For when we glory in the cross and forget about the love

The celebration of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ is settling somewhere new in my heart this year.  I’ve always loved the tradition and liturgy surrounding the weeks before Easter.  It’s a holiday of water-colored hope painting broad strokes of redemption over thin lives.

Tate's cross

Spiritual battles seem to culminate during Holy Week as the antagonism of Satan mocks our walk through the Stations of the Cross.  This year has been no different as I’ve watched friends lose loved ones and dealt with my own challenges, puny in the light of death.

As social media penned words of faith, posted serene pictures of crosses at sunset and dared us all to pass on gruesome depictions of a bloodied Christ as a sign of true belief, I felt a depth of contempt that surprised me. I’ve quietly changed my profile picture in previous years and couldn’t account for the shift in my feelings.

I wondered if voicing my doubts had fueled the feelings and even considered briefly  that maybe I’d lost some faith.  Maybe daring to believe with eyes wide open made for new travelling companions, Thomas or even Judas.

There’s something about loud, accompanied poetry that releases the pressure from my obnoxious thoughts so I turned up the new album from Needtobreathe, Rivers in the Wasteland.  This CD captures the dim reality of life in a fractured world with driving melodies that wrap solaced hope around a soul.

The song Wasteland repeats the simple truth that if God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31) and as the song dug into my heart, the massive celebration of Easter was broken down into the most personal understanding that God is for me.

That small change in my focus opened up new thoughts.  Is it possible that our insistence of  walking the way of the cross, complete with reenactments starring a beaten Christ, exploit the anguish of the Father?

We focus on the physical pain of Jesus to the point that we forget the agony and despair that lies in the un-sensationalized, seldom referenced, simple broken heart of the Father who loved us.

The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ symbolize our faith, but in the beginning was the word and the word was God and in him was life and light and the light shone in the darkness (John 1) and the reason there was a light at all was because we were created for communion with God.

When we tell the story of Adam and Eve breaking that communion in the garden, we focus on their shame but what about the depth God’s loss? What about his broken heart way back in the beginning?

The sacrifice of the cross is shocking and absolutely is essential to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  But  the sacrifice of the Father sometimes gets lost as we glory, to some extent, in the gore of the cross and the miracle of the resurrection; hoping to convert unbelievers with shock and awe.

I have friends who are grieving right now, it’s a sacred time in their lives that deserves respect.  I wonder if our Easter pageantry doesn’t  distract us from the fact that God also continues to grieve as we make choices that separate us from him.  As whole tribes of believers spit hatred at each other does he shake his head and mourn at our insistence of making our belief about us?

Really, if God’s heart broke so deeply because we were separated from him and if  he would allow it to be broken to a greater degree as he watched the physical anguish of his son, shouldn’t we love with that same depth of passion?

Does he watch the rhetoric of Good Friday and the fanfare of Easter Sunday and wish that we’d remember instead the very intimate gift of his broken heart?  Because that’s what  necessitated the crucifixion of Christ in the first place.

It seems to me if we did, that we might all look more like him. We might worship with more humility and love, with deeper abandon.

My heart has changed this year.  It’s smoother in a sandy sort of way.   It’s been broken wide open and spilled all out and as it heals, I’m hoping that it looks a little more like the Father’s as I learn to love to the degree I have been loved.

Maybe I’ll feel differently as Easter rolls around next year, more like embracing the sorrow of the first day and engaging in the celebration of the third, but this year is off beat and I’m going to honor that.

My faith isn’t lost.  I’m wondering if maybe I just  found it.

 

The sky is not falling: 3 healthy responses to a crisis

The week dawned dark and if I would have written then, I would have spoken of shadows.  The kind that are so wide you hardly notice them, outlined in the shape of a giant shoe that might be dangling from its own strings directly above you.  I shook off my apprehension determining to stay within the moderate beat of a rainy Monday. I will not go off tempo, I will not go off tempo, I will not go off tempo.   

photo (1)

Emily P. Freeman talks about being content in our smallness and mostly the day was  small.  There were hugs for a friend who lost her sister last week and preschool drop off; some studio work and snacks for an army, or maybe just 3 starving post-spring breakers; another hug for a neighbor who lost her husband (also last week); dinner on the stove and then off to violin.

I can make a mountain out of the thirty-five flicks of dirt unionized on the kitchen floor so when I read the text,  I forced my heart back into rhythm. I will stay in this day, I will stay in the small, I will not make a mountain out of the Mole Motel. 

More information oozed in and confirmed that we absolutely were dealing with a mountain, possibly even a volcano.  Smaller than Everest, but much larger than the Moletel.

I’d like to say that I responded with dignity and composure in the manner of a 40 something woman who’s dealt with some difficult things in life and for the first 24 hours that would’ve been true.  But somewhere around hour 26, the day slowed and the exhaustion of pushing my fear below the surface caught up with me.  I’d diffused the issue the night before with words and prayers of belief and then tried to give it time to settle, but mostly I hoped it would be resolved within a day.  When it became clear there was no quick-fix on the horizon, I took aim and released  jagged stony words from my slingshot directly at the nearest target breaking my collected composure and anything else within earshot.

Life has a way of flushing out core beliefs.

As I willed myself to stay within the small of Monday morning, I was very much aware that conflict is my default mode. Sometimes I look for problems as a way to feel that I have some control.

Adrenaline mobilizes and frenzy creates an order to life that allows us to feel as if we’re managing our lives quite well.  As we check off our emergency responses to injury, job loss, death, even household repairs or birthdays, there’s a sense that we’ve brought order to chaos.  In the middle of that unspoken belief is the invisible banner declaring that we are our own god.  We made the appointment, we ordered the flowers, we found the perfect napkins, we solved the problem and all is right in the tiny little world that we created and control.

I believe though, that there’s a difference between managing comfort and order in our DIY dioramas and embracing smallness in the universe that God created.  The mountain that dropped into my world on Monday night was entirely out of my control.  I wasn’t able to scale and conquer it and in fact it turned into a volcano as the long term ramifications spewed out. The anger that poured out of me seemed a perfectly reasonable response until I reminded myself that no one died.

