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 our 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 what God longs for with each of us. He beacons us into a 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, perfect, or “holy” enough.  Who told us that? I can think of several people in my life, beginning with my parents, especially my mother. Countless more people have been eager to reinforce that lie over the years. It’s incredible 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 while pumping up our false selves for display to anyone who threatens our fragile sense of self. I wasted so many years 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 led to believe God requires. We’re sure 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 do 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 a change that allows me to embrace my messiness, brokenness, and imperfections.

One of my most powerful growth moments came when I realized 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 has been relentless in his pursuit of my heart so that I could forgive myself and offer his love to others. I honestly feel that the moment I could forgive my mom, even though it was long after she died, our spirits connected and that mysterious, mystical love of God transcended all our barriers and healed 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 demanding anything from anyone, ourselves included. If we can get just a tiny 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.

Saint Irenaeus 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 intended 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?

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 NOT Going to Heaven

Oops. Did you just spit your coffee on that new white shirt? Sorry. My bad.

While you’re cleaning up there and before I go any further, I think a disclaimer may be in order. Everything I say about God, aside from my own personal experience, is my humble opinion and has no basis in fact. What did you pay for that opinion? Nothing. So, what is it worth? That’s right. Nothing.

So let’s continue.

There are many different beliefs and opinions concerning heaven and hell. But, there is only one fact: no matter what someone tells you or what “proof” they provide, no one knows. No different than a recent conversation I had with a friend who collects clowns. She thinks they’re delightful and enchanting. However, I actually believe some satanic force created them to kill us in our sleep. So, who’s right? (I’m pretty sure I am, but I have no proof of that either.)

So, if your bubble just burst or your halo deflated, I apologize. But this is kind of important stuff to consider because if heaven and hell aren’t an actual piece of real estate, then maybe your reason for being nice, or not, to the jerk next door needs to be reevaluated. And, spoiler alert, this will not be easy or fun.

Heaven 

This is not heaven!

And this is not hell!

Diana Butler Bass speaks of this idea of heaven and hell as “vertical faith”. She says, “Sacred traditions replete with metaphors of God in the elements were replaced by modern theological arguments – about facts and religious texts, correct doctrine, creation versus science, the need to prove God’s existence, how to be saved, and which church offers the right way to heaven. These are the questions of vertical faith.”

So, when it is said that we make our own heaven and hell right here, where we live and move and have our being, what exactly does that mean? This is the tough part I referred to earlier because our Western brains can’t seem to grasp anything mysterious or inexplicable. Therefore, everything in existence has to be named and categorized or it gets cast aside as irrelevant.

We are very good at compartmentalizing everything in our lives. Nice people who are low-maintenance get to be a part of our club. Unpredictable, moody, or disagreeable people don’t get to join. We only converse with those who agree with us and avoid or argue with those who don’t. We even compartmentalize life and death. We separate the two with the certainty that there is no connection (Mufasa would not approve!).

circle of life

You may be too young to recall the days when wakes were held at home in a family parlor where life and death were celebrated as a continuum. That all changed with the advent of the funeral parlor. Funeral parlors sprung up so “professionals” could manage the uncomfortable aspects of death and turn bodies into pasty replicas of loved ones. Frankly, I think funeral parlors came into existence when some guy got tired of his mother-in-law hanging around in a box in his living room for a week (before the invention of formaldehyde!). But I can’t prove that either.

We keep everything in our lives separated into neat, tidy piles that we can easily manage, like peas and applesauce on our dinner plate (yuck, don’t want those to touch each other). So it’s no surprise that we stick God in heaven, so he’s separated from us by time and space.

The thought of God being right here in our midst, looking for any soft entry into our walled-up hearts is just too much to fathom. But, let’s stop for one minute, let down our guard, and imagine how different, how rich, and full our lives would be if we could comprehend that reality.

How about this uplifting thought about hell: Gian Carlo Menotti tells us, “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.”  

