A Theology of Running

Yep, there is such a thing! Okay, I could have made it up, but just work with me here.

It has been ten years since I ran my last half-marathon, and I have decided it’s time to dust off my running shoes and get back in the game. God help me. This will probably kill me!

I began running thirty years ago when a friend dragged me to a high school track near us. We planned to run the St. Patrick’s Day 5K in St. Louis. It was three miles. Since I had never run a day in my life, it seemed reasonable. I could easily drive three miles without getting winded. So, why not?!

The first morning we ran once around the track – a quarter mile. OMG, I thought I would die! But I didn’t. So, I went back for more; again and again, until it got easier, and I decided I could do it. Not just that, but I was actually beginning to love it and the challenge that came with each turn around the track. Initially, my ambitions didn’t go beyond the 5K and the free beer at the end!

It wasn’t long before I was hooked as I grew to love the challenge of discovering my ability to go beyond anything I had imagined. Let’s see whatcha got, Linda! Though I have run several half-marathons over the years since then, it has always been that initial 5K that developed my theology of running.

I started off slowly, but pushing myself to run faster became a passion for me, especially when we moved to a rural area where I would run country roads at 5:00 in the morning. I was often told I was getting too old to run. That I should slow down because it wasn’t good for my joints (jealous couch potatoes, every last one of them!). I had no desire to slow down. Every time I decided to walk instead of run, it didn’t last long. It wasn’t the same. I didn’t feel the joy and fulfillment I experienced when I ran.

I discovered that I am most fully alive when I am running, especially in nature. I enjoyed it even more when we moved further into the country. I could run right out my front door and be in the woods. It was so peaceful and serene. In the early morning, the sunrise was breathtaking.

There was something else I noticed: God was there. My connection with God was most vibrant in those moments, and my prayers seemed most profound. That never happened for me sitting in a pew in church (I don’t need forgiveness, father…that ain’t a sin!)

St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”  Being fully alive is the quintessential manifestation of Divine Love. That magical, mysterious Love is most revealed to me in the moments when I am in the midst of and know I am fully a part of his creation.

One of the beauties of running is its simplicity. You need only a good pair of shoes. Actually, shoes aren’t even necessary, as Ethiopian Abebe Bikila proved. He set a world record in the Rome Olympics barefoot! 

For sure, there is a stark difference between the simple needs I have as a runner and the “perceived needs” of those in many sports. How does that relate to what we understand as “church”? Is church the magnificent cathedrals built centuries ago? Is it mega-churches today that entertain like a new rendition of Jesus Christ Super Star?! Not according to Jesus. The “ideal” church he modeled was about action: humble service, love, unity, hope, and mission – all easily accomplished barefoot – or, at the most, wearing sandals.

When training for a race, specific practices can be incorporated. One such practice is called “fartlek”. It’s a Swedish word for “speed play,” and it’s simply short bursts of acceleration at various times during a run. Here again, fartleking could have a spiritual meaning. Well, it could! Okay, the name might have to be changed to something a bit less like a bodily function, but it could work nicely when considering the process of growing spiritually, and, yes, it is a process.

I believe there is a misunderstanding for so many of us about just how important it is to “train” if we are to grow in faith, and that may be what discourages new Christians. I don’t believe faith just “happens” with a dunk in a bucket of water, even if there is some sort of “ritual” to prepare new converts for acceptance into a particular faith. There’s just more to it than that. It’s not an event; it’s a life-long journey. What about babies that are baptized in some faiths? Does that baby jump right out of the Priest’s arms and start serving in a soup kitchen? No.

You start out testing the waters with things that aren’t too risky, like smiling instead of flipping someone off in traffic. Then, maybe you graduate to a bumper sticker…or two…or six. Don’t do that. That’s not right.

Anyway, we are taught that in baptism, we are to put on Christ. But what does that really mean? We are called to live and move and have our being as followers of Christ, who teaches self-giving love by his example. And how does that happen? We learn from him to be less self-centered and more other-centered. For most of us, none of that growth happens at the moment of our baptism. Instead, we will struggle in life, have setbacks, and often lose our way. We have fits and starts trying to believe we indeed are God’s beloved and our life has purpose. 

As we journey through life, hopefully, we will grow in the fullness of that baptismal call to be an instrument of God’s love for the good of the world we live in. This realization can indeed be likened to a “runner’s high”! When we finally become conscious of who and whose we are, we respond through works of love, justice, forgiveness, and mercy. Call it a “Jesus high”! You just can’t get enough.

Now I am at the place where I need to tell on myself and share a couple of final important AHA moments in my running and faith journey. The first experience goes back to the beginning when my friend and I started training for that 5K. When we got to the day of the race, we both felt unprepared, especially since, just a few days before, her husband, an avid runner, told us that the race’s route was very hilly! Wait…what? Hilly?! As in mountainous hilly? As in, crap, we didn’t train on hills…hilly?! But, after that initial shock, we decided to do it anyway, even if we had to walk – or crawl – or call an Uber.

But we were going and we were getting that beer at the end. Period. So, off we went. When we got to the start line, we immediately saw the “hill” staring down at us, laughing hysterically! Undeterred, we went for it. It was hard, but we both endured and walked when we had to. AND THEN, we turned a corner and saw the finish line! I got so excited I took off running with all I had in me (it was downhill this time which helped). As I got to the end, gasping for air, my friend caught up with me. She was visibly upset, “Why did you take off like that? We spent all this time training together, and we were supposed to finish together! Why did you do that?” I felt so bad for leaving her behind. I was only thinking of myself, and that was just wrong. Sadly, I suppose I believed that everything revolved around me.

NO. IT. DOESN’T. DUMBASS.

Our faith journey is also not meant to be about us alone. If we are merely growing in a personal faith that does not embrace others on their journey, if we are so self-centered that we sprint toward life’s finish line knocking others aside, I’m pretty sure God will be waiting with those chilling words, “You came alone? Where’s your friend?”

Okay, that experience wasn’t funny, but this one is. A few years ago, another friend and I signed up for a 10K. She wasn’t concerned about training because she planned to walk. I think she just wanted to be sure I survived because, well, by then, I was old. So, off we went agreeing to meet at…that’s right…the beer truck at the end.

