Let Us be Silly!

https://vimeo.com/19071448

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LET US BE LOVELY – Edward Monkton

Let us be lovely

And let us be kind

Let us be silly and free

It won’t make us famous

It won’t make us rich

But damnit how HAPPY we’ll be!

Linda, Listen to Me!

I know many people, and I’ll bet you do too, perhaps even you, who can’t believe God has a plan for them. Over the years, I have encountered people who don’t believe me when I tell them my story. “Oh, really?! God told you to do that, huh? Right!”  To be honest, I wouldn’t have believed it myself if he hadn’t gradually brought me to a place where I could trust him, even if I was fearful and had no idea what he was up to. Which, frankly, is still most of the time.

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

For years, there were little promptings that, in hindsight, proved to me he was on the job (Romans 8:28). Then bigger ones that required more trust and offered way more grace than I deserved. God opened my heart in ways I could not have imagined. Though I still mess up – and often – I know God’s response is out of love for me; his admonitions tell me that he loves me too much to let me stay stuck in my messiness.

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

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

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

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

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

Soooooo, what are you waiting for? You must still be breathing, or you wouldn’t be reading this. That’s a start. Incredibly, no matter how you lived your life to this point, it’s not too late to begin again. New beginnings are God’s specialty!

“To infinity and beyond!” God coined that phrase, you know. Don’t believe me? HUMPH! Check out Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” 

Alrighty then, you’re pumped and ready to go, right? You’ve packed your sandals, camel hair coat, and checked Google Maps – for what? A sign from God?

HTTP://ministry-to-childern, Carlos Bautista

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

Don’t look to anyone else to give you a formula or a checklist to send you on your way to your destiny. But I will tell you this: You cannot love and serve others (which is our greatest calling) until you can love yourself. And you can’t love yourself utilizing any of the myriads of self-help books on the market. You can only do that by growing in the knowledge that you are deeply and passionately loved first by the God who created you! And you can only do that by being in relationship with him, which requires your time and attention. You are his son/daughter with whom he is well-pleased (Matthew 17:5). Let that sink in. We are all deeply loved sinners. It’s high time we act like it, don’t you think?

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

Failure Will Not Have the Last Word

Funny word, “failure”. We tend to judge everything that misses the mark according to our expectations: Anything that does not invoke praise and accolades from others is deemed a failure. The times I have whined to God in deep sorrow for my failings have grown beyond my ability to number them.

“Lord, I know this was from you – I did it – I failed at it – I am a despicable wretch! For example: remember way back in 2001, when you said, “Write a book”, and I did? I am yet to see it on the New York Times best-seller list. Your book would have been #1 on that list – forever!”

The Bible comes to mind. “No disrespect, but why didn’t you just write it yourself? I mean, really.” Countless people have written and rewritten it until the essence of your message is often blurred and confusing.

God: “Are you finished, Linda?”

“Oops (a Job moment), “Yes, sorry.”

God: “I’m not interested in how the world views your work. I am ONLY interested in how you trust and obey me. I thought your story of surrendering to me was beautiful. Okay, there were a few typos. But, that part about ‘giving birth’? I’m still laughing at that one. So, will you please quit your whining!?”

When we are obsessed with success and failure, trusting in God’s plan can become obscured by fear. Often, I read these magnificent words from Thomas Merton to remind myself of God’s call for me to trust him:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that my desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

I have learned countless lessons about trusting God. Many of my attempts were wrought with uncertainty and assumptions of failure throughout eleven years of my book-writing adventure. But I knew without a doubt it was God speaking to my heart from the beginning. His words, “Write a book”, were not cloaked in ambiguity. They were clear and undeniable.

The book’s first edition (yes, there have been two) was an unbelievably daunting challenge. God made it sound simple enough. But, here’s where I began to falter: I made some very costly errors in judgment, and the book was published with several editing issues. I was angry with the publisher and myself and proceeded to complain to God.

Through tears of disappointment and self-doubt, I wanted to know why he had directed me to write a book when I understood nothing about the process that would ensue. I felt I had failed him because everything seemed to go wrong. So, here’s God, ears covered, “Blah, blah, blah, I can’t hear you. Get it published.” Fine. I attempted many times to offer it to publishers, becoming the recipient of more rejections than Charles Manson when he tried to find a date for the prom! So, I self-published. 

