Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Ok, so I truly believe God has been whispering this simple little prayer in my ear every day for about a month now and how blessed I feel. I was raised in a violent alcoholic home. Chaos was the benchmark of a typical day. There were holes in the walls from my father’s fits of anger, broken sliding glass doors, numerous visits from the police, and believe me, crying was not an activity we reserved for hallmark moments. I think my parents must have separated no less than 10 times until they finally called it quits when I was 17. And the support groups – those silly, sappy, nauseating meetings that reeked of weakness, self-pity and desperation – those were my favorite part of the journey (haha). Let’s see…there was Overcomers, ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics), New Life, Alateen (we actually sang about sunshine at the beginning of the meeting), and many, many more. Friends of Bill W. we certainly were and lifelong friends it seemed at times. And finally the vicious cycle ended a year before I graduated and along with it, the endless stream of rehab hospitals and therapy sessions…at least until I turned 24.

And so, following in my father’s footsteps to some extent, I landed myself in jail with a DUI, a $2,400 fine, a 7-year probation, and 6 AA meetings. And yes, I actually went to the required meetings and trust me, they don’t take well to DUI offenders who don’t necessarily choose to sit in on their little therapy sessions, but are required to do so by the courts. So there I sat, writhing in my seat, uneasy that it felt all too familiar. The 12 step posters on the wall, the faces that longed for a reclamation of jobs and families lost, and the coffee that offered little solace to unanswered cravings. And though the anything-but-fond memories that came flooding back were not unfamiliar, they still seemed to fill me with the same contempt they had 7 years prior. The words on the walls carried no meaning; they were just empty recitations to fill an hour and a half…until this past month.

What amuses me is that I bought a stone tablet engraved with the Serenity Prayer about a year ago and it hangs on my bedroom wall still, yet I don’t think I’ve ever noticed it, let alone stopped to reflect. And so God spoke and for the first time, I listened. And He has spoken it to me every day for about a month now and I’m still listening. But now, I’m understanding. And the little prayer that I used to recite in meetings with my family has now taken hold of my heart and I believe, is directing my steps to some extent.

So let me first share what I love the most about it – the title, the Serenity Prayer. Serenity is defined as a state of being serene, which is to be “clear and free of storms or unpleasant change.” Basically, it’s a prayer to God for peace in the middle of a storm. Sometimes I feel like my entire life is a storm, so to ask God for serenity is to ask God how to deal with my life at any and every given moment. What do I need, God, to get through each day, each hour, and even each minute? And so begins the prayer I’ve come to love. Let me break it down for you the way I believe God is breaking it down for me right now.

God grant me the serenity (God allow me for just one peaceful moment),
To accept the things I cannot change (OTHER PEOPLE),
The courage to change the things I can (ME),
And the wisdom to know the difference (half a brain to get it right).

And suddenly this simple, little prayer I used to recite with disdain and contempt has profound meaning to me.

…to accept the things I cannot change.
You will never be able to change someone who is not ready and willing to change. Whatever opinions we have that drive our passions, our beliefs and the way we choose to live our lives are just that – the way WE choose to live OUR lives (or if you really want to break it down, the way God chooses for each of us to live our lives). The path God leads me down may never cross the path of one of His other children. I believe He directs all of our steps, but not necessarily in exactly the same direction. I am free to express my desires and convictions, but that doesn’t mean they ring true for everyone. How much energy have I expended unnecessarily to ensure everyone else around me “gets it” and is on board with my way of thinking? Maybe I’m the one who doesn’t “get it.” It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. I’ve been way off the mark way more often than I care to admit and didn’t see it until much later, so why would I ever presume to know what’s right for someone else at any given moment? I think we can certainly influence those around us (in positive and negative ways) and I’m all for sharing our beliefs, along with our struggles, our heart cries, our joys and our sorrows, but at the end of the day, we may still end up at opposite ends of the spectrum. Chances are, we’ll spend most of our time waving to each other from across a crowded room, trying to meet somewhere in the middle, but likely running around in circles.

I think for the most part, we assume that most people are dumber than they actually are. We presume - by attempting to sway their philosophies – to be giving them new information, advice that will surely help them along on their quest for maturity, when in actuality, they probably already know what course of action will serve them best. Until they are ready to choose that course, our attempts at educating them are feeble. People hear only what they want to hear (the other stuff gets filtered out – that pesky selective hearing) and only when they want to hear it. Also, our intentions, as noble as they may seem, are probably often flawed and thus, fall on deaf ears. We seek to change the minds of others and get them to align with our ideals, but it’s often under the guise of great concern for their well-being. So let me lay it out for you, plain and simple and please don’t take offense. You may care for someone desperately and even act out of that concern from time to time. You may try tirelessly to steer someone down a path you believe to be much more of a blessing to them. God forbid, you may even be right, but I speak from 17 years of experience and living with an alcoholic when I say…YOU WILL NOT CHANGE SOMEONE WHO IS NOT READY TO CHANGE!!! And so you speak your peace (in love, of course) and you accept that you cannot change anyone but yourself and then you do what is necessary for you to move on with your life. To quote the Beatles, “Let it Be.” And if you still feel the need to speak your peace until you’re blue in the face, speak it to God. He’ll always listen. And here’s something scary – you may find out that it wasn’t the other person that needed changing in the first place.

…the courage to change the things I can. If it seems things are spinning out of control, chances are they are. There are few things in life we can control and countless millions we cannot, rarely our circumstances and certainly not other people. What’s truly ironic and altogether frustrating is that the more we try to control the world around us, the more control we lose. So where is the light in the dark this time? There is one thing we have some semblance of control over – ourselves. And I believe that though asking for courage is a great place to start, the only way to truly gain control over ourselves is to first surrender control to God. And then, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13
I can restrain my anger, contain my frustration, and maintain my composure.
I can listen intently, wait patiently, and speak intelligently.
I can organize my thoughts, criticize my actions, and empathize with weakness.
I can let go of bitterness and hold on to fond memories.
I can receive constructive criticism, respond with humility, and rejoice in lessons learned.
I can stand up for what I believe in, stand down when I know I’m wrong, and stand alone when others have fled.
I can trust in God’s promises, lean on His grace, and rest in His presence.
There are a million words you can substitute for courage in the Serenity Prayer. God grant me the strength to change the things I can, the desire, the will, the energy, even the patience, but the one I love most is faith. Above all else, I need faith to change the things I do have control over.

…and the wisdom to know the difference. This one is pretty self-explanatory. God, help me not to dumb myself down in this area. Learning to surrender our pride and accept that there are certain things in life we cannot change is no small feat, but the ability to recognize those things is paramount. And even greater still is the ability to overcome our tendency to deceive ourselves and switch the two. So often, we convince ourselves that we are unable to change as a mechanism to excuse our actions and deem ourselves a “victim.” Then we further complicate the issue by turning our efforts outward and convincing ourselves that we can change others. And so the vicious cycle continues. The only way to break the cycle is to shift our need for control back to where it belongs, to determine how we can change ourselves to adapt and cope with the circumstances we are faced with. Wisdom in this area and genuine honesty with ourselves go hand in hand. If we are honest about our motives and courageous enough to affect change from within, then God has truly granted us the wisdom to know the difference.
God, keep me clear and free of storms. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. And please do the same for my friends and family. Jesus, be the only Jesus they’ll ever meet and meet them where they are.

Friday, November 18, 2005

A Loveless Eternity

What if we’re wrong? What if we’ve got it all backwards and we all end up in Hell? Well, according to all my non-believing friends, that’s where all the hot guys and girls are going to be, so why not? If Hell is an endless party, I’ll be the first one in line, but if there’s a slight chance it’s something less than that, I’m fighting tooth and nail for a ticket on a different bus. So what exactly is Hell going to be like (and may I please never find this out firsthand!)? It’s been depicted as this black hole of torture with fire that never ceases, people screaming out in pain and terror, and the whole show is run by this crazy little guy with horns, a pitchfork, and a fetish for basking in the suffering of others. Maybe, but what if we’re wrong? What if none of those things are there? What if, just what if…

It isn’t what WILL be in Hell that will be of great consequence, but rather what will NOT be there – God’s love. Have you ever been in love, so deeply in love that the mere thought of being apart seems too intense to bear? Every second feels like an eternity. Your mind is consumed with thoughts of nothing but returning to your true love again, feeling their gentle embrace and gazing into their eyes. Here’s the worst part – you cannot even sleep to numb the pain momentarily. Now imagine that fear of separation actually becomes a reality. Imagine you find yourself in Hell when you die and your Jesus, your savior, the lover of your soul, is nowhere to be found. You are in a loveless eternity, because in Hell, the presence of evil is not quite as disturbing as the absence of good (God). This scares me much more than some pesky flame that I cannot extinguish. The idea of being sans Jesus forever is much more than frightening. It’s excruciating, tormenting, a thirst that cannot be quenched by any worldly object or person, not that either of those things would be available to you in Hell anyway. I keep hearing the voice of that guy who announces movie trailers…”In a world without love, one man stood at the door and knocked, but no one listened. Now, they will have to live with the knowledge that while He walked amongst them, they chose to follow Fleetwood Mac and Not Jesus – they chose to ‘go their own way.’” I hate that guy and his crazy voice of doom, but seriously, he’s right. Love walks amongst us now, but not everyone will reap the benefits of that forever.