There were a lot of turns, so volunteers stood at designated intersections to point the way. At one intersection, I was confused and alone to choose. So I turned right and kept running. After a mile on that road with no one in sight, it became clear to me that I had gone the wrong way. So, I turned around and ran another mile back to where I should have been. I was tired but knew the end was near. And there, around the last corner, I saw it! The finish line! WOOT WOOT…

Suddenly I realized the race was over and they were deflating the blow-up finish line! I panicked and ran faster, but I was too late. By then, most everyone had left. No one is cheering. No one telling me I was almost there and to not poop myself (they tell you that. It’s not funny. Neither is the lie that “You’re almost done” when you’re not. It’s not right). Anyway, I was devastated, and my friend was in a panic! When I finally did see someone carrying some medals, I insisted I deserved a first-place medal for being the only person who ran eight miles instead of six! So, I reasoned I came in first in the unofficial eight-mile race. That logic didn’t fly. I was handed a “Yep, you did finish even though you screwed up” medal. FINE. WHATEVER. “Where’s the free beer?”

There were still a few drops of beer left for my friend and me to cheer each other. I did survive, so it wasn’t all in vain. And the lesson? On this journey of faith, we will also make wrong turns, but God is always at the finish line with a cold beer (don’t tell me there ain’t no beer in heaven!) and a “well done, my good and faithful servant” cheer! But, no medal.

You’ll have to decide for yourself if there’s beer at the finish line of life or if that’s really why you want to run that race – to get some reward. As for me, I fully trust that a life of faith is all about the journey, not the finish line. That will take care of itself.

Sleep-Walking Through Life

(Originally posted July 16, 2021)

For years, as a Christian, I determined that my “job” was to inform everyone I encountered of their “heaven/hell” status. I was good at it too! I could even give you a checklist of “requirements” to get into heaven and I can assure you the hoops you were required to jump through were daunting. It was not for the faint of heart! It’s no wonder I was never successful at “converting” anyone, including myself!

We sleep-walk through life with no clue what we’re doing here or that our lives have meaning and purpose – but they do!

We are all called to use the gifts and talents we already possess that have been uniquely designed for us. But it takes awareness on our part. We can be so enmeshed in and blinded by, the things of this world we miss out on our whole reason for being here.

If you are going through life day-after-unremarkable-day; schlepping through the same routine to ad nauseum – STOP IT! Your life has a purpose people. God needs your brilliance and love to shine his light in a darkened world.

You. Matter. That. Much.

Leo Tolstoy’s novel, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”,  considered a masterpiece, was written just after his own “profound spiritual awakening” and conversion experience.

While lying on his deathbed, Ivan ruminated about the reality that his entire life was superficial and self-serving as he profoundly stated, “Maybe I didn’t live as I should have done.”In the end, he posited a question that Tolstoy must have pondered, “What if I really have been wrong in the way I’ve lived my whole life, my conscious life?”

And don’t look to me (like you ever did) to give you a formula or checklist to send you on your way to sainthood. But, I will tell you this: You cannot love and serve others (which is our greatest calling) until you are able to love yourself. And you can’t love yourself by means of any of the myriad self-help books on the market. And…no…sorry, there’s not a pill for that either.

We are so used to being in a world that is loud and demanding of our attention. We even busy ourselves filling in uncomfortably quiet places.

Socrates claimed the unexamined life is not worth living. “To live deep and suck out all the marrow” as Thoreau put it.

If we would just stop talking and LISTEN to the lessons life is trying to teach us!  Geeeezzzzz, we’re SO BAD at listening.

The expression, “Life is short” is a yawner for most of us until it becomes a reality. My reality came a few months ago when my husband died. Now it’s real for me!

Is it Worth the Risk?

In the Book of Esther (I LOVE that girl!), Mordecai tells her she must go to the King to save her people, a life-threatening proposition for her. He asks her to consider that this may be God’s calling, “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” And her reply? You gotta love this!  “And so I will go to the king, which is against the law, and if I perish, I perish!”

So often, God calls, and we’re afraid to answer. If we choose to ignore him, he may eventually go away, but the loss will be ours, not his because he will find someone else. Yes, a call from God probably is risky. He’s a risk expert. Remember, he took the ultimate chance by giving us free will to tell him “No”. He has also provided examples of many Risk Takers to lead the way. Not the least of which was Jesus. Of course, if you think Jesus is too difficult to emulate, you could start with any of the misfits he hand-picked to follow in his footsteps.

When I think of the question we are all called to answer: is saying “Yes” to God worth the risk? –  the first thing that comes to mind for me takes me back sixteen years. In January 2005, my husband and I were given the opportunity to go to Belfast, Northern Ireland, to spend a year working for Habitat for Humanity. Life in Belfast was full of blessings, many of which were realized from lessons learned only reluctantly (the story of my life, really).

We lived close enough to the City Center to walk there on occasion. One morning, I walked to the post office to mail some letters before going to work. My time was limited, so I was in a hurry. By then, the route was so familiar that I barely noticed the things that had taken my breath away just a few months earlier: The iron gates dividing the Protestants from the Catholics and the murals telling of each side’s pain and suffering during the “Troubles”. They no longer seemed quite so shocking.

On this day, God taught me a most profound lesson on the streets of Belfast. I was about to meet Bernie, my alcoholic teacher. On my mission to tick off another task before work, I noticed a woman lying on the sidewalk. People passing her seemed to be oblivious to her. I even saw some crossing to the other side of the street. And here’s me as I walk past her, “I wonder if she’s alive”. But did I stop? No. And then came that “Holy nudge” I knew so well.

Dang it! Not now. “Lord, don’t you have other heathens to reckon with?” I must have walked another five minutes before God got the best of me. I guess I thought I could out-pace him. I kept hearing, “Go back”. That’s all. Nothing about what I was supposed to do once I got there. No. That would have been too easy.

Fine. So, back I went.

As I sat down on the cold sidewalk beside her, I nudged her, but she didn’t move. Oh my God, I got a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. What if she was dead?! What if I stepped over a dead woman without a thought of her humanity?

I nudged her again. She slowly opened her eyes, and I could tell she was intoxicated. “Come on, Love. Sit up.” (that’s what they say in Ireland. They call everyone “Love” even if they don’t know them).

She looked at me and angrily responded, “Leave me alone!”

“No, come on, you can’t stay here. It isn’t safe. Sit up.”

She managed to sit up and stare at me.

“What’s your name?”

“Bernie”

“Do you have a home, Bernie?”

“No”

Now I’m wondering what I am going to do with her. Being unfamiliar with Belfast, I didn’t know where to take her. “Are you hungry? We’ll go get something to eat.”

