Friends, I know our days are so inconsistent right now. It seems that if we find a rhythm, the next day it changes. Ugh! Or maybe there is some consistency we are feeling, like anxiety, sadness, worry. What are we to do?
God invited me this week to make a list of what is consistent in my life right now. What will be the same tomorrow when I wake up?
1. God is Love.
2. The love of my family.
3. Chocolate pb cups are the yummiest.
4. The sun rising and setting.
5. The comfort of a cup of tea.
I wrote down my list and have it posted on the window above my kitchen sink so I can be reminded over and over what is going to be the same tomorrow.
What’s on your list?
Today the world’s problems got too big for my heart to handle. Up until this point I’ve been able to keep a “safe” distance to not get overwhelmed with all that is transpiring outside my house. But then I saw a post from a friend down in Guatemala. Last fall God invited me to take a trip with him to meet my brothers and sisters living in Guatemala who are considered among the poorest and most vulnerable in our world. It seems that this pandemic will threaten to push the rich and the poor further from one another.
While in Guatemala I visited the garbage dump in Guatemala City that thousands call home and even more call their place of work. Their government has decided in the wake of the coronavirus to shut the dump, and I understand for good reason, but this also means 30,000 people, who already barely eke out a day’s wages for their family to live on are now without work. Let that sink in, 30,000 people. Walking through the cities of this beautiful country I met more folks, mostly women and children, who earn their life wages selling on the street corners. With everyone in quarantine right now their ability to work has dried up too. I know in my own community and country the unemployment rate is climbing to frightening rates but what happens when unemployment meets those that are already vulnerable impoverished people like my friends in Guatemala?
Upon reading this news my heart started to race. What can I do to help? How can I fix something this big? As my anxiety flared up I retreated to my sacred spot, where God and I go to talk together. I cried with him and pleaded what can I do? I’m a helper and an idealist by nature, my desire is to fix what is broken around me but this often means I can get a savior complex, quick. As I looked at the magnitude of the world’s problems feeling guilty that I couldn’t do more God scooped me up and whispered in my ear, “I got this.”
I am thankful that my heart is learning more and more to listen to his gentle voice that tells me I’m already enough. The guilt and anxiety that was starting to crush me made me blind to how I am helping and loving right now in my own home and community in the ways that I can. Fear would desire us to see our efforts as small and therefore meaningless but God says each act of love is huge and impacts his kingdom. Having a dance party with my kids to alleviate their stress is huge. Painting little rocks to place around our neighborhood for our neighbors to find is huge. Being intentional about staying in touch with family and friends to listen and stay connected is huge. Picturing my friends in Guatemala in my heart so I can pray for them, lament with them and share their story is huge. Writing every time I feel an invitation from the Lord to share what’s on my heart with all of you is huge. He showed me that the list goes on and on. The plight of 30,000 people felt too big for me and guess what, it was, but I don’t take on that plight, God does because he’s big enough. I will love here and now how I can and how I am called to.
When Jesus’ disciples were about to face a situation that was going to be too big for them Jesus gave them these words. May they resonate in your heart when fear, anxiety, and guilt try to crush out his gentle voice to you.
“I’ve said these things to you so that you can have peace in me. You’ll have trouble in the world. But cheer up! I have defeated the world!” ~John 16:33
I discovered The Prayer of St. Francis about a year ago. It has begun to reorient my heart as I pray it each day. The words have been especially pertinent as of lately. Perhaps it will guide you today too.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Friends, these are uncertain times, are they not? The majority of us are not used to waking up one day and having our whole world, really the whole world, change before our eyes. From the way we interact, live, approach life, we’ve been given a reset button of sorts. We woke up one day in the last few weeks and suddenly everything was different.
For one population I’ve had a front-row seat to watch this change unfurl, my kids. We went to bed one-night expecting school and a “normal” routine the next day and instead woke up to school canceled. That first day felt like a fun snow day of sorts, though the weather was an abnormally warm 70 degrees and sunny. Instead of snow gear, they donned shorts and t-shirts and ran and played out back only stopping to retrieve their picnic lunch. I thought to myself, this quarantine is going to be great.
Then the reality of what we were facing began to hit. The enthusiasm that we started with started to deflate and emotions ran high. Our reactions to one another were less than becoming is the nicest way to put it. Midway through the week, as I was hiding in my bedroom from the kids, I began to pray, what invitation is there to see here? What eyes do I need to see? Reinvigorated by a good cry and few bites of leftover birthday cake we went through the rest of our day but this time I saw what was going on inside my kids, they were grieving.
Grief is a companion we’re familiar with around this home. And since we’ve spent time getting to know grief I know it comes out in unique ways from different people, at different stages along the way. My kids woke up one morning torn away from their friends, their teachers and their everyday community and way of life. Yes, home is their special place, but the majority of their waking hours are spent in school. They’ve been given very little explanation as to why this is, that they can understand at least (“because of the coronavirus, right Mommy?”) and they never got closure to say goodbye. At the end of the school year or even before an extended holiday break teachers, would have been winding down and special celebrations had. Our kids got none of that. I also realized where I can send a quick text or Polo to a friend, our kids are too young for their own devices and social media so they’ve essentially been cut off from their community.
