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.
We’re not talking about regrettable tattoos, people. Although, if you trusted a tattoo guy who never got past the third grade– well – you’re a bonehead! Let’s move on.
We’re talking about serious, life-altering, fast-track to hell choices. If you can look me straight in the eye and deny you have ever made any decisions that tipped your halo sideways I will be the first to recommend you for canonization to sainthood. Oh, not Catholic? Then, sorry, you’ll just have to settle for hopes of an honorable mention (which comes with no monetary rewards).
Now, know that I am not talking about the likes of the Catholic baby, later confirmed, Hitler turned adult monster. There can’t be any doubt in most people’s minds that he did not pass GO and did not collect $200 on his way to hell. Right? Or at the very least still resides in Purgatory because his momma was the only one who may have wanted to pray him out of there but she died long before him. Never mind him. If you think for one minute that Purgatory will be your saving grace. Well, that’s a major attitude fail on your part and God will side-eye you every time you knowingly sin and make no corrections.
It seems the idea of Purgatory came to life in the late 1100’s. Thomas Aquinas and the Church quickly latched onto the concept. Aquinas likely had a personal stake in it because he was a no good, very bad boy in his early days and the Church quickly realized it was a money-maker for them. Pay to play. Cha Ching. In my humble opinion though, Purgatory makes no sense. Let me tell you why I believe that. And, again, I don’t know. No one does.
Anyway, several years ago, I went through a year-long training to work with hospice patients. The most profound learning for me came from reading books written by nurses and doctors who worked for years with hospice patients. First off, they believed, as I do, that anyone who sits with someone taking their last breaths should remove their sandals because they are standing on holy ground.
During the time I sat with dying patients I only witnessed two deaths. Both experiences were intense for me and I came away with a much different belief about the idea of “cleansing” than what the Catholic Church teaches. I watched the process evolve to the final stage when they were given morphine. At that point they seemed incapable of any type of movement or communication, let alone a deathbed confession.
BTW, deathbed confessions raise all sorts of anger among the snobby self-righteous. Being certain that sinner is destined for hell secretly makes the rest of us happy knowing they didn’t get to live their whole life being a total ass and then received an eleventh – hour Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. NOT FAIR!
Anyway, though I had not known anything about those two people prior to their deaths it was clear that something was happening within them that I was not privy to. There was restlessness not a sense of peace – not until the end. In both of those situations, I had an opportunity to meet briefly with a family member before I left and in each case they shared the struggles their loved one had during their life.
Do these encounters prove anything? No. But, I came to believe, as I still do, that if cleansing is an actual thing, it probably happens in those moments just before we die. Who knows? As for me, I decided long ago to hedge my bets and make course corrections in the moment I know I did or said something mean or unkind to someone. And if you’re still hanging out there waiting for an apology from 1985, pm me and we’ll meet for lunch while I beg forgiveness.
When God says, “I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it” he means it. But that doesn’t mean he won’t roll his eyes or admonish us when we screw up. It means we can go to him trusting that he will forgive and forget our stupidity. Those we have hurt may not be so gracious, but that doesn’t change anything. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want my indiscretions to cause God to do a head smack and question the wisdom of creating a doofus like me and then take some big ole God sized eraser to my sorry self. Even if for a split second he thought about it. I mean, do I dare bring up the antics of Moses to take the pressure off myself? Sure. Why not?
I think Moses got a raw deal. If it was me, I would have bid those cranky Israelites adieu early on, “I’m done here. You guys are on your own. Good luck!” Remember Moses tried to worm his way out of God’s calling to lead them (Exodus 3:1-12:42). Maybe he later agreed because of a bigger than life ego. “When I get these guys to the Promised Land they will surely erect a statue of me and bow to me profusely! It will be epic!”
But, toward the end of those forty long years he totally lost it. It wasn’t what he expected and what with all the whining and complaining about everything and blaming it all on him. “No food – your fault! No water – you’re fault!” Their anger slammed up against his vision of them worshipping at his shrine. So, what does he do? What any self-righteous, self-serving guy would do. He begged God to “DO SOMETHING! I can’t deal with them anymore!” So, God sent him back to wave a stick around in front of a rock and then he (God – not Moses – a small detail Moses left out) would make water pour out from it.