“No. You got a fag?”

“No, sorry, I don’t smoke (are you ready for this?). It’s bad for your health.” That caused both of us to laugh. It was such a ridiculous response.

Then she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Look at me! No one wants me. It’s no use. It’s no use. Just leave me alone!”

“No, Bernie, that’s not true. I am looking at you and what I see is beautiful. Now, come on, let’s get you someplace safe.”  Then, as I struggled to help her up, I prayed, “A little help here, Lord!”

Just then (I’m not kidding), a van pulled up, and a young man got out. Bernie recognized him, “Here comes the welcome wagon.” We both laughed again. The man, calling her by name, very gently and lovingly got her in the van and climbed into the driver’s seat. Wait! He was interrupting my “Good Samaritan” moment! Not sure what to do, I quickly wrote down my phone number, “Please, would you give her my number if she wants to contact me?” He assured me he would and drove away. After they left, I resumed my walk to the post office, at a slower pace, though, and still a bit stunned.

“Lord, what just happened? You stopped me dead in my tracks and sent me back to help her.  Now I’m certain I’ll never see her again. What was the purpose of all of this?”

No answer.  I sensed he was going to let me struggle with that one for a while. Except he did fire a Matthew 25:41-43 warning shot at me! As I continued to walk in silence, I could feel God speaking to my heart, “Linda, next time, don’t pass me by.”

A few weeks later, I broached the subject with God again, “Come on, Lord! You’re killin’ me. I know you aren’t finished with this lesson.”

And then came my answer, “Oh, Linda, you poor thing! I didn’t send you to save her; I sent her to save you – from your indifference.” (Ouch! I should have left well enough alone!) 

Soon my next risky adventure came along. I was walking down Falls Road behind a woman and a boy about four years old. It didn’t seem to concern her that I was right behind them when she suddenly reached down and smacked the little boy on the face. I have no idea why. He said something, and she hit him again. Amazingly (or not so amazingly, I suppose), he clearly was not surprised by the abuse. Then, they crossed the street, and I continued toward home, just a block away. I didn’t get there, though, because I knew instantly that voice I had heard so clearly before would come again. But I got a jump on it this time, “I know, go back!” I crossed the street and headed toward the woman, unsure how she would respond to the intrusion. What would stop her from striking at me if she hit her own child?

“I don’t like this, Lord. Please help me out! What do you want me to say?” It felt very awkward, but as I approached her, I simply asked, “Do you need help? Do you want someone to talk to?” She gave me the stink-eye and brushed past me, and the little boy stuck out his tongue at me. Cute. I assumed they lived close by. Maybe I would see her again. Perhaps she would knock on my door one day. But that never happened.

After our year in Belfast, we returned home to settle back into our former lives, to business as usual. I found a beautiful trail nearby to begin running again. I loved the beauty and serenity there. At times, I encountered a few cyclists along the way and occasionally a scary dog, but I was usually alone.

One day, I noticed someone coming toward me. He was walking alongside a bicycle with a chain of baby bike trailers behind it. It’s funny how you can suddenly become acutely aware of your surroundings. We were approaching each other in a secluded area of the trail. Trees blocked the view of the road, and no one else was nearby. I ran a little faster and offered a “Good morning” as I passed. I’m sorry to say that, as we approached each other, I did not feel less threatened because I gave my trust to God – I felt less threatened because I was confident I could outrun him –okay, and someone else was approaching on a bike. As the cyclist and I passed each other, we both said “Hello”- but he did something I did not, he stopped to talk to the man; the man who is our brother; the man I should love and respect because of his dignity as a child of God – no different than me. I was feeling pretty crappy right then. So, I went back, and we spoke for an awkward moment.

Then, my emotions kicked in – or God thumped me (whatever). I said goodbye and ran quickly to my car, drove the three miles home in a cloud of dust, and woke my husband to enlist him to help me pack up a cooler and some money to take to my soon-to-be new friend. We found him by the river – fishing. He was amiable and enjoyed telling us about his travels, and he allowed my husband to take a picture of us:

Here’s what makes me so sad. Look closely at this picture. I’m not sure, but he didn’t want me to touch him because he hadn’t had a bath in a while. Yeah, I knew that, but after running for an hour, I was pretty smelly myself! There we were, two smelly, beloved children (and one worm) of one AWESOME God!

From these three very brief incidents, I learned volumes about risking and reaching out to others: that the outcome may not be ours to know. But oh, the unexpected blessings we receive from it.

These were momentary encounters with hurting people that I fancied myself saving. Truth be told, they actually saved me. We weren’t meant to have ongoing relationships that would last a lifetime. None of them would call me years later to tell me they named their first-born child after me or invited me to their college graduation. God was working quietly and without fanfare on my hardened heart, which he somehow knew was not beyond reach. It would just take time.

There are signs all around us of man’s inhumanity to man. Violence against our brothers and sisters never seems to abate. We strip our fellow human beings of their dignity when they are suffering, and we refuse to involve ourselves in their lives. How easy it is to ignore the misery of others! But when God teaches us to “see” with our hearts, there’s no going back.

Honestly, I’m not sure I will ever stop gauging my compassion by my sense of safety. But, I pray for the grace to let go of my fears so that I can reach out freely – out of love instead of guilt – like Sister Karen Klimczak.

Many would say that  Sister Karen Klimczak should have paid closer attention to the dangers surrounding her. For years, she ran a transitional housing program in Buffalo, New York, for men being released from correctional facilities. Her selfless, heroic work ended with her murder on Good Friday of 2006 at the hands of one of the very people she had cared for. Ironically, Sister Klimczak, like Jesus, believed that “people will die if we don’t reach out”. 

Fifteen years before her murder, Sister Klimczak dreamed (or had a premonition) that she would die violently. Just before Holy Week of 1991. In her personal journal, she wrote the following words to the person who would take her life:

Dear Brother, I don’t know what the circumstances are that will lead you to hurt me or destroy my physical body. No, I don’t want it to happen. I would much rather enjoy the beauties of this earth, experience the laughter, the fears and the tears of those I love so deeply! Now my life has changed and you, my brother, were the instrument of that change. I forgive you for what you have done and I will always watch over you, help you in whatever way I can. Continue living always mindful of His Presence, His Love and His Joy as sources of life itself – then my life will have been worth being changed through you.

Sister Klimczak’s advanced warning that she would meet a violent death didn’t stop her from championing the world’s outcasts. Instead, she continued doing what she knew she’d been called to do for as long as she could.

