Shifting Perspective

A shift has slowly been taking place in my perspective of life.  When I was younger, I was proud and naive and relied much on my own self-righteousness.  Of course, this youthful way of life shrouded my ability to see my own pride especially because there was no outright malicious intent in my actions I believed, but they were selfish none the less.  I thought and acted in a way meant to glorify God and of course, his grace was always to love me and bless what little I offered him of myself, but I’m thankful that he didn’t leave me in this state.

The ego breaks down at some point and we are all faced with a mirror, will I continue to keep living this way or will I put my hope into something else, a life promised to each of us, but we realize will not come about on our own efforts.  Jesus’ words that if we try to save our own life we will lose it, but if we choose to lose our life, for his sake, we will live, begins to take on a whole new meaning, and slowly, slowly, the ego drowns in the fount of baptism and we begin to emerge into the true life.

Before my ego fell I remember reading Ann Voskamp’s words of a life of gratitude, the Eucharistic life and thinking if I just start keeping a daily journal of gratitude then I will transform.  It helped for a time of course but my efforts lost their steam.  Now, I take in the Eucharist every time it’s offered to me, drinking and eating it up.  I’m learning the fullness and richness of a Eucharistic life now, not because I did something but because I’m making space and communion with the Eucharist itself, and he, in turn, is transforming me so that my actions are becoming his actions.  What a different way to approach this life.

Before my ego fell, my heart ached with the word “present”, to be present in the current moment of my life and to be present to the Presence.  Again I read words of great saints who lived this life I puzzled to learn their secrets but not much was revealed or changed so that longing for presence sat inside of me for years.  You see before I was preoccupied by what was next, whether a small mundane task or the grander plans of life.  I said it was so I wouldn’t squander a moment or the gifts and talents given to me but ego once again shrouded the real reasons.  Really, I sought my own fame and the glory the accolades I would receive to feed my inner god.  Then the shroud fell and I was forced to confess my own sinful nature to myself.  It doesn’t seem like much but the more and more I sit in this humble state of confession, repeating the Our Father over and over, I make room for the Presence in my life and he shifts my perspective onto the present.  The funny thing, I didn’t try to do this on my own, nor was I aware of it.  God graciously pointed it out to me through my dear Spiritual Director.

I look back now and am so grateful for the perspective of time.  Before I thought if I could just read a book or intently study the Scripture or put into place new habits and disciplines I would bring about my transformation.  These things did produce beautiful fruit in my life but still, that veil existed and I was blind that my own pursuits which mostly came from my self-will which would only take transformation so far.  This is the state of our youthful, dare I say, adolescent mind state, which puts ego in the center and allows the Pharisaical mindset to dominate.

I encourage you if you’re tired of doing things your way, thinking they are God’s way and you’re coming up short, don’t be afraid to face the mirror and try something new, something different.  Many will walk away from the mirror and try a little harder or try something different but I promise it will all lead back to the same roadblock.  To truly live, do as Jesus instructed and lose your life.  Sit with God and ask him how.  Sitting in silence and solitude is the start and it is the end of a life well-lived in love.

 

Work that glorifies

Yesterday I spent a lovely day with my dear friends at Coracle.  We sat around a large board room overlooking the city of DC to discuss the topic of work.    As I’ve talked before work is not some hardship meant to just fill our time up here on earth.  Work is a God-ordained gift, given to us his image bearers at the dawn of creation.  Genesis 2:15 instructs us that God gave us the garden to work, (cultivate is the actual word here) and to care for.  It wasn’t till after the curse in Genesis 3 that our work was cursed as well, our food to come from the sweat of our brow because the land had been infested with thorns and thistles.

But of course, God never ends the story there.  Jesus comes to this world to bring dignity and meaning back to our work, to redeem it.  He works most of his life as a carpenter, a ‘tekton‘ I learned yesterday, which has a much fuller meaning I knew before.  He spent the majority of his time, not with the professional religious folks but with the everyday workers, tax collectors, fishermen.  Then on the cross, he took the thorns and thistles, the full measure of sin and he defeated it.  Our lives now are redeemed to the fullest meaning that even our work done now can take on its original intent, to glorify God and prepare us all, this whole creation for the new earth to come.

