Jesus: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Have you ever regifted something your Aunt Ethel gave you for Christmas that you have absolutely no use for, which she probably got last year from her tasteless brother? Come on, you know you have. We probably all have. It’s okay. Regifting is in scripture you know. John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” I have a new appreciation for those words this year.

For the last three weeks we have been decorating for Christmas and we’re not finished. Not even sure what Christmas is going to look like, but my anticipation this year has taken on a deeper meaning. It’s not the expectation of the sweet, non-threatening, “baby” Jesus arriving. It’s about the Jesus who seems to have gotten lost among us, especially during this year.

We have all been witnessing our world collapse into chaos: the anger and violence and hatred brought about by Covid, the Black Lives Matter movement, economic collapse, natural disasters, and the elections. That’s a LOT to deal with in such a short time. And watching the steady stream of sucky news isn’t helping. Some may wonder if Christmas is even worth the hassle, or anticipate more violence, or obsessively shop and decorate just to dull the senses.  But, as I prepare for this season, I have been imagining a different, better scenario.

As one who has fallen away from the “Institutional” church with all its trappings of dogma and rules and birthday cake for baby Jesus I seem to be left with the stripped down version of the meaning of Christmas. Perhaps I can see much better, like the blind man Jesus healed. I’m not sure if Jesus would have “physically” healed his blindness. He certainly could have. But, more importantly, I think of it as compassion revealing itself. I believe it was the tender touch of Jesus that changed that man others rejected and cast aside. Maybe for the first time in his life, he felt his worth and innate dignity. If you have ever “experienced” Jesus’ tender touch you know what I’m talking about. But, there’s more – and this is where it gets uncomfortable. Jesus expected him, as he does us, to not cling to that love he was shown, but to reach out to others and share it. It’s not a commodity to horde like the last roll of toilet paper on the shelf; it’s a gift to be given away. I have come to see this Christmas as an opportunity like no other to do just that.

God wants my excitement and anticipation to result in action. He is telling me; all of us really, “That’s great you’re excited. Now go do something about it!” Offer kindness and compassion to those who suffer: the elderly who are alone, millions of children in America that go to bed hungry, the neglected and abused. Check on your neighbor. Offer a smile and kind word to everyone you meet. Quit hating and judging others. Quit whining and complaining about what you don’t have, feel gratitude for what you do have, and then find a way to share it.

When we are called to “give till it hurts” that’s not referring to outlandish presents under the tree that are often not even appreciated. It’s about offering love back to God and others with all your heart and soul. (Matt. 22:37) That’s how we can more meaningfully celebrate Christ in our midst!

Here’s one of my favorite “Christmas-like” songs. Try not to get it stuck in your head!

Hungry for LOVE

So many Americans pride themselves on what truly is a self-serving and glaring distinction between love of self and love of neighbor. But there is no such distinction if we are open to seeing the deepest truth of our connectedness because we are all created by one God to be in relationship with Him and with each other. Our perceived sense of control and security; our self-imposed separateness from “them” breaks the bond of our very creation and the heart of God.

Still many are too afraid to relinquish the precarious grasp they have on their self-proclaimed and arrogant superiority over others they see as “less”.

What, or who, gives anyone the right to determine who is worthy of love, dignity, compassion, and basic kindness? This country is bloated with anger and violence. We are quickly becoming a culture of hatred.

It is a frightening reality, especially for our children, which makes it even more imperative for us, if we call ourselves believers, to change the tide. To speak out against injustice and speak up for the downtrodden just as Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-10):

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

In a 2012 speech to students at Georgtown University, Bono, of U2, challenged the almost one thousand students present to see the invisible (as he continues to challenge all of us).

Because when you truly accept that those children in some far off place in the global village have the same value as you in God’s eyes or even in just your eyes, then your life is forever changed, you see something that you can’t un-see.

This song, Invisible, and actually his life, are an incredible witness to that truth. It’s about getting real; about getting beyond self and realizing the connection we have with everyone. It is about the human dignity of every person as a child of God. We are to exclude no one – NO ONE.

Listen to these words:

I’m more than you know/ I’m more than you see here
I’m more than you let me be
I’m more than you know / A body & A Soul
You don’t see me but you will/
I am not invisible / I am Here.

There is no them / only us/ only us
there is no them / only us / only us
There is no them / only you, only me
There is no them.

Meghan Clark, writing in Catholic Moral Theology, commented on the song saying:

The ultimate violation of human dignity is to no longer be counted as a human person. The response must be inclusion and participation. Once I recognize that you have human dignity, that you are a child of God, that you are the image of Christ – I cannot un-see that. 

All of this has hit home for me in a more profound way than ever before (even more so since our time spent in Rwanda) since I have been working with the homeless in St. Charles County. We have the resources to meet their basic human needs as defined by Abraham Maslow in 1943:

Physiological needs are the physical requirements for human survival. Physiological needs are thought to be the most important; they should be met first: Air, water, food, clothing and shelter.

But, as St. Mother Teresa so powerfully states it isn’t enough:

Mother_teresa hunger

 

The World is Coming to an End!

APOCALYPSE

Just kidding. Not happening. Not today anyway. I don’t think. I could be wrong. Sorry if that disappoints you. Nothing I can do about it.

Anyway, let’s jump right into the muck shall we? Weren’t the 2016 elections fun?! And the aftermath? – there doesn’t seem to be an end to it.

wrestling

Many people on both sides are everything from angry to frustrated to fearful. It’s all over the internet and the news ad nauseum. You can’t get away from it if you talk to friends, family, or strangers in the checkout lines who need to vent. Hateful rhetoric, anger, and violence are now the norm.

(Spoiler Alert: This is NOT a political post. Honest!) Stay with me now…the Good News is coming!

