Never, Never, Never Give Up

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 told you to do that, huh?  Right!” To be honest, I wouldn’t have believed it myself if he hadn’t gradually brought me to a place where I could trust him even if I was fearful and had no idea what he was up to. For years, there were little promptings that, in hindsight, proved to me that he was on the job (Romans 8:28). Then bigger ones that required more trust; offered way more grace than I deserved, and opened my heart more than I could have imagined.

God was always longing to grow me into the person he meant for me to be. It was me resisting; me not being present to him; me missing the mystery and majesty that surrounded me because I was just too busy to notice, or more likely, too afraid. Instead I skipped along trying to drown out his voice, “Lalalalalalalala I can’t hear you!”

We can be so enmeshed in, and blinded by, the things of this world we miss out on our whole purpose for being here. If you are going through life day-after-unremarkable-day; schlepping through the same routine to ad nauseum – STOP IT! Your life has a purpose people…you matter that much!

We are all called to holiness; called to use the gifts and talents already given us for God’s kingdom work right here – right now. It just takes awareness on our part. (I would highly recommend Anthony DeMello’s book by the same name, Awareness).

Leo Tolstoy’s  novel, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”,  considered a masterpiece, was written just after his own “profound spiritual awakening” and conversion experience. While lying on his deathbed, Ilyich ruminated about the reality that his entire life was superficial and self-serving and he profoundly stated, “Maybe I didn’t live as I should have done!”At the end, he posited a question that Tolstoy must have pondered himself, “What if I really have been wrong in the way I’ve lived my whole life, my conscious life?” Oops, a little late buddy!

“Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do” Gian Carlo Menotti

It  was too late for Ilyich, but not Tolstoy. He discovered his purpose and rejected his aristocratic life to follow Jesus’ teachings – in particular – the Sermon on the Mount. Years later, his writings also had a profound impact on Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and countless others.

Soooooo, what are you waiting for? You must still be breathing or you wouldn’t be reading this. That’s a start. Incredibly, no matter how you lived your life to this point, it’s not too late to begin again. New beginnings are God’s specialty! He has proven that through the lives of every misfit from Moses to this ole grandma – To infinity and beyond!  God coined that phrase you know. Don’t believe me? HUMPH! Check out Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”

Alrighty then, you’re pumped and ready to go, right? You’re packing your sandals and camel hair coat and checking Google Maps… for what? A sign from God?

Stop! Take a deep breath. Maybe start by sitting quietly with God and waiting.

Don’t look to anyone to give you a formula or a check list 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 are able to love yourself. And you can’t love yourself by means of any of the myriad of self-help books on the market. You can only do that by growing in the knowledge that you are deeply and passionately loved first by the God who created you! And you can only do that by being in relationship with him, which requires your time.

You are his son/daughter with whom he is well-pleased (Matthew 17:5). Let that sink in. We are deeply loved sinners. It’s high time we act like it, don’t you think?

We are so used to being in a world that is loud and demanding of our attention, especially today. We even busy ourselves filling in uncomfortably quiet places. That’s how we miss God’s “still small voice” or “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). Sure, he’s good at those show-stopper whirlwinds and earthquakes and fire. Even what I have called 2×4 moments, but they didn’t leave marks like the ones my mother inflicted. Because of her I was always on guard for those “laying down the law” whacks that I expected from God too when I messed up. But, I believe he more often speaks through Spirit – whispers of pure grace.

Now, though I still mess up – and often – I know God’s response is out of love for me; his admonitions tell me that he loves me too much to let me stay stuck in the muck.

Absolutely, go to church, take the time to read scripture, and pray, But mostly...LISTEN! Geeeezzzzz, we’re so bad at listening.

New Eyes to See

The tomb was empty. He was gone. Mary cried out in anguish, “What have they done with him?” The response was not comforting to her, “He’s not here”. It wasn’t what the other disciples wanted to hear either. They didn’t believe her.

As Catholics, we are still in the midst of our most holy Easter season, meant to draw us into a deeper relationship with God and, in turn, with our brothers and sisters. Not just the ones that are easy to love. During Lent, we were called to prayer and sacrifice to help us remember God’s scandalous, extravagant, outrageous love. We often have a difficult time remembering. On Easter Sunday, we sing and celebrate the most important Feast Day of our faith. “Alleluia!  The Lord is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!” What should that mean to us? And after the glorious Resurrection of our Lord – what then?