Understand that in proportion to the teeny tiny world where I’m in charge, these unique circumstances were a pretty big deal, but in the smallness in the world where I say I believe God is in control, they’re merely a flick of dirt.

It’s at this point of understanding that we’re able to choose.  We can  act as though we believe that God is in control and the director of this whole gig or continue acting as though we are in control,  pulling the strings to drop the perfect scenery behind our tiny little lives in an attempt to appear as if life is moving along just as we’ve planned.

Our to-do lists serve as scripts as we paint just the right back drop for our tiny scenes. But if we say we believe there is a God who controls all things, we have to do the hard work of believing through the moments of our lives that feel completely out of control.

This seems, at first like a passive response but it’s actually a very active way to walk through crisis or even deep disappointment. There are three things I do once I gather my contrary composure. I believe that these responses can actually ground our faith on a deeper level and allow us to more clearly see God not just after the crisis has passed, but while it’s in progress.

Step from  tiny places of pain into open spaces of small healing.  Today I would love to cozy up with my list of lament.  I would sub-list and detail how this current issue will affect our lives for months to come.  It would be valid and realistic, but  wrapping myself up with my woes would separate me  from the people that God has put in my life to make this mangled world a bit more tolerable.  By choosing to step out from the microscopic place of our own pain where we focus on ourselves and our lists, we deliberately embrace  our own smallness. Today, this looks like laying down my right to be angry and joining my family while I focus on the activities of the day.  I will make dinner while I choose to lay down resentment, snuggle my peeps before bed  while I resist recounting the what ifs, and for cryin out loud, I’ll stay off the phone.  (In which I discuss my obsession with phone a friend)

Choose to contain destructive thoughts.  Containing thoughts of defeat isn’t taking shelter in denial for days on end, but deciding how long we should hang out with them. We can  choose to repeat a playlist of how we could have avoided the issues and list in detail the measures we’ll take in the future.  In fact, we should, but for a limited amount of time.  I drive a six mile rectangle several times and then slam the door shut on  the funk.  You might go for a run or take a shower giving a definite beginning and ending point to your process time. By setting a time limit on our brooding with a specific activity, we’re admitting that there’s  not one thing we can do to fix the situation in the moment.  By choosing to shuffle destructive details through our minds, we choose  to mentally destroy the beauty of being wholeheartedly present as we chauffeur children, lunch with friends or focus on our work.

Rehearse what is true.  I believe on a very basic level that God is the author of my life.  While certainly I make choices every single minute that can change the path in front of me, inviting God to walk along beside me, allows him to  take both the triumph and tragedy that result from my  decisions and give them value if I choose to let him.   Honestly, I thought I’d finally moved on to a new plot and was welcoming the change of setting because the lines in this act are exhaustingly familiar.  I feel contempt for the process and could easily turn up the playlist of defeat.  By choosing to repeat out loud that God is the author and finisher of my faith (Hebrews 12:2) and that all things work together because I invite him to walk with me (Romans 8:28), by reminding myself that most things look better given a little time and that a good night’s rest often makes life more bearable, I’m inviting my mind to get in agreement with what my heart knows is true.

The choice to stop rehearsing on my tiny stage and remove the thoughts that tie me to a single-minded view of the issue (gloom and doom of course) and replace them with what is true about the smallness of my life is actually an act of faith allowing God to continue to act as writer, director and producer of my life.

The events from earlier this week are far from resolved and it’s possible we’ll be dealing with the outcome for quite some time.  It’s been a rough few days of finding balance by rejecting my bent for imagining the worst case scenario while remaining engaged in the problem solving process, but I’ve given up one more teensy piece of contrived control and in the process, strengthened my faith.

I don’t believe that God ever expects us to get it.  I don’t think he’s irritated or disappointed when our first response to pain isn’t compliant resignation.  Conflicts, hassles and gut-wrenching pain are often the passageways where we can feel and see him the most, but only when we make the difficult choice to embrace the journey with all of the questions and uncomfortable feelings we experience.

What are your initial responses to conflict?  Do you have definitive processes that help you walk through it?

Sometimes answers come at 4 a.m.

Aside

I woke up to them.

Does everyone have words waiting by the side of the bed that follow them to the bathroom at four a.m.?  I can see them, like yellow fuzzy ducklings, waddle, quack, chirpchirpchirp, all in a row.

Pulling the fuzziest blanket under my chin, I jumped back in my warm bed and  tried to ignore them.

For real.

Spring break!

Four a.m.

Dark and cold.

My kids had already declared the week boring, but the morning felt like a gift and I just.wanted.to.stay.in.bed.

Two half turns and three sighs later, the only choice was to follow them.

In the days of Ask Jeeves, I’d wake up to the words and flip into attack mode. Typing a phrase and hitting *enter* can bring thousands of sites to fingertips but can rarely search and bring solace to a soul. Thank goodness years have taught me that time is valuable.

authentic questioners

The whispers continued as I started the coffee. I knew the words were from a song and hated to admit that I couldn’t remember if it was actual scripture or not.  You’d think with all those sword drills, I could remember a thing like that, but when life gets messy and hearts twist inside out, the ink on the pages begins to run together for all the tears.  It’s taken me just about forever, I’m learning that  the day always answers the question, so I poured my coffee and grabbed my stack of books.

I’ve been keeping company with John in the weeks leading up to Easter and wasn’t surprised to find the answer to my question on the page where I’d left off. (and good grief, I just quoted it in a post)

  I give you a new commandment that you should love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too should love one another.  By this shall all men know that  you are my disciples, if you love one another if you keep on showing love among yourselves.     John 13:34-35

There would have been a time when I found more delight in sharing with you why these words were important for me to read on this specific day than just being thankful that I’d found them. Phone calls would be made, coffee arranged as I attempted to share with you the soft wave of grace that was meant for me.

