Boiling a frog is not complicated because frogs are…well…stupid. The hardest part will be to find one; the rest is easy. Simply put enough water in the pot (not too hot or cold), so its little head won’t be submerged. Place the frog in the pot and set the flame on low.
That’s it! You don’t need to watch the pot, cover it with a lid, or tie an anchor to froggies feet. The frog will not move a muscle. In about twenty minutes, you will have tender succulent frog for dinner. You’ll find great recipes online too. (By the way, it really does taste like chicken!)
We are so like those frogs! Seriously. Just hanging out, and not even sure why. And when life gets a little sticky or uncomfortable and starts to boil over, we just stay stuck in our misery.
If you find yourself going through life day after mundane day, repeating the same routine to ad nauseum, perhaps God is trying to get your attention. WOW! Do you realize what a great segue this is to the miracle and magnificence of the Incarnation? No? Well, hang on…
We’re in mid-January. By now, the decorations are down, trees shredded into mulch, ugly sweaters returned or regifted, and everything packed away for another year. Now we can focus, not on the miracle of Christ’s birth, but on fixing all the stupid, unhealthy things we did over the holidays: Drank too much, ate too much, and spent too much.
What are you doing right now? Okay, you’re reading this. But what were you doing before that, for…say… the thirty or so days leading up to Christmas? What about the weeks and months, and years before that?
Wanna know what I was doing? I wasted much of Advent doing nothing that really mattered. But, I did have an AHA moment thinking about Mary’s pending parenthood. Do you think she lived her life like a typical teenage girl today? Polishing her nails at sleepovers; giggling about the little Jewish boy her girlfriend sat next to on the bus; texting, tweeting, and posting selfies all day?
Do you believe for one minute that Gabriel just popped in on her at the eleventh hour and dropped that bomb, “Guess what, Mary, oh favored one, do we have a surprise for you!” Are you kidding me? Even though Mary may not have known what was coming, you can be sure that her entire life was preparation for it. Let’s go back a little further – to her parents. They likely had no clue, either. But, we can be sure the Spirit guided them to parent her well. That was their calling, and they were well prepared for it.
The takeaway for me is that we are all called to holiness, called to use the gifts and talents already given us for God’s kingdom work. But it takes awareness on our part. (I would highly recommend Anthony DeMello’s book, Awareness, if you need some help climbing out of that boiling pot.)
See the segue now?
I know so many people, and I’ll bet you do too, perhaps even you yourself, who just can’t believe God has a plan for them. Over the years, I have encountered people who don’t believe me when I tell them my story. “Oh, really?! God toldyou to do that, huh? Right!” To be honest, I wouldn’t have believed it myself if God hadn’t gradually brought me to a place where I could trust him, even if I had no earthly idea what he was up to. For years, little promptings proved to be pretty awesome if I was paying attention.
If you have come out on the other side of Christmas and find yourself back in your old routine – schlepping through the same habits, STOP IT! How about starting over? Right here. Right now. How about starting with your perception of “church” because that’s often the source of our stuckedness (yeah, spell-check, that’s a word)?
See if any of this rings true for you: In some faith traditions, we have what is called, “Ordinary Time” – the times before and after Easter and Christmas. But, sadly, there are way too many Christians out there called the C&E people who only attend church on Christmas and Easter, and they’re probably not even sure why they go then.
Perhaps the word “ordinary” is the problem. “Hey, I live ordinary, monotonous, unexciting every day of my life! So why on earth would I want to get up early, dress up, squeeze into a pew full of strangers, and listen to irrelevant “stuff” that puts me back to sleep and causes me to snore and drool out the side of my mouth? Why?”
Megachurches have tried to fill the gap with music, and light shows that could rival “Jesus Christ Superstar”.
The problem is, while we were swinging and swaying and belting out forty-five minutes of music (albeit beautiful music), Jesus left the building, and no one noticed.
Is it the church’s responsibility to turn our ordinary lives into extraordinary – which is what God meant for us, you know! My own faith has grown from non-existent to something beyond my imagination. My God-filled AHA moments and the breathtaking adventure God has me on did not develop while I was sitting in the pew on most Sundays.
Don’t get me wrong. I love being a part of a church community. It keeps me grounded and enhances my faith. When we receive the Eucharist, we are reminded of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “take this bread and never forget me. Never forget how much I love you!”But, there is more that must take place the other six days of the week. We are told by Jesus to “never forget,” Then, at the end of the service, we are told to take that love out into a hurting world. That’s what Jesus meant by “Follow me”. He never said, “Worship me”.
Don’t sleepwalk through life, it’s too important, and frankly, it’s way too awesome to miss!
I won’t tell you where or how to worship or give you a formula or a checklist to send you on your way to sainthood. But I will tell you this: you cannot love and serve others (which is our greatest calling) until you can love yourself. And you can’t love yourself through any of the myriads of self-help books on the market or the number of “likes” on your Facebook page.
You can only do that by growing in the knowledge that you are deeply and passionately loved by the God who created you! And you can only do that by being in relationship with him, which requires your time and attention.
You are his son/daughter with whom he is well-pleased (Matthew 17:5). Let that sink in.
Take the time to read scripture, pray, and…big AND...LISTEN. Geeeezzzzz, we’re so bad at listening.
Then, a year from now, on Christmas morning, I pray you will be sitting with me to witness in a new way what a profound mystery we behold there!
From the 1950s to the 1970s, there was a popular TV show called “To Tell the Truth”. I loved watching it as a kid.
Then I wondered: What if it came back, and the first episode had three contestants that claimed to be God? They would all have to be hidden behind a screen or in disguise because I’m pretty sure we could identify him.
Then, I wondered: If I was on the panel what questions would I ask to flush out the real God? That might be tricky. But, here it goes:
1. “One of my grandkids would cheat at board games that I wasn’t familiar with and make up the rules as he went along, so I quit playing with him. Do you make up your own “rules” depending on your mood that day?”
2. “How many “rules” can I break without coming back as a slug in my next life?”
3. “What are you made of – flesh and bone or smoke and mirrors?”
4. “If you really loved us, why did you make ice cream fattening?” (Oops. How’d that get in there?)
That was fun to imagine, but let’s move on to the reality of life today amid one catastrophe after another. So many lost souls are wandering around without a clue of how they got where they are or what to do next.
Then some believe they have it all figured out – it’s the Apocalypse! The end of the world! So, they packed their bags for heaven and made a mental list of all those that would be “left behind”. They’re all giddy at the thought that ALMIGHTY GOD will exact his punishment on you heathens (you know who you are)! But don’t say they didn’t warn you. You had your chance to save your sorry self and get all righteous like them, but you turned them down twice for a cold beer and a football game. Your team lost, by the way! Big mistake!
I imagine most people hang out somewhere between the two. I’m not sure that’s a great place to be, either. But, if God’s not going to send us a current-day “Moses” to help us tick off an updated list of “rules to live by,” then we will need to make some decisions ourselves. I think it’s more critical than ever for each of us to decide where we stand on issues of faith and then stay there!
Perhaps the place to begin is to come face-to-face with the age-old idea of an angry, vengeful God who confounds many of us. Even though today’s young people seem to be able to see right through him. They reject the blind faith of the older generations, and I can speak to that because I’m old.