I heard this complete gospel in my college days.  It was a way of life that ignited me to see each task I performed, each paper I wrote, each exam I studied for, each job I took on to be done to the glory of God.  Colossians 3:17 became my mantra, “and whatever you do, in word or action, do everything in the name of the master, Jesus, giving thanks to him through God the father.”  I was introduced to a gentleman named Brother Lawrence, a monk known for how he lived each and every day doing what he called, practicing the presence of God.  Brother Lawrence lived his days in a continual awareness of God with him.  He is also well known for saying that he could peel potatoes even to the glory of God since all work was done for God.  I wanted to live this way, knowing that even peeling potatoes was God ordained and glorifying, living into my image bearing identity.

And I did.  I set about my years post-college in passionate pursuit of serving God through all my actions and sharing this complete gospel with everyone I could, that the lie of the dualistic life, the sacred and secular divide was false when it came to our lives, our whole lives, including our work.  I was busy doing, doing doing, for God trying to please him through my work each day.  But these seasons of doing don’t last forever and I found myself lost wondering if I’m not doing for God or serving him as I once thought was the only way possible, am I still glorifying him?  What does he think about that?  What does he think about me?

In my later years now I revisited my old friend Brother Lawrence and sat as he instructed me on his life, through his words.  I began to see his life and his practice completely differently.  Brother Lawrence didn’t start with his doing to glorify God, he started with his being to glorify God.  That constant awareness he lived into of the presence of God, the presence of Love with him always grounded him in his identity as a child of God.  His practice was neither fancy nor complicated, just a centering of himself on God so that no matter what he did, “in word or action,” he did for God not through his doing but through his being.

These days I’m switching things around.  My primary task each day is not centered on doing anything but sitting with my God who is always with me.  He gently reminds me who I am, his child and image bearer in this world.  Sitting sweetly with my Lord I am able to hear his voice and the instruction he has for me that day, the work that he will offer to me to do, whether it be washing clothes, running my son to baseball practice, writing this blog entry and yes, even peeling potatoes for an evening meal.  Living into the constant presence of God, abiding in the Vine and his word is what makes my branch fruitful and ultimately glorifying to God.

Holy and Love

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.)

Moving On

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Life has been a cluster of crazy the last month.  My family and I have decided to move after calling this house our home for the last 10 years.  It was a pretty quick decision and only took about six weeks to buy a house and sell ours.  On the outside looking in I can understand why people might assume we’re moving for more space, a better location or school, but on the inside, it has been a much deeper journey to reach peace and healing.

As I’ve shared, 2017 was a year of watching friend after friend move away.  At the beginning of this year, my husband and I started entertaining the thought that maybe it was our time to think about moving as well.  We never thought we’d live in this house forever and after adding our third child to the family, the walls began to squeeze in on us more and more.  Every few months we’d clean out the closets and reorganize the space and make it work for us for just a little bit longer.  We’d come to love this little neighborhood and the place we brought all our babies home to.

Our home taught us so many lessons.  Having a smaller space forced us to live a simpler life and to learn to live with less which in turn changed our heart to desire a simple life.  Living in one spot for 10 years when our area is so transient taught us to put down roots and meet our neighbors.  Being some of the longest living folks on the street meant we were the welcome committee, showing people around, learning the local spots, sharing the exact trash pickup times twice a week.  We have gotten to meet the whole world in our backyard here and have made some of the dearest friends in life.  To leave would not be an easy decision.

The thought of moving scared me at first.  Could I really handle one more change in my life?  We would keep swaying back and forth, yes we should move now, no we can wait a little longer, but we always swayed back to yes, maybe now is the time.  I knew the gravity of the decision to move and didn’t want to take it lightly, was I moving just to avoid my problems and my emotions, to avoid having to process the pain of life and grief of loss I had experienced last year?

And then God spoke, as he always does in his soft, gentle way if we are willing to slow down and listen.  He said sometimes in life we need a physical move to necessitate an emotional and spiritual healing.  Wow, how very true.

I realized that sometimes, to give ourselves permission to move on in life we need to actually move on.  A change of scenery, no matter how subtle can help shift our perspective and sigh a breath of release.  Though my home had so many happy, joyful, fulfilling memories, subconsciously I would also remember my dad every time I used the light switch he replaced and remember the friends upon friends I’ve had to say goodbye to every time I walked out my front door and drove past their houses.  Those are memories that yes, are good but are so, so heavy in my heart.