I would have told you in awkward detail of issues in my family, a car ride to Indy, a Spirit-filled service, the faces I saw that day and in doing so I would have explained away the wonder of God; like trying to capture the facets of a diamond with an erasable marker on a whiteboard.  I would have expected you to grasp the glory in the revelation that God meant for me.

Thank goodness I’m getting over myself and learning that God can teach you exactly what you need to know for the daily details of your life and the heart-gripping experiences that you’ve had.

I mean really, when God wakes you up consistently at four and five a.m. it’s not because he wants you to phone a friend.  When we’re honestly searching for answers in life and are willing to follow, we find an intimate God in infinite circumstances.

Authentic questioners cultivate the ability to hear God  in the most daily of  life.

As I’ve learned to give the questions to the God who wrote eternity on my heart, the answers show up in the faces of friends, on the drive to the post office, in conflicts with family, and on the very next page of the novel I’m reading.  They’re in the scripture that I read and the song on the radio playing at exactly the right moment.  If you dare to ask them and accept the double-dog dare to listen, I promise you’ll hear.

infinite god

Is there a specific question you’d dare to voice in the comments today?  I wouldn’t begin to reply with an answer, but I’d love to join you on the journey.

 

The day I turned in my answers for grace.

Answer People don’t like questions.

I should know, I’ve spent most of  my  life avoiding questions by keeping a cache of answers close at hand.  My senses were trained to hone in on doubters,  to stand back, take aim and fire hoping to annihilate inquiries with my arsenal of catechism.

Funny thing though, I’ve also avoided other Answer People because I knew their answers didn’t work for me.  It wasn’t until I became brave enough to ask God questions and then sit with uncomfortable new ideas that my head began to connect with my heart.

It’s easier to repeat scripture and christian tenants from rote memory  than to toss-up questions that at best have multiple answers and at worst have no answers.

Posting this today, will be an invitation for answers of all kinds and the crazy thing is, I welcome them, from folks who aren’t afraid of questions in the first place.

That’s why I love Jesus. That guy answered most questions with a question and he wasn’t afraid to shake things up, to require people to think.   But he also understood that all our thinking and questioning, all of the struggles that we would face in a flawed world would leave us exhausted and confused as we wrestle with profoundly difficult issues.

That’s why he says, come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28-30).

He never ever said, come to me once you’ve got the blanks filled in completely and then I’ll give you rest.

He didn’t say get your systematic theology intact so your questions are answered, apply those particulars to the shadiest parts of your life and then I’ll give you rest.

He didn’t say come to me after you’ve read the bible through in a year, filled the pew for 48 Sundays, wiped snotty noses in the nursery for the remaining four and then I’ll give you rest.

He didn’t say come to me after you’ve been successful in crucifying your own flesh and giving selflessly to others until you’re utterly drained and then I’ll give you rest.

He said come to me now, when you’re exhausted from the ticker tape of turmoil that rolls through your head 24/7 because it’s only when you quiet your own thoughts, when you hand them to me with trust that I can handle them, that I can begin to give you rest.

The resurrection of Christ implies that something supernatural even magical happens at the cross. Answers about how our faith works and reasons that others should believe can sometimes diminish the beauty of what is offered there.  Don’t get me wrong and think for one little minute that we can do anything to impede the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of anyone, but I do believe that we can reduce our ability to see and experience the extravagant grace that’s offered to us every single day.

Come to me when your children are screwing up their lives and even though you feel like your heart might rip in two, I’ll give you rest.

Come to me when your parents are declining and there are tons of hard decisions to make,  because I can help you carry that,  I’ll give you rest.

Come to me when your House of Belief is so messed up you’re ready to don a mask and torch it at midnight for the chance to escape.  I know why I’ve led you there, I’ll hold your hand every Sunday, bring it to me and I’ll give you rest.

Come to me now, when your jacked up life and broken heart  feel so heavy that you’re pressed to your sheets, curtains drawn, eyes clenched against the pain and don’t be afraid of what I think of you because my intention wasn’t ever for you to measure up, can you hear me under there, because I’ll give you rest.  

Come to me, when the plates are all spinning as they should.  When your life looks so perfect it practically glimmers but you know one little mistake and this gig’s up.

Come to me while the ink from your questions is still wet and watch how I create art and beauty from the smudges because it’s in me that you have rest.

When we dare to take our degenerate reasoning and combative interrogations with complete candor to the foot of the cross, something remarkable happens.  It’s the single place where a perfect God intersects with our broken, tweeked out hearts and begin to make utter beauty out of a piping hot mess.  It’s in the beauty of our shambles that he gives us rest.

If we come to him trying to interpret our own issues, we negate the beauty and the mystery of God.

 

answers

Rest is for those of us standing with our fists clenched at heaven and those clenching the pew  as we try to make one more right choice.

Rest is for those of us who can’t find a soft place to lay our aching heads and those  who stay so busy we’ve mistaken that throb for the cadence of life.

Rest is for those who’ve experienced loss so deep we feel  as though we might sink right in, be swallowed whole by the sorrow and those of us who marginalize that sorrow with breezy reference to Jesus’ words in John.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.  John 16:33

(If you grew up in Sunday School, do you remember this song? God said it and I believe it and it’s good enough for me.  Well, just because God said it doesn’t mean that we should when our friends are struggling)

I remember the first time I heard the call to come now, while life was all still a big jumbled mess.

It was late and I’d already been to church that Saturday night.  I couldn’t tell you one thing about the service, only that I was coming undone on the inside.  Locked inside a habit that brought me relief from excruciating pain, I was beginning to come apart.  The model of my faith offered a plan and I decided to work it with intense resolve.  I’d call her on the way home and see if she could meet me. Thirty minutes from the church to the house, I’d leave my husband with our two small children drive another 30 to meet her halfway.