In my past life of black-and-white faith, I was sure about EVERY SINGLE THING, even the fact that God would get those who refused to follow the dogmas and dictates infallibly laid out for us in his own words in a nicely leather-bound Bible that he dropped from heaven like manna.
I read that Bible from front to back several times. As a die-hard Catholic, I wasn’t supposed to do that. I was supposed to leave it to the “Experts”. But I had to see for myself. And, yep, it was all in there. All the literal “truths” that I didn’t discover until later were reformulated repeatedly to keep the masses in line.
And then it happened: In 2008, at the age of fifty-nine, a course of events upended everything I was certain about. I was offered a rare opportunity to attend Graduate School paid for by a grant. That’s a whole, “How the hell did you get in here?!” story by itself, but we’ll leave that for another day.
I quickly discovered that there was a reason a string of Bishops made every effort to have that school shut down because those professors were corrupting minds. They dared to challenge us to think! One of the first questions in my Scripture Studies class was, “What if the story of Adam and Eve was just a myth and they were not even actual people? Would it shatter your faith, or would it still have meaning to you?”
For the next three years, the certitude I clutched like a security blanket was unraveling. I had so many “what ifs” to sort through I’m surprised I survived. My righteous, superior attitude was being dismantled right in front of me, and it wasn’t pretty! But, I stayed and endured the painful reality of my shallowness – because – well – what if?! I could give you many examples of how much scripture was written, not by God, but by faulty humans, many with an agenda. But I won’t.
Well, okay, maybe just a short one. How about the Creation Story?
I’m just gonna throw this question out there: Is it possible that a few mistakes were made when God so quickly created the entire universe and all its content? Not sure what his hurry was. I mean, he was just hanging around for billions of years with nothing to do, and suddenly, he gets a wild hair to create something outrageously new and unique. It was a pretty lofty goal to finish everything in just six days. Maybe this too-hurried planning stage was the problem. I get it. I am terrible about following directions and often, in a rush, leave out steps that are critical to the outcome.
Admittedly, I never tried to make a human, though. I suppose that would be a bit complicated. This would probably be my feeble attempt:
But Thomas Edison, who failed 2,000 times to invent the light bulb, kept trying until he got it right. Why didn’t God just keep trying till he got it correct? Surely he could foresee the messiness of humanity and tweak them somehow. Reconsidering free will might have been a good place to start because it probably didn’t take long for God to wonder what he was thinking with that one.
Let’s do a follow-up to that story, one that Alexander would define as a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good,Very Bad Day” for humanity. Except, in this case, not just a single day, but an entire life for every human from Adam and Eve to that adorable brand-spankin’-new nephew of yours. That’s right. We’re talking about the stain of “Original Sin”. Do you know where that “infallible truth” originated? No? That’s a huge one! Weren’t you even curious?
Let’s pick it apart, beginning with a peek into the relationship between Augustine, the author of “Original Sin”, and his mother, Monica. He was a rebel-rousing, partying, sex-lustful heathen with no intention of changing. Still, she was relentless in her prayers. She admonished him over and over, but he was having too much fun to take her seriously. Finally, after years of her incessant nagging and possibly a heavenly whack (I’ve received my share of those, they leave marks!), he finally saw the error of his ways, or maybe a paternity suit influenced his decision. Anyway, he did a 180 and converted to a man of faith. But then, there was the terrible reality of his life of sin and debauchery. How would he account for that? Being unwilling to take responsibility for his miserable life, he conjured up a brilliant idea, “I know”, he said to himself, “I will blame it all on Satan! Yeah, that’s the ticket!”
And so he created this incredible story about two characters he named Adam & Eve. Oh yeah, and the Devil disguised as a snake who talked (nothing sketchy there). The story went like this: Adam was going about the business of being holy when out of nowhere, the evil woman, Eve, seduced his senses with an apple and a promise (fingers crossed) from a snake. When they got caught butt-naked, Adam the Cowardly immediately blamed the snake and Eve for conniving against him in this wretched scheme.
So, what does God do? He apparently lost his cool and, in a fit of anger, condemned humankind from the moment of their birth to a life of misery and sinfulness they could never recover from. And, voila, Augustine is off the hook for all his sexual indiscretions, and Satan took the fall. Brilliant!
Then, in the 16th Century, the Council of Trent gave that inane doctrine its stamp of approval, and the rest, as they say, is history. Thus the well-worn bumper sticker, “THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT!” was created by some genius who got rich from it and moved to the Bahamas.
Now, that brings me to another story. Sorry. But this transitions perfectly into the great and only flood that God dreamed up. Again in total frustration over the mess that was humanity. You would think he might have stuck with plants and crawly things by then, maybe a few cute puppies – they’re great companions that love unconditionally and don’t talk back! But no, again, God seems to have made another hasty decision with dire consequences.
Okay, the story of Noah and the great flood. If God was so intent on wiping the slate clean and starting over, wouldn’t he have first tried to figure out what went wrong and then create a new template? Maybe messed up DNA, gene sequencing issues (whatever that means), and possibly needing to tweak a few chromosomes? Anyway, that was all before the immortal words of wisdom attributed to Albert Einstein, which might have helped, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” So, not surprisingly, after all that work – AGAIN – the first thing Noah does when he steps foot on dry land is make wine, get naked and drunk, and embarrass his son, Ham. Guess they were cooped up too long and got on each other’s nerves! Great start for God’s new creation, huh?! And, of course, we know it all went south from there.
Oh my gosh! We haven’t even talked about Jesus! Please indulge me for one more story. I promise this is the last one!
Consider Jesus’ baptism. By all accounts, John was a wild and crazy guy! He was all about “turn or burn” and preached God’s vengefulness and “requirements” for repentance and baptism. One could certainly consider him a militant. Did Jesus?
Imagine the scene: Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River. The fact that he went through that ritual presumes that he followed the teachings of John. But, somewhere along the way, John likely preached things that must have been unsettling for Jesus. John the Baptist was all about power. Jesus, by his very nature, rejected power. Recall that he was raised by two people who humbled themselves and surrendered A LOT when they both could have been on the cover of TIME magazine as Persons of the Year”!
Perhaps Jesus had an AHA moment because he skipped the after-baptism party and went right to the desert to reflect on the truth of who he was and discern how he was to live that truth. While there, our buddy Satan pulled out all the stops in a cunning and deceitful effort to lure Jesus away from his quest for clarity about his life’s purpose. But the promises of Satan fell on deft ears. Jesus was totally focused on this next phase of his life, trusting just enough to get on the path and go. Maybe stop for some breakfast down by the river.
Now, the obvious question arises: Does all this raise any red flags regarding our convictions about scripture and God? Anything? I have one: How are we supposed to believe in and follow a God we don’t understand and can’t label, a God that truly is more mystery than certainty?
Robin Meyers’ most recent book, “Saving God from Religion” offers his thoughts for “…everyone who is struggling with the old and narrow definitions of God but has yet to see any coherent and comprehensive way to reimagine the Ultimate Mystery…. we long for a faith that is more than judgmental certainty, more than “believe and receive.” ….we are hungry for new ways to heal and transform the broken world we inhabit.“
I know, that’s a little daunting, huh? We don’t remember this, but one day each of us let go of our mother’s hand and took our first steps. One night dad had to come into our room and turn on the lights to show us there were no monsters under the bed – and then we slept. And now, at this moment, we are all challenged to reject that Great and Terrible Wizard that has been pulling our strings for too long. I don’t know a lot, but I do know that is NOT the God I have grown to love.
