To Tell My Story

Our life story—varied and diverse as sand grains on a wide-open sea shore. As vastly distinct as one individual crystalline snowflake. As precious as a ring made from the purest 24-karat gold. As valued and prized as a sparkling diamond to a gem-cutter. Our stories are so treasured and cherished to the Father. And in His eyes, our stories are worth telling. Are worth being shared one with another. Story after story after story.

Do we believe this truth?
“My Story”
If I told you my story
You would hear Hope that wouldn’t let go
And if I told you my story
You would hear Love that never gave up
And if I told you my story
You would hear Life, but it wasn’t mine
— Mike Weaver

Sometimes we err in thinking that no one else could relate to the stories we might tell. These stories, we believe, are too rough, too complicated, too messy and chaotic. We err in thinking sometimes that these stories might be, on the opposite end of the spectrum— too simple, too plain. Nothing fancy. Just boring day-to-day. Or perhaps, we’ve come to think that our story is too full of details that no one would ever understand. They are too exhaustive and too fraught with connections that would derail our lives if those stories ever were told.

What is holding us back from telling our story?

Rachael Freed says, “From a legacy perspective, we tell our stories for ourselves and as a gift to future generations. How does telling our stories benefit us? We need to know and express our own stories. Difficulties arise not because we have a story, perhaps a very sad or painful story, but because we become attached to our stories and make them an essential part of our very selves.”

In sharing our stories, we come to realize, that while unique: we are not alone. While our stories are peculiar and particular to our own situation, they have connection to those around us. Not to take anything away from the uniqueness of the life they represent, but to add dimension and depth to our living because we share it with one another.

Solomon, the wisest human to ever live said in Ecclesiastes, “…there is no new thing under the sun.” No new story, just new people experiencing the stories from different vantage points and seeing with different perspectives. And yet: Jeremiah the prophet was told, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” The life that lives that story- each story that ever HAS been told and that ever WILL be told, is completely and wholly precious. Each life: unique, sacred and set apart for some greater purpose.

What life have you been given to live?
And are you living that life? Are you sharing your story?

If I should speak then let it be
Of the grace that is greater than all my sin
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in
Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him
Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

I am rushing through an enormous airport; rushing, because I realize that I have precious little time to make connecting flights and then to get through customs. Rushing so as to arrive intact and certified, where I need to be.

I am “that kind of rushing”.

I do not know yet that they have lost my luggage, that it was left behind. Do not know yet that they will be initiating the flight sequence before I arrive at the Gate. I don’t yet know that the loudspeaker will be calling my name as I buckle my shoes in Customs, in a distant part of a vast airport, don’t know that they will be stating that this is my last call to report for a flight I might not make. I don’t yet know that I will have to run for what will feel like miles with bags banging the sides of my legs. I don’t know what it will feel like to have all eyes on me as I am the final passenger to board a small plane headed for a place I have never before visited.

I don’t know all this yet.

But here is what I know.

I know that when I left the plane that brought me from PEI to Toronto, the first person I saw was a man named Gerard Gaudet. And he is husband to a woman named Corrie Gaudet. And Corrie is a woman who encourages me like no other, a woman who builds me up in spirit and in hope. And she, dear Corrie, has told me that she will be praying for me on this trip. That she will pray for me as I am traveling. Her, and many many others. So, when I see Gerard, I remember this, and it is a comfort.

It is a hope.

And perhaps that little physical reminder of ‘God With Us’ is what it took me to get from one end of the airport to the other, I do not know. Might never know.

But this I know for sure: to tell my stories is to share my hope. To tell my stories is to share my faith in life, in love and in living. Yes, to tell my story is to tell of Him.

This is my story, this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long

Falling

image retrieved from stock-clip.com

I am standing, a girl of ten or so. My arms outstretched. And behind me, my playmate’s hands are widespread, in anticipation of my falling limply backward into her awaiting embrace. It is a game we play called Trust. We test the limits to which we can trust that the confidant behind us will support us when we fall.

We stand until we are fully ready to let go. And then we lurch wildly- backwards. Flailing or otherwise. Trusting that when we land there will be sure and steady hands there to hold us- just before we hit the ground.

