Suck it up Buttercup!

(Originally posted 1/22/16)

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 almost everything 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?

(Sorry, I just had to throw that in!)

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.

Welcome to My Groundhog Day

I recently celebrated my sixty-fifth birthday. I think sixty-five years is a loooooong time to be doing the same dumb things over and over. I also think God agrees! I believe that’s why he is intent on repeating himself until I – hopefully (hope springs eternal) – change.

Let me say that God has done some pretty incredible work in my life! And there have been significant changes over the years. But there is one thing, and unfortunately, it is the main thing I have refused to succumb to: Humility. Oh sure, I can lay claim to superficial humility. You know, that surface stuff that implodes the first time some jerk gets on my bad side!

And so, like our poor friend Phil, I go to bed every night with good intentions and wake up the next morning, finding myself stuck in the same place.

Remember when Phil said to Rita, “I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned, and every morning I wake up without a scratch on me”? That would make a great metaphor for my life and probably all our lives to one degree or another, except for the “without a scratch” part.

Here’s how my life has unfolded:

I was once a concept of God’s wild and magnificent imagination. I can envision all the angels in heaven dancing for joy at the sight of every single creature God brings to life. Then, without warning, I was plopped into a broken world, and life immediately began re-creating me into the person God no longer recognized. And the angels fell silent.

Through life, I, too (metaphorically), “have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned”. First, by those entrusted with my care. Then, by my own attempts to live within the context of that person. Everything this Original Creation was supposed to be, became unrecognizable. My focus was not on living with joy and the fullness of life promised to me. My focus became simply a matter of survival, like Phil waking up every day in a world that never changed.

I tried to end my pain too. I didn’t have a groundhog strapped to my steering wheel, and it wasn’t on railroad tracks. Instead, it was me drunk in my little MG on the highway, praying that I would crash and die. Phil’s reaction when his attempt to kill himself failed was, “Ah, nuts.” Mine was the same. I think my exact words were, “Great! I can’t even do this right!” I remember getting out of bed that morning and going off to work: same empty life, different day.

Over the years since that not-so-fatal day, much has happened. As I said before, God has done some remarkable work in my life, considering my incessant resistance to the death of my own will. We have been through so much together! When I think about what he has managed to accomplish in this continual wrestling match, it has been nothing short of a miracle! (Genesis 32:22-32)

After Phil described his torture, he exclaimed that there was “not a scratch on me”. I couldn’t say that, but I did think that “not a scratch on me” meant symbolically that no one ever noticed that I had changed. Considering that has made me, and God, very sad. Since God recently raised the issue again, and not so subtly, I knew that a lesson was coming, and it wouldn’t be pretty.

Sure enough, I have embarked on a new meditation titled “Bridges to Contemplative Living”. A compilation of the works of Thomas Merton and other Spiritual Giants. I know God is ever so gently loosening my white-knuckled grip on my self-will.

You know how you get a song in your head and can’t escape it? How about just a word: Humility? Of course, as is God’s mysterious way, and because I have been in total denial of my lack of humility, I am confronted almost daily with examples of “Who do you think you’re kidding, Linda?”

I’ll give you one example, but my head and heart are still reeling from the raw truth of many more! Reality bites. Can I just say that?!

Within all of our relationships lies the truth of our faithfulness and sinfulness, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. If we’re not afraid to face that truth, there are powerful lessons to be learned.

So…humility. I recently had a conversation with my husband. Okay, let me restate that. I had an angry confrontation with him concerning a family matter that I felt was going badly. I wasn’t angry with him but wanted him to know how I felt about the situation. So God sat quietly while I whined and wailed and wore myself out. Then he stepped in and stuck a big fat mirror in my face!

I had to sit with that and realize that my anger stemmed not from the current situation but from many years of trying to defend my fragile ego and pride. It isn’t just with this particular person but everyone who pushes my ever-so-delicate buttons. And I hear God say, “Humility…Linda. Let’s give it another try.”

Here’s what God has been showing me in the process of the mediations, prayer, and almost daily experiences that provide the litmus test of how I’m doing. I think it’s some pretty awesome stuff. Let me know what you think!

