On Fighting in the Family

It’s supper time in our house. As soon as we all come together, it seems the tensions rise. Someone did something to someone else and it just continues to unravel from there. Words fly, accusations are tossed about. Insults become pointed. Sarcasm is certainly the lowest form of wit, Wilde got that right. Everyone thinks their version of the story is the right one, and they are willing to put anyone else on the chopping block so as to maintain face. This is how it sometimes can be when families gather around the table.

And on other nights, I am reminded that civil behaviour is possible. We can show kindness and love. We can be gracious. We can treat one another respectfully. It is possible- there is hope.

Yesterday, I browsed through one of my favorite blogs and was disheartened to find a full-fledged debate about the hot topic of homosexuality and what people believed about such. There were a lot of “I thinks” and verses to sway one side to the other. And on and on it went- one mean-spirited comment after another. I say I was ‘disheartened’ because every time these debates occur, there is in-fighting amongst believers, non-believers and otherwise. And such mean-spiritedness. And hatred. And, ugh…it is all so ugly. It rather reminds me of a family at suppertime fighting about what they believe so strongly to be right- so much so that they would be willing to throw their fellow brother and sister under the bus so as to prove their point.

I am reading a great deal about care these days and one care theorist that I have studied in great depth is Nel Noddings. In her groundbreaking book on caring in schools, she had this to say: “the living other is more important than any theory”. And while I hesitate to include this quote as a blanket-statement, I do think that we often sacrifice the people in our lives for creeds or doctrines we hold as truths. We make adherence to a certain dogma more important than the people we live and work alongside. And while I think there are things we can live and die by- while I believe in truth and holiness and justice and all things good and right, I do not think it is ever worth sacrificing one’s brother or sister- throwing them under the bus to get trampled for the sake of an argument. For the sake of a debate. Debates like these drive wedges deeply between people, Christian or otherwise. As I have watched martyrs for the sake of the Gospel (the Good News of Jesus’ love for us) give their lives for the truths they hold near and dear to their hearts, I cannot help but see in their faces a unity with their brothers and sisters. There is no debating the current topical issues as you stand on the line, your life in the balance at the behest of a terrorist- your fellow brothers and sister in Christ lined up on either side. Clarity and lucidity suddenly comes into full view when the eternal things that really matter are before your eyes.

I love the verses in the Bible that call us to clarity. Verses like Micah 6:8 (NIV):
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[a] with your God.

Ours is not to do the work of the Spirit of the Living God, acting as our brother or sisters conscience. We have enough work to do in our own lives without trying to take on the job of making decisions for someone else. Getting inside their heart and head so as to figure things out- we don’t know their heart. And we never truly will. The heart is a private place that only the individual and the supernatural are given entry to. We can observe, but we can never truly know. We need to stop playing God. We are not God.

We have just celebrated that glorious of Christian holidays: Good Friday leading way to Easter Sunday. We have risen with Christ- we are no longer counted as among the dead. Why do we continue to live like we are counted among the defeated? It is God who has given us life, we are no longer in chains bound by our own pride and arrogance and superiority. We are free to walk humbly with God. And free to trust that God is doing a work in the hearts of women and men that no eye can see nor ear can hear. His work is often in the secret places- He works that way. With a still small voice.

In the secret.

I love this verse as well, and I believe that for Christians such as me- who have known Christ for a good long time, it is an important one for us to remember first and foremost:

Psalm 51:10 (NIV): “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

This verse calls us as people of God to remember- the work that we so desperately feel MUST be done in others lives, really begins in our own hearts. God works personally. He doesn’t call us to look to the left or to the right- to see what our brothers and sisters are doing wrong (like children fighting at a supper table): He calls us to look inside of our own hearts to see if there is anything there that stands between us and the Father.

Finally, I love these verses about how to act toward our brothers and sisters in Christ- or anyone else, for that matter:
John 13:34-35 (ESV): “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

By our love, people will know that we love Him. What beautiful words to live and grow and breathe by.  May this timeless truth be so in our lives today- that they know us by our love.

Why I don’t support Shaming…among other bad spiritual tactics.