I don’t recognize the God defined by today’s Extremists. Do you? A God invoked by violence and hatred against those who are different than them, seen as lesser, or not seen at all. Their God did not create all humankind in his image. Instead, they created their own God in their image and then defined “Christians” as only those adhering to the creeds and doctrines of their particular denomination, which requires completing a membership form, three references, and paid dues. The God they worship is a Mighty Warrior that will beat the crap out of the rest of humanity – the lesser than, outcasts, poor, and lost beings.
We must ask ourselves honestly, does any of this make any sense? Can we just stop and dare to question our beliefs that someone else with control issues instilled in us? Is it starting to feel like we have been conned by a little man with an intimidatingly loud voice behind the curtain?
I know it seems unsettling to live in the question. But blindly following beliefs that just don’t work anymore isn’t the answer. I believe that’s what Father Richard Rohr may be speaking to here,” The human ego hates a genuinely new experience. It hates to change and is preoccupied with control. A genuinely new idea leaves you out of control for a while and forces you to reassess your terrain, find new emotions, and realign your life coordinates. We prefer to stay in our small comfort zones. God usually has to break in or break us down to break through to us.“
So, if we really desire to be more like Jesus and less like those who use fear to claim power and control over us, then we must recognize, reject, and expose that little man with the big megaphone!
I no longer struggle to define God by my human understanding. I have fallen in love with the idea of God being “Ultimate Mystery,” as Meyers says. Deep down, I believe God is Unrelenting Love, Forgiveness, Compassion, and Mercy. I have given up on any need to go beyond that because none of us really knows. I’m good with that, although it makes life right here, right now, more critical than ever because Jesus tells us that “The Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). God is alive and well within our very heartbeat.
What are the “facts’ of our Christian faith? I have no clue, and I don’t dwell on it. I have nothing to prove to anyone. I simply try to be the best version of myself, to do the next right thing, to give and ask for forgiveness, to grow in empathy for those who suffer, and to imagine a better world, a kinder, more compassionate world.
Okay, that was some heavy stuff, so I want to leave you with the hysterical and profound thoughts of Rami Shapiro the author of, “Holy Rascals”. In one section he offers made-up letters written by made-up kids addressed to God. What’s so incredible is that these thoughts came from beliefs he literally heard from adults. He says, the letters “are not about dismissing dogma, doctrine, or belief, but about taking dogma, doctrine, and belief to their absurdist conclusions.” They made me laugh so hard I spit coffee through my nose – just giving you a heads-up. Here are just two:
My pastor says you need the blood of Jesus to calm down so you won’t get mad and send us to Hell. My mom makes me go to my room when I get mad. Maybe you should try that instead.
My pastor says when your son comes back to earth, he will send my gramma and grampa to Hell because they are Methodists. Please don’t let him come back before my birthday because they promised to take me to Disney World.
Did you know: According to the FDA, “With the exception of infant formula, the laws that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) administers do not preclude the sale of food that is past the expiration date indicated on the label? The FDA does not require food firms to place ‘expired by’, ‘use by’, or ‘best before’ dates on food products. This information is entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer.”
Article in Time, “…according to the new analysis, words like ‘use by’ and ‘sell by’ are used so inconsistently that they contribute to widespread misinterpretation — and waste — by consumers. More than 90% of Americans throw out food prematurely, and 40% of the U.S. food supply is tossed–unused–every year because of food dating.”
So, it would seem that, to many Americans, the expiration date stamped on food products is gospel. It is critical to our health and well-being. Right?
You wouldn’t consume this. Right?
So then, the question becomes:
Why do we so stubbornly oppose, ignore, or deny THIS expiration date:
Don’t tell me you don’t. We all do. I think that reality is the most profound image of “whistling past the graveyard”. Every one of us has an expiration date. It’s not arbitrary or negotiable. And, yes, it IS set in stone. Okay, a bit of clarification: God can change that date. God can do anything he wants!
It’s also quite possible that when your doctor told you you had six months to live – ten years ago – that all those prayers raised to heaven on your behalf were answered. But, I believe it’s more probable that the doctor was simply wrong. It reminds me of the expression, “If it ain’t your time to go, not even a doctor can kill you.” But, that is a whole other blog post.
I can be, and often am, lax about the dates on most food products. Milk is a good example. After you reach the date on the carton, smell it, and then take the tiniest taste. You’ll know if it’s okay for another day. Simple enough and money-saving.
Actually, (sorry, this is probably gross for you to consider), when we humans reach our final stage of life, usually the last couple of days or hours, there is an undeniable smell of death. It is one of the signs of the end of life’s journey, and I have experienced it often sitting vigil with Hospice patients. But, don’t count on that smell test to help you decide to hurry up and clean your act up. Unfortunately, at that point, you will be too far gone to make any life-changing decisions.
And, what if, on your expiration date, without any warning, you just get run over by a truck on your way to the mailbox!?
I am writing this post at the beginning of Lent, a perfect time to reevaluate how I’m living my life. After all, it is a time when we too, are called to die…
Take a breath – it’s okay…
We’re called to die to our sins. I’m not saying that’s easy by any stretch. We so often fail miserably at our best intentions: I’m going to bake a pie for that grouchy neighbor of mine! Maybe. Or not.
We must keep trying though, and hopefully, by the grace of God, we will at least fall forward. With that in mind, I have determined – again – to make this my most profound Lenten Season EVER! (I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Or not.)
I have so much to consider:
Needed changes I have refused to deal with.
The baggage I cling to.
Old hurts that still affect my life all these decades later.
Lies of other broken people I have fed on and nurtured.
Guilt and shame I cannot let go of.
And, most importantly, denial of my worth as a beloved child of God.
I long to grow in love. I want to use these final days of my life, however many I have left, to fully live as the person I was created to be.
Saint Irenaeus said: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” I want and need to be that fully alive Christian, now. We should all, if we call ourselves Christian, want to strive for the ultimate goal of our faith. And it is not a goal to be realized after life here on earth has ended. It is a goal we should be striving for every day, right here, right now. The Kingdom of God is here, now. It’s not some faraway place we hope we’ve gotten our card pinched enough to qualify for entry.
Our hell is right here if that’s the life we are living.
Our heaven is right here if we choose to live as God calls us to.
Even if Lent is not part of your faith tradition, this is still an excellent time to consider fasting and praying as we approach Easter. You don’t have to eat peanut butter and jelly or fish on Fridays unless you LOVE peanut butter and jelly and fish. Not together – that’s gross!
I wrote the following Blog post on 4/2/2021, having no idea that my husband would pass away just fifteen days later. The words are now more poignant than ever:
Today is Good Friday. I am struck to tears and unspeakable heartache, now more than ever before. Why? Every Good Friday, we are called to remember the brutal beating and crucifixion of Jesus. He walked in the midst of those deemed lesser and unimportant. They experienced his love and compassion for them. But he walked a lonely road to his death. Sure, a few had the courage to walk with him (ahem…the women!). But many, his disciples, in particular, scattered for their own safety. Feeling powerless to stop it from happening.