Wait, if hell is here now, and we begin to understand our true purpose, then we have a chance to correct our pathetic, despicable, pitiful selves before we drop dead. That is Good News, right?!

oh-crap-was-that-today

So, what does all this mean? Again, I can only speak from my own experience. For most of my life, I ignored God and when I did acknowledge him it was usually in a display of anger directed at him. I too believed he was distant and could care less about me – a heathen.  

If God is known as “Father” then it would stand to reason that I would view him just as I viewed my own father. In which case, he would be distant and aloof. He would be sitting on his sofa eating ice cream and mindlessly watching TV, while the world fell in around him. Or if my mother was any indication of who God was: a controlling, punishing, and unforgiving “parent”, it’s no wonder I ran like hell in the other direction. Who needs that? Either way, he would not get a “Father of the Year” award from me and there would be no Hallmark card created for him.

We seem to like the notion that God is way up there while we’re way down here We might be relieved to think he’s not watching while we try to run our own lives. “Don’t need you, God. I’ve got this!” We’re probably hoping he’s much too busy with other more important things to pay any attention to us and our antics.

In many traditional faiths, God sits in his heaven and doles out rewards and punishments to each of us according to our merits or sinfulness. Think of Job in his most distressing time and how his friends wagged their accusing fingers at him, certain that he had sinned in some terrible way to have been the recipient of God’s wrath. “It’s pretty obvious Buddy. You screwed up big time! Now, you need to fess up before God gets his second wind!”

So, what changed for me? It certainly wasn’t that God changed his ways after he read a book annominously sent to him, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. No, I had changed. I opened myself to a relationship with him that allowed me to experience who God really was, not who I imagined him to be. Knowing about God and experiencing him is the critical difference necessary to live as fully as we are called to live, and to trust what lies ahead.

God tells us in Jeremiah 29:11, “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.” We can choose to believe what we have long been told about a God whose wrath is to be feared, or we can choose to experience the God of immeasurable love and compassion.

Oh, if we could just grasp the reality of heaven and hell perhaps we would live our lives differently so that Menotti’s words would not be the end of our story.

Listen to these prophetic words of Father Richard Rohr: “When hell became falsely read as a geographical place, it stopped its decisive and descriptive function, and instead became the largely useless threats of exasperated church parents. We made (heaven and hell) into physical places instead of descriptions of states of mind and heart and calls to decisions in this world (emphasis mine). We pushed the whole thing off into the future, and took it out of the now.  Jesus clearly says the kingdom of heaven is among us (Luke 17:21) or “at hand” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). One wonders why we made it into a reward system for later, or as Brian McLaren calls it, “an evacuation plan for the next world.” Maybe it was easier to obey laws and practice rituals.”

I love the Gospel of Thomas. Yes, there really was one, but he didn’t make the cut. Neither did Mary Magdalene but don’t get me started on that one! Thomas writes, “Jesus said, “Seekers shall not stop until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. After being disturbed, they will be astonished” (my emphasis).”Now, hold that thought a minute.

The scripture verse we are most familiar with is similar but clearly less challenging, it is Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Our shallow, non-threatening translation? Just ask and you’ll get whatever your little heart desires. This reads like a Christmas wish list: Apple AirPods? Done. Captain Marvel Legacy Hero Smartwatch? It’s yours. Chanel’s Quilted Tote bag? Because Lindsay Lohan!? Whatever. Here you go.

Okay back to Thomas. I’m guessing that his gospel was rejected by the “editors” of scripture because they were afraid they could not control us if we discovered who God really is and the power that truth gives us. Of course, I wasn’t there, so I’ll admit I’m really just pushing hot air, but I think the verse is useful for making my assertions.

Thomas tells us that we are to be seeking God and when we find him in our very hearts, it’s all over. What being “disturbed” and “astonished” means to me is that this only happens when we are in relationship with God.

Micah (6:6-9) tells us what God wants from us. In verses 6-7, these two stupid rich guys were trying to gather up all the best they had to appease God and buy their way into heaven. Somebody even threw in a firstborn child for good measure. But God rejects their attempts to buy his favor.

