The Introverted Christian

Introvert: a quiet, contemplative person who prefers solitude to socializing, who enjoys time spent in thought, who tends to express themselves better after careful consideration, who prefers work in isolation to working in groups.   And to think, that half the world’s population is in this category of people.  Isn’t it time the Church started to see that some Christians are introverted as well?  And that these introverted Christians are going to exhibit introverted characteristics in the ways in which they interact with both believers and non-believers?   Particularly in relation to witnessing and sharing the gospel.  Particularly in the ways in which they proclaim the truths of their faith.  Or as those outside the faith see it, in their proselytizing?

I believe in sharing my story.  And my story is one of faith realized, hope found, chains broken.  It is a good news story, if there ever was one.  And I love to tell my story.  I weave it through carefully chosen words in blog posts.  I speak it in conversations, in dialogue.  I write it down on both virtual and tactile spaces, preserving my story for my children.  My children’s children.

My story is of grace and redemption and love.  It is the story of Love come to life, through timeless words found in ancient manuscripts.  And I believe the truth found therein.  Those words have set me free.  And I will tell anyone who asks me for a reason for my faith in God, in Jesus and in His Spirit here within my soul.  And my belief why these Three matter to the world without.  Outside my own personal views and relationship to God.  I hold to these Three as the anchor for my existence.  And I believe.

Yes, I believe.

But for years, I was paralyzed by fear.  I was under the assumption and the erroneous conviction that the only way to share my faith was through vocal  proselytizing.  And I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t share my faith in that way.  It felt too phony.  It wasn’t me.  And so I kept my faith quiet.  Just like I was quiet too.

My faith in the God of the Bible was introverted.  It was quiet.

And while I appeared to be living my life out loud, pretending as I was that I was a true extrovert, a social butterfly.  Inside, I knew the difference.  I was an introvert by personality.  I was a person who needed to withdraw to replenish.  And I beat myself up for not being more extroverted, more forward.  And even more so, I persecuted myself for not doing what the Church said was the right thing to do: publicly state my faith in a very forward, almost aggressive way.  Boldly proclaiming that I was not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.

But I was ashamed.  I wasn’t comfortable with that approach.  And for years, I silenced the words that were my story.  And it has only been in recent times that I have found the courage to share, from my introverted place of safety and comfort, behind the screen, the words that say it all.

This is my story.  I was lost, but now I’m found.  I was sick, but I’ve been healed.  I was broken, but now I’m whole.  I was dead, but now I am alive.

I am just an ordinary, introverted girl.  Afraid to say things out loud at times, but empowered by His Voice spoken through my written word, I am able to boldly go forward.  Brave, unafraid.

This is my story, this is my song.  And now that I’ve started, I’ll sing of His love.   His mercy, compassion and forgiveness.  His beauty, his tenderness, his joy.  I’ll sing of it.

Forever.

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Five year old conversations…

Recess:

Little Girl: “I lost my tooth, Mrs. Gard!!!”

Me: “Well, let’s put it here in your coat pocket.”

Lunch:

Little Girl (sad face, on her hands and knees searching under the desk): “I lost my tooth, Mrs. Gard.”

Me: “You lost your tooth, and now you’ve gone and lost your tooth?

Afternoon:

Little Girl (muttering to herself): “Oh man.  My mother is going to be so mad when she finds out I’ve lost my tooth.  What’s she going to think?  What’s she going to say…?  She’ll say, ’Oh ____, you lost your tooth…where is it?’, and I am going to have to tell her, ‘I don’t know where it is, Mom’.”

End of the Day:

Me:  If I find your tooth, I’ll save it and give it to you on Tuesday, kay?”

Little Girl: “Okay!!!!  (then, contemplatively, she says, as if deciding I might need some description so as to narrow things down) “Okay,  well…it’s WHITE….and it’s a little dirty.”