Also, today we are reliving the horrific facts of the death of George Floyd during the trial of Derek Chauvin. Hearing the witnesses’ testimony as they broke down and grieved over watching Floyd die has been excruciating for many. Most of the witnesses were strangers to him, yet they all spoke of feeling helpless and guilty that they didn’t try to help him. Even though they also knew they were powerless to do so.
Jesus was innocent of any crime. George Floyd was not. But the fact remains that neither deserved to die in such a violent way at the hands of another.
So I sit and contemplate how their deaths have impacted me. As a professed Christian, I am called to emulate Jesus’ radical love in every aspect of my life. I mostly fail, but I keep trying and longing to be more like him in how I live my life.
And George Floyd, I didn’t know him and likely never would have, nor would most of us, if not for witnessing his horrifying death on the daily news.
In those beautiful and poignant words of John Donne, “No man is an island; entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.”
Any man/woman’s death diminishes me. That is a fact of God’s making. We are all interconnected – like it or not. The death of another, be it a loved one or a stranger, should call us to stop and take inventory of our own lives. Every funeral I attend does that for me and often shines a light on my failings to be Christ-like to others. Thankfully, every day is a new day – a day to begin again.
So, here’s what I will be contemplating and praying about today, on this holy Good Friday, and hopefully be acting on daily. It doesn’t have to be Jesus who calls us to be better, kinder, softer, to live and love more fully. It can also be the death of a stranger we have never met that wakes us from sleepwalking through life. Facing the realization that we will also die (sorry if that’s news to you) – maybe sooner than later (sorry again) – should cause us to ask ourselves if our houses are in order and, more importantly, what we are leaving behind because…
Death does not care if we have left business unfinished, relationships broken, or children to be raised. It doesn’t matter if we are not ready or sit on promises to change. It will take the weak with the strong, the humble with the proud, the saint with the jerk. Death doesn’t respect wedding plans, vacation plans, or unmet deadlines. It does not operate by a timetable we set and is no respecter of age. It does not discriminate between the most loved or most hated. It may not wait for the most brilliant to cure cancer, bring peace to a troubled nation, or receive a Nobel Prize.
Denying that death is a part of life doesn’t change its reality. We can’t rely on death to come when we are ready. But we can depend on it to teach those of us who are willing how to truly live. It can and should be a time of reflection: Have I lived well, loved well, forgiven — honestly – and sought forgiveness humbly?
For good or bad, I have touched the lives of family and friends, the mailman, and the grumpy receptionist at the doctor’s office. I may have amassed wealth and recognition and left a fortune to my loved ones. All things they can pack away, gamble away, or throw away. But, at the end of the day…what have I left in their hearts?
So now, as I contemplate the reality that my life has changed drastically, my beliefs have not.
The suddenness of my husband’s death has not made me fearful or anxious, as I know God’s love and care for me have always been steady and unchanging, even when I have so often failed to appreciate it. At the same time, it drives home the fact that my own life is not guaranteed beyond this moment. So, what does that mean?
My life is filled with many moments of disbelief that my husband is actually gone. I’m sure that will continue for some time. But, in the midst of that, as I daily make decisions about how I am to “live and move and have my being” (Acts 17:28) – I am discovering my better Self; my true Self, not the self on display when others are watching.
I am asking critical questions that will surely determine my life’s direction, purpose, and focus for whatever time I have left here. How will/should I live my life moving forward? What do I want my loved ones to remember about me?
God longs for us to use the gifts he has given us to leave the world better than we found it. How will I do that? How will I serve in this time of such need and suffering? Every moment of every day allows us to grow in love and compassion for all those we encounter on this journey.
There truly are gifts in the midst of our goodbyes. What do I want mine to be? What do you want yours to be?
Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry speaks so powerfully of the murder of Tyre Nichols, ‘There is a passage from the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, which is later quoted in Matthew’s Gospel when innocent baby boys are killed by an immoral dictator:“A voice is heard in Ramah,lamentation and bitter weeping.Rachel is weeping for her children;she refuses to be comforted for her children,because they are no more.”—Jeremiah 31:15, Matthew 2:18
With the murder of Tyre Nichols, another mother, as in the biblical texts, weeps, with the mothers of Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others. A family grieves. A community fears. A nation is ashamed. Like the psalmist in the Bible, something in us cries out, “How long, O Lord, how long?” How long violence, how long cruelty, how long the utter disregard for the dignity and worth of every child of God? How long?”
While watching the violent murder of Tyre Nichols, I was again shaken to my core, as I was each time before. But this time, it was different. I have cried tears over the injustice, but that’s not enough. Tears don’t impact or change anything. I think that’s called empathy without action – or, my favorite, being lukewarm (Rev 3:16). Yeah me!
I can no longer feel the horror and not be moved to do something. What? – you ask. “You’re an old white grandma. Turn off the TV and go knit something.” Those negative voices that once allowed me to retreat back into complacency were now drowned out by God’s voice that calls me to “go”. As usual, he never seems to specify where. Like Abraham. Just go.
Since then, I have sat with, prayed about, and struggled with my deepest beliefs about who I am as a professed follower of Christ, who my neighbor is, and who we are as a nation. And the most profound question for me that has arisen now is: if and how we as Christians are culpable.
It has been messy and fluid with so many nuances, but here it is. This is a thought process that I began for my own understanding. But trying to know anything concerning God and the way he operates without any doubts is futile. I know that, but I keep going back there.
The need to know and understand presupposes that somehow we can reason this out. Like when Jesus asked his disciples, and now us, “Who do you say I am?” That is not an academic question and will not be satisfied by any amount of head knowledge. Instead, it is answered by first falling on our knees in awe of the magnificence of God’s love on full display in the life of Jesus.
That’s a great start, but it can’t stop there. And that’s the rub. We want it to stop before that. Let’s just go to church – get our cards punched –done – go home, and watch football or knit (BTW, I don’t even know how to knit). But Jesus never said, “Worship me”. He said, “Follow me”.
You may disagree with me when it’s all said and done, and that’s fine. But I believe it is incumbent upon each of us to take a stand once and for all. To not be afraid of what others will think or say about us. But rather, stop pretending to be the person we claim to be only when others are watching.
We should be more concerned that God is watching! And it’s not the god who keeps a running total of our church attendance and tithing spreadsheet. That would be a shallow, small-minded, authoritarian god who is out to get you if you make one wrong move.
The God I’m going to stick with tells us explicitly how we are to live and move and have our being in the world through the uncompromising words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13. I know these are verses we have heard so often they have probably lost their brilliance. So, perhaps reading them now while picturing all the hatred and violence we are witnessing, we could see them as God intended:
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
Love is patient.
Love is kind.
It does not envy.
It does not boast.
It is not proud.
It does not dishonor others.
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.
Love never fails.
And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is…following the “rules” some guys made up over beers in a bar…wait…no…that’s not it…sorry. Just seeing if you’re paying attention.
The greatest of these is love.
Many of us will choose between love and hate. I’m guessing a lot more prefer to think of themselves as neutral – it feels safer. But that stance needs to be reckoned with too. Too much is at stake. God is adamant about it when he 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.” (Rev 3:16).