I never quite got the hang of it. I’d awkwardly pitch backwards and try to catch myself just before the final inches were reached. I’d go halfway and then stop.

Trusting was too hard for me- it required letting go.

Thirty years later, we are walking the side road that leads from a little paved lane ambling gently away from the river side. And I pour out my cares and my worries and my concerns to a listening ear, expressing my fear for today, concern for the future. Worrying that there is no soft place to fall when life gets rough. I am, and have always been- a glass half–full kind of gal. I try to see things positively, but my mind is often bent on doom and disaster. I have a hard time with hope and an even harder time with trust.

He walks beside me, feet steady and sure. And he says to me, “This is when trust becomes real.”

It is not a simple childhood game, this thing called trust. This ideal of hope. It is a hard fall into dark places. It is a pitch backward into the dark. It is a leap of faith not always knowing exactly where you will land. It is grasping in the black of night for a hand to hold. It is calling out for help. It is waiting. And waiting and waiting and waiting. It is wondering if it will ever come- that wish, that dream, that desire, that longed after, sought after illusion. It is crying and calling out. It can be messy and complicated and ugly and raw. It is long and hard and often agonizing. But it is what we’ve been given so as to cope in this life.

Trust, hope, faith. There is no other viable option.

Without trust- without faith IN hope, we have only a present fragile moment much like a delicate translucent bubble in flight. It is here and then it vanishes. Gone. There is nothing to follow, no promise of more. No next.

Even when we do not know where the moments are leading, when we do not know if there is a soft place to fall, nor do not know even how we will fall; even when do not know the direction in which the paths of life are unfolding, trust is believing that there is always something more. There is always another moment. Always another way. Always another path. Always another option. For trust believes that there is Someone there waiting to receive us, someone there ready to hold us when we let go and descend into the black of night.

Trust believes.

We have the hardest time to trust when we need it the most. When trust is of absolute necessity, we often choose to sacrifice it for worry or fear. We let anxiety take its place, allowing trust to be shelved for lesser antidotes. We believe that these reactions and responses can compensate best for what we are feeling. We think trust is too weak a response. Too hard, too much work. Too taxing and tedious and demanding and onerous.

Trust requires faith- but we want something tangible.

The moments we need trust the most often occur when there is suffering involved. When we suffer, we look for something beyond ourselves on which to lean. We desire a solution. But often rather than looking beyond ourselves for an answer, we look within ourselves for a fix.

Kara Tippetts, an amazing mother of four wrote these words prior to passing from this life to the eternal after a long, hard battle waged with cancer: “when we trust Jesus to be the carrier, protector, redeemer of our hearts, death is no longer dying.” Amen to that.

Death is not dying.
Pain is not final.
Falling is not fatal.
Anguish is not the end.
Suffering will not have the last word.
There is hope.

Tippetts continues with this: “Knowing Jesus, knowing that He understands my hard goodbye, He walks with me in my dying… Because in His dying, He protected my living. My living beyond this place.”

That’s trust.

Trust believes beyond belief that there are always hands extended ready to catch us when we let go. Receive us when we fall. Trust expects- it is a certain knowing that there will be a place to fall. Trust anticipates that falling is never the end. Trusts understands that I must let go if I am ever to feel those arms beneath me, bearing the weight of my pain. My heartache.

And much like Tippetts, for me: trust is all about Jesus.

Two thousand years ago, those two arms outstretched on a rough, rugged plank. Spikes held those hands ready and waiting. The hands that healed and helped the nations, nailed to a tree. Those arms wait even now for me to fall gently- to fall hard. To simply fall.

Simply trusting.

Jesus.

This is when trust becomes real.

What if…

What if I gained the whole world but lost my soul? What if? And what am I willing to free up in my life- to let go- so as to gain inheritance of this eternal soul?  So as to protect that which is my most valuable part?

I feel like I have been operating on automatic these last couple of days- processing information internally while externally going through the motions. It’s been a trying, exhausting week, and it’s only Wednesday. A thought keeps popping into my head about these moments we are living right now. The fragility of such. The delicate vulnerability of this life. It is so fleeting. And that thought is this:

What are we doing with our days? Where are we spending our time? With whom? And how?

We are all so busy. Busy, busy, busy. And so connected to our devices.  Our technology. But at what cost? And for what purpose?