I realized the more I agonized over the decision to move kept feeding my inner perfectionist.  Each choice had its merits but no, there was not a “perfect” choice to make. Giving myself permission to make a decision, whether it was the perfect one or not again helped me to move on in other ways.  Stop feeding the inner critic and start living in the freedom to live.  To stay would be hard, to move would be hard, but life is hard, no matter what the choices we make, we can’t avoid them, we can only live within the grace given us this day and move forward surrendered to perfect Love.

Once I listened and stepped over into that surrender to accept whatever would come next a house appeared.  As our family toured around it my husband and I began to dream and vision where our things would go and more importantly how we could open this new place to the people that are in our lives now and the ones we still have to invite.  Our kids ran around, picking bedrooms and giggling and throwing a ball in the backyard.  In one visit we could already see how this house could transform into our next home.  I wonder what lessons it will have to teach us?  I wonder how we will all be able to move on?

Healing

This story strikes me every time I read it:

“They came to Jericho.  As Jesus, his disciples, and a substantial crowd were leaving the town, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road.  When he heard it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out, “Son of David!  Jesus!  Take pity on me!”

Lots of people told him crossly to be quiet.  But he shouted out all the louder, “Son of David–take pity on me!”

Jesus came to a stop.  “Call him,” he said.

So they called the blind man.

“Cheer up,” they said, “and get up.  He’s calling you.”

He flung his cloak aside, jumped up, and came to Jesus.

Jesus saw him coming.  “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

“Teacher,” the blind man said, “let me see again.”

“Off you go,” said Jesus.  “Your faith has saved you.”  And immediately he saw again, and followed him on the way.”

Mark 10:46-52 (The Kingdom New Testament)

There is just so much about this story that captures my attention and makes me wonder. I begin to wonder, what part of me, deep down is this blind beggar Bartimaeus, shouting out for Jesus to heal me?  And what parts of me are telling it to be quiet and to stop bothering him?  Where do I need to allow myself to just keep shouting because I am in such desperate need to see again in my life and be healed?  And then I wonder, if Jesus were standing here, right in front of me, face to face and asked me what he wanted me to do, what would I ask for?  It causes me to search for that deep, vulnerable place inside.

I remember back, years ago to reading a little book called, “Surrender to Love,” by David Benner.  The second chapter is all about love and fear.  As I was reading it struck a nerve inside of me.  There was some fear inside of me that needed to be surrendered, a place inside that was calling out to be healed but was being hushed.  I quieted my self and began to search for that piece of me.  She was sitting quietly behind a tree I remember and Jesus called for her to come out.  He asked what she wanted and she shared her deepest fear and that she wanted to be healed.  A wave of emotion came over me that I was not anticipating.  I had been holding onto it for so very long and hushed it down that I wasn’t even aware of it anymore, but when I surrendered to Love, when I answered his question, he saw my faith and he healed me.

That was almost nine years ago and I still hold that memory so vividly in my mind and in my heart and I was reminded of it today when I read this passage in Mark.  Perhaps it is time to quiet my self again and let Jesus go on a search to restore me.

Second Conversion

So here’s a question, is there such a thing as a second conversion?  I’m not talking about being worried that your first one didn’t count, so you keep getting up for every altar call you hear.  I’m talking about that feeling of being wholly and deeply loved by God and giving your whole self over to him.  Maybe conversion isn’t the right word, but there is something new stirring in my heart that needs some words to understand it.

I remember the first time I heard God loved me, just as I was and wanted to spend eternity with me, starting that day and forevermore.  I remember feeling awash with gratitude, humility, forgiveness and love, such pure love.  I gave my life wholeheartedly as I could at that moment over to him, vowing to live my days following after him.  My devotion was strong and pure and what it could be at that moment.

In the years since then, I have been true to my promise to love and serve.  I learned of God’s great story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration and have done what I can to live into it and spread it to everyone I know.  I joined God in his redemptive work in this world and served out of a place of love.  I genuinely believe God has been pleased and gracious to me to this point.

