What Are You SO Afraid of?

Did I tell you about Justin (not his real name) the kid who taught me a lesson in love? Okay, well, if so, I’m gonna tell it again because it’s freakin’ awesome!

About twenty years ago, I worked for Youth in Need, a wonderful organization that helps teens, usually wobbling vicariously between their broken world and the road to juvenile detention. This was often the last best hope for them.

I was basically a house mom and often worked the night shift in the house they lived in. It was a time in my life when I was also a broken mess, not long before my husband and I separated for a year (another God story). I’m not really sure how I ended up there, thinking I had anything to offer them. It would be much later before I could see God’s hand in it.

The police often brought the kids to us. Sometimes they were runaways, or castaways by their parents or guardians. Justin came to us, a little guy – for a twelve-year-old – with a huge chip on his shoulder. He was always angry and struck out at anyone who looked at him wrong.

Easter Sunday was my day off but I decided that I would buy a ham and ask some of my neighbors to make some covered dishes. How nice of me! Look out Saint Mother Teresa…Linda’s vying for your spot in heaven! I can see the headlines now:

LINDA RUSSELL CANNONIZED BY POPE FRANCIS: THE PARTON SAINT OF MISFITS…

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But, I digress…

The evening went unusually well. That is until we discovered that one of the Easter baskets went missing. Later, I found it under Justin’s bed. When I called him out on it he went ballistic! He started pounding on the walls and yelling obscenities. When I headed down the steps to contact our on-call therapist, he followed me. Still yelling! And then he spit on me. Okay, now I was mad! I began thinking of how very generous I was to come in on my day off. I muttered under my breath, “Kid you’re outta here!” And I meant it. I was determined to send him away and I had the power to do it. When I shut the office door and picked up the phone I knew he was listening.

I explained to the therapist what had happened. She asked me if I felt threatened. If I would have said yes, the police would have been called. But, then, in that moment God grabbed my heart…this was Easter Sunday! On Good Friday, Jesus was spat on and mocked and crucified. Justin was just a child; a hurting, suffering child. I assured the therapist that I did not feel threatened and would handle it.

When I opened the door, Justin fell into me – still angry, “YOU GONNA CALL THE POLICE?! GO AHEAD CALL THE POLICE I DON’T CARE. CALL MY DAD, I DON’T CARE!” I calmly (which surprised me) said to him, “No Justin I’m not calling anyone. Just go upstairs, get your shower, and go to bed. Oh, and, if you need a hug I have one for you.” I think that offer surprised both of us, but his response didn’t. He uttered, “Yeah right!” just before he knocked the chair up against the wall and stormed out of the room.

Yeah right. What was I thinking? And now I had to fill out an incident report! Oh joy. “I’m taking my ham back! You hear me buddy???”

Twenty minutes later, report finished, I headed upstairs just in time to encounter Justin coming out of the bathroom. There was something different about him when he looked at me. He was calmer and then asked something that, to this day, I still get teary eyed thinking about it. “Can I have that hug now?” I can’t even describe the emotions that filled my heart as I hugged that little boy. I have no idea if he had ever been hugged before or since then. I hope that’s not the case, but I never saw him after he left.

When I consider that for just one moment  that I had the power to influence a little boy’s life – for good or bad – it’s mind-blowing! I know this for sure, if I would have followed through and had him sent away, that would have certainly been my own narcissistic doing. But, the ultimate outcome of that incident was totally God’s doing and took place even in the midst of my own brokenness (that’s a very important fact). It wasn’t by my own strength or even care for Justin. I was not some amazing spiritual giant responding as would have been expected of the likes of Saint Mother Teresa, But, and this is huge, I was able to hear Jesus speak into the depth of my otherwise hardened heart, which in turn allowed him to speak love into the soul of another broken heart. He used me in all my messiness. Unbelievable.

When I look back on my life it is simply astounding to me to consider what God is able accomplish when he has so little to work with. If such incredible acts of love, mercy, and healing can take place even when we are so resistant to him, I have to wonder what America would be like today, if more Christians would stop resisting God’s call. It is breathtaking to consider the possibilities.

Sadly, so many who confess to be Christian are believers in name only – lukewarm God calls it. Revelations 3:16-17: “I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone, oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.” (The Message)

How much do we hate the thought of being that person before God? – Because we don’t act like it. I don’t know if it’s as much a matter of indifference as fear.

What ARE we so afraid of? Trusting? Possibly.

Are we afraid of what God will require of us if we come out of hiding? Perhaps.

Fear of the unknown? Absolutely.

Let’s go back a ways. There are many people in the Old and New Testament that were afraid to trust God; afraid of the unknown, “You want me to do what?” They came up with some pretty lame excuses considering they were arguing with God himself.

Coming out of our comfort zones and believing we have gifts to be used for God’s kingdom is just too hard to get our heads around. But, it’s true. When I have the opportunity to share my story, I have heard so many people tell me they can’t imagine God working in their lives like that. I have to remind them of the heathen I was before God caught my attention. And when that did happen it wasn’t a sudden thrust into a world I knew nothing about…

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God isn’t in the business of scaring us to death to get his point across. He knows each one of us intimately. He knows how to gently encourage our trust in him and the fact that our lives have a purpose.  Just little moments of grace, then more to follow,  like a child learning to crawl, then holding onto something sturdy to stand before he could trust enough to walk…and then run.

 Eventually I discovered, as I hope you will, that God gives us everything we need to be all he created and called us to be; that my past did not define my future, and that the lies I lived were Satan’s stronghold on me – not my truth.

When we doubt ourselves Satan gets all giddy inside. When we question God’s call to us, the kingdom work he has planned for us to do never gets done. And Satan cheers. Sure, he could go find someone else, but with the number of us who are never willing to step out of our comfort zones, that leaves him limited resources.

And Satan cheers again.

satan

Our strength is limited, but we don’t need to rely on our own strength because God’s boundless, inexhaustible, immeasurable grace is just a prayer away. Not convinced? Pick one:

The Lord will give strength to His people; the Lord will bless his people with peace. Psalm 29:11

In quietness and confidence shall be my strength. Isaiah 30:15 

I am strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Ephesians 6:10

I have put on the complete armor of God. Ephesians 6:11

God gives power to the weak. And to those who have no might, He increases strength. Isaiah 40:29

Here’s more

Enough? Yeah, it seems God knew we needed lots of convincing. Has it worked? Not according to Ed Stetzer in his article titled, Too Many So-Called Christians Merely Giving Lip Service to Jesus. Below is an excerpt, and if you would like to read the entire article go here.

I suspect many churches have forgotten their main calling: to make disciples. Instead, we believe drawing a crowd of people on Sundays is enough. We invite people to come to church or to be good people—but not to follow Jesus.

Sociologists like Christian Smith say many Americans follow something called “moralistic therapeutic deism,” a belief in God that’s mainly focused on being a good person and having a positive self-image. 

That kind of religion feels good. But it doesn’t motivate people to act on their faith in areas where it costs them.   

Mediocre. Is that what you’re striving for? Is that what gets you up every morning and fills you with excitement about what life has in store for you? Are you content to sleepwalk through this life waiting for the next (whatever that means)? Have you thought about what you’re missing when you sleepwalk through life? That’s a shame because God could put those gifts he gave you to better use. Imagine him watching you just sitting on them…

Oh, okay, maybe you’re waiting until you get your life straightened out before you think God can use you. After all, you may reason, I’m just too broken myself.  There’s no way I could help anyone else if I can’t even help myself. That’s true, if in fact it is you that you’re relying on the fix yourself. It’ll never happen! Sorry. I can’t imagine you haven’t heard the expression: God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. Catchy huh?

Come on. Wake up!

There’s kingdom work to be done. God’s waiting…

Here’s a little food for thought: Do you realize that God is dependent on you?  That’s not a typo.

Say it to yourself, “God is dependent on ME!

“Linda, you’re crazy!”

Really? Then what does this quote by St. Irenaeus mean? “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Let that sink in a moment. You see, God needs us. It’s true. Anyone ever tell you that before?

So, you see, you MUST WAKE UP because this broken world needs you! God needs you! Now more than ever.

Jesus Weeps – So Why Don’t We?

For the year of 2005, my husband and I had the incredible opportunity to live in Belfast, Northern Ireland and work for Habitat for Humanity. During that year we learned about a sectarian conflict there known as The Troubles. After thirty years of hatred and violence some were able to forgive and love neighbors once considered their enemy. But, there was also ongoing refusal of others to let go of their hatred. Annual Orange Day parades continued to fuel division year after year since the Peace Accords of 1998. Many parents passed that hatred on to their children. Today, the divisiveness and conflict may be played out differently, but it is still a reality, often manifested in rival gangs.

Ten years later, we were in Rhonda and learned about the horrendous massacre of 800,000 men, women, and children, slaughtered by their own neighbors. It took only ninety days – NINETY DAYS! Most of the perpetrators of those atrocities were never brought to justice. They scattered into the mountains or other countries and regrouped.  They’re still out there causing mayhem and promoting hatred.