“You leave your fingerprints on everything. We need to be people who leave imprints of peace wherever we go in our world.” Sister Klimczak

Fear does not protect – it limits – it limits the blessings and grace God longs to pour out on us and those we reach out to in his name. 

Richard Rohr in his book, Job and the Mystery of Suffering, explains risk beautifully:

There are two things that draw us outside ourselves: pain…and…beauty. Those – pain and beauty – constitute the two faces of God. Whenever we see true pain, most of us are drawn out of our own preoccupations and what to take away the pain. I think we are rushing not just toward the hurt child, we are rushing toward God. That’s why Francis could kiss the leper. That’s why so many saints wanted to get near suffering – because, as they said again and again, they met Christ there. It saved them from their smaller and untrue self.

Jesus’ Matthew 25 challenge is always right in our midst: The poor, the homeless, the lonely neighbor, the crotchety checker at the grocery store, and the elderly are left to die alone in nursing homes. If only we would embrace the vulnerability that allows us to dare bravely for the sake of others, what a different world we would create.

What Are You SO Afraid of?

Did I tell you about Justin (not his real name) the kid who taught me a lesson in love? Okay, well, if so, I’m gonna tell it again because it’s freakin’ awesome!

About twenty years ago, I worked for Youth in Need, a wonderful organization that helps teens, usually wobbling vicariously between their broken world and the road to juvenile detention. This was often the last best hope for them.

I was basically a house mom and often worked the night shift in the house they lived in. It was a time in my life when I was also a broken mess, not long before my husband and I separated for a year (another God story). I’m not really sure how I ended up there, thinking I had anything to offer them. It would be much later before I could see God’s hand in it.

The police often brought the kids to us. Sometimes they were runaways or castaways by their parents or guardians. Justin came to us, a little guy – for a twelve-year-old – with a huge chip on his shoulder. He was always angry and struck out at anyone who looked at him wrong.

Easter Sunday was my day off but I decided that I would buy a ham and ask some of my neighbors to make some covered dishes. How nice of me! Look out Saint Mother Teresa…Linda’s vying for your spot in heaven! I can see the headlines now:

LINDA RUSSELL CANNONIZED BY POPE FRANCIS: THE PARTON SAINT OF MISFITS…

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But, I digress…

The evening went unusually well. That is until we discovered that one of the Easter baskets went missing. Later, I found it under Justin’s bed. When I called him out on it he went ballistic! He started pounding on the walls and yelling obscenities. When I headed down the steps to contact our on-call therapist, he followed me. Still yelling! And then he spit on me. Okay, now I was mad! I began thinking of how very generous I was to come in on my day off. I muttered under my breath, “Kid you’re outta here!” And I meant it. I was determined to send him away and I had the power to do it. When I shut the office door and picked up the phone I knew he was listening.

I explained to the therapist what had happened. She asked me if I felt threatened. If I would have said yes, the police would have been called. But, then, in that moment God grabbed my heart…this was Easter Sunday! On Good Friday, Jesus was spat on, mocked, and crucified. Justin was just a child; a hurting, suffering child. I assured the therapist that I did not feel threatened and would handle it.

When I opened the door, Justin fell into me – still angry, “YOU GONNA CALL THE POLICE?! GO AHEAD CALL THE POLICE I DON’T CARE. CALL MY DAD, I DON’T CARE!” I calmly (which surprised me) said to him, “No Justin I’m not calling anyone. Just go upstairs, get your shower, and go to bed. Oh, and, if you need a hug I have one for you.” I think that offer surprised both of us, but his response didn’t. He uttered, “Yeah right!” just before he knocked the chair up against the wall and stormed out of the room.

Yeah right. What was I thinking? And now I had to fill out an incident report! Oh, joy. “I’m taking my ham back! You hear me, buddy???”

Twenty minutes later, the report finished, I headed upstairs just in time to encounter Justin coming out of the bathroom. There was something different about him when he looked at me. He was calmer and then asked something that, to this day, I still get teary-eyed thinking about it. “Can I have that hug now?” I can’t even describe the emotions that filled my heart as I hugged that little boy. I have no idea if he had ever been hugged before or since then. I hope that’s not the case, but I never saw him after he left.

When I consider that for just one moment I had the power to influence a little boy’s life – for good or bad – it’s mind-blowing! I know this for sure, if I would have followed through and had him sent away, that would have certainly been my own narcissistic doing. But, the ultimate outcome of that incident was totally God’s doing and took place even in the midst of my own brokenness (that’s a very important fact). It wasn’t by my own strength or even care for Justin. I was not some amazing spiritual giant responding as would have been expected of the likes of Saint Mother Teresa, But, and this is huge, I was able to hear Jesus speak into the depth of my otherwise hardened heart, which in turn allowed him to speak love into the soul of another broken heart. He used me in all my messiness. Unbelievable.

When I look back on my life it is simply astounding to me to consider what God is able to accomplish when he has so little to work with. If such incredible acts of love, mercy, and healing can take place even when we are so resistant to him, I have to wonder what America would be like today, if more Christians would stop resisting God’s call. It is breathtaking to consider the possibilities.

Sadly, so many who confess to being Christian are believers in name only – lukewarm God calls it. Revelations 3:16-17: “I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone, oblivious that in fact, you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.” (The Message)

How much do we hate the thought of being that person before God? – Because we don’t act like it. I don’t know if it’s as much a matter of indifference as fear.

What ARE we so afraid of? Trusting? Possibly.

Are we afraid of what God will require of us if we come out of hiding? Perhaps.

Fear of the unknown? Absolutely.

Let’s go back a ways. There are many people in the Old and New Testament that were afraid to trust God; afraid of the unknown, “You want me to do what?” They came up with some pretty lame excuses considering they were arguing with God himself.

Coming out of our comfort zones and believing we have gifts to be used for God’s kingdom is just too hard to get our heads around. But, it’s true. When I have the opportunity to share my story, I have heard so many people tell me they can’t imagine God working in their lives like that. I have to remind them of the heathen I was before God caught my attention. And when that did happen it wasn’t a sudden thrust into a world I knew nothing about…

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God isn’t in the business of scaring us to death to get his point across. He knows each one of us intimately. He knows how to gently encourage our trust in him and the fact that our lives have a purpose.  Just little moments of grace, then more to follow,  like a child learning to crawl, then holding onto something sturdy to stand before he could trust enough to walk…and then run.