So what are we in the afterlife if not entangled in a passionate love affair? Well, Paul describes this scenario in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” In a loveless eternity, we are nothing and we gain nothing. I think this is the only thing that inspires in me the urge to share Christ with people. And I don’t mean to shove religion down their throats, but to share my Jesus with them. It’s about as close to evangelism as I get. I don’t have a desire to convert the world or win a million souls for Jesus. Maybe I should, but I don’t. When my heart breaks for non-believers, it’s because they don’t know my Jesus. They don’t know how much He loves them, how warm His hugs are and how sweet His kisses are. They don’t know what lengths He would (and did) go to for them, how wide His arms stretch, how ruthlessly He pursues them, and how long He would hang on a tree just to get their attention. If only they knew.

Lord, let them know. In your loudest, deepest movie trailer voice, speak to them and say, “In a world where love slept, one man came to awaken their senses.” Lord, awaken their senses. Let the burden of a loveless eternity be enough to scare the Hell out of them…and out of me and out of my friends and my family…and the people who work at the DMV, Michael Moore and Bill Maher, people with road rage, sports rage, and buyer’s remorse, terrorists, pessimists, and egoists, Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey and the homeless. Ah heck, scare the hell out of everyone!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Love 'em or leave 'em (and no, you can't kill 'em)

Marriage has been on my mind a lot lately and not just for obvious reasons. I’ve had the good fortune to witness both new relationships, exciting and hopeful, and relationships on the verge of failure, fighting for one last breath. And yes, I do consider it good fortune that I’ve been a party to both. It sounds strange, I know, but through both, I’ve been challenged to consider further this notion of true love (blegh). Just kidding. I would love to believe that love truly is terminal and that once you’ve found it, you never lose it, but let’s face it, love doesn’t always last. People fall in and out of love on a daily basis. It’s as fleeting as my lunch hour on a Monday. So if love is not enough to make a relationship last, what hope do we have? Let me start with a little definition (ok, a HUGE definition).

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 defines love like this: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

So basically, no one I know has ever been in love, because I have never in my life witnessed a love like this between two human beings, at least not 100% of the time. So maybe this love is not our love for each other, but the only one perfect love that exists – God’s love for us. God is the only one who has ever truly got it right. He knows what love is all about because He is the author of every love story and the singer of every love song. He loved first, He will love last, and every second in between will not just be sprinkled with His love, but flooded with His love for us. I am the one God loves. He’s pretty much nailed down what it means to be in love with us (no pun intended). We are the ones who need a little work in this area - at least I know I do - and that is why the issue has been hanging over my head lately like a ten-ton brick. How am I possibly going to know how to make my marriage work when I can barely remember to feed my cat every day? How do I survive those times in my marriage when my husband and I wonder if we married the wrong person? Those moments (perhaps even years at a time) when we both want out? Those days when I cannot even mutter the word love, let alone continue to feel it? How do I hang on to a commitment to honor and cherish when it feels like a commitment to an insane asylum?

I watched a movie last weekend called The Story of Us, starring Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer. The movie was about their marriage, from beginning to end. Of course, the first few years were nothing short of fulfilling, highlighting the births of their children, the purchase of their first home, and all those other warm, fuzzy moments we believe give life meaning. And they do. Then they hit the tough times and everything starts to crumble. They fight constantly, avoid dealing with each other’s feelings, and harbor resentment toward each other, which eventually leads to their decision to divorce. Years of doing “life” have worn them both out and they can do nothing but throw up their hands, call it a loss, and learn to accept the reality of their situation. What little love they had been clinging to had vanished and they believed the wounds were too deep to heal.

And there you have it folks, I believe THAT is a better representation of love than all those crazy fairy tale versions of it. I don’t expect some knight in shining armor to come sweep me off my feet (cause I’m pretty sure he’d just drop me on my head somewhere down the road anyway). I’m not waiting for Prince Charming to carry me off into the sunset (San Clemente is just fine). And I’m pretty confident that my days of being deemed “snow white” are long gone. So what is love then, if it isn’t pina coladas and getting caught in the rain? Mother Theresa said, “True love is love that causes us pain. That is why we must pray for the courage to love.” Ok, so it’s more along the lines of having a route canal. So what I really need is courage? I’ll work on that one. In the meantime, back to God’s perfect love for us and the problem I have with it…

If God’s love is so perfect and so unfailing and so trustworthy, why does it feel so non-existent sometimes, or even worse, painful, confusing and fleeting? Why is it often frustrating, rather than comforting? Simply stated, why don’t we feel loved all the time if He loves us so much? Here’s a verse that I think is supposed to shed some light on the matter, but offers no real comfort to me (sorry, it’s true). 1 Corinthians 13:12 (yes, the same chapter I alluded to earlier, all about God’s perfect love for us). “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” So basically, it’s another one of those irritating references to the “big picture.” It’s supposed to remind us to be still, to trust in God’s greater plan, to continue to believe in His plans for us. Today we see dimly – someday it’ll all make sense – yada yada yada! I want answers and I want them NOW!!! But I digress. God’s word is trustworthy and His love even more so.

So where do we go from here? Are you ready for this? I’m actually going to try to tie it all together now (God’s love and our worldly love). In The Story of Us, Bruce and Michelle pick us their children at summer camp and are ready to sit them down and share their decision to divorce. Bruce does some stupid dance that embarrasses his son and all at once, Michelle realizes what her marriage is truly all about. She sees every moment they’ve shared, good and bad, every up and every down, every fight and every hug and she is overcome with emotion…and yes, love. You see, the only way I can accurately define love is “history.” And history encompasses everything. It’s the anniversaries and the silent treatments. It’s the candlelight dinners and the TV dinners. It’s the intimate moments we cherish and the pet peeves that drive us crazy. It’s the late night talks and the miscommunications. It’s everything. And if history really repeats itself, then we can expect more of the same for the rest of our lives. We will fight and make up; we will doubt and question; we will cry and laugh, but whatever we do, we should do it together, because that is what love is about. My relationship with God is no different. I cannot simply believe He does not love me because I don’t always feel loved. I have a history with God and that is what keeps me hanging on. They aren’t always fond memories, but they are memories nonetheless. My commitments in this life are pretty pathetic. My relationships with my family and friends, my interests and hobbies, my career path - all of those things are fleeting, but God’s commitment to me is everlasting. It’s solid ground, so try as I may to run from love, it just keeps finding me again. Damn it, I hate that! It’s like being the main character in a neverending novel. I can’t choose to opt out; I’m stuck in it until the very last page is turned and I don’t get to choose the ending either. All I can do is sit tight and go along for the ride.

There’s a poem called “Tonight I Can Write” by Pablo Neruda that always haunts me. He cries out, “Love is so short. Forgetting is so long.” Doesn’t it seem like those moments in which we actually feel loved by God seem to last about as long as a sneeze, but the time we spend longing for that love again seems to last an eternity? And THAT is history…remembering where we’ve been and looking forward to where we’re going…together!

Lord, love my friends and family and help them love each other. Give them the courage to love and the strength to hang on when they don’t. Give them all an A+ in history and an F- in recess. Chain them when they feel like running and unchain them when they feel like dancing. Help them all to stop looking for the perfect love and realize that they already have it. And when they are struggling to make their commitments work…Breathe for them when they feel they can’t take another breath, speak through them when they have nothing left to say, lead them when they’ve lost their way, and sing to them when the music fades.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Up the hill

I walked a mile down the hill,
Far from the tree, far from your will.

I shed this skin, a broken reed,
And donned a mask that would not bleed.

I walked a mile to the shore,
Proclaiming riches, shunning poor.

I chose my course and would not shift,
I raised the sails and set adrift.

A wayward wanderer, tossed about,
Filled with fear, consumed by doubt.

In spite of you, I stifled pleas.
In spite of me, you calmed the seas.

This broken spirit, prone to roam,
You gently lifted and carried home.

With wounded pride, back on dry land,
I changed my course and took your hand.

I walked a mile up the hill,
So much in need and bleeding still.