When you lose a loved one, one tends to become introspective. I realize that these considerations of mine are a natural fall-out. They happen and occur quite unsurprisingly. We humans tend to examine life a little more closely when we have just looked death in the eye. Or at the very least, when we have seen death’s shadow.

But it doesn’t take that long before we are back to the living games with a vengeance. Moving and shaking like we have never before considered the end of the story.

I wonder: what if we lived each and every day with a less stable understanding.   And if we did so, what changes in our lives might transpire? What if, when we woke, we considered that this day- it might be our last? What if we spent more time with people who are dying? What if we poured our time into ventures that had lasting value instead of the pursuits we so often choose that are frivolous and unnecessary? What if we regularly considered the end instead of always focusing on the present? Not to the exclusion of the present- but just sometimes, some moments spent on more serious matters. What if we spent some of our moments considering the uncertainty of the future?

What if we purposed to do this, even once a month? I wonder what a difference it might make in our overall living.

Sometimes we need to face death so as to appreciate living that much more. But we also need to understand that living this life is a privilege: we have been offered a vulnerable gift.  A gift given at a price. And that price includes our limited time and resources as well as our pursuits.

The price we pay is our life.  Both our mortal and our eternal lives depend on time and pursuits.  And how we choose.

We can gain a lot in this life: we can go a lot of places and do a lot of things and meet a lot of people. We make many choices, some better than others. But we often do not have a choice in our time of death. Death comes unannounced. And if we are unprepared, we can feel as though we have been gyped.  Stripped. We can feel as though we have lost something that was rightfully ours.

But truly in the end, we come to realize: this life is not our own.   It is a gift. May we never forget that and may we always appreciate this fact.

In receiving the gift, we are given certain perimeters. It is a gift to cherish. A gift to look after. But what if we take that gift and squander it? What if we lose something so precious as our soul in the process? All the life endeavors we have set out to undertake would certainly be a hefty price to pay for one’s very soul.

Might we never forget that we are not hamsters, so why do we run in circles?

We are not Nascar drivers, so why do we rush as if this life were a race track?

We are not frivolous players, so why do we pretend that life is a competitive game to be won?

We are not mindless ninnies, so why do we feel we must succumb to the pressure?

We are beautiful, sacred, eternal souls inside a fading shell that serves us well. Until it can no more. Might we never sell out that soul in pursuit of those things which seems shinier, flashier or more exciting.  Things which are temporary.  Not that these things are wrong, but if they take the place of more substantial, eternal pursuits, they have certainly become distractions. Might we never make this trade-off and in so doing, lose everything that is important and worthwhile and lasting in the process.

For to do so would be to trade one’s mortal desires for those of more lasting, eternal value.

Mark 8:36, 37

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? “For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?…”

What We Crave

In our deepest parts there is a craving to be needed. To know that our lives are necessary. Essential. We want to live for something- something bigger than just ourselves. And we want to impact someone- beyond ourselves.

I listen to many stories and each one means something to me. Her’s was special. She told me of the people whose lives had impacted her own. I listened, intently. And while I listened, she indicated to me, through tears, how overwhelming it had been for her- this experience. This trauma. But in the midst of the pain and trouble- the mess that we call living: there were people. People who did simple little things and people who did providential, epic things. Big or little, they did them for her. And I thought of this one life that had been impacted by love. By care. By the tenderness that is a warm embrace. The comfort that is a phone call or text message, unexpected. I thought about the gifts and love offerings. The support. The net of care that had been created for this one individual. And all because people sensed within themselves a desire to reach out beyond themselves toward another human being in need.

These people: they felt the need and they responded.

And yet. Accompanying this great need to reach out, there is something more.

In our deepest parts, we know that we are not self-sufficient. We know our lives are full- yet broken. We need people, Someone: to perfect the beauty that is our life. We need one another. Each other. But oh! how often we allow pride to stand in the way. We tell ourselves, “I can handle this. I can do this on my own.” But a knowing settles in and reminds us yet again, we need each other. We need to be needed every bit as much as we need to be reminded that we are, at times, ourselves needy.

For in our life, there is a hungering. A thirsting. A want- of something that seems just beyond our grasp. We are so often full, but at times, we find ourselves, so very empty.