What I believe has set this entire process in motion did not begin in the last couple of weeks. It started with my hospice training and work with dying patients. You get a much different perspective on life when you sit with the dying. It is impossible to fully understand the richness and beauty of life if you cannot face the reality of death. They are both part of one continual journey and cannot be separated. Though death is something you can choose to ignore, participation is mandatory. For some people, death is just one thing on a long list of “How did that happen?” moments:

  • Every day he ate a carton of ice cream on the couch, watched TV, and got fat. He scratches his head and wonders how that happened.
  • She was doing 90 in a 30 with no driver’s license and went to jail. How did that happen?
  • She was walking on the tracks, got run over by a train, and died. How did that happen?

Anyway, the beauty of humility seems more and more appealing to me as I sit vigil with those who are actively dying. Things that always seemed to matter diminish in significance. I witness what’s really important to those with so little time to fool with ego, pride, and self-centeredness.

If we consider the wasteful things we busy ourselves with, it’s astounding. Like we’re going to be here forever. Yet, working with hospice patients has finally begun to awaken me to the truth of my own life. That Ground of Being hidden behind the false self-created long ago.  

The Scriptures and meditations I want to share with you were not “dug up” by my efforts. They unfolded before me just as God planned. This, by the way, should be a powerful lesson for anyone who thinks that God does not want to be deeply involved in the details of our lives. This has happened too often for me to believe otherwise. Now, if I can just get out of his way, perhaps humility is not impossible – even for me.

The following is a list of thoughts, Scripture verses, and quotes that have gradually caused me to loosen my grip on my pride so God can do what he does best: Love me. I hope and pray that I will surrender to that Love and be the empty vessel he desires.

  • Matthew 4:25, “Great crowds…followed him.”

Meditation from “The Word Among Us”: “People are going to be attracted to Christ in you – not you (my emphasis). Your joy, your peace, and your love will grow, and that will attract people to you.”

OH, MAN!!!! I thought it was all about me!

  • Have you ever felt rejected? I have, most of my life. Even today, there are people I feel rejected by, and I react to them with unkindness. But, how often do I consider the times I reject God by those thoughts and actions born of pride and cultivated in arrogance?

Lord, I pray for your forgiveness for putting so many things ahead of you. You love me so much and feel my rejection so profoundly. You cannot make me love you, though you love me unconditionally. Help me to sit in silence in your presence and teach me how to love. By your power and grace, help me to let go of the things that fill my thoughts and keep me out of relationship with you and those you bring into my life.

  • Mark 6:34 says, “When Jesus saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them.”

Not so much the hearts of his disciples. All they did was complain. Jesus said to feed them. And their response? “What, are you kidding? There are thousands of them.” They counted the meager change in their pockets, “You can’t expect us to just call out for pizza. Let ‘em’ get their own food!”

Jesus always shines a spotlight on our smallness while beaming his might and power at us. In those moments, there are always thirteen disciples. I’m standing there with them all indignant about my weaknesses and inadequacies, forgetting the Source of my power. He’s trying his best to get through to them, and me, and you. He even humbles himself, for heaven’s sake! “I can’t do anything without my Father!” (John 5:30) But, do we listen?

We are all called to love; to have faith and trust and hope; to be filled with joy and peace; called to humility which underlies it all. None of this is remotely possible if it is not born of a heart filled with awe and wonder at God’s magnificence, power, and glory. None of it!

  • Matthew 3:13-17, “Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you are coming to me?”

There is a whole bunch of humility going on here! John the Baptist never felt worthy “to tie Jesus’ sandals (Mark 1:7)”. How often are we willing to decrease so Jesus can increase?

And think of Jesus himself allowing John to baptize him. He wasn’t a sinner and didn’t need to be baptized. Yet he humbled himself before everyone to lead the way to his Father.

What I was led to consider this day was the fact that I am not Heartland Hospice’s Chaplain. My
ID badge doesn’t proclaim that I am; my supervisor, although recognizing that I “qualify” as a hospice chaplain, reminds me that I am a volunteer.

