use our money.  But we draw a line in the sand over 6 verses.  While ignoring the thousands of verses about how to treat powerless and underprivileged people.  *sigh*
  4. The Bible clearly does not state….  *sigh*  I’ve begun to hear this argument more and more.  The Bible does not have any examples of homosexual relationships, that’s true.  However, it seems that we have adopted this line of thinking because the-Bible-clearly-states-in-6-out-of-31,000-verses line of thinking has become a joke.  The-Bible-clearly-does-not-state is also flimsy, at best.  The Bible is silent on the use of modern technology, corporate monopolies, political democracy, capitalism, birth control pills and much in the way of modern medical research.  We cannot develop firm doctrine based on what the Bible does not say.
  5. Sin focusses on behavior; therefore, God focusses on behavior.  *sigh*  Jesus never focussed on behavior.  Every instance that I’ve seen in the Gospels, Jesus does a face-palm when his disciples or religious leaders try to define ‘sin’ as someone’s behavior.  God, even in the Old Testament, mentions behavior, but the emphasis is on how that behavior represents our hearts.  People can do all the right things and still miss the mark (one definition of ‘sin’).  The rich young ruler found that out when he interacted with Jesus (Mark 10).

We have missed the mark.  In trying to live perfect ‘christian’ lives, we have isolated ourselves and damaged the credibility of Jesus and his Good News.  It should shame us when we preach a message that drives people away from Jesus–when we preach a gospel that doesn’t make people gasp in astonishment and cry, ‘Heresy’ or ‘Blasphemy.’  A gospel that alienates prostitutes, tax collectors … minorities, the powerless, the shamed.

Ah, but all is not lost.  Jesus promised that if we are silent, ‘the very stones would cry out.’  His message, God’s heart, will continue with or without us.  Our attitudes cannot stop God’s grace.  I cannot stop God’s grace–even when I communicate His heart imperfectly.

As we celebrate Jesus’ birth and end our calendar year, may we proclaim the true Gospel, His Good News, that Jesus came to bring wholeness and unite us back to God!

 

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

Comfort and Joy

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Shame On Christmas

Standard

[Elizabeth speaking]: ‘I have lived with the disgrace of being barren for all these years.  Now God has looked on me with favor.  When I go out in public … I will not be disgraced any longer.’ ~Luke 1:25

I love Elizabeth’s story in the advent of Jesus’ birth.  I relate to her.  She lived the right rules for her society and church culture.  She made wise life choices.  She lived her life the way she believed God wanted.  Yet, she lived in disgrace.  In her society, a married woman’s identity rested in her ability to provide children who would care for aged parents and carry on the family name.  Having children meant God liked you and ensured that you would not be forgotten.  Living well had not provided children for her and her husband; and when they enter into Jesus’ story, their age prevents hope of ever having children.

Until God takes notice of them.

I wonder how many times she prayed and hoped each month, as a young bride, that maybe this month she would experience pregnancy?  I wonder how many months she cried when hope never fulfilled itself?  I wonder how many years before hope turned to shame and disgrace.  In her own recorded words, we know that she felt that public shame.  I wonder if she, like so many of us, made peace with her shame and accepted it as her ‘lot in life.’

This acceptance of shame is different than accepting the reality of circumstances.  I’ve often said that the only thing I took away from geometry class is:  You can’t change ‘the given.’  Sometimes, we fight against circumstances and limitations that we cannot change.  We exert a lot of effort frustrating ourselves and others trying to rework our past or not acknowledging how our past affects our present.  But, the acceptance of shame means that we’ve grown comfortable believing that our shame is our identity.  And not just that we’ve accepted the shameful identity; but we’ve also accepted others’ judgements against us and believe we deserve the shameful identity.

Because shame and disgrace are pretty universal to humanity, I love the stories of Jesus.  He took people’s shame and turned it into blessing.  He took the lives that society shunned and created restoration and reconciliation.  He noticed outcast people, marginalized people, underprivileged people, powerless people.  Jesus changed their ‘given.’

Just as God changed Elizabeth’s ‘given’ and allowed this barren couple to conceive, deliver and raise John the Baptist–the harbinger of Jesus.

I wish I had a step-by-step formula to release people from shame.  I wish our world would celebrate differences and not war against them.

While I don’t have a formula, I do know a person who lived the example of God’s heart.  I love that we celebrate His birth–the beginnings of hope, wonder, expectancy.  He lived life at times confusing His disciples, many times infuriating religious leaders who wanted formulas, but always un-ashamedly loving and accepting the ones living in disgrace.

We see at the birth of Jesus, God becoming flesh and dwelling among us.  Humbly born, He relates to our shame.

