From Mountain Top to Dark Box to Intimacy

Poor Moses had a lot to deal with. God sent him to lead the Israelites into the wilderness. When they got hungry they complained to Moses. When there was no water, they complained to Moses. So, God opened the spigot and they drank, but forgot to thank him. He dropped manna in their laps, but they wanted steak and potatoes cause they weren’t creative enough to make pancakes out of it and douse it with syrup!

Yet still, God loved their sorry selves. He desired a covenant and intimacy with them. It would be extraordinary! But, the Israelites were having nothing to do with it. It was way too scary! Intimacy? No way! So they stubbornly settled at the foot of the mountain and were going no further.

Then, the Lord called Moses up the mountain….and….

UP HE GOES

(19:3) The Lord instructs him, “Tell those guys I’m going to do awesome things for them: Make them all holy and priestly.”

DOWN HE GOES

(19:8) Moses repeats what the Lord told him and they jumped all over it! “We will do everything the Lord has said.” 

UP HE GOES

(19:11-12) Moses tells the Lord how excited they were! The Lord tells Moses, “I’m going down there in a bunch of clouds to hang with you so they can see how cool I think you are. But, if they try to approach me for selfies I’ll kill the lot of them! Got it?”

DOWN HE GOES

(19:14-19) Moses told them to clean up and don’t have sex (okay?!). Then everything explodes! Thunder, lightening, thick clouds and a really loud, ear drum bursting trumpet blast for good measure. Even the mountain trembled. People were screaming and crying and scattering all over the place! It probably wasn’t the reaction God anticipated. So, he called Moses back.

UP HE GOES

(19:21-24) Before Moses unpacked his gear the Lord said to him, “Go back down and keep them in line.”

DOWN HE GOES

 (20:19) So Moses went down to the people, told them the Lord was not happy with them, but they were still trembling with fear and begged him, “You go talk to the Lord. We’ll wait right here!”

UP HE GOES

(20:21) While he was gone God was furiously chiseling out the Ten Commandments which he gave Moses along with a huge list of additional mandates and decrees.

DOWN HE GOES

(24:1) Then, the Lord summoned Moses and Aaron and some big shots back up for some sort of conference maybe.

UP HE GOES

(24:3) Then they went back down.

DOWN HE GOES

(24:7) Moses showed the Israelites the plans the Lord drew up. Again, in unison they replied, “Yep, we’ll do all that stuff!” Bright and early the next morning they got to work.

 UP HE GOES

(24:18 – 31:18) Moses and Joshua climbed back up and hung out there for forty days while the Lord gave them specifics of his required offerings from the Israelites. It was some pretty pricy stuff too.”Oh yeah, an Arc. I need an Arc. A very BIG Arc –HUGE – and fill it with lots of cool stuff! Here’s the specifics and note the required fancy priestly garments all the way down to the underwear.”  

It was a LONG forty days!

32:1-6) The Israelites didn’t think he was coming back and it all went downhill from there (pun intended). They decided they wanted to be their own gods and make their own rules. It was party time!

32:7-14) The Lord saw what those stiff-necked fools were up to and was furious! He planned to destroy the whole lot of them. Moses begged him to recall his promises and relent. When the Lord settled down, Moses left.

DOWN HE GOES:

(32:19-29) His legs ached and his back hurt from lugging those stone tablets down the mountain! He was exhausted and HE.WAS. LIVID.

They were all running wild – even Aaron. Moses lost it and ended up doing what he had just begged God not to do! He had the Levites chop up about three-thousand people and then he blessed the rest of them. Weird! So, back up he goes to beg God for mercy for the ones who are left. Saying nothing about making mincemeat out of 3,000 of them!

UP HE GOES:

(32:31-35) The Lord makes note of Moses’ request (insert God-sized eye-roll here), while at the same time planning the proper punishment for those who sinned. He sends Moses back down to give them the bad news followed by a fun little plague, followed by their long walk without the Lord cause he is still fuming and afraid he might let loose and destroy them all, but he’s not sure, “I’ll let you know”.

DOWN HE GOES…

A little trivia: Did you know that Mount Sinai is about 7,500 feet high! Moses’ mountain climbing world record has never been beaten. Moses went up and down that thing eight times trying his damndest to keep everybody happy – God included – and look where it got him.

Still today, we seem to quickly forget or just dismiss the fact that all humans are erratic and unstable screw-ups – every one of us! Moses, Aaron, and the Israelites were no exception. The Lord promised to love and care for them if they would trust him, follow the “rules”, and draw close to him.  And they were all about it for a millisecond – until the Lord got a bit too dramatic.

Anyway, when the Israelites saw the lightning and heard the thunder they shrank back in fear. They ran from him to a safer place with shiny, mute, fake gods that they created themselves. They preferred distant respect over intimate relationship: Out of reach, out of range, out of earshot.

Then one day, as Moses was recovering from his mountain climbing adventures and feeling his age, he had an AHA moment! There had to be a better way for him to mediate between God and the Israelites from his recliner, in a more practical way; less frightening and less physical. He knew the Israelites would love it because they had already made it known they wanted to keep their distance from God, especially when they were despicable wretches deserving of God’s wrath. So, he had them build a big Box, later known as a “Confessional”. He hung his shingle out front and began the business of absolving sins. Brilliant! Never mind that not once did he run the idea by God!

Okay, fine, history tells us that is not how it went down. It was actually worse!

John Cornwell, in his book, The Dark Box, tells us Pope Pius X dreamed it up. He wanted to have the reality of sin and damnation seared into the brains of every child by their first communion so he wouldn’t have to deal with the adult version of them. They were required to learn and memorize every detail of categories of sin and the appropriate punishment of Purgatory or Hell. And, yes, there would be a quiz at the end. That’s right; six-year-olds were introduced to the fear of hell that may have surpassed their fear of monsters under the bed. What fun!

I had my own AHA moment when I watched my kid’s classes full of six-year-olds go though that ritual. Deep down I had to wonder what offense a child would possibly have to commit to rile God! It made no sense to me.


Saint Gianna Beretta Molla

Cornwell tells us, “Many readers will be surprised to learn that prior to 1910, young children were not subjected to this rather terrifying information, because they were deemed incapable of sinning in any meaningful way.”  

He adds that there was also the required annual confession for everyone else as well and that this requirement was “imposed, at least in part, by church leaders who expected priests to interrogate penitents and learn if they might be heretics.” Sneaky inquisitors – the lot of them!

Even today, we seem to prefer admiration at arm’s length over a relationship God longs for. Like the Israelites, we want someone, anyone, to stand between us and God – what confession in a Box symbolizes.  

There was a period of time, after my adult conversion, when I faithfully and fearfully adhered to the requirements of going to confession. Though, admittedly, I tried to disguise my voice or go to a different church. So, I’m sitting – sorry – kneeling in the dark spewing all my wretchedness and waiting for the easy-peasy penance that every penitent receives, from grandma’s admission of missing one Mass in seventy years because she was in a coma to abusive priests on their way to another assignment (ohhhhh, don’t get me started!). The only difference seems to be the number of Hail Marys and Our Fathers required to wipe the slate clean. Done. Then you’re off the hook till you screw up again which for me was likely that same day.  I kid you not, there were times I would ask God to take me right out of the Box – while I was all shiny clean – but please hurry!

Then, I quit “going” to confession. It happened when I was able to realize that God isn’t interested in how many prayers we can memorize, or if we meet our Hail Mary obligation. But rather, how sincere we are about changing and correcting our offenses.

I now long for intimacy that allows me to go straight to the source any time I mess up.  I don’t have to wait till Saturday between the hours of 3:30 and 4:45 and I don’t have to wait in line. And, bonus, I have never experienced one bit of thunder, lightening, or annoying trumpet noises!

I would like to end this post by sharing how three amazing people (and many more since) helped me along the path to a relationship with God: Brennon Manning, Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen. Sure, they were all qualified to hear confessions and dole out penance, but that is not how people change. Rather, it was seeing how they lived their faith that helped me change how I live mine!

They professed to the world their failings AND their trust that they could draw close to God because his love is unconditional, merciful, and grace-filled. Because they believed that, so can I! They have all inspired me to long for that God!

One of my favorite quotes of Brennon Manning:

To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side, I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.

I can now profess that, yes, I am a paradox of misfitted pieces: I love and hate, forgive and hold grudges, accept and judge others. At times, eager to give and other times, selfish. I can sing praises to God and curse the jerk that just cut me off in traffic all in the same breath. And on some really bad, terrible, horrible, dreadful days I can be all of those parts at once! 

So, the question before us seems to be: Do we stay stuck at the foot of the mountain or go all in? Going all in is what St. Augustine meant when he said, “The glory of God is man fully alive”.

The Best of Times – The Worst of Times: The Sequel

“Joe Newman is 107 years-old. He has survived two World Wars, the 1918 Flu Pandemic, and the Great Depression. His advice after reflecting on all he has lived through? ‘Always look on the bright side. Don’t spend time worrying about what’s going to happen, since what will happen, will happen.’”  Anita Sampson, who recently celebrated her 100th birthday, is Joe’s fiancée.  “Joe says the coronavirus is just another event in his life. He believes we should look forward to whatever time we have, be it years, weeks, or just days, ‘and then hope for another on.’”

Maybe work on those wedding plans – or not. (I’m not sure if this is true, but, Anita has reportedly demanded a “Promise” ring by Tuesday or she’s moving to her own rocker!) But, for now, it’s nap time.

Since there are now so many American Centenarians there have been many studies regarding these 100+ year-old folks. They all have survived so much. They have lived through misery, hunger and job loss, financial ruin, the loss of loved ones, and every imaginable heartache along the way.  But, that’s not the whole story. There is much beauty and blessing intermingled with the suffering.