There is a problem with the church today- a problem that runs deep and wide and long.  It’s created a chasm actually and an exodus. It’s a problem sourced by a history of church practices and traditions that serve to verify its authenticity as real and overt.  It’s a problem all right.  And that problem is shaming, specifically the shaming of people, both Christian and otherwise.  Shaming them into becoming better Christians (or at the very least, A Christian).  Shaming them for their sins.  Shaming them for their choices.  Shaming them for not living up to a certain standard.  Shaming them for not upholding expectations.  Shaming people for reasons even I can’t conjure up.  Shaming in the name of faith and religion.  Shaming for the sake of shaming. Friends, shaming people into making choices or following up on decisions or acting on their conscience or into living for Jesus is no way for the church to conduct its mandate.

I recently read an article by the Naked Pastor that was written in regards to a hoax that has been circulating around the Internet.  The hoax is about the fictional pastor Jeremiah Steepek who dresses up as a homeless man and then attends the church he will be pastoring, prior to ever showing face to the congregation formally.  In the said hoax, Pastor Steepek goes around trying to connect with various parishioners, failing to get anyone to talk to him, let alone help him with his troubles.  At the end of his charade, he reveals himself to be their new pastor from the pulpit and proceeds to shame the congregation into crying and feeling horrible for their actions toward him.  You can read more about it here. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nakedpastor/2013/07/why-i-wouldnt-attend-pastor-steepeks-church/

At first when I read the article, I personified the pastor as the homeless man.  I saw the ‘homeless man’ as the story.  What I identified with was the problem we have in our society of not seeing people as God sees them: beautiful and precious and lovely.  A work of God made even in His own image.

But after considering a wise friend of mine’s perspective, another angle emerged.  And that angle was the shaming that occurred in that church as a fall out of the rejection some of the congregation had towards this pastor-cum-homeless person.

The author of the above article, David Hayward, says this:

The church’s number one tool to get what it wants is shame. I have been the victim of shaming so many times I can’t even count. I have used it so many times I can’t even count. When I think back on the times I’ve been shamed I get angry. When I think back on the times I’ve used it I feel remorse. It’s the church’s primary language. We grow up with it in our families, our schools, our jobs and our churches. Shame is used against us every single day of our lives so persistently and sometimes so subtly that we don’t even realize it anymore.

Shame is a motivator, but not permanently, and not in significant and meaningful ways. It gets something done now, but it destroys hope and character in the long term. Love is the best motivator. If it isn’t out of love, then it’s not a healthy motivation.

            I am a teacher of kindergarten students.  There are many times in the day when my students disappoint me for reasons based on the fact that they are four and five year olds.  They are busy.  They don’t always pay attention to everything I say.  And sometimes they outwardly ignore it.  If I was to use shaming as an instructional tactic, not only would I be out of a job, I would permanently damage these children in ways I cannot even word right in an article of this length.  I would destroy the goodwill I have set as a foundation of our classroom interactions and I would undermine my role with them as a nurturing support in the place of their parents.  As a teacher, I am mindful to always err on the side of gentleness when dealing with students.  Do I do it one hundred percent of the time?  No.  But it is the underlying goal in my mind as I go about my day.  To create an atmosphere of respect, understanding and possibility- always working within a Vygotskian theoretical framework that promotes positive, achievable growth.  Here’s Vygotsky’s mantra: “Show me what you can do, and then I’ll help you get a little better at it.”

Would that the church as an establishment would follow a little advice of this themselves.

What we need as a Church is to see God for who He really is, not for the interpretations we have of Him.  God is a Father- a perfect, loving, understanding, gracious, accepting, committed father unlike this world has ever known.  When I think of myself as a parent, I know that each day I get up in the morning I give my best self to my four precious children.  I don’t wake up dreaming of ways to shame them into following what I want them to do.  I don’t dream up ways of how I am going to coerce them into doing what I say.  And I don’t try to conjure up as many ideas as I can for how I can make their lives miserable.  I strive to not be that parent.

No.  I love them. I admire them.  I am proud of them.  And I would die for them if need be.

And so would God.  So did He.

And if we can see God that way- as Love personified, than we ought also to see his people- The Church in the same manner.  We must see the church as God sees them.  For the church is His Beloved.  They are his Bride.  He loves us i ways we can not even begin to understand.  And as a Father, we are His children.  The depths and heigths of that great love and mercy and grace and compassion for us can never, ever be underestimated. 