Up to this point, I have made it a practice to tell people I was a “volunteer chaplain” – I had to get it in, and technically it’s true enough. But, I have slowly, and ever so profoundly, been admonished by God. He rolls his eyes and repeatedly shakes his head at my need to pump up my false self. But the more I sit with dying patients, the more I realize how little it matters. No one has ever said, “Thank you for being a chaplain.” They say, “Thank you for coming.” That’s all. They thank me for my presence, not any vast wisdom or knowledge I think I possess, and they need to hear. They’re dying; they could care less about my degrees or accomplishments.

Reading that verse was like a one-two punch. No, God doesn’t punch, but I’m telling you, he flicks! I have been flicked often enough to know. And it hurts. Because he’s not flicking my head, he’s flicking my heart!

You see, everyone I know, friends and family, know I have a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Studies. How many of them, I wonder, look at how I treat people and make a note to self: mistreating people must be okay if Linda is doing it. After all, she’s the “holy one”. 

I am supposed to be, we are all supposed to be, giving witness to God’s love in a hurting and broken world. But if all others see is my brokenness, how will they ever have hope?

When we go our own way, we obey the parts of God’s command that are easy and discard the parts that don’t appeal to us: Love your neighbor – check. Love your enemy – scratch. Is it any wonder God hates that? Are we putting forth an image of ourselves – more importantly – an image of God that others can use to justify their own sinfulness?

I want to say that I have finally conquered this one, but I know better, and I’m pretty sure there will be another lesson tomorrow…

                                   and the day after that…

                                                                          and the day after that!

It’s funny; the Scripture verses here are not new to me. “HOLY COW, I never knew God felt so strongly about THAT!” – Liar! They have just been an inconvenient truth. They demand something I have not been willing to submit to. I pray that is all changing. The power of humility lies within every one of us. We have no excuse to believe or act otherwise.

Let Us be Silly!

https://vimeo.com/19071448

This 1978 song “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor was turned into the “Alien Song”. It has made me laugh for years! Watch it, then come back. I’ll wait. https://vimeo.com/19071448

Are you laughing? Come on. That was hysterical! Now wipe that frown off your face, and let’s get to more funny business because we take life way too seriously.

Do you think God doesn’t have a sense of humor? Really? If he hadn’t had a sense of humor, Genesis might have read a bit differently, “And God made one robot with a whole bunch of clones”…. Then he decided to quit while he was ahead. “ My grand plan is for every creature to simply exist for my pure pleasure. I like it. I’m done. Why muddle it up?”

But then Spirit, observing it all, objected, “But, Lord, who will return your love then? Isn’t that what this is all about”? God replied, “Oh, please! Let’s think about this. If I want them to love me, I will have to give them all the free will to do it, and you know what that’s gonna make them don’t you? A royal pain!”

But, alas, God relented, “Okay, fine. But if we’re going to do this, we can’t have all drama and whining. If they can’t laugh at themselves or take a little ribbing occasionally, then we’re gonna replace them with more trees and rocks!”

So God made humankind in his image (Genesis 1:26), reluctantly giving everyone free will. And just as he foresaw, it went very badly! Okay, not totally. That’s why God gave us a sense of humor to help us over the rough spots. And to keep, at least some of us, from that incessant bellyaching, “Why me, Lord”? Waaa, waaa, waaa…

I truly believe that you cannot learn to really laugh – I mean laugh till you pee – laugh, until you have cried; cried from the deepest sorrow that life throws at you. If you know what I’m talking about, you know that getting through this life is like being pecked to death by a chicken. And you had better find the humor in it, or that chicken may just turn into a buzzard – and you? Roadkill!

I can’t tell you how often my screw-ups have turned into life lessons, followed by laughter. God has the uncanny ability to admonish me and then stick a mirror in front of me until I can no longer keep a straight face. It’s a beautiful thing to know that I am a deeply loved idiot, because as that famous saying goes:

I will end with one of my favorite poems, which prompted this post:

LET US BE LOVELY – Edward Monkton

Let us be lovely

And let us be kind

Let us be silly and free

It won’t make us famous

It won’t make us rich

But damnit how HAPPY we’ll be!