God: “Nope, I don’t want your stuff, I want you.” Micha lays it out succinctly, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

That last verse is the very core of who we are called to be as children of God: And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Does that sound like the demanding, controlling, cruel, never to be pleased God you learned about in Sunday School when you were six and then couldn’t sleep for weeks because you had nightmares about him finding out that it was you who dunked your sister’s doll in the toilet?!

I fully believe that we are living our heaven and hell right here on earth, in our day-in and day-out lives. Each time we make choices to love and serve others, or conversely, serve ourselves. Each time we seek out those God calls us to bring his love to, or we take care of number one. Each time our hearts break over the pain and suffering that permeates our world and then do something about it or turn our backs and cling to our fear of what it might require of us. With every choice we make to love or hate we choose our own heaven or hell right here.

Now, how does that translate to what eternity looks like for us when we take our last breath?

Wait for it….

Wait for it…

I have no idea.

But I will tell you this: I live daily as a sinner/saint. Don’t laugh, my mother-in-law thought I was a saint once for about five minutes (I screwed that up the first time I opened my mouth!). In my seventy-four years, I have known anger, pain, and bitterness. I have been hurt and I have hurt others. At one point I attempted suicide because the idea of living another moment was too unbearable (clearly I sucked at that too – thank God).

I have come to realize that I have been blessed to live the indescribable joy of a rich and full life, even in the messy parts, especially then. A life that encourages giving, serving, forgiveness, and caring for others. That calls us to be in relationship with God and everyone around us – to be Christ to a broken world.

We humans are complicated but it’s okay. I now know that I can show up for life unkempt, messy, disordered, and at times unpleasant because I am a beloved sinner. I know I serve a God of mercy and unconditional love so I am not afraid to humble myself before him and I am not afraid of what lies beyond this life.

And as for you, my friend, if you’re reading this you are still breathing, and if you’re still breathing it’s not too late. Even if you feel like your life is empty and you’re a total failure – you’re wrong! How do I know that without even meeting you? Because you were created in God’s image and he said as much when he first laid eyes on you as a tiny thought in his imagination, “Yep, I did good, real good! You’re a work of art, even if I do say so myself!”

(I have to throw this in because I’m still laughing) My all-time favorite book is “Holy Rascals”, by Rami Shapiro. I have read it so many times it’s falling apart. It is ridiculously poignant and hysterically funny! He says that we are all children of God. Every last one of us. That includes Saint Mother Theresa right alongside Jeffrey Dahmer. The only difference, he says, is “if Jeffrey Dahmer invites you to dinner, you should decline!”

You always have another chance to get life right, to erase regrets, heal broken relationships, seek forgiveness, serve others, and be all you were created and gifted to be! God is your biggest cheerleader (don’t try to visualize that!). And, dear ones, this is not something you want to put off till Monday, like that diet!

I will leave you with this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”

May God bless and keep you. May God’s face shine upon you and give you peace.

Love,

Linda

Leave me Alone – I LOVE Being Miserable!

Who aggravates every fiber of your being? Come on, you know someone in your life – past or present – you have wanted to throw from a moving train in one of your most angry moments!

Throw mama from the train

Perhaps it isn’t your mother (like Danny Devito in Throw Mama from the Train) You love your mother. How about Uncle Bill? Uncle Bill makes you dread holidays! Every. Single. Blessed. One. He hates holidays and, in short order, makes you hate them too. He also hates your new living room set, your cheesecake, thinks you’ve put on too much weight, and wants to borrow another $200.

How about that annoying and relentless neighbor who causes you to lock your doors and pull your shades when you see her coming? Sometimes she catches you off-guard and holds you hostage in your own yard as she rants incessantly about absolutely nothing! Oh yeah, and she thinks your new birdbath is tacky (she might be right about that).

birdbath

Anyway, you walk away, dazed and confused. Ewwww, she got you again! She makes you want to smoke more, drink more, or kick the dog. (Don’t do that. It’s not the dog’s fault.)

It’s really not the dog’s fault, Uncle Bill’s fault, or your neighbor’s fault. It’s your fault because you choose to allow others to control you. Don’t think they’re doing that? When you allow another person to upset you, for whatever reason, they are controlling you. How do you like being controlled? If you’re like me, you pride yourself on being the one in control and refuse to believe anyone could have that kind of power over you.