It is time we started loving people the way God does.

There is a beautiful passage of scripture that we recite often at weddings about love.  But friends, this passage ought to be the pulse of our hearts as Christians.  I Corinthians 13 :4- 8

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

That’s God’s kind of love.

So why do we as the backbone of the church still see Him as One who wants to make our lives miserable?  Why must the church backbone be the primary voice behind this message?  And why can’t we stop using shame as our primary motivational tool to motivate people and start living the love we know God is?

What the world needs now…

What the world needs now is truth-tellers.  Shamelessly spreading the word- that the new normal is flawed, imperfect living done in the real world.  Transparent style.

What the world needs now is empathy.   Compassion spreaders intent on understanding people and their complicated stories.  Covering the world with a blanket of caring kindness.  So that compassion is more prevalent than indifference.  So that warmth and sincerity become the standard method of interpersonal dealings.

What the world needs now is authenticity.  Genuine, honest discussion free of stereotypes, labels and subjectivity.  We are all different, that is a given.  But isn’t it high time we started treating each other with heartfelt  concern and respectful consideration?  People matter- all of us.

What the world needs now is brokenness.    People willing to let go of pride.    Freed to embrace humility.  To embrace Gratitude.  Grace.  Love.

People freed so as to have faith in Hope.  To have faith in something bigger than themselves.

What the world needs now is the purest example of that Faith come to Life.

We need a saviour.  Salvation through the daily dying to self and living to Life.  Putting away that which encumbers and clinging to that which enables.  Resisting all those things which drag us down.

Choosing joy over despair.  Choosing truth over lies.  Choosing life over death.

Choosing to live the best life we were meant to live.  Living each and every moment, but not concerning ourselves with the details.  Just concerning ourselves with the living.

What the world needs now is an alternative to what is driving us into these caverns of despair.  We need an option that is unconventional.  Something bigger and better than we’ve been offered in the past.

And we might not find what we’ve been searching for in a book.  Or in a classroom.  Or in a church, a speaker or a platform.  Or in charisma and personality.  It might be hard to find.

Or it just might be right under our noses.

Because none of those things I’ve listed above are permanent.    Are fixtures.  These things are fluid structures at best.  Books will fail.  Classrooms will fail.  Churches will undoubtedly fail, as will the vivid personalities associated with such.  People will fail.

We must find that Elusive Something in an Other-Worldy place.  Because the here and now isn’t all it was cracked up to be.

The answer begins with a whisper.  Is heard softly through that still small Voice that speaks to the deepest, darkest places of the soul.  That Voice which reminds us- we were purposed and destined to being when He breathed us to life.  When He Spoke and the earth shuddered.

For we are loved.

We are so deeply loved.

And we are exactly whom we were meant to be- frail, fragile, imperfect people.  Damaged, but not destroyed.  Beautiful, in spite of imperfection  and flaws.  Designed with a soul that craves for more.   We are never full, but we are not empty.  For we are just as the Father intended, complete with all our failings.  And so utterly loved.   Wholly and entirely, with every fiber of being.

He loves us- just as we are.  And we are enough.

More Than I Can Imagine…

I was dreading it.  One more obligation.  One more thing to do.  And although I believe the mantra ‘we can do hard things’, there are times when I just want an easy thing.  One.easy.thing.   Amidst all the hard things in life.  All those things that pull me eight ways to Sunday.

And as I sat there thinking self-defeating thoughts, mentally beating myself up again for all my inadequacies and inabilities.   God just lifted it.  The cloud.  He lifted it.  Physically- as if before my very eyes.    As if a torrent of rain had been falling and quite by sudden, a sunburst had appeared.  For the storm was over.  And I knew.

God doesn’t call us into a spirit of fear.  Of guilt.  Of hopelessness.

He calls us to empowerment.  To love and capability.  And He isn’t standing over us shouting out orders, reminding us again and again of all our failings.  Of all the ways in which we haven’t added up.

And He isn’t trying to dream up more hard things for me to do.

He’s there to do the hard things for me.

He is there to ease the load.  Lighten the weight.  He is there to take me as I am, where I am.  As is.  And love me all the more for my weakness.

And He’s there to do more.  So much more.  Than I could ever begin to imagine.