Let’s say you agree that you must decide where you stand and why. The “why” is critical. Stopping short of fully embracing your “why” leaves you wobbly and vulnerable to anyone who can shove you off-balance. I have had that happen more times than I care to admit.
So, this is where I landed: As a Christian, I am compelled to consider my life and purpose from my essence, my very being, where God resides. Not from any outside influence. If I own up to being a follower of Christ, how I live that life is to manifest his love in every moment and with every decision.
Not that seeing the hatred spewed by those who profess Jesus is anything new. Still, it has challenged me to look honestly at how I am living my life in light of Jesus’ words in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”. Nowhere does Jesus tell us to only love those like us, those who don’t threaten our comfort level.
Remember Jonah, who seriously needed a bath because of the awful fish smell after God told the whale to “Spit him out. I think he has learned his lesson”? So, here I am, a modern-day Jonah, asking God for a different assignment. “Can I pick this time, Lord?!”
Do you know what February 22nd is? Yeah, yeah, Ash Wednesday, for millions of Christians around the world. Catholics are called to prayer, fasting, and penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday – other traditions have some version of that.
Before Ash Wednesday, they are supposed to wrestle with something that they LOVE – A LOT –like chocolate, or cussing, or binge-watching those stupid TV shows, and give it up for those forty days. Good luck with that and your commitment to exercise too! We’re so pathetic when it comes to the teeniest bit of “suffering”.
But there’s anotherevent on this day that everyone, faithful and heathen alike, will be celebrating. Something easier to stick to. It is – drum roll, please…
National Margarita Day!!! Olay…olay…olay…olay!
It is a sad commentary for all people of faith that they seem to compete with each other. Think of how many faithful Catholics receive their ashes on a throbbing forehead after reveling the night before.
Ash Wednesday should be one of the most sacred of church seasons. You see them everywhere, people with those strange ashes on their foreheads. You want to reach up and wipe it off for them because you think they don’t know it’s there, “You have something on your forehead. Let me get that for you.”
Some people focus these forty days entirely on the “giving up” aspect of it. Chocolate sales are probably higher on the days leading up to Lent than on Valentine’s Day! Perhaps that’s how Valentine’s Day got its start! Ya’ think? People began buying copious amounts of chocolate in February, and someone at Hershey noticed. It probably had nothing to do with St. Valentine. It’s a commercial windfall for Hershey and Hallmark. Cha-Ching! But I digress.
The morning after Ash Wednesday and National Margarita Day may appear to be similar.
You wake up wondering if you really want to do this again.
You feel an emptiness you can’t define.
You wonder if you did anything the past year that you’ll regret confessing because you conveniently forgot that one nasty faux pas you failed to mention last year. OOPS. You know those stay on our record, right?
You shower that already-faded reminder off your forehead and act like it never happened. You check the mirror. Thank goodness it’s not a tattoo!
You ask yourself, again,“Why do I put myself through this forty-day review of all my shittines… Every. Single. Miserable. Year?!”
You question if any of it even matters.
National Margureta Day:
You wake up forgetting what happened the night before.
You feel an emptiness you can’t define.
You wonder if you did anything stupid the night before. You usually do, and someone you were with will probably remind you, or point out that tattoo they warned you against.
You down a couple of aspirins for the headache.
Then, you ask yourself – again – why you continue to do this when the outcome is always the same?
You question if this annual event should be struck from your calendar!
Like it or not, they will both be back. You just have to decide which one you will allow in because it really is up to you. Alcohol will try to force its way into your mouth. Jesus will gently knock on the door of your heart. One will try t’kill’ya, and the other wants to bring you back to life. You decide.
Here is the beautiful lesson of Lent we can all take away, “Lent is not about giving up. It is about finding. It is about healing. It is about cleansing. It is about weeping. It is about reconciling,” says Carla Mae Streeter, O.P. (one of my former professors.) And only a person in love truly “gets it.” That’s where remembering becomes critical. Of course, we must never forget the suffering of Christ and the Love that hung on the cross on Good Friday. But that cannot be where it ends.
We must take our remembering into Easter Sunday and beyond – and rejoice! Death has no sting. Hell has no victory! God loves us that much! If we forget that, if we become so caught up in the “more important” things in our lives, we lose, and Satan wins. John Eldridge tells us that “the story of your life is the story of the long and brutal assault on your heart by the one who knows what you could be and fears it. We must never forget that we are part of a greater story.”
Lent has something to teach us, no matter what our faith is. It’s about remembering. And who doesn’t need to be continually reminded of who we are as God’s beloved? (Also, when you walk out your front door the next morning, remember that God loves your neighbor too – because he threw up on your lawn last night!)
Even during the most difficult of times, are we aware that we are truly being held by a Mighty, Awesome, and Loving God? The richness of your life comes from a promise kept by the God who LOVES YOU DEEPLY AND PASSIONATELY. If the cross doesn’t prove that, if the empty tomb doesn’t prove that, if the resurrection doesn’t prove that, nothing will. You were created for love. Try to remember that.
I think it’s fair to say that this Easter will be like no other, and I would like to think of that as a good thing – eventually – hopefully. God has stripped away all the non-essentials: new outfits, haircuts, a review of proper behavioral expectations for the kids at church, and “how to stay awake” for adults. Making up tiny sins suitable to hide the deeper embarrassing stuff for the annual confession – not needed.
Oh yeah, and the relatives you can’t stand that your mother always guilted you into including on the Easter dinner invites – not necessary, either. You’ll be dining alone (and you might want to work on that hate issue of yours).
You take a deep breath and realize what’s left. Ready? Jesus and you. AWKWARD! It’s okay. He doesn’t bite. No matter what your third-grade teacher told you.
So, how about we take a new look with fresh eyes at the events of this Easter week? It was a week that revealed humanity at its best and worst. What might that mean for us today?
We begin with Palm Sunday. Those crowds were lovin’ on Jesus the Prophet on his way to becoming their anticipated King who would finally save them. Christ was celebrated as the One who would bring his people out of captivity. They were enthralled with him. The cheering was almost deafening, sorta like opening day at Busch Stadium. But, remember, these were his faithful followers, and it was all palms and rose petals.
Then it all went sideways as he went to Jerusalem to encounter a not-so-supportive crowd. What a different picture, huh? Here he’s among the political elite, the leaders of the temple, who know enough about him by now to hate him.
Now he is stirring up more anger than a crowd rush for toilet paper on the opening day of coronavirus mania! So, the chief priests and elders meet to plot against him. They know they have to get him away from his faithful followers first. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.” (Matthew 26: 3-5).
And how about those disciples who vowed never to leave him at the height of his ministry? We know James and John made it clear they wanted to have an honored place next to him when he came into his glory (Mark 10:35-37). Perhaps the rest thought they already had that favored position all sewn up. But then they all scattered and ran for cover when he was taken away to be crucified. “This is not what we signed up for!”
In very short order, He was convicted and dragged before an angry crowd who screamed for his crucifixion, and they probably didn’t even know why. How many do you suppose just got caught up in the moment and didn’t realize until afterward what they had participated in – the torture and murder of an innocent man they would later discover was PRETTY SPECIAL?
Then at the Cross on Good Friday, we watch horrified as Jesus suffers an unspeakable death, and his mother suffers in silence.