Now, here we are, reliving hatred and strife in America that is pitting us against each other. Extremists groups fueled by years of hatred going back to the days of slavery and Jim Crow are more and more embolden today to act out that hatred encouraged by a wink and a nod from the President. Some White Evangelical churches advocating their claim of being “Christian” – cling to power presumed given them by God.

What is going on? Did Jesus lose his way? Or have we reinvented him and relegated him to a dashboard Buddy Jesus bobblehead?

Let’s listen in on a few guys trying to figure it all out for themselves – perhaps you can relate:

One night a few friends gathered in a neighborhood bar. Their conversation quickly turned to questions of how to overcome fear (they won’t admit to) and frustration over the current crisis playing out over their backyard fences, at family dinners, and in the news. The violence and anger coming from all sides was hard for all of them to reconcile with their beliefs. They were a varied group: two Catholic brothers – one “devoted” (as in a follower of all the “rules”) and the other lukewarm (as in “rules suck”), a Presbyterian, and a Baptist. After several beers they found it difficult to come to any consensus on what part they played as Christians. They were even struggling to agree on what a “Christian” was.

Before departing they jokingly decided to invite Jesus to their whinefest the following week so they could drill him to see if he could help them come to some agreement on the most basic fundamentals of their Christian faith. They really weren’t looking for clarity on what was true and noble and right as much as fodder for their own arguments. Something they could use to counter those they did not agree with. But, none of them would admit to that either. Considering the stark differences they held on who was right and who was totally on the path to hell they were at an impasse. They would let Jesus decide.

So, on the allotted day they all showed up for a second installment of “My God can beat up your God”. And who shows up? – Jesus (through the front door, not the wall). “Hey, guys, what’s up?” Still in shock that he actually came, they offered him a chair and a beer…or…uh…wine. He took a seat and declined the alcohol, “I’m driving, but you go ahead.”

Then right out of the gate, one guy at the table explained what had happened the prior week and why they invited him (as if he didn’t know…duh!). Anyway, the argument conversation begins but immediately deteriorates into the same dispute as before. Each of them chimes in with their “beliefs”. Then someone has the foresight to ask the “Expert” sitting right in their midst, “Jesus, how would you resolve this?” Jesus sits quietly for a moment and then the men observe his eyes welling up with tears. They are shocked and don’t know how to react. Why isn’t he angry and pounding his fist like we do? Why isn’t he pointing out people to blame? There are plenty of them: the media, politicians, white supremacists, other so-called Christians. 

Jesus’ weeping felt akin to the times their wives would cry about something they could not get their heads around – like the broccoli soufflé that fell right before Christmas dinner with the in-laws. And, buddy, you learned very quickly that your response better not be some lame man-up comment because you just want that awkward moment to be over! How’d that work for you? Exactly.

This Jesus moment was like that. Sure, he was known to throw a few tables around when he got mad, but we only see that once in all of scripture. So, why don’t we put that angry, show em’ who’s boss, can’t-control-his-temper-just-like-me Jesus to rest? This is not the no-more-mister-nice-guy Jesus you were hoping for. Sorry.

So, the world is falling apart and Jesus weeps. That’s it? That’s all he can offer us? What are we supposed todo with that? Well, let’s see:

Joan Chittister says of weeping: 

Indeed, few of us see our weeping as a spiritual gift or a matter of divine design. But we are wrong. Weeping is a very holy and life-giving thing. It sounds alarms for a society and wizens the soul of the individual. If we do not weep on the personal level, we shall never understand humanity around us. If we do not weep on the public level, we are less than human ourselves.

The Rabbi Hanoch of Alexander offers:

There are…some things that ought not to be endured. There are some things worth weeping about lest we lose our sense of self. We must always cope with evil, of course, but we must never adjust to it. We must stay eternally restless for justice, for joy. Restless enough to cry out in pain when the world loses them.

Chittister concludes:

If we do not allow ourselves to face and feel pain…our lies about life shrink our hearts and limit our vision. It is not healthy, for instance, to say that massive poverty is sad but “normal.” It is not right to say that sexism is unfortunate but “necessary.” It is not human to say that war is miserable but “inevitable”. To weep tears of frustration about them may be to take our first real steps toward honesty, toward mental health, toward a life that is worth living.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/where-i-stand/and-jesus-wept-good-idea

Now, we know Jesus did not just sit around weeping all day long. As with Jesus, so with us, God took that pain, that compassion Jesus felt in the deepest part of his being and turned it into action. “Now go”, God would tell him and “do something for those you weep for”.

He longs to tell us the same thing if we can just get over ourselves; if we are able to see clearly the suffering all around us that breaks God’s heart. The next hurdle is being accountable. It’s way too easy to shirk our responsibility to bring Christ into this battle for the soul of America with whatever excuse happens to work in the moment. Lately, we seem to be so overwhelmed by the reality of the pain and suffering right in our midst that we have either become numb to it or shake our fists in anger. We don’t feel like we have the power to address the massive needs of others even if we wanted to. And truth-be-told we don’t. Not my problem. So, we shrug our shoulders, retreat into our little bubbles, and utter some feeble justification for not “getting involved”.

But we’re definitely not weepers – that’s a weakness we are not willing to put out there. If suffering humanity is lucky, Jesus just blew that myth to shreds for you! Fine. He doesn’t blow things up. But, you get it. Right?

And don’t worry I’m not going to spew some moral edict to try to guilt anyone out of being a self-serving, self-absorbed jerk. This isn’t about taking on a rule-following, righteous, high and mighty stance. That would amount to the lowest common denominator required for entry into “heaven” at some later date. Is that what you want out of life?

If your faith subsists within the rigid and narrow parameters of acceptable and unacceptable “Christian” behavior you may want to ask yourself: is that what Jesus’ life was about? Is that what got him killed? Would anyone have even bothered with him if he was just another face in the crowd? Or is that the metric you use to justify yourself and “judge” others?

So, let’s reconsider the gift of weeping that Jesus modeled, now seemingly lost as a Christian response to hatred and suffering. Not only should we weep for the state of our nation and the wrongs done to others, but we also need to realize that Jesus isn’t your personal fixer of all things that suck. That is not his job.

I believe the question is not “what are you going to do about this, Jesus”? The real question should be “what am I going to do about this in so much as I have the power to effect change in myself and the world around me?” Should my response be couched in adherence to the “rules” of morality or compassion born of an inherent desire to be Christ-like?

Let’s revisit Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (John 4:1-42) which magnifies Jesus’ longing to reveal her sacredness to her. She had several strikes against her. She was a Samaritan which made her the lowest of the low. She was married and divorced five times and was now living with a sixth man.

Most of the women enjoyed gathering at the well early in the morning for their daily gossip-fest and no doubt she was often the topic of their natter. So, she went alone in the heat of the day to avoid them. And who shows up at the well? – Jesus, the Jew, asking her, the outcast, for water.  She could not believe what was happening. Here is a guy who’s clearly a prophet speaking life into her. She quizzed him relentlessly, certain she had to be dreaming. And Jesus’ reply? “Did I stutter? You are loved now go act like it.”

And how did she respond to that love? She danced all the way back to town. She couldn’t wait to announce to everyone who would listen, “You’re not gonna believe what just happened!” Because of her witness many other Samaritans became believers. And don’t think those nasty women weren’t pissed when they heard her! The next day they followed her to the well and hid in the bushes in an attempt to catch her in a lie.

Anyway, did all that happen because she was now on some moral high-ground or because Jesus sparked within her a hunger that surprised her? For so long she had learned to endure the rejection of others. She accepted that she was unworthy of love or acceptance or dignity, and lived accordingly, having no understanding of her intrinsic worth.

I think Rami Shapiro in his powerful book, “Holy Rascals”, gives us the most powerful definition of people of true faith that I have ever read:

Holy Rascals have only one aim: to pull the curtain back on parochial religion in order to liberate people from the Great and Terrible Wizards who use religion to frighten them in to submission and to manipulate them into doing evil under the banner of good.

We are not anti-religion: we are anti-unhealthy religion: religion that promotes a world of “us against them” and sanctions the exploitation, oppression, and even murder of “them” in this world and the torture of “them” in the next.

We are not anti-belief; we are anti-irrational belief: belief that substitutes ancient fiction for modern science.

We are not anti-God; we are anti-mad Gods: Gods who sanction the lust for power that rules those who invented them.”

What saddens me more than anything today is the fact that there is such contention and visceral hatred among those who profess to be “Christians”.  But, the louder they are the less like Jesus they are, which is clearly an oxymoron: “Christians” who hate, “Christians” who seek power and prestige, “Christians” who have no empathy or compassion for others. Jesus was the Suffering Servant not the King of the elitists.

“This is my commandment,” said Jesus, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” That’s it.