The most common and inspiring thread was just as I suspected (and, no, it has nothing to do with great sex or alcohol, so get your mind out of the gutter!) During the Depression, people learned to support and care for each other. They were generous with a few extra dollars, food from their gardens, and emotional support. Many discovered a deep well of strength and optimism that have carried them beyond those tough times. They had a shared sense of gratitude, kindness toward others and even a feeling of being blessed in the midst of unimaginable hardships. They learned acceptance of circumstances you cannot control. And hope – always hope. Happiness and fulfillment come from helping others; having a positive and optimistic attitude. Most have a strong faith and a deep commitment and passion for a cause beyond themselves.

I’m not close to 100, except for those achy things that are the bane of my existence. But in my seventy-one years, I have learned so much about the ugliness and beauty of the human condition; about reality and resilience. I have experienced joy and sorrow, loss and pain and grief and epic moments of delight and wonder and unexplainable joy. I hate and love, horde and give generously, fear and throw caution to the wind. One moment I close in on myself and another I can open up with compassion and empathy for the brokenness that surrounds me. I’m a mixed bag of pride and humility. I can be your biggest fan or your most vocal adversary. I can be quiet and reflective or noisy and blow things up. I’m confusing, even to myself! I think that makes me human, albeit a very messy, bewildering human, like everyone else – if everyone else were honest. Anne Lamott says it beautifully, “Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared. So there’s no sense wanting to be differently screwed up than you already are.”

I believe those wise Centenarians still hanging around and those of us who have not simply survived, but against all odds, have thrived during this screwed up mess called human life, are not finished yet. We have a calling, a responsibility actually, to share those experiences with younger generations in these desperate, seemingly hopeless times. We owe it to them. We have a treasure trove of stories I believe they are hungry for.

What we are dealing with today: a failing economy, children going to bed hungry, job losses, covid, wild fires, hurricanes, racial tensions, protests, and violence in the streets is nothing new. But, all at once? Good Lord! Think about all those younger than us that have not lived long enough to feel any sense of hope for their future because they have not had much of a past to draw that hope from. I believe we are in the midst of our collective dark night of the soul and there’s a double whammy for those younger generations that have not found religion, or even God, to be relevant. They have rejected a religion based on duty and obligation. No thanks.

But, that’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. “Religion” as we have come to know it since the first century has always been top-down and authoritarian. But, that is not God’s way. He sent Jesus on a mission, not the likes of Herod the power-hungry king, to show his steadfast, dogged, unwavering love to the lost and broken. I have openly admitted that I have given up on the Institutional church, but I have not given up on God or my faith which is couched in awe and wonder at the marvels of all of creation.

Jesus didn’t wander the streets playing whack-a-mole with anyone who didn’t follow the rules, memorize rote prayers, or tithe 10%. He was a hands-on guy. When he said, “follow me” he didn’t mean act virtuous, he meant be virtuous; be kind and gentle and caring for your brothers and sisters that suffer life’s cruelties. Consider these verses: Jesus touched the blind man (Mark 8:22), he touched the deaf and mute man (Mark 7:33), he touched a leper (Matthew 8:3). The gentle, compassionate, loving touch of someone who cares that is what we are called to. I’m not gonna lie, it can be scary! Reaching out will require some risk and could result in ridicule or rejection from others. Hum…isn’t that what Jesus accepted to his death? Do you think for one moment that Jesus or the countless martyrs throughout history went to their deaths for a bargain basement god? Would you?

Surely God put wisdom and gray hair together for a reason. I believe, like Esther, we were made for such a time as this. People are scared and hurting. We have been there and have experienced the love and healing power of God. Every life has a story and those are stories that must be told. If your story begins and ends with you we all lose a bit of God’s glory. So, what is your story? How have you overcome hurt and pain? How have you hurt others? How have you prevailed over life’s disappointments? How do you find joy and peace in these trying times? I Peter 3:15 tells us to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” Are youready?

People today, especially young people, are living out of fear instead of the abundance of life God has promised each of us. What we fail to understand is that it isn’t God being the mean, authoritarian father that is holding back on us. It’s us holding back. It’s us not believing he’s worth the effort. I truly believe this is a remarkable time for us old folks to still be hanging around and to get ourselves off our rockers and into the fray. Why should we bother? Do they even want to hear from us? Well, you decide:

Let’s focus in on what young adults (ages 18-25) are dealing with in this frightening and uncertain time:

First, a recent article by CNN:

Jeffrey Arnett, a psychologist at Clark University says, “The pandemic struck students at a particularly vulnerable age.” He explains that this is “a time of life when many different directions remain possible, when little about the future has been decided for certain, when the scope of independent exploration of life’s possibilities is greater for most people than it will be at any other period of the life course.”


https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/25/opinions/coronavirus-pandemic-racism-generation-resilient-fredrick/index.html

So, picture these young people that have likely never experienced even one of the many crises we’re facing today. They have had their certainties about life jerked out from under them without any warning.

The article continues:

Since the pandemic, the percentage of Americans, especially younger ones, dealing with mental health issues has increased at an alarming rate. Over a six-day period in early June, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, 41% of 18-34-year-olds showed clinically significant symptoms of an anxiety disorder, 35.1% experienced a major depressive disorder and 47.5% reported anxiety and/or depression.

There’s much more in this article that sheds light on what they’re dealing with: a government they feel they can no longer rely on, constant news coverage of injustice and violence, the tragedy of years of denial of climate change, loss of a sense of security and hope for their future.

Perhaps here is a glimmer of hope:

In (one) study, young people said they were “empowered by forming connections, but they admitted they did not always know how to form them. Psychologists at the University of Manchester have found another factor critical to young adults’ resiliency — the strength of their social bonds able to provide them with the support needed to weather the worst storms.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/25/opinions/coronavirus-pandemic-racism-generation-resilient-fredrick/index.html

Check this out for inspiration: https://www.nunsandnones.org/

So, as their lives seem to be falling apart and the government can no longer be trusted to shore up confidence in their future, or that they will even have one, that leaves a huge gap to be filled, a gap between their current reality and hope. And that’s where God can use us to step in because dancing in the midst of tragedy is our specialty. There, of course, is a hurdle to jump first (not that God isn’t the world’s best hurdle jumper!). They don’t think much of religion or God or the pain of Judgment Day…..Ohhhh, don’t get me started on “God’s gonna-take-you-to-the-woodshed on Judgment Day”!  Let’s quickly move on…

Here is a great article from National Catholic Reporter: “…the Study asks: Why are young Catholics going, going, gone?” Since we know it’s not just Catholics that have left their faith, this is very telling for all young adults that feel disenfranchised and left to their own devices to find their own way.

“Whether it’s feelings of being judged by religious leaders who don’t know or understand them, or being forced by their parents to attend church, or witnessing the sexual abuse scandal and the hypocrisy of church hierarchy, young people are expressing a desire both to break free from organized religion and to be part of a community. As emerging adults continue to navigate a difficult period, it is crucially important that they are able to maintain wellbeing and seek support where needed from those around them.”


https://www.ncronline.org/news/parish/study-asks-why-are-young-catholics-going-going-gon

Then there’s this from Springtide Research Institute:

Springtide Research Institute is committed to understanding the distinct ways new generations experience and express community, identity, and meaning. We exist at the intersection of religious and human experience in the lives of young people.

Our newest research found today’s young people are the most lonely and isolated generation that has ever existed. One in three young people feel completely alone much of the time. The good news though? You’re the solution (my emphasis).

What would it look like for belonging to come before believing?

One of the fundamental truths about communities is that belonging comes before believing. As our research demonstrates, we often get that equation backward, especially when it comes to young people. The traditional institutional tools for engaging with young people are no longer effective as trust erodes across all institutional sectors.

Young people are facing epidemic levels of isolation and loneliness.

Young people are struggling to connect with each other and the adults who care about them. Nearly 40% of young people feel at times they have no one to talk to and attending religious groups or gatherings does not have any effect, unless they have a relationship with an adult who cares.


https://www.springtideresearch.org/belonging/

“Belonging before believing” may be the key in all of this! The Institutional church teaches “rules” necessary to live as a “good” person of faith is expected to. That rigid voice has become old and tiresome; void of meaning and purpose. It cannot address the deepest longing of a soul that knows deep down it belongs to something bigger; something more. Where do we see in any of Jesus’ teachings to the masses gathered everywhere he went that he stopped mid-sermon for an alter call? “Look guys, we know you’re hungry after walking for miles and sitting here in the heat for hours. The food trucks won’t be coming any time soon…BUT…we’ve got fish! Come on up and get yourselves saved and you get some!” Years ago, when I was a youth minister one of the most basic truths that I grew to understand about human longing and relationship came from one statement, “I don’t care how much you know, until I know how much you care.”

I didn’t have any idea what I was doing when I first got some teens in our church together to start a youth group. Truth be told, I was probably needier than they were, but I sincerely wanted to give them a place to gather, safely question anything about their faith (when Father wasn’t within ear shot), serve the community, and have fun. Granted, I suffered the pains of having an A.D.D. brain that called into question my “fly by the seat of your pants” leadership style. More than one parent informed me how unorganized I was – thank you very much. Of course, they were too busy to help.

But, here’s the thing: not one of the kids walked away because a teaching was rescheduled due to a bit of forgetfulness by one flighty adult. Not one kid complained when said flighty adult was the only one who thought an ice breaker consisting of sticking life savers on someone’s face was funny. I still think that one’s funny! But, oh well. (Note to self: teenager = insecurity. Got it.) They forgave my every misstep as we all learned together. Why? Because they knew I loved them. That’s it. That’s all that mattered…well…except that I made some badass cookies!

I also recall a young pastor we had, new out of seminary. He came to a meeting one night and later complained that there were only ten kids there. So, why did we bother? I didn’t see that one coming and had no reply for him until a few days later. I invited a therapist to come speak to the kids about suicide: how to recognize it and what to do if they suspected a friend was at risk. One of the kids at that meeting called me a couple of days later to thank me – like sobbing thanking me – for having her there. He got her phone number afterwards and called her because he was contemplating suicide. They began therapy sessions with his mom. I still get teary when I think about that.