NEWS FLASH: When we cling tenuously to control or give it up to another, that is the prescription for misery.

Mark 7:14-23, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. From within the man, from his heart, come evil….”

My dear mother-in-law recently passed away at the age of ninety-eight. Before her health took a turn for the worse, she was happy and content and loved being with her family, especially the grandkids. She was always very giving of herself and generous to a fault. But, the last few years of her life, she was miserable. Daily she expressed that misery to us, “Why won’t God take me?!” She felt like a burden, that her life no longer had purpose. She was angry, frustrated, and confused. Throw in hip pain, a bad back, possible strokes, and dementia, and of course, she was miserable!

But what’s my excuse? What’s your excuse? I believe we have forgotten who we are. Life presents a series of blows to our fragile ego, and the joy God intended for us is overshadowed by misery. Misery that we inflict on ourselves, all the while blaming others.

“Wounded by sin, clouded by temptation, we are our own worst enemy. Everything we say and do arises from within our own hearts. If our hearts change, it stands to reason that our actions will follow.” Terry Modica (http://gnm.org/good-news-reflections/ )

We see misery played out powerfully in the lives of the Pharisees during Jesus’ time. He not only came to show us by his own life how we are to live, but he also used the Pharisees as a prime example of how we are not to live. They were pious and arrogant! They were mean, vengeful, and always trying to trip up Jesus. Their hatred for him was palatable because he was constantly exposing their sinfulness. No one wants to be exposed. If they could just get rid of him! Mark 8:11 tells us that Jesus “sighed from the depth of his spirit” because of their actions.”

He could have retaliated, but he didn’t. We would have liked him to so we could justify our own reaction to the hurt we feel from others. But, he humbly walked away, and in the end, he humbly received the torturous beatings and crucifixion.

Misery can be a stern mother. But Psalm 119 tells us that being afflicted is a good thing, “It is good that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes.” Also, sometimes, we can learn from others’ afflictions. Take my mother-in-law, for instance. I learned more from her at the end of her journey when she lay dying and unresponsive. I learned more about compassion that cannot be measured, love that cannot be returned, and inexplicable joy in the midst of it all.

When I would sit vigil in the evening with her, I could sense God’s presence, as in Genesis 28:16, “…surely the Lord is in this place.” The joy I felt during that time was unmistakable. The joy of knowing that Catherine would soon be in God’s presence. Truth be told, I was a bit jealous. I recall saying to her several times, even though she could not respond, “Aren’t you excited?! You will soon see all of your family and friends that have gone before you. They’re waiting for you. God is waiting for you. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to put in a good word for me – I need it!” I thought I heard her say, “Yes, you do!” once, but it was probably my imagination.

In all the training and experiences I have had as a Hospice volunteer, you just know that God is present. You can’t explain it or quantify it. You just know. For me, the most intense times of joy are these experiences and the Lenten journey we are now on. The joy that comes in knowing God never forsakes us; never abandons us. These are times when he asks me to return to him. Joel 2:12 says, “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart…”

Listen to this beautiful song by John Michael Talbot.

Every Lent, I read Henri Nouwen’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son”. I am enthralled by this book and Nouwen’s honesty about his life and struggles. It is a beautiful and powerfully written account of a story most of us know, yet few of us delve so deeply into it. Nouwen uses Rembrandt’s portrait of the Prodigal Son to tell the story:

prodigal son

The son made a choice. He chose to leave his father and go his own way, to take his inheritance and “set off for a distant country, and there he squandered his wealth in wild living” (Luke 15:13). Soon, he was broke and in the midst of a famine. He was hungry, but no one offered him anything to eat.

This is a very telling example of what happens when we turn to the world to meet our needs, but all we meet there is misery. We want the world to fill us with all we ever thought we wanted, but what we want is never enough. The world can’t/won’t satisfy. The world only takes and leaves desolation in the empty places of our souls.