If you’re scratching your head because you don’t understand how we got here, maybe because you still believe Christianity is the foundation of this country, I am sorry to inform you…in recent years, it seems, we have become a more and more secular country.

So, this post is not about Democrat vs. Republican. It’s about our changing culture and how we are to live as people of faith in America today because I think we may need a refresher course on Luke 10:27.

Let’s begin with this excerpt from First Things written after the 2012 elections. What Reno wrote is even truer today:

The New Secular Moral Majority, by R. R. Reno

The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life tells us that 20 percent of Americans (that number increased to 23% in 2014) now check “none” when asked about their religious affiliation. Many are fed up with religion’s longstanding influence on American society, making them likely to attack the public role of religious institutions and further polarize politics. (Source)

Never mind that “until recently, all the progressive movements in American politics were promoted and heavily influenced by the mainline Protestant churches.” (Source: Reno)

things that make you go hmmm

But, that’s not the whole story. It isn’t just their politics that’s concerning.

Consider this article in the NY Times from April, 2016:

Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years with increases in every age group except older adults….sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s. The overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

In all, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014, compared with 29,199 in 1999. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study. 

I could throw in statistics on road rage too (I was a victim of that recently, it was frightening!). Are you aware of how many fatalities are a direct result of road rage? And the numbers are increasing.

Data gathered by SafeMotorist.com indicates that 66% of recent traffic fatalities can be linked to aggressive driving. More disturbingly, 37% of those fatalities were found to be caused by a firearm, rather than a typical accident.

Here are some more fun facts concerning the rise in mental health disorders, according to the latest statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Then you have to wonder about the extent of usage of all those legal and readily available drugs. Well, one in six U.S. adults reported taking a psychiatric drug, such as an antidepressant or a sedative. The data comes from an analysis of the 2013 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS).

Okay. I’m done.

Now, let me ask you. Does it sound like we Americans, who supposedly have everything, are living full, joyful, blissful lives? Which, surprise, is what God intended. We may have lots of “things” and the sense that we can do what we damn well please, but do our lives have purpose? According to the above statistics, it doesn’t appear that way.

We seem to be trudging through life on autopilot.

olive oil sleep walking

I believe what underlies all of this is that the American people are dying for hope.

Nothing else.

We have everything else!

People in Third World countries have nothing and are literally dying of starvation. We recently spent two months in Rwanda and encountered the survivors of the genocide of 1994. They lost almost 1 million loved ones in one-hundred days! They experience hunger daily! Which would make their faith and hope in God incomprehensible to Americans. I wrote more extensively about it here.

So, I believe this is our challenge: We, as people of faith are called by God to be that hope for others. 1 Peter 3:14-15 tells us “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”

The question that God puts before every person of faith is this, “Are you living a life of hope and joy; of compassion and mercy and generosity that speaks to the emptiness of those who have lost their way?”

Not according to Barna Research Group (sorry, this is the last one – promise):

It may come as no surprise that the influence of Christianity in the United States is waning. Rates of church attendance, religious affiliation, belief in God, prayer and Bible-reading have all been dropping for decades. By consequence, the role of religion in public life has been slowly diminishing, and the church no longer functions with the cultural authority it held in times past. These are unique days for the church in America as it learns what it means to flourish in a new “Post-Christian” era.

Geeezzzz, Linda, if I wasn’t depressed before you shared all this “stuff” I am now!

Oh, come on, stay with me guys cause we’ve got work to do!

spreadlove1

God’s call in this day and time may seem overwhelming. After all, I am just one person, right? So was Esther! If you have been following my blogs, you know I have a special place in my heart for Esther. God prepared her for “such a time as this” (4:14). And here’s the key: we rarely know the outcome of God’s calling before our “yes” response. So, it’s too risky for us. We want to say, “Yes, if…”

“Yes, if it won’t cost me anything.”

“Yes, if I’m going to be rewarded for my effort.”

That was not Esther’s response, and it shouldn’t be ours. She said “yes” to God knowing full well she would likely be killed, “When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” But, she didn’t perish; she saved her people. (Esther 4:15)

BAM DONE!

“Okay” you say with great trepidation. “But, where do we start?”

Well, perhaps we’re standing in the wrong line;

line

Putting our trust in the wrong people;

voting booth

Believing the rhetoric that there is no heaven or hell;

hell

Spending too much time shopping online, obsessing over Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media sites;

social media

We first have to come to the realization that we will never be fulfilled by our consumerist obsessions; our need to succeed at any cost; our inflated egos and narcissism. We never seem to be satisfied. We want more, but more of what? Richard Rohr calls it our “survival dance” which keeps us from “getting to our sacred dance.”

There is an incredible book I have read and reread, titled, Waking the Dead, by John Eldredge.  Powerful stuff.  He asks:

What is really going on here? Good grief – life is brutal. Day after day it hammers us, till we lose sight of what God intends toward us.” He quotes St. Irenaeus, “The Glory of God is Man Fully Alive” – and goes on the say, “You’re kidding me. Really? Is that what you’ve been told? That the purpose of God –the very thing he’s staked his reputation on – is your coming fully alive?

Eldredge believes that:

We are at war. I don’t like that fact any more than you do, but the sooner we come to terms with it, the better hope we have of possessing the life we want. I’m sorry if I’m the one to break this news to you: you were born into a world at war, and you will live all your days in the midst of a great battle, involving all the forces of heaven and hell and played out here on earth.

Yeah, thanks!  That insight surely makes you want to trade your Armani suit for an itchy camel hair coat; pack your lunchbox with locust, and find your prophetic voice doesn’t it?

Alternatively, I don’t know about you, but I’m not anxious to end up as the one referred to in Revelations 3:16, “So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

So many people have become fearful of what our future, in particular the future for our children and grandchildren, will look like. Focused entirely on the makeup of Washington, the seeming inability to correct the direction we are headed, and what all that will mean for this fragile country.