Another day, that same priest was talking to me and a girl in our youth group. She told him she hated her mom and he immediately cut her off telling her she could not hate her mom, that her mom was a wonderful person. I knew why she said that and knew she was suffering a lot of pain in their relationship. I could not share that with him, but I did “share” the fact that he managed to shut her down and she would never confide in him the pain for which she needed help and healing. I could go on, but I won’t, except to say that I have so many great memories of those times and am still in contact with some of the teens that are now parents themselves.

We all have life’s most critical and basic questions that need to be answered if we are to live fully the lives we were meant to live. Who am I? Why am I here? What is God’s purpose for me? Are you someone that can help young people answer those questions? You can, you know, just by being present to them, listening to them, and trusting God. Knowing he has already given you all the tools you need to fulfill your own destiny – you can now help them do the same. And I will tell you this without the slightest hesitation – they will do just as much, if not more, for you!

One final note: if you are considering forming a relationship with young adults it would behoove you to know that they will see right through any hidden motive to “straighten them out and save them from hell and damnation. Don’t do that. Okay? Here’s one final example of someone wanting to do just that. An “older” woman in our parish called me and wanted to “help” with the kids. I invited her to come to our next meeting just to observe. In that particular meeting we were going to watch a new T.V. show….ready?…”Married with Children”. I wasn’t concerned about exposing them to something distasteful because they were already mindlessly watching it at home. I wanted us to watch it together and talk about it. Hopefully they would make a more informed decision about watching it. It shouldn’t surprise you that my “older” friend only lasted about five minutes into the show when she walked out in a huff and never returned.  But, at the end of that meeting, the kids were upset about the content of it. As a result they all wrote letters to the companies that sponsored it! How cool is that?!

Love or Hate – A Moment-by-Moment Choice

2020 – a year no one will forget!

We have been inundated for months with “facts” about the virus and the protests. The hatred that seems to be growing daily on every side, no matter what the argument is about, is deafening. That can be frightening…but…we must remember that fear is the ultimate goal of the extremists. Fear can have the power to darken and ultimately obliterate the very meaning and purpose of our existence if we allow it to.

As I read and try to understand the depth of so many issues we are facing now, there is one that I feel is critical for our future, our children’s future, and America’s future, and it is so basic it should not even be in question – but it is: IF I call myself a Believer (it doesn’t matter of what tradition) in the God of all creation, then loving my neighbor is not optional and there should be no place for hatred in my heart.

How about this for a reality check: 1 John 4:20 should thump us all on our hard heads, “If anyone boasts ‘I love God’ and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, HE IS A LIAR (emphasis mine and most likely God’s too). If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see?” (The Message). If we continue to pull away from that ONE TRUTH to create our own, we will have lost our way and, God help us, our children will suffer the consequences.

We will all be called to account for how we choose to live in this world and it’s pretty likely that for most of us, myself included, it ain’t gonna be pretty. We are messy, selfish, demanding, unforgiving, broken humans – full of ourselves and pumped with ego, with the tiniest bit of empty space for God to squeeze into. Somehow He does. Somehow He continues to love us in spite of ourselves. And somehow, miraculously, He pats me on the head with the greatest of love, mercy, grace, and compassion and says, “Linda, you screwed up again, but I forgive you and long for you to do the same. I love you and long for you to do the same. Like Jesus, you were created to take My light into the darkness. There should be no room for hate in your heart.”

Love is more powerful than hate if we truly believe what we profess! And, THAT, my friends is the TRUTH.

You don’t have to believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Maybe you see him as a stand-out Prophet, a great role model, or the most you can muster is a wink and a nod to “Buddy Jesus”.

Buddy Jesus

We know enough about Jesus’ life to know he didn’t stand behind a bullhorn and threaten hell and damnation for anyone who didn’t do what God expected them to. He led by example. He could have jumped on the bandwagon of the powerful leaders of his day and would probably have had a pretty cushy life; retired with a great pension, and lived into old age. But, that scenario wasn’t going to play out because his love and compassion for those who suffered guided his every thought and action, as it should ours. Are we afraid to ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?” when confronted in a moment that challenges our moral fortitude because deep down we already know the answer? Ponder that one for aw while.

We may not be marched up to a hanging tree, but, we surely should speak and live as fully as we are called, no matter the consequences. You do realize God is counting on us to do just that, right? I will leave you with these words from Archibald MacLeish’s sermon on Job:

MacLeish asks why God allowed Satan to tear Job’s life apart. He says, “Because God believes it will be demonstrated that Job loves and fears God because He is God and not because Job is prosperous…that Job will still love God and fear Him in adversity, in the worst of misfortunes, in spite of everything. God stakes His supremacy as God upon man’s fortitude and love….Where the nature of man is in question, God has need of man. Only Job can prove that Job is capable of the love of God, not as quid pro quo but for love’s sake, for God’s sake, in spite of everything – in spite even of injustice, even God’s injustice. Only man can prove that man loves God. Man depends on God for all things: God depends on man for one. Without man’s love, God does not exist as God…love is the one thing no one, not even God Himself, can command. It is a free gift or it is nothing. And it is most itself, most free, when it is offered in spite of suffering, of injustice, and of death. It is in man’s love that God exists and triumphs, in man’s love that life is beautiful, in man’s love that the world’s injustice is resolved. To hold together in one thought those terrible opposites of good and evil which struggle in the world is to be capable of life, and only love will hold them so.”

There…NOW GO!

Santa, Won’t You Buy me a Mercedes Benz

I offer this post right before what may be the most popular day of the year – Black Friday. It is my lame effort to curtail the insanity. You’re welcome!

dear santa

Have you ever read about Janis Joplin’s life? I watched a documentary about her called, Janis: Little Girl Blue. I found it to be such a sad account of a desperate and broken life. Her song Mercades Benz was recorded on October 1, 1970, three days before she died, alone in her motel room, of a heroin overdose. The song was actually a slam against consumerism. As Performing Songwriter Magazine stated, “She was outspoken about the illusory happiness promised (but rarely delivered) by the pursuit of worldly goods, a hippie-era rejection of the consumerist ideals.”  But then, in contrast to that, she was often seen wearing a mink coat given to her by Southern Comfort because she offered free advertizing for them. It seems to have been her drink of choice. Needless to say, she was complicated.

Joplin grew up in a town that was right in the heart of what her sister called redneck country. It had an active chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. And weren’t they thrilled when she spoke out against racial segregation, which also made her a target for ridicule by the other kids in her school. According to her sister, they were relentless in their attacks on her.

Her fragile ego wasn’t spared when she went away to college either. In 1963, Joplin was cruelly voted “The Ugliest Man on Campus” at the University of Texas. “She was left with little more than the yawning chasm of a tortured loneliness,” her publicist and biographer, Myra Friedman, wrote after Joplin’s death.  Her book was titled, “Buried Alive”. On the Dick Cavett Show, she once said, “They laughed me out of class, out of town, out of the state.”

Even after she managed to get away from Texas she could never seem to escape the loneliness and rejection she experienced there.  She just wanted to be happy, to be loved, but those longings always eluded her. The sex, the drugs, the fatalistic sense of being lost and alone tormented her to her death.

In 1968 she wrote to her family, “From all indications I’m going to become rich & famous. Incredible! All sorts of magazines are asking to do articles & pictures featuring me. I’m going to do every one. Wow, I’m so lucky – I just fumbled around being a mixed-up kid (& young adult) & then I fell into this. And finally, it looks like something is going to work for me. Incredible. Well, pin the review up so everyone can see – I’m so proud.”

On September 18, 1970, Jimi Hendrix died of a heroin overdose. When she heard of his death she told friends, “he beat me to it.” Two weeks later, on October 4th, she was found dead. In her will she left her friends and family $2,500 to throw a wake party which was held on Oct. 26. One partier remembered, “Everyone got drunk and messed around and nobody mentioned Janis at all.”

Ronald Rolheiser summed up her struggles this way, “She simply lost the things that glue a person together and broke apart under too much pressure. Janis Joplin could not will the one thing.” That “one thing” of course is our innate connection to God, not things of this world we aimlessly strive for to take His place.

If the current rates of depression and suicide are any indication, people of all ages continue today to struggle to fill a void left by our rejection of God and the great American obsession with self.

According to the CDC, in 2017, suicide was a Leading Cause of Death in the United States:

  • Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of over 47,000 people.
  • Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.

And what about those who have not become a suicide statistic? According to the American Psychological Association:

  • 7% of the U.S. population over age 12 took antidepressant medication in the past month.
  • There has been a 64% increase in the percentage of people using antidepressants between 1999 and 2014. In 1999, 7.7 percent of the population took the medication.

Tim Kasser, Professor and Chair of Psychology at Knox College, has studied people’s values and goals for over twenty years. He says:

 The materialistic or “extrinsic” goals are the goals for money, image and status that are so encouraged by consumer capitalism. We contrast these with the “intrinsic” goals for…affiliation (e.g., having close relationships with family and friends) and community feeling (e.g., helping the broader world be a better place).

The take away of those studies?

We find that when people prioritize materialistic, extrinsic goals at a relatively high level compared to intrinsic goals the lower their personal well-being, lower happiness and life satisfaction, more depression and anxiety, and a variety of other personal ills….Materialistic goals are associated with being less empathic and cooperative, and more manipulative and competitive….They care about ecological sustainability and their lifestyles tend to have a damaging effect on the planet.

….People who strongly value helping the world and improving the lives of others are happier and better adjusted than individuals who care about other, more materialistic values. Individuals oriented towards community feeling and helpfulness report greater self-actualization and vitality, less depression and anxiety, fewer behavior disorders, and less narcissistic tendencies.

And the bottom line? Our hunger for love is insatiable outside of God, but there’s a catch. Marianne Williamson tells us that, A love that hovers above the earth, however well intentioned, is not enough…. It is a willing heart and love embodied that carry with them miraculous authority to turn darkness into light.”  