The Homeless Woman Who Ruined my Lunch

(Originally posted on July 27, 2012)

Image by Freepik

What do we hate most about the homeless? In a word – they’re “inconvenient.” They show up in our lives in the most awkward places. Unless we’re on our guard they can shake our complacency to its core. Why can’t they just stay out of sight, go live in a shelter, get a job, or, at the very least, stand with their signs somewhere else? Who believes they’re really needy anyway? They probably have a nice car parked around the corner that we paid for! Or, if we do give them our measly change, they’ll probably use it for drugs or alcohol.

By the way, I’ve never bought drugs, but I’m pretty sure they cost more than a few coins from the bottom of your purse. Now, as for alcohol, if Boones Farm Strawberry Hill wine is still on the market, that’s probably pretty affordable. At least, it was for me so many years ago. But that’s a story for another day.

So, yesterday, I came to a stoplight at a highway exit. I missed the light and was forced to sit uncomfortably, making every effort to disregard the homeless woman on the corner. It was 104° in the shade, and the light took forever to change! I chose to ignore her because she’s there a lot, and I have given her money in the past. I didn’t feel obliged to give her anything this time.

Finally, I pulled away and went straight to Panera Bread for lunch. Panera Bread is my favorite place to eat, next to home. I always get the Fuji Apple Chicken Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette on the side. I can no longer eat their lovely whole grain baguettes because I am gluten intolerant. Sad, huh? Poor me…poor, poor pitiful me.

Anyway, as I looked down at my lovely salad, the guilt was so immense I could barely get it down. I was reminded of my most humbling encounter with the homeless woman in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 2005. And yet, here I was again, confronted with my hardness of heart, listening remorsefully to God’s admonishments and offering my feeble response, “I’m so sorry, Lord. I did it again. I am so sorry!”

I packed up my salad, got in my car, and prayed as I drove toward the overpass where she stood, “Please be there, please be there!” She was still there! You would think I won the lottery! I quickly drove up the highway ramp, exited, got back on the highway, and exited again where she was standing, all the while, digging in my purse for money. $10? No! This was at least a $20 transgression. Yes, $20. Like God would be more impressed with that. I’m a moron!

This time, when the light turned red, there were four cars in front of me. I threw my car in park, got out, and ran to her (she was limping so badly the first time, I didn’t want her to have to hobble up the hill. I felt bad enough as it was). I handed her the money, hugged her sweaty, dirty body, returned the blessing she offered me first, and ran back to my car, which, by then, was blocking traffic.

Now, I know what you may be thinking, “You’re such a sucker, Linda! It was all an act and the limp was fake”. Maybe that’s true, but here’s the thing. I don’t give a rip if it was all staged for effect and God doesn’t either. He only wants to know where our hearts are. Then, he wants to dig in there and transform them if we allow him to.

Not surprisingly, this lesson was just beginning. They say life repeats its lessons over and over until we get them. And I am, hands down, to God’s dismay, the world’s slowest learner. This, clearly, was going to require some additional work and God was happy to oblige.

On the same evening of my encounter with the smelly likes of Jesus, I attended a gathering of old high school friends. Those encounters always include the ones we never liked and I had the misfortune of sitting next to one of them. She was still as crabby and mean as she was then with some additional flab and wrinkles – which secretly delighted me.

I hate to call myself out on this, but it’s pertinent to this story. Please don’t judge me, I do enough of that on my own. Anyway, one of my honest-to-goodness friends asked me how my work with the homeless for St. Vincent dePaul was going (I know, busted!). Well, this woman with no filter, began to spew her indignation toward those nasty homeless people who have the nerve, the nerve, to interrupt her life! If, if, she was going to give any of them money she wanted to control what they did with it. Great!

I sat and listened to her rail against them and mumbled under my breath, “Lord, really? Did you set this up? It would be just like you! Fine. Can I get a beer, because this is going to take a while, isn’t it? By the way, have I said how sorry I am that we have to revisit my cold, hard indifference to those you love so deeply?