We crave hope.

Sometimes that hope comes in the form of an encouraging word. That is enough to light a spark of hope. Sometimes what we need is a helping hand. And sometimes we need more. To be lifted and held: in tangible, heartfelt ways. Sometimes we need a rescue plan, as life squeezes every last bit of hope out of us. And when that rescue plan shows up, the very human hands and feet of a saviour, we reach out and hold on for dear life.  Because we know- we are not alone.

We are not alone.

Grace or criticism?

Grace or criticism?

I have contemplated grace and its place in my life for many years now. I have wondered at its significance, its practical purpose. I have tried to make sense of it. Tried to understand it. And the only way I know how is to put it into the context of my own lived experience. To make sense of it through the circumstances I find myself in on a daily basis.

For me, grace is a strand of love. For love is everything that is good in this world. And since grace is good, it is a strand of love. How I describe grace is in this way: doing willingly for others what wouldn’t come natural. Or put another way, offering love even when I don’t feel like offering it.

Grace is second and third chances.

Grace is endless, actually. I cannot even fathom it. It’s depths and heights. When I think of the grace I have been offered, I am compelled to consider offering such to those I interact with. When I feel like being gracious and even when I don’t.

Criticism, on the other hand, is something which comes quite easily. I have also contemplated its significance in my life and come to discover that criticism, unlike grace, is quite quick to be offered. It is something I could offer without putting too much thought into how I might frame it or place it in context. I can criticize without any premeditated deliberation or contemplation. It easy. And quite natural, I’m afraid. Critiquing, as a branch of criticism, is not so severe a practice. Critiquing requires deliberation and restraint. And it is a discipline. I have learned through many years of watching and listening that careful critique, unlike criticism, can shape us and mold us through it’s wise counsel and influence. One who has learned to critique has also learned to listen and to see. To understand the many angles of a situation.

When to use grace? Criticism? Critique?

If love is in all and through all, and grace is a strand of love, then I believe that grace must be exercised liberally in all of life’s various circumstances and situations. Grace is the open door to reconciliation. It is the pathway toward forgiveness. It is the light at the end of the tunnel. It is the salve for the open wound. And so then: love is both the beginning and the end of everything. It is the Healer’s gentle touch. The Hands that hold.

Growing up in a very fundamentalist environment, I didn’t always see grace. I felt the sting of criticism and the pain of disapproval. But rarely did I feel the freedom of grace. The liberty of love expressed in compassion. But it was there just the same, although often hidden. Not seen in the obvious but through the obscure.

True, there was much criticism, and that is what I remember. But in time, I came to realize that grace had greater influence than the spirit of criticism. Grace had farther fields of influence. And grace could do what critical could not. It could soothe. Heal. Relate. Love. Affect. Grace had powers and strength that critical did not. And grace could do all this in and through the abiding constancy of love. Criticism often worked under the influence of hate. It was only when criticism came under the spell of love that it changed. No longer criticism, it became critique. And as long as critique stayed within the realm of love, it was pure and true. It had the steady influence of a constant to guide it.

My constant is love. The tool to project that love is grace. And I can thus critique under the watchful eye of these two powerful forces.
I no longer wish to have my life marked by criticism. I was checked on such today, offhandedly, when a colleague shared a story and added this detail: “You know, I had preformed an opinion about so-and-so based on what everybody else was saying, but that wasn’t really a true picture of what ____ was like with me when I had a chance to talk one on one.” Which gave me pause to reflect on how too often I judge and criticize others based on an opinion I’ve already heard from someone else. Based on second and third hand information. How incredibly unfair.

Where criticism really stings is when it is directed at destruction. Again, criticism is not evil. But when it originates in hate, it has the power to destroy. To cut down and to damage. To ruin and defeat. To expose and annihilate. To devastate those at whom it is directed. Criticism is powerful. And one has only to listen to one human being tell their story to understand the power of criticism to shape a life.
I am still receiving letters from readers who read the essay “What Students Remember Most About Teachers.” I want to include a link to my most recent letter. There are parts of it that break my heart, for it speaks of the power of criticism to hurt and wound. I am still considering how I will respond to this letter.  I am saddened that teachers have wreaked such havoc on a life.  And that an adult is still captive to the memories of that influence.

