A Christmas Thought

It’s Christmas. Advent is over – the waiting is over. The anticipation: waiting, sitting in darkness, in wonder and awe. Over.

My prayer for this Christmas is that what is not over is hope for a better, more peaceful, world, and an understanding that that begins with God, but is manifest through us, just as it was with Jesus so long ago. Archibald MacLeish explains that truth in a sermon on the Book of Job:

“Man depends on God for all things: God depends on man for one (ONE). And it is most itself…when it is offered in spite of suffering, or injustice, or death. It is in man’s love that God…triumphs; in man’s love that the world’s injustice is resolved.”

What does that love look like for us today? It looks just like it did for Mary. I’m imagining that when she humbly offered her “yes” to God’s call, that “yes” came from the depths of her heart, even in the midst of doubt. This was her purpose, to use the gifts God had given her, as Esther said, “For such a time as this.”

Surely, Mary contemplated the meaning of her “yes” to this new birth; to this baby she would soon be holding. Being a mother, I can picture her and Joseph just staring at the magnificence of this new creation that God had blessed them with, imagining what his future would hold and surely wondering if they were even capable of parenting him well, helping him to become fully who he was created to be. Remember, Mary was just a teenager, though she was blessed with awesome parents who excelled at Parenting 101 – training her up by their example.  

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 them 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 and mercy and forgiveness he tenderly held and began healing those broken parts, infusing his love into our relationship. I suppose you could call that a do-over.

So, we reflect on the magnitude of Mary’s “yes” and Jesus’ “yes”, and let’s not forget poor Joseph. We’re always forgetting his “yes”, his contribution to this family and his obvious love and care for them.  

Mary and I both questioned God’s wisdom. “Wait, WHAT?! ME? You’re kidding, right?”

God – “NOPE!”

And guess what…you’re not off the hook either my friends! God has called each one of us to be Christ-bearers as well.  Scary, huh?

Take a deep breath. It’s okay.

God prepares us all for the work he has for us to do. 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”.

I recall many times in the past striking out on my own to do “volunteer work”. Those efforts usually failed in one way or another, never born of a longing, 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, friends, you have to know that GOD DOES PASSION – 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 may be watching to reconsider any thought of using their gifts. “WOW Linda! You royally screwed that one up! And wasted a whole lot of time and energy in the process! Alrighty then, no thanks. I’m not goin’ there. I have better things to do.”

Of course, we could argue that the expression, “Go big or go home” was probably coined by God. But, that doesn’t negate the fact that he initiates his plans for us, not the other way around. A great example is our friend Job. And, like Job, he doesn’t consult us for anything. Job found that out the hard way.

It wasn’t pretty when God confronted Job’s 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 make a Zebra from scratch, or how to paint a breath-taking sunset. Whew, I outdid myself on that one even if I do say so myself! That was brilliant actually! And, of course, the myriad other uniquely spectacular feats of creation that no one has been able to top!

And what about my grand finale – humans?! Huh! Yea, 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.”

In any case, 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” anyway. 

So this Christmas, as we are reminded once again of the amazing story of Christ’s birth—God’s love coming to us with skin on, I pray we will all listen for and accept God’s call to be Christ-bearers in whatever way he has prepared us for. 

Go ahead, allow yourself to sit in the darkness with God and bravely ask him what in the world you are here for. His answer will surely surprise you.  And I guarantee you, if you utter that one little word “yes”, fasten your seatbelt because there will be no more business as usual!

“May the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you,and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”  

Jesus Weeps – So Why Don’t We?

For the year of 2005, my husband and I had the incredible opportunity to live in Belfast, Northern Ireland and work for Habitat for Humanity. During that year we learned about a sectarian conflict there known as The Troubles. After thirty years of hatred and violence some were able to forgive and love neighbors once considered their enemy. But, there was also ongoing refusal of others to let go of their hatred. Annual Orange Day parades continued to fuel division year after year since the Peace Accords of 1998. Many parents passed that hatred on to their children. Today, the divisiveness and conflict may be played out differently, but it is still a reality, often manifested in rival gangs.

Ten years later, we were in Rhonda and learned about the horrendous massacre of 800,000 men, women, and children, slaughtered by their own neighbors. It took only ninety days – NINETY DAYS! Most of the perpetrators of those atrocities were never brought to justice. They scattered into the mountains or other countries and regrouped.  They’re still out there causing mayhem and promoting hatred.