And in that place where we oft we meet,
I laid my burdens at your feet.

Now when my heart begins to stray,
Back down the hill and far away,
Tethered to this tree, I’ll pray,

Sweet Jesus, help me find my way.

Monday, October 03, 2005

A Nursery Rhyme and a Mercy Rhyme

A Nursery Rhyme
Jack and Jill went up a hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.

A Mercy Rhyme
Jack and Jill went up a hill to empty out their pails. Jack was crowned and Jill was found beneath the thorns and nails.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I've got your "joy, joy, joy" right here!

You know those Christians who seem to be at peace with every circumstance that comes their way? The ones who boast the “peace of God” in the midst of a challenging situation? The ones who really have figured out what it means to “consider it pure joy they face trials of many kinds?” You know the type – the ones with the joy, joy, joy, down in their hearts? Blegh! I love them dearly, but I’m not particularly fond of them sometimes. I actually heard someone say recently that those people are “walking in the light,” as all Christians should. They implied that their peace and joy in the midst of trials was a true testimony to their strong faith and I had to object (cause that’s just how I am – I think we should rattle the cage every now and again). I would never go so far as to say that they are not genuine in their state of mind. I am certain they do feel God’s peace and are truly content. I’d even suggest that their faith is strong during those moments, because to deny that would be extremely judgmental and I’m sure everyone knows that I rarely rush to judgment (hehehe). What I do take objection to is the idea that THEY are the ones who walk in the light and the rest of us slackers need to pick up the pace. Ok, so maybe they didn’t use those words, but the implication was there. At the very least, I think the idea is worthy of closer examination.

Somewhere in the course of the conversation, the statement was made that Christians who have figured out how to find that joy in the midst of suffering are a pleasure to be around, that their joy sometimes rubs off on us when we aren’t so “chipper,” and that they are positive examples for our faith. A little background info…we had been previously discussing how our complaining and arguing during times of tribulation is sinful and how it can corrupt and compromise the faith of others (people who witness our temper tantrums). Then the conversation rolled around to how joyful Christians actually encourage our faith, not compromise it. So, me being me, I was forced to share my discomfort with the idea and assert that most often when I encounter Christians who appear to be joyful all the time, my faith is frustrated more than it is encouraged. There’s this nagging inside me that taunts, “No one is happy all the time, especially not when we’re struggling with some test of our faith.” And again I say, I’m not assuming their emotions are ingenuine; I’m only dispelling my reaction to their emotions.

Ok, so if you believe God in 1 Samuel 16:7 when He says, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart,” then isn’t it possible our definitions of joy and peace might be a little one-sided? I mean, we’ve decided that when someone is suffering and they appear to be happy, they must really be trusting God. They must be very confident in their faith. But truly, only God knows their hearts and where they stand in relation to Him. So why would I model my own faith after someone else’s reaction to struggles if I don’t know what lies beyond the surface? I’d rather rely on what I know to be true, not what I assume to be true. And this much I know…I know that God made us all different, with different reactions and different emotions and different approaches to life. And I believe He did that intentionally, to encourage us to spend time getting to know each other. We don’t fit a mold and I think that’s the beauty of fellowship – to discover what is unique in each of us and celebrate it. I mean honestly, even Jesus wasn’t walking around singing, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy down in my heart” at every minute, every day. He grieved. He was ambivalent, nonchalant, and even angry at times. But that is what attracted people to Him, his ability to reach different people on different levels.

So is it possible for me to actually compromise someone else’s faith? Hmmm…gonna go with ABSOLUTELY on this one! The minute I stop acknowledging that I need Jesus to help me through; I have truly misrepresented my God. When I’m going through some test or trial and I feel the need to complain or argue, where exactly is my focus? If every trial is from God and I’m complaining about my trials, then aren’t I complaining about God? Am I showing an unbelieving world that God is a mean, mean Grinch who seeks to hurt me as often as possible? Or am I complaining to God and asking Him for guidance? Am I trusting in His goodness and His plans for me? (Don’t I always seem to bring it back to this?) I guess what really feels unsettling is why I run to everyone else to validate my frustration. I complain because I want someone to acknowledge that I am justified in feeling wronged. I want support in my anger and the truth is that most often, it isn’t worthy of validation. And what I should be doing is running to God for comfort. WHY DO I DO THAT? When something wonderful happens to me, I call the one person I know will share in my excitement. And when I’m hurting, I call the one person who knows how to comfort and encourage me. Why is that one person rarely God? If I believed in His love for me, He would be my “one and only.” He would be the one I run to and the result of that intimacy would be genuine, uncompromised faith - trust in the middle of trials.

1 Timothy 4:4-5 says, “For everything God Created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” Now there’s a thought. That means, even the trials and tests and suffering are good, because they are from God. I guess it’s all in the perspective. If everything God creates is good, then those circumstances I complain about are actually meant for good. So I should be receiving them with thanksgiving, because ultimately, my faith will be strengthened and God will prove Himself faithful once again. Wow, if only I lived that way on a consistent basis. God would truly be my one and only. But I digress; my faithless heart leads me astray.

We are all going to experience pain and suffering. Some of us will appear at peace in the midst of it. Some of us will appear to be crumbling under the weight of our circumstances. Some of us will appear unphased. Aren't appearances deceiving? So is it our shiny, happy, smiling faces during these times that matter or is it where we stand in relation to God? Am I turning my back on Him or am I running to Him? Can I rejoice in His love and faithfulness without rejoicing in my circumstances? I mean really, if He’s testing me, at least He hasn’t forgotten about me. One final thought. When our faith is tested and we “pass” the test by continuing to trust in God, our faith is proven. So really, it’s His continual faithfulness to us that lends credibility to our faith. Hmmm…God is good.

God be my God, my one and only. Take the place of all those things I turn to for comfort (even the mall). Let my wandering heart find its way back home. Help me to rejoice in your love. When all around has fallen, let your loving arms uplift me. Help me not to compromise the faith of another by failing to run to you. And please, oh please, do the same for my friends.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Is their life beyond the red letters?

One of the women in my Bible Study was sharing an experience she had in Mongolia last year. She was on a missions trip and was instructed to meet with a group of women every day for one week straight to share the gospel message and hopefully lead them to salvation through Christ. This was her first missions trip and there was a huge language barrier, so to say she was slightly intimidated is a huge understatement. She prayed for God to give her the words to reach these women. At first, they seemed very disinterested, as if they were there out of obligation and not because they wanted to be. They were very distant and paid little attention to her as she spoke. Again, she was apprehensive and cried out to God. On the last day of the trip, she set aside the agenda given to her and began to share some very intimate glimpses into her life. She told the women of her husband’s recent infidelity with his secretary (they worked at a church together), his lack of interest in their marriage, and ultimate decision to leave her. She fought back tears as she related her feelings about the situation – her fears and her sadness – and struggled to maintain composure. She had a difficult time deciding just how much, if any, of the story to share, but felt God had led her to divulge to these women. And so she did. And a group of 15 women who had previously maintained a cold distance between themselves and her, suddenly changed. They literally shifted their chairs closer to her, forming a tight circle and stared intently, hanging on every word. At the close of the evening, they thanked her for sharing and immediately left the study. They returned several hours later with gifts they had purchased in the local shops and those who had no money actually went home to find some small token of their appreciation for her honesty. She had finally reached them, on the last night, in the eleventh hour. As she shared this experience with the women of our Bible Study, she added that many of them chose to give their lives to God that week and gave God the glory for strengthening her through this test of faith.

So as I pondered this experience, the same theme kept ringing in my mind. Is it possible to share the gospel without sharing the actual word of God? Can we share the gospel through our struggles – our thoughts, feelings, emotions and weaknesses? By just relating to someone and meeting them on their level? By being genuine and open and sharing our life experiences with them? So often when we are approaching non-believers, we go straight to the Bible - which isn’t necessarily a bad thing - but seem to miss out on something in the process. The protestors at the abortion clinics dispel the word of God to broken, lost souls who may need a friend more than a pamphlet telling them when a fetus becomes a human being. Sometimes an alcoholic may need a ride home more than the scriptural foundation for why drunkenness is a sin. And maybe sometimes it’s more important to try to understand why someone of another faith has chosen their belief system rather than convince them ours is the ‘right’ way. If we truly believe God has the power to save souls, maybe we should take an active interest in the lives of others, instead of trying to get them interested in what we believe. I think we can SHOW them God’s love on occasion. You know, focus on the works of God and not necessarily the words of God. Of course, every situation is different and calls for a different course of action (or reaction or no action). But I believe that’s what following Christ is all about. I mean, can we really decide how to approach someone or learn to relate to them if we haven’t taken the time to listen to them? You probably wouldn’t spend three hours sharing how pleased you are with the outcome of the latest election to a friend who lives in a communist nation. And I’d venture to guess you wouldn’t brag about your shiny, new Mazarati to the child you sponsor in a third world country. Christ met his followers on THEIR level – heard the cries of their hearts – and addressed them accordingly.