Notice, though, that the son finally, instinctively, knew where to turn when he was starving – his father. Though he felt he wasn’t worthy of his father’s love because of the shameful way he acted, he also hoped his father would at least feed him as the servants were fed (15:17-20). That was all the son hoped for. Imagine his surprise when he didn’t even get his well-rehearsed words out of his mouth…

HOLY FATTED CALF, BATMAN!

Being willing to receive crumbs, the son got the surprise of his life when “the father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (15:20) There’s no way my father would have done that, and my mother would likely have changed the locks on the doors when I left. The father had compassion for his son because he knew he was a miserable, lost soul – but now he was found. It was a time to celebrate; it was a time of joy and thanksgiving.

Well, okay, the oldest son was not so joyful and was not willing to offer his brother the least bit of sympathy or support. He was also angry with the father because it all seemed so UNFAIR! Here’s that “misery gremlin” again! Sucking the fullness of life and joy from anyone too self-absorbed to notice.

Nouwen says, “It seems to me now that these hands have always been stretched out – even when there were no shoulders upon which to rest them.” And of the son, he says, “He realized he had lost his dignity as his father’s son, but at the same time, he is aware that he is indeed the son who had dignity to lose.” He says, “I am loved so much I am free to leave home.”

Think about that.

What brings the joy we so long for? It’s a choice we make in how we respond to our circumstances. You can be the younger son who learns from the misery he inflicted on himself or, the older, bitter son who doesn’t seem to “get it”. It is a daily, sometimes minute-by-minute choice.

Nouwen says, “And this concerning the attitude of the elder son: “Am I so ensnared in my own self-righteousness complaints that I am doomed, against my own desire, to remain outside of the house wallowing in my anger and resentment? God says to the elder son, you are with me always, and all I have is yours.”

The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.

God always has more for us. We are always only at the beginning of love (you must understand) Jesus is pleased with you right now. He sees how much you’ve already done. He wants to see you overcome the next hurdle and get that much closer to the finish line. He is committed to taking you there.“I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Often, my prayer is that God will not give up on me and that I will daily surrender to this love that is beyond my understanding, that I will let go of all those hurts and sorrows that steal my peace and joy.

Regrets Have Expiration Dates

(Originally posted 5/15/2012)

In January 1994, my mother died of heart disease. Eight months later, my father died of cancer. Because they hadn’t belonged to a church, a minister was provided by the funeral parlor.

Before my mother’s wake, the minister gathered all twenty 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 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 memories, we slogged through the anger and sorrow. Trying desperately to recall a long-forgotten quip or enlightening conversation, maybe a silly habit, a favorite joke, one particular 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. Seeing that there’d be no wealth of joyful material from which to draw his comments, the minister politely excused himself to hunt up some old familiar one-size-fits-all sermon. That experience left me numb.

My father’s death was like suffering through a bad movie for the second time: The same cast of characters, the same setting, and 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 over seventy years, at the epicenter of a family you were supposed to love, and not leave behind even the faintest happy memory?”

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 I was grieving the absence of love. I longed for my parents’ love all my life, but I had just been fooling myself. And now…that longing would remain unfulfilled.

Those two 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: To seek the love that would draw me closer to God and to share that love with others, especially my family. I hoped I’d have a different funeral someday, a different legacy than 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 their face! – a smile that reflected the joy we’d shared, the compassion we’d known, the forgiveness we’d received, and the love we 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 might be impossible! Did I even have the strength of character to become the person I envisioned?

That was fifteen years ago, and I can tell you with absolute conviction that it is not only NOT impossible, but it is God’s promise to us and will be fulfilled by him! He simply needs our mustard seed of faith, shaky knees, sweaty palms, and trepid “okay, I’ll give it a go” response. The result is not ours to know. However, it is God’s already set-in-place plan if we’re willing to cooperate with him – and trust.

Perhaps, unlike everyone else in all creation, you are privy to the date and time of your demise. But, 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, procrastinating on this one is probably not a good idea.

Welcome to My Groundhog Day!