#fiveyearolddialogueisthebest

Just as I am…

I’ve been here before: in that place where darkness settles overhead, hovering in ominous, cloud-like presence.  Feeling the weight of it all.  Wondering if I will ever be free from the burden of guilt, the oppression.

Guilt.  It covers.  Blinds.  Leaves me groping in the dark for some comforting safe harbor.  That is the burden of blame.  It mocks the soul.  Telling the spirit it is unworthy, unfit.  Speaking lies to the heart.  Keeping the seeker from finding refuge.  From finding hope.

All in the name of holiness.  Righteousness.  Godliness.

And sometimes this heavy weight is not solely of my own making: it comes honestly, partially by the hands and feet of other well-meaning truth-seekers.   Or are their hurtful comments really well-meaning?   I see the fingers pointing.  I see the backward glances, the self-righteous ‘looking-down-the-nose’ at me.  The stares, the condescending glares.  And not at me only…I am outwardly one of the good ones.  What of those who are not so stereotypically religious in lifestyle?  Are they treated with more disdain than even this?

I have to put it out there.   “What makes some Christians think they are so much better?”

We Christians put words in God’s mouth sometimes, unwisely thinking we speak the truth to those who are at our listening mercy.  We spout our agenda: that God wants us to come to Him, but in squeaky clean condition.  He cannot look upon sin. And we tell people, “Come! (But don’t be dirty…change first: this is a Black Tie Event!)”   And it is as if being a Christian means being hoity-toity.  Because anyone can come, so long as they are patched up first.  In tip-top condition.   That anyone can come, so long as they first be purified.  That anyone can come, but clothed in good deeds.  That anyone can come, so long as they are found presentable.

But Jesus just says to come.  Just as we are.  Whatever we are.  Whoever we are.  And that simply means in our natural state, whatever that might be: uninterested, disengaged, disillusioned, disenchanted.  Frustrated, fed-up, feeling hopeless.  Angry, jaded, washed up.  Hurt.  Stressed-out.  Strung-out.

That means users, alkies, druggies, convicts.  They can come.  Just as they are.  That means heterosexual and homosexual.  Come.  Just as you are.  You don’t come to Jesus fixed up.  You simply come.  It is not our job to fix people up for Jesus, making them clean enough for the church.  If we are good enough for Jesus, we are more than good enough for the church.

Jesus just wants people to come.  Broken, messed-up, just as they are.  Come.

This is that old hymn with those timeless words:  Just as I am, without one plea, But that Thy blood was shed for me, And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come!  I come!  Just as I am, and waiting not, To rid my soul of one dark blot; To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come, I come! Just as I am, though tossed about, With many a conflict, many a doubt; Fightings within, and fears without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!  Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; Sight, riches, healing of the mind; Yes, all I need, in Thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come, I come! Just as I am, Thou wilt receive, Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; Because Thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come! Just as I am, Thy love unknown Has broken every barrier down;  Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

And I cannot help but wonder, do we believe these words?  That God welcomes us, just as we are? Just as we are, He will welcome us?  With open, outstretched arms? Unwashed?  Unclean? We don’t have to be perfect first?  Can it be?

He will.  And yes, He does.  He wants us, indeed He loves us.  Just as we are.

If God is love…

If God is love, why do Christians think He is unhappy with them so much of the time?

I am sitting across from a lovely girlfriend.  A dear friend.  Who also happens to be a Christian and who knows the hidden dangers and obstacles, blessings and joys that this chosen life entails.  And we are hard at it, talking about that stuff which really matters.  God.  Church.  Family.  Struggles.  Pain.  Hurt.

And as we share, she confides in me that she thinks God is judging her.  And she proceeds to tell me why.  And I think to myself, “If God is love, why do we (conservative or not so much…) Christians always come back to this place?  That God is angry with us for doing/saying/omitting  x,y, and z?  And thus, He is judging us.  Why is that?  That we think every wrong turn in our lives warrants judgment?  That life is about attaining holiness more than it is about exuding grace?  About judgement than it is about kindness?   That the wrong in our lives trumps the right?  That life is about guilt rather than celebrating victory?