Now, here we are, reliving hatred and strife in America that is pitting us against each other. Extremists groups fueled by years of hatred going back to the days of slavery and Jim Crow are more and more embolden today to act out that hatred encouraged by a wink and a nod from the President. Some White Evangelical churches advocating their claim of being “Christian” – cling to power presumed given them by God.

What is going on? Did Jesus lose his way? Or have we reinvented him and relegated him to a dashboard Buddy Jesus bobblehead?

Let’s listen in on a few guys trying to figure it all out for themselves – perhaps you can relate:

One night a few friends gathered in a neighborhood bar. Their conversation quickly turned to questions of how to overcome fear (they won’t admit to) and frustration over the current crisis playing out over their backyard fences, at family dinners, and in the news. The violence and anger coming from all sides was hard for all of them to reconcile with their beliefs. They were a varied group: two Catholic brothers – one “devoted” (as in a follower of all the “rules”) and the other lukewarm (as in “rules suck”), a Presbyterian, and a Baptist. After several beers they found it difficult to come to any consensus on what part they played as Christians. They were even struggling to agree on what a “Christian” was.

Before departing they jokingly decided to invite Jesus to their whinefest the following week so they could drill him to see if he could help them come to some agreement on the most basic fundamentals of their Christian faith. They really weren’t looking for clarity on what was true and noble and right as much as fodder for their own arguments. Something they could use to counter those they did not agree with. But, none of them would admit to that either. Considering the stark differences they held on who was right and who was totally on the path to hell they were at an impasse. They would let Jesus decide.

So, on the allotted day they all showed up for a second installment of “My God can beat up your God”. And who shows up? – Jesus (through the front door, not the wall). “Hey, guys, what’s up?” Still in shock that he actually came, they offered him a chair and a beer…or…uh…wine. He took a seat and declined the alcohol, “I’m driving, but you go ahead.”

Then right out of the gate, one guy at the table explained what had happened the prior week and why they invited him (as if he didn’t know…duh!). Anyway, the argument conversation begins but immediately deteriorates into the same dispute as before. Each of them chimes in with their “beliefs”. Then someone has the foresight to ask the “Expert” sitting right in their midst, “Jesus, how would you resolve this?” Jesus sits quietly for a moment and then the men observe his eyes welling up with tears. They are shocked and don’t know how to react. Why isn’t he angry and pounding his fist like we do? Why isn’t he pointing out people to blame? There are plenty of them: the media, politicians, white supremacists, other so-called Christians. 

Jesus’ weeping felt akin to the times their wives would cry about something they could not get their heads around – like the broccoli soufflé that fell right before Christmas dinner with the in-laws. And, buddy, you learned very quickly that your response better not be some lame man-up comment because you just want that awkward moment to be over! How’d that work for you? Exactly.

This Jesus moment was like that. Sure, he was known to throw a few tables around when he got mad, but we only see that once in all of scripture. So, why don’t we put that angry, show em’ who’s boss, can’t-control-his-temper-just-like-me Jesus to rest? This is not the no-more-mister-nice-guy Jesus you were hoping for. Sorry.

So, the world is falling apart and Jesus weeps. That’s it? That’s all he can offer us? What are we supposed todo with that? Well, let’s see:

Joan Chittister says of weeping: 

Indeed, few of us see our weeping as a spiritual gift or a matter of divine design. But we are wrong. Weeping is a very holy and life-giving thing. It sounds alarms for a society and wizens the soul of the individual. If we do not weep on the personal level, we shall never understand humanity around us. If we do not weep on the public level, we are less than human ourselves.

The Rabbi Hanoch of Alexander offers:

There are…some things that ought not to be endured. There are some things worth weeping about lest we lose our sense of self. We must always cope with evil, of course, but we must never adjust to it. We must stay eternally restless for justice, for joy. Restless enough to cry out in pain when the world loses them.

Chittister concludes:

If we do not allow ourselves to face and feel pain…our lies about life shrink our hearts and limit our vision. It is not healthy, for instance, to say that massive poverty is sad but “normal.” It is not right to say that sexism is unfortunate but “necessary.” It is not human to say that war is miserable but “inevitable”. To weep tears of frustration about them may be to take our first real steps toward honesty, toward mental health, toward a life that is worth living.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/where-i-stand/and-jesus-wept-good-idea

Now, we know Jesus did not just sit around weeping all day long. As with Jesus, so with us, God took that pain, that compassion Jesus felt in the deepest part of his being and turned it into action. “Now go”, God would tell him and “do something for those you weep for”.