In my last post, I touched on our desire to keep God at a distance. How often we pray for God to do something for those who suffer, but fail to hear His reply in the depths of our hearts, “I did do something, I created you.” Matthew West expressed this beautifully in his song titled, “Do Something”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_RjndG0IX8

Why do we seem to fail to remember that God sent Jesus here to live among us, to show us what that love looks like? And then…ready?…and then He called us to carry on that embodied love by giving fully of ourselves. By using the gifts He has given us for His glory. Just like God counted on Jesus, He now counts on us. Jesus says to each of us who continue to follow Him, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these”.  John 14:12-14

I could give you pages and pages of examples of people who live that truth and many are kids who are having a huge impact in the ways they strive to make a difference in their communities.

Look at what Jon Bon Jovi and his wife are doing. This brought me to tears: https://jbjsoulkitchen.org  “The way to feel good is to do good.” Jon Von Jovi. There you go. He just said in one sentence what it took me three pages!

I hope this sheds a whole new LIGHT on Black Friday for all of us. Maybe we should call it “ILLUMINATED Friday”. Yeah…I like it!

I pray that we may all stop in the midst of the usual holiday chaos and contemplate the true wonder and magic of Christmas and then share that magic with some part of this broken world.

May God richly bless you and yours this Christmas season,

Linda

My New Year’s Resolution

This has been a very long week for me. I received six homeless calls. Which has seriously interrupted my New Year’s Resolution planning! Now I’m two weeks into the new year and haven’t committed to anything! Statistically, I only have a few more weeks before I give up. According to U.S. News, “approximately 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February, so the odds are against you.”

Never the less, I was off to a great start at the beginning of the year: I got out my planner, dusted off my scale, bought some really cute warm running pants, ordered some new microgreen seeds & potting soil, found that meditation DVD I bought last year, and revamped my workout routine. BAM! Ready to go.

Monday morning:

I was pumped and ready to recreate myself! Maybe I’ll try to be the first great-grandmother on The Titan Games! YEAH! That’s the ticket! I missed the opportunity to be the oldest great-grandmother bodybuilder in the Guinness Book of World Records. That coveted title went to Ernestine Shepherd who recently celebrated her eightieth birthday! Okay. But, I can still impress the masses with my stellar fitness! It’ll be epic…

Then the phone rang. A message on our helpline. A homeless woman was at the Budget motel. Could I call her?

Betty had just completed her fourth chemo treatment for colon cancer and she has COPD. In our conversation, she told me how she loved the nuns at St. Mary’s Academy (just across from our church) where she went to high school, “a long time ago”. Smiling through broken and missing teeth, she wondered if any of the nuns that taught her were still there.

How did her life go so wrong? She and her husband have been homeless off and on for years. Her husband can never seem to provide for them. She has never owned a home; never had her own gym in her basement. Her “workout routine” consists of wrestling to get comfortable and stay warm in the car she and her husband sleep in most of the time. And yet, this woman praises God. How is that possible?

Tuesday morning:

I have struggled to lose weight. It makes me mad! I know what to do. I just choose not to. But, no more! In preparation for my return to healthy eating I have gotten rid of everything that tempts me to failure and replaced it with all things fresh and green and whole! My microgreens and organic potting soil arrived yesterday! Today I will plant those luscious greens!

Then the phone rang. A message on our helpline. A homeless family is trying to get to Louisville, Kentucky. Can we help them?

Jim and his wife, their three kids, and her mentally handicapped brother, lost their home in a fire in Nebraska. Friends in Louisville have offered them a place to stay and jobs when they get there. But, now they’re out of money and gas, and one tire is bad. Mom & dad haven’t eaten for two days so the kids could eat, but now they’re out of food too. We provide them a room for the night. I make sure they have money for gas, tire repairs, and whatever else they need to get to their destination. I also give them bags of food – pantry food: Spagettios, a huge jar of peanut butter & jelly, canned stew, chili & soup and miscellaneous items with pop-top lids they will have to eat cold while they travel. NOT A SINGLE GREEN THING in those bags. Not one. This is fill-a-void-in-the-stomach food. And yet, Jim’s eyes fill with tears of gratitude.

He told me that they felt they had lived in a good community. Their neighbor’s kids were always at their home and they called him “Uncle Jim”. But, after the fire, not one neighbor reached out to help them.

He and his wife could not believe the love and support they received here, from strangers.

Their hearts ache for their kids and her brother because of what they have been through. But, I could see something else: their love for God, for each other and their kids would prevail over all the struggles. Their kids were learning tough, but powerful, life lessons that will serve them well. And, people, they were actually the happiest kids I have ever seen!

Cold spagettios would not be the choice of a health-snob like me. And it makes me wonder, after having met such a beautiful family, how strong my faith would be; how well I would survive, in their circumstances. I’ve never been tested like that. Nor do I want to be! Truth be told, I’m probably not as strong or resilient as I would like to believe.

Wednesday morning:

Okay, this is it! It is SO COLD today. But, I am determined to pull on my new warm running pants and the jacket and hat I bought when we went to the French Alps over the holidays – and go! I normally don’t like running in the cold, but this is the new me! Those people on that silly “Survival” show (no, I don’t watch it) ain’t got nothing on this “grannymachine”…bring it on!

Then the phone rang. A message on our helpline. A young dad, his wife and two-year-old are staying at the motel. The manager is trying to over-look the fact that they are getting further and further behind. Could we help them?

Jason rides a bike to work, from the motel to Wentzville. That’s about ten miles every day in the cold. His two-year-old son is ill and has seizures. They’re trying to get ahead, but all their money goes to the motel. They have no family or support.

The difference between Jason and me should be obvious. He doesn’t ride his bike in this awful weather because he is obsessed with the benefits of exercise and loves the challenge. And, I don’t have to be out in this weather if I don’t want to. I can just go back to bed, or go right down to my basement and jump on the treadmill.

Thursday Morning:

For years, I was able to maintain a healthy weight. I ran half-marathons for seven years. In 2010 I ran two! That was the year after I had a kidney removed. Basically, I ROCKED! Now, I beat myself up for failing to get my act together. And I don’t believe age has anything to do with it. (So, get that thought out of your head.) I’M JUST LAZY. There I said it! But, I need to get over it and realize that I am not happy where I’m at and the only one who can change that is me. No one else. Me. Now!

Then the phone rang. A message on our helpline. A homeless couple is staying at the motel, but have run out of money. She is handicapped and he is out-of-work. Could we help them?

When I met with Richard and Amy, I held the door to the room we use to fill out intake paperwork.  Richard had to help Amy walk and every step seemed labored. She was in a motorcycle accident in 2011 and broke her back. At the time she was a nurse. Now, she’s on total disability. Her constant pain was more than I could imagine or bare to watch. Richard said they have never been homeless before. He always had a good job and worked hard to provide for his family. Then, due to circumstances involving his ex-wife, a shady lawyer, and back child support, he ended up in jail for three days, which awarded him a police record. They also took his driver’s license away, so he then lost his job. He has a lawyer who is trying to resolve what the lawyer believes has been a miscarriage of justice.

I don’t know all the facts, and really, I don’t need to. What I do know breaks my heart. When they first became homeless, he lived in his car for two months and she went to live with a friend. They are trying to work with agencies we use as resources. They tried to get into a shelter before calling us, but the only bed available was an upper bunk, which she can’t manage.

Richard’s grandfather was a preacher. His aunt gave him a packet of mustard seeds (Matthew 17:20), which he keeps in his pocket. They freely express their gratitude to God even when their lives are turned upside down. I’m amazed.

Then there is the woman who calls us weekly and whose mental illness causes her to scream in anger because we don’t care about her. We simply can’t help anymore because we have reached our limit with her. It’s not that we don’t care. But the need is tremendous, and we, like everyone else trying to relieve the suffering of the homeless, have our limits.

You know, I could go on-and-on with the stories of pain and struggle we encounter almost daily. But, somehow, right now, at the beginning of THIS new year, God has been shining a bright light on the contrast between my “personal” resolutions and his focus on personal transformation. I’m sure he has no problem with my wanting to be healthy. But, I’m pretty sure he thinks I take it too far. Our transformation is what he desires, it is what we were made for, and much different than simply a life-style change.

Marcus Borg ends his most profound book, Speaking Christian, with these words, “Christianity…at its best, is about truth, goodness, and beauty. And it addresses the two great yearnings – our longing for personal transformation and our desire that the world be a better place.

The Christian message reduced to its essentials is: love God (as known in Jesus) and change the world.”

Okay.

My new resolution that will hopefully endure for every single day I wake up until I take my last breath: Love God above all things, so that he can transform me, and every day look for ways to touch others with that love. Granted, those efforts may not change the entire world, but it will be my small part in this small place. And at the end of the day, may I have left this world a little bit better for having been here.

(It should go without saying, but, I’ll say it anyway. I changed the names of these beautiful people for their privacy)

May you and your family have a very blessed new year!

The Fruits of the Spirit

LOVE

I Said I Loved You, But I Lied

Often the words, ‘I love you” are just that – words.  If I am married I feel obligated to tell my spouse. If I have children or parents, I should tell them, at least sometimes, maybe Christmas is enough, or Christmas and birthdays. Maybe I could just send a card or an email or text.

Can I beat my child or abuse my spouse out of “love”, for their own good? Can I excuse any action or negative comments by throwing in an occasional, “I love you”?  Many of us carry scars of past pain and hurt that play out in our lives today. I swore I would never be like my mother, does that sound familiar?

I recall one time in my life when my mother told me she loved me. It was in this context, “Now you know I love you or I wouldn’t ask you this question.” I never heard her say it before or after, and I was twenty-two at the time.

Any time love is attached to something; when it is conditional, it is worldly; shallow and indifferent. It mixes easily with abuse and can excuse the worst of actions inflicted on others. No one said loving others would be easy. If that were the case, Jesus would have either not come at all, or would have lived to a ripe old age. He showed us how to love by His own life, death, and resurrection. His immense grace can help us love those that we find it humanly impossible to love – even ourselves sometimes.

Now here’s the key: I can learn to love only when I have accepted God’s love myself. Scripture says we love because He first loved us. I can’t give something I don’t have to give. I had nothing to give most of my life because it was only recently that I have grown to accept God’s love for me.

