A Christmas Thought

It’s Christmas. Advent is over – the waiting is over. The anticipation: waiting, sitting in darkness, in wonder and awe. Over.

My prayer for this Christmas is that what is not over is hope for a better, more peaceful, world, and an understanding that that begins with God, but is manifest through us, just as it was with Jesus so long ago. Archibald MacLeish explains that truth in a sermon on the Book of Job:

“Man depends on God for all things: God depends on man for one (ONE). And it is most itself…when it is offered in spite of suffering, or injustice, or death. It is in man’s love that God…triumphs; in man’s love that the world’s injustice is resolved.”

What does that love look like for us today? It looks just like it did for Mary. I’m imagining that when she humbly offered her “yes” to God’s call, that “yes” came from the depths of her heart, even in the midst of doubt. This was her purpose, to use the gifts God had given her, as Esther said, “For such a time as this.”

Surely, Mary contemplated the meaning of her “yes” to this new birth; to this baby she would soon be holding. Being a mother, I can picture her and Joseph just staring at the magnificence of this new creation that God had blessed them with, imagining what his future would hold and surely wondering if they were even capable of parenting him well, helping him to become fully who he was created to be. Remember, Mary was just a teenager, though she was blessed with awesome parents who excelled at Parenting 101 – training her up by their example.  

I was just a teenager when my daughter was born and I can assure you that if I would have had the good sense to consider the magnitude of raising a child and loving them well, I would have been scared to death! Unlike Mary, I had no positive role models to emulate. It was trial by fire and I made plenty of mistakes, later requesting a do-over from God – which he never granted. However, in his infinite love and mercy and forgiveness he tenderly held and began healing those broken parts, infusing his love into our relationship. I suppose you could call that a do-over.

So, we reflect on the magnitude of Mary’s “yes” and Jesus’ “yes”, and let’s not forget poor Joseph. We’re always forgetting his “yes”, his contribution to this family and his obvious love and care for them.  

Mary and I both questioned God’s wisdom. “Wait, WHAT?! ME? You’re kidding, right?”

God – “NOPE!”

And guess what…you’re not off the hook either my friends! God has called each one of us to be Christ-bearers as well.  Scary, huh?

Take a deep breath. It’s okay.

God prepares us all for the work he has for us to do. Admittedly, it’s usually in hindsight that I see the progression of things God put in place to provide everything I needed short of my “yes”.

I recall many times in the past striking out on my own to do “volunteer work”. Those efforts usually failed in one way or another, never born of a longing, only an effort to garner praise from others and hopefully God. To get a few brownie points for heaven. But, in short order, I would lose interest or burn out because there was no real passion for what I was doing.

And, friends, you have to know that GOD DOES PASSION – OVER THE TOP!  

When it’s God’s plan, it will not fail.  He will see it through to completion. Jeremiah tells us so (29:11). Think of it, if he relied on us to figure it out by ourselves, we would surely mess it up and make him look bad. This, in turn, may cause others who may be watching to reconsider any thought of using their gifts. “WOW Linda! You royally screwed that one up! And wasted a whole lot of time and energy in the process! Alrighty then, no thanks. I’m not goin’ there. I have better things to do.”

Of course, we could argue that the expression, “Go big or go home” was probably coined by God. But, that doesn’t negate the fact that he initiates his plans for us, not the other way around. A great example is our friend Job. And, like Job, he doesn’t consult us for anything. Job found that out the hard way.

It wasn’t pretty when God confronted Job’s whiny self, “Hey buddy, I’m curious, when I was creating the world out of nothing I don’t recall seeing you there or consulting you on how to keep the oceans in their place or make a Zebra from scratch, or how to paint a breath-taking sunset. Whew, I outdid myself on that one even if I do say so myself! That was brilliant actually! And, of course, the myriad other uniquely spectacular feats of creation that no one has been able to top!

And what about my grand finale – humans?! Huh! Yea, I know, that was genius. Sure, there have been a few hiccups along the way – okay fine – major human failings. But, that’s not my fault! It’s you guys never seeming to get your part right.”

In any case, when we can’t see how we could possibly accomplish the task God sets before us, it takes trust and faith, like Mary, to say “yes” anyway. 

So this Christmas, as we are reminded once again of the amazing story of Christ’s birth—God’s love coming to us with skin on, I pray we will all listen for and accept God’s call to be Christ-bearers in whatever way he has prepared us for. 

Go ahead, allow yourself to sit in the darkness with God and bravely ask him what in the world you are here for. His answer will surely surprise you.  And I guarantee you, if you utter that one little word “yes”, fasten your seatbelt because there will be no more business as usual!

“May the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you,and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”  

You are a NEW Creation in Christ

I have read and reread Kathleen Dowling Singh’s book, The Grace in Aging.  She encourages us in our later years to do a life review. She poses this question for us to consider:  “What do I need to clear up or let go of to be more peaceful?”

