The Absurdity of Hatred/The Audacity of Forgiveness

It may seem crazy to imagine Satan having any defining joy in his life. Seriously! Does he countdown days to special holidays? Review photos of favorite vacations with the family? Post pics of him and his buds at a hockey game? Laugh hysterically at anything remotely comical?!

Well…there is one thing – and only one thing – that does get him all giddy in the midst of his miserableness, and we stupid humans seem to love indulging him. It happens when we judge others and refuse to forgive. That is what Satan thrives on and we seem so eager to comply, even those of us who profess to be Christians. I would go so far as to say “especially” Christians, get sucked into that ego driven sense of superiority over others. Being honest, I have to confess that I am just as guilty, though I’d like to believe I’m better than I used to be. I suppose it depends on who you ask.

Nearly twenty years ago, I thought the “revelation” that came to me about forgiveness when I was in Kentucky (which I write about in my book) was my most profound life changing moment ever! Until it wasn’t. Even though I came away from that experience proclaiming the magical, mystical healing power of God!

Oh, for sure, I played the game. The “I’m fine. Great actually. No, really! I’m totally healed of all my past shit” game! The game God reveals when, for a split second, I get out of His way. That moment when I let my guard down and leave just a crack in the door of my hardened heart and He shoves His foot in before I can slam it shut again. I hate when that happens!

Recently, I was confronted again by the call of God to forgive. The two people that caused me the most suffering and hurt – my mother, and the relative I have never named publicly, have both passed away. The funeral services were unremarkable and sparsely attended. The realization of that struck me profoundly! Two people that caused me so much hurt, I believe now, suffered more than I did. I never considered that possibility.

I was given the gift of grace when I was able to see the brokenness of their lives and truly feel empathy for them. Yes, they both made messes in my life, but I have also experienced healing and as a result, have, for the most part, lived a rich and fulfilled life.

I have been blessed with a loving family and friends and have so much to be thankful for, most importantly, a God who never gives up on me, never keeps count of my sinfulness, and loves me unconditionally often in spite of my foolishness and forgetfulness of His mercy and love. The profound truth of God’s love gets so lost when we prefer to live on the periphery where it is safer and Satan tries his best to keep us there.

A life of faith has always been about transformation; our dying to self and being renewed. It takes place when we step outside our theology of reward and punishment; when we decide we are bone-tired of suffering and causing the suffering of others. It happens when we step into the terror as well as awesomeness of being human. In that place, God does His best work and can awaken the creation of something new within us. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Father Richard Rohr tells us:

For many of us, suffering is a cycle. We go back and forth, holding on and letting go, healing, hurting anew, and healing again. Suffering, of course, can lead us in either of two directions: (1) it can make us very bitter and cause us to shut down, or (2) it can make us wise, compassionate, and utterly open, because our hearts have been softened.

We’re not perfect. The project of learning how to love—which is our only life project—is quite simply learning to accept this….If you really love anybody then you have learned to accept a person despite, and sometimes even because of, their faults.

Also consider these thoughts of Desmond Tutu on what he calls, “Essential Humility”:

We are able to forgive because we are able to recognize our shared humanity. We are able to recognize that we are all fragile, vulnerable, flawed human beings capable of thoughtlessness and cruelty. We also recognize that no one is born evil and that we are all more than the worst thing we have done in our lives. A human life is a great mixture of goodness, beauty, cruelty, heartbreak, indifference, love, and so much more.

What Doesn’t Kill You Today Will Try Again Tomorrow!

Well, I’m still here in case you were wondering – or even if you couldn’t care less (in which case I don’t suppose you’d be reading this). Regardless, here we go…

For over a year now, I have gone kicking and screaming into a new and uncertain reality. In the process, I have slowly, often unwillingly, been discovering who I am in the midst of loss and pain and sorrow. The world I thought would never change – changed – without any warning.