Know the Difference

Worldly love wears the sheep skin of an “if it feels good” mentality over the wolf that devours childhood innocence, destroys relationships, makes compassion a burden, and muddies the pure waters of selfless love that was created by God.

The love God created, “…suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely; does not rejoice in iniquity; but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4-8)

Consider this; there is a void in every life that can only be filled by God. We often don’t recognize that fact and in desperation try to fill it by worldly means; some obvious: drugs, alcohol, food, permissive sex, pornography. Some not so obvious: climbing the corporate ladder, when family suffers, obsessive exercise, gambling, etc.. But all have the same purpose – to fill the emptiness. For me, that didn’t change until I was able to accept that God’s love for me was unconditional; that my sins, no matter how unbearable they were for me to accept, God had already forgiven on the cross, “while I was still a sinner.” May you too know the depth of that love.

JOY

“Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.” Psalm 98:4

“Shut up! Joy is the noise made by fools who don’t have a clue what is going on in the world, in our communities, and in our own homes! Have you missed the constant killing of innocent people in our own communities? Wild fires, tornados, and floods.  Have you been in a coma and have no idea that genocide is a daily occurrence in Syria?  What about famine, AIDS, or child abuse in our own country? Am I finished, or are you still stupid!?”

All right, fair enough (no need to call me names). I actually do know about the horrors that have visited this world since the beginning of time. I also know about a man who suffered an indescribable death at the hands of those who wrongly accused him of a crime. He was beaten, tortured, spit on, mocked, and made to carry his own cross to a hilltop. Then he was nailed to that cross as many watched him slowly suffocate and die.

I know about men and women who followed him because they believed in him even though they knew they would suffer their own trials and the same fate: Jail, stoning, torture and death. Do you think for one moment they would have signed up for that if they were following a fool? If you spend time listening to them you will find a common thread in all of their writings and teachings: Joy – sheer unadulterated joy in all their circumstances. Why? Good question. Here’s the answer….

They knew that the only way to bring nonbelievers to Christ was to live their lives in the joy of knowing that this life is temporary and Jesus was waiting for them in their eternal home. They lived joyfully because no idiot would follow someone who spewed bad news on a regular basis. Cynicism is the devil’s tool to keep unbelievers away from Salvation’s door. It was the Good News of salvation that brought others to the foot of the cross.

We are called to go and make disciples. How would that be possible if our minds and hearts are focused on ourselves and our misery, and not on Christ? Suffering has a purpose and when you discover that truth for yourself, as I did after so very many years, you will have arrived at a place where you can shout for joy and share the Good News with others. But if you live according to the flesh and have your mind set on things of the flesh, you will be a “clanging cymbal” (1Cor. 13:1) to those around you who will see Christianity as a joke. Why would any nonbeliever come to Christ if Christians are as miserable as they are? What have they got to gain? And what have they got to lose by staying right where they are?

Joy Is…The oasis of laughter in the desert of loneliness. It is a caring touch coming through the locked door of a broken heart. It is peering through tear-stained eyes into an empty tomb. Pain and suffering are temporary. Joy is eternal.

PEACE

  “Do you want to be made well?”

Can you imagine a doctor asking a sick patient that question?  “So, from all of our tests it looks like you are gravely ill. Do you want to be made well?” Is this a trick question? Was it when Jesus asked it of the man who had an infirmity 38 years? (John 5:5-6)  No, and Jesus was serious when He asked me the same question. What was He really asking?  Was I tired of shallow attempts and continual backsliding? Because if I was, then I would have to do it his way, not mine—and it wasn’t going to be easy.

If I wanted true peace in my life, I would have to let go of the anger and lashing out. I would have to recognize the part I played in my misery and I would have to release the people who were on the receiving end of all the pain and hurt that was bottled up inside of me. In public I was the picture of calm and peace; in private my life was out-of-control. It is important to understand that anger is not the underlying emotion; it is the outward expression of unmet needs.

The Antithesis of Peace

The Israelites were a perfect picture of what peace and contentment are not. Moses got them out of Egypt where they were being persecuted. Do you think they were singing, “Free at last, free at last” as they were escaping the brutality they experienced at the hands of the Egyptians? Or possibly praising God? No way. They whined and complained about everything – and when they did, God responded. No water? God sent it.  No food? God sent it. Egyptians closing in all around them and God does that little parting of the sea. But, they continued to bellyache. Moses was beside himself trying to keep them happy. How embarrassing it must have been for him to continually have to take their complaints to God. “Um…excuse me Lord, I’m sorry to bother you again…”

I look back and wonder how difficult it must have been for others to live with my bellyaching and complaining. I wonder if some heads were shaking and eyes were rolling in silence. Did I turn some people away from God because there was no peace in my life?  If I only turned one person away may God have mercy on me.

Yet, peace and contentment are not out of our reach. Granted it is not easy. Just as a splinter is painful when it is embedded into the skin, it is also painful when it is removed.  But removed it must be for healing to take place. You would think there would be nothing pleasant about the journey God brought me through as He was revealing my sins and healing my pain. When in actuality, I am blessed for all of those experiences that brought me closer to God and showed me a peace I could never have realized any other way.

Not the World’s Version of Peace

As Jesus was preparing His disciples for His impending death at the Last Supper He said to them, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.”  The world has never been at peace, and what passes for peace one moment changes the next. Look around you. Have you known someone in your life that just radiates peace?  Someone that you seem to gravitate towards because they almost take on the appearance of something supernatural?  You can be pretty sure that person is walking in the Spirit – not flying high on drugs!  They are in a relationship with God, not a relationship with a string of lovers. They are consumed with desire for Jesus, not desire to ascend to the top of a crowded corporate ladder. And if you are wise, you will do everything, short of stalking them, to be in their company to glimpse through them the very nature and essence of God, which is the very essence of peace. And then claim it for yourself!

PATIENCE

Today patience is a dinosaur, and if perseverance doesn’t come in a pill form, we aren’t interested. I want it now! I don’t want to feel it, I don’t want to deal with it. Give me another credit card, a pill, or a bus ticket out of here. A display of patience we might tolerate would be something like a gentle nudging to wait your turn; wait for your elderly grandmother to catch up; wait in traffic; wait for a phone call, and so on.  Just a small interruption in our daily routine.

But for such a small interruption, haven’t we seen people handle it as though it were a major life-altering event? A sales clerk puts you on hold. When she returns you blast her with, “It’s about time. I’ve been hold for 20 minutes!” Have you really? Most likely it was about 3 minutes, tops. Think of the times just in the past few days that you have been impatient with someone. Was it really a major setback for you? Really?

Wanna know the original meaning of the word? It was likened to the suffering of Christ. It literally means to suffer and endure. If that is true then how much more would we react to the events in our lives that call for patience? How much more would be required to be in relationship with someone who is unbearable or endure intolerable circumstances? But that is exactly what God requires when he calls us to patience; to suffer and bear the burdens of life as He bore them.

In Scripture there is no better illustration of patience, or lack of it, than Matthew 18:23-35. The story of a servant who owed his king a great deal of money and the king decided it was time for him to repay. The servant begged him for mercy, as he could not repay the debt. The first instinct of the king was to throw him and all of his family into jail until the debt was paid, but in an unbelievable act of mercy he forgave the entire debt and let the servant go.

Short memory that guy! Or maybe he thought he deserved mercy.  He strikes out at another servant who owned him. What I find very sad about that story is the insignificance of what the second servant owed him compared to what he owed God. It would be the same as if I owed you a million dollars that you forgave, but then I had someone who owed me five dollars thrown in jail because he couldn’t repay it.

We excuse ourselves when we fail to be Christ-like to others and yet we expect God to be all-loving, all-forgiving, all-patient with us. “Well, God’s a bigger man than I am.”  So, you’re comfortable with that excuse are you? You feel you’re gonna get a pass when you are standing toe-to-toe with God and explaining yourself? None of us will escape that day, and not one of us, no matter how cleaver we think we are, is going to get a pass on things that God is very specific about.

Here, go ahead, water this one down:

“And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?  Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering (patience), not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?  But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each one according to his deeds.”  (Romans 2:3-6)

There you go. You can spin it, dance around it, ignore it, whatever – but you will not escape it. Truth is truth no matter how much we disagree with it because it doesn’t suit us.

But hold on, I have some good news for you. God doesn’t demand anything of us that he will not give us the power, his power, to achieve. So why is God so patient with us?  If he were not, we would likely be afraid of him and not trust him. God longs for us to trust in him. He longs to shower us with blessings and guide us through all the obstacles this world presents to us.

When I first began my walk with God I often found it very difficult to accept that he could be so patient. That wasn’t what I was used to and I continually failed him.  I found it hard to turn to him because I was sure of what would be waiting for me when I went to him: The disapproval, the cursing, the spanking, the reminder that I was “bad”. But that was my experience with my mother. It should not reflect my beliefs about God, but it did – and often – still does.

Over the years, I had erected a wall that would keep others away from my heart. I didn’t trust anyone. Little by little I tested God’s assurances and found him to be loving and trustworthy. Whenever I hesitated I simply reminded myself of all the times he was faithful to his Word. That didn’t mean it was easy to change or to stand before him when I had sinned. But it did mean that I could trust him. His love was steadfast.

Am I a Stumbling Block to Others?

Patience is not a weakness or an excuse to sit back and proclaim that we are waiting on God. Persistence is the activity of patience; to be diligently at the work of changing for the sake of others; to be ever in prayer for the grace and strength of God to endure our struggles with other people and circumstances, knowing that they are in our lives for a reason. We are ultimately strengthened by our acceptance of whatever and whomever he brings into our lives.

KINDNESS & GENTLENESS

“Will you look at the way she struts around in that disgraceful outfit!”

“You idiot! Get out of my way!”

“I will never forgive you for that!”

What are the prejudices and injustices we perpetrate on others because of our pride, pious attitudes, and our forgetfulness of just how imperfect we are? I don’t like looking at so much of my ignorance in such a small space but I have a story to share!  I call it…“The Blessings We Miss.”