I wish this writer to know: I care.  I cannot fix or mend.  But I can care.

I haven’t yet formulated what words I will write to this dear one, but this I will seek to do, through the grace that I have first received and experienced in my own life.  And that is to write that response in love. With a heart overflowing.

In a wash of grace extended outward.

It’s Where Grace Finds Me

Grace.
The very word speaks of something sacred. Something holy. Something undeserved.

My children are my loves. My joy. At times, my source of great frustration.

Last night, I was home alone with the two youngest while Husband had the older two siblings at piano lessons. I was trying to clean up a huge meal which I had prepared for the family whilst doing a number of other things at the same time. Typical mother stuff. So, in between peeling carrots, parsnips and preparing potatoes, I had carved out a little time to submit an essay to an online essay contest of sorts.

Realizing that time was of essence, I came back downstairs to find Husband had finished off the remainder of the meal prep and things were ready to go. We ate, and with no time to spare, Husband and the two piano players ran out the door.
Leaving Yours Truly to the meal clean-up.

I had asked the two remaining home with me, to practice piano together- while I attended to the mess in the kitchen. Things did not go well from the start. Youngest was protesting to the snickers of her older sister. I was trying to wash pots and call out (yell) directives from the kitchen. To no avail. So after three meltdowns, I sent youngest wailing to her bedroom. With no short loss of temper on my part either, I might confess.

Peace at last. Relatively speaking. As long as I ignored the far-off wails and calls for help coming from the nether-regions of our farthest upstairs bedroom, I’d have thought I was home alone. You cannot imagine the bliss.
Nevertheless, peace was short-lived, as the calls from up the stairs came loudly, frequently and persistently. I continued to reinforce to the Young Offender that she was there for a reason and that’s where she’d stay.

How long? she asked.
A long time, came the reply.

In my mind, I had almost decided to leave it for as long as it would take: in the hopes that she might exhaust herself and fall limply into a deep and soundless sleep while settled safely on her bed. Clothes and all. Leaving me one less step in my endless to do list.

Alas. This was not to be. She never forgot her situation long enough to fall asleep.

After a while, I calmed down. I had to take a bit of a breather for this to happen, but it did happen. I calmed down. And when I did, I started to think about my daughter’s situation. Her refusal to do what I asked. He complete breakdown in accepting responsibility. Her insistence on doing it her way. And yet, my love for her in spite of it all. For love’s enduring faithfulness still remained. As strong as ever.

Could she ever be deserving of grace, even in something so small as this? Something so insignificant as a meltdown after supper, all while she sat struggling me in a battle of the wills, fought out on a scratched and faded piano bench?

I called her down to the piano. And I told her she was most welcome to come back downstairs again under one condition: that she would do what had been asked of her initially. To practice her piano under the guidance, expertise and experience of her older sister’s watchful eye.

She acquiesced with nary a noise or squibble. For what she had rebelled against was now the ticket to her freedom. She got it. And while this might be a shallow example of grace, it is yet a practical one. For in my love for her, I found within myself, grace to give. And in her struggle, she realized that what she needed so as to gain grace was the very thing she was resisting. That is, there needed to be a laying down of sorts of her own desires and wishes so as to later gain that which she wanted in the first place: her freedom.

But freedom came at a price. It always does. A lost hour of painful agony spent separated from the rest of us. We who knew what she did not from the very start: if she had only spent the five minutes practicing, she would have had the rest of the evening to spend at her leisure. We who knew to look beyond the moment into the foreseeable future. Something she could not do in her limited understanding. For with experience one comes to understand that freedom in grace is always paid for at a cost. We must at times lose that which we hold dear. Our will to fight for what we think best is often the snare. And when we fall into the trap we blame- because something has to be held accountable. Something has to be held up as responsible. But never is it our own selfish ambition.

As for me the mother, in offering grace: I have but a miniscule glimpse into heaven’s grace. A Father’s grace.

A glimpse of Your great grace. And it is in my children’s cries that I most often find grace. That I learn the depths and heights of grace itself. It is there, in those moments of tension that your grace finds me.

Somewhere between joy and frustration, tears and laughter: Your grace finds me.