I’ve seen and read headlines of how to help kids cope with the fear and anxiety of this unsettling time but I haven’t seen much about dealing with the fact that they are grieving. Not only is school missed, but sports and activities, birthday parties and just the fun of a meet up at the neighborhood playground. Grief can come out at any moment and I’m trying my best to keep these new eyes of compassion to see when my kids need a hug and not a lecture.
I think it’s true that all of us are grieving in a way right now. How do we give ourselves grace so that we can extend that grace to others around us who need it too right now? Sometimes it might be a good cry and some birthday cake.
Pilgrimage has been defined as, “a trip with God, to meet God, together.” I just returned from a 10-day pilgrimage to Guatemala and El Paso/Cd Juarez. Below is a link to a piece a wrote up about my experience. Perhaps God will prompt you to journey with him as well.
“On October 20th, 2019, Coracle sent a team of 12 people on a 10-day pilgrimage, to “take a journey with God, to meet God, together.” We traveled south to Guatemala for several days, then north via Mexico to the border cities of El Paso, TX and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The purpose behind our journey was to discover why thousands of brothers and sisters every year make this same journey, albeit under very different conditions.
Even to say others are making a journey is an understatement. In truth, they are fleeing their homes as a last resort, leaving behind their families, their cultures and their people to seek refuge and justice because they have exhausted all other options….”
To read on, click on the link below…
It’s been a month of sad news, almost daily it seems. The unexpected death of a dear, sweet man, who came back from the pit of death once before only to be led there once again, far too soon. A young woman who’s womb will no longer be able to bear life as she and her family wait with bated breath hoping her one child will live. A mother and father who wait vigilant at their young son’s bedside, a little boy younger than mine, who is battling for his life. The solemn words, “stage 4” that punch you in the gut when they are uttered and wondering what the journey will be ahead. A young woman’s life, who on the outside is articulate, strong, hospitable and full of love, but who’s heart on the inside is weighed down with grief and despair that is too hard to carry on anymore. And for me, saying goodbye to yet another dear friend, and all this news stirring up the grief I have borne myself over these last years.
How is it with my soul? I feel sorrow and I mourn. The pain and brokenness of this life felt acutely on the surface. And I cry out as the Psalmist did, why O Lord, why?
I sat with Psalm 139 today. It’s words familiar and safe, a warm blanket to wrap around a tired soul. God’s answer to my why, today and every day, look up dear child, look up and know that I AM. When the days seem dark, they are light to me. When you do not know, I have already written it. When you don’t even know yourself, I formed you when you were nothing, knitting every detail together into a wonderful work, a person of beauty. I AM.
Lately, I’ve been embracing the word mystery. To embrace mystery means to let go of control. To embrace mystery means to sink deeper into Love. To embrace mystery means to plant myself more strongly onto the foundation of Hope. To embrace mystery is to trust.
“How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them–they are more than the sand;
I come to the end–I am still with you.”
I’m reminded often as of late of approaching life with the lens of “both/and”, not “either/or”. I first put on these new lenses while I sat at my father’s bedside as he died. Up until that day I thought life could only exist in “either/or”, I could feel one way or I could feel the other. But at dad’s side, simultaneously I felt both the greatest sorrow I had experienced to that point in my life at the loss of my father, but also the deepest joy and peace that dad was free from the chains of this life and I was so glad for him. In my grief that followed, I also experienced at the same time the awakening of my soul. Perhaps I could feel two things at once, and perhaps I could feel them more deeply when experienced together.
As I live with my new lenses I am seeing that this new approach lives out in many ways. I notice for instance that if I seek to bestow true forgiveness to others in life and the freedom that it will give me, I must at the same time delve deep into the pains and hurt that caused the wounds in the first place. I don’t know about you but that pain and hurt were enough to experience the initial time around, why go poking around into the mess again? This time around I don’t go by myself though.
My Brother offers to hold my hand, illuminating our path as we enter into parts of my heart that have been locked away. I offer the key and we go together. God shows me where He was present all along before, I was just blind to His presence, and where He is now, His Love large enough to catch every tear and heal every wound. When the great Healer comes in to make me whole again, my new self is what identifies me, not the old self of victim and shame. Forgiveness can come from this new place, with these new lenses.
I learn along the way though, that a companion of forgiveness is confession, my own confession, “both/and”. I must reach a place where I see the depravity of my own sin, the plank sticking out of my own eye. The more deeply I confess my own sin, to own it, I can receive forgiveness myself. The Healer comes to me in a different way, to remove my plank and set me free. What I learn from the gift of mercy is how it is bestowed, with gentleness and with compassion. This was a “both/and” I could not see before.
I hid away my confession because I thought it would be met with judgment and anger, I was bound by fear. The longer I have spent in the embrace of Love I rest in its assurance so fear is driven out and I can let my guard down. Confession can flow more naturally because now I know the “both/and” it is accompanied by is more Love. How is that possible? Because it is Divine Love, not human love. As I confess myself and receive compassion the more willing and able I am to grant forgiveness. A snowball starts rolling and just won’t stop.