 Eventually, I discovered, as I hope you will, that God gives us everything we need to be all he created and called us to be; that my past did not define my future, and that the lies I lived were Satan’s stronghold on me – not my truth.

When we doubt ourselves Satan gets all giddy inside. When we question God’s call to us, the kingdom work he has planned for us to do never gets done. And Satan cheers. Sure, he could go find someone else, but with the number of us who are never willing to step out of our comfort zones, that leaves him with limited resources.

And Satan cheers again.

satan

Our strength is limited, but we don’t need to rely on our own strength because God’s boundless, inexhaustible, immeasurable grace is just a prayer away. Not convinced? Pick one:

The Lord will give strength to His people; the Lord will bless his people with peace. Psalm 29:11

Quietness and confidence shall be my strength. Isaiah 30:15 

I am strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Ephesians 6:10

I have put on the complete armor of God. Ephesians 6:11

God gives power to the weak. And to those who have no might, He increases strength. Isaiah 40:29

Enough? Yeah, it seems God knew we needed lots of convincing. Has it worked? Not according to Ed Stetzer in his article titled, Too Many So-Called Christians Merely Giving Lip Service to Jesus. Below is an excerpt, and if you would like to read the entire article go here.

I suspect many churches have forgotten their main calling: to make disciples. Instead, we believe drawing a crowd of people on Sundays is enough. We invite people to come to church or to be good people—but not to follow Jesus.

Sociologists like Christian Smith say many Americans follow something called “moralistic therapeutic deism,” a belief in God that’s mainly focused on being a good person and having a positive self-image. 

That kind of religion feels good. But it doesn’t motivate people to act on their faith in areas where it costs them.   

Mediocre. Is that what you’re striving for? Is that what gets you up every morning and fills you with excitement about what life has in store for you? Are you content to sleepwalk through this life waiting for the next (whatever that means)? Have you thought about what you’re missing when you sleepwalk through life? That’s a shame because God could put those gifts he gave you to better use. Imagine him watching you just sitting on them…

Oh, okay, maybe you’re waiting until you get your life straightened out before you think God can use you. After all, you may reason, I’m just too broken myself.  There’s no way I could help anyone else if I can’t even help myself. That’s true if in fact, it is you that you’re relying on the fix yourself. It’ll never happen! Sorry. I can’t imagine you haven’t heard the expression: God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. Catchy huh?

Come on. Wake up!

There’s kingdom work to be done. God’s waiting…

Here’s a little food for thought: Do you realize that God is dependent on you?  That’s not a typo.

Say it to yourself, “God is dependent on ME!

“Linda, you’re crazy!”

Really? Then what does this quote by St. Irenaeus mean? “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Let that sink in a moment. You see, God needs us. It’s true. Anyone ever tell you that before?

So, you see, you MUST WAKE UP because this broken world needs you! God needs you! Now more than ever.

 

Never, Never, Never Give Up

I know so many people, and I’ll bet you do too, perhaps even you yourself, who just can’t believe God has a plan for them. Over the years, I have encountered people who don’t believe me when I tell them my story. “Oh, really?! God told you to do that, huh?  Right!” To be honest, I wouldn’t have believed it myself if he hadn’t gradually brought me to a place where I could trust him even if I was fearful and had no idea what he was up to. For years, there were little promptings that, in hindsight, proved to me that he was on the job (Romans 8:28). Then bigger ones that required more trust; offered way more grace than I deserved, and opened my heart more than I could have imagined.

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

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

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

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

“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

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

Soooooo, what are you waiting for? You must still be breathing or you wouldn’t be reading this. That’s a start. Incredibly, no matter how you lived your life to this point, it’s not too late to begin again. New beginnings are God’s specialty! He has proven that through the lives of every misfit from Moses to this ole grandma – To infinity and beyond!  God coined that phrase you know. Don’t believe me? HUMPH! Check out Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”

Alrighty then, you’re pumped and ready to go, right? You’re packing your sandals and camel hair coat and checking Google Maps… for what? A sign from God?

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

Don’t look to anyone to give you a formula or a check list to send you on your way to sainthood. But, I will tell you this: You cannot love and serve others (which is our greatest calling) until you are able to love yourself. And you can’t love yourself by means of any of the myriad of self-help books on the market. You can only do that by growing in the knowledge that you are deeply and passionately loved first by the God who created you! And you can only do that by being in relationship with him, which requires your time.

You are his son/daughter with whom he is well-pleased (Matthew 17:5). Let that sink in. We are deeply loved sinners. It’s high time we act like it, don’t you think?

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

Now, though I still mess up – and often – I know God’s response is out of love for me; his admonitions tell me that he loves me too much to let me stay stuck in the muck.

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

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.

We have been decorating for the last three weeks for Christmas, and we’re not finished. I’m not even sure what Christmas will 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 this year.

We have all been witnessing our world collapse into chaos: the anger, 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 imagined a 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 the tender touch of Jesus changed that man others rejected and cast aside. Maybe he felt his worth and innate dignity for the first time in his life. 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 words 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!

Never Forget Girl – You ARE a Warrior!

“There’s no heavier burden than a great potential!”- Charlie Brown.

I want to dedicate this blog post to my granddaughters, great-granddaughters, and all the little girls out there (or big girls getting a late start – like me!). Girls who may not yet be aware of their great warriorness. In particular, those who may not have someone in their lives to instill in them a belief in their magnificence, brilliance, and untapped potential. I often wonder what a difference someone like that may have made in my life as I was growing up.

Certainly, I have grown immensely over the past twenty+ years. I have gained the strength and courage to recognize and face down many of the lies I believed for so long about my insignificance. Mostly, it was an uphill battle that I often felt I fought alone. Of course, in hindsight, I know I was not alone. I could not have overcome what I have without God’s strength, tenderness, and guidance, which enabled my heart and soul to begin healing and grow into the life I never believed I was worthy of.

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process

is the bravest thing that we will ever do” Brene Brown

A review of my life may seem to a casual observer that I wasted a lot of time. Yes, I may have wandered in the desert for fifty years. But, these last twenty years of working to fulfill a life of meaning and purpose tell me that everything in God’s plan is just as it should be. Even amid the “fruitfulness,” there will always be messiness and missteps, mostly of our own doing. I seem to step in it, clean myself up, move on, forget, and step in it again. But, hey, it is said that you’re okay if you fall as long as you fall forward. 