After the fact, I read a book about self-publishing. Wanna know what it said? “NEVER, write a book FIRST! Get your name out there with published articles, establish a following, and then write your book.” Apparently, God failed to read that book.

Anyway, I was confused about how to proceed. Did I mention that I had 2500 books delivered to my doorstep and knew nothing about marketing? Did I mention that?! Then, to my utter amazement, people actually bought the book; people not even related to me!

The next surprise? The publication, and subsequent sales, of my very imperfect book, led to speaking engagements – a notion that I found incomprehensible since I had never felt the slightest longing to stand in front of an audience and reveal my true self. All my attention-grabbing stunts during my childhood had been designed to hide the real me! The very idea of speaking to a group of people horrified the adult me. I wanted to slap myself silly for saying “yes” without consulting my more reluctant self. What a long list of grumblers I follow: Moses (Exodus 4:10-17) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 4-9), just to name two we know well.

Did I mention that the book is now in its second edition (edited more professionally)? I’m still not sure why. Still no call from the New York Times. But – and here is where God has wanted me all along – it doesn’t matter if I sell even one. I am happy to give them away. God said, “Write”, – so I wrote. Everything else is fodder for Satan.

I, like Job, learned the hard way to accept being on a need-to-know basis when I feel God calling me, like Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), to get on my camel and ride. No GPS, no roadmap, no crystal ball. I now find myself enjoying the adventure, even with blindfolds on!

So the next time you find yourself making room on the shelf for your next trophy, only to stare at the empty space it should have been placed in, try sitting quietly with the lesson. It’s there. Pray and wait for it. Like when you are passed over for the job rightfully yours, stop to consider the lesson. When your plans to join a mission team in Haiti are dashed because you could not raise the funds – you got it – stop and listen to God. There’s a lesson there somewhere.

I can never give up trusting that God’s plan for me is PERFECT, even when everyone else tells me I am a pathetic loser!

Mary’s Trepid “Yes” – Our “NO THANKS!”

Here we are in Advent again – sitting in darkness, in wonder and awe, anticipating the birth of Christ. Each year, we imagine Mary, not so quietly, sitting in prayer after Gabriel shook her world to its foundation!  She had to be blindsided by Gabriel’s visit to her.

Imagine that encounter, if you can. “Hey, Mary! I have some exciting news! This Christmas will be a bit different for you because you’ve been selected – drum roll please – to be the Mother of Jesus! You’ve been chosen from several applicants, some of whom had some pretty sketchy character flaws, I might add. Anyway, I know you have lots of questions. Like, ‘why me?’  or  ‘whose Jesus?’  or better still, ‘what’s Christmas?’. We’ll get to all that eventually.”

I’m not gonna lie, like Mary, I also questioned God’s wisdom when he approached me with some fun new adventure.

ME: “Wait, WHAT?! ME? You’re kidding, right?”

GOD – “NOPE!”

Though she was blessed with extraordinary parents who excelled at Parenting 101, training her up by their example, she was still just a teenager. Would she accept God’s call? Of course, we know she did humbly offer her “yes” to God. That response had to come from the depths of her heart even amid the doubt and fear.

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

I still question God’s thinking each time he comes up with a new plan, sending me in an uncertain direction. Thinking I know myself better than he does, I want to leave my options open. Okay, I’ll go this far, but no further. I’ll wait this long, but no longer. I’ll trust you with this, but not with that. Admittedly, it’s usually in hindsight that I see the progression of things God put in place to provide everything I needed short of my “yes”.

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

And guess what…you’re not off the hook either, my friend. God has called each one of us to be Christ-bearers. Scary, huh? Take a deep breath. It’s okay.

When we can’t see how we could possibly accomplish the task God sets before us, it takes trust and faith, like Mary, to say “yes” in the midst of our doubts and fears. And let’s get this straight now, it won’t be “Savior of the world” that job’s taken! Sorry.

And keep in mind God doesn’t do ordinary. He does PASSION AND PURPOSE – OVER THE TOP!

