I know many people, and I’ll bet you do too, perhaps even you, who can’t believe God has a plan for them. Over the years, I have encountered people who don’t believe me when I tell them my story. “Oh, really?! God told you to do that, huh? Right!” To be honest, I wouldn’t have believed it myself if he hadn’t gradually brought me to a place where I could trust him, even if I was fearful and had no idea what he was up to.
God has always longed to grow me into the person he meant me to be. It was me resisting; me not being present to him; me missing the mystery and majesty that surrounded me because I was just too busy to notice, or more likely, too afraid. So instead, I skipped along, trying to drown out his voice, “Lalalalalalalala, I can’t hear you!”
For years, there were little promptings that, in hindsight, proved to me he was on the job (Romans 8:28). Then bigger ones that required more trust and offered way more grace than I deserved. God opened my heart in ways I could not have imagined. Though I still mess up – and often – I know God’s response is out of love for me; his admonitions tell me that he loves me too much to let me stay stuck in my messiness.
We are so used to being in a world that is loud and demanding of our attention. We busy ourselves filling in uncomfortably quiet places.That’s how we miss God’s “still small voice” or “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). Sure, he’s good at those show-stopper whirlwinds, earthquakes, and fire. Even what I have called 2×4 moments, but they didn’t leave marks like the ones my mother inflicted. Because of her, I was always on guard for those “laying down the law” whacks that I expected from God too, when I messed up. But, I believe he more often speaks through Spirit’s whispers of pure grace.
We can be so enmeshed in and blinded by the things of this world we miss out on our whole purpose for being here. So if you are going through life day after unremarkable day, schlepping through the same routine to ad nauseum – STOP IT! Your life has a purpose that God depends on you to fulfill. You matter that much!
We are all called to holiness, called to use the gifts and talents already given us for God’s kingdom work right here – right now. It just takes awareness on our part. (I would highly recommend Anthony DeMello’s book by the same name, “Awareness”).
Leo Tolstoy’s novel, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”, considered a masterpiece, was written just after his own “profound spiritual awakening” and conversion experience. While lying on his deathbed, Ilyich ruminated about the reality that his entire life was superficial and self-serving, and he profoundly stated, “Maybe I didn’t live as I should have done?” In the end, he posited a question that Tolstoy must have pondered himself, “What if I really have been wrong in the way I’ve lived my whole life, my conscious life?” Oops, a little late, buddy!
It was too late for Ilyich, but not Tolstoy. He discovered his purpose and rejected his aristocratic life to follow Jesus’ teachings – particularly the Sermon on the Mount. Years later, his writings profoundly impacted Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and countless others.
Soooooo, what are you waiting for? You must still be breathing, or you wouldn’t be reading this. That’s a start. Incredibly, no matter how you lived your life to this point, it’s not too late to begin again. New beginnings are God’s specialty!
“To infinity and beyond!” God coined that phrase, you know. Don’t believe me? HUMPH! Check out Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”
Alrighty then, you’re pumped and ready to go, right? You’ve packed your sandals, and camel hair coat, and checked Google Maps – for what? A sign from God?
Stop! Take a deep breath. Maybe start by sitting quietly with God and waiting.
Don’t look to anyone else to give you a formula or a checklist to send you on your way to your destiny. But I will tell you this: You cannot love and serve others (which is our greatest calling) until you can love yourself. And you can’t love yourself utilizing any of the myriads of self-help books on the market. You can only do that by growing in the knowledge that you are deeply and passionately loved first by the God who created you! And you can only do that by being in relationship with him, which requires your time and attention. You are his son/daughter with whom he is well-pleased (Matthew 17:5). Let that sink in. We are all deeply loved sinners. It’s high time we act like it, don’t you think?
Absolutely, go to church, take the time to read scripture, and pray, But mostly, LISTEN! Geeeezzzzz, we’re so bad at listening.
Here we are in Advent again – sitting in darkness, in wonder and awe, anticipating the birth of Christ. Each year, we imagine Mary, not so quietly, sitting in prayer after Gabriel shook her world to its foundation! She had to be blindsided by Gabriel’s visit to her.
Imagine that encounter, if you can. “Hey, Mary! I have some exciting news! This Christmas will be a bit different for you because you’ve been selected – drum roll please – to be the Mother of Jesus! You’ve been chosen from several applicants, some of whom had some pretty sketchy character flaws, I might add. Anyway, I know you have lots of questions. Like, ‘why me?’ or ‘whose Jesus?’ or better still, ‘what’s Christmas?’. We’ll get to all that eventually.”
I’m not gonna lie, like Mary, I also questioned God’s wisdom when he approached me with some fun new adventure.
ME: “Wait, WHAT?! ME? You’re kidding, right?”
GOD – “NOPE!”
Though she was blessed with extraordinary parents who excelled at Parenting 101, training her up by their example, she was still just a teenager. Would she accept God’s call? Of course, we know she did humbly offer her “yes” to God. That response had to come from the depths of her heart even amid the doubt and fear.
I was just a teenager when my daughter was born, and I can assure you that if I would have had the good sense to consider the magnitude of raising a child and loving her well, I would have been scared to death! Unlike Mary, I had no positive role models to emulate. It was trial by fire and I made plenty of mistakes, later requesting a do-over from God – which he never granted. However, in his infinite love, mercy, and forgiveness, he tenderly held and began healing those broken parts, infusing his love into my relationship with my daughter. I suppose you could call that a do-over.
I still question God’s thinking each time he comes up with a new plan, sending me in an uncertain direction. Thinking I know myself better than he does, I want to leave my options open. Okay, I’ll go this far, but no further. I’ll wait this long, but no longer. I’ll trust you with this, but not with that. Admittedly, it’s usually in hindsight that I see the progression of things God put in place to provide everything I needed short of my “yes”.
Years ago, I recall striking out on my own to do “volunteer work”. Those efforts usually failed because they were never born out of longing or purpose, only an effort to garner praise from others and hopefully God. To get a few brownie points for heaven. But, in short order, I would lose interest or burn out because there was no real passion for what I was doing.
And guess what…you’re not off the hook either, my friend. God has called each one of us to be Christ-bearers. Scary, huh? Take a deep breath. It’s okay.
When we can’t see how we could possibly accomplish the task God sets before us, it takes trust and faith, like Mary, to say “yes” in the midst of our doubts and fears. And let’s get this straight now, it won’t be “Savior of the world” that job’s taken! Sorry.
And keep in mind God doesn’t do ordinary. He does PASSION AND PURPOSE – OVER THE TOP!
When it’s God’s plan it will not fail. He will see it through to completion. Jeremiah tells us so (29:11). Think of it, if he relied on us to figure it out by ourselves, we would surely mess it up and make him look bad. This, in turn, may cause others who are watching to reconsider any thought of trusting him. “WOW, Linda! You royally screwed that one up! And wasted a whole lot of time and energy in the process. No thanks. I’m not goin’ there. I have better things to do.”