It’s there in a newborn cry
There in the light of every sunrise
There in the shadows of this life
Your great grace

It’s there on the mountain top
There in the everyday and the mundane
There in the sorrow and the dancing
Your great grace
Oh, such grace

From the creation to the cross
There from the cross into eternity
Your grace finds me
Yes, Your grace finds me

It’s there on the wedding day
There in the weeping by the gravesite
There in the very breath we breathe
Your great grace

It’s the same for the rich and poor
The same for the saint and for the sinner
Enough for this whole wide world
Your great grace
Oh, such grace

Publishing: © 2013 Thankyou Music (admin. worldwide at EMICMGPublishing.com, excluding Europe, which is admin. by Kingswaysongs) (PRS) / sixsteps Music / worshiptogether.com Songs / Said And Done Music (ASCAP) / Shout! Music Publishing (Admin. at CaptiolCMGPublishing.com)

Writer(s): Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin

Better…not bitter

I have been reflecting the past few days on recovery.  Recovery means different things to different people, as we are all aware.  It means different things depending on the extent of the recovery period.  A weekend bender requires less recovery than a broken leg.  Of course, this goes without saying.  A person recovering from painful, private experiences in the distant and not-so-distant past requires more intense therapy than would a minor slight or insult.

We often don’t allow ourselves enough time for recovery- which is a given in this busy, ‘rush-rush’ world we live in.  But when what we are recovering from is deeply felt, we need time for introspection.  Time to heal.  And time to understand what is involved in that process.  The hope is that in time, we will become a better person for all we have endured.

I believe we are all on different roads of recovery.

My road to recovery looks like this: once upon a time there was a little girl who grew up in a Christian home.  She was exposed to certain ideals within that setting which made her a better person for it.  She was afforded certain privileges. By which, I mean to say she was exposed to and offered experiences which include the many unique and varied personalities/people who were extended hospitality as they passed through the area and thus her home.  She was allowed comfortable familiarity within the setting of a church family.  She was afforded a small town upbringing.  Many people knew this girl and her family on the basis of their position within the church thus enabling the girl and her family protective status.  There were many people who cared about this girl throughout the years.

But that little girl was exposed to other things which were less than ideal.  Less than idyllic.  Less than perfect.  Things like legalistic ideas about what a Christian should and shouldn’t do.  Things like cruelty in the name of faith.  And she was exposed to ideas that challenged a view of God as Loving.  As gracious.  As compassionate.  As kind.

In time, that little girl grew up to be a bigger girl who saw God as a Person.  But she believed that Person was harsh and exacting.  Vindictive and angry.  That little girl thought God was out to expose her and all her many, many sins.  And she believed that she could never meet God’s approval without being exactly the kind of person described to her by the many and varied preachers that stood before her (behind the varied and multiple church pulpits she encountered, week in and week out).  That girl always felt shame and  tremendous guilt.  Guilt for everything- from the smallest of infractions to the largest of transgressions she could conjure up in her mind.  Because God was all about sin.  And sin was pretty well everything.

Let’s just stop here for a moment.  It takes some people a lifetime to recover from trauma.  What if you were traumatized by an incident that left an impression on you to such a degree that it left you believing (erroneously) that you would never be good enough for anyone- especially God?  Wouldn’t that be trauma in its own right?  What if you believed this your whole life?  Traumatizing.  And yet, we don’t stop to talk about this in Christian circles- this reduction to shame and guilt which we see as evidence in many Christian’s lives, which I believe is this way because we are afraid of exposing to the world that we are not as perfect as we’d like to think we are.

Well, it took that little girl years to realize that God was certainly who He said He was- He was perfect LOVE.  And it took her even more years to understand even the tiniest of inklings about what that meant.  That love is many things, but never vindictive.  Love is many things but never harsh or exacting.  Love is many things but it is never cruel.  It is many things but it never shames or exposes to ridicule.  And that this is so is because true love is patient- it is kind.  It doesn’t want what it is not entitled to. It refrains from boasting and from pride.  It does not dishonor others- it is not self-seeking.  It is not easily angered.  It doesn’t keep a track record of all the things done wrong so as to expose and humiliate.  Rather, it (love) rejoices, protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres.

Love is pro-active.  And when it is done God’s way- it is flawless.