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

Keep in mind that it’s God who initiates his plans for us, not the other way around. He doesn’t consult us for anything! Take Job for instance, he found that out the hard way! It wasn’t pretty when God confronted his whiny self, “Hey buddy, I’m curious, when I was creating the world out of nothing, I don’t recall seeing you there or consulting you on how to keep the oceans in their place or how to make a Zebra from scratch (and, yes, that was intentional).

Did I ask you for pointers on how to paint a breath-taking sunset? Whew, I outdid myself on that one. That was brilliant! Even if I do say so myself. And, of course, the myriad of other uniquely spectacular feats of creation that on one has been able to top.

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

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

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

My prayer for this Christmas is hope for a better, more peaceful, and loving world that begins with God and is manifest through us, just as it was with Mary and Jesus so long ago.

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…

statue

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, 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, the 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 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 to 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 being 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…

alice1

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 with 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

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

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.

 

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 the 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 have overcome what I have without God’s strength, tenderness, and guidance, 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 wandered in the desert for fifty years. But, these last twenty years of working to fulfill a life of meaning and purpose tell me that everything in God’s plan is just as it should be. Even amid 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 whom God has given me a heart for. I want you to know that you are a warrior, a superhero, and 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. 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 on proving 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 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 detailed (to ad nauseam, really) four of those wounds and said each of them alone would have been fatal. All this is 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 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.

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 had approached me before 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:

  • My first AHA moment came when I worked for Youth in Need. I had an “I’m the boss” attitude until a 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 challenging 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 had 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 reflects God’s promise. A promise made to me despite all my sins and brokenness. A promise that was 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. If he would calm down, 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 many rejections, and even got a little award from a Writing Guild no one had 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. You’d be right if you think I had a hard time getting any Priest to welcome me into the good-ole-boys-secret-hand-shake club. 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 volunteer somewhere. After all, I was already beyond the age of retirement, so why not? Remembering our beautiful experience with Hospice when my dad was dying, I started working with them. During that time, I learned a lot about the dying process. 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 an almost palpable process. It was truly holy ground, and I always felt sitting vigil with the dying was a privilege that blessed me beyond words. 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 had 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. I didn’t tell my Supervisor about most of them 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 earplugs 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 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. 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 must 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 the more I submitted to him and experienced the changes in my heart, the more 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, which I still do. I must 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. What are you passionate about? What breaks your heart? What gives you joy?

“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 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?

 

Why You Care Matters – BUT – How You Care Matters More

I recently read Alan Cohen’s quote, Please show me is one of the most powerful prayers you can speak.”

I bulked at that, or more accurately, painful memories and an ego ever on high alert, bulked, “It’s not that simple! Life is not that simple!” That comes from a place long ago when I learned not to trust anyone but myself (how scary is that?!).

As a child, I needed to trust my mother, so I could learn to trust the world around me. But she proved to be untrustworthy, which, in turn, meant the world was also untrustworthy. The world loves those who don’t know who to trust and empowers the ego to guide itself right off every unmarked cliff until we begin to doubt ourselves.

My ego-driven mind wanted every aspect of my life to be certain and laid out clearly. I believed the Spirit I dealt with didn’t care much about its guidance in my life, “You’re on your own, kid. Good luck!” Old memories, combined with my return again and again to my default settings, dredged up my monumental failures to prove I was right – hoping that Spirit-guy would finally see that I had good reason to question everything.

Two events that always come to mind are: (1) writing a book and (2) attending graduate school. Both were significant and frightening decisions that did not turn out the way I had planned. It then seemed that the outcome of these events was confirmation that Spirit-guy could not be trusted either. And just to remind him, we had a little review:

 1) One day, out of nowhere, you clearly told me to “write a book”. That was you – right? Admittedly, after laughing hysterically, I finally did believe you and wrote the damn thing. That led to me imagining myself becoming a famous and sought-after author. But that’s not what happened, is it? No!