That love is conditional?  That our life is about love plus something, or else it is wrong…?

Why?  Why is this so?

I walk, days later, through snow on a Sunday afternoon, and I think about how so much of my life has been consumed with feelings of guilt, with feeling bad and inadequate.  Feeling that I am not good enough.  And I think how no preacher has ever had to tell me how to feel guilty.  Sinful.  Wrong.  That all came naturally to me.   Like breathing in cold, frosty air, only to then exhale that same heat from that same hidden place.   As natural as breathing.

Oh,  I know how it is to feel less than.  I know what it is to fall short.  To sin.  And think that God is out to get me for it.  No one has to tell me how to feel bad.

I just want someone to teach me, to show me how to feel loved.  What does love mean?  Is it this?  Love as by a Father.  As by a Daddy- Father.  A Papa.   Whose love is unconditional and endless and full of perfect acceptance.  No matter what.  Who is forgiving.  Full of grace and mercy.  Who isn’t holding out past wrongs over my head like a banner.  Who knows my heart and its desire to please and seek the right.  The good.  Who loves me anyway.  And loves me more.

Love.  I think it is this very thing.  And I want to know more of that God who loves.  And I think there might be other Christians out there who echo the same.

Because truth be told, I don’t think we really understand God’s capacity for love.  It is His defining feature.  He is LOVE.  He is love in every other aspect of his character.  And He can do nothing but love.  And Christians need never feel that God  sees them in any other light than through His precious, encompassing, all-surrounding loving kindness.

He loves us with a wild and fearless love which we will never fully come to understand.  He loves.  With love as an ideal Daddy loves His children.  With love… as a Farmer loves his crop and animals.  With love, as an Entrepreneur loves his work.  As a Mother loves her babies.  With love.  As a Father loved His Son.

And it is that LOVE that holds us.  That will not let us go.  And it is that LOVE that saves us from believing any longer, that we are sinful, less thans.  We are able to accept it, this love.  Because it is for us to have.  This freedom-love.  Love,  enabling us to believe we are able.  We are worthwhile.  We are beautiful.  We are valuable.  We are more than just sinners.  We are children of a Father who LOVES US.  It is His Daddy- love that makes us so.   Beloved children.

And I will no longer let my feelings tell me otherwise.

He loves me.  Jesus loves me.  Yes, He certainly does.

Love wins!!!

I guess you could say that Florida is in the Bible belt.   And for sure you could say that I am in the middle of a Christian retirement community, as I am travelling with my parents.  (And they are attending a Christian conference at a mid-sized Christian conference and Resort Center here in north-western Florida.)  So I guess you could say that nothing really should surprise me.  I AM in the Bible belt, right?  What you see is what you get.

But something did surprise me today.  And it just about took the wind out from beneath my sails.

I had set out for a mid-morning walk around the grounds.  Actually, I was on my way to the pool.  And I decided to take the scenic route through the residential area in which we are staying.  The houses were small and quaint and most had palm trees out front, which I admired.  There were some pretty flowers, and I guess you could say I was in la-la land for the most part.  Brain on cruise control.  (I am on vacay, peeps!) So, I was coming up to some houses, one of which had a fairly large sign affixed to the front, which made me mildly curious. And I turned to read the sign.  And here’s what I read:

“…be sure your sin will find you out.”

That’s right.  Be sure your sin will find you out.  (And….’have a nice day why don’tcha, while you’re at it’.)

I am going to have to apologize in advance for this post.  Because I am so very, very wrought with feeling and emotion right now.  And I feel COMPELLED to write the deepest, most secret feelings I have within my being.  About God.  About church.  About Christians.  About Christianity.

Because like it or lump it.  Christians have failed me.  Have failed US.  The church…the body of believers that represent the Bible and Christ and Christianity…have failed. And miserably.