When I read the article I shared with you in the beginning of this post, God revealed to me something much graver.  No matter how any of us voted, there is something much more critical to address. I have a great sense that our work, the work of all people of faith, at this time in history, is more critical than ever.

Okay…there you go.

What are we, as God’s people, supposed to be thinking, and feeling, and doing in what seems to be a hopeless situation?

Well, not this – please – not this:

HatfieldClan

If you’re wringing your hands, hunkering down, barring your windows, loading your guns, and wishing for the apocalypse, perhaps this is a good time for a refresher course in what it means to be God’s beloved. That’s where it starts. Then, it should flow out to others. People all around you are desperate to hear they are worthy. That is our “great commission” today, just as it was for the first disciples so long ago. In case you’ve been so busy you haven’t noticed, they’re long gone and there is a void that we ALL are called to fill.

Perhaps, for starters, some sobering questions need to be answered by each of us:

  • Does my “yes” to God call me to a responsibility that compels me to a response?
  • Why, if we are 40% of the population, have we not influenced the “nones”?  We are the same 40% while they are growing in number. Why?
  • Are we culpable in the course this country has taken because of our limited desire to live the “Good News” in a way that makes others want what we have? When we “go to church” an hour on Sunday and the rest of our lives are enmeshed in worldly pursuits, how are we any different?
  • The secular may have pushed God out of our schools and Public Square, but are we, a people of faith, just as guilty of keeping Him hidden in our places of worship?

Still waiting for Jesus to come? Still waiting for the “Good News”?

waiting for Jesus

Well, guess what? YOU are the bearer of God’s “Good News”! All wrapped up in the bright, shiny LIGHT of Jesus! YOU are God’s gift to a hurting world.

Indeed, we need God, but, are you aware that God needs us too? Right. You thought God didn’t need anything. But, it’s true. Archibald MacLeish, in his sermon on Job tells us why:

Man depends on God for all things: God depends on man for one. Without man, God does not exist as God, only as creator, and love is the one thing, no one, not even God Himself, can command.

Do you believe that?  If so, what are you “doing” about it? Sure, you may not be the next Mother Theresa or Ghandi or Martin Luther King – or you could be. Either way, God has gifted you, and likely in some way you may not even have imagined. God prepared you before you were born and has called you into the fray and the messiness of this world to serve.

If the love of God is not manifest in and through us to others, how will the “nones” ever know there’s a better life waiting for them? If that beautiful nun, Sister Maureen, had not spoken God’s love into my heart fifteen years ago, I would likely still be drunk! If she had only seen the exterior of the obnoxious heathen I was, and not the very breath and heart of God buried deep within me, I would likely be one of those statistics.

Ask yourself how many Linda’s you have turned away from God because you were too busy or too afraid to be vulnerable and risk reaching out? Then, ask God to change your heart and move your feet.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_RjndG0IX8)

 

matthew west
Do Something

Perhaps the motto of the French Foreign Legion would help us:

                If I fall – pick me up.

                  If I falter – push me on.

                   If I retreat – shoot me!

 

I Want a Do-Over…I Think…Maybe not

(Originally posted 6/30/14)

My oldest son and daughter-in-law have an eight-month-old baby, their first. On a recent visit, my daughter-in-law asked me what I thought was important to teach their daughter. I threw out some thoughts, but, several weeks later, I am still thinking about that question.

I made a LOT of mistakes parenting my children, something that always comes to mind for me on Mother’s Day, and other random days when I am particularly vulnerable to my darkest side. I often wish I could have a do-over. A chance to enact that age-old expression, “if I knew then what I know now”.

So, if I had it to do over how would I parent differently? First of all, and most importantly, you cannot instill in your children what has not been instilled in you. “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” doesn’t work (you do know that, right?). Or, my all-time favorite, “Do it because I said so.” But, the reality that children learn by our example more than anything sometimes catches us off-guard, many times in uncomfortable places: In front of friends, the pastor, or new neighbor. We blush with embarrassment and exclaim, “Johnny, where did you hear that????” You know darn good and well where he heard that!

“From you daddy!”

We often fail miserably in living out the values we want to impart to our children.

There are six values (in no particular order), and one HUGE command, that immediately come to mind for me, none of which, I might add, were modeled to me as a child:

  • Generosity: 

I think that if we were all honest we would admit that we embrace some degree of selfishness. Like:

Hiding in the bathroom with the last piece of pie from last night’s dinner. (Come on, you know you’ve done it.) And you know full well it was your husband’s favorite pie. AND it was more like two pieces! AND you told him it was all gone!

Holding onto that “favorite-can’t-live-without-it-sweater” when packing up a box of clothing for the hurricane victims in Haiti. They really wouldn’t appreciate it anyway. And you’re giving them all this other stuff that’s clean and doesn’t have holes or stains. Okay, maybe it is your dear dead grandmother’s stuff from ten years ago, but it’s still usable. Never mind that you have three other identical sweaters!

Ignoring the bills in your wallet and digging in the bottom of your pocket for meager change to hand out the window of your moving car to the homeless man on the corner. Then feeling pretty darn good about it because the three people in front of you drove right past him. Shoot, you may have even offered him a blessing as you drove away.

Is that the kind of “generosity” our kids see in us? Will they respond to the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) in the same way? How giving and selfless do we want them to be? Like us – or like Jesus? I would hope you would say, “Like Jesus” but then the question becomes am I like Jesus in my selflessness and generosity?

The challenge becomes this: the next time we are given the opportunity to give to or serve others how generous are we willing to be? Enough that it hurts a little bit?