As I sat in the midst of packing up my former self, one box, one picture, one memory at a time, I suddenly realized the uncertainty I have been trying to suppress with superficial words and inadequate certitudes, “I’m fine. Really!”

Many “experts” encourage us to act “as if” _________(fill in the blank) until it becomes our truth. So, I did – or at least I tried. But, in pretending I was already there I believe I was also denying the necessary process of change. So, does acting “as if” my life is often a total shitstorm count? Because it is – no acting required.

Jen Hatmaker beautifully describes the inevitable change of seasons in life:

“It can be difficult to envision a new start but impossible to deny one. This is your work. No one can do it for you. Something doesn’t have to be bad to be over. That season has possibly given you everything it has to offer; it shaped and developed you, it stretched and inspired you. We are not entirely rebranded with each new season; we simply build the next layer. Throughout transitions, we embody permanent virtues and become deeply shaped, and as a testament to our design, we are capable of preserving the best of each season while rejecting the worst. The human heart is shockingly resilient. We need to get better at permission and grace.”

As the pictures have been packed up leaving bare walls, it has become all too clear to me that I have been stuck in the past. God tells us to stay out of there and move on, trusting him every step of the way. The past certainly formed my identity to this point and I am truly grateful for all of its lessons, but, thanks-be-to-God, that’s not the end of my story or my journey. Hatmaker says: “You can care about new things and new beginnings and new people. Carry on sister!”

God wants me, wants all of us, to boldly step into each new day believing each life experience, good or bad, will influence how we impact our world. Our loving God has created our most outlandishly gifted, magnificently designed selves for that very purpose.

It’s time to grab onto that desire of my heart that has been sitting too long and aching to be acknowledged; that one passion refusing to fade away no matter how much I have tried to ignore it.

Good Grief

Last year, an unwelcome course correction arrived at my doorstep with the sudden passing of my husband. My life came to a screeching halt as I faced the stark reality of being thrust into the unknown and the numbing emptiness that followed.

I unwillingly became a part of a club with no guidelines, rules, or secret handshake. I was signed up without permission, and I can’t “cancel at any time”. 

The blessings that came from a forty-seven-year marriage were overshadowed for most of this past year by regrets over things said or done, the if only’s, and lost opportunities. I thought that dark cloud would not dissipate. It totally sucked.

I needed someone to complain to.  Ahhhhh, God. I could complain to God. I’m so good at that. But the last time I tried, it went something like this:

Me dialing the number I found on the Internet…

The message in response:

                Dial 1 to leave a message of gratitude.

                Dial 2 to leave a complaint. You will be prompted to whine, grovel and beg. (FYI, this box is not monitored.)

How in the world did I fool myself into believing that my life would just keep plugging along with only a few potholes here and bumps in the road there until I drifted unceremoniously into eternity? I was lulled into believing that the way my life was would not change drastically or without some kind of damn warning.

Wrinkles and gray hair warn you. They don’t just show up one fine morning. They tiptoe in without much fanfare giving you plenty of time to disguise them before your next high school reunion. The aches and pains of aging sneak around your joints like a ninja, which mercifully eases you into the acceptance that your running days are over.

For as long as I can remember, each day of my life seemed to blend into the next. Birthdays piling one on top of another were no more thought-provoking than a trash can filling up. Any thought of purpose or meaning was often left unaddressed – till tomorrow, next week, or…. 

I think life’s subtle changes are meant as a wake-up call. But they’re too subtle for me. They need to scream loudly into my failure to act before it’s too late…but…oh yeah…pride helped me ignore the fact that I probably needed a hearing aid. Until now – until this.

Then, just as suddenly as I was knee-jerked into widowhood, the dark cloud lifted to reveal God’s promise to turn my mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11).

Being thrust into the pain of loss must become the catalyst for change, for the hope that there is more to this life. Or why do we even bother? Matthew 4:16 says, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light”. Jesus came along and spent his life showing us how to live abundantly in that light, often despite the darkness.