He longs to tell us the same thing if we can just get over ourselves; if we are able to see clearly the suffering all around us that breaks God’s heart. The next hurdle is being accountable. It’s way too easy to shirk our responsibility to bring Christ into this battle for the soul of America with whatever excuse happens to work in the moment. Lately, we seem to be so overwhelmed by the reality of the pain and suffering right in our midst that we have either become numb to it or shake our fists in anger. We don’t feel like we have the power to address the massive needs of others even if we wanted to. And truth-be-told we don’t. Not my problem. So, we shrug our shoulders, retreat into our little bubbles, and utter some feeble justification for not “getting involved”.

But we’re definitely not weepers – that’s a weakness we are not willing to put out there. If suffering humanity is lucky, Jesus just blew that myth to shreds for you! Fine. He doesn’t blow things up. But, you get it. Right?

And don’t worry I’m not going to spew some moral edict to try to guilt anyone out of being a self-serving, self-absorbed jerk. This isn’t about taking on a rule-following, righteous, high and mighty stance. That would amount to the lowest common denominator required for entry into “heaven” at some later date. Is that what you want out of life?

If your faith subsists within the rigid and narrow parameters of acceptable and unacceptable “Christian” behavior you may want to ask yourself: is that what Jesus’ life was about? Is that what got him killed? Would anyone have even bothered with him if he was just another face in the crowd? Or is that the metric you use to justify yourself and “judge” others?

So, let’s reconsider the gift of weeping that Jesus modeled, now seemingly lost as a Christian response to hatred and suffering. Not only should we weep for the state of our nation and the wrongs done to others, but we also need to realize that Jesus isn’t your personal fixer of all things that suck. That is not his job.

I believe the question is not “what are you going to do about this, Jesus”? The real question should be “what am I going to do about this in so much as I have the power to effect change in myself and the world around me?” Should my response be couched in adherence to the “rules” of morality or compassion born of an inherent desire to be Christ-like?

Let’s revisit Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (John 4:1-42) which magnifies Jesus’ longing to reveal her sacredness to her. She had several strikes against her. She was a Samaritan which made her the lowest of the low. She was married and divorced five times and was now living with a sixth man.

Most of the women enjoyed gathering at the well early in the morning for their daily gossip-fest and no doubt she was often the topic of their natter. So, she went alone in the heat of the day to avoid them. And who shows up at the well? – Jesus, the Jew, asking her, the outcast, for water.  She could not believe what was happening. Here is a guy who’s clearly a prophet speaking life into her. She quizzed him relentlessly, certain she had to be dreaming. And Jesus’ reply? “Did I stutter? You are loved now go act like it.”

And how did she respond to that love? She danced all the way back to town. She couldn’t wait to announce to everyone who would listen, “You’re not gonna believe what just happened!” Because of her witness many other Samaritans became believers. And don’t think those nasty women weren’t pissed when they heard her! The next day they followed her to the well and hid in the bushes in an attempt to catch her in a lie.

Anyway, did all that happen because she was now on some moral high-ground or because Jesus sparked within her a hunger that surprised her? For so long she had learned to endure the rejection of others. She accepted that she was unworthy of love or acceptance or dignity, and lived accordingly, having no understanding of her intrinsic worth.

I think Rami Shapiro in his powerful book, “Holy Rascals”, gives us the most powerful definition of people of true faith that I have ever read:

Holy Rascals have only one aim: to pull the curtain back on parochial religion in order to liberate people from the Great and Terrible Wizards who use religion to frighten them in to submission and to manipulate them into doing evil under the banner of good.

We are not anti-religion: we are anti-unhealthy religion: religion that promotes a world of “us against them” and sanctions the exploitation, oppression, and even murder of “them” in this world and the torture of “them” in the next.

We are not anti-belief; we are anti-irrational belief: belief that substitutes ancient fiction for modern science.

We are not anti-God; we are anti-mad Gods: Gods who sanction the lust for power that rules those who invented them.”

What saddens me more than anything today is the fact that there is such contention and visceral hatred among those who profess to be “Christians”.  But, the louder they are the less like Jesus they are, which is clearly an oxymoron: “Christians” who hate, “Christians” who seek power and prestige, “Christians” who have no empathy or compassion for others. Jesus was the Suffering Servant not the King of the elitists.

“This is my commandment,” said Jesus, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” That’s it.

We are so far removed from the Jesus known to his disciples. When the Church turned him into “Jesus Christ Superstar” he got lost in the power struggle for whose faith was the true faith. I would say many Christians probably have no idea that it was the Church struggling for power that created the Jesus so many “worship” today. And there’s the rub I think. Jesus never told us to worship him. He said, “Follow me”. When Jesus said, “Pick up your cross kid and follow me.” What do you think he meant? Pick up your bucket and shovel we’re headed to the beach?

