Thin emotions and rich grace

It’s been a thin week. A week of emotions rising quickly to the surface. A week of highs and lows. A week of frustrations, disappointments and in-betweens. And I find myself walking thin ice. Holding fragile feelings in shaky hands. Stepping on eggshells. Living life holding on, two hands grasping for something secure while always searching for steady ground on which to stand.

And I wonder sometimes, is it really grace which is needed? And does that rich grace come wrapped up in a cloak of forgiveness? In garments of compassion? Is it veiled or is it starkly visible? Elusive graces are so hard to hold in shaky hands.  But I am grateful tonight that mercy comes in so many different forms.  Both tender and tough. It’s face surprises each time it is encountered.  And yet. It’s always just what I need, showing up at the very hour I need it to come.

Tender mercy, tough love.

He reached for me last night. It was the smallest of gestures, a hand on the shoulder. But I came undone. And all the pent up stress, all the anger- came flowing out of me like a surge of water through a broken dam. I felt like I could finally breathe again. Felt tension release through tightened shoulders. I felt release. And although it was just the smallest of offerings, it was enough.

Sometimes that’s all it takes.  A gesture.

We spend our whole lives waiting for justice, for the balance to level. When what we really need to do is come undone. To find ourselves emptied. Off kilter a bit. So that we can be brought back to fragile equilibrium.  Emptied. Of all pride and anger and egotism and fear. So that we can then be filled again: with Love. Filled to overflowing. Allowing ourselves the sacred mystery that is the laying down- of one’s own desires and sense of fairness.  Emptied, so as to experience the fullness of grace that is offered in bountiful compassion. We can only share in this sweet offering by laying down our armaments. Setting aside our armor. Stripped of all that is covering that which is authentic to our true selves. So that we can finally be seen for the rare beauty that is the wild and messy underneath it all.

We are stripped bare and covered back up again with a garment of gorgeous grace.

It’s never easy to receive, that kind of rich grace that is so desired. So sought after. We covet it- and want to earn it.  At times, we wish to make someone else earn it. We want it to cost something- it is dear. So precious. And yet, grace that costs is never truly grace. It is corrupted in its price. Grace must be offered without conditions.  Freely.  Undeserved, it is liberally given. And then, accepted in love.

He reached for me last night- across the chasm, and I felt the ice begin to thaw. The ground beneath my feet gave way yet again. And I fell into the arms of love.

Unfettered. Broken. Yet wholly complete. Undone, but still intact.

Grace has that kind of way with me.

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Let Mercy Fall

What if we truly heard the message people spoke instead of listening for what we think they are saying? What if we stopped trying to project onto other people the ideas we have formed about them and instead listened intently to the messages they send us and let those messages simply be our guide?
I am so guilty of this. Someone will say something to me and instead of listening, I will interpret what they are saying to me to fit what I think they mean. To fit the pre-existing ideas I have already formed about them. To ‘jive’ with what I think I know is true. About them. About their “stuff”. About the ways in which they relate to the world.
When it comes to people- to humans (and believe me when I say this in the most positive way possible), do we ever really know anything for sure? If this can sometimes be true in the negative, then it surely can also be true in the positive. If we think that our stereotypes of them truly fit, then there really isn’t any other truth than our own. Because we all know, our truth about someone is the best, most spot-on judgement call. Right? We are pretty good at figuring people out.
I think we’ve all been there at one time or another: when we think we’ve got someone pegged. We say that they are “this way” or “that way” because that’s how we see it in our mind’s eye. But really. Do we know for sure? Do we have privileged access to that person’s soul? Can we judge the intentions of their heart?
Only One I know has this exquisite access to the inner workings of my heart, and it has been my experience that this One always acts in love. Always upholds us in the most gracious, kindest compassion. And that is surely the kind of Person I want reading my thoughts. Watching my actions. Reading my body language. Listening to those words of mine that fall between the lines. Viewing me based on truths I don’t even understand about myself.
Because I know His intention is to hold, not crush. To protect, not expose. To cherish, not betray. To love with everlasting, undying love. To fail to do these would be to betray His character. And the God I love is who is says He is.
In and of myself, I have not this kind of love. But I am striving for bits and pieces of it. Striving to live even if but only in the reflection of it. I am striving to know love; indeed, to show love through my offerings, humble and insignificant as those might seem to be.
Others have found the great paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love (Newsboys Official Website). The challenge for us: to live with abandon. To love freely. To move from a critical spirit toward one that offers encouragement. That offers hope. Understanding. Mercy. Because everyone needs compassion- a love that’s never failing.
And don’t we find more often than not that mercy falls down on us just when we need it the most.

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.