We are so far removed from the Jesus known to his disciples. When the Church turned him into “Jesus Christ Superstar” he got lost in the power struggle for whose faith was the true faith. I would say many Christians probably have no idea that it was the Church struggling for power that created the Jesus so many “worship” today. And there’s the rub I think. Jesus never told us to worship him. He said, “Follow me”. When Jesus said, “Pick up your cross kid and follow me.” What do you think he meant? Pick up your bucket and shovel we’re headed to the beach?

Jesus lived and moved and had his being on the fringes of society. He was a revolutionary, a rebel, an outsider among the powerful leaders of his time. Why? Because he loved without regard for position or status or how it looked to others. He loved “the least of these” with abandon. He touched and healed and served the broken and the outcast. And they responded in love; a love that blurred distinctions between us and them, rich and poor, powerful and weak, saint and sinner. Does that sound anything like what is preached on street corners and in some churches today? Or the hatred spewed by “White Supremacists”? They have tried to remake Jesus into someone who would be unrecognizable to his followers and they have been given a thumbs-up by a president who, at the same time, secretly makes fun of them. It is frightening to watch.

Trillia Newbell, an author and Christian commentator, says, “I want to hear that we’re mourning and weeping, that we are active in our community, that we are going to work to love our neighbor as ourselves, that racism and any kind of hate is evil.”

https://www.npr.org/2020/06/06/871014393/evangelical-christians-grapple-with-racism-as-sin

I would like to share one final, uncomfortable, not proud of this, Linda-you-suck-at-caring-but-it-will-get-easier, story about two women I met in Belfast in 2005. Both taught me about what compassion looks like up close and personal.

Not long after we got there, I was walking to the post office before work and I was in a hurry. Several blocks ahead of me, I saw a woman lying on the sidewalk. I watched people walk right past her without giving her a thought. Here’s the awful truth, I did the same thing. I was thinking of the fact that I needed to get to work, I wasn’t from there and wouldn’t know what to do, and…and…and. I didn’t get far when I heard that “still small (annoying) voice” – “Go back”. Just two words that felt like a gut punch. So, I turned around. Fearful now that she might be dead and then how would I feel? “Okay, Lord, this was your big idea please tell me what to do.”

I set my things down and sat next to her. It was clear she was drunk. I had to nudge her several times before she responded. She looked irritated at me, but sat up. I tried to find out her name and where she lived, but all she said was, “Leave me alone. I’m not worth it.” To this day, I can hear her say those words that pierced my heart. I held her dirty; make-up streaked face, and told her she was worth it because she was a child of God. She said again, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m not worth it!” I said to her, “I am looking at you and what I see is someone God loves deeply!” Through tears I tried to get her up so I could put her in a cab and take her to get something to eat. Just then a mission van pulled up. A guy got out and addressed her by name. He gently helped her up and walked her to the van. I never saw her again.

My second experience wasn’t quite so involved, but was equally as dramatic. Again, I was walking down the street and saw a woman with a little boy about five or six walking toward me.  He said something that angered her and she slapped him, which shocked me. Again, I summoned that annoying voice within, a bit more willing to cooperate. “Okay, Lord, what do I do here?” When I got to her I simply asked if she wanted to talk. She slapped me too, walked around me and kept going. The little boy turned around and stuck his tongue out at me.  Alrighty then. Yeah me!

Encountering those two women for just one moment in time literally changed the trajectory of my life and gave me purpose! Seeing the humanity of others teaches us compassion. Allowing ourselves to see Jesus in everyone we encounter we will grow in love for those we usually disregard, or worse, reject outright. Seeing beyond the degenerate, the depraved, the lost and broken takes courage, humility and trust in a God who shows us the beauty in others – and BONUS – in ourselves.

So, there you have it you macho-guys guzzling your beer and feeling a bit queasy watching Jesus weep for those who suffer. How do you respond to that? The first thing you need to do is offer a resounding, “YES” to whatever Jesus has in mind for you. That’s it. Easy enough. Right?

Then fasten your seatbelt brother, this is when the rubber meets the road because God has a plan for you (Jeremiah 29:11) and this probably won’t be an “I’ll get back to you next week” moment either. There’s much to do and you’re running out of time because you sat on your duff in that bar so long trying to get out of it. Just pray and stay open to your calling. You’ll know it. Then, brave heart, this is your moment! GO!

Wait…maybe lose the war paint. You don’t want to scare the crap out of people. They have enough to deal with.

Never Forget Girl – You ARE A Warrior!

“There’s no heavier burden than a great potential!”- Charlie Brown

I want to dedicate this blog post to my granddaughters, great-granddaughters, and all the little girls out there (or big girls getting a late start – like me!). Girls who may not yet be aware of their great warriorness. In particular, those who may not have someone in their lives to instill in them a belief in their magnificence, brilliance, and untapped potential. I often wonder what a difference someone like that may have made in my life as I was growing up.

Certainly I have grown immensely over the past twenty+ years. I have gained strength and courage to recognize and face down many of the lies I believed for so long about my insignificance. Mostly it was an uphill battle that I often felt I fought alone. Of course, in hindsight I know I was not alone. I could not possibly have overcome what I have without the strength, tenderness, and guidance of God which enabled my heart and soul to begin healing and grow into the life I never believed I was worthy of.

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do” Brene Brown

A review of my life may seem to a casual observer that I wasted a lot of time. Yes, I may have wondered in the desert for fifty years. But, this last twenty years of working to fulfill a life of meaning and purpose tells me now that everything in God’s planning is just as it should be. I am awestruck at how far I have actually come in these most recent years! Truth be told, even in the midst of the “fruitfulness” there will always be messiness and missteps, mostly of our own doing. I seem to step in it, clean myself up, move on, forget, and step in it again. But, hey, it is said that you’re okay if you fall, as long as you fall forward. 

So, now that I am higher on that mountain than I have ever imagined I would love to reach back to encourage and help lift little girls and young women God has given me a heart for. I want you to know that among all your attributes you are a warrior; a superhero, a gift meant to be shared with those who suffer.

I have often written about Esther, you know the “made for such a time as this” Esther? But let’s look at another courageous young woman, Joan of Arc.

Here’s a short biography of her young life from the St. Joan Center Website:

“From her earliest of years Joan was known for her obedience to her parents, religious fervor, goodness, unselfish generosity and kindness toward her neighbors. Simonin Munier, one of Joan’s childhood friends, tells how Joan had nursed him back to health when he was sick. Some of her playmates teased her for being ‘too pious.’ Others remembered how she would give up her bed to the homeless stranger who came to her father’s door asking for shelter.

Joan was ‘like all the others’ in her village until her thirteenth year. “When I was about thirteen, I received revelation from Our Lord by a voice which told me to be good and attend church often and that God would help me.” She stated that her ‘Voices’ were Saint Michael the Archangel, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret. At first her ‘Voices’ came to her two or three times a week but as the time for her mission drew near (five years later), they visited her daily telling her to ‘Go into France’ to raise the siege of Orleans, conduct the Dauphin Charles to Reims for his crowning and to drive the English from the land.”

That simple peasant girl stood her ground against English kings and a motley crew of bishops in the Catholic Church. It was a good-ole-boys club in which she was not welcome (little seems to have changed, huh?!). One bishop declared that she should be sent home and given a good spanking. How dare she think anyone would believe angels spoke to her? The audacity of her leading men into battle! They would have none of it. She was arrested and put on trial by a bunch of weak men who got their underwear all bunched up because she had the strength and courage none of them could come close to. And to add insult to injury the French loved her! She was too much for their fragile egos. They had to make an example of her lest other women got some crazy notion they were meant for more than servitude. So, they conspired to condemn her for heresy, witchcraft and violating divine law for dressing like a man (huh?). They were hell-bent to prove it was Satan, not angels, that spoke to her and led her astray. By conspiring and lying they eventually got what they wanted. She was put on trial, condemned, and burned at the stake for good measure. Needless to say, they hated her and everything she stood for. There is even controversy concerning her canonization in 1920 as being more politically than faith motivated.

Now, don’t start imagining that you would end up like Joan if you followed God’s calling and reconsider what being a warrior asks of you, “No thanks. I’ll just hang out here with my Barbie and Macho Ken.”

Remember in Luke’s gospel when Jesus was hanging on the cross and those cocky rulers sneered at him? “You supposedly saved others why don’t you save yourself? Ha!” Well, Joan, like Jesus, had the courage all her life to listen and obey God’s call. All the while not really knowing what that would entail. On the surface, you might conclude that the way it ended for both Joan and Jesus would not make a powerful recruitment tool. They both felt abandoned by God at a most critical point in their lives. But, God did not abandon them. We know how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection have sustained Christians throughout thousands of years so we can rest assured that God fulfilled his purpose in Jesus even when he was silent.

As for Joan, I read a fascinating unpublished novel by Virginia Frohlick, The Lost Chronicles, The Story Of Joan of Arc. Frohlick by profession is a registered nurse and writes extensively about the wounds sustained by Joan during battle. She details (to ad nauseam really) four of those wounds and said each of them alone would have been fatal. All this to say that God truly was with Joan and guided her from the moment of her calling at the age of thirteen until her death.