I take courage that God notices us in our shame and invites us into His story.

Have you felt like a misfit?  Have you believed that your shame separates you from society?  Have you believed your shame separates you from God?  How can you begin to encounter Jesus this advent season and allow Him to heal the wounds caused by shame?

 

 

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

Anticipating Presence

Standard

“A young maiden will conceive. She will give birth to a son and name Him Immanuel, that is, ‘God with us.’”~Isaiah 7:14

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday; but my family will tell you that I adore Christmas.  I get excited over all the colorful lights and festive smells as we decorate and bake.  The anticipation of mystery gifts thrills me to my soul!  I’m a minimalist by nature; but Christmastime makes me a little giddy because it’s a season of surprises.  I love surprises!  For the past several years (especially since my kids have left elementary school and all its naive wonder at the world), the awe of Christmas seems tarnished in my heart.  Decorating feels more like a chore, and baking smells don’t whisk me back to childhood as they once did.  I know life events jaded my heart and I recognize a cynicism in me that out-grinches the Grinch at times.  Even Advent church services have lost the imperceptible gasp of anticipation that Jesus’ birth used to swell in my heart.

I’ve heard it all.  I don’t think I’ve heard a fresh Advent sermon that sits me up and makes me take notice in decades.  I know all the stories with all the usual suspects–Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, wise men, shepherds and angels.  Lots of angels.  Harking and heralding the Good News that Jesus is born!  But I’ve lost the miracle of God becoming man and dwelling among us.  I’ve lost the gratefulness that literally turns my knees to jelly and I fall to the ground in overwhelmed gratitude.

God with us.  God for us.  God through us.

The sermon my pastor gave yesterday reminded me of the 400 years of Biblical silence between the last book of the Old Testament and the first book of the New Testament.  He reminded me of what kind of world Jesus came into–a conquered Israel, a broken Israel in ruins.  The former glory days long gone and mostly forgotten.  Then God breaks the silence and hopelessness:  first with an angel visiting a childless old man telling him that he and his wife will have a child (John the Baptist), then telling Mary that God’s favor rests on her.  Two ordinary lives given extraordinary grace.  Two unlikely households graced with God’s presence.  God didn’t just come down to earth; He started from the beginning–a womb where the divine and human coalesced.

In beginning to ponder that journey from silence to womb to birth, I start to feel my heart beat a little faster and my eyes lose some of the cynical scales.  I feel the wonder of God’s presence overtake the immature anticipation of wrapped gifts.  I believe again, anew, afresh.  The story of Jesus’ birth begins a pilgrimage into the deepest heart of God.  Jesus’ birth proclaims to us all that God is with us.  God is for us.  God works through us.

Because God values us.  

Because God is our truest ‘Father.’  

Because God wants us to see how life can be lived.  

Because if we live that life He shows us, then we can experience ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all people.’

My prayer for all of us this Advent season is that we would take some time away from the busyness and frenetic pace of our culture and ask God to give us His favor and presence.  May we all ask how God can work through us to make our world shine with His glorious life!

What does the Advent season mean to you?  How have you lost and regained that sense of childlike wonder?

 

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

Who Are ‘The Least’?

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

I could learn vulnerability from them.

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

I could learn how much I am the least.

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

The poor.

The powerless.

The judged.

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

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

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

Liberty and Justice for ALL

Standard

‘At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality…’ (2 Corinthians 8:14).

The story of little ‘Maria’ over the past couple of weeks strikes at my heart.  We may never know exactly what happened with her–her Roma mother, who lives in Bulgaria, and the Roma couple, who live in Greece and have cared for her, say that the mother ‘gave’ her to the couple.  The police believe the story has holes, but may never know the full truth.  ‘Maria’ may never know her birthdate or her exact age (tests show she is either 5 or 6).  Time will tell where ‘Maria’ will live–the mother lives in squalor and has had two other children taken into Bulgaria’s Child Protective Services because of the living conditions, the couple lives in squalor and face charges with the police.  For now, she is with a Greek charity.

In my White-ness, my American-ness, I want to see this precious child taken in like ‘Little Orphan Annie’ and given a home with a room painted pink and an overstuffed down comforter to sink into at the end of a long day–a place of safety, cleanliness and opportunities.  A good home.  Which, of course, I interpret as one that fits Americanideal standards.  I saw her biological mother on the news.  She was illiterate and dirty.  I saw her ‘adoptive’ parents on the news; parents who are now in jail.  They were illiterate and dirty.  Definitely not the American ideal.  With shame, I admit my first thought was, “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if someone with means could rescue her and give her a shot in this world?”  When I heard my own gut-reaction, I wished for higher thoughts.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, all adoption (foreign and domestic) has its place; and for all who have adopted children, you deserve every honor for raising and loving children who have become your own ‘flesh and blood.’

