God’s Full Refund Offer

It seems like such a stretch…no…an impossibility, for us to accept what God really desires from us and for us: Not a list of commands we can tick off like the rich guy in Matthew (19:16), not a quick rote prayer on our way to more important things, not a list of complaints we keep bringing to him until they are heard and remedied.

And so, here we are, stuck in our miserable small lives, blaming our unhappiness on God or some inept human and demanding the universe be reordered in our favor! All the while, we seem to be oblivious to life’s special moments with friends and loved ones, majestic sunsets, breathtaking rainbows, the pure pleasure of chocolate, and most of all, a magnificent life full of richness and purpose. All planned out for us by a God who doesn’t’ do ordinary and never did.

Do you ever think about why we stay stuck there? I believe we are afraid of intimacy. Deny it, poo-poo it, thumb your nose at it, but think about it. Keeping ourselves at arm’s length from relationship with God and others requires nothing from us. Intimacy is too scary. But surprisingly, it too makes no demands. By its nature it cannot demand.

Intimacy is the love relationship modeled for us by the Father and his beloved Son through the work of the Spirit. It is self-emptying and gratuitous. It seeks the best for others over our own wants and needs. It is life-giving and it is what God longs for with each and every one of us. He beacons us into relationship with him and he will court and swoon and get all mushy over us until we let go of our fears. But, intimacy requires trust and vulnerability and we’re terrified of being vulnerable and exposing our weaknesses. Yeah, I tried that once and got smacked silly. No thanks. If we could just realize that vulnerability is not a character flaw to be conquered. It is integral to our relationship with God and is meant to be transforming. It means accepting and loving who we truly are, sins and all. It is birthed in the grace of God, not shame.

We continually believe that we’re not good enough, not perfect enough, not “holy” enough.  Who told us that? I can think of several people in my life, beginning with my parents, especially my mother. There have been countless more people over the years eager to reinforce that lie. It’s actually amazing when you think about it that we allow other broken people to define us and determine our worth. Then point to them when we try to prove to God that we are not worthy of love.

Truth be told, it’s the ego that holds us back, which is a paradox actually. The ego is our sacred cow. And yet, we live this meager, paltry, desolate life tethered to our fears, all the while pumping up our false selves for display to anyone who threatens our fragile sense of self. I wasted so many years of my life trying to defend myself against the lies and blamed God for all my misery. In my lowest moments I accused him of not caring, “If you loved me, where were you when I needed you?! What was I supposed to think when you were silent while my mother abused me?”  More silence. “Yeah, I thought so.” Proving my point I could go off and do what I damn well pleased. You’re on your own Linda. I’m pretty sure God was silent in those moments because he knew I was a hot mess; that my heart was too closed off to hear him. I wasn’t interested in healing I just wanted him to bring down fire and brimstone on everyone else.

Fear makes no sense. It denies us a loving, generous, merciful, forgiving, extraordinary relationship with God, and in turn, with others. Instead we settle for crumbs. We live in defiance of our truth because it seems impossible to believe that God would really “desire” our broken, self-centered, imperfect selves. What Glennon Doyle calls, “this crappy version of ourselves.”  Instead of embracing it, we give up trying because it’s just too hard to be the flawless human we’ve been lead to believe God requires. We’re certain that we are a disappointment to him. That he’s tallying up all our transgressions. That nothing gets past him. It’s really annoying.

Fear has a source that God continually warns us about. I love this quote from John Eldridge:

When we don’t believe in our blessedness we begin to doubt and fear just as Peter did when Jesus invited him to walk on the water (Matt 14:29)and that’s just where Satan wants us. So, how do we get beyond that? How to we learn to embrace; to love what God sees in us? Perhaps we should start with this truth: Even if your parents failed to love you well, it’s okay. It really is okay. You are okay, because you already possessed an innate capacity to love and be loved before God formed you in your mother’s womb. Our mothers, no matter if they love us well or totally suck at nurturing, are not the creators of our essence. That distinction is God’s alone. Got that? Let that soak in.

I was able to begin my long journey of change when I came face-to-face with this God who seems to forget our offenses even when we can’t. Not a change that signifies accomplishment, but change that allows me to embrace my messiness, my brokenness, my imperfections.