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.


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.

For Me to Live…


Seems every time you turn around, there is something embarrassing posted on the Internet about a purported Christian, that is, a Christ-follower- or at the very least, that is someone seemingly with moral upstanding in the world of human interactions.  And that is what Christ-followers preferably should be.   Morally upright.   Principled.  Full of honor and integrity.  Among other ideals.

And yet.   There it was.   A receipt posted the other day by a former waitress from Applebee’s restaurant in St. Louis on which was scribbled the following: “I give God 10%.  Why should you get 18%?”  The receipt went viral, as would be expected.  Anyone with a few marbles rolling around up top knows that something like that can’t be written down on paper and not publicized in some manner.  The receipt was meant to be seen by someone.  It just happened to get seen by more than the intended readership.

It went viral.  And somehow landed up on my Facebook wall.

The persons in question are a waitress and a patron.  The patron, we know little about.  We can’t know for sure whether or not she was having a bad day or is just an ill-tempered person by nature.  I’m guessing the former, as she had the full staff under question and then some fired for the receipts exposure on the Internet.  The waitress, we can infer, was a likeable employee who took the fall for her fellow waitress for whom the note was intended.  The waitress has also written an on-line rebuttal to those responsible for her firing in which she gives her side of the story.

There are many angles in a story like this one.  There is the issue of low wages for wait staff and the necessity of tips to supplement incomes, along with concerns over privacy issues of patrons and protection of such in businesses and other establishments, as well as the issue of tithing and how it factors (?) with a casual meal out with friends.

And of course, there is the white elephant in the room: why in the name of time Christians can be so mean-spirited.

I’d like to tackle the former as I am also a follower of Christ, and it is in my best interest to understand this subject as much as is humanly possible.  Christ-followers, or as we are often called- Christians, are commonly assumed to be one of three kinds of people.  We are either proponents of freedom to live our lives under the cover of grace, or we are proponents of truth to live our lives under the law or we are strivers of balance seeking to live love in active service through careful adherence to both truth leading to holiness and freedom leading away from binding legalism.

What a mouthful that last one is.

If you are in the first group, you are probably a contemporary Christ follower. You might find that Scripture is open to broad interpretations and you are likely to be very open-minded toward ideas and opinions different than your own.  If you fall into the second group of Christ-followers, you might closely resemble a stereotypical Christian fundamentalist.  And you might also be referred to by other Christians as a legalist.  And you are often not very popular in the modern day church because your ideas are un-malleable, your convictions are often a dictator and you are seen as lacking compassionate understanding for those who do not share your biblical views.  If you are in the last group, you are often seen to be the most balanced of the two.  However, if you even err slightly on the side of truth, you are taken for a fundamentalist.  If you sway slightly to the side of freedom, people are calling you defector to the cause of liberalism.

Folks in this last group just can’t win.

The point is: Christians are not all cut from the same cloth.   We do not all share the same experiences, have the same worldviews, interpret the Scriptures the same.  And, surprise!  Not every Christian is even a nice guy.  Or gal.   True.  We MUST have the common ground of faith in Christ as our Savior if we are to be Christ-followers.  But, past that.  Like snowflakes, no two Christians are exactly alike. And in all truth, Christians are still just simply people.  And we all know.   That people are people are people.  No matter what we claim to be.  No matter what label we wear.  Or what we purport to be.

Which begs the question.  Why should one mean-spirited person’s ill-advised stinginess be the characterization true Christ-followers?  Could that patron not be chalked up to a mere anomaly?  For perhaps other Christ-followers might had already come through the restaurant that day and left generous tips.  And in like manner, those claiming the opposite, to hate God, leaving nothing.  Again, people are people are people.  You really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

But yet we do.

And here’s the thing.  We are assuming that Christ-followers are close to perfection, which sadly is not the case.  Christ-followers are people.  And people make mistakes.  People are flawed. People don’t always live up to our expectations of what they should and should not do.  Some of us are nice and some of us are not.

This being said.  Should Christians be enabled to continue on acting in ways that are unfeeling, unloving and unkind?  That is, acting in ways that are not representative of the One who was perfect Truth, perfect Freedom and Perfect Love?  If we truly follow Christ, we already know that this is NOT the way we are to live our lives.  And when we err, we ask for forgiveness.  And when we are wounded, we offer grace.  And at all times, our lives must be characterized by love.  Because love covers a multitude of sins.