Keep in mind that it’s God who initiates his plans for us, not the other way around. He doesn’t consult us for anything! Take Job for instance, he found that out the hard way! It wasn’t pretty when God confronted his whiny self, “Hey buddy, I’m curious, when I was creating the world out of nothing, I don’t recall seeing you there or consulting you on how to keep the oceans in their place or how to make a Zebra from scratch (and, yes, that was intentional).
Did I ask you for pointers on how to paint a breath-taking sunset? Whew, I outdid myself on that one. That was brilliant! Even if I do say so myself. And, of course, the myriad of other uniquely spectacular feats of creation that on one has been able to top.
And what about my grand finale? Humans. Huh? Yeah, I know, that was genius. Sure, there have been a few hiccups along the way – okay fine – major human failings. But that’s not my fault! It’s you guys never seeming to get your part right.”
So, this Christmas, as we are reminded once again of the remarkable story of Christ’s birth – God’s love coming to us with skin on, I pray we will listen for and accept God’s call to us to be Christ-bearers in whatever way he has prepared us, just as he did with Mary.
Go ahead, allow yourself to sit in the darkness with God, and bravely ask him what you are here for. His answer will surely surprise you. And I guarantee you if you utter that one little word, “yes”, be prepared because there will be no more business as usual.
My prayer for this Christmas is hope for a better, more peaceful, and loving world that begins with God and is manifest through us, just as it was with Mary and Jesus so long ago.
Last year, an unwelcome course correction arrived at my doorstep with the sudden passing of my husband. My life came to a screeching halt as I faced the stark reality of being thrust into the unknown and the numbing emptiness that followed.
I unwillingly became a part of a club with no guidelines, rules, or secret handshake. I was signed up without permission, and I can’t “cancel at any time”.
The blessings that came from a forty-seven-year marriage were overshadowed for most of this past year by regrets over things said or done, the if only’s, and lost opportunities. I thought that dark cloud would not dissipate. It totally sucked.
I needed someone to complain to. Ahhhhh, God. I could complain to God. I’m so good at that. But the last time I tried, it went something like this:
Me dialing the number I found on the Internet…
The message in response:
Dial 1 to leave a message of gratitude.
Dial 2 to leave a complaint. You will be prompted to whine, grovel and beg. (FYI, this box is not monitored.)
How in the world did I fool myself into believing that my life would just keep plugging along with only a few potholes here and bumps in the road there until I drifted unceremoniously into eternity? I was lulled into believing that the way my life was would not change drastically or without some kind of damn warning.
Wrinkles and gray hair warn you. They don’t just show up one fine morning. Instead, they tiptoe in without much fanfare giving you plenty of time to disguise them before your next high school reunion. The aches and pains of aging sneak around your joints like a ninja, which mercifully eases you into the acceptance that your running days are over.
For as long as I can remember, each day of my life seemed to blend into the next. Birthdays piling one on top of another were no more thought-provoking than a trash can filling up. Any thought of purpose or meaning was often left unaddressed until tomorrow, next week, or….
I think life’s subtle changes are meant as a wake-up call. But they’re too subtle for me. They need to scream loudly into my failure to act before it’s too late…but…oh yeah…pride helped me ignore the fact that I probably needed a hearing aid. Until now – until this.
Then, just as suddenly as I was knee-jerked into widowhood, the dark cloud lifted to reveal God’s promise to turn my mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11).
Being thrust into the pain of loss must become the catalyst for change, for the hope that there is more to this life. Or why do we even bother? Matthew 4:16 says, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light”. Jesus came along and spent his life showing us how to live abundantly in that light despite the darkness.
Then one morning, God spoke into my broken heart, “This is your new reality, Linda. You’re still here. You are surrounded by my love, the love of an amazing family, and supportive, loving friends. Now get up, dust yourself off, and do what you were created to do. Because if you haven’t learned anything else this past year, you surely have realized that this one precious life you have is short. Quit wasting it! Roll up your pity party mat and GO!”
I will leave you with two of the most powerful quotes that have helped me move beyond my sorrow:
Gian Carlo Menotti wants us to let this sink in, “Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do.”
John Shelby Spong tells us, “It is to live not frightened by death, but rather called by the reality of death to go into our humanity so deeply and so passionately that even death is transcended.”
You know the question – we all do. It’s the answer that we fear, that stymies us, that we avoid like a stalker on our social media accounts.
Jesus’ disciples were challenged by ”the” question, up close and personal, but skipped blindly past it, believing they belonged to an exclusive “Jesus Club” that exempted them from such a challenge. They would post selfies with Jesus and then boast to their friends on Facebook.
They couldn’t wait for their ten-year high school reunion so they could counter the negative comments in their senior yearbook, “most likely to end up in jail” or “most likely to become a TV repairman living in their mother’s basement.” I think that one was about James and John because their mother boldly approached Jesus to ask him to get them both out of her hair! (Mark 10:35-45)
I imagine Jesus had to constantly pose that all-important question to them just to pull them back to reality, “Come on, guys, you don’t get a pass on this. AGAIN…”Who Am I?”
It wasn’t just the disciples; every one of us has been challenged by that question that words cannot answer, but rather, by the very act of our day-to-day living. Still, we rarely get it right.
Recall that Jesus’ brothers (yes, he had some, and sisters too, get over it) often mocked and ridiculed him in front of others, “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” (John 7:2-9) A bit of sibling rivalry? Possibly. Not surprising as he was the only one who never disobeyed or sinned. His brothers had to be jealous of that and how his admiring followers flocked to him wherever he went.
John Dominic Crossan gives us some fascinating insight into the thinking of the day,“…if you asked anyone in the Mediterranean world at the time of Jesus, “Who’s the Son of God, the Lord, the redeemer, the savior of the world?” everyone would’ve known immediately who you were talking about, and it sure wouldn’t have been Jesus.—it would have been Caesar Augustus.”
That’s right, and Caesar loved it. He was a master of propaganda and deceit and knew how to manipulate everyone, from the powerful to the lowliest pheasant. Because he was so skilled at deception, everyone loved him even though he was a dictator. Go figure.
Perhaps this understanding of the belief that Caesar Augustus was the Son of God made him a hard act for Jesus to follow. Who knows. Could Jesus have questioned his life’s purpose? There may be a hint of that here – Luke 22:42. We are so surprised when we read that he asked God to take away the suffering he knew he was about to experience.
And then, (I don’t pretend to know – I wasn’t there. So, don’t send me hate mail!) I’m imagining, almost as an AHA moment, after God revealed to him that, yes, this was still his purpose, people would soon discover who Jesus was.
We humans can get lost when we go down that rabbit hole of self-doubt. So many of us know the feeling of being “less than”. Right? It’s easy for us to buy into the lies that we are not good enough.
Michael Beckwith tells us, “There is a life occurrence or a sequence of events unique to each of us that breaks through our self-imposed limitations, our egoic self-will, beckoning the Authentic Self to come forward and announce itself to us….the wisdom in this grace knows exactly what conditions will cause us to exclaim, ‘Enough is enough. I give my consent to my next level of growth.’”
Stay with me here.
The title of my blog, “Passion, Purpose, and Poopyheads”, defines the struggles I have had trying to accept that I was gifted with passion and purpose –as we all are. The problem has always been the “poopyheads” that keep setting up roadblocks for me to stumble over.