Jesus lived and moved and had his being on the fringes of society. He was a revolutionary, a rebel, an outsider among the powerful leaders of his time. Why? Because he loved without regard for position or status or how it looked to others. He loved “the least of these” with abandon. He touched and healed and served the broken and the outcast. And they responded in love; a love that blurred distinctions between us and them, rich and poor, powerful and weak, saint and sinner. Does that sound anything like what is preached on street corners and in some churches today? Or the hatred spewed by “White Supremacists”? They have tried to remake Jesus into someone who would be unrecognizable to his followers and they have been given a thumbs-up by a president who, at the same time, secretly makes fun of them. It is frightening to watch.

Trillia Newbell, an author and Christian commentator, says, “I want to hear that we’re mourning and weeping, that we are active in our community, that we are going to work to love our neighbor as ourselves, that racism and any kind of hate is evil.”

https://www.npr.org/2020/06/06/871014393/evangelical-christians-grapple-with-racism-as-sin

I would like to share one final, uncomfortable, not proud of this, Linda-you-suck-at-caring-but-it-will-get-easier, story about two women I met in Belfast in 2005. Both taught me about what compassion looks like up close and personal.

Not long after we got there, I was walking to the post office before work and I was in a hurry. Several blocks ahead of me, I saw a woman lying on the sidewalk. I watched people walk right past her without giving her a thought. Here’s the awful truth, I did the same thing. I was thinking of the fact that I needed to get to work, I wasn’t from there and wouldn’t know what to do, and…and…and. I didn’t get far when I heard that “still small (annoying) voice” – “Go back”. Just two words that felt like a gut punch. So, I turned around. Fearful now that she might be dead and then how would I feel? “Okay, Lord, this was your big idea please tell me what to do.”

I set my things down and sat next to her. It was clear she was drunk. I had to nudge her several times before she responded. She looked irritated at me, but sat up. I tried to find out her name and where she lived, but all she said was, “Leave me alone. I’m not worth it.” To this day, I can hear her say those words that pierced my heart. I held her dirty; make-up streaked face, and told her she was worth it because she was a child of God. She said again, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m not worth it!” I said to her, “I am looking at you and what I see is someone God loves deeply!” Through tears I tried to get her up so I could put her in a cab and take her to get something to eat. Just then a mission van pulled up. A guy got out and addressed her by name. He gently helped her up and walked her to the van. I never saw her again.

My second experience wasn’t quite so involved, but was equally as dramatic. Again, I was walking down the street and saw a woman with a little boy about five or six walking toward me.  He said something that angered her and she slapped him, which shocked me. Again, I summoned that annoying voice within, a bit more willing to cooperate. “Okay, Lord, what do I do here?” When I got to her I simply asked if she wanted to talk. She slapped me too, walked around me and kept going. The little boy turned around and stuck his tongue out at me.  Alrighty then. Yeah me!

Encountering those two women for just one moment in time literally changed the trajectory of my life and gave me purpose! Seeing the humanity of others teaches us compassion. Allowing ourselves to see Jesus in everyone we encounter we will grow in love for those we usually disregard, or worse, reject outright. Seeing beyond the degenerate, the depraved, the lost and broken takes courage, humility and trust in a God who shows us the beauty in others – and BONUS – in ourselves.

So, there you have it you macho-guys guzzling your beer and feeling a bit queasy watching Jesus weep for those who suffer. How do you respond to that? The first thing you need to do is offer a resounding, “YES” to whatever Jesus has in mind for you. That’s it. Easy enough. Right?

Then fasten your seatbelt brother, this is when the rubber meets the road because God has a plan for you (Jeremiah 29:11) and this probably won’t be an “I’ll get back to you next week” moment either. There’s much to do and you’re running out of time because you sat on your duff in that bar so long trying to get out of it. Just pray and stay open to your calling. You’ll know it. Then, brave heart, this is your moment! GO!

Wait…maybe lose the war paint. You don’t want to scare the crap out of people. They have enough to deal with.

Never Forget Girl – You ARE A Warrior!