Several years ago, I went to a funeral service for a dear friend’s father (I will call her Judy and him Bill). I knew the story. I knew enough that I even distanced myself from him when he was at Judy’s house.

Bill and his wife were long-divorced and his relationship with his daughters was strained at best. Some of them wanted nothing to do with him. Although Judy seemed to deal with it well, I knew he had hurt her and that was cause enough for me to dislike him. On any occasion that we were together I usually avoided him, except for a bit of shallow and meaningless conversation. Why should I bother?  It wasn’t like it mattered. But sadly, I would discover on the day of his funeral, that I was the one who was the loser. I missed a blessing.

After the funeral everyone was invited to a luncheon. I couldn’t stay long so Judy and I decided to meet the next morning. As I was leaving the cafeteria, I found myself going against a stream of people. Who were they that they even stayed for the luncheon? Didn’t they have better things to do?

The next morning Judy and I met.  I asked how the luncheon went. Tears began to flow down her face as she related one story after another. It seems she opened the floodgates when she thanked everyone for coming and encouraged anyone who was willing, to share stories about her dad. Well, they did. One stranger after another. The stories seemed endless of his concern for them and their problems. He was a good listener. He cared.

Wait a minute. If he cared so much, why was his relationship with his daughters so bad? If he cared so much why didn’t we know that? There is an explanation and it is a huge part of the human condition. If we thought about it we could all probably call to mind at least one person in our lives right now whom we have distanced ourselves from because of struggles in our relationship. That person may be as close as our living room couch.

Or it could be a parent a few miles away, who was abusive or distant. It hurts and we are determined to stay focused on that hurt as long as it takes to make that person suffer. We are determined not to let them off the hook. But, you know what? That person is a child of God just like we are. That person is broken just like we are. That person struggles within just like we do. Am I better, more perfect, without fault? No. The sooner I realize that, the sooner I can get beyond the hurt. If I never do that, then one day, perhaps it will be me standing at the funeral. It will be me hearing stories from strangers about this person I never knew because I would not allow him to be anything other than the person who abused me as a child, who cheated on me, who stole something valuable from me, probably so long ago I quit trying to recall the source of my pain. But I haven’t quit hating him, or her, for it. Isn’t it sad that we cannot get beyond the hurt to experience the joy of our loved ones?  How many times do we miss a blessing because we refuse to forgive?

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind” Brad Meltzer

GOODNESS

Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment.” C. S. Lewis

What is your definition of “good”?

  • One who hides behind the mask of “goodness”?
  • One who get the “Saint of the Year” award.

And while we’re at it, let’s think about where we fit in this mix. I think I fell into the first category most of the time, as long as you would not surprise me by showing up at my house unannounced!

I learned a few tricks from my mother who was the master of masking. She was from the old school of, “what would the neighbors think?” When you walked out the door, you left the dark family secrets behind and played the game in public. She got caught one time though. I know, because I was there. I was a teenager and our family went to the home of friends for a BBQ.  The man hosting the party was a youth minister and loved to engage people in conversations about family dynamics He was very straightforward. He looked at my mother and me and asked, “Do you have a good relationship?” My mother’s rapid-fire response was, “yes”, and mine was, “no.”  I just walked away mumbling under my breath, “SWEET”.  Of course, I caught hell for it later and it didn’t have a life-changing affect on our relationship, but I savored the moment.

Now I can also tell you that if that same man were to show up at a BBQ at my home twenty years later, and present that same question to me and my kids, the answers might be the same, my “yes”, their “no.” Not so sweet. Oh, the games we play; the lies we tell – the risks we take with our salvation, to live the lie. But the real tragedy, I believe, is that we really believe we are faultless, even though our sins tell a different story. Goodness really doesn’t seem to be on the same scale as holiness, does it?  I think I could rationalize myself into the category of good, but I would have a tough time comparing myself to Mother Theresa, although I tried once…

I have to tell you this story. This is really pathetic and I shouldn’t, but here it goes. Many years ago, I went to a banquet. It was an annual event honoring the “Person of the Year”. As the evening began, first with dinner, then speeches, I secretly (this is really bad!) wondered if I was the nominee. Then came the time for the award. I was hoping I didn’t have spinach in my teeth or a run in my stocking (yes, we wore those!). The anticipation was building! The President of the organization stepped up to the podium and began speaking about the honoree. But, as she revealed, bit by bit, the litany of selfless acts and humility of this person, she was, at the same time, revealing my pride and arrogance. And the reality of it slapped me a good one! I really don’t recall all that she said, but I half-expect Mother Theresa to walk up and take the award, then thumb her nose at me on the way back to her seat. And I would have deserved it! God can humble us in the most profound ways.

How easy it is for us to consider ourselves good people, just because we exist. Maybe in the eyes of the world it will do, but not if we call ourselves Christians. There is a different standard of goodness for Christians that does not allow an occasional good deed to cancel out the bad we do.

As Christians most of us really want to do good, but we are constantly in a battle. That battle is described in Galatians 5:17, “The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary one against the other so that you cannot do the things that you would.” The key to goodness is the involvement of the Spirit. It is a virtue that is constantly maintained and not changeable by influences of the world. The old English word “good” evolved out of the word for “God.”  Therefore, true goodness is virtue that comes from God alone and is only possible through God.

Galatians 6:9 says, “Don’t grow weary doing good.” People who are superficially good do grow weary because the game is a lot of work. Our true character is who we are when no one is looking. David Morsey once said, “The occasional good deed of the unbeliever no more reflects the Spirit of Christ than the occasional bad deed of the believer reflects the spirit of Satan.” It isn’t difficult to be good to people who are good to us. It is when we are good to people who are not worthy that true goodness is apparent. God calls us to that kind of goodness in Matthew 5:43-46, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ (easy enough).  But, I say to you (uh-oh, here it comes) love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” Ouch.

So the litmus test for goodness is how you treat that nosy neighbor, that crotchety checker at the grocery store…that you encounter every single day, when you are tired and grumpy yourself. How about that mother-in-law of yours or the boss who is a direct descendant of Attila the Hun? I could go on, but you get it. Now comes the proverbial question, “Why should I?”  And the answer is?  Being good, especially to our enemies, can bring far greater reward than treating them the way they deserve to be treated.  Our returning good for evil may just bring that person to repentance. There is a quote from Shakespeare that goes like this, “There is a daily beauty in his life that makes me ugly.”  We are not talking about random acts here; we are talking about a daily, purposeful, and guided life of goodness. And if you still need convincing go back to the Cross for a reminder of what loving your enemy looks like. Now, go love that jerk  (oops…child of God).

FAITHFULNESS

 “Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith; test yourselves.” (2 Cor. 13:5)

God’s faithfulness is steadfast, but what about ours? I will not tell you that I possess all wisdom and have vast theological knowledge, because I don’t. So why would you care what I have to say about this subject of faithfulness? I can only relate to you what has brought me to a place where I know faithfulness means far more than I was ever willing to admit. That didn’t happen as a result of one miraculous event. No burning bush, no parting of the sea, no Lazarus-like miracle. Just a journey–a very long journey, to a patient and loving God.

Jesus relied on his Father for everything. His strength and his purpose flowed from their relationship and from a sense of knowing that he could do absolutely nothing outside that relationship. Do we have any idea what a relationship like that requires?  Do we care?

Consider this from a “Study in Romans”, by Ray C. Stedman, titled, America’s Spiritual Decline, “Pollster George Gallup has described America as richly religious but ethically impoverished. In an interview with Reformed Theological Seminary Journal he said:

Religious belief is remarkably high-certainly the highest of any developed nation in the world. At the same time, American religious life is characterized by a series of gaps. First, an “ethics gap” exists between Americans’ expressed beliefs and the state of the society they shape. While religion is highly popular in America, it is to a large extent superficial; it does not change peoples’ lives to the degree one would expect from their level of professed faith. In ethical behavior, there is very little difference between the churched and the unchurched.  

In Luke’s Gospel (22:42-44) Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.  Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.  And being in agony He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”  Why is it that we just can’t seem to feel the intensity and magnitude of what was happening?  Perhaps in our humanness we just can’t seem to grasp the fact that Jesus really suffered.

Could Jesus have avoided suffering? You bet. Do you think for a moment God was in His heaven frantically pacing about and wringing His hands trying to figure out how to save His precious Son?  As for those who murdered Him, God could have zapped every one of them, turned them to stone, fried them where they stood, but He didn’t. And what about Mary? (I remember a time when some kids were picking on my son; I was ready to tear them apart. Don’t mess with my kids!)  But she was silent.

How do we rationalize our indifference to the horror of what took place at Calvary?  Could it be that we trivialize Jesus’ suffering to make our meager sacrifices appear to be significant and our sins acceptable? Thus Jesus becomes a warm fuzzy and we are off the hook.

 “Take up your cross and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34) Oh boy, here we go. This is where we disconnect. Suffering just isn’t in our vocabulary. There is a resounding, “Why me Lord?” every time we encounter difficulty on our happy trails to sainthood. It stands to reason that if we refuse to accept suffering ourselves then we would naturally refuse to believe that Jesus suffered. If he really loved us, why would God allow suffering in the first place?

We know the kind of men the apostles were before Jesus died. They were a bunch of misfits. They couldn’t understand his teachings, they argued for a coveted spot next to him when he ruled. They doubted, they questioned. They fell asleep when he asked them to pray with him and they ran away when he was taken to be hanged. The eleven may have scattered but even from a distance they all knew what was happening. They knew he was being tortured and crucified, and they knew they screwed up big time!

Just think of a time when you did something that you regretted. We all have. You replay everything you did over and over again. You know there is no way to justify it and the shame is too much to bear. You will never be able to face your spouse, your parents, your boss, again. You can’t do it over, you can’t change it. You just want to die.

A Second Chance

Now here they are in the Upper Room after Jesus is buried, eleven men lost in confusion and grappling with their weakness; their denial. We only think of Judas betraying Christ, but they were all guilty of betraying the One they once said they would follow to their deaths. But alas, he walks right through the wall of that room and stands in their presence. Yes Thomas, it’s really him!