(Originally posted 2/12/2014)

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

Let me say that God has done some pretty incredible work in my life! And there have been significant changes over the years. But there is one thing, and unfortunately, it is the main thing I have failed to succumb to: Humility. Oh, sure, I can lay claim to superficial humility. You know, that surface stuff that implodes the first time some poopyhead gets on my bad side!

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

Remember when Phil said 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 re-creating me into the person God no longer recognized. And the angels fell silent.

I, too (metaphorically), “have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned”, first by those entrusted with my care. Then, by my own attempts to live within the context of that person. Everything this original Creation was supposed to be, became unrecognizable. My focus was not on living with joy and the fullness of 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 too. I didn’t have a groundhog strapped to my steering wheel, and it wasn’t on railroad tracks. Instead, it was me drunk in my little MG on the highway, praying that I would crash and die. When his attempt to kill himself failed, Phil’s reaction was, “Ah, nuts.” Mine was the same. I think my exact words were, “Great! I can’t even do this right!” I remember getting out of bed that morning and going off to work: same empty life, different day.

Over the years since that not-so-fatal day, much has happened. As I said before, God has done some remarkable work 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 accomplished in this continual wrestling match, it has been nothing short of a miracle!

fighting-150x150

After Phil described his torture, 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 no one ever noticed that I had changed. Considering that has made me, and God, very sad. Since God recently raised the issue again, and not so subtly, I knew that a lesson was coming, and it wouldn’t be pretty.

Sure enough, I have embarked on a new meditation titled “Bridges to Contemplative Living”. A compilation of the works of Thomas Merton and other Spiritual Giants. I know God is ever so gently loosening my white-knuckled grip on my self-will.

You know how you get a song in your head and can’t escape it? How about just a word: Humility. Of course, as is God’s mysterious way, and because I have been in total denial of my lack of humility, I am confronted almost daily with examples of “Who do you think you’re kidding, Linda?”

I’ll give you one example, but my head and heart are still reeling from the raw truth of many more! Reality bites. Can I just say that?

Within all of our relationships lies the truth of our faithfulness and sinfulness, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. If we’re not afraid to face that truth, there are powerful lessons to be learned.

So…humility. 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 I wanted him to know how I felt about the situation. So God sat quietly while I whined and wailed and wore myself out. Then he stepped in and stuck a big fat mirror in my face!

I had to sit with that and realize 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 but everyone who pushes my ever-so-delicate buttons. And I hear God say, “Humility…Linda. Let’s give it another try.”

Here’s what God has been showing me in the process of mediation, prayer, and almost daily experiences that provide the litmus test of how I’m doing. I think it’s some pretty awesome stuff. Let me know what you think!

What I believe has set this entire process in motion did not begin in the last couple of weeks. It started with my hospice training and work with dying patients. You get a much different perspective on life when you sit with the dying. It is impossible to fully understand the richness and beauty of life if you cannot face the reality of death. They are both part of one continual journey and cannot be separated. Though death is something you can choose to ignore, participation is mandatory. For some people, death is just one thing on a long list of “How did that happen?” moments:

  • Every day he ate a carton of ice cream on the couch, watched TV, and got fat. He scratches his head and wonders how that happened.
  • She was doing 90 in a 30 with no driver’s license and went to jail. How did that happen?
  • She was walking on the tracks, got run over by a train, and died. How did that happen?

Anyway, the beauty of humility seems more and more appealing to me as I sit vigil with those who are actively dying. Things that always seemed to matter diminish in significance. I witness what’s really important to those with so little time to fool with ego, pride, and self-centeredness.

If we consider the wasteful things we busy ourselves with, it’s astounding. Like we’re going to be here forever. Yet, working with hospice patients has finally begun to awaken me to the truth of my own life. That Ground of Being hidden behind the false self I created long ago.  

The Scriptures and meditations I want to share with you were not “dug up” by my efforts. They unfolded before me just as God planned. This, by the way, should be a powerful lesson for anyone who thinks that God does not want to be deeply involved in the details of our lives. This has happened too often for me to believe otherwise. Now, if I can just get out of his way, perhaps humility is not impossible – even for me.