Then one morning, God spoke into my broken heart, “This is your new reality, Linda. You’re still here. You are surrounded by my love, the love of an amazing family, and supportive, loving friends. Now get up, dust yourself off, and do what you were created to do. Because if you haven’t learned anything else this past year, you surely have realized that this one precious life you have is short. Quit wasting it!  Roll up your pity party mat and GO!”

I will leave you with two of the most powerful quotes that have helped me move beyond my sorrow:

Gian Carlo Menotti wants us to let this sink in, “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.”

 John Shelby Spong tells us, “It is to live not frightened by death, but rather called by the reality of death to go into our humanity so deeply and so passionately that even death is transcended.”

You are a NEW Creation in Christ

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

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

Anyway…

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

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

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

You are more than the choices that you’ve made

You are more than the sum of your past mistakes

You are more than the problems you create

You’ve been remade

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

mr potato head

But, that is NOT what God sees.

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

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

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

It’s just who I am…I cannot change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted on October 25, 2012

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

Eliphaz, like most people in Jesus’ time, and many people even today, sadly, believed suffering was a direct result of sin; that suffering exposes you to God’s wrath – you’re busted!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the letter came I confidently opened it. My rejection began with “We are pleased to inform you…” That’s not nice I thought. You are pleased to tell me what I already know – I’m a loser?

But wait…

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

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

So…

“OH SHIT!”

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

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

For three years, I have been bellyaching to God just like Job. And then it happened, though not out of a whirlwind. God’s preferred method of attention getting for me is a 2×4.

While driving down the highway, minding my own business – from out of nowhere – WHACK!

“Are you paying attention, Linda?”

“I am now!”

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

  • My book is the story of how God reached into my pain and suffering at the hands of others, and my own sinfulness, and spoke healing into my brokenness. He used the process of writing the book and the opportunities I have had to speak to continue that healing, which in turn, has helped others who have shared their own experiences with me.

 

  • Graduate school was really, really, REALLY a struggle for me. Writing graduate level papers and reading the works of theologian’s like Thomas Aquinas and Bernard Lonergan, made my head explode! I was anxious most of those three years. I felt inadequate at best and downright stupid at worst. Academically, I felt I was not on the level of most of the other students – always looking over my shoulder waiting for someone to show me the door. I got some of it, forgot most of it, but, somehow, in the process, I grew spiritually in    ways I could never have imagined. One of my last classes dealt with the foundations  of ministry. I remember my professor telling me at the end of the semester that I had  a simple way of approaching ministry that would serve me well. He was telling me  that I didn’t need to feel incompetent because I couldn’t put together a string of  theological thoughts that would rival the best in the field. But I didn’t understand or  appreciate his words at the time.

 

  • Just before graduation, I asked my pastor, “Do I still have a job when I get out of here?” He replied matter-of-factly, “No.” I was shocked! He stated that because of the economy they could not afford to hire an associate. I was devastated and shaken to my foundation. I would only realize later that much of that was due to fear. If I was going to apply for a position in a different church, how would I fair in the interview process? Even though I had a 3.7 GPA, I had little confidence in my abilities, especially since I knew there would be lots of applicants and very few positions available. Oh yeah , and I was old. So, I insisting that I lived too far from the churches that were making job offers. I’d wait for something else to come along.

 

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

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

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

It was important for you to feel the pain of the loss of your mother and to go through your own healing process before you could enter the sacred space of others who suffer; are dying, or have lost a loved one. This is Holy Ground that I am asking you to step into. You were not ready before.

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

If you will just get out of my way!

A few days after the Holy Whacking in my car, I received a Daily Meditation from Richard Rohr. Quite appropriate I think:

All of Jesus’ guidance for ministry…are very concrete and interpersonal. They are all about putting people in touch with specific people, and especially with people’s pain. Person-to-person is the way the Gospel was originally communicated. Person-in-love-with-person, person-respecting-person, person-forgiving-person, person-touching-person, person-crying-with-person, person-hugging-person: that’s where the Divine Presence is so beautifully revealed.