What would our lives look like if we dared to pose the “who do you say I am” question back to God? Deep down, we yearn for the answer. It’s our greatest spiritual longing. “Who am I to you, Lord?” But his response can be drowned out by the voices of those who run roughshod over our hearts and muddy the pure waters of God’s immovable, unchangeable, immense love for us. He calls each of us his beloved, but we don’t believe it. Instead, we believe the lies of those who are just as broken as we are.
Picture this: you go to a new doctor and are ushered into his nurse’s station as she takes all your vital signs and then shoves you up on a scale. All the while, you cannot help but notice that she is obviously struggling with her health issues. Then, you sit for an eternity waiting for the doctor, who finally walks into the room, reeking of cigarette smoke and finishing up the last bite of a McDonald’s Big Mac – his lunch (gag me!). Will you trust anything he advises to keep you healthy when he clearly doesn’t follow that advice himself? Do you stay or run like hell? You decide for yourself, but I’m already in my car!
Now, let’s put that scenario into the context of this discussion of just who it is that Jesus says we are. Even though he repeatedly tells us the same thing, we choose to give full authority to the thoughts of others who are – well – screwed up. Mostly. Like us. Who are you going to trust?
But, alas, it’s 2022—a new year.
I’m going to speak for myself now. You’re welcome to tag along….
Let’s call it:
An ode to new beginnings that tell us endings are never final if you’re still breathing.
Last year was, hands down, one of my worst years ever, with Covid relegated to last place on my list of profoundly crappy moments. After losing my husband, I had to face the truth of a heart condition that I chose to ignore for years until it reared up and took a huge bite out of my…denial.
Both these profound life events were instrumental in creating my new reality: at my age, I am starting over in an uncertain and unfamiliar place. God has promised never to leave us, but he does not lay out our lives like a scavenger hunt. Unfortunately, that’s what we expect from him, and then we get tripped up every time we encounter any obstacles.
For most of my seventy-three years, I have not allowed the Creator of my destiny to guide me. Others would constantly butt in unsolicited and make huge messes in my life, like the bratty kid who knocks down all your Legos, so you have to start over!
So now, if I live as though I really believe that God is the only one I need to listen to and trust, then I will have no one else to blame if I fail to follow the path he has laid out for me. And there it is…TADA! It’s less scary and less demanding to keep doing what I have always done than expose myself to what God may be asking of me.
If I answer that question, “Who do you say I am?” honestly, that would naturally require me to change and release my grip on mediocrity because God doesn’t do mediocre. And how do I deal with that when I have been led to believe all my life that it’s the best I have to offer in a world that couldn’t care less? So with that mindset, why would I turn that question around and ask it of God? “Who do you say I am?” And then risk what that answer would demand of me?
How often have I thought God abandoned me because, in hindsight, a path he pointed me to seemed like a dead-end? Only to discover it offered a critical lesson I needed to learn before moving on. If I could just become more self-aware and present to God as I walk this uncertain path, whether I obtain clarity in the process or not, much of my angst and fear will surely turn into trust and a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). I’m working on that.
I have no idea what’s around the next corner for me, and frankly, I don’t need to know. I only know this: God is always with me. He is by my side. He is my biggest cheerleader. He forgives my stupidity and delights in giving me second chances. Yeah me!
At the end of the day, hopefully, he will welcome me home, where I will hear those immortal words, “Pretty well done, Linda. Not bad for a messy human.”
For years, as a Christian, I determined that my “job” was to inform everyone I encountered of their “heaven/hell” status. I was good at it too! I could even give you a checklist of “requirements” to get into heaven and I can assure you the hoops you were required to jump through were daunting. It was not for the faint of heart! It’s no wonder I was never successful at “converting” anyone, including myself!
We sleep-walk through life with no clue what we’re doing here or that our lives have meaning and purpose – but they do!
We are all called to use the gifts and talents we already possess that have been uniquely designed for us. But it takes awareness on our part. We can be so enmeshed in and blinded by, the things of this world we miss out on our whole reason for being here.
If you are going through life day-after-unremarkable-day; schlepping through the same routine to ad nauseum – STOP IT! Your life has a purpose people. God needs your brilliance and love to shine his light in a darkened world.
You. Matter. That. Much.
Leo Tolstoy’s novel, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”, considered a masterpiece, was written just after his own “profound spiritual awakening” and conversion experience.
While lying on his deathbed, Ivan ruminated about the reality that his entire life was superficial and self-serving as he profoundly stated, “Maybe I didn’t live as I should have done.”In the end, he posited a question that Tolstoy must have pondered, “What if I really have been wrong in the way I’ve lived my whole life, my conscious life?”
And don’t look to me (like you ever did) to give you a formula or checklist to send you on your way to sainthood. But, I will tell you this: You cannot love and serve others (which is our greatest calling) until you are able to love yourself. And you can’t love yourself by means of any of the myriad self-help books on the market. And…no…sorry, there’s not a pill for that either.
We are so used to being in a world that is loud and demanding of our attention. We even busy ourselves filling in uncomfortably quiet places.
Socrates claimed the unexamined life is not worth living. “To live deep and suck out all the marrow” as Thoreau put it.
If we would just stop talking and LISTEN to the lessons life is trying to teach us! Geeeezzzzz, we’re SO BAD at listening.
The expression, “Life is short” is a yawner for most of us until it becomes a reality. My reality came a few months ago when my husband died. Now it’s real for me!
Did I tell you about Justin (not his real name) the kid who taught me a lesson in love? Okay, well, if so, I’m gonna tell it again because it’s freakin’ awesome!
About twenty years ago, I worked for Youth in Need, a wonderful organization that helps teens, usually wobbling vicariously between their broken world and the road to juvenile detention. This was often the last best hope for them.
I was basically a house mom and often worked the night shift in the house they lived in. It was a time in my life when I was also a broken mess, not long before my husband and I separated for a year (another God story). I’m not really sure how I ended up there, thinking I had anything to offer them. It would be much later before I could see God’s hand in it.
The police often brought the kids to us. Sometimes they were runaways or castaways by their parents or guardians. Justin came to us, a little guy – for a twelve-year-old – with a huge chip on his shoulder. He was always angry and struck out at anyone who looked at him wrong.
Easter Sunday was my day off but I decided that I would buy a ham and ask some of my neighbors to make some covered dishes. How nice of me! Look out Saint Mother Teresa…Linda’s vying for your spot in heaven! I can see the headlines now:
LINDA RUSSELL CANNONIZED BY POPE FRANCIS: THE PARTON SAINT OF MISFITS…
But, I digress…
The evening went unusually well. That is until we discovered that one of the Easter baskets went missing. Later, I found it under Justin’s bed. When I called him out on it he went ballistic! He started pounding on the walls and yelling obscenities. When I headed down the steps to contact our on-call therapist, he followed me. Still yelling! And then he spit on me. Okay, now I was mad! I began thinking of how very generous I was to come in on my day off. I muttered under my breath, “Kid you’re outta here!” And I meant it. I was determined to send him away and I had the power to do it. When I shut the office door and picked up the phone I knew he was listening.