Here’s a recent experience I had:

Joe-300x224

This was a homeless man I encountered recently on the Katy Trail one morning. I greeted him kindly as I ran past him. When I was returning I saw another man standing next to his bike talking to him. When I passed them I couldn’t help but think about how I had avoided him, excusing it as a safety measure on my part. After all, the trail was secluded and there was no one else around at the time.

However, when I got home I enlisted my husband to help me pack some food and water and take it to him. We found him trying to fish with a string and a hook and talked with him for a while before he went on his way. I’m pretty sure I did all that out of guilt and definitely felt the nudging of the Holy Spirit when I tried to get past him on the trail that morning.

The point is, as I am being continually reminded, it isn’t enough to throw a few coins from the safety of your car. Your brother or sister needs touch; needs the love that says you care; needs to see Christ. Have you heard the expression, “You may be the only Christ a person meets”? Think about that.

  • Forgiveness 

I know, this is probably the hardest one of all, especially if what you are teaching your children to forgive is, well, unforgivable. But, I have to ask, how do they know what is or isn’t unforgivable? Have you taught them that? Do you tell them you don’t go visit Uncle Jim because he did something awful to you and you can’t stand him? Do you talk about the neighbor you hate or the friend you don’t see anymore because of some grievance you have against them? Then one day your daughter comes home from school and tells you she hates her once best friend for whatever reason and you tell her that it’s not nice to hate?

Countless times I said to my kids, “Hate’s a strong word. We don’t use that word”, while for years I hated my own mother and others who abused me. Eventually I did learn to forgive those who hurt me deeply and I learned to seek forgiveness from those I hurt in the past and sometimes still do. Try it. Just know that you can’t truly forgive without the grace of God. It’s not a good idea to go knocking on someone’s door you are estranged from without taking God’s compassion and grace with you.

  • And speaking of Compassion:

God could have kept Jesus safely at home, thereby sparing both Son and Father the agony that they’d soon be suffering. But those who had been cast aside by society desperately needed Jesus’ touch. The woman who came to the well after all the other women had shunned her; the leper who’d been sent into a lonely, humiliating exile; the adulterous woman, shamed and frightened, standing half-naked before a self-righteous crowd eager to stone her. All of them, and so many more, needed Jesus’ compassionate touch, a touch that the world rejects; it’s beneath them.

As we grow into the people God created us to be, made in His likeness and His image, we must accept the call to share that love with others – not as a burden, but as a blessing.  Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart….” (Matthew 11:29).

I’m someone who has received Jesus’ compassionate tenderness when I have been so undeserving of it. He calls me to reach out to others in the same way. Even when we can’t imagine how our touch will be received, we have a mandate to carry on Christ’s work. The world would have us believe that it’s dangerous to reach out to others, especially strangers. But, as Mother Theresa says, “Do it anyway.”

Here’s an important question to reflect on: Could you or I have compassion for someone in need if no one was watching?

pope-150x150

Yes, of course the Pope knows everyone is watching him and this scene makes a lovely photo opt. But, I think there are few people who doubt Pope Francis’ compassion. It truly is genuine and brings many to tears.

Do you remember this story of Officer Larry DePrimo who was photographed after he bought boots and thermal socks for a homeless man? He didn’t do it because someone was watching, or because he would gain anything for himself. He did it because he cared. Plain and simple.

Officer-150x150

  • Acceptance

I often think our kids are more accepting of others than we are. I’m not sure why it is so difficult for us to just accept others for who they are, but it is. We can’t accept the jerk next door that spews profanity at everything from his crabgrass to the mail carrier to his wife…and you, of course.

We often can’t even accept ourselves. Actually, I believe we are just as judgmental and merciless towards ourselves, because, after all, we should act better.

I would go so far as to say that we even struggle to accept God for who he is. We try desperately to remake him into our image and become frustrated when he doesn’t cooperate.

I guarantee you I can find something wrong with everyone I know, myself included. The list of the things that make me the mess that I am is long – very long.

Think about every time you meet someone new. You hope against hope that this person will be different. They seem normal. Then they do something stupid by your standards (it’ll happen, just give it time). Suddenly, they become an instant ass and the proverbial honeymoon is over.

If we could only grasp these profound words of Richard Rohr (paste this on your bathroom mirror and read it to yourself every day until it sinks in. You’ll be doing yourself, your kids, you neighbor and God a huge favor!):

Once we have learned to discern the real and disguised nature of both good and evil we recognize that everything is broken and fallen, weak and poor—while still being the dwelling place of God—you and me, your country, your children, your marriage, and even your church and mosque and synagogue. That is not a put-down of anybody or anything, but actually creates the freedom to love imperfect things! As Jesus told the rich young man, “God alone is good!” (Mark 10:18).

In this, you may have been given the greatest recipe for happiness for the rest of your life. You cannot wait for things to be totally perfect to fall in love with them or you will never love anything. Now, instead, you can love everything!

  • Humility

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

“Love does not get puffed up” (1 Corinthians 13:4) Puffed-up love, or pride, is easily recognized because it’s always turned toward itself. I know all about pride because I once made an almost effortless transition from self-hatred to self-love. Not the self-love God refers to in Mark 12:31. The self-love I’m referring to hides within the ego and thrives on a superior self image. That’s not what God had in mind when he modeled humility in the life and death of Jesus. He became “the least of these”.

Would I do this? Would my child?:

pope1-300x196

  • Trust

This has always been a huge one for me.

Are you trust-worthy? Because if you are not, then it stands to reason that you will not trust others and will find yourself cynical of their motivations. Do your children trust you?

I learned very early about trust. When I was about seven, I hid the key to our bathroom because I wanted a safe place to run to when my mother had one of her frequent angry fits. Soon after that, while my brother and I were playing a game, I cursed and he ran home to tell our mother. I ran past him, flew into the house, and locked myself in my sanctuary. In almost no time, of course, there was a pounding on the door.