Usually the endless fields of corn are calming to me, but that night it was as if a thousand pins were pricking at the inside layers of my skin.  I was agitated as I played out the plan in my head.  I’d confess, she’d admonish, spotlight some scripture I’d suffer through and  we’d set up a system, checks and balances, accountability.    I’d never signed up for the accountability plan, because people and trust issues naturally, but I was such a miserable mess that I was willing to do about anything.  I had no idea that my paradigm of faith was about to get busted up.   

We sat at a booth against the wall under struggling florescent boxes,  I don’t know if it’s the protection of the wall or the padded seats, but booths offer a sense of security and I choose them over a table every time.  She leaned in and began with the three words I’d heard her speak a hundred times, what’s going on?

I blurted, bawled and blubbered all over her while the night crew slopped the floor and restocked  hydrogenated-trans-fat.  I braced myself for a barrage of reproof , and sat stunned as she did something that would change my life. The warmth of her hands covered mine and I saw it first in her eyes, they were gracious, gentle even.  

With complete tenderness, she said Honey, you could do that little thing for the rest of your life and it wouldn’t change how much God loves you, not one tiny bit.  Her words got stuck in translation and I tried to figure them out, they were nothing that I expected.  I’d just offered up myself for proper censure and she smiled, was she kidding me?    I was certain she didn’t understand.  

My indoctrination deciphered her response and I quickly remembered that she was from a different brand of belief. That explains it, she doesn’t know how this is supposed to go; I confess, she admonishes, I feel reprieved, she says she’ll pray and we leave with the expectation that I’ll try harder and she’ll call to check my progress.

I’d hoped to drive away with relief after my confession but was confounded instead by her compassion.  Her gracious words wandered through thick theology as I sped past green and yellow fields.  I can see now that I expected my humiliation and shame to produce forgiveness.  She hadn’t so much as said go and sin no more.  I began to realize that she had something that I didn’t, trust in the love of Christ.  

As I drove,  my long-held answers began to suffocate in a new atmosphere of faith.   She knew that the love and grace God offers is so powerful that it is the love alone that compels us to believe and change. Not confession, not atonement, not restitution, not even continual crucifixion of our own flesh, but the love and grace offered freely by Christ  for our pervasive sin that rests in the deepest darkest places in our souls, it’s the love that begins to breathe hope and infuse life  into our most desolate terrains.

 I’ve learned so much since that day, mostly about my extent of my inability to fully understand Jesus Christ. The answers I had up to that point required that I suffer for choices that I made despite the fact that I could systematically recite scripture to the contrary.

You might be surprised to find out that I didn’t leave there and drop my sinful habits.  There was no miraculous intervention that marked a specific moment I chose another path.  I began, instead, to embrace the understanding that God loved me no matter what.  I’d grown up with a theology of self-atonement woven so intricately into my soul  that it produced an if-then faith.

What she offered me that night was radical and even risky.  Trust God?  Give him the ugly?  Release my ideas of the holy hammer waiting to take me out? But I did, and I learned something new about answers and questions.

God is

God is big enough to hold  our hands when we think we have the answers and small enough to hold hearts when we find out we don’t.  And it’s the true understanding of the depth of his love and forgiveness that brings about authentic changes in our lives.

 

 

Do you remember a specific time that you began to have questions about your faith? Has anyone ever offered you a response to your actions that took you completely off guard?  Would you share a quick story by clicking on the  comment balloon at the top right of this post?

 

Why I have questions and when I got answers

There are some important things to note as I jump into this discussion.

    St. Patrick Catholic Church

St. Patrick Catholic Church

I live in the buckle of the bible belt in the middle of corn and the flattest land you’ll ever see.  There’s a church on every corner and generally one in the middle of the block as well.  In a city of 45,000 we have one church for every 208 people and that’s a little crazy if you ask me.

I never thought I’d end up in my hometown, but it just kind of happened.  I’ve spent a long time resenting it, feeling like I don’t fit anywhere and living for the day when we’d leave. Call me stubborn or stupid, but I just figured out we’re not going anywhere.  Imagine my disappointment after 20 years, and hear at the same time my sarcasm.

I told you yesterday that my people are Answer People and let me say today that I love my Answer People.  Deeply.  Have you ever experienced a love that you absolutely cannot explain?  One that makes you go back over and over even after your heart has spilled out every last tear-tinged drip of blood?  That’s how I feel about  Answer People.

They loved me and hurt me. There was a big, ugly tribunal-type implosion in my faith community at a pivotal time in my teens that left me feeling like Katniss Everdeen.  You may think I’m being dramatic, but these were the only people I knew as a child.  I wasn’t in gymnastics, didn’t go to public school and soccer hadn’t been introduced here at that time.

 My people disappeared over night and honestly, I’ve felt like I’ve been running from the Capitol ever since.   After a long period of time, I began rubbing shoulders again with some of these same people.  Slowly, they began to tolerate me and slowly I realized that I was still part of the tribe.   I’m fortunate to count many as good friends today.  

It’s a good feeling, because I’ll say it a hundred times over, they are my people.  I know that what I feel in my heart has been put there by God, because there’s just no other explanation for it after the pain I experienced.  

There’s a big world out there beyond my hometown and it doesn’t seem at this point that I’m going out there.  Less than a handful of people really know how I feel about life and faith and that’s ok, because despite our loneliness as a whole, we’re really not meant to know that many folks up close and personal.  I really thought I’d be going to the Big City someday though, and I’ve been saving my thoughts and feelings, reserving the places in my heart for thought provoking relationships until that day.

Life rarely goes as we think however, and Someday is Today.   I won’t live in the place of my birth, not for one more minute without expressing who I am.  Authenticity compels me to this discussion and I’m guessing it could be drawing you as well.

Life’s been hard lately.  Cancer and car accidents have ravaged local families this year and folks are reeling from the rate of the loss we’re experiencing.  I’ve got my own pile of personal struggles and very deep disappointments.  I’ve walked roads of heartbreak in the last year that I never expected to walk and in spite of all the questions that have bubbled up to the top this year, I’ll tell you right now, I believe that Jesus Is the Answer.