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

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

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

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

Okay, that is the post from 2012.

And the saga continues…

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

do the next right thing

“About time – huh God?!”

“Still not holding my breath, Linda.”

 

Why do I HAVE to Love People I Don’t Even Like?

If I say I love chocolate (which I do…INTENSLY!) that seems like a very extreme version of like. After all, I’m sure my reaction to my first taste was, “Hum, I like this stuff.” But, liking chocolate is not pining for it, dreaming about it, or finding every opportunity to indulge in it. That came later. Probably not much later.

If I just liked it I wouldn’t ask my husband to hide it from me and then search for it when he’s not here (kinda funny since the only place he can think to hide it is in the freezer – “Oh, my…there it is!”). And, I might add, I have grown to delight in it in a manner likened to the Matthew 13:46 hidden treasure! That’s pure unadulterated love!

Relationships can be very different. You may be in a relationship with someone you have never liked. If you’re stuck there how do you get to the love part?

eddie vacation

I have been reflecting on that question in light of my own relationships. In particular, my family of origin – more specifically, my relationship with my brother and sister. A little background would be helpful here: My sister is eight years older than me, and my brother is two years older. So, you know what that makes me – that’s right – the “baby.”

me as baby
What’s not to love here?!

Being the baby of the family never really afforded me any special perks. Even so, my siblings treated me like I needed a constant reminder that I was NOT special. When we were left alone they relentlessly tormented and bullied me. To be fair, I was probably obnoxious. But that didn’t give them license to beat me up, and then do everything in their power to get me in trouble when our parents returned home.

three stooges

When I was younger, my mother forced my brother to play with me because I had no friends to play with. He and his friends would use me for their football, throw things at me, and try to dismember me with a Frisbee. That damn thing hurt, but I never let them see me cry! Sometimes they would just chase me around the yard until I gave up and went inside, only to return the next day for more.

My sister would initiate fun activities for her and my brother, and intentionally exclude me. One time, I was so angry with my brother’s unrelenting teasing that I put my fist through the glass of a door he slammed shut on me. That hurt too, but no tears from this tough kid!

wonderwoman

I’m not sure what my parent’s reasoning was the Christmas they gave my brother and me one sled – to share. That ended badly when his friends chased me down the hill on theirs trying to intimidate me into leaving. I swung mine around just in time to knock out the two front teeth of one of them.

shit just got real

It was pretty satisfying, even when my brother ran home to tell my mom, and his friend ran home crying. I knew it was not going to go well for me and I didn’t care.

As bad as all that was, what makes it worse is that I do not recall any happy moments to off-set our feelings toward each other. Soon after our mother died, I called my sister, she had been drinking at the time. She cried, saying over and over “Mom loved you best”! – I was so surprised to hear her say that. My recollection was that our mother never loved anyone.

After our father died, we rarely saw each other. Often, I can’t remember how long the gaps are between our conversations. If I had to guess I would say that I speak to them about three times a year. The times we do talk, or see each other, we say, “I love you.” Truth be told, we would have been hard pressed to say we ever even liked each other. I always believed that too much pain had divided us and lack of forgiveness left open wounds.

Then, recently, I read and reread the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis (37:1-50:21). Poor Joseph didn’t have just two siblings to deal with, he had eleven! And most of them hated him because he was their father’s favorite. They hated him so much they plotted together to kill him. If not for his one brother, Judah, they would have succeeded.

Here’s the part that caused me to think more deeply than I ever have about my relationship with my brother and sister. Before Joseph was raised to a position of power, he suffered as a slave in Egypt. Years passed before he saw his brothers again. When he did, he wept for love of them. What kind of love is this? It was the time of the seven year famine, and he controlled the grain bins. His brothers used to laugh at him because he dreamed of greatness. Their fate was now in his hands. Revenge would have been so sweet right then.