But, not all children who need homes get adopted.

And it is for those children, I voice hopes and dreams for a better system.

I dream of a day when adoption and orphanages aren’t needed because we’ve figured out a way to share food, clean water and medicines with each other, so that families can stay together and not have to make agonizing choices about giving up children.  I hope for sharing of information with cultures who have destructive habits like child-marriages, hierarchy of male children over female children or able-bodied children accepted over disabled children so that all children will feel loved, welcomed and secure.  I dream of the day when Western thought has an epiphany that maybe we’ve missed something really important about life and need some of our ‘third-world’ cultures to teach us about simplicity, contentment and wisdom of sustaining and replenishing our environment and soil.  I hope for a future that includes less power struggles between rulers and more negotiations to make impoverished cultures able to feed, house and clothe their people and able to use their vast natural resources for the good of the community and not for exploitation to feed the greed in dominant cultures.

I pray for the ‘Marias’ of the world to have their hearts protected enough to break the dysfunctional cycles in their children’s generation.  I pray for our own ‘privileged’ children to have empathy and resourcefulness to end our hierarchical world-view by building on the research and vision of others who have willingly devoted their lives to sharing their status and power.

May we experience equality in our world where ‘[n]othing left over to the one with the most,
[n]othing lacking to the one with the least’ (2 Corinthians 8:15, The Message) becomes our legacy for generations to come.

What are your ideas on how to ‘level the playing field’?  How can we invest ourselves in beginning to solve some of the problems in our lives, communities, nation and world?

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

Sinless Sinner

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How often am I like the religious leaders?

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

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

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

In my arrogance….

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

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

 

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

Life Poetry

Standard

‘The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.’ –Psalm 34:18

My daughter has a close friend who found her brother’s body several months ago.  He committed suicide.  I often see on Facebook that she’s having a tough day–trying so hard to be strong and keep her faith; but, having a hard time processing horrific life circumstances at 21 or 22.  My heart aches for her heartache.

I cringe at times when I hear people say, ‘Time heals all wounds.’  In my experience, time heals nothing.  Time distances us from circumstances, but cannot guarantee healing.  I suppose it depends on how we define ‘healing.’  I define it as being without hardness and callouses–but we may limp, figuratively.  Often when we expect time to heal our hearts, we become hardened, cynical and calloused.  I do pray for my daughter’s friend that she gives her heart time for healing–makes space in her life to feel completely the spectrum of emotions without shame, trusting God to heal the brokenness.

I love the book of Psalms.  I love the raw honesty of emotions in its poetry–the joyful passion of praise and thanksgiving, the expressions of anger at injustices, blaming God for circumstances and not acting the in a desired way, the unabashed worship, the stillness of a resolute heart clinging to faith.  I love that the people who canonized the Bible recognized that God can consider poetry holy.  In these poems, we experience the life they lived from their perspective, even though they lived thousands of years ago.  I love seeing that the human heart hasn’t evolved much in thousands of years–we still feel deeply all the heartbreak when life doesn’t live up to our expectations, soaring joy and invincibility when things go well, deep awe and reverence when something in nature stops us in our tracks.  I remember my grandma saying that when she saw a plane in the sky for the first time, she whispered, ‘And I will shew wonders in heaven above’ (Acts 2:19, KJV).  She stood awestruck that God would allow such a miracle.

I love that having this holy book of poetry means that emotions cannot condemn us–no matter how long it takes for perspective to come.  Perspective can come.

I’ve written a few of my own psalms throughout life–some more ‘raw’ than others–and have discovered that the writing can release the power of the emotion more quickly than stewing over whatever creates the emotion in me.  I’ve burned a few as a symbolic act of letting go of the things beyond my control and allowing them to lift and float to God.  I’ve ripped a few to shreds in anger.  I’ve kept a few that still make me weep because the wound that caused the emotion hasn’t quite closed yet.

I have learned that we don’t have to write a poem to create a psalm.  Sometimes our lives become living psalms when our heartache is public.  My daughter’s friend creates a living psalm when I watch a few tears silently roll down her cheek in church before she brushes them away and breathes in new composure.  How many ‘psalms’ do we miss each day as we focus on our agendas?  How many opportunities do we miss to hear someone’s exuberant excitement, painful heartache, glorious revelation about life or love or God?  Will I learn to open myself to others’ vulnerable story and view their poetic life as holy?  Can that simple act begin to bring peace to our neighbors?  Our cities?  Our nation?  Our world?  Selfless understanding can create a bond of unity.  I wonder if that type of understanding could facilitate negotiation in governments?  But, the government shutdown is for another day, another post.