You may be so sure of Jesus that you can’t fathom having Questions about him or you may not even believe he really existed, never mind that he really was the son of God.  I don’t know your faith experiences or your struggles, but I want you to know I’ve been through some hard things and I don’t believe anymore because of  childhood indoctrination.

In fact,  I believe that I have faith in spite of my upbringing and I often wonder if it would have been easier to come to an understanding of an authentic faith as an adult with no knowledge of God whatsoever.

I don’t believe because I finally found a church here after 20 years.

I don’t believe  because of bible stories or small groups.

I don’t believe  because I clap my hands at a Jesus Pep Session.

I don’t believe because of theology.

I don’t believe because I’m surrounded by others who believe.

I don’t believe because I’m afraid of hell.

I don’t even believe because it makes sense, because it doesn’t.

I believe because when I was alone, night after night, sobbing for hours after my first miscarriage, He was there.

I believe because when I couldn’t get pregnant and was disappointed month after month after month, He was there.

I believe because when I finally delivered our first-born and didn’t take to mothering like I expected, He sent new friends to walk me through, and He was there.

I believe because during years of extreme lonliness, isolation and loss and He was there.

I believe  because during years of nightmares in which people were trying to murder me, He was there.

I believe because when my marriage has been difficult, unbearable even, He was there.

I  believe because when I had no idea how to run a household he pointed me to that crazy Flylady and He was there.

I believe because when we lived below the poverty level six years ago we still paid the mortgage and He was there.

I’ve had dozens of  in-real-life experiences and if we had a couple of hours and at least two pots of coffee, I think you’d agree they’re modernly miraculous.

You may have guessed by now that I Believe, but there are still  doubts and questions that have infiltrated and continue to cause me to question every level of that belief. I think God is completely cool with that (Philippians 2:12), but I’d be  lying right now if I told you that I think all of my friends will agree.

I’ve grappled with  faith for years with two women who love me as much when I cuss a blue-streak as when I quote scripture.  I’ve been known to do this simultaneously because I think God can handle it.  Also, in the last two years, I’ve been asking God to help me ask better questions.

I was going to talk about Answer People today, but what I want you to understand first is that I have been and often still am an Answer Person.  The Answers in my head are woven so intricately into my thinking that I’m constantly looking for the sources of my thoughts.  Some Answers are from God of course, and some Answers are from satan, but I think there’s another source of Answers worth noting.  They’re from Because-I’ve-Always and they’re insidious because we don’t often recognize those thoughts.  Because-I’ve-Always wraps itself around our view of life, love and God and becomes a filter that we don’t even know to question.

Think about your thoughts for a minute would you?  If you dare, toss up a prayer (preferably out loud, a whisper will do) and ask God to help you see where your thoughts originate.

If you’re a Question Person, can I tell you how excited I am that you’re here?    And if you’re an Answer Person, holla!

I’m going to do my best not to make any more announcements about what I might discuss next, because inevitably, I’ll change my mind. I have dozens of journals full of my thoughts,  questions and rants and may randomly pull them out and share some things, but I’d also love to hear what you’d like to talk about.  Feel free to jot some things down in the comments.  

This is somewhat of a new direction for my blog, so we’ll see how it goes.  On the right of my primitive little site you can sign-up to have these posts delivered directly to your inbox, it’s the blogger version of a thumbs up and you can un-subscribe at anytime so would you consider joining my email crew?   

 

Calling all questioners

There are gaping holes in my faith right now as I reconcile Truth that was practically transfused into my blood as a small child, some would call it indoctrination, with the truth I see being lived out locally and globally.

I come from a long line of  head-nodders and I’m not talking about my family tree.  I see gashes in grace as I’m watching the gospel of Jesus that I believe so deeply  leak out all over a parched, pain-filled world and not even begin to quench it’s thirst for meaning.

My own belief in who Jesus is carries with it the requirement for sharing that belief, but what  I’m wondering is how to embed the doctrine of making disciples of all men (Matthew 28:19-20) into the broken code of who his disciples actually are (John 13:35).

Add that to my own inability to follow the mandates of scripture to hand out  grace that was offered to me freely to others; to build life rafts of forgiveness because the bible says if you don’t forgive you won’t be forgiven; pile on top my inability to live out for one minute what I believe on a truthful and authentic level, and there’s a crisis between my head and my heart of biblical proportions.

My faith people are Answer Theologists and I gave up answers for  Lent about fifteen years ago.  You should also know that 15 years ago I didn’t practice Lent so really, I just gave them up.

Like, forever.

When I did,  craziest thing happened.  When I stopped reading books about What I Believe, and Why I Believe What I Believe, and How to Answer Every Question Someone Ever Might Ask About Your Faith, because of course, that’s the cornerstone of evangelicalism, when I put those books on the shelf and shut up the Answer Girl in my own head,  I learned who God was.

I fell in love with the immutable love that he offered to me when I let go of The Answers.

I saw him everywhere around me and stopped trying to strengthen my faith.  Instead, I let HIM build my faith from the inside out.  I came into a deeper understanding of why the transfused and indoctrinated blood inside me gave me life.  It was because he first loved me, not because I first loved him.  In fact, his love for me has absolutely nothing to do with my love for him.  His love became a part of me and transformed my life from the inside out instead of the outside in.

It was beautiful and filled with Hope.

I’m asking a lot of questions these days and I’m calling those of you who dare, to ask questions with me.  I’m inviting you to walk through the unsettled rumblings inside your soul and see what’s hidden there.  I’m asking you to discover the Beauty in the Blood, if there is such a thing.

Tomorrow, I’m going to talk more about Answer People, but today I’d like you to think about  your own questions.

Do you have any?

Are you looking for something deeper in your life?

Have you parked yourself in a pew for years and do you find yourself beginning to question what you believe?

Is this all new  and intriguing to you?

Would you care to share in the comment section?