I think sharing the cry of our hearts and the touch of our hands and the warmth of our shoulders may be received a lot better in certain situations than reciting scripture verbatim. Don’t the red letters scream at all of us, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest?” They don’t necessarily admonish us to, “Read this to everyone you encounter who does not believe and all good things will be yours.” They offer comfort and a soft place to land, not always a jumping off point. Lead them to Jesus and He will speak. How we lead them to Jesus is where God’s discernment comes in. Do we share the Bible alone or do we share ourselves and how the word of God has changed us? Sometimes I get so exhausted in my own ‘walk’ with God and have nothing leftover to share anyway. Nichole Nordeman wrote a song describing the conflict between how perfect we strive to be for God and how short we fall. The chorus sings to us all that we can never be good enough, but God takes us as we are because He is the only one who can. There is one line that I love that really hits home for me. “At the end of myself, at the end of the day, I can find little else but the courage to say, ‘I need you, that’s all.’” Yep, that’s pretty much it for me. Sometimes it’s hard for us to muster up enough energy to keep believing ourselves, let alone try to find the right words to help someone else climb aboard the God train. So in those times, maybe sharing ourselves, our struggle and our human weakness is just as appropriate as sharing the word of God.
I’ll leave you with this…isn’t it our humanity that points to God’s divinity? Just a thought.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Can I get a witness?

I’ve been mulling over this whole idea of “blowing our witness” for God. I recently heard a woman discussing her son’s downward spiral of adultery, lies and complacence toward God. She alluded to the fact that through his actions (leaving his family and choosing to move in with another woman, outside of marriage), he had blown his witness. This grieved her terribly and it made me begin to question what exactly it is that we find so discomforting during these times. More specifically, what does it really mean to “blow our witness?”
If my witness is blown every time I sin, I am in serious trouble. I think if we try to approach the issue in terms of identifying and overcoming our sin, we become more like defendants than witnesses. We are looking for ways to justify our actions or at the very least, to explain them to an accusing world. Webster defines a witness as ‘one that gives evidence’ or ‘one who has personal knowledge of something.’ So what is it that we are called to bear witness to? What evidence are we to share as Christ-followers? If my witness is solely based on my sin, I’m defeated before I’ve even opened my mouth. I don’t need to testify about my sin; my actions speak loud enough. The evidence of my sin is pretty much laid out there for all to see and believe me, if I don’t put it out there, someone will find it sooner or later anyway (a former pastor likes to call these people ‘sin sniffers’).
So if my sin is not the be all and end all, what is this personal knowledge of which I am to bear witness? Could it be…God’s love and grace? Ok, so perhaps I am supposed to divulge my sin (maybe not all the gory details, but some allusion to the fact that I’m not perfect), but in so doing, do I not also express my need for Jesus? I think the greater witness is not that I’m fatally flawed, but that God is not and in my imperfection, my need for His love and grace prevails. So I pose this question to all of you and hope you’ll toss it around a little bit. Do we blow our witness by sinning or by failing to recognize and admit that we need Jesus? I suppose the two are somewhat interchangeable. It’s pretty inevitable that I will sin, but I think that to do so without simultaneously crying out to God for help would be a greater detriment to myself and again, send me right back to the defendant’s chair. No thanks, I’d rather be a witness to God’s love and grace, not a defendant fending off blows. So my prayer for all of you today is that you truly don’t blow your witness. We stand adored, not accused. Cry out to Him, fall down before Him, and never stop needing Him.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

More than a feeling

I began a six-week Bible study last Tuesday night and I think I’m kind of enjoying it. It’s pretty much the same as all the other Bible studies I’ve done – pretty basic stuff you learn early on – but basic is exactly what I need right now. I have a difficult time in women’s studies, because they sometimes feel very insincere and “plastic” (sorry, they do). It often feels like we claim to believe everything we’re “supposed” to believe, and sometimes, the reality of our faith falls through the cracks. I’ll explain. It seems to me that we excel at vocalizing our faith in God, but fail to vocalize those things we believe we shouldn’t feel as Christians. You know, the fact that we don’t always trust God; we don’t always believe He cares for us, and sometimes we believe He’s just plain mean. The warm, fuzzy things are easy to claim, but the negative feelings toward God that often overwhelm us get swept under the rug. So as I listened to the women in my group share their desire to trust God and to rely on His promises and to believe He has their best interests at heart, I came to a sudden realization that rattled me a little and yet, gave me an astounding hope I haven’t had in a really long time. Here it is kids…faith is not a feeling – at least not for me.

My Tuesday night study is on “The Testing of Your Faith.” We spent the first week sharing the times in our lives when our faith was tested and how we responded to the test. Nothing really struck me as new revelation; I felt like I had heard it all before. We’ve all been tested; we’ve probably all felt the same anger, resentment, hurt, frustration and depression during those times. Some of us have probably been fortunate enough to have found peace – through God – in the midst of it. Me? Not so much. Well, I’m sure I’ve had peace at some point during a struggle, but I probably attributed it to something or someone other than God and I think my definition of peace is probably skewed also. This week in my group, we explored the testing of our faith a little deeper and I was actually enlightened and consequently, encouraged. Somewhere in the midst of discussing what we believe – or better yet, what we fail to believe – when we’re tested, this idea of faith not being based solely on feelings crept up on me slowly and the longer I let it sink in, the more encouraged I felt.

I’m speaking only for myself when I say that faith is more often a choice than a feeling. When I’m burdened by some event or series of events, I stop believing. I don’t stop believing in God, but I stop believing that He cares for me and I stop believing in His promises. And that is an even more dangerous place to be. As a daughter cries to her father when she isn’t getting her way, “You don’t love me!” Such is my relationship with God. So I have to ask myself, “Am I going to wait for the warm, fuzzy feelings towards God to return, or am I going to choose to believe that He knows what’s best for me?” Faith is not a feeling; faith is a choice. When someone wrongs me and I confess to forgive them, I don’t always instantly feel forgiveness in such a way that I am able to forget the pain they’ve caused. Forgiveness is a choice. I choose to forgive and hope that trust will be re-built and the pain will soon diminish.

My feelings are very deceiving at times. The idea that I don’t need to rely on them when I’m being tested is actually quite comforting. When times are tough, I can choose to believe God cares for me and then rest on the hope that everything will work out for the best and I will be ok. I don’t mean to minimize the pain and suffering we feel when we’re being tested, but to shift the focus from my feelings to my response to those feelings seems to lift a burden off me I haven’t been able to shake in quite some time.

In 1 Thessalonians 2:4, Paul tells the church at Thessalonica, “We speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.” Wow! When God is testing our faith, He is actually testing our hearts. You mean, He may actually be more concerned about the condition of my heart than the actual circumstances I am trying to overcome? So when I’m tested, is my heart crying out for God or is it shutting down to Him and everyone else around me? Hmmm…do I really need to answer that one? It’s the difference between viewing God as the cause of my suffering and viewing Him as my ally and my friend, the one who will carry me through my suffering. Do I need Him or am I blaming Him?

Jesus asks Peter in Matthew 16:15, “Who do you say I am?” Is it possible when God is testing me that He is asking me the same question? How I am feeling about my present situation may matter much less at that moment than what I believe about God. Do I believe He is showing up in the midst of my pain? Do I believe He loves me? Or do I believe He has left the building? I guess a more appropriate question for me now is will I choose to believe He loves me or will I choose to believe He has failed me? I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes the blame game feels more vindicating when we’re hurting, but it isn’t always about feelings, is it? And again I cry, “Father, where else am I to go? This world has nothing for me.”

Ok, so maybe this all seems very elementary, but frankly, I’ve always been too consumed by my feelings to look beyond them. And I truly believe that this time, it is God who is opening my eyes. And the beauty of it all is this: once again, for the first time in, oh, let’s say…forever, my response to this “discipline” was to utter, “I love you, Lord. Maybe not as perfectly as I should, but I really do love you.” And I did. This morning on my way to work, I actually felt led to cry out to God and I still do.

Artist Lenny Bruce said, “There is no ‘what should be,’ there is only what is.” Is it possible for us to forget the ‘what should be’ moments long enough to recognize the ‘what is’ in our lives? My ‘should be’ moments are usually characterized by an internal struggle with my emotions. I am attempting to sort out my emotions long enough to make sense of the situation and feel okay with it. But a ‘what is’ moment is not based on feeling okay with anything. My God says to be still and know that He is God. Knowledge is a product of our minds, not necessarily our hearts, which is where our feelings dwell. So what if, when my faith is being tested, I could do just that? I could simply be still and know, beyond all comprehension, that He is not just God, but He is my God and He cares for me deeply.