So, I try to sit quietly with God and that question.  Now, keep in mind, just sitting quietly has its own challenges for me.  All during grade school a common theme on my report card was, “Linda does not apply herself. Linda disrupts the class. Linda talks too much”. You get the idea.

Anyway…

Sitting quietly in God’s presence is just plain frightening to me. It always reminds me of my many visits to the principal’s office, waiting outside his door, anticipating my punishment.

So, yesterday, I was listening to this song. A song I love and have heard often and yet this time it struck a deeper place than ever. Take a listen.

Here is the refrain that kept playing in my head most of the day:

You are more than the choices that you’ve made

You are more than the sum of your past mistakes

You are more than the problems you create

You’ve been remade

And, because I am so weird, here is the vision I got of how I so often see myself:

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But, that is NOT what God sees.

As I was rereading my notes in Singh’s book, something else she said struck me (which probably explains Mr. Potato head!):

“These foundational views of who we are, what life is like, what the world is like, what other people are like, and how we should be were formed six or seven decades ago. Because these paradigms are so foundational in our psyche, we rarely examine them. They are our unmindful “givens,” the beliefs of our ignorance. We defend our habit patterns and egos, even though they were created in circumstances that no longer exist by children who no longer exist.

That is powerful stuff! I suppose because I have been the way I am for so long I have been inclined to believe that, like the color of my hair (which…full disclosure…I dye), or the extra fat cells around my middle (which I have become good at hiding under bulky clothes)…

It’s just who I am…I cannot change

How many excuses have I created to hold up the lies I have so long believed: excuses that hold it all precariously together?

I have bought into that lie. I have believed it with all my heart. I have allowed it to run roughshod over my life for too long.

NO! It is NOT who I am. It is who others, in all their own brokenness, have said I am over the years, and I believed it. My parents were both broken in their own ways. Neither had the ability to parent well, and that’s where it all began for me.

What I am realizing is that all those years God was never brought into the conversation. He was never even mentioned or considered relevant. No one, myself included, ever asked his opinion, “So, what do you think, Lord? Isn’t Linda just the most pitiful mess you have ever seen? You made her, wouldn’t you agree that you screwed up the wiring somehow”?

I think it’s about time I sit silently in God’s presence and have the courage to ask him the difficult questions that I have not been able to deal with honestly and courageously. And I know where it must begin:

At every moment of every day God can wipe the slate clean:

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And start over. “Okay, Linda, let’s try that again shall we?”

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He can wipe away the tears, heal the wounds, fix all the broken parts…

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…and remake me into the person he originally created me to be. He can do that for you too if you let Him!

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Believe You Are Enough

Here’s a challenge: How about some honest soul-searching? Come on – stay with me – it’ll be fun! Okay, it probably won’t be fun if you actually are honest. But let’s give it a go.

I’ll start.

Most of my life I have not allowed myself to admit that I screw-up. I make instant judgments about other people’s behavior, or the way they dress. I become a modern day Job when God seems to be pushing my buttons or ignoring my demands. I decide daily how things should be and then set out to make myself, you, and God conform. It’s a full-time job – let me tell you. Oh wait! Maybe I don’t have to tell you. Maybe you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I should, you should, we should, they should, trees should, rocks should, animals should, the weather should, God should. Have I left anything out? We are obsessed with shoulds and calculate daily, almost moment-by-moment, what should be. Then we adjust our lives accordingly. My boss should be nicer, my kids should be more respectful, my husband should do the laundry, I should let go of that hurt.

What if you were given the power to enact all the most significant shoulds you have ever envisioned? What would they be? This is pretty broad so let’s make three catagories:

  • My shoulds.
  • Everyone else’s shoulds.
  • God’s shoulds

Let’s begin with these: (Perhaps if you are so inclined you could reply with your own list.)

My shoulds:

  • I should be thinner, smarter, prettier, healthier; exercise more and eat less.
  • I should be more forgiving and less judgmental.
  • I should spend less time on the internet and more time with God.
  • I should quit counting offenses against me and begin counting my blessings.
  • I should be perfect by now.
  • Chocolate should not be fattening (it’s my list!)

Everyone else’s shoulds:

  • People should be more generous and less self-serving.
  • Wicked people should not prosper.
  • People should love and accept each other.
  • People should mind their own business.
  • People should be more like me.
  • Chocolate should not be fattening.

God’s should’s:

  • God should not allow suffering – especially for Christians.
  • God should punish all wicked, sinful people – except me.
  • God should make people behave.
  • There should be some reward for those who are good…like…hum…I know! Chocolate would not be fattening for us – no one else – just us! (See how easily I slip myself in here?)

God created everything and when He was finished He said, “AWESOME – even if I do say so myself!” Now think about that. As soon as God created everything on the earth He declared it “good”. He doesn’t wait until we prove ourselves for him to admire his work.  He doesn’t bemoan giving us free wills when we go our own way. “Well, okay, I could have tweaked that goofy Linda Russell a bit, but nobody’s perfect.”