But if I’m being honest it’s not been all sunshine and rainbows.  We all know that sin mars our world, ourselves and our motivations.  Sometimes I served out of guilt or obligation.  Sometimes I was motivated out of pride.  It’s just how it is.  But along the way I’ve been realizing more and more, it’s because there is still a stronghold in my life where sin rules in my heart.  I’m becoming more aware of my shadow self that is holding on to dear life, not wanting to die on the altar of sacrifice so that my true self, that person I am meant to become in Christ can shine through.

God’s had me on this quest for almost a year now, slowly pulling back the curtain on what’s been hidden and shining his light on the dark parts and lies that I live in.  That’s really hard to say, friends, that I still operate out of the sinful side of myself that up until this point I’ve been unconscious of.  Through God’s grace, he is taking me one step deeper and revealing things to me that I need to be aware of now, at this moment, to heal from if I’m going to move forward into the person I’m meant to become.

It hit me this past weekend when I was attending a conference.  We sang this song, Reckless Love, by Cory Asbury and published by Bethel Music.  Have you heard it?  The chorus goes like this;

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

Oh, it chases me down, fights till I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine

I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give yourself away

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

There’s that phrase, right in the middle, “fights till I’m found,” that just wouldn’t leave me as we sang the chorus over and over again.  It began to hit me, God is not done fighting for me yet because I’m not completely found yet.  I had this image in my head that yes, God left the ninety-nine and came out and found me one day all those years ago when I dedicated my life to him, but since, I’ve been safe in the fold, he’s had no need to have concern or special attention over me.  Yes, he’s been loving me, setting me to work, transforming me but it’s an afterthought to all those that he’s still desperately in search of for the first time.

In these last days I’m beginning to wonder if no, God is not done fighting for me.  He’s still “kicking down doors” as the bridge of the song says because there’s still “lies for him to tear down,” and “shadows to light up,” in my life and he’s in hot pursuit with this relentless and reckless unceasing love.  I’ve been so overtaken by the magnitude and the passion that God still has for me today and will continue to have for me every day until I’m not just restored to the fold, but until I’m transformed into the likeness of Christ, the uniqueness, and beauty of what I’m created for.

It’s in realizing this overwhelming love that gives me the courage to keep going.  To not be afraid of the lies and shadows because God’s love is big enough to fight them and to heal me.  He’s never going to abandon me.  No, on the contrary, he’s been kind to me, as the song says, because he’s fighting for the piece of me that is scared, the part that he formed and breathed his life into, so that I can have the breath of life, to glorify him all the days of my life.  It’s been coming to this realization in a whole new light that makes it feel like another conversion all over again.  And so I’m giving over more of myself to God, the parts that I’m just coming to a realization about and dedicating all of me once again to him.

 

 

Life is Messy

I remember a time in my life when everything had a place.  Neat, tidy and organized.  My husband and I struggled to fill up our home, with blank spaces and unused corners abounding.  Now, just eight short years later and filled with three more people we are simply living on top of each other.  Piles accumulate, the living room seems to always be eschewed, and no one dares walk around barefoot less you have week old crumbs and who knows what else embedded on the soles of your feet.

At first, I remember fighting against the encroaching piles.  As soon as the accumulation started I would feel my anxiety rise and quickly try to put everything back in its place.  But with each subsequent child life just got messier and there never seemed a chance to get ahead, much less quickly behind what life had to throw at me.  I read books, I devised new strategies, I declared us minimalists and started throwing and giving everything away that wasn’t nailed down.  Each attempt lasted for a bit but I eventually had to decide, would I let the anxiety and illusion of control rule my life, or would I accept the times I’m given, and sit in this mess?

Of course, this literal mess of stuff in my home is also a metaphor for the mess that is living life.  It was easier earlier in life to have all the answers to everything.  I remember going off to college and meeting captivating leaders and teachers who taught be so much about life.  I soaked up every book, every conversation, every talk.  I filed it all away into neat little piles and drawers and boxes.  Every time a question arose, oh let me just look back into my storehouse I’m accumulating and whip out the right answer, because you know I thought every answer I had was the right one.  My feet were planted on solid rock and I thought I was set for life.