 

Love Idols, Plans, and my Pride

A plan.  There’s always been one.

preapproved final

Bold and bulleted

Red and re-read

Punctuated with passion

Dotted with dates.

I got pregnant several months ahead of Plan A.  After feeling completely trapped for a couple of days, I headed for the Infant Department in Target.  Because – cute baby clothes.  Plus, I needed to get over myself really fast.  I picked up What to Expect So You Can Be Absolutely Prepared For Everything, and got down to business.  Acclimating to Plan B.

A spring due date will be much more pleasant than late summer.  I’ve always wanted to be perfectly pregnant at Christmas, no fewer than five months, no more than 7.  It’s only a couple of months ahead of schedule, I guess all of life can’t go according to plan. 

My plan for life.

Dashed with dull lead.

Ribboned in loopy letters.

Scrawled in invisible ink.

The idea that we would be three started to sink in and I scheduled a trip to the doctor.  As an act of rebellion against no one in particular, I chose a practice in a larger city an hour away.  We didn’t have immediate plans to move, but I had erased my hometown from the blueprints birthing a baby here was never in the plan.  Besides, I was certain a new job would take us to Tennessee or maybe South Carolina.  Big dreams, I had.

Every arena of life, held a plan.

Every plan, had an outline.

And the most important plan of all, working the plan.

The nurses were sure I had my dates wrong so there was blood work done several times over the next two weeks.   I didn’t know enough to understand the implications of all those tests, and after three more visits, my doctor confirmed what the 13-month-pregnant ultra-sound tech had not.

I’m sorry, he said. I thought he meant for running 90 minutes behind, no big deal, I said.     

He talked about denial and I was pretty insulted at an accusation I didn’t understand.  My husband could see my disconnection and began asking questions, which was a good thing, because when the doctors words began to make sense, I felt like I might fall backward off the table, I didn’t hear another word he said.  They handed us a bill and said have a good day.

I’d love to go back and give that poor girl a hug, but she probably would’ve stiffened her shoulders, maybe even taken a step back.

Plan C was another pregnancy immediately, D, more doctors’ appointments.  Treatment for endometriosis was  E, fertility drugs, F, and 22 months later  Plan G arrived, Gage Barkley Holder.  He was ridiculously cute for a newborn and I am not even kidding.  But I had to begin work on Plan H before we even checked out of the hospital because I looked at that baby and didn’t feel attached to him, not one little bit. Working to attach to a baby?  Definitely not in the plans.

There’s a discard pile in the corner.

Stacks of translucent pages indented, outlined, capitalized, and ready for publication, immediate implimentation.

I write them, erase them, start over and take myself far too seriously.

If my first sweet unborn baby was Plan A, you should know that fourteen years later, I’m somewhere in the neighborhood of Plan Quadruple Q.

Miscarriages,  career changes, non-existent moves and unanticipated conflict have scratched out plan after plan after plan. I knew that Life could be messy, I just didn’t think that my life would be messy.

Anger is always, always my first response to disappointment.  My poor family has backstage passes for the show and believe me, there are serious special effects.  During the second act I dive deep inside where the next set of plans begin to unfold.  Loss after disappointment after delay after heartbreak and the response, always the same, anger, silence and a new plan.

In some ways,  I’m proud of my ability to adjust.   I think God initially gave me the ability to help me  weather two very difficult decades. It’s no small task to take the plans of  life and layer them with enough new fabric, enough extra padding to reveal an entirely different shape.  But now, He’s doing some new things. Our seasons of deep and repeated loss are shifting to daily days with a routine that’s new to me and I think my ability to acclimate is morphing into distrust.

Several weeks ago I set out with one more  new plan.  I want to learn more about the writing process and so I signed myself up to join a book launch team for Jennifer Dukes Lee, an author I admire. The plan was to give  up a Love Idol for Lent and write about during the days leading up to her April 1st release date.

While my plan for this gig wasn’t real defined,  I do tend to think more highly of myself than I should and I was just sure that I had something valuable to offer to this team.   Holy.Cow.Bookgirls.  It took me about 2 minutes to realize that I’m way outta my league!

The women on this team are Official Author Girls complete with beautiful websites and I am an Official Hair Girl complete with exorbitant words.  I saw the OAG’s beautiful words and took a deep dive into some serious doubt about what business I had contributing my half pence of life experience.

But, God is still God whether I slosh around in self-pity  or not.  He  pulled me right outside of myself  with the  gentleness of this song and  encouraged me that what I have to share is enough because He says so. Amen.  All this before I had even read the intro to Love Idol.

I understood the foundation of the book was about holding tightly onto ideas, thoughts and sometimes maybe even relationships that stand in between our relationship with God.  And going back to the drawing board over and over to re-map my life is getting exhausting.  I mean really, who am I to say that my plan quadruple Q wasn’t God’s plan A in the first place.

And then, because, really,  this was an endeavor to help support a book launch, I began actually reading the book. Signing up kind of carries the implication of reading the book after all.  (Good grief, I hope I get over myself before 50.)  Jennifer has a beautiful ability to cut straight to the issues behind the idols we worship while being easy on the soul and I found myself connecting with every word.

In Love Idol, Jennifer talks about  the deep ways she longed for approval. The lengths she went to her in life to secure perfect plans garnering endless praise with the idea that her desire for acceptance could be accomplished from the outside in.  Here are her words.

I was an early adopter of the now- popular school of thought that if one wants to achieve her dreams, she should write them down. I was my own life coach. While most girls my age planned slumber parties, I mapped life strategies. I wrote that I would marry a handsome man and birth twins— one girl and one boy— all while managing dual careers as a highly acclaimed psychiatrist and a famous book author. Death would not come knocking until age 105.  What I didn’t know then is that life has a way of making its own plans, no matter what you write down.