“Linda, open the door.”

“No.  You’ll hit me!”

“I said open the door!”

“Promise you won’t hit me.”

“Open the g@#*^ door, or I’ll climb in the window!”

“Promise you won’t hit me!”

“Okay, I promise. Now open the door!”

Trusting her – after all, she was my mother right? – I opened the door. She beat me until I fell into the bathtub and continued beating me until she was convinced that I had learned my lesson. Well, I did learn a lesson that day: don’t trust anyone. It was a lesson that would stay with me for many years. I became instantly determined that no one would hurt me like that ever again.

Why is it that we’ll trust people who have no interest whatsoever in us or our well-being, yet we can’t seem to trust the One who died for us? How many of your Facebook “friends” care about your salvation? Do you think they care that you struggle? Do you think for a moment they wonder how you’re doing? “Gee, that’s a shame about Linda’s brush with hell” – yawn. If they want anything, it is to keep you right there with them. Misery loves company.

When I became a Christian my struggles and heartaches didn’t magically disappear. They did, however, illuminate God’s call to surrender my will to his. Every time I came to that place I fought it with everything I had. I was angry that God would ask such a thing of me, “Where were you, Lord, when I was being abused? Why should I give anything up to you”? Though I kept him at arm’s length for a long time, gradually, he got through to my hardened heart. Gradually I began the process of turning loose of those things that – truth be told – I never had control of anyway. I was beginning to trust.

As I have grown closer to God, I have come to hear his voice more clearly, trust his guidance more readily, and wait a bit more patiently when he is silent. Yet, what is critical to understand in all of this is that I still fall short. Just when I believe I have overcome my defensive attitude someone pushes my button and sets me off. Busted! Exposed! And the insecure Linda I try to keep locked up is revealed—again.

So, there are the six virtues I wished I would have learned as a child from loving parents; virtuous parents. They are the virtues I have wished for so long to have modeled to my own kids. They never saw it then; I hope and pray they do now.

Now, be assured, ticking off a checklist of all that we “accomplish” on the path to sainthood and beating ourselves up when we fall short is an exercise in futility. Why? Because we are human, it is no more complicated than that. We try to make it more complex, but it really isn’t.

 When we fail – and we do (as will our kids) – discouragement will become our constant companion if we do not accept the fact that we will never be perfect. Never! (And neither will our kids.) Because I could not accept that in the past I felt I was continually failing God when I couldn’t seem to control or discipline myself, my husband, my kids, or the dog. No one!  But, as shocking as it may seem, the greatest commandment is not, “Get your act together stupid!”

And as for our children, sure, we want them to grow up with the moral fortitude and the integrity of a saint, but we also have to accept that it just might not happen the way we envision it. For whatever reason, there are no guarantees. That adorable baby you start off with could end up different than you had dreamed:

hitler-150x150 Know who this is?

So, are you saying, Linda, that raising children is a crap shoot? In some ways, yes. But, here’s the thing we just can’t seem to comprehend when we try desperately to control our lives and the lives of our children, if that is the basis of our parenting, God help us! I’m not saying that you should throw discipline out the window – far from it. We are given a responsibility as parents that we should take very seriously.

Anyway, my point is this: God has lent us our children. They don’t belong to us, they belong to him and he wants them back in the same “condition” we received them. Of course, he knows we aren’t the only ones that influence their behavior and he does not hold us accountable for the possibility that others may lead them astray. As I said before, there are no guarantees. I’m sure there were people in my earlier years (I’m thinking of some of my teachers) who wouldn’t have given me a snowball’s chance in hell of staying out of jail! Well….

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If you, like me, are a bit intimidated by the responsibility you have to care for the children God has gifted you with there are innumerable Christian parenting books. Some are very good, while others make no sense at all. God has also given you the ability to discern which ones make sense and which ones don’t. I will say this: If you try a method that advocates excessive discipline, or go the opposite route and become too permissive, you will likely know in your gut that you are on the wrong path. Remember, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over and expecting different results.

For me, Dr. James Dobson’s books filled the gap between the way I was raised and the way God was calling me to love and nurture my own children. And I believe his council is as true today and it was then. But, that is as far as I will go in offering advice as that goes beyond the scope of this post. Just remember that what I have offered here is my opinion. And what did you pay for that opinion? Nothing.

The days of actually raising my children have long passed. But if I did have it to do over I would have first learned to love them unconditionally because of God’s unconditional love for me. I would have accepted them as the individuals they were created by God to be, faults and all, because that is how God created and accepts me, and I would not have felt such a need to control the hell out of them!

That brings us to the final thought: that ONE HUGE COMMAND which Jesus left to his disciples and us.

The GREATEST of these…is…

Drum roll please….

LOVE

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” If the basis of all we do as parents, spouses, friends, and neighbors is to love as we are called to, our children will be just fine.

 

 

Hell Begins…

(Originally posted 5/15/2012

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“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

In January of 1994 my mother died of heart disease. Eight months later, my father died of cancer. Because they hadn’t belonged to a church, their funerals were what I would call generic, with a minister provided by the funeral parlor.

Prior to my mother’s wake, the minister gathered together all twenty of us kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids. He asked us to tell him something about this woman he’d be eulogizing the next day. He wanted to be able to relate some happy memories of my mother at her funeral. In complete silence, we looked at each other, incredulous, thinking, “Come on, somebody. Come up with something!” Digging into the recesses of our minds, we slogged through the anger and the sorrow, trying desperately to recall a long-forgotten quip or enlightening conversation, maybe a silly habit, a favorite joke, one special Christmas tradition, or what about that time when…?

Nothing.