I would soon have an hour’s drive home to ponder it all, in particular, my hesitation to discuss it with that woman at our meeting (she’s not really my friend anyway) The words God spoke to my heart penetrated my very soul, “Woe to you, Linda. You hypocrite! Don’t even think about judging her!” Right, okay, I have no right to judge anyone. But, what I wanted to say to her – I needed to hear myself. So here it goes…

We have our favorite defenses against helping the homeless. The most common seem to be:

  • I can’t help everyone.
  • It’s not my responsibility.
  • I want to know what they are going to do with the money.
  • They’re lazy, they need to get a job.
  • Or, my all-time favorite: Let’s put it on God. – “LORD, WHY DO YOU ALLOW THIS, WHY DON’T YOU DO SOMETHING?!”

The next morning, I tried to sit quietly in prayer (I’m warning you, don’t do that unless you are prepared for your life to change forever!). God showed up! As I considered the reasons we hold our clenched fists so tightly around our measly handful of change, I had a picture of a long line of homeless people standing in front of me. Each one approached and stood there as I grilled them to determine if they were worthy of my precious coins. Most I would usher off to the right, UNDESERVING. Very few would I send to the left, DESERVING, where I would hand them a few paltry tokens and expect their undying gratitude.

Then, I saw Jesus standing there. Now I was in line – a line that stretched beyond my field of vision. I watched as each person approached him in trembling anticipation. But, it wasn’t money he was handing out, it was grace.

Most, he would ruthlessly question, “What have you done to deserve this? What will you do with it? Why should I give it to you?” – and then gesture to the right, UNDESERVING. A few would be sent to the left and showered with more grace and blessings than they could stuff in their pockets! I quickly got out of line and ran home to get a suitcase, certain I was going to the left and prepared to capture all the blessings Jesus would bestow on me. I was pumped!

Finally, I reached the front of the line and without hesitation, Jesus looked at my pathetic life and gestured to the right, UNDESERVING. Slumped over in disbelief, dragging my empty suitcase behind me, I followed the long line of the unworthy masses. (I’m a visual person – I hate when God uses “Loser Linda” parables in vivid pictures!)

Even claiming to be Christian, we live our lives in the realm of the worthy vs. the unworthy. It defines who we are, who our neighbors are, who the poor and destitute are, and we act accordingly. When we can muster just a smathering (yes, I made that word up. I like it!) of concern for others we raise our voice to the heavens in outrage, “Lord, I don’t know how you can just sit there and watch your people, especially children, suffer.”

What we fail to remember is that God came into our midst to reveal a different reality. He gives and gives abundantly. He forgives profusely, even my sorry self. Not one of us is deserving. We ask for his mercy, grace, and forgiveness, and it is ours. There are no lines to stand in. There is no reason to doubt or fear. The abundance of God’s grace is beyond measure. The riches of his generosity have no limits. But, we, like the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35), quickly forget.

Jesus came to serve. He commissioned his disciples to “feed My sheep”. In Matthew’s gospel (14:13-21) five thousand people converged on Jesus. His disciples, aware they had brought no food, insisted he send them home to feed themselves. And what was Jesus’ reply? “You feed them.” God provided…and all the people were given their fill, with food to spare.

You feed them. You do it!

The fact that there are people starving and dying every day, and have been for time eternal, is not because of poor planning on God’s part. It’s because many of us who have been given much (Luke 12:48), give little in return. That’s not how it’s supposed to work.

Listen, if God’s intent was to have a perfect human race, where no one suffered, and no one was capable of the atrocities we witness almost daily, he could have just hard-wired us to obey him completely. Problem solved. Not quite. God did not want robots. He deeply loved humankind and wanted that love returned – voluntarily.

The love God calls us to, by definition, requires us to love everyone. And loving them means caring for them, feeding them, giving generously from our abundance of blessings. And, for the love of God, stop judging them! We are Christ’s hands and feet in this broken world, they should be moving.

And lastly, I thank you, you beautiful woman on the street corner, for showing me Christ!

WHACK!! Welcome to my Most Profound 2×4 Moment Ever!

(Originally posted October 25, 2012)

Many people use, and believe the expression, “the patience of Job”.  Actually, Job was not a patient man. Perhaps a bit more patient than his lovely wife who told him to “Curse God and die!”– And his so-called friends who insisted God had exposed him for his wickedness. Their accusations had no limits:

Eliphaz, like most people in Jesus’ time, believed suffering was a direct result of sin; that suffering exposes you to God’s wrath – you’re busted! Sadly, many people still believe that.