And there’s nothing wrong with being so assured of our faith, of our knowledge or our life.  It gives us the confidence to go out and do the work we’ve been given, to believe we can make a difference and we do.  We impart a change in people’s lives for the greater good and we can partner with God and have him use us to build his kingdom here.  But pride can happen so easily at this point too.  I believed that if people would just read the right book, use the right lens to look at life and the Bible and God then they could have all the right answers too and life would be organized in a neat little bow for everyone.

But then life gets messy and suddenly the right answers don’t seem right anymore.  That storehouse in my brain doesn’t have a file to explain away the mess and then what seemed so sure before becomes questions and doubts.  If I can’t answer this one question, can I answer any question?  Does it all sound like pat answers unable to deal with the brokenness of this world?

Ahh, the crisis of life and of faith that we don’t talk about in church.  I feel that there is a deception that goes on in the modern church of today that to have true faith you must be “passionate” for Jesus and “on fire” all the time for him.  When life’s mess does come around you pray it away with your soul in tune with God and flip to the all the right verses in the Bible to assure you of that smile on your face.  But when I tried to find the verses to keep that smile and that fire going I found mess, real mess and read it with new eyes because I was sitting in my own mess for the first time.

Here’s what I learned as I read of the crises of faith in the Bible that I found, they didn’t all have to end there.  On the outside to others, it looks like we’re losing our faith and falling away.  Heck on the inside it feels like we’re losing our faith and falling apart.  And for some they do.  In the end, Judas hung himself and his story ended there for us.  But Peter got to move through the crisis and he realized that the solid rock he thought was dying and crumbling away was still there but the answers from before took on new meaning and transformation. Jesus reinstated him giving him a stronger hope with a renewed faith and he went and built the church.

The winter seasons of our faith can feel long and unsettling.  Doubt can attempt to undo all the glory and wonder of earlier stages of faith.  But here’s the truth it can’t undo it, but it can transform it.  God is in the business of redemption and he is big enough to handle anything and everything.  Life’s messes come along to remind us that we aren’t in control and that there is more than one way to live this life.  It’s not always going to fit into neat little piles.  We claim to love an all-powerful God but then too easily put him in a box.  I think the messes of life come to throw us out of our boxes and into the all-encompassing love of God.

I’m learning to accept the mess of my living room, and dining room, and kitchen, and every other room in my house.  The mess doesn’t define me or my family.  It’s just there and it’s a part of our lives.  It proves that we’re alive and that we’re having fun and living one moment into the next.  I’m learning to look beyond the mess into life and remember that our family is built on a foundation of love that will get through any mess life happens to throw our way.

Fighting Injustice

 

I have always been in awe of the Civil Rights leaders conviction, bravery and the ability to not stand idly by but to work boldly to confront and fight injustice.  Their story is one that I want to know better and one that I want to pass down to my children to awaken them to the realization that injustice exists in this world and to inspire them to do something about it.  I’ve read these stories, I’ve heard accounts of these stories from afar but this year I wanted to begin to live one of these stories.

Leading up to Martin Luther King Jr Day, a few weeks back, I became aware of a march happening not too far from my home.  A march for peace and justice through the streets and I decided this was the year I wanted to walk too and bring my children along for the ride.  That morning we read books about MLK Jr, his life, his fight, and the marches he participated in.  I shared with my kids that we would do the same, we would walk to say that we saw that injustice existed and that we were not okay with it.

In my head, I knew our half a mile walk would be nothing like the ones of civil right leaders that came before us.  No one would be yelling at us, throwing things at us, there would be no dogs or police with fire hoses.  This would be easy and safe but it would lead to an awareness on the outside and on the inside I hoped. But as the time grew closer I tried to talk myself out of going with the kids; could they walk that long, would it inhibit my littlest one’s nap, what if something did happen like those days gone before?  But then my conviction began to take root and I told myself oppressed people don’t get to have a choice about whether they are oppressed or not.  They can’t decide what might be too hard for their kids that day or live in the luxury of a nap schedule.  If they don’t get to decide then neither do we.  We march because they have to every day.

My own selfishness got reflected back to me a short time later when my oldest son voiced out loud the conversation I was having in my heart, he didn’t really feel like going he told me.  I looked him right in the eye and told him what I told myself, oppressed people don’t have a choice whether they are oppressed or not.  I asked him, did African men and women get the choice about whether they wanted to be slaves?  No, they didn’t and now they are still fighting for the rights that were taken away from them.  They didn’t get a choice so neither do we.  We march.