Anywho, Moses thought that was a terrible idea. So, he devised a better plan when he remembered seeing this witch doctor work some magic on a Netflix special back in Egypt. Back when they had Internet and modern conveniences and stuff!
Everyone thought he was to blame for all their problems. Fine. He would show them how powerful and mighty he was. The poor guy probably still had abandonment issues from that whole baby-in-the-basket-in-the-river incident, so this seemed like a great plan to bolster his sense of self. Surely they would bow down and worship him then.
So, instead of waving the stick around in the air, he beat the crap out of the rock with it and voila water poured out! The people went crazy! Yeah, it was all fun and games until God stepped in.
Personally, I think Moses possessed some HUGE nerve in his life. In a temporary lapse of judgment he did some awful things, like, I don’t know, defying God and then getting all up in his business. And, lest we forget, in the end, his antics kept him from joining the Israelites in the Promised Land. That ship was sailing without him. (BTW, I don’t recommend you use this material in a Sunday School class. It’s all made up. You’ve been warned.)
So, now, put on your big boy/big girl pants folks and gird your loins cause it’s up to you how the rest of your life will play out and your journey will end. I have had regrets in my life and will probably have more because that’s the foolish me who can’t seem to learn the first, second, or zillionth time! But, God still forgives a zillion + one times, if that’s what it takes.
I would just recommend that you don’t stand before him with unfinished business and a shit-pile of complaints from those you didn’t treat right along the way. Because, again, no one knows what that encounter will be like and who wants to be handed a fireproof robe and a one-way ticket south, especially if your momma isn’t around to pray for you, you little schmuck? So clean up your mess and make better choices from now on! GEEZO!
Yep, there is such a thing! Okay, I could have made it up, but just work with me here.
It has been ten years since I ran my last half-marathon and I have decided it’s time to dust off my running shoes and get back in the game. God help me. This will probably kill me!
I began running thirty years ago when a friend dragged me to a high school track near us. We planned to run the St. Patrick’s Day 5K in St. Louis. It was three miles. Since I had never run a day in my life, it seemed reasonable. I could easily drive three miles without getting winded. So, why not?!
The first morning we ran once around the track – a quarter mile. OMG, I thought I would die! But, I didn’t. So, I went back for more; again and again until it got easier and I decided I could do it. Not just that, but I was actually beginning to love it and the challenge that came with each turn around the track. Initially, my ambitions didn’t go beyond the 5K and the free beer at the end!
It wouldn’t be long before I was hooked as I grew to love the challenge of discovering my ability to go beyond anything I had imagined. Let’s see whatcha got Linda! Though I have run several half-marathons over the years since then it has always been that initial 5K that developed my theology of running.
I started off slowly, but pushing myself to run faster became a passion for me, especially when we moved to a rural area where I would run country roads at 5:00 in the morning. I was often told I was getting too old to run and that I should slow down because it wasn’t good for my joints (jealous couch potatoes every last one of you!). I had no desire to slow down. Every time I decided to walk instead it didn’t last long. It wasn’t the same. I didn’t feel the joy and fulfillment I experienced when I ran.
I discovered that I am most fully alive when I am running, especially in nature. When we moved further out into the country I enjoyed it even more. I could run right out my front door and be in the woods. It was so peaceful and serene. In the early morning the sunrise was breathtaking.
There was something else I noticed: God was there. In those moments my connection with God was most vibrant and my prayers seemed most profound. That never happened for me sitting in a pew in church (I don’t need forgiveness father…that ain’t a sin!)
St. Irenaeus said that, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Being fully alive is the quintessential manifestation of Divine Love. That magical mysterious Love is most revealed to me in these moments when I am in the midst of; when I know I am fully a part of his creation.
One of the beauties of running is its simplicity. You need only a good pair of shoes. Actually, shoes aren’t even necessary as Ethiopian Abebe Bikila proved. He set a world record in the Rome Olympics barefoot!