2) Then how about this? When offered the unbelievable opportunity to attend graduate school, after much consternation, I acquiesced. Even though I fully believed I would be discovered as a fraud and be tossed out on the street. When I finally realized I might actually accomplish such a crazy endeavor (which took nearly the entire three years I was there), I began to imagine myself becoming a beloved Pastoral Associate—fulfilling my need to be somebody special. But, that’s right, that’s not what happened either. Are you still with me, Spirit-guy?

When I read, “You can avoid painful errors and trials by letting the Spirit guide you”, my “failures” seem to confirm that that did not apply to me. But in a rare moment, I sat quietly and prayed. The response came quickly. I suppose because it has been the same obsessive struggle I have had for years, and you were probably peeved, weren’t you?!

Spirit (eye roll here), “Sit down and take a deep breath, Linda. Ready? Here we go for the bizzilionth time.”

1)  Yes, I did prompt you to write a book and attend graduate school. And, no, it did not catapult you into fame, fortune or recognition. No associate position in the church or loads of book sales. But it did develop into your blog, which has touched lives. How many? It really doesn’t matter because that’s not the point. The experience has changed your life in ways you never could have imagined beforehand – right?

Can you not see how much your faith grew and flourished when you cared for the dying as a Hospice volunteer? Then, working with the homeless, you showed them love, when they only knew rejection. No award, book contract, or flurry of accolades will come close to invoking those tears of love and compassion you reveal every time you reach out to those who suffer.

Maybe a review of Luke 15:4-6 is in order here. You know – when Jesus dropped everything and went after ONE (you!) lost sheep. ONE! And then he danced and sang all the way back to camp like he had hit the lottery!!

2) Admit it, Linda, it took these experiences and many others to strip away enough of your brokenness (not all, but enough for now) to open you to the love of God that had been gathering dust in your heart for a very long time. And, yes, I’m still going to be there, as always, to offer you some pearls of wisdom, even if you pretend not to notice me – the elephant in the room!

Anyway, those are the things you would probably never have considered being capable of before God wrested your shallow ‘faith’ from you and replaced it with a love for others.

Purpose can never be driven by the world’s definition of success. So, stop already putting expectations on the outcome!

Now, come on, we have lots of work to do, and you aren’t getting any younger, you know. Just sayin’.

Can you relate? Have you experienced your own come-to-Jesus moment, but you’re not sure what that means for you?

When Jesus said, “follow me,” it was a radical call, not an invitation to tea. It wasn’t the Jesus version of Simon says, “Touch your toes. Wiggle your nose. Bend your knees. Pat your head. Here’s your prize.”

You realize, don’t you, that Jesus never said, “Go to church”. Never. Church is where we often hear the Word of God, rejoice for a millisecond, and then go home to cut the grass. Following Christ means living the Word; it means being Christ to others. He told us, “I have suffered the hatred of those in power to serve those at the bottom – the forgotten and rejected. If you follow me, you will do even more and, yes, you will suffer for your efforts as well.” Our response to that call should be a resounding, “Yes”! But, it’s often, “I’ll get back to you.”

Remember that all the disciples ran for cover when Jesus was taken away. When they saw the empty tomb in unison, they proclaimed, “Bummer, this is not how we imagined it turning out.” (Does this sound familiar?) So, when Jesus showed up unannounced at their pity party, he was surely in the same place Spirit-guy has been with me so often, “Okay guys, let’s try this again. First of all, let’s get this out of the way – none of you will be sitting on any throne no matter what aspirations your mother has (Matt. 20:20-21). You’ll be sitting in the muck and mire with the least among you and, get this – you’re going to love it there because that’s what you were created for, selfless love and compassionate care for the lost and hurting.”

Today, we have been inundated by images and news concerning Covid-19, our broken economy, hunger and homelessness, and the BLM protests that have shed an uncomfortable light on the inequities in this country.

People are suffering and dying every day because they have been victims of Covid, hatred, or both. How are you affected by these realities? What do you think of when you witness this most profound moment in our history? Do you turn off the TV and retreat to your safe place? Do you pray or send a check to a food bank? – I’m not discounting those things. Both are needed for sure. But, is there a tugging on your heart to act on that reality?

This is a time of reckoning for all of us who consider ourselves decent human beings. Never mind any label you may attach to that: Christian, Jew, Atheist, none of the above, whatever – just decent human beings who know deep down we are called to lift our “caring” to a whole new level.