On Saturday, the waiting begins as we are called to silently contemplate what has happened. But we already know that his glorious resurrection is coming, and peace on earth will prevail. At least, we used to believe that. But that truth seems to have been morphed by fear and the unknown this year. So, maybe this day will be spent like all the rest these past few weeks trying to numb ourselves to what we imagine is coming: watch TV (which only fuels that fear), take a nap, eat, drink, wash hands – repeat.
Where’s the peace in all that? We usually only have the capacity to think our hearts are at peace when everything is perfect: our relationships are perfect, our kids are perfect, and the mother-in-law moved away (oops, not nice). But even, or especially in these times when fear will try to overwhelm you, don’t let that happen! God is ready to prove to you that you are stronger, braver, and more resilient than you ever imagined! (Which will come in handy when your mother-in-law has to move back in with you).
As Alan Cohen tells us in his book, A Course in Miracles Made Easy, “No person, group, situation, or condition has the power to take away your happiness. NO ONE. NO THING. NEVER. The experience of joy is your God-given right. People can try to remove your happiness, but they cannot remove your peace unless you give them that power.”
So, there you go. Unlike the disciples, we don’t need to hide or be anxious about the future. Surely, they all sat with regret knowing they did the unthinkable by abandoning Jesus and running away. Aside from Peter and Judas, we don’t know what was going through their heads. Did they wish they could have a do-over? I would think they must have. That’s the beauty of second chances. After Jesus invited them to a fish fry, they were all on fire to serve the God they now knew as unfailing love and mercy, especially Peter, the hater, turned lover of Jesus, turned coward, turned forgiven, turned martyr for his now unshakable love of Christ. Whew!
I think I read somewhere that at that fish fry, Jesus recalled to them the Last Supper, “Hey guys remember the great time we had then?” – since they all seemed to have forgotten. “Remember how I washed your nasty feet?” Then he reiterated his call to them to love one another (John 13:34). “And just so we’re clear…that was not a suggestion.” I wonder if any of them choked on their food at that point.
Now, what about us? Here we are, kind of like the disciples, in the midst of what is surely one of the most uncertain times of our lives. And, funny thing, God is still here, still loving and merciful and compassionate. But where are we? Big question.
How many of us have been running from him all our lives? Oh sure, we have been going through the motions of being a “Christian,” mostly to impress others. But what have we done as Christ’s followers? How have we been Christ to others?
Today, maybe more than ever, we need to let the light of the Risen Christ shine in and through us for those who are lost and alone, not just in their homes but in the very depth of their hearts. That is God’s hope and greatest longing. “Look,” He says on Easter morning, “I never left you, and I never will. So, stop trying to hide from me. Let’s sit together and get to know each other. What else do you have to do? You’ve cleaned your house and straightened your sock drawer so many times you’ve lost count. Just sayin’.”
Galway Kinnell says, “Sometimes it’s necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.” I think that’s what God is trying to do with us, so we can pass it on to others who have become frozen with fear. Living into the truth of our loveliness will allow others to do the same. Just imagine what beauty, joy, and peace would be created for this world’s future?!
THIS IS OUR TIME. THIS IS OUR CALL TO LOVE! AND WHO KNOWS BUT THAT WE WERE CREATED FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS (Esther 4:14).
One of my daughters-in-law recently asked me what I thought was important to teach their kids, which surprised me because she knows I’ve made a LOT of parenting mistakes. It’s something that always comes to mind for me on Mother’s Day and other random days when I am particularly vulnerable to my darker side. That said, I suppose I would be an expert on what not to do! I often wish I could have a do-over. A chance to enact that age-old expression, “if I knew then what I know now”.
So, how would I parent differently if I had it to do over? First, it’s possible, but very difficult, to instill in your children what has not been instilled in you. “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” doesn’t work. Neither does my all-time favorite, “Because I said so.”
The reality that children learn by our example more than anything else sometimes catches us off-guard, often in uncomfortable places: in front of friends, the pastor, or a new neighbor. We blush with embarrassment and exclaim, “Johnny, where did you hear that?” Then, here it comes, “From you, mommy!” We often fail miserably to live out the values we want to impart to our children, and you can be sure they’re watching and taking notes.
So, there are six values (in no particular order) and one HUGE command that come to mind for me, none of which, I might add, were modeled to me as a child.
If we were all honest, we would admit that we embrace some degree of selfishness. Like, I don’t know…
Hiding in the bathroom with the last piece of pie from last night’s dinner. Knowing full well it was your husband’s favorite pie. AND it was more like two pieces! AND you told him it was all gone!
Holding onto that favorite can’t-live-without-it sweater when packing up a box of clothes for the hurricane victims in Haiti – never mind that it doesn’t even fit you anymore. They really wouldn’t appreciate it anyway. And you’re giving them all this other stuff that’s clean and doesn’t have holes or stains. Okay, maybe it is your dear dead grandmother’s stuff from ten years ago, but it’s still usable.
Ignoring the bills in your wallet and digging in the bottom of your pocket for meager change to hand out the window of your moving car to the homeless guy on the corner, and feeling pretty good about it because the three people in front of you drove right past him. You may have even offered him a blessing as you drove away.
Is that the kind of “generosity” our kids see in us? Will they respond to the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) in the same way? How giving and selfless do we want them to be? Like us – or like Jesus? I would hope you would say, “like Jesus”, which begs the question, am Ilike Jesus?
The challenge becomes: How generous are we willing to be the next time we are given the opportunity to give to or serve others? Enough that it hurts a little bit?
Here’s a recent experience I had:
I recently encountered this homeless man on the Katy Trail one morning. I greeted him kindly as I ran past him – because I’m a runner, not out of fear – okay, FINE – it was both.
When I was returning, I saw another man standing next to his bike talking to him. When I passed them, I couldn’t help but think about how I had avoided him, excusing it as a safety measure on my part. After all, the trail was secluded, and no one else was around at the time.
However, when I got home, I enlisted my husband to help me pack some food and water and take it to him. We found him trying to fish with a string and a hook and talked with him for a while before he went on his way. I’m pretty sure I did all that out of guilt and felt the Holy Spirit’s nudging when I tried to get past him on the trail that morning. (Look at the picture and how he didn’t want to get close to me. I can only guess why because I have no way of knowing, but I think about it every time I see it.)
The point is, as I am continually reminded, it isn’t enough to throw a few coins from the safety of your car. Your brother or sister needs touch. They need the love that says you care. They need to seeand feel the tender love of Christ. Have you heard the expression, “You may be the only Christ a person meets”? Think about that.
This is probably the hardest one of all, especially if what you are teaching your children to forgive seems unforgivable to you. But how do they know? Have you taught them that? Did you tell them you don’t visit Uncle Jim because he did something awful to you, and you can’t stand him? Do you talk about the neighbor you hate or the friend you don’t see anymore because of some grievance you have against them? Then one day, your daughter comes home from school and tells you she hates her once best friend for whatever reason, and you tell her that it’s not nice to hate?
Countless times I said to my kids, “Hate’s a strong word. We don’t use that word”, while for years, I hated my mother and others who abused me. I am gradually learning to forgive those who hurt me deeply and to seek forgiveness from those I hurt in the past, and sometimes still do. We need to realize and teach them, that you can’t truly forgive without the grace of God.