For sure there is a stark difference between the simple needs I have as a runner and the “perceived needs” of those in many sports. How does that relate to what we understand as “church”? Is church the magnificent cathedrals built centuries ago or some of the mega churches of today that entertain like a new rendition of Jesus Christ Super Star?! Not according to Jesus. The “ideal” church he modeled was about action: humble service, love, unity, hope, and mission – all easily accomplished barefoot – or at the most, wearing sandals.
When training for a race there are specific practices that can be incorporated. One such practice is called “fartlek”. It’s a Swedish word for “speed play” and it’s simply short bursts of accelerating at various times during a run. Here again, fartleking could have a spiritual meaning. Well, it could! Okay, the name might have to be changed to something a bit less like a bodily function, but it could work nicely when considering the process of growing spiritually, and, yes, it is a process.
I believe there is a misunderstanding for so many of us about just how important it is to “train” if we are to grow in faith and that may be what discourages new Christians. I don’t believe faith just “happens” with a dunk in a bucket of water even if there is some sort of “ritual” to prepare new converts for acceptance into a particular faith. There’s just more to it than that. It’s not an event, it’s a life-long journey. What about babies that are baptized in the Catholic Church? Does that baby jump right out the Priest’s arms and start serving in a soup kitchen? No.
You start out testing the waters with things that aren’t too risky like smiling instead of flipping someone off in traffic. Then, maybe you graduate to a bumper sticker…or two…or six. Don’t do that. That’s not right.
Anyway, we are taught that in baptism we are to put on Christ. But, what does that really mean? We are called to live and move and have our being as followers of Christ who teaches self-giving love by his example. And how does that happen? We learn from him to be less self-centered and more other-centered. For most of us none of that growing happens at the moment of our baptism. We will struggle in life, have set backs, and often lose our way. We have fits and starts trying to believe we truly are God’s beloved and our life has purpose.
As we journey through life, hopefully, we will grow in the fullness of that baptismal call to be an instrument of God’s love for the good of the world we live in. This realization can surely be likened to a “runners high”! When we finally become conscious of who and whose we are and we respond through works of love, justice and mercy. Call it a “Jesus high”! You just can’t get enough.
Now I am at the place where I need to tell on myself and share a couple of final important AHA moments in my long running and faith journey. The first experience goes back to the beginning when my friend and I started training for that 5K. When we got to the day of the race we both felt we were not prepared, especially since, just a few days before, her husband, an avid runner, told us that the route of the race was very hilly! Wait…what? Hilly?! As in mountainous hilly? As in, crap, we didn’t train on hills, hilly?! After that initial shock we decided to do it anyway even if we had to walk – or crawl – or call an Uber.
But we were going and we were getting that beer at the end. Period. So, off we went. When we got to the start line we immediately saw the “hill” staring down at us laughing hysterically! Undeterred, we went for it. It was hard, but we both endured and walked when we had to. AND THEN, we turned a corner and saw the finish line! I got so excited I took off running with all I had in me (it was downhill which helped). As I got to the end, gasping for air, my friend caught up with me. She was visibly upset, “Why did you take off like that? We spent all this time training together and we were supposed to finish together! Why did you do that?” I felt so bad for leaving her behind. I was only thinking of myself and that was just wrong. Sadly, I suppose I believed that everything revolved around me.
NO. IT. DOESN’T. DUMBASS.
Our faith journey is not meant to be about us alone. If we are merely growing in a personal faith that does not embrace others on their journey; if we are so self-centered that we sprint toward life’s finish line knocking others aside, I’m pretty sure God will be waiting with those chilling words, “You came alone? Where’s your friend?”
Okay, that experience wasn’t funny, but this one is. A few years ago, another friend and I signed up for a 10K. She wasn’t concerned about training because she planned to walk. I think she just wanted to be sure I survived because, well, by then, I was old. So, off we went agreeing to meet at…that’s right…the beer truck at the end.