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I still can’t quite get the words to describe the march itself.  I learned once we were on the walk the route we would be taking was through a neighborhood that was given to and established by freed slaves after their emancipation following the Civil War.  It was a neighborhood that I had driven past dozens of times but didn’t know it’s significance.  Emotion washed over me as we marched and chanted and sang, the elderly neighbors coming out to wave us on.  I didn’t feel worthy of what was going on around me.  I felt that I was walking on hallowed ground, in a hallowed time.

I still don’t feel worthy to be invited to participate in that day.  To sing words of, “we will overcome,” what did I have to overcome?  My life has been easy when I compare it to others, and all because of when I was born, where I was born, to whom I was born to.  Things that I didn’t even have a say over automatically make me one of the privileged few.  Makes my kids one of the privileged few.  But I can still say it’s not okay.  Instead of living each day in a selfish bubble, either ignorant of the plight of my neighbor or worse yet, indifferent to it, I can say it’s not okay.  And I can teach my kids that it’s not okay.

My inner critic is never okay with just that of course and God and I began a conversation on the days after the march.  I wondered if reading books and participating in this march were enough, what else could I do in a tangible way that broke down injustice and brought up the life of my brother and sister?  And then God illuminated my heart to an awareness of how I was already doing that, each day in my home.

During this same time, we were having one of our bathrooms renovated.  The men working on the bathroom were Hispanic and we sometimes had a language barrier between us.  I made a conscious decision in my heart years ago that no matter who walked into my home they would always be treated with respect and dignity despite the barriers that existed between us outside my house.  We invited these men in and asked them to feel like they were at home.

Two days after the march, I finally realized that they had been eating their lunches out in the cold in their trucks.  This was not acceptable and so I insisted they come and eat at our table with us.  I didn’t realize in the moment the significance of asking these gentlemen to come and sit and break bread with me but I left the lunch changed because it was more than just a meal shared, it was lives shared.  Through a few simple questions, I learned their stories, of traveling to America with a hope of a better life.  I learned what my books and movies couldn’t teach me about what life is really like for them in their home countries and why the struggle of moving somewhere they didn’t know the language or the customs would be worth the sacrifice for the life they have today.  I felt that I was on hallowed ground in that moment again.

Afterwards, I realized we don’t always have to go out somewhere else to fight injustice.  Injustice is in our homes and our neighborhoods.  We can choose to buy a different way, think a different way and I realize now, to treat every person we come in contact with respect and dignity and to say that their life matters just as much as mine does through my actions and my words.  We can learn each other’s stories and connect ourselves together so that together we might overcome.

 

Imagination

At the end of the fall, my family and I took a much-needed break and retreated to the beach for a couple of days.  After a long summer with no respite from our normal routine, and then immediately rolling into the rigors of fall, we were all weary and looking for some rest.  This first year of grief has found me shying away from large crowds of people and the beach at the end of October is the perfect place to go if you are in search of a quiet, deserted retreat.  I think the whole three days we were there I saw only five people on the beach.  It was glorious!

I love the quiet pace of life at the beach because it always affords me time and space to steal away by myself and meet with God.  Our annual escape to the seaside puts me in a posture to listen and hear things about myself and my life that the noise of everyday life chokes out.  This year was no different as I would wake up early each morning before my husband and kids, slip into a cozy sweatshirt and sneakers and sneak out the door before I could disturb anyone.  I would sit on the sand and wait, listening, watching, wondering where God would show up and how I would meet him.

The first morning I decided to start taking a walk in search of the sunrise.  It was a gray, cloudy day but I was hoping that the sun would break through.  The farther I walked though, all I was met with was rolling, billowing clouds.  Then something said, turn around and this is what I was saw.

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I immediately turned around, a wide grin plastered on my face and my heart racing in sight of such beauty.  I was like a moth drawn to light as I eagerly walked down the beach in pursuit of that break in the gray and that sunlight pouring out.  As my feet began to walk, my mind began to meander as well, as my imagination took hold of me and I began to wonder, what’s happening beyond that spot in the clouds?  If I could peek around the corner, what would I see and hear?  You see, my imagination and creative pursuits was a new form of spiritual discipline in my life and I was beginning to fan the flame of my encounter with God.