And I want to start this essay with an apology:

For anyone who has ever read a sign such as I did this morning, I want to offer you love for hate, healing for disappointment and hope for despair.  Because the Jesus I know would never let those words be the first impression He would leave with you.  The Jesus I know is not like that.

For anyone who has ever been hurt by the spiteful, angry words of an ill-meaning Christian, I apologize.  I offer up my own heart to truly say, from its very depths, that that is not what a Christian is meant to be.

For anyone who has ever thought that Christianity is about rules over freedom, hate over love, disappointment over joy, turmoil over peace, negativity over positivity.  I offer myself as the FACE of that apology.  I am sorry for what other Christians have done to you in the name of the Bible.  In the name of Jesus.

For we have been a disgrace to the beauty of Jesus’ precious name. And I am truly sorry for the hurt, the pain, the misery that has been heaped upon you in the name of what is RIGHT and TRUE.

For.    And this is a BIGGIE.   There go I, but for the GRACE, and the MERCY, and the COMPASSION, and the FORGIVENESS, and the endless, limitless LOVE of God.  There go I.  Pointing fingers.  There go I.  Calling names.  There go I.  Pointing out faults.  There go I.  Thinking I am better.  There go I.  Thinking I am worthy because of my faith.   There go I.  Thinking that anything I could EVER do on my own would ever be enough.  There go I.  Telling you what an awful, horrible sinner you are. There go I.  But for the grace of God.  And it is His grace that has shown me that this is NOT what my job as a Christian is.  To point out the faults of others.  I’ve got enough on my plate, thank-you very much, to be worried about you and all you’ve got going on.  My life is far from perfect.  But that’s okay.  Because I am a beautiful, messy work in process.  And God never asked me to be my fellow brother or sister’s keeper.

Pointing fingers at others is not the job of a Christian, people.  I have four pointing back at me, and that’s enough to keep me pretty, darn busy.

So again, I’ll say it.  From my heart and soul, I am sorry if I have ever hurt you with ill-advised words of counsel.  I want to be a different kind of Christian than all that jazz.  That crazy stuff is not for me.

And this much more…I know what it feels like to be hurt by the church.  I know what it feels like to resent the church.  I know what it is to feel wounded by the church.   To be hurt by that body of believers who call themselves the Church.  And, but for the Love of God, His Compassion and Mercy, I would still be in that miserable mess of thinking I am not enough.  Not worthy.

That is not Christianity, folks.  And if it is, then it is a gigantic FAIL.

Because the Jesus I know cannot often be recognized in the face of our present-day Church.  How very sad.  Because we cannot truly understand who we are until we understand who Jesus is, for our encounter with him, this “faceless” figure, defines what it means to be human.(excerpt from Has Christianity Failed You?, Ravi Zacharias)

This, my friend is Jesus:

No one was half so compassionate…, yet no one spoke such red-hot, scorching words….A bruised reed he would not break.  His whole life was LOVE, yet on one occasion he demanded of the Pharisees how they ever expected to escape the damnation of hell.  He was a dreamer of dreams and a seer of visions, yet for sheer stark realism he has all of our self-styled realists soundly beaten.  He was a servant of all, washing the disciples’ feet, yet masterfully he strode into the temple, and the hucksters and moneychangers fell over one another from the mad rush and the fire they saw blazing in his eyes.

He saved others, yet at the last, himself he did not save.  There is nothing in history like the union of contrasts that confront us in the gospels.  The mystery of Jesus is the mystery of divine personality. (excerpt from “Has Christianity Failed You?”, Ravi Zacharias)

And yet.  In all of this, the Jesus I know, that same Jesus intimately knows just what a breaking heart needs, knows what hurt and pain can do to a soul.  Knows what a mess we all are in without the endless, limitless LOVE of the Father.

And Jesus’ message was one of LOVE.  Love trumps everything.  EVERYTHING!!!!  Love wins, folks.  Period.

For God is love.  And if we cannot feel the love of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, what compels us to faith?  To grace?  What is the point?  Why believe?  There are better things out there, better institutions, better clubs to which one can cling or join than the alternative, those that spout messages of condemnation and hate.