So who do you say that He is? Is He your creator? Is he your comforter? Is He your savior? And most importantly, is He your friend? Lord, help me to see beyond my complex feelings to the simple truth. Help me to be still and know.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Ask and you shall be further confused

So I’ve been feeling very hypocritical lately. I read some of the things I’ve written and I think, “I don’t really feel that way”, or “That’s not what I truly believe.” A lot of it reads as if I’m in complete agony and despair and trust me, I’m not. I feel as if I’m dispelling someone else’s truth and that bothers me. If I’m going to write with passion, I want to feel truly connected to my words and know that they are an accurate picture of where I am at, not just a way to connect with others. So after weeks of introspect and soul searching, I think I’ve got a clearer picture of where I stand in relation to God.

I got rear ended on the freeway about 2 weeks ago and I haven’t felt much like writing in quite some time. My car is pretty much totaled, my neck is severely sprained (so says my chiropractor), as is my back, and I’m terrified of driving. Here’s the strange part. Maybe I’m not coping, but I feel nothing (short of a pain in my neck). I’m basically numb. This strikes me as quite odd, considering that I – a girl who wears band-aids just for attention – am usually quite content to play the “woe is me” game with anyone who’ll listen. I really didn’t share the accident with the masses the way I usually do, but those who did find out had some words of comfort to offer. Apparently, God is not punishing me. God did not cause this to happen, nor does He wish me to suffer. God was not responsible for my car accident, the $9,000 damage to my car or the injuries that are healing slowly. God seems to have been looking the other way. And so I wonder…if every good and perfect gift is from above, if all good things are from God, if the slightest miracle produces a “To God be the glory” from the crowd…why then, are the bad things not from Him also? Doesn’t the sun shine on us all and the rain fall on us all? Didn’t God create them both? It seems to be that if He is to thank for every good blessing we get, He should take every bad thing that comes our way too. And what has really been eating away at me is this – who cares if the bad stuff is from Him? Is He wrong to discipline me out of love? Is he wrong to let bad stuff happen to me so that I might be strengthened by it? I’m not even sure if that’s what’s going on here, because what I’m really feeling is numb. I don’t feel persecuted, punished, picked on, or hard-pressed, but I don’t feel blessed either.

Sometimes faith feels like a game, and we are perpetual losers until the game ends. When this life is over, we win. We get to rest in the presence of God forever. I do believe that. I believe He is our creator and the creator of everything under the sun. It’s the life experiences I have a hard time with. Lately I’ve been feeling as if God is hardly concerned with what happens to us, but greatly concerned about where we stand in relation to Him. Everything under the sun is meaningless, right? Life is a series of random events, things we have little control over. The only things I feel I can control are my feelings toward Him. And frankly, I’m pretty tired of feeling numb. I’d like to get back to that place of wonder that I know I have been at before. I want to be closer to my Jesus. I want a happy medium between the anger I used to feel and the numbness I feel now. I want (yes, I’m gonna say it), I want a healthy balance. I think it’s possible the message of Christianity has been both over saturated and oversimplified. The salvation message is about as simple as it gets. You either believe it and live forever or you don’t and spend an eternity sans Jesus. There is no you in matters of salvation; there is only Christ crucified. But as far as all the other tenets of faith are concerned, I just don’t believe it’s that easy, and at this stage in the game, I’m not sure God intended it to be easy. And truly, I DON’T WANT IT TO BE THAT EASY.

I don’t want to be a neurotic crazy lady standing in the streets screaming, “Why, Why? Oh, the horror!” But I think confusion is the journey, the relationship. God is an enigma and if He were not, why would we have a need to pursue Him? It’s His mystery that keeps me yearning to know Him more. So I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want from my faith and here it is, plain and simple. I want to be confused. I want to be challenged. I want to be asked the tough questions I’d prefer to put out of my mind. I want to dive into the dangerous subjects I try tirelessly to dance around. I want to struggle with my sin and feel convicted, which I haven’t in a really long time. I don’t want to have all the answers, but I sure as Hell want to discuss the questions ad nauseum. When Jesus spoke, a lot of people were confused, but didn’t that make them pursue Him more? Didn’t they want desperately to understand Him? So let me be perfectly clear. MY wants are not for everyone. There are countless people who want nothing short of simplicity and that’s fine, but that’s not my cup of tea.

You see, a lot of people are driven by emotion and for them, I think faith is probably not a stretch, but I’m not one of those people. I don’t stand beneath the cross and shudder, because I’m pretty far removed from my emotions most of the time. The cross feels quite fictional to me about 98% of the time. I am very analytical. I love a good debate. I don’t want to accept anything at face value. I am driven by reason and logic and let’s be honest, there is nothing logical about Christianity! It doesn’t make sense; God doesn’t make sense. So what do I do without blind faith and without reason to rest on? How do I get to the hope when I want desperately for it to make sense first?

I’ve been wrestling with this notion of entering Heaven as a child. What does that mean? I think I’ve always believed it to mean, well, basically, dumb ourselves down. We should stop doubting and running and questioning and just accept that what He says is true because He is the parent and He said so! I don’t believe that anymore. Children are not dumb; they are inquisitive and I think that is what God intended. Haven’t you ever listened to a child who is just beginning to discover that there is a world around them? “Why is the sky blue? Where do babies come from? Why do birds fly? Why can’t I have everything I want?” They want it all to make sense. They want to understand where they fit into the puzzle. They want to know there is a reason for it all. And what do parents want? They don’t want their children to have all the answers. They want them, above all else, to know that they are loved. Isn’t that what God wants for us? I think we are to enter Heaven as children, not dumb and blindly trusting, but adoring Jesus and being adored by Him. It isn’t the questions that matter, nor is it the answers. That stuff is meaningless. What matters is that we seek Him. That we come to Him. That we spend a lifetime longing for someone who is somewhat of an enigma. And I want that again. When I have children of my own, I don’t want them to go to church to learn what they should believe or how they should live their lives. I want them to learn that they have a Jesus and that He doesn’t always make sense, but that’s what makes Him fun and exciting.

I think God has me exactly where He wants me and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. I may never FEEL moved again, but that’s ok. Honestly, I think God knows me pretty well. He knows I thrive on chaos and confusion. He knows I love to challenge everything and make waves. He knows I live for the journey, not the destination. He knows I love the downs sometimes more than the ups and the lows sometimes more than the highs. And He knows that I will always come home to Him, no matter where my feeble mind leads me. And now I’ll tell you what I know. I know there are no other arms that could stretch wide enough to cover my failures. I know there is no one here on Earth who will never fail me. I know there was no greater sacrifice and there never will be. And I know that He loves me and that’s ok, at least for now.

Oh, one more thing. As far as my accident was concerned. I think I’m done with “some way” prayers. No more, “God, if there is some way you can help me out of this one, some way you could make this happen for me, some way you could fix this, confirm this or shut the door on this one, some way….” Perhaps I should’ve been more specific.
May God confuse you all so you'll never stop seeking!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Shades of gray

There are a lot of things about this Christianity business that don’t quite sit well with my soul. I wish I could say I believed with every fiber of my being that the Bible meant EXACTLY what it says, and I will gladly profess to believe that, but deep down, I have too many doubts to feel confident in that belief. I’m just not sure if the God of the Bible is as black and white as many Christians claim He is. I think He is definitely firm about the Calvary road and our hope for salvation, but as far as the non-essentials of the faith go, sometimes I think He’s messin’ with us! Let me first state that the thoughts that rattle around in this feeble mind of mine are just that – thoughts and most often, doubts that I love to toss out there into the great unknown. Add to that the rebellious spirit within me and the weird fascination I have with conflict and chaos, and I’m pretty much nothing but trouble. Basically, don’t take offense; I’m just expressing a feeling that is in no way carved in stone. Alrighty then…

I think it’s possible that God may be a lot less concerned about the sins we do (and do not) commit here on Earth and a lot more concerned about how we deal with people – the ones who agree with our philosophies and the ones who march to a different beat. In the end, I believe what we did FOR God will matter much less than what we did WITH those we came in contact with. And by what we did, I don’t mean all the fabulous sacrifices we made, the lavish gifts we gave or the profound wisdom we offered in their time of need. I mean, the way we related to them, the grace we extended, the love and mercy and understanding we attempted to extend. Do we really try to express God’s love or do we use it to guilt them into buying into our agenda? Do we accept them as children who hurt and act out of that hurt or do we fault them for their shortcomings, differing opinions and non-conformity?