I explained to the therapist what had happened. She asked me if I felt threatened. If I would have said yes, the police would have been called. But, then, in that moment God grabbed my heart…this was Easter Sunday! On Good Friday, Jesus was spat on, mocked, and crucified. Justin was just a child; a hurting, suffering child. I assured the therapist that I did not feel threatened and would handle it.
When I opened the door, Justin fell into me – still angry, “YOU GONNA CALL THE POLICE?! GO AHEAD CALL THE POLICE I DON’T CARE. CALL MY DAD, I DON’T CARE!” I calmly (which surprised me) said to him, “No Justin I’m not calling anyone. Just go upstairs, get your shower, and go to bed. Oh, and, if you need a hug I have one for you.” I think that offer surprised both of us, but his response didn’t. He uttered, “Yeah right!” just before he knocked the chair up against the wall and stormed out of the room.
Yeah right. What was I thinking? And now I had to fill out an incident report! Oh, joy. “I’m taking my ham back! You hear me, buddy???”
Twenty minutes later, the report finished, I headed upstairs just in time to encounter Justin coming out of the bathroom. There was something different about him when he looked at me. He was calmer and then asked something that, to this day, I still get teary-eyed thinking about it. “Can I have that hug now?” I can’t even describe the emotions that filled my heart as I hugged that little boy. I have no idea if he had ever been hugged before or since then. I hope that’s not the case, but I never saw him after he left.
When I consider that for just one moment I had the power to influence a little boy’s life – for good or bad – it’s mind-blowing! I know this for sure, if I would have followed through and had him sent away, that would have certainly been my own narcissistic doing. But, the ultimate outcome of that incident was totally God’s doing and took place even in the midst of my own brokenness (that’s a very important fact). It wasn’t by my own strength or even care for Justin. I was not some amazing spiritual giant responding as would have been expected of the likes of Saint Mother Teresa, But, and this is huge, I was able to hear Jesus speak into the depth of my otherwise hardened heart, which in turn allowed him to speak love into the soul of another broken heart. He used me in all my messiness. Unbelievable.
When I look back on my life it is simply astounding to me to consider what God is able to accomplish when he has so little to work with. If such incredible acts of love, mercy, and healing can take place even when we are so resistant to him, I have to wonder what America would be like today, if more Christians would stop resisting God’s call. It is breathtaking to consider the possibilities.
Sadly, so many who confess to being Christian are believers in name only – lukewarm God calls it. Revelations 3:16-17: “I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone, oblivious that in fact, you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.” (The Message)
How much do we hate the thought of being that person before God? – Because we don’t act like it. I don’t know if it’s as much a matter of indifference as fear.
What ARE we so afraid of? Trusting? Possibly.
Are we afraid of what God will require of us if we come out of hiding? Perhaps.
Fear of the unknown? Absolutely.
Let’s go back a ways. There are many people in the Old and New Testament that were afraid to trust God; afraid of the unknown, “You want me to do what?” They came up with some pretty lame excuses considering they were arguing with God himself.
Coming out of our comfort zones and believing we have gifts to be used for God’s kingdom is just too hard to get our heads around. But, it’s true. When I have the opportunity to share my story, I have heard so many people tell me they can’t imagine God working in their lives like that. I have to remind them of the heathen I was beforeGod caught my attention. And when that did happen it wasn’t a sudden thrust into a world I knew nothing about…
God isn’t in the business of scaring us to death to get his point across. He knows each one of us intimately. He knows how to gently encourage our trust in him and the fact that our lives have a purpose. Just little moments of grace, then more to follow, like a child learning to crawl, then holding onto something sturdy to stand before he could trust enough to walk…and then run.
Eventually, I discovered, as I hope you will, that God gives us everything we need to be all he created and called us to be; that my past did not define my future, and that the lies I lived were Satan’s stronghold on me – not my truth.
When we doubt ourselves Satan gets all giddy inside. When we question God’s call to us, the kingdom work he has planned for us to do never gets done. And Satan cheers. Sure, he could go find someone else, but with the number of us who are never willing to step out of our comfort zones, that leaves him with limited resources.
And Satan cheers again.
Our strength is limited, but we don’t need to rely on our own strength because God’s boundless, inexhaustible, immeasurable grace is just a prayer away. Not convinced? Pick one:
The Lord will give strength to His people; the Lord will bless his people with peace. Psalm 29:11
Quietness and confidence shall be my strength. Isaiah 30:15
I am strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Ephesians 6:10
I have put on the complete armor of God. Ephesians 6:11
God gives power to the weak. And to those who have no might, He increases strength. Isaiah 40:29
Enough? Yeah, it seems God knew we needed lots of convincing. Has it worked? Not according to Ed Stetzer in his article titled, Too Many So-Called Christians Merely Giving Lip Service to Jesus. Below is an excerpt, and if you would like to read the entire article go here.
I suspect many churches have forgotten their main calling: to make disciples. Instead, we believe drawing a crowd of people on Sundays is enough. We invite people to come to church or to be good people—but not to follow Jesus.
Sociologists like Christian Smith say many Americans follow something called “moralistic therapeutic deism,” a belief in God that’s mainly focused on being a good person and having a positive self-image.
That kind of religion feels good. But it doesn’t motivate people to act on their faith in areas where it costs them.
Mediocre. Is that what you’re striving for? Is that what gets you up every morning and fills you with excitement about what life has in store for you? Are you content to sleepwalk through this life waiting for the next (whatever that means)? Have you thought about what you’re missing when you sleepwalk through life? That’s a shame because God could put those gifts he gave you to better use. Imagine him watching you just sitting on them…
Oh, okay, maybe you’re waiting until you get your life straightened out before you think God can use you. After all, you may reason, I’m just too broken myself. There’s no way I could help anyone else if I can’t even help myself. That’s true if in fact, it is you that you’re relying on the fix yourself. It’ll never happen! Sorry. I can’t imagine you haven’t heard the expression: God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. Catchy huh?
Come on. Wake up!
There’s kingdom work to be done. God’s waiting…
Here’s a little food for thought: Do you realize that God is dependent on you? That’s not a typo.
Say it to yourself, “God is dependent on ME!
“Linda, you’re crazy!”
Really? Then what does this quote by St. Irenaeus mean? “The glory of God is man fully alive.”Let that sink in a moment. You see, God needs us. It’s true. Anyone ever tell you that before?
So, you see, you MUST WAKE UP because this broken world needs you! God needs you! Now more than ever.
I know so many people, and I’ll bet you do too, perhaps even you yourself, who just can’t believe God has a plan for them. Over the years, I have encountered people who don’t believe me when I tell them my story. “Oh, really?! God told you to do that, huh? Right!” To be honest, I wouldn’t have believed it myself if he hadn’t gradually brought me to a place where I could trust him even if I was fearful and had no idea what he was up to. For years, there were little promptings that, in hindsight, proved to me that he was on the job (Romans 8:28). Then bigger ones that required more trust; offered way more grace than I deserved, and opened my heart more than I could have imagined.