God could have kept Jesus safely at home, sparing both Son and Father the agony they’d soon be suffering. But those who had been cast aside by society desperately needed Jesus up close and personal. The woman who came to the well after all the other women had shunned her. The leper who’d been sent into a lonely, humiliating exile. The adulterous woman, shamed and frightened, standing half-naked before a self-righteous crowd eager to stone her. All of them, and so many more, needed Jesus’ loving touch, which the world rejects because it’s beneath them.
As we grow into the people God created us to be, made in his likeness, we must accept the call to share that love with others – not as a burden, but as a blessing. Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart….” (Matthew 11:29).
We are all undeserving, yet we receive God’s compassion and mercy unconditionally. He calls us to reach out to others in the same way. The world would have us believe that it’s dangerous to reach out to others, especially strangers. But, as Mother Theresa says, “Do it anyway”.
Here’s an important question to reflect on: Could you or I have compassion for someone in need if no one was watching?
Of course, the Pope knows everyone is watching him, and this picture makes a lovely photo op. But, I think few people doubt Pope Francis’ empathy and compassion. It is truly genuine, and we know it.
Someone snapped a picture of Officer Larry DePrimo after he bought boots and thermal socks for a homeless man. He didn’t do it because someone was watching or because he would gain anything for himself. He did it because he cared. Plain and simple.
Our kids are often more accepting of others than we are. I don’t know why it’s so difficult for us, but it is. We can’t accept the jerk next door that spews profanity at everything from his crabgrass to the mail carrier to his wife…and you, of course. I can find something wrong with everyone I know, myself included, if I’m honest, because the list of the things that make me the mess that I am is very long.
Think about the time your shitty old neighbor moved. You hope against hope the new ones will be different. They seem normal. Then they do something stupid by your standards, and suddenly, they become an instant ass; the honeymoon is over, and you want to take back that “Welcome to the neighborhood” plate of cookies.
If we could only grasp these profound words of Richard Rohr, “Once we have learned to discern the real and disguised nature of both good and evil, we recognize that everything is broken and fallen, weak and poor—while still being the dwelling place of God….That creates the freedom to love imperfect things! As Jesus told the rich young man, “God alone is good!” (Mark 10:18). In this, you may have been given the greatest recipe for happiness for the rest of your life.”
“Love does not get puffed up” (1 Corinthians 13:4) Puffed-up love, or pride, is always turned inward. I know all about pride because I once made an almost effortless transition from self-hatred to self-love. Not the self-love God refers to in Mark 12:31. The self-love I’m talking about hides within the ego and thrives on a superior self-image. That’s not what God had in mind when he modeled humility in the life and death of Jesus. He became “the least of these”.
Would I do this? Would my child?
This has always been a huge one for me.
Are you trustworthy? Because if you are not, it stands to reason that you will not trust others and find yourself cynical of their motives. Do your children trust you?
I learned very early about trust. Once, I hid the key to our bathroom because I wanted a safe place to run to when my mother had one of her frequent angry fits. Soon after that, while my brother and I were playing, I cursed, and he ran home to tell our mother. I ran past him, flew into the house, and locked myself in my safe place. There was a pounding on the door.
“Linda, open the door.”
“No. You’ll hit me!”
“I said open the door!”
“Promise you won’t hit me.”
“Open the g@#*^ door, or I’ll climb in the window!”
“Promise you won’t hit me!”
“Okay, I promise. Now open the door!”
Trusting her – after all, she was my mother, right? – I opened the door. She beat me until I fell into the bathtub and continued beating me until she was convinced I had learned my lesson. Well, I did learn a lesson that day: don’t trust anyone. It was a lesson that would stay with me for many years. I instantly determined that no one would hurt me like that ever again.
Why is it that we’ll trust people who have no interest whatsoever in us or our well-being, yet we can’t seem to trust the One who died for us? How many of your four-hundred Facebook “friends” care about your salvation? Do you think they care that you struggle? Do you think for a moment they wonder how you’re doing? “Gee, that’s a shame about Linda’s brush with hell” – yawn.
Though I kept God at arm’s length for a long time, gradually, he got through to my hardened heart. Gradually I began the process of turning loose of those things that – truth be told – I never had control of anyway. Finally, I was beginning to trust that he might just be wiser than me.
As I have grown closer to God, I have come to hear his voice more clearly, trust his guidance more readily, and wait a bit more patiently when he is silent. Yet, what is critical to understand in all of this is that I still fall short. Just when I believe I have overcome my defensive attitude, someone pushes my button and sets me off. And the insecure Linda I try to keep locked up is revealed. Busted!
So, there are the six virtues I wish I had learned as a child from loving, virtuous parents. They are the virtues I should have modeled to my own kids. They never saw it then; I hope and pray they and my grandkids do now.
When we fail – and we do, as will our kids – discouragement will become our constant companion if we do not accept the fact that we will never be perfect, and neither will they. Because I could not believe that in the past, I felt I was continually failing God when I couldn’t control or discipline myself, my husband, my kids, or the dog. But, as shocking as it may seem, the greatest commandment is not,“Get your act together, stupid!”
And as for our children, sure, we want them to grow up with moral fortitude and integrity, but we also have to accept that it might not happen the way we envision it. There are no guarantees. That adorable baby you start off with could end up different than you had dreamed.
God has lent us our children. They don’t belong to us, they belong to him, and he wants them back in the same “condition” we received them. Of course, he knows we aren’t the only ones influencing their behavior. He does not hold us accountable for the possibility that others may lead them astray. I’m sure there were people in my earlier years (I’m thinking of some of my teachers) who wouldn’t have given me a snowball’s chance in hell of staying out of jail! Well….
The days of raising my children have long passed, and lest I forget, they’re quick to remind me of that fact. But if I did have it to do over, I would have first learned to love them unconditionally because of God’s unreserved love for me. I would have accepted them as the individuals they were created by God to be, faults and all because that is how God created and accepts me. And I would not have felt such a need to control the hell out of them!
That brings us to my final thought: that ONE HUGE COMMAND which Jesus left to his disciples and us.
The GREATEST of these…is…
Drum roll, please….
LOVE – “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you.” If the basis of all we do as parents, spouses, friends, and neighbors is to love as we are called to, our children will be just fine.
I have not posted since August. Not because I got bored with writing or died. (I hope you’re happy I didn’t die!) On August 18th, I was on the receiving end of a vaccination shot gone terribly wrong! That shot was the cause of four months of constant pain, an emergency room visit, failed treatments, and rotator cuff surgery.
For the first few weeks after surgery, my husband had to do almosteverything for me. God bless him he’s a trooper. My neighbor has come over several times to fix my hair when I actually cared about what I looked like.
I know I have been more miserable than necessary because I cannot take pain medications. They make me feel physically and mentally whacked. I have experienced more pain than ever in my life, including childbirth! Seriously. Besides, that pain is short-lived, and there’s a blessed little prize at the end – until they’re two, anyway!
But I am getting better. I am able to do more for myself. Occasionally I will muster up the energy to cook a meal and clean the house. But it takes everything I have to do it. My husband never complains, which I am eternally grateful for.