Love is Christ.  And Christ is love.  And this should be the underlying motive for all we do.

So while it is disappointing, hurtful and damaging that another purported believer of Christ has acted in less than Christ-like ways, and particularly because this act has received such public attention, I still believe that we need to extend compassion to everyone.  To those who know better and those who don’t.  And, underlying every action and reaction we make should be the mantra:  What would Jesus do?

For we know that He did everything in sinless perfection, always keeping the balance of living out the truth in love.  Always reaching out to us with just the right message intended for our soul’s condition, whether that be a need for more grace or more truth or more freedom or more love.  God knows what we need.  Our job is to be like Him.  And when we fail.  To humbly admit our wrongs and do things different the next time.  And this process just keeps going and going and going until we hit eternity.

But until then.  For me to live is Christ…and if I can live like Christ, I have lived a life worth living.

On Solitude…

Solitude.  Not loneliness of which I speak.  Not isolation, nor seclusion. Neither separation, segregation, emptiness.  Rather.   The peaceful equilibrium without.  That quiet moment spent.   In prayer.  In supplication, meditation, reflection.   In contemplative thought.   Tranquil moments that restore the soul within.  Returning the body to its truest nature, a relaxed state of being.  Reinstating the mind to calm, serene awareness of all that life is not.   While reminding one of all that Life, in its brutiful, messy sacredness, truly is.

My life is many things, but quiet, it is surely not.  Not for lack of trying, mind you.

But just now.   Quiet.  A word fitly chosen.  Describing at least my house, if not my state of being within this tiny, framed window of time.  Calm, silent.  Still.   So quiet I can finally hear things gone unheard for quite some time.  The wind moving around the outside corners of a farmhouse, where centuries-old wood has joined to form pillars of a home.  The rustle of an artificial evergreen wreath against a frosted window pane.  The hum of the aging washing machine, churning darks into frothy white, just one floor up.  The click, click of my computer beside me, my constant companion.  The breathy whir of a furnace as it puffs heat into frigid air.

The wheezy sound in my lungs when I breathe deeply.  Reminding me again of why I so desperately need this quiet.  This moment of solitude.

I wasn’t meant to have it, a quiet moment.  Or should I say, it came unexpected.  I was rushing.  As per usual.  Meetings, deadlines, e-mails after school.  The dash home to start the pork simmering before carting Four off to the hairdressers for their quarterly trims.  The hustle back home again with One very upset about the artistic state of The Haircut.  So then.  The other parent driving that same child back again to the hairdresser to explain the dire straits of the situation; thus, the need to correct it (The Haircut) before practice tonight, before the inevitable demise when all is unveiled to friends at school tomorrow.

Serious, life-altering stuff.

The potatoes boiling over, the supper meltdowns, the clock ticking.  And then.  The tumbled rush out the door, a spewing of boots, coats, mitts, hats and bodies spilling onto the iced doorstep, then further onto the slick walkway toward the half ton.  And after it all, I am left spent.  Still feeling the need to clean up the remains of the day, field phone calls, and mop up floors before making my own trek to town after the tedious chores are completed.

Bundling up in my less than attractive winter attire, then running out to the van to allow it the minute of idle time necessary to get it going, I realize this: my husband has the van keys.  They are in his pocket, at the church.  And I am completely stranded, whilst the other members of my music group are waiting in a warm sanctuary of a little white church.  For me.  And rather than seeing this as a moment of blessing, a free space in the Game of Life, I see it as a set-back.

And I want to wring my husband’s neck.

But instead, I resist the urge.  Much to his complete relief, I might add!  And taking a deep breath, I make the necessary calls to cancel my evening plans.  After doing so, the sense of peace that washes over me I might have never known.  Because now, and all because of botched plans, I have this whole half of an hour to myself.  And it is mine.  I can spend it as I wish.  Wasting it lavishly or using it sparingly.  It is mine to spend.    The added bonus that comes with this newly acquired freedom is the quiet accompaniment that is my friend, Solitude.

To think, I might have never known her.