One of my most powerful moments of growth came when I was able to realize that my mother, my mean, abusive mother, was loved by God. But, sadly, she was never able to grasp her truth. When I was younger I hated her and told her so. She lived and died never having known the person God longed for her to accept and embrace as His beloved daughter. What I wouldn’t give to have her back. What I wouldn’t give to offer her the forgiveness and love that I now know. But when she was alive I was too lost and broken myself. God knows that and he has been relentless in his pursuit ofmy heart, so that I could forgive myself and offer his love to others. I honestly feel that the moment I was able to forgive my mom, even though it was long after she died, that our spirits connected and that mysterious, mystical love of God transcended all our barriers and healed both our hearts. I could deeply sense it even though I couldn’t explain it. Of course, as soon as you try to “explain” mystery it is no longer mystery.

When we allow ourselves to open our hearts to God the magic begins. Suddenly, our worldly longings don’t seem so significant. We stop demandinganything from anyone, ourselves included. If we can get just a small taste of the peace and indescribable joy God will bring to our lives when just sitting in his presence becomes everything it is tantamount to heaven because it is heaven.

Jesus said to all with ears to hear, which has never been many, “For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (my emphasis). Luke 17:21. You don’t have to strive for it or wait till you die for it.

Saint Iraneus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive”.  Conversely, the joy of Satan is man sound asleep. Are we even aware that there is a battle raging in the very depth of our hearts that is continuous and unrelenting? Jesus warned about it but we’re not listening because we don’t think it applies to us. Why is that? How much of Scripture do you believe is meant for us today; is meant to be a guidepost for how we should live and move and have our being? And, how much do we toss away as irrelevant? That, my friends, is Satan at his most cunning. Like that pesky snake in the garden, “Oh, come on, you don’t really believe all that stuff do you?! God wants you to have a fun-filled life with no worries! Party on munchkins”.

Jesus warned his followers then and warns us now, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they (you and me included) may have life and have it to the full.” John10:10. Do you feel like you’re living your fullest life possible; that you are the best version of yourself? Or does it feel like one hurdle after another to overcome; barriers and heartaches and detours that wear you down?

Well, I believe God has a challenge for you if you’re willing to give him a chance. Ready?

“Try me out for thirty days. When you arise in the morning, come talk to me first. Read some Scripture, tell me what’s on your mind, what breaks your heart. You may already be doing that, but, I would ask you to go deeper because this is where it gets real. Give me ten or fifteen quiet minutes of your time without expecting anything. Then, if you don’t feel something stirring within you (by the way, that would be me), I will give you your miserable life back! What do you say?” – God

I see you there, thinking, “Yeah, been there done that and got lost in a maze of “rules and regulations” from days gone by. I’m busy and this is complicated. Can you just give me the bullet points?” I think we have the notion that God doesn’t understand our obsession with bullet points in this hurried life we live. Look how we are drawn to articles that provide 5 Easy Steps to _________ (fill in the blank). Actually, four would be better. Just get to the point! For example:

4 Easy Steps to permanent weight loss (I could offer this in 1 Easy Step):

  • Stop eating crap. BAM! See how easy that is?

And reading Scripture? Really?! How many attempts have you made to read the Old Testament before your eyes glazed over? Exactly.  If God could just make this easier. Actually, he did. Perhaps he made it too easy and we can’t wrap our minds around something so simple. Ready?

1 Easy Step to permanent peace and joy:

  • “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 – Any questions?

 And this, dear ones, is what I hope and pray for you:

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:

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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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Let us be Silly!

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This song has made me laugh for years: I Will Survive 

Watch it, it’s very short. Then come back!

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

Do you think that God doesn’t have a sense of humor?

Really?

If He wouldn’t have had a sense of humor, Genesis may have read a bit differently, “And God made the beasts of the earth according to its kind (Genesis 1:25)…. Then God decided to quit while He was ahead, “I can now kick back and enjoy all the beauty of my creation; the mountains, streams, and valleys, all the lovely, well-behaved animals. Aha, those majestic sunsets, whew, I think I out-did myself with that one! My grand plan is for every creature to simply exist for my pure pleasure. I like it. I’m done. Why muck it up?”