I love the expression: “Bidden or not bidden, God is still present”. God still lives and moves and has his being in the very depth of your heart, whether you believe in him or not. And even if you don’t, he just hangs out there, hoping you will one day acknowledge him and, in turn, recognize who and Whose you are. He’s like the heart whisperer, “I love you, you are mine, and your life matters.”

If I ever sound like I have totally got my act together, don’t think for a moment that it’s true. We are all a work in progress. We have all sinned and fallen short (Romans 3:23). I’m just thankful that God’s love and grace know no bounds. Our weaknesses don’t anger him, and our fears won’t push him away. On the contrary, he is merciful, forgiving, empowering, and likely has a wicked sense of humor! Oh yeah, and he has never been untrustworthy. Not once.

So, let’s do this. Yes, sitting quietly is important to discern how and where you are called to serve. But then, like Jeremiah, get off your butt and get over yourself because God will give you all you need to do what he calls you to do. That’s a promise we can all trust.

I will end with this wisdom from Anthony DeMello, SJ:

Once upon a time, a disciple asked the elder, “Holy One, is there anything I can do to make myself Enlightened?”

“As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.”

“Then of what use,” the disciple asked, “are all the spiritual exercises?”

“To make sure,” the elder said, “that you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.”

2020 Vision

The Lord gives us eyes to see, really see, IF (big if) we are willing, open, and present to him.

For too long, we have cast God aside for our own wants and desires, striving for ambitions and material obsessions. Things we thought we couldn’t live without may have hindered our ability to survive what is surely coming.

As I write this, the coronavirus is rearing its ugly head in every area of our lives, but I would like to focus here on one area – churches are closed all over the country.

Oh no…

This can’t be…

It’s Lent…

What will we do?

God must be beside Himself knowing we aren’t sitting in pews praying.

Or is he?

That depends on how we live our new reality, which runs the full spectrum from those who are frightened and immovable to many who seem indifferent.

Yes, these already are, and will continue to be, trying times as we suffer the physical, emotional, spiritual, and economic impact unlike anything we have ever known.

But, hold on…don’t leave me for a stiff drink yet! I have GOOD NEWS. Really!

Here we are, experiencing one of the worst disasters we have ever known in the holiest season of Lent. We have no idea what the outcome of the virus will be, but we do know how the Passion of Christ plays out.  So, let me ask you a question: what has your celebration of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus meant to you up until now? (To make this work, you have to be brutally honest. Okay?)

Many faiths observe various practices during Lent. The Catholic Church has requirements and suggestions for observing this season. Over the years, some of those “requirements” have become “suggestions”.  For instance, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence unless you’re old like me. Daily Mass, prayer, Scripture readings, traditional Lenten Devotions, sharing our abundance with the poor, and throwing in a confession somewhere are all strongly recommended.

Oh yeah, and then there’s that pesky self-denial summed up in the Christian concept of “mortification,” which in no way should be misconstrued as self-flagellation, an extreme practice of physical self-punishment that somehow, since medieval times, has been thought to imitate Christ’s suffering. Don’t do that!

Mortification actually means “cause death to our self-will,” which is what Jesus meant when he said to his disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mat 16:24). When we surrender our self-will we are imitating Christ. Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42).

So, let’s take an honest look at our individual observances of Lent, shall we? Then we’ll break down the three phases of The Passion in the context of today’s reality. I’ll go first.

  • I used to love fish fry’s when I was still a beer drinker and less concerned about recycled hydrogenated oil – YUCK!
  • I used to go to confession until, on two separate occasions, two different priests each said something totally inappropriate. I never went back.
  • I regularly do Intermittent Fasting for my health, but my “spiritual” fasting practices are pathetic…okay, non-existent.
  • Going to Mass always felt like a requirement to have my card punched once a week. Sort of like getting that sticker, “I voted” or “I Gave Blood”.

When I outgrew the fear instilled in me by the powers-that-e within the Church, I grew into a different person, a better person, hopefully. I quit “volunteering” to impress others and started to actually care about my suffering brothers and sisters. Which, in turn, led me to my life’s purpose.