Eliphax tells Job that he suffers at the hand of God because “those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same”. (Job 4:7-8)

Bildad chimes in, “God has rejected you because you’re evil!” (8:20). Ouch!

And, of course, not to be outdone by the others, Zophar annihilates any sense of worth Job may be clinging to, “You’re a damn fool! Waxing poetic nonsense like you can dupe everyone, even God. Are you crazy?! We’re going to hang out here until God decides to give you a piece of his mind. And he will. You watch. If you weren’t such an idiot you would reach out to God while you still have breath in you!” (Job 11-14). Honestly, that’s all in there. Okay, I might have taken some license with it.

So, would “patient” be the appropriate verb for Job? After all, he admits, “I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest; but trouble comes” (Job 3:26). I do, however, believe Job endured more hardships than most of us could possibly imagine. So, let’s give him that.

Then, there was God, who was eerily quiet until he came storming out of the whirlwind (38:1-40:2) into Job’s broken heart, revealing his power and majesty. And what was Job’s response? How could it have been anything other than “what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth” (40:4). And later, “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (42:3). So, I think we could also give Job credit for finally surrendering to God even in the midst of his suffering; even though he still had no idea why God allowed him to suffer such pain and loss. God owed him no explanation and Job no longer questioned him.

As for me? How long have I been questioning God? Forever, I think. Questioning often grew into whining and whining into mistrust until I felt I would never know the deep faith I so longed for. I was too afraid and too busy trying to control my own destiny. I talked about surrender and wrote about surrender, but felt my hypocrisy would one day be exposed because I wasn’t living it. Easy enough for me to tell you to surrender your life to God! Go on now. You’ll be fine. Honest.

In all fairness to my fragile ego, in two of the major events in my life: writing a book and going to graduate school, I did get the first part of God’s calling right, “Go”. The problem was my need to second-guess him; to run ahead of him. But, let’s go back to where it all began.

God said to me one day, out of the clear blue, “Write a book.” Long story short, it was a work in progress for ten years: written, rewritten, and self-published twice. Writing the book was the part of God’s call I listened to and accepted.

The part I added later went something like this: “I’ve just written a book! Since this came from you, Lord, I can only assume it’s going to be on the New York Times best-seller list! WOW! I can’t wait!” When that didn’t happen, I began to grow weary of God failing to meet my expectations and started to whine and complain, again, “God, why did you have me write this book? There have been so many mistakes made in the process. You knew I didn’t know what I was doing. So, why? Why? Why? Why?” Those incessant questions were born out of my feeble attempt to control the process and the outcome.

The next chapter begins with a friend asking me to speak at her church. I muttered a few words in God’s direction, “Lord, if you are now calling me to speak, even though this is also something I never would have imagined doing, then I will do it.” I enrolled in a Speakers Training Workshop, had promotional DVDs made and mailed to everyone I could imagine would care. I was offered a few opportunities to speak, and although I was extremely nervous – actually scared to death – they went well and the feedback was positive.

Wait, don’t leave! There’s more! In 2006, I was approached by my pastor to consider a program that would entail studies for a graduate degree in Pastoral Care (I still have the laugh lines from that one!). Seriously, I was nine credit hours short of an Associate’s Degree from a community college, and this was a graduate program! Right! To appease my pastor, I completed the application forms certain they would not accept me.

When the letter came I confidently opened it. My assumed rejection began with “We are pleased to inform you…” Wait, that’s not nice! You are pleased to tell me what I already know – I’m a loser? However, the letter went on to say they had accepted me.

“Oh shit!” That’s what I said. Those two words usually only come out in extreme circumstances like a car coming at me head-on, being stuck in a burning building, or having Robert Redford knock on my door and I’m in my bathrobe and curlers. (Yes, I’m that old!).

So…“OH SHIT!”

An impossible and immutable reality was staring me in the face and, again, I was scared to death! But I went, frightened and uncertain, and graduated in 2009. Glory be to God – well, and to Linda, who, after one semester of preaching classes, and a head full of myself, determined that I would probably become the female Billy Graham on the preacher’s circuit. But, alas, more dashed dreams of fame.