As Christians, we are taught that God loves us deeply. But, how often do we ponder just how much he likes us? I mean really, really likes us? And, if we are called to be Christ-like towards others, then it stands to reason that if we don’t like others, then we can’t possibly, truly, love them.

How often, when I tell my sister or brother that I love them, do I consider what those words really mean in the context of my Christian faith? What I should believe about love, I have failed to live, because it’s too demanding, so I give it lip service. Because we are supposed to love everyone, even our enemies, we settle for spewing empty words that sound like love, in an effort to rid ourselves of guilt. That’s cheap love.

Then it happened. Recently, (compelled, I’m sure, by you-know-Who), my husband and I drove to the house I grew up in and knocked on the door. The lady that bought the house from us still lived there, and welcomed us in. As I walked through the house, everything looked different. What surprised me was that my past experiences of that time in my life no longer seemed to have a claim on me. They did not dredge up the anger I felt for so long.

Later, we went to my brothers to visit, and then to my sisters. Again, the experience was different. When we left, and I said, “I love you” to them, I meant it. More importantly, I felt it! And, I do believe that they really do love me as best they can. And maybe, just maybe, our mother loved us too – the best she could.

I can tell you that my heart has changed, but will that translate into my being a more loving sister? Will I call more often, visit more often, pray for them, and think of them lovingly? Will I actually like them? Will they like me?

After Joseph was reunited with his brothers he gave and gave and gave to them without asking for anything in return…and…as far as we know…he never got so much as a “thank you” or “gee we’re sorry about that whole pit incident and selling you off to slavery.” After their father died, Joseph’s brothers feared he was hiding anger that would explode into revenge. To their surprise, he was not angry or vengeful. He did tell them, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good….” (Genesis 50:20). God used that experience, just as he uses ours, to turn our pain and hurt into compassion and mercy for others.

As for me, I know that all that has happened in my life has had a profound impact on the person I am today: The good, the bad, and the ugly. But, if I allow God to work in and through those areas of brokenness, by his grace, good will prevail.

Now, as I pray for my brother, sister, and their families, I pray they will know God’s love and mercy, and that in some small way I can manifest that love. I once heard the expression concerning people we encounter, in particular people we don’t like, “You may be the only Christ that person meets.” That is a responsibility of all Christians; to be Christ to others; the Christ who loves deeply and unconditionally.

me and sister
Yeah, she’s smiling now. I’m bigger and faster than her! It’s a good thing I love you Sista!

Do You Want to be Made Well – or What?

I love today’s gospel of John (5:-5-6), “Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’”

do you want to be healed

REALLY!? Come on. Why would he ask that? Jesus could end thirty-eight years of misery for this guy! Is there any possibility that he would say “no”? Well, yes, there is. I know that for a fact because I have said “no” to God longer than that! I turned my back on him and suffered a life of emptiness for years. Truth be told, I still suffer the consequences whenever I close my heart to God and choose to go my own way.

I was angry and self-indulgent (I often still am). My faith was shallow and lifeless (it, maybe not so often, still is). I continually picked at the scabs of the wounds inflicted by others, refusing to forgive and, at the same time, denying my own sinfulness (yeah, you guessed it – still doing that).

As I listened to God’s word and began to meet and know some faithful Christians, I became aware of an unexplainable longing in my heart. That was God, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I found myself getting bolder at reaching out to God with a longing to trust him. Though I still considered myself unworthy of anyone’s love, especially God’s.

I was also learning, belatedly, to become a better parent. God intended for parenting skills to be passed down from generation to generation, but some of us have to look elsewhere for guidance. As much as I resented my mother for abusing me, and as determined as I was not to be like her…I was. Her way was the only way I knew. But then God showed me some “Parenting 101” through others in my life.

However, as I poured more of myself into my children, a new reality was setting in. My husband and I were headed for disaster. I begged him to look honestly at our relationship while refusing to do it myself. I prayed we could work harder to mend our hurts and strengthen our marriage. But my pleading fell on deaf ears and my fears were becoming a reality.