But one other part of “Us” (probably the Spirit) objected, “But, Lord, who will return our love then? Isn’t that what this all about”?  To which God replied, “Oh, please! Let’s think about this. If we want them to love us, we will have to give them all the free-will to do it, and you know what that’s gonna make them don’t you? A royal pain! They’ll go their own way and forget that I created them to live in peace and joy and harmony.”

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

So God made humankind in his image (Genesis 1:26), reluctantly giving everyone a free-will (He already knew how it was going to turn out). And just as He foresaw, almost immediately, it went downhill! Whining and complaining just as God predicted. Adam and Eve started it. You know, if you read Scripture, it reads like a litany of pouters and grumblers: Cain, Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Jonah, Sarah, the apostles. I could go on and on. And, yes, we do the same thing. Shake our fists and whine to God when our day doesn’t go as planned; when our kids don’t turn out as planned; when dinner is burnt; when we aren’t succeeding – obtaining enough “stuff” –  losing enough weight.

Come on, people!

“A cheerful heart is a good medicine.”—Proverbs 17:22

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” James 1:2

God gave us a sense of humor to help us over the rough spots. And, truth be told, to keep us from that incessant bellyaching, “Why me, Lord”? Wha, wha, wha…

And here’s something to ponder: If God didn’t have a sense of humor there might be some modern day Noah working diligently in his backyard!

If you are going to get through this life you had better learn to really laugh – I mean laugh till you pee – laugh, or the sorrows that come, and they will come, will eat you alive. I can’t tell you how often my life lessons are peppered with laughter; laughter at myself for doing something ridiculous. God has the uncanny ability to admonish me and then stick a mirror in front of me until I can no longer keep a straight face, “I saw that Linda Russell!”

It’s a beautiful thing to know that I am a deeply loved idiot!

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LET US BE LOVELY – Edward Monkton

Let us be lovely,

And let us be kind,

Let us be silly and free.

It won’t make us famous,

It won’t make us rich.

But damnit how HAPPY we’ll be!

Believe You Are Enough

Here’s a challenge: How about some honest soul-searching? Come on – stay with me – it’ll be fun! Okay, it probably won’t be fun if you actually are honest. But let’s give it a go.

I’ll start.

Most of my life I have not allowed myself to admit that I screw-up. I make instant judgments about other people’s behavior, or the way they dress. I become a modern day Job when God seems to be pushing my buttons or ignoring my demands. I decide daily how things should be and then set out to make myself, you, and God conform. It’s a full-time job – let me tell you. Oh wait! Maybe I don’t have to tell you. Maybe you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I should, you should, we should, they should, trees should, rocks should, animals should, the weather should, God should. Have I left anything out? We are obsessed with shoulds and calculate daily, almost moment-by-moment, what should be. Then we adjust our lives accordingly. My boss should be nicer, my kids should be more respectful, my husband should do the laundry, I should let go of that hurt.

What if you were given the power to enact all the most significant shoulds you have ever envisioned? What would they be? This is pretty broad so let’s make three catagories:

  • My shoulds.
  • Everyone else’s shoulds.
  • God’s shoulds

Let’s begin with these: (Perhaps if you are so inclined you could reply with your own list.)

My shoulds:

  • I should be thinner, smarter, prettier, healthier; exercise more and eat less.
  • I should be more forgiving and less judgmental.
  • I should spend less time on the internet and more time with God.
  • I should quit counting offenses against me and begin counting my blessings.
  • I should be perfect by now.
  • Chocolate should not be fattening (it’s my list!)

Everyone else’s shoulds:

  • People should be more generous and less self-serving.
  • Wicked people should not prosper.
  • People should love and accept each other.
  • People should mind their own business.
  • People should be more like me.
  • Chocolate should not be fattening.

God’s should’s:

  • God should not allow suffering – especially for Christians.
  • God should punish all wicked, sinful people – except me.
  • God should make people behave.
  • There should be some reward for those who are good…like…hum…I know! Chocolate would not be fattening for us – no one else – just us! (See how easily I slip myself in here?)