At the end of 2016, I felt in my heart of hearts that God was telling me to start writing.  I found this odd as writing for pleasure was something foreign to me.  I wrote back in my school days because I had to and I kept a prayer journal off and on over the years but I never wrote as a means of communicating and publishing.  I did, however, love to teach and saw my platform as a verbal, real-life exchange with my audience.  There were times in my past when I’d need to write a letter or some other document and was told that I had a way with words but I never thought much of it.  I had considered for many years taking thoughts in my head and starting a blog but lacked the motivation and confidence to pursue it.

Something was different inside me this time I heard God speak though and I decided what would it hurt to try and so I started to write.  And the more I wrote, the more ideas kept coming to me.  It was so strange to me.  I saw writing as something creative people did and I never really felt very creative in my life, but I knew I didn’t want to stop.  I had heard once before that to become a better writer one needed to become a better reader so I began to read anything and everything that drew my fancy.  It started with books about learning more about God but eventually took a turn into classic fiction books as well as I soaked up the imagery and storylines to find connections in my own life.  Each book I read and each piece I wrote felt like I was transforming more and more into the person I was meant to become, my true self and that I was understanding things about God I had never comprehended before.

I had a few trusted friends that began to walk on this journey with me to encourage me and offer me guidance.  One friend shared a book with me that was challenging her and told me to get a copy for myself.  The book was, “Waking Up Grey,” by Jennie Schut and has become a field book of sorts to me on this journey.  The summed up premise of the book is that our creativity is a deeply spiritual matter.  That if we find ourselves in a creative slump than we find ourselves also in a relationship stump with God and vice versa.  We are all image bearers of God and he is the most creative being ever.  To deny our creativity is to deny part our very being that connects us to God and breathes life into our lungs.  I had already begun pursuing these thoughts on my own and upon reading Jennie’s words it was like scales falling from my eyes.

The reason I was finding myself and God more and more as I pursued reading and writing was that I was finally tapping into the creativity that I was hardwired for but had mostly been denying and shutting off most of my life.  As I tapped into it I found myself becoming fully alive and I didn’t want it to stop.  I started getting art books out of the library and found myself drawn to the Impressionist time period.  I would spend quiet afternoons outside after I got my kids settled for their naps and quiet times, soaking in the sunshine and these beautiful works of art.  I was reading classic fiction books that had always been on my “to read someday” list that lead to new authors and new books.  I took in poetry and music of all varieties.  I also discovered what I have deemed my “Garden of Eden” a private park near my home where I would go with my books and my journals and my ears attentively listening as I would walk with God in the cool of the day.  The more I fanned my creativity the more I wanted to soak in more and more.  It was like I was waking up the grey parts of my life, just as my new field book was entitled.

It was in the middle of all this that I found myself on the beach that morning with that sunrise.  Before I would have just looked at it and thought how beautiful it was and maybe it would take my breath away but this time I let it take me one step further and I began to imagine.  I was currently reading the time quintet by the fabulous Madeleine L’Engle and I just couldn’t help myself from thinking otherworldly images.  As I “peeked” behind the clouds I imagined this throng of cheribum singing and swaying as one.  Later I wrote in my journal, “With bated breath and flutter of heart you anticipate with excitement what you might find in this gateway to beyond.  It’s the heavenly host, all come out to rejoice.  They are dancing in the beautiful dance, flowing in rhythm and time to the beat of the Creator.  Their arms flow, their hips twist, their feet delicately prance back and forth in a giant circle.  Their movements create almost waves of light streaking across the atmosphere.  Their eyes closed, they don’t need to see, they simply can feel.  Joy has filled this place and your heart.”  And then all I could do on that deserted beach in that moment was sing, loud and clear;

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Praise him all creatures here below.

Praise him above thee, heavenly host.

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

The words just flowed from me, and so did the tears.  I met God their that morning because I was finally unafraid to tap into my creative self and let my imagination run wild, straight into the arms of my Beloved.