God was always longing to grow me into the person he meant for me to be. It was me resisting; me not being present to him; me missing the mystery and majesty that surrounded me because I was just too busy to notice, or more likely, too afraid. Instead I skipped along trying to drown out his voice, “Lalalalalalalala I can’t hear you!”
We can be so enmeshed in, and blinded by, the things of this world we miss out on our whole purpose for being here. If you are going through life day-after-unremarkable-day; schlepping through the same routine to ad nauseum – STOP IT! Your life has a purpose people…you matter that much!
We are all called to holiness; called to use the gifts and talents already given us for God’s kingdom work right here – right now. It just takes awareness on our part. (I would highly recommend Anthony DeMello’s book by the same name, Awareness).
Leo Tolstoy’s novel, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”, considered a masterpiece, was written just after his own “profound spiritual awakening” and conversion experience. While lying on his deathbed, Ilyich ruminated about the reality that his entire life was superficial and self-serving and he profoundly stated, “Maybe I didn’t live as I should have done!”At the end, he posited a question that Tolstoy must have pondered himself, “What if I really have been wrong in the way I’ve lived my whole life, my conscious life?” Oops, a little late buddy!
“Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do” Gian Carlo Menotti
It was too late for Ilyich, but not Tolstoy. He discovered his purpose and rejected his aristocratic life to follow Jesus’ teachings – in particular – the Sermon on the Mount. Years later, his writings also had a profound impact on Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and countless others.
Soooooo, what are you waiting for? You must still be breathing or you wouldn’t be reading this. That’s a start. Incredibly, no matter how you lived your life to this point, it’s not too late to begin again. New beginnings are God’s specialty! He has proven that through the lives of every misfit from Moses to this ole grandma – To infinity and beyond!God coined that phrase you know. Don’t believe me? HUMPH! Check out Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”
Alrighty then, you’re pumped and ready to go, right? You’re packing your sandals and camel hair coat and checking Google Maps… for what? A sign from God?
Stop! Take a deep breath. Maybe start by sitting quietly with God and waiting.
Don’t look to anyone to give you a formula or a check list to send you on your way to sainthood. But, I will tell you this: You cannot love and serve others (which is our greatest calling) until you are able to love yourself. And you can’t love yourself by means of any of the myriad of self-help books on the market. You can only do that by growing in the knowledge that you are deeply and passionately loved first by the God who created you! And you can only do that by being in relationship with him, which requires your time.
You are his son/daughter with whom he is well-pleased (Matthew 17:5). Let that sink in. We are deeply loved sinners. It’s high time we act like it, don’t you think?
We are so used to being in a world that is loud and demanding of our attention, especially today. We even busy ourselves filling in uncomfortably quiet places. That’s how we miss God’s “still small voice” or “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). Sure, he’s good at those show-stopper whirlwinds and earthquakes and fire. Even what I have called 2×4 moments, but they didn’t leave marks like the ones my mother inflicted. Because of her I was always on guard for those “laying down the law” whacks that I expected from God too when I messed up. But, I believe he more often speaks through Spirit – whispers of pure grace.
Now, though I still mess up – and often – I know God’s response is out of love for me; his admonitions tell me that he loves me too much to let me stay stuck in the muck.
Absolutely, go to church, take the time to read scripture, and pray, But mostly...LISTEN! Geeeezzzzz, we’re so bad at listening.
The messiness of life has often challenged us to question what God is up to. If there even is a God. If you believe that God is up in the sky doling out rewards or punishments and you never received that promotion, perfect partner, or winning lottery ticket you begged him for, you may be very confused. If your words of wisdom for a friend who just received a terminal diagnosis are, “This must be God’s plan for you so suck it up buttercup”, then your understanding of God is likely skewed a bit….actually A LOT!
Many of us may be experiencing a significant crisis of faith and lack of understanding of just who this God is that we worship. At the core of the confusion may be the age-old question of where God is in the midst of all the tragedies and disasters we are witnessing. All of us have been affected, some more personally than others.
There are also those who seem impervious to human suffering, believing it only happens far away in third-world countries. I’m not sure how they’re able to deny the reality of so much despair and misery, but it would be necessary I suppose, if they want to keep it from affecting them, from reaching down into their very being and ripping their hearts out.
But we can’t avoid it when it’s up close and personal. That’s when we question why God isn’t fixing all of this when we diligently pray for him to intervene? What kind of God would just sit back and ignore all the pain and suffering? Do I even believe in him?
Is it possible to step back, take a deep breath, and start admitting that there are no words for, no answers for, the suffering? Can we stop putting God in a box we’ve created to comfortably define him? Can we allow him to be Mystery? And can that be okay?
You will not receive “answers” or certitudes from me because I gave up trying to figure him out a long time ago. I can now live with the possibility that life can sometimes just be a crap shoot. I wake up in the morning, not knowing what the day will bring. Will I get cancer or a call from a long-lost friend? Will I win a new car or get run over by one? Will the cop who catches me speeding be cheerful and forgiving or a poopyhead? Is today my last day here? I have no idea.
Let’s recap all the terrible things that have happened in the past year and revisit the “where is God” question. (It’s very telling that I am reposting this on 2/25/23, two years later, and there is nothing in these statistics that could not apply today.)
Devastating Winter Storms: “Two back-to-back winter storms (unofficially named Uri and Viola) landed a one-two hit across the U.S. in mid-February 2021, affecting many southern states that are unaccustomed to cold temperatures, snow or ice. The storms left extensive power outages, boil water advisories, deaths and vehicular accidents across a multi-state area in their wake.”
COVID destroys lives: Feb. 11, 2021: The U.S. case total is 28,542,904 with 505,795 deaths and 18,707,002 recoveries. The U.S. has 4% of the world’s population but more than 25% of its COVID-19 cases with minorities suffering the most.
Racial injustice: Being killed by police is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for Black men and boys. Other people of color, including Latino men and boys, Black women and girls, and Native American men, women and children, also experience higher rates of death due to police violence than their white counterparts.
Devastating wildfires: The 2020 season was a record-setting one for the state of California and the United States as a whole.
Atlantic hurricane season: At the conclusion of the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season – damage assessments for many storms came in at well over $1 billion. The total cost for the 2020 season was almost $47 billion. More than 430 people lost their lives.
Southern border humanitarian crisis: As of December 2020, the Southern Border Communities Coalition reports that 118 people have died since 2010, including several who died while in Customs and Border Protection custody….problems of overcrowding, lack of hygiene facilities and health care access, as well as food shortages. The conditions in camps for unaccompanied children have been reported as deplorable, lacking in food, health care, water, sanitation, hygiene, and other services. Children have died or become severely ill in these camps. There are currently more than 500 children separated from their families at the border, and those families cannot be found.
Of course, there’s more, and getting into the details of the pain and suffering would surely add to the stress, anger, and fear that causes so many of us to shake a fist at “heaven”; at a void, we may have once believed housed God. Some are asking, some demanding, that God show himself and answer for his lack of concern for us.