God created everything and when He was finished He said, “AWESOME – even if I do say so myself!” Now think about that. As soon as God created everything on the earth He declared it “good”. He doesn’t wait until we prove ourselves for him to admire his work.  He doesn’t bemoan giving us free wills when we go our own way. “Well, okay, I could have tweaked that goofy Linda Russell a bit, but nobody’s perfect.”

 And there it is people!

NO ONE THAT GOD CREATED IS PERFECT! And that includes you dear. Sorry to have to burst your bubble.

No one is without fault. Romans 3:10-12 tells us, “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable. There is none who does good, no, not one.”

Not one stinkin’ one of us.

Why is that so hard for us to accept? I believe I know. It is because we are not willing to be vulnerable or have the courage to be imperfect. I know. I have lived most of my life refusing to believe the simple truth that I AM ENOUGH, which, in turn, does not allow me to accept you or God as enough.

God tells us that we should have the faith of a child. Unfortunately, for me, as a child I was made to believe, by those who were supposed to take care of my tender heart, that I was not good enough; not worthy of love. I eventually stopped allowing myself to be vulnerable and tried desperately to hide as much of my imperfections as possible. I still do at times. I could not accept my own brokenness or the brokenness of others. I viewed everyone and everything through that lens, even God.  Everyone was suspect.  This is the false-self Richard Rohr speaks of often:

The false self is your psychological creation of yourself in space and time. It comes from your early conditioning, family, roles, education, mind, culture, and religion. The false self is who you think you are! But thinking doesn’t make it so. The false self dies and passes away. Yet it is the raw material through which you discover your True Self in God.

Ever so gradually, as I sat longer in prayer with God; as I grew to realize that He could be trusted with my fragile heart – that heart began to change. As I began to recognize the presence of a Holy Spirit within me that not only admonished me for my sinfulness, but loved me in spite of it, I was able to grow and change. I began to love and accept myself and others in a way I had never experienced before. All the hurts and pain of my past; hurts inflicted on me and hurts I exacted on myself and others began to lose their stronghold on me.

Now, Saint Mother Theresa I am not. I still do, and am sure I always will, screw up. But, here’s what I believe is critical for all of us – our perception of just Who and What the Holy Spirit is. This is what I think of when I hear those immortal words, “Come Holy Spirit.” Really? What is the Spirit, some kind of Ninja Spirit hanging out till we summon Him in desperation? Or, better yet, it’s that kid who’s always the bench-warmer. Waiting and praying for someone to get whacked so he can get in the game and show what he’s made of. We will summon him, but only after we try to fix things ourselves.

The problem with all that is that as soon as you became a believer the Spirit took up residence within your very soul. That Spirit lives and works and has it’s being within us 24/7. Not just when it’s convenient for us. Of course, we would prefer He be “on-call” because the idea of Him “hanging out” there conjures up all kinds of frightful thoughts. Being “busted” comes to mind for me.

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Let me tell on myself here. And believe me, this occurs a lot! Here’s what happens when you arrive at the place where you can hear God’s still small voice through the thunder of your own wretchedness. Often, I will become defensive with someone and strike out at them in an effort to preserve my fragile ego. Often, I begin like this, “You should have, or should not have, done ________(fill in the blank). There, I got it out. I’m feeling better already. Never mind how it made you feel!

Then it comes, almost immediately, “So, Linda…yeah…what he/she did was pretty stupid (ego still intact)”.

Wait for it…

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“Awe. Wait. Linda. Remember, just last week when you did the exact same thing? Remember?” (Shoot! Busted! “Why couldn’t You be somewhere else right now instead of all up in my business?”) And off I go to apologize. But, it’s okay. I laugh at myself and carry on. We have to laugh at ourselves or this whole business of acceptance fails to work because we become too overwhelmed with our failures and sorrows.

Let’s call it getting back to basics. God calls us to the childlike innocence, love, and joy that He originally created. Children are full of contagious laughter, silliness, trusting innocence, vulnerability, acceptance of all of creation, curiosity, and, yes, imperfection.

If you have expectations for yourself and others that are beyond human capacity, you will always be disappointed. We are all broken and incapable of being the perfect parent or child or friend or neighbor. God calls us in our suffering to lean in on Him and draw life and fullness from Him. Understanding that helped me to forgive my mother long ago. As a child I hated her, as an adult I realized she did the best she could. She was simply not capable of being the mother I so needed her to be. Remember, even Jesus became frustrated with His own disciples, “Geeeezzzz. How long must I put up with you!?” (Mark 9:19) Okay, He didn’t say “geeeezzzzz”, but you get the idea.