The following is a list of thoughts, scripture verses, and quotes that have gradually caused me to loosen my grip on my pride so God can do what he does best: Love me. I hope and pray that I will surrender to that Love and be the empty vessel he desires me to be.

  • Matthew 4:25, “Great crowds…followed him.”

Meditation from “The Word Among Us”: “People are going to be attracted to Christ in you – not you (my emphasis). Your joy, your peace, and your love will grow, and that will attract people to you.”

OH, MAN!!!! I thought it was all about me!

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

Lord, I pray for your forgiveness for putting so many things ahead of you. You love me so much and feel my rejection so profoundly. 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 grace, help me to let go of the things that fill my thoughts and keep me out of relationship with you and those you bring into my life.

  • 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 shines a spotlight on our doubts and fears. In those moments, there are always thirteen disciples. I’m standing there with them all, focused only on my weaknesses and inadequacies, forgetting the Source of my power. 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?

We are all called to have faith and trust in our God, who provides all we need. None of this is remotely possible if it is not born of a heart filled with awe and wonder at God’s magnificence, power, and glory. None of it!

  • 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)”. How often are we willing to decrease so Jesus can increase?

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 to lead the way to his Father.

What I had to consider this day was the fact that I am not Heartland Hospice’s Chaplain. My
ID badge doesn’t claim that I am; my supervisor, although recognizing that I “qualify” as a hospice chaplain, reminds me that I am a volunteer.

Up to this point, I have made it a practice to tell people I was a “volunteer chaplain” –”I had to get it in, and technically it’s true enough. But, I have slowly, and ever so profoundly, been admonished by God. He rolls his eyes and repeatedly shakes his head at my need to pump up my false self. But the more I sit with dying patients, the more I realize how little it matters. No one has ever said, “Thank you for being a chaplain.” They say, “Thank you for coming.” That’s it. They thank me for my presence, not any vast wisdom or knowledge I think I possess, and they need to hear. They’re dying. They could care less about my degrees or accomplishments.

Andrew Murray, in his amazing little book titled, guess what? – “Humility” (catchy, huh?) says, “Our humility before God has no value except as it prepares us to reveal the humility of Jesus to our fellowmen.”

This morning, as I was rereading and finalizing this blog to post, I came across God led me to the following scripture verse: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

Reading that verse 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!

You see, everyone I know, friends and family, know I have a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Studies. How many of them, I wonder, look at how I treat people and make a note to self: Mistreating people must be okay if Linda is doing it. After all, she’s the “holy” one”. 

I am supposed to be, as we are all supposed to be, giving witness to God’s love in a hurting and broken world. But if all others see is my brokenness, how will they ever have hope?

When we go our own way, we obey the parts of God’s command that are easy and discard the parts that don’t appeal to us: Love your neighbor – check. Love your enemy – scratch. Are we putting forth an image of ourselves – more importantly – an image of God that others can use to justify their own sinfulness?

I want 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!

It’s funny; the scripture verses here are not new to me. “HOLY COW, I never knew God felt so strongly about THAT!””Liar! They have just been an inconvenient truth. They demand something I have not been willing to submit to. I pray that is all changing. The power of humility lies within every one of us. We have no excuse to believe or act otherwise.

Underwhelmed by God

(originally posted 3/13/16)

I am a nominal Christian. There I said it. Perhaps that is the beginning of change, like someone who goes to AA. They have to admit they’re an alcoholic first.

I have wanted God on my terms because I never really trusted him. How could I? I have not been able to trust the most important people in my life. Why would he be any different? So, in the name of self-preservation, I wanted him in time-out until he got his act together.

God wanted to be the most important thing in my life, but I kept him at a comfortable distance. He wanted to show me how much he loved me, but I refused to accept his love, reasoning that he was trying to trick me. He had to be. He said he wanted me to trust him and surrender my life to him, but his cunning wouldn’t fool me. I was smarter than that! Sure, I played the game when it served me. But I’m not sure my “playing” was believable to others, and God certainly knew!

I do have moments of sincerity and longing that God latches onto. He doesn’t miss an opportunity. When the door is opened, even just a crack, he zooms in with lightning speed! One recent example was when I was struggling in a relationship with someone important to me. I felt a “loving confrontation” was necessary to resolve the issue once and for all.