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

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

Certainly I have grown immensely over the past twenty+ years. I have gained 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 possibly have overcome what I have without the strength, tenderness, and guidance of God 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 wondered in the desert for fifty years. But, this last twenty years of working to fulfill a life of meaning and purpose tells me now that everything in God’s planning is just as it should be. I am awestruck at how far I have actually come in these most recent years! Truth be told, even in the midst of 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 God has given me a heart for. I want you to know that among all your attributes you are a warrior; a superhero, 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. And to add insult to injury the French loved her! 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 to prove 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 most 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 details (to ad nauseam really) four of those wounds and said each of them alone would have been fatal. All this to say that God truly was with Joan and guided her from the moment of her calling at the age of thirteen until her death.

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

                                                           Our granddaughter’s warriorness on display!

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

Now what?

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

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

So many of us spend our entire lives dreaming of what’s possible, at the same time shaking in fear of what we might become if we let down our guard and welcomed the discovery of some unmet potential that we could never have imagined. To protect our fragileness we label those who excel “genius”. “Yeah, she’s smart while I barely got through high school. She’s prettier while I could be Anne Ramsey’s stunt double!” 

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 would have approached me any time prior to the start of 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:

  • This is where it all started: Call it baptism by fire! My first AHA moment came when I worked for Youth in Need. I had an “I’m the boss” attitude until a little 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 very difficult 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 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 reflecting God’s love promise. A promise made to me in spite of all my sin and brokenness. A promise 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 and if he would calm down, take a 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 a multitude of rejections, even got a little award from a Writing Guild no one 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. If you think I had a hard time getting any Priest to welcome me into the good-ole-boys-secret-hand-shake club, you’d be right. 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 go volunteer somewhere. After all, I was already beyond the age of retirement, so why not? Remembering what a beautiful experience we had with Hospice when my dad was dying, I started working with them. During that time I learned a lot about the dying process. That 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 a process that is almost palpable. It was truly holy ground and I always felt sitting vigil with the dying was a privilege that blessed me to the depth of my very soul. 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 would have 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. Most of them I didn’t tell my Supervisor about 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 ear plugs 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 be able 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. I know that each step has built upon another to bring me to this place. It may not have seemed to make sense at the time. I may have spent too much time trying to repackage God’s perfect plan to fit my expectations, fixating on my own plans. But, at the end of the day, I know I am exactly where God wants me and I know he does not waste time.

So, now what?

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

An ancient Hindu saying

 

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

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

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

They are:

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

I can relate to all of these aspects that have continually reinforced God’s plan for my life, but I would add one more: Trust. If we cling to our fears we will stay stuck in our emptiness. You have to 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 then, the more I submitted to him and experienced the changes in my heart, 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. I still need to 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 which would probably not be the newest iPhone. What are you passionate about? What breaks your heart? What gives you joy? (Again, please say it’s not a new iPhone.)

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

Howard Thurman

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

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

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

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

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

So, here are a few thought provoking questions for you. I’m sure you could come up with more. 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?

 

You are NOT Going to Heaven

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

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

So let’s continue.

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

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

Heaven This is not heaven!

fire And this is not hell!

Diana Butler Bass speaks of this idea of heaven and hell as “vertical faith”. She says:

“Sacred traditions replete with metaphors of God in the elements were replaced by modern theological arguments – about facts and religious texts, correct doctrine, creation versus science, the need to prove God’s existence, how to be saved, and which church offers the right way to heaven. These are the questions of vertical faith.” (Did you catch that –  metaphor was replaced with fact?)

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

We are very good at compartmentalizing everything in our lives. Nice people who are low-maintenance  get to be a part of our club. Unpredictable, moody, or disagreeable people don’t get to join. We easily converse with those who agree with us and avoid or argue with those who don’t. We “attend” church on Sundays and then divide up the rest of the week into unrelated “things”. We even compartmentalize life and death. We separate the two with the certainty that there is no connection (Mufasa would not approve!).

circle of life

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

Anyway…

Considering how we keep everything in our lives separated into neat tidy boxes that we can easily manage, like peas and applesauce on our dinner plate, (yuck, don’t want those to touch each other) it’s no surprise how easily we accepted God’s separation from us as well. We can’t fathom the thought of God being right here in our midst looking for any soft entry into our walled up hearts. If we could just stop for one minute, let down our guard, and imagine how different; how rich and full our lives would be if we let Him in.

Try as we may to ignore it we all have an emptiness that God placed in our hearts that can only be filled by Him and not with things of this world. Augustine said it best: “Lord, you have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”  I think, as I found in my own life, it requires us to admit our need for God; to truly see how our lives are empty of purpose and meaning without Him; that He has not left us to fend for ourselves.