So, cut yourself and others some slack. Like Father Rohr says:

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)

So, come on, let’s begin with a simple step: laugh at yourself at least once today and then sit down with the Holy Spirit for awhile, be quiet, and contemplate the experience. Let me know how that turns out. (I do love to hear from you, even if you think I’m an idiot. It’s okay. I can take it.)

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My grandson is going to hate me for this one day.

 

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:

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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?

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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.

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  • 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?:

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  • 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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Welcome to my Groundhog Day!

(Originally posted 2/12/2014)

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I recently celebrated my sixty-fifth birthday. I’m thinking that sixty-five years is a loooooong time to be doing the same dumb things over and over and over. I’m also thinking that God is thinking the same thing! I believe that’s why He has also recently been intent on repeating himself over and over and over until I – hopefully (hope springs eternal) – change.

Let me say that God has done some pretty incredible things in my life! And there have been significant changes over the years. But there are still things that haunt me: Rejection, complaining and lack of true humility. Oh sure, I can lay claim to superficial humility. You know, that surface stuff that implodes the first time some jerk gets on my bad side!

And so, like our poor friend Phil here, I go to bed every night with good intentions and wake up the next morning finding myself stuck in the same place.

Remember in the movie, Groundhog Day, when Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) says to Rita: “I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned, and every morning I wake up without a scratch on me”? That would make a great metaphor for my life, and probably all our lives to one degree or another, except for the “without a scratch” part.

Here’s how my life has unfolded:

I was once a concept of God’s wild and magnificent imagination. I can envision all the angels in heaven dancing for joy at the sight of every single creature God brings to life.

Then, without warning, I was plopped into a broken world and life immediately began its re-creation of me into the person God no longer recognized. And the angels fell silent.

Through life I too (metaphorically) have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned”. First by those who were entrusted with my care, and then by myself attempting to live within the context of that person who forgot who, and Whose, she was. Everything this Original Creation was supposed to be morphed into something unrecognizable. My focus was not to live with joy the fullness of the life promised to me. My focus became simply a matter of survival. Like Phil waking up every day in a world that never changed.

I tried to end my pain just like he did. Only I didn’t have a groundhog strapped to my steering wheel and it wasn’t on railroad tracks. It was me drunk in my little MG on the highway, praying that I would crash and die. Phil’s reaction when his attempt to kill himself failed was, “Ah, nuts.” Mine was the same. I think my exact words were, “Great! I’m even lousy at killing myself!” I remember getting out of bed the next morning and going off to work: Same empty life, different day.

Over the years, since that not so fatal day (thank you God!), much has happened. As I said before, God has done some remarkable things in my life considering my incessant resistance to the death of my own will. We have been through so much together! When I think about what He has managed to accomplish in this continual wrestling match it has been nothing short of a miracle! (Genesis 32:22-32)

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After Phil described the torture he had endured he exclaimed that there was “not a scratch on me”. I couldn’t say that, but I did think that “not a scratch on me” meant symbolically that I tried to live as though the pain and suffering had no impact on my life. That I was just fine when I was far from it. I knew in light of the fact that God has brought my issues to light again, and not so subtly, that a lesson was coming…and it wouldn’t be pretty.

Sure enough, the last couple of weeks I have embarked on a new meditation that’s pretty AWESOME! It is titled Bridges to Contemplative Living, a compilation of the works of Thomas Merton and other Spiritual Giants. I know that God is ever so gently loosening my white-knuckled grip to my own self-will.

Of course, as is God’s mysterious way and because I have been in total denial, I have been whacked with almost daily admonitions from God of “Who do you think you’re kidding, Linda?”

For example: Within all of our relationships lies the truth of our faithfulness and sinfulness whether we want to acknowledge it or not. Every time we try to fool ourselves into thinking we’re destined for sainthood, if we’re not afraid to face that truth, there are powerful lessons to be learned.