One by one, our children were leaving home, and my husband and I became lost in the deafening silence of our empty nest. So after much thought, counseling, and prayer, I made the heart-wrenching decision to leave. Each of our children reacted differently to the news of our separation, but all of them were devastated. It was probably the most challenging decision of my life! I had no idea what the outcome would be. I will say this in hindsight; I know I did not sense God was approving my decision or telling me to leave. But I am sure he intended to use my decision “for his good”. (Genesis 50:20)

So, off I went. I decided to go to Kentucky to volunteer for an organization that worked with the poor in Appalachia. Before I left home, I prayed a prayer that I had never prayed before, that God would change me, not every other person in my life, ME! God was just giddy with excitement! And, oh, the lessons I was about to learn!

How can I describe to you the soul-cleansing I experienced during that time, what those eight months were like for me? Every single day seemed to bring to light another of Linda’s issues to deal with. I didn’t enjoy confronting my pride, anger, and resentfulness. As a matter of fact, it was, in essence, like being in hard labor – for eight months. Non-stop. With no anesthetic!

“Come on, breathe for me,” says the doctor. “Breathe for me? I’ll give you breathe for me! How about if you try to breathe for me while my hands are around your neck, choking you? How about that?” (Oh, sorry, I must have been having a flashback.)

Anyway, for the first time in my life, my longings, my brokenness, and my hope that maybe I was worthy of love were laid bare. God was beginning to change my heart, though I hardly knew all the implications of that at the time. It was a beautiful example of how he can work in our lives when we “allow” him to do what only he can. All of my past attempts to change failed because I tried to do things my own faulty way. I refused to yield my will to his and had failed repeatedly.

The fulfillment we seek can seem elusive. It can be confused with something as insignificant as a new outfit or something as unattainable as somebody else’s life. When I’m removed from my groundings and feeling overpowered by my struggles, God reminds me that I’m right where he wants me. In my brokenness is where I’ll learn to be most like him. That’s where I’ll learn that my joy cannot be stolen unless I allow people or circumstances, rather than God, to define me. Coming to grips with that truth will open me to the fullness of life.

John 10:10 says, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly.”

Sheer desperation began leading me to accept whatever God deemed necessary to change my life. No strings attached, that would allow me to yank control back if things became too hard or too painful. I would resist the impulse to switch to an easier route, though that’s how I reacted in the past when I was afraid. And what did I receive in return? Oh, not much…just a new relationship with God, my family, my husband of forty-three years, a purpose that fulfills me, and the joyful hope that endures, even during the most challenging times. In short – an abundant life I could never have imagined on that fateful day I left home.

In his most beautiful book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen enfleshes all that I have experienced, all that I have been so afraid to admit or even look at honestly. His vulnerability and openness about his own struggles give others the courage to trust that when Jesus comes to us and asks, “Do you want to be made well”? Our “yes” can be the beginning of more than we could ever imagine or hope for. (Ephesians 3:20)

Nouwen talks about his “coming home”; about being in his Father’s embrace:

I so much want to be, but am so fearful of being…It is the place where I have to let go of all I most want to hold on to….It is the place that confronts me with the fact that truly accepting love, forgiveness, and healing is often much harder than giving it. It is the place of surrender and complete trust.

I believe Henri Nouwen would agree that it is where God’s call and our self-emptying “yes” meet in the fullness of his grace.

All these years later, I’m still being challenged daily, and I don’t always respond as I should. My sinfulness is constantly a force to be reckoned with. After all, I’m still a messy human being. But I know God longs for us to claim the gift of his extravagant love amid all our messiness. If we only look within ourselves, we can see what is already there. We can become who we already are. God offers that joy to all of us. All we have to do is claim it. When Jesus asks, “Do you want to be made well”? – and your answer is finally “yes” strap yourself in for the ride of your life!

roller coaster2