How about this uplifting thought: Gian Carlo Menotti tells us, “Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do.” Wait now, this is actually good news. If hell is here now, and we somehow figure out what our true purpose is then we have a chance to correct our pathetic, despicable, pitiful selves before we drop dead. That is Good News, right?!

oh-crap-was-that-today

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

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

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

olive oil sleep walking

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

So, what changed for me? It certainly wasn’t that God changed His ways. No, I had changed and it wasn’t because I was growing in knowledge about God. It was because I opened myself to a relationship with Him that allowed me to experience who God really was, not who I created Him to be. Knowing about God and experiencing Him is the critical difference necessary to live as fully as we are called to live, and to trust what lies ahead. God tells us in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” We can choose to believe what we have long been told about a God whose wrath is to be feared, or we can choose to experience the God of immeasurable love and compassion.

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

Listen to these prophetic words of Father Richard Rohr:

“When hell became falsely read as a geographical place, it stopped its decisive and descriptive function, and instead became the largely useless threats of exasperated church parents. We made (heaven and hell) into physical places instead of descriptions of states of mind and heart and calls to decisions in this world (emphasis mine). We pushed the whole thing off into the future, and took it out of the now.

Jesus clearly says the kingdom of heaven is among us (Luke 17:21) or “at hand” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). One wonders why we made it into a reward system for later, or as Brian McLaren calls it, “an evacuation plan for the next world.” Maybe it was easier to obey laws and practice rituals for later than to actually be transformed now.”

A bit more on the reality of hell by Joanne M. Pierce in Sojourners Magazine (italics mine):

“Pope Francis said, ‘Hell is wanting to be distant from God because I do not want God’s love. This is hell.’ Most contemporary theologians would agree with the pope. Hell is not about fire and brimstone; it is about our freedom to say no to God, our freedom to reject love and choose loneliness. When we close our hearts and tell the world to go to hell, we are in fact choosing hell for ourselves. Hell is the absence of love, companionship, communion. We are not sent there; we choose it. God did not create hell; we did.”

When I write a blog post there is always an AHA moment involved. Sometimes it’s what prompts the post, and other times, like now, it comes in the process of writing. It’s like getting my proverbial thump from you-know-Who that causes me to stop and listen closely knowing I am about to be inspired. It happened this morning as I was sitting in silence. Okay, actually I was whining to God. I had a particularly bad couple of days and sleepless nights. I beat myself up so much I thought there would be obvious bruising when I got up this morning.

What I read was in the Gospel of Thomas. Yes, there really was one, but he didn’t make the cut. Neither did Mary Magdalene but don’t get me started on that one! So, Thomas writes, “Jesus said, “Seekers shall not stop until they find.  When they find, they will be disturbed. After being disturbed, they will be astonished (my emphasis). Then they will reign over everything.” Now, hold that thought a minute. The scripture verse we are most familiar with is similar, but clearly less challenging, it is Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Our shallow, non-threatening translation? Just ask and you’ll get whatever your little heart desires. This reads like a Christmas wish list: Apple AirPods? Done. Captain Marvel Legacy Hero Smartwatch? It’s yours. Chanel’s Quilted Tote bag? Because Lindsay Lohan!? Whatever. Here you go.

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

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

I also read Micah 6:6-9 this morning which tells us what God wants from us. In verses 6-7, these two stupid rich guys were trying to gather up all the best they had to appease God and buy their way into heaven. Somebody even threw in a first born child for good measure. But, God rejects their attempts to buy His favor. God, “Nope, I don’t want your stuff, I want you.”

“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Let’s look at that last verse again. Read it slowly because it is the very core of who we are called to be as children of God: And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

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

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

Wait for it….

Wait for it…

I have no idea.

But, I will tell you this: I have lived as a sinner/saint (don’t laugh, my mother-in-law thought I was a saint once for about five minutes) and everything in between, in my seventy years. I have lived many years of anger, pain, and bitterness. I have been hurt and I have hurt others. At one point I attempted suicide because the idea of living another moment was too unbearable (clearly I sucked at that too – thank God).

In recent years, I have been blessed to live with the indescribable joy of a rich and full life, even in the messy parts.  A life that encourages giving, serving, and caring for others. That calls us to be in relationship with God and everyone around us – to be Christ to a broken world.  A life that requires forgiveness of others and ourselves. To be totally honest, still today, my virtues and faults are often intermixed on any given day. We humans are complicated, but it’s okay.

I now know that I can show up for life unkempt, messy, disordered, and at times unpleasant because I am a beloved sinner. I know I serve a God of mercy and unconditional love so I am not afraid to humble myself before Him and I am not afraid of what lies beyond this life.