Ok, so maybe it’s not the best movie in the world, but I’m actually going to use the movie Saved to illustrate this point. If you can get past how inappropriate you may believe the movie is, you may discover that there’s truth beneath the humor. Perhaps that may be why so many people find it offensive. In one scene, the main character, Hillary, throws her Bible at a former friend and screams, “You are backsliding into the gates of Hell. I am filled with Christ’s love.” Come on now, look beyond the blatant and pointed attack on super-religious Christians and try to see for just one moment, what struck ME about this scene. One thought screamed at me over and over again as I watched this scene unfold. God’s word, the Bible, is a love story. Jesus is the love song God sings to each one of us. And Hillary’s friend sums it up perfectly in her response, “THIS (the Bible) is not a weapon.” Do I use the Bible as a weapon to alienate non-believers and condemn believers or do I read it as the love story I believe God intended it to be, a love story written just for me?

Ok, movie reference #2…in Pleasantville, the town is in an uproar when their black and white existence is threatened by splashes of color. Things begin to change and their lives can no longer be contained within the neatly packaged box they’ve lived in for years. When change threatens to disrupt familiarity, chaos ensues. The possibility of anything unexpected and unfamiliar is simply frightening and must be stopped. Here’s what I see as the beauty in the story (and again, my favorite scene). The people of Pleasantville have read the same books for years and know exactly what to expect. When this sudden change begins to take shape and life as they know it, is altered, the pages of the books are suddenly blank. As they listen intently to the main character tell stories out loud - stories many of them have never heard - the words begin to appear on the pages. The story writes itself as it is told. What I love about this picture is that it begins with a blank slate. No one knows what to expect until the story unfolds and while some of them find this disturbing, others are somewhat intrigued. There is no mandate on where the road should lead or how they must respond. They are left with nothing but a desire to relate to one another, to share and to discover, together, what the next page will bring. I think our faith is much like this. God did not intend our lives to be lived in black and white, always knowing what lies ahead, what behavior is “appropriate” and what rules will best satisfy our every need. I believe He intends us to write the story together. As the final line in Saved states, “What would Jesus do? I don’t really know, but I think the goal is for us to try to figure it out together.”

I’m not saying that none of us should follow the guidelines God has clearly communicated to us through the Bible and divine revelation. I am simply asserting that sometimes, maybe following the rules is not as important as letting the road take us into unfamiliar territory. Isn’t life a journey, after all? And I do believe God is ok with that. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we can freely disregard God’s word to suit our needs, but rather, overcoming our “shoulds” and “ought tos” to suit the needs of another. Imagine the possibilities if just once, we put our own ideals and opinions aside long enough to listen to those of someone else, to HEAR what they are saying, understand their heart’s cry, and be what they need us to be at that moment, despite what we feel we should be or should say or even what we THINK they need. I think the only one who truly knows what we need is God and he deals with me in the most precious and unimaginable way possible, he loves me, regardless of my faults, in the absence of my desire to be faultless and with the gentle touch of someone who truly “gets” me. I think instead of trying to get everyone saved, we should get them all loved and let God do the saving. When I read the Bible, I usually pray first, “Speak to me, God.” I think now I’ll pray, “Sing to me, Jesus, the love song I so desperately need to hear, and let me sing it to others when they forget the tune.”
God’s love to you all!

Are you there God? It's me, Julie.

Is it possible to feel close to God in the absence of a horribly tragic experience? I have not felt close to Him in a very long time and I take full responsibility. I haven’t spoken to Him or cried out to Him or (God forbid) even needed Him for quite some time. But what I’ve noticed is that the times I need Him and cry out to Him are the times I am most vulnerable, the times I am going through some sort of turmoil or suffering some sort of loss. I need Him desperately in those moments and in the “in-between” times, I am ambivalent. This troubles me and I wonder – can I feel that closeness with God that I long for when things are going ok for me or do I have to feel pain to come to Him on a daily basis? I guess pain develops in me that longing for the comfort of God’s healing touch, of intimate belonging, or reliance on His strength. I guess what I really want is to feel that longing without having to suffer great pain, without having a need so overwhelming I have no choice but to need and cry out to God.

Is it awful to say that I don’t need God right now? Will He send tragedy my way so that I will need Him? Is His heart breaking because I have barely acknowledged His existence lately? I’m not sure we can actually break God’s heart. I have a very good friend that I only speak to once in a blue moon. My heart does not break when I don’t hear from her for a while, but when she does call, I am more than elated to hear her voice. My personal belief is that this is how God views us. He loves us but He does not sit around in mourning when we don’t call. My unsettling struggle at the moment is that I don’t want to be in this situation any longer. I MISS GOD. I miss His friendship. I miss feeling connected to Him. I do believe we go through peaks and valleys in our “crawl” with the Lord, and thus breeds my curiosity – can I feel close to God in my ambivalence, when things are not spiraling out of control?

And now, I will cloud the issue further. Can God use me to confirm the faith of others despite my ambivalence? And at what cost? Can my words (despite the lack of feeling and faith behind them) be used to communicate God’s love even if I myself do not feel loved by God? Sometimes I feel as if I’m sacrificing my own relationship with God to ensure that others develop their relationships with Him. I speak faith very well, but it doesn’t seem to be active in my own life. I am preaching someone else’s experience and not my own. I believe that God loves me, but I have not felt changed by His love. I believe the events that were illustrated in The Passion of the Christ but I was not moved by them or brought to tears the way everyone around me was. My thought was, “Great movie, good fiction, very well done artistically.” God’s love and sacrifice seems so far removed, I cannot possibly allow it to stir in me a heartfelt response. I am deeply saddened by this and further frustrated when friends tell me they have seen a drastic change in me. How can I be changed if I don’t feel changed? I discussed this issue at length with some friends last night. Typically, the more I talk about my situation, the more clarity I have about what it is that makes me tick. I think it’s possible I discovered the underlying reason for my lack of passion in regards to my Heavenly Father. I have allowed the walls to crumble in numerous relationships with people I (thought I) loved and was betrayed time and time again. I would even go so far as to say that I chose intentionally NOT to sin in a particular area (hehe), despite my fears of abandonment, to honor God and yet, He still took from me something that I held very dear, something I believed was precious – at least at that time. I felt wronged by those relationships and even by God. Broken and hurt, I vowed somewhere along the line to never feel wronged again. I vowed to never feel ANYTHING remotely close to vulnerable, to steer clear of any sort of emotion that could potentially cause me pain. And now, it is nearly impossible to trust and believe in a loving God. Is there any greater loss than the potential loss of God’s love? It is so much safer to say that I believe in His furious love, but yet refuse to let it in far enough to move or change me. So I guess it isn’t so difficult to understand how a girl who claims to be a child of God can stand with Him and not be moved by Him. I’m just thankful He stands with me in the times I feel like running. But I’m still a bit dissatisfied. I’m a firm believer in exploring our past experiences to learn to recognize certain behaviors in our lives, but not to explain or excuse our actions as justifiable because of what we’ve been through. So now that I’ve shed some light on why I feel so ambivalent about God’s love, how do I put aside my fears and insecurities to allow His love to sink in?
Through the kind (and much needed) advice of a dear friend, I was gently reminded that maybe God needs to hear these thoughts that I’ve been having for so long. I was somewhat shaken when I realized that even though I’ve been feeling so distant from Him, it never once occurred to me to tell Him I feel distant, that I long to be brought near again, that I miss Him terribly. There is a line in a song by Lifehouse that has been reverberating in my mind endlessly these past few weeks. “How can I stand here with you and not be moved by you?” Suddenly it dawned on me; the part I’ve been missing is standing with God. And I don’t mean fighting for Him, preaching His word or even vocalizing my faith. I mean standing still with Him, just being in His presence. Maybe a lengthy prayer isn’t necessary. Maybe a song of worship is too much. Maybe, just maybe, all that is needed is to remember He is there when I do feel needy.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

God versus the HMO

HMO: You choose your provider (who must fall within the network).
GOD’S KINGDOM: Your provider chooses you.

HMO: If you go outside the network, you are no longer the responsibility of your provider.
GOD’S KINGDOM: If you go outside the network, your provider will go after you.

HMO: Monthly contributions ensure your future.
GOD’S KINGDOM: A one-time contribution ensures your future.

HMO: There is a limit to the quality of care you receive.
GOD’S KINGDOM: God’s love knows no boundaries.

HMO: You cannot be accepted with a pre-existing condition.

GOD’S KINGDOM: You were accepted with a pre-existing condition.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Free at last!