I want to introduce you to Kate Bowler. She wrote a book titled, “Everything Happens for a Reason; and other lies I believed” in 2018, when she was thirty-five-ish and diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. She was given two months to live. Know how she would respond to the question “where is God”?“When I was sure I was going to die, I didn’t feel angry. I felt loved.” She managed to get past stupid people saying stupid things and discovered God was revealed in the likes of all those who loved on her, quietly sat with her, and took care of day-to-day tasks in myriad ways.
Bowler speaks from her experience and from “great works of Christian theology”. She said, “The sense of God’s presence will go. There will be no lasting proof that God exists. When the feelings recede…they will leave an imprint. I would somehow be marked by the presence of an unbidden God. It is not proof of anything….It was simply a gift. Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.“
You may not recognize God because everywhere you turn he’s disguised as someone who looks like your grandmother or brother or that kid down the street who raked your leaves last year when you broke your leg and refused any money – remember? That was God.
He’s been right here all along:
From owners turning their stores into warming centers, to a mystery man handing out $20 bills to shoppers in Houston.
Houston resident Max Bozeman II, who was diagnosed with cancer during the pandemic, knew first-hand the importance of asking for help in difficult times. After posting to Instagram saying he would give out $100 to ten people who needed the money for groceries, he received a deluge of messages. He ended up handing out 70 gifts of $100 each and says he’s prepared to part with as much as $10,000.
In Elgin, Texas, Monica Nava, owner of the Chemn Cafe, put in a big order just before the storm hit. Rather than see perishable items go to waste, she boxed them up with shelf-stable goods into care packages. She gave the packages to in-need members of the community.
In San Antonio, one Good Samaritan at the Martini Ranch bar put on a free grill complete with lobster bisque for anyone in need of a meal.
Another Houston hero is Jim McIngvale, better known locally as Mattress Mack. McIngvale opened two of his furniture stores to be used as warming centers. “Anybody who needs it—whether they’re homeless, whether they lost power, whether it’s just wanting to come in and get something to eat.
Texas Nurse and Mom Stays Behind to Help Neighbors: I Had to ‘Make Sure They Were Still Alive’ “It made me very aware that we had to stay to help,” she added. “There were opportunities for us to leave, and it just wasn’t an option anymore.”
God spottings of kids going beyond caring to “being” Christ in a hurting world:
Haley Bridges, 17, of Appleton, Wisconsin, knew her friend and fellow Chick-fil-A employee, Hokule’a Taniguchi, 19, was commuting to work in the Wisconsin winter by bicycle. So when she learned she had won a car at a company Christmas party raffle in December, she knew exactly who she wanted to gift it to. (Got that?! A 17-year-old gave a car away!)
A 10-year-old boy decided to thank the front-line heroes battling the relentless coronavirus pandemic by clearing snow off their cars outside a Rhode Island hospital this week.
Eight-year-old Cavanaugh Bell lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland. “I spread positivity to inspire others to change the world. Because the pandemic left so many in need, I decided to make care packs to help elderly people in my community.” Cavanaugh initially created his care packages for elderly people in his neighborhood using his own savings from birthday and Christmas money. As word spread and donations grew, he and his mom opened a food pantry called Love is Greater than COVID-19.
Madison, Wisconsin — Morgan Marsh McGlone started a virtual lemonade stand last spring to raise money for a local food charity that lets people pay what they can.
Pope Francis asks: “Will we bend down to touch and heal the wounds of others? Will we bend down and help another to get up? This is today’s challenge, and we should not be afraid to face it.”
Remember the story of the stupidly rich man and Lazarus in Luke’s gospel? (Luke 16:19-31) We often think the story is about how the rich man refused to help Lazarus and was likely annoyed by Lazarus’ presence in his front yard. But, it is more likely he didn’t even notice Lazarus. His life’s obsessions were himself, his image, and his “stuff”.
Jesus warned us about our attitude toward the poor in Matthew’s gospel: When we find ourselves having to ask, “But, when did we do that? I don’t remember doing that!” Jesus responds, “Whatever you did or didn’t do for the least of these – you did or didn’t do for me”.
So, where is God? He’s as close as your mirror. You will only “see” God when you are doing something to relieve the suffering of others, when you are his hands and feet.
Joe Newman is 107 years old. Anita Sampson, who recently celebrated her 100th birthday, is Joe’s fiancée (you read that right). Joe said 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.” He says the coronavirus is just another event in his life and believes we should look forward to whatever time we have, be it years, weeks, or just days, and then hope for another one. Maybe work on those wedding plans – or not. (Anita has reportedly demanded a “Promise” ring by Tuesday, or she’s moving back to her own rocker!) But, for now, it’s nap time.
Since there are now so many American Centenarians, there have been several studies regarding these 100+-year-old folks. They all have survived so much. They have lived through misery, hunger, job loss, financial ruin, the loss of loved ones, and every imaginable heartache along the way. But that’s not the whole story. There are also beauty and blessings intermingled with suffering.
The most common and inspiring thread was just as I suspected. During the Depression, people who went beyond simply surviving 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 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.
Today they will tell you that 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. And now, here we are in the midst of one of our most difficult and challenging times, and our young people are suffering. What can we pass on from the wisdom of what is known as the Greatest Generation and our own life experiences?
I believe 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.
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.”
What we are dealing with today: a failing economy, children going to bed hungry, job losses, Covid, wildfires, 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, and from the statistics, few of them have faith in God either.
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.
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 to show his steadfast, 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%. When he said, “follow me”, he didn’t mean act virtuous, he meant be virtuous. Be kind and gentle and caring to 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 the leper (Matthew 8:3). The gentle, compassionate, loving touch of Jesus is what we are called to emulate.
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. Like Esther, we were made for such a time as this. People are scared and hurting. We have been there and hopefully 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 you ready?
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 our story matters. I truly feel this is a remarkable time for us old folks who are still hanging around 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 on what young adults (ages 18-25) are dealing with in this frightening and uncertain time:
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.”
So, picture these young people that have likely never before 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.
Perhaps there 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. Check this out for inspiration: https://www.nunsandnones.org/
So, as their lives seem to be falling apart, 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 if 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…
A study from National Catholic Reporter 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 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
“Belonging before believing” may be the key to 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 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 relationships 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 earshot), 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 meeting 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 icebreaker 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 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 “just ten 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 afterward and called her because he was contemplating suicide. They began therapy sessions with his mom. I still get teary when I think about that.
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.
“There’s no heavier burden than a great potential!”- Charlie Brown.
I want to dedicate this blog post to my granddaughters, great-granddaughters, and all the little girls out there (or big girls getting a late start – like me!). Girls who may not yet be aware of their great warriorness. In particular, those who may not have someone in their lives to instill in them a belief in their magnificence, brilliance, and untapped potential. I often wonder what a difference someone like that may have made in my life as I was growing up.
Certainly, I have grown immensely over the past twenty+ years. I have gained the strength and courage to recognize and face down many of the lies I believed for so long about my insignificance. Mostly, it was an uphill battle that I often felt I fought alone. Of course, in hindsight, I know I was not alone. I could not have overcome what I have without God’s strength, tenderness, and guidance, which enabled my heart and soul to begin healing and grow into the life I never believed I was worthy of.