There were a lot of turns so volunteers stood at designated intersections to point the way. At one intersection I was a bit confused and was alone to choose. I turned right and kept running. After a mile on that road with no one in sight, it became clear to me that I had gone the wrong way. So, I turned around and ran another mile back to where I should have been. I was tired, but knew the end was near. And there, around the last corner, I saw it! The finish line! WOOT WOOT…
Then I realized the race was over and they were deflating the blow up finish line! I panicked and ran faster, but I was too late. By then most everyone had left. No one cheering. No one telling me I was almost there and to not poop myself (they tell you that. It’s not funny. Neither is the lie that “You’re almost done” when you’re not. It’s not right). Anyway, I was devastated and my friend was in a panic! When I finally did see someone carrying some medals I insisted I deserved a first place metal for being the only person who ran eight miles instead of six! So, technically I reasoned I came in first in the unofficial eight mile race. That logic didn’t fly. I was handed a “Yep, you did finish even though you screwed up” medal. FINE. WHATEVER. “Where’s the free beer?”
There were still a few drops of beer left for my friend and I to cheer each other and I did survive, so it wasn’t all in vain. And the lesson? Yeah you know. On this journey of faith we will also make wrong turns, but God is always at the finish line with a cold beer (don’t tell me there ain’t no beer in heaven!) and a “well done, my good and faithful servant” cheer!
You’ll have to decide for yourself if there’s beer at the finish line of life, or if that’s really why you want to run that race – to get some reward. As for me, I fully trust that a life of faith is all about the journey, not the finish line. That will take care of itself.
You know the question – we all do. It’s the answer that we fear; that stymies us; that we keep denying.
Jesus’ disciples were challenged by ”the” question, up close and personal, but skipped merrily through their lives believing they belonged to an exclusive “Jesus Club”. They would post selfies with Jesus and then boast to their friends on Facebook.
They couldn’t wait for their ten year high school reunion so they could counter the negative comments in their senior year book, “most likely to end up in jail” or “most likely to become a TV repairman living in their mother’s basement.” I think that was about James or John because their mother boldly approached Jesus to ask him to get them both out of her hair! (Mark 10:35-45)
I imagine Jesus had to pose that all important question to them constantly just to pull them back to reality, “Come on, guys. AGAIN…”Who Am I?”
It wasn’t just the disciples, everyone of us through the centuries has been challenged by that question which cannot be answered by words, but rather, by the very act of our day-to-day living. And in our arrogance we rarely get it right.
Recall that Jesus’ own brothers (yes, he had some, and sisters too, get over it) often mocked and ridiculed him in front of others, “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” (John 7:2-9)
A bit of sibling rivalry? Sure. Not surprising as he was the only one who never disobeyed or sinned. His brothers had to be jealous of that and how his admiring followers flocked to him wherever he went.
John Dominic Crossan gives us some interesting insight into the thinking of the day:
“…if you asked anyone in the Mediterranean world at the time of Jesus, “Who’s the Son of God, the Lord, the redeemer, the savior of the world?” everyone would’ve known immediately who you were talking about, and it sure wouldn’t have been Jesus.—it would have been Caesar Augustus.”
That’s right and Caesar loved it. It seemed like a game to him. He was a master of propaganda and deceit and knew how to manipulate everyone from the powerful to the lowliest pheasant. Because he was so skilled at the deception, even though he was actually a dictator, everyone loved him. Go figure.
Perhaps this understanding of everyone’s belief that Caesar Augustus was the Son of God made him a hard act for Jesus to follow. Who knows?
But we know the feeling of being “less than”. Right? Stay with me here.
The title of my blog, “Passion, Purpose, and Poopyheads” defines the struggles I have had since I first accepted that I was actually gifted with passion and purpose –as we all are. The problem has always been the “poopyheads” that keep setting up roadblocks for me to stumble over. And isn’t that what we all deal with when we pose the “who do you say I am” question back to God: That incessant question.
We yearn for the answer. It’s our deepest spiritual longing. “Who am I to you, Lord?” But, his answer is always drown out by the voices of those who, for years, have run roughshod over our hearts and muddied the pure waters of God’s immovable, unchangeable, immense love for us. He calls each one of us his beloved, but we don’t believe it. Instead, we believe the lies of those who are just as broken as we are.