“I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

To celebrate Independence Day, I’d like to take a moment to reflect upon my total dependence upon God and just what that entails. You see, I have this account in the First Bank of God. It was opened years ago, when I first became aware of my need for a savior. On that day (which I think was actually while I was still in the womb), a piggy bank appeared on my dresser. God made a deposit. His son died and my account was full (of grace, of salvation, of eternal life, of faith…shall I go on???). From that moment on, I began the long, arduous task of relying on the grace of God and living in need of Him. Believe me, this is no small feat. It is difficult to live in need of a savior, but woe to the person who thinks he can make it on his own! I may not be a confessed alcoholic, but I’m perfectly content to practice step 10 at all times. “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” Let me shed a little light on this one. It is extremely important to live in a constant awareness of our actions and our thoughts and to be willing to admit that they are not above reproach, but I think the most important part of this step is a word most people would fly right by – promptly. I’ve tried to make light of my sins, hide them from God, or pretend they weren’t really THAT bad. Oh, but they were (and are). In the matter of coming clean before God, why wait? “What’s the rush?” you ask. The faster I get to the cross to lay it all down, the faster His grace flows. You know what I find truly amazing? There is never a line at the First Bank of God…and there’s only one teller!

Though the deposit God made was a one-shot deal, my account never seems to be diminishing. I make withdrawals on a daily basis and in my piggy bank are thousands upon thousands of little slips that read, “IOU.” Of course I realize I cannot possibly pay God back all He has given me, but you get the idea, right? The piggy bank is always full. And the beauty of the whole scenario is this: There will come a day when my piggy bank will be cracked open, all those little slips of paper will be gone, and the only thing that will remain inside is that one initial deposit God made.

P.S. I read a lot of scripture now that I’ve read a hundred times before, but little words jump out at me that just knock me on my @#%! I love this one...

ROMANS 12:3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

Remember ~ it’s a gift! I am not an amazing woman of great faith; I am merely a child of God, blessed beyond belief.

Happy 4th of July! I’m off to the bank…

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I read the news today...oh boy!

So in these days of unemployment, I am making the most of my time. I am familiarizing myself with the philosophies of Oprah and Dr. Phil, identifying with the losers of daytime television (the actors and the viewers), and make the occasional trip to the kitchen for a healthy diet of mac-n-cheese and Mt. Dew. Seriously, I’ve been writing furiously, but today I actually watched the news and found it quite amusing how truly gospel-worthy it was. As I mocked and pitied the people channel 7 deemed newsworthy, it suddenly occurred to me that I could’ve easily have been right there in front of the cameras too…along with all you other crazy Christian try-to-do-gooders. There is a little bit of each of us in the characters on the TV. I am the 11-year old boy scout lost in Yosemite who hid from his rescuers the first time around until he was exposed on a trail and returned to his loving family. Do I not hide from my rescuer until he exposes me and carries me home? I am the actor fleeing in my pretty white bronco from accusations of guilt, trying to outrun justice. Do I not lock myself inside a pretty white box claiming innocence? And I am the runaway bride trying to escape the pressure of my life. Have I not tried to outrun my own insecurities and fears and find refuge anywhere but here? Oh, I am so newsworthy!

And yet, God does not broadcast my imperfections to an unforgiving world. Rather, He gently embraces me and leads me back home. Ok, ok, so it doesn’t always play out that way. Kicking and screaming I protest…and I doubt…and I set my sights on disproving His love. My pastor likes to say this gospel is best served beaten. I like to take it one step further. Instead of mixing it with non-essentials and oversaturating it with complications, we should beat it…until it bleeds! Rip it to shreds (if we dare), question its validity, and beat it until we see nothing but the blood of Christ pouring over us every minute. Because that is exactly what He does. Christ’s blood may have been spilled at the cross, but it is washing us clean on a daily basis, in fact, every minute, and by no justification on our part. We are getting what we don’t deserve, grace and eternal life – deserving death, receiving breath.

We can certainly claim to be deserving, beyond reproach, and righteous, but in His eyes, our words are meaningless without faith and honesty before Him. In the parable of the two brothers (Matthew 21), a man asks his sons to go work in the vineyard. One says, “Sure thing, Pops” (ok, different words, same idea) and doesn’t end up going. The other says, “Beat it, Pops” and then changes his mind and goes out to work. I am so much of each of them; there’s a constant battle raging within. If my faith were a Miller Lite commercial, it’d read something along the lines of, “Talks great – less willing.” Part of me still struggles with my own ability to earn God’s favor and the other part doesn’t care to try at all. I wish I could succumb to the latter more often. I am so rebellious in nature. I don’t like to be told what to do, but when I am honest before God, He changes my heart for me (on occasion) and sometimes, my hands even produce good works. And when that happens, TO GOD BE THE GLORY! I don’t have to pretend to be worthy of His love. I need only to believe He is who He claims He is and without Him, I am beyond all hope. Gives ya that warm, fuzzy feeling, doesn’t it? Hey, I would venture to guess those nut-jobs on the news didn’t have that warm, fuzzy feeling either. Collectively, we have truly “lost that loving feeling,” but we do have a loving healing. We are being reconciled to our Heavenly Father.

Oh yes, I was all over the news today and I was not so pretty. Here’s what I see as our main malfunction: we need to stop playing “Hide and Seek” and start playing “Tag – you’re it!” Instead of trying to conceal our ugly parts, our scars and our wounds – the parts of us other people find repulsive – we need to start ripping off the band-aids and exposing ourselves (whoa, that might make the news, huh?). Seriously though, if we stopped avoiding the lepers and touched their scars once in a while, we wouldn’t be so quick to hide our own. It’d be an endless game of tag and everyone would be having so much more fun, cause at the end of the day, when the sun went down, we’d all be running toward the same dinner bell in the same house, seated at the same table, eating the same bread and drinking the same wine. And everything would be right with the world. Ok, enough daydreaming! Here’s the reality, it ain’t gonna happen, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

I’ll close with some brutal honesty and the reality of it all (as I see it). We are all backsliding day in and day out and yes, that does mean we are all walking back down the same road (of sin) we once traveled before we met Christ, but here’s the good news: the road has not changed. It’s still the Calvary road, we are still sinners, and Christ is still at the end with open arms. A friend at Bible Study tonight said it this way, “We are strong in His grace.” I am in complete agreement. We are weak in this place, but strong in His grace. I think that’s somewhat newsworthy, don't you? Move over Hour of Power, there's a new kid in town and it's called the gospel of saving grace!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Whose side are you on?

I went to four weddings last summer (yes, and a funeral too) and each time I sat on the bride’s side. I think for the most part, most people want to be on the bride’s side. Let’s face it; it’s her day. She is the one with all eyes on her, stunning in her wedding gown, beaming with anticipation. Here’s the problem I have with this scenario. In God’s family, I am the bride and sometimes I am my own worst enemy.

As I walk down the aisle, my eyes are on my groom, my Jesus. My future is in His hands. My home is with Him. My heart is under His supervision. If I were to scan the bride’s side, I’d likely see a lot of brokenness. There I would find the dysfunctional family to whom I belong. We are not flawless. We are not well put together. We are not of high standing, prestige, or elite society. But we are hopeful because we are marrying into a family of righteousness. My groom has chosen to call us His own and has vowed to remain true. In my desire to escape from the deceitfulness, falsehood, and fa├žades of this life, it is comforting to know that as I stand here in my tarnished gown, I am walking toward someone who is anything but tarnished. I have been chosen by one unblemished and perfect in His love.

So though I am seated on the bride’s side at the moment, and it is comforting to know that I am a part of something real, I still find myself longing to cross the line and take a seat on the groom’s side. And when my wedding day has come and gone, I don’t think I’ll seal my gown up nice and tight to use at a later date. I think I’d rather count it a loss and trade it in for a robe.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Jesus had a little lamb (who looked a little lame)

Do you ever feel like you’re a sheep in wolves’ clothing? Yes, I said it as I meant it. I feel like that quite often these days. I know that I am God’s property, that I am a sheep–inwardly–but on the outside, I am much more of a wolf. We’re supposed to be clothed in humility, kindness, love, patience, and all things sugar and spice, but my wardrobe is riddled with everything contrary to that. So I won’t lie. I’ve been told before that my behavior and attitude is not reflective of a “Christian” lifestyle, that I don’t appear to be a follower of Jesus, that I sin too much to be a Christian. I object! Wasn’t Jesus followed by liars, thieves and even murderers? Didn’t they lurk in the shadows attempting to catch a fleeting glimpse of Him? To touch the hem of his clothes? To be healed? By worldly standards, these people did not appear to be cute, little, fluffy sheep; in fact, they appeared to be ugly, disdainful wolves. Nevertheless, they followed the shepherd; hence, they were His sheep. Sound familiar?