“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process
is the bravest thing that we will ever do” Brene Brown
A review of my life may seem to a casual observer that I wasted a lot of time. Yes, I may have wandered in the desert for fifty years. But, these last twenty years of working to fulfill a life of meaning and purpose tell me that everything in God’s plan is just as it should be. Even amid the “fruitfulness,” there will always be messiness and missteps, mostly of our own doing. I seem to step in it, clean myself up, move on, forget, and step in it again. But, hey, it is said that you’re okay if you fall as long as you fall forward.
So, now that I am higher on that mountain than I have ever imagined, I would love to reach back to encourage and help lift little girls and young women whom God has given me a heart for. I want you to know that you are a warrior, a superhero, and a gift meant to be shared with those who suffer.
I have often written about Esther, you know the “made for such a time as this” Esther? But let’s look at another courageous young woman, Joan of Arc.
Here’s a short biography of her young life from the St. Joan Center Website:
“From her earliest of years Joan was known for her obedience to her parents, religious fervor, goodness, unselfish generosity and kindness toward her neighbors. Simonin Munier, one of Joan’s childhood friends, tells how Joan had nursed him back to health when he was sick. Some of her playmates teased her for being ‘too pious.’ Others remembered how she would give up her bed to the homeless stranger who came to her father’s door asking for shelter.
Joan was ‘like all the others’ in her village until her thirteenth year. “When I was about thirteen, I received revelation from Our Lord by a voice which told me to be good and attend church often and that God would help me.” She stated that her ‘Voices’ were Saint Michael the Archangel, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret. At first her ‘Voices’ came to her two or three times a week but as the time for her mission drew near (five years later), they visited her daily telling her to ‘Go into France’ to raise the siege of Orleans, conduct the Dauphin Charles to Reims for his crowning and to drive the English from the land.”
That simple peasant girl stood her ground against English kings and a motley crew of bishops in the Catholic Church. It was a good-ole-boys club in which she was not welcome (little seems to have changed, huh?!). One bishop declared that she should be sent home and given a good spanking. How dare she think anyone would believe angels spoke to her? The audacity of her leading men into battle! They would have none of it. She was arrested and put on trial by a bunch of weak men who got their underwear all bunched up because she had the strength and courage none of them could come close to. She was too much for their fragile egos. They had to make an example of her lest other women got some crazy notion they were meant for more than servitude. So, they conspired to condemn her for heresy, witchcraft, and violating divine law for dressing like a man (huh?). They were hell-bent on proving it was Satan, not angels, that spoke to her and led her astray. By conspiring and lying, they eventually got what they wanted. She was put on trial, condemned, and burned at the stake for good measure. Needless to say, they hated her and everything she stood for. There is even controversy concerning her canonization in 1920 as being more politically than faith-motivated.
Now, don’t start imagining that you would end up like Joan if you followed God’s calling and reconsider what being a warrior asks of you, “No thanks. I’ll just hang out here with my Barbie and Macho Ken.”
Remember in Luke’s gospel when Jesus was hanging on the cross, and those cocky rulers sneered at him? “You supposedly saved others; why don’t you save yourself?Ha!” Well, Joan, like Jesus, had the courage all her life to listen and obey God’s call. All the while not really knowing what that would entail. On the surface, you might conclude that the way it ended for both Joan and Jesus would not make a powerful recruitment tool. They both felt abandoned by God at a critical point in their lives. But God did not abandon them. We know how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection have sustained Christians throughout thousands of years, so we can rest assured that God fulfilled his purpose in Jesus even when he was silent.
As for Joan, I read a fascinating unpublished novel by Virginia Frohlick, The Lost Chronicles, The Story Of Joan of Arc. Frohlick, by profession, is a registered nurse and writes extensively about the wounds sustained by Joan during battle. She detailed (to ad nauseam, really) four of those wounds and said each of them alone would have been fatal. All this is to say that God truly was with Joan and guided her from the moment of her calling at the age of thirteen until her death.
Okay, now that we have established that God is totally enamored with you, your brilliance, and your eagerness to answer the battle cry that is your destiny…
Good question. I don’t know. Sorry. I have no idea what God has planned for you. 1 Corinthians 2:9 tells us, “But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined,are the things God has prepared for those who love him.”
However, what I can share with you is a bit of my own journey full of twists and turns and doubts and, yes, awesomeness, because that’s really all I know for sure. I was made to believe that I was nothing special; that anyone who made something of themselves possessed gifts or talents or even some magical powers that I did not have. When you feel so beaten down you begin to believe the lies. It’s hard enough to drag yourself out of bed in the morning without having to perform like it matters. So, then you begin to tell yourself that everyone but you got “the gift”. You got a lump of coal.
It gets us off the hook. We have a valid excuse for sitting back and accepting that we will never amount to anything because, well, we were not blessed with those God-given talents we see in everyone else. Oh well.
I tried to stop comparing myself to all those people I grew to envy, but in truth I continually found myself deficient in so many areas of my life. Then, ever so slowly, the changes began. God knows how to deal with each of us. He knows some, like Paul, can get wacked off a horse, rub his lumps, and instantly convert to Man of the Year. Others, like me, need a gentler, more gradual tap, followed by a soft landing. I suppose that’s why it took so long.
If you had approached me before my transition to a semi-caring human and asked, “Hey, Linda, you wanna go out in the world and serve lost, dying, broken humanity?” My immediate response would be, “Hahahahahaha. NO!” Do you think God had any idea that would be my response? Of course, he did. So, he waited. And waited. And waited. He seems to be really good at that. Then, like the masses at Walmart on Black Friday, when the door of my heart opened ever so slightly, he quickly stuck his foot in the door. (Right! I know. God doesn’t have feet. Just work with me here, okay?)
To spare you the long version of the past twenty years I’ll just give you the bullet points, remembering what one of my professors in graduate school seemed to only ask me, “What’s your point, Linda?”
(And, yes, these are bullet points for an A.D.D. brain, so cut me some slack.) Anyway:
My first AHA moment came when I worked for Youth in Need. I had an “I’m the boss” attitude until a twelve-year-old boy taught me what loving kindness looked like. I was basically a house mom and he came there hating the world. He would start a fight with other kids at the slightest provocation. He was a challenging child to deal with. One evening, he stole something from another resident and got very angry with me for confronting him when I found it under his bed. I told him I was going to the office to call our therapist, and he spit on me. Now, I was angry. I mumbled things under my breath I will not repeat here. When I called the therapist, I knew he was listening at the door. I explained what had happened, and she asked me if I felt threatened. At that moment, something inside me changed. It was Easter Sunday. The day we remember Jesus’ story reflects God’s promise. A promise made to me despite all my sins and brokenness. A promise that was made to this child I was about to have removed and sent to Juvenile Detention. I told her “no” I did not feel threatened, and we hung up. He fell into the room when I opened the door and started yelling at me to go ahead and call the police. He didn’t care! I told him I was not going to call the police. If he would calm down, shower, and go to bed, it was over. He got up, attitude still on display, and out of somewhere deep inside of me, I said, “And, Justin, if you need a hug, I have one for you.” He shoved the chair and “yeah, right!” ushered out of his mouth as he slammed the door and left. I repeated his “yeah right” a few times as I completed an Incident Report. What was I thinking? As I walked up the steps, Justin came out of the bathroom. He looked at me with a different demeanor now and asked, “Can I have that hug now?” I’m not sure how long I hugged that child or how long we both cried. I wondered if anyone in his young life had ever hugged love into his fragile heart. And there was God on full display, hugging love into both our hearts on Easter Sunday!