So, now that I am higher on that mountain than I have ever imagined, I would love to reach back to encourage and help lift little girls and young women whom God has given me a heart for. I want you to know that you are a warrior, a superhero, and a gift meant to be shared with those who suffer.

I have often written about Esther, you know the “made for such a time as this” Esther? But let’s look at another courageous young woman, Joan of Arc.

Here’s a short biography of her young life from the St. Joan Center Website:

“From her earliest of years Joan was known for her obedience to her parents, religious fervor, goodness, unselfish generosity and kindness toward her neighbors. Simonin Munier, one of Joan’s childhood friends, tells how Joan had nursed him back to health when he was sick. Some of her playmates teased her for being ‘too pious.’ Others remembered how she would give up her bed to the homeless stranger who came to her father’s door asking for shelter.

Joan was ‘like all the others’ in her village until her thirteenth year. “When I was about thirteen, I received revelation from Our Lord by a voice which told me to be good and attend church often and that God would help me.” She stated that her ‘Voices’ were Saint Michael the Archangel, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret. At first her ‘Voices’ came to her two or three times a week but as the time for her mission drew near (five years later), they visited her daily telling her to ‘Go into France’ to raise the siege of Orleans, conduct the Dauphin Charles to Reims for his crowning and to drive the English from the land.”

That simple peasant girl stood her ground against English kings and a motley crew of bishops in the Catholic Church. It was a good-ole-boys club in which she was not welcome (little seems to have changed, huh?!). One bishop declared that she should be sent home and given a good spanking. How dare she think anyone would believe angels spoke to her? The audacity of her leading men into battle! They would have none of it. She was arrested and put on trial by a bunch of weak men who got their underwear all bunched up because she had the strength and courage none of them could come close to. She was too much for their fragile egos. They had to make an example of her lest other women got some crazy notion they were meant for more than servitude. So, they conspired to condemn her for heresy, witchcraft, and violating divine law for dressing like a man (huh?). They were hell-bent on proving it was Satan, not angels, that spoke to her and led her astray. By conspiring and lying, they eventually got what they wanted. She was put on trial, condemned, and burned at the stake for good measure. Needless to say, they hated her and everything she stood for. There is even controversy concerning her canonization in 1920 as being more politically than faith-motivated.

Now, don’t start imagining that you would end up like Joan if you followed God’s calling and reconsider what being a warrior asks of you, “No thanks. I’ll just hang out here with my Barbie and Macho Ken.”

Remember in Luke’s gospel when Jesus was hanging on the cross, and those cocky rulers sneered at him? “You supposedly saved others; why don’t you save yourself? Ha!” Well, Joan, like Jesus, had the courage all her life to listen and obey God’s call. All the while not really knowing what that would entail. On the surface, you might conclude that the way it ended for both Joan and Jesus would not make a powerful recruitment tool. They both felt abandoned by God at a critical point in their lives. But God did not abandon them. We know how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection have sustained Christians throughout thousands of years, so we can rest assured that God fulfilled his purpose in Jesus even when he was silent.

As for Joan, I read a fascinating unpublished novel by Virginia Frohlick, The Lost Chronicles, The Story Of Joan of Arc. Frohlick, by profession, is a registered nurse and writes extensively about the wounds sustained by Joan during battle. She detailed (to ad nauseam, really) four of those wounds and said each of them alone would have been fatal. All this is to say that God truly was with Joan and guided her from the moment of her calling at the age of thirteen until her death.

(If you are totally bored with life during Covid you can access Frohlick’s work here: http://www.stjoan-center.com/novelapp/joaap02.html)

                                                  Our granddaughter’s warriorness on display!

Okay, now that we have established that God is totally enamored with you, your brilliance, and your eagerness to answer the battle cry that is your destiny…

Now what?

Good question. I don’t know. Sorry. I have no idea what God has planned for you. 1 Corinthians 2:9 tells us, “But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined,are the things God has prepared for those who love him.”

However, what I can share with you is a bit of my own journey full of twists and turns and doubts and, yes, awesomeness, because that’s really all I know for sure. I was made to believe that I was nothing special; that anyone who made something of themselves possessed gifts or talents or even some magical powers that I did not have. When you feel so beaten down you begin to believe the lies. It’s hard enough to drag yourself out of bed in the morning without having to perform like it matters. So, then you begin to tell yourself that everyone but you got “the gift”. You got a lump of coal.

It gets us off the hook. We have a valid excuse for sitting back and accepting that we will never amount to anything because, well, we were not blessed with those God-given talents we see in everyone else. Oh well.

I tried to stop comparing myself to all those people I grew to envy, but in truth I continually found myself deficient in so many areas of my life. Then, ever so slowly, the changes began. God knows how to deal with each of us. He knows some, like Paul, can get wacked off a horse, rub his lumps, and instantly convert to Man of the Year. Others, like me, need a gentler, more gradual tap, followed by a soft landing. I suppose that’s why it took so long.

If you had approached me before my transition to a semi-caring human and asked, “Hey, Linda, you wanna go out in the world and serve lost, dying, broken humanity?” My immediate response would be, “Hahahahahaha. NO!” Do you think God had any idea that would be my response? Of course, he did. So, he waited. And waited. And waited. He seems to be really good at that. Then, like the masses at Walmart on Black Friday, when the door of my heart opened ever so slightly, he quickly stuck his foot in the door. (Right! I know. God doesn’t have feet. Just work with me here, okay?)

To spare you the long version of the past twenty years I’ll just give you the bullet points, remembering what one of my professors in graduate school seemed to only ask me, “What’s your point, Linda?”