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

You always have another chance to get life right. To erase regrets, to heal broken relationships, to seek forgiveness, to serve others, and to be all you were created and gifted to be! God is your biggest cheerleader (don’t try to visualize that!).

And, dear ones, this is not something you want to put off till Monday, like that diet!

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

 

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

Love,

Linda

A Holy Mess in Holy Week

Jesus came to earth as a human being just like you and me (we seem to have a hard time believing that). He had a special purpose to fulfill, just like you and me (we can’t seem to believe that either).

God wanted him to show us by his life, death, and resurrection, how deeply and passionately we are loved; how much he longs to bless us; how we should care for and be blessings to others (those truths also seem to have been lost to us on our often broken journey).

Jesus fulfilled his purpose even though he knew he was making a lot of “important” people angry. So angry they would kill him. I’m pretty sure no one wants to kill us for striving to be all God created us to be (though that is not the case for many Christians in other countries). So, we have to come up with a different excuse – and we do: I’m not smart enough, I’m busy, I don’t think that applies to me. I need to straighten up my messy life and my underwear drawer first…wha-wha-wha…

Daily, Jesus had to decide if he would keep doing what he came here to do. And just before they came to take him away, scripture tells us that he was in agony praying that God would just make it go away (Luke 22:39-46). After all, the human side of him did not want to suffer. But, in the end, he accepted whatever God’s will was. Just think about how that turned out!

We are now in Holy Week – when we remember Jesus’ suffering, death and his glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday – which we celebrate because we are reminded of how much God loves us! This is the moment in time when the disciples came out of hiding; when their fears and doubts fell away, and they tripped all over each other to get busy preaching and teaching and glorifying God. Skipping happily to their own deaths (except for John).

Jesus could have made a different choice. He could have said “no” to God. The disciples could have stayed in hiding. What about you?

hiding

God tells you in scripture that he made you and had special plans for you before you were even born. He gave everyone gifts and talents and at the same time made each person unique and special. (Jeremiah 29:11)

charlie brown1

Sure, you may doubt yourself. You may not want to risk using gifts that you think others will make fun of or criticize. But, if you trust that God gave you those gifts, then you must believe that he has already given you everything you need to use them. Not doing that would be sort of like gifting you with a new car and not giving you the keys wouldn’t it?

So…what do you say? There is no better time than this moment to reflect prayerfully on what your life’s purpose is, if you haven’t already. Sit quietly with God and just ask him to help you consider:

  • How are you unique?
  • Do you know what your gifts are? Let’s think about that…
    • 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? What are you passionate about? (These can be thoughts that can lead to discovery of gifts)
    • Has someone else told you that you are good at something?

God is waiting for each of us to step out of our comfort zone; to come out of hiding, and serve this broken world.

During this Holy Week, perhaps for the first time, deeply contemplate Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in light of your own life; your own purpose. Is this your resurrection moment? Is it time for your “yes”?

2 Corinthians 5:17 proclaims that you are a new creation in Christ each new day, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

Also, and very importantly, when you’re considering your gifts and how you are called to use them try not to get all full of yourself in the process – okay? It would be easy to do, but, dear heart, this isn’t about you!

Always keep Jesus’ example in the forefront of all you do:

Why did God send Jesus here?

It wasn’t to flex His muscles – although he could have. He could have taken his anger out on our sinfulness and rejection and wiped us all out. He did it before you know…

No, it was to show us in the most powerful way he could how deep his love is for us, and in particular, those who suffer.

It wasn’t to gather groupies who would idolize him, serve him, and cater to his every whim – although, that would have been easier. All he had to do was eliminate free-will. But our free-will to love him – or not – was too important to him. Even though that very will nailed his Son to the cross.

No, it was to model meekness, humility, and service to those most in need. 

It wasn’t to puff out his chest and boast of his great might – although he had plenty to boast about. No one, no matter what pedestal we set them on, or place of honor we bestow on them – ourselves included – no one should brag or exult themselves (though we often try).

No, his extravagant love was manifested through his beloved Son, not puffed up and boastful, but rejected and slumped over on a cross.

Now, go on – what are you waiting for? Sure, God knows, you’re a hot mess – so what?

set the world on fire

 

You Were Made For Such a Time as This

Originally posted on February 26, 2012

esther

Esther ROCKS! – plain and simple.

Esther was the joy of her cousin, Mordecai, who raised her. She was a beautiful Jewish girl who became the wife of King Ahasuerus, after he defrocked, dethroned, and de-vorced Queen Vashti, for refusing to obey him. Big mistake Love!