I gave up my ambition of being the “Catholic Woman of the Year” or Saint Linda and began seeking God’s purpose for me. But, of course, I had no idea what that purpose was. He seemed a bit wiser than I always imagined myself to be.

Fear of going to hell when I dropped dead got me to church most Sundays. It would be like sitting in that confessional, spewing out mediocre sins to get my ticket to heaven.

Then I discovered this definition of hell: “Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do.” Gian Carlo Menotti…OUCH!

Okay, guys, I’m standing here with my sins uncovered. It’s your turn. Don’t worry no one’s going to call you out. You don’t have to expose yourself to judgment like I just did. Just take a quiet moment to think about it and then we’ll move on. Go ahead I’ll wait right here.

Okay, so, Pope Francis offered some powerful words to consider this Lent, “Jesus’ Pasch is not a past event; rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit it is ever present, enabling us to see and touch with faith the flesh of Christ in those who suffer.”  

And there it is.

God has been making this call to us since Jesus walked the earth; the call to get off our backsides and care for the poor and suffering among us. He was here in the flesh to show us how that should be done. And how do we respond today? There are many who heed that call, some just half-halfheartedly drop coins in a beggar’s hat”, while some simply aren’t listening. Not much has changed in two thousand-some-odd years I suppose.

Now, let’s consider the three phases of Jesus’ Passion: His life, death, and resurrection, in light of our call to imitate him.

  • His life: Of his thirty-three years here (give or take a few), on the surface, it appears that only the last three were spent fulfilling his purpose. Three years. That’s it. I’m seventy-one and hate to admit that I have probably wasted at least sixty of it. But, Jesus wasn’t wasting his life. He was growing into his purpose.

When I look back on my life: all the mistakes and missteps, the hurt inflicted on me and by me, the selfishness and rejection, there would have been no way for me to be all God created me to be because I didn’t even know who that was. But, I do now! I don’t know how much time I have left here. But it doesn’t matter because time has no meaning for God, so it shouldn’t for us either. Each day is a new opportunity to bring Christ to our suffering brothers and sisters. And it isn’t just a privilege; it’s a responsibility we all have.

  • His death: Jesus knew that his constant presence was a threat to the status quo. He knew that every choice he made to expose the rich and powerful of his day would risk his very life. That became more and more clear as he pushed against the power that held sway over the most vulnerable and lost. He didn’t hold back from calling them out with choice words to describe them even though it surely sealed his fate: Hypocrites, brood of vipers, prideful, whitewashed tombs, legalists disguising an inner corruption. “They preach, but do not practice” (Matt. 23:3). His death was inevitable.

Most of us will not be called to sacrifice our lives, but we are all called to die to our self-will so that we can be used by God in whatever way he has already predetermined. That might just mean having the courage to step into what will likely be uncomfortable, probably risky, even scary. And expect it to be a wild adventure because God doesn’t do ordinary! (You know that, right?)

  • His resurrection: When Jesus died everyone believed they would be returning to their ordinary, mundane lives. Alrighty then, that was a wild and crazy ride! We could liken it to that special vacation we always dreamed about and finally got to experience. The difference is that we probably have pictures to reminisce over; they got nothing, not even a stinkin’ T-shirt for heaven’s sake.

Anyway, when Mary and the girls got to the tomb they were met with, “Surprise! He isn’t here!!” And when he showed up at the disciple’s pity party later, they were all overwhelmed with fear. Then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, they discovered within themselves a determination and fervor that would send them out sharing the Love of Christ with anyone with ears to hear. With the exception of John, they were martyred for their willingness to go when God said “GO!”

And for us? Resurrection, I believe, does not mean a new birth, but a “rebirth”. It means returning to our original holiness. God created us with Love, for Love. But, we have somehow lost our way. Saying “yes” to God means saying “yes” to our true selves and “no” to the lies we have believed about our unworthiness.