If I desire more good in my life, more love, more freedom than I must be willing to experience the “and”, the suffering, the loss, the pain, the death at the same time. I can not separate the two any longer. If I fear the pain then I will settle for a shallow love, “either/or”. Instead, I can choose courageously to step deeper into Love but then Love will also call me to step deeper into the pain, I will have to experience “both”. But deeper, Holy Love promises this, to never leave me or forsake me. It promises me to see life with this new set of lenses, a new teaching, a new yoke, that will not burden me any longer, and with it my new self, my soul will find rest. It is in giving that we receive and it is in dying that we are born again into something new, into the eternal.
Ten years ago I had a conversation with a young woman, we were discussing the characteristics of God. She said she had a heard a speaker one-time share that yes, people go around saying that God is love but first and foremost we must always remember that God is holy. Hmm, God is holy. Holy. Set apart.
Well, I clung onto that thought and somewhere in it set apart transformed into far apart. His holiness, His perfection was distant from my sin and couldn’t draw near. And when God is far away He sits in judgment. There fear steps into the place of love, but isn’t fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom? True, but if you can’t draw near to wisdom, then how can you obtain it?
With this transformation my faith became transactional, to get to the love I so desperately sought after, I would need to perform to do to obey because Jesus instructed that if we loved Him then we would obey Him. Obedience is easy because you can tell when you’re doing right and doing wrong, hoping that the doing right was inching you close enough to the favor you sought and the love that you hoped for. But to view God as far away meant that love was always far away too and no amount of transactions would get me to the point of satisfaction to a judgmental God or a judgemental self.
Now, well now I’m seeing that maybe I got everything all wrong. It started with this notion that God is Love. I had focused so much on holiness that I left off in discovering Love but thankfully it never left seeking after me. When Love began to awaken me I could finally sit in its presence, in all its glory and beauty. And for the first time, it wasn’t distant but it was still holy.
I couldn’t understand Love or God in His totality because I was trying to understand Him with human constructs and beliefs. I realized that when I thought of love I thought of the sinful way we use love, love as merely a feeling of the heart or give me love and I’ll show you love in return, hurt or harm me and I withdraw. This is not God’s Love. God’s Love is holy, it is set apart and that’s what makes it beautiful and life-giving. I start to start secure in Holy Love first.
To immerse myself in a Holy Love I must die to myself though, the self that clings to the human construct of love. If I continue to try and squeeze love into those standards no fruit will flourish into abundance and I would never truly love God, my neighbor or myself. I have begun to have a foretaste to what taking up my cross and dying to this false self will mean. It means seeing the true depth to the depravity of my own sin so that Holy Love can bestow compassion and grace and gentleness to me. It means bringing Light to old wounds, as painful as that might be so forgiveness, that is bathed in compassion can be truly bestowed and so I can stop living in denial and instead know healing and freedom.
So in my transforming view of life from the “either/or” to the “both/and” I am seeing that God is both Holy and Love, He’s actually Holy Love. We can not separate the two lest we get hung up on the one characteristic apart from the other. No, they must be married together. He must be Holy and He must Love, but it must be Holy Love. I still have much to learn about Holy Love but for now, I’m enjoying just being with Him and letting that gentle truth wash over me.
(Meditate on 1 John 4 to sit with Holy Love.)
As I step deeper into Love and let it transform me I have become aware that I see things differently, read things differently because this Love is different and is giving me a new lens to look at life. I’m reading through the gospel of Luke right now and came to a place where Jesus is teaching his disciples what Love looks like. He tells them (and us) that Love loves their enemies, that when someone strikes your cheek, you offer them the other cheek in return. Love is helping me to understand this differently.
My oldest son gives into the fruit of the flesh with bursts of anger and rage from time to time. He might have partaken of this fruit through generational sin, maybe. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But the good news is, some new fruit is growing on my tree, the kind from the Spirit that is uprooting this generational sin. One day during one of his outbursts instead of offering anger back I let Love step in and it felt like I was absorbing that anger, not feeding off of it like before, and then I was able to offer my other cheek to my son that came in the form of open arms ready for an embrace. I encouraged him to let it out, that I could take it, Love could take it and when he was done we hugged in a deep hold.
Now my son is certainly not my enemy, far from it, but I think God is giving me an easy start into this whole love your enemies sort of thing. It was easier to offer love back to my son’s anger because of the relationship we already have established. I can see how practicing in this kind of Love will help when the real enemies come my way.
I also saw in a very tangible way how God’s love absorbs our anger that we throw at Him every day while like the Prodigal Father, He stands there with open arms ready to embrace us. In the passage of Luke, I was referring to earlier at the end of this section Jesus states that if we are able to love our enemies, (and do good and lend without expecting a thing in return) our reward will be great because we will truly be children of God. Jesus says we must be merciful, just as our father is merciful (Luke 6:36). I think this is because we first let Love transform us so that we become Love itself.
The only way this Love will transform us is if we spend time together, in new ways, in real ways, in quiet, be still kind of ways. I’m asking more and more every day what it means that God is Love, so that I might be a Love incarnate that can offer my other cheek. How will you spend time with Love today?