(If you are totally bored with life during Covid you can access Frohlick’s work here: http://www.stjoan-center.com/novelapp/joaap02.html)

                                                           Our granddaughter’s warriorness on display!

Okay, now that we have established the fact that God is totally enamored with you, your brilliance, and your eagerness to answer the battle cry that is your destiny…

Now what?

Good question. I don’t know. Sorry. I have no idea what God has planned for you. 1 Corinthians 2:9 tells us, “But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined,are the things God has prepared for those who love him.”

However, what I can share with you is a bit of my own journey full of twists and turns and doubts and, yes, awesomeness, because that’s really all I know for sure. I was made to believe that I was nothing special; that anyone who made something of themselves possessed gifts or talents or even some magical powers that I did not have. When you feel so beaten down you begin to believe the lies. It’s hard enough to drag yourself out of bed in the morning without having to perform like it matters. So, then you begin to tell yourself that everyone but you got “the gift”. You got a lump of coal.

So many of us spend our entire lives dreaming of what’s possible, at the same time shaking in fear of what we might become if we let down our guard and welcomed the discovery of some unmet potential that we could never have imagined. To protect our fragileness we label those who excel “genius”. “Yeah, she’s smart while I barely got through high school. She’s prettier while I could be Anne Ramsey’s stunt double!” 

It gets us off the hook. We have a valid excuse for sitting back and accepting that we will never amount to anything because, well, we were not blessed with those God-given talents we see in everyone else. Oh well.

I tried to stop comparing myself to all those people I grew to envy, but in truth I continually found myself deficient in so many areas of my life. Then, ever so slowly, the changes began. God knows how to deal with each of us. He knows some, like Paul, can get wacked off a horse, rub his lumps, and instantly convert to Man of the Year. Others, like me, need a gentler, more gradual tap, followed by a soft landing. I suppose that’s why it took so long.

If you would have approached me any time prior to the start of my transition to a semi-caring human and asked, “Hey, Linda, you wanna go out in the world and serve lost, dying, broken, humanity?” My immediate response would be, “Hahahahahaha. NO!” Do you think God had any idea that would be my response? Of course, he did. So, he waited. And waited. And waited. He seems to be really good at that. Then, like the masses at Walmart on Black Friday, when the door of my heart opened ever so slightly, he quickly stuck his foot in the door. (Right! I know. God doesn’t have feet. Just work with me here okay?)

To spare you the long version of the past twenty years I’ll just give you the bullet points, remembering what one of my professors in graduate school seemed to only ask me, “What’s your point, Linda?”

(And, yes, these are bullet points for an A.D.D. brain so cut me some slack.) Anyway:

  • This is where it all started: Call it baptism by fire! My first AHA moment came when I worked for Youth in Need. I had an “I’m the boss” attitude until a little twelve-year-old boy taught me what loving kindness looked like. I was basically a house-mom and he came there hating the world. He would start a fight with other kids at the slightest provocation. He was a very difficult child to deal with. One evening, he stole something from another resident and got very angry with me for confronting him when I found it under his bed. I told him I was going to the office to call our therapist and he spit on me. Now, I was angry. I mumbled things under my breath I will not repeat here. When I called the therapist I knew he was listening at the door. I explained what happened and she asked me if I felt threatened. At that moment, something inside me changed. It was Easter Sunday. The day we remember Jesus’ story reflecting God’s love promise. A promise made to me in spite of all my sin and brokenness. A promise made to this child I was about to have removed and sent to Juvenile Detention. I told her “no” I did not feel threatened and we hung up. He fell into the room when I opened the door and started yelling at me to go ahead and call the police he didn’t care! I told him I was not going to call the police and if he would calm down, take a shower, and go to bed, it was over. He got up, attitude still on display, and out of somewhere deep inside of me I said, “And, Justin, if you need a hug I have one for you.” He shoved the chair and “yeah, right!”ushered out of his mouth as he slammed the door and left. I repeated his “yeah right” a few times as I completed an Incident Report. What was I thinking? As I walked up the steps, Justin came out of the bathroom. He looked at me with a different demeanor now and asked, “Can I have that hug now?” I’m not sure how long I hugged that child or how long we both cried. I wondered if anyone in his young life had ever hugged love into his fragile heart. And there was God on full display hugging love into both our hearts on Easter Sunday!
  • A few years later, there was the moment God’s clear voice told me to write a book, followed by my hysterical laughter which I’m sure he did not find amusing. Anyway, I shook it off and went on about my business. A few months later, I went to community college and wrote a paper for an English class. When my teacher returned it to me he said, “Linda, this is really good. You should see about getting it published.” Wait…WHAT?! So, I started writing my life story. Right! Like anyone would care. But, I persevered, finished it, self-published it after a multitude of rejections, even got a little award from a Writing Guild no one ever heard of. The books were piled up in my basement and Oprah never called so my hopes of becoming famous were shattered. Fine!
  • In 2006, I was given the opportunity to attend graduate school with full tuition paid by a grant. God didn’t have to wait long for that rolling, side-splitting laughter from someone who barely finished high school! I prayed about it and after a deeply mystical experience, not really, I just said, “What the hell! What have I got to lose?!” There are no words to describe how those three years challenged every fiber of my being. Then, beyond anyone’s expectations, except God’s, I graduated with a degree in Pastoral Studies. Then came the job search. If you think I had a hard time getting any Priest to welcome me into the good-ole-boys-secret-hand-shake club, you’d be right. Of course, I whined to God…again…about why he had me on what surely was a wild goose chase to nowhere. “I KNOW YOU CAN HEAR ME!” No answer. Fine!
  • Fast forward to 2014. Tired of sitting at home and listening to my own belly-aching I decided to just go volunteer somewhere. After all, I was already beyond the age of retirement, so why not? Remembering what a beautiful experience we had with Hospice when my dad was dying, I started working with them. During that time I learned a lot about the dying process. That we are not simple observers from a distance for those who are taking their final journey. Hospice care involves participating in what I can only describe as a profound sense of empathetic being-with; participating in a deepening movement through a process that is almost palpable. It was truly holy ground and I always felt sitting vigil with the dying was a privilege that blessed me to the depth of my very soul. I left there when my beloved mother-in-law, Catherine, went into hospice care as we sat vigil with her on her final journey. Then I waited…more calmly this time.
  • Next, I stepped a bit deeper into my fear and vulnerability by working with the homeless for St. Vincent de Paul, which ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. But, if you would have told me I would be hugging and loving on two ex cons at a dumpy motel they were staying in I would have straight up denied the possibility. But there I was. There were many encounters like that. Most of them I didn’t tell my Supervisor about because I didn’t think his heart could take it. Like the day I got the call from another agency, “Hey, you want to come help this girl who’s hiding from her mob boyfriend?” Here’s me, “Sure, why not?!” Sadly, our homeless program ended when our funding ran out. We then had to refer people to other agencies and I did not feel the other programs were a good fit for me so I stepped aside to discern what God had up his sleeve next. As of this writing I’m still waiting, but I’m pretty sure God has removed his ear plugs because I’m more patient now. You’re welcome, Lord!

I just shared with you a capsule version of my last twenty years. When I think about how I have grown and matured in faith; how others have taught me to live with ambiguity and uncertainty and be okay with it, I am stupefied! To be able to say to someone in their brokenness, “I don’t know why this happened to you, but I care” – and then really care and be vulnerable to their pain, is all God asks of us.

Learning to love and serve with God’s heart didn’t come naturally for someone who never had it modeled for them. I know that each step has built upon another to bring me to this place. It may not have seemed to make sense at the time. I may have spent too much time trying to repackage God’s perfect plan to fit my expectations, fixating on my own plans. But, at the end of the day, I know I am exactly where God wants me and I know he does not waste time.

So, now what?

 “God gives food to every bird, but he doesn’t throw it into the nest.”

An ancient Hindu saying

 

Angela Duckworth did a lot of research for her book, Grit. She says:

“Often we believe that people who excel have some innate gift that no one else has. But it seems it isn’t so much ability or talent as zeal and hard work. Without effort your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t. Enthusiasm is common, endurance is rare.”

Duckworth names four psychological assets necessary for success in any worthwhile endeavor and addresses critical aspects of growing into our God-given purpose:

They are:

  • Interest: Discovery
  • Development: Daily discipline.
  • Purpose: Conviction that your work matters. A lifetime of deepening.
  • Hope (needed in every stage) keeps you going when things are difficult, even when you have doubts.

I can relate to all of these aspects that have continually reinforced God’s plan for my life, but I would add one more: Trust. If we cling to our fears we will stay stuck in our emptiness. You have to own your story not wait for someone else to write the chapters.

Through that still small voice, in my most broken moments, God spoke into the depth of my heart, “No matter where you are at this moment, no matter what heartache or pain you may have suffered you are now, and always have been, enough because you belong to me. You can trust me.”