Today, my heart breaks for Eleah.  Today, I pray that the labyrinth of grief, with all its twists and turns, will give her peace as she continues to put one foot in front of the other and follow the path that has dead-ends and u-turns and seems to have no end.  Today, I pray for people to walk that path with her, at her pace and  join in her heart cry.  Today, I pray that all of us will find others on the labyrinth path of life who will help us turn our eyes to God and feel God’s presence in the midst of our own grief, joy, anger, peace, confusion–even when those emotions come simultaneously.

What is on your heart today?  What type of ‘psalm’ are you living?

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

WWTKD

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Power of Humility

Standard

“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?

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

Back To School

Standard

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?

 

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

Where Beauty Blooms

Standard

“I have seen the burden God has placed on us all.  Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.  He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end”  Ecclesiastes 3:10-11.

Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus.  Three women bonded for life.  Only they know the incomprehensible 11 years they survived.  I can’t imagine the courage they mustered to face Ariel Castro at his sentencing hearing this week.  The last victims of the Boston Marathon bombings have left the hospital.  Strangers bonding over survival and physical therapies that only they comprehend.  Soldiers returning from various conflicts in the Middle East with military honors and PTSD form a brotherhood of experience that their families don’t quite grasp.

We think of these people and their stories and laud them as heroes for surviving inhumanity at its worst.  I wonder how many of them feel heroic?  How many of them wish they felt as heroic as people hold them up to be?  How many of them want to scream, “That’s not me!  I’m scared!  Confused!  Broken!”?  While I haven’t experienced the level of trauma that these people face, I have my own ugly stories of trauma that may offer a little hope.

I remember telling my best friend from high school about the trauma of a 5 year abusive church relationship and that one good thing that came from it is that it forced me into counseling.  I had finally reached the end of me and my abilities to cope.  Humbled, traumatized and having a thyroid that gave out because of the stress necessitated professional intervention.  At my first appointment, denial filled me.  I thought I’d go in there, tell my story, have my counselor validate me and all would be well.  About half way through my sobbing and probably unintelligible rant, an epiphany washed over me.  In horror, I stopped crying and cried, “Oh, dear God, I have to come back!”  My counselor incredulously looked over her glasses at me and calmly replied, “Oh, Honey.  Yes.”

Going each week to my appointment, I fought back panic attacks.  Most of the time, the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme mocked me, “Humpty Dumpty sat a on a wall.  Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.  All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.”  I knew I would never recover.  No one could save me.

Then, it happened.  About 6 months into my recovery, the mocking rhyme repeating over and over in my head, I practically screamed in my car for God to throw me a bone.  Okay, I actually screamed … and begged … and tried to cut a deal.  I hadn’t felt the presence of God in years.  I had disconnected from wanting to hear His voice.  But in my desperation, a tiny crack opened in my heart and I heard so softly, “The King can put you back together.”  That’s where my hope sprouted.  Maybe no human could save me, but God could.  He may use people to accomplish the healing; but the healing came from Him.  He planted eternity in my heart that day.  Oh, not gonna lie, all was not well after that.  Five years of intense work with my counselor and Jud ensued.  But, the hope began.  The forgiveness began.  Now, two years post-counseling, I can say I am at peace while I continue the journey.  I carry the scars.  I will always carry the scars.  The scars contain my healing, my wholeness.  Had the story ended eight years ago, I would have descended into fatalism.  My scars remind me to look on people with tenderness.  My scars remind me of human frailty.  My scars create compassion and empathy in me toward those just coming out of their ugly stories and those just entering them.

It takes a lot of work to turn a landfill into a garden.  The three women who must begin to pick up the shattered pieces, the bombing victims who must find it in themselves to rebuild new lives with limitations, the soldiers with PTSD who have to make peace with the nightmares, the adult who tries to make sense of childhood abuse all live over emotional and spiritual landfills.  But, their stories, our stories, don’t have to end in the decay of the garbage heaps.  We can allow God to set eternity in our hearts and wait for our story to unfold, believing that God’s ending is more beautiful than the hell we have endured.

I pray strength, courage and hope for all as they embark toward healing and wholeness.  May none of us ever settle for ‘good enough’ or a patch job.  Clearing the landfill of our hearts, planting seeds of hope in a future and tending that garden daily for blooms to appear are worth the effort.  Those hurting in our world are worth the effort.  YOU are worth the effort!

Where have you found hope to go on in the midst of your life’s tragedies?

 

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

A Time To Build

Standard

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

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

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

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

Thank God, we do.

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

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

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

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

Conversations Among Friends

Standard

“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?

 

 

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