And if this is true- that God is love, then He loves us before anything else.  Before discipline.  Before consequences.  Before judgement.  Before accountability.  He loves us first.  The relationship that follows matures into one that allows for growth and change- that allows for human responsibility.  But before any of this can ever occur, God must be seen as love.  He must be seen as the epitome of love-as we can understand it with our finite minds. Or the maturing to faith will be absolutely pointless.

I get really tired of hearing by way of Christian leadership from various platforms about how terrible people are- how sinful we all are, how guilty we should feel, those of us not following the absolute letter of the law.  Because I don’t think that is God speaking.  And I think there is a world of people who have been left to recover from the effects of Christianity that claims to be like God when it is the exact opposite.  What I think we need to hear is how vast the love of God is for us.  And we need to know: God is with us and God is for us.  That message could never be preached enough- because I don’t know if we will ever truly understand this principle, this side of eternity.

We are all on different roads.  Our roads of recovery might look different, but they are often the same.  We are healing from the inside out.  And in the process, there must be a decision made: will we allow these experiences in our lives to make us better for having gone through them?  Or will they leave us feeling bitter?

It’s time to trade in the bitter for the better.  Because in spite of all we’ve been through, there are always moments of growth and renewal.  And those are the very moments which define us- which make us better.

Our roads may begin from different places and lead us down different paths, but it is up to us to embrace and choose: what will make us bitter- and what will ultimately make us better.

Hi.  My name is Lori.  I am recovering from legalism in the Christian church.  But I am daily realizing that God can make beauty from ashes.  Better wine from bitter fruit.  I may not be perfect.  But I am enough.

And I am loved.

Hope on which I cling…

I take it all in. The sky, with bits of pink and grey- strips of color extended across the remains of the day. We head for home- trying to beat the moon.

The last One’s bike freezes up. Something about the front brakes- and I’m no bike technician. So while the others push for home, she and I walk side by side- me with the errant bike, front wheels up in the air, as that is how this must ‘go down’ for us to get back to the warmth of home. This is how it goes sometimes- a mother takes the burden on herself for the sake of the child. She stays beside me all the way, and then thanks me profusely when we are almost there. But does she not understand? I love her. I would do this anyway.

I think of life and of all the obstacles that stop us dead in our tracks. While everyone else seemingly goes on with the business of living, there are some of us that find it hard to just put one foot in front of the other. There are some of us that get held up- sidelined- left to wonder why we should keep going. What’s it all for, anyway?

We make slow gains, she and I. Cars come faster now that the sun’s gone down. I keep a watchful eye on the road.
Is hope wishful thinking in an age of despair? Is there really such a thing- such an ideal as hope? Or am I truly delusional?

For it sometimes seems that there is a relentless pursuit underway for the phantom mirage right in front of the eyes, just for a drop of that precious life-giving water. Only to find out that what has been sought was merely but a figment of the imagination. A dream.

The highs and the lows of understanding.

Darkness settles in heavy by the time we turn in to our farm lane, marked by the blue barn on one side and the darkened river far to the right on the other. The girls are playing on the lawn, but it is too dark to see them. I hear their voices. One comes running, “I was so scared,” she says. Just seeing my face has made all the difference.

And isn’t that the way.

Just seeing the face of one who knows- does not that give hope? Does not that speak wisely of promising expectation? Of realized desires?

If it is hope that we seek, than it is hope we shall find.

Hope found in a mother’s warm embrace in the dead of night. Hope sought in a doctor’s good report. Hope uncovered in a warm embrace- a gentle kiss. Hope discovered in a word- a gesture. Hope found in the right word fitly spoken. The right deed carefully done. And if all else fails and hope is lost, knowing that this hope to which I cling- this faithful expectation will revive lost hope and see it through to the very end: that hope of which I speak is Hope found through the everlasting love of a faithful Father.

I believe in hope in the very same way that I believe in the promise of another day. In very much the same was as I believe in tomorrow. For there is little else on which to place my trust, than on that which I have come to hope in- that which I have come to trust. Knowing that there is more for me than this. There is more for them. More for us all. There is forever.

What hope at times I cannot fathom. But merely wait expectantly for in its revealing.

It is that hope on which I stake my claim.

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.

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.