Granted I did not run into God’s arms with wild abandon. It was more like a slow crawl and a lot of back-sliding. I wanted to test him because trust was not one of my strong suits. But then, the more I submitted to him and experienced the changes in my heart, I was hooked. I just knew this was different; my life was different. I began to breathe in a love I had never known before. It was incredible and I couldn’t get enough of that sense of God’s immense love for me even when I mess up. I still need to remind myself daily that being worthy and imperfect are both aspects of our humanity. They are not contradictory.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

So, dear ones, it’s up to you to pray and listen for God’s whack or still small voice, whichever one works. Pay attention to your desires that speak to God’s desires which would probably not be the newest iPhone. What are you passionate about? What breaks your heart? What gives you joy? (Again, please say it’s not a new iPhone.)

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive”

Howard Thurman

And just in time for this post USA TODAY published their list of 100 “Women of the Century” you can check it out here: https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/life/women-of-the-century/2020/08/13/19th-amendment-women-succeed-grit-rita-moreno-billie-jean-king/3331178001/

The author of the article, Nicole Carroll, tells us:

“They didn’t succeed despite adversity, but often because of it. They didn’t just blaze a trail. They hammered one with their voices, their ideas and their grit. They did it at massive protests and in church basements, on big stages and in dusty fields. They stood on the shoulders of ancestors and pulled along those behind them.

The lessons of the women who brought us this far show that from the darkest moments, we find our greatest resolve. So many women who’ve achieved have first been hurt. Trauma can shame and shatter. But, they will tell you, it can also guide.

How do women keep pushing forward in the next 100 years? The same way they always have. They’ll imagine. They’ll create. They’ll fight. With grit and with sacrifice. With not enough sleep and not enough help. With bright days of self-confidence and desperate nights of self-doubt. With courage.”

So, here are a few thought provoking questions for you. I’m sure you could come up with more. I pray you will hear the voice of God speaking to your heart and you will respond with a huge, “Here I am Lord! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). And then dear one fasten your seat-belt for the adventure of your life!

  • How are you unique?
  • Do you know what your gifts are?
    • Who do you admire and why? (Often what we admire in others is what we would like to develop in ourselves).
    • Do you like helping others?
    • Do you consider yourself a leader?
    • What makes you happy – sad?
    • Has someone else told you you are good at something?

 

You are NOT Going to Heaven

Oops. Did you just spit your coffee on that new white shirt? Sorry. My bad.

While you’re cleaning up there and before I go any further, I think a disclaimer may be in order. Everything I say about God, aside from my own personal experience, is my humble opinion and has no basis in fact.  What did you pay for that opinion? Nothing. So, what is it worth? That’s right. Nothing.

So let’s continue.

There are many different beliefs and opinions concerning heaven and hell. But, there is only one fact: no matter what someone tells you, no matter what “proof” they provide, no one knows. No different than a recent conversation I had with a friend of mine who collects clowns. She thinks they’re delightful and enchanting. I actually believe they were created by some satanic force to kill us in our sleep. So, who’s right? (I’m pretty sure I am, but I have no proof of that either.)

So, if your bubble just burst or your halo deflated, I apologize. But this is kind of important stuff to consider because if heaven and hell aren’t an actual piece of real estate, then maybe your reason for being nice, or not, to the jerk next door needs to be reevaluated. And, spoiler alert, this is not going to be easy or fun.

Heaven This is not heaven!

fire And this is not hell!

Diana Butler Bass speaks of this idea of heaven and hell as “vertical faith”. She says:

“Sacred traditions replete with metaphors of God in the elements were replaced by modern theological arguments – about facts and religious texts, correct doctrine, creation versus science, the need to prove God’s existence, how to be saved, and which church offers the right way to heaven. These are the questions of vertical faith.” (Did you catch that –  metaphor was replaced with fact?)

So, when it is said that we make our own heaven and hell right here, where we live and move and have our being, what exactly does that mean? Well, this is the tough part I referred to earlier because our Western brains can’t seem to grasp or accept anything mysterious or inexplicable. Everything in existence has to be named and categorized or it gets cast aside as irrelevant.

We are very good at compartmentalizing everything in our lives. Nice people who are low-maintenance  get to be a part of our club. Unpredictable, moody, or disagreeable people don’t get to join. We easily converse with those who agree with us and avoid or argue with those who don’t. We “attend” church on Sundays and then divide up the rest of the week into unrelated “things”. We even compartmentalize life and death. We separate the two with the certainty that there is no connection (Mufasa would not approve!).

circle of life

You may be too young to recall the days when wakes were held at home in a family parlor where the life and death of a loved one was celebrated as a continuum.  That all changed with the advent of the funeral parlor. Funeral parlors opened so “professionals” could manage the uncomfortable aspects of death and turn bodies into pasty replicas of loved ones. Frankly, I think funeral parlors came into existence when some guy got tired of his mother-in-law hanging around in a box in his living room for a week, but I can’t prove that either.

Anyway…

Considering how we keep everything in our lives separated into neat tidy boxes that we can easily manage, like peas and applesauce on our dinner plate, (yuck, don’t want those to touch each other) it’s no surprise how easily we accepted God’s separation from us as well. We can’t fathom the thought of God being right here in our midst looking for any soft entry into our walled up hearts. If we could just stop for one minute, let down our guard, and imagine how different; how rich and full our lives would be if we let Him in.

Try as we may to ignore it we all have an emptiness that God placed in our hearts that can only be filled by Him and not with things of this world. Augustine said it best: “Lord, you have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”  I think, as I found in my own life, it requires us to admit our need for God; to truly see how our lives are empty of purpose and meaning without Him; that He has not left us to fend for ourselves.

How about this uplifting thought: Gian Carlo Menotti tells us, “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.” Wait now, this is actually good news. If hell is here now, and we somehow figure out what our true purpose is then we have a chance to correct our pathetic, despicable, pitiful selves before we drop dead. That is Good News, right?!

oh-crap-was-that-today

So, what does all this mean? Again, I can only speak from my own experience. For most of my life I ignored God and when I did acknowledge Him it was usually in a display of anger directed at Him. I believed He was distant and could care less about me – a heathen.

If God is known as “Father” then it would stand to reason that I would view Him just as I viewed my own father. In which case, he would be distant and aloof. He would be sitting on his sofa eating ice cream and mindlessly watching TV, while the world fell in around him. Or if my mother was any indication of who God was as a parent, I would have run like hell in the other direction. I would have seen Him as a controlling, punishing, and unforgiving God. And who needs that? Either way, He would not get a Father of the Year award from me and there would be no Hallmark card created for Him.

I think we actually like the notion that God is way up there while we’re way down here.  We might be relieved to think He’s not watching when we try to run our own lives. “Don’t need you, God. I’ve got this!” We’re probably hoping He’s much too busy with other more important things to pay any attention to us mindlessly sleepwalking through life?

olive oil sleep walking

In many traditional faiths, God sits in His heaven and doles out rewards and punishment to each of us according to our merits or sinfulness. Think of Job in his most distressing time and how his friends wagged their accusing fingers at him, certain that he had sinned in some terrible way to have been the recipient of God’ wrath. “It’s pretty obvious Buddy. You screwed up big time! Now, you need to fess up before God gets His second wind!”

So, what changed for me? It certainly wasn’t that God changed His ways. No, I had changed and it wasn’t because I was growing in knowledge about God. It was because I opened myself to a relationship with Him that allowed me to experience who God really was, not who I created Him to be. Knowing about God and experiencing Him is the critical difference necessary to live as fully as we are called to live, and to trust what lies ahead. God tells us in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” We can choose to believe what we have long been told about a God whose wrath is to be feared, or we can choose to experience the God of immeasurable love and compassion.

Oh, if we could just grasp the reality of heaven and hell perhaps we would live our lives differently so that Menotti’s words would not be the end of our story.

Listen to these prophetic words of Father Richard Rohr:

“When hell became falsely read as a geographical place, it stopped its decisive and descriptive function, and instead became the largely useless threats of exasperated church parents. We made (heaven and hell) into physical places instead of descriptions of states of mind and heart and calls to decisions in this world (emphasis mine). We pushed the whole thing off into the future, and took it out of the now.

Jesus clearly says the kingdom of heaven is among us (Luke 17:21) or “at hand” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). One wonders why we made it into a reward system for later, or as Brian McLaren calls it, “an evacuation plan for the next world.” Maybe it was easier to obey laws and practice rituals for later than to actually be transformed now.”

A bit more on the reality of hell by Joanne M. Pierce in Sojourners Magazine (italics mine):

“Pope Francis said, ‘Hell is wanting to be distant from God because I do not want God’s love. This is hell.’ Most contemporary theologians would agree with the pope. Hell is not about fire and brimstone; it is about our freedom to say no to God, our freedom to reject love and choose loneliness. When we close our hearts and tell the world to go to hell, we are in fact choosing hell for ourselves. Hell is the absence of love, companionship, communion. We are not sent there; we choose it. God did not create hell; we did.”