A few years later, there was the moment God’s clear voice told me to write a book, followed by my hysterical laughter, which I’m sure he did not find amusing. Anyway, I shook it off and went on about my business. A few months later, I went to community college and wrote a paper for an English class. When my teacher returned it to me, he said, “Linda, this is really good. You should see about getting it published.” Wait…WHAT?! So, I started writing my life story. Right! Like anyone would care. But I persevered, finished it, self-published it after many rejections, and even got a little award from a Writing Guild no one had ever heard of. The books were piled up in my basement, and Oprah never called, so my hopes of becoming famous were shattered. Fine!
In 2006, I was given the opportunity to attend graduate school with full tuition paid by a grant. God didn’t have to wait long for that rolling, side-splitting laughter from someone who barely finished high school! I prayed about it, and after a deeply mystical experience, not really, I just said, “What the hell! What have I got to lose?!” There are no words to describe how those three years challenged every fiber of my being. Then, beyond anyone’s expectations, except God’s, I graduated with a degree in Pastoral Studies. Then came the job search. You’d be right if you think I had a hard time getting any Priest to welcome me into the good-ole-boys-secret-hand-shake club. Of course, I whined to God…again…about why he had me on what surely was a wild goose chase to nowhere. “I KNOW YOU CAN HEAR ME!” No answer. Fine!
Fast forward to 2014. Tired of sitting at home and listening to my own belly-aching, I decided to just volunteer somewhere. After all, I was already beyond the age of retirement, so why not? Remembering our beautiful experience with Hospice when my dad was dying, I started working with them. During that time, I learned a lot about the dying process. We are not simple observers from a distance for those who are taking their final journey. Hospice care involves participating in what I can only describe as a profound sense of empathetic being-with, participating in a deepening movement through an almost palpable process. It was truly holy ground, and I always felt sitting vigil with the dying was a privilege that blessed me beyond words. I left there when my beloved mother-in-law, Catherine, went into hospice care as we sat vigil with her on her final journey. Then I waited…more calmly this time.
Next, I stepped a bit deeper into my fear and vulnerability by working with the homeless for St. Vincent de Paul, which ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. But, if you had told me I would be hugging and loving on two ex-cons at a dumpy motel they were staying in, I would have straight up denied the possibility. But there I was. There were many encounters like that. I didn’t tell my Supervisor about most of them because I didn’t think his heart could take it. Like the day I got the call from another agency, “Hey, you want to come help this girl who’s hiding from her mob boyfriend?” Here’s me, “Sure, why not?!” Sadly, our homeless program ended when our funding ran out. We then had to refer people to other agencies, and I did not feel the other programs were a good fit for me, so I stepped aside to discern what God had up his sleeve next. As of this writing, I’m still waiting, but I’m pretty sure God has removed his earplugs because I’m more patient now. You’re welcome, Lord!
I just shared with you a capsule version of my last twenty years. When I think about how I have grown and matured in faith, how others have taught me to live with ambiguity and uncertainty and be okay with it, I am stupefied! To say to someone in their brokenness, “I don’t know why this happened to you, but I care” – and then really care and be vulnerable to their pain is all God asks of us.
Learning to love and serve with God’s heart didn’t come naturally for someone who never had it modeled for them. Each step has built upon another to bring me to this place. It may not have seemed to make sense at the time. I may have spent too much time trying to repackage God’s perfect plan to fit my expectations, fixating on my own plans. But, at the end of the day, I know I am exactly where God wants me, and I know he does not waste time.
So, now what?
“God gives food to every bird, but he doesn’t throw it into the nest.”
An ancient Hindu saying
Angela Duckworth did a lot of research for her book, Grit. She says:
“Often we believe that people who excel have some innate gift that no one else has. But it seems it isn’t so much ability or talent as zeal and hard work.Without effort your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t. Enthusiasm is common, endurance is rare.”
Duckworth names four psychological assets necessary for success in any worthwhile endeavor and addresses critical aspects of growing into our God-given purpose:
Development: Daily discipline.
Purpose: Conviction that your work matters. A lifetime of deepening.
Hope (needed in every stage) keeps you going when things are difficult, even when you have doubts.
I can relate to all of these aspects that have continually reinforced God’s plan for my life, but I would add one more: Trust. If we cling to our fears, we will stay stuck in our emptiness. You must own your story, not wait for someone else to write the chapters.
Through that still small voice, in my most broken moments, God spoke into the depth of my heart, “No matter where you are at this moment, no matter what heartache or pain you may have suffered, you are now and always have been, enough because you belong to me. You can trust me.”
Granted, I did not run into God’s arms with wild abandon. It was more like a slow crawl and a lot of back-sliding. I wanted to test him because trust was not one of my strong suits. But the more I submitted to him and experienced the changes in my heart, the more I was hooked. I just knew this was different; my life was different. I began to breathe in a love I had never known before. It was incredible, and I couldn’t get enough of that sense of God’s immense love for me even when I mess up, which I still do. I must remind myself daily that being worthy and imperfect are both aspects of our humanity. They are not contradictory.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11
So, dear ones, it’s up to you to pray and listen for God’s whack or still small voice, whichever one works. Pay attention to your desires that speak to God’s desires. What are you passionate about? What breaks your heart? What gives you joy?
“Don’t ask what the world needs.Ask what makes you come alive, and go do that.Because what the world needs is people who have come alive”
The author of the article, Nicole Carroll, tells us:
“They didn’t succeed despite adversity, but often because of it. They didn’t just blaze a trail. They hammered one with their voices, their ideas and their grit. They did it at massive protests and in church basements, on big stages and in dusty fields. They stood on the shoulders of ancestors and pulled along those behind them.
The lessons of the women who brought us this far show that from the darkest moments, we find our greatest resolve. So many women who’ve achieved have first been hurt. Trauma can shame and shatter. But, they will tell you, it can also guide.
How do women keep pushing forward in the next 100 years? The same way they always have. They’ll imagine. They’ll create. They’ll fight. With grit and with sacrifice. With not enough sleep and not enough help. With bright days of self-confidence and desperate nights of self-doubt. With courage.”
So, here are a few thought-provoking questions for you. I pray you will hear the voice of God speaking to your heart, and you will respond with a huge, “Here I am, Lord! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). And then, dear one fasten your seat-belt for the adventure of your life!
How are you unique?
Do you know what your gifts are?
Who do you admire and why? (Often, what we admire in others is what we would like to develop in ourselves).
Do you like helping others?
Do you consider yourself a leader?
What makes you happy – sad?
Has someone else told you you are good at something?