Picture this (and don’t pretend you have never thought this): You go to a new doctor and are ushered into his nurse’s station as she takes all your vital signs then shoves you up on a scale. All the while you can’t help but notice that she is obviously struggling with her own health issues. Then, you sit for an eternity waiting for the doctor who finally walks into the room reeking of cigarette smoke and finishing up the last bite of a McDonalds Big Mac – his lunch (gag me!). Will you trust anything he advises to keep you healthy when he clearly doesn’t follow that advice himself? Do you stay or run like hell? You decide for yourself, but I’m already in my car.
Now, let’s put that scenario into the context of this discussion of just who it is that Jesus says we are. Even though he tells us the same thing over and over and over, we choose to give full authority to the thoughts of others who are – well – screwed up. Mostly. Like us.
God, the magnificent Creator of all things has set before each of us hiscommitments – not commandments – an important distinction here.
He has committed to never leave us no matter what twists or turns we take on the journey. He has given us everything we need for a life not laid out before us like a scavenger hunt, though we seem to prefer that. Then, we get tripped up every time we encounter any obstacles.
We just sleepwalk through this one precious life we have been given without much thought to what we’re supposed to be doing here.
But, alas, it’s January 1, 2022. A new year.
I’m going to speak for myself now. You’re welcome to tag along….
Let’s call it:
An ode to new beginnings that tell us endings are never final if you’re still breathing.
Last year was, hands down, one of my worst years ever, with Covid relegated to last place on my list of crappy moments. After the loss of my husband, I had to face the truth of a heart condition that I chose to ignore for years. Until it reared up and took a huge bite out of my…denial.
Both these profound life events were instrumental in creating my new reality: At my age, I am starting over in an uncertain and unfamiliar place.
For the entire seventy-three years of my life I have never known what it’s like to be the creator of my own destiny. Others would always butt in with unsolicited advice and make huge messes in my life like the bratty kid who knocks down all your Legos so you have to start over! Likewise, I now have no one else to blame if I fail to follow that destiny.
How often have I thought God abandoned me because a path I took seemed like a dead-end? Only to discover it offered a critical lesson that I needed to learn before I could move on. If I could just become more self-aware and present to the steps I have taken, and will continue to take, it will be clear how they fit into my life’s purpose. I’m working on that.
How many times during the Christmas season have I hear the words, “Emmanuel – God with us” and not understood that that does not mean God has taken the wheel? He is still with us; still loving on us – but from the passenger seat.
I remember when my kids were learning to drive. That imaginary brake on my side of the car never worked! And throwing my hands up on the dashboard didn’t alter the trajectory or the speed of the car. God doesn’t work like that. He will not grab the wheel to redirect us if we mess up, and he will not bail on us no matter how out-of-control we become. He waits for our return to him – sadly, expectantly, – but patiently, like the father of the prodigal son. The choice is ours alone.
I have no idea what’s around the next corner for me and, frankly, I don’t need to know. I only know this: God is always with me. He is by my side. He is my biggest cheerleader. He forgives my stupidity and delights in giving me second chances. Yeah me!
At the end of the day, hopefully, he will welcome me home into his very heart where I will hear those immortal words, “Pretty well done, Linda. Not bad, for a messy human.”
I saw this sign while walking one day and, of course, my uncontrollable mind latched onto the “INC” at the end of the name. Now, understand, I know nothing about this particular church. The “INC” simply captivated my imagination.
I have no idea why a church would incorporate. There’s probably a very practical reason. How about this for a theory though: If any of their followers ended up in hell they couldn’t come back and sue the church. “You gave me all those dictates and dogmas, rules and decrees. I followed them to the letter and ended up in hell!
This is all your fault!
It’s extremely HOT here!
I am so suing you!!”
Nope. It doesn’t work that way.
Sorry folks, when you take your last breath, pack your bags, get your bus ticket, but you don’t end up where you expected because of poor choices you made in life, you can’t come back and sue your church, your Sunday School teacher, God, or your mother!