At the end of my mother’s life, her family had absolutely nothing to say about her. Well, nothing you would say at a funeral – you think it, but you don’t say it. The minister, quickly seeing that there’d be no wealth of joyful material from which to draw his comments, politely excused himself to go hunt up some old familiar one-size-fits-all sermon. That experience left me numb.

My father’s death that autumn was like suffering through a bad movie for the second time: same cast of characters, same setting, same faulty plot line. Again, the twenty of us couldn’t come up with a thing. The silence was deafening – and, yes, I was angry. I wanted to shout, “How could the two of you do this? How could you inhabit this earth for more than seventy years, at the epicenter of a family you supposedly loved, and not leave behind even the faintest happy memory? How could you journey through your lives without touching anyone else’s?”

I hadn’t expected this level of grief. I didn’t understand it. How could I grieve for the parents who had left me nothing to miss? Eventually, though, I came to see that what I was grieving was the absence of love. All my life, I longed for my parents’ love, but I had just been fooling myself. And now…that longing would remain unfulfilled.

Those two impersonal funerals, and my indignant response to them, proved pivotal to the changes in my life that would follow. I was inspired to set two goals that I might otherwise have shrugged off: To seek the love that would draw me closer to God, and to share that love with others, especially my family. I wanted to make sure that I’d have a different funeral someday, and a different legacy, than either of my parents. I wanted to be remembered as someone who had loved, someone who had honestly and openly confessed to others when I’d failed or fallen short, someone who had needed and known God’s mercy. And I wanted everyone who attended my funeral to have a smile on his face! – a smile that reflected the joy we’d shared, the compassion we’d known, the forgiveness we’d received, and the love we’d never doubted.

As Scripture tells us, “…if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

After determining my two goals and reviewing my life accordingly, I could see that a mountain would indeed have to be moved. And, in all honesty, I also felt that it would be impossible!

That was fifteen years ago, and I can tell you with absolute conviction that, not only is it NOT impossible, it is certain; it is God’s promise to us and it will be fulfilled by Him! He simply needs our mustard seed, shaky knees, sweaty palms “okay, I’ll give it a try” response – with no assurance of the process – simply the faith to trust. The outcome is not ours to know. However, it is God’s already set in place plan  if we’re willing to cooperate with Him..

Perhaps, unlike everyone else in all of creation, you somehow are privy to the date and time of your demise. Even then, you may, or may not, have LOTS of time to fix all the messes you have made in your life and the lives of everyone around you. Otherwise, it’s probably not a good idea to procrastinate on this one.

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Eaten by Dogs

(Originally posted on March 16, 2012)

Our number one, most important, above all else – not “boy, I sure would like you to consider doing this”  commandment:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-34

We are loved by God – completely and unconditionally! We are forgiven and forgiven and forgiven again. Can I get an AMEN?! God expects us to love others and forgive their transgressions against us in return. Can I get an “AAUGH”!?

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Here’s what it looks like: Matthew 18:21-32 (the Message) At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven. The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market. The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’ The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king. The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”

Every person possesses an inherent human dignity by the very nature of who and Who’s we are. Dignity and worth belong even to, no, especially to, those we hate or reject; those who annoy, provoke, and get on our last nerve. That was Jesus’ mission and message.

That person is truly the person who mirrors something about you that you refuse to see. They are in your life to teach you a lesson about yourself, and they will continue to annoy and anger you until you learn that lesson. Even when they move on, and you think you are rid of them – guess what – someone else comes along to take their place. It’s true. You know it’s true.

Try to sit with this lovely fact for a while: “you only love God as much as the person you hate the most.” Ouch!

I will give you an example in my own life: I often like to convince myself, and everyone around me, that I have my life all together, and that I have more self-esteem than legally allowed. Then someone comes along, and in a millisecond, the false self I thought I sent packing long ago, or have become comfortable with, rears its ugly head, AGAIN!

Never mind the random jerk I encounter in my day-to-day adventures outside the wilderness were I live (where nature just exists for my pure pleasure and never riles me. AHA, it’s a beautiful thing. But I digress), within my own family I have gone from “Mother of the Year” to “Mommie Dearest” at the speed of lightening!

Just when I have visions of myself as the Proverbs 31 woman, “A good woman is hard to find, and worth far more than diamonds. Her husband trusts her without reserve, and never has reason to regret it. Never spiteful, she treats him generously all her life long.” – my husband pushes my buttons – and poof – from Saint Linda to Jezebel in the blink of an eye. And you know how she ended up don’t you? No? Are you ready? It’s not pretty…

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The dogs ate her! (1 Kings 16 – 2 Kings 9)

All You Need is Love – dootdadododo

The world offers many different expressions of love: “I love mint chocolate chip ice cream!” (Actually, that’s true.) “I love your new car!” “I love shopping!”  Love can be humorous, as when Miss Piggy floats across a field of flowers, heart beating wildly, feeling weak in the knees, stomach all a-flutter, shrieking, “Ohhhhhh, Kermie!”

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Love can come with no expectations, or commitments: “I used to love you when you were thin and had more hair!” or, “Well, I could have loved you, but your ex-wife got all your money, and, well, I have needs!” or, “You didn’t tell me I had to love your kids too!”

Love is depicted beautifully in these classic song lyrics, “How can you believe me when I say I love you when you know I’ve been a liar all my life?” Or how about this one?  Come on sing along you know the words: “If you can’t be with the one you love, Honey, love the one you’re with.”

Today’s world tells us that love can be found merely by seeking our own desires, which no one has a right to deny us, and that it’s just as rewarding to love things as people. The if-it-feels-good mentality of worldly love devours childhood innocence, destroys relationships, shrugs off compassion, and muddies the pure waters of selfless love. As long as we seek love from the things of this world, we will always come up lost and empty for all our efforts. The lie will continue to perpetuate the madness.