When I write a blog post there is always an AHA moment involved. Sometimes it’s what prompts the post, and other times, like now, it comes in the process of writing. It’s like getting my proverbial thump from you-know-Who that causes me to stop and listen closely knowing I am about to be inspired. It happened this morning as I was sitting in silence. Okay, actually I was whining to God. I had a particularly bad couple of days and sleepless nights. I beat myself up so much I thought there would be obvious bruising when I got up this morning.

What I read was in the Gospel of Thomas. Yes, there really was one, but he didn’t make the cut. Neither did Mary Magdalene but don’t get me started on that one! So, Thomas writes, “Jesus said, “Seekers shall not stop until they find.  When they find, they will be disturbed. After being disturbed, they will be astonished (my emphasis). Then they will reign over everything.” Now, hold that thought a minute. The scripture verse we are most familiar with is similar, but clearly less challenging, it is Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Our shallow, non-threatening translation? Just ask and you’ll get whatever your little heart desires. This reads like a Christmas wish list: Apple AirPods? Done. Captain Marvel Legacy Hero Smartwatch? It’s yours. Chanel’s Quilted Tote bag? Because Lindsay Lohan!? Whatever. Here you go.

Now, back to Thomas. I’m guessing that his gospel was rejected by the powers that be because they were afraid they could not control us if we discovered who God really is and the power that truth gives us. Of course I wasn’t there, so I’ll admit I’m really just pushing hot air, but I think the verse is useful for making the point of this blog.

Thomas tells us that we are to be seeking God and when we find Him in our very hearts, it’s all over. What being “disturbed” and “astonished” means to me is that this only happens when we experience God.

I also read Micah 6:6-9 this morning which tells us what God wants from us. In verses 6-7, these two stupid rich guys were trying to gather up all the best they had to appease God and buy their way into heaven. Somebody even threw in a first born child for good measure. But, God rejects their attempts to buy His favor. God, “Nope, I don’t want your stuff, I want you.”

“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Let’s look at that last verse again. Read it slowly because it is the very core of who we are called to be as children of God: And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

I fully believe that we are living our heaven and hell right here on earth, in our day in and day out lives. Each time we make choices to love and serve others, or conversely, serve ourselves. Each time we seek out those God calls us to bring His love to, or we take care of number one. Each time our hearts break over the pain and suffering that permeates our world and then do something about it or turn our backs and cling to our fear of what it might require of us. With every choice we make to love or hate we choose our own heaven or hell right here.

Now, how does that translate to what eternity looks like for us when we take our last breath?

Wait for it….

Wait for it…

I have no idea.

But, I will tell you this: I have lived as a sinner/saint (don’t laugh, my mother-in-law thought I was a saint once for about five minutes) and everything in between, in my seventy years. I have lived many years of anger, pain, and bitterness. I have been hurt and I have hurt others. At one point I attempted suicide because the idea of living another moment was too unbearable (clearly I sucked at that too – thank God).

In recent years, I have been blessed to live with the indescribable joy of a rich and full life, even in the messy parts.  A life that encourages giving, serving, and caring for others. That calls us to be in relationship with God and everyone around us – to be Christ to a broken world.  A life that requires forgiveness of others and ourselves. To be totally honest, still today, my virtues and faults are often intermixed on any given day. We humans are complicated, but it’s okay.

I now know that I can show up for life unkempt, messy, disordered, and at times unpleasant because I am a beloved sinner. I know I serve a God of mercy and unconditional love so I am not afraid to humble myself before Him and I am not afraid of what lies beyond this life.

And as for you, my friend, if you’re reading this you are still breathing, and if you’re still breathing it’s not too late. Even if you feel like your life is empty and you’re a total failure – you’re wrong! How do I know that without even meeting you? Because you were created in God’s image and He said as much when He first laid eyes on you as a tiny thought in His imagination, “Yep, I did good, real good! You’re a work of art, even if I do say so myself!”

You always have another chance to get life right. To erase regrets, to heal broken relationships, to seek forgiveness, to serve others, and to be all you were created and gifted to be! God is your biggest cheerleader (don’t try to visualize that!).

And, dear ones, this is not something you want to put off till Monday, like that diet!

I will leave you with this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”

 

May God bless and keep you. May God’s face shine upon you and give you peace,

Love,

Linda

Passion, Purpose and Poopyheads

Life sometimes seems like a “Comedy of Errors” from our very first breath. You probably expected something very different while you were being formed in that cozy little B&B. You’re all comfy in there aren’t you? Floating around getting all your needs met. It’s pretty sweet. Except for those damn hiccups; people poking on you and trying to have a conversation with you right in the middle of your nap. But, then the party’s over. Without any warning, whoosh, out’cha go there little feller. You get flipped on your head and slapped silly by a perfect stranger. All the while, you’re thinking this is not what the brochures promised!

I have fourteen grandkids and at last count fifteen great-grandkids. I am always awe-struck at the sight of babies. They show-up all fresh and new; a clean slate. Well, they do have all that slimy stuff all over them, true, but, it washes off.

And then, life happens.

Good grief life can be a shit-storm some days can’t it? It really wasn’t meant to be that way you know. Long before we set one teeny foot into this world, God had our life all figured out. He gave us a big hug and a heart bursting with love and passion for all creation that we were meant to share. That was our purpose: To use the gifts he gave each of us to share his love. After all the work of creating us in his image (remember that for later), He kicked back, patted himself on the back and proclaimed to himself, “Yep, it’s all good!”

Then, it all went side-ways.

Maybe a parent failed us, a friend betrayed us, a cheating spouse or a devastating illness smacked us silly. Then, just for good measure, throw in our own missteps and sinfulness. All of which helped to build a wall around our fragile hearts that God can’t even penetrate. That wall is also fortified by a culture that worships independence, self-sufficiency, and self-promotion. We grow further and further from God’s intended purpose for us and we lose our way. The world does not offer us choices that are meant to fulfill our lives we simply learn how to climb into the least leaky boat.

If we dare step back, take a deep breath, and pay attention, the emptiness is almost palatable. If it wasn’t meant to be that way how did we end up here? Well, somewhere along the way we forgot who and Whose we were.

Being indoctrinated into “religion” only made it worse. We forgot that Jesus’ whole purpose was to remind us once again of the love of God, the desire of God for relationship with us, the longing of God for us to share that love with a broken world. But, we forgot. We got lost in the “rules” and fell asleep. 

Oh sure, there are times when we get some crazy notion that we are here for a reason. We start beating our chest determined to face our fears, stand down the bullies in our lives, and our own shadow. But, it doesn’t seem to last long. We fizzle out for any number of reasons: Confusion, fear, lack of trust in ourselves, that stupid poopyhead that keeps showing up uninvited to the party, or that damn zombie apocalypse in our heads (you know that’s not real, right?)!

Well, crap!

But hey, if it’s any consolation, just think about the hand-picked bunch of misfits Jesus had to deal with! Allow me to paint a picture for you. Better still, stick yourself in this moment. You’re Simon Peter at the Last Supper. Now, don’t get all gender specific on me, just indulge me okay?

Anyway, everyone’s enjoying fellowship and a great meal. You start to take an extra helping of mashed potatoes with a big slab of butter. Yum. But, just as you’re about to dig in, Jesus turns to you and asks a question that seems to come out of nowhere, “Simon Peter, do you love me?”

You, “What?! Seriously? Of course I love you” you say as you go back to stuffing your face (by the way, you should seriously cut back on those carbs).

Jesus, “Feed my sheep”.

You nod.

But, you barely get that spoonful of lusciousness to your mouth when Jesus asks again, “Simon Peter, do you love me?”

You’re flabbergasted and your potatoes are getting cold. “Yes, Lord, I do. I swear (oops)!”

“Where is this coming from?” you mumble under your breath.

Jesus, unrelenting, “Feed my lambs”.

You scratch your head, but get lost in – drum roll please – dessert. OMG! Your favorite, apple pie ala mode! You grab the server before she gets away and ask for an extra scoop. You start to dig in, and….yep…

There he is in your face, “Simon Peter, one last time, are you sure you love me?” Now, in all fairness, it’s understandable why Jesus keeps asking you that since, well, you did run and hide when it all got too scary for you. But, you’re about to lose it anyway, “Why do you keep asking me that same question? Yes, yes, yes, I love you!”

Then, without responding, Jesus stands up, goes to the window and pulls back the curtain. “Simon Peter, come here.”

“Oh man”, you groan. Great, now your ice cream is going to melt. Everyone else is finished and the server comes to clear the table, “Don’t take this”, you say, “I’ll be right back”! You walk to the window.

Jesus, “Simon Peter, look outside. What do you see?”

At this point you get a little snarky: “I see trees of green, red roses too, I see them bloom for me and you, And I think to myself what a wonderful world.”

Jesus, “Oh, for Heaven’s sake! You don’t see that mother crying as she holds her starving child? You don’t see the beggar everyone is ignoring? You don’t see the broken humanity right outside this window?”