But for God’s love, for His healing touch, the balm that soothes the soul after sorrow upon sorrow.  And believe you me, I have had my fair share of hurt and pain at the hand of those who call themselves Christ followers, I again say it:

Forgive us.  I pray we know not what we do.  And in the name of Jesus, let this humble, messed-up example of a Christian, let ME…with the grace of God and through His mercy and tender love, show you.  There is another kind of Christian  out there than what you’ve known.  Than what you’ve experienced.

And for now.  Indeed, for always.  Abide for me and for you, these three: FAITH, HOPE and LOVE.  And as God has loved me, so do I with God’s grace, want to deeply love others too.  And to ever let my life song sing this song of hope and love.  From the depth of my being.

Love wins.

Life at the end of the line…

My sneakers, Their shoes, all echo in the empty corridors as we walk the mile.  Take the elevator.  Ride the lift.  We see her then, slumped over on her tray and sleeping.  Her wordless daughter sitting next to her in the bulky wheel chair.  Neither indicating so much as a wave, by way of recognition as we approach.

“Hello Grammie,” I whisper.  Then louder, “Grammie, it’s Lori.”

Nothing.  She is figuratively dead to the world, locked in a dreamless sleep.

My Aunt watches us through dark sunglasses, twisted fingers ever pinching and pulling at her bothersome eye.  She winces as I place my hand on her shoulder. There is something there that still causes her pain, even after all these years.

My mind goes back to another time, another place.  When she was young and beautiful and life was full of promises.    And all these, these promises.    Abrupted by a man driving a truck with a snow plow attached one stormy evening.  Leaving her here, in this place.   In this desolate, helpless place.

I survey the others watching me carefully.  One looks to have literally gone through the war.  There are parts of her face missing, a huge patch over her eye.  I conjure up images of a war, the Korean war coming first to mind.  I don’t know why.  Others have empty listless expressions. Staring off into space, or staring right through me.  All looking lonely, lost and forgotten.  Waiting for the time to come when this room and these sad faces will all be but a distant memory.

Waiting for forever to start.

And I wonder how many stories, like my Aunt’s there are here in this room.  How much heartache, how much sadness?  How many have truly lived their life without regret?  And if so, why this place?  This now? This reality?  This forsaken place, their final destiny?

Was their life wonderful?  Was it all it was meant to be?  Was it full and beautiful?  Was it lived to the limit? Passionate?   Was it lived by faith through a careful recognition of their fragile humanity?  Did their life example Grace?  Mercy?  Compassion?  Did they live the life they were made for?

And it gives me pause to consider that life is about three parts which make the whole: the past, the present and it is about the future.

The past…was it painful?  Pleasant?

Have painful memories of the past scarred, leaving behind wounds that never healed over?  Marked by hurtful words, broken promises.  We can let them beat us.  Those unrealistic expectations others had for us.  The bar raised always just above our head.  We could let all these take us down. Knock the wind out of us.   We could let them win over our own relentless passion.  Our constant search for something more.

We could let pain own us. Or not.   I won’t live my life like that.  And I will fight to the end for what I believe is the better way.

We could continue running ourselves ragged, wearing out to the bone.  We could let the programs, the committees, the constant running in circles take its toll.  We could just keep this frantic pace, never stopping for a breath.  To smell the roses, to touch the grass, to feel the coldness of an icicle.  We could forget what it feels like to be real, honest, vulnerable.  We could live anywhere but in the here and now.

We could always be looking toward the future.  To what lies next around the bend, to tomorrow.  To what we will do or see or say or feel.  To the promise of a brighter day, of greener grass over the fence.  To the hope that life will not be the drudgery of the relentless here and now.  We could live for tomorrow.

But what does that bring?  One is never fully in the present when they allow the past and future to be the stronger influence.  Life is too short to let days slip away unnoticed.  The past is gone and the future lies ahead, less enticing than it seems.  All we have for sure, all we really know is today.