Jesus’ Passion was a seeming disaster turned to triumph. The conventional thinking of our time is that we can’t handle tragedy and suffering; that we will fall apart and resort to some sort of primal survival instinct. Though I suppose as we watch people claw each other to death for toilet paper some could make the case for that belief. But, I choose to look instead at the myriad examples of people who have shown love and compassion, and hope in disasters. Countless studies have borne witness to the fact that most people are altruistic, not barbaric. And out of the ashes of disaster comes the gift of the blessedness and fullness of our humanity. Yes, you and I are our brother’s keeper! It’s in our DNA

This, my dear friends can be a turning point in what we believe about ourselves and our neighbor; of what we are capable of in the face of fear and uncertainty if we trust in the divinity of our very souls where God resides and where we live and move and have our being. What you believe right now will determine how you act. So, it’s time to believe and act like you and everyone around you; friend or stranger, are beloved and precious children of God.

In our new coronavirus reality, we need to do away with “practicing” our faith and get to the business of “doing” faith. And how better to begin than to be kicked out of our comfortable pews, locked out of the church, and sent on a new meaningful, mystical, and mighty mission?!

GO ON NOW! And fear not. Remember the immortal words of Esther when Mordecai told her that her people were going to perish if she didn’t do something. Then he said to her, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”  And what was Esther’s reply without hesitation? “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:14 – 5:16)

As I write these words I fully understand that none of us have any idea how this will turn out. But, I do know this – God does not cause such tragedy (so get that idea out of your head), but he will use it for good!

God is our steady strength. He will not abandon us. He hears our prayers and tells us: “Don’t be afraid!”

I love this quote by Rebecca Solnit, “Disaster could be called a crash course in Buddhist principles of compassion for all beings, of non-attachment, of abandoning the illusion of one’s sense of separateness, of being fully present, and of fearlessness…in the face of uncertainty.”

My prayer is that we will take on that mantel of courage and faith now, whatever that looks like, wherever we are.

So, hang in there, pray, wash your hands, and take care of your neighbor!

lord bless and keep you

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 or what “proof” they provide, no one knows. No different than a recent conversation I had with a friend who collects clowns. She thinks they’re delightful and enchanting. However, I actually believe some satanic force created them 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 will not be easy or fun.

Heaven 

This is not heaven!

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.”

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? This is the tough part I referred to earlier because our Western brains can’t seem to grasp anything mysterious or inexplicable. Therefore, 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 only converse with those who agree with us and avoid or argue with those who don’t. 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 life and death were celebrated as a continuum. That all changed with the advent of the funeral parlor. Funeral parlors sprung up 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 (before the invention of formaldehyde!). But I can’t prove that either.

We keep everything in our lives separated into neat, tidy piles that we can easily manage, like peas and applesauce on our dinner plate (yuck, don’t want those to touch each other). So it’s no surprise that we stick God in heaven, so he’s separated from us by time and space.

The thought of God being right here in our midst, looking for any soft entry into our walled-up hearts is just too much to fathom. But, let’s stop for one minute, let down our guard, and imagine how different, how rich, and full our lives would be if we could comprehend that reality.

How about this uplifting thought about hell: 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, if hell is here now, and we begin to understand our true purpose, 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 too 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: a controlling, punishing, and unforgiving “parent”, it’s no wonder I ran like hell in the other direction. 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.

We seem to 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 while 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 and our antics.

In many traditional faiths, God sits in his heaven and doles out rewards and punishments 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’s 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 after he read a book annominously sent to him, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. No, I had changed. I opened myself to a relationship with him that allowed me to experience who God really was, not who I imagined 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.”

I love 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! 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).”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.

Okay back to Thomas. I’m guessing that his gospel was rejected by the “editors” of scripture 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 my assertions.

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 are in relationship with God.

Micah (6:6-9) 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 firstborn child for good measure. But God rejects their attempts to buy his favor.

God: “Nope, I don’t want your stuff, I want you.” Micha lays it out succinctly, “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.”

That last verse 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. Does that sound like the demanding, controlling, cruel, never to be pleased God you learned about in Sunday School when you were six and then couldn’t sleep for weeks because you had nightmares about him finding out that it was you who dunked your sister’s doll in the toilet?!

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 live daily as a sinner/saint. Don’t laugh, my mother-in-law thought I was a saint once for about five minutes (I screwed that up the first time I opened my mouth!). In my seventy-four years, I have known 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).