So…I recently had a conversation with my husband. Okay, let me restate that. I had an angry confrontation with him concerning a family matter that I felt was going badly. I wasn’t angry with him, but wanted him to know how I felt about the situation. God sat quietly while I whined and wailed and wore myself out. And then ever so gently stepped in and stuck a big fat mirror in my face! That’s all it took.

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I had to sit with that and in the process I realized that my anger stemmed not from the current situation, but from many years of trying to defend my fragile ego and pride. It isn’t just with this particular person; it is with every person that pushes my ever so delicate buttons.

And I hear God say, “Okay, Linda. Let’s give it another try.” And so…I’m trying. What I would like to share with you is what God has been showing me in the process of the meditations, prayers, and almost daily experiences related to the study I am in the middle of that provide the litmus test of how I’m doing. Regardless of the fact that God has not cut me one bit of slack, I think it’s some pretty awesome stuff.

Some things have been subtle; some not so much as God tries to love me into the person He originally created me to be and He knows full well He has His work cut out for Him.

One profound lesson concerned rejection:

Have you ever felt rejected? I have, all my life. Even today there are people I feel rejected by and I react to them with unkindness. But how often have I considered the times I reject God by those thoughts and actions born of pride and cultivated in arrogance?

And, so I pray: Lord, I seek your forgiveness for putting so many things ahead of you. You love me SO much and feel my rejection so deeply. You cannot make me love you, though you love me unconditionally. Help me to sit in silence in your presence and teach me how to love. By your power and your grace, help me to let go of the things that fill my thoughts and keep me out of relationship with you and with those you bring into my life.

Another lesson reminded me how much I complain:

Mark 6:34 says, “When Jesus saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them.”  Not so much the hearts of his disciples. All they did was complain. Jesus said to feed them. And their response? “What, are you kidding? There are thousands of them.” They counted the meager change in their pockets, “You can’t expect us to just call out for pizza. Let em’ get their own food!”

Jesus always manages to shine a spotlight on our smallness. In those moments I’m standing right there with the disciples all indignant about my weaknesses and inadequacies; forgetting the Source of my power that is within my very soul. He’s trying his best to get through to them, and me, and you. He even humbles himself for heaven’s sake! “I can’t do anything without my Father!” (John 5:30) But, do we listen?

And, the recurring theme throughout this study? Humility:

Matthew 3:13-17, “Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you are coming to me?”

There is a whole bunch of humility going on here! John the Baptist never felt worthy “to tie Jesus’ sandals (Mark 1:7)”, and said before his followers, “I must decrease so Jesus can increase.”

How often are we willing to decrease so Jesus can increase? We are all called to love; to have faith and trust and hope; to be filled with joy, peace, and humility, which underlies it all. None of this is remotely possible if it is not born of a heart filled with awe and wonder at the magnificence, power, and glory of God. None if it!

And think of Jesus himself allowing John to baptize him. He wasn’t a sinner and didn’t need to be baptized. Yet he humbled himself before everyone and in the company of sinners to lead the way to his Father.

Reflecting on what I have been reading and studying was like a one-two punch. No, God doesn’t punch, but I’m telling you he flicks! I have been flicked often enough to know. And it hurts. Because he’s not flicking my head, he’s flicking my heart!

At one point in the movie, Groundhog Day, Phil says, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?” Good question.

When we go our own way; when we obey the parts of God’s commands that are easy and discard the parts that don’t appeal to us: love your neighbor – check, love your enemy – scratch, is it any wonder that God hates that?

It’s funny, all that I have just related to you is nothing new. “HOLY COW, I never saw those verses before! I never knew God felt so strongly about THAT!” Liar! They have just been an inconvenient truth for me. They demand something I have not been willing to submit to. I pray that is all changing.

I’m sure God isn’t finished with me yet because I checked my pulse and I’m still alive!

I’d like to say that I have finally conquered this one but I know better, and I’m pretty sure there will be another lesson tomorrow…

and the day after that…

and the day after that!

 

 

 

Glorious Imperfection

Jesus called twelve misfits to join him in his ministry. They dropped everything to follow him. All along the way their imperfections were screaming, “Loser”!