I kiss her softly on the forehead, tell her I love her.  Then walk away while feeling the urge to pause, look back one more time.  There are no words to use when describing heartache.  No words to properly explain how something beautiful has been broken.  Some things are better left unspoken.  And better understood through accepting childlike faith.

And some life experiences are better understood when they are viewed through the lens of perspective.  Because there is always an exception to the rule that interrupts the melancholy of the here and now.  And there is always a way out.  Because this is not the end of the road for her nor is it for them.  There is eternity awaiting.

And some sweet day, there will be dancing in those feet again.

Ya’ll come back, now. Ya hear?

My baby turned six today. Happy birthday, M.A. You bundle of energy, you ball of fire. You, my own little spitfire. I love you to the moon and back.

Who would’ve ever thought we would get this far, intact. Intact being the key word here, and don’t think I don’t mean it. Intact, with most of my sanity still hovering at even-keel. My gray roots still clinging to the scalp for dear life. Holding out for a brighter color wash tomorrow. If I am lucky.

Grey roots are so optimistic.

What I know for sure is this. What is going to happen tomorrow is NOT that color wash: instead, I am going to get up at the crack of…actually, make that get up in the dark. (darn time change) I am going to rush around like a chicken with its head cut off until it is time to load the Gard bus/mini-van. I am going to burst headlong into the school, second last to arrive. Yes, sadly arriving nearly last and only before the Grade1/2A teacher pulls in and parks beside me, at our usual spot… next to the ditch. (I can tease her…she’s not on Facebook. HA!)

Then, I will greet the various students who are gathered at the front doors, and eventually make my way to my classroom, which will be half-organized because I was at the school the night before past ten o’clock. Then, I will have first and second recess outside duty, I will have afternoon centers/mad mayhem, and I will help load the precious little students on the bus so they can go home to their families. If only for the better part of an hour. (more on that later)

And if I am lucky. I will have pulled out in my Gard bus/minivan with my own three children in tow before the school buses leave the school parking lot. And all this so that I can pick up Son up at his school for a three o’clock dentist appointment. After which, I will indeed head to the beauty parlor. But I will sadly, as I mentioned above, not have time to cover those blasted roots. Instead I will comfort myself with freshly plucked and shaped eyebrows. This is what I call a good time.

While I am lying horizontal on the esthetician’s bed, my darling children will be somewhere, talking to someone and doing something over which I will have no control. Because I will be lying prostrate in a very compromising position, and I will also be in no position to get up. That’s what getting my eyebrows shaped really does for me: it gives me the great satisfaction of thinking that I am totally off the hook for the well-being of my three girls for those five minutes.

“Que sera sera, my generous beauticians.”

“Don’t break anything, lovies.”

I will then leave at exactly 3:15 p.m. for Alberton where I will persuade the bank to entrust me with some American money which I will try not to spend the first five minutes I land in an American mall. I will leave the bank, and head back towards home. Only I will stop before the bend. And that stop will land me directly at the Alberton Baptist Church gym. And I will stop because I have invited 20 children and various adults, (seven children of whom have already spent six hours with me today), to bounce basketballs and scream very loudly in a very ‘sound-inefficient’ gymnasium. And this fun will carry on for, oh say, the next two hours.

In other words, I am planning on having a migraine.

After succoumbing to which, I will head then to the bowling alleys for my eventual and imminent demise. And if I am lucky, someone will roll me down the lane into the gutter. I will be able to take a nap behind the curtain.

And to cap it all off, this fun day ahead, I will come home and finish packing for a trip which I still have yet to finalize the details regarding my return trip back home. Which really means: I have been very interested in Florida real estate lately.

My crazy schedule combined with my sudden interest in the housing market in Florida…coincidence? I think not. I am already looking into a green card. I hear they give them out on St. Paddy’s Day.

(and of course y’all know that I’m kidding. I love that word…y’all. I hope I get to use it in Florida…)