(And, yes, these are bullet points for an A.D.D. brain, so cut me some slack.) Anyway:

  • My first AHA moment came when I worked for Youth in Need. I had an “I’m the boss” attitude until a twelve-year-old boy taught me what loving kindness looked like. I was basically a house mom and he came there hating the world. He would start a fight with other kids at the slightest provocation. He was a challenging child to deal with. One evening, he stole something from another resident and got very angry with me for confronting him when I found it under his bed. I told him I was going to the office to call our therapist, and he spit on me. Now, I was angry. I mumbled things under my breath I will not repeat here. When I called the therapist, I knew he was listening at the door. I explained what had happened, and she asked me if I felt threatened. At that moment, something inside me changed. It was Easter Sunday. The day we remember Jesus’ story reflects God’s promise. A promise made to me despite all my sins and brokenness. A promise that was made to this child I was about to have removed and sent to Juvenile Detention. I told her “no” I did not feel threatened, and we hung up. He fell into the room when I opened the door and started yelling at me to go ahead and call the police. He didn’t care! I told him I was not going to call the police. If he would calm down, shower, and go to bed, it was over. He got up, attitude still on display, and out of somewhere deep inside of me, I said, “And, Justin, if you need a hug, I have one for you.” He shoved the chair and “yeah, right!” ushered out of his mouth as he slammed the door and left. I repeated his “yeah right” a few times as I completed an Incident Report. What was I thinking? As I walked up the steps, Justin came out of the bathroom. He looked at me with a different demeanor now and asked, “Can I have that hug now?” I’m not sure how long I hugged that child or how long we both cried. I wondered if anyone in his young life had ever hugged love into his fragile heart. And there was God on full display, hugging love into both our hearts on Easter Sunday!
  • A few years later, there was the moment God’s clear voice told me to write a book, followed by my hysterical laughter, which I’m sure he did not find amusing. Anyway, I shook it off and went on about my business. A few months later, I went to community college and wrote a paper for an English class. When my teacher returned it to me, he said, “Linda, this is really good. You should see about getting it published.” Wait…WHAT?! So, I started writing my life story. Right! Like anyone would care. But I persevered, finished it, self-published it after many rejections, and even got a little award from a Writing Guild no one had ever heard of. The books were piled up in my basement, and Oprah never called, so my hopes of becoming famous were shattered. Fine!
  • In 2006, I was given the opportunity to attend graduate school with full tuition paid by a grant. God didn’t have to wait long for that rolling, side-splitting laughter from someone who barely finished high school! I prayed about it, and after a deeply mystical experience, not really, I just said, “What the hell! What have I got to lose?!” There are no words to describe how those three years challenged every fiber of my being. Then, beyond anyone’s expectations, except God’s, I graduated with a degree in Pastoral Studies. Then came the job search. You’d be right if you think I had a hard time getting any Priest to welcome me into the good-ole-boys-secret-hand-shake club. Of course, I whined to God…again…about why he had me on what surely was a wild goose chase to nowhere. “I KNOW YOU CAN HEAR ME!” No answer. Fine!
  • Fast forward to 2014. Tired of sitting at home and listening to my own belly-aching, I decided to just volunteer somewhere. After all, I was already beyond the age of retirement, so why not? Remembering our beautiful experience with Hospice when my dad was dying, I started working with them. During that time, I learned a lot about the dying process. We are not simple observers from a distance for those who are taking their final journey. Hospice care involves participating in what I can only describe as a profound sense of empathetic being-with, participating in a deepening movement through an almost palpable process. It was truly holy ground, and I always felt sitting vigil with the dying was a privilege that blessed me beyond words. I left there when my beloved mother-in-law, Catherine, went into hospice care as we sat vigil with her on her final journey. Then I waited…more calmly this time.
  • Next, I stepped a bit deeper into my fear and vulnerability by working with the homeless for St. Vincent de Paul, which ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. But, if you had told me I would be hugging and loving on two ex-cons at a dumpy motel they were staying in, I would have straight up denied the possibility. But there I was. There were many encounters like that. I didn’t tell my Supervisor about most of them because I didn’t think his heart could take it. Like the day I got the call from another agency, “Hey, you want to come help this girl who’s hiding from her mob boyfriend?” Here’s me, “Sure, why not?!” Sadly, our homeless program ended when our funding ran out. We then had to refer people to other agencies, and I did not feel the other programs were a good fit for me, so I stepped aside to discern what God had up his sleeve next. As of this writing, I’m still waiting, but I’m pretty sure God has removed his earplugs because I’m more patient now. You’re welcome, Lord!

I just shared with you a capsule version of my last twenty years. When I think about how I have grown and matured in faith, how others have taught me to live with ambiguity and uncertainty and be okay with it, I am stupefied! To say to someone in their brokenness, “I don’t know why this happened to you, but I care” – and then really care and be vulnerable to their pain is all God asks of us.

Learning to love and serve with God’s heart didn’t come naturally for someone who never had it modeled for them. Each step has built upon another to bring me to this place. It may not have seemed to make sense at the time. I may have spent too much time trying to repackage God’s perfect plan to fit my expectations, fixating on my own plans. But, at the end of the day, I know I am exactly where God wants me, and I know he does not waste time.

So, now what?

 “God gives food to every bird, but he doesn’t throw it into the nest.”

An ancient Hindu saying

 

Angela Duckworth did a lot of research for her book, Grit. She says:

“Often we believe that people who excel have some innate gift that no one else has. But it seems it isn’t so much ability or talent as zeal and hard work. Without effort your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t. Enthusiasm is common, endurance is rare.”

Duckworth names four psychological assets necessary for success in any worthwhile endeavor and addresses critical aspects of growing into our God-given purpose:

They are:

  • Interest: Discovery
  • Development: Daily discipline.
  • Purpose: Conviction that your work matters. A lifetime of deepening.
  • Hope (needed in every stage) keeps you going when things are difficult, even when you have doubts.

I can relate to all of these aspects that have continually reinforced God’s plan for my life, but I would add one more: Trust. If we cling to our fears, we will stay stuck in our emptiness. You must own your story, not wait for someone else to write the chapters.

Through that still small voice, in my most broken moments, God spoke into the depth of my heart, “No matter where you are at this moment, no matter what heartache or pain you may have suffered, you are now and always have been, enough because you belong to me. You can trust me.”

Granted, I did not run into God’s arms with wild abandon. It was more like a slow crawl and a lot of back-sliding. I wanted to test him because trust was not one of my strong suits. But the more I submitted to him and experienced the changes in my heart, the more I was hooked. I just knew this was different; my life was different. I began to breathe in a love I had never known before. It was incredible, and I couldn’t get enough of that sense of God’s immense love for me even when I mess up, which I still do. I must remind myself daily that being worthy and imperfect are both aspects of our humanity. They are not contradictory.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

So, dear ones, it’s up to you to pray and listen for God’s whack or still small voice, whichever one works. Pay attention to your desires that speak to God’s desires. What are you passionate about? What breaks your heart? What gives you joy?

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive”

Howard Thurman

And just in time for this post USA TODAY published their list of 100 “Women of the Century” you can check it out here: https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/life/women-of-the-century/2020/08/13/19th-amendment-women-succeed-grit-rita-moreno-billie-jean-king/3331178001/

The author of the article, Nicole Carroll, tells us:

“They didn’t succeed despite adversity, but often because of it. They didn’t just blaze a trail. They hammered one with their voices, their ideas and their grit. They did it at massive protests and in church basements, on big stages and in dusty fields. They stood on the shoulders of ancestors and pulled along those behind them.