How do so many of us get it so wrong so often? Perhaps it’s because our meager understanding of love is based on our personal, human experiences. I often ask myself, “Self, what is your problem?  Why do you struggle so much? Why does it seem like a daily battle to love others? Why can’t you let go of your past? Why is it so difficult for you to trust God, accept His love, and your inherent worth? Perhaps my ego has been too big, my fear too overwhelming, and my God too small.

But lately, by the grace of God, I am seeing my failure to truly love and my fear of accepting love in the light of a much bigger God; a God that does not fit neatly or easily into the image I have created. He refuses to patronize me when I cry out, “Lord, Lord!” It’s as though He is saying to me, “Your cries are muted by your deafening indifference, Linda. Your faith is lukewarm, and, need I remind you, how I hate lukewarm?!” Revelation 3:16, “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Then, as so often happens, Richard Rohr puts it into perspective for me:

Our failures open our hearts of stone and move the rigid mind space toward understanding and patience. It is in doing it wrong, being rejected, and experiencing pain that we are lead to total reliance upon God….God has let me do just about everything wrong, so I could fully experience how God can do everything so utterly right….

This is why Christianity has as its central symbol of transformation a naked, bleeding man who is the picture of failing, losing, and dying . . . and who is really winning–and revealing the secret pattern to those who will join him there. Everyone wins because if there’s one thing we all have in common, if we’re honest, it’s our weakness and powerlessness in one–but usually many–areas of our lives. There’s a broken, wounded part inside each of us.

If we expect or need things (including ourselves) to be perfect or even “to our liking,” we have created a certain plan for a very unhappy life.

I have recently been reading about Celtic Spirituality. It ‘s fascinating! It was rejected as heresy by the Roman Church and was almost lost. (If you would like to learn more about it I highly recommend the writings of J. Phillip Newell, especially, “Listening for the Heartbeat of God” and “The Rebirthing of God”).

Newell tells us:

Within us – as a sheer gift of God – is the capacity to bring forth what has never been before, including what has never been imagined before. Deep within us are holy, natural longings for oneness….We may live in tragic exile from those longings, or we may have spent a whole lifetime not knowing how to truly satisfy them, but they are there at the heart of our being, waiting to be born afresh….When we love, we bring the very essence of our being into relationship with the essence of the other. God in us adores God in the other” (The Rebirthing of God, p. x, xvi)

Recently, I have been experiencing a great and mysterious intensity. Perhaps that is the longing Newell speaks of. I recall someone else calling it those thin places when we feel God’s presence most profoundly. I can’t describe the emotions except that they are overwhelming. In these moments, I know God is working in this messy heart of mine. That’s simply AWESOME!

When I start to make judgments about others I sense God’s tug on my heart to “see” them as He sees them; to look beyond their actions to their hearts where He resides. The peace that brings to my own heart is beyond words!

Though I converted to Catholicism in the late 70’s there was so much missing for me for so long. I don’t feel I was nurtured in the faith, but rather, indoctrinated: memorize the prayers, miss Mass at your own peril, go to confession, and for Heaven’s sake never question the Church’s authority!

In graduate school I began to grow into a different faith, still Catholic, but more in line with the saints I so admired and wanted to emulate. I have no illusions of becoming Saint Linda, but I can strive for the perfection Jesus calls us to; strive to be more compassionate, loving, and joyful in the midst of all my circumstances.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 tells us, “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” There are some attributes of love I would like to focus on: “Love suffers long” and “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”.

“Love suffers long”

Okay. We’re already in trouble. We don’t want to suffer; we want the antidote! We want something to fix the problem. As human beings – even if we’re Christians – we really hate to suffer.

Throughout Scripture we are told of God’s deep love and longsuffering for those who turn away from Him. This is not a God who can’t wait to punish us for our sinfulness; this is a God who longs to lavish us with His love despite our sinfulness. God’s longsuffering is manifested for the sake of our salvation, and our own call to longsuffering is for the sake of other people’s salvation, as well as our own. Just as Jesus’ suffering and dying brought many sinners to salvation, and the apostles’ suffering and martyrdom brought others to God, our own willingness to suffer well, whatever comes our way, is a witness to the power of God’s love in a broken world.

I have a good friend whose marriage is terribly difficult. She has often threatened divorce. She told me once that she could easily live in a cave with God, a refrigerator, and a port-a-potty, and be content. But God spoke to the very depth of her heart that it was within her marriage that she would grow to be more like him. It’s easy to love a new-born baby or a tiny puppy or the perfect mother that you’ve been blessed with. But, what about those imperfect relationships and imperfect people? Do you find yourself glaring at that lump of a husband on your sofa – you know, the one who’s guzzling beer and belching show tunes – and wondering where you went wrong? Then there’s that obnoxious neighbor you secretly wish would fall of the face of the earth.

There always seems to be someone anxious to make messes in our lives. Can’t we do something to make him or her pay? Don’t we have the right? The answer is a simple but emphatic No!” God will handle that person, not us – definitely not us.

“Love Bears all Things; Believes all Things; Hopes all Things; Endures all Things”

When your wife comes home drunk…again, when your child is arrested on drug charges, when your cancer returns, when your aging parents make continual demands on you, when you can’t lift your head off the pillow to face another day – how do you bear up, believe, hope, and endure all things? When you cry out to God in despair but receive no answer, how do you go on?

You have to believe, truly believe, that the God of mercy loves you immeasurably. Nothing you suffer is lost to God’s watchful, loving care. No part of your life is without purpose. In the book of Genesis, Abraham was called by God to slay his beloved son Isaac. Could I have trusted God that much? There’s no anonymous tipster in this story whispering, “Pssst, Abe! Just go along with it. He’ll stop you at the last minute. Trust me.” Nope, it didn’t happen that way. Abraham completely trusted God.