Jesus knew they were all a piece of work. He could have complained to God like Moses did, “Oh, Father, far be it for me to question your judgment, but isn’t there someone, anyone, else you could come up with for this monumental task? If I’m going to be babysitting these whiners and complainers for the next three years, how am I possibly going to get anything accomplished?” But, he acquiesces, “Not my will but yours, Lord.”

I don’t know, but I’ll take a stab at his reasoning. Jesus likely called them in particular so they couldn’t boast about how awesome they were, because they weren’t. Of course, it doesn’t seem as though they were aware of that until after Jesus died. Then you see a lot of their teachings in Scripture about not boasting. Like 1 Corinthians 1:31, James 4:16, and Ephesians 2:9, just to name a few.

What we don’t know is why the disciples so readily followed Jesus. I’ll take a stab at this one too. Off Jesus goes into the great unknown with twelve guys likely hoping for a shot at greatness. Surely by now they heard of the crowds he was drawing. He was charismatic and charming, and, WOW, those miracles…impressive huh? That’s why I think they went. After all, this Jesus seemed different than most of the powerful leaders of their day. He could sure draw the crowds! He seemed like a winner they could get behind. Perhaps they hoped for a management position. Of course, what do I know? I wasn’t there. But, it seems possible.

Thinking in terms of the culture today, Jesus might have hordes of people in line around four city blocks hoping to be chosen, as if it was a shot at some reality TV show, or like they were waiting to buy the newest iPhone! Okay, maybe not.

Anyway, we know the disciples faith and trust in Jesus waxed and waned throughout his ministry. Except for Judas Iscariot, who committed suicide, it wasn’t until after the resurrection that their passion caught fire; a passion that would take them to their deaths.

Think of the difference between the guys who scattered when their fear got the best of them and the guys who became faithful and fearless in spite of their limping along an uncertain path. That should give us all hope. Why? Because if we are honest with ourselves, we too, are misfits, doubters, seekers of power and acclaim, liars, and cowards.

Alrighty then, well, that makes me eager for Judgment Day. How about you? As for my sorry imperfect self, I want to run and hide! My imperfect body makes me cranky. My imperfect faith makes me scared to die. My imperfect emotions sometimes look like fireworks on the 4Th of July. My imperfect mind likes to stay awake at night reminding me of what an idiot I am – or what a moron someone else is.

Brene’ Brown, in her awesome book, The Gift’s of Imperfection, tells us it’s okay. How is that possible? She says:

Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness….I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.

Brown tells us that the gifts of imperfection are courage, compassion, and connection.

When we have the courage to own our own worthiness, then, and only then, can we reach out to others and use our God-given gifts to make a difference in this broken world we live in. The darkness needs your light. The doubts and fears of your neighbor or coworker need your courage. The hopelessness of the world around you needs to know the reason for your hope (1 Peter 3:15).

So, there’s your challenge and your call to use the gifts God has given you to take into this broken world! Now is not the time to question or doubt that you are called to serve, that you have anything to offer, that you can make a difference.

NOW is the time to jump!

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It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering.  You don’t have to cure cancer or win a Nobel Prize. Just give your lonely widowed neighbor five stinking minutes of your precious time! Smile at a teenager you don’t know and act like you’re not afraid they’ll mug you. Take flowers to that crotchety grocery clerk you’re always judging.

COME OUT OF HIDING!

Because:

If Not Us…Then Who?

O Jesus…

We seek you in places you have already left and fail to see you when you stand before us.

You interrupt our comfort with your nakedness,

touch our possessiveness with your poverty. 

You challenge our smugness. 

You come so we can touch you with our hands,

yet we refuse to touch the hands of those you love most deeply. 

You are at once, sign and hope and stumbling block.

Your persistent call disturbs our settled lives.

May we neither cling to the fear that holds us back,

or refuse to embrace the cost of serving when it is required of us.

O God… 

You drive us into the desert to search out your truth.

You are outrageous hope. 

Help us to abandon our worldly penchant of failing to choose to follow you.

You urge us beyond all reason to love our enemies. 

You disarm our judgment with your radical mercy. 

Stir us to new vision and uncover our injustice and arrogance.

You are gift, you are hope, you are joy meant to be taken to those who sit in darkness. 

If not us…then who will go?