The lessons of the women who brought us this far show that from the darkest moments, we find our greatest resolve. So many women who’ve achieved have first been hurt. Trauma can shame and shatter. But, they will tell you, it can also guide.

How do women keep pushing forward in the next 100 years? The same way they always have. They’ll imagine. They’ll create. They’ll fight. With grit and with sacrifice. With not enough sleep and not enough help. With bright days of self-confidence and desperate nights of self-doubt. With courage.”

So, here are a few thought-provoking questions for you. I pray you will hear the voice of God speaking to your heart, and you will respond with a huge, “Here I am, Lord! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). And then, dear one fasten your seat-belt for the adventure of your life!

  • How are you unique?
  • Do you know what your gifts are?
  • Who do you admire and why? (Often, what we admire in others is what we would like to develop in ourselves).
  • Do you like helping others?
  • Do you consider yourself a leader?
  • What makes you happy – sad?
  • Has someone else told you you are good at something?

 

I’m Right and You’re Wrong –DAMN IT!

We are in the midst of a battle. Anger and violence are played out in the media daily. It’s deafening, and activists are on both sides of the conflict. Both have dug in their heels and refuse to budge. How many times have we seen in-your-face confrontations?

wrestling

So, the question then becomes: How many of those times have we seen adversaries turn into allies who decided to work together with the determination to change things for the greater good of our country? How many?

We’re seeing a win-lose struggle, and when there is a winner, that necessarily means there is a loser.  So, what’s the answer? How do we get beyond this impasse that is adding so much suffering to an already disintegrating situation?  How about this novel idea? How about if we just go home and work on our own issues first (and if you don’t think you have any…well…that’s an issue)?  Crazy huh?

No matter what I believe, no matter how passionate I am about changing the world,

I am really the only person I have the power to change.

I would like to share with you my course correction after years of being a selfish, stubborn, know-it-all believer in the power of God to send all heathens to hell if they didn’t straighten up! I was sure that was my assigned duty here on earth, and I was really good at it! My buddy Paul and I both got knocked on our butts – in a loving way, of course. God knew I was used to getting knocked on my butt and would come out fighting!  So, after he got my attention, he gently went after my heart instead. Sneaky.

I want to touch on three areas in the past fourteen years that have profoundly impacted my life. What’s impressive is that I have no bruises to prove it, but that’s because hatred, not Love, bruises.

The changes I am referring to are my faith, politics, and my self-centeredness vs. other-centeredness:

MY FAITH: – back in the day, I could quote many scripture verses proving that anyone I disagreed with was destined for hell. Have a nice trip! I could justify my superior attitude and what was clearly my god-given responsibility to save lost souls. That is until I got to graduate school in 2006.

It did not take long to see the error of my ways and the folly of my “beliefs”. But, and here’s the point I want to make in all of this, the professors I was so blessed to know in that three years were powerful influences in my life. And yet, not one of them shook an angry fist at me to announce that I was an idiot, which they could have. I saw something in them that helped me to see, really see, the error in my thinking. They were loving, compassionate, grace-filled teachers of God’s unconditional love for all of his creation. They taught me, not just through studies like reading the works of Thomas Aquinas (geeeezzzz, that was painful!), but more importantly, through their own example and lives. It wasn’t because of a need to be right or to make demands, but because they simply loved. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to grow in a faith like theirs that imitated Christ. They helped change my attitude about so many things. But, at the end of the day, all they had the power to do was encourage my willingness to change from the inside out. It was really up to me.

MY POLITICS: What I learned about myself at Aquinas carried over to a more nuanced understanding of the part I play just in voting. Before this, I was a one-party voter. Admittedly, it was much easier back then. Walk into the polling place, pull the lever for my party of choice, get my “I Voted” sticker, and go home. Never mind that I usually didn’t know who or what I was pulling that lever for. It didn’t matter, though. I was confident in the knowledge that I did my duty. I think today, many people like me now know how critical it is to be informed and choose for everyone in this country, especially those who have been kicked to the curb and feel they have no voice. And, again, my movement away from “don’t really care” did not come about by brute force. What woke me up to my responsibility and privilege to do my part for the sake of others came from an enlarged heart space, not someone yelling in my face.

SELF-CENTEREDNESS THAT MORPHS INTO OTHER-CENTEREDNESS: Giving instead of taking. Seeing, really seeing, the worth, dignity, and humanity of those the world rejects. And not only seeing them but loving what we see because if you look close enough, you will see Christ. And I just can’t get enough of that.

I would challenge you to just sit for a moment and think of recent stories you have seen on TV or the Internet that either enraged you or spoke into the depth of your heart so powerfully that you cried.  Then ask yourself, which of those scenarios comes from God and which is motivated by an ego-driven, self-serving purpose?

I was recently involved in a conversation with someone who is very passionate about their beliefs concerning what we are experiencing. This person wanted to battle until the other person caved and cried uncle.  But, hey, both stood their ground. In the aftermath of that train wreck, I commented that everyone who disagrees with you is not your adversary. When you view every discussion with someone who feels differently as an opportunity to bully them into your way of thinking, the conversation shuts down, and you both lose.  Then I get the equivalent of a Bible-lashing in Matthew 21:12-13 to remind me that Jesus got angry and threw s*#t.

Okay, first of all, many “stories” in scripture are meant to offer a teaching. Does that scripture verse mean that Jesus was this angry bird who couldn’t control his temper? We could take this to a discussion of “righteous” anger, but that’s not the point. Do you think that table-tossing anger changed ANYONE? We don’t know, of course, but I’m guessing not.

How many of Jesus’ acts and teachings call us to love? How many people followed him despite the danger, especially women, because he offered what their hearts longed for. He came and eventually died for it, and so many others after him were martyred for. So it must be a big deal!

What was one of the last things Jesus said to his disciples? Come on, you know: “Okay, no more Mr. Nice Guy! I’m outta here now, so it’s up to you to carry on. Go on out there and beat everyone who refuses to follow me into compliance. Got it?”

Hmmm.  Yep, sign me up!

We know, of course, that Jesus was very passionate. However, he showed us that passion is not the end of the story. When that passion is turned into service to others, everyone wins, and God does his happy dance!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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