Can you imagine the look on their faces?  The look of dread and fear is all over them. They’re gonna get it now. But what are his first words?  “Peace to you.” (Luke 24:36)  There stood before them what they could no longer question, a God who truly loved them.  Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into them, and commissioned them to, “Go and make disciples of all nations”. It was then that they were filled with understanding and joy. When Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to take up his cross and follow Me, anyone who wants to suffer the same fate as Me, step forward.”  They did. All of them. There would be no turning back now, no running, no denying. The cock could crow till the cows came home and not one would falter, not this time. Why? What was different?

They had time to contemplate his incredible act of submission to the will of God. They were firsthand witnesses to the immensity of God’s love for them, and for a moment they were afraid they would never have another chance to make it right.

Afraid you will be asked to do the same; to “prove it”?  Some are, but most of us are not called to martyrdom. We are called though, to die to our own selfish, self-centered ways.  We are called to be different, and we are called to suffer, as our suffering is the most powerful witness we can give to the reality of the risen Christ and to a faithfulness that accepts anything that comes our way in his name. We must stop asking, “Why me Lord” and accept our trials with a faith and trust that God is right there with us to turn our sorrows to joy. Because true people of faith know life is full of injustices and sorrows that are the result of a natural course of events or a free-will gone wrong, not of an unloving, uncaring God.

We obsess over rock stars, sports stars, and movie stars—when our obsession should be over Jesus’ scars.

SELF-CONTROL

Everything that Satan is behind—those worldly things that we call pleasure, are really his skillfully disguised handiwork. That piece of chocolate cake that you couldn’t resist, the neighbors wife you couldn’t resist, the new outfit you couldn’t resist? Even though the credit cards are maxed out and you have no way to pay the bills. He has convinced you that you will win at the casino this time, that you can try the drugs just once, that it won’t hurt anyone to just watch that x-rated movie. What about those tiny indiscretions? What happens is that each time we justify the smallest sin, we become insensitive to the fact that it actually is sin.

If you think for a moment that Hollywood is not doing the happy dance over our acceptance of the filth in the media, here is a lovely quote – Actor Julian McMahon of the most sexually explicit, profane, and violent television programs in the history of American television. ‘I’d like to be even more brutal and more weird…I’d like to go even further.” Still not convinced? What if you were watching these shows and Jesus walked up and sat next to you, would you feel just a wee bit uncomfortable? Would you be scrambling for the remote? Please God, I hope so.

Does Jesus speak to us about such things?  You bet He does. Here are just a few Scripture verses, though there are many that speak to the issue (all italics mine):

Romans: 14:21, “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.”

Ephesians 4:17-23, “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in futility of their minds, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.”

Ephesians 5:8-11, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light, finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.”

1 Peter 2:8-12, “They stumble, being disobedient to the Word, to which they also were appointed. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people of God; who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy….having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.”

For all those who have been deceived into believing that there is such an excusable thing as a “tiny indiscretion” when we are speaking of being Christians, those are the lies of Satan and the lies I lived most of my life that kept me out of relationship with God.

While we are on the subject, you would do well to look at all areas that we excuse but God does not:

“Gossip isn’t murder”…unless you consider you are killing the dignity of that person you are talking about.

“Flirting isn’t adultery”…When you flirt you are not only tempting yourself, you are tempting the other person. It is dishonest and misleading. There is a very fine line between flirting and adultery. You just don’t want to go there.

“Everyone tells a little lie sometimes. Everyone cheats, it isn’t hurting anyone. Everyone steals something, usually something small that no one would miss; it’s not like you’re robbing a bank.” The bottom line is that all three of these acts are about deceit. They are sins against God and they foster mistrust among those closest to us.

James Phillips, in an article in Youth Update, speaks of a time many years ago when he lied to his father. “They are words and acts of deception that separate us from the people we love and from the person each of us knows he or she is really meant to be.”

How do we get so confused as Christians when we can call evil “good”? I believe that we are confounded by what we see all around us. We have been lulled into a belief that there is nothing wrong with what we are doing. What has happened to our consciences. What has changed from the time when these sins we engage in daily would have been shocking in the past? Leo Tolstoy, in his essay, The Lion and the Honeycomb, Why Do Men Stupefy Themselves? explains: “What people most want is not that their consciousness should work correctly; it is that their actions should appear to them to be just.” Clearly it is easy for us to justify tiny sins. The problem is that larger ones will soon seem small and therefore justifiable – and on it goes. That also explains why we look the other way and condone the sins of others. If we condemn them we will quite naturally have to condemn ourselves. So we overlook it, chalk it up to being human, and write it off to a mushy God who will also overlook it. Are you sure? Sure enough to risk your place in heaven?

What if I’m wrong? Ok, for arguments sake, let’s assume that I am wrong about everything that I have just said. Let’s say God really is a “warm fuzzy” and everyone gets a free pass to heaven.  After all, how could a loving God not allow us all in, right?  Well, if I am wrong, so be it, what have I got to lose by living a life that is perceived by some people as boring and uneventful? In the end I really have nothing to lose.

Now, my friend, take some serious time to consider this – what if you’re wrong? When you’re standing at the gate…it’s a little late!

Now let’s say you have determined that right this moment you are going to live the life God has called you to. You don’t care what your friends say or what other people think; you are turning over a new leaf. You ask him to forgive you and you are on your way to sainthood, right? Not so fast. We make God promises that we can’t keep, we’re convinced it’s because we are weak. Then we hate ourselves and are convinced that God hates us too. We have no control, no will power, and no clue. It may seem I have just rained on your parade, but bear with me for a moment. I am hoping that I can save you some precious time and heartache.

Is your heart in a place where you don’t want to hear those awful words (after your bags are packed and you thought you had your ticket “Home”), of Matthew 7:21-23? “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven…and I will then declare to them; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”

Well then, consider these words when you step on that path:

If you have run the gamut as I have, you would have amassed some serious battle scars trying to change, and failing repeatedly. You will have thrown up your hands, thrown out the white flag of defeat, and thrown faith to the wind as you settled back into the life you recognize as comfortable. You have found it easier to live the life you are familiar with. Holiness is for saints, I guess it wasn’t for me. It looks like the perpetual Monday morning diet doesn’t it? How can God say in 1 John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” Seriously? They seem awfully burdensome to us, don’t they? Why? Well, it’s really simple. When I tell you, you are going to smack your head and say, “Duh, why didn’t I think of that?”

Self-control is not self-alone! Granted, as Christians we are called to be disciplined in our lives. Until we can give everything to God; until we can come to a place where we are “seeking the Kingdom of God first” (Matthew 6:33), we will repeatedly fail. Have you smacked yourself yet?

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Following Christ does take a great amount of discipline, and it is only possible through him. To everyone who is battle-scarred; whether those battles of life have only been skirmishes or if they have been “all-out, fight-to-the-death, take-no-prisoners” wars take heed. This is not a once-and-done deal. We don’t make a one-time – this is it – I surrender – commitment, and then throw ourselves a party.

Reality check: Living life as a committed follower of Christ, is a day-to-day, sometimes moment-to-moment surrender. If you think all your sinfulness will instantly be eradicated, you’re gonna fall hard, smack your loser head, and go join the circus.

Come back here. Don’t do that. Just fall on your bruised knees, seek forgiveness from a merciful and loving God, and start over.  You can do this! God created you and equipped you to do this.

Stop Your Grumbling!

(Originally posted 1/22/16)

suck-it-up-butterup

I have not posted since August ninth. Not because I got bored with writing or died. (I hope you’re happy I didn’t die!) On August 18th I was on the receiving end of a vaccination shot gone terribly wrong! (I would encourage you to be certain you know who’s vaccinating you and your family!!! This post was in January 2016. It took a year for me to fully recover)

That shot, administered into my shoulder joint instead of the muscle, was the cause of four months of constant pain, an emergency room visit, failed treatments, and a recent surgery. Then the surgery added to the pain because I awoke to the surprise of additional surgery. It seems the needle also tore my rotator cuff, which then needed mending. I was sent home for six weeks of recovery instead of the anticipated two weeks.

For the first few weeks, my husband had to do almost everything for me. God bless him, he’s a trooper. My neighbor has come over several times to fix my hair, when I actually cared what I looked like. She helped me decorate my house for Christmas, and clean it for a Christmas party.

I know I have been more miserable that necessary because I cannot/will not taking pain medications. They make me feel physically and mentally whacked. So, very often from the beginning of this adventure I have experienced more pain than ever in my life. Including childbirth! Seriously. Besides, that pain is short-lived and there’s a prize at the end!

But I am getting better. I am able to do more things for myself: shower, dress, etc.. Occasionally I will muster up the energy to cook a meal and clean the house. But, it takes everything I have to do it. My husband never complains which I am eternally grateful for.

To be perfectly honest, sometimes I catch myself actually enjoying the sympathy from friends and family, and even strangers. Of course no one is going to feel sorry for me if I don’t complain, right? When someone asks how I’m doing I jump feet first into my pit of misery and do my best to pull them in with me! I might begin by saying, “Oh, you’re probably tired of hearing about it it’s been going on for so long!” But then I don’t give them a chance to respond before, choking back tears, I give an update on my ongoing misery. Poor, poor pitiful me!

Then, one day, “Holy lesson-in-the-making Batman!” I shouted after receiving God’s proverbial THWARP. It’s never audible. It just hangs around me like a shroud until I acknowledge its presence, “Okay Lord, there’s a lesson here I just know it! You’re not going to let me get away with this are you?”

This actually was a lesson in process since December, I just didn’t know it at the time. I was thinking about the silly New Year’s Resolutions I usually end before they even begin. I’m going to lose weight right after this super-sized hot fudge sundae, or maybe the next, or maybe not at all. I don’t know. I’m not feeling it.