I’ve asked God several times, “You say they will know I am yours by the love I have for others and I don’t express that love very well, so how then will they truly know that I am yours? What do I tell them when they ask why I continue to live in sin? What do I tell them when they question my sincerity? What do I tell them when my faith is on shaky ground? What do I tell them when they call me a hypocrite? And what do I tell them when they want to know why horrible things keep happening to them?” The answer He gives me always seems to be the same, “You tell them that I love them.”

God loves you!

Saturday, June 04, 2005

You Say It's Your Birthday

Today is my birthday and yes, in true Gemini form, I am again practicing tapping in to my fickle side. This is quite possibly one of the best birthdays I have ever had. It wasn’t about the gifts (though they were all ghetto fabulous and much appreciated). I did not age DOWN a year. I did not party like a rock star. But I have a loving family who knows just what I need and knows how to love my Jesus as purely as possible (for a dysfunctional lot such as us); I received my yearly phone call from my dad (just to check in and remind each other that despite our vast, vast differences, there is love nonetheless, in whatever form it expresses itself). I am greatly humbled in my need for financial help during this period of unemployment (though created by me, both precious and disturbing all at once – I have never written so much in my life); I am intensely aware of the phenomenal people my God has so blessed me with right now…to provide…to come through…to love me despite me…to show up. Needless to say, God and I are again, on speaking terms. Today, if only for one day, (ah hell, if only for one moment), I am happy to be loved by Him, honored to be called His daughter, and hopeful to meet Him again tomorrow. Ok, so my love for a good Zinfandel sometimes gets the best of me, but doesn’t a glass of wine just intensify what you are already feeling anyway? Long live the blood of Christ!

Bitter with Baggage Seeks Something Entirely Different

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive." ~Harold Whitman

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes me come alive. Anger can be the greatest motivator. I’m feeling my “Calvary Road Rage” again. God and I are not on speaking terms (and He knows why). He is not my friend at the moment; He is the enemy and I’m pissed off. I guess anger is somewhat of my comfort zone. Anger does not make me come alive. Woe to my horribly plagued life and me! Ok, so maybe it’s validating to be angry and to curse this life, but here’s my bottom line: if you don’t confront that which terrifies you, you will never come alive. I think anger stems from a deep-seated fear within me, or rather, four hundred thousand deep-seated fears. I am afraid of failure, of vulnerability, of pain. Anger kills the fear…and everything else in my life. How then, do I push past the anger to make myself come alive?

Life will take me where I don’t want to go. I will enjoy the ride.
I will meet people I don’t like. I will find something good in them and celebrate it.
I will fall flat on my face from time to time. I will get back up.
People I love will not always love me back. I will love myself.
I will take 2nd place, 3rd and sometimes last. I will congratulate those who went before me.
I will gain weight, lose it, and gain it back. I will never be accused of being predictable.
I will be afraid of change. I will change.
I will forget all of the above quite often. I will remind myself to remember.
I will make a million bad decisions. I will make one good one…I will trust God (even when I'm mad at Him).

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Purpose-Driving Life

So, I’m pretty tired of trying to use my spiritual gifts of wisdom and discernment (hahahaha) to figure out what my purpose in God’s kingdom really is and to be honest, it’s turning out to be much more of a purpose DRIVING life. It’s driving me crazy. It’s driving me into the ground. And it might even be driving the nails into Jesus’ hands all over again. So maybe it’s time to accept that He already died at the cross, was resurrected and ascended. I don’t think He needs to repeat those acts for me to figure out my purpose in His kingdom. So here it is…accept it! My purpose is to accept His grace, His mercy and more importantly, His love.

Revelations 3:15-16 says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Yikes! Good thing this isn’t an admonishment to work a little bit harder or we’d all be up a creek! I think it’s a little more along the lines of “need Jesus a little bit more, rely on Him to be all that you can’t be and trust in His purpose” and man, then you’ll be on fire for Jesus (the good kind of fire, not the eternal damnation kind).

Let me go one step further. We can all “do” marvelous and masterful things in the name of Jesus (which, essentially, is Jesus doing things in us for His name’s sake), but at the end of the day, we all get one denarus, the same wage; we all get Jesus! What we do pales in comparison to what God does through us, in us and often, in spite of us.

“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:7-9). We have one purpose – let God grow and flourish whatever we attempt to create.
So I’m not entirely hopeless and wholly devoted to a life of laziness and immobility. I will certainly not give up the hope that He might actually cause me to do some good in this lifetime. I will continue to believe in a system of right and wrong. I will occasionally even be nice to someone just for the heck of it. But what I won’t do is believe for one second that my “purpose” is more important than my reliance on His purpose. Philippians 2:13 states, “…for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” So I will do my best, try my hardest, and fight like Hell to allow His purpose to work in me. And when I’m trying to figure out where I fit into “ministry,” I’ll break it down like this: in my eyes, ministry is merely two words stuck together – minus + try. I’ll keep that in mind next time I’m trying really hard to figure out my purpose in God’s kingdom and just let His love be enough.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Parenthetical God

How many times can I hear the phrase, “Don’t put God in a box” before I feel the need to set the box on fire altogether? I’ve spent too many years believing that if I had just prayed a little harder, believed a little more passionately and trusted a little bit more, my prayers would’ve been answered…my way! I’ve known some pretty faithful people in my life, many unemployed with hours to pray, some who were so filled with the Holy Spirit that they could actually forgive someone who had horribly wronged them, and even a few who were so passionate about God, they could actually speak in tongues. All of them removed God from the box and many times in their lives He came through. What then to the athlete who prays tirelessly for a victory and yet suffers the agony of defeat? What then to the grieving family who cries out day and night for healing for their loved one and yet loses a battle with cancer? What then to the widowed wife who pleads earnestly for forgiveness for the drunk driver who stole her husband and still burns with anger and resentment? Did they not remove God from the box too?

I’d love to share the message of a God who can do all things (and I do believe He can) with everyone I meet, but I find it so hard to do when I know so many whose prayers have not been answered their way. I’m not an idiot. I’ve been around the proverbial Christian block long enough to see the forest through the trees (at least in this area). I do know that God answers ALL prayers, but not always with the answer we are seeking. I know that though He is silent, He is not still. I know that only He knows what is best for us and acts accordingly in our lives. I know that we see dimly what He sees clearly. I know there is a big picture of which I see about a millionth of a millionth of a fraction of a millimeter. For those who receive the amazing answer to prayer they so desperately needed, there are an equal amount of prayers that seem to fall on deaf ears. And regarding those for whom the mountain does not move when they tell it to, there are countless requests that are honored, some without even asking. The sun shines on us all, good and bad. The rain falls on us all, good and bad. There is a silver lining to every cloud and a cloud to every silver lining. So is it the outcome of our prayers that really matters or is it something more? As the author of Ecclesiastes writes, “Everything under the sun is meaningless.” So maybe the focus needs to shift to what is beyond the sun. Maybe the focus should shift from what God will do in our lives to what God has done in our lives...He has loved us and does love us in the most profound way – to the heights of a cross, the depths of a grave and the width of outstretched arms.

So often, the message reads a little something like this: “If you trust God enough, if you ask in His name, if you pray fervent prayers, if you believe in His power, if you say to the mountain, ‘move,’ if you don’t put God in a box, He will come through (and by the way, He loves you). I think it’s time we forget about the box, take God out of the parentheses and begin each sentence with His love.

My God is not a parenthetical God. His love is not meant to be caged. It is not an afterthought to the message; it IS the message. Let’s be honest, I can ask relentlessly, whole-heartedly and passionately for something specific in my life and I may or may not get the answer I desire. But if the question is whether or not God loves me, the answer will always be the same. So why then would I go down an uncertain road when I can stick to what I know and always be right? Sometimes I feel like I’m the one in the box and believe me, I package it up really nice, complete with a bright red bow. And there is definitely not enough room in there for God, but at the end of the day, who cares if God’s in the box or not? As long as He isn’t in the parentheses, I’ll be alright!

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Benefit of Our Doubts

Why is it so difficult to simply trust? Why does it seem like I am the only one who “gets it?” Why does God always seem so far away? Why do I end up fighting with those to whom I am trying to speak love? Why does it seem so simple but yet so many are confused? Is it wrong for me to doubt? Do I really believe this?

I am sitting on the lap of my Abba, Father picking petals off a flower. “He loves me, He loves me not. He loves me, He loves me not.” And of course, as usual, the last petal is once again the one that taunts me, “He loves me not.” But before I can utter my usual protest, He interrupts me to offer these words of comfort, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of your God stands forever.” Make no mistake - the flowers will fall – more often than not leaving me with a bitter taste in my mouth and a lot of confusion. But the word of my God will stand forever and He said, “I love you” loud enough for all to hear…at the cross.