We can find incredible stories throughout history of people who have suffered persecution and abject loss. Countless people have survived the unthinkable. But how? They’ve survived by knowing and believing in God’s promises and trusting in His love. From the darkness of despair comes the dawn of grace. When we can’t see God or hear Him in the midst of our pain, we need to trust that His love for us is at the core of our being. “Blessed are those who suffer well and hope for things unseen, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 13:13). In suffering, we are comforted by God. In suffering, we learn how to comfort others.

What if Jesus’ story had been different? What if He had gone to the cross kicking and screaming? He certainly had the right. He was being persecuted relentlessly. During His life on earth, He had done nothing but love His Father and all of humankind, and for that flawless behavior He was crucified. He could have retaliated with an army of angels, but He didn’t. Instead, He healed the sick, brought hope to the hopeless, and forgave the sinner. He was stripped, spat upon, mocked, and killed. He could have cursed his enemies to Hell, instead he prayed for them.

The world repaid Jesus’ love with hatred in the form of a cross. The nails didn’t hold Him there, however; his love held him there. His last words could have been shouts of bitter vengeance, but he chose to forgive in his final act of mercy: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).  

Jesus’ final hours speak volumes about my rejection of atonement theology. Many believe that Jesus had to come and die to atone for our sins. I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. I believe too many of us to this day subscribe to the belief that God’s anger over our sins required his death. Doesn’t that create an image of a God who punishes; who rules with an iron fist, who can’t wait for us to screw up? Not my God. No thanks. Where do we find in Scripture that Jesus stomped around grumbling about his fate and shaking his fist at us pathetic humans? Where? Show me. You can’t because it’s not there.

GOD IS LOVE…PERIOD. And because we were created in his image, we are to be that love to others as well (and by the way, to ourselves, because we suck at that too!).  Jesus’ last command to us was to love. When did he tell us to hate and judge and flip off that jerky neighbor? The last words out of Jesus’ mouth were to forgive not to condemn.

My mother-in-law (God rest her beautiful soul) could offer you a perfect example of why God calls us to love. Forty-three years ago, I stood before her in a short skirt, a long wig, a seven-year-old daughter by my side, and a heathen attitude in my heart. I was self-centered and demanding. I resented the occasions when my husband would stop to see her after work. He spent so much time with her in fact, I was jealous.

For those and other reasons, she could have done what everyone else in my life had done – she could have rejected me or struck out at me. I would have understood that reaction it was what I was accustomed to. Instead, she chose to love me in spite of myself, and soon I could feel myself being drawn to her. She had something that I wanted and I didn’t even know what it was. But after being in her company and experiencing firsthand her selfless love for others – and for me – I was hooked.

Unwittingly, my wonderful mother-in-law took me to the foot of the Cross, and that was where I began the long journey of change. She bore the pain of losing a younger sister to cancer and the death of a beloved son. She struggled through a difficult marriage and other challenging relationships. Yet she continued to reach out to others and to love them.

If I hadn’t witnessed her faith and hope in the midst of suffering, I would most likely still be self-absorbed and wearing those dreaded short skirts (probably not a good idea for a sixty-eight-year-old grandmother!). I can imagine her reunion with God, “Come on, give us a hug Catherine! Thank you for so brilliantly dealing with that mess of a daughter-in-law of yours! Well done, my good and faithful servant…well done!” (Matthew 25:23)

There are many other lost souls out there. Have you touched one lately – or have you turned them away?

“The Greatest of These is Love”

Scripture tells us the value that God places on love: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Yes, the greatest of these is love. “Love” at its most compelling is a verb. It’s an action word. We can’t just give lip service to God’s commandment to love one another. If the action doesn’t match the words, it’s a lie, regardless of whether we’re talking about love for God or love for our neighbors. Jesus went beyond telling us that he loved us, he showed us – and he expects us to do the same.

How about 1 John 4:20 for a wakeup call? “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” No doubt we all know someone else like that, but could we be accused of the same shortcoming?

No one promised us that God’s way would be easy. The Bible depicts a love unlike the worldly version: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friend” (John 15:13).  How many people would you consider dying for? Hopefully your children, your spouse, possibly other relatives (except crazy Uncle Bill), and most likely your dearest friends. Those friends would have to be your dearest ones, though! Fair-weather friends wouldn’t make the cut. How about an enemy? How about that crotchety neighbor you’ve had to contend with for years? How about that lying sneak of a co-worker who managed to get himself promoted to a job that was rightfully yours?

Although God’s love is freely given, it longs for a response. Today, in a world that is laden with mistrust and fear, we’re focused on taking care of “number one.” We have been made in the image of God and empowered by the Holy Spirit – and that is good news! But we as Christians are called to take that good news to the world. If fear holds us back, it masks who we really are. Fear clings to the old self, refuses to relinquish control, and attempts to tie the hands of the Holy Spirit.

However, God’s sacrificial love is meant for everyone, and “everyone” means everyone. We as Christians have no monopoly on God. We don’t own him and we don’t have exclusive rights to him. This isn’t a private club. We are to be instruments of God’s love, or our response and our faith are inadequate at best, sinful at worst.

I would like to end this very long post with a quote that I read over and over again. It comes from a most powerful sermon on Job once given by Archibald MacLeish. He says:

Man depends on God for all things; God depends on man for one. Without man’s love, God does not exist as God, only as creator, and love is the one thing no one, not even God, can command. It is a free gift or it is nothing. And it is most itself, most free, when it is offered in spite of suffering, of injustice, and of death….Only man can prove that man loves God.

So…what are you waiting for?

PROVE IT!