 And there it is people!

NO ONE THAT GOD CREATED IS PERFECT! And that includes you dear. Sorry to have to burst your bubble.

No one is without fault. Romans 3:10-12 tells us, “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable. There is none who does good, no, not one.”

Not one stinkin’ one of us.

Why is that so hard for us to accept? I believe I know. It is because we are not willing to be vulnerable or have the courage to be imperfect. I know. I have lived most of my life refusing to believe the simple truth that I AM ENOUGH, which, in turn, does not allow me to accept you or God as enough.

God tells us that we should have the faith of a child. Unfortunately, for me, as a child I was made to believe, by those who were supposed to take care of my tender heart, that I was not good enough; not worthy of love. I eventually stopped allowing myself to be vulnerable and tried desperately to hide as much of my imperfections as possible. I still do at times. I could not accept my own brokenness or the brokenness of others. I viewed everyone and everything through that lens, even God.  Everyone was suspect.  This is the false-self Richard Rohr speaks of often:

The false self is your psychological creation of yourself in space and time. It comes from your early conditioning, family, roles, education, mind, culture, and religion. The false self is who you think you are! But thinking doesn’t make it so. The false self dies and passes away. Yet it is the raw material through which you discover your True Self in God.

Ever so gradually, as I sat longer in prayer with God; as I grew to realize that He could be trusted with my fragile heart – that heart began to change. As I began to recognize the presence of a Holy Spirit within me that not only admonished me for my sinfulness, but loved me in spite of it, I was able to grow and change. I began to love and accept myself and others in a way I had never experienced before. All the hurts and pain of my past; hurts inflicted on me and hurts I exacted on myself and others began to lose their stronghold on me.

Now, Saint Mother Theresa I am not. I still do, and am sure I always will, screw up. But, here’s what I believe is critical for all of us – our perception of just Who and What the Holy Spirit is. This is what I think of when I hear those immortal words, “Come Holy Spirit.” Really? What is the Spirit, some kind of Ninja Spirit hanging out till we summon Him in desperation? Or, better yet, it’s that kid who’s always the bench-warmer. Waiting and praying for someone to get whacked so he can get in the game and show what he’s made of. We will summon him, but only after we try to fix things ourselves.

The problem with all that is that as soon as you became a believer the Spirit took up residence within your very soul. That Spirit lives and works and has it’s being within us 24/7. Not just when it’s convenient for us. Of course, we would prefer He be “on-call” because the idea of Him “hanging out” there conjures up all kinds of frightful thoughts. Being “busted” comes to mind for me.

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Let me tell on myself here. And believe me, this occurs a lot! Here’s what happens when you arrive at the place where you can hear God’s still small voice through the thunder of your own wretchedness. Often, I will become defensive with someone and strike out at them in an effort to preserve my fragile ego. Often, I begin like this, “You should have, or should not have, done ________(fill in the blank). There, I got it out. I’m feeling better already. Never mind how it made you feel!

Then it comes, almost immediately, “So, Linda…yeah…what he/she did was pretty stupid (ego still intact)”.

Wait for it…

wait for it…

“Awe. Wait. Linda. Remember, just last week when you did the exact same thing? Remember?” (Shoot! Busted! “Why couldn’t You be somewhere else right now instead of all up in my business?”) And off I go to apologize. But, it’s okay. I laugh at myself and carry on. We have to laugh at ourselves or this whole business of acceptance fails to work because we become too overwhelmed with our failures and sorrows.

Let’s call it getting back to basics. God calls us to the childlike innocence, love, and joy that He originally created. Children are full of contagious laughter, silliness, trusting innocence, vulnerability, acceptance of all of creation, curiosity, and, yes, imperfection.

If you have expectations for yourself and others that are beyond human capacity, you will always be disappointed. We are all broken and incapable of being the perfect parent or child or friend or neighbor. God calls us in our suffering to lean in on Him and draw life and fullness from Him. Understanding that helped me to forgive my mother long ago. As a child I hated her, as an adult I realized she did the best she could. She was simply not capable of being the mother I so needed her to be. Remember, even Jesus became frustrated with His own disciples, “Geeeezzzz. How long must I put up with you!?” (Mark 9:19) Okay, He didn’t say “geeeezzzzz”, but you get the idea.

So, cut yourself and others some slack. Like Father Rohr says:

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—you and me, your country, your children, your marriage, and even your church and mosque and synagogue. That is not a put-down of anybody or anything, but actually creates the freedom to love imperfect things! As Jesus told the rich young man, “God alone is good!” (Mark 10:18)

So, come on, let’s begin with a simple step: laugh at yourself at least once today and then sit down with the Holy Spirit for awhile, be quiet, and contemplate the experience. Let me know how that turns out. (I do love to hear from you, even if you think I’m an idiot. It’s okay. I can take it.)

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My grandson is going to hate me for this one day.