 

New Creation

So in my attempt to approach life differently these days I’ve also started approaching reading Scripture again in a new light.  After reading a passage from 2 Corinthians in a devotional I thought maybe there was some more wisdom to glean from this letter so one afternoon I opened it up and started reading.  I started at the beginning and didn’t stop till I reached the end.  Now normally I would have read a section and left it at that and pulled out my journal and willed myself to find some application to my life, but this time felt different.

I’ve probably read through the whole Bible at this point in my life.  I’ve had this desire for as long as I can remember to learn the original languages of the Bible.  I don’t know what it is but over the years reading the Bible and then teaching it to others has been my happy place in life and when I’m not doing it, everything feels out of joint.  One thing that rubs me the wrong way is when we take Scripture passages and dissect them out of their natural context to suit whatever point we’re trying to make in life.  This is not why the Bible was given to us.

So that day I picked up 2 Corinthians I thought how would the original recipients of this letter have received it.  They wouldn’t have dissected it, they would have listened from beginning to end wondering what their mentor and father of faith Paul had to say to them.  They would have been eager to get to hear from him, except maybe the people he chastises, and they would have listened to the whole thing and the completeness of what Paul was sharing about life.

Well, I have to say that I felt like I was reading these words for the first time in my life.  I found the pithy quotes we so often pull out but they took on new meaning and I realized that one of the things I abhor is exactly what I’ve done to these words of wisdom, manipulated them for my own benefit.  Sure, I was maybe reading the letter differently because I was different and because words take on new meaning depending on the lens we are looking through at the time, but this new lens was more than just me, it was about the Word I was reading and what it was revealing to me.

The passage that has left an imprint on me all these months later still comes at the beginning-ish in the fifth chapter.  (I must admit I really don’t like chapter and verse numbers when reading, it’s so distracting and helps too much with the dissecting I think).  Written there is this little gem that gets pulled out so often to make us feel better about ourselves, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  Well, of course, it gets quoted all the time, it’s a tenant essential to our faith, but I believe after reading the whole letter, it’s a line not about you at all.

Here’s the deal that we American Christians must face up to, our faith, isn’t about us.  Jesus isn’t here just for you.  My faith is not some personal, self-help, feel better about me thing.  To believe it’s about us continues to pervert the idea of grace and prolong the lie that started in the Garden that we could be like God.  Our faith, our relationship with God is a gift given, something we were created for because here’s the thing, we are the creation, not the creator.  Anything we have is because of God and so his words are not meant to make us feel better but are meant to glorify him and transform us so that we can, in turn, glorify him.  So when we read the Bible and wonder what am I suppose to get out of this, we miss the point from the very beginning.

So back to Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.  He’s laying out the gospel again to the people, he’s compelling them to understand what the words he preached to them meant, that Christ came to reconcile a people, not a person and he, Christ died so that we would no longer live for ourselves, patting ourselves on the back but that we should live for God.  And then he says this line, “that we no longer view anyone from a worldly perspective, but that we view them from as a new creation in Christ, the old is gone, the new has come!” (forgive my paraphrasing in there).

 My mind was blown.  All this time I kept regarding myself as a new creation, but what about everyone else I came in contact with?  What about my husband, my friends, my neighbors.  What about the people I don’t get along with.  They are a new creation too and even though I might be regarding them from a worldly perspective, how they’ve hurt me or sinned against another, guess what, in Christ, they are a new creation and because of that, I don’t get to view them how I want to anymore, if I’m a new creation too.

Now understanding these words as they are illuminating my mind in a whole new way, how will I look to others?  Will I see them through eyes of compassion, regarding them as Jesus does first extending grace?  Will I regard people on how they can best serve me, make me feel better about myself, or will I think first how to love my neighbor, therefore loving God and fulfilling all the law and prophets?  When someone hurts me, and let’s be honest we all hurt each other on a continual basis, what will be my first reaction?  Or my second reaction?  Or my seventy times seven reaction?  Am I willing to push my ego aside and view others as a new creation in Christ?

This is hard friends, and it is uprooting those sins that are deep.  But don’t you have hope?  Because that’s what else I see in this letter from Paul.  If reconciling the whole world to himself is possible and because of that I get to be included in this new creation well then sign me up, because Paul also talks a lot about momentary suffering and that this road in this life will be marked by it.  I believe that this suffering has everything to do with our transformation and so we set our eyes on what is unseen, that which is eternal.