Now, I don’t handle confrontation very well. So, in a rare moment of submission, I turned to God first and prayed for his guidance. I wonder if he’s gotten over the shock yet, especially considering I waited for his response! That’s nothing short of a miracle.

A few days later, I went for a run at about 10:30 in the morning – not my usual time to run. I turned on my MP3 (that’s right, shocking, huh? I don’t have an iPhone, an iPad, or any I-want-what-you-have gadget. But somehow, I manage to hobble through life).

I turned on the radio instead of my playlist – also not usual. As soon as I turned it on, the woman announcer talked about a book she was reading, “Unoffendable” by Brant Hansen. As soon as I got home, I downloaded it on my Kindle. I couldn’t put it down. Honestly. It was amazing and just what I needed. Not just for this situation but for all time. He is so spot on and so incredibly funny. (He says he’s not, but he is.)

When Hansen says we Christians are the worst examples of always being offended and reacting with “righteous anger”, sadly, he’s right, and I am the worst offender of all. And, folks, that is why I have to admit that I am a nominal Christian, no matter what else I do to try and convince myself otherwise. But, hey, I tithe generously, fast, pray, and go to church. Why isn’t that enough?

Wait! Who do I sound like? The guy in Luke 18:13 who stood humbly before God and prayed? “He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” Not hardly. More like this guy in verses 11-12: Looking around to make sure everyone was listening, he says, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'”

When I consider my “righteous” anger in the context of my relationships, I have to understand that I am making a statement about my faith and about God. Every time I try to one-up someone, I show them a false image of God, of Christ. I imagine them saying, “Oh sure, Linda, you have planted within me a burning desire to run to God with arms stretched out. Longing for His tender embrace.”

NOT!

What I am actually doing is turning others away. There’s a scripture verse for that, starting with WOE TO YOU, knuckleheads! Check it out all through Matthew 23. It’s not an affirmation! And, no, he doesn’t use the word “knucklehead”. What He does use is worse!

So, back to Hansen’s book. I was looking through it for my favorite quotes, but there are too many. And the scripture verses he quotes are too numerous to mention. So, just get the book and fasten your seatbelt!

After reading the entire book without taking a breath (I’m not kidding! Okay, I’m kidding), I prayed, asking God’s forgiveness for my pride and self-righteousness, for seeing myself as the savior of the world, and then I finally let it go. God’s timing is impeccable, considering Good Friday and Easter Sunday are right around the corner.

The Pascal Mystery is relived for us every year because we too quickly forget! Our tears of sorrow on Good Friday may turn to tears of joy on Easter Sunday, but then dry up on Monday. If God is lucky, we might make it to Tuesday. If our promised surrender to God was something tangible, it would end up on Craig’s List like the treadmill from a New Year’s Resolution with the heading, “Like New – Rarely Used”.

Being a nominal Christian does not have to be my fate. I no longer believe surrendering to God is an instantaneous, magic wand moment or nothing at all. In Matthew 4:5, the devil tempted Jesus to jump off the cliff with a promise of great reward. Not God. God doesn’t give us an all-or-nothing ultimatum.

If we just start somewhere in our messiness to trust him, to give up something we are clinging to, he will show us what he can do with it. He will reveal to us the peace and joy in our hearts that can only come from turning loose of our need to control.

This can be the time for us to sit at the foot of the cross and “see” with our very hearts what is right before us.

What do you see there?

Do you see a God to be feared?

jesus-on-cross

Do you see a God trying to trick you into submission?

jesus-on-cross

Do you see a God who will betray your trust?

jesus-on-cross

Or do you see a God who loves you THIS MUCH:

jesus-on-cross

God is not a nominal God, and we are not called to be nominal Christians. Instead, we are called to take his love into a hurting and broken world without fear, knowing he goes before us.

Are we in or out? (By the way, that confrontation I told you about never took place because I felt God’s gentle nudge to let go of the need to “fix” other people. And the angels rejoiced!).