I have come to realize that I have been blessed to live the indescribable joy of a rich and full life, even in the messy parts, especially then. A life that encourages giving, serving, forgiveness, and caring for others. That calls us to be in relationship with God and everyone around us – to be Christ to a broken world.

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!”

(I have to throw this in because I’m still laughing) My all-time favorite book is “Holy Rascals”, by Rami Shapiro. I have read it so many times it’s falling apart. It is ridiculously poignant and hysterically funny! He says that we are all children of God. Every last one of us. That includes Saint Mother Theresa right alongside Jeffrey Dahmer. The only difference, he says, is “if Jeffrey Dahmer invites you to dinner, you should decline!”

You always have another chance to get life right, to erase regrets, heal broken relationships, seek forgiveness, serve others, and 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 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 and people poking at you and trying to converse with you right in the middle of your nap. But then the party’s over. Without any warning, whoosh outcha’ go there little feller. You get flipped on your head and slapped silly by a stranger with a mask (that’s not scary!). 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 shitstorm 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. Our purpose was to use the gifts he gave each of us to share that love. Then, finally, 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, “Nice work!”.

Then, it all went sideways.

Maybe a parent failed us, or a friend betrayed us. A cheating spouse or a devastating illness caught us off guard. Then, 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 fortified by a culture that worships independence, self-sufficiency, and self-promotion. As a result, we lose our way and move further from God. 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. But how did we end up here if it wasn’t meant to be that way? Well, somewhere along the way, we forgot who and Whose we were.

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

Oh sure, sometimes we get some crazy notion that we are here for a reason. So, 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 many reasons: Confusion, fear, lack of trust in ourselves, that stupid poopyhead that keeps showing up uninvited to the party, or that zombie apocalypse in our heads (you know that’s not real, right?)!

Well, crap!

But hey, if it’s any consolation, 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 about it; 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. Then,  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 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 of ice cream. You start to dig in, and….yep…

There he goes again, “Simon Peter, tell me again. Are you sure you love me?” Now, in all fairness, it’s understandable why Jesus keeps asking you that since 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, walks 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? Don’t you 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 tired of “rules” that couldn’t fill the void. Years of studies by Pew Research can attest to that fact, even if the Churches have decided to ignore it. The studies show the number of people fleeing from churches, particularly millennials, is 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 they were there. Done for another week or two, or maybe till Easter. 

Then, as if that isn’t enough, we have the “stories” in the Bible. I know we could debate all day long about whether or not the “stories” are factual or myths. I know how I see them. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Let’s look at just two 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 in 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.) 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

GOD: “I can see you, Adam.”

ADAM: “No, you can’t.”

GOD: “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 setup for Moses? “Come on out God. We know you’re hiding there, waiting to pounce on our slightest indiscretion. That’s sneaky.” Sorry, I just can’t believe in that kind of god.

Somewhere along life’s journey, we are supposed to grow into the person we were created to be. But, we got snookered by the lies. Unfortunately, change 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”. Deep within every one of us is a longing for purpose. But, we can spend a lifetime whacking away at it 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.

The fact remains, 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 essence has been stifled, stuffed away, and rendered irrelevant, along with God and all that matters for humankind.

I believe “religion” has become something 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. So 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. 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. The point is that none of it offers fulfillment that lasts. Striving for more, paradoxically, leaves us emptier and hungrier.

Consider this: What would you be willing to die for if someone approached you and demanded everything you have accumulated and cling to, or they will kill you right where you stand? Any of it? Or would you quickly, without hesitating, hand over all the “things” you value? 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 when I do a life review at funerals. If funerals don’t cause us to evaluate our 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)

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.

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 you have ever experienced, but that will bring you into the presence of Love and your true worth as his beloved.

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 and heartache 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 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, 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.”

No church “rules” or dogmas will ever bring us into that deep-abiding relationship with him. 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 experience him.  It’s that simple and that critical.

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 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 much more able to interpret the events unfolding around 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: Which of these two scenarios would most likely bring you right to the heart of this very critical moment of truth, the most profound 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.” In short order “that little light of yours” has been snuffed out!

Or….

(2) 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 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.