The message to us is clear if we have eyes to see. Sister Joan Chittister tells us, “The real proof of the Resurrection lies not in the transformation of Jesus alone but in the transformation awaiting us who accept it.” That transformation can be powerful if we are willing to seek God in new places outside the comfort of our day-to-day. That is when Jesus rises within our very hearts and calls us to love and serve those He most loves: the outcast, the poor, those the world rejects.

After the Resurrection, Jesus revealed himself in the most unlikely places: Behind locked doors, on the path the disciples walked to Emmaus, at a fish fry on the beach. Unexpected places where Jesus longs for us to find him: In the faces of the poor, the brokenness of the rejected. He’s there. In many ways, the poor and homeless among us feel they are also staring into an empty tomb. “Where were you, God, when I lost my job and my home? Where were you when my child died and my husband left because my pain was too much to bear? Where are you now as I struggle to feed my family?

Often, in working with the homeless, when the need seems almost overwhelming, we experience a God-moment that reminds us He is in our midst, changing lives and bringing hope to the hopeless. I will share one beautiful story with you. Since last September, I have worked with a woman, who, through no fault of her own, lost her job, then her home. She was living in her car and felt hopeless. We were able to provide her a motel room and food. She soon got another job as an Assistant Manager of a shoe store, moved into an apartment, and now has the stability we strive for. But, wait, there’s more! Experiencing the blessings of God, she now gives back. Last week, I was blessed to witness a once homeless woman give another homeless woman brand new shoes and coats for her kids.

God is good, ALL THE TIME! And he’s hiding in plain sight. Go see for yourself.

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

Originally posted on 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, and many people even today, sadly, believed suffering was a direct result of sin; that suffering exposes you to God’s wrath – you’re busted!

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 he 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 through 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 Jobs 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 owned him no explanation and he no longer questioned God.

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 or abide in 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 on 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 thought this is also something I never would have imagined doing, then I will do it.” I enrolled in a Speakers Training Workshop, had promotional DVD’s made and mailed to everyone I could imagine would care. I was offered a few opportunities to speak, and although I was extremely nervous, they went well and the feedback was positive.

Would it surprise you that I again tried to finish this chapter without any input from God? Oh boy, speaking! Yippee! I wanted to be faithful, funny and famous; Beth Moore, Sheila Walsh, and Chonda Pierce all rolled into one. And why not? This was God’s calling for me and he doesn’t do ordinary. But, except for those few opportunities, I sat by a silent phone practicing my funniness in the mirror.

“Oh, hahahahaha Linda, you are so funny!”

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 rejection began with “We are pleased to inform you…” That’s not nice I thought. You are pleased to tell me what I already know – I’m a loser?

But wait…

The letter went on to say they had accepted me. .

“Oh shit!” That’s what I said. That word usually only comes 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 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 preachers circuit. But, alas, more dashed dreams of fame.

I was supposed to move right from graduation to a position as Pastoral Associate in my comfortable little church. But, yep, you guessed it, that’s not what happened. After three grueling years of studies, I was told that position was not available due to lack of funding. So, there I sat in my pile of poopy dreams and unfulfilled aspirations as 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, though not out of a whirlwind. 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!

“Are you paying attention, Linda?”

“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 have 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 theologian’s like Thomas Aquinas and Bernard Lonergan, made my head explode! I was anxious 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 waiting for someone to show me the door. I got some of it, forgot most of it, but, 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. I would only realize later that much of that was due to fear. 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. So, I insisting that I lived too far from the churches that were making job offers. I’d wait for something else to come along.

 

  • I have often heard people say that they did not have closure when a loved one died. I have come to believe, since my mother’s death, that closure happens in the day-to-day moments when we do or say stupid things, or we fail to love well. Scripture tells us in Matthew 5:23-24,“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Don’t wait, take care of it immediately. It’s too late when you’re lying cold in a casket, or your ashes are scattered over the gulf course.

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, 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 happened 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 of your mother and to go through your own healing process before you could enter the sacred space of others who suffer; are dying, or have lost a loved one. 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, and 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.

I have come to understand through personal experience what Richard Rohr also says about grief and death and dying:

We must learn how to walk through the stages of dying. We have to grieve over lost friends, relatives, and loves. Death cannot be dealt with through quick answers, religious platitudes, or a stiff upper lip. Dying must be allowed to happen over time, in predictable and necessary stages, both in those who die graciously and in those who love them. Grief is a time where God can fill the tragic gap with something new and totally unexpected. Yet the process cannot be rushed.