You swallow hard because you sense your moment of reckoning is here.

Jesus, Three times I called you to feed my sheep and three times you chose to feed yourself instead. You give lip service to my call to care for those who hunger and in the same breath claim to love me.”

Hopefully, this is where you pass on the dessert and get your sorry self out there doing what really matters like you were supposed to all along. But, how do you do that? That, my friend, is a good question. It was supposed to have been answered by your Kindergarten teacher when you were learning “This little light of mine”. Unless, of course, you were a public school kid like me. Okay, then, maybe you began to learn it in Sunday school. Unless you were a heathen like me. Then, there’s the possibility your dear granny sat you on her knee (before knee surgery) and taught you all about Jesus’ love. Unless your granny was a heathen too.

I think we were set-up too when the Church decided to take control by creating lots of rules to keep us in line. It worked for a while, actually a very long while. But then people got smart and tired of “rules” that couldn’t fill the void. The latest study from Pew Research can attest to that fact, even if the churches have decided to ignore it. The study shows 23% of Americans, mostly millennials, self- identify as “nones”: atheists, agnostics, or “nothing in particular” (whatever that means). And, the numbers are growing.

Even older folks are just showing up to get their cards punched. They shake the Pastor’s hand and lie about how good his sermon was (if they stay that long), then grab a bulletin to prove to anyone who might care that they were there. Done for another week or two, or maybe till Easter. 

Where did we ever get the notion that the narrow definition of religion was going to get us anywhere meaningful? There are actually several definitions of “religion”. The etymology of the word is often times connected with religare “to bind fast”. Great! What image does that conjure up for you?

Then, as if that isn’t enough to render anyone a total numbasille (I just made that up. Spellcheck doesn’t like it, but I think it works), we have the “stories” in the Bible. I know, we could debate all day long, because people do, about whether or not the “stories” are factual or myth. You’ll have to decide that one for yourself. (If you would like some help with that read anything by John Shelby Spong. I wouldn’t share that one with your grandma!)

Let’s look at just two that I have a real problem with: Adam and his accomplice/wife Eve. We’re told that Adam and Eve set us up for failure. No sense trying to be good. That’s a lesson in futility because, well, we can’t be “good”. It’s called “Original Sin”. It’s like a hereditary disease. We all have it and there’s no cure for it. (Believe me, if the pharmaceutical companies could come up with a pill for it they would have long ago!)

“I’ve got you now you wretched little creature!” (Not sure how the Scripture verse that says we were made in God’s image reconciles with that, but there it is.) Yep, like the Elf-on-the Shelf, he watches our every move, just waiting for us to screw up. I mean really. He was lurking around in the garden while they tried to hide, but he caught em’.

adam-and-eve-hiding-1

“I can see you, Adam.”

“No you can’t.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I can.”

Then, there’s that whole burning bush thing. Do you think for one minute that wasn’t a set up for Moses? “Come on out God we know you’re hiding in there waiting to pounce on our slightest indiscretion. That’s sneaky. No one likes a sneak!”

Sorry, I just can’t believe in that kind of God. It’s more that we have turned our backs on Him and our full potential, our purpose, our call to love beyond measure.

Somewhere along life’s journey we are supposed to grow into the person we were created to be. But, we got hornswaggled by the lies. And, unfortunately, it isn’t going to happen on its own.

And don’t think for a moment that it’s just you. People who seem to have everything, are hungry for that something “more” just like the rest of us. Deep within every one of us is a longing for purpose. But, we can spend a life-time raking the muck this way and that in our foolish efforts to figure it out.

I think our world today has successfully sucked the life out of anyone who believes for one minute that we are here for more than accumulating fake friends on FB, making lots of money, having the newest iPhone, or investing in the latest miracle weight loss cure. And for what?

Get up. Do life. Go to bed. Repeat.

We have all been given a purpose in this life, the passion to fulfill it, and lots of poopyheads along the way intent on screwing it all up!

The truth of our very existence has been stifled, stuffed away, and rendered irrelevant right along with God and all that matters for humankind. But, I believe “religion” became something long ago that God never intended. For so long, if we stuck with it we learned to stay within our comfortable unquestioned faith because to do otherwise was just too daunting. Religion became empty and void of meaning. And when young people came along who were not afraid to ask the hard questions and were not content with the canned answers the Church offered they left in droves, and they’re still leaving.

So, what is my purpose? – you ask. Why am I here? Good question and one that is asked over and over again when the answer is really quite simple. Our struggle is embedded in worldly pursuits that ultimately bring us to a dead-end. We want life on our terms. We don’t want to struggle, we don’t want to suffer, and we damn sure don’t want to encounter anyone else’s suffering. We have enough to deal with trying to stand out in this dog-eat-dog world: An impressive degree, the next promotion, a face life, the biggest house, exotic vacations with pictures to prove it. I could go on. The point is that none of it offers fulfillment that lasts. Striving for more, paradoxically, leaves us emptier and hungrier. If we could just realize that hunger will never be filled with anything this world has to offer. NEVER.

Consider this: If someone approached you and demanded everything you have accumulated and cling to or they will kill you right where you stand, what would you be willing to die for? Any of it? Or would you quickly, without hesitating, had over your wallet, credit cards, and keys to that new car? I’m guessing you would. I would!

Martin Luther King said, “If a man has not found something worth dying for, he is not fit to live.” Ouch! So, the question then becomes, what is worth dying for? I have a one word answer. Ready? Love.

There it is.

I don’t know about you, but my most profound moments of clarity are at funerals when I do a life review. If funerals don’t cause us to evaluate our own existence, I don’t know what will. We may still be standing at the grave site when the questions surface: Do I matter? Have I value? What is my legacy? Will anyone care when I’m gone? Do I really have a purpose? What have I done to make the world a better place? Will I have to eat that crappy potato salad at the luncheon again? (Oh, sorry, I digress)

Sometimes funerals can cause us to throw up our hands and proclaim, like Macbeth after the death of his wife, “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing.”

Oh joy.

But wait, look closer at the life Macbeth lived:

(1) He was evil.

(2) He believed three witches who told him he would be King of Scotland.

(3) Egged on by his equally evil wife, Lady Macbeth, he kills the king to become the new king.

Oh it gets better.

(4) He continues his killing spree out of fear that he can’t hold on to his power.

(5) A war erupts to overthrow Macbeth, resulting in more death.

(6) Lady Macbeth eventually kills herself.

(7) Macbeth gets himself beheaded.

The End.

Macbeth was bamboozled by witches because they offered him certainty that he would get what he wanted: Power and fame. He really was an idiot. Look at his motives because this is where we take a deep dive into God vs. the world. This might be pretty heavy stuff so buckle up, dear ones.

Today, we too want absolute certitude that what we are after is real. Faith is a calculated risk, but we don’t like risk even if there is a high degree of probability. It’s too iffy. No thanks. Which I find pretty amusing considering the things some people will do for “fun”. Like, I don’t know: Jumping off buildings, scaling walls, motorcycle stunts! And that’s not risky??

A shaky questioning faith might be less cut and dry than mindlessly following a set of rules.  It may be more uncontrollable and mysterious than what you have ever experienced, but that is what will bring you into the presence of Love and the very essence of God.

What’s the difference between unquestioned faith and allowing life to run rough-shod over us while we sit in the middle of the road? You may not have been told this but you’re allowed to wrestle with God; to question the reason for the suffering and heartache in the world. You can tackle the very struggles within yourself that you have never thought you could bring to him. God’s tough. Trust me. He can take it.

I got so angry with him during a very difficult time in my life, I cried and shook my finger at Him, “God, if you love me so much where were you when my mother was abusing me?!” I ranted on and on about all the suffering he allowed in my life. And what I got back from him was not a lightning strike which I was prepared for, but a gentle loving response that unsettled the very core of my being. “Linda, I did not abandon you during that time. I suffered along with you. My heart ached for you. I have lovingly, sorrowfully, held your tears. But, the choices people make are beyond my control. I’m truly sorry. But, you, my dearest daughter, have also sinned and fallen short. Even then, I never have I stopped loving you. I’m just waiting for you to trust me and start loving me. Then, your healing will start and you will be able to forgive those who hurt you.”

You see, there are no church “rules” or dogmas that will ever bring us into that kind of deep abiding relationship with God, which, in turn will shine a light on our purpose in life. It is what we call “experiencing” God. Until we can let go of our need to “know” that God is real, we will never allow ourselves to open our hearts to experiencing Him.  It’s that simple and that critical. It’s no more complicated or profound than that!

That is Good News!

William O’Malley nailed it when he said, “Genuine religion begins – not as it did for most of us, with indoctrination and imposing worship but with a personally captivating experience, a “sense” of the numinous, a presence larger than the capacities of this world to produce.”

Frederick Buechner once wrote, “The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.”

YOU HAVE TO KNOW THAT YOU MATTER!