The pride I had in my plans to join this launch team has taken hit after hit this last week.  I was surrounded by gifted, talented women and took a deep dive inside.  As if their gifts diminished my existence.  Dramatic, but true.  I not only wanted to disengage  from the group but from the people in my real life.  Because the plan I’m on?  Quadruple Q,  QQQQ?  It’s not my favorite.  There have been friendships that haven’t gone like I expected and I’ve struggled to find connection in my faith community and feeling like I didn’t measure up to the talent in this group of women  seemed like entirely too much with the other things I’m trudging through.

But God reminded me that my job is to reflect Him.  And that He transforms and fills up all of the not-enough in my life if I just give him the disappointment and hand over the plans.

You should know, I’m not on the once-a-week-hand-it-over plan.  It seems that every minute of my day finds me laying out another 3 point plan to be enough.  It’s a battle I’m sure that I’ll fight  until death do this world and I part.  Because my plans have been the way that I’ve justified my value.  When the plans fell apart, my ability to adapt became the new way I measured success.  And girls, I’m exhausted.  If I want rest, and if I want to continue to reflect who He is, I’ve got smash the Love Idol of my plans. I hope you’ll join me for the journey.   I’m so looking forward to finishing the book, here’s what Jennifer  has to say about it.  

The book shares a lot of my personal journey of seeking approval through my good performances, my insatiable appetite to succeed, and my desire to be “known.” But no two stories are alike. Love idols lurk in so many different areas of life. God wants us to get free from the grip of those idols, but first we’ll need to identify them, giving up on some of the lies we’ve been telling ourselves about ourselves.

I pray that together, we can give up on:

  • the inner critic who bruises, the mirror that accuses, and the mental playback that oozes with bad history;
  • our knee-jerk response to try to please people;
  • the idea that it’s somehow all up to you and me, or that our reputations hinge on our own spotless performance;
  • our penchant for self-criticism;
  • our fear of trying because we’re afraid we’ll fail when people are watching;
  • our inability to fully experience the love of God because we’re waiting for proof from a spouse or a friend that we are worthy of his or her love;
  • our longing to feel important;
  • our appetite for being “known”;
  • our un-gospel notions about pleasing God.

You can find out more about Jennifer and the Love Idol she’s courageously giving up for Lent on her blog.  Or find her on Facebook, here.

Here’s a hint of the Love Idol she’s smashing for Lent.

jennifer dukes lee

 

The silent ring of rhythm

Our family is experiencing changes faster than the post office raises rates.

Adjustments to our new schedule carry both widening space to exhale and twinges of tightness as old patterns of thinking and living become too small for a new routine.  

I hear  coffee chug, steep and steam at the fifth hour.

There are still three more before he leaves.  

Number one son rises, silent, at the sixth hour and there are two more before he leaves.

Number two daughter wakes with words to spare at the seventh and there is one more before he leaves.

Number three son, always the wild card, bounds down the hallway and there’s still time for one more cup before he leaves.  

He’ll return before dark.  There will be lessons, meets, dinner, and homework before the order will reverse and they return to their beds hour by hour.

Can you hear it?

The deep driving rhythm of a daily routine drawing straight lines around a dashed life.

It’s difficult to keep life between the lines when they’re invisible.  In our old, non-routined life, it seemed as if each time I caught a solid glimpse of steady, a giant eraser would  drop from the sky leaving behind gaping holes, interruptions and life-sized eraser jib.

These are changes that can’t be heard with a neighboring ear.  These are the kind that can only be felt in the center of a family and they have me drawing sheer panels over my windows and silencing iCalls.

A good friend once told me that she could sense my pregnancies, before we’d announced them, by my silence.   In the extremes of life, I tend to draw inward.  I’ve come to understand that honoring my soul means to give it space to process both heartbreak and elation.

Time alone, to silence the voices from the outside, allows us to walk through our own feelings and clearly sense the voice of God, in the middle of change.

As a verbal processor prone to indulgent self-doubt, I tend to over-share.  I’ve learned the hard way that my emotional acuity remains pliable in times of transition when I give myself room to organize my thoughts. Time to pull apart layers of complex feelings, that when left unprocessed, form fiery licks of anger and cold, slimy contempt.

I haven’t always known this and spent years looking to friends and family for affirmation of my own perceptions and experiences.    Verbal affirmation is heroin for my people- pleasing addiction.   Learning to batten down the hatches has taught me to take my feelings of scrambled anxiety to the feet of Jesus and keep looking straight at him as my emotional DT’s subside.

I’ve learned to know and love myself in new ways by valuing how I’ve been created.  And I’m beginning to love my family differently, better, as we dance behind drawn curtains to the beat of new lines and the occasional iRing.

Time alone quote

Injustice Carves Eyes on Your Heart

It’s a quick trip between REM fog and jet lag as I glance at the time and see the notification. Seven hours separate the safety of my night from the terror of their day.  Pictures have looped for three hours.

IMG_5403

BBC Photo and Video Link

Deceptive fireworks scroll to  faces of friends and dance a tango of fear that becomes mine just from knowing.

There were changes while I was there.

There’s an ocean and a continent, or ten, between us.  I can’t help but feel the pull of deep injustice and frenetic fear when the woman’s face flashes again.

It’s bare and angled.  Her eyes denying the chaos behind her as she calmly  answers questions about why she’s on the Maiden.

The love of her country, of course, the hope for  a different type of government.  She stands strong and wears an ivory hat.  Her face determined, but not angry.  Her family she says, she wants a different life for them.  A life with freedom.

She’s standing with birth pangs of revolution behind her but all I see is the calm in her face and I can’t check enough luggage or catch enough planes to span the distance between her reality and mine.

And there were changes while I was there.

Adam McHugh says that writing is like a war, as you, your ideas, and your words all battle each other for supremacy.

The war to uncover the  fray  in my soul seems as unstable as her government and I can’t justify the comparison.  I won’t try. 

When injustice carves eyes on your soul, you’ll spend the rest of your life staring into the deep.

Yes, there were changes  while I was there. 