It is not only the loss of persons that leads to grief, but also the loss of ideals, visions, plans, places, and our very youth….Grief work might be one of the most redemptive, and yet still unappreciated, ministries in the church. Thank God, it is being discovered as a time of spacious grace and painful gift.

What a dunce I was, “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (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.

Okay, that is the post from 2012.

And the saga continues…

I would like to conclude with a quote from Glennon Doyle that sums up where I’m at right now in my life.

do the next right thing

“About time – huh God?!”

“Still not holding my breath, Linda.”

 

Surely You Were in This Place

In 2007, Joshua Bell, a world-renowned violinist, dressed in ordinary street clothes and played his $3.5 million dollar violin at the metro station in Washington D.C..

Watch the reaction…

That’s right. There was no reaction.

Then, he went back. This time announced.

Every time I watch these videos I wonder how often we think of God and how we miss him in our very midst; how often we expect Jesus to just drop down from heaven:

I'll be back

Just to be disappointed.

Jesus false alarm

Do we realize he has been here all along?

John Phillip Newell tells us that “at the heart of the physical is the spiritual. Hidden within the mundane is the Divine.”

It is in the ordinary, everyday, that God reveals himself most profoundly: Our ordinary-everyday-get-up-go-to-work-feed-the-kids-walk-the-dog-clean-the-toilets-go-to-bed life.

We can miss the magnificence of God in a beautiful sunrise – blocked by a computer screen. We miss the profound in the lonely widow sitting next to us in church, or the tears of a neighbor estranged from his family.

We miss it because we are either waiting for more, or hoping for less. Less would be easier because the thought of an “almighty, glorious, brilliant, magnificent” God – right here where “we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)” is just too much for us to believe.

But why?

It’s not like Jesus made some kind of grand entrance the first time. Right? I mean – come on – he showed up in a diaper and smelled a bit like a stable.

It's a Bird It's a plane

If we are even willing to consider an encounter with God we’re certain it must be in a beyond super-human, out-of-body event. I actually think we prefer to believe that is the only time he exists. We want God to be predictable and keep his distant.

We want to dress up in our finest attitudes and go somewhere else, far away from our messiness, to experience him: Church, Wednesday night prayer meetings from 7:00 – 8:15, annual retreats in the mountains, revivals, far away mission trips.

But, please God, don’t be snooping around my house when my husband comes home drunk at 1:00 am.

rolling pin

Don’t “show up” right in the middle of my nastiness; my jealous rants against my neighbor, or arguments with my teenaged son. Also, you really shouldn’t sneak up on me when I’m watching my R-rated T.V. show!

So, we move through our ordinary life – constantly on guard – expending all our time and energy to keep God at a comfortable distance. And what do we get in return? An ordinary, mundane, routine, humdrum, tedious life.

I’ll just hang out here, thanks, waiting to die and get to heaven after barely surviving my ordinary, mundane, routine, humdrum, tedious life.

Delightful.

STOP IT!

We can spend a great deal of energy doing “things” in an effort to “get to” heaven where we will finally find happiness; finally meet that ever elusive God. And in the meantime? What about the ‘meantime” that we are wasting; time we will never get back, time we could, as Martin Buber so beautifully said, “be stringing pearls for heaven”?

What do you think about when you read this scripture verse? Genesis 28:16-17, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.”

Bidden or not

And how about Luke 17:20-21, “Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.’” (My emphasis)

Ewwww…that’s terrifying, huh?

But, when you refuse to open your heart to that reality, you have no idea what you are missing! For example, I volunteer for a charitable organization. We have a hotline and people call in with many needs: some are homeless, some are so desperate that when you talk to them it’s like looking at a 1,000 piece puzzle with 800 pieces missing. Which is what happened to me last week.

For obvious reasons I can’t give you any details, but I can tell you this, his situation was that 1,000 piece puzzle. When I gathered all the information I could from him and stepped back to review it, I was literally overwhelmed with what he was dealing with, and, of course, he was too. But, I prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide us and bring the people into his life who could help him.

Within three days, all – got that? – ALL the necessary resources he needed were in place! When I spoke to him and told him – we both cried. We were both overwhelmed by the majesty and beauty and tender care of a mighty God who is right in our midst; right in our messiness; right in our suffering; and, yes, in the ordinary.

Later that night I sat in prayer and felt God telling me, like Moses, “Remove your sandals, Sister, you are standing on Holy ground!” How often do you think you have stood on Holy ground and didn’t realize it because you were too busy looking up or looking away?