That is what John Eldredge tells us, “If we could believe that about our lives, and come to know that is true, everything would change. We would be so much more able to interpret the events unfolding around us, against us. We would discover the task that is ours alone to fulfill. We would find our courage. The hour is late, and you are needed. So much hangs in the balance. Where is your heart?”

Alrighty then, I’m done, and if I didn’t lose you long ago I would like to offer you one last thing to contemplate before I go: Which of these scenarios would most likely bring you right to the heart of this very critical moment of truth, the deepest question of our existence?

  1. All your years growing up, you were drug to “church”. Parents started it: “Get up, clean up, sit quietly, don’t touch your brother, and act like this isn’t the most boring thing in your life! Then you’ll get donuts.” Then teachers of “religion” stepped in: “Memorize all the sins that will send you straight to hell: Miss one Mass – straight to hell. Think those dirty thoughts – straight to hell. Do not pass “GO” do not collect $200.” In short order “that little light of yours” has been snuffed out!

2. Every day you encounter Someone (guess who) doing things that draw you to him: Feeding the hungry, comforting the dying, kissing the leper, dining with prostitutes and beggars. He is so sincere and passionate about what he is doing that something incredible reaches deep down into the very core of your being and you can’t shake it. You are awe-struck, probably for the first time in your life, and you want to emulate him. You want to follow him. You want to sit at his feet and learn from him.

“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.”

Linda

My New Year’s Resolution

This has been a very long week for me. I received six homeless calls. Which has seriously interrupted my New Year’s Resolution planning! Now I’m two weeks into the new year and haven’t committed to anything! Statistically, I only have a few more weeks before I give up. According to U.S. News, “approximately 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February, so the odds are against you.”

Never the less, I was off to a great start at the beginning of the year: I got out my planner, dusted off my scale, bought some really cute warm running pants, ordered some new microgreen seeds & potting soil, found that meditation DVD I bought last year, and revamped my workout routine. BAM! Ready to go.

Monday morning:

I was pumped and ready to recreate myself! Maybe I’ll try to be the first great-grandmother on The Titan Games! YEAH! That’s the ticket! I missed the opportunity to be the oldest great-grandmother bodybuilder in the Guinness Book of World Records. That coveted title went to Ernestine Shepherd who recently celebrated her eightieth birthday! Okay. But, I can still impress the masses with my stellar fitness! It’ll be epic…

Then the phone rang. A message on our helpline. A homeless woman was at the Budget motel. Could I call her?

Betty had just completed her fourth chemo treatment for colon cancer and she has COPD. In our conversation, she told me how she loved the nuns at St. Mary’s Academy (just across from our church) where she went to high school, “a long time ago”. Smiling through broken and missing teeth, she wondered if any of the nuns that taught her were still there.

How did her life go so wrong? She and her husband have been homeless off and on for years. Her husband can never seem to provide for them. She has never owned a home; never had her own gym in her basement. Her “workout routine” consists of wrestling to get comfortable and stay warm in the car she and her husband sleep in most of the time. And yet, this woman praises God. How is that possible?

Tuesday morning:

I have struggled to lose weight. It makes me mad! I know what to do. I just choose not to. But, no more! In preparation for my return to healthy eating I have gotten rid of everything that tempts me to failure and replaced it with all things fresh and green and whole! My microgreens and organic potting soil arrived yesterday! Today I will plant those luscious greens!

Then the phone rang. A message on our helpline. A homeless family is trying to get to Louisville, Kentucky. Can we help them?

Jim and his wife, their three kids, and her mentally handicapped brother, lost their home in a fire in Nebraska. Friends in Louisville have offered them a place to stay and jobs when they get there. But, now they’re out of money and gas, and one tire is bad. Mom & dad haven’t eaten for two days so the kids could eat, but now they’re out of food too. We provide them a room for the night. I make sure they have money for gas, tire repairs, and whatever else they need to get to their destination. I also give them bags of food – pantry food: Spagettios, a huge jar of peanut butter & jelly, canned stew, chili & soup and miscellaneous items with pop-top lids they will have to eat cold while they travel. NOT A SINGLE GREEN THING in those bags. Not one. This is fill-a-void-in-the-stomach food. And yet, Jim’s eyes fill with tears of gratitude.

He told me that they felt they had lived in a good community. Their neighbor’s kids were always at their home and they called him “Uncle Jim”. But, after the fire, not one neighbor reached out to help them.

He and his wife could not believe the love and support they received here, from strangers.

Their hearts ache for their kids and her brother because of what they have been through. But, I could see something else: their love for God, for each other and their kids would prevail over all the struggles. Their kids were learning tough, but powerful, life lessons that will serve them well. And, people, they were actually the happiest kids I have ever seen!

Cold spagettios would not be the choice of a health-snob like me. And it makes me wonder, after having met such a beautiful family, how strong my faith would be; how well I would survive, in their circumstances. I’ve never been tested like that. Nor do I want to be! Truth be told, I’m probably not as strong or resilient as I would like to believe.

Wednesday morning:

Okay, this is it! It is SO COLD today. But, I am determined to pull on my new warm running pants and the jacket and hat I bought when we went to the French Alps over the holidays – and go! I normally don’t like running in the cold, but this is the new me! Those people on that silly “Survival” show (no, I don’t watch it) ain’t got nothing on this “grannymachine”…bring it on!

Then the phone rang. A message on our helpline. A young dad, his wife and two-year-old are staying at the motel. The manager is trying to over-look the fact that they are getting further and further behind. Could we help them?

Jason rides a bike to work, from the motel to Wentzville. That’s about ten miles every day in the cold. His two-year-old son is ill and has seizures. They’re trying to get ahead, but all their money goes to the motel. They have no family or support.

The difference between Jason and me should be obvious. He doesn’t ride his bike in this awful weather because he is obsessed with the benefits of exercise and loves the challenge. And, I don’t have to be out in this weather if I don’t want to. I can just go back to bed, or go right down to my basement and jump on the treadmill.

Thursday Morning:

For years, I was able to maintain a healthy weight. I ran half-marathons for seven years. In 2010 I ran two! That was the year after I had a kidney removed. Basically, I ROCKED! Now, I beat myself up for failing to get my act together. And I don’t believe age has anything to do with it. (So, get that thought out of your head.) I’M JUST LAZY. There I said it! But, I need to get over it and realize that I am not happy where I’m at and the only one who can change that is me. No one else. Me. Now!

Then the phone rang. A message on our helpline. A homeless couple is staying at the motel, but have run out of money. She is handicapped and he is out-of-work. Could we help them?

When I met with Richard and Amy, I held the door to the room we use to fill out intake paperwork.  Richard had to help Amy walk and every step seemed labored. She was in a motorcycle accident in 2011 and broke her back. At the time she was a nurse. Now, she’s on total disability. Her constant pain was more than I could imagine or bare to watch. Richard said they have never been homeless before. He always had a good job and worked hard to provide for his family. Then, due to circumstances involving his ex-wife, a shady lawyer, and back child support, he ended up in jail for three days, which awarded him a police record. They also took his driver’s license away, so he then lost his job. He has a lawyer who is trying to resolve what the lawyer believes has been a miscarriage of justice.

I don’t know all the facts, and really, I don’t need to. What I do know breaks my heart. When they first became homeless, he lived in his car for two months and she went to live with a friend. They are trying to work with agencies we use as resources. They tried to get into a shelter before calling us, but the only bed available was an upper bunk, which she can’t manage.

Richard’s grandfather was a preacher. His aunt gave him a packet of mustard seeds (Matthew 17:20), which he keeps in his pocket. They freely express their gratitude to God even when their lives are turned upside down. I’m amazed.

Then there is the woman who calls us weekly and whose mental illness causes her to scream in anger because we don’t care about her. We simply can’t help anymore because we have reached our limit with her. It’s not that we don’t care. But the need is tremendous, and we, like everyone else trying to relieve the suffering of the homeless, have our limits.

You know, I could go on-and-on with the stories of pain and struggle we encounter almost daily. But, somehow, right now, at the beginning of THIS new year, God has been shining a bright light on the contrast between my “personal” resolutions and his focus on personal transformation. I’m sure he has no problem with my wanting to be healthy. But, I’m pretty sure he thinks I take it too far. Our transformation is what he desires, it is what we were made for, and much different than simply a life-style change.

Marcus Borg ends his most profound book, Speaking Christian, with these words, “Christianity…at its best, is about truth, goodness, and beauty. And it addresses the two great yearnings – our longing for personal transformation and our desire that the world be a better place.

The Christian message reduced to its essentials is: love God (as known in Jesus) and change the world.”

Okay.

My new resolution that will hopefully endure for every single day I wake up until I take my last breath: Love God above all things, so that he can transform me, and every day look for ways to touch others with that love. Granted, those efforts may not change the entire world, but it will be my small part in this small place. And at the end of the day, may I have left this world a little bit better for having been here.

(It should go without saying, but, I’ll say it anyway. I changed the names of these beautiful people for their privacy)

May you and your family have a very blessed new year!

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?