When the king went searching for a replacement, he chose the meek (not really, as we will see) and lovely Esther. In Esther’s day women were literally to be seen and not heard. No doubt she was reminded of Vashti’s fate as the crown was placed on her head. Even as Ahasuerus’ wife there was no exception to the rule everyone else had to follow. There would be no, “Hi honey how was your day?” conversations over tea. She was required to request an audience with him in advance, or risk death.

Everything was going well until one day Mordecai refused to bow to Haman who was elevated to the highest position under the king. Haman got a big head (men!) and required everyone to bow to him (except the king I suppose). In his wrath he became hell-bent on wiping out the entire Jewish population. And the king, albeit unwittingly, signed a death warrant for all Jews and made it official. (An important note here: Esther and her cousin failed to mention to the king that she was Jewish – oops.)

Mordecai sent a message to Esther hoping she would go to the king to save her people. She reminded him of the king’s decree that no one was permitted to approach him without advanced authorization. Doing so would surely result in her death. To which Mordecai replied, “…who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this”? And her reply? (You gotta love it!) First, she asked everyone to fast and pray for three days. And then she said, matter-of-factly, “And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish”! (4:15-16) Meek huh? Not so much!

Do you know what makes Esther’s story really incredible? There is no mention of God – anywhere! God came to Abraham in a vision, to Jacob in a dream, to Moses in a bush. There are countless “God sightings” in the Old Testament – but nothing for Esther, at least nothing visible. She had no idea if her story would end there. But that didn’t stop her. Do you know why? I would suggest to you that it is no different today for us. When was the last time you stood before a talking bush? I didn’t think so – me either.

I’m supposing Esther did, on a regular basis, what we should all be doing, she fasted and prayed. And from that simple devotion she had to know, deep down in her heart, that it was what she was “called” to do even though God remained mysteriously hidden.

I will tell you that God’s call to me to write my book was as clear as anything spoken to me. I would never have dreamt that up myself. Never! Most of the time His voice is not so audible though, but I still know. Deep down I know it is what I am supposed to be doing, and I know God is behind it.

And this is the point I am trying to get to. God has a plan for your life. A plan that goes far beyond what you could ever imagine. My book is full of God stories; of tentative “yeses” – waiting for more clarification “maybe’s” – and out-and-out Jonah sized, “No way’s”!

It’s those pesky “no’s” that stop God in His tracks. It’s too bad too because I often imagine I miss out on a lot of blessings and grace-filled moments when I sit on my fears. Then God says to me, “That’s fine Linda, I’ll get someone else to do it. But this is a gift I have given you since before you were born, and, guess what young lady? I am going ask you for an accounting when I see you.” Oops….

So, tell me…

  • Do you know what gifts God has given you?
  • Are you now using those gifts for Him?
  • If not, why not?
  • Have you ever even thought about it? If not, that’s the place to begin.

Keep in mind that “God does not call the equipped; he equips the called.”

If the world has told you that you are nothing special, I am telling you that’s a LIE! I don’t care what your life has been like. I don’t care how mundane your life is or how many times you have sinned and fallen short, God’s plan for you has not changed and never will! He will not take back your gifts, but he will be sorely disappointed if you waste them. Actually,more than disappointed, according to Gian Carlo Menotti:

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.

Let me give you one short version of an example (the full version is in the book). I graduated from high school and was nine credit hours short of an Associate’s Degree (major point) when God came calling. “Guess what Linda? I am giving you an opportunity to go to graduate school for theology! Are you SO excited?!” Excited wasn’t the word I chose. It was more like, “Have you lost your mind”?! Here’s where I leave you in suspense…

But, let me say this in conclusion. Fear has no teeth when we put our trust in God – and I don’t mean when we know the outcome. Yet we function so poorly on trust alone! Instead, we dig in our heels and refuse to budge. If we don’t know for sure what’s happening around the corner, we just stay put! Fear denies us the fullness of life that God has promised.

So what are you waiting for?…

First and foremost, get on your knees and face your fears, because it’s from that place where God can do his mighty work in and through you. Then, look for workshops, conferences, or presentations that focus on discovering your gifts. Go back to church if you have drifted away. Get a mentor or join a prayer group or Bible study group.

Jeremiah 29:11 says, “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.” As you lay this desire before God he will in turn give you what you need to fulfill His plans for your life.

But be forewarned…

Be prepared for awe and wonder like you could never have imagined! So, what the heck – if you perish, you perish! Come on, don’t let that stop you! Wouldn’t you rather go that way than be run over by a bus or dropped off a cliff?

Now go…