So, I decided instead, in order to grow deeper in faith, to choose a virtue that I would daily put into action in all I thought, said, and did. Like contentment or joy or peace. Then, out from under that shroud, “Or, Linda, how about gratitude?” Hum. Gratitude. Okay, that’s a good one! At the end of each day I could write in a Gratitude Journal all the things I was grateful for that day: a beautiful sunrise, the song of birds outside my window…

“That’s lovely Linda, and safe. But, let’s go deeper. You are thankful for your good health, but, how about the suffering from the shoulder pain? Whiner! You are grateful for friends who are low-maintenance, but what about the relationships that are difficult?  You are grateful for all the things you have, but what about the things others have that you don’t; that you covet?”

When we consider gratitude, if we consider it at all, we often stay within the realm of the warm squishy stuff. I remember the times at my son’s house when the kids were small and they would each take a turn thanking God, mostly for “things” – a doll, a stuffed animal, a birthday present envied by their siblings. Unfortunately, as adults we are still prone to thankfulness for adult “things” that make us happy. But, being grateful for our struggles in life just doesn’t make sense. It’s easier for us to see a beautiful sunrise, attribute it to God, and then thank Him for it, than to thank Him for adversity. Are you old enough to remember this commercial?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1prd0Dpfytw

(Sorry, I just had to throw that in!)

I suppose we are in one of two camps when dealing with suffering: we either believe (a) God doesn’t cause suffering but he allows it, think of Job (more on him later), or (b) God is behind everything that happens to us. I’m going with (a). Either way, we are probably going to complain, and complain loudly! If we believe it’s the former we cry out, “Lord, why don’t you stop this?” or the latter, “Lord, how could you do this to me?!” God is blamed for our suffering either way.

Philippians 2:14 tells us to “Do all things (my emphasis) without grumbling or questioning.” But we just can’t can we? Whining is in our nature apparently. Look at the Israelites for heaven’s sake. I can see why Moses tried to get out of God’s call that fateful day! But he acquiesced and was drug into the Israelite’s unrelenting pity party. He went to God and begged him to make it stop! I suppose the Israelites got it in their heads that because they were God’s chosen people (Exodus 6:7) life would be good from here on out, their suffering was over. Not so much.

When things don’t go as planned in my life it’s usually a wake-up call. After all, when did I win the perfect life lottery? When was I promised immunity from suffering and pain? We can’t seem to watch the news or talk to a neighbor any day of the week and not hear of someone’s tragedy: A death, an illness, a cancer diagnosis, a divorce, a lost job. But when that’s my story I scream NOT FAIR! I pout and complain and solicit sympathy from anyone who will listen, especially God.

charlie-brown

Let me share with you some powerful examples that the Holy Spirit has led me to just this past week as I have been writing this post (and let me just say here that as you read this don’t lose sight of the fact that every time I am inspired to write a blog post I most always sit in front of an empty page having no idea how to put into words what God has put on my heart. Yet He has NEVER failed to give me all I have needed to complete it. It just blows my mind!)

So, anyway, here you go…

Are you familiar with the life of Dietrick Bonhoeffer? His writings about gratitude in the midst of his suffering, and ultimately his execution, tell us a great deal about an attitude we are all called to. Here are a few excerpts about him from Breakpoint:

“…there are many lessons we can be meditating on from his life and thought. He showed us how to be the church, what it meant to lay down one’s life for his friends, and how to fight against evil. Moreover, he taught us to count the cost of discipleship, rejecting the compromised religion he called ‘cheap grace.’

 But there are two related lessons from Bonhoeffer’s life that have been particularly impressed upon me…: first, having a constant attitude of gratefulness and, second, being joyful in the midst of suffering.

 Gratefully accepting the life He gives us. Bonhoeffer wrote about gratefulness, but more importantly, he lived it. Even in the midst of the agonizing circumstances of a Nazi prison, Bonhoeffer never ceased to overflow with gratitude towards the Lord. Facing the daily possibility of death, he regarded each day as a precious gift from the Lord, to be received with thankfulness and joy.

 ‘I think we honor God more’ Bonhoeffer once wrote ‘if we gratefully accept the life that he gives us with all its blessings, loving it and drinking it to the full.’

 One English officer, imprisoned with Bonhoeffer, later commented: ‘Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive.’”

 http://www.breakpoint.org/the-center/columns/changepoint/16437-gratitude-joy-in-the-midst-of-suffering

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” –James 1:2-3

Then, there is the story of a family Dateline just aired this week. They have been following this family for several years. It is one of the most powerful examples I have ever seen of gratitude. Sadly, for most of us who find it so difficult to be thankful when the slightest thing does not go our way, gratefulness would seem impossible in this situation. You can watch their story on Dateline and they have a blog:

jason-and-stacy-bingham

http://www.nbcnews.com/dateline/video/preview-where-the-heart-is-601790019798

http://jasonandstacybingham.blogspot.com/2016/01/after-dateline.htm

“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Today my thoughts turn to beginning a Gratitude Journal. I have been contemplating where I should begin. Should I just begin with today or go back and revisit the pain of my past; my childhood? As I began thinking about that I could not imagine what I could possibly be grateful for during those hurtful years. I suppose I could come up with something insignificant: I got my own room when my sister got pregnant and moved out, I got a lot of exercise staying away from home all day long. We had food on the table and a roof over our heads. Actually, the last one should always be something we are grateful for!

Then I happened upon (NOT) this talk by Dr. Robert Emmons:

http://www.dailygood.org/story/532/how-gratitude-can-help-you-through-hard-times-robert-emmons/

It is an awesome article and I know I did not come across it by accident! He also has written a book titled, “Gratitude Works!” which I purchased and cannot put down.

Here is his profile from the Website: Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. He is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology.

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/author/Robert_Emmons

Dr. Emmons says we actually should remember:

Remember the bad… then remember that here you are, able to remember them, that you made it through the worst times of your life…. This process of remembering how difficult life used to be and how far we have come sets up an explicit contrast that is fertile ground for gratefulness.”

So, I am not going to recall the painful events in my live simply for the sake of reliving them. I am going to use those experiences to contrast where my life is today. I have never been happier or more fulfilled. I will especially sing praises of gratitude that my attempted suicide in my 20’s was unsuccessful!!! That, my friends, will be the first thing I write in this journal!

“…confront your own mortality.”

This is an easy one for me. Since my clinicals three years ago when I trained for Hospice work, and during the almost two years of sitting with dying patients, I have had lots of time to think about it. Unless you are stone-cold dead yourself you cannot help but face your own mortality. It has helped me to accept the inevitable, but more importantly, to live each day to the fullest. I believe that is why I feel strongly about being intentionally grateful each and every day.

Dr. Emmons also tells us:

Gratefulness is a knowing awareness that we are the recipients of goodness. In our best moments, we know it, and that knowledge produces gratitude.”

 And when we turn our focus from ourselves to him, paradoxically we are the ones who benefit. “The self is a very poor place to find happiness or meaning in life.”

I realize the depth of what I truly have to be grateful for from that painful time in my life. I have gained  an understanding of God’s love I would not have otherwise been able to grasp, let alone embrace. I have written often about my time in Kentucky. When I went there I left everything behind. At least I thought I did: My past, my family, the life I longed for. I was angry and lost. I used to cry out to God desperate to know why he abandoned me in my suffering. How could he say he loved me when I was a child being abused and he stood silent? After several months in Kentucky, as he showed me my own sinfulness, I thought I had more reason to believe he couldn’t possibly love me. And then, just like the experience of Job, he broke his silence, “Linda, I do love you. Every tear you cried broke my heart. And even in your own sin, I have not stopped loving you. Giving humankind free-will has caused much suffering, but it has also given those who believe in Me the freedom to love.”

There is evil and suffering and natural disasters we all have to endure in our lives. It is the human condition and has been since the beginning of time.

We have no idea what tomorrow will bring. Nor do we know if we will even be here tomorrow. Things are never what they seem and certitude in this life is, well, uncertain. However, there is one thing that is always guaranteed and assured by God, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Let us not forget that Jesus lived a life of gratitude to His Father to the very end. Some believe that because Jesus was human and divine that he knew the outcome of his Passion. I once had someone tell me that because He was divine he really didn’t suffer (how convenient – that kind of thinking gets one off the hook doesn’t it?). Others believe that in his humanity he did not know God’s plan in advance (that’s what I believe as well). Consider how he suffered at Gethsemane. Do these sound like words of a man who wasn’t really human; that it was all just pretend and in the end he would be glorified?

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:41-44)

 And why in Matthew 27:46 does Jesus cry out to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – if he knew?

Pastor Scott Pauley says of Jesus’ suffering:

The Lord Jesus gave thanks for the provision of God in the midst of suffering.

He would be on a cross in just a few hours. Enemies were plotting His death.  Gethsemane and Golgotha lay ahead. He took bread and a cup and gave thanks. This is more than thanks for food and drink. The bread represents His body that is to be broken; the cup represents His blood that is to be shed.

 Thanks? On that night? Christ gave thanks with the confidence that God’s plan was being fulfilled. This is the meaning of “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

I will end with these words from Father Richard Rohr:

When Job’s life is about to be taken away from him, he can say one of two things. He can curse God, as he is tempted to do, and say, “God, why not fifty-one years of life?” Or he can surrender to love and say, “God, why even fifty years?” Why did I deserve life at all? When we take on that attitude, we’ve made a decision for grace.

 “Naked I came into the world, and naked I will leave,” Job says (Job 1:21). What do we have, brothers and sisters, that has not been given to us? All is grace. All is given….It is all gift.

 From beginning to end, everything is grace, everything is given. There is nothing that we have a right to or that we deserve.

 No, wait! I will end with “thank you”. Thank you all for reading my posts. I don’t even know who you are (outside of receiving an email message each time someone registers on my Website) because, against the advice of some of my friends, I have chosen not to start a dedicated Facebook page so I could interact with you. Besides, you can always email me directly at surrenderedlove66@gmail.com if you want to. But, I just want you to know that it humbles me more than you can imagine that my meager words are even being read!

Most importantly, Thank you, God, for this life, for your unfailing love in spite of myself, and for the gift of your Son, Jesus who shows us the way of gratitude!

GOD IS GOOD…VERY GOOD is He not?!

AMEN!