To be perfectly honest, sometimes I catch myself actually enjoying the sympathy from friends and family and even strangers. Of course, no one is going to feel sorry for me if I don’t complain, right? When someone asks how I’m doing, I jump feet first into my pit of misery and do my best to pull them in with me! I might begin by saying, “Oh, you’re probably tired of hearing about it it’s been going on for so long!” But then I don’t give them a chance to respond before, choking back tears, I give an update on my ongoing misery. Poor, poor pitiful me!
Then, one day, “Holy lesson-in-the-making Batman.” I received another of God’s proverbial admonishments. It’s never audible. It just hangs around me like a shroud until I acknowledge its presence, “Okay, Lord, there’s a lesson here I just know it! You’re not going to let me get away with this, are you?”
This was actually a lesson in process since December when I was thinking about the silly New Year’s Resolutions I usually end before they even begin. I’m going to lose weight right after this super-sized hot fudge sundae, or maybe the next, or maybe not at all. I don’t know. I’m not feelin’ it.
So, this time, in order to grow deeper in faith, I chose to focus on a virtue instead of giving up something. Nightly, I would meditate and journal on all I thought, said, and did that day (while eating my hot fudge sundae). Then, out from under that shroud, “Or, Linda, how about gratitude?” Hum. Gratitude. Okay, that’s a good one! At the end of each day, I could write in a Gratitude Journal all the things I was grateful for that day: a beautiful sunrise, the song of birds outside my window…
That’s lovely, Linda, and safe. But let’s go deeper. You are thankful for your good health, but how about the help you received from others while you recovered from your injury? You are grateful for friends who are low-maintenance, but what about the relationships that are difficult? You are grateful for all the things you have, but what about the things others have that you don’t, that you covet?”
When we consider gratitude, if we consider it at all, we often stay within the realm of the warm squishy stuff. I remember the times at my son’s house when the kids were small. They would each take turns thanking God, mostly for “things” – a doll, a stuffed animal, a birthday present envied by their siblings. Unfortunately, as adults, we are still prone to thankfulness for adult “things” that make us happy.
Being grateful for our struggles in life just doesn’t make sense. It’s easier for us to see a beautiful sunrise, attribute it to God and thank him for it than to thank him for adversity. Are you old enough to remember this commercial?
I suppose we are in one of two camps when dealing with suffering: we either believe (a) God doesn’t cause suffering, but he allows it, think of Job, or (b) God is behind everything that happens to us. I’m going with (a). Either way, we are probably going to complain, and complain loudly! If we believe it’s the former, we cry out, “Lord, why don’t you stop this?” or the latter, “Lord, how could you do this to me?!” Either way, God is to blame for our suffering.
Philippians 2:14 tells us to “Do all things without grumbling or questioning.” But we just can’t, can we? Whining is in our nature, apparently. Look at the Israelites, for heaven’s sake. I can see why Moses tried to get out of God’s call on that fateful day! But he acquiesced and was drug into the Israelite’s unrelenting pity parties. He went to God and begged him to make it stop! I suppose the Israelites got it in their heads that because they were God’s chosen people (Exodus 6:7) life would be grand. Their suffering was over. Not so much.
When things don’t go as planned in my life, it’s usually a wake-up call. After all, when did I win the perfect life lottery? When was I promised immunity from suffering and pain? We can’t seem to watch the news or talk to a neighbor any day of the week and not hear of someone’s tragedy: A death, an illness, a cancer diagnosis, a divorce, a lost job. But when that’s my story, I scream NOT FAIR! I pout and complain and solicit sympathy from anyone who will listen, especially God – I think he plugged his ears long ago.
I never attended a prom. Back in my day, with a certain number of credits, short of a diploma, we could obtain a “certificate,” which had no value beyond getting out of classes you hated, which was pretty much all of them for me. Today, you’re just labeled a loser and drop-kicked into the world to fend for yourself.
But prom prep is coming very soon to a high school near you. It’s time for the annual dress shopping and thirty-day diet protocol; time for the reality check that, for some like me, no one would invite you if you begged and paid for a date with the biggest loser in school. It’s humiliating.
Who knows, maybe it would have happened if a guy like Mike Stone had been around in my day. Here’s the headline I caught in the news a few days ago that prompted this post. Granted, our friend here may have had a different motive than Jesus. But who’s to judge anyway?
Now back to Jesus. I know, I know, there’s nothing in scripture about Jesus’ prom. Do you know why? Why is there nothing about him from the age of twelve to thirty-three when he began his ministry? Did you ever wonder about that? Well, I have a theory (of course, you do, Linda!).
When Jesus got in trouble for going off to the Temple without telling his parents, that was just the beginning of his rebellious streak. His teen years were just around the corner. The hair instantly stands up on the back of the neck of any parent who has raised teenagers – can I get an AMEN?!
On his thirteenth birthday, Jesus invited all the misfits in the neighborhood, and a few clowns with balloons, to his party, along with his snooty relatives, and they were livid! After that, his relatives refused to attend his birthday parties, which was fine because they were too stuffy anyway!
I’m sure the real challenge for Mary and Joseph was the unexpected letter from Jesus’ principal just before graduation. Fortunately, they hadn’t rented his tux yet. The letter read:
Dear Mr. & Mrs. Joseph (last name unknown),
I regret to inform you that we have had to administer an out-school suspension for Jesus. As a result, he will not be allowed to attend graduation ceremonies or prom. We have repeatedly discussed with him the school “rules”, yet he has continued to defy them. We have given him ample opportunities to follow the regulations required of all our students and feel we have no other choice in the matter. Below you will find the documented offenses:
Jesus has demonstrated a refusal to adhere to the precepts of submission to his teachers and repeatedly questions their authority to run roughshod over the troublemakers. He seems to have a misguided concern for the poor, the meek, and the place of women in our society. We have laws and customs, you know! You really need to talk to him about that. We would also caution you to be more aware of these people he is associating with. You know – birds of a feather! I’m just sayin’.
He will receive his diploma by postal carrier.
Principle, Nazareth High School (Go, Lions!)
Now, do you see why scripture writers probably skipped over this period of Jesus’ life? They collectively decided that teens are too easily influenced by their peers, which could tick off parents. Anyway, back to that dreadful letter…
The letter arrives. Then…that dreaded, you know you’re in trouble, summons, “JESUS!” (No middle name here either; too bad. Middle names are critical for a parent’s emphasis! So it loses some of its oomph.) But Jesus knew what was coming. “Dad, I can explain.” Joseph was calm and attentive, “Okay, I’m listening.” Joseph was actually proud of his son but contained himself because Mary was listening from the kitchen.
This conversation ended as you might expect – with a parable! (This is where he got the material for his later ministry, trying it out on mom and dad.)
“See dad; there’s this rich guy who prepared a banquet. He first invited all the “important” people. But they all had some lame excuse not to attend. Now he’s furious thinking of the rejection and the money he wasted on those ingrates. So, he went to Plan B. He ordered more pizza, rented a big ole bus, grabbed the servant, and ordered him not to return until he rounded up every misfit he could find. It’s party time! Pizza and beer with true friends trumps wealth, fame, and fortune! (Luke 14:16-24). Joseph gave him a high-five and assured Mary it was all straightened out.
So, I’ll ask you again – would Jesus take a porn star to his prom?
Of course, he would have (not as a date, silly!), but along with every lost and broken person God loved and the “popular kids” rejected. And what a grand time they would have had!