Too Big…Big Enough

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

Not even you

A Sunday morning many years ago I was singing the words in a bridge of a song that had been plucked from the book of Romans, “And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us?”  As I passionately belted out the words I heard a whisper in my heart, “You Kelly, you are the only thing standing in the way of me working in your life.”

I stood in shock as those words soaked into my heart, I was what held me back from reaching the true potential that God had created in me.  And I was sad because I knew they were true.  And they weren’t spoken in acquisition or anger but in gentle conviction, which I think made me even sadder.

Well, I continued to walk around with those words year after year.  I couldn’t quite shake the weight of them.  At first, they felt like a prescription to a problem.  The state of my being was one of fear, that held me back from taking challenges, resign to the notion that this was just life, accept my place and position for what it was.  Then as time went on they prompted me to inquire further, why were they true and for that matter what did they mean?

As we self reflect we are able to find the image bearer in us that shows us who we are in Christ.  I was able to weed through all this to realize that the Kelly that held me back was not the Kelly that imaged Christ.  And if it was a false me, well then she could be pushed aside so that Paul’s words would manifest into truth, that nothing could stop me if God is for me.

I began to believe that God was really for me, that he loved me beyond measure.  As love permeates us it drives out the fear that stops us.  This involves a lot of truth-telling, a healthy dose of confession, a posture of humility and a willingness to walk in the light, let it shine so that it can heal.  And with that healing comes hope, because God’s last word is always hope.

A few weeks ago I was listening to another song, but the same words from Romans 8.  In this new place of healing and hope with God, “If God be for us,” rang out from the third part of Handel’s Messiah.  As the words echoed in my heart, the voice whispered to me again, “And now not even you can stop you or me dear one.”  God took my sadness and filled me with tears of joy.

We all come to places where we feel stuck, like we are our own worst enemy.  Even Paul says in the chapter before that he finds himself in this cycle of doing what he doesn’t want to do and not doing what he does want to do.  But if we let ourselves become aware, then we can become engaged, we can wrestle with God in these places in our lives.  We must strive ahead and remember that we are Easter people, people of hope and that if God is for us, then who could stop us?

Receive

I found myself in a familiar passage in Luke’s gospel this morning.  Luke begins the story with the people bringing their tiny babies to Jesus for him to touch.  In a society where children were neither seen nor heard, it doesn’t seem out of place for his disciples to shoo the people away.  Jesus as always has a counter culture, unexpected response.  He not only receives these little ones, but he also embraces them and blesses them and then says something that I’m sure was quite confusing.

Receive the kingdom of God as a child or else you will never enter.  Jesus tells us, this is the truth, a sure foundation to stand upon.  So it got me wondering, how does a child receive?  I’m fortunate to have a handful of kids running around my house at any moment so I pondered, how do my children receive a gift or really any good thing that’s been presented to them?  I thought of words like excitement, wonder, joy.  Small children have the ability to immerse themselves so fully in the moment they are in and so feel these things to the fullest measure.  Children have no fear of good gifts given to them from their loving parent, and never wonder if any strings are attached.  Children receive with open hands and open hearts.

Do I receive the good gift, the invitation to enter my true home, God’s kingdom, in this way?

Luke then immediately goes into the next story and so I continued to read.  A man Luke calls a ruler, comes to ask Jesus a question that is important to him.  I imagine this man has it all together given the nature of his questioning and responses.  He thinks he has life all figured out, he’s rich, he’s young, he’s a ruler, and he’s kept all the commandments.  Now he wants to know how to get everything in order for life in the age to come.  Jesus tells him to sell everything he owns, distribute it to the poor and then come and follow him.  The man is sad, Jesus can tell and he says to the people how hard it will be for those with many possessions to enter God’s kingdom.  Their reaction, well then who can be saved?

I have many possessions and a life that seems pretty together, will I enter God’s kingdom?

At first glance, it’s easy to read these two stories as separate, each with their own meaning but then why did Luke tell them back to back and why did some person decide centuries ago to group them together under one heading?  And then I made a connection.  Why does a child receive with wonder and excitement and joy?  Because they possess nothing.  There is room in their heart to receive and they are totally dependent on their parents to provide for them.  When that parent-child relationship is one of love and security the child trusts and their heart is open wide.

Jesus looked beyond the exterior of the rich, young ruler, of his life all put together.  Jesus perceived a heart that was full already.  Perhaps full of pride and self-sufficiency.  The man found security in his possessions and wealth.  Through his acts of doing, he was able to achieve the life he wanted and now he thought through his own actions and work he could achieve the life he wanted in the age to come as well.  But that’s not how God’s kingdom works and that was what Jesus was telling the people when he said they must receive as a child.

By giving away his possessions to the poor the young ruler would make room in his heart to receive.  By seeing himself dependent on his heavenly Father, he would run to him for what he needed.  By following Jesus he would see what the relationship between the father and son is to be, an exchange of love and grace and trust.  The young ruler could see that his security comes in his identity, a child of God, and he would receive life to the fullest in this age and the one to come.

Do I have room in my heart to receive?  Where do I find my security?  Do I see myself as a child, totally dependent on my Father?  What possessions must I give away to the poor, so that I might become poor and receive the kingdom of God?