This morning, as the screen is bright and the house is dark,  as they are waking to a reality I can’t begin to understand, I’ll continue to tell their story.

I’ll remember.

I’ll give thanks for the ways that my heart was changed.

I’ll pray.

Photo:  WPXI

Ukranian Priests stand in peace between protestors and government opposition. Photo: WPXI

Psalm 46

God is our Refuge and Strength, an ever present help in time of trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth give way and the mountains crumble into the heart of the sea. Though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. 

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not move. God will help her at the break of day. 

Nations are in an uproar, kingdoms fall, but he lifts his voice and the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge. Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. 

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear. He burns the shields with fire. 
He says “Be Still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in all the earth.” 

The Lord Almighty is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress.

I memorized this chapter when  my husband traveled to Mozambique in 2001.  It’s one of my favorite passages in the Bible.  While the verse Be still and know that I am God is well loved, I completely adore the reminder just before it.  

He makes wars cease and breaks the bow.  He shatters the spear and he burns the shields with fire.  

It’s a picture of violent love and I’m reminded that God is fighting for me, countless unknown battles.  The scriptural meaning of my name means Warrioress and the weight of that interpretation often feels as thick as smothering skin.   The assurance that God is not a bystander in the battle for my heart is a cleansing breath for my soul. 

Link to a new page with all my Stories From Ukraine. 

Link to video of the current situation in Ukraine.

A young Ukranian woman’s compelling plea for her country.

 

Humble Holder Household news

This friends, is a good day.  One in which I will give you the status of the Humble Holder Household.

The physical household is just an absolute disaster after weeks of actual calendar Holidays (I just tried to apply the -ies rule to holiday:  fail) followed by possibly the most school-year Snolidays since the ice-age.

The fridge is bare.  Requisite storm staples of eggs milk and bread have left room for little else in that big cold box.  Yesterday I walked in the kitchen to find a child making a butter sandwich, which I just spelled sandwhich.

We haven’t had a nutritious meal since Thanksgiving and that one was questionable with the butter and all.  Rules of nutrition, housekeeping and grammar, have apparently been flattened under the weight of our massive snow drifts.

I’ve been wearing yoga pants for 65 days straight – it’s gonna get ugly at some point.

We started just a small little project in the bathroom because, well, broken walls.  Let’s just fix the wall and toss up a little paint, maybe some new ceramic on the floor, we said.  And the next thing you know, this.

Please pretend that this photo is focused.

Please pretend that this photo is focused.

The bathroom floor has a big hole  and my husband had to dam the toilet  with a dirty rag.  And also this is the second post in a row that I’ve been able to fit the word dam in, in a totally legit no-swearing sort of way, not that I’m opposed to the occasional colorful word or anything.

Moving on.

The garage is full of outgrown shoes, VHS tapes  and various other unlovables, but I’m happy to report that the shelves are still on the wall.  Spawned belongings have been put on ice for a rummage sale in the Spring, which we’re hoping will arrive by mid-June.

The kids will be making up snow days until October and the weeks are so mixed up that no one knows the current spelling list.

My computer and printer are going through nasty a divorce and quit speaking to one another weeks ago.

I can’t tell you the last time I washed my hair and if you see me at Marsh, I will look 762 years older than the last time you saw me. (see above remark regarding yoga pants)

Yesterday half a litre of shampoo washed down the shower drain.  Early reports were that the floor looked like an infomercial for Scrubbing Bubbles. The latest is that if you step carefully over the 42″ chasm, you can still shower.

But wait, there’s MORE!

This is where we get into the exciting stuff.  Yes, indeed, there is good news here.  

The disarray of the house, hole in the floor, yea verily not even the loitering of children can dampen my blazing excitement!!!

I mentioned on Monday that there might be a shift in my schedule soon.

I’m excited to announce that soon is Today.

My husband took a new job which will bring his irregular, 12 hour, every-third-weekend shifts to an end.  Now, before you join me in my victory dance, you need to know exactly how hard you’re gonna to need to shake it.

In the last 20 years he has worked every odd shift imaginable with the majority of those years including some sort of weekend work.

normal:  conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

Our life has been full of many things, but normal has never been one of them, though I’m beginning to have hope.

We’ve been short on the nor and long on the mal, unless, of course,  you examine the second definition of nor in which case we’ve had plenty of  :  struggle that never seemed to end

nor:

1. used before the second or further of two or more alternatives (the first being introduced by a negative such as “neither” or “not”) to indicate that they are each untrue or each do not happen.

2.  used to introduce a further negative statement.

          “the struggle did not end, nor was it any less diminished”
       

 

mal:

1.  in an unpleasant degree

“malodorous”

2.  in a faulty manner

“malfunction”

I’m certain that my etymology teacher would be proud to  learn that I continue to pull apart words today, if only for my own personal growth and that of the 35 people that follow my blog.

Mr. Tetrick had a metal plate in his forehead and I have very fond memories of sitting in his class at 7:05 (a.m.), taking full advantage of his generous restroom passes and watching Brian Paul stick kleenex in his ears for the sole purpose of making us all laugh.

So, I have no idea what my original plan for this post was exactly, but now you know this most fabulous good news!

And, as if all of these exciting goings-on were not enough…..

I have a super amazing friend, also from high school, who  gave me a massage gift certificate for Christmas.  At 1 pm I get to see Miss Debbie  for what will undoubtedly be the most relaxing hour of my month. (Thanks Waymire!)

Alrighty friends, I’m gonna shuffle, but I’ll be back real soon.  I think things are about to get exciting up in these parts.

But first, in honor of my husbands new job, my years in high school and  love of words, and with fond memories of  Mr. Tetrick, I leave you with Muted High School Monk Impersonators and their version of the hallelujah chorus.

(please pretend that the laughing and cheering the happy sounds of  me and my husband)

Would you consider joining me regularly?   I’m feeling that things are about to get exciting in these parts.  You can sign up by clicking on the button at the right that says Follow My Blog and these posts will be delivered to your inbox.