“To make the right choices in life, you have to get in touch with your soul.  To do this, you need to experience solitude, which most people are afraid of, because in the silence you hear the truth and know the solutions.” (Deepak Chopra)

In order to listen to the cries of one’s soul, to hear truth and know solutions, one needs to block out the noise.  Even but for the briefest of moments.  Cutting off the voices that shout to us, “come here, go there,” that call “this is all-important, this is a necessity.”  Shutting out the images, the icons, the media, the busyness.  And telling oneself that it’s okay.  To be alone.

To be quiet.

More importantly, it is sometimes the setbacks in life that bring us the most joy, the most revelation.  For all of life is meant to be.  Even the valleys.  And in our darkest, most solitary moments, even in the setbacks, we discover who we truly are.  And all we were meant to be.

And if we are not quieted, we miss hearing the still small Voice reminding us.  Why this is an absolute necessity.

How to love the boy…

He sits beside me.  Calm, quiet-like.  In between me and his father.   I have just nestled myself into a seat, in a row of black chairs connected by a small hinge along one side.  We call them a pew.  That’s church speak.  They’re really just uncomfortable, black chairs with a slight cushion to ease the back on those days when time stands still.

Here we sit.  The older ones remaining, as little ones have left for nursery, ready to take in the Sunday sermon.  Me, a bustle of movement until this moment.  And now that I’ve stopped, I collapse. My days and moments, leading up to this one, have in fact been peppered with much motion, activity and energy.  Emotional energy, physical energy with all our familial comings and goings, events, visitations, preparations and the like.  All that energy exerted.  Wears me out.  Add to all the busyness the stress of four kids, a messy house and a bunch of stray cats that sit meowing on my doorstep.

Hungry, as usual.  Well, join the crowd.

It has been a wild few days of fear and anxiousness and uncertainty.   And that’s just speaking of the boy.  He sits now, as still as a statue.  And I feel him lean into me.  He, who has uttered those dreaded words a mother fears hearing.  Those words that tear a mother in two, sometimes.  Words about who he is and who he is not.  What he wants and what he doesn’t.  Words that sometimes are ill-spoken.  Words that cut.  And yet.  We are all learning that words are just that.


And sometimes they fail us.   A mother knows.  He is growing up,  growing into the man he intends to be.  Like it or not.  And he is trying to find himself.  Pushing back, sometimes.  Pushing away at others.  But still holding on.  And so am I.  Holding on.

And I am still trying to hold him close.

More words were exchanged the day before. Trying to sort out the tangled web of emotions from the days before.  He, with a hood pulled over his face.  Me, raw emotions and bundled nerves pleading for answers.  We two, feeling raw and exposed.  On a road of good intentions, going nowhere fast.  I concede him the victory.  Whatever that means.  And then I walk away, determined to let it all go.  And start over.

Best decision I’ve made yet.  Things start to simmer down.  And I feel the house let go a sigh of relief.  I know I have heaved a weight off my shoulders.  And so has he.  I can tell.  Small things matter most.  And his shoulders are more relaxed, of late.

We sit waiting for the sermon to begin, and I feel the weight of him.  His twelve-year old self leans in to my shoulder.  I keep my eyes fixed on the speaker at the front.  I dare not look to my left or to my right.  I don’t want to look, in case this is not real.  He wouldn’t lean against his mama in public, now would he?

But I feel him.  Heavier, now.  It is a touch of two bodies.  One I did not initiate, but will gladly accept.

And on a dare.  I reach out my hand, move it down to his.  And I feel for the hand he has shoved so deeply inside his Sunday best trousers.  The black ones I ironed for him just last evening while we watched a family movie.  That he opted out of because it was too tame.  It was too childish.

And I feel his hand there.

I grab onto those fingers, tentatively.  And I keep my hand over his.  All the while, looking forward.  Afraid to break a delicate bubble that has so gently appeared before me.  Rising.  An apparition.

And I know he feels his mother’s love over top his hand.  Because he draws out his rough, Man-child hand and slips it into mine.  Curling his fingers inside my hand.  Not too tightly.  For that might indicate weakness.  No.  Just slack enough to prove his manliness is intact, but that his boyishness is still there.

And to say my heart swells, an understatement.

Because a mother knows.  That a child is still a child sometimes.  Even when they are becoming a Man.