I was supposed to move right from graduation to a position as a Pastoral Associate in my comfortable little church. Yep, you guessed it, that’s not what happened. After three grueling years of studies, I was told that the position was not available due to a lack of funding. So, there I sat in my pile of poopy dreams and unfulfilled aspirations as an imminent writer, speaker, preacher, and/or Pastoral Associate faded into oblivion.

For three years, I have been bellyaching to God just like Job. And then it happened. God’s preferred method of attention-getting for me is a 2×4. While driving down the highway, minding my own business – from out of nowhere – WHACK!

God: “Are you paying attention, Linda?”

Me: “I am now!”

Suddenly, I was pummeled by God, or at least that’s how it felt, with a review of the course of events that had transpired. Here’s a chronology of those events:

  • My book is the story of how God reached into my pain and suffering at the hands of others, and my own sinfulness, and spoke healing into my brokenness. He used the process of writing the book and the opportunities I had to speak to continue that healing, which in turn, has helped others who have shared their own experiences with me.
  • Graduate school was really, really, REALLY a struggle for me. Writing graduate-level papers and reading the works of theologians like Thomas Aquinas and Bernard Lonergan, made my head explode! I was anxious for most of those three years. I felt inadequate at best and downright stupid at worst.
  • Academically, I felt I was not on the level of most of the other students – always looking over my shoulder and waiting for someone to show me the door. I got some of it, forgot most of it, yet, somehow, in the process, I grew spiritually in ways I could never have imagined.
  • One of my last classes dealt with the foundations of ministry. I remember my professor telling me at the end of the semester that I had a simple way of approaching ministry that would serve me well. He was telling me that I didn’t need to feel incompetent because I couldn’t put together a string of theological thoughts that would rival the best in the field. But I didn’t understand or appreciate his words at the time.
  • Just before graduation, I asked my pastor, “Do I still have a job when I get out of here?” He replied matter-of-factly, “No.” I was shocked! He stated that because of the economy they could not afford to hire an associate. I was devastated and shaken to my foundation. Fear got the best of me. If I was going to apply for a position in a different church, how would I fair in the interview process? Even though I had a 3.7 GPA, I had little confidence in my abilities, especially since I knew there would be lots of applicants and very few positions available. Oh yeah, and I was old.

Do you see how God has moved in my life over all these years? I didn’t until that fateful trip in my car last week, when all of these events and situations came flooding into my head – then my heart. And, just as with Job, God spoke:

Linda, Linda, Linda, what am I going to do with you?! I called you to write a book, to do some speaking, and to go to graduate school. Who told you you were going to be a famous writer, speaker, or preacher?! Much of the time you ran off on your own without waiting on me; without even consulting me. You had it all figured out and then when it didn’t happen the way you planned it, you came complaining to me. My time is not your time, my ways are not your ways. It’s about obedience and trust, Linda. I think you are finally ready to hear that.

Why, according to your timing, has it taken so long? It was important for you to feel the pain of the loss and suffering of your past and to go through your own healing process before you could enter the sacred space of others who suffer. This is Holy Ground that I am asking you to step into. You were not ready before.

Somehow you have managed to move in the direction I have called you. You’ve made it an uphill climb, but you have been falling forward, so that’s progress! I placed the desires in you before you were born, and I have set in place my plan for you and long to bring it to completion. If you will just get out of my way!

A few days after the Holy Whacking in my car, I received a Daily Meditation from Richard Rohr. Quite appropriate I think, “All of Jesus’ guidance for ministry…are very concrete and interpersonal. They are all about putting people in touch with specific people, especially with people’s pain. Person-to-person is the way the Gospel was originally communicated. Person-in-love-with-person, person-respecting-person, person-forgiving-person, person-touching-person, person-crying-with-person, person-hugging-person: that’s where the Divine Presence is so beautifully revealed.

What a dunce I was, “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). I pray I have finally learned to wait on God and know his plan for me is perfect; to trust his infinite wisdom more than my finite and feeble efforts to do things my own way.

And the saga continues…

I would like to conclude with a quote from Glennon Doyle that sums up where I’m at right now and where I hope to stay till the end.